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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Monday, March 21, 2016

Handy sewing hint of the day #10.1

A few things here, a couple of questions to answer from the comments:

That striped top I wore with my Talia pants came from Joe Fresh at the Superstore, about $14 I think, in rayon. Probably the most commented garment in this sewing blog's history. Irony never escapes me and is always sent to keep things in perspective. Thank you.

When I say weight in pressing I mean lean into the iron. I used to have a press which was great but I went away and left water in it and after that it sprayed out rust. End of story.

To pre-treat silk it really depends on what kind of silk and what you want to live with afterwards. The thing you have to think about with silk, apart from shrinkage which really is a weave issue, is water spots. One good joke at a party and even if all you have in your mouth at the time is Perrier a drop of it on your silk top will look like a mark. Pre-washing silk prevents this as you have more or less turned your yardage into one large water spot already.

I personally pre-wash crepe de chine type silks in baby shampoo and tepid water, rinse it a lot, line dry it and then press it dry under a pressing cloth to completely dry it. If you let silk totally dry and then try to press it, it's too hard to get the wrinkles out.

Silk noil washes really well and will only be a bit softer afterwards.

Now silk duponi, one of my favourites, if not popular with Spellcheck. Some folks, probably the same ones who wash and dry their linens, pre-wash dupioni. I have done this myself a few times, again pressing it dry. The fabric softens so you lose the distinctive crispness and you lose some of the iridescence for sure. On the other hand it probably becomes a more practical garment because you can wash it again rather than dry cleaning it. My own rule is if this is a one of garment like the dress for my son's wedding I do not pre-treat, if the garment is going into real rotation I do.

Now onto marking.

There is a lot to say here so I think I will do it in instalments, note the hint 10.1 - this means it is fairly likely the next post will be 10.2 - that would make sense.

The first thing to be said about marking is that it is really not a should-do but a favour to yourself.

It is the exact conceptual equivalent is making a gauge swatch in knitting. Sure it seems like a waste of good knitting time to make a gauge swatch first but so is spending 30+ hours making a sweater that is way to big or way to small. 

Not that I haven't done exactly that.

Time you spend marking at the front end saves you about 5-7 X the time at the backend. Believe me, based on personal experience, this is an underestimation.

You know you need to think more closely about marking if you have ever pulled the pattern pieces back out of the envelope at least once to try to figure out where the large dot is.

Who hasn't done this?

Now you don't need to go all OCD about this, old style Burda patterns used to tell you to baste along all seam lines and I wouldn't do that, but the more really useful construction markings you make the faster your project will go together and the smaller the margin for error.

Before I go an further I have pretty strong opinions about marking. My mother taught me all of this and her mother was a Scottish trained dressmaker - not a short cut kind of sewer I suspect, verified by the breath-takingly careful work of hers I still have.

Sure there are lots of short cuts but IMO you lose a lot of the quality along the way. To my mind it is the difference between a cake mix and a cake, between Dream Whip and real whipped cream - sure there is some similarities but you just can't compare. Listen I am more or less a random sloppy person in many life areas, but marking carefully saves me so much time I believe in it.

Probably I should end this post with a description of what I don't do, and why:

  • The straight pin method. I have had sewing students who dot their projects with pins to mark the end of darts etc. as their only marking. The thing about pins is that they fall out, being thin and pointy, and then you have to get the pattern pieces out of the envelope. Secondly since pins don't talk and all look the same can you be absolutely sure that is the end of the dart there or the place where you are supposed to put the pocket?
  • Marking pens. I know, I know. First there are the air soluble purple ones that disappear before you get around to actually starting to sew, or in humidity fade away at top speed. Sometimes however they can reappear like ghosts after a wash or appear, permanently, under an iron. The blue water soluble ones can do the same and every once in a while for reasons that they are keeping to themselves will be resistant to removal or prone to reappearance. I trust them about as much as a trust that edible petroleum by products won't hurt you.
  • Chalk. Well there is chalk and there is chalk. The powdery kind blows away or wears off and the wax based kind, the only one I sometimes use and have a supply from a tailor, is fine for marking things like cutting lines but only in fabrics that truly will absorb the wax when pressed, like wool flannel - anything else and you have a nice ironed in permanent grease stain.

So what methods of marking do I use?

  • My own code of clips in the seam allowance
  • Tracing wheel and dressmaker's carbon sometimes to mark things like patch pocket placement
  • Thread of different colours, lots of thread
More on all of this next post.


Jodie said...

Thanks Barb - I'm going to look at my silk and make some plans. I want to wear this dress more than once - I attend a high school graduation at least once per year (as a high school teacher) and something that won't water spot is ideal. I'm going to measure my yardage and cut sample to wash, I think.

Oh and on marking - I ALWAYS use tailors tacks or clips in the seam allowance. ALWAYS. Multiple thread colours as you suggest too. And even though it takes longer than marking pens etc., you can generally guarantee that it won't mark permanently OR brush off/fade away.

theresa said...

I don't have a problem with pencil, pen or even Sharpie if it's not going to be seen, depending on the end garment. For my Bootstrap jeans I cut the pattern out of oak tag w/o seam allowances and marked right onto the fabric back side with extra fine point Sharpie then took a tape measure and added seam allowances dot by dot. Love Frixion pens for most fabrics and only use tailor tacks/thread tracing for fabrics that need it. As you said, it is time well spent.

Theresa in Tucson

Ccmel said...

I'm also one for tailors tacks, though I may use a wash out pen if it won't show. I only use chalk to mark a stitching line like a dart just before stitching. On seam notches I always clip out from the seam allowance rather than into it (a mountain rather than a valley if that makes sense). My mother taught me to do it this way and I think it gives you more room for adjusting especially in patterns with a narrow seam allowance.

LinB said...

I rely on the sharp edge of a sliver of soap to mark most dark fabrics. It stays on like waxed tailor's chalk, but is much easier to remove. And when the soap sliver is down to its itty-bittiest bit, or shatters into soapy shards, I toss it/them into the drawer where I store paper sewing patterns, to discourage silverfish.

Jean said...

I am loving these posts on sewing knowledge. I am with you on marking to save time and make something really well. Here's my hint: I know this is nuts but I have been using it for more than 5 years: Crayola washable markers. The key here is washable. They come in primary colors, I get the thin ones. I have not yet had them NOT wash out. They do not leave phantom marks later. I have ironed over them, and they still wash out. But, the caveat is that I never, never use them on a fabric I am going to dry clean. Only the stuff I wash, which is most of what I sew. If I have a fine wool or silk then I use thread tacks or sometimes a quilter's safety pin, which won't move and usually won't damage the fabric.

Lulu Y. said...

I use slivers of Ivory soap for marking. They make clear marks that last until you wash or iron them, and they're easy to sharpen--just use them in your soap dish for a couple of days. You can make the edges quite sharp and draw ultra-fine lines. (Thanks to Lynda Maynard for the tip.) For light-colored fabrics I also use Frixion pens.

Michelle said...

Thank you so much for all of these sewing hints. You are so right that the knowledge all of the people who have been sewing for decades isn't connecting up as well as it ought to with the new generation of sewers. My grandma sewed everything, even my grandpa's suits, but she passed away when I was 12 so I was never was able to learn from her. I'm having the hardest time figuring out something on a shirt I have been sewing and I know if you were here it would take you about two seconds to tell me what to do. It's probably because I didn't mark everything as I should have! Anyway, please know how much I appreciate all of the time you take to share all of this knowledge that you've acquired throughout the years.

BarbaraShowell said...

I love soap as well, especially the ends of nice hard milled scented soaps I treat myself with sometimes. But it doesn't work on all fabrics because of color or texture. I do use the blue disappearing pen if its in a place that won't show. I'd like to learn tailor tacks.