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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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Friday, March 15, 2019

The River Dress, the fabric makes it

One of my pleasures of my year was discovering that my daughter-in-law in Berkeley is a gifted fabric shopper. 

She has that wonderful ability to look at fabric and know what kind of pattern will suit it. This is a real talent and one I discovered in a trip to Stonemountain and Daughter in December.

Here is some terrific rayon challis, something I personally didn't notice on the bolt, made up this week in Megan Neilsen's River Dress



I was interested to try a Megan Neilson pattern. These patterns have a strong following and appear to be really well drafted.

We saw and liked the store sample we saw in the the store and the pattern was intriguing for several reasons.


  • It can be worn either side, the V neck for example at the front or at the back. I can't right now think of another pattern drafted to do this.
  • The construction appeared very simple, no closures, just pull on over your head. The V neck makes the neckline big enough to do this.
  • The sleeves are raglan, almost as high as a set-in sleeve. I was hopeful this would make the all important neck/shoulder fit not too sloppy or loose, something that often occurs in designs as simple as this one:



  • A lot of versatility in this pattern, a dress or top, to be made in a woven or a knit.

I made the woven version dress of course and made it exactly as instructed. No surprise here but I am often not as smart as I think I am and over time I have decided it is just courtesy to the designer to make up an new pattern exactly as specified.

Having done this first time out, here are a few construction details I would change up for what, in my mind at least, would be a better result.

Here they are.

1. The woven neck binding falls into the category of what I call seems easy is hard. The sewer is instructed to apply the binding in a ring around the neckline, stitched, turned and top-stitched, with a slight dip in the shape of the neckline at one centre (I guess front or back depending on how you will wear the dress/top). The instructions specifically say not to trim the seam allowances because the binding will be wrapped over it.

Fair enough.

The weird thing, to my mind at least, comes in how the mitre in the V is then formed.

The instructions basically tell you to pinch a tiny pleat in the binding and stitch right up through it, through all layers, which on the woven version would be, 5, contained within the binding, forming the miter line of the V.

Here is a pattern shot of that done, in the knit version I believe, on the website:


Looks pretty good but you and I both know this is not exactly a beginner's manoeuvre.

When it was time to make my own I looked at my fine rayon and the tiny space I had to execute this move and elected to do the stitching by hand:




 The trouble of course with this method too is that you are left with a tiny pebble of fabric behind the mitre and there is a very fine line between pressing it flat and over-pressing. This fabric is very loosely woven too and even though those aren't hand stitches showing in my mitre, but threads from the fabric, it looks that way and this bugs me.

I won't do this neckline this way again.

A really easy way to make a mitred corner involves stitching down to the point of the V, right side of the binding to the right side of the garment fabric, stopping with the needle in the fabric, right at the V and then fold the miter yourself. I like this method as you can use your hands to get it right before you commit to stitching.

This method is really well illustrated here.

The second issue I had with the instructions, which I know were meant to be as easy as possible but as so often is the case this can actually complicate matters, was that both the bottom and sleeve hems are meant to be 2" and, this is actually my point, the one continuous underarm seam along the sleeve and down the side takes a very sharp and definite angle at the armpit.

With such a small and high armhole this is inevitable but really makes for, in my view, a tight pucker under the arm. Go back to the picture from the pattern site above of the orange top. See that pulling under the arm.

The fact is that a high armhole really needs to be set in, have a gusset to release the strain, or to be clipped.

Here is a shot of one of the underarm areas (sorry pre pressing but I wanted to get a shot in right away) as it came out of the machine made as per instructions:



See that? This is the fabric talking to you saying I am grabbed in way too tight here, let me go.

Since the sleeves were already in and I didn't have any offcuts with me to make a small gusset I went in side and clipped almost to the stitching line, which was double stitched, good thing.


Here is the effect of that clip from the right side, on the other sleeve before pressing but you can see how much the fabric is sighing here in relief for being released:


I think we are often too afraid to clip. The key to knowing if it needed to be done or not is if, once the clip has been made, the cut opens up, displacing what was caught into air.

To keep the clip frozen you can do a couple of things, iron a small piece of knit fusible to the area before you cut for example, of if you don't have that with you to work with in the woods, you can go old school and simple overcast the raw edges of the clip by hand:



Notice how wide that clip spreads? It really needed to happen.

So final verdict.

Excellent fabric, I am so happy with this dress. It is going to look great on Maddie.

Interesting pattern but I am going to get into the instructions and customize them for myself next time so they actually are easy.

I will probably do that when I get back in my own sewing room, nice fabric in mind. 



Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Sew kraft-tex bags blog tour: caboose edition


When the very nice folks who published my book over at C&T asked me if I was interested in participating in a blog tour for a new book Sew kraft-tex bags  I said sure, 
I would love to.



Now this was not because I have actually ever sewn with Kraft-tex, or that I am a particularly crafty person, or even that I am a bag-maker. Sleeves, hems and zippers are more my end of the business.

No, I said yes because I got an advance look at this book and thought wow, I have to get myself into some bag-making.

Here's a taste of the projects in the books, all of which can be made wholly or in part with Kraft-tex, or alternatively in many cases also entirely in fabric:



I have been feeling an urge to start making some bags lately and have been thinking about materials. I like the idea of sturdy natural materials, but I have some thoughts on working with leather.

Years ago I once ordered an entire calf hide to make a skirt. 

The hide was huge.

So big that I spread it out on my double bed to have a good look at it. Then I noticed a hole.

Right in the middle. A bullet hole.

I felt terrible.

It's one thing to work around a flaw in fabric. 

It's another thing to be working around a death. 

(My kids claim I am prone to over dramatic statements - you can probably see why).

So the concept of vegan leather has its attraction for me.

But not vinyl, off gassing is a poor trade-off, in my opinion.

So when I heard about Kraft-tex, a paper type product made in Germany and distributed in C&T,  I just wanted to try it out. 

I had heard that it was tough and when washed and dried looked like leather, or at least like itself, interesting in its own way.

So I signed myself up.

When my roll of Kraft-tex arrived,  I began to have my doubts.  

Kraft-tex comes in two formats, plain and unwashed and dried (the basic colours like the Stone I ordered come like this) or pre-washed and pre-dried in multiple colours and therefore soft and leather-like.

My do-it-yourself selection looked a lot like a roll of construction paper when it arrived.

Is this going to hold up to my wild lifestyle I wondered? 

Kids climbing over my purses in the car, dog walking and poop bag carrying, stuff from the grocery store stuffed in because I forgot my reusable bags and am too cheap to pay for plastic. 

Around here an everyday bag is thrown and jammed into corners. 

I need an under the seat bag, a back of the restaurant chair bag, a full of library books bag.

That I would also take out for dinner.

I just wasn't sure that something that started out looking like construction paper was going to hold up to all that.

So my assistant or supervisor, depending on who you ask, and I decided to take the opportunity to do some material testing of Kraft-tex, before we committed our high priced time to it.

Here are three videos we made during the testing phase of this project. 

First the road tests:



Then the tensile strength test:




And finally the test results:



Pretty thorough lab we are running here. We even brought in an outside expert to ensure our results were objective - sort of a highly qualified peer view, by a representative of a larger group:



So we really established that Kraft-tex is very, very strong. Very durable. Probably even Babs proof, and that's saying a lot.

Next up was how does it sew?

  • Crumple, machine wash and machine wash a manageable section to prep the material. Iron it with a hot steamy iron but really some of the texture is really what you want - the pre-treatment turns it from construction paper to vegan leather and you can do it yourself. Even in a camp ground Washeteria with all your old messy campground clothes.
  • Use ordinary thread and stitch settings and off you go normally. However this is a fibrous material so I lengthened my stitch length a lot. The book covers all the sewing and prep issues in great detail.
  • Use clips instead of pins.
  • Understand this is stiff stuff so sew as much flat as you can. The authors of the book, and this is well-illustrated by the projects, suggest that a combo of Kraft-tex and fabric for many details, like bag handles, as the most effective way to put together many sections.
  • Oh and if you get your bag dirty, just through it in the washer and dryer. Apparently this is the same material they use to make the labels on the back of jeans so think of that as a point of reference.
So what did I make?

First off I made one of the projects in the book, the Stephanie bag, in which Kraft-tex is used as an accent almost, as one surface of the straps and as the band the straps fit into, on an otherwise fabric bag. I love this bag, and the Kraft-tex was so fun to work with:








In fact I had so much fun working with Kraft-tex that I decided to use the same pattern and a small piece of black cork, because I always travel with a bag of random scraps for obvious reasons, to make and entire Kraft-tex bag:




At this point, understanding completely how strong but stiff Kraft-tex is, I changed up the construction steps in the  pattern from the book.

First off I changed the darts used in the original pattern to add shape, to a boxed bottom. I also used a drop-in lining, which is what it sounds like it is, rather than a turned inside out lining used in the fabric version.

I really feel that I am just getting started in my Kraft-tex adventures. 

It is so easy to work with and such a hard wearing, cost effective, alternative to leather or vinyl. Even as a strip to apply to a fabric strap for body, or as the bottom of a fabric bag for stability, even small amounts of this material would be so useful.

Let's brainstorm. The book is an excellent place to start but what else can I make with it. I am thinking super class sewing machine/serger covers, nesting baskets, belts, could you make belts? Wallets? Cutlery holders? Hats could I make a brim for a hat with it.

What ideas do you have for me?

In the meantime make sure you go back to the C & T site  for links to the other wonderful bags made by other bloggers and for a chance to win a copy of the e-book here.https://ctpublishing.lpages.co/sew-kraft-tex-bags-giveaway/

*Update: since I wrote this blog post C&T has sent me an affiliate link as one of their offers. I haven't done this before but my understanding that if you follow-up through this blog I will receive a small compensation:

Here's that link