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...