Handmade appliqué on stretchy knit dress; 1st try, not bad

March 9, 2017 at 7:53 am 1 comment

I love red. I would probably wear it all the time, but for limited closet space and funds. My favorite red dress has this tiny hole on the back and I was hoping no one would notice. It’s small, one-tenth the size of a penny. My manager noticed the hole and the dress code stipulates clothes with holes may not be worn to work. That was my signal to fix it. I thought of replacing the whole back of the dress, but color matching was a problem and the danger of taking the dress apart and never getting it back to it’s former glory. I could just sew a new back piece over the original, but that might make the dress unsuitable to wear on some of the warmer days in San Luis Obispo. Just covering the hole with zig-zag stitch wouldn’t do the dress any favors. And suddenly, I had the appliqué epiphany.

Stretchy cotton knit is not the easiest material to appliqué. I’d experimented with sewing t-shirts together, and the puckering and over-stretch discouraged me. Enter Pinterest and the interwebs. The traditional appliqué method for knits requires a hoop and tear away stabilizer. Meh. I don’t want to send things to the landfill if I don’t have to and I don’t have space in my craft box for a hoop. I did come across several tutorials for putting appliqués on kids leotards. Jack. Pot. The basic idea is to stiffen the fabric with liquid starch or other spray stiffener, eliminating need to use the tear away stabilizer. I chose Alene’s brand fabric stiffener. I also picked up a fabric glue stick of generic brand for good measure.

So, I have the dress as my base, my vehicle for appliqué. What to use for the ACTUAL appliqué? I got t-shirts. I got lots of t-shirts and some that needed to become muscles tees and a tank top developing a hole that needed replacement anyway. Cutting off the sleeves is limited amount of material for an appliqué and I wouldn’t get a do-over if I screwed up (I do recommend doing a practice run on other materials; advice I should follow). So planning became important here. How do you like my plan sketch? As you may remember, I adore Art Nouveau and Alphonse Mucha, which is where I drew inspiration for this sketch. I drew it out full scale so I could cut it up and use it as a pattern. I don’t have much confidence in my freehand, but it didn’t turn out too bad.

unnamed-4I sprayed two coats of stiffener to the base and all appliqué fabrics before cutting, allowing to fully dry between coats. After cutting, I used the fabric glue stick to put the pieces together and I sprayed another two coats of stiffener. The fabric wasn’t stiff as a board, but stiff enough to resist stretch. (All told, there were probably five coats of stiffener on the base (dress) and the appliqué pieces.) I took a lot of time during all these steps, probably a month or two, just meditating how to keep the project from going wrong. Really, I was paralyzed with fear of screwing up my favorite red dress.

I sewed the pieces of the applique together first, to minimize the sewing I had to do on the dress. I had no idea how resistant the stiffener might be and didn’t want to degrade it. After the initial sewing, I sprayed the appliqué with stiffener yet again and then left for CiderCon 2017 in Chicago.

The dried stiffener had cause the appliqués to be bumpy and curl at the very tips. I pressed  them after my nose stopped leaking from the cold I developed in Chicago and set out to pinning it to the dress. I used a ruler to get it centered and proceeded with lots of pins. I mean, a lot. Just in case. Just for my piece of mind. I also grabbed some Stitch Witchery, a double-sided iron-on thin fusible whatsit, and pinned that under the appliqué over the hole in the dress. I doubted the hole would get bigger with the appliqué protecting it, but again, just for piece of mind. Then finally, FINALLY, I started sewing onto the dress. I chose a very small stitch size, like for button holes, and a medium-wide zig-zag stitch on the machine and I went slowly. Very slowly. Experience has taught me to start from the middle and work my way out with sewing on a machine because the top and bottom fabrics tend to move at different speeds due to different friction effects. It’s a really good habit to keep things even and symmetrical in your sewing, so the shoulders meet the sleeves in the right place, for example. Last thing to do was follow directions on the Stitch Witchery package to seal the hole to the appliqué.

Whew. Looked pretty good. So I washed it. Even after drying it still puckered a little, but I’m still very pleased by it. Next time, I’ll do 10 coats of stiffener and sew even slower. Yes, I did wear it yesterday for the Day Without Women March.


Entry filed under: Costumes and Accessories. Tags: , , , , , .

The month of purple Ostentatious Aqua

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Laurel Przybylski  |  March 9, 2017 at 8:58 pm

    Yayyyyy!! Maggie! It turned out so well!!! Good work!


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