Pictutorial: Making a Cummerbund Belt

After months of kinda-sorta wanting a cummerbund belt in my wardrobe, I decided I definitely wanted one to wear with my Tux Dress (post forthcoming, I’m waiting on Sew Weekly).  I kept an eye out in op-shops over the past few months for a still-good-but-castoff cummerbund; when I still turned up nothing last week I took matters into my own hands.  I can wear a wide cummerbund-style belt with most of my other clothes.  Here, I’m wearing it with the Leaflace Dress.

It’s made of black silk-cotton radiance.  I like radiance because unlike most satins, it washes easily and doesn’t show pinmarks.  The back is carefully elasticized to allow the back to stretch, but I covered it in such a way it doesn’t look like a scrunchie.  I chose to hand-stitch this cummerbund, but the pleated section could easily be made by machine.  You could also opt not to pleat the front section- leave it smooth, bead it, embroider, whatever makes you happy.  It’s not a difficult project, and the end result is light but strong and very wearable.

One last little detail:  I found the Chestnut Bun on Pinterest some time ago (how did I find recipes or hairstyles before pinterest?).  I’m in love with this simple little bun- it actually works on my not-quite-long-enough hair and holds it neatly and prettily.  Even better, it works best on slightly dirty hair.  Just sayin’.  It kind of collapses when I use clean hair, so I spritz clean hair with hairspray and brush it out at the ponytail stage.  It works really well.  The best part is it’s super easy to do.  Check out the Chestnut Bun Tutorial at Strawberry Koi.

Video Tutorial: Buttonholes without a Buttonhole Foot

Sophie at Un Peu de Couture made a pair of Burda pants recently, and in her post she asked about tutorials for making buttonholes without a special foot.  I know how to do this, in theory, though I don’t usually sew them this way.  It’s good to learn because when you are in a tight place with some bulk or weird fabric layers (like a waistband), the automatic buttonholer often craps out.  I believe that’s the technical term.

Also, automatics usually make buttonholes only 1″(2.5cm) long or less.  You can also use this technique to make a longer buttonhole if desired (though it will probably droop).

My rectangle-guide is a little crazy, if that makes your heart stop then do draw a little buttonhole-window with tidier angles.  Whatever helps you get the job done.  Also, my buttonhole isn’t perfect.  I was talking and stitching.  Practice until yours is better than mine, it’s worth it.

I used a stitch width of 5.0 for the bar tacks at the end, and 2.0 for the “legs.”  The stitch length is .3.  Depending on your machine, your threads and your fabric you may need to use different settings.

Many, many thanks to Stephen for his camera work.  (Next time I’ll get him to go in tight on the stitching!)  I used this buttonhole technique after we filmed for his pajamas, so now he can wear them.

Does anyone know of any other online tutorials that show another way to do this?  How do you make buttonholes?

Pictutorial- Knit Binding

In yesterday’s post, while celebrating the happy marriage of knit fabrics + 50’s boleros, I mentioned finishing the sleeve hems and bottom edge of the bolero with an extra wide knit binding, done in the usual way.  Commentator (is that actually the correct word or is my spellcheck whack?) Marthaeliza asked where she could find that method.   I’m so red-faced!  I haven’t explicitly addressed this technique, though I do use it in my patterns and hacks.  I also used it to create the fauxlero seaming interest on the recent 40’s Charm Tee:

There are many, many ways to finish a knit neck, sleeve or hem edge.  This is one way.  I like to know as many ways to do something (like finish a neck edge) as possible.  One way may work better in certain situations, etc.  This is my go-to basic bound edge.  Even when a pattern states otherwise, I usually finish neck edges this way.  I have seen some truly terrifying (not to mention fiddly, difficult or just plain silly) ways to finish a knit neckline- this is the simplest and most versatile method in my arsenal.

Cut a binding strip 1.5″ (3.75cm) and somewhat longer than the to-be-bound edge.  On a neckline edge, my usual method involves sewing one shoulder seam, inserting the binding, and catching the ends of the binding in the shoulder seam edge.  When done neatly, it makes no difference to the appearance of the finished garment.  Also, I’m sure there’s rules about it, but I cut my binding strips both along the stretch and along the length of the fabric, as seems handiest at the time.  I have never seen much of a difference.

Fold in half lengthwise, right sides facing out, and press.

To sew it on a flat edge, simply match up the raw edges and stitch.  A 1/4″ (6mm) seam allowance is the norm for knits.  USE BALLPOINT NEEDLES.

I use a “lightning bolt” stitch on my machine for sewing knits because it allows the garment to stretch.  If you use straight stitches, the seam will “pop” under stress.  If you don’t have a lightning bolt stitch, play around with a narrow (width) and long (length) stitch until you come up with something like mine.  I used a contrasting thread to show my stitching, usually I go for something that blends into the fabric.

Trim off any extra binding.

I also overlock/serge seams on knits because while it isn’t necessary to prevent fabric fraying, it does create a sturdier, longer lasting seam.
Curves are tricker to bind, but not by much.  Do test it on a few little samples first if you’ve never done it before or if you’re working with a new fabric.  There’s a little “fingertip knowledge” that must be built before you get consistent results.  But it won’t take long and it’s worth the practice.  Or just make a few shirts with wibbly necklines, that’s ok too.

I place the binding and neck edge under the foot with the raw edges lined up for the first inch or so.  Pins are much more a hindrance than help here.  I take a few stitches to secure the beginning of the binding to the garment.
After the first few stitches, I gently stretch the binding around the curve of the neck.  The lower fingers on my right hand keep the garment fabric from stretching.  DO NOT STRETCH THE GARMENT FABRIC.  I use my right thumb and forefinger to gently stretch the binding, and my left-hand fingers guide the binding into place.  It just takes a little coordination.

Stephen took a short clip to show you how my fingers move.  Isn’t he sweet?

Wrong side, before finishing or pressing.  Just trim off any extra, no sweat.
Right side, after pressing the seam toward the body of the “garment.”  You can also top-stitch along this seam, about 1/8″ from the seamline.

Questions?  I’m listening.  Later this week I’ll tackle a few other questions I’ve come across in blog reading and from y’all, I like addressing specific questions.

The banner is my “sweater knit” from the bolero.  I don’t know what else to call it, it’s thickish like a sweatshirt but has a knit “look.”

Check out the crazy fabrics my daughter wanted made into a dress:

Perfect for this week’s Challenge at Sew Weekly…

Tomorrow: I finally finished “The Diamond Chariot” (see sidebar) and it’s just one of those books you have to tell everyone about.  So I’m telling y’all about it tomorrow.  It’s Russian.  Book Review Time!

Video: How To Use a Bias Binding Foot

I like gadgets and feet (provided they’re actually useful and not some easily breakable gimmick).  I’ve sewn for too long not to have built skills like binding raw edges the “non-gadgety” way, but I never used to bother with binding much.  It’s time consuming.  Generally kind of irritating, though the end result is pretty nice. I like this binder foot  because it streamlines the process, which means I can spend more time thinking about crazy cuts and design details.

It’s lovely late summer time here, the air has just a hint of freshness after six months of still steamy heat.  We’re house-sitting for my husband’s parents in rural New South Wales, making sure the plants are watered and the farm animals are fed.  It makes an extremely pleasant change from living within arm’s reach of our neighbors in the Brisbane suburbs.

This morning I set up to sew in one of their cabanas.  Except for the occasional fly and a lazy wasp nearly the size of my little finger (soo not kidding), it was pleasant to sew in the open air.  I’m wearing Terra Incognita– while she’s a lovely dress to wear out to dinner, I love her too much to only wear her once every six months or so when we go out.  She’s cotton (washable and comfy) and was my favorite dress to wear this past summer.

I’d like to make more technique videos, in some ways it’s much MUCH easier to make a video than a tutorial with still photos.  (Especially because Stephen took the footage and then did the editing work.  He sped up the boring sections and captured everything we needed in one take. Thank you, Stephen!)

At Long Last- How To Mess Around With a Neckline without Getting Burned

I’ve been working on this post in my head for a little while, it was just a matter of putting crayon to polytrace and photographing and writing coherently about it.  After I released the new and shiny Blank Canvas Tee, I had several emails asking where the scoop neckline went.  The new BCT isn’t an experiment anymore and I use it as the base for hacks so I thought it would be best to go with a simple high neckline.

This is how to play with necklines without making a mess.  It’s just a set of guidelines, once you get your hand in and feel confident, you can do more or less whatever you want for neckline shaping as long as you stay within the “bra-line” and the “point of no return.” I think this is an excellent way to ease into a little light drafting- beginners welcome.

For knit binding, I usually don’t bother measuring my neckline, but cut a long strip of fabric across the stretch 1.5″ (3.8cm) wide and stretch it gently as I sew.

I want to thank everyone who commented on my last post.  I really don’t know what to say except you all blew me away with your kindness, your support, and with how much you were willing to share.  I cried when I woke up the next morning and saw all the messages you left (and next time I’m feeling blue, I’ll go back and re-read).  Shared burdens are the lightest ones to bear.  Thank you.

Technique: Lace Insertion on Knit Fabric

I stopped and took several texture shots, I like the look of the lace on the fabric.

It’s still lace week here- I put together a pictutorial as I inserted the lace into my other flutter sleeve top cut from linen-cotton.  In fact, I got a little lace insertion-crazy this week- I just played with the lace to see what would develop.

Lace insertion is an “heirloom” type design feature, usually found on light weight woven fabrics.  I’m working with a knit, so the technique is a little different.  The sample stood up to all my tests, including the washing machine test, so I’m confident it will work well in a garment.  The cut edges of the knit won’t fray like most wovens will.

I can recommend this, but remember that a lace won’t stretch like a woven.  It will work for areas that don’t need to stretch much- either lengthwise on the garment on on an area of zero to positive ease.  As always on this type of fabric, I used a ballpoint needle.

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Thanks for playing the “40’s Charm or Cheongsam? Giveaway” game.  So far 40’s charm is in the lead, but the game doesn’t close until April 7.  Read more here.

Tomorrow is the OWOP post, and then I’ll show you how this top turned out.  I wanted to wash it in the machine first.

Serging Technique: 3 Thread French Seam for Lace and Delicates

I don’t know how “kosher” this technique is.  No one taught it to me, I haven’t seen it around.  A long time ago I decided that sewing something “right” means it fits, it looks good, it doesn’t fall apart and it will wash.  Everything else is academic.

It’s a french seam- but the first line of stitching is a 3-thread serging stitch.  This lends durability to a lighter-weight fabric, binds in the raw edge and trims the seam to a reliable width from one end to the other.   It also adds some bulk, so if that’s not what you’re after then try a traditional French seam.  My fabric is too holey and light, the extra heft of serging means I can wear it longer.

My machine is usually set to 4-thread serging.  I leave the needle threaded when I loosen it; that means the needle can’t slip into the lower reaches of my machine.  Once it’s free, I cut the thread and remove the needle.

Since it’s going right back on the machine after I serge the seam, I stuck the needle in a piece of fleece I keep under one of the spools for just such an occasion.  It’s not a good idea to let your needles become “uneven,” however.  As a general rule, you want both needles to wear at the same rate, and replace them at the same time for best stitch quality.

Wrong sides together, serge the seam.  I find this technique works best on straight or gently curved seams.

Press the seam to one side.  Then fold the fabric so it’s right sides together and the serging is on the inside.  Press it again.

Stitch a 1/4″ seam.  Or slightly wider than your serged seam.  My 3-thread is a hair under 1/4″, so sewing my second seam at 1/4″ works for me.   If I start out with a 1/2″ seam allowance and sew it this way, everything works out like sunshine.

Wrong side.  Press the seam to one side.  Stitch down if desired.

Most of the time, I find lace fabrics are very very forgiving; stitching tends to disappear into the texture of the fabric.

I have used this on many weights and textures of fabric, and it consistently yields clean and durable results.  I used it on the Lacewing Top I’ll show you tomorrow!

Have you ever done this?  What is “right” in sewing?

In other news, Liza Jane made a beautifully fitted and and well-executed pair of pink linen trousers.  Well done, Liza Jane! (And thank you so much for your kind words! :))  The trousers look fantastic, complete with a discreet flower button on the front.  Such fun.  Check out her write up on the pants and the block service from the Consulting Dressmaker.

How to Sew a Bra Into a Casual Dress

It looks like I’m all boobs all the time this week.  Next week I want to talk about slipper lobsters.

Before we get to the pictures, my criteria for a sew-in bra:

  • support the breast
  • reduce jiggle
  • cover- I mean not “spilling out” or showing too much.  Sometimes this can be an issue despite my best efforts, so I try to err on the side of prudish.  That doesn’t mean I can’t wear a low (ish) neckline, it just means I need to watch out.  The “modesty line” is different for everyone.

If you can’t find bra cups, try using one or two layers of lightweight to medium woven interfacing on the lining piece.  Believe me, it will definitely help do all those things I listed, even if it’s not “going out in public” material.

Also helpful is a dress pattern with a midriff section.  I have a “hanging sew-in bra” for other styles, it’s a little different.  For this dress, I used the midriff section from Colette’s Parfait because I know I like it.  Then I cut the rest of the dress around that.

This is a basic concept, it’s up to you to figure out how to best place them in your garment.  It’s really not difficult once you get your hands in it, but different dresses may need a slightly different approach.

Here’s another approach to the same problem at The Sewing Divas.

Brisbane crafters: Voodoo Rabbit is a local fabric store which carries hard to find “edgy” prints and sustainable fabrics from all over the world.  They’re opening a new shop in the Gabba tomorrow, I’m planning to check it out with a few friends.  If anyone would like to “meet up,” let me know and I’ll keep an eye out.

How To Sew Rouleau Ties Without Special Tools

I know the back of the Bladvass Dress will be open.  The dress needs something to hold up the front of the bodice, this time I’m opting for a rouleau treatment.  Like this, but… well… not like this:

I like this method because it’s simple and I don’t need any special tools- just my sewing machine.  Rouleau ties are useful for drawstrings, ties, belt loops, embellishments, it’s up to your imagination.  Colette featured a Rouleau Pocket Tutorial recently- maybe I’ll try that, too.

Cut or tear fabric into 1″ strips, or to desired width.  For light-medium cottons, I find 1″ is a good minimum width.  This method is not suitable for heavy fabrics.  Ties may be either on the straight of grain (for strength) or bias (for smooth curves).  Mine are straight.

The edges of the strip curled when I tore it, so I pressed it flat.

Fold in half, right sides together and press a crease.  If you’re working with a long strip, chop it down to pieces as long as your arm- it’s much easier to handle.

Pull your machine threads waaaaay out, longer than the strip.

Lay the threads along the middle crease, on the right side of the strip.  Just look after the first few inches, you can adjust the thread position as you sew.

Fold the fabric, right sides together and sew with a 1/4″ seam.  Be sure to backstitch at the beginning and end, it’s important.

This is the part that’s hard to understand with your brain, easier to understand with your fingertips.  My right hand is not very important here.  It’s an anchor, holding the threads.  I am not pulling with my right hand.  Good.  The left fingers slowly roll the tube of fabric back and forth, gently pulling away from my body.

The pads of my fingertips grip the outer layer of fabric, which allows the tiny tube to turn on itself.  If I use a death grip, the tie won’t turn.  Once you get it started, it usually comes along well.  Avoid bunching the fabric at one end.  If that happens, smooth it out and start again.  If I can’t get it to turn, I use long tweezers or a bodkin or a knitting needle to poke it through the first inch.

All wrapped up and tidy.

Pinned to my mini-corkboard, so I know where to find them.

7 Things to Know About Sewing Machine Needles

Paperdoll from The Paper Doll Says “Let’s Have Tea!” was kind enough to award me the Irresistibly Sweet Blogger Award.  I don’t remember being sweet (me? never), but I do thank Paperdoll for the award!

I already told you all my secrets, I don’t have any more.  Carolyn at Handmade by Carolyn recently faced a similar problem and used the “7 Things” as an opportunity to give some top notch tips on blog photography.  Thanks, Carolyn!

Photo from About.com

In the same spirit, I thought I’d address “7 Things to Know About Sewing Machine Needles”:

  • Always use the sewing machine needles made for your sewing machine.  Using improper needles leads to all kinds of machine malfunctions.  Needles are engineered to work with a particular machine. (Bobbins, too!) If you don’t know what needles to use, write down the make and model number of your machine and check in a local sewing shop.  They should be able to help.

L-R: Sharp 12, Denim 16, Ballpoint 12

  • Fine fabric, fine needles.  Heavy fabric, heavy needles.  Believe me, it makes a big difference.  If you use heavy needles on a fine fabric, you’ll end up with needle holes.  Fine needles often break in heavy fabrics.  I always keep 12’s in sharps and ballpoint (medium, all-purpose weight) and Denim needles.  They’re amazing for working with heavier fabric.  They’re stouter, sharper and have larger eyes than regular sharp needles.
  • Sharps vs. Ballpoints- Sharps are, well, sharp needles.  They’re designed for use with woven fabrics and tend to pierce the fibers.  Ballpoints have a slightly rounded tip; they’re designed to part the fibers and slide between them.  Sharps on knit fabric creates unsightly runs.  I don’t wear half my knits outside the house because I sewed them with sharps and it shows along the seams!
  • Sewing On Pins- Most of the time, nothing will happen.  Sometimes, you’ll bend a pin.  Occasionally, you’ll break a needle.  Rarely, you’ll throw off the “timing” of your machine.  That means the top thread won’t pick up the bottom thread anymore, and the only solution is a service.  (Incidentally, most warranties don’t cover “timing” because it is considered “user error.”)
  • Breakage- It’s not a big deal.  It’s really not. (I have had to scrape people off the ceiling in classes over needle breakage, it can be startling…) Simply unscrew the needle screw and remove the broken needle.  Then replace it with a fresh one.  Most needles are flat on one side.  Turn the flat to the back and insert it.  Gently push it up as far as it will go and tighten the screw with your fingers.  Then use the screwdriver to give it an extra tweak so it doesn’t shake loose while you’re sewing.
  • Change Them Often- I remember watching in awe as a more experienced coworker walked by one of my classes, cocked an ear and told me the little Husqvarna on the end needed a new needle.  She could hear it!  Needles are not eternal.  They pick up nicks and burrs, and the tips wear out.  Manufacturers recommend you change needles every 8 or so hours of sewing.  I do, and enjoy pretty uniform stitch quality.
  • Make A Sharps Bin!  I use an old honey bucket.  I cut some slits in the top and it lives behind my sewing machine, to the right.  Mine has acquired used light bulbs, razor blades, shards of glass- prickly things I don’t like putting into the trash on their own.

Thank you, Paperdoll!

I don’t know who else to award this to- everyone I can think of is irresistibly sweet and has done something like this fairly recently.   If you’d like to pick up the torch please do!

Check out my Pretty, Sparkly Giveaway.  It ends next Friday.

Edited to add: Have you seen the penguin sweaters for New Zealand?  It’s to protect birds caught in the oil spill.  The photos made me smile.