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Category Archives: Advice & Tips

Sewing Hors d’Oeuvres

Since social media moves fast and things often get completely missed or quickly buried in the constant flow, I’ve decided to assemble some of the miscellaneous sewing tips I’ve shared on Instagram and publish them together in a single blog post. That way it’s a little easier for you to link, find, and reference later.

So whether you missed them before or just forgot about them (some of these are over a year old!), I hope you savor these quick tidbits! Enjoy! =)

Copy-Instead-of-Trace-PatternsYou might recall that I like to trace sewing patterns (especially the vintage ones) to preserve the original. But I also like to use my printer to copy the pieces that are small enough to fit on a page or two.

Sharpening-Hole-PunchYou can sharpen any kind of metal paper-punch by punching through aluminum foil. Punching through wax paper also helps if a punch is sticking.

Interfaced-Sewing-PatternMy friend discovered that fusible interfacing ironed to the back of a favorite and frequently used sewing pattern makes it much more durable.

Cutting-Fur-FabricWhen cutting fake fur fabric, cut from the back and cut only the backing. That way you aren’t cutting any of the long fur and you can easily cover the seams in the end.

Sewing-Fur-FabricAfter some trial and error, I recently determined that pins on the bottom help when sewing fur fabric. Sew with a zig-zag stitch so it’s easier to pick the fur on the front to cover the seams after.

Spray-n-BondSpray-n-Bond is my new favorite thing! It was the only way I could appliqué stretch crushed velvet on top of another layer of stretch crushed velvet without it shifting all over the place. It even made using a walking foot unnecessary!

Removing-Beads-from-Seam-AllowanceRemove beads from the seam allowance by smashing them with a hammer. This will keep all the beading threads intact so the beads you leave on the outside don’t become loose and fall off as easily. (Protect your eyes! Wear safety glasses when pounding beads!)

Easing-with-PinsEase with pins. (You don’t need to use gathering stitches to help with easing!) I do this all the time and with all ungathered sleeve caps. Pin both ends, then pin the midpoint, and keep pinning the “middles” until you have the ease distributed evenly.

Gathering-Zigzag-Over-ThreadWhen you need to gather tightly or are using a thick fabric and you’re afraid of breaking a thread when you pull the gather, zig-zag over nylon or upholstery thread (or even dental floss!). You can then pull the stronger thread without fear of it snapping off mid-gather. Just be sure to secure the other end to the fabric or knot it to another row of gathering stitches.

If you have a presser foot with a hole for stitching over cord or trim as pictured above, it’s even easier.

Baste-Stitchline-for-GuidelineSew a stitchline to follow when seam allowances are different widths or uneven. This is especially helpful when attaching bias tape without pins. (Larger stitchline at far right was for basting two layers of fabric together.)

Use-Cone-Thread-Without-Thread-StandA domestic sewing machine rigged to feed cone thread without a cone stand. You can use a roll of tape or a mug to hold the cone.

Topstitching-Stitch-GuideCreate a topstitching guide with painters tape for things like a fly-front zipper. (It took me until the third pair of pants to remember this trick!)

Serging-Tail-FinishWhen you have a serged edge that isn’t crossed by perpendicular stitching or serging, tuck the thread tail under the serging using a large needle to prevent it from unraveling.

How-to-Flatten-Plastic-BoningYou can flatten curly plastic boning by ironing it and using steam. Just make sure to iron it in the fabric casing or under a piece of fabric to prevent melting.

Sewing-Button-with-Thread-ShankUse a small knitting needle under a button when you need to sew a thread shank. Makes for an even and pretty shank once you pull the knitting needle out to wrap the thread.

Sewing-Snaps-on-CenterSnaps have holes in the center for a reason! Mark a center dot on your fabric and pin straight through for perfect placement while sewing.

Handsew-with-Loop-Instead-of-KnotAnd finally, my favorite way to handsew, especially buttons – put both ends of the thread through the needle eye and catch the loop after making the first stitch. No knot!

This is particularly helpful when sewing on net or loosely woven fabric when a knot won’t catch and stay.

*****

Do you have any favorite quick sewing tips to add? Share and/or link to them in the comments!

How I Mark & Sew Darts

Over on Instagram, lots of us who sew have tons of fun sharing what we’re currently working on and cheering each other on. Sometimes, I get comments asking for more details and photo examples.

Recently, I was asked how I mark and sew darts.

Since I had a mockup with a lot of darts in line for my next project, I posted the step-by-step as I built the mockup. It seemed popular, so I thought some of you who may have missed it on IG would like to see it as a blog post tutorial. =)

1-Marking-Darts

First, cut-notch each leg at edge of fabric. (Obviously, you can’t do this with darts that aren’t at the edge of a seam.)

2-Marking-Dart-Points

Put a pin through each dart point before unpinning the pattern piece. Unpin pattern, open to fabric wrong side & mark dot with pencil, chalk or whatever works on the fabric you are using.

3-Marking-Dart-Legs

For straight darts, line a ruler up with marked dot & notch at edge and use Clover Chaco Liner or a pencil to draw legs.

4-Marking-Curved-Dart

For curved darts, you can put pins thru at intervals down each leg and dot mark same as points.

5-Connect-Dots-with-French-Curve

Use a french curve to connect the dots. (You can line up french curve on paper pattern & then place on fabric to make sure curve matches.)

6-Pinning-Darts

Start pinning at dart point (about a mm from dot). Weave pins through 4x, and make sure to go through the lines on both sides. Second, pin at notched edge to help fold dart evenly. Then continue weaving pins through from point to notched edge (right to left).

7-Darts-Pinned-and-Ready-to-Sew

I like assembly-line dart sewing. Do you think this vintage pattern from 1959 has enough darts??

8-Starting-Dart

Hand crank needle into end of dart right through marked line and remove first pin.

9-Removing-Pins-while-Sewing-Darts

Stitch directly on marked line. Guide fabric with left hand and hold next pin head with right hand, allowing the machine to pull each pin out as you go.

10-Nearing-End-of-Dart-Point

Reduce stitch length when close to end point of dart.

11-Finishing-Dart-at-Point

I like to stitch off the edge of fabric at point and usually backstitch inside of previous stitchline. Sometimes I just stitch off and hand knot thread ends – it depends on project & fabric.

12-Darts-Ready-to-Press

Pull out a tailor’s ham and start pressing all those stitched darts. Yay done! Time to start actual construction…

And in case you’re curious, this is the pattern (pencil skirt version) I was using for my mockup:

1959_Dress_McCalls-4993

If you ever have a sewing dilemma, feel free to leave a comment, ask me by email or find me on Twitter or Instagram – I’d love to help out if I can!

Swatch It Burn

Have you ever wanted to know the fabric content of some unidentified yardage?  Well, pull out a lighter, light a candle, and figure out what that mystery fabric is!

A group of us on Twitter meet every Friday at 4pm EST/3pm CST using the hashtag #FabricChat to spend an hour talking about a pre-decided topic relating to fabric and sewing. (Join us! You can tweet along or just follow silently; but either way, we’d love to have you there!)

Today the topic was fabric fiber content and burn testing, so I made a few videos on Instagram yesterday in preparation.

I was going to include a fabric burn-test chart from some of my costuming books, but Threads Magazine eerily posted a good printable chart just a couple of days ago. (Have they been following all of the Sewcialist conversations on Twitter to get ideas?)

So below are 8 short video examples of common fabrics aglow, followed by a photo of each fabric after being burned. It was a bit like science lab. =)

Cotton

Smells like a campfire (leaves and paper) while burning.

Burning #fabric for #fabricchat tomorrow. #cotton #burntest

A post shared by Brooke Wilkerson (@sewbrooke) on

Cotton fabric after being burned.

Silk

Stinks like burning hair or feathers.

Burning #silk. #fabric #burntest #fabricchat

A post shared by Brooke Wilkerson (@sewbrooke) on

Silk fabric after being burned.

Linen

More campfire smell.

#burntest for #linen #fabric. #fabricchat

A post shared by Brooke Wilkerson (@sewbrooke) on

Linen fabric after being burned.

Wool

Smells even worse than silk. Really strong burning hair smell.  Like Bantha fodder.

#wool #fabric #burntest for #fabricchat

A post shared by Brooke Wilkerson (@sewbrooke) on

Wool fabric after being burned.

Polyester

Has a slightly sweet chemical smell. It is man-made after all.

#fabric #burntest for #polyester. #fabricchat

A post shared by Brooke Wilkerson (@sewbrooke) on

Polyester fabric after being burned.

Spandex

Melts more than burns. Has a bitter chemical odor.  Attracts nosy little dogs.

#spandex #fabric #burntest for #fabricchat. (And my #dog Wensley the #jrt #jackrussell )

A post shared by Brooke Wilkerson (@sewbrooke) on

Spandex fabric after being burned.

Cotton-polyester Blend

Not usually included on a burn chart, but I wanted to see how it behaved in comparison to cotton and polyester separately. Blends are usually the hardest to identify because they burn in such a variety of combinations.

#fabric #burntest for a #cottonpoly for #fabricchat

A post shared by Brooke Wilkerson (@sewbrooke) on

I find it interesting that the cotton-poly ignited so quickly. The melting polyester seemed to hasten the cotton’s burn time. Instead of slowly burning into an afterglow as cotton does, it just shriveled up in a fast flame in the metal pan. The burned fabric became both brittle ash and hard plastic at the same time.

Cotton-polyester fabric after being burned.

So if your “cotton” fabric curls up as it burns and smells a little sweet, there’s a good chance it contains some polyester.

Wool-polyester Blend

Since I knew what it was, I decided to see how this blend burned. It was nasty smelling. Eww ick. Like Solo’s tauntaun. Probably the worst smelling of everything I burned.

One last #burntest for #fabricchat - #wool-poly #fabric

A post shared by Brooke Wilkerson (@sewbrooke) on

The wool-poly melted on the edge and on the bottom where it was touching the flame. Definitely smelled like a wool but melted like a polyester.

Wool-polyester after being burned.

And Katie of Kadiddlehopper was able to make some videos of the fabrics I didn’t have in my stash. She filmed the following examples of acetate, rayon, acrylic and nylon burning. (Thanks so much, Katie!)

Acetate

Smells like vinegar when burned. Melts and burns.

Rayon and Tencel

Both burn similar to cotton because they are semi-synthetic. They are what I call the “bologna” of fabric because they’re processed from wood pulp. Thus, they also smell like campfire.

Acrylic

Sputters and melts as it burns. It has a chemical smell similar to broiled fish.

Nylon

Melts but doesn’t really burn. When I burned some white nylon I had at one time, I remember it not even turning black. It just melted into a hard plastic. It smells like celery or boiling green beans.

Hopefully, you found the video examples of the burn tests useful and will now be able to better identify some of those mystery fabrics in your stash.  Like that sample of uniform from that army officer of Gilder.

Burned fabrics in the cup of water I used to dispose of the scraps during the test.

Next Friday’s #FabricChat topic is “how to paint fabric” if you’d like to join in. Sadly, I will be working, but I look forward to reading the archived chat on Leila’s blog.

Inset Point Sewing Tutorial

Sewing inset geometric shapes like rectangles & triangles (aka godets) can be intimidating and confusing at first glance, but they are nothing to be afraid of!

You can see examples of point sewing in some of the dresses I made for my sister’s ‘30s style wedding (my dress specifically, which is also pictured here, along with a copper skirt involving some crazy points set into gathering); in the envelope art on many of my favorite vintage ‘50s patterns in my collection; on the front skirt of my navy ‘40s dress; and most noticably (because of the contrasting fabrics) in my Stars & Stripes skirt. (Is it obvious that point sewing is one of my personal favorite sewing challenges?)

You need to completely disregard pattern instructions when it comes to point sewing, because they just make it more complicated than necessary. I’ll demonstrate the simplest way to sew inset points with a short picture guide, and you might even find yourself drawn to the challenge of point sewing!

I recently took some photos of the process of point sewing while demonstrating it to a friend, who was making herself a dress using retro Butterick 5708, which has a V-shaped seam pointing down under the bust in both front and back.

Technical line drawing of Butterick 5708.

In most situations, it’s best to first stitch together any straight seams that join to a pointed piece. I find it easiest and the most likely to produce a precise point in the end.

Straight seams stitched on the mockup first.
Red thread used for better visual.

Press seam open and mark match points. (Once you start practicing and have begun to master point sewing, you may not need to mark the match points every time.)

And this is the key to point sewing: Do not try to sew the point as one continuous seam! Treat each point as two separate seams and always start from in the middle at the point.

Just knowing that will save you hours of frustration. =)

Match points marked with dots.
(I used a dark marker for illustration purposes.)

Pin through the dots to match the points.

Pinning through the match points.

Then pin out from the point for the rest of one edge.

Pinned and ready to stitch.

Start sewing right on the dot at the point.

Hand-crank the needle down right on the dot and then remove pin to start sewing the seam.

First half of point stitched.

Remove any stitches above the dot on the pressed open seam that was stitched first. If pattern does not have a seam lining up with the point, clip to dot to spread fabric for pinning to second half of inset point.

Clip to point, spread, and pin second half of pointed seam.

I find that most times at this stage, it’s easiest to flip the pieces over and sew from the other side – once again starting at the point. (However, I sometimes decide to end the second half at the point. It really just depends on the fabric and how it is behaving.)

Starting stitch at the point again.

Completely stitched point. Wrong sides both front and back.

Point sewn and seam allowance pressed down, following direction of point.

And there you have it – a nice sharp inset point!

The same method also works with more complex shapes like a T-shaped yoke (illustrated in views A & B of this vintage pattern). Just start at a point and stitch each edge in separate steps.

But remember: there are no real rules in sewing! There’s always more than one way to do something – some ways are just easier than others. =)

(By the way, my friend finished her dress and her inset points turned out beautifully! If I ever get a photo, I’ll update the post to include it.)

If you ever have a sewing dilemma, feel free to leave a comment, ask me by email or find me on Twitter – I’d love to help out if I can!

Tracing Sewing Patterns

I promise that my Easter dress post will be next! I’m presently weeding through all the photos for it. =)

In the meantime, I feel I need to write a post about pattern tracing and the wonderful paper I recently discovered since so many sewcialists have been asking me about it over on Twitter. Seems that everyone was looking for the perfect way to trace patterns at the same time and I just happened to find the answer right before they started asking! (Weird how things like that happen…)

I have always tried to trace sewing patterns especially if they are vintage patterns! That way I can alter and make design changes without losing the original, and I can keep all the sizes when a pattern is drafted in multiple sizes all nested together.

(I also cheat a bit and use my printer/copier/scanner to make copies of many of the small pieces. And I’ve even been known to copy the big pattern pieces in sections and tape them together.)

My previous pattern tracing method involved rolls of craft paper (white or brown). Craft paper is best for pattern drafting from scratch, but it is a pain when you want to trace something because you can’t see through it. To trace a pattern, I would have to place my pattern on top of the paper and use a tracing wheel to punch little dotted lines into the paper. Then I would need to go back and mark over the dots with a pencil. It was like tracing everything twice and it took for-ev-ER!

So I started hunting for a roll of thinner paper that was more see-through.

I couldn’t find anything sheer enough in wide widths in my local craft stores. Thus, I began searching online.

First, I found this 36-inch wide roll of vellum tracing paper by Pro Art brand. I added it to my wishlist and received some for Christmas. It is wonderful stuff, but it’s a bit pricey and only comes in a 5-yard roll, which doesn’t last very long. I plan to use it for patterns I need to use a million times. (It’s actually what I used to trace the vintage pattern I started with for my Easter dress, and you can see it in this post.)

My search for more affordable tracing paper continued.

And then I found it! Same brand as the tracing vellum but it’s actual tracing paper. I didn’t see it in my original searches because you have to click the 12-inch wide roll link to see that you can get it in all sorts of widths. Pick your width up to 36-inches and pick your length from 8 yards to 50 yards! (I like the 36-inch wide.)

Here’s a photo I posted to Instagram when I first got my roll (you can see how nice and sheer the paper is):

It’s exactly what I’ve always wanted – affordable, thicker than tissue; thin enough to see-through; relatively strong so it doesn’t rip too easily; and marks well with pencil, pen, or marker! Just what every serious sewist or sewcialist needs. =)

If you ever have a sewing dilemma, feel free to leave a comment, ask me by email or find me on Twitter – I’d love to help out if I can!

Transferring Fitting Marks from Mockup to Pattern

I’ve had a couple requests for a tutorial of sorts about how to transfer the fitting marks from a mockup (aka muslin or toile) to the paper sewing pattern. So since I’m in the process of making my Easter dress for this year and the pattern needed a lot of tweaking to be what I want, it was the perfect time to take some photo examples. =)

I’m currently working at The Dallas Opera (helping to build fun 19th century costumes!), so I was able to have my coworker Traci help me fit my mockup during part of a lunch break. Really convenient since the pattern needed more work than I could easily fit on myself alone! Thanks, Traci!

Behold, the truly flattering (*sarcasm*) before & after fitting photos:

Before: Ick. Just a bad fit all around.
After: Lots of pins and Sharpie markings!

Mockups aren’t meant to look pretty. They are meant to be drawn all over and pinched and pinned and then cut up. This is why my fabric choice was a cheapy bedsheet – nothing pretty because I knew I would be throwing it away in the end. I never plan to save or use a mockup once it has served its purpose. If the pieces are big enough, I might cut it up and use the fabric for another mockup later (this fabric was actually left over from Camille’s wedding dress mockup).

2Marked-Up-Muslin-Mockup

Marked and pinned mockup after fitting.

There was a pinch taken out of the neckline to eliminate a gap. Tucks were taken out of the side front pieces for a better fit at the bust. Some of the flare was removed from the skirt. The princess seams were moved inward a bit and the neckline was widened slightly at the edges for a more pleasing shape (these adjustments were mainly made to match a photo of the dress I’m copying).

And here’s how I transferred all those marks to my pattern:

First step was to cut right on the new line for the princess seams in the front, cut off the sleeve following drawn armseye, and rip the stitches out of the shoulder seam – all so the mockup could be opened up and traced onto the paper pattern.

3New-Seamline-Cut

Mockup cut on new seamlines. Notice that it was only necessary to mark one side with new lines because I am (for the most part) symmetrical.

The cut mockup was placed on the center front piece and aligned with the pattern’s top line of the bust dart, shoulder seam, and center front. The new lines were traced onto the paper following the mockup at the neck, armseye, and down to top of dart.

4Transferring-New-Seams-to-Pattern

Mockup lined up on pattern for tracing new lines.

Then the mockup was shifted down to line up with the bottom line of the dart on the pattern and the rest of the new seam was traced.

5Changing-Seams-on-Pattern

New seamline ready for tracing onto paper pattern.

To eliminate the gapping neck in the front, I measured from the top safety pin to the edge of dart.

6a-Measuring-Amount-Pinched-from-Neckline

Measuring pinched amount at neckline.

I forgot to take one photo at this point (but finished alteration is seen in next couple of pictures). To remove that fabric from the pattern without changing the straight center front line (because it’s cut on a fold), I drew a line perpendicular to the neckline and down to a random point on the side seam.

Then the newly drawn line is cut almost all the way down to the side seam – only a tiny point is left attached. And the paper is overlapped the measured amount at the neck (in a V-shape) and taped.

7Neckline-Gap-Adjusted

Altered pattern piece with all mockup markings transferred.

8Adding-Seam-Allowance

Seam allowances are added following the new seam lines.

9Altered-Pattern-Piece

Final corrected pattern piece including seam allowances.

To add the new seamlines on the side front pattern piece, I needed to extend the paper so scraps were taped down the length of pattern.

10Extending-Pattern-Piece

Side front pattern piece with paper added to edge.

The mockup was lined up with the paper pattern and pinned down to the table (eventually, I plan to make my cutting table’s surface pinnable too!) and the front edge was traced.

I traced the new side seam (new because of the tuck taken out of the center of the piece) using a tracing wheel, but you can also use a pin to poke a line of holes through the seam and into the paper.

12Dots-Punched-in-Pattern

Dotted line on pattern made from tracing the mockup’s side seam with the tracing wheel. Seam allowances were added out from dotted line.

13Matching-Side-Seams

New skirt seam line matched on side front piece using center front pattern piece (seam allowance already included).

There were only a couple tiny tweaks to the back pattern pieces. I will adjust the center back seam in a final fitting and then insert my zipper accordingly. (It will probably be a bigger seam allowance.)

14Altered-Paper-Pattern

Corrected pattern with alterations made. That is one strangely curving side front piece – but it hangs straight when it’s on my body!

Altered patterns always look a little weird because they are no longer “standard”. Learn to trust your mockup markings and ignore the unusual look of the corrected pattern on paper and your real garment will fit properly in the end. (And you can always make a second mockup just to be sure!)

I hope this photo walk-through is helpful! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments of this post. =)

Now that my pattern is altered, my real Easter dress fabric (and underlining fabric) is cut and ready to assemble! (See the finished dress in this post.)

Linen-Fabric-&Underlining-Cut

Self-dyed linen in a pale orange – sort of a melon color.

Sewing Tip: Fusible Interfacing Shortcuts

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks frantically sewing some custom cheer uniforms for a local football team’s dancers. It was a lot of crazy detail work in the end and I’m just glad it’s over now. (Thank you to all my new Twitter friends for “cheering” me on during this project!)

During the uniform madness, I did manage to take a few pictures and mentally note some sewing tips I have for interfacing.

Before I continue with my shortcuts, let me just point out that this is NOT a post about which type of interfacing is best for different types of fabrics. That would require a whole post or two on just that topic and there would still be experimenting required for each individual project.

If you really want a good overview and chart about interfacing, my favorite go-to sewing book is Vogue Sewing. It is for sewing what The Joy of Cooking cookbook is for cooking, and includes information about all the sewing basics you would probably ever want to reference. If you want just one sewing reference book on your shelf, it is the one I would recommend.

That being said, I do have some interfacing tips, especially if you are making cuffs and collars.

If you’ve ever followed the instructions included with a sewing pattern, you’ve probably cut your fabric and interfacing separately using the pattern pieces. And then, you’ve probably had the fun task of trying to line up the two in order to fuse the pieces together.

And the edges of the two layers always shift around don’t they? Super annoying.

There are two ways to prevent the shifting and fusing frustration.

One way is to cut only the interfacing pieces using your pattern. Then you fuse those to your yardage of fabric and then cut your fabric around the fused interfacing. This works best with the non-woven or non-knit interfacings because they hold their cut shape better.

The second way is to block-fuse (or pre-fuse) large strips of interfacing to your fabric before cutting either of them with your pattern, essentially creating a large piece of backed fabric.

I had 11 collars and 22 cuffs to make for the cheer uniforms, so I took it one step further. Not only did I block-fuse my interfacing, I traced my cuffs and collar pieces directly onto the interfacing using a pencil.

I did not include seam allowance on my pattern pieces, so the pencil line was my actual stitch line. This meant I was able to rough cut my pieces without measuring any seam allowances and then stitch directly on my pencil lines.

Cuffs were traced on the pre-fused interfacing and then roughly cut out and pinned back to back with another unmarked piece of pre-interfaced fabric.

After stitching, I trimmed my seam allowances down and clipped the curves.

This was the first curve I clipped and I was so tired that I goofed – I didn’t need to cut V’s around a curve going this direction. I made the others by just cutting single clips once I realized my mistake.

Then I ironed all my seams open with the help of my point presser with clapper to make turning easier and to insure crisp edges.

Ironing seams open with the point presser.

I followed the same steps for the collars with only one difference because I clean finished both the inside and the outside of the Mandarin style collar. (For this project, I chose not to finish my cuffs in this way mainly because of bulk & the need for speed.)

Before stitching the front to the back, I basted the bottom edge of the collar on the stitchline and pressed it up. This makes it easier to attach to the neckline later because one half is already neatly turned inward.

Bottom seam basted and pressed up on half of the collar
before both layers are stitched together.

And after I made my pile of cuffs and collars (oops! forgot to take a photo of the pile), I was able to attach them to all the uniforms.

One uniform top with cuffs & collar attached.

And one last interfacing tip. There’s a really easy way to clean any fusing residue off your iron. Grab a used dryer sheet from your laundry room and simply iron over it a few times. It should remove any glue & stickiness left on your iron and it will smell like clean laundry. =)

If you ever have a sewing dilemma, feel free to leave a comment, ask me by email or find me on Twitter – I’d love to help out if I can!

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