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Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween Costumes: Cleopatra

I love making Halloween costumes, especially when they're for children. This item was one of my favorites. Because I was working with the child in question, we decided to throw out historical accuracy and focus instead on what she wanted in her own costume. Please note: in the picture the little girl is wearing a thick sweater under the dress. Hey, it's really cold where we live and everyone was about to leave for the annual trick-or-treat. If the costume was to be worn indoors, the arms would have been bare.

To begin, we chose a brilliant white satin for the base gown. Because this had to fit over a snowsuit (we're usually buried under snow by the end of October), we had to make the gown a couple sizes larger than normal. We also had to make sure it was short enough for her to climb over a snow bank if she had to.

When it came to the cape, she picked a gold taffeta. Because I was dealing with a child, I made sure the cape could be easily removed. Children love capes, but only until the capes are annoying. Then they want the capes off, so the cape only loops around the neck (under the collar) and has loops to hook over the wrists. This makes it easy to take off.

Children take forever to make up their minds, so we were running out of time before Halloween. So instead of making the collar and belt from scratch, I purchased them, took them apart, and put them back together again. Why did I do this? Well, let's face it. Nothing I purchased would match exactly. So I needed to add a few new touches. A slightly different fabric and a few gems and gold pieces (not real, of course; she's just a kid) later and she was ready to go. Well, after the makeup and wig were applied.

I might have done a few more things to the costume and even used different fabrics, but she was very happy with it as it was. Since that's what matters to me, that's what we went with. I'm hoping to make another Cleopatra costume, a more deluxe version, in the future. Maybe next year.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Sewing a Tricot Bound Seam

If your fabrics are sheer or especially delicate, a bias tap bound seam may actually be too heavy. In this case, you may want to bind the seam using tricot, which is a lighter and more delicate fabric. It will work well with other fabrics of a similar weight.

To sew a tricot bound seam, cut a long piece of tricot about the width of the seam allowance. Fold this piece of tricot strip in half lengthwise and encase the raw edge of the seam allowance. Stitch along the edge of the tricot strip using either a zigzag or a straight stitch.

Remember to press your seam open before beginning. Also make sure the tricot you're using won't shrink when you wash the garment or item in question. When in doubt, pre-shrink your fabrics before you begin.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Sewing a Bias Tape Bound Seam

Fabrics that fray so quickly and completely that they'll practically disappear on you typically benefit from an enclosed seam. The most common enclosed seam is a bias tape bound seam. this type of seam finish works well for easily frayed fabrics, fur, and unlined jackets that you need to give a professional look to. It's also fairly easy to pull off if you have some coordinating bias tape lying around. If you don't, head off to your local store and buy some. Make sure you've measured your seams and added up how much you'll need so you don't need to make a second run.

Now that you have your bias tape, it's time to enclose and finish your seam. Start by pressing your seam open. Then encase each raw edge with the bias tape, pinning carefully so you'll catch both sides of the tape and the fabric when you sew the seam. Stitch close to the folded edge of the bias tape, making sure you're not missing the tape on the other side. Once you stitch both sides of the seam, you're finished.

You can make your own bias tape, if you like. This is done by simply cutting long strips of fabric and folding and pressing so that it is folded just like bias tape. Examine a piece of bias tape to see how it's folded and you'll discover making your own out of whatever fabric you wish isn't hard.

Whether you make it or buy it, make sure to wash and dry the bias tape before you use it. Nothing is more irritating than having your bias tape shrink once you've already finished your garment. So always, always pre-shrink your bias tape.

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.