Saturday, November 08, 2014

Laying Out, Cutting, and Sewing the Panel Print

Sewing a fine fabric requires fine thread, and I have found nothing finer for sewing lightweight silk fabrics than Aurifil thread. It's all cotton, so there's little to no stretch, and it's a fine gauge (50 wt), which works with charmeuse so well. It's a little pricey, but you get 1300 meters — you'll be able to sew many garments with just one cone. You won't find it at at chain stores. Some quilting shops may carry it, or check Red Rock Threads or Hawthorne Threads for availability.

All righty, back to looking at the panel print. I had 1-1/4 yards, and it was 54" wide. That's enough for one short-sleeved top. This seemed like a job for the Grainline Studio Scout Woven Tee to me.

My relationship to this design has been somewhat troublesome. I'd made it up in a solid color cotton lawn once before, and while fun to put together and wear, my results weren't enormously flattering on my body. Scout has no bust, waist, or shoulder darts. Its side seams are fairly straight up and down. The distinguishing feature is its pretty scoop neckline. That, and no closures.

Since I was cutting out on flat, not folded, fabric, I needed to make full front and back pattern pieces. I also raised the armhole and changed the sleeve cap shape just a little, using fitting information from previous bodice projects I've done recently.

Here's the underlining fabric, a silk and cotton blend in a satin weave. It's too flimsy to be good for much of anything else but underlining another fabric.

I chalked the cutting lines onto the fabric, then basted each piece to the underlining, using glace thread. I have some silk thread I use for basting, but I had a feeling it would simply wiggle out of the fabric. Hy-Mark, #16 all-cotton glazed thread held the layers together. Then, I cut out my pieces along my chalk lines.

Here we can see the nicely-designed neckline taking shape. Sewing four, thin layers of fabric together isn't as difficult as I'd imagined, and it's made easier by hand basting the seams first, using a fine gauge thread (I reverted to my silk thread). I used a strip of the fabric's selvedge to reinforce the shoulder seams.


I was introduced to this silk thread by Belding Corticelli at a Susan Khalje seminar. Oh, it's not made anymore, but is usually plentiful on eBay or Etsy. Fly fisherman favor it because it's strong and light for their flies, and they are often the ones selling off their extra stash. As is usual for me, I laid in a lifetime supply.

Scout's printed instructions don't specify this, but applying the bias binding for the neckline should be your next step — before closing the side seams. It's just so much easier to sew on a garment that's still 2-D. My neckline application, however, was tricky. I used only a single layer of the shell fabric (no underlining), but it took several basted-on attempts before I got results that were acceptable. It still doesn't look exactly as I wish it would from the inside of the garment but at some point I have to move on and hope I can do it better next time. I did stay stitch the neckline first and I suggest you do it, as well.

I went with a Hong Kong finish for the side seams, using bias fabric strips from the underlining fabric. This, after basting the side seams, trying Scout on for fit, and adjusting. I needed and wanted more side seam shaping at the waist. Even after I applied the Hong Kong finish, I could still adjust the fit if I really wanted to.

Here's what it looked like as I sewed Scout on my Babylock Jane. Dang, do I love this machine. It's marketed to quilters, but I like to think of it as an industrial-type machine for the home sewer. It's got power, torque, adjustable feed dog height, adjustable presser foot pressure, and a lot of room in the sewing bed. I love the slender-toed, metal presser foot. Jane sews forwards, and backwards, only. I find a back-to-basics approach is really working for me.

After basting in the sleeves by machine, then stitching, I decided on a turned-under finish for the sleeve seams. I didn't want to take a chance on extra bulk there.

A simple, double-turned hem finished off my silk panel-printed Scout.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Using Panel Prints

How many times have you run across a print like this — fabric printed in panels — and decided to skip it because you weren't sure what to do with it? Especially when you're sewing garments, this kind of fabric feels tricky to approach. One false move  . . .

I had a chance to see a garment in a panel print taking shape in August during my annual trip to San Francisco for a week of sewing with Sandra Betzina. Here's Paul Gallo showing Sandra how to "read" an engineered panel print.

If you look, you can see a "collar," "cuffs," center front, etc.

This silk charmeuse fabric was of exceptional quality. It had an exceptional price as well, coming from Britex Fabrics in downtown San Francisco. This garment was to go on display in the store, so shoppers and designers can see the fabric's possibilities. Oh, lots of people like to whinge about how pricey Britex is. It's easy to overlook the fact Britex simply has the very highest quality apparel fabric available for retail sale, anywhere.

I'm thinking of printing bumper stickers:  STOP BRAGGING ABOUT USING CHEAP FABRIC. But I digress.

Sandra's shift dress, with cut-in-one short sleeves, began to take shape while I was still at the retreat. Even though it had a nice hand and drape, it needed backing. Sandra had Paul underline the fabric with a lightweight silk/cotton sateen. Paul chalked in the cutting lines for the front and back pieces, basted the layers together, and then cut the pieces out for her. He had a blast with this fabric. She took over the machine stitching from there.

I chose another engineered panel print from the same shelf at Britex. It cost far less than Sandra's fabric, but it's not the same quality as Sandra's fabric, either (it's a lot filmier). So I needed to underline my fabric as well. I used the same silk/cotton sateen as she did (in fact I bought a bunch of it from her). But first, I had to look at it a while.

At Britex the salespeople and I examined the fabric and noticed that a single panel measures 1-1/4 yards long and 54" wide. We decided to have them cut, not tear, the fabric in the event the print is off grain (which it probably is, a little bit, anyway). It was not hard to tell which part of the fabric should be the front of the garment. No need to wear a necklace with this top — the necklace print is enough.

The tougher question was, where to place this horizontal "stripe," which runs the width of the goods? I knew I didn't want it over my stomach or hips. That's not where I want a horizontal line — at the widest part of me (which is why I have never warmed up to low-waisted pants and skirts). So I knew I wanted this line right near my bust or shoulders.

There was something else, too — this little cluster of flowers. It only appears once in the panel, no repeats, and they contrast with the all over rose print. So it went on the left front of the garment.

When I looked more closely, I saw something else, too. This print is done digitally. It looks like a photograph on fabric, almost. This is Italian-made.

More on how I used this unusual fabric in the next post.

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.