Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Open Thread

Hi readers! I've been so busy I can barely think, with all 25 garments for my book needing to be completed in the next couple weeks. Should we have an open thread in lieu of a post where I say actual things?

Possible topics include:
  • The Project Runway season premiere! Did you watch? Can I just say how much I hate the promotional poster for this season? (See below.) What is up with that? Was the concept thought up by a gaggle of 12-year-old boys? The real kicker is the writing on her arm that looks like it was finger-painted on with shoe polish. Why is it there? Why? Blerg.

  • Gussets. I'm obsessed with underarm gussets right now. They add such lovely shaping to kimono sleeves. Have you sewn them before? Any tips?
  • What are you working on right now? 
  • Your advice for me on keeping my sanity. I need help, readers. I don't think I can keep this blog running on my own for the next month with my book project under this massive deadline. What would you like to see happen here if I can't devote as much time as usual to blogging? Guest posts? Really short posts from me? Open threads like this one?
  • Submissions for ideas on a guest post you'd like to write here. Help a desperate woman out!
Uh, that's all I've got. I'm looking forward to hearing from you all!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How to Quilt Garments

{image source: Threads #121}
I suppose it's quilting week here at Chez Gertie! With the Stitch-Along beginning at the STC Craft blog yesterday, I've had a number of questions about how to incorporate quilting into your garment sewing. I'll start by saying that there are a number of methods, and I'm by no means anywhere close to an expert on this topic! I've been consulting my reference library for answers, and by far the best resource has been my Threads Archive DVD.

From what I can tell, the process is generally this: the separate layers of a garment (the outer layer and lining) are constructed separately, basted together with batting or flannel in between (flannel is thinner so it's sometimes used for garments), and then quilted. In the simplest iteration of this, you would have no darts or princess seams, as in this circle skirt:

You would cut out your fashion fabric, lining, and batting pieces first. Then sandwich all the layers (as I did in my Stitch-Along tutorial), baste them together thoroughly by hand, mark your quilting lines with some sort of removable chalk or pen, and then quilt away. Note: a walking foot is often recommended for this purpose to keep the layers from shifting or puckering. Also, use a longer stitch length, like 3.5-4mm.

A more complicated example would be the classic Chanel jacket.

In this case, according to Susan Khalje's excellent article in Threads #121, the wool boucle outer layer and charmeuse lining are constructed separately, basted together (there is no batting or inner layer in this case since the boucle is lofty enough on its own), and then quilted, leaving room at the edges to turn in the seam allowances. The seam allowances are turned in and stitched in place by hand with a fell stitch.

An article on shortcuts to a designer jacket (Threads #128), the author suggested bagging the jacket lining, and then quilting. This way your edges are finished before you begin quilting.

There's another fantastic article in Threads #55, which talks specifically about making shaped garments with quilting. Again, the suggestion is to construct each layer separately, with darts and princess lines, first. Then batting is cut to the shape of the layers, sandwiched, basted, and finally quilted. The edges can be finished off with self-bias tape.

But what of quilted details, like the channel stitched band on this Zac Posen dress?

I would imagine you could quilt the fabric first and then cut it out. Or perhaps you would cut two band layers, stitch the outer seam, bag it for a nice finished edge, and then quilt. What do you think?

A detail I especially want to try is a channel-stitched midriff band. I think the approach to take would be to cut all your pieces separately, quilt, and then stitch to the rest of the garment, being careful to trim down any bulk in the seam allowances.

In closing, there are many different ways to do this depending on the specifics of the garment. Just like any other project, you'd want to mentally sew through your process first to make sure your plan is a good one!

Any tips to add, readers?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Stitch-Along Begins!

It's here! The first day of my Stitch Magic Stitch-Along at the STC Craft blog. This week's topic is quilting, with exercises you can follow for making the sample squares above. And look back to Monday's post here for inspiration on incorporating these techniques into garments.

Next week I'm super excited to be tackling pintucks, since that's a detail that adorns so many beautiful vintage garments. I hope you'll join in!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How to Pull Threads to the Back of Your Fabric

Have you ever seen directions that tell you to "pull threads to the back of the fabric" or the inside of your garment? You'll often get this instruction with topstitching, bound buttonholes, and machine-sewn buttons--or any place that you want to avoid backstitching and having cut threads on the outside of your garment. I used to be infuriated by this instruction because I had no idea how to do it. But it's actually really easy! Here's all you have to do.

I'll demonstrate on a simple row of stitching. This is the right side.

Turn the work over to the wrong side and pull up the thread tail. See how the stitch before it pops up?

Stick a pin into that little loop and pull it out.

Now both your thread tails are on the wrong side!

 Tie them in a knot; three knots on top of each other is good.

 Ta-da! Now your right side is nice and clean.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Stitch-Along Inspiration: Quilted Garments

Readers, my Stitch-Along at the STC Craft blog starts this week! This week we're talking about quilting. To get us in the mood, I've been researching quilted vintage garments, and there's a world of inspiration out there.

One of my very favorites is this Anne Fogarty dress as modeled by the lovely Solanah.

For a modern take, there's this Zac Posen dress which has lovely channel-stitched quilting around the neckline.

And how about the lovely zigzag quilting on this 50s taffeta circle skirt?

This circle skirt is much more whimsical in its use of stripes, quilting, and trims.


Of course, one of the most traditional ways to use quilting in a garment is in a house coat, bed jacket, or robe.
There are so many ways you can use quliting in garments! All over, or just a little accent.

Hope to see you stitching-along this week. For this week's exercise, you'll just need some cotton fabric, thin quilting batting, and embroidery floss.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Guest Post: Secrets of a Sample Maker

You ask, we deliver! I mentioned my beloved sample maker friend in this post and there were several requests to hear more of his time-saving industry techniques. So readers: meet Jonathan, my bitchy coworker and fellow sewing nerd. Isn't he adorable? He's quite cranky at times, though, especially when I sew my buttons on by hand. Let's give him some space to vent his frustrations with inefficient home-sewing techniques.

I'd like to thank Gertie for allowing me to present a guest blog this week. Even though she is my at-work girlfriend, we do have our differences about sewing. I remember when we first met. After our casual "how do you do's" and life stories, I asked her how she sews her buttons on. Throughly displeased with her hand-sewing nonsense, I gave her an earful about the benefits of doing it by machine while she would scold me for my love of the blind hemmer.

Needless to say it hasn't been an easy relationship. But as in any good marriage, it wouldn't be fun to marry yourself. I've found myself more willing to slipstitch down my facings.  But I'm still angry that I found my girl applying her buttons on by hand behind my back.

Let's talk about seam allowances. First, production patterns are engineered for perfection and speed. Seam allowance differs greatly in production patterns depending on their function and fabric choice. Unlike in home sewing, where 5/8" is the golden rule, standard seam allowance is 3/8" for the most part, possibly ½" if it’s a major fitting seam. Examples of these seams would be the shoulder seams and side seams.  This is because the patterns are drafted to fit a specific standard size and 3/8" reduces bulk. Curves are always 3/8", especially armholes. Test it yourself. Stitch a curve at 5/8" and one at 3/8" and you’ll feel the difference, especially when trying to set in a sleeve.  Another thing about sewing curves at smaller seam allowance is the elimination of clipping and notching. This is because less bulk allows more tension and compression in the system (the garment), which is the main reason we clip and notch. Any enclosed seam is ¼" of an inch, such as in collars or waistbands.  I never understood why home patterns ask you guys to stitch at 5/8 and then cut down to ¼", when you could have just stitched it in the first place at a ¼".

Secondly, don’t pin! Pins are more likely to cause you to be inaccurate. Putting pins in the fabric causes a disturbance in the way the fabric lays, you can see this if you look at your fabric in a profile. Pins can cause your fabric to ripple; increasing your probability of puckering your project. Further, the pins stop the natural progression of the fabric under the presser foot and feed dog mechanism. Which often exacerbates the effect of the different rates of movements of the top and bottom layer of fabric, creating the all-too-familiar mullet pants and skirts.  Instead of using pins, hold your left hand flat on the bed of the machine, on top of your fabric. With your right hand, hold both layers between your forefingers and thumb and providing slight tension. You are not stretching the fabric, but rather holding it nice and taut so the cut edges sit on top of one another, and the machine is allowed to naturally pull the fabric through.
Let's talk interfacings. One thing I notice a lot in designer rooms is a lot more use of interfacings in the production of garments than in home sewing. Hems are almost always interfaced with a lightweight fusible, which helps with getting a firm, crisp edge and to help with wear and tear. I also like to use lightweight interfacing to stop fabric from buckling in places such as the back and under the bust area.  Also, nothing is ever stay-stitched as pattern directions tell you to do; rather a light to medium weight interfacing is applied before construction. So the interfacing would be akin to a facing pattern piece, but about ½" and inch to an inch wide.

These are the things I bitch about the most at work. What else do you monsters want? 

Again, thanks, Gertrude, for allowing me to enter your space, with my crazy factory techniques and get 'er done attitude. I promise I'll work on leaving the presser foot down.

A big thanks to Jonathan! Please leave any more questions for him in the comments.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

My Stitch-Along at the STC Craft Blog!

Fun news, readers! I'm doing a Stitch-Along on the STC Craft blog. I took the book Stitch Magic by Alison Reid as my inspiration, and each week we're going to try out a different fabric manipulation technique. We'll start with quilting next week and then go on to pintucks, pleating, cording, and smocking in the following weeks. And, of course, I'll talk about ways to use these techniques to spice up your garment sewing.

Come read the post for all the details and supplies you'll need. I hope you'll join in! What do you say?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Inspiration: Maya de Mexico

What do you all think of tourists' souvenir garments from the 1950s? I always suspect there's something not-quite-politically-correct about it, but I do love the Mexican garments of this ilk. I've recently seen a few by Maya de Mexico, and they're lovely. I can't find a lot of info on the company, but it's clear that all the pieces were made in Mexico City and were brought home by American tourists.

I'm majorly coveting this skirt, mostly because I love the combination of cotton and sequins.

Here's another lovely Maya de Mexico piece, a two-piece separates set that presents the appearance of a dress.

Many Mexican skirts of this era were handpainted, which is an interesting sewing puzzle. The pieces must have been embellished post-cutting because they manage to create perfect border prints on a circle skirt, which is an impossibility with a traditional printed border fabric. The skirts also have a lot of sequin embellishment, like this flamboyant example:

Here's another example of a separates set, this time in a kitschy matador/sombrero print.

Aztec motifs were also very popular.

What do you think of these designs? I love the mixture of humble cotton day pieces with exquisite embellishments. I'm particularly taken with the idea of hand embellishing a print circle skirt with sequins.

I'm especially interested to hear what you all think of the politics of these garments. Back in my grad school days, this is what we would have called "cultural appropriation," a convenient borrowing of minority customs and dress as a novelty for the tourist classes. (I try to shy away from grad school language these days, but sometimes it can't be avoided.) Of course, post-war America took fashion inspiration from all over the map. (Just think of sarong dresses and cheongsams worn by American military wives.) And these appropriations made for some of the most fascinating styles of the time, teh rare pieces that we love to talk about today. Whatever your thoughts on the political connotations of Mexican souvenir garments, I don't think it can be denied that these are incredibly interesting pieces of fashion history. What's your take?

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Near-Insurmountable Task of Orgazining One's Sewing Room

If it must be known, I'm a bit messy. Okay, a lot messy. I'm one of those cluttered people who likes to think she's such a slob because she's so artistic. Ha. As is often the case, I married someone who is excessively neat and tidy. (He's also very artistic; don't know how that happened. Total fluke.) Anyway, my sewing room became my dumping grounds and the only place I could be as fully slovenly as I desired.

As it turns out, I've had enough of being quite so slovenly. Or perhaps my husband's had enough, I can't remember which came first. We made a pact to organize the damn room together. We took a trip to The Container Store and spent nearly all weekend straightening and cleaning.

I don't know much about organization, but what I have learned comes from The Sewing Studio, where I teach. That place beyond orderly, and I've been picking up tips. Here are the two rules I can tell you so far:

  1. A system of shelves + containers is key. I got a couple of these shelving units and a bunch of different sized-bins and went to town.
  2. Every container must be labeled, and everything that's in the container must be listed on the label. No exceptions! No just throwing in a French curve with your pins--unless that is, you change the label to say "Pins/French Curve." You must hold yourself to the standard that the labels have provided.

Beyond those two rules, I'm kind of winging it. I got a little label obsessed and decided that each presser foot I own should have its own drawer.
I am quite proud of my little needle drawers.

I've made sure to give myself a ton of bookshelf space, since I'm a sewing book junkie. I'm also lucky enough to have an industrial coat rack to keep garments on. 

I'm using these canvas bins for patterns, divided into separates and dresses, with separate bins for vintage and contemporary. 

I'm happy with the progress I've made, but there's still a lot to be done. There's a pile of yet-to-be organized stuff shoved in one corner. Exhibit A:


I will now purge your minds of that unsightly image with this: kitties! My adorable kitties!

But the real point of this post is to ask you, dear readers, if you have any tips for organizing a sewing space. Please share--I need all the help I can get!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Get Your Bombshell Buttons!

As requested, here's a fun little button you can put on your blog if you're taking my online course. It's just like a sew-along! Just right-click to save it to your computer. If you want to link it to the course, please use this link:

How are your bombshell dresses going? I'm hard at work answering students' questions right now. Questions can be uploaded with a picture and I love the instant gratification of seeing everyone's progress!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Muslin Backlash

Let's try this again, shall we? I completely lost the text to yesterday's post (it must be a sign), so I'm starting from scratch here. From your feedback, it seems like what you all want is a good, rollicking discussion of the pros and cons of muslin-making, so that's what we'll do here!

What prompted me to write about muslins was this post on the BurdaStyle blog, which I thought was a good, balanced look into muslins and why/when to make them. What surprised me was the amount of nay-saying in the comments, since it seemed to me like the home sewing world had really come around to making muslins. In particular, I was interested in one commenter who felt that muslin-making had gotten completely out of hand in the DIY crowd, and in fact went so far as to say that she felt the muslin-making phenomenon was prompting pattern companies to be more lax with their sizing.

I suppose the kernel of what is interesting in all this is the way the use of muslins has evolved for home sewists. My vintage sewing books never talk about muslin-making, and instead use a combination of tissue-fitting and a basted-fitting. Now, home seamstresses have gotten hip to the whole muslin thing and use them as a way to perfect their patterns. But has it gotten out of hand? Are we making too many muslins? Do you feel a pang of guilt when you don't make a muslin?

For what it's worth, some of the backlash seems to be against couture sewing in general. Not every home seamstress wants to sew couture, and that's totally fine! But I will say that the use of muslins doesn't just originate in couture--it's also a time-tested RTW technique. I was grilling my sample-maker friend about this the other day, and he says clothing manufacturers use a lot of muslins to make sure their designs are perfect before they go into production.

Personally, it's gotten so ingrained in me to make a muslin for every project that it's now a guilty pleasure not to! There's something freeing about the process of just picking a pattern, checking the measurements, diving in, and hoping for the best. Obviously,  you wouldn't want to do this with expensive fabric or, ahem, a garment that was going to be in a book. (Yeah, lesson learned on that one.)

At the end of the day, I've never regretted making a muslin. And I try to remember that. Making a muslin doesn't have to be a laborious thing. It can be a quick sewing of just a bodice to check things out. In my Bombshell Dress class, I talk about making a bodice muslin because the fit is so crucial on a bustier dress. Also, there's some tricky sewing in inserting the bra cups, and I think it's good to practice on a cheap fabric like muslin (or toile or calico or whatever you call it! Old bed sheets also work well). But I suppose there's a time and place for muslin-making, and pros and cons against it.

What's your strategy?

{image courtesy of BurdaStyle}
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