Monday, December 31, 2012

Fixing your stitch

Most permanent stitching (with a few exceptions) require that you fix your stitch at both ends. This simply means creating a knot in the stitching to prevent the stitch from coming out later.

Unless a stitch specifically does not want to be fixed (for example: a baste stitch or an easestitch), you will want to fix your stitch!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Practice, Practice, Practice...

Before diving in with a sewing project, it's not a bad idea to get a few scraps to practice sewing and ripping out seams on. Most fabric stores will sell "Remnants" for cheap (A Remnant is a bit of fabric leftover on the bolt that is less than 2 yards and unlikely to be enough for a project). Pick up a couple of remnants and practice cutting, pin basting, finishing a raw edge, sewing a seam, and ironing, this way, you'll be more comfortable with these basic procedures when it's time to do the real thing.

Ripping out a seam

Seam-rippers aren't just for novice sewers. Even my mom finds herself messing up and re-doing a seam once in a while.

To rip out a seam, you simply grasp the fabric on either side of the seam and gently pull them apart enough to expose the thread that is linking them. I usually use my snips (carefully) on this first thread, as it might be fixed. Then, gently pull the two pieces of fabric away from each other. You can sometimes get about 2 or 3 of the stitches to come out on their own, but whenever the fabric halts and can't come away with gentle pulling, you want to put your seam ripper in under that expose thread and pop it out.

It actually doesn't take that long with a seam-ripper to remove a seam, and when you do it right, your fabric is still in good shape and you can make a second attempt.

Stitching: Seam basics (Plain seam)

Click to enlarge
The most basic sewing skill is sewing a seam. There are a lot of stitches out there, and a finished product will of course need to be hemmed and finished, but the most basic element of joining two or more pieces of fabric together is the seam.

There are actually a few different kinds of seams out there, the Plain Seam, the Overlock, the French Seam, the Flat Seam, and the Laped Seam. For our purposes, and the purposes of the patterns we are making, we are going to be doing the Plain Seam.

Most seams are ⅝" (1.5 cm) from the raw edge, although you might find a pattern calling for a particular seam at ⅜ (1 cm). Your sewing machine will have a strike plate with grooves on the right side of the presser foot. These will indicate these two measurements (sometimes, they might even be labeled!) If you line up your fabric to be flush against those lines, sewing a seam is pretty easy. If you have more than 2 guide lines on your strike plate, I would suggest centering your needle, then using the manual knob on the side to lower it, then use your seam gauge to determine which line is the ⅜"/1cm line and which line is the  ⅝"/1.5cm line, then use a paint pen or other indelible marker to highlight each line for easy reference.

The basics of cutting out a pattern

Cutting out your pattern is the first step towards having a nice finished piece, and like any first step, it's important that you get it right, otherwise you've wasted your money on that fabric! In your pattern's envelope will be the pattern pieces (generally these are printed on very lightweight paper, like an onionskin), and there will also be a couple of instruction pages (usually printed on newsprint).

Cutting out a pattern requires patience and a large, flat workspace. You will be working with huge pieces, and there will be lots of "adjusting" that will have to happen before you cut. Here's how you do it!

Pattern Pieces

Take the instructions out and find page 1. This will have pictures of the various finished pieces that can be made from the the pattern, a listing of all of the pattern pieces that are in the envelope, general directions (for things like seam allowances), and the Cutting Layouts.

Monday, December 3, 2012


To baste something means to temporarily attach two pieces of fabric in place so that they will hold their position until a more permanent stitch seals them in place.

Fabric and You

So now that you've found the pattern you want to make, you're going to need to find the fabric to make it out of. Fabric shopping is one of my favorite parts of making a pattern because it's all about possibility and customization. For a first effort, I highly recommend sticking with light- to medium-weight cottons, as other fabrics will have peculiarities to them that will make them difficult for a novice to lay out, cut, and sew.

Note before continuing: On this blog, I will try to avoid using the term "Pattern" to describe the design or print on a bolt of fabric, and reserve the word "Pattern" to only mean the instructions and template for an item of clothing. So when I say "check the pattern," I mean the paper envelope with the clothing recipe you want to make, not the particular print of the fabric.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Purchasing a pattern

You can shop for a patterns online, or by going to a fabric store and finding the tables with the pattern catalogs and browsing for what you want. Patterns will have a number in the upper-right corner so that you can look them up, however, may patterns will have some indication if they are a Misses or Plus Size pattern (for example, Misses might have an "A" at the end, whereas Plus Sizes will have a "B" at the end) The pattern should clearly label its sizes on the front under the pattern number.

Getting your measurements
You're going to need to know your measurements going in. There's this handy guide to taking your body measurements, you'll want to have these written down somewhere before you go shopping, specifically your chest/bust, waist, and hip measurements, and then use the sizing chart on the back of the pattern to determine what version you need to look up.

If you're like me, you probably don't look like the model on the right, and you might find that your measurements don't quite line up right--your chest/bust line might be in one size, your waist in another, and then your hips in a third. For a simple sleeveless tunic, you basically want to size to either your chest or your waist, and then go with the larger size (If your chest is a L and your waist is a M, go with the L sizing). This isn't really a hard and fast rule, different patterns might require different allowances, and later on I hope to get into adjusting a pattern to fit your particular physique.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Basic sewing room setup

If you are setting up for a sewing project, you will want to have three discrete "stations" set up if possible:

  1. Your sewing machine station. If you are sewing at long table (like a dining room table), make sure your sewing machine is set off to the right of the table, so that you can have the excess fabric laying on the table instead of dangling off the side, which will pull at your seams.
  2. Your ironing station. Ironing board and iron. You will use this even more than the sewing machine, so put it in pleasant spot. I put mine in the sunroom.
  3. Your cutting and assembling station. This is the "big, flat area" mentioned in the previous post. You  definitely need this for cutting-out, but if space is at a premium, you might be able to use some of your sewing machine station and/or ironing station for laying out and assembling after you've cut out your fabric.

Sewing: Basic Equipment

Sewing does require an investment of both time and money. Before you start on your first sewing project, you will want to make sure you have the following items:

Obligatory Mission Statement Post

My mom was always an amazing seamstress. Not by trade, but just by experience. She sewed my sister's wedding dress. And we're not talking some little slip-dress with a few rhinestones sewed onto the neckline. And then, because she was a maniac (and had a little time while she recovered from surgery), she also made all of the bridesmaid's dresses:

By special requests, the DJ did play The Jetsons Theme for the Bridesmaids.
For me, it's not that I've NEVER sewn--but my sewing was mostly relegated to small tasks: curtains, mostly. Sewing a curtain isn't a difficult thing, it just takes a little time and patience. Straight lines are easy to sew -- it's the curves that get you.

In the last few years, depressed at how hard it was to find clothes that fit properly, I decided I wanted to learn to sew for myself. Sewing with my mom is also a great way for us to get along when we spend time together, because she's a teacher and she's comfortable in a teaching role.

I'm still pretty new to sewing as an investment, but I'm getting a lot better at it, more confident, and I still remember all of the things that I had to "learn," so I thought... why not start a blog about learning to sew. I can't be the only person out there who wants to learn to do this, and maybe not everyone has someone like my mom as a resource.

The point of this blog is going to be about learning to sew clothing, although I might do a few "household" projects like pillow covers and, yes, curtains. I don't expect I will be doing a lot of quilting or other crafts, but who knows. While I'm now getting comfortable with my technique, I am still learning and there may be advanced techniques that I am not yet ready to turn around and instruct on. I will post photos and videos as a tutorial, and show off my work. I won't take my readers for granted--every stitch and technique will be described (and linked). I'm not designing my clothes, I am not Project Runway material. I'll be using patterns by companies like SimplicityBurdaMcCalls, and Butterick, and Vogue. Every project will include some new technique or problem to solve that I will explain, and with lots of practice and experience, I hope to be able to hold my own. I doubt I'll ever be able to make a dress like my sister had for her wedding, but maybe I'll make some crazy Halloween costumes in the future. But if I can have good-looking, well-made clothes that fit right, I'll be happy enough.