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  • Writer's picturegeriberman

Pauline Dress by Closet Core Patterns & Tips for Sewing With Silk

The Pauline Dress by Closet Core Patterns is probably the prettiest dress I’ve ever made. I made View B of the dress with the ¾ puff sleeves and maxi-length skirt. There are some stand-out details in this garment that make it quite a challenge to sew up, and if you decide to make it, know that it would take some investment of time and effort to put it together. My favourite detail would be the back cut-out, that is connected with ties. However, other fantastic details that make this pattern so special are the 4 front knife pleats at the waist, the 2 darts that shape around the bust and move into the shoulder straps, the super puffy sleeves and the square neckline.

I had the honour and privilege of pattern testing for this gorgeousness back in May of this year. My first version of it was made in a jewel-toned, and gold-thread embellished saree that I purchased in Little India in Singapore more than 2 years ago. The fabric content was a polyester-silk blend, and it was relatively stable to work with. This fabric had two different borders on both ends of the selvages, and the more decorative pallu end of the saree had alternating stripes of magenta and purple. This section of the saree was used mainly for the bodice, and I tried to showcase the 2 borders at the sleeves and the tiered gathered skirt, with very thoughtful pattern placement.

The end result is eye-catching, but I am not sure if it’s in a good way. I couldn’t help feeling that it is a tad too costumey and Princess Jasmine-y for me to be wearing it out on the streets, even for more formal events. This might induce spontaneous singing of A Whole New World - the theme song of Aladdin. My daughter was very excited to see it fresh off the sewing machine because she thought I was dressing up as a Disney princess for Halloween. When I told her that this was not meant for that occasion, she expressed embarrassment that I would just wear it just because. LOL.

When pattern testing, I sewed up a size 4 with zero modifications and without a toile (I know, I know - I was lazy). However, there were a couple of things from the get-go that I wasn’t crazy about. First, I should have shortened the bodice by about an inch. It looks OK the way it is, but the waistline just wouldn’t sit nicely when I am moving around in it, and I suspect that it can be resolved by shifting the waistline higher so that it’ll sit just slightly above my natural waistline.

Second, I didn’t like the shape of the gathered tiered skirt at all. From the very beginning, I fell in love with the bodice of the pattern, but had my doubts about the skirt portion of the dress. Mainly because I don’t like fitted skirts, which don’t work for me anymore after popping out 2 kids. Fitted skirts are just not after-baby-pooch friendly, so I am really self-conscious about clothes that hug me closely in that area. They also make me feel like I shouldn’t reach for dessert, and I NEVER like clothes that leave little room for belly expansion, either due to food-devouring or hormonal bloating. However, when pattern-testing I didn’t change the skirt because fulfilling the designer’s vision of the garment is the priority. This wasn’t the right moment to make any major modifications to the pattern. I consoled myself with the fact that the border of the saree lends itself as the perfect fabric for a gathered skirt.

My chance to make the Pauline Dress of my dreams came when I received a fabric haul from Minerva as part of the Minerva Brand Ambassadors Program. In it was a gloriously divine Liberty London Elysian Day Belgravia 100% Silk Satin. Literally speaking, this was heaven-sent to me by Minerva, and I suspect the fabric must be handmade by angels. It is so light that it feels like air; so fluid that it moves like water. It shimmers and shines with a luminosity that can only come from stardust. The sheen of it makes every opulent colour in its print stand out, and all the colours in this floral print have a kaleidoscopic effect. The drape and movement of it is indescribable. I liken it to breathing - yes, this fabric feels and looks like it’s a living, breathing entity. I only have to look at it, and it responds, moving bashfully and gracefully in my gaze.

This celestial fabric comes in 3 colorways, and I chose the multi-coloured version to work with. The whole time that I am sewing with it, I couldn’t stop marveling at its beauty. At the same time, I couldn’t stop swearing at how difficult it is to work with. The only thing to do is to abandon the cursing, and surrender to its holiness and ascend to what is required to do it justice. Every step of the way, I was challenged to handle it with the utmost care and respect. This fabric deserves all the extra steps required in order to adjust to its fluidity. It is so slippery, it moves even when I am not touching it. Which gives it its extraordinary beauty, but at the same time makes it extremely challenging to sew with. Side note: Love (or lust) must have been in the air last night. As you can see from the picture on the left here, I was standing in front of a couple making out the behind a grapevine.

I had to upgrade my skills to deal with it. Here are 10 tips and tricks that I learned while working with this silk satin:

  1. Washing instructions say to dry clean only, but I ignored that and pretreated the silk by hand-washing it in cold water, then leaving it to hang-dry, and pressing with an iron at the "silk" setting. I read somewhere that dry-cleaning will slowly weaken the silk, and remove its lustre. Also let's face it, I don't really have the budget to dry-clean my clothes. In addition, I have the fear that I will get caught in the rain or someone spills water on me and the dress shrinks to a size that doesn't fit me anymore if I first don't pretreat the fabric before sewing it up.

  2. Cut all pattern pieces in a single layer. Yes, it meant that I had to double trace out pattern pieces on the fold on paper first so that I could cut out the fabric in one flat piece.

  3. Cut the fabric between 2 sheets of tissue paper. Yes, it meant that there was some tissue and drafting paper wastage, but hey, there was no other way since the fabric moves and slithers around like 100 eels.

  4. Use a walking foot on the sewing machine. This keeps an even feed between the layers of fabric being sewn together.

  5. Use silk pins - which are pins much skinnier than the regular pins. These do not “puncture” holes in the delicate silk. There is also minimal shifting in fabric when pinning with these almost-not-there pins.

  6. Pin more, pin often. Most of the time, I pinned at about 1-2” intervals. It was a lot of pinning.

  7. Use a microtex needle. This is a MUST.

  8. Interface areas if required. For example, I interfaced all the back bodice pieces; and double interfaced the fabric in contact with the invisible zipper.

  9. Slow down. Like a LOT. Constantly double check that the fabrics sewn together are aligned.

  10. Pray and approach the sewing machine like approaching an altar for worship with intense heightened awareness.

  11. Be patient, be flexible. Be like water. Yes, advice from Bruce Lee comes in handy while sewing.

My Pauline Dress by Closet Core Patterns was completed 3 hours before I wore it to a wedding set in the middle of a large olive grove and grapevines. I felt absolutely radiant in it, and received endless compliments as the silk satin shimmered in the rays of the setting sun. One person even said my dress overshadowed the bride’s gown, which was not in my intention at all, but I was secretly gleeful about it. The dress just looks fantastic, made up in this super-lux silk.

This is the Pauline Dress that fits me to a T - after I had shortened the bodice and switched up the gathered tiered skirt for a self-drafted half-circle skirt. If I had enough fabric, I would have made it even swishier by constructing a ¾ or full circle skirt. I used up almost all 4 metres of the silk to create this dress. I reckon I would need 2 more metres to make it swishier. The skirt changed the shape of the dress and I am sure I prefer it this way. It's a simple hack but very effective. Most importantly, I felt comfortable in it last night, and I didn’t have to suck in my belly when I ate a double serving of beef filet and charcoal-fired asado. Also, I think the fabric draped even more beautifully when cut into a half-circle skirt.

If you covet this fantabulous fabric, please use the affiliate links provided here in this blog post. This helps me earn a small commission without any extra costs to you. Working with this fabric was an eye-opener and a skill-sharpener. I am truly grateful for the experience of handling it. Because of the fabric, this is probably the poshest and most luxurious outfit that I own right now. And I am so glad that I got to wear it last night immediately after it was completed at the sewing machine.

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