Sewing Couture Techniques - Topic Overview, Preparing Fabric, and Pressing Matters


Hi Everyone! Welcome to the topic, Sewing Couture Techniques. Although you may not use these techniques in all your sewing projects, there are many ways to adapt them to the world of smaller scale doll clothes sewing and construction.

For this topic, we have Melinda, the designer of the Melody Valerie Couture brand, sharing her knowledge of this topic with us! She has spent years perfecting the art of couture sewing and includes many different uses in her pattern collection. We are both really excited to present this topic to you and hope that this course will provide you with the skillset and motivation to incorporate these beautiful techniques into your project work!

The topic will be divided into four sessions:

  • Part 1: Topic Overview, Preparing Your Fabric, and Pressing Matters
  • Part 2: Controlling Bulk, Engineering a Couture Garment
  • Part 3: Embellishments, Applying Sequins, Beads, and Passementerie
  • Part 4: Your Couture Journey, Adding Couture Techniques To An Existing Pattern, Gathering Inspiration

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.

It's going to be a fun course! Are you ready? Let's go...


A few words from Melinda...Couture is a wild and wonderful world of amazing techniques, beautiful fabrics, and luxurious finished garments. Nothing can compare to holding a really beautifully constructed piece of clothing in your hands! Given the small scale of doll clothing, sewing doll couture specifically is an amazing canvas for these techniques, and provides a unique opportunity to workshop new methods while creating truly beautiful works of art.

I began sewing doll couture in 2008, when I opened Melody Valerie Couture. My goals then were to learn all I could about couture sewing, and use that knowledge to make the most fabulous dresses for 18" dolls possible. Over the years, I've definitely learned a lot, developed my own methods, and had the honor of sharing some of my creations with the world. And, sharing what I know is a very natural next step. I hope you'll enjoy learning from my experiences, and that you'll feel empowered to create more spectacular garments than ever. 

Couture sewing is a wonderful and amazing art form, and I'm so glad to be sharing it with you. Thanks so much for joining me!

Part 1 - Sewing Couture Techniques Overview:


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.

Couture Sewing Supplies:

  • Sharp hand needles

  • Thread for hand sewing

  • Silk thread

  • Beeswax

  • Standard Iron

  • White or off-white Silk Organza (1/2 or 1 yd, available online at Mood Fabrics or

  • Tailor’s chalk

  • Chalk wheel

  • Clear flexible ruler

  • Sharp dressmaker’s shears and small clipping scissors

  • Dressmaker's Awl or Stiletto

  • Sharp, glass-headed pins

  • Fabric scraps for completing optional Samples

  • Embellishment Supplies (beads, sequins, embroidery floss, cording, &c)

  • Embroidery Hoop



Preparing Your Fabric: 

Before cutting or sewing, it’s wise to make sure your fabric is prepared correctly. Straightening the grainline is crucial for the garment to hang correctly, and preshrinking or prewashing the fabric ensures the garment will not bleed or shrink once it is finished. Let’s begin by talkingabout straightening the grain, and basic grain theory. While it’s important to straighten the grainfor knit fabrics, this class will focus on woven fabrics.

There are three basic grainlines: lengthwise, or “straight”; crosswise; and bias. The threads running parallel to the selvages are called "warp" threads, and have very little stretch since they are held under extremely tight tension on the loom. This direction is called the lengthwise or straight grain.

Threads that run perpendicular to the selvages are called "weft" or "crosswise" threads. Since these threads are held under less tension while weaving, there is often a tiny residual amount of stretch left in this direction. This is why garments are usually cut with the lengthwise grain running vertically, and the crosswise grain horizontally -- the tiny bit of stretch in the crosswise direction allows the body to expand horizontally, while preventing stretch vertically at knees, elbows, and other unsightly areas.

The third major grainline is called "true bias" -- the 45 degree angle between the lengthwise and crosswise grains. Technically, any angle that is not either lengthwise or crosswise is called 'bias', but usually the term refers to the 45 degree placement. Because of the way a bias cut intersects the right angles of the fabric, it is by far the most flexible and stretchy of the three grainlines. This flexibility gives it many uses, from bindings to form-fitting evening gowns.

Needless to say, fabric grain can be distorted between loom and worktable, either via printing, dyeing, transporting or for a host of other reasons. Before cutting into your fabric, take a look at the grain and straighten it if necessary. One way to be sure you have identified the grainline correctly is to pull a thread; this works well for sheer or slippery fabrics. Some fabrics will also tear along the crosswise grain. Once you have established the crosswise grain, determine if it's square with the lengthwise grain, and then stretch or press your fabric on the bias to straighten it, if needed.


Pressing Matters:

The Theory behind Pressing

Pressing is one of the most integral parts of garment construction. It combines heat, moisture, and pressure to permanently shape the garment. In contrast to home ironing (a sliding motion designed to remove wrinkles), pressing is primarily an up and down motion, intended to permanently shape the garment during construction. After pressing, let the fabric cool and dry before moving it; this is part of what makes the pressing permanent.

First, pressing will help flatten and "set" a seam. Applying pressure, heat, and moisture to a seam you have just sewn will interlock the stitches more permanently, giving it extra strength. This is also called “melding” a seam.

Pressing also allows you to shape fabric in a way that cutting and stitching alone cannot. For example, easing a wool sleeve cap, helping shrink a bias edge that is stretching excessively, stretching a seam that has puckered, and shaping bias strips into curves before sewing are all common pressing operations. Pressing can also help two dissimilar layers conform to each other.

All fabrics respond differently to pressing; some fabrics, like wool, are very responsive to moisture, where others, like satin, do best with a dry iron; cottons and linens can withstand higher heat than polyesters or silks, and so forth. It's best to practice on a sample piece of fabric first to determine what combination of heat, pressure, and moisture will be most effective.

In short, pressing is an essential step in garment construction; shaping the fabric with heat and pressure plays nearly as large a role in shaping the garment as the actual sewing does.

Week One tasks:

  • Watch the Topic Overview, Preparing Fabric, and Pressing Matters videos.
  • Complete the two exercises to practice the pressing technique demonstrated and to create a useful couture sewing tool! 
  • 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: Shaping Bias

  • Cut two strips of fabric on the bias, about 1" wide and 6" long.

  • Use your iron and some moisture to shape one strip into a smooth curve. Stretch one

    edge and shrink the other as you press. Try to get as much curve as you can.

  • Let strip cool completely. Repeat if necessary.

  • Mount both strips in a notebook (straight strip serves as a comparison).

Exercise #2: Making a Sleeve Roll

  • Purchase or find a hardwood dowel of an appropriate size for your doll (3/4" for American Girl, 1/4" for Ellowyne, &c.) It should slip easily inside a sleeve, without too much extra room. Be sure the dowel is unfinished; paint or varnish may transfer to fabric during pressing.

  • Cut the dowel to a workable length -- between 8 and 12 inches.

  • Wrap the dowel in clean muslin. You can wrap one layer and slipstitch the muslin to

    itself, or you can staple the muslin to the dowel and wrap it multiple times for a different


  • If you choose to staple the muslin, make sure the staples go fully into the dowel, and that you wrap enough layers of muslin over the staples to adequately pad them. Any unpadded staples will result in shine marks, lumps, and possibly even holes in your pressed garments.



August 08, 2019

I’ve had good luck in buying wool at Farmhouse Fabrics, where they frequently sell just a piece of fine wool, such as 23×36 for example. Enough to use on many projects. Look at fabrics “buy the piece.” I believe most of their regular wool can be purchased in 1/2 yard quantities.


August 08, 2019

I absolutely love estate sales. I have found a few beautiful pieces there. Usually as yard goods, but a couple of times as coats or suits that can be cut up into pieces to use. You may have to have it dry cleaned, or you may be able to do a “dry clean” in your dryer.


August 07, 2019

try your local quilt store sometimes have fat quarter for making pincushions


August 07, 2019

I love wool but it is not stocked at my local JoAnn’s. If I try to buy it online, they often require a minimum number of yards that provide far more fabric than I need. Also, wool is so expensive that I would like to buy only what I need.
I have also looked at thrift shops hoping to find used wood garments that I can cut up. I almost never find wool. Any suggestions?

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