Sunday, 28 August 2011

Safe Sewing and Getting Over the Fear of the Needle

Many new sewers are fearful of the machine, and it's understandable after we've been told to be careful and have read the stories of accidents to do with sewing machines (like my older sister when she was two nearly getting the needle in her finger). But in reality, these accidents are very rare. Quality sewing machines are made to be safe. They have to be or no-one would be allowed to buy one under eighteen.
Probably the most dangerous thing in your sewing kit it your scissors and as long as you keep your fingers out of the way of the closing blades, and don't drop them on your feet you will be fine.

One very important thing for having a safe sewing room is to keep it tidy. Have your pins in a box or a large pin cushion and put them back there when you take them out of your fabric. And of course to keep things out of reach of little children.

If you are teaching your children to sew, make sure they have child sized scissors. Dress-making scissors are too big for them to handle safely. When I was six I was at school making things for the teddy bears' picnic. I wanted to make some spectacles for my teddy and so I had to cut the holes out of the fabric. I don't know whose bright idea it was to let six-year-olds around dressmaking shears, but trying to cut the holes out, I ended up cutting my finger badly. I was brave and quietly told the teacher, but after leaving the classroom I don't remember much. Apparently I fainted. I still have the scar.

You can find the right sized pair of scissors for you by holding your hands out in front of you. Make two thumbs-up and then turn your hands so that your thumbs tips are touching. The length from one little finger knuckle to the other is the right length of dressmaking shears for you. I made up this rule but it seems to be right and make sense; the bigger your hands, the bigger your shears. I thought of it because my brother-in-law works on oil rigs as a safety inspector (I think) and he told me that if you do that it measures one foot; his hands are much bigger than mine so it doesn't measure a foot for me, more like nine and a half inches.

It is a good idea to have a drawer or a compartment in your sewing box just for scissors. Then you can put them away when you are not cutting, and you always know where to find them. Plus, no-one will use them for paper or opening packages.

Oh and by the way, you can get round-ended scissors for children. Left- and right- handed.

If you like to pin-fit your garment-in-the-making, and you don't want to prick yourself when you take it off to sew, you can use safety pins. These are also good for checking the fit on children's clothes, and for checking that the elastic is the right length on a waistband if you like that sort of thing.

SIDE NOTE: Needle threader and thread cutter
This is a good thing to have if you travel a lot and if you get one of good quality. It is especially handy for threading a needle with a doubled thread. I think you can also take them on aeroplanes, whereas you cannot take scissors, even little embroidery ones.

Clover has some neat antique-looking thread cutters - one is a pendant and the other is a ring! : D

If you are teaching children to sew, it is better to give them knitter's needles/bodkins, or tapestry needles because these are not as sharp as other needles so they won't prick themselves badly.

Sewing Machine Needles
Most instruction books tell you to switch your sewing machine off at the mains when you want to change the needle, but this is just to cover themselves. I don't bother. In fact, I leave the machine switched on while I change the needle. You're not touching any wires so where's the danger? I just hold the needle to stop it from falling into the machine, and turn the screw. Let's not get paranoid. : )

Getting over the Fear of the Needle
I have mentioned before the first time I used a sewing machine. I was a little nervous of the needle, imagining somehow that it would dash about over my fingers, then discovering that it pretty much stayed where it was and I could move my fingers quite safely. Also finding that the machine moved the fabric through without my having to push it or pull it.

The best thing to do to get over the fear of the needle is just to sew. First practice on some scrap fabric or an old vest or something, then sew seam samples. You'll soon get confidence. Almost instantly.

Oh and by the way, don't sew over pins. They can bend under the presser foot, the needle may strike them and bend or brake, and the stitch quality will be compromised. Either remove the pins as you come to them, or hand-baste your seams before sewing them on your sewing machine. That's the best way to do it. Really you should keep anything you're not sewing away from the needle.

A few other rather obvious safety rules
Use your quick-unpick pointing away from you. Of course you mustn't use cables that have wires showing. Don't try and sew metal or anything too hard for the needle to go through. Don't use a sewing machine when your hands or the fabric are wet. Don't use it outdoors or on anything unstable (like a wobbly table or a bed). Don't hit your sewing machine or throw it out the window. Don't practice karate on it... (You may have noticed the joking tone.) The best safety rule is to follow your common sense.

I hope none of that sounded patronizing. But you know, when other people's safety comes under one's attention or responsibility, every possible disaster flashes on the screen of one's mind, even if the odds are a thousand to one against it. If you have ever looked after young children, you'll know what I mean. : )

Until next time, happy sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner Haberdashery, Hornsea.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

New Goal: Make a Line of Children's Wear Sewing Patterns

As the title of this post suggests, I have decided to make a line of Children's Wear Sewing Patterns. For now I will sell them in our shop, but I would like to digitize them, grade them, and sell them like BurdaStyle do theirs. I came across a tutorial by the Scientific Seamstress on sewmamasew that shows you how to do this without getting Adobe software.

So how did this goal come about? I have a very young niece called Libby, she is only two and a half and I would like to make dresses and things for her (and things for her brother, aged four and a half, as well). In one of my Sewing World magazines from a few years ago there was a pattern for a 3 year old's dress with an "average" chest size of 26 inches (which seems far to big). As I was tracing the pattern out, I was thinking of all the different ways the dress's style could be changed. Change the undo-able straps into permanent ones and add a buttoned front, add pockets where I like, add little sleeves, peter pan collars... The possibilities are endless! I have already been studying pattern making a bit for a while and understand the basics.

Anyway, I made up the dress out of some red twill I had, bound the edges, leaving the seam allowances on or else the dress would definitely not fit, added a pocked shaped like a lotus, and used snaps instead of buttons and buttonholes.

I used only a straight stitch on this dress. The seams are flat-felled seams and the hem is double-turned. I hope it looks Nautical (except that it's red) because that is what I wanted. I sewed white ribbon along the bottom and used some more to make a little bow.

The pocket has a fairy embroidered on it. I don't do a lot of embroidery so it doesn't look expert. The wings, wand, tiara and monogram are done in glittery thread.

Since I am not very good at satin stitching by hand, and I don't want to waste thread, I just make a tiny stitch at the sides and then go back across to the other side. This way I use about half as much thread and the underside isn't as messy.

Another thing that motivated me to start my own pattern line is one of our regular customers. She has twin grandchildren and loves to sew things for them. She came in recently wanting a sewing pattern for a dress with a sailor collar. There are only two in the Simplicity pattern catalogue: one is in a baby's size (and her granddaughter is three) and one which we didn't notice at the time that is a Project Runway pattern. Both are to be discontinued this month.

As it happens, Pattern-making for Fashion Design's instructions for making children's patterns start at age three with a chest size of 22 inches (that's more like it). So I have drafted a pattern for a Sailor Dress (Pattern number 32101). I am currently writing the instructions and will probably have to trace a copy of the pattern by hand.

By the way, 32101 is not an indication of how many designs I have made; it is a code. The 3 means "children's wear", the 2 means "woven fabrics", the first 1 means "dress", and 01 is the dress design number.

Here is a photo of the design. I have drafted it so that the sleeve has very little (if any) ease. Despite that, the sleeve still has to be eased in a little because of the seam allowance on the sleeve - it is naturally bigger than that of the armhole.

I think the pattern will work best in a Summery cotton that is not too stiff, or linen. The instructions are written not quite like the usual commercial patterns instructions; more as if it were all in a letter. It's easier for me to write that way. I also draw all the necessary illustrations or take all the photos. I will probably have to scan any drawings into the computer.

So far I have only made a test of the sleeve and the part of the bodice at the armscye, and the "bow". I cut the bow on the bias and didn't interface it. It turned out quite well, I think.

Here, I have added it temporarily to the dress I made for Libby (which she may have to grow into : )).

Another reason for me to draft patterns professionally is that my Mum (and she's not alone in this) wants a particular style of blouse that is not obviously available in ready-to-wear or from pattern companies anymore. So I will have to draft that with the appropriate skirt and variations of style.

I will start with children's patterns though. I think about five styles is enough to begin with. I am already working on the second.

I think I will sell the test garments (made of wearable fabric, not muslin) on the Internet. I may set up an Etsy shop (which will be named Pretty Little Dresses).

Do you have an Etsy shop? Do you recommend Etsy or is there a better market place online? Do you have any advice for success? Please let me know. It will be a big help. : )

Until next time, happy sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner, Hornsea

Sunday, 14 August 2011

My new sewing things

I have recently added a few things to my sewing kit, two of which should probably have been there for a long time. Another was in my tool kit but as it turns out, is a very handy thing to have in my sewing kit. The other thing I got in a children's art kit years ago.

Mini Metal Tape Measure
This is the thing that was in my tool kit, which everyone ought to have, if for nothing more than putting together flat-pack furniture. (Just thinking of that reminds me of Victor Mildrew in One Foot in the Grave when he said there were three words that strike fear into any man - Some Assembly Required. : ) He then continued with his rant.)

Anyway, it's much better for carrying about than my fibre glass tape measure because it is retractable so I don't have to wind it up myself every time I use it.

It's not only good for quickly finding metric-imperial equivalents, but it also makes measuring curves like armscyes easier when I'm pattern-making.

The maximum length on mine is 1m which is quite enough for me, but they do come in longer lengths. Mine came as part of a pink tool kit I got for my 17th birthday (my choice, I wasn't being conscripted into putting up our television unit). My Mum and Dad got it from Argos. I don't know if Argos still sell them.

Tailors' Chalk
I got this because I was trying to draft a good sleeve pattern and rather than alter my sleeve, cut it out along the new stitching line, trace it and add seam allowances, I thought it would be easier to use the cut sleeve, place it on the fabric, chalk around it, and add seam allowances. I got the triangular stuff that comes in a little plastic box. Mine is part of the Hemline brand that we sell in our shop.

Tracing Wheel
I know I didn't think this was essential, and you can get by without it, but my! It does make things easier and save time! I got it so that I could make a sewing pattern by tracing my Mum's favourite skirt, but I have found other uses for it (not invented by me). It makes it a lot quicker to trace patterns I make, and going around curves is a lot easier when you use a tracing wheel than it is when you try to do it with a pencil or a tracing pen. My tracing wheel is a pointy one but the packet said serrated, so I'm not sure whether it's the needle point type. It has a wooden handle which was worth the extra 40p because it looks so much better than plastic! I would also like to get the Clover Double Tracing Wheel for adding seam allowances more quickly. Wouldn't it be great if they made an adjustable double chaco-pen? That would make things easier. : )

6 inch/15cm Plastic Ruler This is from a children's Art Attack set I got years ago. I was one for having the longer rulers so that you could draw longer lines. But now I like to have a smaller ruler as well for adding seam allowances, and drawing smaller lines which are so frequent on children's patterns. Using the 6 inch ruler saves having my Shoben Fashion Curve continually bump into me and it allows me to sit down sometimes while I draft. : ) As a bonus, it's 1 and a quarter inches (3cm) wide - the standard hem allowance! That makes it really easy to add straight hems to things, especially smaller things like sleeves.

Something I would like to get is a small French Curve Ruler, preferably the Fairgate one or whatever is most like it and available in the UK. Although my Shoben Fashion Curve has a French Curve on it, my sewing room is not very big and the rest of the ruler keeps getting stopped in its tracks by the bookcase or the wall when I turn it around. I wonder if a small set of French Curves (such as they use in art) would do? If a sleigh curve is in it, it might do. (A sleigh curve is called a sleigh curve because it looks like Santa's sleigh; you see, it's the one on the top right in the picture.)

For now, I have traced the French Curve part of my Shoben Fashion Curve onto a peice of old tissue box and cut around it. I have also traced the French Curve actual-size picture that is in the back of Pattern-Making For Fashion Design, copied it onto some card (from the back of a spiral-bound notebook) and cut it out. The inner part of the curve can also be used for smaller curves like on children's wear.

So, they are some of my "new" sewing things. Do you have any favourite or unusual things in your sewing kit? What do you do with them? Please share with us below. : )

Until next time, happy sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner, Hornsea

Sunday, 7 August 2011

"What does this sewing term mean?" The Sewing--English Phrasebook for Beginners

It has come to my attention that many new sewists (I say "sewists" because the word "sewer" could be taken to mean the things that have manholes) get stuck with the words they find in sewing patterns and books. I had a bit of trouble with some when I started sewing, then I got used to them, and now I just use them naturally. So I have put together a list of some of the most important ones I could think of. If you can think of any more, or want to know something, please comment below.

Seam allowances are the distance between the edge of the fabric and the stitching line. Seam allowances are sometimes also called "margins" (but not very often). Other kinds of "allowances" are the amount of fabric allowed for something, e.g. a hem.

Imagine you were weaving your own fabric. To start you set up the lengthwise threads on the loom. Then you start to weave the sideways thread in and out, between each lengthwise strand. When you get to the end of one row, you have to turn around and go back across. As you keep doing this you build up your cloth.

The lengthwise threads are called the warp, and the "across" threads are called the "weft" (in the old days they were called the "woof"). I remember it by thinking that when you have the fabric hung up on the loom, the warp threads may warp, and when you are weaving, you send the weft threads "weft and wight" (left and right).

The left-hand and right-hand sides of the cloth where you turn the shuttle to go back across are called the selvedges and they are naturally tighter than the rest of the cloth. If they weren't they might be loopy and get caught on things, plus the cloth would be of poor quality. I think sometimes, the selvedges have thicker warp threads for strength.

The grain-line is the lengthwise thread and when you have your pattern lain on the fabric, the long line with the arrows has to match this. You make sure they match by measuring from one end of the line to the fold of your fabric, then repeat with the other end. If they match, your pattern is properly aligned. If the line has the arrows pointing away from the line at a 90 degree angle, the arrows are pointing towards the fold of the fabric, indicating that this piece is to be cut on the fold (and not have the fold cut).

There is also the cross-grain, which is perpendicular to the grain-line. It is the weft threads.

The bias is at a 45 degree angle to the grain-line. It's stretchier than the grain-line and the cross-grain and that is what they use for bias-binding, hence the name "bias-binding".

Selvedge: When I started my first dressmaking project, I didn't know what the selvedge was. It's the side edge of the fabric. If you look closely you can see it has little holes in it (where it was held on tenterhooks when they dyed it). It is best not to use the selvedge as a seam allowance because (I think) it can shrink more than the rest of the fabric so it would ruin your seams. By the way, before you cut your fabric it is usually advisable to wash and dry it so that if it shrinks, your garment will not shrink after you cut the piece out.

A notch is the little triangle on the cutting line of the pattern piece. When you are putting the garment pieces together, you match these up.

Dots or Circles are important too. They help you to get facings and pockets and things in place properly and accurately. You punch a little hole in the circle with your scissors or awl, and mark the fabric underneath with a tailor's tack. Then, when it comes time to put the pocket or whatever it is on your garment, you just match up the tailor's tacks. You may find it helps to use pins to make sure things are lined up.

Facings are pieces of fabric cut to match or nearly match the shape of the edge of the fabric you are neatening, such as at a neck-hole or an armhole. They are sewn on, clipped or notched, and turned inside the garment. Then you can under-stitch the facing to the seam allowances.

Hem is a turned up or tuned under edge of fabric. It usually means the turned up, bottom edge of your garment. A false hem is not really a hem; it's a faced edge at the bottom of your garment.

Under-stitching is what you call it when you sew just the facing to the seam allowances. You can do it by machine most of the time, but sometimes, like on collars, you have to do it by hand because you can't get to it by machine. If you don't want to under-stitch, you can top-stitch instead. That just means that you sew so that you can see the stitches on top.

Interfacing is a type of material that looks like tumble dryer sheets and goes between the garment and the facing. It is usually applied to the facing by either pressing (if it is iron-on) or basting (if it is sew-in). It's purpose it to give the garment structure, i.e. keep it in shape. It's very important for waistbands unless you are using Petersham (also called waistband ribbon).

Ease is very slight gathering. It is usually done at the top of a sleeve. It has to be very slight because you are not meant to get any puckering. You can ease and stay-stitch  at the same time (called "super stay-stitching") by putting the sleeve cap under the presser foot on its own at the first notch and, while you are sewing a little way inside the seam allowances and nearish the stitching line, push with your finger against the back of the presser foot so that you stop the fabric from going through so much. When it gets too built up, let it go a bit and push again like before for the next lot. Keep going until you get to the other notch. Then your sleeve is ready to go into the sleeve hole (called "setting the sleeve"). Even if you have a sleeve with no ease, it seems you have to still ease it in because of the seam allowances.

Stay-stitching is when you sew along the edge of one layer of fabric to stop it from stretching out of shape. Have this line of stitching near the stitching line and in the seam allowance. You must stay-stitch all curved edges and bias edges. If you are sewing loosely woven fabric, it is best to stay-stitch all edges (especially if you are sewing plaid, as I found out a while ago.)

Basting is temporary sewing. When you have pinned the fabric together, you can sew it by hand with a longer-than-usual running stitch to keep it in place without pricking yourself. If you are basting pleats in place, you can do so more securely if you sew a cross-stitch on the spot a few times. Some people like to baste on their sewing machines by using a longer straight stitch, but I prefer to baste by hand because it is easier and, in my experience, gives better results.

An under-collar differs from a top-collar in that it is a little smaller and is often cut on the bias. When the collar is attached to your garment, the under-collar will be underneath the top-collar. (I mention this because for a while the matter of an under-collar confused me somewhat.) BTW, it is the top-collar that is interfaced to keep it crisp.

Turn of Cloth Imagine you have a sandwich and you fold it in half. The top slice of bread would end up looking shorter than the bottom one at the edges. The difference in visible length in this instance is refered to as "turn of cloth" (when it is fabric). Undercollars have to be a bit smaller than top collars so that when the collar is turned over, it lies properly. If we didn't allow for the turn of cloth, the top collar would pull the seam upwards and the undercollar would be all wibbly-wobbly (for want of a better word) underneath. The usual allowance for turn of cloth is an eighth of an inch (about 3mm), but more may be required for thicker fabrics such as coat fabrics.

Grading a seam is when you trim one of the seam allowances after sewing the seam. This makes the seam lie more smoothly when it is pressed to one side.

Have I missed anything? If there is a sewing term you would like explained, please ask below, and I will add it to this post if I know it.

Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner