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Friday, May 22, 2015

Sewing a Zigzag Seam Finish

Knits, stretch fabrics, and fabrics that fray easily are usually best finished with a serger. This makes them nice and neat and unlikely to unravel on you. Great, right? Sergers, however, are incredibly expensive (unless you buy a cheap one that breaks 2 months later) and not worth the investment unless you're looking to become a professional seamstress. So if you don't want to shell out money for a serger but you still want to finish your fabrics in a slightly-professional manner, you'll need to use a zigzag, or even a double zigzag, to give your seam finishes a decent look.

Before you begin finishing your seam, press it flat. You can do this by either pressing the seam allowances open or closed. Open results in a flatter seam when everything is finished, but closed looks more like a professional serged edged. It's really up to you. Remember that if you're ironing the seam allowances closed, you'll be stitching them together with your zigzag. If you're ironing them open, you'll be stitching them individually.

Either way, iron your seam before beginning. Once this is done, stitch a wide or medium-wide zigzag stitch near the raw edge of the seam allowance. If you're not sure what size stitch to use, practice a bit on a scrap piece of fabric. Change your stitch widths a few times and see what works best. In general, you'll use a wider stitch for heavyweight fabrics and a narrow stitch for lightweight fabrics, but this is only a guide. Use what works. You can trim your seam allowances if you like, but be careful not to clip the stitching or you'll have to start all over again.

The zigzag seam finish is probably the most common finish for most of us (including me because I have a love/hate relationship with my serger). It tends to be the go-to seam finish, but don't be afraid to experiment with others.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Sewing a Hand Overcast Seam

Sheer and delicate fabrics are some of the most difficult to work with, especially when it comes to finishing a seam. Delicate fabrics sometimes fall apart when you try to finish a seam using your sewing machine, so it's often better to do so by hand. This is the gentlest way to finish off your more delicate projects.

The hand overcast method might sound self explanatory, but it's not, not really. If you don't do it right, and you don't keep it consistent, you'll find yourself with a seam finish that bunches. Start by ironing your seam open and flat, but use a very low setting. Delicate fabrics don't like a lot of heat. That's one of the many reasons they're labeled 'delicate'.

Once your seam is flat, hand stitch diagonal stitches ⅛" from the raw edge of the seam allowance. Make sure the stitches fall diagonally and that you don't pull too tight. You don't want the fabric bunching. Take your time. You'll want to make sure the stitches are ¼" apart. Keep it consistent. If this is difficult for you, consider pinning a piece of graph paper to the seam allowance as a guide. Even stitches that aren't too tight are the key to this delicate seam finish.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Sewing a Clean-Finish or Turn & Stitch Seam

I often get e-mails asking about certain sewing techniques, especially seams and seam finishes. Usually these requests are really just to clarify terms (such as the word "pink" in relation to sewing). Commercial patterns today assume a certain level of knowledge, so sometimes a pattern will ask you to do something simple, but not actually explain what that 'simple' thing is.

Such is the case with clean-finish seams, sometimes referred to as turn & stitch seams. Clean-finish is just a nice way of saying "don't leave the raw edges visible". It's a good choice to help prevent fraying on light to medium weight fabrics and it's fairly easy to accomplish.

First, iron your seam so that it's both flat and open. You should have done this already, but if you haven't, do it now. Once your seam is ironed, fold the raw edge of the seam allowance to the wrong side of the fabric. You only need to fold it ⅛" to ¼", so don't get carried away. Iron your fold before proceeding. This will keep it from slipping and driving you batty.

Stitch close to the fold to finish your seam. If you like you might want to trim some of the excess, but this is typically unnecessary for this type of seam. Iron your finished turn & stitch seam just to make everything lay flat. It will look prettier this way.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Fairy Tales: Alice in Wonderland

As a seamstress, I find couples hilarious. This one couple in particular made me laugh because they were complete opposite. They came to me wanting to be Alice and the Mad Hatter. Easy enough, right? It should have been, but what started as a normal order quickly became the funniest experience of the year.

It started as most orders start. With the initial visit. I had to measure them both, so I started with the wife. Got her all measured up and we started discussing her costume. It was simple enough because she just wanted the blue dress, made of a heavy cotton, and a white apron, also made out of cotton. She also needed a petticoat trimmed in a cute lace, so we spent some time with lace samples. Her husband sat on the couch and rolled his eyes the whole time. Typical visit.

Then it was his turn to be measured. The measuring went fine. Then out came the fabric. I'll be honest and tell you that it's usually the wife picking the fabrics for the husband. Very few husbands actually care what costumes their wife pick out or what material those costumes are made out of. This husband was certainly not typical.

I pulled out the fabric I'd typically use for the Mad Hatter, but the husband immediately didn't like it. The wife shrugged and went to sit on the couch, so I told the husband to pick out what he'd like. He picked an olive green cotton (not what I'd usually use) for the pants and hat. The blue cotton I was using for the wife's dress was his pick for the tie, vest, and hatband. A white shirt was fine, but he thought it would be nice if the fabric was the same as the petticoat his wife was getting. That was just weird, but okay. But then he found this yellow-orange cotton that he insisted would make an excellent jacket. Okay, then...

By this point, the wife is giggling because the fabric choices weren't what you would call coordinated. And it was only going to get funnier. I pulled out the sketch I'd usually use for the Mad Hatter, one I'd made a dozen times before, but the husband pulled out one of his own. Let's just say they were...different. Mine was streamlined and generally what a husband who didn't exactly what to dress up would appreciate. His was...eccentric.

At this point, the wife is laughing outright. She was laughing so hard she just about fell off the couch, and I was having a hard time of it as well. The husband looked at both of us like we were nuts. Getting myself under control, I took his drawing and promised to do what I could.

Fast forward two weeks and they're back for a fitting. The wife loved her dress and it required only a few moments to take in the waist by a millimeter so it really hugged her. Perfect. The husband tried his on. The pants and shirt fit well enough, as did the vest. As per his drawing, the coat was big and nutty. And too long, but he liked it well enough.

The change he asked for? He wanted me to take my stitch ripper and rough it all up. With the wife giggling, I did so. Only a few tears at first, but with the husband pleading, I must have torn two dozen holes in the thing. As I did so, he threw the hat on the floor and stomped on it. Then he nodded to himself and put the hat on his head. Now I was giggling.

"Ignore him," the wife giggled. "He's always like this. Everything is perfect."

They were just about the happiest couple I've ever had the pleasure of serving. I guess that's what matters.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Movie Projects: Jedi Robes

I'm not sure what's going on lately, but since Halloween I've been bombarded with requests for Jedi robes (from the Star Wars movies, obviously). I love making movie reproductions, don't get me wrong, but this is getting nuts. It's common for there to be requests for fully Jedi and Sith costumes right before Halloween, but I'm not usually asked just for robes, and it's never happened in the three months following Halloween. Something is definitely up.

But what's even stranger is that I'm not asked for true movie reproductions. Most people who contact me about Jedi and Sith costumes are wanting something made of a fabric at least somewhat similar to the ones you see in the movies. They also want a cut that looks like the movies. These days it's simply "Make me a standard robe in brown (or black). I'm using it for a Jedi robe."

What happened to all the people wanting deluxe movie reproductions? They're all waiting for the Halloween season, I guess. These simpler robes are actually easier to make, the fabric much easier on all my machines, and they take far less time. So while I charge less, I actually make more money spending a day making this easier robes than I do if I'm only working on the deluxe versions. So I guess I'm all for this version. Even if the timing and sheer number of them strike me as weird.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Wedding Projects: Cloaks

I don't know what it is, but in the last two years I've been asked to make many cloaks for weddings. In the past two years I've made over a hundred cloaks specifically for local weddings, and I think I've shipped more than twice that number. I'm not counting cloaks used for Halloween, LARP, or any other events in this number. That's just wedding cloaks.

Sometimes I've outfitted just the bride. Other times the entire wedding party needed cloaks (and other assorted garments). All of these have been fun, but the most fun I've had has been working with a lovely bride and a sweet little flower girl. The bride had very specific colors in mind, as most brides do, so the cloak had to be a particular shade of navy. Very particular. Luckily this bride was a joy, so we spent several hours choosing just the right fabrics. Eventually we stumbled upon a heavy navy satin that was just the right shade and had the perfect drape.

Next up was the lining. This was easier, but only slightly. It had to be the brightest white and it had to be incredibly light. The navy satin was already heavy enough. The white also had to serve as the shell of the flower girl's cloak. When we found a satin that would work perfectly, the bride was ecstatic.

Now all we had to find was the perfect lining for the flower girl. For this, the bride also had a very specific idea. White with red hearts. Not pink. Red. After a little searching, I did find a lovely white taffeta with red hearts. Perfect.

A few days later the bride and flower girl were twirling, showing off their new cloaks. The bride was impressed, but the flower girl was ecstatic. I don't think I'll ever tire of working with children. She was the cutest thing.

And as far as I know, the wedding went off without a hitch.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Making Pet Slings for Cats, Dogs, or Whatever

Does anyone else have a cat or dog (or rabbit or guinea pig) that just hates walking? My son has a poodle and she doesn't like walking if she doesn't have to. Especially when it's cold outside. Or wet. Or when the concrete is too hot. Or...well, you get the idea. And I need my arms for things that grabbing kids before they dash into the street.

My solution? Make my own pet slings. Luckily these are relatively easy to make. Start by selecting your fabric. I have multiple slings made of different fabrics. The one in the picture is fleece; I use it in winter. I also have a vinyl sling for wet weather and a light cotton sling for general use. You can pick a fabric that suits your own needs, but it shouldn't have too much stretch to it. A little stretch is fine.

Now you'll have to determine how much fabric you'll need, and this requires a measuring tape. Take a look at the picture and you'll see where the sling needs to fit to support your pet. Around one shoulder and down around the opposite hip. Measure this length and add a couple inches (you'll be stitching the sling together at the shoulder).

So how wide must this sling be? Well, it has to fold in half like a pocket and still have enough room for your pet. The dog in the picture needs a full 18 inches of room, so the fabric had to be at least 36 inches wide. If you're making it for a smaller pet, you'll be able to use a smaller sling. The cat sling I made is actually 24 inches which, which meant I needed a 48-inch wide piece of fabric.

Once you have your fabric, lay it out on a flat surface. Hem the long edges then fold, wrong sides together, to form the pocket. To clarify, the long edges should be touching. Stitch the short edges together so your pocket don't slip during the next step.

To create the sling, you now have to attach the two short ends to each other so the sling will go around your body. Place the sling around you to ensure it's long enough, pin, and stitch. In order to make the sling fit onto your shoulder you'll have to fold the edge accordion-style, but this only adds padding to your shoulder, keeping you more comfortable. Adjust the folds until you're happy. You'll want to add several lines of heavy stitching just in case, then trim the excess (if you have any; I usually don't).

Now you almost have a sling. Well, you have a sling, but if you put it on and put your pet in it, you'll have a pet that slips around inside the sling. There's a lot of empty space in there, after all. So put the sling on, slip your pet inside, and determine where you want him or her to sit. Once you know exactly where and at what angle you want your pet to sit, you can use lines of stitching (decorative or otherwise) to adjust the sling. Stich the pocket closed where you need to and run lines across the sling so your pet don't sneak around to your back (unless you want him to, of course).

Once you're done, you have a pet sling.