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How Did They Sew That? A Space-Age Butterfly

Channel stitching for futuristic fashion

Threads magazine - 156 – Aug./Sept. 2011
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Head to the theater, you say? An opera? A New York City gala? This 1930s rose-pink silk taffeta gown is ready to hit the town in any decade. Its futuristic style is an unlikely mixture of avant-garde attitude and butterfly innocence. At first glance, all eyes go to the daring shoulders. The cap sleeves feature lofty, channel-stitched rows supported by cotton batting, which creates structure while adding softness. A matching bias-cut, channel-stitched hem balances the dress. (See how to make the channel-stitched rows, from Threads #156.) If passersby can look beyond the eye-catching channels, they’ll find the gown’s sweet side: a pointed, flat collar; a bodice tucked into an empire waist that curves toward the natural waist in back; and a butterfly brooch.

The eight padded channels encircling the arm and the nine channels surrounding the flared hem make the 1930s gown shown on the back cover worthy of extraterrestrial royalty. The simple lines of the dress with its single sparkling embellishment declare homage to the butterfly. To sew this dramatic sleeve and hem, use a sleeveless dress pattern with a separate armhole facing.

1. To make the sleeves, trace the original armhole facing pattern. Measure 614 inches from the original shoulder point. From this new sleeve edge, draw a curve that mirrors the shape of the armhole. Taper the curve sharply into the armhole seam at the underarm.

2. The original dress was made with a fluffy cotton batting, but a lofty polyester batting is a lighter weight choice. Cut two layers of fabric and one layer of batting for each sleeve. Sew each sleeve’s outer edge with the fashion fabric’s right sides together and the batting on top. Trim the batting seam allowance as much as possible, turn the sleeve right side out, and press. Pin or baste the layers together so they don’t shift during stitching.

3. Channel-stitch 58 inch from the outer sleeve edge, and repeat every 58 inches for the length of the sleeve. Use a quilting guide, if needed.

4. Pin the sleeve to the armhole, raw edges aligned and right sides together. Pin the armhole facing, right side down, to the sleeve,  aligning the raw edges. Sew around the armhole through all layers, turn right side out, press, and tack the facing inside the dress.

5. The channel-stitched hem is a separate piece made of two fabric layers. Cut the two layers on the bias, plus one layer of batting. Sew nine channels 34 inches apart in the same way as the sleeves—starting at the hem—before attaching the skirt to the dress bodice.

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