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Flora Dress Sewalong #6: Cutting, marking & stabilising your fabric

Can you believe we're already halfway through the Flora Dress Sewalong and we haven't even touched a sewing machine yet??! I don't know about you lot, but I'm itching to get down to business...

Today we will be:

  • Cutting out our fabric
  • Transferring all notches and markings
  • Stay stitching and stabilising 

*To be take to all the posts in the Flora Dress Sewalong, please click here*


Before you begin, have you pre-washed your fabric?? If not, go do that now! Just chuck it in the washing machine on a 30 degree express cycle, and either tumble dry or hang; however you would normally. Of course, if you're making the Flora Dress from some exquisite silk or something that cannot be washed, this part won't apply to you, just make sure that you only ever dry clean your dress once it's all made up.

You will have noticed from the layplans in your instruction booklet that we have recommended only using fabric at least 60" or 150cm wide. This is because the pleated circle skirt panels are so wide that they will only fit on wider fabrics when folded lengthways. However, there is a way around this if you happen to have fallen desperately in love with a narrower fabric and couldn't bear for it to become anything but a Flora! As long as your fabric does not have a directional print, and bearing in mind that you will probably need more fabric, you can fold it crossways as opposed to lengthways in order to cut your skirt panels:

Do make sure, however, that you cut your bodice pieces properly on the grainline as shown in the instruction booklet's layplans.

To cut out your pattern pieces, fold your fabric and place the pattern according to the layplans in the instruction booklet, or the diagram shown above if you're working with a narrower width fabric. Pay extra attention to:

  • Pieces that need to be placed on the fold of the fabric - the bodice front (Variation 2 only) and the skirt front
  • Placement of the pattern pieces according to the grainline - the grainline lies parallel to the selvedges (see diagram above)
  • Pinning the pattern pieces to the fabric - keep pins as flat as possible to avoid distorting the fabric as you pin
  • Saving space! Place the pattern pieces as close as possible to each other in order to waste the least possible fabric
  • Cutting - always cut to the left of your pattern

Cutting silks and other slippery fabrics - some helpful tips:

  • Sharpness is key - make sure your scissors and pins are not blunt! You will also need more pins than usual to help you cut accurately
  • Trim away all pesky little scraggly threads before you lay out your fabric - if you don't, they will get caught on something at some point and distort all your careful layings out
  • Don't try to cut everything out at once - instead cut off enough fabric to cut out your bodice first and go about the cutting process in smaller, more manageable sections
  • Once you're happy with your fabric laid out all straight, weigh it down with pattern weights or small and heavy items to keep it in place - even the smallest gust of wind can cause you to start all over again...
  • Be extra careful not to distort the fabric as you're pinning your pattern pieces into place - insert pins as horizontally as possible to avoid lifting the fabric
  • If you're worried about your pins leaving a mark in the fabric, make sure you place the pins close to the seam allowance edges of the pattern pieces so any marks left won't show on the outside of your garment
  • When cutting, always cut with your scissors to the left of the pattern piece to avoid moving the fabric too much as you cut

Notching & marking

As you might have already guessed, especially after our long winded posts on pattern alteration, that the key to a satisfying sewing experience is all in the prep (ugh, man I feel like punching myself for saying that! But it's truuue).

Now that we've cut out our pattern pieces, we need to transfer all the information from the paper onto the fabric.

Mark notches by snipping no more than 3/8" or 10mm in from edge in the centre of the little triangles:

Mark darts on the wrong side of the fabric. Snip into the notches at the edges of the fabric as shown above, then mark the top of the darts with a pin and simply connect the top to the snipped notches using a ruler and tailor's chalk or pen:


The final thing to do before we can call it a day and close the sewing room door/vacate the kitchen table of all sewing paraphernalia is the stabilising of certain unstable sections of fabric that, if left to their own devices, will stretch ever so slightly out of place (some fabrics more than others) and leave you with something that does not come together as crispily as it should. I'm specifically talking about the neckline of the faux-wrap bodice, and the waistline of the skirt.

On closer inspection, you'll see that the fibres of the fabric have been cut on the bias, meaning the the raw edge runs at a diagonal to the threads that make up the fabric. If you were to tug, even very gently at that bias cut, you'd see how much it is liable to stretch and distort. We need to stabilise those edges to prevent any stretching and distorting so that when we come to sewing it, everything matches up and fits perfectly. Otherwise we'd end up with a gapey neckline and a slightly too long waistline. Not cool.

Stay stitching

Stay stitching is the quickest and easiest way of stabilising a raw edge that would otherwise give. This method is ideal for waistlines, necklines, armholes and sleeve heads in general.

Simply run a line of wide machine stitches 3/8" or 10mm from the edge that needs stabilising.

Stabilising with twill tape

This is a more specific stabilising method that is mainly applicable to necklines that would not only give at the bias cut, but that would result in some most unsightly gapage. Perfect for our Flora Dress faux-wrap neckline.

You will need:

  • 1/4"-1/2" wide twill tape, no more than 2 metres 
  • Your Flora Dress faux-wrap bodice front pieces

First things first, take your faux-wrap bodice front pieces, right side facing you, and mark out the seam line - 5/8" or 15mm in from the raw edge - along the centre front neckline. Measure this line.

Now cut a length of twill tape that is 1/4" or 6mm shorter than the line you just measured. Place the twill tape in the seam allowance and pin it into place at either end.

You'll see that the tape is ever so slightly shorter than the neckline. This is so that the neckline not only doesn't stretch or give, but will hold it firmly in place against your skin for zero gape! Start pinning the tape, evenly distributing the fullness.

Stitch the tape into place with a wide zigzag stitch.

When you fold the seam allowance in, as it will be once you've joined the lining, you'll see just how secure and non-gapey that neckline will be! And no need to repeat this twill taping process for the bodice lining; a line of stay stitching will do nicely.

Comments on this post (6)

  • May 23, 2014

    Hi Robyn – cutting the bodice on the cross shouldn’t make that much of a difference to your bodice, tank variation especially. Just pay extra attention to the stay stitching and stabilising! x

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • May 23, 2014

    What’s the danger of cutting the bodice crossways?
    I’ve got a striped fabric that I’d really like to be horizontal across the bodice rather than vertical.
    Thanks :)

    — Robyn

  • Apr 22, 2014

    Hi Anja, ooooh piping along the neckline will be beautiful! I would add the twill tape also, just to be on the safe side x

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Apr 22, 2014


    I plan to ad piping to my neckline, could that act as a stabiliser as well or would you still recommend twill tape? I’m a little behind at the moment as my mummy-and-teacher-clock is catching up with my seamstress-clock but I hope to catch up soon!

    — Anja

  • Apr 19, 2014

    Hi Stephanie, yes – twill tape on a silk dress is fine, either way it’ll be hidden in the seam. I’d go for the narrower 1/4" width though. x

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Apr 18, 2014

    Would you put twill tape on a silk dress ?
    Thanks !

    — stephanie

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