Behind the Seams: The ‘Mademoiselle’ Dress

What is Behind the Seams?

To complement the posts I’ll be contributing to The Sew Weekly (TSW) Challenge, I’m starting the ‘Behind the Seams’ (BTS) series to share more information on my thought processes during preparation and/or the actual construction process and sometimes tutorials on how things are done. More images of the completed garment will also be posted here. Through this series, I hope to share with you the ‘why’ ‘what’ and ‘how’ information and off course the photography sessions, hiccups and stories where relevant. So, if you like to, you can treat my post on TSW as Part 1 and BTS as Part 2 :)

Week 1 Theme: Coco Chanel

As some of you already know, the inaugural theme is Coco Chanel and you can find my TSW post here.

The ‘Mademoiselle’ Dress:

Photo Gallery


How Coco ‘shaped’ my outfit?

I do not think I have ever done this much research before making a dress and it had nothing to do  with actual sewing but in getting to know more about a woman. The legendary Coco Chanel.

I loved her ideal of the LBD  and how versatile it should be. “A dress that was minimalist, sophisticated, elegant, to be worn at any time of day.” The Telegraph elaborated on this ideal perfectly. “Her revolutionary approach to design meant that the dress could be worn as day, cocktail and evening wear.”  And while I couldn’t sew my dress in black as it was for the Lunar New Year, I held this ideal close while selecting the sewing pattern. A dress that could be worn anytime.

Chanel was credited for making jersey a popular fashion fabric. And that definitely gave me a push towards using matte jersey for the dress. Nonetheless, her original jersey garments were mostly in black, grey and blue so I think the red color I chose is more Chanel (the brand) than Coco Chanel. Pure red garments can be found in almost all of its recent collections and numerous ad campaigns. A signature Coco Chanel design element is fraying at the hems or fringe trims, which I was most happy to add to the neckline.

How can I leave out the bright red lipstick and costume jewelry pearls. We owe these all to Coco Chanel and I had to adorn myself with them during the photo shoot :)

Pattern Review

The sewing pattern I used was No. 3 ‘Gather drape dress’ from the Japanese Sewing Book, ‘Drape drape’ Volume 1.

This is the first Japanese sewing pattern I used which didn’t require the addition of seam allowance.  I don’t read Japanese but as usual, the diagrams made the steps crystal clear. It was also the first time I sewed a dress from a one piece pattern. I was amazed just looking at it!  Little did I expect this dress to take up so much of my time.

The pattern is rather big so they divided it into two on the pattern sheet so you need to join them while tracing at the round circle indicated in the diagram below.  Look for the two No. 3 patterns on the overlapping pattern sheet and match the semi circles.

I followed the book diagram closely for the bodice and front of the dress. However,  during fitting I realized that a zip was not necessary for this dress as opposed to the notions recommended by the book. Also, I had to change the back of the dress rather drastically. Yes, I used the seam ripper a lot for this project.

You see, the book only shown a photo of the front of the dress but not the back (now we know why) and when I saw the technical drawing below, I thought it would only make my hip look bigger, which was fine by me. However, imagine my horror when all those gathers ended up at the narrowest part of my waist! I think it might be because the pattern was designed for Japanese women who are usually more petite than I am. I’m 5 feet 7 so for any brave soul attempting this project in future, try to lengthen the bodice if you see fit. I also lengthened the hem by 3 inches.

I removed most of the gathers at the back of the skirt so it ended up much cleaner. It is times like these that I wished I had a dressform as I had to repeatedly put the dress on, make markings with a fabric chalk or pin, take it off and baste.  It still isn’t perfect but now, I dare wear the dress out of the house :)

So, there you have it, my version of ‘Drape drape’ dress No. 3 with no zipper and overwhelming back gathers. The top of the back bodice is held together by huge snap buttons. I did quite a bit of hand stitching with the rose trim at the neckline too as it would be ugly to have a machine stitch running through it. A red dress is fabulous for the Lunar New Year as red is the color of prosperity. I hope you think it looks somewhat inspired by Chanel too :)



I had been enjoying the utopia of total control last year and now, the challenge is pushing me beyond my comfort zone. Instead of sewing along themes I am comfortable with. I now get to complete projects based on themes discussed and decided by the TSW team. Both exciting and definitely a whole lot more challenging. Perhaps for that reason, I also find myself more exposed, more vulnerable to self-doubt. I hope as the weeks and months progress that I will get more accustomed to the process and get to enjoy it  even more. It is also likely I am just feeling a little overwhelmed with all my family projects for Lunar New Year.
I hope you will enjoy this new series I am adding and if you find it beneficial, a simple comment is most appreciated :) That way, I’ll know whether I should continue doing BTS.
It has been raining (sometime pouring) here for the past one and a half weeks. I hope for some sunshine so I can do some outdoor photography. That’ll be fun!
Have an amazing week everyone! A bientôt!

Floral Blouse i

Today I made my first blouse from a Japanese sewing book, ‘Les couleurs francaises’. As I have never tried a Japanese pattern, I thought I better start with an easier project. The 26 projects in this book are identified by the English alphabet and I chose project i as it didn’t look too difficult and more importantly, required the least fabric.

This is the picture of project i from the book.

The pattern consisted of a front yoke, front bodice, a back piece and tie straps for the left sleeve. You could also cut your own bias tape but I used commercial ones.

I made my version using the above light weight Japanese floral fabric from Yuwa and here it is:

I find that having used the Built By Wendy Dresses book helped me in drafting from Japanese patterns. I am already used to tracing the pattern onto my own pattern paper. The only difference was, on Wendy’s book it was obvious where the patterns were, for Japanese sewing patterns, you have to do a search on these papers containing overlapping patterns for various projects. Looking at this did intimidated me a little at the beginning but at the end of the project, I will say it was not too bad :)  What an innovative way to save trees too!

Similarly, I am used to adding my own seam allowances. Besides the standard 1.5cm allowance, this project called for 0.5cm allowances for the neckline and armholes and 3cm for the hem. I think I have been a little bit spoilt by how fitting the colette pattern dresses and the Sabrina dress were. I found the blouse had way too much ease at the side seams and probably it was meant to be as I noticed from the project photograph. I did take in the seams to make it more of what I would normally wear. Somehow, more ease looked sloppy on me though it looked gorgeous on the model. I made a size 11 which is medium for Japanese sizes since I normally wear M for dresses from Muji. For a more personal touch, I added a red hand dyed vintage doily I got from this seller on etsy and a vintage green button just before the tie strap.

I soon realized the language barrier was not an issue. While the steps in the pattern book were written in Japanese, there was always a main diagram, like the one below, which showed me the sequence for sewing the project and was a tremendous help. There were also very clear and detailed diagrams for more complicated steps.

Thank God for diagrams as these completely put me at ease and I was able to complete this blouse in approximately four hours. Pretty gratifying!!!

Strange reminder & new theme

How often do you want to do something but keep forgetting due to all that distractions in life? I am convinced some reminders are heaven sent! I was driving home after sending my princess to school last week when I stopped at the traffic light. Suddenly I noticed some letters on a delivery track in front of me.

They are on the right door panel and I enlarged it for easy viewing here.

Okay. All right. I’ve heard you loud and clear darling fabrics. I would give you a good cleaning so you would be all ready for the new sewing theme. Here you are, some of you look pretty and clean now, all washed up for some tender ironing. I still need to work on a few of you. Nonetheless, my heartbeat races just by looking at all of you and yes, I am smiling…joyfully!

I am finally using a Nani Iro double gauze (far right bottom in photo)! Yay!

My new challenge?  I will be tackling a new frontier. Japanese sewing books. I’m terrified and excited at the same time. I have to do some research on this not only because it is a brand new area but I can’t read Japanese. The Moving Hands blog which highlighted Japanese sewing and pattern terms was a great help. At least it helped me understand the notions I required and gave me hope, an added sense of confidence that I can conquer the pattern. I have only two Japanese sewing books at the moment, ‘Les couleurs francaises’ and ‘Feminine Wardrobe’. So, I will be working on projects from these first.

While researching the topic, I also chanced upon a french blog. Another language I wished I knew. The Japan Couture Addicts blog is marvelous. It showcases finished works from Japanese Sewing Books and these are categorized by the books! I found the ‘Les couleurs francaises’ showcase here and the ‘Feminine Wardrobe’ one here.  Here are my favorites!

Dress by Made By Night

Blouse by Bulle de Gum

Blouse by Le Tricomonde de Sophie

Dress by PHISSO

I am inspired :) I feel fully charged and ready to take on the challenge! If my first few attempts are successful, this theme may stretch beyond two weeks as there are just so many cute blouses and dresses in the books!

Japanese Sewing Books

My family went downtown today to run some errands and while at Kinokuniya (Ngee Ann City), I picked up two Japanese sewing books I couldn’t resist.  This is my first time buying Japanese sewing books though I have been checking them out on etsy.

The first book entitled ‘Les couleurs francaises’ is  a japanese sewing book for mum/daughter outfits (ISBN  9784579112791) which I mentioned here. It is by Yoshiko Tsukiori, who also authored ‘Retrospective is Stylish’, a sewing book I have been trying to get a copy of only to discover that it is out of print. The second book ‘Feminine  Wardrobe’ (ISBN 9784579112906) by Jinko Matsumoto is themed around town, party and resort wear for ladies. I didn’t expect the bookshop here to carry  so many of these books and even the very recent ones! When I realized that they were actually cheaper than on etsy, I went straight to the cashier. I saved around US$7 per book from shipping! Yay! More importantly, I get to browse through the books before buying.

These were the photos that induced me to decide on these two books. The outfits I am so tempted to sew from ‘Les couleurs francaises’ include these dresses featured on the book’s cover,

this blouse and pants ensemble,

these matching blouses for mum & daughter,

Oh! Did I also mention that there are a total of 26 outfits you can create from the full scale patterns and instructions? Though all the text are in Japanese, the illustrations are pretty detailed. Similarly, there are 19 outfits to create in ‘Feminine Wardrobe’, including, this sweet blouse,

this winged sleeve dress,

this one-sided ribbon camisole,

and this ribbon collar blouse (the ribbon can be tied front or back).

Great outfits for summer, don’t you think? Have a great weekend everyone!