Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Girl’s World book review (and how I stuck out my tongue at French seam naysayers.)

I love sewing girly, girly things! And this book certainly indulges me. Girls’ World by Jennifer Paganelli is full of inspiration. It only actually includes 4 dresses: 2 party dresses, 1 tunic style dress and 1 halter style. I like the first three, but – and call me old fashioned if you like – I’m not crazy about this sexy halter top on little girls. The other projects include home décor and crafty items, some of which are sweet and some of which are sort of basic.  The patterns are included in a handy little envelope, but the paper is a bit fragile and you still have to piece them together a little. Spiral binding would have made it easier to read instructions. Final garment measurements are not given, nor are line drawings. And since the instructions are word heavy and lacking in diagrams, you need to just cross your fingers that it will work out in the end. Still, I didn’t have much trouble figuring out the tunic dress. The real interest in the book is the lush and fanciful styling of all these projects. You might wish you were a “tween” yourself again! 

There isn’t a lot of substantial enough instruction to guide a total beginner successfully through this, but an advanced beginner would probably be fine. Except for the Agnes tunic. That neckline is tricky. If I were rating it on the Knitty.com scale, it might be tangy. Some complexity was added by me, though, because I don’t like raw edges.

Rather than leave the raw edges out and slop a zig zag over it, as instructed, I pressed the yoke lining seam allowance under, then attached only the yoke itself to the dress body. I pressed, turned and pinned the lining in place. Then I topstitched from the right side, being sure to catch the back in the stitching. You could also slip stitch this by hand, but I liked topstitching here. I attached the hem and sleeve bands the same way. I also understitched the yoke lining to the seam allowance. 

I used French seams at the shoulders, down the sleeve and side seams so that the entire thing is neatly and beautifully finished inside.  I have been told over and over that French seams are only for straight edges. I have been breaking this rule for some time because I love the tidiness of a fully finished seam and French seams are faster than flat-felled, which I also love, and bias-bound seams, which make me a little weak in the knees. I started by Frenching [insert school girl giggle] the curved seams on little bloomers for my baby a few months back. Surprise! It worked fine. The curves were not, in fact, distorted and the seam was not, in fact, too bulky. Then, I Frenched the seams on some easy summer pants and shorts for myself. Again, they worked beautifully and were perfectly comfortable to wear. I have wanted to French armscye seams for some time, but have lacked the courage to thumb my nose at all those people who said it can’t be done. I inspected all the dress shirts in my husband’s closet and found flat-felled seams and didn’t see why French seams wouldn’t work too. So I did it. And – guess what? It worked. In fact, it may have been a bit easier stitching those curves at ¼” than at the full 5/8” in one go. And now I have these nice shoulder seams that won’t ever look sloppy.

I also added inseam pockets. A girl needs pockets!  I attach inseam pockets using – you guessed it – French seams. This keeps them neat and strong for holding important things, which is the whole point of pockets.

I have some Frenching tips [giggle], if you like.  After the first pass in a curved section, clip into the seam allowance before making the second pass. At a corner or angle, such as the underarm when you’re stitching the sleeve and side all in one go, notch into the corner after the first pass. Also, clip seam allowances ruthlessly. You want to eliminate all possibly bulk. After you’ve done this once or twice, you’ll start looking for bulk to clip away everywhere! Finally, if you’re doing this on pants and have four seams meeting at the crotch, be sure to press the seams in opposite directions so that they meet rather than overlap. If you don’t see what I mean, have a look at the crotch of your favorite jeans. Finally, when I set pockets in French seams, I stitch the first pass in stages. The pocket gets stitched by itself and then the side seams. This helps on the second pass if you need to unpick a few stitches to make it lie nice and flat. So there it is – one of my big secrets! Now go forth and French everything you never thought you could and report back to me on your adventures.

Attaching the neck band to the dress is tough going. Don’t be afraid to not only use lots of pins, as the instructions suggest, but to also notch the seam *before* stitching if it helps you pin the two pieces together correctly.  I pinned and stitched in sections here so as not to have massive amounts of unwieldy pins flying around. I aligned the shoulder seams and back neck edges, stitched just those bits together and checked for proper alignment. Then I pinned and stitched one back neck, then pinned and stitched one side front, then the other, etc. At both back necks, I needed to make little snips into the seam allowance of the dress body in order to make it fit the curve of the neck band. For the fronts, I pulled up the gathers as I pinned. Finally, I checked the right side of the yoke for unwanted tucks, unpicked and stitched again. Phew!

Problems with the pattern: there is no instruction given for how to set the sleeves. I added a row of basting stitches at the top of the sleeve cap and pulled them up to ease the cap into the armhole. This is a simple enough fix, but only if you’ve set a few sleeves before. There are no finished measurements given, only a guideline for sizing, so be sure to measure the pattern pieces.

I really like this pattern a lot. I can see it shining in a more subdued fabric choice. The main fabric here is an Art Gallery print chosen from my stash by the birthday girl next door. I picked the contrast out of my stash too. The birthday girl likes bold combinations and I thought this would suit her. Next year I may make this for my Kitty (the sizes only start at 2) in something like chambray or corduroy. There is a lot of room in the shape, which will make it a great play dress. But it’s nice enough for a special playdate too.  I really like the interesting gathers around the neckline and the flared sleeves. Hopefully, the birthday girl will think so too!


  1. I'm about to make this dress, and your walkthrough and improvements are very helpful! Thank you.

  2. Thanks - I'm glad it was helpful.