Monday, 27 February 2012

"The Amazing Plaid-Matching Pins!"

If you have ever sewn plaid you know that for a while it is the bane of your sewing existence. Hours of basting, sewing, unpicking, pinning, re-basting and resewing ending in a more-or-less matched plaid or else something for your bag of scraps.

You will be relieved and hopeful to know that it was not your fault! That's right! There are special pins that do the job more or less for you. All you have to do is stay-stitch the seams first, then hand-baste (and you would have done those things with plaid anyway, right?) and then pin with these magical pins! Want proof? Here it is. (I basted around the seam line so that you can find it and also to keep the seam allowances back because I didn't press the seam.)

Now do you want to see the pins that made this possible?

The Amazing Plaid-Matching Pins (my name for them), whose "official" name is "forked pins". Isn't that a cute little box? You can find them on-line in a snap. Just type "Clover forked pins" into Google.

How to Use Clover Forked Pins and Match Plaid
When cutting your fabric, do so with a single layer. If you have a "place to fold" pattern piece, get a piece of paper twice the size of your pattern piece, fold it down the centre, then make a new pattern piece by cutting around your original one on the fold.

When cutting mirror image pieces, e.g. the side panels of a skirt, cut one, then flip it WS up and use that as the new pattern piece (still having it attached to the paper pattern for stability). Lay this garment section on your fabric so that it is completely camouflaged, i.e. the plaid matches.

With pieces that will be sewn together, cut one of them and then lay the other's pattern piece on top. Trace the plaid lines of the first piece onto the second pattern piece with pencil or ballpoint pen, colouring them in so that you get the right stripes of the plaid matched up. Now you can lay the second pattern piece on the fabric, making sure that you get the plaid matched up. 
It is still vital to follow the grain line. The plaid match is most important on the stitching line, so don't worry if it doesn't match on the cutting line or the rest of the garment section. Unless you're cutting a straight panelled skirt, the plaid will not be a continuous straight line. There will be an angle in it.

When you have cut your fabric, you can stay-stitch all the edges. If your fabric is firm and on the straight of grain, you need only stay-stitch the curved, bias and garment bias edges. 

NOTE: Garment bias is the "grain" that is neither the true bias nor the straight of grain. It might be the hip seam, or the side seam on a flared skirt for example.

When you have done that, hand baste the seams with even basting stitches about 1/8" to 1/4" long. Yes, it seems to take a long time, but it's much better to spend half an hour basting and have it work out than to spend three hours resewing the skirt over and over and over...

When you have basted the seam, have the garment on your table, and pin along the seam with your forked pins perpendicular to the stitching line, pinning especially on the plaid sections.

You might ask, why use the pins if you have basted everything? Well, the fabric shifts under the presser foot even if you do hand baste everything. The hand-basting is to make sure everything is aligned. The pinning is to make sure it stays that way.

Now you can sew your seam on your sewing machine. This is one of those rare times when you don't remove your pins as you go. Just be careful not to hit them with your needle. If you hand walk your sewing machine over them, or sew slowly and attentively over them you should be okay. At hand walking speed, the needle slides past the pins instead of hitting them at 750 spm and braking.

When you have sewn the seam, you can take the pins out ready for the next seam. Have a look at your seam. It is probably perfect. (I can't take account of the world's slipperiest plaid.) Now you need never avoid plaid again! These pins are a new staple in my sewing box! : )

I hope that helps!
Until next time, Happy Sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner

Monday, 20 February 2012

Why I Prefer Thread Eyes Over Metal Ones AND Evidence that the Pattern Instructions Do Not Always Give the Best Method

This is from a project I made quite a while ago - a plaid skirt. Oh! the hours I spent trying to patch it up.

SIDE NOTE: Watching Susan Khalje's course on Craftsy, I have learned that it wasn't my fault that the plaid never matched up impeccably; you can get "forked pins" that solve the problem - Susan didn't even need a walking foot!

Anyway, back to the post. The pattern instructions tell you to apply the facing before you insert the zip. As you may imagine, this puts a lot of bulk at the zip, making it very hard to sew neatly, hence the large bulge near the top.

What I ought to have done is insert the zip, and then add the facing, either "bagging" the zip so that it looks like RTW, or turning under the seam allowances and hand stitching them to the zip tape. I would now use a felling stitch which is like a slip stitch but stronger and less visible. I have been using it a lot more since I watched Gertie's Bombshell Dress Course on Craftsy. (I wish I were getting paid for all this "advertising" but they don't even know I'm doing it!)

Something else I ought to have done is use make a thread eye instead of using those metal ones (does anyone actually like those?). One of the advantages of the thread eyes is that you can make them right on the fold of the fabric so the lap stays down flatter, as you can see.

As it is now, more or less.

Another advantage of thread eyes is that you can use two if your garment is unruly. Now I have one on the fold and one on the inside so the zip is about as good as it's going to be. (I'm not undoing all that stitching.)

How to Make a Thread Eye/Bar:

  1. Secure your thread with a few backstitches.
  2. Sew a few stitches about 4mm long on the spot, over a pin held at a slight angle if you wish to have a bit of slack in your thread eye.
  3. Sew blanket stitches along the group of threads, catching only the threads and not the fabric.
  4. When you have covered the thread with blanket stitches, secure your thread with backstitches and work it into the fabric. This means push the needle through the fabric as if you were making a long stitch, and bring it out. Then pull the thread up, snip close to the fabric, and relax the fabric. Your thread tail will disappear into the garment. You can start this way as well if you wish.

Monday, 13 February 2012

What I did this week... Hand Sewing and Buttonholes

Yesterday I practised some hand embroidery, as you can see. I'm not very good at hand-stitched satin-stitch monograms yet, but I can do those on my sewing machine with free-motion.

Those things that look like aeroplanes from 80s arcade games are called "crowsfeet". They are essentially a kind of decorative bar-tack. I sewed the very white ones with basting thread because it was only practice, and that thread is relatively cheap. The blue ones are sewing with embroidery silks (made of cotton) or floss.

The dots near the top are French knots. I suppose they would come in handy for certain effects, like the middle of a flower, but they are not my favourite embroidery stitches.

I also tried a few hand-stitched buttonholes, again, not my forte, my sewing machine makes up for that. While we're on the subject of buttonholes... (I'm going to get a name for buttonholes. : ) )

When my ruffler arrived I tried it out on the Toyota as well, and while the machine was out, I had a go at a buttonhole. Then, to compare with the ones my Brother XR6600 makes, I sewed one on that and then showed them both to Mum who always used to make hers by hand. She preferred the Toyota's buttonhole. So I sewed another on the Brother, this time shortening the stitch length to 0.2 and sewing it on the same grain as the Toyota buttonhole (I was sewing on twill so it made a difference). This time Mum preferred the Brother's buttonhole. I was glad about that because the Brother is an upgrade so it ought to be better.

Standard Buttonhole
This buttonhole (yes, singular - I used couple shot) was made on my Brother XR6600 using no stabilizer or interfacing, just two layers of linen (you know, the fabric that hates to be top-stitched). The picture on the right is the RS, and the one on the left is the WS. It looks great on both sides, doesn't it? I know the picture is blurry - even with the image stabiliser switched on. I coloured the fabric in the slot with black ink to make it look better rather than carefully cutting away the fabric threads and risking cutting the stitches.

There are very few pictures of buttonholes made by Brother Sewing Machines on the Internet, so I'll add a few more: one of a keyhole buttonhole, and one of a round-ended buttonhole.

Keyhole Buttonhole
The same arrangement as before (RS, right; WS, left). The minimum stitch length for this buttonhole is 0.3 which I used, leaving the width were it was. Curiously enough, the better side is the WS in this case. I think I'll have another go later.

Round-end Buttonhole
This is the round-ended buttonhole, which curiously looks chunkier on the WS than on the RS. The stitch length I chose was 0.2 and I narrowed the buttonhole to 0.3 which refers to the total width of the buttonhole, not the width of the "beads" (the sides).

(Looking at this photo, I can see I didn't trim a thread close enough!)

I wanted to know if Bernina sewing machines really do stitch as well as they claim so I searched Google images. I did see one very nice keyhole buttonhole sewn on a Bernina 380 (about £1k) but apart from that and perhaps the old buttonholer attachments, the quality of buttonholes seems to be largely a user issue. Some one had a great tip on their blog to use kitchen paper to stabilise buttonholes. And of course, with a one-step you have to pull down the buttonhole lever (I'm surprised people don't know about that).

More Drawn-thread Work
Also, yesterday night I tried my hand again at drawn-thread work, which I was calling hem-stitching but that was ambiguous so I had to remember the real name.

The top picture is the wrong side. The hem is turned up, but if I do say so myself, it's so well done that you can'r really see it.

The bottom photo is the RS. Doesn't it look nice?

A Practice "Box Pleat" Placket
A while ago there was a website called - you may have heard of it. On it there was a book called "The Nu-Way Course in Fashionable Clothes-making". Now, I am not really one for sitting a a computer to read and sew, so I copied and pasted the whole thing to Microsoft Word and edited it to look right on my reader, working in table of contents, and then saving is as two files: one a a Word Document, the other as a PDF.

One of the chapters in this book is about making a Tailored blouse and inside it tells you how to make a one using what they call a Model Pattern (what we call a Master Pattern). To make the front you have to fold the fabric and make the placket before you even lay your pattern piece on it. There are two plackets suggested: the closing under a box pleat, and a box pleat closing.

Having already learned the first one, I had a practice at this one. The instructions can get a little confusing because they are all words and no pictures, but it boils down to being a hem-tuck on the front of your blouse. So this is the one I basted for practice, sort of complete with a hand-stitched buttonhole. (Now you see why I like machine buttonholes so much.) This sample is only about  3" long, but it served it's purpose.

What else have I done this week?
Well, our Simplicity contract has ended so we have to pack up all the patterns and send them back (we have to pay the postage of £70 and buy the boxes about £30).

Apart from shop-work, I have cleaned the oven and discovered that anyone with nice nails doesn't do much housework. Now I know why women always used to wear gloves when they went out - wash-day hands and ahem, less-than-perfect nails! Since dishwashers and washing machines became the norm, women have shed their lovely cotton summer gloves! When I was little I always wanted some white gloves. All we could ever find were lace gloves. Now I have found out about "Communion Gloves" about 14 years too late! Still, if ever a child wants nice white gloves, I know to tell them (or their parents) about Communion Gloves.

Until next time, Happy Sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner

Monday, 6 February 2012

How to Sew Sheer Fabric

I think I forgot when I blogged about my assignment, to show you how to sew sheer fabric. So I thought I would do it this week.

Once you have got the pieces cut out on grain, and you have stay stitched them, put the pieces RS together matching raw edges and notches. Pin frequently and hand baste using fairly small stitches.

Pin along the seam allowances to tissue paper under the fabric. Now sew the seam. The tension ought to be a little lower than usual, and you can use a smaller needle than usual, say a size twelve.

Using a short, narrow zigzag stitch sew in the seam allowances.

Now, using small, sharp scissors, cut along the outer side of the zigzag stitching, being careful not to cut the stitches.

Now cut just the paper on the other side of the zigzag stitching. Then carefully tear the paper away from the straight stitching on both sides of the seam.
Press flat and then to one side. Here is the finished result. Yes I know the fabric looks wonky in the photo, the fabric shifts a lot.

NB. If you don't want to use paper, you can use stitch and tear or water soluble stabiliser instead.
Here is a buttonhole on the same fabric, I think it might have been one layer - I can't remember.

The most important thing to remember when sewing sheer, flowing fabric is to pin, baste, and stabilise everything! Also, pinking shears do not work very well with such fabric.

Something else I have learned recently...
This past couple of weeks I have really learned the importance of stay-stitching. Skipping it has ruined my new skirt. The in-seam pockets have stretched out of shape and make my hips look weird. I tried easing them back into shape by sewing the seam onto shorter-than-the-seam cotton tape, but if anything I made them worse. So that's my lesson this week: Always, always, always staystitch, and if it's a loose weave fabric, stay stitch all the way around.

Also, I think I made a miscalculation when I made the pattern. I added half as much ease as I was supposed to (and I was supposed to add 1.5cm which isn't very much). Incidentally, why do American sewing patterns have so much more ease than European ones? The skirt block in Metric Pattern Cutting for Womenswear has minimal ease. I don't think the close-fitting trouser block has any hip ease at all! Even Burda patterns have more than the ones in this book! I'm not saying it's a bad thing to have so little ease, and I realize that the close-fitting trousers are usually made in slightly stretchy fabric, but I will cut extra wide seam allowances, and see if I would like more ease.

An Up-date on Mum's Singer 533
You know Mum and I sent her Singer 533 for a service because it was making all those clunking noises and the tension didn't disengage when I lifted the presser foot? Well, it turns out the man can't fix it. He recommended we go to the factory if we really want it fixing. He can make it straight stitch, but it could do that before. Some people think that if you get a mechanical sewing machine rather than a computerised one you are sure to be able to get it fixed because the parts will be available. Apparently not. Thank goodness I still have my other sewing machines!

The Best Medicines for Colds and Flu Symptoms
It's amazing how many colds I can get in 12 months. I have another one now. If you have a cold I recommend those Vicks Sinex Decongestant Capsules tablets. They actually work, and I'm not allergic to them (I am allergic to the horrible green liquid people try to sell as medicine.)

The best things for sore throats are Strepsils Lozenges. The taste leaves something to be desired, but they do the job, and I've only needed one this time!

Because both Mum and I have colds, we have had to close the shop for a while to keep the heat in. (We live in same building as we have the shop.) Plus, we don't want to pass the cold on to our customers, especially the older ones.

Until next time, wishing you health and happy sewing,
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner