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.