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Friday, January 20, 2017

Sewing a Hong Kong Seam

Seams may appear straightforward, but they can be tricky things. Not in the sewing of them, because that's quite easy, but in deciding exactly what type of seam might be most appropriate. You might need a common seam, such as a clean finish seam, or an enclosed seam like one bound in bias tape. Perhaps an overlock or a French seam would suit you better. But how do you choose? Well, that depends on the type of fabric and the item you're sewing, of course.

If you're using a heavyweight fabric, and if the item in question is an unlined garment, you might decide upon a Hong Kong seam. This finish totally encases the seams, giving your garment a pretty, almost couture, finish on the inside. It should be noted that this particular seam finish works only on straight or moderately straight seams. Curved seams have to be notched to lie properly, and the notching means that a Hong Kong finish is not really possible.

But if your seams are mostly straight, and your seam is pressed open nicely, you can cut a continuous length of bias tape. The tape should be a full inch wide, maybe even a little wider, and it should be pressed open. This may seem a little wide for a seam, but the extra width gives you much needed excess when you start working on the wrong side of the seam. You can always trim it down later. You don't have to use actual bias tape. You can cut your own strips of fabric to use if you want something coordinated to the fabric you're using. Maybe even use remnants of the main fabric, or a pretty silk to make your seams even prettier. It's up to you. If you're cutting your own strips, 1½" is probably the best width to work with. Remember, you will be able to trim it later.

With the seam pressed open, line up the edge of the bias tape with the raw edges of the seam, right sides together. Stitch ¼" from the raw edge, but only on one side. Now open up this new seam, revealing the right sides of both the fabric and the bias tape. Press open, then fold the bias tape under the raw edge and press again. The seam should now be enclosed in the bias tape. To secure, stitch in place from the top side, making sure your needle hits precisely where the fabric hits the bias tape. This is called the 'ditch', and stitching here should make your stitches all by disappear. Nice and neat. Trim off the excess and repeat for the other side of the seam. This is your Hong Kong seam.

Though this seam is a little more work than the less fussy bias tape bound seam, it is neater and exactly the type of seam finish you might need if you're creating an unlined garment where the seams will occasionally be seen. If you want to jazz it up even more, consider using silk or another fine fabric as your bias tape. Though this isn't necessary, a finer fabric enhances the finish and makes your garment appear designer. Which it is. Designed by you, anyway.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Sewing a Self-Bound Seam

There are so many seam finishes out there it can be difficult to decide on one. The decision is typically made based on the type of fabric and the exact look you're going for. If you're hoping to hide all your raw edges by enclosing them, and your fabric is sturdy and does not fray easily, or at all, you might consider the self-bound seam.

Start by ironing your seam in the expensive position. This will help keep you from accidentally clipping both sides of the seam allowance. When it's nice and flat, trim one side to about 1/8". No more than that, but not really less than that either. You'll need the room.

Once that's done, fold under the opposite seam allowance and press carefully. Fold it under again and press again. Then take the trimmed seam allowance and slip it inside the folded seam allowance. Take your time and make sure everything lays flat along the entire length of the seam.

When you're prepared, stitch the seam closed. Stay as close to the folded edge as possible while still catching all layers of the seam allowance. Once you're done, press flat and go.

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.