Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pamela’s Patterns Perfect T No. 104 – a.k.a. Aventures with Serger and Clear Elastic

I wanted something quick and easy, so I decided to make a t-shirt using Pamela's Pattern #104. I’ve made one of these before, unfortunately it went AWOL during the recent move. I think the fit of my altered pattern was pretty good, though, so I will proceed with using it with, from her No. 107 pattern, the funnel neck and the flared sleeves shortened initially 1 inch. They will probably still be too long.

Days later: First, the almost finished top:

Well, I started this blog entry last week, and in the interim serged together the shoulder/funnel neck seams, using clear elastic tape only on the shoulder seams. That sounds so easy! Hahahahaha. Not.

I had never used clear elastic before, but had read in many places (books, blogs, reviews, Threads articles) that it is very useful for shoulder seams when sewing knits. So a year or more ago I bought a package at Joann’s when it was on sale, just in case. But how hard can it be? As I recalled, every reference said, “sew in clear elastic.” Easy-peasy. This was not my experience. And I had two learning curves (not counting working with a rib knit for the first time): (1) getting reacquainted with my serger, and (2) learning how to use clear elastic with it. Sewing up a shoulder seam took me all night, and I still didn’t get I right.

First, my serger. It is a Juki 655 and has lots of features. Despite all of the great capabilities, I’ve never been happy with the basic stitch quality. So, rather than unpacking it after my recent move, I took it to my sewing machine guy for servicing. He couldn’t find anything wrong except for a few burs, filed those down, gave it back to me at no charge (nice!). Once I figured out how to re-thread it (angst! Agony!), it serged beautifully. I’m afraid to change anything. Getting it threaded, testing samples with my rib knit fabric only took a couple of hours. Onwards. It was 10:00 pm, I wanted results.

Next, the clear elastic. I did not do my usual research job in advance. There were no instructions on the container. I took it out, cut off a bit more than I needed, put it on top of my sample, fed it into my serger, hit the pedal. Off we went. Things looked okay, although a bit rough at the start. I’d get better. On to my funnel neck sweater (I can’t think of this as a T-shirt).

More agony. The clear tape won’t feed through! No matter how much I push it through in the beginning, try to keep pushing it through as the material feeds, it just sits there. No traction. Here is what my poor shoulder seam looked like:

If, for some reason, it does get caught in a needle, then all is well and it sews in beautifully.

But why does it sometimes feed and other times not? Much ripping of serged seams and retrying. Luckily, serged seams come out very easily. But now it is quite late. The first sentence of this post taunts me. I cede the field of battle, defeated.

The next day: I do the research I should have done before. First, I search the Threads DVD Archive. This is a glorious resource. Only now am I fully understanding how powerful it is. Most of the references to my search term, “clear elastic”, are fleeting, and of the “apply here” nature, with no other directions. This is where I went wrong before. But, thankfully, there are a few more detailed discussions of various types of elastics, with cautions that clear elastic does not have as much elasticity (return power?) as others, and therefore must be stretched out 3 times before using. Then cut to proper length. Astonishing.

And, finally and critically, posted by the wonderful Elizabeth Martin from Seattle, WA as a Tip (July 1996 Number 65), the following: “Using a serger and wooly, texturized nylon thread, I overlock-stitch a length of ¼-in.-wide clear elastic (available by mail order or from most fabric retailers) around vest armholes and the lower edges of sleeves and jackets. I use a three-thread serger and thread the elastic through the slot on the regular foot, but an elastic applicator foot does the same job.”

There is a slot on the regular foot for feeding clear elastic? And there may be an elastic applicator foot? If there is, I probably have one, because a box with lots of extra feet came as a bonus with my Juki, I supposedly have everything.

I went online and searched “Juki 655” and “elastic” and got the manual, and there it is, on page 32. Instructions for how to loosen the little screw I never noticed so that I can feed the clear elastic tape down through, with precise and concise directions on exactly how to catch it in the needles twice before putting in the fabric.

Works beautifully (on my practice sample). Although it is not entirely foolproof, as I discovered (on my funnel neck sweater). But I was able to rescue it, the seam is perfect. So happy!

So those of you who have sergers and who have struggled with clear elastic applications, there may be a solution right there in the form of your regular foot. I need to spend a day with my Juki 655 and manual. And find my missing DVD. Oh, the move.

Back to the funnel neck sweater: The neck and shoulder seams look pretty good, everything is in the right place. But the shoulders are too wide. I happened to be wearing my favorite cream silk sweater and put it on to compare. My goodness, it droops over my shoulders, too. The sleeves start ¾” an inch down my arms. I love the neckline and shaping around my waist, but the shoulders are too wide. I can do better! My funnel neck sweater is just as wide.

So I used my Fashion Ruler and eye-balled it, taking off ¾” from the outside shoulder seam, curving down to the notches. My gray rib knit feels nice, but it is an economical 96% polyester (“Many polys died to make this fabric.” – uttered in hushed tones while the Death Star bearing the Emperor approaches) 4% lycra, so I can experiment. Tried on again. Better!

That worked so well, I did something I’d read about often and thought about often but have never actually done: I put a favorite garment against a pattern to compare. Cream silk sweater against Pamela’s Pattern #104 showed interesting differences. The armscyes were the same, but the curve through the waist and hips was very different. In fact, it looked as though there was an extra 1 ½” in the side seam on the front, and I need extra shaping in the back piece. The front and back pieces required different changes to Pamela’s front and back pattern pieces. Hmmmm. Whatever that means, onwards.

How can this be, when I remembered my black PP#104 fitting pretty well? I went in search of my AWOL black T with the scoop neckline that I had made previously, and eventually found it. (This is why I can’t ever just sew something up. I have to find things, figure out how to make things work again, research forgotten techniques, learn new techniques. I didn’t even stop to buy the proper shade of gray for my serger, or I’d still be at square 1.) Confirmed. Too wide in the shoulders, and much too wide in the waist and hips. No wonder I “lost” it.

So I used my Fashion Ruler and made the changes to my PP#104 pattern tracing per my cream silk sweater, and cut off the extra fabric from the gray rib knit, which was a bit tricky. Somewhere in here I sewed up the bust darts, because I am using the darted front pattern piece. This is because I have a 3” difference between my high bust and my full bust, which puts me right on the cusp of “to use or not to use” the darted front pattern piece. It is a bit more work, but it gives me a bit more length in front so that my hem is straight. Or, my Horizontal Balance Line, as Sarah Veblen would say.

Back to the serger to attach the sleeves, and then stitch up the sides and sleeve seams. I marvel again at how beautiful the serger seams are, with the wooly nylon in the loopers. So pretty! (Sorry, no picture.)

My initial try on was satisfactory, although not thrilling. The neck was not quite right, and it seemed a bit tight across the bust. Then I realized that I had it on backwards. I spun it around and, voila, pin-up girl fit!

The sleeves were Moriticia Adams long, so I chopped off two inches. I can still hem them up one inch if I wish, for work. But I serged them (as well as the hem), and I kind of like that finish for more casual wear with my black jeans.

I am a convert. Start with a well drafted pattern that is close to one’s size in the high bust area, use measurements from similar favorite garment to modify, sew up in sample, and then try on.

If this were a woven fabric, I would have done this in a muslin, with all grain lines, notches and stitching lines marked. No “wearable muslins” when first working with a new pattern. I need too many alterations.

Unfortunately, every knit fabric behaves differently, and I am new to knits, so I think that I’ll be using various knits fabrics as “muslins” and samples until I get more knowledgeable. This has been a great adventure, so far. Like Remo Williams, the adventure continues.

For my next version, I plan to learn how to use my Janome Coverpro 1000 to finish the hem and sleeves.

Next Day: I decided that the serged hems were not that attractive, and figured out how to use my Janome Coverpro. Much better!

Right side of sleeve hem:

 Inside of waist hem:

I'm not entirely happy with the amount of material in the armscye as well as the bust dart placement, which I was fine with until my daughter made a comment.  Critics!  

My daughter wants me to make her one but have the dart coming out of the armscye.  I know how to rotate the dart, but not how to adjust the sleeve.  Any suggestions?  I saw that Marcy Tilton says that darts should come out of the arm instead of the side seam.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pamela’s Patterns Magic Pencil Skirt #109

Love. This. Pattern.

In medium weight grey knit (with gifted pink cashmere cardigan, thank you Maman):

I’ve been focusing on couture sewing for the past couple of years, which I do adore. It has one drawback, though, which is that it takes me a while to get a garment done. That is because the typical dress is really three dresses (and I’m not counting the muslins): (1) fashion fabric, (2) underlining, and (3) lining. Each fabric layer must be carefully pre-treated according to its type, layed out, marked (either by hand or using carbon paper). The underlining must be hand joined by hand to the fashion fabric at the seamlines precisely. The darts are hand stitched also, joining the underlining to the fashion fabric. All seams are sewn together by hand, dress is tried on. Then the machine sewing is done, joining the pieces together. Try on again. If all is well, remove hand stitches carefully. (Takes forever, watch Pride & Prejudice, the A&E version, or LOTR the extended version.) Then, the zipper is put in by hand. Then the “facings” are folded over and steamed in, then hand stitched down. Then the lining gets sewn together, then hand stitched to the dress. Then hemmed. Not instant gratification.

And then there is Pamela’s Pattern #109, The Magic Pencil Skirt. A wonderful result in a fraction of the time. No zipper is required. The waist is elastic controlled, and I ordered the kind Pamela recommends from her at the same time that I ordered this pattern, cutting it horizontally in half because I made the regular waisted version. I’ll use the other half for my next pencil skirt. The elastic is well-behaved, easy to cut and stitch through.

I should mention that I lengthened this version by 6 ½” inches because I like my skirts to hit mid-calf at work. I would have lengthened another inch but I didn’t cut enough fabric. Next one will be 7 ½”, the same length as my favorite “regular” skirt. Which took me much longer to make, with a traditional waistband, vent and zipper. Love love love this pattern!

A slip is imperative with this fabric. The wool is scratchy and there are pokey pieces that would especially irritate the skin at my waist. Because I am an idiot in the morning, and have to deal with two greyhounds in addition to my own disorganized self, I don’t want to have to hunt about for a slip. So I sewed one in at waist and hem. I found a swimsuit fabric at Joann’s that was a bit on the heavy side, but had the virtue of looking impenetrable to those little woolen hairs. I cut out the lining a couple of inches shorter than the skirt, sewed it up in the same manner as the skirt, and attached it to the waist using a catch stitch for stretchiness. Same for the hem.

Voila! Wore it twice the first week I made it, and once already this past week. Clearly, I need more. Next up is a black wool knit version, then possibly a blue and white knit:

Although I am thinking of combining Pamela’s Perfect T (#104) with this Pencil Skirt and making the Perfect Magic Dress in the blue and white knit, lined (a must, in my very conservative office) for truly effortless morning work dressing. The blue and white knit is more open than it appears in the photos. What do you think?

Not sure what to use for lining, though. The swimsuit lining could be too heavy, any suggestions?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Little Grey Dress

The underrated, understated sister to the LBD, the LGD:

A back view (unfortunately, not ironed after wearing twice, and not completely filled out by my svelte dress form, MiniElle):

A view of the side lapped zipper, inserted by hand (so stress free, and soft feel):

An inside view of the hand-inserted zipper:

Thank you, again, Susan Khalje for all of your wonderful guidance in putting together this LGD and My LBD, as taught at Patternreview.com. The couture techniques that you teach are relaxing and work on many types of garments.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My LBD Done!

It has actually been done for awhile, and I've worn it many times to work. And moved from one town to another, and seen my daughter off the college. And made another in a light grey, very fine gabardine. After all that fitting, this is a definite TNT pattern.

Here it is with the jacket I usually wear with it:

I will use this as part of my SWAP 2012 - Basics. Thankfully, the rules allow for 2 of the 11 garments to be made in advance of the sewing start date.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My Little Black Dress

I recently took a wonderful sewing class online at Patternreview with Susan Khalje, where we explored couture techniques while making the archetypal Little Black Dress. The class was very interesting, and Susan made the techniques so accessible. I've discovered that couture techniques, which require a lot of basting and hand sewing, fit me just fine.

Here is the pattern that I finally settled on to make my LBD:

I am making it in a very fine wool fabric that I got maybe 20 years ago at a lovely fabric store, sadly closed these past 5 or more years. It is underlined in silk organza. Straying a bit from the overall theme of luxury, the lining is made of black Ambiance rayon; it feels very nice. Once I get this pattern and process nailed down, my next LBD will have a crepe de chine or silk charmeuse lining.

My dress is laid out on my cutting board, waiting for the final steps. The side seams have been carefully pinned together, to be hand-basted for a final fitting. Then, I will machine stitch the hand-basted seams (after any necessary adjustments), leaving room for a side zipper. Still haven't decided if I will use a lapped zipper, to be sewn in by hand, or an invisible zipper, to be sewn in by machine. Finally, the lining will be handstitched to the fashion fabric at the armholes, neckholes and zipper tape.

Tonight was taken up with preparing for Jennifer Stern's machine embroidery class at Patternreview. I've known Jennifer for years, in fact I bought my Janome sewing machine and embroidery machine with her help. She does incredible embroidery on upscale clothing, and I am eager to combine her techniques with my LBD. For summer, I see this dress in a handkerchief linen (underlined, again, in silk organza, and underlined perhaps in a habotai), with subtle tone-on-tone embroidery, perhaps winding up one side.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Rocketeer (and friends)

As you can see from the previous blog, sadly out of date, I have made one buttonhole. With my Janome 6600P. I was not thrilled with it, my practice buttonholes were not uniform even using the automatic buttonhole thing. So I have put off making the many buttonholes for my Advance jacket below.

Then I started coming across references to the very cool Singer Rocketeer. As if the looks of that beauty (the Jetsons!) wasn't enough, I then read on various blogs (Debbie Cook's and Gigi's) that these make stupendous buttonholes with the special attachments. Actually, the older generation straight stitch sewing machines.So to eBay I went, and now if am the proud owner of two Singer 503s and a 500. Here is a picture of the 500, shot at a rakish angle:

Then I found a white Featherweight. It is love.

The auction included the two-tone celery case, which looked to be in good shape, but sadly the packing was not very good and the case is coming apart at the sides, which is tearing the celery cover apart. Me sad. Here is what it should have looked like:

I won't post a picture of what it looks like now. Look how big the spool of thread is compared to the machine! It is so cute, looks like a toy but sews a great straight stitch.

A Singer 15-91 is on its way well, with beautiful matching cabinet. I'll post pics and when I get it all set up. In the meantime, you can read all about it here: http://blog.sew-classic.com/2008/10/05/singer-1591-sewing-machine-review.aspx

Ebay is a very dangerous place. My justification? These all cost much less than my Janome 6600, which I may just sell. The Singers are built like tanks, I can maintain them myself, they are just a blast to sew with. (Still have to make a buttonhole.) Then again, my 6600P is very quiet. And when it eventually breaks, I've got my Singers!

Back to my Hot Patterns Great White Shirt, which I am using for my PatternReview Build a Better Blouse with Shannon Gifford. So far, so good. In fact, an amazing easy blouse to fit, much easier than the Vogue bodice sloper that I worked on a few months ago. I think I do need a bit more room where the front bodice joins the sleeves at the lower armscye, but close enough for version 1.

Plenty of opportunities to play with the Singer Professional Buttonholer.

Back to sewing!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shannon Gifford's Stitch and Flip Method and the Loes Hinse Milano Jacket

I recently had the pleasure of taking Shannon Gifford’s Stitch-and-Flip Jacket Construction class at PatternReview.com, and boy was that both fun and informative.

After wasting weeks agonizing over which pattern to use (my only TNT pattern being the Advance jacket below, which is not well suited to the technique), I settled uneasily on the Loes Hinse Milano Jacket. I include that "uneasily" part because her sizing is so different from the Big4 and Advance sizing, and I’ve only sewn with Big4 type of sizing below. So I did a few uneducated flat pattern measurements, wrestled my fears to the ground, took a stab into the barely illuminated dark, and went for a combination of XS-S sizing.

Shannon emphasizes the need to make a muslin. It’s in her SNF class notes, and it’s there at the bottom of every email she sends. Staring me in the face. But I was short on time, did a tissue fitting, all looked well, and I proceeded to boldly cut out my fashion fabric (ff) and proceed with this lovely technique. The rest of this entry is in the format of a PR review, which is not yet finished. I’m posting it to get feedback from a few key people (thanks Mom), and I’ll post finished pics ASAP.

Loes Hinse Designs Pattern No. 8002 Milano Jacket PR Review

Pattern Description: Fitted princess line jacket with 7 vertical seams. View A has a two part sleeve. View B has a bell sleeve with elastic. Bust ease is 3”, hip is 5”.

Pattern Sizing: Petite through Plus (XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL), I used a combination of XS and S, mostly S.

I typically use a size 12 in the Big 4, with a ½” FBA for a C cup adjustment, ½” sway back adjustment, and ½” upper wide back adjustment (but size 10 shoulders in front, working on getting this right).

For this Milano pattern, I started by tracing XS in the shoulders to S at the bottom of the armscye. I then tried to avoid doing an FBA by incorporating the ½” bust increase suggested in FFRP on the pattern pieces joining the center front and center side seams in the bust area. Unfortunately, this is not a true princess seam in that it doesn’t go over the bust point, so I should have done a real FBA. The final picture on me will tell the story, but right now it looks a bit odd. Maybe I’ll fill things out, I have outgrown my dress form. Sadly.

Fabric Used: A rayon/polyester/lycra (“RPL”) that ended up beefier than I expected so it does not drape as elegantly as I had hoped for. This is a common problem of mine. Fabrics that look fine to me on the bolt almost always ended up being too heavy for the garment. I hope to improve my eye for this as I continue to sew.

Here are the recommended fabrics per Loes Hinse: Wool, rayon, velvet, raw silk, microfiber, linen, double knits, fleece, boucle, and blends. I probably should order fabric directly from http://casualelegancefabric.com/fabric?s=1218739172-902805168 per Loes’ recommendations until I develop a better eye for fabric/pattern matching. Wow, there are some beautiful sweater knit fabrics on that site, must resist.

Here are the recommended notions: 1 pair shoulder pads measuring 6 x 3 ½ x 5/8” (15 x 9 1.5 cm). 1 strip of Velcro 5” (12 cm). One button measuring 1”. View B 28 inches of 1” wide elastic. Hmmmm, what is the Velcro for? I missed that in the instructions. Maybe for attaching the covered shoulder pads? I haven’t gotten to that point yet. The pattern includes pieces for covering the recommended shoulder pads.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? The lines look the same, but my RPL fabric was not as softly drapey as the beautiful cream pattern photo. Next time, I’ll make it with one of the recommended fabrics. This time was for fit and for use during Shannon Gifford’s latest Jacket Stitch and Flip class at PR. Seven vertical seams! Lots of practice with the SNF technique, although it is very easy to learn under Shannon’s tutelage.

As noted above, I have two sewing shortcomings: fit and appropriate fabric choices. Not minor issues. The problems that I had with my jacket are related to one or the other of these shortcomings, certainly not the pattern design itself, the pattern instructions, or Shannon’s SNF technique. Really, I’m happy with how the jacket is shaping up when I see it on my dress form. It’s when I slip it on me that I get all sad, especially when I compare it to the elegant cream jacket on the pattern folder.

In an effort to address these areas, my first photo shows the unhemmed jacket with Nancy Erickson’s thicker shoulder pads with little caps.

At first I thought the jacket hung better on my dress form than with the much thinner crescent shaped pads that I had on hand. But after putting on the jacket, I realized that the bigger pads were trying to make the jacket into something it is not.

The first picture, with the hem done, shows it on my dress form with the thinner pads pinned to the form. I now think these are better but not quite right. I just got some NU-Foam at Joann's experiment with making shoulder pads per Shannon's bonus instructions. This is one of the reasons every project take me so long: every step is a learning process.

Doesn’t the hemmed jacket look better after I put a brassiere on my dress form? And a little cotton shell. Please ignore the color differences, neither is quite right. I'll work on that with the final jacket shots.

Another thing I noticed after looking at the unhemmed photo is that, even though I hemmed the sleeves by only catching the interfacing, those catch stitches shone through the right side as little bumps. I had to shorten the sleeves anyway, so I removed the fusible interfacing (as much as I could) and this time followed Shannon’s bagging technique to the letter, just attaching the 2” sleeve hem at the seam lines on the inside. This was in two places. I may experiment on scraps with a double-sided fusible ¼” tape just to make sure that things don’t move around, but it looks much better now. All of the interfacing standards go out the window when making an LH jacket, one of the reasons why I used this pattern for the SNF class even though I didn’t have time to make a muslin, as Shannon very strongly recommends. She’s right!

Yet another thing that I didn’t like in the unhemmed jacket photo was how the sleeve cap fabric looked puckery, due to the rippling of the seam allowance material underneath (it was pressed towards the sleeve cap).

I tried a bit of steam shrinking per Bobbi Carr’s DVD; it worked beautifully for Bobbi, who was using an all wool sleeve to demonstrate, but RPL has far less shaping possibility. It look just a tiny bit better afterwards, but still bumpy.

Then I remembered that Shannon had some instructions for basting in a sleeve head (there are all these little extra tips in a Shannon Gifford class). And I remembered that I had found and bought some beautiful lambswool (cream and black) at Greenberg & Hammer in NYC this June, so I tried that. Beautiful! I’m not sure if I’m doing it the right way, but it sure made a big difference.

This works beautifully with the sleeve bagging method of the SNF technique, all of the lambswool and seam allowances will be safely covered in the final project, only the shoulder pad with be outside the lining. And that’s okay, because I can change it if needed, or even remove it entirely if I wear the jacket with a blouse that already has a shoulder pad.

Here's the lambswool, very neat stuff, I ended up using two layers:

The pattern calls for one 1” button, and I thought for awhile that one was not enough. Now I’m leaning back in that direction. Any thoughts? Please take a look above at the jacket with one button pinned to the front, and the shot below with two buttons pinned. I'm leaning in the direction of one button, per the pattern envelope pic. Loes knows best.

Here is a picture of part of the inside with the SNF lining and a Hong Kong finish around the facing. I need to finish the sleeve bagging by handstitching the top of the sleeve lining to the armhole (Shannon has given me some tips on how to do that) and another row of blind hem stitches around the Hong Kong seam at the hem. Make the buttonhole (maybe two, one for each side so that I can interchange buttons via the "cuff link" method), then I'm done.

P.S. My mother likes one button too. She and Loes are like this (fingers twisted together visual). Unless I hear strong protests, one button it is.