Use ballpoint needles, this will fix a multitude of problems. Use size 11 for lightweight fabrics, size 14 for medium weightfabrics and size 16 for heavy fabrics
Lighten pressure on the presser foot so the top and bottom fabric feed together
Use a longer stitch length, 8 to 10 stitches per inch, longer for topstitchinu
If you are using a regular sewing machine, stretch the fabric in front and back of the presser foot as you sew5.
Sergers are great for knits, but not necessary. Knits do not ravel, so the seams do not even need to be finished. You can pink the edges or zigzag if you wish
Use twill tape or seam binding to stabilize shoulder seams. (Sew tape into the shoulder seam.)
I usually prewash knits, but sometimes I construct the garment first and make sure I have plenty of length, then I wash and dry it and finally, hem. Knits usually don’t shrink much in width but they can shrink quite a lot in length
To hem knits use a deep hem–1 1/2″ – 2″ to help the garment hang better. Lengthen the stitch legnth to a short baste. Topstitch, holding fabric taught in front and back of presser foot. Stitch again 3/8″ from first stitching
To achieve the best results in tailored jackets and coats, know your limitations! Don’t try to make a fully tailored jacket in a light weight, light colored fabric; the inside structure is sure to show through. Fabrics with texture and subtle pattern are most forgiving. Natural fibers are easiest to press and that is half the battle of a beautifully made garment. If you have trouble with welt pockets, make a “fake” flap and skip the pocket. If you can’t topstitch straight, skip it. Some details are worth the extra time they take: Understitch seams wherever you can. Add mitered corners to reduce bulk. Hand tape roll lines so lapels fall correctly. Grade each fabric layer in seam allowances. Use a damp press cloth for crisp seams (use a seam roll to prevent seam allowance show through).
My favorite tailoring book: Easy, Easier, Easiest Tailoring by Pati Palmer and Susan Pletsch
I know fabric in ready to wear garments is not preshrunk, so I never preshrink. So far, I’ve never had a problem. If this makes you nervous, have fabric steam pressed or dry cleaned before you start
Steam fusible interfacing before fusing– place interfacing, resin side down on fabric, hold steaming iron 1-2″ above interfacing for 5-10 seconds. Watch it shrink!
Use Easy Knit to underline all pattern pieces; this keeps edges of interfacing and hand stitches from showing through. It adds body and some bulk to fashion fabric. Mark darts on the Easy Knit, cut out the dart, and fuse. This marks the dart perfectly on the fabric and reduces bulk in the dart
For a softly tailored garment, a la Armani, use the Easy Knit method above and very lightweight interfacing
For a perfect sleeve cap: Cut a bias strip 1 1/2″ wide and 12″ long from lambswool (the lining in neckties) or from a soft, loosely woven fabric. Stitch the lambswol to the wrong side of the sleeve head, from notch to notch, just inside the seam line, pulling slighltly taut as you sew. This adds a little ease so sleeve fits into armhole and gives the sleeve head a nice, rounded shape. Always stitch the sleeve into the armseye with sleeve against feed dogs and the jacket side up. A sleeve head is still needed!
I like to use rayon twill lining to add some body
Topstitch from 1/4” to 1/2″ from edge. The bulkier the fabric, the further away. Use a long stitch–6″ to 8″ per inch
Use a felt, suede or ultrasuede undercollar. My favorite method comes from an old Butterick Pattern magazine. (See instuctions in Tutorials) Miter the corners of the uppercollar when turning under the edge
Pressing is important, but too much makes a garment look old and worn out. I take my jackets and coats to the dry cleaners for a final press. Or, hang a jacket in the closet, sandwiched snugly between other clothes to “press” the lapel
NEVER press on the right side without a press cloth
Creases can be set by spraying with a solution of 25% vinegar, 75% water, covering with a press cloth and steam pressing on cotton setting
My tailored jackets look limp. Any suggestions? To duplicate the look of a hand tailored jacket with fusible interfacing, you have to use layers of interfacing. If the fashion fabric isn’t too bulky, each pattern piece should be fully interfaced with a lightweight interfacing like Easy Knit. Subsequent layers of interfacing can then be added without showing through to the right side. Fusible hair canvas, with seam allowances trimmed away, should be added to the under collar from the roll line to the neck edge, on the lapel from the roll line to the outside edge, at the hem of the sleeve, front, back and optionally across the back. The Easy Knit gives the jacket body and the hair canvas causes the lapel and collar to turn gracefully.
How can I find a good fitting pants pattern? Unfortunately, the best fitting patterns seem to be found by chance and many not so good patterns must be suffered through. A few things can increase the odds of achieving a good fit. Compare a pair of pants you love to your pattern. Try to match the width of the leg, length of the crotch and waistband/hip measurement.
Add 1″ to the center back seam, easing into the crotch. Cut the waistband in two pieces, adding 1″ to the center back. This will give you some “wiggle room” for fitting the waist. Apply the waistband and finish it before sewing the center back seam. Try the pants on, check the fit and adjust at the center back seam. (The center back seam makes the pants easy to alter if they need to be tightened or let out at a later date.)
How can I pick the best fabric for a garment? First, look at the suggested fabrics on the back of the pattern envelope. Fabrics are listed in order with the best-suited fabric listed first. If you are considering a fabric not suggested by the pattern envelope, think about the drape the design requires. Heavy, stiff fabrics are best for tailored styles that fit close to the body. Designs with gathering or fullness need fabrics that are lighter and drapey. Bias cut skirts require fabrics with some weight, so they fall gracefully.
When using stretch woven fabrics, should I use a pattern designed for knits or wovens? Patterns made to use with woven fabrics work best with stretch wovens. Patterns designed for knits generally don’t have enough ease. Designs like slim fitting pants and skirts without much fullness are a good choice. Be sure to fit as you go as you may not need as much ease as the pattern gives.
I’m having trouble with skipped stitches on my sewing machine, any suggestions? First, make sure your machine is in good mechanical shape. Clean and oil it regularly at home and have it done professionally once a year or more depending on use. Be sure to remove lint around the bobbin case and under the throat plate. Use the right needle size and type for your fabric. Size 9, 11 and 14 are most commonly used for light (silk) to heavy weight (wool) fabrics. Sharp needles are used on wovens as they pierce the fabric cleanly. Ball point needles are designed to slip through the knitted stitches of stretch fabrics. Make sure your needle is in good shape, I use a new needle every time I start a project and if I nick a needle on a pin, I replace it. This is especially important when sewing delicate fabrics. Check your thread tension – start at a medium setting and adjust up or down until stitches lock in the middle then loosen it a little when topstitching. Try not to fool with the bobbin tension, have a repairman do that if necessary. If it’s possible on your machine, adjust the pressure on the presser foot so the fabric moves through the feed dogs easily. Sometimes there is a finish on the fabric that causes skipped stitches (a good reason to pre-wash).
Pattern sizing is so confusing, how can I find my size? Patterns base their sizes strictly on measurements so they are very consistent. Compare you most relevant measurement to the pattern size; i.e. if you are making pants compare your hip measurement or a jacket your bust measurement. These measurements are the most critical for fitting and so should be as close to the pattern as possible, other measurements can then be altered. As a general rule of thumb, go up 3 sizes from your ready-to-wear size. (Don’t freak-out! It’s only a number.)
What can be done to keep facings from popping-out? I avoid facings when possible by lining the garment or using a bias strip to finish the edge. Facings stay put best when they are understitched and tacked to seam lines by “stitching in the ditch”.
Why do my hand-stitched hems look puckery? Take long, very loose stitches, almost loopy, and only catch a thread on the right side of the fabric.
Sometimes, dressing in a current, up-to-date way is a matter of making small changes to classic styles. In this way one can be in style, but not of the style, if you know what I mean. You wear the clothes, not the other way around.
Following are some Spring ’08 styles that have interesting details. I don’t want them exactly as shown, but they inspire me with interesting little twists and turns that I can incorporate into my designs. (This is where sewing your own clothes is such a bonus–you can grab a detail here or there from designer looks.)
This outfit has an interesting, slouchy silhoulette–a way to be comfortable without looking messy. I couldn’t wear the “in your face” print–not my style. But I like the tunic style, the feminine boat neckline, the detail at the neck, cuff and hem paired with roomy slacks that would look great with dressy, flat sandals. I can see wearing this to a barbecue on a cool evening and looking dressed, but not dressed-up. (From Bluemarine Spring ’08 RTW)
This outfit is a great day look for running errands. I’m always looking for casual clothes that will keep me out of predictable jeans or khakis on weekends when I have a million things to do. It would be easy to find a tank dress and layer it over a long sleeve T. What makes this a great look is the rugged belt which I’d pair with rugged flat sandals (no gladiator sandals for me! Aren’t those soooo ’07 anyway?). I’d stick with sophisticated neutral colors for this outfit. (From D&G Spring ’08 RTW)
This would be great for work, but without the fussy blouse. What makes this an “outfit” is the full, trouser cut of the pants and the beautiful sheen of the fabric–I’d pair these pants with a simpler snow white silk blouse. When making an “outfit” from two pieces, accessories make it or break it. Pair these pieces with great shoes (red patented leather?) and statement silver jewelry. (From Adam Spring ’08 RTW)
I saw Staging Your Comeback on one of my favorite blogs, Fabulous After 40. I like this concept and can’t wait to get the book in May. One of my biggest complaints is that there are few good middle-aged role models. Either women seem to want to keep their college look or they give up completely and look matronly. This book looks like it promotes looking good, not trying to look younger.
Another recent book,How Not To Look Old is all about trying to look younger. From the author’s point of view, we live in a youth obsessed culture so smart women should try to look young. From what I’ve seen it has some good ideas but I just want to look good no matter what my age. Young doesn’t really have anything to do with it. I’m finally at a point in my life where I want give my look a little effort. I want to dress nicely instead of always grabbing for my favorite jeans. I want to do my hair and make-up every day. But I don’t mind looking my age (50). Ta-ta for now.
1. After your garment is finished give it a good final pressing
2. Hang your garment in the back of your closet for 2-5 days
3. Remove garment and voila! You won’t even notice the slightly puckered seam, slightly crooked topstitching or the flare you had to remove from the bottom of your skirt to fit it onto your fabric (or any other little mistake that glared at you while you were sewing)
(Of course, this method won’t work if you sew the sleeves on backwards or put the collar on inside-out. For these mistakes, put your project away for a day or two to avoid flogging yourself, and get out your seam ripper! If you’re gonna sew, you’re gonna rip.)
The skirt alteration turned out great! Here are the steps I took:
1. I tried the skirt on and put a tight piece of elastic around my waist. I pulled the top of the skirt above the elastic and adjusted it until it looked right and was the right length. I marked the new waistline with pins:
2. I added a seam allowance and cut off the top of the skirt. I couldn’t leave the zipper in place as I had hoped–after I cut off the skirt there was only an inch or two left, so I removed the rest of the zipper:
3. I inserted a new invisible zipper. As usual, I ended up with a bubble at the end of the zipper. I found a great tutorial that I’ll try next time, it’s a little fussy for me, but at least I’ll baste the zipper in first and I think that will avoid the bubble. http://sewiknit.blogspot.com/2006/03/invisible-zipper-tutorial.html I never use an invisible zipper foot, just a regular zipper foot and I smooth the coil open as I sew.
4. I tried on the skirt and fitted it to my waist using the 6 seams–two side front seams, two side back seams and two side seams.
5. I cut a facing from the upper skirt that I had cut off and finished the new top with the facing. The skirt is lined, so I re-inserted the lining before I sewed on the new facing.
6. Voila! A new skirt that is shorter and perfectly fitted to my waist–it’s gorgeous! The back is still longer than the front. The only way to change that is to re-hem the back. I don’t want to do that and it looks good as is.
Here is a picture of the back, the bubble at the end of the zipper doesn’t bother me too much. (Check out my entry in Tutorials to find my fool-proof way of fixing little sewing problems.)
I’ve decided to do something a little different. Instead of planning my wardrobe a day or two before I’m in need of something and then sewing it with a pattern and fabric I have on hand (no time to shop) and finishing it an hour before I’m leaving (when I could be taking a leisurely shower and carefully doing my hair and make-up), this spring I’m going to sew a little in advance.
This has some advantages:
1) I’ll feel organized because I’ll have what I need hanging in my closet, ready to go
2) I’ll have time to find the perfect fabric (usually online), pattern, buttons, etc. to create exactly what I see in my mind’s eye
3) I can poke around the stores for the perfect accessories and coordinites for my outfits (shopping at the beginning of the season when the selection is best)
4) Hopefully I can inspire you with plenty of time to create similar fashions for yourselves
and some disadvantages:
1) I work best under pressure and when I have an event in mind it’s easy to plan exactly what I want to wear
2) What if I finally lose that last 10 lbs.? My clothes will be too big! (ha, ha–I’ve been using that excuse for years)
3) My stash will probably grow instead of shrink, after all, you have to grab it when you see it because great fabric is hard to find!
So, to start my experiment I will first look for inspiration. I’ll start by perusing the photos from the spring fashion shows on Style.com. In addition, I have files of pictures I’ve torn from magazines and although some are from previous seasons, sometimes the styles have caught on and feel more wearable than when they were brand new. And I have the current fashion magazines which will help me find the most wearable trends. When I’m out, I’ll stop by my favorite stores to see what’s new and pick up a piece or two to get me started.
So far, this is what I’ve found:
This is from the Brian Reyes’ 2006 collection. It would be good for early spring when the temperature is still cold, but you’re ready for lighter colors and fabrics.
This jacket is from my archive of pictures, I don’t know whose designed it. A jacket like this is one of the first things I’ll make–it will be warm with a sweater in early spring and then a good rain jacket.
Another good season spanner, this jacket and pants can be made in light weight wool that will feel less wintery when it’s snowing in April. It’s from my picture archive from Spring ’07. It’s hard to see the details in the jacket, but what I like is the silhouette, pulled in at the waist which creates a peplum look. I can see it in wool crepe or something with some stretch, like heavy wool jersey or double knit.
This outfit looks so modern–it’s from the Badgley Mischka Spring ’08 RTW collection. I always feel like some bright color and pattern in the early spring when it’s usually bleak and cloudy.
Finally, I have to put this green trench coat on my “to do” list as I’ve been craving it since last year. I don’t know the designer, but something about the color makes it wearable with anything from jeans to dresses in any season.
I’ll start looking for fabrics for these designs and in the meantime, I’m going to make the Nanette Lepore knock-off top to go with the black silk skirt I’m altering.