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Boldly textured cutwork embroidery transforms plain fabric into an elaborate brocade perfectly suited for an elegant strapless dress. Careful planning makes this beautiful bodice piece together effortlessly.

Structured, fitted bodices are the perfect place to show off heavy embroidery that might otherwise interfere with the flow of fabric and ruin the garment drape. Dense or highly-detailed embroidery requires greater stabilization, which when combined with the Increased stitch count creates a very stiff fabric. Fortunately, a stiff hand is wonderful for strapless gowns and corsetry. The key to embroidering a beautiful bodice is a combination of careful pattern selection, appropriate stabilization and pattern preparation for precision cutting and sewing. Learn the necessary considerations and discover tips and tricks with a detailed description of how the featured gown was made.


When choosing a pattern for an embroidered bodice, take into consideration your available hoop sizes. If the bodice pattern pieces are smaller than the available stitching area, embroider the fabric design In individual panels. This is a much easier process than embroidering continuous fabric. If the bodice pieces are larger than your hoop, look to see where you might be able to Insert seams, or plan the easiest way to embroider in multiple hoopings. Either way, it's easier to embroider Individual panels that are large enough to cut pattern pieces from separately rather than creating yardage.

For the featured sample, I chose a basic strapless dress design. The main hooping challenge with this bodice type is always the front, because of the length required to fit the bust. Princess seams are easiest to divide into multiple hoopings, and a center-front seam can always be added if necessary. When I laid the pattern center front under the 360mm x 200mm hoop, the widthwise distance at the widest point was exactly the width of the available stitching area, so no center seam was needed. However, the length of the bodice slightly exceeded the hoop stitching area. I made a design decision to finish the gown with a deep bias overlay of the skirt fabric at the bodice upper edge, which would conceal the unembroidered area at the bodice-front upper edge. I compared the remaining bodice pieces to the stitching area and they fit easily with room to spare. With the plan to add the bias overlay at the top, the pattern design and size were fully compatible.


The next step is to select a suitable design, ideally a heavy design with a lot of structure and easily align-able repeats.

The sample gown was intended for a runway, so the embroidery needed high visual impact from a distance. Additionally, the embroidery design needed to be adaptable to all-over embroidery, so a cutwork design fit the bill. In this case, I didn't use the cutwork technique; however, the way that the design was digitized to enable cutwork, with multiple layers of underlay plus highly structured satin stitching, worked wonderfully to create greater texture than a simple fill design would have.

The design was originally created for stitching in a continuous hoop, which is considerably smaller than the 360mm x 200mm hoop used for the bodice panels. To correct this, I edited the design in software to add and combine an extra design row at the side and lower edge to fill the larger hoop. I also removed an unwanted border. This edited design was used to embroider the seven panels needed for the bodice pattern pieces.


Stabilizing a dense design that has open spaces takes special consideration to ensure a crisp, accurate stitchout. Use plenty of stabilizer for best results.

The featured sample fabric base is a highly stable woven cotton blend, which I reinforced with a mediumweight fusible interfacing. While this alone is sufficient for a lighter-weight design, the combination of heavy satin-stitch layering and open cutwork design areas meant that extra stabilizer was needed to guarantee success.

I hooped the interfaced fabric with a layer of highly stable cut-away stabilizer, and then floated two layers of tear-away under the hoop for extra stiffness. Because the bodice needed extra body when worn to ensure a snug fit and adequate support, I was not concerned about using too much stabilizer or any resulting stiffness. If needed, the tear-away layers could be removed and the cut-away trimmed, but in the end I left them in the bodice during construction.

The need for extra stabilization was proven during stitching, when one panel showed poor registration along the satin stitching edges. Careful inspection revealed that the panel was accidentally hooped without the extra stabilization.


Cutting (and sewing) a continuous, seemingly seamless design requires marking reference points on the pattern pieces. Begin by tracing the stitching lines on the pattern, using the pattern guidesheet to find the correct seam allowance. Next, find and mark the horizontal reference points on the pattern. Most patterns have the waistline marked on at least the center-front and center-back pattern pieces. Use a ruler to draw this as a horizontal line perpendicular to the grainline across all the bodice pieces. For the sample bodice, the waistline was enough of a guideline, but for more complicated patterns, create a grid using the grainline and the waistline as starting points. Or trace the pattern pieces onto gridded tracing material, keeping the lines oriented correctly. Use the largest pattern piece to establish the design positioning.

Next, mark the pattern on the remaining pattern pieces. If possible, match the embroidered design both horizontally and vertically on the body. Because princess seams curve with the body, it's necessary to decide a reference point where the pattern will match exactly. Since the waistline is already marked, this is the easiest place to do that. The size of the pattern pieces will determine whether this is possible or whether it's necessary to settle for matching the design only in the horizontal direction.

For the sample bodice, the embroidered fabric panel fit the center-front bodice with no room to spare from the widest point or from the upper to lower edge. As a result, the center front was the starting point for planning the design flow around the bodice. I laid the prepared center-front pattern piece over the embroidery with the embroidery lower edge just touching the bottom stitching line and centered so that the side edges of the embroidery panel just met the seamlines at either side. I then traced the outlines of the embroidery design onto the pattern using a pencil.


Align the side-front pattern piece with the center front, pinning where the waistline marking meets the stitching line marking. Lay the pattern pieces onto an embroidered panel so the traced design on the centerfront edge next to the stitching line matches the embroidery, and then continue to trace the embroidery design onto the side panel, being careful to keep the horizontal alignment of the pattern pieces straight.

For the sample bodice, I made a design decision to align the center back to create a continuous embroidery design on either side of the invisible zipper, which was on the straight of grain. I then aligned and traced the side back panels. As a result, the pattern is least continuous in the vertical direction at the side seams, which is the least noticeable location. As long as the horizontal reference lines are carefully maintained, the design will be as perfectly matched as possible.


Cutwork design: Pfaff #448 Grand Endless Embroideries;


Hemingworth provided the embroidery thread:

Husqvarna Viking provided the Inspira Stitch Point Cut-A-Way & Inspira Tear-A-Way stabilizer:

Palmer/Pletch provided the Perfect Fuse Tailor fusible interfacing:

Pfaff provided the Pfaff Creative Sensation machine:
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Author:Walker, Katrina
Publication:Creative Machine Embroidery
Date:May 1, 2018
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