Knit dress with a twist
I have been exploring new to me embellishment techniques recently. When this challenge was announced, I wondered how I could combine the “Knit Dress with a Twist” challenge with a new to me embellishment technique. I have several Alabama Chanin Design Studio books, which contain photos of amazing knit garments, embroidered, couched, and appliqued exquisitely. I decided to finally be brave and try some of these amazing hand sewing techniques. After a bit of practice and making a few samples, I was ready to start. I chose 5 Out of 4 Pattern’s Nancy Raglan Top, Tunic, and Dress pattern.
The Alabama Chanin methods are intended for organic cotton jersey. In my deep stash I found a medium weight double knit cotton jersey, in an eggplant purple color, which was more suitable as a the base fabric for the dress. I also found a much lighter weight cotton jersey in a very close match. The light weight cotton jersey would be perfect for creating the cotton jersey ropes, which I would twist around each other while couching them to the bodice of the dress, creating a striking design with textural interest. I used the recommended thread, which is a button and craft thread made up of a polyester core, wrapped in cotton. I only had a few colors available to me, so I chose a gray thread for most of the embroidery and couching. I also used navy thread when I wanted the stitching to be less visually striking along the side and under sleeve seams. I experimented with several needles before settling on Richard Hemming milliners size 7.
The design is a series of thin ropes twisting to form a chain link type of effect along the front bodice. The front contains 17 twists of ropes. Originally I was concerned that the bulk created by the twists would distort the drape of the garment, but after some experimentation I was happy with my results. The Alabama Chanin design method stresses using knit on knit. My design is such that the final garment retains almost all of the knit’s original characteristics of comfort and stretch. I covered all edges and seams with a herringbone stitch. I chose a round neck with full length sleeves. The combination of color choices and design created an almost renaissance fair feel about the garment.
I choose 5 out of 4 Pattern’s Nancy Raglan Top, Tunic, and Dress pattern, because I love the close fit of the long sleeves, and the moderate A line flare of the dress. I modified the pattern grading from a 1X on top to a 3X at the waist, hips and sleeves. Since it is a raglan sleeve, the grading required using the 1X neckline and the width of the 1X bodice, while grading out to a 3X waist and hips. I used the 3X sleeves, but reduced the top width of sleeve to match top of the 1X sleeve width. After modifying, I measured and made sure seams lengths matched on front and back of the sleeves, and at the side seams. I was able to achieve a great fit with no darts or closures needed, thanks to it being made of stretchy knit and my lovely pear shaped figure. My muslin has become a favorite nightgown. This pattern is plus size inclusive and offers a lot of sleeve, neckline, and length options.
Following Alabama Chanin’s methods suggests making cotton jersey ropes from the light weight cotton jersey strips. I duplicated the front dress pattern piece, and sketched out my design. I then used the piece of pattern marked with the design piece to mark the design on to the actual front piece of the dress. Marking knits can be challenging but thread marking is my favorite method. I pin the pattern paper with the design marked on it to the front piece of the dress, and then hand baste along the bottom design line. I would then cut off the marked areas of pattern paper exposing the next design lines, and repeat until the design was completely marked with thread. I then started couching the ropes on to front piece of the dress. Ideally, I would have completed all of the couching prior to assembly, but our travel plans required a change of strategy. I was going to be in a car for 20 hours, which would allow me plenty of time for hand work. I also did not want to bring my sewing machine. I machine sewed the sleeves on, then the pockets, and finally the side seams with the under sleeve seams using a knit stretch stitch on my sewing machine. My goal was to hand finish all seams allowances, and hems in a way that the machine stitching would not be visible. In the end, the addition of pockets made me fall short, as there is some visible machine stitching around the pockets. Due to limited time, my inexperience with hand sewing construction seams, and the necessity of robust pocket construction I am happy with the compromise. The inside of the dress shows neat embroidery stitches with knotted tails, all cut off at a scant ½ inch as recommended by Alabama Chanin Studio. After laundering these will soften and fuzz up, but remain large enough so as to not pull through to the front.
The design is a series of 5 ropes, twisting across the front of the bodice, interrupted by the neckline. The ropes are created by cutting ½ strips along the grain line and pulling on the ends, which caused the fabric to tightly curl forming ropes. My ropes started out 40 inches long to avoid having to butt them end to end. There are a total of 17 twists across the front bodice. Although Alabama Chanin provided many photos and instructions for couching, I never observed the crossing of ropes, which made me a bit nervous. All the edges are finished with a 1.25 inch strip of lightweight cotton jersey cut across the grain line, folded in half, and then embroidered with gray herringbone stitch. The raglan sleeve seams are also covered with gray herringbone stitches, to frame the front bodice area. Since the pockets interrupt the side seams, I reversed the herringbone stitch, and used navy blue stitching to keep it from distracting from the other embroidery. The herringbone stitch reinforces while maintaining a stretch, and is a pretty way to finish the seam allowances throughout the dress. The real magic of Alabama Chanin’s is the templates provided which allows you to quickly and accurately mark your embroidery before stitching. The results are neat, uniform stitches, front and back! It makes even a beginner like me look proficient with just a little patience and practice. Also, I found the “love” the thread suggestion made a big difference.
In the end, I have a very comfortable and pretty knit dress. For my first attempt at these methods, I am extremely pleased. I am proud that I completed this challenge using only stash fabric and threads. At this point, I want to wash and wear the dress a few times to assess the robustness of my embroidery and couching stitches. If all goes well, I will be making a more involved design, perhaps combining the reverse applique with couching outlines as showcased by the Alabama Chanin Design Studio. Another idea is to use this technique to embellish using the ropes to write text. There are so many ideas running through my mind, and that is definitely the hallmark of a successful make. I definitely see some gorgeous organic cotton jersey in my future.
I highly recommend the Alabama Chanin Design Studio books and methods, especially for anyone interested in hand constructing and embellishing garments. Many thanks to Pattern Review and the Sewing Bee’s Mentors, Judges, and Sponsors.