Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Technical difficulties

I have a series of posts lined up, more is on the way. Life's been a bit busy of late and I'm having some technical difficulties with Blogger. Coming up are more "Let's make..." articles where we focus on the lower half of the body.

How to make single-fold bias tape

Bias tape comes in a multitude of colors, but sometimes it's hard to find a good match, or your fabric is so busy that a solid color would attract too much attention.

Fortunately, it's not difficult to make bias tape out of the fabric you're working with. In order to do this, you will need to buy extra fabric -- bias tape cannot be made out of the "scraps" that are left over when you're done cutting out a pattern. Since you want to cut out the fabric at a 45° angle, you want to get as much fabric extra as the fabric is wide. e.g: If your fabric is 60" wide, you will need a full 1⅞ extra yards of fabric to make the bias tape (1½ yds for 45" fabric). Plus, you need to get a few inches extra for shrinking as you will be washing and drying the fabric. Depending on how expensive your fabric is, that could be a serious investment! For your first few rounds of making bias tape, I heartily recommend using clearance/discount fabric.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Putting in a set-in sleeve (version 1)

My first fitted sleeve.
Fitted (set-in) sleeves aren't hard, but they can be a little fussy, and they definitely require patience and a careful hand when sewing in. And it's a great feeling when you turn the sleeve out and see a clean join without puckers or wrinkles.

I highly recommend getting a tailor's ham before you start putting in fitted sleeves -- It's not too much money and it makes the part where you iron the seam flat much, much easier. For most sleeves a proper sleeve roll or sleeve board isn't necessary, but I have to admit I do like mine a lot. If you can only get one, definitely get the ham first and get the sleeve roll/board later because the ham will come in handy for many different sewing projects.

Cutting out
When you're cutting out a fitted sleeve, there will be a bell shape where the sleeve will join with the shoulder of the shirt. There will be notches on either side of this curve (and usually a few dots in between) -- one side will have a single notch and one side will have a double notch--these will correspond to single and double notches on the front and back armholes. When you're cutting out the pattern, you definitely want to pay attention to the cutting layout's instructions. If you're not able to fit the sleeve piece on a folded piece of fabric during the cutting layout and you have to cut the sleeve piece out twice, mind your p's and q's about the right/wrong side of both the fabric and the pattern piece, because those notches will tell you which side is the front and the back of the sleeve when you're trying to put it in, and it would be very easy to end up with "two left sleeves" so to speak if you have the notches in the same orientation for both sleeves.

So far I've run into two ways to put in a fitted sleeve. Version 1 appears to be the more common way. If you did the previous tunic project, you've done this already.  This involves stitching the front and back of the shirt together at the side-seams and shoulders, easestitching along the sleeve's shoulder, then stitching and hemming the sleeve arm, then fitting the sleeve into the armhole of the shirt with a slight gather and joining from there.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Let's make a tunic with fitted sleeves, split cuffs and trim (Butterick 5390 - View C)

View C is the upper-left view
Note: This pattern assumes you have become comfortable with the Beginner's Stuff. This might be tricky as a first effort. I will continue to link to related posts.

One of my absolute favorite patterns out there right now is Butterick 5390, especially view "C" which has a scoop neck with trim, and fitted sleeves with split cuffs. I've made view C once before and it was my first attempt at fitted sleeves and it turned out great. I've also made View A and it's become one of my favorite shirts to wear out.

While in Philadelphia, I picked up some lovely peachskins and I'm going to make view C again, with a royal blue body and light grey cuffs. Definitely not something I should wear while gardening, eating ribs, or cleaning the gutters.  I also picked up some 2" trim that I'm going to make a go of, although it might be a little wide for a scoop-neck and not work its way around the corners very well. We'll see!

Fabric and matching thread, Contrast and matching thread,
Pattern, Trim, and Interfacing.

Friday, May 3, 2013


Please enjoy this dance number while I get more posts together for you.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Oh no...

It appears that Jack B. Fabrics, which I had previously raved about in a post about Philadelphia's Fabric Row, suffered a 3-alarm fire earlier this month. Tragically, a veteran firefighter lost his life in the blaze and another was injured.

I'm just heartbroken. I will be in Philly next weekend and I was looking forward to seeing my friends at that store. Now it's gone.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Advanced cutting layouts (part 1?)

(If you're new to cutting out patterns, see this post before you tackle what I write below!)

I'm working on making a favorite shirt of mine (Butterick 5390, hopefully more of a post to come...) and thanks to the shirt size and the fabric size, this was the cutting layout I was expected to use for the body of the shirt:

As you can see, this is a partial fold layout (there is a single fold line but the selvages are not even), but with a lot of weird stuff going on.

The * next to pieces 5, 6, and 8 have the following footnote: "Cut piece only once. Cut other pieces first, allowing enough fabric to cut this piece. Open fabric, cut piece on a single layer."

So that's sort of minimally helpful. Here's how I got these pieces cut out.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


So I feel a little bit like I've finished a marathon. When I started the blog, I created a bunch of stub posts that I've been gradually filling in, and creating more stubs as I realized I was opening up more and more avenues. These are now all done, and I'm starting to create new stubs. The posts before this cover what I consider to be "beginner's stuff." If you're fresh out of the gate, working on those projects (and ones like it) will get you comfortable with the basics of sewing in no time.

I'm going to throttle back a little bit on the blogging from here on out--I'm going to start working on intermediate topics, so the posts will come fewer and further between as I try to master them. I'll still post "Let's make..." pattern guides, but they won't be as detailed as those first three were, and will assume you're comfortable with the basics and focus on the tricks of getting the more nuanced steps figured out. I'll still post instructions for different stitching and assembly techniques as I come across them, but it will definitely be a little quieter. So take advantage of this and go do some sewing!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Let's make a matching jacket (Simplicity 2938 - View C)

In our last project, we made a sleeveless sundress and a contrast color tie belt. The pattern comes with a little raglan-sleeve cardigan jacket that would be a nice way to finish off the outfit. (View C). So let's make that!

Confession: While I have made view A a few times, this is actually my first time making view C, so there will be considerable more head-scratching and "this is how I figured this out" in this post. I have made a similar cardigan before, so this isn't completely foreign to me.

The requirements for view C are fairly simple. You need your fabric and matching thread (naturally), and you need a single ¾" button for the front, and you need a bit of lightweight fusible interfacing. That's it!

Pattern, fabric, thread, button(s).
Not shown: Interfacing

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Let's make a sleeveless sundress (Simplicity 2938 - View A)

For our second project we're going to go incrementally harder than our first project. Simplicity 2938 View A will make us a sleeveless sundress (sleeves are on their way, don't worry), that uses interfacing for the collar, and a side-zipper. Like the sleeveless tunic we made earlier, the sundress will include a gather around the neckline, however, rather than using an easestitch, we will be working with pleats.  It will also include a tie belt. I've made this pattern a few times and it's a great "first effort" pattern: plenty of challenges without being insanely difficult. Now that I've gotten it more or less down, I'm making it this time for a friend who is knitting me a pair of wristies in exchange, and I'll also be making her the matching jacket (view C--next!). Because the jacket and the belt will match, however, I've cut out the jacket and the belt together just to make sure that everything fits on the fabric.

If this is your first effort, here are a few must-reads for sizing your pattern and purchasing the matierial:
Because the pattern has pleats and some subtle gathers in it, this is not really appropriate for verticle lines--go with a solid color, or an organic or abstract design. No checks or plaids. Also note, the model shows off the dress we're going to make (the larger picture, of course) and the tie belt is in a contrast color. If you make this and you want the tie belt to be a contrast color, you will have to get an additional 1 yard of fabric in that contrast color or print, as it is not indicated on the back of the pattern envelope. 

Pattern, fabric, matching thread, bias tape, and zipper
Not shown: contrast fabric and thread for tie belt
Otherwise, make sure you get all of the proper notions: Thread, ½" Wide Single Fold Bias Tape (matched to the color of your dress), and a 12" or 14" zipper (depending on the size you will make. If you're making sizes 10-18, get a 12" zipper, If you're making plus sizes, get a 14" zipper). Again, match the color of the zipper to the dress. Get a regular zipper, not an "invisible" zipper or of course, a jeans zipper. Take your fabric home and prepare it (see the link above) and we're ready to get started! If you're making the belt in a contrast color (or you're planning on making the matching jacket), make sure you get some thread in the contrast color for the belt!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Hemming is generally done at the bottom of a garment's opening: Either the bottom edge of a top or bottom (shirts, skirts, pant legs), or the bottom of a cuff. Hemming is simply put, to fold the fabric onto itself and then stitch around the circumference to prevent the fabric from fraying and unraveling.

A pattern piece will usually indicate the hem both in the instructions and on the pattern piece itself. Almost every pattern I have done uses a standard 1¼" hem.

If you are making a more formal dress, skirt, or pair of pants, it's always a good idea to try the garment on before you hem while wearing the shoes you plan to wear with the outfit (for a bottom) or if you're a woman and this is a top, to wear the bra that you plan to wear with the garment (don't make me spell out why), and then determine where you would like your hemline to be. You can mark the hem and press it up, and then stand on a chair and have a friend or family member check to make sure that the hem is even all the way around. You may find that your hem is longer or shorter than the pattern's standard.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Finishing show-down -- which is best?

No "Fraytality" puns, please.
There are a plethora of finishing options out there that we've gone though, but you might wonder which one is "best" in terms of preventing fraying in the long-term. As you create garments that you might want to wear and wash often, durability of your seams might become a concern.

In order to test the durability of the various raw edge finishing techniques, I've created a test swatch. Each edge of the swatch will use a different finishing technique, and then it will put the swatch through the a machine wash/dry cycle multiple times and track the progress of the raw edge and see how it frays. Of course, I'm only testing raw-edge finishing, not any finishing technique that encloses the raw edge, like bias tape or  french seam, as those do not weather in a washing machine quite so badly since the raw edge is not open to the elements.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Sometimes, you will find yourself needing to join multiple layers of fabric invisibly without the sort of access to the interior that would make the understitch an option. For example, you're sewing a self-enclosed facing piece to a collar, or you've turned out a tie belt and now you have to close the little bit that you used to pull the belt through with. To do this, you have to use a hand sewing technique called the Slip-Stitch.

The slipstitch is a hand-stitch that starts from the back (interior) and goes through all the layers of fabric except the frontmost (exterior) layer of fabric, before coming back up through all layers to return to the back. Generally, you want to put your finger behind that last layer of fabric and if you feel the needle prick your finger, you pull back just enough to feel that layer of fabric "slip off" before pushing the needle back towards where you put it in. This means that the stitch remains "invisible" to the outside of the garment. It also means you'll learn the value of "light touch" very quickly or you'll need to get in good with your local blood bank (I've always been an elbow-grease kind of girl myself, this is a new horizon for me).

Monday, February 25, 2013

French Seam

For the most part, we've been working with the Plain Seam for our projects. There are some limitations to the plain seam, however. Because the raw edges are exposed in the seam allowance, it's not the first choice of seam for something like an unlined jacket where the interior of the garment may become visible as the wearer takes the item on or off in public. Similarly, for very lightweight fabrics that fray or ravel very easily, even an overlock might not be enough to keep the raw edge from coming apart. For these scenarios it is recommended that you use a French Seam, which encases the raw edge inside of the seam allowance via a second seam. The French Seam is also the preferred seam method for sewing household projects like pillowcases. It's got a few more steps in it than the plain seam, but it's not tricky and will definitely neaten up your allowance for your garments and create a more professional look.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


The overlock stitch is a popular, professional-looking way of finishing your raw edge. It's like a zig-zag stitch except each "zig" and "zag" are multiple stitches, and the exterior point will actually leave the raw edge to create a "lock" on the edge of the fabric. While most people think of Overlocking as something that is done on a serger or other high-end sewing equipment, in truth, if your sewing machine can do a buttonhole and a zipper, it can probably do an overlock.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Trim seam, clip curves

My experience is that before doing an understitch or turning a seam inside-out, there is usually a step that says "Trim seam" and if the seam isn't on a straight bit of fabric, it's followed by "Clip curves." This can be across any number of layers of fabric and/or interfacing. All this means is that you are going to trim down the seam allowance from a previous seam, and then make notches in the curves of the allowance. This will help ease folding the fabric over to prevent wrinkles or bunching.

When you trim the seam, you basically want to trim it to where there is still a little bit of allowance for you to do your understitch through, so don't take it right to the seam, give yourself about ¼"-⅜" of an allowance, depending on how comfortable you are with your sewing machine--smaller is better. Even if you're not doing an understitch and you're simply turning the seam inside-out, you don't want to clip right up to your seam simply because it will increase the chance of the seam coming undone.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


One of the simplest ways to finish a raw edge is by pinking the raw edge. Pinking uses a special pair of equipment (called Pinking Shears) to create a saw-tooth edge to the fabric, which discourages fraying.

Unlike stitching methods of finishing a raw edge, you don't want to pink before you do your seam, because doing so might wipe out the notches you cut out and then you won't be able to line up your parts accurately. Instead, pink after you've put the seam into place and the notches are no longer necessary for lining up the pieces.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ironing basics

Iron Man isn't afraid to let loose a blast
of steam. It gets the wrinkles out.
This post is a little late in coming, but it's probably worth it to get out there.

As mentioned in the basic equipment post, the iron is the most important piece of equipment for successful sewing. Here are the some of the things you will need to iron even as a beginner:

  • You fabric after you've washed and dried it, before you cut it.
  • Plain seams are usually ironed open or in a particular direction. In fact, most seams require ironing in some capacity.
  • You better believe you need to iron your hems into place.
  • Fusible interfacing uses an iron to melt the glue and join the interfacing to your fabric facing piece.
So it's safe to say you'll need to be comfortable with your iron. Irons don't have to be fancy, but generally speaking, the heavier the iron, the better it is. Get distilled water to fill your iron with, so that sediment doesn't build up and block your steam vents.

Finishing a raw edge with single-fold bias tape

In our first project we did some work with single-fold bias tape, but here's a separate article on it just for ease-of-reference. Bias tape is a simple way of finishing a raw edge that does not require a seam or a hem, and does not need structural reinforcing through facing. Armholes on a sleevless shirt are a good example of when to use single-fold bias tape.

Bias tape is, simply put, a thin tape made out of fabric that has been cut on a bias (45° from the selvage). It is then folded and pressed in a gatefold with the "wrong side in." You can make this yourself if you have enough extra fabric from your project (post on its way), or you can purchase bias tape from the notions section of your local fabric store (Note, there are many different varieties of bias tape: for most beginning garment projects, you want ½" wide single fold bias tape -- check your notions on the pattern). Try to get bias tape that matches your fabric's design or color as closely as possible.

You're going to see "stock instructions" every time your finish an edge with single-fold bias tape because it follows the same basic 3 steps, so here's what they mean:

Monday, February 18, 2013

Finishing a raw edge with a facing piece

Sometimes, you will have a collar or armhole that requires finishing with a facing piece that is backed with fusible interfacing. For beginner's patterns, these steps generally follow a set procedure. Working with fusible interfacing (as opposed to finishing with bias tape or other method) gives a collar structure and form, but does require several steps to see through. Fortunately, this a fairly simple procedure, as long as you take each step carefully, you will have it down in no time.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Working with fusible interfacing

Many patterns will require interfacing to reinforce a particular panel or structure in the pattern--think of it as hairspray for fabric. Collars and lapels are popular candidates for interfacing for the new seamster.  For our purposes early on, we will always be working with fusible interfacing, which is applied to the fabric with an iron. Interfacing comes in a variety of weights, most of my early projects have focused on using lightweight interfacing.

It's not a bad idea to just have a few yards of lightweight fusible interfacing on hand for your sewing projects, rather than buying it on a per-project basis, but of course, your patterns will tell you how much you need so it's hardly a requirement, and sometimes the amount of interfacing your need and the pieces are so small that you can use scraps from a previous project. You don't need to worry about finding "the grain" of the fabric with interfacing.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Stitching in the Ditch

In order to secure a under-laying piece in place and keep it from shifting or unfolding, sometimes a pattern will instruct you to "stitch in the ditch." What this means is that you will perform a straight-line topstitch, regular-length stitch right down an existing seam line. This helps to hide the stitch on the finished garment.

Before you start stitching, I would line up the needle using the manual knob on your sewing machine so that it will go right into the "ditch" created by the existing seam.

Video below the fold...

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Philadelphia's Fabric Row

My work takes me back to Philadelphia (which I called home for several years) regularly if not frequently. At least every three months I head down, see my friends at the office, and check in with old friends that I made while I was living in the City of Brotherly Love. There are also a few shopping trips I try to make while I'm back in my old stomping ground, and with the exception of the occasional grocery from the Reading Terminal Market, I find that almost all of my "must haves" are on 4th street just south of South street. Of course, the House of Tea is on my to-do list, but for sheer "I'm going to get in a ton of trouble now" you can't beat Fabric Row.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Let's make a simple sleeveless top (Simplicity 2262-D)

For the first start-to-finish project, I'm going to make a simple, sleeveless tunic. This will use some of the stuff we've talked about, as well as one new technique: single-fold bias tape.

Most pattern companies offer some variety of this pattern in every season because it's such a staple of a woman's wardrobe. When you're looking at the pattern, check the notions -- you want one that only requires single-fold bias tape, and not one that requires interfacing (we'll do that on our next project!). If you want to follow along at home, the pattern I'm using is Simplicity 2262 which comes in both Misses (AA) and Plus (BB) sizes. We'll be doing View D, which is the sleeveless tunic.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


The Understitch is used to reinforce the form of a seam invisibly. It's similar to the topstitch with the exception that it does not go through the "top" layer of fabric on the outside of the garment. I find it is used most often when I am securing a collar's interfacing.

Unless otherwise indicated in a pattern, an understitch is a normal-length (2-3) straight stitch across the layers of fabric underneath the exterior (outward-facing layer) that is fixed at both ends. Like the Topstitch, you want to try to get the stitch as close to the original seam as possible, but because it is invisible, it is not as critically important that the stitch be straight.

Often, you will do an understitch after you trim the seam and clip the curves (trimming down the seam allowance on a bias and creating notches at the curve for ease--article on its way). If you iron your folded seam before you stitch, rolling the seam back just slightly so that it's along the inside edge of the underside of your garment, it will make the seam invisible to the outside, and then understitching will help keep that structure in place.

Monday, January 14, 2013


The Topstitch is a means of reinforcing a seam's structure by stitching through all the layers of fabric that make up the seam. Topstitching is used all the time to "neaten-up" a seam and create a more visible structural line, and it's also used when finishing bias tape along a sleeve or other opening.

Unless otherwise indicated in a pattern, a topstitch is a normal-length (2-3) straight stitch across all layers of fabric that is fixed at both ends. Because a topstitch will be visible on the final garment, it's important the stitch be as straight and even as possible, and is often as close to the seam edge as possible.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Christmas Swag

Having put in enough hours that she's decided I'm serious about all of this, Mom got me a ton of sewing tools for Christmas...

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


The easestitch is a stitch that is used to create a gather in your fabric in order to "ease" in two pieces of different sizes. Easestitching is most commonly used in fitted sleeves, where the shoulder of the sleeve is going to have more fabric than the shoulder of the body. Easestitching is also used when your piece will have a decorative gather or ruffle in it or when you want to gently shape the line of your garment. Patterns will usually indicate that you easestitch in between dots or notches.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


The staystitch is a very simple stitch mostly used in collars to prevent the fabric from stretching or pulling while you sew.

Staystitching is a straight-line, regular-length stitch (usually around setting 2-3) that is through a single thickness of fabric and does not create any sort of seam or join. 

The important thing about a staystitch is that you fix both ends and you follow the direction of the stitch indicated by the pattern. This may mean, if you have a single front collar piece, that you stitch in from the shoulder to the middle of the collar, then instead of going on to the other shoulder, you fix and stop, then start from the other shoulder and head in to the middle of the collar.