Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Leather accent dress

This started as an idea for a dress to wear for a wedding. Now, this wasn't my original idea - I wanted to have a beautiful silk dress made from some more of my NYC fabric haul. But... life and stress got in the way, so this was my third fallback plan. And I still didn't finish it in time. Never mind. It's still going to come in useful, and I'm pleased with the result.

Leather and leather-accent clothes have been getting more and more into the mainstream over the last year (yeah, major understatement), and it's been something I've been wanting to sew for ages. The problem was that (despite being vegetarian) I really don't like fake leather (or at least, the fake leather I can afford: Stella McCartney I am not), and there is nowhere to buy decent skins for clothing here at an affordable price.

So, addiction that I have, I spotted some fused leather on the site the last time I was shopping (PLEASE STOP ME), so I thought I'd try it. Now, I really have no idea how they make this, but it's SO COOL. I am not sponsored, honest. It's a thin layer of real leather, fused to a knit fabric (sort of like a lightweight doubleknit), which makes it stretch too! I just used small pieces here, but I really want to try making a full garment out of it. Whilst it has the disadvantage over regular leather that it has a nap (as it's fused to fabric), it comes on a roll like "proper" fabric, so it's a bit more predictable how much you need. I really want to know how they make it (actually, do I?), as it doesn't appear to have any visible seams in the leather layer. Maybe it's from reeeeeeeally big rectangular cow or sheep... Anyway...

Pattern description

Knit dress with shallow pleated cowl neckline, A-line skirt and contrast straps. If this looks familiar, you're right. It was inspired by my July Burda Challenge. I liked the style of this, but wasn't terribly happy with the fit, so I thought I'd have a go at drafting my own version.

Fabric used

Denim-look jersey from Tissu Fabrics, with "Perfection Fused Leather" from

Did it look like the sketch/idea when you were done?

Fairly much. It came out a little tighter than intended, and the pleats in the cowl sort of disappeared. I also forgot that the shoulder line isn't parallel to the floor when drafting, so the bottom of the straps slope. Other than that, yes!

Drafting details

This was drafted from my custom knit block and was fairly straightforward, just a case of drawing in the straps and making a small cowl (I used my drafting books, but you can find instructions for making cowl necks online pretty easily). After mirroring the front completely in order to provide a lining, I then slashed and spread the outer layer to make pleats. I wanted fairly small pleats, but when sewn these ended up being really tiny. The skirt was a basic A-line.

Construction details

I cut the straps in the fused leather, with a facing in cotton broadcloth to neaten the inside. I'd initially intended to topstitch the straps along the edge, but this looked TERRIBLE. If I was making a full garment in the leather, I would experiment with Teflon presser feet, walking feet or tissue paper, but for two teeny tiny straps I could be faffed with that. So of course I hand stitched it! Because that's much quicker! Actually I decided it looked better without the stitching, much cleaner. However, I'd also decided that I needed to use my leather glue tape to keep the seam allowances neat, which made for a very sticky hand stitching experience (NOT a euphemism). I have to say, it was the first time I've used WD40 when sewing...

Apart from the stickiness, it was fairly easy to sew using a leather needle and a thimble. Also of course I used small bulldog clips rather than pins, which would have left marks in the leather.

When sewing the main body of the dress, I used Kristy's technique for sewing the linings and straps together neatly. It works great and gives a super neat clean finish. Recommended.

I had actually intended to line the skirt with the same slinky knit I used for the sleeves and trim of my walking top. But I forgot. Oops! If it's a bit clingy with tights (or a bit "young Diana") I will reverse-engineer a lining, or sew a half slip.

I sewed the hem with a three-step zig-zag.

Would you sew it again?

I may use this idea again, but I would probably try a variation, and definitely add more ease. There are a lot of other ideas I have that I would like to try first.


Pretty happy with this! I like the combination of leather and "denim" in a fairly conservative styled dress. Although it's a little snug fitting, it's still comfortable to wear. The only downside is that in winter a strappy dress is perhaps not the most practical thing, and a cardie or jacket covers up the main feature. Fortunately, the Swiss absolutely adore their sauna-level indoor heating, so I will probably be fine with bare arms inside! I will post some photos after I've worn this out and about.

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