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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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Saturday, June 15, 2019

Sewing shirts the stress free way: collar bands and collars



Well here we go.

First things first.

I always interface both collar pieces and both band pieces. Fabric has life and stretch and grain. If you are going to attach two identical pieces together, things are just going to work out so much better if you have set up the same way.

An un-interfaced collar is apt to stretch and grown a bit more than an interfaced collar. So it is completely inevitable that when you try to attach them, the un-interfaced unit is going to be a little bit bigger than the one with the interfacing.

Why set yourself up for trimming and stressing and trying to ease one piece into another, or even worse, having to unpick little pleats that have appeared in the stitching?

Interface both collars and stands and you will have the security of attaching like things to each other.

Of course you don't want to over stiffen your collar. I did that once years ago and ended up with red marks on my neck.

You get around this by using a lighter weight interfacing because you will be working with two layers.

There is also the issue of keeping the interfacing out of the seam lines. Interfacing in the seams will just fight you the whole way, and no amount of pressing the finished product will make it dissolve.

Here are your seam allowance interfacing options:

1. Carefully trim away exactly 1/2" from around your interfacing so, when attached, 1/8" will be caught in the stitching - best to have it caught and not free floating. I do not do this because it is boring and I am inaccurate and also I am trying to sew stress free with a wandering mind.

2. Use a light weight fusible like a knit or Sewer's Dream, a really lightweight knit I had arrive in the mail yesterday on your recommendations. The idea here is that the interfacing is adding some body but it is flexible. If you interface the whole collar and band you will probably be OK with this providing you trim the seam allowances down.

3. Use a lighter woven interfacing, like I did with this shirt. The woven non fusible adds some crispness and is easy to remove from the seam allowances. As I showed a few posts back attach it, cut the same size as the collar and band pieces, with some quick hand basting. After I am done stitching I trim the excess out of the seam allowances as closely as I can with my scissors.

Now onto the collar and band:

1. Step one is to complete the collar: 

Stitch, trim out any woven interfacing from the seam allowances if that's what you are using, turn, and press. 

Top stitch around the edges - I use my edgestitching foot so that's a no brainer.  When it comes to making sure your stitches don't pack up at the corner, just swing the other collar end under the back of the foot as a "Hump jumper" to keep the foot level - it will be the perfect thickness.

2. Sew the collar bands to the top of the shirt. sandwiching the body of the shirt in between them:


I do this in two stages, one collar on and then the other, because the less fancy you get the easier and more fool proof it is. You can see here where I have trimmed the interfacing from the seam allowances.

3. Next do the ends of the bands: 

I just fold the front out of the way a bit and pin it still then stitch each curved end. I back stitch near the bottom but don't back stitch when I stop close to the collar opening. I use small stitches because small stitches go around curves easier and by not back stitching at the end I can unpick more easily if I have to.

I take it easy and like to check at this stage to make sure the stitching starts right at the button band (you should be able to feel it) and restitch until it is right. You want that collar end to flow right into the shirt button bands.

I always stop this stitching a safe distance away from the collar opening. I can catch and close that later with top stitching and I like to have a little wiggle room when it is time to put in the collar. Less stressful this way.

Here is the collar end stitched:



And here it is after trimming just before each end is turned and pressed. At this point I would also press under the seam allowances of the collar opening.


4. Drop in the collar:

Slide the collar into the opening. It is really useful here if the opening is a little bigger than you need. Pin the collar to the inside neck band and stitch it in - it would probably be tricky to get the stitching right to the end but do your best, go as far as you can and don't worry at all about that extra unstitched  inch or two, you will catch that later in top stitching.



5. Hand stitch the outer band to the under collar:

Don't freak out it's not a lot of hand stitching and it is under the collar right? The nice thing about hand stitches is that you can take them out easily as you go, which cannot be said of machine stitches.

Here is how that looks pinned in position from the under collar side:


Now when you hand stitch this down the secret is to take a tiny stitch with your needle and to hide the needle under the fabric before you take the next stitch. When you can't see the needle you won't see the thread:


If you don't pull that thread too tight once you press the band the stitches will disappear and look like this:



Last step is to top stitch all around the band from the outside using an edge stitching foot. This last stitching will close up any tiny openings around the collar too.

So that's it, a piece of cake.

Any questions?

Friday, June 14, 2019

Sewing shirts the stress free way: the collar and dreaded collar stand. Part one, why this is hard

O.K. 

There are many ways to stitch a stand collar on a shirt. There are some great instructions already written by many wonderful sewers and teachers. And I am sure those methods are correct and work well, particularly for folks who make a lot of shirts and have the whole thing down.

The thing is that not everyone sews a whole lot of shirts, regularly at least, and not to practice makes perfect stage, undoubtedly because the I-am-so-fed-up-with-this-thing I am going to pitch it in the corner stage comes first. 

A lot of us sew a lot of different things in our sewing lives. Shirts only come around the rotation every now and then, unfortunately, often in the shape of gifts for men, when we are under extra pressure not to screw up.

Also not everyone wants to concentrate all that hard every step of the way. Some of us would rather sew something relaxing that makes us feel pleased with ourselves.


Both these things describe me, or they have for a long time in my sewing life. As a result, I have worked out a way to tackle the dreaded shirt collar and stand in a system that has placed an extremely high priority on not stressing me out, while still producing a very good result.

I often take this approach when I am trying to make my own sewing easier. Usually I start by figuring out ahead of time what disasters I can see coming, and then try to figure out a way to avoid them.

So let's start with what can go wrong. Tell me if I have forgotten anything:

1. The collar is off centre, meaning the space between where the collar ends and that curvy part of the band are different on each side. Your male wearer will always notice this first thing.

3. The collar band is all lumpy with little bumps that no matter how hard you try to trim out are still there, up until the time you trim so closely you open up the seam.

4. The shapes of the curves at the ends of the band are different. One may be OK but if it is, the price you have paid for this is that the other one is all wobbly. You know one end of the band is a curve and the other one sort of squarish.

5. Topstitching around the collar band is next to impossible. See #3, bumps, and #4, different shapes. Despite your blood pressure doubling, yourself squinting, and all the advice you have read about hump jumpers and cardboard templates under your belt, and despite trying really, really hard and going slow, by the end of it you are pretty sure your stitching looks like the dog did it.

6. When you are finished you notice that you missed a bit and there is some unstitched, frayed fabric hanging out of the end of the collar.

7.  You also notice too that the collar band doesn't line up quite with the edge of the front plackets, like the shirts hanging in your husband's closet all do.

Finally, and this is the most important thing to my mind, the whole process is just no fun. 

It's sewing, which you love, but there is nothing to enjoy here. You already have your seam ripper handy.

No one can do this you decide, or  - the one thing I don't want any sewer to ever think - they just must be better at sewing that you are.

You feel powerless. 

You may even have trimmed the seam allowances to 1/4" like the experts said you should to make it easier. You may even have trimmed them again to 1/8" like they advised, right up to the point your seam frayed away. 

You tried really hard to do what you were told.

But who really can make this work while those tiny bits of fabric disappear under a moving needle, where you no longer can see them, and over moving feed dogs, while you try to rotate an entire shirt (worse still if it is stuffed burrito style into the collar - take about lumps and bumps)?

Well I can tell you not a lot of people can make a success of all of this. And certainly not folks who only sew shirts every now and then. And particularly not those  trying to make a shirt on December 23 for someone they really love.

So what is a person to do?

Try an easier way.

And I will show you that tomorrow.

Deal?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Sewing shirts, the stress free way




I have a folder on the desktop of my laptop called "Stress free sewing." In it I put all my ideas on how to put clothes together in the most laid back way possible. I have had an idea that this would be a good book someday, but I doubt if any one would publish it.

It takes a real garment sewer, maybe not a publisher, to understand how much stress sewing the complicated way can be, and how important it is to discover a way to do the most challenging jobs in ways that are relaxing.

But then again I have you.

I sew a lot of shirts for the men in my family.  I love them but I don't always find the process that easy. Men are so much more particular than women. Maybe this is because they have only a few categories of clothing, shirts pants and tee shirts for example, and so have time to get really precise about preferences. I know my four year old grandson already has a long list of things he doesn't wear - unlike his sisters who will wear any outfit providing it involves at least four different prints and sparkles somewhere. 

Over time I have figured it out. I know who wants their short sleeves 1/4" shorter, and who wants them a 1/4" longer. I know who has the largest neck and the longest arms. And who doesn't. It has taken my a few years but the fits and preferences are in the memory bank.

Which leaves me with technique.

I want to make these shirts without fussing around with them. So here are some of the techniques, all the work arounds I do to minimize mistakes and extra effort. It might take me a few blog posts to do it all but for a start tonight I will talk about this shirt and the tools that helped me make it.

This is my son-in-law again. I used to always say he was nicer to me than my own children until they told me not to say that any more, but really he is. I made this shirt out of a really light chambray so he would wear it to work or someplace in the hotter weather:



His 6'5" and I think I got the length right, for the untucked look.

Since the fabric was so fine I definitely didn't want a fusible interfacing so I used a sewn-in that I basted to both the collars and collar bands - I always interface both so they behave the same way when I sew them together. I don't sweat it and just use a big basting stitch to do this:


I keep the stitches big to just hold because after I stitch the pieces together it is quick to just pull the basting out and then trim the interfacing really close to the stitching line with my duck bill scissors.

The other thing I had to think about with this fabric was topstitching. I always figure it is really important to keep things to scale. A thin fabric meant I really had to topstitch close the all edges - edge stitch really- to match the fineness of the fabric.

However since I was committed to stress free construction I pulled out the edge stitching foot that gives me such a nice big ridge to keep on the edges of fabric - so even if my mind wandered, and it always does, my stitching wouldn't. Here is the picture of that foot, although my actual foot is an older version Bernina foot, same idea:


 And here are some topstitching samples, that show absolutely more accuracy than I could myself produce  with an ordinary foot without considerable stress being added to my stress- free experience:


Front shirt placket

The other tool that I considerate frustration reducing is a straight stitch foot. 

One of the most annoying things that can happen when you start a seam of course is that the fabric gets pushed down that wide space in the throat plate that is there to accommodate the swing of the zig-zag foot. The straight stitch foot reduces that area and really stabilizes the stitching area as a result, which makes for nicer stitch quality too:

Of course I don't need to tell you not to zig zag with this foot.
So that's a beginning on my low stress shirt making. Tomorrow why don't we talk about collars and the dreaded collar stand?  I have touched on this in the blog before but I think I have better pictures now and easy is always worth repeating.