Friday, January 25, 2013

Topstitching A Curved Facing

Yesterday I showed my third version of Ottobre Woman's Everywoman's Favorite Cardigan from their 5/2009 issue. Oh, you didn't see it?

I've purchased two Ottobre Woman magazines (love them, but I don't feel a need to own every one of their bi-yearly issues) and it seems to me that OW is very fond of using shaped, topstitched facings. Me too! They add nice interest to the design, they make for a very sturdy and neat construction (as opposed to a binding or band) and they eliminate any chance of the facing not staying right where it should at all times.

Ottobre mentions understitching the facing after applying it, but then they don't provide much guidance for topstitching. If the topstitching is to be a simple straight stitch, it's possible to topstitch from the wrong side, using the edge of the facing as your guide. But if you want to use a twin needle, that won't work, since you must stitch with the right side facing up for the two rows of stitching to be visible on the right side. I really want the topstitching to echo the shape of the edge it follows, but since it is two inches away from that edge, it's difficult to make the stitching line smooth by establishing a guide based on the edge.

I like to machine baste the facing in place from the wrong side, using as long a stitch length as possible (5mm in this case) and very slippery thread. Sulky rayon works very well for this. Since I don't machine embroider, I don't begrudge the Sulky for this use.

After the facing is basted, I follow my basting line using the twin needle and matching thread on the right side.

The slippery thread is easy to remove, even from a knit.

Oh, I should mention that I nearly always use the walking foot with the twin needle on knits. Experience has shown that the walking foot vastly reduces or eliminates skipped stitches.

Even though I'm usually no fan of basting, and this method does involve rethreading the machine, it's totally worth it for the quality of the results.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ottobre Woman Says This is "Everywoman's Favorite Cardigan"!

Clio's been exploring a sewing paradox on her blog: cake vs. frosting. In the sewing context, cake is the kind of clothing we need and wear most of the time: practical garments and basics. Frosting, on the other hand, is that stuff we spend all our time sewing: party dresses, leather jackets, floral pants. Clio describes her resolution to focus on sewing more cake very well, but I have a hard time with her metaphor. My pesky food allergies (gluten being just the tip of the iceberg) make it rather painful to even think about cake, in any context.

So I've been mentally singing Fats Waller's All That Meat and No Potatoes as I think about how to induce myself to sew more practical garments. I definitely wear lots of frosting/meat (for evenings out swing dancing), but I need and want more things that make me feel good and look put together during my stay-at-home mom/freelance journalist daily routine.

This cardigan is potatoes.

From Ottobre Woman 5/2009

I've made it a couple of times before, though those versions have by now passed into memory. The first was a fuzzy burgundy wool blend knit from FabricMart. That was a good sweater, but it was too wide in the neck and shoulders and the color didn't really suit me. I wore it into a mass of pills nonetheless! 

Here's the second version. Although you can't tell it by looking at it on the hanger, I altered the pattern by filling in the neckline on the sides and at the center front. This advice is often given for altering a pattern when the neck is too wide, but it doesn't make perfect sense (or work very well). The width is just the same, but the opening is less large. The resulting cardigan didn't fall off my shoulders, but the shoulder seam still hit beyond the actual point of my shoulder, down on my upper arm.

For this version I took a long dart from the neckline to the side seam at about the level of the high hip on both the front and the back. This alteration removed 1" of width from each side of the chest area (2" total width), tapering to nothing at the lower part of the garment. Learning this alteration has been a real epiphany. I used the size 36 at the shoulder, the next-to-smallest size for this pattern. Yes, I could have gone down to the 34, but the difference in width was minimal (perhaps 1/4" total width). I'm starting to think there's an important reason for me to avoid going for the smallest size in the shoulder area: it affects depth as well as width. When I use a very small pattern size at the neckline and shoulder area, I start to feel tightness in the armholes, while the chest is still too wide. It must be that the garment is getting too small from front to back. If I select a small but not too small starting size and then alter for width, the resulting garment is much more comfortable.

This goes against a lot of the fitting advice I have read. 

I also tapered up to a size 38 at the hip area, shortened the cardigan 4" and added a center back seam and a swayback adjustment.

With center back seam and swayback adjustment

Covers meat and potatoes nicely

Very happy with the fit of this version, especially the beautiful curve of the neckline, something Ottobre drafts so well
This fabric is navy wool doubleknit (from Waechter's, my hometown fabric store, bought at their fall 25% off sale), be still my heart. I was at pains to do justice to this wonderful and not-so-cheap fabric. The interfacing is the Pro Sheer Elegance from Fashion Sewing Supply and it was, as usual, perfect and easy to work with. The right buttons were happily waiting in my stash (salvaged from a Goodwill find, I believe), and my Juki F600 did a bang-up job on the buttonholes. I used the #14 stretch buttonhole and it worked out great.

Tomorrow I will have a couple of tips about topstitching the curved neck facing and front facing.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sullivan's Craft Table: The Worst Table I Ever Loved

After moving my sewing room into a smaller space in our house (to allow my teenaged son to take over the larger, colder basement), I needed to find a new cutting surface. My previous cutting table was definitively too large for the new room.

It wasn't hard to find ways to agonize over the decision. One thought went like this: "What a first-world problem. You have both a dining room table and a king-sized bed in adjacent rooms. Would it kill you to carry fabric to those surfaces to cut things out? Sure, it's not ideal, but a lot of things in life aren't ideal."

Another agonized thought: "I hate cheap disposable furniture. I should wait for a nice high-quality collapsible cutting table to show up on Craigslist within driving distance, no matter long it takes."

Those objections put me off the purchase of the Sullivan's craft table for nearly three weeks, which might be some kind of record. Two considerations finally sealed the deal: I already had the rotary cutting mat that is sized to fit this type of table and I realized that the way I work really depends on access to a cutting surface all the time. For better or for worse, I very often cut throughout the duration of a project. The dress I'm working on now is a good example. I cut all the body pieces, but wasn't sure exactly what sort of sleeve I wanted to use. As I assembled the body, I had plenty of time to think through the pros and cons of the sleeve options and to come to an unhurried decision. The same thing happens with interfacing. I might only cut one piece of interfacing at a time, fuse it, sew it up and then assess how I like it. If it's not what I want, I haven't cut a whole garment's worth of pieces out.

So generally I will have a project out on the cutting table the whole time I am working on it. When it's done, I do clean up before moving on to the next project. Having to cut everything all at once, or to clean and set up the dining room table each time I want to cut a piece, was certainly cramping my style.

So, off to Joann's to buy the Sullivan's Craft Table. There are many reviews for this table online. The consensus seemed to be that it's about what one might expect for the price (from $99 to $149, approximately), but there the agreement ended. Some folks felt that it was so unstable as to be unusable, whereas others found it wobbly yet indispensable.

I turn out to be in the latter group. Putting the table together was not too difficult. I happened to have a folding table in the room, and used that to lay out all the pieces. Much easier than crawling around on the floor. The directions were complete and clear. Even turning the finished table from its back onto its feet was not too much for me on my own, due to its relatively light weight.

The online reviewers were very correct, though--the table is quite unstable, and it moves around a lot even under the light load of rotary cutting. I don't find it too bothersome, but it wouldn't be the table for anything heavier-duty than garment sewing. If you have small children, or if the table would be located in a high traffic area, well, the unsteadiness could be a real problem.

In my little nook, in my little room, it's working great. The light weight means I can move it around very easily, so I can create space on either side as I am moving around the fabric. Positioning the table against the wall makes it somewhat more stable.

My final worry about the table was that it might be fume-y, as so much particle board furniture is. I am really sensitive to fumes, and it's often impossible to tell in a store what is going to irritate me once it's in my home. I haven't noticed any fumes or odors at all with this table, which in itself is a huge recommendation.

Another wonderful improvement in my sewing room is that I was finally able to fix a problem that had been plaguing my Pfaff 130 for the past several weeks. The top thread kept breaking. I worked on the needle tension assembly, the hook and the bobbin case, without success. I was pretty sure that the hook timing was not the problem but, in desperation, I pulled out the service manual to find out how to check it. In the course of looking up the timing instructions, I came across a troubleshooting chart, which listed one of the causes of needle thread breakage as roughness on the needle plate. Something I hadn't checked! Visually, it looked as though there might be a nick, so I smoothed all around that area with emery cloth. Thank heavens, that did the trick and the Pfaff 130 is back in business.

I love my modern Juki F600 for its many strengths, but when I use it consistently or for a lot of long seams, my neck gets completely out of whack. The Pfaff is faster, more accurate (because it is set into the industrial table) and more powerful (because it has an industrial motor), and I can sew with it for long periods with no discomfort. Sadly it has no knee lifter, or else it would be perfect, but it is still my machine of choice for sewing seams.

The Juki excels at specialty stitches, precise edgestitching and topstitching and its fabulous buttonholes. It has great lighting and it does a wonderful job on difficult fabrics (actually, the Pfaff does, too). But for just plain sewing, the Pfaff is the best machine I've ever used and I missed it so much when it was not working. I would have even taken it to a mechanic, but it's not so easy when the machine is in an industrial table. I figured my favorite mechanic would be able to rig up a home motor to it, but he is always backed up nine or 10 weeks--too long!

Everything seems just right in the sewing room now. I hope I can stay content and not think of new things I "need".

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Kwik Sew 3597 Small Tote Bag

Kwik Sew's pattern photo for 3597
My first version of Kwik Sew's easy to sew tote bag pattern in the largest size has seen a fair amount of use, despite its floppy fabric. 

A lovely and super-generous friend gave me a whole stash of glorious upholstery fabrics last year. This woven houndstooth check is from that haul, made for my friend's Christmas present.

This version is the smallest size for the pattern. The strap attachment is intended to dress the bag up a little. The patch and rivets were installed after inserting the bag lining but before the top facing. First the leather patch (with its center slit already cut) was glue-basted and then topstitched into place. Then the strap was inserted into the slit and holes were punched with my much-used 1/8" leather hole punch. 

Without claiming expert knowledge, I would nonetheless humbly suggest that you use a barrel-style punch for making these types of holes, rather than the plier-style punch with rotating heads. Who in the world has the hand strength for that plier arrangement? Furthermore, I recommend avoiding the siren song of the very well-priced sets of barrel punches in a variety of sizes that come from China. I can tell you from experience that they are so poorly machined that they don't work.

Tandy barrel-style hole punch. Used with a hammer. Punches a clean hole through leather, fabric, cardboard, plastic and anything else that gets in its way.

The Tandy punch works.

When it comes to setting the rivets, I use a Tandy rivet-setting tool and Tandy snap rivets. If money and space were not limited, I would love to own a rivet, grommet and snap setting press. Anything less is always going to involve misfires and swearing. But it's worth it to be able to use rivets.

This time out I lined the thing. The lining is a Marc Jacobs raincoat fabric (now sold out) from FabricMart. It makes a nice bag lining because the fabric is double-sided and coated with a water resistant laminate. These features give it a nice stiffness without much weight. Even though the outer fabric is pretty heavy, it isn't very stiff. Using a crispy lining meant that I didn't need to interface the outer pieces.

I added a magnetic snap to hold the top edges together. Nicole Mallalieu's great tutorial changed the way I put in these snaps, much for the better. Another tiny change from the pattern was to add a little key lanyard made from a piece of ribbon and a small snap clasp from my box of metal notions. Even though I cringe when doing it, I now cut up any bags or satchels my family is discarding rather than giving the potentially-still-useful item to Goodwill. I save all that lovely hardware for just such uses as this. Buying snaps and rings and buckles is crazy expensive!

Between the lining and the outer fabric I inserted a bag bottom made from thin acrylic sheeting. I have several sheets of this nice material, which I think came from my husband's architecture school/model building days. It cuts easily enough with strong scissors but is nonetheless more rigid than what I find sold for this purpose in fabric stores. Wrapping the edges in masking tape eliminates the possibility of a sharp spot working its way through the outer or lining fabric, particularly at the corners. Kwik Sew considerately provides the dimensions for the bag bottom piece, which is a nice convenience some other bag patterns do not supply.

Bag feet would have been a nice addition to this project, but after attaching the straps I was done with punching holes!

Unlike its unlined, uninterfaced predecessor, this bag holds its shape and stands up on its own. I cannot abide a floppy handbag. That's a big part of the reason I love vintage Coach bags.

My friend was thrilled with the bag. She said her 20-something daughter was eyeing it enviously, but she refused to give it up. Now that was a great compliment!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Vogue 8859: Am I Dreaming?

Love this pants pattern. Could it be the one I've been looking for? All my life?

I'm not saying there's anything aesthetically too exciting about these pants. Mostly I appreciate them for what they are not: uncomfortable, bulky, difficult to sew, demanding of just the right fabric, hard to care for.

The first pair is of ponte knit.

I made several fitting changes, shortenings, combinings of sizes, all of which seem pretty specific to me. But what might be relevant to my friends out there: I had to take in the center back seam a lot to reduce bulk in that area. Like, more than 1" per side of the center back seam, starting at the top of the back yoke and tapering down to the original seamline about 2/3 of the way to the crotch.

Unexciting back view that showed me I am knock-kneed!

For my 5'2" frame, I shortened the pattern 1" above the crotch (by using 2" elastic for the waist rather than 1"), 1" between the crotch and knee and 1/2" below the knee.

Since I widened the "waistband," I ran into troubles with the yoke seam. That is, the waist seam threatened to fall below the yoke seam. Seeing as how I had already serged the two-inch-wide elastic into place and didn't care to remove it, I topstitched the elastic just 1/2" from the top (with a twin needle). Though I wasn't so sure how this would work out, it is absolutely fine and comfortable to wear. Everything stays in its place and the pants stay up nicely.

Inside view of the waistband, showing how the line of topstitching is far above the lower edge of the elastic

Outside view of the waistband
Today I finished up a second pair of these pants, from a stretch cotton/poly/lycra denim from Joann's. Marcy Tilton recently blogged that stretch wovens would work with this pattern and, by golly, she was right.

The Joann's fabric wasn't bad at all. I washed and dried it twice in a bid to remove all shrinkage prior to sewing. But after wearing the pants for an hour or so, they've definitely grown larger. The recovery could be better. But I'm so comfortable I really can't complain!

Seriously, when we wear long tops and tunics, is it really necessary to have a fly, and front pockets, and coin pockets, and belt loops, and a structured waistband, and rivets, and a jeans button? All of those things are great, but I wouldn't want to sleep in them. These pants are so comfortable I could easily wear them to bed.

I used 3/4" elastic in waist of this second pair (without shortening the pattern correspondingly), and I don't think that worked out as well. That wide elastic, either 1 1/2" or 2", feels so secure and just-right to me. I need to order a big spool of it from Wawak, because it is quite expensive by the yard from Joann's, Hancock's or our independent local fabric stores.

Future plans for this pattern include making a version without the knee detailing, just to see if I like it as much as an even plainer pant.

These pants are a dream come true, and I hope I'll continue to feel as excited about them in the future as I do today. I can envision many pairs in different colors and fabrics, each more comfy than the last!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Toxic Vest

I knew in my bones this project would be a bust before I even ordered the fabric, before I even selected a pattern, before I even finalized the style. And why proceed in the face of that nearly-certain knowledge? Curiosity and cussedness is all I can figure.

Strangely, though, the failure doesn't flow from my initial misgivings. Since last year I've admired the look of sleeveless furry vests. Even though I realized such a thing would not be practical, I like the whimsy and texture. I thought I could maybe benefit from a little whimsy and texture. Vests aren't much use to me generally, because I always need the warmth of sleeves. But, what the heck--I couldn't get the idea out of my mind and tempted me with a great sale on what looked to be a gorgeous fake fur.

The fur arrived and I adored the color of it. But it was seriously furry, so much so that I couldn't imagine what the effect would be when worn. On the one hand, I thought a short vest would be advisable, to limit the volume. On the other hand, that would put all the fur volume on top of my maximum area of volume and that didn't seem wise.

After much consultation with Pinterest, I decided to throw caution to the winds and to make a longer, princess-seamed vest. I returned to Simplicity 4032, a pattern used with great success in last year's fleece coat.

I worked hard on the construction of the vest. Internet research indicated that working with fake fur is one part sewing, two parts vacuuming. I disagree; it's at least three parts vacuuming. I used my hair clippers to remove the pile from the seam allowances before sewing them together, and I would highly recommend that approach. I stabilized the neck edge with a strip of the selvedge of the silk used for the lining.

The lining itself is a gorgeous Marc Jacobs silk/cotton jacquard from FabricMart.

I was so worried this vest would be wildly unflattering. I don't think it is. It's not slimming, of course, and it is far outside of my usual look, but yet I find it cute and fun.

And yet I doubt I'll ever wear it, because the moment I put it on, my head swims from the petroleum-product fumes, my throat burns and my head starts to hurt. I truly did not notice this effect during sewing. I thought the fumes I was smelling were from the marker I had used to trace the pattern pieces onto the back side of the fur before cutting out. And I intended to trim off those edges after sewing it up, which I did.

But once this thing is on me, I am engulfed in a toxic cloud and I can't wait to get it off. It's also very ticklish around my neck and static-y, but I could live with that. The fumes, though--they won't fly. I have hung it in a faraway corner of the laundry room to see how a bit of time affects it, but I'm not very hopeful. The fabric has been laying out in the sewing room for over a month, so it may not off gas much more, at least not in this decade.

My expression here kind of sums it up

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Vogue 8837 Katherine Tilton Jodphur-Style Pants

I'm an enthusiastic follower of sewing blogs. I don't comment enough, but several years on, I still enjoy the day-to-day voyeuristic glimpses into what fellow sewers are creating and thinking.

Over time, I've learned that there are some blogs I love for their unique voice and humor, some I love for their focus on process and technique and some I love for the quality of the visual presentation. But I've noticed that, strangely enough, my love for a blog and its point of view is not necessarily any predictor of how well that blogger's amazing projects will work for me. Who among us hasn't hastened to interpret something awesome we saw on a blog, only to have it flop for us?

Somehow, though, I've never gone wrong in slavishly copying Shams of Communing With Fabric. This time, it's a pants pattern that appealed to me, but which I probably wouldn't have actually purchased without Shams' intrepid leading of the way.

Like other bloggers, I have so far omitted the cuff and the line of gathering stitches at the back of the leg 
 I was so uncertain about how to fit these pants that I made a muslin, which isn't pictured here (it was rather yucky stretch velvet, which didn't show any details anyway). I made the muslin in size medium, which was roomy, especially since the fabric had a good deal of stretch. Although the pattern provides lines for shortening above the crotch and below the knee, there is no provision for shortening below the crotch and above the knee. So naturally that's what I needed. Without that adjustment, the curved shaping got lost in the bend of my knee.

I measured down a consistent depth from the above-crotch shortening line (about six or seven inches) and drew a line on both front pattern pieces and the back pattern piece. I reduced the length there by one inch, below the knee by one inch and effectively above the crotch by one inch by using two inch elastic for the waist casing rather than one inch as specified by the pattern. Then I think I removed a bit more from the lower edge. I'm 5'2", so that all makes sense.

For the second version, in black ponte, I used the size small back piece, since the pants seemed most baggy in the back. I liked the resulting fit, which isn't tight at all but still is slimmer than I have been wearing in pants recently.
This is more a photo of me in which I happen to be wearing the pants than a photo of the pants. Unfortunately, they got covered in lint in the wash (new towel) and now I must purchase a sweater stone to remove the pills before they will be fit to wear again.
For the third version I used a stretch cotton velvet herringbone that I've been hoarding for the right pattern. I think it came from FabricMart two or three years ago. I did not make any further changes to the pattern, and I was pleased to find that there was still plenty of room using a stretch woven rather than a knit.

Rear view. Wish the boots didn't push up the pants quite so much--I guess I need to rig some stirrups or other straps to hold them down when wearing them tucked into boots

With my new-to-me vintage Coach Court bag in British Tan. I've been eyeing these for over a year on eBay and finally made a present of one to myself for Christmas. 
I really like this pattern and I am actively searching for some stretch denim to make more. But look for some thoughts on another new slim pant pattern from Vogue, 8859, this one from Marcy Tilton. Shams inspired me to also try that pattern, and I think I like it even better than this one.

Thanks so much for all the great inspiration, Shams!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Sewing Room for the New Year

Though it's been configured many different ways in the eight years we've lived in this house, my sewing room has always been located in the basement. Despite its flaws (prone to flooding, cold as ice), the basement has two great advantages: first, it's roomy and second, it has lovely south-facing windows.

In the winter, there's no getting around the essential chilliness of the basement. No matter how long we run our electric space heaters, the concrete slab never warms up, and it draws the heat right out of your body.

So when my recently-turned-thirteen-year-old son started campaigning to move his "office" to the basement, freeing up an upstairs bedroom for the sewing room, I was filled with excitement...and dread at the thought of moving all my gear. Just to be clear, my son still has his bedroom on the main floor of our house, not in the cold basement. It's a tiny room, though, only big enough for a single bed, a dresser and a bookcase, and we've always given him the other bedroom for his computer and toys. He's not the greatest sleeper, and I feel that separating daytime and nighttime activities into different rooms promotes better rest. The joys of being an only child (which I am too)!

So we set about the switch three days ago, and only finished yesterday evening. My new room is just lovely and snug. I am excited to know that I can step in and sew any time, without thinking about warming up the space first, or adding multiple layers of clothing to my already-layered usual attire. It's at least a third smaller than my previous space, however, so I've been engaged in a massive clean-up and clean out.

New ironing board cover, my Pfaff 130 in an industrial table, Juki F600 and Juki MO-654 DE serger

The first project of the new year and the new room was a fresh new cover for the ironing board. Since the Rowenta cover it came with fits nicely, I copied it in some Denyse Schmidt County Fair canvas from my stash. The ironing board occupies a large part of the room, so covering it with a cheerful and fresh fabric made a great change from the stained muslin cover.

The cutting area, such as it is, is to the right of the ironing board in this photo.
The biggest disadvantage of the new space is a lack of cutting space. There simply isn't room to set up a table of any size. The options seem to be buying one of those drop leaf tables that expand to the size of my cutting mat, or setting up on the dining room table whenever I need to cut out. I'm going to take my time in deciding the best option. We took two loads of unwanted chairs, tables and stools to Goodwill in making room to rearrange things, and I am not eager to replace any of that volume with new "stuff".

My beloved pattern cabinet, along with the "sewing library" and notions storage
Though the basement windows were nice and quite wonderful for a basement, the street-level view from this room is even better. I think it will be such a happy place to work. The pressure will be on to stay organized and tidy, and to find a good solution for cutting out, but I am optimistic that it will be a nice change. My son is thrilled with his new-found privacy and space in the basement, by the way. He is fairly impervious to cold, so the chill doesn't seem to bother him.