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I am a mother, a 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 book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Family time in Nova Scotia

I have been absent from the blog for a while because lately I have had a lot of family to be present for. Both of my sons were here with their wives and girlfriends (I refuse to say partner, to me that is a title that should be reserved for some guy named Morty who does the books in the other room). My youngest granddaughter was also in from California with her parents, so I had all four grandchildren in town.

I did a lot of cooking and a lot of babysitting if you can call it that. 

Like many families important parts of ours are now operating as branch offices. But given that reality I feel we do a pretty good job of keeping it together.

I had few thoughts about families this week. 

But before I share those here is a shot of my two sons and, on the left a new girlfriend from Austin we really, really like and my daughter-in-law from California, wearing a dress I made for her. This picture was taken at a wedding, on a beach naturally:

Having everyone home and together really made me feel completely whole. Such a good start to my fall. I have had a lucky life.

As I walked that baby or rinsed off one more plate I thought about how time changes families and how it doesn't.

I used to think the years my children were all at home, and for a short time believed I knew everything and could do anything, were the best years of my life. When things have got challenging there have been so many times when I have wished I had one of those days back. 

You know the ones. Everyone safe and asleep in their beds. Any problems that come up it is always something you can fix. Well now everyone is grown up I know that isn't true any more. When I walk down my hallway at night it is past empty bedrooms.

But this past week, when I felt so complete, it occurred to me that families are like rivers. They have a current. They flow inevitably and properly in one direction, from the oldest towards the youngest. You have to understand that. 

It seems to me that riding with that force makes it all the best years of your life. It have noticed that when troubles come into families it is often because someone isn't respecting that flow- the mother who wants to still be the big cheese, the adult offspring who reaches backwards and tries to be a child. It seems to me that as long as everyone is doing the best they can to help the next youngest along it will all be fine.

It's also important to let new people join in. 

One of the great blessings of my life are the people my kids have married. I always used to say my son-in-law was nicer to me than my own children, until my kids told me to stop saying that. He truly is one of my best friends. And when I struggled in the early days with my daughter's MS diagnosis it was my daughter-in-law's wisdom that grounded me and helped me regain my footing. She saved me.

I have had my moments. 

During some hard times I sometimes wished more than anything that I could have just one of those old days back again, when it was just me in my house with my kids. But this past week I held my youngest granddaughter and walked her to sleep. She looked up at me and I saw she looked exactly, exactly like her father did at the same age. Those same eyes looked right back into mine in that dark room. I knew the universe was winking at me.

And I saw the future of my family.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Kraftex picture frames

I will be writing soon on my recent family visits over the last ten days. But right now want to show a little fun project I have been working on between busy times.

I have been framing some vintage sewing pattern envelopes with strips of Kraftex for sewing room decor:

I decided to use strips rather than cutting out a frame because:

1. This was just so much easier. I was in the mood for not expending any great intellectual effort or manual skill. Most of these little units were made when I should have been upstairs peeling potatoes or something.

2. This was a more efficient use of the Kraftex. It's a cool material and I want to preserve every last little bit.

3. I love the appearance of sewing machine stitches and I wanted to have those show.

I used two kinds of Kraftex. 

One was the straight up unwashed version for the backing of pictures:

I used the washed version, the one that looks like leather, for the framing strips. I cut the strips 2 1/2"

Really there aren't any instructions needed for this. But here was my process:

1. I clipped the strips to the perimeter of the backing piece and stitched around the outside edges to hold them still.

2. I slipped the pattern envelope into the frame and then stitched close to the inner edge of the strips with a long stitch length, right through the edge of the pattern envelope. I used my edge-stitching foot for accuracy and to eliminate the having to think factor, which is sometimes nice.  

In one of the envelopes I had to slide it over to disguise a ragged tear, meaning one poor girl got sort of cut off, but I liked the middle outfit best so I can live with that. Hope she can too:

For such a simple little project I am very pleased with myself over these pictures.  To me a fabric store is more exciting than any museum. To me pattern envelopes are art.

I think these pictures are beautiful.

As far as hanging goes I just put on one of the fabric clips I used in construction at the top. The back of the clip has a little hole in it and that's going to be perfect for hanging.

It can be hard to find an easy way to frame the little things that matter. I am thinking now that I am going to do this exact same thing but leave the frame empty and not stitch the top closed so I can hang kid's art on the fridge. 

All I will have to do is glue gun some magnets onto the back. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Fabric and Kraftex quick gifts

I have taken a break before the entire family hits here for 10 days to do some easy sewing. I am taxing this ship slowly onto the holiday season Big Sew runway and thinking of ideas.

One of the things I have decided to do is make a number of quick and easy projects with Kraft-tex for gifts this year.

Yesterday I made a couple of Retreat bags with this wonderful free pattern from Emmaline Bags, two in denim with a coated cotton interior, and one in a most beautiful periwinkle shade of Kraftex.

The fabric version required the body pieces to be interfaced and then fused with fleece for support. I didn't need to do any of this in the Kraftex bag because the Kraftex has so much body it stands up on its own - which eliminates steps and cost. 

I love this pattern so much because the large size is really big, will contain all your gear plus a hairdryer if you carry one, and so easy.

I alway add Emmaline's wonderful zipper ends and pulls because it adds a bit of finish for not much effort. Their website has how to install the zipper ends which are handy if you cut down a longer zipper to make one of these bags.

Kraftex is so durable as well as being easy to sew. My husband and I recorded some hilarious videos last winter that show us testing it, including driving over it on the RV, and it held up well.

Here is a wallet my husband made for me with some scraps a few months ago and I have been really enjoying it because it is so light. Another free pattern. Although it carries exactly what my usual wallet carries I often have to check my purse to see if it my wallet is there because I just can't tell by the weight. BTW Kraftex is machine washable and I see this wallet is due that after a summer spent in the bottom of the swimming pool bag.

I have decided to make a few of these wallets for Christmas and some other things like luggage tags (I always stand there with 80 other people at the carousel looking for a black suitcase). I am also doing picture frames (got some really neat ones in the works, watch for those) and frames for pictures with fridge magnets. The last is a grandmother special because when the kids make a picture I always say "I will put it on my fridge like that was a real honour. I am also going to make some passport/boarding pass holders for family members who are organizationally challenged like I am.

It's fun to work Kraftex too. These will be the little projects I can make when I claim I am off doing something else and want to disappear into my sewing basement for a few minutes...

Monday, September 2, 2019

Big time catch up

It is pretty apparent that I have been AWOL for a bit. I am back now.

Here's what's been going on.

First, as many of you know, I take care of the three local kids during the summer when my daughter, who works alternately three and two day a week needs me. I also like to be able to help out at other times too. It is fun but let's say those guys are pretty busy. I had three myself and so I recognize that stage where each one of the three is at a different place in development, and there is usually one doing something surprising off line too.

But because I also had three there have been many moments when I have sat and watched them, usually at the pool place we hang out at a lot, when I felt the sweetness of children in the summer. All the wet towels, all the fights that needed breaking up, and the many, many bowls that I washed after our baking sessions, were a thousand times repaid by those moments. 

I am sorry to see summer end.

Also on the personal front I retired finally and completely from teaching the end of June. I just felt I was getting too busy to work on someone else's schedule. And decided to leave while I still had something in the tank. 

I have always been an admirer of George Foreman.

Rather than climbing back into the ring one more time he invented the grill. So much better to be that guy on TV with the grill than a shadow of your former self dragged out of the ring because you couldn't think of what else to do.

Man am I deep.

So after my retirement, and with all the yelling one more time on that water slide and that's it we have to get home, I took a while to think about what my grill was going to be or, more importantly, if I even needed one.

I folded fabric a lot and I cleaned my house. I wrote a bit on a sewing mystery novel that is about real things that happened to me.  Some parts I think are really funny and in some still laboured. I found things in my house I had forgotten I had and projects that reflected my high ambitions.

I did some real tailored sewing, will be posted at some point in the Fabricville newsletter, and then I will do some more detail here. In the meantime here is a glimpse. For some reason the light caught my hair and made it look white, can't be true.

I also made and sent off a sleeveless version of the Yari jumpsuit to my daughter-in-law in Berkeley. Amazingly, because I had made this exact same pattern before and it fit perfectly, this one in a slightly looser linen turned out way too long. This makes no sense to me at all.

She is arriving this coming Friday with the rest of the crew (I will actually have my entire family plus one of my sisters here together for nearly a week) for a wedding. I am dying to get my hands on this jumpsuit and shorten it.

All that said, because we know that every sewer always points out the problem before anything else, Maddie looks great in this:

Honestly who would have thought jumpsuits would come back and stay so long? It's getting to the point where I am thinking I even need to make myself one.

It is interesting and exciting to think I have a different sort of life to plan and sew for now. My head is filling up with patterns I want to make. 

Now what are you fall goals for life and sewing? I am making the assumption the two are not too far apart.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Flypaper thoughts Friday night in August editon

  • Nova Scotia is a tricky place
  • The summers are so incredible
  • The sky and air clear and bright and sharp
  • So powerful it makes you forget all the majority months
  • The ones that are cold and wet and grey
  • But you know what is the best thing about a tough climate?
  • People are absolutely delighted when it's summer
  • Everyone is out 
  • Everyone walks around like it's their birthday
  • Whenever I travel I am amazed that folks in sunny places are wasting it
  • The church down the street is selling ice cream cones
  • $2 and the proceeds going to the poor in Cuba
  • At 2-3 scoops for kids not sure of how much they are sending out
  • Apart from right messages
  • Much of my summer has been spent with the kids
  • Treading water at the bottom of water slides
  • You are doing pretty good for an elderly grandmother they say
  • OK you are sort of elderly
  • Breaking up fights in the back seat
  • I mean it, just one more time and that's it
  • No idea what it is
  • But I mean it
  • Crinkle that plastic bottle one more time and I am stopping this car
  • "It wasn't me"
  • Letting anyone cook anything in my kitchen 
  • Because I can take the mess
  • And believe you have to learn to chop sometime
  • They know where the band aids are
  • Their mom and uncles survived this system
  • Leaving behind wet bathing suits
  • Hearing a hundred sentences start with "It's not my fault."
  • Or "she made me do it"
  • So hot that in the evening I walk Daisy and drag the dog stroller beside me
  • She only goes in one direction and hasn't figured the we have to walk back part
  • That's what the stroller is for on hot nights
  • You have to respect someone who at 16 pounds can plant her paws on a sidewalk 
  • Like she is concrete herself
  • And won't move
  • As big as I am and as small as she is
  • So I just keep going in the direction she wants 
  • Out of respect
  • And wheel her home when she is tired
  • Sewing odd ball projects
  • Summer nightgowns
  • Bags with zippers
  • A hat for my big head
  • One size does not fit all
  • Ever
  • The return of the skort was a good idea
  • Now that's a word
  • Makes you kind of feel like putting rollers in your hair
  • Summer wouldn't be this sweet if it lasted
  • Which is really all you need to know about being alive

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Fitting process: example of a basic woven tee

This summer in the Northern Hemisphere has been very hot. It has quickly become apparent to me that knit tops are just too warm for this weather. What a person does not need in the heat is something clinging to her body. As a result I have returned to the idea of a woven tank top - something I haven't made in years. 

To be honest my daughter had great success with the Willow tank but I decided I needed something with a good bust dart. I also thought it was about time I used some of the patterns I had bought in previous bursts of quickly burnt out enthusiasm before I went out shopping again.

That prompted me to try the tiny pocket tank from Grainline. Here is their shot of it done up:

I am fairly scrawny in the neck and shoulders area so even before I attempted this pattern I had my doubts that it would be a success. But I decided to give it a go and work through the issues with my own fitting principles.

Version One:

This one I did on the rule I have made for myself for all new patterns - make it as the designer intended first so I could get a good look at exactly where this particular pattern needed adjustment. It is to easy to assume that you need to make the same alterations to every pattern. However if you are not careful it is very easy to start cutting up the pattern and changing it so drastically right immediately that you never can find your way back to the original.

So here is my first iteration done in a remnant left over from my cotton gauze jacket. Note my bust measurement is between sizes so I cut the smaller of the two possible sizes:

For this one I tried a free background removing program to see if that would be handy for those times when there is a garbage can or something non artistic behind me. What do you think?

Now this top makes me look distressingly matronly and is way too loose IMO. The darts are in the right place though and that is a good thing. I also lengthened this unit by 2" because I am tall, but I am thinking as waists go up and pants get wider that I need to reconsider shorter tops. I have worn this several times in really hot weather however and I have to say frumpy is comfortable and cool.

Version two:

OK I went down a full size to what is actually 4" less than my full bust and did a full bust adjustment. I also hoisted up the shoulders about 1/2" at the front because I have text neck, and added two small darts at the back neck. I also raised the neckline at front 2". I also did not add length to this version.

These were too many pattern alterations to attempt at one time, I know better, and this is what happened:

The neckline and shoulders are more where I need them on this body, and the length is better. The above the bust fit is good but look at those darts! Of course they moved up when I raised the shoulder.

Back to the drawing board. BTW the fabric is a nice cotton gauze from the Grandmothers for grandmothers (Canadian grandmothers helping African grandmothers raising grandchildren) annual fabric and craft sale, which is amazing. I still have a bunch of this left.

Version three:

This one has the darts in the right place and the overall fit is comfortable. I used the block method to move down the darts which is exactly what it sounds like, I cut a square around the dart and just moved that whole block down. Gives a much more accurate dart than just reorienting the point.

But what else is happening here? 

Look at those wrinkles under my arm. Fortunately wrinkles are easy to read - wherever they point is where there is not enough room. In this case I am back to another issue created by my decision take up some fabric in the front shoulder seam - I created a raised front armhole. Good lesson here that one alteration can produce the need for another one - always interesting to me how issues ricochet around a garment.

Fabric was a remnant left over from a shirt I made for my oldest son. These fitting experiments are great for using up leftovers.

Which brings us to:

Version four:

I cut down the underarm for this version a full 3/4" here and most of the wrinkles are gone. It certainly feels better. I do think that I have one more tweak to do and that is to cut out the front of the armhole a bit to reduce the potential to bind when my arms go forward. When that's done I think I am good. The fabric is a stash resident that was bought to line a bag but I have such a weakness for retro prints here it is in a top instead. I have yet to make a bag this summer.

A few thoughts on this whole process.

Generally I don't enjoy fitting. I really love construction and I sort of feel that fitting is a nuisance process I have to do so I can get to the fun part. I have friends who make innumerable muslins of every pattern before they make a garment. I would never do that. I mean my favourite kitchen utensils are the food processor and the crock pot.

That said I really do spend the time to refine a pattern when I feel it is going to be a TNT basic for me. This is now something I can whip up when I want to use a nice print. Also since my travels and my own climate make shell and cardigan combos really practical, I am working now on the idea of tops I can wear in the summer and later wear with some kind of a jacket/cardigan when its cooler. This pattern will work for that.

I am also not a great believer in over fitting. It is certainly possible to obsess over every wrinkle and fold but when you eliminate those completely you often lose mobility, not to mention the over articulation of your own shape, which may or may not be a good thing.

What do you think?

Saturday, July 27, 2019

How to sew a crossover V neckline video

Hi folks.

I had a request to make a video of how to sew a crossover V neckline so I did just that. Note we are not exactly running Universal Studios over here so probably should have instructed my cameraman to zoom in more, but what can I say? You get what you pay for.

Here is the video.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Another experiment

Hi folks.

At least a few times a week at least a sewing person contacts me directly to ask for help and/or an opinion. Usually I try to do my best over email but do recognize that sewing is visual.

So rather than trying to help out in writing I was thinking of putting aside some time for some video coaching, either through FaceTime or Skype. I am thinking of someone who might be getting to the high frustration level (been there many times myself) and think they might benefit from a second opinion or another set of eyes.

This may be something of no interest to anyone but worth making the offer. Of course there is no charge for these sessions which I have set up to be 30 minutes max each in a few places in my week when I have the time.

If you think this might be helpful here is the link where you can make an appointment for a chat. I will be in my sewing room at these times so needless to say the whole thing is informal.

Is this a good idea do you think?

Basically I am on a sort of a mission to get encourage more happy sewists, and like my free newsletter this is aimed I guess to new and returning sewers (sewists? I have to make up my mind).

Sunday, July 21, 2019

My apologies

Hi folks.

There were a couple of extraordinary comments left yesterday and the day before that I deleted after I had read them, a case of slippery fingers on a hot night on my phone. I really feel badly about this because they were really beautiful.

You know who you are, so thank you.

Back tomorrow with shots of a birthday outfit for a little boy and his doll. Take that sisters who won't let him play!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Nightware suggestion Simplicity 9505

Sarah has thoughtfully sent me an image of her favourite nightwear pattern and I am inserting it here. Looks terrific. Just wish Simplicity was available still in Canada but will look for this somewhere online:

Summer sewing list: bite sized goals

This happens every summer. 

One minute I am digging out the summer clothes and the next minute I  realize it is the middle of July and all those things I was going to get done over the summer better get done before the summer clothes get packed away again.

I decided today that in addition to my usual round of family sewing, I needed to think about good summer projects for myself.

Unusually I decided to get sensible. So instead of time spent on ambitious sewing projects I decide to be nice to myself instead. I decided to make some things that have been percolating for a while now and would actually be useful.

Most of these are fast projects I can fit in around my other activities. All of them are outstanding:

  • A good bag for taking my cosmetic/shampoo etc. gear around with me in my travels. I have made nearly everyone in the vicinity a version of this free pattern, in the large size that holds everything, but why not me?
  • At least one hat. Obviously these are important in the sun but I have a terrible time finding one that is big enough for my large head. All the ones I own really have to be jammed down. I have a couple of patterns but might try this one, again a free pattern, or this one, because they have several sizes. I can make the brim bigger in the bucket hat too if I want. I am even thinking of trying some foam, like they use for bags, for the brim. I read in expensive sites like Tilley's about hats that float and I can figure that one out.
  • Some pyjamas and night gowns. I really need something cool for the summer and something decent to wear so I don't scare the children when I visit. I have Jalie's reliable old pyjama pattern for a start, again something I have made for everyone but me, and am thinking too of this Burda pattern. I need some cooler wovens, knits can get hot. 
  • Some kind of housecoat (this is a Canadian thing, in other parts of the world these are called robes etc.) that is covering enough for travel and staying with people but doesn't take up a lot of room in the suitcase. I had high hopes for this Vogue pattern, such a pretty drawing, but even when I sized down it was big enough for three of me and had sleeves that looked like A line skirts. I would actually just like a pattern that looked like the picture. I could probably figure something out if I have to.
  • And finally I really want to sew at least one decent handbag. I have danced around this one for a while. I always something more urgent to work on, but these patterns and bag creations really are what catch my eye most when I scroll through my Facebook posts on my phone when I am drinking my morning coffee. I think that after a person has liked say the Boronia bag 700 times she should probably bite the bullet and make one. 
So that's it for me. I am trying out a new and novel idea which is making sewing to-do lists of things I might actually make. I will let you know how this goes.

Now over to you.

What are your personal sewing projects for the summer? 

The comments are always the best parts of this blog!

Friday, July 12, 2019

Woman and ageing

I have been thinking a lot about this subject this week. I am likely going to be writing about it more as we go along.

I have been thinking about a few older women in my life and how they are living this stage of living.

I have been thinking of one older lady who lives alone and is totally dependent on her children for her what to do next, "I go where they take me."

I have been thinking of a woman, nearly eighty, who has had a great career and is now holding on to it with a death grip, to the point that this, not her achievements, will be what she is remembered for.

And I think of my 91 year old mother who as usual is doing what no one expected and lifting her broken leg/hip, walking to the dining room and exhausting herself with physio. She can tell you the life story of everyone in the rehab hospital already.

I am thinking of older women and, realizing in certain dopey circles this might include me, and their choices. Or lack of.

It's worth thinking how women if this generation, and probably all generations, I don't see my female students much different, are reactors in their own lives.

It's pretty easy to do this.

Parents, siblings, friends, men, employers, children all need us to do so much for them. When we spend all that time not letting down everyone else, considering always how they feel, there just isn't a lot of space to even think about what we want.

I had a conversation with my mother a while ago. She told me how totally overwhelmed she was by being a housewife. If I have heard once I have heard about 8 million times how my grandfather and father thought it would make them "look bad" if she worked after marriage as a nurse. That woman hasn't nursed since 1952. If you ask her who she is now, she says nurse.

My mom had four kids and stayed at home with us. She completely hated housework and cooking. That is where the overwhelmed part came from. She says for the life of her she just couldn't figure out how other women did it, kept a well run house. She says she always felt like a failure.

Our neighbour across the street at the time has verified this for me. She herself was always an impeccable housekeeper and tells funny stories of the absolute chaos of my mother's laundry room floor - piled high with dirty clothes and an inactive washing machine.

This woman also told me that her own three kids used to say if anything ever happens to you and dad make sure we are sent across the street because it's really fun over there.

I am thinking this morning of women like my mom and others of her generation and mine and even my daughter's and wonder how often we say, 

"This is what I really want to do."

If we do, we first run it in our minds past all the people our goal might affect, children, parents, friends, and spouses. We then also consider the what ifs, like what if I make a fool of myself, what if it doesn't work, what if I am a failure,  or the classic "what if they are mad?"

How many women:

  • went into a career because the family suggested it?
  • ended up in a job because they hired you and one thing led to another?
  • married someone because they asked and who knows if there would be another offer?
  • stayed in a job, marriage, or relationship because other people would be too disrupted if we didn't?
  • said "no it's OK" when it wasn't?
  • were smarter but smiled at the dumb idea?
Add to the list, you get my drift.

How many women do you know have a bucket list? A real bucket list.

How many women when they suddenly have time to themselves because of life changes or even just the realities of age, get sort of angry because so many people tell them to do what they want or do what they are interested in. They just don't know what that is. They have spent their lives not being that selfish. What are people talking about- do what you want?

The most frightening experience of my teaching career was in a writing class where students were asked to write about an issue they cared about. One 21 year old emailed me in a panic, "I am having real trouble with this assignment because there is nothing I really am interested in, does shopping count?"

As to my mother, who appears to be defying all expectations in rehab, I know why she is doing so well.

She told me.

She just loves hospitals.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Two more stress free shirt sewing hints

Hi folks.

There are a few other short tips on stress free shirt sewing that I would like to make sure to pass on. 

The first one, on buttonholes was mentioned in my last week's free newsletter for new and returning sewists (you can sign up by sending me a message through the form at the top of this page), but I think is worth repeating for those who missed it.

First up, shirt plackets.

These aren't too hard if you are methodical about it, but the marking can be a pain. What I do now for any detail the requires precision, like a welt pocket or these plackets, is to trace off the stitching/cutting line markings on tracing paper and pin that directly to the fabric.

Then, using a smaller than normal stitch length because this will make removing the paper easier, I stitch and cut the fabric as required. Note that below I have made these so many times I no longer put in the slash lines within the stitching box but of course you can do that:

Secondly I spray starch the buttonhole area before I make buttonholes in fine fabrics. I find that the dense satin stitching pulls in the fabric. This reduces the cutting area to next to nothing, and the starching eliminates this. Below is a shot of two buttonholes. The larger one at the bottom was made on starched fabric. The small one at the top was made in fabric that had not been starched. Both samples were made in two layers of fabric and one layer of interfacing:

On another note I have revised the instructions for french seaming the shirt in the last post. It appears that I reversed the right/wrong side parts, not surprising if you know my need for good copy editing, and I apologize if there was any confusion.

Finally I got an email yesterday that said one of the best men's shirt patterns I use the All Day Shirt by Liesl is on sale this week, until Saturday, for 50% off with the discount code  July2019 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Stress free shirt sewing: hems and seams

I have a few other details to discuss on how to sew shirts with less stress.

The first of these is how to sew a curved hem. I am not totally happy with the way the hem looks on my son's shirt in the last post (why don't those boys iron more?) but I saw that shirt before it was sent out and it wasn't wavy. The lesson here is that this pattern has a shaped side seam and for a casual shirt on this straight up and down guy I have to remove all curve. And in a casual camp collar style shirt like this one I will do a square shape with vents in the side next time.

Back on topic.

The curved shirt hem is a difficult one for most sewing folks. The straight parts at the front and back are easy, they are on grain, but once you get to the curved places at the side the grain moves off to something closer to bias and under the action of pressing and sewing it can so easily stretch and bow out. 

There is a lot of good advice out there about stay-stitching etc. to avoid this, but my nerves are something I like to restore, not erode. So when I sew so this is what I do instead.

I hem the fronts and the back of the shirt before I sew the side seams. 

The reasons for doing this are:

  • It is easier to press and sew up one small hem at a time
  • Any bias that exists, even if I elect to stay-stitch (I don't always do this in high thread count stable shirt fabrics) is pushed towards the side seam and I can trim it off before sewing those seams
  • This is the way many ready-to-wear shirts are made - look for a little patch many RT
The process is simple:
  1. I press up the hem allowance, turning the raw edge under on both front and back pieces before I do anything else to them, like sew on the front bands. These pressing lines are good markers.
  2. I sew the bands onto the shirt, but before I topstitch them down I fold them back and sew along the bottom, just like you would at the bottom of a facing in a blouse. I turn and press this to the right side and then top stitch the bands in place.
  3. I then stitch the hems, following my previous pressing marks.
Now to the seams, sleeve and side.

I don't serge any of my seams in my shirts. Yes it is fast and easy but I feel it is part of the culture of shirt-making, all other construction is enclosed with yokes, bands etc. to have all raw edges, even those covered by serging, hidden.

Of course the standard is to make flat felled seams, and I have made a lot of those with a felling foot, but that kind of work, particularly when you get to the tricky step two of edge-stitching down a raw edge, is nerve-wracking.

And we are sewing stress free right?

So after much experimentation I have decided to use french seams for my shirts, two different ways, and to top stitch them to look like flat felled, mimicking the appearance of RTW shirt seams.

To set in the sleeves- a conventional french seam:

  1. Make a french seam, step one wrong sides together, step two and final stitching from the inside.
  2. Top stitch close to the folded edge of the encased seam, which will give the appearance of a single line of topstitching from the right side. Note how this eases in the extra bulk of the sleeve cap but keeps this hidden from the right side:

To sew the side seams- a french seam done in reverse with the encased seam in on the outside:
  1. Make a french seam, step one right sides together, step two and final stitching from the outside- this will catch the hem allowances.
  2. Press the encased seam allowance to the back of the shirt and top stitch close to the folded edge, giving the appearance of a flat felled seam.

Here is how this looks at hem level, from the wrong side.

First before the final top stitching is done:

And then after the final top stitching is done on the right side:

Done and not at all stressful.