Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sewing jeans resources

Not a lot happening on the jeans scene these days. That project ground to an abrupt halt due to two problems. Problem #1: the stretch factor. My jeans are made of stretch denim. [I probably should have mentioned that at the beginning. The pair of jeans I deconstructed to create a pattern was made of stretch fabric, and so too will be my self-made pair. Do not try to take a pair of non-stretch jeans and make a pattern that you will use with stretch fabric. That will probably not work so great. And don't do the reverse either. That would really be disastrous.] Anywho, I had done a lot of the construction, the pockets were looking cool, the fit was a little wonky but I had fixed it, I was getting pretty excited about having some awesome jeans to wear... AND THEN! Topstitching was my downfall. First, I had to play around a lot with the tension settings to get topstitching to work at all. (I'm using a proper jeans topstitching thread on top, and regular thread in the bobbin.) Unless I set the upper tension to be quite high, I would end up with big messy loops of thread underneath. "Okay, fine," says I, "I will use this wonky tension setting." All goes well for topstitching the pockets. When it came time to topstitch on the back yoke, however, it was not fine at all. The topstitching stretched out my fabric every time. I messed with the tension, but that only created the messy thread loops again. I tried putting some twill tape under the seam, thinking that might prevent the stretch - not really. Plus, I don't really think that's a legit method for stretch jeans since I want some stretch after they are completed. I despaired. Then I googled, and I found this discussion on

Internet seamstresses are the best. There's so much great info out there. If you are having problems topstitching your stretch denim, definitely check out this thread. Some things they recommend:
  • lightening the presser foot pressure (sadly, not an option on my machine)
  • using a tear-away or water soluble stabilizer
  • using a longer stitch length
  • using a presser foot with a groove on the bottom
  • using a walking foot
I think the walking foot is the golden ticket. Unfortunately, they can be quite pricey, so I'm hoping Santa  can help me out. For now, the jeans will have to wait. It's for the best, since it's high time I got started on sewing presents for other people. I thought, however, that I would collect some sewing jeans resources for people to investigate if they are going through similar struggles.

I could post a series of links, but instead I decided to just do a Pinterest board, which is more visually appealing and easier to add links to later on. You can even add stuff to it if you want, although you have to email me first so I can add you. Gah! Online learning communities make me feel so warm and fuzzy - how about you?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Making a Jeans Pattern - Tracing the Sacrificial Lamb

It's can be hard to take your scissors to a perfectly good, well-fitting pair of pants. In fact, I think the reason I haven't attempted this sooner is because I couldn't bear to make the sacrifice, even if they were thrift store pants. If it helps, you can say some nice words about the pants before you cut into them - you know, remind them that this is all part of a bigger plan, for the greater good, and so on.

Instagram filter for nostalgic effect
I still have some regrets about not taking a photo of these while they were still whole. All I have is memories. *Sigh*

Whatever! I'm going to have pants that fit when this is through! So here again are the pieces.

You can see (kinda) that I cut right along the seam lines, and I didn't preserve any seam allowances, so I'll have to add those back in. I gave everything a good ironing so that it will lay flat when I trace it. I haven't cut the pocket stuff apart yet. I want to be able to trace the front leg piece as a whole before I do that. And you also may have noticed that the legs seem a little.... stumpy? It's not that I'm a shorty. These are/were capri length. It would have been nice to use some pants that were the length I want for the end product, but these fit well in the butt and waist and that seemed like the most important thing. I can always add length.

I just compared my pieces to a pair of jeans with length that I like, and added in the difference. (NOTE! I didn't think of this at the time, but I should have added in the difference plus a couple inches extra in case of shrinkage. It's the wise thing to do.)

I'm tracing all my pieces on a roll of tracing paper that I got at an art supply store. There's not a lot to say about the tracing process. I just drew around everything with pencil, and then cleaned the lines up with French curve when I was done.

Of course, then I spilled water on some of them which made the paper wrinkle. So I re-traced. Can't be lazy. I also labeled everything like a good girl, put little marks where the belt loops were located, and noted how many pieces I would have to cut. After that, I went around and added 5/8" seam allowances on all edge (not present yet in the photo above).

One piece which is a little weird is the fly facing:

It's a piece that is cut on the fold, left folded in half, and then stitched on the bottom edge (marked "finished"). Then that edge was trimmed and it was turned inside out to create a clean finish on the bottom edge. You can see that I still need to add a seam allowance there in my tracing. The serged edge doesn't need a seam allowance added, not unless I wanna do some other kind of seam finishing there.

I also had some edges that came out a little wonky... maybe because of my over-zealous cutting when I hacked everything apart. For example, there's a little dent out of the crotch curve on the back leg piece:

I decided it's best to just smooth those things out to lines that look nice, and move onward.

For the waistband, I ended up tracing three separate pieces: one for the back, one for the front left, and one for the front right. I'm not sure why the front left and right are different lengths, but I'm sure all will be made clear when it's time to sew it together.

This waistband is about 2" wide, so I made sure all my traced pieces maintained that same width when I evened out my tracing lines.

Finally, the pocket area. First I traced the front leg piece with pocket still attached. Then, I cut off the piece above the pocket like so, and traced the curve of the pocket line:

Once that was traced, I added a seam allowance on the outer edge of the curve, and voila, my front pant piece is drafted.

I'm not cutting off that corner at the upper left yet, though, because it's another piece I have to draft. I laid tracing paper over...

...and traced the lines for the top and sides of the pants, as well as the pocket line. What I'm calling the "pocket line" is the line where the actual edge of the pocket will fall, after everything is sewn together and seam allowances are folded back. Next I drew a line for the bottom of the pocket bag:

This involved some guesswork, since at some point I had sliced and diced the original pocket bag...

Oh well! Doesn't really matter so long as all the seams match up with the edges of the front pants piece. Now, from this tracing I actually needed to make a few separate pieces. Since I'm no Photoshop pro, I decided to just draw you some diagrams and color them with pencils. Any shortcomings in these drawings are entirely the fault of the colored pencils, which were crappy.

Okay, so first we need a piece for the upper, outside corner of the pant leg. It consists of that corner that gets cut out of the front leg piece, plus a little extra so that your pocket bag doesn't peek out. Like so:

I colored the corner piece red, and here is how I drafted it:

The picture above shows the corner piece with all edges and seam allowances colored in red. How far does the corner piece need to extend beyond the pocket line? I really don't know... I just eyeballed it and drew a line about 2 inches below where the pocket line was, then added the seam allowance.

Next comes the pocket bag. The edge of the pocket bag will match up with the edge of this corner piece (not including seam allowances). The pocket bag piece is marked in green pencil below. Things are starting to look a little messy, but so long as you keep track of which lines are your stitching lines and which lines are your seam allowances, you'll be fine. In this case, the line that is colored both red and green is where the stitching will connect the pocket bag to the corner piece. The pocket bag's seam allowance extends to one side of it, and the corner piece's seam allowance extends to the other. And if that doesn't make sense... well, you can email me or leave a comment.

To sew up both pockets you'll need to cut four of those pocket bag pieces total. Now for the last piece... it's a facing for the front of the pocket. The facing gets sewn to main front pants piece along the pocket line, and turned to the inside. It also helps to keep the pocket from peeking out. Now, my ready-to-wear jeans don't have this - they just have the pocket bag sew directly to the front pants piece, and then they understitch it. You could do that, but then you would need separate pattern pieces for the front and back of the pocket bag: one which matches up with the edge of the corner piece, and one which matches up with the edge of the pocket line on the front pants piece. If this is totally confusing, just get out a pair of jeans, turn them inside out, and stare at the pockets for a while. You'll see what I mean. I thought a facing made more sense so I drafted one, thus:

Yep, that's a lot of confusing lines. The green is the pocket bag. The blue is the facing piece. The seam lines for this piece are the pocket line and the line that marks the edge of the pocket bag/edge of the corner piece. Seam allowances are added on the outside of both these lines.

Blech! That was not fun to explain, and I hope I did an okay job. Also, I didn't draft a coin pocket (that little dinky pocket nested inside the bigger pocket) because I am LAZY. Also, who uses a coin pocket anyway? Maybe next time I'll do it, just for looks.

So that's it! Any pieces I missed?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Makin Jeans!

How nice is it to find a pair of jeans that fit you really, really well? REALLY REALLY nice. Like most people, I think, I don't have such an easy time of it. My hip to waist ratio just doesn't mesh with the kinda standard sizing you find in most clothing companies, although stretch fabrics and the introduction of "curvy fit" jeans does help. Oddly enough, it seems that I often get the best fit from pants I pick up at Goodwill... pants that appear to be from the early 90s...

Some "vintage" jeans on Etsy. Already sold, but don't worry ladies, Goodwill has a healthy supply unless the hipsters get there first.
But let's face it - those thrift store jeans will only get a girl so far. I will never look as chic in 90s pants as the young woman above... and I'm not even sure she's pulling it off. Just go check out the rear view, and you'll see. Still, the proportions are right... smaller waist, bigger hips than today's jeans, which tend to do this on me...

source, from Alterations Needed
For a while now it has been by aspiration to tackle this issue, create jeans perfectly fitted to my dimensions, and laugh in the face of those silly standard sizes! Ha! Stupid sizes! I used to think I was the one with the problem, but now I know it's YOUR silly assumption that all people are built the same. Really. Standard sizing, you are an idiot.

Ahem. Anyway, to achieve this, I knew I could rely on any standard sewing patterns either - at least, not unless I want to do a zillion fitting adjustments and multiple muslins. Nope! Thankfully, Tasia has heard the cries of the curvy folk and delivered an excellent pants pattern, the Thurlows, but they aren't jeans style and they aren't made for stretch fabrics. I have my Thurlow pattern and will definitely make some up in the future,  but to make my own jeans I decided to go rogue... and MAKE MY OWN PATTERN. Okay, that's not that crazy, but I've had a lotta coffee this morning.

So I took a pair of those 90s pants from Goodwill that fit me nicely and I cut them apart at the seams. I didn't bother unpicking the stitching... that would of been a pain in the ass with all the serged seams. Here they are, deconstructed...

(Sorry for the crappy photo. I like to work in the afternoon when the sun comes into the dining room, but it is not nice for photos.) I was pleasantly surprised that there weren't that many pieces. Pants aren't that complicated, even though sewing people sometimes think so. There's a front leg piece, a back leg piece, a yoke piece for the back, the fly facing doohickey, the waistband, and that's it. Oh wait. I forgot about all the pocket stuff. Okay, actually, they are a little complicated, but I'm going to try to document how I've gone about making my own patterns and sewing it all together in the next few posts. With any luck, at the end of this I'll have a perfectly fitting pair of me-made jeans and a pattern which I will use to sew dozens of variations while laughing in the face of ill-fitting commercial jeans! Wish me luck!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Finished wrap dress - New Look 6674

Another finished item! This one is going up quite late, as I finished it back in August. I took the photos several weeks ago... I don't even think it was fall yet! So there have been two rounds of procrastination on this one. It's a little difficult to remember the sewing process at this point, so sorry for that. Anyway, back to the summertime... I started to have the hankering for a wrap dress and settled on New Look 6674.

I can't remember why I chose this pattern. Looking at it now, it strikes me as plain. Then again, I have been trying to sew more wearable clothing - "cake", if you will. And this dress is casual enough that I should get a lot of wear out of it. And when I wore it to my internship a while back, the other intern asked if we were supposed to dress up. Cake is a relative term, doncha know.

The fabric is a linen/rayon blend from Joann's. I'm still digging usable fabric out of that place, but it sure isn't easy. I really liked this print, though. It reminds me of ikat. I'd like to get my hands on some actual ikat. Anyone know a good place?

I'm a bad seamstress and didn't make a muslin for this. I'm usually a bad seamstress, actually. Instead, I tried to adjust the pattern based on my measurements and reviews I read on the Pattern Review website, and then just cut right into my fabric. This resulted in some unfortunate fit problems which necessitated me taking apart the darts and side seams - which was a real bummer because I had already finished the seams with bias tape. BIG SIGH. Turns out wrap dresses can be tricky to fit? Maybe someday I'll learn. Some others had complained about a gaping neckline on this pattern, which I think is a common wrap dress problem. I redrew the shape of the neckline curve, making it straighter, and I didn't have issues after that. But I'm also in the A-cup club, which also might have helped.

The skirt has an A-line shape which works well for me, but it doesn't have darts in the back and I probably could have used some. Oh well. I don't think it's a big issue.

Aside from not making a muslin, I took another big shortcut on this dress - one which actually worked out okay. I used Steam-a-Seam to hold down the bias tape which I used to finish the neckline, front opening, and sleeves. This stuff is totally cheating... I know! It's like gluing your dress together instead of sewing it. But I just couldn't bear the thought of catch stitching all that bias tape down, and I didn't want a line of stitching all the way around. So far, the stuff has held up... well, with the exception of the sleeves. Those I did have to catch stitch in the end. Steam-a-Seam is no match for holding things down where multiple layers of fabric meet.

I didn't bother with the bow/sash from the pattern, but instead used a vintage button from my stash. Nice match, eh?

Then, just to prove that this dress is a very functional garment, I put it through the "mobility test" ala Steph at 3HoursPast...

Flying leap!

Less than graceful jumps!

Ah, whatever guys! It works! I've worn it to an interview (got the internship), out for drinks (got compliments), dancing (cuts a rug)... and I deem this one a success!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Finished gingham blouse

Gee, has it really been over two months since I posted? Whoops. It's not because I haven't been sewing, that's for sure. In fact, I have quite the backlog of projects to report! Unfortunately, most of them still need to be photographed, but the weather hasn't been cooperating. Last night I forged ahead anyway and took some photos indoors. They aren't great, they certainly won't put me on the cover of Burdastyle, but they'll do.

I guess high resolution can't make up for poor lighting. Oh well. The pattern is vintage McCall's 5946, view A.

Originally I had wanted to make the button-up from Built-by-Wendy: Sew U, but I didn't for two reasons. First, I bought my fabric on the cheap off Etsy and ended up with not enough after I discovered some of the yardage was polyester (and not all cotton like the seller said). Second, the Built-by-Wendy pattern has wacky seam allowances which aren't marked and which aren't consistent (just read the reviews on Amazon), thus leaving you in a dangerous guessing game that can only lead to extreme sewing frustration and seam ripper angst. Somehow, despite that problem, I managed to make a very nice shirt from the pattern years ago. It was one of my very first projects, and I'm still proud that I tackled a collared shirt (with cuffs!) without hesitating. It was probably that naive enthusiasm that got me through the seam allowance stupidity without being fazed. Unfortunately, that was before I knew how to identify polyester and avoid it like the plague. So while the shirt fit well, it also stifled me like a plastic bag. CURSE YOU POLYESTER!

Long story short, I went with a different pattern from my stash that looked interesting. And it turned out okay, although I made a mistake or two because I didn't read the instructions (whoops). I also had to do a bit of hand stitching to get the collar to lay correctly. It seems like on rolled collars like this there's never enough fabric to do the roll neatly. Anyone else have that problem?

I used a larger gingham for the facings. Originally I wanted to do the whole shirt in this. It's a Robert Kaufman gingham, and I bought it new, which I don't do very often! Sadly, when it arrived I discovered it was more like a bottom-weight or a home decorating fabric. Boooooo. But remembering my experiment on my shorts, I used it as the facing and cuff material thereby eliminating the need for interfacing. Success!

I guess I'm moderately pleased with the overall result. It definitely has a vintagey feel to it. I did have to make the arms a little larger for my big elbows. And I wish I had made it slightly longer. Annnnnd I might have forgotten the vertical darts which leaves the shape quite boxy without a belt. Maybe I should go back and add those. But the one big thing this pattern taught me is that I'm no big fan of the low arm scythe, otherwise known as "baggy armpit." You can see from the pattern illustrating that it's an interesting design feature, but it didn't make the sleeves much easier to insert, despite what you might think. And if you try to lift your arms in a shirt like this, it pulls the rest of the shirt up with it. So it's not going to stay tucked, and no reaching for things on high shelves without your belly showing. Unless you added some length. But you didn't, did you Claire? ALSO, I can't wear a sweater over this very comfortably, unless the sweater has low arm scythes too. I think it's a cute blouse, but I might have to hack it into short-sleeves to overcome these issues.

So that's all, except for a photo of Pidgin wearing some polyester gingham.

Gahhh! Frickin adorable. And the rest of the polyester I glued over a cardboard box, thereby making it an attractive container for my pattern stash. Take that polyester!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Simplicity 1887 - Gathered back converted to darts

I didn't want to accumulate any more UFOs around here, so I forged ahead on my shorts and made it work, Tim Gunn style. Since the gathered back was obviously not working, and since I didn't want to scrap the whole project, and since I didn't have enough extra fabric to redo the back pieces.... I did what my amateur mind thought best:

  • Unpicked allll the stitches on the back waistband (sigh) and all the stitches on the cuffs
  • Inserted a zipper on the left side
  • Cut a line straight up the back of each leg...

Then I sewed that gap right back together again with 5/8" seams, thereby removing about 1 1/4" excess from each leg. I used flat felled seams again, and I'm just going to call those "design elements." There are no mistakes, just design elements waiting to happen. This made the fit much better in the butt, but there was still a lot of excess in the waist, of course. So I added in some darts, one on either side of each newly-made back seam (four in all). That did the trick!

They're pretty wrinkly from wearing, but you get the picture.

As for the back waistband, I had to draft a new one. Instead of using a straight rectangle (like the original pattern), I curved the bottom edge downward because this is how the back pieces curved once the darts were added and I tried them on. I measured carefully with my tape, first the length of the top straight edge and then the length of the bottom curved edge, drafted it, cut it all out, and somehow it fit perfectly. It was a very pleasant surprise, because I really expected it to be harder than this. Not so!

I also chopped off some of the extra length and redid the cuffs. While I was doing everything else, might as well.

I used a heavier fabric for the facing. I think it's a home decorating fabric. It's sturdy enough that I didn't need to interface the waistband. I've never tried this before, but I kinda like the result.

So, in the end I've wound up with a pattern that only half resembles the original but is much more flattering than my baggy bloomers of version 1.0. And most exciting, I think I just made my first pair of fitted (short) pants.

Here's a photo of the top of my head, in case you were wondering what it looked like, and the shorts...

 Oh okay, and the bum shot. Sorry everyone, but I have to prove they fit.

I added pockets on the back, because I wanted them, and also because I think they do a good job of hiding how there's one too many seam lines on each leg. Two darts plus a seam up the center of each leg seemed like a lot.

'Nother bum shot...

I really ought to be more excited in these photos. I've been dreaming about making my own pants forever!

Josh's patience for the fashion shoot lasted about three minutes. After that, he started picking peaches.

 Hey, are those delicious? Nope. Phbbt. Not ripe yet.

Last photo I got outta him before I went and got my tripod and finished on my own...

More shorts shots...

Oh wait, there's something more interesting in these photos...

Who's that little fuzzy dude? Oh yeah, it's our ADORABLE NEW KITTEN.

Say hello to Pidgin. He is small and soft, but getting bigger every day. He likes to look outside at the cars that go by.

He totally steals the show, I have to say.

We adopted Pidgin from the shelter last week. I went there with the intention of getting an adult cat, but Josh went straight to the kitten room and started falling in love with them, and that was that. I couldn't say no to one of those little furballs, plus seeing an adult guy playing with a tiny kitten is pretty adorable.

Pidge is awesome. He's rambunctious and sweet, and very brave. I also feel like adopting a cat is kinda like a badge for me as a seamstress. It seems as if every other sewing blogger out there has one. There's Pip and Henry, over at Gertie's Blog for Better Sewing...

Echo, Debi's companion over at My Happy Sewing Place...

photo from this post
And my personal favorite, Walnut from Cation Designs.

how awesome is this photo?
And I can't leave her out, even though she is far from feline... Lucille from Lucky Lucille...

a dog worth naming a blog after
Welcome to the club, Pidgin!