Garment Sewing Mania

So, as you know, I’ve been sewing a lot of t-shirts for fun. I’ve basically created my own casual wardrobe this year…but only of shirts. I balance it out with a lot of stretchy pants I already own.

It’s not ideal, but it’s the thing I’m loving right now. Especially since I’m not going out and purchasing new clothes. These days I get excited when a new shipment of fabric comes in.

My next effort? A pair of stretchy pants. I know. I should aim a little higher. But I’ve never made a pair of pants. Seriously. And I’m not about to start with a pair of jeans which would be a tremendous amount of effort and I have no idea where my weaknesses are.

Well, OK, I know that I sit on my biggest weakness, but that doesn’t mean I know how to fit it. So I’m starting with something forgiving. I’ll let you know how it goes.(I’m not terribly optimistic.)

But just to give you a bit more information on my process: As many of you know, I have resolved to only purchase organic fabric for the foreseeable future. As time has gone on, I have only furthered my resolve in this area. The good news, is that the industry is slowly moving in that direction, since traditional cotton-growing is proving unsustainable to even the most stalwart purchasers. We’re talking about Levi’s and Lee and H&M and folks who are serious purchasers of cotton.

I wrote about organic cotton in detail here.

But another big concern of mine as I’ve been sewing, has been the amount of waste…fabric waste, that goes into garment sewing. Making a t-shirt requires the front and back of the pattern to be cut on the fold.

But that leaves a large amount of fabric untouched above the fold. Like half of it.

So I started something new. Of course I started editing the pattern. Instead of laying fabric on the fold, I placed it higher up on the fabric to make two pieces instead of one. I added a quarter inch to the area that would normally be placed on the fold to compensate for the additional seam allowance.

This gave me the ability to make a whole other shirt from leftover fabric. A few more seams, yes. But more clothes, yay! But what about the sleeves? What I found with the sleeves was that I often did not have enough width of my leftover fabric to accommodate the width of the sleeve pattern.

So I folded the pattern in half. I laid it out on the fabric and added the quarter inch seam allowance. I found that the slim line of the sleeve usually left me with enough fabric to make the sleeves with a seam. Instead of two pieces of sleeve fabric, I ended up with four pieces, two each per sleeve. One seam up the middle is barely noticeable.

These additional seams turned out to look structural on the garment. Before assembling, I gave them a topstitch over the side where the serger seam allowance rested. It holds the extra seam allowance in place perfectly, and adds a bit of interest. Voila!

I found that the looser tees left me with enough fabric to make a v-neck closer fitting tee, and the opposite was true of the cut of the v-necks.

Then I feel absolutely no guilt throwing away the remnants after that. they are just tiny bits and pieces.

Bit by agonizing bit, I’m learning about garment construction. And it’s only agonizing because I am not a perfect beautiful, lovely size. Well, actually, I am. But I’m just not what would be considered a model size. So I modify everything to fit in a comfortable way.

And I’m having fun playing with the absolute simplest of patterns. I invite you to try it. It’s fun, entertaining, creative, and most of all, utilitarian. It’s empowering.

Everyone, stay calm and sew on. These are crazy, unsteady times. Do something that steadies you.

(Pattern from Grainline studio. V-neck tee is my own pattern. Fabrics are from Hawthorne Supply Co., various lines, but all organic cotton interlock.)

Sewing Your Own Clothes

I know some of you have been sewing doll clothes since you were a toddler. And others have made their own wedding dresses and prom dresses and more.

I tried sewing a blouse once when I was in my teens. After weeks of agonizing, I emerged with a blouse that looked worse on me than the cheapest thing I could have purchased from a dime store. And I had invested WAY too much time and money.

That was the end of my garment sewing. Why on earth would I spend so much time making something that looks like it came from Target when I could just go to Target and get it? (I don’t remember Target existing at that time, but you get the point. Substitute Zayre or Woolworth’s or Venture if you’re in the Chicagoland area.)

Years went by. Decades went by. And garment sewing changed. And so did the idea of making a trip to Target. Folks like Grainline Studio came onto the scene.

And along the way, I learned that sewing something to wear can be simple. Once I purchased a serger with a coverstitch, I started creating my full pandemic wardrobe–sweats and tees.

I have been purchasing fabric from Hawthorne Supply Co., using only organic interlock cotton. I have found this to be ultra-comfortable, soft, drapey, and easy to sew. It’s ideal for t-shirts and kids’ clothes.

Here’s a little video.

The round neck shirts above are from the Hemlock tee pattern from Grainline. The v-neck tees in the video are my own design. I literally took a tee that was comfortable, laid it on a table and made my own pattern. I changed the neckline to one that I preferred, added a bit of length, changed the sleeves, and boom: my perfect 3/4 sleeve v-neck. Sized for me.

I am enamored with the triple coverstitch.

It forms such a beautiful hemmed finish. And the wrong side is even better because it offers that serger “stretch”‘.

Best investment I ever made.

I have more fabric on its way in fall and winter colors, as this fabric was purchased in February and March of last year.

A Tip for Interlock Cotton Knit

When I purchased my serger, the dealer said the needles were fine on knits and wovens.

She was wrong.

It was a universal needle. Sewing machines all come with universal needles. And I used to tell my students that a universal needle is supposed to be good for everything but it’s really good for nothing.

I stand by that on serger needles as well.

I don’t know why I thought that a serger needle might be different.

In the above photo, you can see what happens when you use a needle that’s too sharp for the fabric. Now, this didn’t happen at first. It took a couple of washings. But that is plainly the needle cutting through the knit fabric and breaking it.

Which is why you should ALWAYS use a ball point needle on knits.

Serging or sewing. A ball point needle is actually dull. It separates the threads of a knit with each penetration and doesn’t break it. Your garment will last a LOT longer. Luckily, I only made that mistake on the first pattern. All the others are done with ball point needles and are fine.

Just to summarize. When you purchase a new sewing machine, take those universal needles and toss them in a drawer for someday when you’re desperate. Replace it with a sharp if you’re working on a woven, like quilt cotton, or with a ball point if you’re sewing on knits.

And if you’re on a serger, you can use those factory-loaded needles on wovens. But no matter how special they tell you the needles are that come with the machine, don’t use them on a nice knit.

Someday I’ll do a blog post on different types of needles (there are plenty.) But now, I need to get back to cutting out fabric. I need a winter wardrobe.

Serger Dreams

I did it.

I bought a new serger. I am not very good at videos, so here’s an unboxing blog. But before I get into that, let me tell you why I purchased what I did.

This is a Babylock. Babylock sergers have been the best in the industry for years. They lead the way in “air puff” technology, making it easy to thread those loopers. I trust that they know more about sergers than basically anyone else in the industry.

My all-time most popular blog post is about where sewing machines are made. You can check it out here.

This Babylock serger is made in Japan, where Babylock actually owns factories.

I already own a Babylock Imagine serger. It’s a solid machine, still has a great stitch, and will become my back-up serger. But it’s well over 20 years old.

The new machine is an Accolade, which as I understand it, is the updated model of the Evolve. It has a cover stitch and that was the main selling point for me. I have never owned a serger with a cover stitch. On top of that, I got a promotion that included 15 different serger feet, handling everything from beading to ruffling to binding. To be honest, I have no idea how to use most of these features, so it will be an interesting learning curve for me. A real growth opportunity!

Of course, I purchased from a reputable dealer with a series of classes available. This is something I recommend to anyone purchasing any machine.

I was also given limited-time access to a full range of Babylock online classes, including all the instructions for my serger PLUS lots of technique and project classes.

Serger instructions are terrifying. They will frighten you. But you cannot let fear guide you. It’s just a mechanical machine, and it works more mechanically than any sewing machine you have ever used. That’s all. Mechanical machines like things done in a certain order. You can do this. Before I did anything, I watched the online video for the Accolade on Babylock SewEd. I have guide classes set up for next Saturday. But in fairness, I’ve owned a serger and after the video I only glanced at the instructions once.

It’s not as difficult as the instructions make it look. I promise.

I immediately set it up for a 4 thread overlock, my go-to stitch. I wanted to hem my husband’s pants, which were frayed from dragging on the ground. But first, a test stitch.

Ladies and gentlemen. Perfection right out of the box.

And that, my friends, is why I purchased a Babylock serger.

I went ahead and did the finishing stitch on my husband’s pants before I hemmed them on my Bernina. Could I have finished them on the serger with a cover stitch?

I think so, but danged if I know how yet.

Something exciting to learn!

In this time of slow fashion, slow food and environmental awareness, making one’s clothes is coming back around to be a thoughtful move toward sustainable living. I don’t want to throw everything in the garbage any more.

These pants and others now have new life. And I know that doesn’t change the world.

But it’s a step in the right direction.