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.

Cotton Knit Serging

So this is the easiest garment pattern you will ever see. It works with knits, wovens, tissue knits, you name it.

It’s from Grainline Studio and if you’ve never heard of it, you might have been under a rock.or maybe just busy quilting. The name of the pattern is the Hemlock Tee. It’s available for free if you sign up for their newsletter.

I am not the fondest of pdf patterns but I managed to assemble this one without much trouble, and then used 810 gridded interfacing to trace the pattern. I got the interfacing at Joann’s with several coupons and spent, I don’t know, less than $2 for 6 yards. Seriously.

I went a size or two larger than normal, because I wanted a really comfy, swingy fit, but I think I’ll try it smaller as well.

The whole pattern is really 5 seams and then hemming. That’s it. So the fun is all in the fabric, the variations, the sizing, the sleeve length, cropped, long, whatever you want.

As far as the hemming, I was so thrilled. I have never owned a machine that does a cover stitch, and I never really thought I needed one. Until I started to use it.

This particular shirt is made from 100% organic cotton knit from Hawthorne Supply Co. The fabric is from a line called Redwood, which I just loved. I can’t pass up anything with trees on it. Honestly, the knit was a dream to work with and feels like pajamas when you are wearing it.

I used a narrow cover stitch on both the sleeves and the hem. Yes, there’s a bit of fiddling with the thread and needles on the serger, but really not bad at all to switch from overlock (which I used on all the other seams) to cover stitch and back. After having switched back and forth a few times now, it’s like changing from sewing to embroidery. Switch a few things around, change a nob or button…done.

Wrong side sleeve hem.
Right side hem, bottom and sleeves.

I have a number of patterns to work on next, but I stepped outside yesterday, and GAHH. It seems too early for this! The daffies are coming! Anyway, happy first signs of spring.

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.

The State of the (Sewing) Union

Friends, Quilters, Sewists, Designers, Artists and Fiber Lovers of all flavors:

Today we gather to review the state of our industry, and to hold a mirror up to ourselves – – for the fun of it.

The 2017 Quilting in America survey just came out.

The main headliners: 

  • 7-10 million total estimated quilters in the U.S.
  • $3.7 billion in total estimated quilting industry spending for 2017. (Holding steady from 2014, which was at $3.76 billion.)
  • $442 is the amount the average quilting household spent in 2017. (Up by 48% from 2014.)

The survey found two main groups of quilters: Dedicated Quilters and Under 45 Quilters.

Dedicated Quilters:

  • Female
  • Average 63 years old
  • Well educated (70% went to college).
  • Affluent ($95,900 household income).
  • Spends average $3,363 per year on quilting.
  • 85% prefer traditional style, 37% modern quilting, 20% art quilting.
  • Account for 72.2% of total industry expenditures.
  • Purchased an average of 99 yards of fabric the last year (Well, this made me laugh.  How many quilts can you make out of 99 yards of fabric? Quite a few. Hence, the reason we all have a wonderful stash!!)

Under 45 Quilter:

  • Affluent ($98,000 household income)
  • Prefer modern quilting
  • Websites (75%) and online video (63%) play a stronger role for education and inspiration than total sample
  • Blogs are important to this group
  • Even though they are employed, they still devote 10+ hours a week to their craft

Some things to consider: 

  • 97% of Dedicated Quilters are purchasing fabric in person at a retail location. But 66% also purchase online.
  • 83% of all quilters will purchase 100% cotton thread (hello Aurifil) in the next 12 months.
  • 54% purchase batting in queen size
  • In the last year 26% purchased a new sewing machine. Average price $2212.
  • 50% of Dedicated Quilters use social media, like Facebook. (Up from 14% in 2014.)

But what’s happening in the garment industry?

If you are a garment sewist, you have seen some major changes lately as well.  Many quilt fabric distributors are now also featuring rayon and denim in their current lines, and often include garment patterns as part of their collections.

CSS Industries, Inc. now owns: Simplicity, McCalls, Butterick and Vogue.  That’s a LOT of consolidation.  Why?  Because new indie designers and pattern makers are basically taking over the industry, and leaving the old brand names in the dust.  Those “Under 45-ers” listed above want to sew their own clothes.  They want it in their own patterns and in their own sizes.

But the old guard garment industry didn’t realize that patterns as currently packaged are incoherent to someone learning on their own.  In the old days, of course, your mom or grandma taught you to sew clothes.  That doesn’t happen any more and younger sewists need help. Along came sites like colettepatterns.com.  (Patterns that teach, in current trendy designs.)

Furthermore, distribution channels are basically gone for garment fabrics.  JoAnn’s, Walmart, Hobby Lobby?  Please. If you’re making a Halloween costume, sure.  But something you want to wear and spend some time and effort making by hand? Not a chance.

So where does this leave the state of the sewing industry?

In a creative and strong place.  With the Nextgen sewists/quilters already on the rise, and technology and social media filling the gaps in learning curves (not to mention our physical curves like cashmerette.com), the industry is poised for change and growth.  We seem to be insatiable in our desire to create and to learn and to connect.  Social media makes all this possible in fresh ways.

Yet we are still addicted to the feel and touch of fabric, making me believe that we currently have a brick and mortar “hole” to fill. Who will transform the retail and customer experience for us? Who will bring the online and offline advantages together?  Consider it a challenge.

And let the sewing games begin.  Happy 2018!

 

Going Against the Grain

If you’ve ever done any garment sewing you know that:

1. It’s not easy.

2. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you better follow that pattern EXACTLY.

Well, I’m not much of a garment sewer, although from time to time fabric tells me what it wants to become and my job is just to do what it tells me.  That’s how it was with this delicious fabric from Cotton and Steel.  It’s really not an easy line to piece into a quilt as it doesn’t lend itself to small cuts.  But it was just calling out to me, begging to be made into this vest.

And so I bought it and set it aside until I was ready.

You can see that the line on the pattern indicates that the pattern should lay on the fabric the way it’s shown in the pic above —  grain line parallel to the selvage.

But that wasn’t the vision.  I wanted vertical stripes in front.  So I began my research.  What will happen if I ignore the grain line?  Will the shape be distorted?  Will the vest not lay properly?

I turned to the Internet where the general consensus seemed to be:  Always follow the grain line. Unless you don’t want to.

Actually, most people were specific. If you wanted a pattern to run a certain way, then It’s OK to cheat the grain line a bit.  Especially on a fabric that is not stretchy.  Since I’m working in a pretty tight woven, I thought…I’m going for it.

So I cut out all the pieces, along with a liner.  The pattern I was using was from Indygo Junction (Modern Silhouette Vest).

As usual, I did not follow the pattern completely.  I wanted it to be lined and reversible, so I modified along the way. I actually assembled the entire vest, then the entire lining, and pinned them right sides together. Then I stitched around the outside of the whole thing (very much like making a bag lining.) I also went back and serged all the unfinished edges. I left a space in the back hem to turn inside out.

***Do not sew the armholes together when it is inside out.*** Ask me how I know.

When I teach, I often tell students “Don’t worry. I make the mistakes, so you don’t have to.” It gets a chuckle, but it’s truth. I make a lot of mistakes because I try a lot of new things. I’m as comfortable unsewing as I am sewing. The seam ripper is your friend.

As long as the armholes are still raw edge,  the whole thing can be turned inside out and pressed.

You can finish the armhole by overlocking the right side and lining separately, and then turning them both under and topstitching. It forms a neat finish, with all seams hidden. The last step is to topstitch all the way around the vest and in the process turn under the back hem which was left open when you turned it inside out.

All seams are finished and I can wear it either way.

The back is pieced as well with the same line of Cotton and Steel fabric.

Final step is to add a button in front.

I think I really worried needlessly about the grain line.  It lays just fine, and the little pandas were cut on grain.

C’mon, that fabric is cute!

The bottom line is this: Don’t worry about the grain line QUITE so much when you are working with a medium or tight woven. Anything stretchy, and all bets are off.

Go ahead, try something new.

And don’t be afraid if it goes against the grain.

If You Have a Little Girl in Your Life

Oh, it’s irresistable.  If you have a little girl in your life, and you sew, you will want to make something for her with ruffles…or a little bit of lace, or some gathering, or bows or frills.

You won’t be able to resist, I’m not kidding.

I have a wee one in my life. But she lives far, and I don’t really know her size.  She’s two years old this week, but I decided to make her a 3T dress.

Isn’t that pattern cute?

Anyway, garment sewing is not really my thing, but I am more and more interested in it as I would prefer something that fits and is one-of-a-kind, than something store-bought and cheap.

I found these great fabrics, and in my head I had it all created before I even found the pattern.  You know how that is…then you have to go looking for a pattern that comes close to what you already had in mind.

Then the fun begins.  And frankly, the older I get the more difficult it is to follow a pattern. Sew this on the straight of grain, this on the bias, flip this piece backward, and this one sits on the fold.

Ugh.

(Not to mention that sometimes patterns have mistakes, so it helps to know a little about what you’re trying to do.)  Moreover, I usually just want to do something my way and not the way it shows in the pattern.  For instance, on this dress, I replaced the waistband with a ribbon, and I used a ruffler foot to gather the bottom ruffle.The pattern called for the more traditional method of manual gathering.

I also changed my color scheme a bit from the original layout.

My tip for sewing any garment pattern:  Read the pattern from start to finish.  (Every pattern will tell you this.)  But read it again.  And read it again if necessary.  Unfold the pattern pieces and stare at them as well. Get comfortable with the whole process in your head before you even lay out your fabric. Trust me on this one.

This turned out almost exactly the way I pictured it.

I learned a little about the zipper on the back…I would raise it a bit higher.  But all in all I am happy with the result.

 

 

 

I found out this week that they are coming in to town, so I will be able to give it to this little one in person.  I know at two years old, she won’t care.

But what can I say?  I couldn’t resist.

I only hope it will fit her for at least a few weeks so she can wear it. The matching bag is an in-the-hoop project in machine embroidery, and I added her name there.

Maybe we can get a few pictures of her wearing it before she eats her birthday cake!

The Neopixel Process

So, with the vest finally complete, thought I would let you see it in action.  I know it’s a little creepy as everything is in shadow so the lights would show.  Actually, they show pretty well in daylight too.  Those little neopixels are quite bright!

You can see that I used the Adafruit book as a reference during every step.

adafruit book

After I had the lining of the vest created, I used an erasable sewing pencil to trace out the pattern of the pixels, making sure to keep power and ground from crossing.

power and ground designI numbered the pixels to keep track.  The next step was to handle all the wiring.

Problems encountered:

  1.  The conductive thread, while it did work, would have lost a lot of power by the time it went through 19 pixels.  So we switched to 22 gauge insulated wire for both power and ground.
  2. We use the thread to attach the accelerometer to the Flora and it did hold up, but did not like the silver solder at all.
  3. Working with wire and Neopixels is tiny, tiny work, much tinier than wool embroidery, or even working with embroidery thread.  Be prepared with a nice set of wire strippers.

power and groundHere is a pic showing power and ground and attached to each pixel with the 22 gauge wire.  White was power, black was ground. Each neopixel was at least temporarily held in place.

solderNext came the one thing I didn’t do.  My husband did all the soldering. Silver solder every place the wires touched the pads on the neopixels, the flora and the accelerometer.

vest sewnThen I brought the whole thing to the sewing machine, and zigzagged down power and ground.  I found that I needed to add a cutaway stabilizer behind all the wire and stitching to support the fabric.  When I finished all the stitching, I went back and trimmed the stabilizer as much as possible.  All of that added a lot of stiffness to the vest, but surprisingly, it still hung pretty well when I added the top layer of fabric.

We repeated the whole process with data in and data out: wire to the neopixels, pin down, solder, stitch.

vest lining1Finally, I created the top layer and attached it to the lining.  It was designed to have serged edges, one of the reasons I chose the pattern.  However, I think if I were to make it again (without any wiring,) I’d do a more traditional lining and finishing technique.

finished vestI’ll say this much about the project.  It’s a big hit at parties.

We worked together on the programming. Actually the Adafruit book is very helpful with that, as everything is done in software and transferred via USB to the Flora.  My vest is programmed to do a number of sequences, based on the movement of the accelerometer.  As you see in the video above, I just have to shake it, and it changes mode.

Actually, I learned a great deal about simple wiring, I am proud that I could get through something like this, even with expert advice!

My next LED project will likely be a bag that lights up.

For now, I need to get back to some simple quilting.  But I have lots of spare parts and I’m excited about the idea of another electronic project!

Save yourself — from Pinterest

If only I could.  But every now and then I get sucked into it.

If you sew, you know just how many absolutely gorgeous fabulous creative bright shiny fresh interesting lovely stunning fabric-savvy darling sweet edgy smart…whew…IDEAS are on that site.

I am helpless to resist.

So this little t-shirt project was inspired by one of the ideas I saw there at some point, and I wish I could credit the original poster.  But that’s the thing about pinterest.  You click on something, then on another thing, and before you know it you are down the rabbit hole somewhere on a blog, mixing all the ideas together.

So, for the record, I bought several of these cheap tees to use at a class for embroidery positioning.  The students used them in the class and now I have them left over and I was wondering what else I could do with them. Here’s the upcycle idea:

Before.

Before.

After.

After.

 

 

Just a plain tee to start, but it gets cut up into a shrug-type garment.

 

 

 

 

In the summer, I think it will look cute over a tank or tee.  Not bad for the $5 or so that I paid for it.

In the meantime, I’ll be shielding my eyes from the inevitable lure of pinterest.

For the moment.

Chicago in the Dead of Winter

Let’s start this blog post off with a little movie clip, a classic:

I was trying to find “Now is the winter of our discontent…” Of course, it had to be Richard Dreyfuss. But I coudn’t find that clip on youtube. So this will have to do.  Now I want to watch the whole movie again.

Anyway, this is both Chicago in the dead of winter and the winter of our discontent.

But it’s great for getting some sewing done.  I have been trying to do a little more garment sewing, but it’s not something I’ve done much in the past.  It’s just exciting to spend a couple of hours whipping up something to wear when I’m tired of everything in my closet.  Also, I have been collecting fabric for garments over the past year or so.  They are calling out to me to be utilized.

Here’s a very simple sweatshirt jacket that took a couple of hours.  The pattern says 45 minutes, but sorry, it takes me that long to read the pattern and cut the fabric.  Then, of course, I modified it a little as I went along, adding some extra topstitching so the seams looked a little more finished.  But all in all, I’m pleased with the result.

Sweatshirt jacket February 2014

Sweatshirt jacket February 2014

The pattern is from a book called “The Feisty Stitcher” by Susan Wasinger.    The book has a number of unusual patterns that all look like they would be fun to try.  However, this one looked like just my style so I had to try it.

The Feisty Stitcher by Susan Wasinger

The Feisty Stitcher by Susan Wasinger

sweatshirt jacket

As I said, it looked easy enough to do, and quite casual.  I did not add the hood, just a simple placket.  I thought about adding some embroidery, but that’s for another day.

I have some more sweatshirt fabric in a darker color and I just might whip up another jacket some time soon.  It’s easy enough that anyone could try it!  No garment experience necessary!  As for now, I’m off to work on finishing a quilt.

The winter of our discontent may just turn out to be one of the most productive we’ve ever had!