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Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic
Hi there! Remember me?
Since this year is strange and shocking in so many ways, I figured I would just add to the unexpected by actually sitting down at my computer to write a blog post! I hope all is well with you and you’ve found ways to make the most of life while everything seems to be stuck in limbo.
(If you’re curious what I’ve been up to for the past 5 years, you can surf my Instagram account. Teaser: I had my hands inside Dior dresses at a museum install last year!)
My seasonal full-time Opera Costume Shop work started back up as usual in February (after a two-month hiatus), and then a month later, a virus had shut the world down. It was a really good thing the shipment of locked costume hampers was late to arrive for the last big rented show of the season – since we never opened them, we didn’t have to do a complete inventory before sending it all back! As it was, we were able to walk away after doing a few weeks of in-house stock reorganizing & cleaning when the rest of the season was officially canceled.
As weird as life is for a lot of people this year, I’ve found that not much has changed for me personally. I’m used to long undefined breaks between jobs, and I was an expert in social distancing before it was cool. (My husband, thankfully, is able to work from home and he’s been busier than ever.) I found a few sewing projects to keep myself occupied with, and I can’t express how happy I am that I invested in a brand-new industrial straight-stitch Juki last summer! It has been soooo nice to have my “work” machine at home this year!
I made a few rainbow color-spectrum swirl skirts – one for myself, 2 have sold, and 3 have yet to sell. I also made 3 other swirl skirts (I’m calling them “color swipe swirl skirts”). I’ve claimed one for myself, but I still have 2 more for sale. Using up lots of fabric I already had for these!
If I ever get around to it, I’ll put them in my Etsy shop (I set it up years ago and have yet to list anything!) unless someone claims them before I list them. Email me if you’re interested in details.
Then I ended up drafting my own multi-sized face mask pattern because I had non-sewing friends who needed masks for work, and were having difficulty finding any that fit well:
Soon after that, I was making masks for family in Michigan:
And then I had a flash of brilliance to make my 5 year-old nephew a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mask (of course, I wanted one for myself too):
And then it morphed into a few commissioned TMNT masks – mostly for adults:
Some people sent me photos:
Fast forward to the end of summer when there doesn’t appear to be an end to the mask requirements, and I was inspired when I saw Jen’s craft foam mask frame on Epbot.
A mask that keeps everything away from your nose and month so you don’t feel like you’re eating it when you talk – yes, please! Being able to wear chapstick underneath is the cherry on top.
Here’s Jen’s full video tutorial:
I printed out her template, made a few modifications, slightly adjusted my self-drafted mask pattern to be the perfect fabric cover for it. I also graded the frame pattern to fit all my other mask sizes.
Click the link below to download the pdf of my modified version of Jen’s frame and patterns for all sizes with fabric covers:
Print it out and mask some of your own!
I’ve been sewing my craft foam. It’s faster and less messy than gluing. Jen wrote a second post about sewing the frames after I told her how I did it.
Here’s how I sew craft foam face masks:
I stitch mine from the outside (side where the metal nose wire is stuck) and let it cup up around the back of the machine as I sew the seam. Then I carefully turn it right side out starting at the bottom edge. That way, the feed-dog tracks end up on the inside.
The metal nose wire can then be carefully curved over your finger (don’t just bend it in half without a curve). I use stick-on nose wires instead of a paperclip sandwiched between two layers of craft foam.
If the bottom edge is a little bit off after stitching, you can trim the foam with paper scissors to even it up.
Some colors of craft foam stick to a regular metal presser foot more than other colors do. If you find that the foam isn’t feeding though your machine very well and at the right speed (stitches are really close together), use a Teflon/non-stick foot or put a piece of Scotch tape (the invisible “magic” kind) on the bottom of your regular foot. If your machine has the ability to reduce the presser foot pressure, that can also help.
I’ve been using either Kam snaps (this is the off-brand snap kit I have) or Velcro to attach the frames to the fabric mask covers. That way I can make mine with ear loops or around-the-head elastic. (See Jen’s video above for another style option using eyelets and removable around-the-head elastic.)
If you order packs of craft foam, you’ll need to air them out for a couple days by spreading them out. My living room smelled like a shoe store for a few days, but that goes away once the foam has been unwrapped for a while.
You will also need to test each color of craft foam to see if it bleeds! I found that only hot pink, royal blue, and dark purple (the worst!) bleed when soaked in hot water. If your foam bleeds in hot water, it will also bleed color onto your face when you wear it.
I sealed the craft foam with an iron set to “cotton blend” like Jen’s video shows. It gets a little stiffer and shinier when you seal it:
For my fabric covers, I sew the center front seams of both the outer fabric and lining fabric, Then I stitch the seam allowances down on both sides of the seam. No need to press the seam open with an iron because the machine will do that as you stitch.
If you want a nose wire pocket on the fabric cover, here’s the photo step-by-step of how I do that:
Then sew the outside to the lining (right sides together) at the top and bottom. Leave the sides open and turn through one of them. After turning, edge-stitch the top and bottom.
Fold and press ¼” to ⅜” to the inside on both sides. Then fold in another 1” and press. This will be the casings for elastic. Attach snaps or Velcro before sewing the casings down.
To save time, pre-make ear loop elastics (cut them around 9½” or so) and put them on before stitching the last seams. If the elastic ends up being too long, you can just re-knot it to fit the person wearing the mask. And the knot can be rotated to hide in the casing.
You can even make the mask frames to wear loose under disposable masks or others you already have.
Craft foam frames can be hand-washed with soap & water as needed. Fabric covers can be washed & dried as normal laundry (just make sure you preshrink any fabric before making the covers).
And now on to new things besides face masks…
The Sewing Sphere is the place to go if you’re looking to escape the frustrating algorithms and hang out with others who sew. It’s not all sewing, and it feels so much more connected in real-time than other social media platforms. It’s free to join – you can see posts and give “thumbs up” to posts you like. If you’d like to participate in comments and posting, you have to subscribe (help support what I do!) for a minimum of $2/month. I’ll be coming up with new things and sharing special content there. Come help me grow it into a great community – free from trolls & spam!
This summer, I’ve also been learning to tambour bead from my friend and fellow costumer Janet Gershenfeld, who was trained by the ladies who beaded Michael Jackson’s iconic glove! We have plans to offer couture beading services in the near future. I just need to finish building our website and we need to take care of a few boring business-y things.
This crazy year has given me the time to consider multiple career directions, and I’m looking forward to what the future brings!
I hope we don’t need masks much longer, but if we do, maybe my pattern and photos will help you build some you don’t mind wearing all day! And if you don’t sew and would like to commission some craft foam frames and/or fabric covers, email me.
Now that I’ve dusted off my blog a little, we’ll see if I can manage to post a little more regularly again. I really need to give it an overall freshening up!
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! =)
You 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.
Spray-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!
Remove 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!)
Ease 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.
When 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.
Sew 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.)
Create 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!)
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!
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. =)
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.)
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.
For straight darts, line a ruler up with marked dot & notch at edge and use Clover Chaco Liner or a pencil to draw legs.
For curved darts, you can put pins thru at intervals down each leg and dot mark same as points.
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.)
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).
I like assembly-line dart sewing. Do you think this vintage pattern from 1959 has enough darts??
Hand crank needle into end of dart right through marked line and remove first pin.
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.
Reduce stitch length when close to end point of dart.
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.
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:
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. =)
Smells like a campfire (leaves and paper) while burning.
Stinks like burning hair or feathers.
More campfire smell.
Smells even worse than silk. Really strong burning hair smell. Like Bantha fodder.
Has a slightly sweet chemical smell. It is man-made after all.
Melts more than burns. Has a bitter chemical odor. Attracts nosy little dogs.
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.
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.
So if your “cotton” fabric curls up as it burns and smells a little sweet, there’s a good chance it contains some polyester.
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.
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.
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!)
Smells like vinegar when burned. Melts and burns.
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.
Sputters and melts as it burns. It has a chemical smell similar to broiled fish.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. =)
Pin through the dots to match the points.
Then pin out from the point for the rest of one edge.
Start sewing right on the dot at the point.
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.
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.)
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.)
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. =)
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:
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).
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.
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.
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.
To eliminate the gapping neck in the front, I measured from the top safety pin to the edge of dart.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.)