Thursday, January 31, 2013

One Pattern, Many Looks

I entered a sewing contest for the first time ever! Its's "The One Pattern, Many Looks" contest. This is my entry. I chose a Vogue pattern I've had my eye on for some time now. I first saw it last year when another sewing blogger posted it. Unfortunately, I can't remember who it was. When I then saw it featured on the cover of the January issue of Vogue Pattern magazine, it was final. That was the garment I was going to make for the contest. 

The pattern is Vogue 8854, a Very Easy Vogue casual top with shirt tales and a tall interesting flap collar. The pattern features three looks: one sleeveless option (the Vogue Pattern cover), one long sleeve version with a pocket in front, and one with a hood and longer shirt tale at the back. It's designed to be made in knits but it worked equally well in all the fabrics I selected.  

I chose to make my entry in three different fabrics - fleece, a medium weight knit and a faux dupioni-look woven.  The looks as you can see in the photo, included an outerwear-like fleece top made to the specifications of the pattern but without the ugly front pocket.  I made it a bit larger than the other two with the intention of wearing it over a T-shirt.

The second version was made in a soft, medium weight acrylic knit. I reversed the front flap to flip to the right instead of left, shortened the collar a bit and added exposed zippers (those were fun to do) to the front flap and sleeves for a more rugged, casual look. It's comfortable and looks great with black jeans and boots.

My third version is a bit more dressy and featured the most changes. I shortened the sleeves to bracelet length and added a ruffle. The shirt tales were converted to a straight conventional hem. For the neckline I shortened the collar and added a ruffle and 3 buttons. I'm quite pleased with the way it looks, a bit dressy, but still casual enough to wear anywhere. And, I love the way the neckline turned out, dramatic and feminine.

All three of the tops turned out well. I anticipate making more versions of this pattern, but I will definitely change the collar to lay a bit closer and tighter to my neck. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Darts - A Reverse Approach

The subject is darts - one of the mostly commonly performed and easily done techniques for any experienced garment sewer. As we all know, darts play an important role in creating curves and shaping a garments silhouette. And, when executed well help create a professional look in clothing. In contrast, poorly executed darts can make a garment look "homemade." 

So, what's the big deal? Yes, for most sewers we don't give them much thought. Within a matter of minutes they're done. But, as I have learned teaching many new sewists, this simple technique can be a daunting one. Sewing darts for the first time can consume an inordinate amount of time to accomplish when conventional methods are employed.  But, it doesn't have to be that way.

I have painfully watched new sewers struggle sewing darts for the first time. Where they (and let's face it a lot of us, too) go wrong is sewing beyond the dart's end point or short ending the points that produce the dreaded pucker.  Or, simply not being able to follow the dart leg properly. A task most sewists can perform with relative ease and precision can take 3-4 times as long for the beginner. This simple sewing basic should be, for all practical purposes, a cinch to master

The objective of sewing the perfect dart is pretty straightforward.  Follow a properly marked, and pinned, dart leg to a precise end point without overshooting, backstitching or short ending it. 

I have a nice library of reference books, from basic sewing how-tos, to textbooks and those advocating couture techniques which I frequently consult to ensure I teach my students proper techniques.  All of them instruct sewers to sew darts starting from the wide end. Whether there is a technical reason for starting there I have yet to find one.  For a new sewer (or even some of us more experienced ones) when starting from the wide end the task of finishing the dart at the precise end point can be a challenge. All the more important when they sit right and left of one another. The last thing you want is to have one dart taller or shorter than the other. OOPS!

To remedy this I now instruct my new students to sew darts starting at the end point. Gosh, I wish I had thought of this sooner! By doing so darts all finish at the precise end point - hooray! And, if properly marked the dart leg is much easier to follow - another hooray! Most of my students can now complete a dart well on the first try.  

The trickiest part is positioning the needle to go into the dart point just a thread away from the fold line so as not to create a pucker. Furthermore, to ensure a secure dart stitch the first quarter inch or so with the stitch length reduced to a small 1.5 cm setting and then turn up the stitch length to a normal setting for the balance of the dart. 

I am amazed at how much faster my students can master this most basic of sewing tasks. More importantly of course, the darts are far better done than those performed using the traditional, prescribed methods. No more puckered end points. Left and right darts are balanced. And, fewer darts have to be ripped out and redone. Mission accomplished! I now have happy students who have easily mastered one of the most basic of techniques that they will perform many many times in their sewing journeys. 

So here is a complete tutorial for sewing basic darts in reverse fashion.

 1. Mark the dart completely. Using whatever marking method your fabric dictates, mark/draw the dart legs to the end point. Also make sure the end point is well defined. 

 2. Pin the dart. Starting at the wide end, match the dart leg lines precisely and pin together. Continue pinning to the end point.  Switch pins to position them perpendicular to the dart lines to facilitate machine stitching. 

 3. Stitch the dart starting at the end point.  Reduce the stitch length setting to a 1.0 to 1.5 cm length. Position the needle of the machine to enter the dart point just a 'thread' away from the fold line to prevent a pucker or bubble at the end point.  Once past the quarter inch point, increase the stitch length to a normal setting and continue to stitch the dart leg. Be sure to backstitch at the wide end to finish the dart. Tie off the dart point and press. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year, New Challenges, New Sewing Tips 

Its hard to believe a new year has begun. With its debut comes a big list of things I want to accomplish, with this blog, my teaching and sewing in general. 

At the top of the list is my desire to focus on perfecting my skills in garment sewing. I would like to incorporate more couture techniques - quite trendy these days - into the construction of all my garments.  

Mastering fit is my ultimate goal. Now older and more curvy it seems every pattern I buy requires multiple fitting alterations. Many more than I care to do with every project. Though I typically begin each project with a musling draft, I find I have to prepare several before I achieve the right fit adding considerably more time to the entire garment construction process than should be necessary. 

To further complicate matters, I seldom find a commercial pattern I like completely. Either the silhouette is too fitting for my thicker in the middle figure or the sleeves are not right, or the neckline is not to my liking, etc. etc. etc. As a result 2013 will be the year I prepare a full set of slopers so that I can create my own patterns with all the design features I want. No easy task I suspect, but hopefully it will be well worth the effort in the end.

Other goals this year will be to put more time into this blog.  Last year was a particularly good year for teaching others to sew. I learned a lot about how people grasp sewing techniques, how the details matters and how significant learning the fundamentals is to the mastering the craft. Since sewing blogs are a good way for new sewers to learn techniques and build skills, I want this blog to be a place for new sewers to help in those regards. 
To start, here are a few very simple sewing tips that all new as well as experienced sewers can use. 
Sewing Tip #1:  Threading Helpers
With age the task of threading needles either on my sewing machine or for hand sewing has become increasingly more difficult.  When teaching new sewers this is one of the biggest time wasters and has become one of my biggest pet peeves. I have found that a small piece  of very white plastic or cardboard placed behind the needle makes the task lightning fast. 

A 1/2 inch by 2 inch piece is all you need. Its almost as if the white backing amplifies the size of the needle hole. While clearly it does not, the hole is amazingly more visible and so much easier, and faster to thread. Now I keep several pieces of these threading helpers in my pockets when I teach, at my sewing machine and in my sewing cache at my worktable. 

Sewing Tip #2:  Pin Stablizer
I make a practice of removing my pins as I sew on my machine to prevent needle/pin breakage and seam distortion. I keep a dish of pins next to my machine but find having to stop and then move the pins to the dish disrupts of the speed and rhythm of my sewing. I prefer to just slide them off without having to stop the machine. The problem is that the bed of my machine, like most sewing machines, has a slippery surface and a slight curve,  that when I slide the pins onto the bed, they tend to slide off the machine. 

To remedy this I secured a piece of shelf liner to the bed of my machine using double stick tape. I cut a piece to fit the space exactly. I used the kind of shelf liner designed to keep glasses from chipping, nothing too thick or lofty. This provides just enough cushion and holding power to prevent the pins from sliding all over the place. So now when I sew I can easily slide the pins off onto the bed of my machine where they stay until I am ready to move them to the waiting dish. 

Sewing doesn't have to be hard. Whenever you can make a task faster and easier, do it.