Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Using Directional, or One-Way Prints

Using fabrics that have a print or design that must be matched takes a little know-how, and a lot of forethought. 

  • If you use a lot of vintage patterns like I do, you'll see on the back of the pattern envelope a yardage suggestion and pattern layout for "one-way or with nap" fabrics. (Contemporary patterns don't discuss this much now, or show a layout.) So what's a one-way print? I'll show you.

  • My striped fabric looks like this when I look at it from one direction. The stripes, from left to right, go brown, chartreuse, aqua, brown.

  • When I look at my striped fabric from the other direction, the stripes go brown, aqua, chartreuse, brown. If I don't stop and think carefully while I'm cutting out, my stripes won't match up at the shoulder seams.

  • I wanted my shoulder seam stripes to match up and look "continuous." I felt this was especially important because the sleeves on this 1945 dress are cut-in-one sleeves (that means there's no separate sleeve to set in; the sleeve is incorporated into the bodice). So when I laid out and cut out the front and back bodice pieces, I butted the shoulder seams together. Have a look.

  • When I joined the front to the back, it matched up perfectly. If you're fond of prints, take the time to look at them before you cut out your pattern and find out if they're an all-over design, or one-way. This dress isn't done yet, and I have even more pattern matching to do.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

If it looks like trouble . . .

it probably will be. The curve in between the center front and the dart marking on the paper pattern looked "off" to me. Still, this pattern is the work of someone who has no small estimation of her skills. So I cut out the skirt front and marked the darts.

Sure enough, the center front has a very noticeable "dip." If I go ahead and form the darts, that dip will be even more of a problem. (The darts aren't drafted correctly, either.) This skirt is supposed to fit smoothly into a waistband. It's never going to, and come out right.

What to do? Be very glad my fabric wasn't expensive and that I was only testing the pattern. I moved on to different project. Sometimes there is just no salvaging a lost cause. This was one of those times.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Tack-It: A Forgotten Sewing Tool That Deserves a Revival

Once nice thing about sewing (among so many!) is that your non-sewing friends like to support you by gifting you with odds and ends from their parents' or grandparents' sewing rooms. "I don't know if you can use this, but …" What a great way to show love!

I recently received an item this way. It's called the Tack-It, and while a quick Internet search revealed that many sewists out there already know about this wonderful marking tool, it's new to me. As we join our garment pieces together, we rely on marks to make sure we are sewing the correct pieces together, or setting in a sleeve in the right place in an armhole, oh, just so many times we must mark our pieces well or we'll get lost and forget what we were supposed to be doing.

Begin by cutting out all the pieces of your garment from the fabric. To use the Tack-It, first slip a double layer of dressmaker's carbon on the wrong side of your fabric. (Your paper pattern piece is still pinned on.) Then slip all the layers — paper pattern, fabric, carbon — into the Tack-It. It's shaped a bit like a stapler, don't you think? Line up the punch right over the paper pattern's markings. (I was marking some "circles" on this waistband.) Give the Tack-It a slap, as though you were stapling all these layers together.

You get pattern markings that are neat and symmetrical. This tool seems to have first been on the market in the 1950s and was manufactured under several different labels. They are widely available from eBay, and Etsy sellers, but I sure think it's time to revive the Tack-It for mass production again!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Moving a Bust Dart

If your bust is larger than a B cup, you might want to move the bust dart down a little as part of your bust adjustment. This T-shirt pattern has a bust dart, which I like for helping with fit, but after I made the top once, I decided I would move the dart down a little. This method is based on a tip in Sandra Betzina's Power Sewing book.

First, I drew a line (in green) that represents the foldline of the dart. Next, I drew a "box" around my dart. Then, I drew two, parallel lines that are perpendicular to the grainline. The top line intersects with the dart foldline. The bottom line is the point to which I'm going to move the dart. You'll see in a second.

I cut out the "box" around the dart. The tip, or apex, of the dart has been moved down to the lower line.

I keep a lot of larger scraps of pattern paper on hand for things like this. Can you see the gap along the side seam line, between the lower point of the armhole and the top of the dart? Now I need to draw in a new line and blend it in. I use a design curve for this, or else get out the original pattern tissue and some carbon paper and trace over the style lines printed on the pattern tissue.

Now it's time to true up the dart. Fold your dart along the foldline you drew in, and make sure the dart legs are matching up to each other. Fold it down (after all, that is how we press our darts in our garments). You'll have a little pucker in the paper. Use some tape or a pin to hold it there.

Then, cut a new side seam. I admit I just eyeballed this one, but if you're new at this, get a design curve and draw in a cutting line to follow.

Unpin the paper dart. Looks pretty good! Now, I have to admit, I moved my dart down too much. So when I made this pattern again, I moved the dart back up a little bit, using the same method when I moved it down. It's good to have some low-tack, removable tape for this, in case you need to go back and change your work. Like I said, I learned this from both watching Sandra Betzina do it and reading her book, Power Sewing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sewing Lace, Open Weave, Difficult, and Thin Fabrics — How to Begin??

There was a time when I would have just stuck this little piece of lace in my sewing machine and sort of hoped for the best, but I recently learned a technique for sewing on open weave fabrics that is really pretty genius!

So you're decided to move away from sewing on firm and easy-to-use fabrics, and try out a fine or open weave fabric, such as lace. One of the challenges of using these fabrics is, how do you even start sewing the seam? I think there is a tendency to want to grab the thread tails and hold them taut and just pull the work through your machine for the first several starting stitches, and hope for the best. Fortunately, there is a better way.

You're using a difficult fabric that will very likely get pulled down under the feed dogs and jam your machine. So, start off by using a nice, firm, woven fabric. This is a little square of muslin. I'm using a zig zag stitch.

Sew to the very end of the strip. Leave the needle down and lift the presser foot.

I'm zigzagging over the tiny seam in this lace. If I'd just put this in the sewing machine and prayed I'd get it out of there again nicely sewn, I would have been very disappointed. I butted the beginning of my difficult fabric at the end of my easy fabric, lowered the presser foot again, and continued to sew.

I sewed to the end of my lace, gently pulled it from my machine, and knotted the threads (no backstitching).

Here's how it looks. Carefully snip the threads joining your starter strip to the fussy fabric. You can use this method anytime you're starting a seam in a fabric that's going to give you trouble -- lace, fine silks, and any knits. Never backstitch! Your seam will suffer. You may want to start and end the seam with a shorter stitch length. Take a moment to experiment on some scraps before you sew your garment.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Bra Making!

Sure, you can make a lot of your own clothing and accessories, but would you want to sew underwear? I would! I've been dying to. I'm picky about my bras and it's hard to find ones I like. I'm at the Education of the Textile Arts Dallas sewing expo, where I came for the express purpose of doing a daylong seminar in custom bra making with the fabulous Anne St. Clair, teacher and proprietor of Needle Nook Fabrics in Wichita, KS.

Here's what we started out with in our bra kits: power mesh, tricot, elastics, twill tape, hook and eye bra closures, channeling, interfacing, and a pair of premade bra straps (for our convenience). We also had pattern pieces from the bra patterns she designs herself. Ann measured each of us yesterday when we arrived at the hotel, so our patterns are tweaked personally to our bodies.

 Janet, one of Anne's assistants, showed us the finer points of laying out our pattern pieces on the slippery fabric.

 A rotary cutter isn't much good on tricot — the soft, spongy fabric slides up ahead of the blade and you get distorted pattern pieces. Their trick? A pair of really cheap ($2) scissors. I thought it worked smashingly well.
Power mesh, the friend of ice skating costumes everywhere. It's also in bras. You need to use it with the most stretch going around your body. How to tell which direction has the most stretch? The "eyes" of the mesh close up when you stretch it. They seem to open if you stretch it in the other direction.
Buttery soft tricot. Find its most stretchy direction by noticing if it curls to the right side of the fabric.

 My cut out pieces. The purple marks are from a fabric marking pen and marking is a MUST in bra making. (They'll fade.)

Anne had us use a pin weaving technique to hold the slippery layers together before we put our work in the machine.

Anne helped all of us, all day long. I was glad she was comfortable at my Pfaff ("This is my mother's machine!" she said).

I got my bra cups joined at the cross seams, interlined lightly with fleece, lined, joined at the center seam (which is reinforced with twill tape. Next was attaching channeling to the bottom of the bra cups. It's for underwires, which I skipped.

Next, I sewed bottom elastic, center front elastic, and side elastic. The back closure was next. Then, the straps. It took all day, but the time just flew.

The completed bra. It really fits! I can't wait to try making more of them.

Like this one that has red flames printed on it, which Grace, Anne's other assistant is holding up.

Wow, what a day. There were several machine failures and plenty of operator error, but Anne was still smiling at the end of it all.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Altering Simple Patterns, Simply

A beginning sewing student came to me with a great first project — an easy, pull-on skirt with an A-line shape. Only problem was, she needed more room in the garment than the printed pattern would allow. Here's how we solved the problem.

It doesn't get more basic than this. This pattern piece is for the skirt back and the front. I've drawn horizontal lines for the waist and the hip on the tissue. I compared my student's body measurements to the measurements on the pattern and determined she needed an additional 4" in the waist, and a little less than that in the hip.

A lot of sewists like to copy their patterns before they begin alterations. Here I've copied the skirt piece onto pattern tissue, which is really just medical examination table paper. Use anything you can get your hands on, as long as it's nice and wide.

As I mentioned earlier, I knew I needed to give my student 4" more in the waist, and somewhat less than 4" in the hip, so her skirt would fit. Very simply, we needed to add 2" more in the front, and 2" more in the back. How would you solve this problem? It's tempting to just add to the side seams. But look at the way I've placed the yardstick in this photo. Can you see what would happen to the shape of the garment if we just added more fabric to the sides? The garment would be distorted. We'd get a funny shape on the sides, and a wider sweep of the hem, and this isn't what we wanted.

The solution was to slash the copy of my pattern and distribute the additional ease in several places on the pattern. For example, my student needed more room in front, over the abdomen, and in the back as well. So I slashed the pattern completely, from the waist to the hem, in two places near the center front/center back (you need another large piece of paper when you do this step, by the way). Then I slashed in two more places near the side seams, but I didn't slash all the way through. I left a little "hinge" at the hemline. This way, the A-line shape of the skirt didn't become exaggerated, but we still got more room where we needed it at the waist and hip.

It was exactly what she wanted!