The Great British Sewing Bee: From Stitch to Style
A peplum adds flare and detail to a simple silhouette, creating the illusion of a smaller waist, whilst hiding the hips and tummy. What’s not to love? With a body-hugging bodice and slimline skirt, this dress looks striking made up in an African-inspired waxed cotton.
We’ve used a waxed cotton, but this design works equally well in a medium- weight cotton, gabardine, satin-backed crepe or lightweight wool.
The bodice is fitted, with bust and waist darts, and finished with an invisible zip in the centre back, extending into the shaped peplum. The pencil skirt is knee skimming with a back slit for ease when walking. The short sleeves mirror the shaping on the overlapping peplum.
Use a 1.5-cm (5⁄8-in.) seam allowance.
Trace off the pattern pieces – bodice front, bodice back, skirt front, skirt back, sleeve front, sleeve back, peplum front, peplum back, bodice front facing and bodice back facing. After preparing your fabric, fold it in half widthways, right sides together, and lay out the pattern pieces as shown. Measure to the selvedge to make sure that the grain is straight. Cut out and transfer any markings to the fabric. Note that the peplum pieces are cut twice – the second pieces are for the lining. Alternatively, the second pieces could be cut from a lining fabric.
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MAKE THE PEPLUM
With right sides together, stitch a peplum back to a peplum front piece at the sides along the notched short edge. Press the seam open. Repeat for the peplum lining. With right sides together, matching the seams, pin the main fabric peplum to the peplum lining along the un-notched edge. Stitch along the centre back edge and along the lower edge of the peplum up to the front. Trim the seam allowance and clip off the corners. Clip around the curve.
Fold the bust darts on the bodice front by folding the fabric right sides together, matching the dart markings. Tack and stitch from the side seam, tapering to the fold of the fabric at the tip and taking the last two or three stitches right on the fold. Do not backstitch; instead, leave thread tails and tie off the ends. Press the bust darts over a ham. Press the darts downwards.
Fold the waist darts on the back and front bodices by folding the fabric right sides together, matching the dart markings. Tack and stitch from the widest part (at the waist seam) towards the tip, tapering to stitch the last two or three stitches right on the fold. Press the darts towards the centre of the bodice.
Turn the skirt right side out. Pin the left peplum to the skirt at the front waistline, matching the markings on the waistline, and then pin around to the back centre seam. Tack in place. Repeat for the right peplum piece, matching the markings on the waistline and overlapping the left peplum at the centre front.
With the right sides together, matching the shoulder seams and the centre front and back edges, pin the facing to the neck edge of the bodice. Stitch in place. Trim seam allowance, clipping at the curves.
Insert the invisible zip in the centre back seam, with the top of the zip teeth close to the top of the neckline (open out the facing and pin the peplum back out of the way). Stitch the seam as far as the large dot marking the skirt vent.
Reinforce the inner corner of the vent and stitch the upper end of the vent extension by starting 2.5 cm (1 in.) above the large dot on the seam line, stitching to the dot, and then pivoting and stitching across the upper end of the extensions. Clip diagonally back to the dot at the inner corner. Press the seam open above the clip. Neaten the raw edges by turning a double narrow hem and topstitching.
INSERT THE SLEEVES
With right sides together, matching the notches, stitch the sleeve front to the sleeve back at the underarms (the straight edges). Press the seam open. Turn under and press a 1-cm (3⁄8-in.) hem on the lower edge of the joined pieces, tucking the raw edge under to meet the crease. Topstitch the hem in place.
With the sleeve right out, hold the bodice wrong side out with the armhole towards you. With right sides together, pin the sleeve to the armhole edge, matching the centre dot on the sleeve to the shoulder seam and the underarm seam to the bodice side seam. Pull up the bobbin thread of the ease stitches to fit the sleeve head, distributing the fullness evenly until there are no puckers on the seamline. Tack and machine stitch. Stitch again 3 mm (1⁄8 in.) from first row but within the seam allowance. Trim the seam allowance and press the seam allowance only with steam to shrink out any fullness. Repeat steps 18–20 for the second sleeve.
HEM THE DRESS
Let the garment hang for 24 hours. Mark the length and open out the left back extension. Press up the hem allowance along the marking and trim the hem allowance depth evenly if necessary. Neaten the raw edge of the hem allowance with an overedge stitch or overlocker. Finish the hem by hand, slipstitching it or blind hemming by machine. Press the left back vent to the inside and slipstitch it to the hem.
If using a fabric with a one-way print, make sure that all pattern pieces are laid out the same way on the fabric, top to bottom.
The pattern pieces have lots of useful information and markings to help with construction. Some of these need to be transferred to the fabric to match pieces and to correctly place pockets, darts, pleats and zips. Marking pens and chalks are the perfect tools. Test out pens on a scrap of fabric to ensure the mark can be removed and that it doesn’t ‘bleed’ into the fabric.
NOTCHES – these should have been cut outwards around the pattern pieces However, if you have missed one, mark the placement of notches by snipping into the seam allowance a little.
DARTS – you will need to transfer the circle marks for the dart onto the fabric. A super quick method is using a pin and marking pen or chalk pencil.
1. Make a tiny hole in the paper at the circle placements, then use a chalk pencil or marking pen to dab a dot through the hole on the top layer of fabric (remember you are working on the wrong side of the fabric). Repeat for all the circles of the dart.
2. Insert a pin in the holes through both fabric layers, lift the fabric to reveal the bottom layer and mark fabric at the pins.
**STAYSTITCHING – a row of straight stitching, made just inside the seam allowance on areas that you don’t want to stretch out of shape while you are working on them. To staystitch, sew with a regular stitch length just within the seam allowance. You will need to staystitch areas that are cut on the bias, such as necklines and curved princess seams. On necklines, stitch from the shoulder towards the centre from both shoulders to prevent stretching.
*** CORE SKILL Darts
Garments are shaped with darts to fit over body contours at bust, hips, through the midriff and at the shoulders. The majority of darts are V-shaped, with the widest part at the outer edge, tapering to a point in the garment. Double darts, which are widest in the middle tapering to a point at either end, are used for waist darts, to provide a closer fit on dresses, fitted jackets and shirts.
1 Having marked the dart position and length, fold the fabric right sides together, so the marks sit one on top of the other (check by pinning through the layers). Either pin along the stitching line or mark the line with a chalk pencil and then pin at right angles to the dart.
2 Starting at the garment edge, sew towards the point, taking the last two or three stitches in the fold of fabric at the very point. Do not back stitch; either fix/lock stitch, or leave long thread tails and knot the ends together.
3 Press waist darts towards the centre of the garment and press bust darts downwards. Bust darts are added to give shape to the bodice, so they need to be pressed carefully to keep the shaping. To do so, press the dart over a tailor’s ham (or a rolled towel, or use the end of the ironing board), holding the side seam up as you press into the tip.
4 On heavyweight fabrics that would cause a ridge if pressed to one side, cut open the fold of fabric to within 1 cm (3⁄8 in.) of the tip and press open.
A double-ended dart can be used to shape the back of the garment from shoulder to hip, or the front from below bust to hip.
1 Fold out the dart, with right sides together, and pin or tack. Start stitching at the centre, stitching to one point, then fix/ lock stitch or leave thread tails to knot.
2 Flip the fabric over to stitch the other side, starting at the centre again and slightly overlapping the stitching at the centre by 1 cm (3⁄8 in.). Stitch to the other point, stitching the last two or three stitches on the fold.
3 To help the dart curve into the body and the folded fabric to lie flat, cut a wedge out of the widest part of the dart fold. On fabrics that fray easily, add a tiny dab of fray check. Press the dart towards the centre front or back of the garment.
*+ OVERLOCKING The overlocking stitch is formed of either three or four threads and neatly encases the raw edges. A four-thread overlocker will sew a straight stitch to the left, with a second straight stitch to the right, anchoring the two looper stitches that form over the edge of the fabrics interlocking together. As you feed the fabric through the machine, a cutter trims the excess seam allowance before the stitching covers it.
OVERCAST/OVEREDGE STITCH If you don’t have an overlocker, you can use the overedge or overcast stitch, which has a straight stitch to the left with a zigzag going over the edge to the right. It is sewn on the edge of the fabric to neaten the seam allowances. Most machines come with an overcast foot.
*@ INVISIBLE (CONCEALED) ZIP
An invisible or concealed zip is sewn in place without any stitching being visible on the right side of the garment. It differs from a regular zip, as the teeth are on the underside of the zip tape with just the little zip pull on the right side. Use a special invisible zip foot.
Neaten the edges of the seam allowances and press. Then fold the seam allowances to the wrong side along the seam lines and press to form a crease. (An invisible zip is inserted before the seam is stitched.)
Open out the seam allowances. With the fabric right side up, place the opened zip face down on the seam allowance, with the teeth along the crease. Pin and tack in place, to the seam allowance only, positioning the zip so that the teeth start at least 1.5 cm (5⁄8 in.) below the top edge of the fabric.
Attach the invisible zip foot, with the needle in the centre position so it will go through the small hole in the foot. Place the fabric under the foot so that the zip teeth slip into one of the grooves on the underside of the foot and the needle will stitch into the zip tape next to the teeth. As you stitch, gently uncurl the zip teeth so that the stitching is under the teeth. Stitch as close to the bottom as possible. Reverse stitch to secure.
close the zip and check you have stitched close enough to the teeth (you should not be able to see any of the zip tape on the stitched side). If not, simply stitch again, moving the needle a tad closer to the teeth. Then bring the garment sections right sides together and pin the zip tape to the seam allowance as before, with the zip teeth along the crease made earlier, then open the zip and unpin the garment sections, just keeping the zip pinned to the seam allowance.
With the second garment piece right side up, tack the zip to the seam allowance. Again stitch from top to bottom, with the teeth running through the other groove in the invisible zip foot and the needle very close to the teeth.
Change back to your regular zip foot. Pin the rest of the seam together and then start stitching 1–2 mm (about 1⁄16 in.) to the left of and 6 mm (1⁄4 in.) above the base of the zip stitching. Sew to the end of the seam, reverse stitching a little at start to strengthen the stitching at the base of the zip.