Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Case Study: Pressing Seams Open

Those of us who learned to sew by following pattern instructions find we have some gaps in our knowledge down the road. A case in point: pressing seams open.

The Big Four pattern companies sometimes mention this crucial step in construction in the glossary section of the instructions, but more often, it's just the last, short sentence in a sequence of steps. "Stitch side seam. Press seam open." If you're lucky, they've provided an illustration of the wrong side of the garment and the tip of an iron is magically parting the two little seam allowances open and pressing them flat. So for years, that's what I did — I just turned my garment wrong side up on the ironing board, slid the tip of my iron into the seam allowances and ironed away.

But I've learned a couple of other important things about pressing seams since then. The first is, press that newly-stitched seam with the raw edges still meeting and "meld" the stitches into the fabric. Let it cool briefly. Then, press the seam open. The difference may be subtle, but I've found it really helps keep your work neater and more "professional-looking."

All right, that's simple enough. But what about when you're dealing with seams that are hard to get to, as in this baby blanket I'm making? Essentially, it's like a big pillow case. I've sewn all four seams (leaving an opening into which I stick my hand and turn it right side out, of course). I can't really pull it over my ironing board for pressing the seams open. The solution? Press one of the seam allowances like so:

 And then turn the work over and press the other one:

When you turn your blanket (or pillow case) right side out, you'll have a much crisper and sharper seam.

This technique is also really useful on curved seams, such as round collars or circular pillow covers.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

One-Thread Sewing On Delicate Fabrics: Part Two

When you work with very delicate fabrics, such as silk chiffon, you'll need a few special methods of sewing your fabric to get the best results. Last week I showed you how to thread your machine "backwards" using a drawn-out length of bobbin thread. It's just wonderful for sewing a dart in your sheer fabrics. Here's how to finish the job.

I'm using China silk, or silk habutai, in these photos. I lined my garment with this fabric. The chiffon print I used for the shell just didn't show up that well in photography.

Normally with dart sewing, you start at the widest part of the dart and sew toward the tip, or apex. But with this method of dart sewing, start at the apex instead. My thread is pretty taut. There's only enough slack in it for me to get a very little bit of the fabric — about two threads wide! — under the presser foot. It takes a little bit of fiddling around. (Remember, your bobbin and top threads are one.)

Now, notice two things. One, I've got my stitching line marked very thoroughly. Two, I've got my needle swung over to the left, as far as it will go. (It is such a handy thing to have a sewing machine that has an adjustable needle position.) This keeps those greedy feed dogs from grabbing my delicate fabric and pulling a chunk of it down, down, into my bobbin shuttle and jamming up the machine.

Here's what that looks like. No, the machine was not threaded for one-thread sewing when I took this. I just wanted you to see how my needle is in the left position. If you don't have a presser foot that has a single, tiny hole in it, nor a throat plate with a small hole, you'll have to move your needle over to the left to sew filmy, delicate fabrics. Otherwise, you'll run into trouble with the feed dogs grabbing the fabric and pulling it down into the machine.

Begin sewing your dart now, and don't backstitch. Use a shorter stitch length, such as 2.0. When you get to the end of the dart legs, stop sewing without backstitching and remove your work from the machine, leaving some long thread tails. Tie these tails off in a knot to secure the stitching. That's all there is to it! To sew the next dart in your garment, you must re-thread the machine each time.

This is a bit of an advanced technique that requires a little thought. You will, of course, have practiced sewing on some scrap fabric first. Don't use your actual project to experiment. Get out your sales receipt and remind yourself of how much you spent on your fabric. If that doesn't get you in the mood to practice this technique before marching headlong into the real thing, I don't know what will!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

One-Thread Sewing On Delicate Fabrics: Threading the Machine

At some point in your sewing career, you'll want to leave your comfort zone of sewing stable cottons and instead, try making a garment from (drum roll) silk chiffon. Why not? All the other sewists are doing it! And one of the first steps in construction you'll have to face is sewing darts in this temperamental fabric. I learned this technique of making darts by pulling up a long length of the bobbin thread and threading your machine in reverse, sometimes called "one-thread sewing," from the late, incomparable Shannon Gifford.

Step One: Unthread your machine (if is threaded) and pull up a good 18" of thread out of the bobbin. Then thread the machine needle from the rear. That's right, instead of poking the thread end into the eye from the front, poke it through from the back.

Step Two: Draw the thread upward toward the uptake lever.

Step Three: Draw the thread over the uptake lever, right to left. Remember, we are threading the machine "backwards." (Confession time: I took these photos as much to remind myself how to prepare for this unusual technique as I did so I could teach you how to do it!)

Step Four: Draw the thread down through the tension disc.

And up again. You will still have a good length of thread left.

Step Five: Draw out the length of thread from left to right.

And lay it across the top of your machine, allowing the thread to dangle off the edge. You're ready to sew your dart now.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Recycled Fashions: A Force To Be Reckoned With

A sewing and fashion trend that's hot these days is the recycling (upcycling?) of old clothing into new garments by altering, cutting, splitting, embellishing, and repurposing. It makes perfect sense. Quality fashion fabric is hard for us home sewers to find. Why not scavenge it from discarded clothes? It also fits into our enhanced sensibility about conservation and ecology. I went to a science museum in Toronto a couple years ago and saw an exhibit that debunked the old "it all rots in the landfill" wisdom. Among the still-perfectly-good items that had been excavated and put on display was a pair of Wrangler jeans. They had been underground for 35 years!

Still, I'm having some trouble looking at this trend as an avenue for my own creativity. Here's an old calico "housedress" that's been in my closet for about 20 years. I bought it at a garage sale. It's easy to tell someone sewed it at home about 50+ years ago. I've worn it, and worn it, and even had compliments on it. But I've always felt it needed help, somehow. But what to do? And is it really worth it? As a home sewer who works with patterns published for the home sewing market, this recycling project has me stumped.

Monday, June 07, 2010

I'm Berserk for Peach Berserk

I've not often wished I were someone else, but if I had a chance to slip into another person's skin, I would choose to inhabit the amazing, fabulous, and exuberant Kingi Carpenter, proprietess of the Toronto boutique, Peach Berserk. She is my hero!

Kingi, a former art student, sells one-of-a-kind and custom fashions made on the premises from silks and cottons she has screenprinted by hand with her own original, crazy, and delightful designs. She always says she got her inspiration for Peach Berserk when she visited Paris and looked everywhere for a dress that had Eiffel Towers printed on it. No Eiffel Tower dress was in evidence anywhere. Kingi thought that was just a shame and went home to Toronto and made her own fabric, "so no girl would have to go without Eiffel Towers on her dress again!"

From there, she used all sorts of other imagery — everything from flowers, to kitchen implements, to David Bowie — for her 100+ silkscreen designs, and more keep coming every year. Each and every one is sold in any color fabric and ink the customer chooses, and you're encouraged to mix and match freely, even on the same garment. For those who are decision-impaired and in a hurry, a selection of clothing off the rack is available. Peach Berserk is the go-to spot in Ontario for "out-there" prom dresses, and even does a great wedding clothes business as well.

I'm a fan of "outsider" fashion, and yeah, I love the reinterpreted Bettie Page look that's so popular among the roller girl/rockabilly crowd. But I love Kingi's unapologetic celebration of femininity in her clothing. There is no hard-edged irony or parody in her silhouettes. She even has a print called "I Enjoy Being A Girl." I love that she loves color and can't live without it. I love that she teaches others the fun art of silkscreening in monthly workshops right in the shop. I try to bring a little of her spirit to my own life and sewing, but don't quite make it. Speaking of which, I want to decide what to do with my own Eiffel Tower fabric!