Sewing Couture Techniques - Controlling Bulk, Engineering a Couture Garment


Hi Everyone! In part 2, we continue with Melinda, the designer of the Melody Valerie Couture brand, sharing her knowledge of this topic with us! This week we focus on the detail work that is critical to the overall beauty of the design but is often not visible when the garment is complete. I encourage you to follow along and learn a little more about the art of the couture garment!

We'll be demonstrating these methods as basic tutorial exercises on small scraps of fabric as well as showing examples on both Liberty Jane and Melody Valerie Couture designs to help illustrate how the basic techniques and methods are used at a smaller scale. Follow along to understand the process, hopefully watching us in action will clarify any concerns or issues you may have with these types of techniques.



Suggested Patterns For this Topic: 

  • LJ Boomerit Falls Jacket
  • LJ Piccadilly Peacoat
  • LJ Ginza Girl Coat
  • LJ Lace Overlay Tank Top
  • LJ Abbey Road 
  • LJ Opening Night 
  • LJ Starlight Gala 
  • LJ Hello Oscar 
  • LJ Sheath Dress
  • Any MVC pattern, each demonstrates different types of couture techniques from french seams to bias bindings. Read the descriptions to get more detail.


Let's Talk About Controlling Bulk!

Why Reduce Bulk?

Seam allowances are one of the necessary evils of garment construction. On a piece as small as a doll's, they can often build up into unsightly, awkward lumps. Fortunately, there are several methods of reducing the bulk of seam allowances and allowing them to lay smoothly beneath the garment: clipping, grading, and pounding.

Clipping simply means making small cuts, usually perpendicular to the seamline, into the seam allowance. It's commonly done on curved seams, because without some sort of clipping, the seam allowance would pull or bind, rather than lying flat, when turned to the right side. Clipping a concave curve requires just simple snips; clipping a convex curve requires small notches. Multiple clips, closer together, provide the smoothest edge; for the ultimate in strength and smoothness, clip each layer of seam allowance separately, and offset your clips slightly from each other.

Grading removes extra fabric along the seamline, and changes a single lumpy set of seam allowances into a smoothly angled surface which is much shorter on one side than on the other. The cuts run parallel to the seamline. To grade, simply trim the seam allowances so that one is very short, and the next is a little longer; the final layer of seam allowance should not be trimmed down at all. Grading reshapes a bulky set of seam allowances into a smooth edge, rather than a large lump of material, along the edge of the garment.

When clipping and grading alone can't remove enough material to get a smooth edge, you can always use physical force to flatten a stubborn piece of fabric. Protect the garment on both sides with scrap fabric, then attack it with pliers, a hammer, or a "clapper" (pressing tool made of unfinished hardwood). Always make sure to work on a surface that can withstand the pounding.

Part of making sure your finished garment hangs correctly is knowing when to clip, grade or pound. Intelligently reducing bulk will immediately help your garments get to the next level of technical skill and, pounding a tricky spot with a hammer can provide some much-needed stress relief, while still accomplishing your sewing goals for the day.

Using Backing Fabrics

Using a backing fabric is one of the single most dramatic and powerful ways to affect the drape of a garment. Also called “flatlining” or “underlining”, a backing fabric lays behind the fashion fabric to affect the hang, hand and drape of the garment. It acts as an invisible support and understructure, without adding unnecessary bulk. Backings can also block light and add warmth (although this is admittedly much less of a concern in doll couture!) They are used to stabilize, add body, and improve the drape of many fabrics.

Nearly any fabric can be used as a backing; the principle is to match backing and fashion fabrics carefully to achieve the desired effect. The backing fabric can be heavier or lighter than the fashion fabric, depending on what the design calls for, and the needs of the fashion fabric. Organza will ‘crispen’ up a limp fabric, almost invisibly thanks to its sheer nature. Cotton batiste adds a light layer of stability, where a poly/cotton blend adds strength; try cotton flannel for heavier, full-bodied support. Especially in doll couture, it’s a good idea to save little scraps of many types of fabric, and try pairing them with the same fashion fabric to see what the effect is. You may be surprised at the range of results you can achieve and at the way backing can help you successfully sew a challenging fabric.

When it comes time to sew your garment, cut your pieces out of both the fashion and the backing fabric, and baste them together just outside the seamline. If you are working with tightly fitted pieces, it may be helpful to pin them together along a curved surface, so that the backing extends slightly beyond the fashion fabric. This mimics the curve of the body, and will help keep the backing fabric from "bubbling" along the inside when the garment is finished.

Backing is common in bodices, but skirts, sleeves, and collars can also be backed. It is not uncommon to find several different backing fabrics in the same garment, each carefully selected to help with the needs of each part of the garment. Backings can be full, covering the entire area of the piece, or partial.

In couture, the difference between interfacing and backing is subtle to nonexistent. Interfacing, when used, is always sewn in, rather than ironed on. Iron-on adhesive is unruly and unreliable, and the interfaced fabric doesn't move as well as it would with sewn-in interfacing. But, because of the extensive use of full and partial backings, the line between interfacing and backing is often blurry, and it is simpler just to consider interfacing as a subset of backing

Week One tasks:

  • Watch the Controlling Bulk and Engineering The Garment videos.
  • Complete the exercises to practice the techniques demonstrated.
  • Check out the Ultimate Resource Guide for fabric and supply sources. (Find this in the SWC Bonuses section)
  • Jump over the SWC Facebook Group for conversation and project sharing.


Exercise #1: Clipping Curves

  • Cut four identical crescent-shaped pieces from muslin or other scrap cotton fabric. (You can use a collar pattern piece for this if you'd like.)

  • Stitch two pieces together along the outer edge, using a hand backstitch or a machine. Press seam to set stitching.

  • Clip notches into seam allowance on alternate layers.

  • Stitch remaining two pieces together along inner edge. Press seam.

  • Clip slits in seam allowance, alternating clips on layers.


Exercise #2: Using Backing Fabrics

  • Select two different fashion fabrics from your collection. Cut three 3” squares from each.

  • Select three different backing fabric options. Good choices include organza (silk or polyester), cotton batiste, and quilting cotton or flannel.

  • Cut two 3” squares from each backing fabric.

  • Pin and hand baste one backing square to each fashion fabric square. You should have six different fashion fabric/backing fabric combinations.

  • Spend a few minutes examining each backed square, assessing its drape, hang, and hand. Compare to the original fashion fabrics.

1 Comment

Diane R
Diane R

August 15, 2019

I had to go back to last weeks information to get the code to go to videos to download them.

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