Saturday, April 23, 2016

Handy sewing hint #15

As promised here are some thoughts on sewing machine feet.

To zoom out a bit, many of us struggle to perform a variety of sewing jobs perfectly at our own domestic sewing machine without fully realizing that in mass factory sewing industrial machines are all special purpose built to do only one function and to do it perfectly. It is to be expected that we have our difficulties trying to do so much more with so much less.

This fact really connected with me when I once complained to an industrial sewing machine technician that I struggled to produce identical pairs of welt pockets every time. 

He told me that in suit factories the machines that did welt pockets were often the size of ping pong tables and although the did an infinite number of perfect welt pockets, that is all they did.

Quite a change from the home sewer and her little multi-purpose sewing machine.

There is a point here to consider. 

There are devices that exist to extend and standardize the performance of any machine and many of these are available as attachments for you own sewing machine.

Here are some I have used and many I own:


  • Flat felling feet that turn under the edge of the seam allowance that needs to be topstitched from the right side evenly and holds it still so you can stitch it down a consistent distance from the seam line.
  • Feet that hold two pieces of lace together so they can be joined by zig zagging ( I once lost my mind and did some heirloom sewing - temporarily)
  • Feet that let you feed in rows of strung beads and stitch the down ( the 80s were weird man )
  • Button hole sewing feet that hold the buttons still so you can zig zag them on ( you are kidding, you haven't had the pleasure of sewing your buttons on by machine?) although often you can get the same result by snapping off your snap on foot and just lowering the shank directly onto the button to hold it.
  • Wide and narrow hem feet. Once these are mastered, and this does play a game on your nerves,  these feet roll tiny hems and feed them through under the needle more finely and accurately than you could ever do with an iron and your fingers. 
  • Pin tuck feet that do an outstanding job of sewing little pin tucks, again from my brief, but intense foray into heirloom sewing.
There are tons more speciality feet out there, do a surf or visit your sewing machine dealer. The right sewing machine feet can make the difference between a hard sewing job that sails right through your machine and one that makes you go back to crochet as a hobby.

You will note too, before we go any further, that I have not listed gathering feet here. 

If you want to speed gather you are far, far better in investing in a good serger gathering feet - these little miracles actually evenly gather and finish long lengths of ruffles (and if you are on the A team and practice a lot you can even serge the ruffle onto a flat piece too at the same time). IMO sewing machine gathering feet are not nearly as effective.

If it were me and say I was making some home dec thing that required a lot of ruffles, ike a bunch of dust ruffles for a bed,  I would invest in a serger gathering foot as soon as I could.

The sewing feet I have listed above are really useful and interesting if you want something job specific but there are a couple of more basic feet (some of which you might even already own and don't know how to use) I consider essential.

These are:

1. A satin stitch a.k.a. an appliqué foot. You might have two standard looking pressor feet (you can spell this presser btw, I got used to writing pressor, also correct I think) that appear identical.

Turn them over.

One of these two feet is probably totally flat on the bottom (this is a good thing, the more contact between the foot and the fabric, the more stable the stitching area and the nicer the straight stitch, so important when you are top-stitching) and one might have a ridge or cut away area on the underneath side. This second foot, the one with the tunnel on the bottom side, is a satin stitch (as you would use for applique) foot. The idea is that those closely packed satin stitches (closely spaced zig zags) need somewhere to go so they can slide out from under the foot.

If you have ever tried to sew a satin stitch, or even a button hole, and the stitches seem to stick under the foot, chances are you were using a foot that did not have this cut away area.

Note too that many of these satin stitch feet also have the toes set wide apart so you can see where you are going with your stitches - so important when you need to make sure you are covering a cut edge with the zig zag totally, centring it in the swing of that stitch.

Sometimes when I have something really nerve-wracking to sew I also use this foot because I like the visibility for tricky construction jobs.

A few pictures:





2. A straight stitch foot. A few handy hint posts ago I talked about how containing the stitching area improved straight stitch quality and talked about straight stitch throat plates. A lot of machines, particularly older ones, come with these plates. For most newer machines they are after market items and quite expensive. An alternative, and far more reasonably priced, is a straight stitch foot that actually has the small needle hole in the foot, rather than the plate. As quilters, those kings and queens of careful straight stitching, work with 1/4" seam allowances, many of these straight stitch feet are also narrow feet with the edge of the foot an exact 1/4" from the needle- pretty handy if you are going to spend your life trying to keep your seam allowances all 1/4".

Here is a picture:

Note the bottom of this foot is solid, not cut away, again adding to fabric stability and stitch quality.

3. An even feed or walking foot. These fix that annoying problem of having the top layer shoot forward of the bottom layer in a seam by introducing a set of "feed dogs" over the top layer of fabric too, in synchrony. 


There can be added to most machines in attachments like this:


It should also be noted that some sewing machine companies make machines with a walking foot built right in. 

For a long time, I believe 50 years, Pfaff had the sole patent on this, in their IDT integrated feed system, but that patent ran out about 10 years ago and since then a number of other manufacturers offer this feature on some of their machines. In all cases the built-in walking foot looks like a set of upper feed dogs that can be snapped down to walk along the top of the fabric behind the foot, eliminating layer slippage:



4. An invisible zipper foot. Listen IMO every new sewer should start to learn to sew zippers by inserting invisible zippers. They are the bomb.

Just think about it, the part that is invisible is your own stitches, that can be done over and over again, getting even and close to the teeth if you need to work on that, without any need to take out previous, maybe messy or mistake stitching. All this stuff will be hidden on the wrong side and no one is to know.

Compare this to the stress of trying to make sure both sides of the stitching on a centred zipper are even, or that the top stitching on a lapped zipper is straight.

Make it easy on yourself zipper wise. Invest in a decent invisible zipper foot and learn how to use it and you will thank yourself you for this for the rest of your life.

Would I lie to you about a thing like that?

Here is a picture:


So that's enough for one evening. 

I am sure I will think of more on this subject, say at 3:00 a.m. tonight, but it has been a full week what with mouse control and clean up and actually beginning some sewing, a pair of jeans and a blazer, more on those later.

I also want to thank you for you comments. 

So much. 

Both to the experienced sewers who contribute so much of their own expertise on the subjects that come up, and on the new sewers, like I was once, teaching myself to sew during nap time really resonated with me.

I want the new sewers in particular to know that I am taking note of requests for more on specific topics, fit issues is a good one for example, and I will return to these in future posts.

For the time being however, good night, and thank you. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Handy sewing hint of the day #14

O.K. 

I have more or less settled in. As much as anyone who wakes up in the night and says "what's that noise?" can be. I have two versions of mouse traps on the go (just spring out of bed every morning to check the trap line I can tell you) some chemical warfare, that I don't really believe in, going on deep inside the joists, and some new gadgets plugged in to the wall that are supposed to emit radio waves that only little pink ears can hear and nothing outside the rodent bandwidth can. Philosophically I am more of a catch and release type girl but do suspect these mice have homing instincts.

You crossed the line kiddos when you decided to sleep on my pillow.

Normal life is resuming around this. All my bought in the U.S. fabric has been pre-treated.

I have also been thinking about what handy hint number 13 should look like.

In particular I have been thinking of sewing machines and of the new sewers I have watched in classes and what I would like to tell them.

There are so many things, where to start?

Maybe for this one a general list would work best.

1. Use your hands to steady the fabric on either side of the needle (I actually tend to stitch a hand length at a time, stop and re-position - this works really well when sewing knits or other mobile fabrics.) 

A sewing machine is not like food processor. You don't just push the button and wait for it to do it's thing. The machine's main job is to form the stitch (see previous post) and by the action of the feed dogs (those teeth under the pressor foot) move it along regularly. Your stitch length dial/setting controls how big the steps the feed dogs take, and consequently how long the stitch is.

Your job here is to control fabric wobble so the machine can do its job. This means hands on either side of the pressor foot, steading, not feeding or encouraging.

Pins of course help too but make sure you take those out just before you get to them. The real danger of hitting a pin is not just breaking the needle and bending the pin but that the shock of impact will knock the "timing," that precise synchrony of the up and down needle and rotating bobbin that meets in the stitch, out of whack. 

Resetting this all up again, a repair job known and "fixing the timing" is tedious to do and therefore expensive. 

Take out those pins.

2. You will notice I said steady the fabric not feed it through. 

The number one disastrous thing any sewer can do at the machine is to try to force feed the fabric through. 

Yes I know there is a thing called "taut sewing" that involves a hand to the front and one behind the needle but that really is an expansion of steading the fabric so it feeds well, not "helping" it through. Keep your hands beside the stitching area until you and the machine are totally fused as one spiritual unit and you can guide without interfering with the rhythm of the machine. 

A dead give away that you are force feeding your fabric, apart from uneven stitches and a general negative response from your machine, can be seen on the throat plate area just around the hole where the needle goes down into the bobbin area. If you can see faint scratch lines around this hole then what is happening is that the poor needle is being bent along as you try to override the feed dogs with your hands, leaving marks. 

To be honest if you find your machine doesn't go through your layers without "help" you might have already knocked the timing out, be using a too large and too blunt needle, or simply expecting your domestic machine to sew boat covers and car upholstery.

3. There are some things a machine does that is just not its fault. Right now, while I should be making dinner, I can think of four.

a. The fabric gets all jammed up and down into the bobbin area at the start of the seam. This is worst of course in thin fabrics. The issue here is back to the large wide hole in the throat plate that has been built in to accommodate the sideways swing of zig zag type stitches. The needle just pushes the softer fabrics right down this hole with the first stitch and usually you get a thread knot up too.

The fix is to move the cut edge back a bit, sew forward then back, then forward to start off so the needle never has a cut edge hanging over the opening for the first stitch (this is what I do), or start stitching on a scrap butted up next to the cut edge to achieve the same thing (what a lot of other really good sewers often do).

b. The beginning of the seam line has an ugly ball of messy thread in the first few stitches of the seam. This is partially caused by the famous mentioned above zig zag chasm and partially because those long thread tails you start with are unreliable and flop around and are vulnerable to getting tangled once the action starts. If you remember to hold both thread tails, top and bottom, to the side to keep them still once you start stitching you can make this problem go away.

c. When you turn a corner when you are top stitching, say around a collar, the stitches get all short and stupid looking and you have to force them to go around the corner (see point two on the issues with force feeding fabric). 

Again this is not the machine's fault. 

If you were to take a side view of the position of the pressor foot when you make the pivot at the corner you would see that the foot goes from the nice level incline it had on the straight path, same number of layers behind and same number in front, to a steep incline at the corner, with the toe up and the back of the foot much lower. 

What is happening of course is that the front of the foot is still on fabric and the back of the foot is now fabricless (at least until it can get a foot hold on the fabric again, which is why once you have negotiated that corner that the stitch gets nice again). This unevenness is exactly what you don't want to happen when you are trying to form a stitch - the more contact between the fabric and the throat plate, back to the steadiness principle- the better the stitch quality. To get this back what you need to do is put a little shim ( a carpenter term and very appropriate here) under the back of the foot to maintain the foot's levelness.

This shim can be anything you can reach that is as thick as the fabric layers you are working with. This may be a folded up scrap of the same fabric, a piece of cardboard, or if you want you can buy something made out of plastic called a hump jumper, doesn't matter, all does the same stuff.

So stitch up to the point of pivot. Needle down. Lift your pressor foot, turn your fabric. Put your shim under the back of the foot. Check the foot is level. Continue stitching in from the corner and once the foot moves off the shim remove it.

d. You pin what look like fabric pieces that are the exact same length together and when you get to the end of the seam one layer, invariably the top one, is longer. This is sort of inevitable unless you are using a walking foot (an add-on loved by quilters) , and even feed foot (some machines now have these built in) or are careful to sew hand length to hand length and pin.

All that is going on here is that the tiny teeth of the feed dogs pick up the bottom layer slightly as they move and the pressor foot, whose job it is to make sure the fabric layers are pushed well and evenly into the feed dogs so they can do their job, pushes the top layer ahead slightly. 

It's them not you. If you understand this and try to sew with some control beside the needle area you should be good, and in many cases the right attachment or foot can help.

Which leads me to what better be my next topic. Machine feet.

The fun never stops.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The here and now

This will be quick, Miss Daisy is waiting to start the night time routine.

We are home now for about four days. So happy to see the family and already have got in some of my babysitting. They change in a few months and are even funnier.

It's good to maintain a sense of humour.

One of the things that happened while we were gone was that we had a large contingent of mice move in. My son-in-law passed by an Exterminator's convention, I guess they have those things, and overheard that this has been an excellent year for rodents and bed bugs. Something about the warm weather etc.

Whatever.

This is what it looked like.

We got home late at night, checked the mail that had been collected and left for us, and headed off to bed. 

I pulled back the sheets and guess what was neatly piled on my pillow, in substantial quantities? Mouse poop. The husband was in the same situation. Needless to say that bed got stripped down toute suite, with the expected amount of vacuuming paranoia and pulling around the furniture. At this point my poor husband who has done all the RV driving said, enough I have to get to bed.

So off I went to get some clean sheets.

Well ten guesses what was interfiled between all my clean linens?

I suspect you have picked up on the theme here.

So what, late at night when everyone is dying to get to bed in their own king sized bed, and not the other random beds in the house, do you do without any clean sheets, when you have a husband who at this point, really, really wants to just get to sleep?

Well in the end I did find some clean mouse free sheets - old ones I had put away as drop cloths for painting, so we did get to bed finally- sleeping soundly between the stripes of dried latex.

So much of the rest of the time I have been home has been on mouse evidence clean up. I will spare you the population control drama, but the husband has been doing a lot of carrying paper towel bundles outside with long tails hanging out of them. 

It's just been great.

All the cleaning has led me to a resolution of a long standing issue I have had, and written about here before, which is how do you successfully live in a place that is crammed with the evidence of those who used to live here but have left, articulating the space that is never quite filled the same again.

How do you declutter that I ask you?

Well I figured it out.

The issue was not just managing my memories but realizing they had them too.

So I have been asking each kid what from the house they would like in their own homes now in their own happy lives? I have been allocating paintings, dishes, and whatever there is here that might have a memory attached. Our shared history, I realized, should be shared and not just deposited with me.

It feels so great to do this.

Why wait to be like my grandmother who had every item in her house with a name on the underside, names that always changed depending on our current status with her?

And the best part of this process is what I now have more room for, is my family's present. 

In the space left by one picture I am hanging putting up the hanging from India my son and new daughter-in-law brought back from India. 

I have a map of the New York subway system in the hall and a photo of the grandchildren in the corner where I used to put the Christmas tree. 

The long hallway I am starting to fill with photos in one place, like those restaurants where the walls are covered in autographed pictures - a lot of important people once ate here too you know.

And in other places I am going to put things from the travels we are now able to do and rooms are going to be cleaned and painted for two nieces that will be staying with me this summer, and probably one beyond while she starts school.

So I haven't lost all my memories, some are just going to go now to those who made them.

Which I finally realized is what is supposed to happen next.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Handy sewing hint of the day #13

This post is probably of most interest to new and newish sewers.

There are a few basic things I would like to say about sewing machines. It is helpful to know a little something about how they work to help you get through the take a deep breath part of sewing.

At home I have some original patent applications for sewing machines dating to before WWI. Someone found them in an old drawer and asked if I was interested in having them.

I said yes.

What is fascinating about these patent drawings is that essentially the technology for forming the important lock stitch in a standard sewing machine is the same as it was then, as it was in the mid 1880s in fact when Isaac Singer bought the idea from someone none of us remember for $50.00

The thing to know is that each tiny stitch on your sewing machine is in fact a miniature knot formed when a precisely measured top thread intersects and slips through the loop of an equally carefully measured thread delivered up from below in the bobbin area. This knot idea was huge. It liberated seaming from the chain stitches that could be easily pulled out, and explains why we all have to spend so much slow time with a seam ripper.

Back to the process of stitch formation.

The thread length necessary to form the top part of the thread is measured by the movement of the “take-up” lever which is that arm thing that goes up and down above the needle. The thread length necessary to meet it is measured in the bobbin area with each rotation of the bobbin. It is worth saying here too that a neatly wound bobbin, and one wound not too fast so the thread if it is polyester will stretch in winding and then retract in sewing, will give the machine a better chance of delivering a nice even stitch.

The whole thing, a beautiful stitch, depends on the precision of these two threads meeting when the needle takes the upper thread down to pass through the loop below and brings it up again to the surface.

So a good stitch depends on making sure all elements can do this as accurately as possible.

This is why the needle point is so important – that one tiny surface has to go through the fabric as the delivery agent.

So often sewers blame weirdness on the machine that is in fact a wrong needle problem.

The most frequent manifestation of this is “skipped stitches” – a term that refers to a nice little series of stitches randomly interrupted by a couple of long loose stitches.

When this happens it just means the needle was not able to make the proper connection down below through the fabric due to piercing issues.

You see this most often in knits sewn with a sharp or universal needle – essentially the needle keeps bouncing along until it can get through. In this case changing to a ballpoint needle that spreads, rather than tries to puncture the fabric, will solve the problem. In some fabrics, those with a lot of synthetic in them the needle can build up some static too, and the same thing happens. At those times I usually try to sew a couple a bit through a Bounce sheet to cut the static.

There are other things that can affect stitch quality.

How the thread has been threaded through the upper track is a big one. In fact so many of what may appear to be bottom issues – the notorious “bird’s nest” when the top of the stitch looks great but the bottom is a mess of loopy threads – are actually nearly always upper threading issues. Primarily these occur because the thread is not in the right places, out of order (machines are always threaded through the tension disks and then through the take-up levers), or not nestled securely between the tension disks.

The quick fixes here are to pull the thread out of the top and rethread, hoping you get it right this time, or making sure you thread the machine with the presser foot up, there is a reason for this.

Don’t be afraid of your tension dial by the way.

Essentially tension mechanisms in machines are variations on two Barbie dinner plates pushed close to each other with springs. When the presser foot is up the plates are wider apart so you can get the thread between them. When the presser foot is down the plates move closer so they can get a good grip on the thread and control the quantity delivered to the take-up lever for measuring. Sometimes if you thread quickly with the presser foot down, or make a threading mistake, the tension mechanism is by passed and essentially you have thread going through the machine with about as much control as if you threw a rope out of a window.

All that excess thread just gets dumped by the needle below and that’s why you get a bird’s nest.

There are of course times when you want to loosen the upper tension a bit – for example when doing a satin stitch or a buttonhole you want there to be a bit more top thread than bottom so the lock stitch gets pulled to the underside and the top bars of thread look nice and smooth. Some machines even have a “buttonhole setting” on the tension dial that tells you where to put the tension to do this, just have to move it back to normal for construction sewing.

A balanced tension, where the lock stitch meets in the middle of the fabric, makes the strongest stitch. Of course it is hard to see if the lock stitch is situated where it should be in a thin fabric, which is why many dealers use thicker fabric like twills to demo a machine on, it will always make the stitch look nicer.

The upper tension is controlled by the dial at the top, to the right of the take-up lever, and the lower tension, which controls the rate at which the bobbin thread leaves the bobbin, is controlled in many cases by a tiny screw that tightens or loosens a metal part that lays over the thread slot in the bobbin case. Check your manual for specifics.

Incidentally because it can be so hard to see if your top and bottom tensions are balanced in a straight stitch most technicians test for this with a zig zag. This is often why there will be a both a straight and zig zag sample left under the presser foot on demo fabric after a service – that is there to demonstrate you now have balanced tension.

A word too about straight stitches that look slightly like they are diagonal rather than in a perfect straight line.

Older sewers in particular are famous for complaining about this in their “new” machine which they so often pack away to bring out the old workhorse, the one with the nicer stitch.

This diagonal stitch issue is largely a result of the wider opening in the throat plate (translated the hole in the metal part under the presser foot so the needle can go down) that is needed to accommodate the swing in the needle of wider zig zag and other sideways stitches.

This wide opening creates some insecurity in the area the presser foot is trying to keep still for all the stitch action and this wobbling creates that distinct slightly diagonal stitch. You don’t see this in old straight stitch only machines, less in machines that do only a 4 mm. zig zag and can be quite visible in machines that do zig zags of 9 mm. or more.

You can counter this by creating a more secure and stable stitching area by:

·      Replacing your zig zag throat plate with a straight stitch plate – one that has only a very small opening to accommodate the needle and allows for zero side to side swings. Some machines, vintage in particular, come with this plate, most machines have them as optional additional accessories. A straight stitch plate is a primo addition if you want impeccable top stitching or do a lot of sewing of fine fabrics like chiffon (you must be crazy) that tend to get pushed down into the bobbin area even when you do all the usual things like start your seams ¼” in from the raw edge so the first stitch has fabric all around it.
·      Moving your needle as far as you can to the right or left, essentially eliminating one side of the open area. If you were wondering why your machine has a straight stitch with a left and/or right automatic setting this is why btw – for better top stitching.


Wow this is a lot of detail on small issues. Hopefully though if you are a new sewer, some of this has been helpful.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Handy sewing hint of the day #12

Pardon for the lull in posting. We are on our way back home from down south and visiting on the way. Tonight we wrap up three nights spent in the driveway of my son's in-laws and our good friends in Bethesda. We have had a wonderful time en route.

I am also finishing up a course, last class, online, will begin shortly.

I have been thinking about what I should do next and decided some general information on sewing machines. I have lots of random stuff in my head and will only start this now, but as I think of something else on this subject I will just do another post.

First up, two things sewers tend to neglect, but make a huge difference - oiling and needles.

The first principle of oiling a machine is that when dealing with metal parts is that they get hot when they move a lot. This means the metal expands. This means that without a lubricant to create a barrier layer the warm metal surfaces will wear away at each other. This is why older, not really well -maintained, machines often rattle and begin to stitch/behave imprecisely.

A dealer or your owner's manual will be able to tell you where to oil, and there will be some places that internally you may need periodic greasing (which is heavier and put on things like some gears - you need to know how to take the machine apart, or at least remove the lid to find those).

The general rules for the kind of regular oiling you need to do yourself are:


  • Only use a light, clear fine sewing machine oil. Good machine oils evaporate in air over time, which is why a machine needs to be regularly re-oiled, and is clear, not yellow or thick. You want the evaporation factor because all purpose oils just sit there and coagulate and gum up your machine. You probably can get the right oil online easier than at some repair places who in the worst cases can be self-educated and use general oils.
  • Rule of thumb anywhere where you see metal moving on metal can use a bit of oil. Open the side of the machine and have a look while you turn the wheel.
  • In machines with metal bobbin cases inside the rotating or oscillating rotary hook regularly put a drop of oil in there. 
  • Now I realize that most sewers are leery of oiling their machines because they fear getting oil on the fabric. 
  • Fair enough but the key here is tiny amounts of oil often rather than a lot all at once. It is also important to run the machine hard for a good  five minutes to get the oil into all the surfaces, after which you can wipe off excess with paper towel. Also remember that if you are using a good clear oil any black stuff that comes up really is lint that has floated out with the oil. A sewing machine technician I knew used to leave the bobbin case out of the machine, the door of the bobbin area open with paper towel in front of it and watch the lint fly out. He called it “washing the hook” hook being the rotary hook.
  •  Needles are also super important. Of course change them more often than you admit to me, or I would admit to you, about 5 hours of sewing or so, depending on the fabric. How many of you have noticed when doing buttonholes, the last sewing job you do, that a few of the zig zag stitches skip? This is because you have that same needle in that has sewn the garment and by the buttonhole stage, is blunt a bit and has trouble piercing the fabric every time and picking up the bobbin thread. A really smart sewer I knew used to change his needle, put a new one in, just before he started his shirt buttonholes, and then leave that needle in for the next project. His buttonholes were always perfect.
  • The other really, really important thing I want to say about needles is, I have to share The Big Rule, which is use the smallest needle possible that will still do the job. So what size?
  • O.K. there are three different classes of needle points, and the needle point is the most hardworking and important part of the needle, the one that makes the connection with the bobbin thread and makes the stitch. The three categories are sharp (pointest point) that gets through the fabric because it is just so sharp, the ball point, which is what it sounds like, which works in fabrics like knits (I am going to write lots more as we go along on knits) by spreading the fibers rather than punctuating them, and the universal.
  • Got to say I don’t have a lot of time for universal needles which are not really pointy and not really ballpoint. Kind of reminds me of my dad who sometimes served rose because he figured he would keep both the red wine and the white wine drinkers happy. Didn’t really work with either group.
  • So back to the finest needle you can use. As it was once explained to me if you were going to hang a picture what would you find easier to get into the plaster – a small sharp nail or a big old wood dowel? Same works for fabric.
  • Denim for example (and denim needles are the sharpest of the sharp needles) sews easiest with a sharp finer needle rather than the big 100 or 16 in most cases. In fact the primo of all needles for sewing woven fabrics is a size 70 denim needle. Fine and sharp and makes the nicest stitch.

Clearly I have more on machines than I can write in one post, will have to follow up. As soon as I leave NYC (going to the garment district tomorrow and then time with the kid and best daughter-in-law).

But I will leave you with one thought.

I used to know a successful sewing machine dealer who always used to change the needle on a machine he was demoing to a denim 70 because it made the stitch looked nicest.

And I know another dealer/service man, of the generation who believed you could tell a housewife anything, joke once that his  $70 “tune-up service” entailed a new needle, a bit of oil and a spray of Fantastic.

This much you can do yourself.

More on machine, so file this blog under, to be continued.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Handy sewing hint of the day #11

First of all Happy Easter.

Whatever your own spiritual and religious beliefs IMO there is something to mediate on today, basically the concept that when you think it might be all over it isn't, when you are down you might not be out. A worthwhile message I think.

Now smoothly transitioning to interfacing.

I talked a few hints back about how to apply fusible interfacing and I have written about it before but there are two things I want you to consider:

1. Use more than one kind of interfacing in a garment.
2. Use way more and in more places than your pattern suggests.

Just like a good bra and character, interfacing is one more demonstration that what is underneath shows on the quality of the outside.

It is helpful to think first of what interfacing is supposed to do:


  • Shore up the fabric under busy/heavy areas. This would be front facings where you are going to be inserting buttonholes and buttons for instance, parts of the front of a jacket where you are going to be inserting a welt, slot, or in loosely woven fabrics vulnerable to drooping, a patch pocket. Here I have interfaced the top hem of a patch pocket so it will stay flat against the jacket:

  • To freeze a loose weave so it will hold up over time - for example I would fuse a light knit interfacing to the wrong side of a homespun or loose raw silk so it won't bag with wearing.
  • To change the characteristics of a knit fabric to something more stable - for instance by fusing narrow strips of fusible interfacing along shoulder seam lines, in the seam allowances where you might be inserting a zipper. I also fuse interfacing on the wrong side of a knit under where I am putting a patch pocket, both to support it and to make sure I can top-stitch the pocket down without waves.
Fusible knit, cut lengthwise in the direction of no stretch, fused into a shoulder seam area in a T shirt

Interfaced seam allowance in a knit where I am going to insert an invisible zipper

The zipper inserted without puckers or wrinkles as a result
  • Add definition to a detail or an edge. This includes collars, cuffs and in many, many instances, hems - at the bottom of a sleeve for instance, or to add structure to the bottom of a straight skirt, or in other cases where the fabric is soft and might pleat a bit when it is turned up, to add uniform softness to the turn of the hem. In this case you would add a soft interfacing, either a weft insertion (a kind of somewhat fuzzy fusible often used in tailoring) or even a strip of bias cut flannel inserted into the hem allowance - an example of a hem that could have benefitted from that treatment is here:
Here is how that hem could have been interfaced, again with a fusible knit to even it out but not to change the hand of the fabric, cut crosswise to do that:


To recap, you are smart. 

Look at your fabric and your pattern, experiment with samples and start adding in non-prescrbed interfacing wherever you feel it might be helpful. 

Don't be afraid to use more than one interfacing in a garment either. 

I often use something crisp in a collar, something lighter in the front facings where I want support but not stiffness, and something lighter still in the hem areas. 

When tailoring of course it is routine to interface entire front pieces, the cap area of sleeves and the upper back from the bottom of the armhole, over the shoulder blades and scooped up a bit for movement along the spine.

Thrift store snooping of old tailored jackets is most educational too. Please go to the brilliant sewing lawyer for an example of how interfacing is used in tailoring and done well.