Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Simple Piece of Tape

Wednesday Tip of the Week

Bandage tape used in photo

How many times have you cut across a seam line which unlocks the stitching and the seam then begins to open up? Case in point, when you trim away excess length for a hem.  On some fabrics the seam will immediately begin to open which can be a real problem, on others, not so much. If nothing else, its a nuisance many a sewer will encounter and needs to be remedied as quickly as possible.

The seam nevertheless needs to be sealed permanently before it unravels deeper into the seam.  To keep the seam in tack and thus prevent it from opening up, I place a small piece of Scotch tape over the seam before I trim it. This is an easy way to hold the seam together and it keeps it secure long enough until the seam can be permanently re-locked.  This might mean adding hem tape which will seal the seam, or attaching the seam to another garment piece where it will be contained and secured within the seam allowance.  Or, I simply stitch across the seam to hold it in place. Once the seam has been secured I simply peel off the piece of tape.

Stitching across seam line to secure it
If regular Scotch tape is going to be too sticky, leave a sticky residue on the fabric or perhaps damage the fabric when removed, I will use the kind of tape one uses to secure gauze bandages onto skin. It's not nearly as sticky, just as easy to remove, and sometimes more visible than regular clear tape.

Tape is a mainstay item in my sewing tray.  I use it primarily for altering patterns, but it seems to find its way as an easy fix to many other sewing dilemmas.  

Tape removed, seam secured

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Right Sewing Machine Needle

Wednesday Tip of the Week

Not all sewing machine needles are alike and as any experienced sewer knows, using the right one can make a huge difference in the quality of your stitching. The same, of course, can be said of fabric and for this reason it is important the right size and style of sewing machine needle be used. While the universal size 80 is good for a lot, its not good for everything.


If you are like me, I always have several projects in the works, each of a different fabric and in some cases requiring  different sewing machine needles.  Case in point, I just finished making a large duffel bag using a medium weight home decor fabric that was quilted so it had some heft and body. The needle in my machine was a size 90, perhaps a bit bigger than I really needed, but that's not my point here. When I moved to my next project -- a dress for an upcoming wedding in a very lightweight rayon print -- thank God I ran a sample of stitches on my handy scrap of fabric before I started on the real thing. That size 90 needle still in my machine pulled and snagged the fabric like crazy. Had I begun my new project before sampling the stitches I would have ruined it.  A quick change to a fresh size 70 needle did the trick. Nice clean stitches with no pulling or snagging.

I should have known better because I keep a sticker on my machine to indicate what size needle I have in my machine.  The sticker also indicates how many projects I have made using that needle so I know when it is ready to throw away.  Likewise, when I remove a needle from the machine I store it in a small box near my machine attached to a piece of paper indicating the same information - size and times used.  This is so much easier than having to pull out the magnifying glass to read the needle - been there, done that. My eyes just aren't as good as they used to be. Plus, if you just re-store them in those cute sleeves you never know how many times you have used it.  

Sample your stitches before starting a new project and always make sure the needle in your machine will do the job right. If the stitches start to pull, snag or skip, a new or finer needle is probably in order. If you sew a lot keeping a stash of fresh needles in a wide variety of sizes and styles is just good sewing. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Handy Scrap of Fabric

Wednesday Tip of the Week

I always keep a scrap of fabric from the project I am working on at my sewing machine station throughout the construction of every project I am making. It's there to test the stitches, or techniques, I plan to use on my project. Or, for anything else I feel the need to test before I sew on my project. Since every fabric performs differently when sewn on the machine and have their own fraying issues, I always like to test stitch lengths and tension before applying them to my project. This ensures I am using stitches that are going to work well with the fabric I have selected. By doing so it prevents me from having to undo an unsatisfactory seam unnecessarily. In addition, with some fabrics, it also prevents me from over-handling it which can cause the fabric edges to fray excessively.

Since I don't have a serger finishing my seam edges is often an issue with whatever I am making. That scrap of fabric becomes my test lab for testing what options will work best. Will a simple zigzag finish work and if so, what length and width is best for the fabric? Or, perhaps another overcast stitch will work, or better yet, do I need to consider a French seam or Hong Kong seam?  Why over-handle your project, sewing and removing unsuitable options when you don't have to.  By testing first on a scrap of fabric I keep my project pieces in good order - no over-handling or stretching. 

If there is a technique I want to try or am unfamiliar with, here again, testing it on a handy scrap of fabric can keep me from over-handling my project or risking making mistakes.

The real lesson here, of course, is to test before you sew.  All fabrics perform differently and require different settings on your sewing machine. Testing your stitch selections on a simple scrap of your project's fabric before you begin saves you time from having to undo unsatisfactory seams and prevents you from over-handling your project. Keeping a simple scrap of fabric always at hand is just good sewing.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Another batch of samples

Samples Week

I'm back in samples mode. I made the samples that will go on display for my Joann classes to run thru September and October. This time its a huge travel duffel bag and a simple pillow with a contrasting trim treatment. In addition I will be teaching the basic pajama pant, a sample of which I already had on hand. In my opinion its one of the best first projects any first time sewer can make - easy, practical, instructive and fun to make.

The easiest project was the pillow. Though the pattern calls for a 16 inch form, I had a 14 inch one on hand and used that for the base. The base material is an upholstery type fabric scrap from a handbag I made several months ago.  For the contrasting trim, I used scraps of fabric I had from my stash. This is a super easy project that can be made in an hour or so.  It took me more time to rifle through my stash looking for trim pieces that went well together than it did to sew up.

The large travel duffel bag wasn't hard to make, but took some time to sew up. The project calls for creating the quilted base fabric from scratch. That required sandwiching batting in between the base fabric and muslin and then quilt stitching them together. Again, not hard, just time consuming. 

The bag is quite large and features a side pocket, zippered end pocket and zipper top closure. Here I used a strong home decor fabric with a crisp hand that will can handle the rigors of traveling and was easy to work with. 

Both projects turned out well. But, as is typical at Joann's, I rarely sign up enough students for the classes to run. Oh well, at least they were fun to do.