Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Spool of Silk Thread

Wednesday Tip of The Week

I always keep a spool of silk thread in my sewing box. Usually one in a bright color - bright yellow is my color of choice. It's my go-to thread for hand basting and it should be yours too. Many years ago as a college student learning to tailor clothing my instructor taught me the many virtues of using silk thread. Aside from using it as a beautiful top stitching thread or as a strong thread for piecing fine fabrics, like silk together, it is also the perfect choice whenever hand basting is required. 

Silk thread works particularly well for hand basting for several reasons. First, because of its smooth and silky nature, the thread is a breeze to remove. It literally slips out of your fabric even through machine stitches.

Second, it will never leave a color residue on your fabric like an all purpose thread will sometimes do. OK, its not likely to happen frequently or is something you probably think will happen, but when it does and ruins your project, you will remember silk is best. 

Next, and probably the most important reason I like using silk thread for basting, is it will not leave any press marks in your fabric like regular thread may do especially in luxury fabrics, such as silk or wools. Basting and pressing sort of go hand and hand when it comes to sewing, so be safe rather than sorry and use silk.

I do a lot of hand basting when I sew. You could say I am an over cautious sewer.  Hand basting helps me prevent mistakes and ensures garment pieces are perfectly matched together.  I always hand baste my hems in place rather than just pin them. Without the pins in the way I can press the hem in place without risking any press marks. And, the basting holds the hem securely in place for the final hem stitching.

By the way, I also regularly run my thread through beeswax.  I do this whether I am using regular all purpose or silk thread. This strengthens the thread and prevents it from knotting up while I stitch.    

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Square Points

Wednesday Tip of the Week

When sewing to create square corners, most pattern instructions tell the sewer to stitch, pivot 90 degrees and continue stitching. They further instruct the sewer to trim off the corner point seam allowance before turning the corner right side out. But, by doing so how many times has a perfectly square corner resulted? In my experience, not many.

I no longer trim my corners before I turn them. I also don't sew and pivot 90 degrees. Instead I stitch off the end of the first side of the corner seam. Then I turn the fabric 90 degrees and stitch in the other direction. This creates a perfect 90 degree turn in the stitching. To ensure a tight corner, I re-stitch the turn, using the pivot method, starting and ending about an inch from the turn. The original stitching provides a convenient guide to know when to pivot, creating a perfect 90 degree turn.  

Stitch each seam separately
Stitch corner using pivot method on top of previous stitching to reinforce corner
Depending on the weight and bulk of the seam I may trim the seam down a bit, but I never cut off the corner as most instructions advise. Instead, I place my thumb into the corner and fold one side of the corner seam allowance downward along the seam line.  

Insert thumb into corner
With fore finger and thumb grasp one seam allowance and turn down on seam line
With my fore finger and thumb together I fold down the other seam allowances to form the 90 degree square. 

Holding the folded seam allowances together, I turn the corner right side out. Voila, the corner point should be a clean 90 degrees.  
Now fold down other seam allowance to form square
Turn right side out and with fingers form square

A perfectly square corner
This works great on most light to medium weight fabrics. For heavier fabrics I will grade the seam allowance to reduce the bulk but I don't cut away the corner. Sometimes, a corner turner tool might be needed to finesse the corner. 

This doesn't work as well for points less than 90 degrees, such as in a dress shirt collar. Pointy collars in particular need some trimming, but for all  square corners it is the best way to produce sharp, crisp corners.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

Visible Mondays

A Knockoff Revisited

I've decided to join in on the fun at Not Dead Yet Style as part of her Visible Monday posts. A Fool for Fabric introduced me to the site, so thank you Margy. Visible Mondays features a photo gallery of bloggers expressing their own personal style or latest projects every Monday. For me its one of my knockoff tops in a colorful butterfly print that lifts my spirits every time I wear it.

The Not Dead Yet Style blog is based on the premise of looking "authentic and feeling beautiful in our middle years". As someone in her middle years (plus a few more years at that) the site is a platform for us to let the world know what we may lack in slim figures we make up for in experience, maturity and a lifetime of know how.  

The top made in a pretty butterfly print out of a lightweight linen-like fabric, pretty much says a lot about who I am these days. Long gone are the beautiful suits I used to wear in my "career days". Now I live in comfortable, casual clothing. So lots of what I make these days are tops and shirts I can wear when I teach, shop, whatever.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hold those Tails!

Wednesday Tip of the Week

Notice tails twisted around my index finger
How many times have you started to sew a seam and before you barely get going the machine locks up? Or, when you look at the underside of a locked seam there is a jumbled mess of threads knotted up at the beginning of the seam? Why does this happen?

There are lots of things that sewing machine manuals don't tell you that can prevent these annoying and easily resolvable issues from happening.  

First, it is important you always have at least a 5 inch tail of both the top spool and bobbin thread.  The reason is that when you begin to sew and as the machine needle raises up it pulls the thread tails into the mechanism of the machine under the feed dogs. If you have too short a tail, the threads get sucked under and caught into the mechanisms which cause the machine to lock up. So, the longer the tails the better.

Second, and this is something almost no manual will tell you, hold the tails as you begin to sew. This is all part of the rhythm of sewing. One of those step you will unconsciously perform as part of the sequence of stitching on your machine and something you should do every time you sew.

As you begin to sew in reverse to lock your seams, grab a good hold of the tails to prevent the threads from being pulled down into the machine. I like to twist the threads around my index finger, but gently pressing down the tails will work as well. Hold the tails throughout the reverse stitching.  Once you have completed the reverse stitching, you can release the tails. In addition to preventing the threads from being pulled into the machine it also prevents those ugly knots that sometimes appear on the underside at the beginning of the seam. 

Not all machines are alike and this issue may not be one for your machine. But as a sewing instructor I have seen this happen on both inexpensive and very expensive machines. Once you get in the practice of doing this as part of the sequence of sewing, as I do every time I sew, it becomes an unconscious step.   

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Hem Prep

Wednesday Tip of the Week

Hems are usually the last step in the construction of a garment and that usually includes hemming the sleeves. But, is that really the best time to hem them?

In the sequence of constructing sleeves the sewer is usually instructed to stitch the ease stitching on the sleeve cap first, then sew in the arm seams, insert the sleeves into the garment and then hem each sleeve. While all that seems logical and efficient, by the time you get to hemming the sleeves, that process becomes much more cumbersome than it has to be. Needless to say that sequence is intended to allow for any hem length adjustments. And yes, if you have a good sleeve board pressing the hem is less difficult. But, you still have to deal with the balance of the garment that is connected to the sleeve pulling at you and getting in the way.

I always 'hem prep' and sometimes completely hem my sleeves before I attach them to the garment.  That is of course if I know beforehand what the the hem length should be. For me, it is literally the first step in the sleeve construction process. What do I mean by 'hem prep'? Well, it is nothing more than pressing up the hem in its flat state instead of the cylindrical state that occurs after the sleeve has been assembled and sewn into the garment armhole. 

Assuming the hem is not a fitting issue, before you do anything else with the sleeve pattern piece, turn up the hem and press, or baste, it into place. It is so much easier to press up the hem when the sleeve piece is still flat. Make sure to press the hem with a good, crisp crease at the fold line so that it is easily visible when you fold out the hem to sew in the arm seam. If you are working with a fabric that doesn't take a crisp fold, consider partially hand basting the hem leaving a big enough opening at each end so it can be unfolded in order to sew the arm seams.

The next step in the process is then to sew in the gathering or ease stitches around the sleeve cap. 

Then, sew in the arm seam making sure to unfold the hem portion. Once the seam is sewn and the edges are finished, repress the hem fold (s) using the pressed creases you set in the first step as your guide. You won't believe how nicely it comes together. The sleeve is now ready to be inserted into the garment. Or, you can sew the hem in place before you insert it. Again, so much easier to do without the rest of the garment in the way. By hem prepping, or pressing the hem in place as a first step, it produces a more consistently measured hem that looks better, all contributing to a more professionally sewn garment. 

Sewing doesn't have to be hard or challenging. Looking for ways to simplify the process, which sometimes means reworking the sequence of construction steps, makes sewing so much more fun and rewarding.