Category Archives: sewing

Journal: 4 October 2014

Shawl worked in Tunisian simple stitch and honeycomb stitch

Shawl worked in Tunisian simple stitch and honeycomb stitch

Since my last journal post, I finished the Tunisian-crochet shawl that I was working on, and set to work on two new projects that I am pretty excited about. Actually everything I am going to talk about today will probably eventually get its own pattern post, but in the meantime I want to share what I’ve been up to.

tunisian_yarnFirst, the shawl: this is another project from my big box o’ random yarns. I had three variegated yarns that more or less coordinated and more or less formed a nice gradient from light multi to dark reds (see photo). For the curious, this is Premier Yarns/Deborah Norville Serenity sock weight in “saffron”, “paprika”, and “purple spice”. I also had, not pictured, some of the same brand’s solid-color yarns, including “soft white” and burgundy. I also had a ginormous Afghan hook, although it turned out not to be long enough—I started with a 9″ J hook and replaced it halfway through with a 13″ J hook. My last real journal post talks about how I constructed it; the colors ended up working out such that the last variegated yarn gave out just at the end of a TSS section, which was convenient. I edged it with the burgundy yarn: a row of single crochet and then a row of double crochet shells worked on an H hook. I blocked it to stop it curling, and got an extra 10″ of wingspan out of it. Photos:

Because so very much yarn went into its construction—because of how thick and fluffy Tunisian crochet is, even when you go up several hook sizes—this beast is quite warm and snuggly; I am looking forward to the coming cooler months to wear it.

mitts_on

Honeycomb mitts in progress

As soon as I put the shawl out to block, I set in on my next Tunisian crochet adventure, a pair of mitts, even though I still have another pair of mitts stalled on needles. This was inspired by a honeycomb section of the shawl where the multi yarn happened to line up such that several rows had orange/pink for the posts and green/blue for the back chain, which I thought was just the most beautiful thing. I wanted to recreate this effect in a more deliberate way—using one dark color for all of the posts in a piece and a different, variegated color for all the back chains. This requires working in the round, I believe, which requires a double-ended, proper Tunisian style crochet hook. I had one on hand in size H.

mitts_hookThe yarns are two that I had on hand, (you guessed it!) more serenity sock weight yarn, this time a solid purple and the “teal tease” multi left over from my first pair of knit socks. I think if I were to start again, and start from the yarn store rather than my stash, I would choose a darker solid, either black or a dark grey, and a brighter multi. Part of the inspiration for this project was the stained-glass-like effect you get from framing bright colors in dark, and that is not really coming through in the project. I do really like the sections where the backing yarn is the bright teal, though.

Finally, I have a sewing project I am super excited about. Like, received the fabric on Monday, halfway done with a (lap-sized) quilt by Friday excited. I have been taking a break from the Great Five Shirts Project, so this gets to be the project to break in my new sewing machine.

I don’t know how many of you will be familiar with the Bargello quilting style—if you’re not, do an image search right now. A friend of mine mentioned these to me a while ago and I am a little obsessed. Like, break my post-queen-sized-fully-handstitched-scrap-quilt moratorium obsessed. Like, throw my ethic of “all quilts should be scrap quilts” out the window. The style is so beautiful, and the execution is so clever, that I had to try it myself.

bargello_colors

Color pallette

The bargello quilt starts with a bunch of strips of coordinating colors, so I picked up a half jelly roll—turns out you can get Bali Batik half rolls for $15 from amazon, in a whole range of colors. I picked up a green one that doesn’t seem to be available any more. I got 20 strips, each 44″ or longer and 2.5″ wide, in ten distinct batik patterns, shown at right. Step 1 was to sew them together, lengthwise, in some sort of coherent way; I arranged them in a gradient from light to dark of the yellowish greens and then from dark to light of the bluish, then repeating. You actually sew them together completely, into a tube, and then to make the flat quilt you unpick some of the seams.

Quilt mock-up in octave

Quilt mock-up in Octave

The second step is planning the cutting and construction: all basic Bargello quilts start the same way (although there are variations that don’t), but the next step is tricky. The sewn-together tube is cut into strips, crosswise to the original strips, of varying widths, and then sewn together at an offset, creating steps. The widths determine what the pattern will be. I needed a way to mock up the quilt and decide on the widths; I decided to do this in Octave (free knockoff of matlab), which I am fluent in and which has decent graphics capability. It’s a very small piece of code—I gave it a set of colors, and set the widths manually, and it plots a bunch of rectangles of those colors and widths, and warns me if my widths would exceed the total fabric width. After many iterations of adjusting the widths, I settled on one I like, shown above.

bargello_asplodeI’ve done the cutting and started the re-assembly process; at right is a photo of the semi-exploded quilt top. Some of the strips at the center are sewn together. The next step is sewing the rest of the strips together; then I will need to sort out batting, edging and backing, and try out the quilting foot that came with my sewing machine. The final piece will be about 36″ by 40″, plus whatever border happens, so definitely a lap quilt or display piece.

Journal: New sewing machine edition

Machine and all the parts it came with

Machine and all the parts it came with

I mentioned in my last post that I was tremendously excited to have a new sewing machine on its way. It arrived Wednesday and I’ve had some time to play around with it, and I am just as delighted as I expected to be, if not more. In addition to being probably the fanciest machine I’ve worked on—my grandmother’s, used for a cumulative three days tops, may beat it—it is as quiet as a whisper to work on. Which is to say, not quite silent and probably annoying in some situations, but it doesn’t go clackety-clackety like my old one. I should probably disclaim that this post should not be construed as a particular recommendation for this machine—it should be clear that I haven’t got experience with any of the comparable machines on the market—but simply as an expression of my excitement to have a nice machine at last. Although, if this sale comes up on Woot again, I will say: it comes with a lot of parts, runs smoothly and quietly, has a good stitch selection (and automatic buttonholes!), is quite well engineered, and so on, so definitely worth the much-reduced price.

The first thing I did was demolish the packaging, set up the machine, and try out a bunch of the stitches. In addition to the utility and decorative stitches, it has a monogramming font, which took me a few tries to figure out how to use (turns out you need to program your sequence ahead of time, not pick letters on the fly). The buttonholing feature works perfectly, although the buttonholes (automatically sized to a button placed in the back of the special foot! so clever!) are a wee bit looser than I would make by hand, so I may adjust the size down a notch in future.

New coin pocket with fans outlined in machine-stitching

New coin pocket with fans outlined in machine-stitching

Yesterday I made my first project using the machine—although most of the stitching was by necessity done by hand. The coin pocket on my wallet has been wearing out, so I decided to replace it with a double-layer of a slightly sturdier cotton fabric. One of my concerns from playing around with the machine was that the presser foot and feed dog were too good at holding the fabric, making it difficult to follow tight curves, so I decided to outline some of the patterns on my fabric with the machine, to see how well it did in a low-stakes context. The stitching will help stop rips in the fabric, so it wouldn’t have been wasted effort even if the decorative effect had failed. And, fortunately, it worked just fine; I had to go slow and had to pick up the presser foot after every few stitches on the tightest curve, but could follow the lines quite accurately. That done, I wandered back to the couch and attached the fabric by hand—it would take quite a machine indeed to blanket-stitch through the holes I already established in the vinyl, and I didn’t want to detach the zipper and reattach it by hand just so I could sew the cloth and zipper together by machine. At any rate I am quite pleased with the new coin pocket and expect to get another few years’ use out of the wallet.

Bug, my straight-stitch poor-college-student machine

Bug, my straight-stitch-only poor-college-student machine

Just for sentimental reasons I took photos of my other two machines and intend to talk a little about them. First up is Bug, the first machine I owned (although for most of high school I basically owned my mom’s machine, a table-mounted Singer, by squatter’s rights), which I bought for a grand total of $40 from Target. It has one stitch, straight, and three discrete speeds, all of which are fast. I kinda adore this machine—its exploits include sewing through seven layers of heavy denim to make hakama for a friend, and crossing campus in my backpack only to sew paint-spattered canvas in a dingy basement for decorations for a carnival booth. It’s still going strong, too—I recently used it for my canvas grocery bags, which involved many layers of canvas in attaching the handles. On the other hand, it is loud, has the jankiest tension mechanism ever and a broken spool pin, and as previously mentioned has only the one stitch.

The serger

The serger

My other machine is the serger, which for some reason mostly inspires vague feelings of guilt. It was a gift from my then-boyfriend’s mother, who had had it gathering dust for many years and was happy to get rid of it. I think I feel badly because it was once quite a nice machine, and I have a lot of hangups about Properly Appreciating Gifts, but by the time I got it it was rather out of repair, and between my preference for hand-sewing and my preference for non-stretch fabrics, it has not seen much use at all and doesn’t even have a name.

Anyway, watch this space for new machine-based sewing exploits; I intend for one of my remaining Five Blouses to be my real getting-to-know-you project for the machine.

Journal: 18 August 2014

It’s been a bit of a while since I’ve posted here—I don’t want to be one of those blogs where half the space is spent apologizing for not putting up more content, but I do want to mention that I may be posting less often for a while but that I am not hibernating. For a long while there I was binging on designing tatted lace, which makes it really easy to put up a new pattern every few days; I was also completely unemployed. More recently I’ve been feeling a bit tapped out on tatting, having embarked on a couple ambitious knitting projects instead; I’ve also picked up a very, very part-time job which is reducing my need to feel productive by blogging. This particular long break between posts was a combination of the above factors, plus I spent this past week on a family vacation with really poor internet.

Today I have a couple of hand-sewn blouses to show you—both of which showed up in my last tutorial post, but I have a couple more pictures that didn’t really fit in. I’ve got a little bitsy crochet meta-project: a box to hold in-progress projects. I’ve also got a knitting project that I am rather excited about, although I actually have no clue if I’ll like it at all when I’m done.

Sewing blouses

First, progress on the Great Five-Blouse Sewing Project: I have now completed three of five. Photos:

I’m still quite happy with the pattern, McCalls M6035, on the whole, but a little disappointed with how the stand-up collar and short-sleeve variants came out. I love Mandarin collars, but the collar coming forward all the way to the overlapping front makes it rather awkward. I kind of like how it looks with the collar folded down, but a) it’s a very old-fashioned look, which is sometimes but not always a good thing, and b) I used a non-reversible fabric, so you see the wrong side and it looks less professional. My complaint with the sleeves is just that they’re too tight—which may be more to do with my chubby upper arms than anything, so your mileage may vary. The green one is a little frumpy—using the full collar and bishop sleeve variants—but I did it deliberately, so I’m okay with it.

One final bit of news about my sewing situation is that I recently found out that Woot occasionally sells sewing machines. Really nice ones. For half their usual going price. So I’ve got a 185-stitch Brother with automatic buttonholing features in the mail, about which I am exceedingly excited. For anyone keeping score, this brings my total sewing machines up to three, and I barely use the ones I have—on the other hand, there are good reasons I don’t use them. At any rate, I am designating one of the remaining blouses as my getting-acquainted-with-my-new-machine project, and I’ll let you know how that goes.

Crochet project box

basket_inplace

Basket, full of cashmere knitting, in amongst my other crafting things

I’ve got some odds and ends—all right, several skeins—left over from the big bag o’ cotton yarn I got a while back; they are awkward colors that I don’t really want in my kitchen, but I hate to waste good yarn and I don’t mind having a, well, eclectic crafting space. I also have a knitting project on sock needles with cables, with really delicate yarn—so I thought it would be nice to have some way of holding all those little needles and all together and protect the yarn from the rest of my crafting space. Putting two and two together, I made a quick basket in single crochet out of the hideous yarn, and am rather pleased with the result. It’s not the flattest or most beautiful thing I’ve made, but it serves its purpose well enough.

Detail of claw feet

Detail of claw feet

I don’t have a pattern for this wee beasty—I bet you could do as well or better on your own—but the general idea is a flat rectangle worked in spirals, then side walls that use decreases to slope inward a little bit and hold everything together. I do rather like one detail I came up with, which is to give the corners a bit of a claw-foot. The first row of the sides is in normal single crochet, working in only the front loop of the last row of the base; the second is in single crochet except a few stitches around the corners, which are: yo, yo, yo, insert hook in back loop of a stitch on the base, pull up loop, (yo and pull through two loops) twice, insert hook through both loops of a stitch on the side, yo and pull through all remaining loops. From the inside it looks just like a sc or possibly an hdc; from the outside it is a raised column. I did this to the five stitches directly on each corner, then on one stitch to each side separated by one sc. Anyway, a couple more photos:

Knitting a drape-neck shell

Drafting and pattern creation!

Drafting and pattern creation!

drape_frontSo I’ve done a little bit of drafting of sewing patterns in the past—mostly by modifying commercial patterns. The one shown above is traced and modified from New Look 6483; I removed the seam allowance, moved the bust dart, and heavily slashed the neckline to create a drape-neck. I had an idea a while ago to make this in diagonal knitting, but ended up getting too frustrated and scrapping it. In the meantime I added the seam allowances back in and sewed the shirt shown at right, which I wear pretty frequently and like. Just before heading off on vacation, though, I realized I didn’t have a project to take on the airplane, so I hauled it all out and set to work.

Back piece of shell

Back piece of shell and first few rows of front

For some reason—I am not at all sure why this is—I hate the thought of making knits in sections and then joining them, even though I don’t mind sewing at all. I think it just offends my sense of elegance: there are so many shaping tools you can bring to bear in knitting, so you should be able to make fairly complicated garments all in one go. Plus, I hate cutting yarn, in case I decide later to rip out the project and do something else with it. At any rate, this means the construction plan needed some thought. I figured out that I could do a one-piece sleeveless shell by starting at the back, at armpit level; working upwards to the neck; working the neck like a buttonhole with a bind-off and then cast-on in the middle of a row; working down across the bust to the armpit; then reconnecting with the back and working the torso in the round. Connecting this plan to the sewing pattern required making a gauge swatch, then taking a lot of measurements across my pattern and converting them to stitch counts. At the end of a couple hours’ work I had a plan of increases and decreases.

Shoulder showing slip-stitch shaping

Shoulder showing slip-stitch shaping on outside edge

The first cast-on, since it needs to be joined later, is the double-sided cast-on you’ll see sometimes for toe-up socks: the yarn is just wrapped around and around two needles. The main part of the work is all in stockinette, since I don’t have the patience for complicated drafting plus lace at the same time, on oversized needles. The armhole shaping, which is horizontal, is done with simple decreases and increases. The back-neck and shoulder strap shaping, which is vertical but doesn’t need to be precise, I did by making some sections of (slip 1, k1)/(slip 1, p1) work, which compresses vertically. Apparently this stitch curls a lot though—hopefully I can get it flat in blocking, or failing that by sewing in a facing.

Detail of front showing cast-on

Detail of front showing cast-on

The bind-off for the neck is the usual knit bind-off, with the trick of working a knit-in-front-and-back stitch at the beginning to avoid gapping or distortion. The cast-on for the neck I wanted to make a little decorative, so it’s actually the tatting double stitch, which does just fine and creates long, lacy loops at the edge. Now I’m beginning the long, slow slog of decreases to shape the drape-neck and front armholes.

 

Detail showing yarn colors

Detail showing yarn colors

The yarn, by the way, is premier yarns’ serenity sock weight, which I’ve mentioned loving before, in the Harlequin colorway. It’s coming through really dull in my photographs, for some reason, and indeed in the online-yarn-store photographs I can find, but in person it’s a really vibrant mix of Mardi Gras teal, purple, gold, and a bit of leaf green. It’s somewhat of an interesting experience to work with—in some lights I love it and think it’s the best thing, in others I hate it and suspect I will never wear the shirt. So I’m feeling a bit of trepidation about this project. On the other hand, this yarn definitely does not want to be a shawl or a scarf or anything, at least to my mind, so I’m not sure I lose anything if the shirt doesn’t turn out great either. Wish me luck!

Tutorial: Cheating hand-made buttonholes

Finished shirt, buttoned, with placket flap pulled back to show buttons and ribbon

Finished shirt, buttoned, with placket flap pulled back to show buttons and ribbon

Today I want to talk about buttonholes. Specifically, I want to talk about how painful and tedious it is to make buttonholes by hand, without a machine. I want to complain that although I have twice as many sewing machines as a reasonable amateur needs, neither of them has a buttonholing feature. Then, I want to talk about how to cheat—making buttonholes, by hand or machine, with only a simple, straight seam and a bit of ribbon.

I’ve been working on button-up blouses lately, so that will be the context for this tutorial; unfortunately the technique that I’ve come up with is pretty much exclusive to rows of buttons on plackets. It could work on fly buttons, cuff buttons, etc., but I leave that as an exercise to the reader. I recommend being familiar with the ordinary ways of making plackets before reading this tutorial: in general, plackets are folded-over areas of fabric that provide reinforcement and stiffness for the buttons. My technique is a form of hidden placket, meaning when the shirt is worn buttoned up, the buttons are hidden behind an extra flap of fabric.

You will need:

  • Fabric for a shirt (or any item with a placket/button closure)
  • A pattern you like, with allowance for ordinary (not hidden) plackets
  • Buttons; since they will be hidden it is okay if they are a poor match or ugly
  • Roughly 2 feet of ribbon, piping, or bias tape; anything narrower than 1/2″ and non-fraying, and preferably matching the color of the fabric. I used quarter-inch satin ribbon; I’ll refer to it as “ribbon” in the instructions but other options are fine.
Pattern piece (McCall's M6035) with allowance for ordinary plackets; note the fold lines and center-front line.

Pattern piece (McCall’s M6035) with allowance for ordinary plackets; note the fold lines and center-front line.

What I mean by “allowance for ordinary plackets” is this: starting from the center front of the garment (often marked on patterns with a dashed line with buttonhole and button positioning marks on it), extra fabric is added, two and a half times as wide as the intended placket; if the final placket will be 1″ wide, 2.5″ is added. The placket width must be wider than the buttons; typically shirts have half-inch buttons (plus or minus an eighth) and inch plackets, but skirts or coats may have larger buttons and correspondingly wider plackets. This added fabric has two folds in it, typically marked with fold lines on patterns: one at half-the-placket-width (1/2″ on shirts) from the center-front line, and another halfway between the first fold line and the edge.

Instructions:

  1. Make sure your pattern has allowance for ordinary plackets, not hidden plackets or a narrow hem or anything else.
  2. Cut fabric piece with center front line (including buttonhole positions) and first fold line marked with pins

    Cut fabric piece with center front line (including buttonhole positions) and first fold line marked with pins

    Cut fabric and transfer markings: mark the center-front line (and button/hole positions) and the first (closest to center-front) fold line. You can mark the second fold line as well, but I did not—it’s recoverable from the first fold line, and I was running low on pins. Make sure you mark the center-front line from top to bottom, not just where the buttonholes are; this will be a fold line on the buttonhole side. If you want to adjust the button/hole positions (I generally make mine closer together to avoid gapping), do it now. Note: I cut my pieces with the straight edge along the selvedge, which helps with construction, but if your fabric has a pucker or anything weird on the selvedge, don’t do this; make sure that the straight edge is as straight and clean as you can, though, as there is effectively less than a quarter-inch seam allowance on it (it’ll work out, I promise).

  3. On the button side (typically left side of the worn garment for women’s shirts, right for men’s), make the placket as normal: fold on both fold lines, creating basically a wide hem, and stitch close to the edge.
  4. On the button-hole side, lay the fabric piece flat with the wrong side facing you. Take your bit of ribbon and lay it right-side-down along the marked center-front line. You want to place just the very edge of the ribbon over the markings, with the rest of the ribbon extending out over the placket allowance (see photo). Pin it down, making sure the ribbon is as straight as possible. Make sure you’ve marked the top and bottom of each buttonhole.
  5. ribbon sewn down

    Ribbon sewn down; if you look closely (click for larger) you can find the tops and bottoms of buttonholes by the knots

    Start sewing the ribbon to the fabric, sewing as straight as you can right over the very edge of the ribbon and through the center-front line of the fabric. Sew from the top of the piece to the top of the first buttonhole, then stop and reinforce the seam. I found this easiest to do by hand, tying knots to reinforce, but it should still be less frustrating than hand-sewing buttonholes for all you machine-sewing folks out there. If you are machine-stitching, use a straight stitch with a fairly short stitch length, and take your time.

  6. Leave a gap for the length of the buttonhole, where the fabric and ribbon run parallel but aren’t connected. If you are hand-sewing, carry the thread across the buttonhole by inserting the needle into the fabric, running the thread loosely along the right side (far side) of the fabric, then coming up at the bottom of the buttonhole, and you’re good to tie a knot and start the next segment. If you’re machine-sewing, finish each segment as you normally finish top-stitching (this seam will be somewhat visible on the outside of the garment); I recommend leaving fairly long tails of thread, then using a hand-needle to hide them inside the finished placket sometime after step 12.
  7. Checking that the buttons go through the gaps I've made

    Checking that the buttons go through the gaps I’ve made

    Sew between the bottom of the first buttonhole and the top of the next, reinforcing at the beginning and end of the seam. Check at this point that your buttons will fit through the hole you just made; if they don’t, rip it out and do-over, and if they slide through too loosely, you can go back and make the gap a little shorter now or do it later.

  8. Work down the rest of the center-front line, leaving gaps for all the marked buttonholes, to the bottom of the piece. Check, as you work or afterwards, that all the holes will accommodate your buttons.
  9. Fold the fabric around the seam line you’ve just made (center front line), right-side to right-side, with the ribbon sticking out away from the folded fabric. Pin and/or press.
  10. Fold the placket allowance wrong-side to wrong-side, matching the cut edge of the fabric with the marked first fold line (if you marked the second fold line as well, just fold along it). Pin and/or press.
  11. Fold along the first fold line, wrong-side to wrong-side, enclosing the raw edge of the fabric. From the front of the piece, it should look like an ordinary hidden placket: an unblemished 1″ strip of right-side fabric at the center-front. From the back, it should look a little weirder; see photos below.
  12. Topstitch all these folds in place, working close to the inside edge of the placket but making sure to securely catch the folded-in raw edge of fabric. If necessary, make two passes. Make sure not to catch the ribbon/buttonholes in this seam; there should be more than half a button width between where the ribbon is attached and this seam.
  13. If you want, for decorative reasons or because you’re worried about the raw edge unfolding, topstitch just the front part of the placket close to the outside edge.
  14. Your placket is done! Still easier than hand-stitching buttonholes, right? Anyway, time to make the rest of the garment!

Note on construction order: I generally make my side seams and bottom-edge hem before making my plackets, but for this construction, the hem really can’t happen before any part of the buttonhole-side placketing. It’s a little weird doing what I consider almost a finishing step, making the plackets, as the very first part of construction, but I think it’s the only way to work it.

Note on working with easily-frayed fabrics (linen blends, satins, silks? I am poor, I don’t know if silk frays): I would recommend trying this technique first on a cotton or cotton-poly blend so you grok the construction before trying it on any fabric that frays. Once you’ve done so, adapting to a fraying fabric is not too bad: the problem is that securely catching the raw edge of the fabric in step 12 is going to be difficult. This is solved by making the placket flap one layer thicker: add an extra placket-width (one inch, for most shirts), or a bit less, to the pattern before/when you cut, adding a fold line at the old edge of the pattern, and transferring all three fold lines. Around steps 10&11 make another fold, making the flap three layers thick instead of two. Then in step 12 you are catching a folded edge instead of a raw edge, which prevents fraying. I don’t recommend this extra thickness if you don’t need it, though, for two reasons: 1) altering patterns scares some people, and 2) the fancy placket is already thicker than most shirts; adding another layer of fabric will make it even stiffer and heavier and risks looking weird.

alt buttonhole

Variant method—the top buttonhole of my green shirt, with the ribbon folded around to hide the end and tacked down. For this one the ribbon was added after constructing the placket; if you follow the instructions above but end the ribbon this way it will be on the other side of the inner part of the placket.

Variant: I prefer the way given above, but if you don’t like having the ribbon run the full length of the placket (because there’s an open collar, for instance), cut the ribbon three-quarters inch above the top of the first buttonhole, before you start sewing; fold the tail of ribbon on a right angle above the buttonhole so it’s pointing towards the middle of the garment, fold the end under and sew it down to the fabric (see photo). In fact, you can construct steps 9-13 first, then mate the edge of the ribbon to the folded edge of the fabric, either with a whipstitch or a slight overlap and running stitch, folding under both ends of the ribbon; this is how I did my first attempt, allowing me to put off placing the buttonholes until the shirt was constructed enough to try on, but I still prefer the method given above overall.

green shirt 2

Green shirt with ribbon ended just above the top buttonhole: note that even with the collar folded down, no ribbon is visible, although the unusually-folded fabric is.

I suppose at some point I should address the question of, well, what happens when you finish the shirt? Is it wearable? Is it going to take hours to get in and out of? To which I answer, I was actually surprised by how well this works. I was expecting it to function, but be annoying to fasten/unfasten, and it is, but much less annoying than I expected; it’s only a tiny bit more annoying than ordinary buttonholes, and I think that even integrated over the lifetime of the shirt, the extra annoyance of using these buttonholes is completely compensated by the reduced annoyance of making them. On the other hand, I would not gift a garment with this kind of placket without checking with the recipient; I have unusually nimble fingers (as do you, if you do much fiber crafting), and I could see the unusual-ness by itself being a problem. As a final note, I used satin ribbon because I have it to hand in lots of colors, but I think the annoyance factor would go down if you use a thicker, less slippery material, like bias tape or piping or non-satin ribbon.

Journal: 12 July 2014

Since my last journal post, I have been a busy little bee—by which I think I actually mean, it has been a while since my last journal post, so I’ve gotten a fair bit done without getting any more done per time than usual. I’ve developed and posted a bunch of tatting patterns, done a bunch of utility/housewares sewing, chugged away a bit on my knitting, finished one of my blouses and started another. I’ve also done a bit of crochet that I can’t talk about just yet.

Housewares sewing:

apron_pocket

Forgive the blurry picture: apron with ruffle and with a potholder in the pocket.

The major piece of housewares sewing I did was to add a pocket and a ruffle to my frumpy apron. The photo at right shows the pocket, with a round potholder in it, and the ruffle. I am not entirely sure why I bothered with the ruffle—I think it took more work than the rest of the apron put together—but I just feel that if one is to make a frumpy floral apron, a ruffle around the skirt is required. Anyway, here’s a much better photo of the apron spread out on the floor:

apron_flat

 

tote_pocket

Card pocket for tote bag

While I was doing housewares sewing, I added a card pocket to one of the tote bags: my local grocery store has those rewards cards; I don’t want to waste wallet space on it, so it lives in the grocery bag, but having the tiny card floating in the great big bag is inconvenient. I solved this by making a small pocket and top-stitching it into the inside of the bag just below the hem. I used a scrap of quilting cotton, so managed to do the stitching by hand.

needle_case_side

Big needle case

Due to the influx of tatting thread I mentioned recently, I spent a while sorting out my yarn stash, which led to me deciding I really needed a better way to store my crochet hooks and knitting needles. In cutting out the apron, I cut considerably more narrow strips of fabric than I ended up needing, so I decided to make needle cases out of it. Out of a 32″x3″ strip I made a 15″x2″ rectangular case with a zip closure, and out of an 8″ strip I made a narrow little DPN case that fits inside the big one, and has a fold-over closure with drawstring and button:

The zipper for the main case was a salvage from an old laundry bag; it is bright blue and had a stupidly large tab/pull on it, making it impossible to set hidden. So I snipped off the tab and replaced it with macrame/friendship bracelet. The loop holding the tab was open at one end, so I was worried a soft tab would slide off; I closed it with a drop of super glue, which I am pleased with the results of. Photos, playing with the zoom settings on my camera:

I am a lot happier with this one than I am with the one on my wallet/coin purse, so I may put up a tutorial on replacing zipper pulls soon. My technique is still not quite there yet, though. I am proud of the color coordination; all of the floss was stuff I had on hand, too.

Knitting:

cashmere_cables

Starting the cables

I’ve been working on a pair of mitts/arm warmers out of the cashmere lace-weight yarn from my birthday, and it is going slowly. I’m beginning to regret some of my choices, namely deciding that cabling a fluffy, tiny yarn on #2 needles was a good idea. I haven’t dropped any stitches that I couldn’t get back yet, but all the tight little stitches and keeping track of four DPNs and a cabling needle just make me so tense that I can do about five rows on a good day before needing to switch to something else. I don’t suppose anybody out there has tips for tiny cabling without losing one’s mind?

cashmere_onhandI do think that I will like these mitts and consider them worth all the pain when they’re done, though. I’ve finished the ribbing section, including the thumb hole, on both, working on a circular needle so I can try them on (see photo), and am happy with the fit. I’m a little concerned that the cabled section may be too tight to comfortably get my hand through, and since I moved to DPNs for the cabling I can’t check it, but I think it will be all right.

cashmere_thumb

Mitt showing thumb hole

Blouses:

blue_blouse

Navy blue blouse

Finally, I’ve made progress on the blouse-sewing mega-project I mentioned in my last journal post: making five new button-up blouses. Namely, I finished blouse #1 in navy blue and started in on blouse #2 in green. Both are using McCall’s M6035 pattern. The blue one has sleeve style C: straight elbow-length sleeves, and I decided to omit the sleeve-cuff tab and the collar band, making a simpler collar. I am very happy with this pattern so far; the princess-seamed base is completely solid and flattering, the sleeves sit well, and there’s a lot of customizability.

The first blouse did remind me just how much I hate sewing buttonholes by hand; I remembered that I hate it but figured it couldn’t be but so bad, then sat down to actually sew them and it was so much worse. And I signed up to do 30ish of them, entirely of my own volition: good job seesawyer. Still, now that they are a few days in the past, I am back in “how hard could it be?” mode, besides which I have an idea for making fancy concealed plackets which will not need buttonholes, which hopefully will work out. I do also really love how hand-made buttonholes look, to the point of being driven a little nuts by the sloppy buttonholes on some off-the-shelf machine-made garments, so the relationship is a love-hate one at worst.

green_blouse_pieces

Cut pieces for the green blouse

Next up is a green blouse; I’m planning to make the full banded collar this time, and the sleeves will be elbow-length bishop sleeves (style B). I’m also changing one of the fitting details; I am right on the line between two non-interpolatable sizes (cup size, which this pattern implements with separate pieces for the front and side front, for each of three options), so I’m going to see which of this one and the blue one I like better. I am planning to try my fancy plackets with this one, too, although I may chicken out and go with the recommended straightforward button plackets. If it does work out, I’ll post a tutorial here and consider my contribution to the human race to have been made :P. The pieces are cut, and I’ve started sewing the back and side back pieces together.

Tutorial: Hiding your stitching

Today I want to share some things I’ve learned over the years about making really professional-looking handmade items. In particular, I want to talk about making the stitches themselves less obtrusive, or even completely hidden, on a finished garment or other project. I will mostly be talking about hand sewing, but include a couple tips that are good for machine sewing too.

1. Get creative with construction

These techniques work with machine or hand-sewing, and I’m not going to go into a lot of depth, but just list for completeness’s sake. There are a lot of ways to slightly change the construction of your project to hide stitches:

  • Inside top back of my green tunic, showing facing/lining. The only stitching on the exterior of this garment is the bottom hem.

    Inside top back of my green tunic, showing facing/lining. The only stitching on the exterior of this garment is the bottom hem.

    Replace hems with facings: cut strips of fabric 1″ to 2″ wide that follow the contours of the edge, sew to the edge right side to right side, and turn to inside

  • Line some or all of the garment and work inside out and then turn
  • Sew yokes and straps inside out and then turn, rather than top-stitching, as much as possible

2. Work on making smaller stitches on the front

Seam stitching: same amount of thread on the front as on the back of the seam.

Seam stitching

One of the lovely things about hand-sewing is that you have more control over where the thread is—and isn’t. Sewing tutorials and stitch diagrams generally show all of the stitches the same length, but this ignores a wealth of customizability. For seams, I will generally do fairly even stitches, the same amount of thread in front of the fabric as behind (see photo at right; as always, click for larger photos). Even stitches are better for seams than uneven stitches, because no one can see the thread anyway and it distributes the stress more evenly.

Hem stitching

Hem stitching

For hems, however, I shift as much of the thread as possible to the back/inside of the piece, coming up only for one or two threads every eighth-inch or more (see photo). Still, although I am proud enough of my stitching to brag about it on the internet, it’s a work in progress—there’s no special trick to improving your stitching, just a little bit of paying attention and a lot of practice. Just to drive home the point, here are some photos of the inside and outside of hems I’ve made recently:

Another benefit of making your visible stitches smaller is that they look much neater, even if you can still clearly see the stitches; compare the apparent neatness of the inside and outside of the green tunic above.

3. Don’t sew all the way through

Skirt yoke with no visible stitching on outside

Skirt yoke with no visible stitching on outside

This last tip is going to be useful whenever you have a pattern tell you to “stitch in the ditch” or topstitch a multi-layer area. I use it for cuffs, collars, yokes, and straps. It’s similar to the “invisible stitch”, which is more used for stuffed animals and pillows than apparel sewing; think of it as a one-sided invisible stitch if that will help.

I’ll take the example of putting a waistband/yoke on a skirt, just for clarity: imagine you have the main part of your skirt all done and you have two waistband pieces: the outside/front and inside/lining. You’ve attached the outside piece by sewing a right-side-to-right-side seam, and pressed it flat. You’ve attached the two waistband pieces together by sewing their top edges, right-side-to-right-side, and then flipping the lining to be on the inside. Now you need to attach the bottom edge of the lining to the outside so it doesn’t flip or fold while you’re wearing it. If you’re machine sewing, you have two options: “stitching in the ditch”, which is a decent way of hiding machine stitches, or topstitching through the outer and inner layers of the waistband and a few seam allowances. If you’re hand-sewing, you can do either of the above, or you can sew the waistband lining to the seam allowances of the outer piece and the skirt panels without involving visible parts of the waistband at all.

Inside of same yoke, two rows of stitching visible

Inside of same yoke, two rows of stitching visible

Turn the piece so that the lining is facing you. Insert your needle as if to stitch, but simply don’t go through all of the layers—it helps to insert at a somewhat glancing angle, and use the fingers of your off hand to check that the needle doesn’t go through (no thimbles, sorry). If it does, pull out the needle and try again. While the needle is in the fabric—before pulling the thread through—give it a tug perpendicular to the fabric to make sure that you’re actually attaching what you want to be attaching. It’s a bit tedious, but with practice you get a feel for it, and can get three or four running stitches on the needle at once, so it’s not too much worse than basic seams.

If you are working with particularly loose-spun, loose-woven or thick materials, like a large houndstooth twill or a brocade satin, you may be able to pull off this technique with hems: work from the back/inside of the piece, as above, and catch only the back threads of the front layer of material. Note however that this can lead to puckering, fraying, etc., so make a test hem with a scrap before using it on the real thing.

Journal: 15 June 2014

I feel a little silly making two journal posts in a row, not sure why; at any rate I have not been feeling especially creative (although still craftsy as ever) so what’s to do? Since my last post, I finished the patchwork shirt mentioned there, made some things out of embroidery floss, and made a frumpy floral apron so I stop grease-spotting all my trousers when cooking. I also made it out to the store and picked up fabric for my next five projects: button-up blouses, in hopes that I will soon have a job that wants them (wish me luck!).

blue_patchwork

Blue patchwork shirt, made from stash scraps

First up, the patchwork blouse, Simplicity 1462 in shades of blue. I’m not as pleased with how the colors worked out as I was with the brown one I did, but I think this time around my construction was better than either previous attempt. That is, the collar lies a lot flatter than either the brown or red shirts’ collars, and the seams and hems are all very neat. blue_detailWe’ll see if it grows on me.

 

 

apron_full

Apron with bib up

Next up, the Frumpiest Apron Of All Time. Seriously. I made it for purely utilitarian reasons—after a couple years being frustrated with getting grease spots on my clothes when I make fajitas or chicken tikka masala or basically anything in my big frypan, and simultaneously thinking of aprons as a rather silly frippery, I suddenly put two and two together and had to have one. I don’t always learn fast, but I learn well. apron_detailAnyway I had some floral fabric on hand that I was never, ever going to use for serious clothing, which I think I actually got from my grandmother’s stash (she basically ordered me to go through it one Christmas and take as much as I could pack). I cobbled together a pattern from the front panel of an A-line skirt, a trapezoid for the bib, and a bunch of strips.

apron_skirt2

Apron skirt with bib folded down behind

The skirt is hemmed, the bib is hemmed on top and bound with the neck straps on the sides, and they are joined by a broad waistband that ties in back. I will probably mostly wear it skirt-fashion, with the top part folded down, but I like having the option of a bib for cooking e.g. bacon. When I was cutting fabric, I planned to put a ruffle around the skirt, but basically wussed out while sewing—I calculated that the ruffle alone would take at least twice as long to sew as the rest of the apron put together, and I wanted it ready to use ASAP—but since I have the strips all cut, I may gradually hem and gather them when I am between projects and attach them at some later date. I also plan to add a pocket or pockets at some point in the future. Despite making fun of how frumpy it is, I am actually rather proud of the construction—the sides of the skirt and bib actually line up well, even though I didn’t do any Serious Drafting With Math or even much measuring, the straps are good lengths and solidly constructed, and the coverage is good.

apron_floor

Apron laid out on floor, showing construction

hearts_braceletWhile the apron and blouse were in progress, I made my way to the fabric store, mostly to get embroidery floss, but also because I was completely out of project-sized fabric (!). The embroidery floss was for a deadline—at the end of this past week, my SO departed to counsel a multi-week residential summer camp, so I made matching friendship bracelets for him and me. The pattern is a slight modification of this one, in a color scheme that he likes and that’s camp themed. headbandsWhile in the embroidery floss aisle, I picked up some floss for headbands—one to match my brown patchwork shirt especially, or brown clothing more generally, and another to match the bright red shirt with off-white flowers and basically nothing else in my wardrobe. The brown one follows the tutorial I’ve posted, while the red one uses my Atlantis edging pattern, slightly modified to make it taper to the ends.

blousesFinally, a glance ahead at my next few sewing projects: I meant to pick up fabric for three or four plain, workaday button-up blouses, just because I am trying to transition from grad school’s jeans and t-shirts to the respectable world and don’t have enough blouses. The store happened to be on a particularly good sale, so I bought five pieces in the end, figuring I’d want that many eventually anyway. I’m particularly excited about the white fabric—I can’t get it to show in a picture, but the fabric has a subtle but lovely paisley design in white-on-white paint, and I love me some paisley. The gray fabric is a fairly subtle floral print, and very soft; the rest are inexpensive cotton-poly broadcloth. I also picked up a new blouse pattern with sleeve and collar variations, McCall’s M6035, which I plan to make some blouses straight from and then use as a jumping-off point for more variations.