Saturday, February 13, 2010

Of Princesses and Seams

Warning: If you read my blog and you don't sew, you may find this post a bit boring. If you read my blog and you do sew, I'm sure you're thinking "finally - a post about sewing! It's been awhile!"

How many of you know what a "princess seam" dress is? Three pieces in the front, four in the back, curved seams, ...etc.?

(These are not my own photos, obviously.)

Okay, good; you may put your hands down now. I just wanted to be sure you know what I'm talking about.

I've long been a fan of the princess seam style. I have fond memories of working on one of my first "real" sewing projects with Mom; a princess-seam jumper. She let me do most of the work. We held up the center front piece after we cut it out, and laughed at the thought of someone being that skinny. We sighed over the front and back side pieces; those curved seams that had to pinned and re-pinned, then sewn and re-sewn.

The jumper turned out wearable, but was no masterpiece of fitting expertise. It curved in all the wrong places, and was loose enough to fit two of me inside...almost.

Princess seams are a challenge to most beginning seamstresses. They are hard seams to get right. And, though I've sewn many more princess seams since that first jumper, I'm still no expert. But I've improved.

It's a good thing, too, because that is the style my sister Heather and I both think is perfect for bridesmaid dresses. ...And I'm sewing Heather's bridesmaid dresses. Well, three of them, anyway. Thankfully the other 2 bridesmaids know how to sew. Ten weeks is a short time for all the sewing I have to accomplish!

Today I made the muslin copy for my dress, before I start working with the baroque satin. It took me most of the morning to get the fit right, but I'm very happy with it now. I think I'll save the muslin as a pattern for future dresses!

While I was working, I thought of a list of some things that make princess seams easier. I thought some of you who sew might enjoy reading my tips....and adding to them!

Tips for Princess Seams

~ Those little triangles that you cut on the edge of pattern pieces are helpful with just about any project, but with princess seams they are essential. DON'T skip them! (Gulp. Not that I would ever skip cutting those!)

~ Careful pinning is the trick to smooth curved seams. Use a LOT of pins, especially in the bodice area, and pin perpendicular to the edge of the fabric. That is important; pins running parallel to the fabric edge will be a nightmare when you start sewing.

~ When pinning those tricky front side seams, pin in this order: 1) Pin top edge, under the arm, first. Pin down to the first triangle. 2) Put in a pin at the bottom of the seam, near the hem of the dress. 3) Work your way upward from there, pinning the straight skirt part of the seam before tackling the bodice area.

~ Experiment with what works best for you; having the side piece on top, or the center piece on top, when you have the pieces under your machine needle. You'll find one to work much better for you than the other. Once you've established what works, do it that way every time. It's much better to swap back and forth between sewing hem-to-armhole, and armhole-to-hem than it is to swap back and forth between what piece you have on top.

~ Make a muslin copy first if you're working with expensive fabric; especially if this is your first princess seam dress. In fact, if you're going to make more than one princess seam dress, I recommend making a muslin princess seam dress, just to use as your pattern for all future dresses. I can almost guarantee that the pattern will not fit "as is," straight out of the envelope. The princess seam style needs to be personalized, perhaps more than any other style, because it's made to fit you. It won't look right otherwise. You may need to lower or raise the bust point (the most common needed adjustment), take in or let out the waist, shrink or widen pieces, or play with the neckline. You need to create a princess seam pattern that is yours.

~ If you need to "take in" the waist, go for the seams between the center and side pieces as much as possible, not the actual side seams. Those side seams should be left alone if you can help it, because changing them may limit your arm movement when you wear the dress.

~ Also, double check that the center front panel is the right width. Today, I kept staring at myself in the mirror while I was wearing the muslin dress, trying to see what was wrong. The waist fit, but it looked too wide. The problem was not the size of the seams, but the placement of them. I pinned a tuck straight down the front center of the dress, shrinking the center piece width by about 3/4", and it was perfect.

That's all I have right now. I hope you find these suggestions to be helpful the next time you're sewing a princess seam dress. If you are a seamstress with suggestions of your own, please, leave a comment and share them with us!


Amanda said...

Good ideas! We'll be making another princess-line dress for one of the girls soon, so those are good points to think about!

Jenny P. said...

I adore princess seamed dresses. These are great tips! (And, I've been known to cut right past those little triangles, too). Can't wait to see the finished work!