Sewing La La Land: Dreamy Dresses, Sewing Tips

La La Land costume
La La Land sketch by Mary Zophres; photo from Lionsgate. (via Hollywood Reporter)

Have you seen the movie La La Land yet? In the movie Emma Stone wears a series of “retro realistic” dresses that look like you could buy them off the rack at Bloomingdale’s. (A deliberate choice, according to costume designer Mary Zophres.) But at the same time, the dresses are memorable—you find yourself thinking about the colors and the way they float as Emma dances in them.

You won’t be able to find these La La Land dresses in stores, but you can make very similar versions yourself! In today’s blog post we pair Emma’s dresses with possible patterns, and give you some sewing tips from Marcy Tilton for working with lightweight fabrics such as chiffon and georgette. Read on!

Blue dress from La La Land: Sew the look with McCall's M7281

To make your version of this party dress, here made up in a brilliant blue, use McCall’s M7281. For the bodice and skirt lining, where you need a more stable fabric, use crepe or a lightweight satin with a soft drape. For the overbodice and skirt use a floaty chiffon that will accentuate your very best dance moves.

La La Land green dress: Sew the look with Butterick B6380

With its sweetheart neckline this emerald green, date-night dress has a slightly retro feel to it. Butterick’s B6380 by Gertie is a pretty good match, especially if you convert the sleeves to a cap or flutter sleeve. Go for lightweight crepe de chines that puddle into soft folds.

La La Land yellow dress: Sew the look with McCall's M7500

This is the yellow dress you’ve probably seen in images for the movie; it’s when Emma and Ryan first dance together. McCall’s pattern (M7500) has the basic shape of the yellow dress, with the square neckline and full skirt. We’d use the tucked bodice from View D, and we’d alter the sleeves from View C or D so they’re cap sleeves. For fabrics, try a silk crepe or georgette with a delicate floral print.

Ready to sew your own La La Land dress? Here are some tips from Marcy Tilton, Vogue Patterns designer and sewing expert, on working with tricky fabrics like chiffon and georgette:Vogue Patterns designer Marcy Tilton

  • Cut sheer fabrics such as crepe and georgette using a smooth paper:
    • Lay down a layer of paper* on the cutting table, and trim the ends so they are straight (at right angles to the opposite edge). This assures that you can line up the grain of the fabric with the edges of the paper.  
    • Tear or pull a thread on the cross grain of your fabric at either cut edge to assure the grain is straight. This is key.
    • Place the fabric on top of the paper, smoothing so the grain is straight. Align the selvedge and cut edges with the paper. This assures that the grain is straight on the pattern pieces.
    • Pin the pattern through all layers and cut through all layers. The bottom paper layer keeps the soft fabric from shifting as you cut and allows you to move and mark the pieces without distorting. 
  • Buy at least a quarter yard extra to allow for shrinkage and so you have extra to test with. 
  • Test fabric scraps for needle size and stitch length. 
    • Use a small (#10/11) sharp needle, fine polyester or silk thread and short stitch length (2.0-1.5 mm).
  • Pre-treat fabric by dipping in lukewarm water and air drying. Roll in a clean towel to remove excess water. Do not put in the dryer. Steam press after pre-shrinking.
  • After sewing, hand launder and air dry. Crepe weave fabrics are created with highly twisted yarns that will shrink, sometimes just with steam, so pre-treating is essential even if you plan to dry clean. In that case, give the yardage a good steam press before cutting. 
  • Use French seams whenever possible, making them as narrow as possible. 
  • If you are going to use a serger you will have to test stitch width, length and thread weight. You want something that is thin, light and nearly invisible. 
  • Cut with a rotary cutter or scissors (in this case override the ‘rule’ about cutting paper with your special fabric tools.)
  • Mark with tailor tacks, or fine dots using a dressmaker pencil.
  • If the fabric looks the same on both sides, mark the wrong sides with stick-on label dots.
  • Plot the order of construction carefully. Leave the fabric pinned flat on the table until you are ready to sew them. Hanging/moving can sometimes cause stretching or distorting.
  • Stay-stitch front and back neck edges first thing.

* Suitable smooth papers are: surgical exam table paper, brown kraft paper or tracing paper.

Tips For Sewing Velvet, From Marcy Tilton

Tips for sewing velvet on the McCall Pattern Company blog

“You’ll want some velvet for fall.” That was a headline to a recent New York Times article about the popularity of velvet this season, and we have to admit we’ve fallen for the luxe fabric as well.

But just as we start dreaming of all the chic velvet pieces we want to make, reality hits and we remember this cold, hard fact: silk or rayon velvet is a beast to sew. It slips, slides, shifts, and stretches. We wondered: How can we sew silk or rayon velvet and live to tell the tale?

MarcyTilton
Vogue Patterns designer Marcy Tilton

Fortunately Vogue Patterns designer Marcy Tilton is a pro at working with tricky fabrics like velvet, and she gladly volunteered to write a post about how she conquers velvet. Read on and get ready to sew some velvet! (And if you’re in the market for velvet, check out Marcy’s selection here at her online fabric store.)

Tips for Sewing Velvet
by Marcy Tilton

Silk velvet can be slippery, slides around in handling and the nap grabs itself so the fabric shifts—in fact, can shift in length and width. Pressing is tricky too. The iron can leave marks, seams can show through, hand stitching can be obvious. Your ‘touch’ and how you handle the fabric make a big difference every step of the way: preparation, testing, cutting, pressing, stitching and final touches.

Buy extra fabric to play with!
Échatillion is a beautiful French word for sample. In couture houses they make many to test the fabric using swatches, and these swatches are lovely, and are saved for future reference. This is an essential step before you leap into your project, and in making a series of samples you are carrying on in the tradition of the finest couture seamstresses.

Test for:
• Seams, width and finishes.
• Needle size and stitch length
• Pressing – try to make every mistake you might make to see just how to handle the fabric and iron, and what is the best ‘touch’ to develop to handle the fabric.

Tips for sewing velvet on the McCall Pattern Company blog

Tools:
• Paper for cutting out (see below)
• An iron with LOTS of steam. I use a Reliable Pro with a boiler tank and use the steam in tandem with pressing, often letting the steam do the work.
• A teflon shoe for the iron
• Smooth terry towel or a piece of cotton velveteen to cover the ironing board
• Silk thread (works better than a good quality long staple polyester)
• 505 brand Temporary Fabric Adhesive spray
• Fine, sharp needle
• Walking foot for your sewing machine

Cutting out your pattern:
Cut with a layer of paper underneath the fabric. Place a layer of paper down on your cutting surface, trim both ends at right angles
Tear or pull a thread to establish the cross grain of your velvet. Silk velvet tears easily, don’t be afraid! (Editor’s note: Sadly, rayon velvet does not tear easily.) Place the fabric on top of the paper, lining up the selvedges and cross grain with the paper. Pin the fabric through all layers.

Cut through all the layers including the paper. The paper allows you to move the pieces around on the design table so you can transfer markings without distorting the pattern pieces.

Suggestion: Cut the velvet with the nap running down, not up. True, if you run the velvet up, the color looks darker and richer, but the problem is in wearing. The fanny area will get crushed out of shape, it will ‘grab’ other clothes, like coats, and will stick to chairs. One of those things that sounds good in theory but not so much in practice.

Marking:
Transfer markings before removing the pattern and fabric from the bottom layer of paper. Mark with tailor’s tacks. I use embroidery thread for this as it does not pull out easily. Take one stitch through the fabric leaving ¾” tails. One stitch only. Then gently separate the layers and clip the threads. Or, mark with a dressmaker’s pencil, making a dot at each marking. I lick the pencil to give it a bit more color and lasting power.

Sewing:
The biggest challenge is to keep the fabric from shifting as you sew.
Option #1: Hand basting. In the old days, I relied on hand basting every seam using a diagonal basting stitch and silk thread. The seam is machine stitched right over the basting thread, which is easily removed as the silk thread slides out easily.

Option #2: Spray adhesive (my preferred method)
1076504My preferred method is to use a spray adhesive like 505 Spray. Cover your work surface with paper, and carefully mask off the seam allowance with paper. Spray a light, consistent amount of spray within the seam allowance, then carefully line up the edges of your fabric pieces. Stitch. This is quick and works beautifully. It is a little-known secret of couture houses that for years the seamstresses have relied on similar spray adhesives for just this purpose. [Meg Carter reports that she tried this tip and considers it a game-changer for sewing velvet.]

Pressing:
Keep a light hand, under-press and go for a soft look. Do NOT use a velvet board! This old school tool is never big enough and the edges and corners can leave indelible marks on the fabric. Pad the ironing board instead so you have a large surface to work on. If you use a sleeve board and/or ham, pad those surfaces too.Tips for sewing velvet on the McCall Pattern Company blog

Pad the ironing board with terry towels and a layer of cotton velveteen or inexpensive polyester stretch velvet on top. Having another fabric with a pile and nap on top of the ironing surface keeps the pile on the silk velvet and prevents marks and seam show-through.

Press seams flat after stitching. When using spray adhesive you can serge the seams first or I serge the two seams together after stitching, then press the serged seam to one side. In some cases you can separate the seams and press open, and a bit of the adhesive remains. But if the spray is light enough to hold the layers for stitching and can be peeled open, the residue will dissipate some. Testing is essential to determine which is the best pressing strategy.

Experiment with pressing seams open to see how much pressure to apply with the iron, using a combination of steam, light iron pressure and finger pressing.

Diagonal Basting:
To hold two layers of silk velvet together firmly for stitching a seam or to form a smooth enclosed edge as on the front edge of a jacket or collar, there is nothing that beats diagonal basting.

• Use silk thread.
• Use a single strand.
• No knots, just take a couple of short stitches to secure.
• Don’t make the strand too long or it tangles.
• Don’t pull too tight, the fabric should not distort.
• It does not need to look beautiful, though in time your stitches will look neater.
• Take a stitch with the needle at right angle to the edge. Stitches are about 1/2″ apart. Keep stitches firm but not too tight. Silk thread slips out easily after the seam is stitched.IMG_1435

More tips for feeling comfortable working with velvet:
Silk velvet appears delicate but in fact is a workhorse fabric which takes as well to the street as the ballroom. You can take different approaches to sewing with it depending on the result you want. I’ve used these two approaches to sewing velvet:

1. Keep your velvet in its original condition—pristine and smooth and flat. This takes more care, patience, practice and skill. I recommend you start with #2 below, a project that is crushed or crinkled.

2. Beat up your velvet! Toss the fabric in the washer/dryer. When your velvet garment is finished, you wet and pleat/crinkle your velvet à la Fortuny (see instructions below). Working over your velvet first is like using training wheels so you get the feel of working on the fabric, while upping your skills on stitching and pressing.

An example of what "beat-up" velvet looks like. (Getty Images)
An example of what “beat-up” velvet looks like. (Getty Images)

The pleating process for finished velvet garments:
This technique can be used with almost any garment—jackets, shirts, skirts and pants. Helps if there is plenty of ease in the garment so the pleats can hang without being stretched out by the body. This is the process I use on soft, loose fitting silk velvet pants. These instructions are for a jacket, but follow the same guidelines to pleat pants, pleating each leg separately.

Evenly dampen the finished pressed garment. Use a spray bottle or run it through the washing machine on a gentle cycle so the garment is evenly damp, NOT sopping wet.

Fold the damp garment in half and smooth out on a clean surface, keeping the sleeves free and aligning the side seams and center front edges. Starting at center back and working from the neck edge to the hem, form small pleats, making them as even as you can. The damp fabric will hold the pleats in place. Go for consistency rather than perfection. Pleat from center back to the side seam.

Keeping the top sleeve out of the way, pleat the front of the jacket in the same way. The front edges of the jacket should not be pleated as tightly as the body of the garment.
Flip the entire piece over to the other side, keeping the pleats in place as best as you can. Finesse/touch up the pleats on this side of the garment and pleat the sleeve. Do your best so the pleating is consistent throughout.

Gently but firmly, keep the pleating in place and roll the entire piece into a twisted bundle. Put the damp twisted bundle in a warm dry place and allow to dry. In summer I put it on a table in the sun. In winter I place it on a towel close to a heater. It does not have to be bone-dry to untwist. I keep and eye on it and open the bundle gradually to check on the moisture. When it is almost dry, shake it out and hang on a shaped/padded hanger to dry completely. At this stage, I smooth out the front edges, sometimes give it a VERY light touch up press so that the front buttons smoothly, but not too much, you want to keep the pleats. The pleats WILL relax as you wear the garment. I re-twist to store the jacket in between wearings.

• • • • •

Thanks, Marcy! Meg Carter just made a kimino jacket using Marcy’s tips and she says this is the first time she’s sewn rayon velvet and not wanted to pull her hair out. She made this quick little video below that showcases Marcy’s tips here and includes some of Meg’s own. Next week—easy patterns to sew that will look chic in velvet. Stay tuned!

Sandra Betzina and Marcy Tilton wearing the velvet suits they made in 1980.
Sandra Betzina and Marcy Tilton wearing the velvet suits they made in 1980. “Hard to see, but kind of fun. My suit is dark green, Sandra’s is burgundy. We sewed together, did a lot of experimenting to get the patterns right…used my grandmother’s victorian black silk velvet theatre coat as a guide to getting a high armhole. Then, there was the fabric. We fussed, experimented, made mistakes and finally came out with a success.” —Marcy

 Velvet can be a tricky fabric to sew. Here are some tips from Marcy Tilton and the McCall Pattern Company to help you sew velvet without tears.

Bomber Jacket Sew-Along: Inserting the Zipper

McCall Pattern Company blog: Bomber Jacket Sew-AlongHi sew-alongers! Today we’re going to talk about inserting a front separating zipper on your bomber jacket. I’ll show how to shorten a zipper to the exact length you need, and share some of my favorite tips for a smooth, ripple-free insertion, plus a bonus tutorial for making the zippered pockets I added to my jacket.

Shortening a Zipper

I’ve gotten a lot of practice shortening zippers since I moved to NYC five or six years ago. Most of the stores around here sell zippers in one or two standard lengths. Many will cut them to size while you wait; unfortunately I rarely have my act together to know what length I need at the time of purchase, so I almost always end up doing it myself! If you’ve purchased the zipper to the exact size you need, you can ignore this bit. But if you’ve altered the pattern or couldn’t find the right size at your local store, read on.

I used zippers and stops purchased at Sil Thread in the NYC garment district, but you can also find the stops at Wawak, Zipperstop, Zippershipper, and elsewhere. Just make sure you get the correct size of stops for your zipper.

Remove zipper teeth with a good pair of wire cutters

For a separating jacket zipper, you’ll need to do any shortening from the top. Mark the desired zipper length, then open the zipper to well below the stopping point. Use a good pair of wire cutters to remove the teeth for about half an inch above the mark. Make sure to use eye protection in case the little bits go flying. (note – if you find yourself struggling with this, it’s not just you! This is the tricky part. Try bending the zipper tape to splay the teeth slightly and isolate the one you’re trying to grab. Once you’ve gotten the first tooth out, the rest should be easier.)

Use needle-nose pliers to attach a new stop at the top of the zipperNext, apply the new stopper. The easiest way I’ve found to do it is to grip the new stopper in your needle-nose pliers so that the opening faces toward the back of the pliers. Thread the zipper tape through the pliers behind the stopper, maneuver it into position, and clamp the stop in place. Repeat for the other side of the zipper, and you’re done! Just give the stoppers a little tug to make sure they’re secure before you try to close the zipper.

Inserting the zipper

interface the zipper area to help prevent stretching and rippling

When it comes time to insert the zipper (step 26 in the M7100 pattern, or step 4 in B6181) I like to pause and build a little extra stability into the jacket front. Cut a strip of lightweight fusible interfacing about an inch wide and the length of the jacket front and fuse it to the wrong side of the fabric over the center front seam allowance, or use a fusible stay tape placed right on the stitching line.

Before placing your zipper, determine how much of the zipper tape you would like to show next to your zipper teeth. This can be as little as 1/16″, or as much as 1/4″ or more depending on the size of your zipper. (Showing more tape might be desirable if you’ve chosen a decorative or contrasting zipper, or if you’re inserting piping or another narrow trim between the zipper and the jacket front). If showing more tape, you may wish to chalk the stitching line onto the zipper tape to ensure that it is accurate.

frontzip-2

The pattern instructions suggest basting the zipper in place before attaching the zipper facing. I recommend that you do this by hand, especially if you’re using a stretchy crepe or knit, as machine basting (especially if you sew over pins) can result in stretching that will cause the finished zipper to ripple. While the interfacing or stay tape will help to prevent this, hand basting really doesn’t take that long and I prefer to have the extra layer of precaution.

separating zipper hand basted in place

Once the zipper is securely basted, you can continue with the zipper construction as directed in the pattern. On one half of the separating zipper you will be able to sew the zipper tape from end to end without stopping, but on the other half you will need to pause at some point and move the slider out of the way before continuing. If possible, do this with the needle down to avoid any wobbles or jags in the finished stitching, but if you have a bulky slider and are stitching very close to the zipper teeth this may not be possible. In that case, once you’ve moved the slider out of the way, use the hand wheel to lower the needle exactly on the stitching line before you drop the presser foot and continue.

Bonus tutorial: Adding zipper pockets

For my jacket, I decided I wanted zipper pockets instead of the welt pockets in the pattern. The pockets are placed right next to the seam, and require no changes to the pocket or jacket pieces although they’re sewn differently. (Again, I’m using M7100, so the pockets are inserted in the side front seam. You should be able to use the same method for the side seam pockets in B6181, however.)

applying a closed-end zipper stop

To do this you’ll need two closed-end zippers of the correct length for the pocket opening (mine were about six inches from stopper to stopper). I shortened the zippers using the same method described above, but finished with a two-sided bottom stopper to connect the zipper tapes.

place the pocket zipper slightly in from the stitching line

Interface the seam allowance where the zipper will go, as was done at center front. Place the zipper about 3/8″ in from the stitching line and stitch in place, starting and ending just beyond the stopper and backtacking for security.

Place the pocket on top of the zipper and sew from the back side

Place one half of the pocket on top of the zipper, right sides together and aligning the pocket markings, and sew from the back side right on top of the first line of stitching, starting and stopping at the same point.

Clip just the garment layer at an angle to the end of the stitching

Clip into the seam allowance on the garment layer only, angling your scissors out from the center of the pocket opening and stopping right at the end of the stitching.

Flip the zipper and pocket to the inside

Flip the zipper and pocket to the inside. At each end, press the triangular corner back at a right angle to create the square end of the pocket opening.

Add the other pocket layer and stitch around the rounded edge

Add the other pocket layer and stitch around the rounded edge, catching the triangular ends of the opening as you go.

baste the other side of the zipper in place

On the outside, baste the other side of the zipper to the inner layer of the pocket. Measure the seam allowance to make sure the stitching line is the correct distance from the zipper teeth, and trim as necessary. Now you can sew the seam.

Finished zipper pocket

The finished seam-adjacent zipper pocket.