Y’all! I did it! I successfully sewed with sequins, and it kicked my ass just as much as working with velvet for the first time. But I saw it through to the end! Who cares if it took me two months to complete what is one of THE simplest patterns in my entire stash? I FINISHED IT, and I think it looks spectacular. And now I really need a fun cocktail party to attend so that I can slink and shimmer around in it.
I’m not sure what first got me interested in sewing with sequins, but I think I might have seen a photo or two online where sequins took the centerstage of an outfit and it got my wheels turning. I did some gentle research online about how to sew with sequins, in case I ever bit the bullet and actually bought a couple of yards, and lo and behold, within days I found myself at Michael Levine’s, JUH-ROOLING over a few bolts of sequined fabric they had on display. I already knew that I wanted to work with stretch sequins, and the first one I found happened to be the one I was the most in love with- a black poly knit with two toned sequins that flipped from black to gold depending on how you made them lay (using just a bit of pressure, you sweep the sequins from one side to the other with your hand and they “magically” change color). I was immediately in love with the color combo; not a huge fan of black by itself, but when it’s coupled with gold I’m sold! So I grabbed myself 1.5 yards hoping that I wouldn’t ruin it in the learning curve. I knew the exact pattern that I wanted to pair with the sequins, probably because I had just recently made it so it was fresh in my mind. Despite my flahze-dah attitude (where my Drag Race fans at??) about everyone’s other favorite dress pattern, I knew that the simple silhouette of McCalls 6686 would work great for showing off the sequins, and that my issues with the fit would be easy to adjust once the main pieces were constructed. Sewing with sequins is a lot like velvet in that you want to stay away from lots of gathers, pleats and extra seam lines to create less bulk and allow the fabric to shine, and this pattern met the mark.
I made a few small adjustments to the pattern before I cut out my sequins by trying to adjust for a sway back (I’m still new to this fit adjustment and haven’t nailed it down yet for knit fabrics) and opening up the neckline in the front and back just a bit. I cut out the three quarter inch sleeve version and shortened my pattern pieces to a mini, then I cut the sequins with a pair of leather shears so as not to damage my good scissors or rotary cover on the tiny discs. BTW I would recommend using goggles when cutting and machine sewing sequins that aren’t glued or fully sewed down onto their fabric. I did not, and I had one or two close calls where a sequin shard flew through the air a little too close to my eye!
Initially I had planned to sew a lining inside of my sequined dress since that seemed like the easiest way to protect my skin from the sharp edges that would be poking through the seam allowances, but once the shell was constructed, I realized that adding another dress underneath it was going to be incredibly heavy (this sequined fabric is already pretty weighty) and it would also feel and look too bulky for the body skimming dress I was going for. By wearing a lining underneath this dress I was hoping to avoid all the extra work required to make the insides of a sequined garment more comfortable, so now I knew I had my work cut out for me.
I learned lots of random tips on working with sequins when I researched the topic online- some of them worked, some of them did not. One suggested that I remove all the sequins from the seam allowances before sewing because my sewing needle would not be able to penetrate the sequins without breaking over and over again. I knew how hard my sequins were from cutting them with my strongest pair of scissors, so I got to work attempting to remove each sequin from the 5/8″ allowance of each pattern piece. I figured it wouldn’t take terribly long since I was working with an uncomplicated pattern that only had two side seams, two shoulder seams, and hems.
Before we laugh at how absolutely naive this thought process was, it’s important to note that not all sequined fabric is made in the same way. Some sequins are glued on, some are sewn down onto a mesh piece of fabric, and some are only connected to the fabric with one knot of thread that runs in diagonal lines across the knit backing. My sequined fabric was like the latter, and removing one individual sequin from the fabric took approximately 3. 4 years. I thought that I would be able to undo the whole stitching line for one row of sequins and then just pull the thread up so that the rest of the row of sequins would pop off, too, but that only worked sometimes…which was probably a good thing. You want your sequins to be adequately affixed to the fabric so that one little snag doesn’t make a whole line of sequins fall off. But for the purposes of my project I was hoping the work would be much less labor intensive. After removing about 2 inches of sequins, my fingers were getting raw and sore, and after another two inches were removed I was kicking myself for getting hooked by their shiny sparkle in the first place.
I took lots of breaks, complained about the arduous process on instagram, took Tylenol for my back that had started to ache from sitting hunched over the dress for so long, vacuumed up a few hundred of the sequins that were littering my craft room floor. At the rate I was going I figured I would be done with the dress in about 2021, so I decided to take as much time with the sequin removal as possible. At one point I read a comment from someone on IG asking what needles I had tried to sew the fabric with, and I couldn’t remember- when I had played around with a little cut of the fabric earlier I had tried to run it through my machine with whatever needle was already in there and it didn’t work well. But I realized then that maybe I just needed to try a stronger needle. I pulled out an upholstery needle that I used for super heavy fabric when reupholstering chairs and I sewed a tentative line of zig zag stitching over two layers of fabric. I went verrrrry slowly and kept my face far away from the needle of my sewing machine. It worked like a dream- no skipped stitches, no marring of sequins and no breaking of needles. I couldn’t BELIEVE I had wasted so much time trying to pry them off one by one, but even after all my hours of work, I hadn’t gotten very far, and better to learn the lesson late than never, right?
I halted my Sequin Removal Production™ and slowly zig zagged the side seams of the dress to try on for fit- it looked pretty good! Eventually I would take the dress in even more at the side seams, but for now I knew I was on the right track, and I also knew that figuring out how to cover up the sequins in the seam allowance would be key because I had tons of scratches up and down my body just from taking the dress on and off. Next I attached the sleeves to the dress, and construction was complete, just like that! I had spent hours removing a few inches of sequins over the past three days and then had the whole garment sewn up in 20 minutes! Ha! Unfortunately, my journey was just beginning.
Now that the dress was sewn up, I had to decide 1. how to handle the scratchy sequins in the seam allowance of the dress and 2. how to hem the sleeves, neck and bottom of the dress. For the seam allowances I briefly considered removing the sequins from the allowances again, but I knew that there had to be a better and quicker way, at least to save my sanity and my fingertips. Instead of removing the sequins, I thought of encasing the seam in bias binding to keep the sequins covered up by the strip of fabric (kind of like a Hong Kong seam but with the allowance sewn together as opposed to pressed open and encased separately). It worked! It looked a little messy at the intersections of sleeve opening and side seam, but 99% of the sequins were covered up and I no longer felt like I was in a Freddy Kreuger movie when I tried the dress on.
Now for the hems. I had tried folding my seam allowance to the inside and sewing the hem down like you would any regular garment but it looked horrible- the hem was lumpy, bumpy and very unprofessional looking. Worse yet, the needle punctured all the sequins around the seam line so when I took the stitches out they looked worn and mauled. I ended up having to cut the sleeves off at that line because the sequins looked so traumatized, but it was fine because the three quarter sleeve length gives you room to play with. Next I tried sewing a length of bias tape to the outside edge of the sleeve bottom, then folding the bias tape to the inside and hand sewing the tape down so that you can’t see the stitches from the outside. This worked MUCH better. The lines were smooth, no sequins were harmed, and, although time consuming, it wasn’t difficult work. It still doesn’t look perfect; because the sequins are sewn onto a stretch knit, using a straight stitch to attach the bias binding made the seams stretch out a bit, so that if you look closely at my sleeve hems in particular, you can see that they flare out juuuuust a tiny amount. But guess what- after all the time and frustration I had experienced at this point with the make, I was FINE with a little flare!
For the bottom hem of the dress, I was nervous that my bias binding method would make it look even more stretched out than the sleeve hems, so I folded the hem up and hand stitched it in place instead of sewing it with my machine, then I hand stitched a length of bias tape around the allowance on the inside to keep the sequins from touching my skin (y’all, I know it seems like overkill, but the SEQUINS ON BARE SKIN struggle is REAL). After trying the dress on, I was verrrrry close to loving it, but it was a still little bit looser than I wanted it to be in the body, much like my issues with the first time I made this pattern, even though I had adjusted it since then. I took it in again about a half inch on both side seams and it absolutely did the trick. I could have finished here and finally called the dress complete, but now I had very bulky side seams with the additional fabric taken in at the sides, so I snipped off my bound seams and cut closer to my second line of zig zag stitches. Then I finished the seams for a second time with a fresh length of binding (and I made it look nicer than the first time when I was less sure of what I was doing). And, VOILA! The sequined dress is finished!
This dress took me over two months to complete because I put it away and worked on so many other projects in the middle of it. I don’t normally have projects sitting unfinished in my craft room for that long, but there was so much trial and error involved and I also wanted to give myself little breaks so that I wouldn’t get too frustrated with the fabric and take even longer to finish it. I am super happy with the fit of this dress now, though. It looks tight like a body con dress but it’s actually very comfortable. It will be easy to dance in and I love the length of the sleeves- I feel like they can carry me through 80% of LA weather. I do have a preference for which way I want the sequins to face- I thought I was fine with them going both ways, but when they are all turned gold, it puts the biggest smile on my face and I simply can’t stop staring at them in the mirror. Claire likes this dress cause she said I feel like a snake, and she’s totally right. Not sure if you have ever spent any time with snakes, but thanks to a couple of snake loving friends, I have had the pleasure, and they are amazing! When you hold their bodies as they slither around, you can feel each individual scale, which is surprisingly soft, and you can also feel their muscles moving underneath their exterior. When these sequins are all running in the same direction and I run my hand over my body, it feels exactly the same way.
This dress took way longer than I imagined and the learning curve was steep but it didn’t turn me off of working with sequins; in fact, in the middle of working on this dress I went to the Fabric Store to pick up my month’s allowance and my eyes fell on a bright blue and pink bolt of shimmery sequins that I had seen before in the store but had never had the guts to take home with me. Now that I had this black and gold number successfully under my belt I knew that sewing with the non-stretch sequined fabric would be a breeze, and it’s in my craft room right now, just waiting to slide up the project queue 🙂
And now, just cause I mentioned it, here is an awesome photo my talented friend Henry took of me with a black headed python for his snake calendar…this snake was a real stinker and kept knocking my prop glasses off my head, but we still had a lot of fun. If I can find it I will have to post the gorgeous photos he took of Claire looking like Amelia Earhart with two snakes wrapped around her flight goggles!