Cutlery for Apparel Sewing

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Last week, when I shared some tool tips for beginners, I thought it might be a good idea to talk about the arsenal of cutlery I’ve acquired over the years for various stages of the sewing process. I found that when it comes to the world of scissors, there is something that fits nearly every circumstance. There’s a lot of choices, which is great! Yay for choice!

You might be asking, “Why do I need more than one pair of scissors?” It’s a valid question and one that I asked too. As I’ve sewn more and more garments over the years, I’ve found the value of having lots of different types of scissors that work better than others do in different stages of the construction process. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure, but I’ve cut holes into garments from using the wrong scissors. It’s a cold compress moment. Tears are usually shed. Expletives start flying. It’s not pretty.

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Let’s start with the old standbys. My fabric cutting shears. I have three pairs of these. I have a pair of Kai’s that are great for most everything. They could slice through steel I tell ya! I also have a pair of spring-loaded Gingher’s that I use only on silk fabrics. I end up working a lot with wool and a lot with silk and I’ve found that wool actually dulls my shears a little, so I opted to invest in a pair that was only for silks and/or thin fabrics like lining so that I wouldn’t have to get them sharpened as often. I also have a pair of Gingher serrated shears that are marvelous for those extra, extra tricksy slippery fabrics. The knife edge has tiny micro serrations in it and they grip the fabric and then slice and they are ideal for silk charmeuse or chiffon.

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My next most used pairs of scissors are my nippers. They are a Gingher pair, but I’ve used others with success too. I use nippers for cutting threads and they stay right next to my sewing machine while I sew. I have tried to get used to the thread cutter on my machine, but I like the ritual of using my nippers. It’s a funny little preference as I do love speed, but it’s something I do.

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My tailor points come next (on the right above). These are a little 5 inch pair of Gingher scissors that I use all the time for clipping, trimming and grading. They are probably my favorite pair, I use them so much! The short length helps protect against the dreaded slice into the garment. Mainely Dad also recommends bandage scissors that help protect against that sort of thing even more! I’ve yet to try a pair, but my mister also agrees with as he’s worked in a hospital using these. Look, these ones are serrated! I use these Gingher Applique Scissors (on the left above) for narrow hems, like say on a circle skirt. Surprisingly that’s about the only thing I use these for, but I do find them very useful in that instance. They are handy to have around when you need to get nice and close to an edge.

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Last, but not least, I do have a pair of Gingher pinkers. I’ve seen these used as a seam finish, but I use them for trimming curved seams. You know how you’re supposed to notch or clip curved seams so they lay right? I use pinkers instead and trim the seam to about 1/4″. Granted this is only on enclosed seams, but they are very useful for this purpose.

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Back a few years ago, I made a little peg board especially for my shears (and then from there I added other items to it too). It’s very handy as all my scissors are hanging up and out of the way and they are easy to access when I need them. Took an old picture frame from a thrift shop and had some peg board precut to the right dimensions and voila – instant scissor hanger!

There’s my arsenal of scissors. I don’t use much in the way of a rotary cutter – though I have two for odd jobs. I’m a shears and scissors lover. What about you? Are there special scissors that really help you? Or do you use a rotary cutter? Thoughts on the best ones you’ve tried? We’d all love to know!

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Sewing Secrets: Tools for Beginners

I recently wrapped up teaching a Beginner Sewing Class at my local university and it gave me a ton of ideas on my favorite tools for beginning sewists. It’s nice to know that there are things out there that others have tried and think you should try to (because they are just better and make your sewing experience easier). So here goes – please chime in, in the comments with your tips on your favorite tools:

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Glass head silk pins. My favorites are put out by Clover and red and white heads. Why are these a thing? The heads make life so much easier. You can grab them and jab them into anything without hurting your fingers (hello awful headless pins!). And I say silk pins because as a beginner you may not know that there are many many different types of pins. Silk pins or they are sometimes called sharps, basically pin into anything because they are extra sharp and fine for pinning into silk. The Clover ones aren’t too long, they don’t bend too easily, you can use them in knits (which can be hard to pin sometimes) and when you iron over them, the heads don’t melt. So worth it.

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Magnetic pincushion. I’m a serious Clover crusher and my favorite is again, put out by Clover. It’s the Magnetic Pin Caddy and the magnet is nice and strong. I know it’s incredibly tempting to use a really cute old fashioned stuffed pincushion. The magnetic ones are not as cute, I’ll grant you. But what they lack in aesthetic, they more than make up for in ease of use. Get one of these and you won’t have to worry about your pins being strewn all over your workspace and pushed onto the floor where you might find one stuck in your foot later. Just sayin is all. These make sewing way, way faster.

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A good pair of shears/scissors. Or a good quality rotary cutter – whichever you prefer for cutting. I use a pair of Kai shears that I love to death. But being the sewist that I am, I have several pairs of Ginghers too and both are great scissor options. Invest in a pair and when they get a little dull, go get them sharpened. A good pair of shears will last you the rest of your sewing days – as long as you don’t go and cut rocks with them! Same with a good rotary cutter. I have a Kai for that too and I haven’t needed to change the blade in 3 years – it’s seriously that awesome!

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Good thread. It’s a small thing, but good thread is a must. This is what holds your garment together! You really do get what you pay for and if you buy cheap thread, chances are high that it’s crap thread too. And please – do not use your grandmother’s hand me down thread! Thread has a shelf life because it can rot. My favorite thread is Metrosene all purpose polyester thread, but Gutermann and Coats and Clark also put out great threads and these are all pretty easy to get your hands on at either Joann or Hancock. Don’t do the discount thread. It’s discounted for a reason.

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Invest in a nice set of hand sewing needles. I love these self-threading Clover ones. You hold a piece of thread over the top, click the thread into place and voila! the needle is easily threaded. Seriously, these are marvelous. They come in a handy set of lengths and weights and make easy work of hand sewing. Especially if you’re prone to continually de-threading your needle while you’re sewing.

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Change out your machine needle after every two or three projects, and/or change it out according to the needs of your fabric. There are different sized needles out there for your machine and it’s worth changing out often. My favorites are the microtex or sharps needles put out by Schmetz or a company called Klasse. These guys are extra sharp and work wonderfully on the majority of fabrics.

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Last, but not least, get yourself a good iron. My best tip is to get a vintage steam iron. General Electric ones are grand (got mine off ebay, but etsy is a good place to look too). I work with one of these and have done so for the past 3 years. My guy has never given me fit, is hotter than you can even imagine (oh la la), always has steam for me, does not have auto-off (which is great if you’re a sewer) and is heavy. Good grief, I wish he was my boyfriend! I love my iron!

So what are your favorite tools? Was there a specific tool when you started sewing that was the best thing since sliced bread? Do share!

Sewing Secrets, part 1st

I’ve been working on some nice and well, rather uneventful sewing projects lately. I thought it worth highlighting some great tools/articles/information I’ve been using as of late. I just love anything and everything that can make my sewing life easier and my end result more professional. Seriously, a tailor’s ham is a girl’s best friend. The right shears/cutting tools make you feel like getting up in the morning. Having the right iron is like having that one best friend that will never, ever tell any of your secrets to another living soul – even if they were tortured! What better way to celebrate these small daily sewing spots than to pass the tips along to you!

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Have you tried this stuff? It’s like crack for ironing addicts. It’s like way way way better than starch (and I am a starch lovin kind of gal and no, don’t you dare question my age!!!)! Mary Ellen, whoever you are, you’ve won my heart with your Best Press. It can only receive a glowing commendation from me.

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Tanya Whelan came out with this lovely book a bit ago. I have been relishing it as a bit of a treasure because I love how it teaches you how to manipulate/draft patterns to be something else instead of reinventing the wheel with trying to fit yet another pattern. And she gives you a basic pattern to start with as a base. So you’ll fit the one pattern and then guess what? You can manipulate the pattern to be the other dresses in the book and those will fit you too! Y’all know how much I love this idea. It’s like smart and stuff.

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Since I’ve been playing around with doing some of the above from Tanya’s book recently, I’ve also had the chance to use this little guy. Claire’s Curve Runner is pretty amazing. So clever. It’s so nice to be able to measure a curve without having to break out the measuring tape. Claire is kickstarting a business, so I think it’s only apropos that she gets some help. Small business is not for the faint of heart, as I’ve told you before. And these clever tools she’s got are worth every penny. Do go and give her some support.

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I am not a Pellon enthusiast. But, I will say that this lite tear away stabilizer is absolutely amazing for buttonholes. I doubt that you’ll need it for all buttonholes, but when it comes to working with fine shirtings that tend to be on the thinner side, this makes all the difference. The buttonholes on my machine tend to bunch up and pucker. Well, no more! No more! I use this stuff on the underside as I stitch a buttonhole onto my garment and then voila – I tear the excess away! They end up looking marvelous.

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And I can finally let the cat out of the bag on this collaboration. I’m excited to be apart of the Sewing Party this year. Even better, I got a new friend. Pernell’s got a way with pretty much everything. Gorgeous buttonholes (speaking of), beautiful stitching, topstitches through granite, has a clever little ant stitch, has a giant free arm space (love this so much) and has more gadgets and gizmos than I even know what to do with. Those Pfaff Performance 5.0’s are in a league of their own. I’m loving mine! Promise: a full run down later on. I’m sure you’ll want to know all the dirty deets on Pernell. Oh and don’t miss my post on how to line an easy skirt, aka the Hollyburn Skirt – my favorite!

Enjoy!

xx, Sunni

Fitting Thoughts on McCall’s 6649

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Since I got you all excited about creating your own patterns – from a pattern that already fits you – in my last post, I thought I would give you some fitting thoughts of what I went through with my versions of McCall’s 6649. I posted an update about the Craftsy class with Sarah Holden in my last post, but I thought I would state it again. This particular class does not offer any help whatsoever for fitting. It focuses on pattern drafting from a pattern that fits you. The fitting process is a whole class unto itself, so that was not covered in a class like this (but see below for more info on my fitting references). Often times fitting, for me, is a really rotten and time consuming process (isn’t it for everyone?). One thing I really really don’t enjoy is that I tend to start second guessing myself at the end of it all. Do I really like the fit of this? Maybe I should make a few more tweaks? Shouldn’t it be more fitted? Hmmm, the sleeve might be an 1/8″ too long? An 1/8″? Isn’t that a little nuts? Are we actually trying to split hairs here? AHHHHH! This process is called overfitting and it happens, I think, to all of us (well I hope it does or I am a bona fide nut job). I usually have to step back from something like this and then come back to it a few days or weeks later.

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With McCall’s 6649, I made an initial muslin. From there I created this flannel shirt that I blogged back in August of last year. That was my first rendition. The sleeves were too short, the collar was too tall and flopped about too much (for my taste). The shoulders needed a forward shoulder adjustment, the sleeve cuff was too big. I also like to sew the button placket in a different way (this is just too lumpy for my taste). These were things that needed fixing even after I had done a muslin and made extensive fitting adjustments before I made up this version! In case you were worried, I didn’t pick this pattern back up and finish the fitting process until December 2014. It did not take me since last August to fit this pattern! Ha ha! Now that would be bad!

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My second round proved better. I measured a sleeve and cuff from a button-up shirt I had and liked the fit of and then adjusted my pattern accordingly. Also compared the collars and made more adjustments to my pattern. The sleeve cuff on this one still ended up being too big for my taste preferences. And yes, I totally added lace to this one! This is a Liberty of London print, just in case you were wondering.

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I adjusted the sleeve cuff for this favorite version (read more about this one here)! The cuff is a  little more fitted and that’s exactly the way I like them. This shirt, I daresay is perfect. Again on this shirt, I opted not to sew in the vertical darts on the front bodice, just to mix it up a little. I like things boxy sometimes and I was curious to see if it still “fit” if I didn’t sew in the darts. It fits just fine, it’s just a different sort of fit which is good because then the wheels start turning and I start seeing possibilities for future hacks!

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And then just to be safe, I made one more version in a most beloved Liberty of London that I had been stashing for some time for just this very purpose. I decided to go whole hog and do all of the things, including front vertical darts and pockets with flaps.

I decided to show you all of these because I feel that sometimes people might think that fitting can be solved after one muslin iteration. While a lot of it can and the garment you make next is usually just fine or at least wearable, you’ll end up wanting to tweak things for an even better fit in the next go around. Why? Because you CAN! Hello fitting ninja! The kinks come out of it pretty well when you’re into your third make from the same pattern – at least this has been my experience. Granted, there are a lot of patterns out there that I don’t make multiples of. Sometimes those patterns are just one hit wonders, but base patterns like these I take a good long time with and really get the fit right on par for what I want.

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I took this class on Craftsy quite some time ago, which I found to be incredibly useful pre-muslin – Fast Track Fitting with Joi Mahon. Her follow-up class is really good too, Fast Track Fitting, in the Details. She’s also got a great book out – Create the Perfect Fit – and all of these resources stick to the same method that she really tries to drill into your brain – measure your body, measure and adjust the pattern. I like her method a lot because you use measurements from your body and then you adjust the pattern before you do your initial muslin. It clears up a lot of the big problems. After the muslin phase, I tweak the fit utilizing the first edition of Fitting & Pattern Alteration. Really, really awesome fitting book.

OK, well I think that’s enough about fitting for one day. Hopefully there’s some good information here for those of you who might be stuck or thinking about overfitting every sewing pattern you’ve ever made! Do you make multiples of patterns to get the fit just right? Do you over fit? I know, it’s totally a thing, right?

Working with a Sloper

Over the course this year so far, you’ve seen my adoration for a certain button up sewing pattern (McCall’s 6649) and then a couple of hacks of things I’ve made from it (here and here). I thought I would take a sec, stop down and say a little more about it. It’s exciting. Well, at least I think so.

Hopefully this post will help clear up some questions I’ve been getting and hopefully it will show you that you can take a pattern and hack it up and not have to re-invent the fitting wheel. This is a skill I’ve cultivated over several years and one that is well worth the time invested and when you get to the pattern drafting part, it’s really quite fun to learn (in like a scrapbooking sort of way!). In my recent hack of my beloved McCall’s 6649, I mentioned a Craftsy class I had taken. One Pattern, Many Looks with Sarah Holden. I enrolled in the class last year sometime and then it sat in my Craftsy cue for many months. One night, I was really tired and decided to watch this Craftsy class as I was sitting in bed. I watched all the episodes right there and then. I was riveted and I was so excited to get up and get started in the morning. Dreamt of pattern hacks all night! Yessssss!

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The class takes you through this pretty fascinating process. First you’re supposed to fit the pattern. This process actually took a few weeks (the longest part of this whole business) because I wanted something that truly, was perfect and that usually means, for me, that I work out any and all kinks in a pattern by making it up at least 3 times. Seriously, 3 times is the charm. I have some more thoughts about the fitting process in my next post, but yeah, I made this shirt up a good 3 times (and then one more time, making that 4 times!!) before I moved on to the rest of the content of the class. Update: Just so you are aware, this Craftsy class does not cover anything about fitting! It’s only about pattern drafting and manipulation.

After a perfect fit, then it was time to reverse engineer the pattern back to sloper form. What is a sloper? In the most basic terms, a sloper is a base pattern, without seam allowances, from which other patterns can be created or hacked from. You can have different types of slopers. For example, you can have bodice, sleeve, dress, pants, etc. From there you can even have varying types of those basic patterns like a button-up shirt sloper or a raglan sleeve sloper. The idea is that you’ll start forming an entire collection of base patterns that are closer in idea to what you want an end pattern to be. More colors in a crayon box if you will.

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Anyway, back to McCall’s 6649. I created a sloper from this pattern and transferred all of the pertinent markings to posterboard. All of the seam allowances have been cut off here and there are holes and notches in specific places. Putting a pattern like this on posterboard is fantastic because then when I’m ready to create a new top from this pattern, I can just trace it off  in a matter of seconds. The posterboard is stiff so you can just trace around it really easily.

In the Craftsy class, Sarah shows you some really great hacks. And these are just starting points. I mean you really do have the entire world at your feet when you start creating your own patterns – from patterns that already fit you! Since you’ve already addressed the fit, that tends to not be a problem anymore. You might run into some issues here and there, but they are minimal by comparison.

All in all, I’m very very pleased with how my hacks have turned out from this process. It took a lot of time, but was well worth the investment. Onward and upward from here. Have you gone through this process before? What kinds of slopers do you have? If you haven’t, I can’t recommend something like this enough. You learn a ton about fitting and about your body and what things you should be looking out for when you go to try a new sewing pattern. Plus then there’s the creative gratification that comes from creating a pattern of your very own. Fun, fun!

How to: Create a Contoured Waistband

Tutorial Thursday today! Yessss! Today, I thought I would share a quick tip for creating a contoured waistband. I’ve done this many times on many patterns. I thought I would show how to do this on the Hollyburn skirt waistband piece as it’s a perfect candidate for this type of thing. Just so everyone is up to date, Hollyburn is a sewing pattern put out by Sewaholic. You can view my latest versions here. Before we get to the tutorial, I thought I would share why you might want to do something like this. I find that on my particular figure and with a waistband piece that is anything more than 1 inch wide, I have to do this. Maybe I have a bit too fluffy of a tummy – Dr. Pepper is my vice after all. And chocolate and all that. I find that a little contouring at the waist helps it to sit better on my figure and quite frankly, it’s a little nip and tuck that looks good for me. Now, take it away Contoured Waistband tutorial!

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On the Hollyburn waistband piece, you’ll find that it’s a rectangular piece that is folded in half to create a waistband on the skirt section. To contour this waistband we’ll have to change this up a fair bit. We’re going to create two separate waistband pieces – a waistband and a waistband facing and both pieces will be cut on the fold at center front. Follow me? First, find the fold line on the waistband, mark it and then add on 5/8″ seam allowance to one side. I’ve marked my fold line in pink and the seam allowance in green. Cut away the excess.

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The Hollyburn waistband is one entire piece so you’ll need to find the center front of it and cut that away too. That center front will now be cut on the fold, no need to add seam allowance.

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Mark the seam line (in pink again) on the other side of the pattern and cut into the pattern at around the side seam area, to but not through the seamline. Cut on the other side of the seamline, to but not through the seamline which will create a paper hinge. Oh, paper hinges. The story of my life.

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From there you can nip in the waist however much you need by overlapping and taping the longer cut section together. The pictures do a much better job of explaining this, I think. Right about now, you’re probably wondering how you’ll know how much to nip in. When I do this adjustment, I measure how wide the waistband section is (this is the vertical measurement of the waistband). Then I take two pieces of elastic and tie them around my waist. The first I tie at my waist – or where I want the top of the skirt to hit – and then I tie the other piece around the section of my waist that is down the vertical width of the waistband. In the case of the Hollyburn, the waistband is 2 inches wide. So I would tie that second elastic 2 inches below the first. Make sense? Now take the measurements around both areas and compare. I’m usually about 1 inch off or so. You’ll divide that number by 2 since you’re working with half of the waistband piece (because we just chopped off at the center front and now we’re cutting the waistband on the fold). So I need to overlap 1/2 inch. WHEWWWW!

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Once you’ve figured all that out, then it’s time to smooth out those angles. Not only are those lines hard to sew, but it wouldn’t look all that great if we sewed this piece up as is at the moment. To smooth out the lines, you’ll need to use a curved ruler. Shimmy up your curved ruler along the angles and find a curve that connects and fills in (or takes away) in a nice looking curve. You’ll be adding to the valley and subtracting from the peak. I’ve added to the valley in red and then I subtracted approximately the same amount from the peak and cut that off.

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To make this whole thing a bit easier to see, I opted to retrace the waistband for you. See how you have a nice smooth curved waistband now? You’ll cut the center front on the fold, cut two pieces and voila! Contoured waistband!

If you have a major contouring that is needed in the waistband (like more than 1 inch in the round), I would say that it would be best to do the above in two places instead of one. So think of the waistband in thirds and nip and tuck at 1/3 and then 2/3 mark. Make sense? Sometimes when the waistband gets wider – like 5 inches, which would be more of a yoke – then it’s better to do this in more places than just at the side seam. Makes for a softer curve.

And that’s it for today’s tutorial. Enjoy friends!

Working With Wool: Tips for Comfort

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When working with woolens in general, there comes a point when you are going to have to consider comfort. This is one of the first things that I consider now before I start a project with wool. For me, I’ve found that wools can be scratchy next to my skin. Even if its a very fine quality cashmere, they do end up being a bit on the itchy side. It’s worse in some woolens than in others and that’s fine, but it’s also good to take into consideration how to make wool garments comfortable, if needed. Today I thought I would share just that and hopefully you’ll find working with wool more appealing if you were worried about the scratchy factor!

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First things first. At some point you’ll need to start thinking and learning how to line a garment. It’s a good skill set to have. I love lined garments. I always have. I think lining a garment adds longevity to just about anything. It also creates a touch of professionalism and takes your sewn projects to a completely new level. I’m actually going to go over a few lining treatments for several garment types, but one book all sewing enthusiasts should own is Easy Guide to Sewing Linings, by Connie Long. It is essential. I’ve talked about it here before and it is my most recommended book to anyone who wants to learn the art of sewing with linings. If you want to branch out to use wool more often, get this book (note: this book is out of print, but Taunton has created an e-book). You’ll be glad you did.

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Another tip to consider whenever you are about to embark on a wool project is points on your body where wool is bound to touch and whether or not one area of the body is more sensitive to the itch factor than another. When I’m making coats and jackets, I consider the collar as an area of comfort I want to address. This is something that Beth from Sunnygal Studio tipped me off to some time ago and now its something I always consider as my neck is prone to itching more than other parts of my body. Mixing fabrics is bound to add interest and so now I think about an alternative for a collar piece. Like cotton or silk. Did that in my J. Peterman coat which added real comfort (used a cotton velveteen).

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Something that goes along with this idea is waistband techniques. For my wool crepe Hollyburn skirts, I used a contrast piece of cotton as a waistband facing. Note: In this pattern the waistband is one piece that is folded over. I separated the piece and created a facing instead. This technique is something that could easily be used in parts like a collar stand, cuff facings (on a shirt/blouse) or a pants/trouser waistband. Additionally, you could also use petersham ribbon as a waistband or facing. I do this a lot. There are many ways to utilize this technique and this is but one (my tutorial here).

Now, you might be asking, “Well, why would I want to go to all this trouble when I could just as well use a different fabric instead?” I have to tell you, from my own experience, wool is worth the trouble. It’s a lovely, lovely textile. It has fairly unique properties that set it apart from others and it’s always worth it, in my opinion, to work with wool. Like other fiber/fabric types, it has it’s own skill set when you use it, but all of the skills you learn with wool make you a better sewist anyway – and that’s totally worth it! I’ll do a post on the uniqueness of wool coming up.

Do you have any tips for comfort when working with wools? Please add them to the comments! I would love to know.

For more about Wools, visit the Working with Wool Section!