How can you make curved seams look smooth with a professional finish? Pinking shears are your new best friend. Let me give you a closer look.
Here is a seam sewn on a curve. The seam allowance is consistent throughout. Here's what the bag exterior looks like if you don't do anything further:
A little bumpy, wouldn't you agree? Not bad, but it could be better with one simple extra step.
These are pinking shears. They look like scissors with jagged teeth. Don't be afraid! They are quite friendly, if a bit awkward the first few times you use them.
Cut as if you were using regular scissors. Cut along the edge, being careful not to cut any of the seam that you just sewed.
This is what the exterior looks like with a clipped seam.
A side by side comparison. Left: unclipped. Right: clipped. Can you see the difference?
Much better! Give it a try the next time you sew a curved seam.
Have you ever eaten a BLT in August (bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich) with a juicy, fresh tomato picked that very same day from your garden? Delicious. What about eating one in February with a grocery store-bought mealy tomato of questionable origin? Tasteless. A complete insult to the bacon.
My point? No accomplished chef on the planet can make a New England store-bought February tomato taste good. It's impossible.
The same principle applies to fabric. The most-skilled seamstress can't possibly make a quality bag or dress out of cheap fabric.
Don't misunderstand--cheap and inexpensive are two very different things. I have found excellent high-quality fabric at a discounted price (Cloud9 organic cotton for $1.99/yard!). And you can pay $50/yard for horrible home decorator fabric if you aren't careful.
Price does not always indicate quality. By cheap fabric I mean poor quality. Set yourself up for success by choosing quality fabric that is well-suited to your project.
So how do you choose what fabric to buy? You have to touch it. How does it feel in your hand? How does it drape when it's hanging on the bolt? When you hold it up to the light, can you easily see through it? For a sheer fabric, this is good, for quilting cotton, this is terrible.
When you become familiar with certain fabric designers, you will get to know the type of cotton their fabric is always printed on, and can then rely on choosing things online. But--the best way to chose your fabric is to investigate in person. Visit your local Quilt Shop in addition to the big box stores. The small shop may not have as large a selection, but they are sure to know their stock really well.
Does that wool feel like it should when you imagine it as a winter dress? Does the cotton batik flow enough that your daughter will be happily twirling in her new sundress? Is the cotton sturdy enough for a couch cushion that will see a lot of wear and tear? Is the linen lightweight enough to allow your skin to breathe on a humid August day when wearing it as a beach coverup? Will the denim hold its shape as the shoulder strap of your new handbag?
You deserve to use quality materials so that all of your hard work is fully displayed in your finished project. It's so discouraging to sew for hours and end up with a final product that is lackluster.
Here's to many many August-tomato BLT-worthy sewing projects!
Sewing books can be a wonderful reference. I'm pretty picky about which books I buy. Usually I try them out first through the library before purchasing. The book has to do one or more of the following to be worth the investment:
Here are my favorites, grouped by general ability levels, plus one fantastic reference book.
Beginner Books--I refer to these books regularly. They may have all the information needed to get started in sewing, but they also are great references.
The best sewing reference I've ever come across: The Sewing Machine Classroom by Charlene Phillips. It can be quite technical at times, but it's very accessible. You don't have to be a mechanical engineer to keep your sewing machine running smoothly, and this book will give you that confidence.
I hope you enjoyed this peek into my sewing library! Do you have a book that you absolutely adore, but I didn't mention here? Please tell me in the comments!
Whenever I give an introductory sewing lesson, I'm often asked what materials are best to have on hand. I may have many fancies that help with my speed of sewing, but there are really only a handful of items you should have to sew just about any project you encounter.
A variety of small scissors that can be used for thread snips. The orange snips are from a super cheap kit whose only redeeming quality was the scissors. 3-4" is a handy size for grabbing to cut thread at your machine. The silver thread snips have an added ergonomic benefit--you don't have to get fingers through the handle--just grab and snip.
With these basic tools, (or a complete kit that you can purchase from my shop here), you can handle most any sewing project.
What's your favorite sewing tool? I would love to hear about it in the comments.
Whenever I sew something, I try to use up every last bit of fabric. I've made all sorts of products to use the smallest bits of beautiful fabric--check out the patchwork pin cushion. Even after making something like the pincushion, there are tiny scraps leftover. How can you avoid throwing these bits away?
For 100% cotton and all other natural fibers (100% wool, linen, etc.), the small scraps can be composted. The fabric is biodegradable, and the small nature of these scraps mean they will break down relatively quickly in a compost pile.
You cannot compost synthetics. Any polyester fabric is not biodegradable, so it's not going to break down in a compost bin. This includes thread--most thread is 100% polyester. If you have scraps that have parts of seams sewn with poly thread, they cannot be composted.
From here on out, Dancing Threads RI will not buy printed fabric that is synthetic! The vast majority of my fabric is 100% cotton, but occasionally I work with indoor/outdoor fabric, a natural/synthetic blend or recycled felt (recycled from plastic water bottles, but since the scraps of felt are plastic, they are not biodegradable). I will use up what I currently have in stock, but I will not purchase any new synthetic printed fabric. For now, I will continue to use ripstop nylon and PUL for linings, and nylon mesh for produce bags. To be honest, I have not yet found a viable alternative. If you have suggestions, I would love to read them in the comments!
What about polyester thread snips? PUL and nylon scraps? I'm not throwing those into the trash anymore! I will share some ideas for using scraps as filling for other projects (instead of polyfill which is 100% polyester/plastic). For now, my scrappy sailboat ornaments/decorations are filled with these bits of leftovers. I have a tutorial lined up for something seasonal and quite useful that I think you will like. Check back here next week!
Walking into a fabric store can be intimidating. Let me help make it less scary. By the end of this post, you should feel comfortable handling a bolt of fabric!
Most fabric comes wrapped like this. The fabric is one long piece, usually 8-10 yards long, folded in half, then wrapped around a cardboard core. The bolt stands approx. 22" tall.
It's important to remember that this fabric is folded before being wrapped around the core. It remains folded when measured and cut by the sales associate. If you cut one yard (36"), the actual piece of fabric you go home with is 36" x 44". The same applies if you are ordering fabric online. Ordering 1 yard will give you 36" x 44" when it arrives at your door. Some online retailers are generous and will give you an extra inch (37" wide, kind of like a baker's dozen).
This holds true for all standard bolts of fabric. Sometimes bolts are larger and the fabric will actually be 60" wide. The bolt looks exactly the same, but it will be about 8" taller in the store. The fabric is still folded in half before wrapping around the cardboard center, so the bolt itself will stand approx. 30" tall.
If you order 1/4 yard of fabric, you will get a long skinny piece of fabric that is 9" wide by 44" long. If you've heard the term "fat quarter," it refers to a special cut (usually only available as a pre-cut length, not something you can choose to have cut from a bolt.) A fat quarter is when a full yard of fabric is cut, then divided into 4 equal rectangles. Those rectangles are 18" x 22", as opposed to a skinny quarter which is 9" x 44". Both are considered a "quarter yard of fabric." Big difference!
The end of the cardboard tube holds a lot of important information. This information is not printed on the fabric itself, and it also will not be printed on your receipt or cutting table paperwork. If you need specific info, it is very important to jot it down or snap a photo with your phone before leaving the store.
Price per yard. Look for sale or clearance stickers in this area as well.
Laundering instructions and fiber content. This is very important so that you know how to care for the item you plan to make when it's finished.
"Valentine Candy" is the name of the fabric. You may also see the designer's information here. Under that, it lists the colorway. Sometimes the same design will appear in different colors (this one does not, so it just says "Multi.") Under that, where the fabric was milled. This one came from China.
To the right of this info you can see "Size 44IN" which refers to the overall width of the fabric if you unfold it. Most fabric comes as 44", but you can see 54" in home decor types of fabric, and 60" as well. Sometimes there might even be a 90" width, common in cotton muslin and fabrics made to be a single piece for a quilt backing. Those are not as common in the fabric store. They also are not insanely tall bolts--most of the time that fabric will be folded two or three times before wrapping around the cardboard to make the bolt more manageable.
Lastly, you see "Yards 10" which refers to the total length of fabric on the bolt when it first arrives in the store.
If you found this information helpful or have questions, please let me know in the comments. Happy fabric shopping!
Do your children ever complain about the size tag inside the neckline of their clothing "feeling scratchy?" If you cut it with scissors, it will just feel scratchier, so the best bet is to remove it at the source. There are many ways that the tag may be attached, but if you are dealing with a jersey knit tee or stretchy leotard, here's how you can remove it completely. Have these things handy:
The pesky tag in question. (BTW--this does not look or feel the least bit scratchy to me, but the complaints have been epic.)
Tough to see with the black, but unpick the seam where the tag is attached. 2-3 stitches before and after will suffice. Be careful not to snap any garment threads.
Attach a twin needle, following the instructions in the manual for your sewing machine. Most machines come with twin needles. If not, they can be found for a couple of dollars in any fabric store.
You will need two spools of thread for working with a twin needle. Consult your manual as to where the second spool should be seated. Every machine is different, even from the same manufacturer. If you no longer have your manual, most of them can be found online by starting at your manufacturer's website such as Singer, Janome, Brother, etc. You should be able to download a PDF for free.
Once you have two spools of thread in place, grab both strands and thread your machine as if you only had one thread. In other words, treat the two as one strand and thread your machine normally.
Once you get to the needles, put one thread through the left, one through the right. It does not matter if the strands have gotten a bit twisted while threading the machine. Double check that your presser foot is a zigzag-friendly foot. Turn your hand wheel once to make sure that the double needles will fit easily through the hole in your presser foot. It is very important to do that, otherwise you could be looking at a nasty crash!
Fold the hem back in place as if the tag was still attached. On the outside of the garment (facing up when sewing), stitch the hem closed. Backstitch a few stitches at the beginning and end of your seam to secure the new hem. The double seam will be facing you as you sew. The underside of the garment will be a crazy zigzag stitch that should look a lot like the rest of the seam on your garment. Practice the stitch on a scrap piece of fabric before sewing your garment to see what it will look like.
Congratulations! Your children will think you are a rock star. Or they may not acknowledge what you did whatsoever. At least you don't have to hear any more complaining about an itchy tag.
When you cut fabric for a project, it is important to pay attention to the direction of what's printed on it. A solid fabric like this one has no up/down or right/left other than the weave of the threads of the fabric.
Some fabrics have a print/design that also has no direction. The flowers would look great whether cut up/down or left/right.
But then you have what are called directional prints. There is a right side up to the print. Here's a straightforward example.
Here's something more subtle, but that also has a very distinct up/down to the print on the fabric.
When having fabric cut at the store, it's important to determine the direction of the print on the fabric and then see how the pattern you are using instructs you to cut your pieces. You may need more yardage for the project to ensure you are cutting your pieces with the direction of the print. Many patterns will give you two fabric measurements, one accounting for additional yardage to allow for a directional print (mine do!).
The same rules apply for working with grain-line, something with a nap like corduroy or velvet, and even silk.
Pay attention to what direction your print runs when you look at the bolt before having your yardage cut. It doesn't hurt to bring a measuring tape with you to the fabric store to measure twice, cut once!
In my last post I shared some ways that I make my children's pants last longer. Those tips work really well for woven fabrics like denim and twill (most khakis). What about knits?
I'm not that experienced working with knits, but this is pretty simple. The big obstacle is allowing your seam to stretch with a stretchy fabric like knit. Here is a pair of pants that were far too long for my son, and I put a huge hem in them. This shortened them by about 5 inches.
The hem is *really* noticeable. But, for a pair of athletic pants that will most likely have a hole in the knee within a few days, who cares? To me it looks intentional because the seams are straight and the legs align. My 5 year old certainly does not care! Here's a closeup:
If you're not ready to dive into sewing with knits, how can you make a quick and dirty hem in a pair of knit pants? There are two different methods I use. One is a straight basting stitch. Since the hem will be removed in a few months' time, you want this temporary seam to be easy to remove. A basting stitch is a straight stitch with the stitch length set to the highest number, producing the largest possible stitches. On my machine that is a 5.0, though it may be different on your machine.
The second quick stitch I use for hemming knit pants is a version of a zigzag stitch found on my machine. It looks like a lightening bolt, stitch #5 on my machine.
This allows the fabric to stretch a bit at the seam. If you don't have this stitch, then a zigzag stitch set to a very narrow width will produce similar results. You could also use a twin needle, but I'm not going to get into that today.
A hand basting stitch would also work really well, and you would have more control over what the seam looks like on the outside of the pant leg.
I hope you find this helpful!
If your children grow lightening fast like mine do, you probably buy a lot of pants. I've come up with a few tricks to make those pants last longer which saves money at the same time.
Start by buying pants that are too long for your child with straight legs (tapered or flared will not work). Make sure they have an adjustable waistband (best...invention...EVER).
Adjust the waist so that it fits well, then mark where you need to hem the pants. You can use a variety of methods to hem, but you do NOT want to cut off any of the length--we will use it later. Two methods for hemming pants, jeans in particular:
Simple Double Rolled Hem
Hemming Jeans while keeping the original Hem (the method I used here)
Since there was so much excess tucked inside the pant leg after hemming, I hand-sewed an extra seam to keep the fabric tacked down. It would be quite easy for toes to catch it and pull all that hidden length out the bottom of the pant leg.
When the pants get too short, remove your stitches. You will want to wash the pants after removing seams as this will make the stitch holes disappear.
When the pants get too short again, provided the adjustable waist is still fitting well, you can add a fun cuff to add even more length. Plus, you get a "new" look from the same pair of pants.
As co-owner of Stitchery in Portsmouth, RI, I teach sewing classes to children and adults. Welcome to my blog Dancing Threads RI.