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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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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A new year and some new techniques

I once had a very old Singer man tell me how he sat at a dealers' convention in the '50s and saw the first zig zag machine introduced.

"Well now they have thought about just about everything," he said then.

I think the point here is that no matter how much you think about sewing there is always something new to consider and, potentially, a new way to solve an old problem.

With just three days into the new year, here are some of my personal favourites:

1. Yoga band instead of an elastic waist. Obviously highly appropriate for yoga pants or leggings (make sure the band is sizeable, like say a cut width of at least 6 1/2" or a finished width of 3" for an adult). Would be perfect for maternity wear or those of us who have past maternity influenced waistlines.

I have mentioned in a previous post that I used this technique for Billy's jammies and can report that since the fabric I used is a good recovery cotton/lycra, they stay up very well and are super comfortable:


2. Sewing clips. I first saw these used in bag making to hold stiff and multiple layers together under the sewing machine needle when obviously mere pins wouldn't do the job. I really liked these little units when I tried them myself. I bought a ton of them for very little on Amazon and was surprised at how easy they were to remove as I sewed - I just pressed down on the top (coloured side) of the clip on the bed of the machine and kept a bowl beside me to toss them into.

In garment sewing I have found the clips super useful for sewing knits and holding them still with some strength. Elastic or neckbands (or yoga bands) for instance or just for seaming.

Here they are in action on the seam of a ponte skirt:



3. Finally, and I promised this a while ago, I tried and am sold on, Eloflex thread by Coats.


First here are my observations on this thread:

  • It really is stretchy. I was surprised how much so. As a result I was concerned that winding the bobbin action and high speed sewing could extend the thread before it got to the fabric and that once there it would relax and consequently pucker the seam. Anticipating this I wound the bobbin really slowly and sewed with a slow but steady pace to prevent that from happening. This seemed to work.
  • It is a slightly stiff thread, and a 2 ply that has a tendency to unwind. This made getting it into the eye of the needle a bit tricky - took 4 tries - and I was aware of a few loops as the thread approached the tension disks but these seemed to work themselves out before the seam. After much sewing I had the thread fray above the needle only once and this was after I did some start and stop sewing. Since it was only once after a lot of stitching I felt this did not outweigh the benefits of the thread, and that I could deal with this in future with some steady sewing. I am also wondering if this might be one of those threads that some machines might like more than others but really since I did my test sew on a 60 year old machine to fully test it I am not sure about this. Of course I used a knit needle for my sewing.
Here are some pictures to show how I used this thread:


Straight stitched knit hem from the outside. Kind of nice to have this as a hemming option as the straight stitch of course won't over work the fabric and produce wavy hems.


A seam in my laser cut ponte near the hem where it gets lacey. I didn't want to serge because I figured that would make the seam too obviously although I did stitch twice since I was trimming the seam allowance close.


The knit hem fully stretched out, not a stitch breaking or bubbling. A fully stretched knit hem done with a straight stitch on a vintage machine. I mean really. How cool is that?
So count me pretty impressed and on my way down to the fabric store to get more colours to take with me on my sewing travels in the rv. 

Would also be a good option I think in the needle when sewing active wear too. I am really happy to know that there is a practical option for me to sew those detail areas in knits, like a V neck, with a reliable straight stitch for precision.

So what's new to you so far this year?



Sunday, December 31, 2017

All day shirt pattern review - Liesl and Co.

This is a long review as it involves my major Christmas sewing project.

This year I made four men's shirts. One was an overdue one for my youngest son using some custom printed poplin from Spoonflower (electrical circuits - he is in the wind energy business now in Austin Texas) and three flannel shirts for the same son, my middle guy now in San Francisco, and my son-in-law here.

They were all in town for Christmas and I thought a sort of group sew made sense, at least to me.

First the pattern.

I have made the boys a number of shirts over the years and not been totally happy with the patterns. The Big Four patterns are too boxy for current styles and some of the specialty patterns out there are either not too well drafted or dated in cut.

I wanted a real RTW draft so on a whim tried this pattern from Liesl and Co.:




This pattern turned out to be exactly what I was looking for.

Reasons I liked this pattern and will be using it again, and again and again, I expect are:


  • The fit is exactly what I have been searching for - modern but enough easy to be comfortable
  • Two useful views - a button down collar, casual version, and a more formal dress version with an almost spread collar, also fashionable
  • Really good construction advice, using some of my favourite techniques, which also tend to be those not included in most other patterns, the method for the stand collar in particular

The best way to talk further about this pattern I think is with pictures and notes.

Here we go.

First the Spoonflower print fabric one for my son. 

If you haven't heard of Spoonflower they definitely are worth checking out. The idea is you have access to an enormous number of Indie print designers and you can select the fabric (from knit to woven- big selection) you want it printed on and make a custom order. I was very happy to see poplin as a listed fabric, it is a great fabric for shirts and I was very happy with the quality. Too many cool prints are in quilting cottons and these are simple too loosely woven to hold up for shirt wear and it was nice to have an interesting pattern in a real shirt fabric.

There are various reviews of Spoonflower, some say the blacks fade, but I can only talk about my one experience.

I have to say I was happy with my purchase. True the fabric was slightly stiff, I would expect that with a surface printed design, but I did pre-wash and line dry it before I cut and did not detect any fading.

I sometimes wonder if some of the colour fading folks talk about is because so many people wash and machine dry their clothes. For instance my son was amazed when I told him not to put this shirt in the dryer (he would probably do that and put them in at hot water with his jeans).

Service was a bit slow on my order, required a few emails to make sure it was on its way, about 3 weeks, but in the end I found the customer service, if slow, outstanding.

I will order from them again.

Here is the shirt on my youngest with some detail shots and comments:


See how nice the fit is? Slim enough but not tight. Love it and so did he. Guys in the office wondered if I could make more. My son said he was pretty sure I only do this for my own kids. He is right about that.

Here is the cuff. The slightly rounded corners make this nice and neat and the "Burrito method" cuff application is super easy and smooth.

For accuracy in marking details like the stitching box of the cuff placket I always just trace it off, and using a short stitch length do my stitching. When this is done the paper just pulls away.
Hit my picture limit in Blogger, so part two will be posted next.



Part two of the Liesl and Co. All day shirt pattern

Next here is a shot of the flannel shirts on the boys.

Note everyone in my family is tall. My middle son, pictured on the left here, is about 6'1" and he looks shorter than the other two, my son-in-law in the middle (6'5"), and my youngest, on the right (6'4"). At 5'9" I am their "little mommy."


A note on fit. I was able with both the guys in the blue shirts to borrow, in a sneaky way, shirts they already have to verify the right size. The middle shirt was an XL and the one on the right a L - both with 2" added to length. I am less happy with the fit for the one on my middle guy on the left - he is in San Francisco and the logistics for invading his home on the QT were more limited. The L is too big on him even though that worked for his chest measurement. As you can see he has a well developed chest (works out) and is trim due to riding his bike to and from work up those San Francisco hills. (He even calls me from the bike and is not out of breath). I am going to sew him up a medium shortly with room across his chest (it will be interesting to see how that turns out). That said this shirt is made of really heavy flannel and I made it for camping - something he and my DIL do to take advantage of California's outstanding park system. As an outdoor type shirt he says it is fine and he loves it, but then again he was always nice to me.

Now onto my favourite stand collar application, nicely detailed in this pattern instructions.

There are about 53 different methods for doing this particular high risk sewing job out there and I have tried them all.

The hand method is nice and easy to do but can get a little messy around that visible front join. The burrito method has many variations but I personally find wrestling all that fabric into a tiny area, squishing a collar in the process, more work than I want to do - also I like to breathe and the burrito method requires the breath holding stamina of a synchronized swimmer.

Additionally I have several principles of construction that I like to stick to in the interest of quality control and nerve saving.

These are:

  • Keep it hand sized as long as possible. This is because you are sewing with your hands. Hauling large pieces around under a needle is not for me. I can only focus on what I can see. This is why I don't quilt or do home dec sewing.
  • Do as much as possible to each unit before moving on. It's nice to sign off on something, preferably a hand sized something, before you do the next thing.
  • Try to keep what you have to sew something you can see rather than the presto chango method where you sew blind and hope when you turn it right side out it will be brilliant.
  • Break up big ambitious seams into shorter achievable seams.
The easiest method IMO, and shared by Liesl apparently, is this one:

1. Sew the collar up, top stitch and press. Put it aside for now. Hand sized and signed off on.

2. Sew on collar band to the neckline.

3. Sew the other collar band to the neckline over the first stitching. You can see what you are doing.

4. Fold the shirt body out of the way at a 45 degree angle and pin it to the front of the shirt, isolating the ends of the bands so the shirt won't get caught in them. Less fabric to work with than the collar attached method of the traditional burrito.

5. Stitch the ends of the band only on each side and pivot and sew a bit to join the top of the bands together to about where the collar would fit in. No need to get too stressed about this, the space you leave for the collar can be a little big, just not too small - eventual top-stitching will close this off anyway. Do a little trimming after you have had a quality control look at your stitching and redone it or fixed it up as necessary.



6. Turn and press the band, tucking under the seam allowances of the opening and pressing them under.

7. Slip the collar into the opening and sew it to the band that will be against the neck. If you find this tricky to do right to the ends don't stress, again you can catch this later. Just do what you can do.

8. Working from the outside back of the shirt, pin, baste, glue baste or adhesive sewing tape (my choice) the remaining seam allowance to the underside of the collar and stitch down catching it in topstitching all around the band. If this scares you the other option is to hand sew the band seam allowance down and then top stitch.

Here is what the band on the underside of the collar looks like before it is sewn down on two of the shirts:



And here are pictures of one finished shirt collar all neatly attached done by a breathing sewist:



So great pattern, great construction methods, happy shirt wearers.