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Add Style with Graphic Fabric Insertions

Dramatic insertions replace darts and, in some cases vertical seams in this all-bias, 4-ply dress.
Machine-sew the insertion into the garment.
A few artfully placed insertions turn a basic linen caimsole into a couture top-without disrupting the flow of the lightweight fabric.
Dramatic insertions replace darts and, in some cases vertical seams in this all-bias, 4-ply dress.

Dramatic insertions replace darts and, in some cases vertical seams in this all-bias, 4-ply dress.

Photo: Jack Deutsch

We are so excited that Threads author, Pamela Ptak, made it to the Project Runway stage. In celebration of this accomplishment we wanted to share with you one of her past articles from the pages of Threads.

by Pamela Ptak
excepted from
Threads issue #113, p.48

When I was studying couture sewing at Maison Sapho in New York City, I learned a wonderful technique for adding decorative motifs to a garment while maintaining the draping characteristics of the original fashion fabric. This method essentially replaces a specific area on one fabric with a second fabric that is cut on the same grain, so that the flow of the garment remains undisturbed by the seemingly incidental seams used to attach the second, insertion fabric. I recognized this as the perfect way to add visual excitement to simple garment styles, without adding any layers or bulk. This technique requires attention to fabric layout, marking, and cutting, and some basic hand-sewing, but it’s otherwise almost suspiciously sensible. If you understand appliqué, then you’ll have no trouble understanding couture insertions. 

Hand- and machine-sewing work together 

Although a couture insertion ends up replacing a portion of the background fabric, it starts out as an overlay applied to the right side of the background and stitched temporarily in place by hand. Once the insertion is anchored, you cut away the base fabric from behind it, and sew the seam that joins the insertion to the garment by machine. Careful clipping, pressing, and finishing of the seam allowances (use a hand-worked overcast stitch to minimize bulk and retain the fabrics’ flexibility) complete the process, and yield a supple insertion with smooth, flat seams. 

Match fabric characteristics for perfect results

A couture insertion can be created in straight grain or in bias clothes and can take on any shape you desire. It can be completely surrounded by another fabric, like an island, or open to the edge of the pattern piece on one or more sides, like a peninsula. The most difficult version of the insertion is a complex shape with corners and curves set into a bias garment.

As you plan your design, take note of any seam allowances you’ll need to add, on both the background and insertion fabrics. Either mark them when tracing the patterns onto the fabric, or simply leave a margin (on insertions I prefer a width of 3⁄4 to 1 inch) around each insertion section. Avoid placing insertions much closer together than 1 inch or so; the background fabric—especially if it’s cut on the bias—can lose stability if the insertions are spaced too tightly. 

When selecting fabric for a garment with a couture insertion, you must be sure that the characteristics of the insertion fabric and background fabric match, even if they are not the exact same type of fabric. In particular, they must have similar easing behaviors, or the seams can pucker, either immediately or eventually. Further, it’s essential that, when you arrange the pieces, the straight grain of the insertion be precisely aligned to that of the background fabric. 

If you’re interested in trying your hand at couture sewing, this is a wonderful technique to experiment with. It offers endless design options, and will exercise your hand- and machine-sewing skills. 


Insertions can substitute for dart and seam shaping

A couture insertion doesn’t have to be the exact shape of the flat background fabric it replaces. In fact, you can opt to incorporate dart or seam shaping into the insertion’s seams. For instance, an insertion that covers the center front of
a bodice can be used to replace vertical darts, as long as the outside line of the insertion comes within approximately 1⁄2 inch of the apex of the bust. You’ll need moderate patternmaking experience to make these changes, since you’ll be pivoting
and then deleting darts. Here’s an example.

Trapezoidal insertion on dress front
Trace the insertion pattern onto the dress front pattern, aligning the insertion upper edge with the bust apex. Pivot the lower points of the vertical darts toward the center front, so that the dart foldlines lie exactly on top of the sides of the trapezoid. The outer dart legs represent the seamline for the garment piece; the inner legs represent the seamline for the insertion piece. You may gently soften these lines to create a smoother transition; once sewn and on the body, the insertion seams will give the illusion of being straight.

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Comments (9)

Luxiraj Luxiraj writes: Thanks a ton for this. I made a kameez with neckline detail using this and it turned out pretty good.
Posted: 9:12 am on February 10th

fashion_conscious fashion_conscious writes: Keep up the good work. Ideas like these are just great. I've utilised ideas like these before and go raving revues.
Posted: 5:46 am on February 6th

Maillady Maillady writes: When I first considered the concept of "insertion," and knowing how the corners are hard to make lie down flat, I was skeptical; but after reading the brief article and the way the "insertion" was described, it sounds like a great fashion option, and one I will put under my hat for future design use. Thanks for all the great ideas!
Posted: 8:00 pm on February 5th

dolcam dolcam writes: Love the insertions. Can't wait to try it myself. The dress just seems to flow beautifully. Thank you for the wonderful inspiration.
Posted: 8:49 pm on February 3rd

Creative60 Creative60 writes: I have enjoyed the many articles on sewing techniques.
Posted: 3:32 am on February 3rd

pmvint pmvint writes: Great article! Can't wait to try it. Thanks for the photos and concise directions.
Posted: 7:13 pm on February 2nd

SabrinaStyle SabrinaStyle writes: This looks great -- like it's part of the garment fabric, and it's so well done.These instructions are really clear and the photos are truly helpful.

I wonder if Pamela Ptak has written any books?

Thanks so much for posting this article!
Posted: 12:00 pm on February 2nd

BarbaraSki BarbaraSki writes: Wonderful article and very inspiring - I'm pondering my pattern & fabric "resource center" for the right combo to use this technique. Too bad Pam didn't have sufficient time to show off her excellent skills. I think she was "awfed" way to early.
Posted: 11:43 am on February 2nd

meorens meorens writes: Thanks for sharing this great article by Pamela Ptak. She is a wealth of talent and expertise, and I hope you print more from her.
Posted: 11:35 pm on February 1st

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