Dresses that look professionally made can be sewn at home. Many techniques from a professional dressmaker’s shop can be duplicated by the home dressmaker willing to follow pattern directions, cut precisely, press properly, and pay attention to finishing details.
First, select a pattern that is suited to your sewing ability. It is better to make a simple dress well than to make a complicated dress poorly. Select quality fabric according to the recommendations on the back of your pattern. Dress fabrics should drape well on the body. Jersey and interlock knits, wool challis, silky polyesters, crepes, and raw silk all make lovely dresses. Select linings and interfacings compatible with the dress fabric.
Carefully cut and mark all pattern pieces from fabric, interfacing, and lining, if applicable. Dressmaker pencils or pens and tailor’s chalk come in white and colors, and any are good for marking smooth fabrics. Thread tacks can be used to mark textured fabrics. Use different markings for small dots, large dots, and squares, because you will have to match all pattern markings in order to fit the dress pieces together accurately. Do not mark the hem until the dress is otherwise complete.
Carefully follow all pattern instructions, in order. Press as you sew, always pressing one seam open before crossing with another seam. Use a seam roll, press mitt, or dressmaker’s ham to press spots that are curved or hard to reach. For fusible interfacings, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Use swatches of the dress fabric and scraps of interfacing to test fusible interfacings before fusing your actual dress pieces.
The marks of a professionally sewn dress are in the details. Pay attention to these areas:
1. Darts are stitched and pressed accurately with no puckers at the points.
2. Zipper is stitched with straight topstitching or invisible zipper is invisible;
3. Buttonholes are even in size and spacing. They are correctly sized for the buttons used.
4. Seams are finished to prevent raveling, if dress is unlined. Use seam binding, a Hong Kong finish, or serging.
5. Little extras such as fabric flowers, decorative braid trim, special antique buttons, or hand beading make a dress look “custom made” rather than “homemade.”
Finally, a poorly done hem can ruin an otherwise fabulous dress. Let bias skirts hang for 24 hours before marking the hem. To mark the hem, wear the dress with the undergarments you plan to wear under the dress and the shoes you plan to wear. Adjust a chalk-squirting hem marker so that the chalk line will be the desired distance from the floor for the finished skirt. Holding the bulb of the marker and looking straight ahead with weight on both feet, slowly turn while squeezing the bulb to make chalk markings at intervals all around the skirt. Now remove the dress, turn under and press the hem along the chalk line, and sew the hem. This method ensures a skirt that hangs evenly, for a dress that looks like it was made by a professional dressmaker.