Monday, 18 April 2011

Secrets of Good Sewing

I have been machine sewing for nearly 5 years and even in that time you can learn a lot. There are bits of knowledge that can prevent your projects looking home-made. So here are some of my tips:-

1) Press as you go. Ask any sewing expert or professional sewer and they will tell you that this is paramount. It makes your seams and hems look much better. It also makes it easier to pin, baste and sew accurately.

2) Pin, Baste, Sew difficult sections and places where you need to be accurate, and use fine basting stitches on things like pockets. When basting plaid or stripes, baste from the RS with the seam allowances WS together, matching points on the pattern, and making two rows of basting stitches to keep the fabric from moving when you sew.
         When you sew fabric that frays readily, allow an extra eighth of an inch (3mm) seam allowance.
         When you are preparing to sew loose pleats, cross-stitch baste them rather than machine-basting. This keeps them in place whereas machine-basting will move the fabric out of position.

3) Take your time and enjoy it. Rushing sewing is the surest way to take the fun out of it and ruin your work. Sewing is a hobby not a race, so go at it at your own speed. If you rush your sewing, you will look at your finished projects and wish you had done them properly the first time round.

4) Use Quality Thread. You can tell good thread compared to cheap thread by looking at them. Poor thread is fuzzy and leaves fluff in your machine. It is also more liable to snap and it's is difficult to get the right tension for it. Good thread (I use Gutermann Sew-all) is smooth and goes through your machine like a dream. It is also much better for free motion embroidery as it doesn't snap easily.

5) Interfacing is not compulsory. When my Mum made her own clothes as a teenager she never used interfacing. She wasn't told to by her sewing teacher, and besides, it was an extra expense. Her clothes looked good. You only need interfacing if you want to strengthen some part of the garment, or you want to stiffen it. Too much interfacing ruins the drape of your garment and makes it look home-made. In the dress I am currently making of linen, I'm not using interfacing; the fabric is already stiff enough and holds itself in place.

6) Use the right order of work. The pattern instructions will not always give you the best way of doing things. And if you are using a book with very few pictures, it may not be very clear what you are supposed to do. It is an excellent idea to have a really good book on sewing. Probably the world's favourite is Reader's Digest New Complete Guide to Sewing. If you don't own a copy, you will never regret getting one.
          Here are some quick and general rules for order of work:
                 i) Flats First. First sew the darts. Make whole fronts, whole backs, (and possibly whole sides) first. This means if for example you skirt has a hip yoke, join the front hip yoke to the front skirt section, repeat for the backs. Then sew the side seams. Join the side seams of the yoke facing (basting the side that will have a zip). Insert the zip into the skirt. Attach the yoke facing. Hem the skirt.
                ii) When making trousers or jeans, apply the fly front (see previous post) or insert the zip wherever you want it to go. Sew the darts or add the back yoke. Sew the inside leg seams (inseams), then the side seams (outseams), then the crotch seam. ("Inseam, outseam, crotch seam".) Then apply the waistband and hem the trousers or jeans.
                iii) When making a blouse/shirt: sew the darts or princess seams. Join front to back at the shoulder seams. If you are inserting sleeves using flat method, do so now, and then sew the side seam and sleeve seam in one go, starting at the bottom of the blouse. If you are going to set the sleeves, sew the side seam of the blouse first. Sew the sleeve seam. Ease the sleeve cap and set the sleeve. Repeat for the other side. Make the collar and apply it at the same time as the front (and possibly back neck) facing. Hem the blouse and add buttons and buttonholes.

You may sometimes see a better way of doing things and you should use that way. That means you are getting better at sewing.

7) Have good scissors that cut straight and are comfortable for you.

8) When making buttonholes on delicate or loosely woven fabric, stabilise them for good results. It may not that be your 4-step buttonhole needs adjusting, it may just be that your fabric needs to be kept in place. I use sew-in interfacing, but stitch-and-tear may be better and easier to remove afterwards (I haven't tried it yet).

9) Get an adjustable zip foot. I'm getting one for my birthday so we'll see how it works out. I'm hoping it will let me make narrower lapped zips but we shall have to wait and see in a future post.

10) Mark dots and centre front and back, use notches and follow the grain. You paid for them when you bought your pattern. When making my first made-by-me dress nearly five years ago, I didn't know what dots where for, so when the pattern instructions told me to match the dots, I had to get the pattern piece out and mark the fabric with a pin, then match the pins. I learned my lesson. : )
             If you don't follow the grain, the garment will twist and not hang right when you wear it.

11) Staystitch and understitch. Staystitching is a line of stitching on angled or curved edges. It stops them from stretching out of shape as you handle the fabric. If you are sewing hip pockets, I suggest you stitch the seam with narrow cotton tape on top of it as well, to stop them from gaping.
               Understitching is when you sew the seam allowance to the facing after you have sewn the seam. It helps prevent the facing peaking round the edge and keeps it where it should be -- out of sight!

12) Trim seams before you neaten them with a zigzag or overlock stitch. Neatening then trimming often means you will snip the zigzag stitches and have to do them again. You don't always need an overcasting foot for ordinary fabric (as opposed to fine fabrics, loosely-woven fabrics, and knits); you can just use part of the sole plate on your sewing machine as your guide. On some machines this is difficult. My Brother XR6600 makes zigzags down the centre of the sewing area so I can't use the sole plate an overcasting guide. It's just as well that that machine came with an overcasting foot. Maybe this is because the Toyota is a 'mechanical' sewing machine, and the Brother is a computerised one.

When zigzagging fabric that frays readily, use a three step zigzag for better results.

So there are 12 tips for good sewing. I have more, but they may take a post each. Still I hope you have found a lot to help you this post.

Do you have any tips to share? If you do, please comment below.

Happy sewing!

Sabrina : )

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

How to Insert a Fly Front Zipper

Someone on BurdaStyle asked for online, printable instructions for inserting a fly front zip, so I have written some. You can use these instructions even if your pattern isn't designed to have a fly front zip. If it has a waistband, however, you will have to draft a new one or use some other method for finishing the waistline.

First , get your front pattern piece and add a strip the length you want your fly front to be (up to 8ins (20.5cm)  and no less than 5ins 12.5cm)) and 1  3/8 inches (3.5cm) wide. Attach it to the centre front of your pattern. (I made mine too narrow, as I later found out! Mine was also too short for comfort, but I only had a 4 inch zip handy -- thrifted from my brother's old jeans.)

Cut your fabric and sew the front crotch seam (if it is in trousers; sew the centre front seam if it is in a skirt) up to the end of the fly extensions. Backstitch to secure, and baste the rest of the way. Press to set the stitches, then press the seam open. You will find the crotch seam a lot easier to press open if you have a tailor's ham, but if like me you don't have one yet, fold up some excess fabric into a similar shape and have a go with that.
           Place the zip face down lined up the basted seam. Pin it along the left tape to the extension only. Then using a zipper foot, stitch the zip to the extension, very close to the teeth.

Pick up the unstitched side of the zip and let everything else drop to the zip's right (see photo -->). Stitch close to the zip teeth through the three thicknesses (i.e. the folded extension + the zip tape).
         Now flip the zip onto the other extension and stitch the outer zip tape to the extension only.

Baste the shape of the topstitching on the RS of the garment. It doesn't matter if you don't catch the zip in the stitching, just as long as it goes beyond the zip, because the zip is already secured to the extension. Stitch on the RS, being careful to keep everything where it should be underneath, and not getting stitched into wrong places.

Now to make the zip guard, which is considered by some (but not me) to be optional. Cut a rectangle of fabric as long as the fly + 1/2 inch (1.5cm) and twice as wide + 1  1/4inches (3cm). Fold it in half lengthwise, press, then overlock the raw edges. I don't have an overlocker (serger) so I used one of the stitches on my sewing machine.

Pin it to the garment through to the RS if you must, though ideally to just the extension. Baste. Stitch. If you are sewing to the garment fabric, do so from the RS, holding back the fly front, and sewing near the zip teeth so that the stitching won't show when you wear the garment.

If your machine doesn't have a bar tack or you simply don't like them, here is a way to finish your zip guard invisibly from the inside and stop it from flapping about (I just invented this bit on Sunday). Stitch across the lower corner of the guard, zip and extension, being careful not to get the metal part of the zip or you will break your needle.

Now you can attach your waistband or facing and you're done.

Thanks to Sandra Betzina whose free online video of making a fly front, and brilliant book (Power Sewing, Taunton Press) taught me this method. You can also find a similar method in SewStylish magazine (the jacket issue from 2010).

Sunday, 3 April 2011

"A Monogrammed Mouse Mat for Mother's Day"

Today is Mother's Day and yesterday afternoon I whipped up a present for my wonderful Mum. It's really quick so if you're panicking and wondering what to get your Mum, you can make one of these in about two hours.

You will need: A mouse mat in need of a makeover; fabric, you can use large remnants but I used two squares of blue linen superfluously large enought to cover my Mum's mouse mat; your basic sewing kit; and an embroidery hoop, mine is 6 inches wide.

1) Sandwich the mouse mat between the squares of fabric, RS out, and mark with pins where you want the monogram to be. Then draw the letter on with a ballpoint pen.

2) Put only the top peice of fabric in the embroidery hoop, RS facing you. Put the darning plate on your sewing machine or drop the feed dogs. Using a medium width zigzag stitch, satin stitch over the lines of the letter.

3) Put the two squares of fabric RS together and stitch about 15mm (5/8 inch) from the edge around three of the sides. Snip the corners and turn inside out. Put the mouse mat inside and centre it. Turn the seam allowances on the open side in and pin. Hand sew the side closed. I used a mattress stitch as shown in the photo to the right because it is less visible than a slip stitch.

4) With the mouse mat in the centre of the 'bag' pin it snugly in place around the mouse mat. Using the zipper foot, stitch around, pushing somewhat against the foot with the mat, especially at the corners to make sure they are round like those on the mat.

5) When I had got to this point, I found I had made the sides too wide, so I folded them in and stitched them down, first with straight stitch and then with the honeycomb stitch (the only decorative stitch on my machine).

Now it's done! Congratulations and Happy Mother's Day!