Thursday, June 12, 2014

Secret Dreams to be a Ballerina....

I have two nieces I have been sewing for since they were tiny babies.  Christening gowns, Easter outfits and Christmas dresses were the way I worked through my 'girly sewing' desires.  I had one son, so my sewing for him consisted of stuffed toys, shirts, robes, winter jackets and ultimately tuxedos for his formal high school events.  The girls also received custom-created Cabbage Patch dolls and AunTee-made outfits for their American Girl dolls.  I also included hats, soft-covered books and toys for them; and they were always excited to receive my gifts and appreciated my creativity and sewing ability.  Little did they realize I used these little projects to stretch my sewing horizons and expand my sewing vocabulary using small-size projects for them.

My oldest niece is the recipient of my latest project, Simplicity 1427. It fulfills a young girl's secret desire to become a ballerina or dance like one---even if its just once.  Although it does not fit into my wardrobe or figure at my age (hmmmm...maybe in a tea length???), I think it is a beautiful, soft wardrobe addition for any young lady.

Simplicity 1427
Photo courtesy of

When this pattern was published, I hurried to purchase it directly from  In fact, I was so quick the smallest sizes were not available for a week or so.  I don't normally purchase Simplicity patterns, but I was willing to see if their pattern drafting had improved over the years.  Years ago, they had consistent problems in that area and bland styling designs, so I always purchased patterns from the other Big Four companies, specifically, Butterick and Vogue.

I have delayed creating a petticoat for another dress I've made because it takes so much yardage and miles and miles of gathering.  Why now?  Because I could do it for less than I could buy it, and would not need to rely on the instructions of untested patternmakers.  I put all my faith in Simplicity to have the yardage and instructions worked out perfectly, so I was willing to give them a try

My niece is a size 6, and for View B (the knee-length double-ruffled style in coffee above) I would need over thirty-seven yards of tulle.  You read that correctly....37+ yards of tulle at 54" wide, plus some fashion fabric (suggested: dupioni, shantung or taffeta) for the lining underneath it all. The taffeta was no problem to find at the Hancock location nearest me.  The tulle, however, took a bit of time to locate at a reasonable price.  If you stay away from really stiff nylon 'netting' and seek the much softer-feeling tulle in soft colors, you will be happy with your choice.

I ordered two bolts of tulle from a company I found on the internet.  There are many wedding suppliers so you may select a different one that stocks the perfect color at prices that fit your budget.  When I ordered, the website was having a sale on certain overstocked colors of tulle used at weddings, so I was able to purchase a 40-yard bolt of tulle for $11 from IdeaRibbon Wedding and Fabric Supply.  The colors on sale at that time were very limited, so I just selected black and red.  This link is another company that offers many colors, including tulle metallics and animal prints.  I also purchased beautiful double-faced 4" wide satin ribbon for a bow to tie around the skirt's elasticized waist was from The Hairbow Center at a very reasonable cost.  The customer service for both companies I used was surprisingly good, and I recommend them.

It did, however, take a while to cut the skirt out.  There are only three pieces for the lining, so I made it first.  The plain polyester black taffeta I purchased filled the bill.  No design questions or confusion, so it was finished and put aside fairly quickly.

Underskirt and Tulle Yardage
Simplicity 1427

The tulle portion of this project involved a little more work, though.  The ruffle required I cut that pattern piece 36 separate times against the foldline.  These sections were to be sewn (short side to short side) with double rows of stitching (1/4" apart within the seamline).  Each seam was to be trimmed and ironed to one side (sides in this case are considered the left side and right side of the skirt).  Then, the ruffles (in two 18-segment lengths) are folded in half lengthwise and gathered at the folded edge before being joined to the skirt front/back sections.  The skirt front/back is a pattern piece cut against the foldline sixteen times.  Then, there is what is called the 'overlay' which you are asked to cut against the fold twelve times.  The overlays are grouped and placed between the front/back ruffled layers and the taffeta underskirt.  I like that the underskirt has a yoke holding most of the gathers slightly below the elasticized waistband.  What this does is smooth the transition from the waistband gathers to a place a few inches lower, making your waistline appear smaller and the gathers less bulky because they are all not placed at the same spot.

Now, I don't wish to scare or discourage you from attempting this project yourself, but let me make you aware that following the instructions for each of the sections will take a considerable length of time.  You will rack your brain to think of an easier way to accomplish all of them.  I did--that is, racked my brain.  My 'solutions' did not necessarily expedite the process, though.

I purchased a double needle to avoid stitching the seam twice---it only darkened the stitching line, so I decided not to use it.  I also considered sewing french seams, but discarded that idea because the seams would not disappear, but would actually become more pronounced.  I tried to iron the tulle absolutely flat prior to cutting it....too time consuming.  I purchased multiple yards of stabilizer to determine if I could sew smooth straight in the tulle or needed to use something to sew underneath it.  The stabilizer was too difficult to pull away after the double rows of stitching were made.  The seams were fine without it, so there was no need to use it.

The only thing I will recommend is that you iron the selvage smooth (the tulle arrives rather rudely wrapped around the bolt) and use painters tape to hold the selvages together smoothly on your cutting surface.  Decide whether you will cut all four layers of tulle at once following the suggested fabric layout or just say, "Hang it!" and cut them one at a time (like I ultimately did).  I didn't have my largest cutting surface with me, otherwise, I would have definitely used a flat surface (like a dining table with my largest healing mat, i.e., Olfa) and use a rotary blade to cut the skirt pieces against a straight-edge ruler or yardstick.

If you decide to make the double-ruffled view as I did, measure your skirt front/back after your seams are joined, and use that measurement to pull the exact length of ruffle you need.  Trying to pin it together and pull the gathers to match the width of the skirt front/back is not as easy.

Otherwise, the entire process is straight forward, one step at a time...fundamentally one thing after the other until you're done. The entire cutting process can be completed even if you must cut each piece one layer at a time.  Take your time to make sure you are consistently identifying the same right/wrong side of the tulle so your seam allowances are all on the same side of the fabric.  (Yes, I goofed in this regard a couple of times myself, so check and double-check your

Ballerina Posh
Photo Courtesy
Double ruffle Chic
Photo Courtesy

A few suggestions for the patternmaker or sewists using the pattern's current instruction sheet.  The instructions should be re-written for each view.  When constructing View B, it was disheartening to read, "...Continue same as View A, C.  Refer to steps 5 through 11."  As you can imagine, this caused much paper-flipping and marking on my instruction sheets.  As a matter of fact, I wrote Simplicity Customer Service to clarify an instruction to set aside one single-layer overlay for use later when I could not find where it was ultimately used.  The Customer Service promptly answered (within 24hrs!), and I was delighted to be able to move forward with the project. through the instructions thoroughly prior to beginning any stitching.  You will be pleased that you understand the process ahead of time.

Now, the one thing that will wear on your nerves is the length of time it will take to pull the gathers, particularly for View B, the one I created.  Begin with a full bobbin each time you begin to sew a row of gathering thread.  (I sewed two rows of gathers, so remember each should begin with a full bobbin.)  Be careful to not pull so strongly that you break the gathering threads.  Remember, the two ruffle sections are sixteen segments (each) sewn together!  There are no marks that regulate how to distribute the gathers, so at least fold the ruffles lengthwise to mark side seams and distribute them evenly on each half of the overlays.  Do not be confused, these two ruffles attached to (1) a skirt front/back of a single layer and (2) another doubled layer of skirt front/backs (basted together). 

Below are pictures of the completed skirt with tops I made from a piece of FabricMart crushed velvet and some black mesh from my stash.  I used this pattern for Top 1, and made a second top from View A adding long sleeves as the second option.  What do you think?  If you would like to read a review of these two patterns, let me know.  The McCall's pattern presented a few obstacles, but I was able to convert them to design opportunities.

I tried to find a black cashmere sweater in her size, but was unsuccessful.  That will be something I will seek throughout this year.  I used the black mesh and combined it with something in her favorite color.  I'm sure she'll get many occasions to wear this skirt set, through both summer and winter.  This is a gift for (her third) Mother's Day and her (June) birthday.  I hope she likes it!

Top 1
from McCall's 6705
View A with long sleeves from View D

Top 2
from Vogue 8950
View B

Simplicity 1427 View B
Finished Skirt

Simplicity 1427
View B

Vogue 8950
View B

McCalls's 6705 top
Simplicity 1427 View B

I do NOT plan to make this skirt again.  I will, however, make a tea length version for myself in a soft butter yellow or antique gold.  It is now enroute to my niece.  I hope she appreciates all my effort!

Keep stitching, one stitch at a time....!