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Jenna Dress Sewalong - Assembling the bodice (variation 1)

Time to start sewing our Jenna dresses! Throughout this sewalong, we'll be breaking down the making of your Jenna into detailed step by step instructions, accompanied by photos and plenty of extra tips and tricks. First up, we're sewing the supercute short sleeved, square necked bodice of Variation 1.

*To be taken to all the posts in the Jenna Dress sewalong, please click here!*

But before we begin, have you...?

  • Pre-washed your fabric?
  • Cut out all your pattern pieces?
  • Snipped all the notches?

In this post we will be:

  • Stitching darts
  • Closing the shoulder seams
  • Closing the side seams
  • Talking about different seam finishes
  • Joining the lining to the bodice
  • Assembling the short tie sleeves
  • Setting in the sleeves

Stitching the darts

The key to a successful dart is all in the prep.

Before removing the pattern paper from your fabric after cutting, make sure that you have carefully snipped into all the notches (remember that you only need to make a little snip - 5mm max! - as you don't want your snips to extend past the seam line 5/8" or 15mm in from the raw edge) and that you have marked out the dart tips. From there, you will be able to draw out the dart by connecting the dart tip with the notches. Make sure that you mark your darts on the wrong side of the fabric, either with tailors chalk or a specific dressmakers pen.

Now that your dart is marked out, go ahead and fold your fabric - right sides together - so that the notches at the side seam match up and the fold of the fabric runs through the centre of your dart. Pin the dart into place, using your pin to check that the dart legs are aligned either side of the fold.

We now have a foolproof guideline to stitch along! Starting at the dart point, and not backstitching there, stitch your dart out to the side seam along the marked line. Backstitch when you get to the end, and tie off the threads at the dart point with a secure double knot. The reason that we don't backstitch at the dart point is that too much thread and needle action can cause the dart point to turn out puckered, distorted, or even worse for delicate fabrics, damaged and holey. The goal is to create a dart that has a smooth point that effortlessly vanishes off to nothing (which does take a little practice.... but don't worry - most dart point issues can be corrected by a good press!).

Press the bust darts downwards, and waist darts towards the side seams. When you come to assembling the lining, press the waist darts in the opposite direction in order to reduce bulk at the waistline.

Sewing the shoulder seams

We now need to join the front and back dress pieces together at the shoulder seams.

Lay your dress back pieces on top of your dress front piece, right sides together. Pin the shoulders into place.

TIP: Always pin your fabric as shown, with the pins pointing perpendicularly into the fabric, so that they lie horizontally when the fabric is fed through your sewing machine. Like this, they will be easier to whip out as you stitch, and will be less likely to get crunched down into your machine if you forget to take one out than if they were inserted vertically.

With our usual 5/8" or 15mm seam allowance, stitch the shoulder seams.

Four ways to neaten your seams

After stitching a seam on our sewing machine, it's really important to 'finish', or neaten off that excess seam allowance to prevent it from fraying, to keep things looking neat on the inside, and ultimately to create a long lasting garment that won't start falling apart prematurely. There are a number of ways to finish your seams...

Clockwise from top left:

Overlocking/serging

Definitely our favourite method, but it will require you to have an overlocker (or a serger as they are known in the US), which is a whole new machine. If you are going to be sewing garments regularly, then it is a worthwhile investment! An overlocker uses two needles and four spools of thread to essentially bind the seam allowance, while trimming the excess away, for a stronger seam that will not fray, and looks neat and professional af!

Pinking

'Pinking' means trimming down the excess seam allowance with pinking shears, or put simply, zigzag scissors. This is not the most effective finish in that it won't add any strength to your seam, but it will help prevent the fabric from fraying, at least in the short term.

Zigzag stitch

If you don't have an overlocker, or any fancy stitch options on your machine (and some of the very best vintage machines will only have straight and zigzag stitch options), then a zigzag stitch will do the job. Simply zigzag next to your seam and trim away the excess. Lots of handmade vintage clothing is sewn in this way, and has survived the test of time, so if it was good enough for them!

Mock overlock

Some regular sewing machines will have an imitation overlock stitch setting which basically does everything that an overlocker does, except for trimming away the excess fabric at the raw edge. This strengthens and neatens, without having to have a whole new machine. 

Sewing the side seams

With right sides together, pin your dress at the side seams and stitch with the usual 5/8" or 15mm. Press the seam open, or towards the back, and finish the excess.

Repeat the steps above for the bodice lining.

Joining the lining to the bodice

With the right side of the bodice facing you, place the lining right side down onto the bodice and pin the two together all along the neckline matching shoulder seams and the open centre back.

We've opted for a slightly renegade fabric for the lining - it's a deliciously soft silk jersey... yes it's a knit! Lining a woven! The first time I did this it was out of desperation: I was making a dress that had to be finished by that evening and I suddenly realised I had no suitable lining fabric, but I did have a whole bunch of this off white silk jersey. I went for it, and holy crow am I glad that I did! The result was a totally acceptable lining, that felt soooo much nicer against my skin than any lightweight cotton or silky woven lining fabric ever could. So it may be a little unorthodox, but it works just fine and results in a dress that is more comfortable to wear!

Stitch the neckline with the usual 5/8" or 15mm seam allowance. Grade the seam to reduce bulk by trimming the lining's seam allowance down to 1/4" and the main fabric down to 3/8". Then clip into the seam allowance at the curves.

Before we turn the lining to the inside of the bodice, it's a great idea to understitch the seam allowance as this helps the lining to stay inside the bodice and not roll out to the front. Check out our understitching tutorial here.

Finally, turn the lining to the inside of the bodice and press the neckline.

Baste the lining to the bodice at the armholes to keep the two layers together when we come to setting in the sleeve.

Assembling the short tie sleeves - 2 ways

We're going to show you two different ways to assemble the short tie cuff sleeves: the first is the same as in the instructions, and the second is slightly different. Why not try both methods on one sleeve each so you can decide which you find easier! But first, we need to prep the sleeve...

Start by finishing the raw long edges of the sleeve - this is the sleeve's outer seam - and pressing it in by 5/8" or 15mm. If you are overlocking your seams and you end up losing the notch that indicates the top of the outer seam's opening, you can always mark it out with your dressmaker's pen.

Next we're going to close the shorter underarm seam. Pin right sides together and stitch with the usual seam allowance and press open, or towards the sleeve back. It's at this point that it is imperative you double check that you have the right pair - each sleeve needs to have a sleeve front and a sleeve back, and because there are four sleeve pieces that all look very similar, it is very easy to get them all switched up!

Method #1

Take the sleeve cuff and fold it in half lengthways, right sides together. Pin the two ends, leaving the step in the middle unstitched.

With a smaller 3/8" or 10mm seam allowance, stitch the two cuff ends. Trim the seam allowance right down to about 1/8" or 3mm, stopping when you get to the steps. 

Turn the tie cuff out to the right side and give it a good press. 

 With right sides facing, pin the sleeve to one layer of the the central, unstitched part of the cuff, matching the underarm seam to the notch, and the folded edges of the sleeve to the steps of the cuff.

Stitch the sleeve to the cuff with a 1/2" or 12mm seam, press the seam into the cuff and then press the loose edge of the cuff in and pin it to the inside of the sleeve. To seal this opening, either sew the fold into place by hand with a blind slip stitch, or stitch in the ditch from the right side.

Method #2

Lay out your sleeve cuff flat, right side facing you. Place the sleeve right side down and pin the two together at the central part of the cuff, matching the underarm seam to the centre notch.

Stitch into place and turn your sleeve so that the right side is facing you:

 Fold the cuff up so that right sides are together and you can pin the two tie ends either side of the sleeve.

 With 3/8" or 10mm seam allowance, stitch the ties from the ends, stopping when you reach the edge of the sleeve. Trim the seam allowances right down to 1/8" or 3mm.

Turn the ties out to the right side and give them a good press. Press the loose edge of the cuff in and pin it to the inside of the sleeve. To seal this opening, either sew the fold into place by hand with a blind slip stitch, or stitch in the ditch from the right side.

Both methods...

...finish by stitching the outer seam of the sleeve - the one that will go over your shoulder - from the sleeve head and down to the notch.

Setting the sleeves in

Almost done for today! 

With your bodice inside out, and your sleeve right side out, slip the sleeve inside the bodice and into the armhole. Pin the sleeve to the armhole right sides together, matching the sleeve's underarm seam to the bodice's side seam, outer sleeve seam to the shoulder seam, and all the notches in between. There will be a small amount of gentle easing to do with your thumbs, but the sleeve is designed go in just fine without the need to gather the sleeve head to fit.

Stitch the sleeve into place, catching both the bodice and lining layers. Finish the excess and press the seam towards the sleeve. 

 Hooray! Your bodice will be looking a little something like this, and that my friends, earns you a well deserved happy dance! And also quite possibly a large glass of wine / G&T / bucket of tea and biscuits...

Next up on the Jenna Dress sewalong...

Those of you making the variation 2 bodice - jewel neck, collar, bracelet length sleeves - you're next!

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