A Hot Weather Sundress, and Making Spaghetti Straps

 

hot weather dress hollyhocks 1

 

I’m catching up here.  You know how sometimes, if you prepare carefully for something, it doesn’t happen?  I made this dress for Me-Made-May, but didn’t end up wearing it until the middle of June, due to unseasonably cool and rainy weather all month long.  This year I wanted to up my pledge for May, so that I wore at least two items of me-made clothing at all times.  When it’s really hot out, I like to wear only two items of clothing period, one of which must be a sundress, which allows as much heat to escape from my skin as possible.  My airiest one in particular was 1. wearing out and 2. not me-made, so I clearly needed to replace it before May.  It had a couple of features which I wanted to replicate in my self-stitched version: just about the lowest neckline I am comfortable wearing in public, layers of very light fabric, and gathering at the empire waist.

 

hot weather dress hollyhocks 2

 

I used my self-drafted sundress pattern again, altering it this time for a cross-over gathered front.  Each time I make a new version of this dress, I change the back in an attempt to make it not pull up at the center back, and both times so far it has not worked.  Any ideas?  I’m pretty happy with how the front came out though.  One thing I’ve learned: the key to keeping the bodice from immediately gaping open when I bend forward is to ease the top edges into a slightly shorter binding, so that I take some of the fullness around the bust out again. It’s especially important since I replaced the darts on this version with gathers.

 

hot weather dress fabrics

 

This fabric is a cotton batiste, I’m sorry to say I have no recollection of where it came from, I just remember it being in my stash for a long, long time.  My first idea was to use plain white for the lining layer.  As I was cutting out the main fabric pieces, I dropped a piece in my fabric scrap pile, and it happened to land on top of a piece of felt in this light minty green color.  I suddenly remembered that I had another piece of lightweight cotton in a really similar color, which might look great as the inner layer.  It turned out there was just enough of that fabric for the lining and bindings, and I really like how the green adds a little hint of color under the main fabric, and how it looks peaking out at the hem, a detail I added to show off the second color.  Even though I decided not to join any of the official fabric stash-busting challenges going on this year (despite this cool anime dinosaur logo) I have been making a conscious effort to use the fabric I already have, and making some good progress, in part inspired by all the other sewers who are doing the same.

 

hot weather dress spaghetti straps

Click on this picture (or any of the others) to enlarge for easy reading.

 

With all the sundresses and tanks I’ve been making the last year or so, I’ve gotten a lot of practice making thin “spaghetti” straps, and come up with a method that I like.  If the fabric is lightweight, like this one, I’ll use two fabric layers for each strap.  Since the dress will hang from the straps for most of its life, I want them to be fairly sturdy.  I cut each one 1 1/4″ wide, and a couple inches longer than I think I’ll need.  I get the best results when I zigzag the two strap layers together first, with a narrow zigzag right on the edges.  It keeps the layers from shifting as I sew, and from unraveling as I turn the strap right side out.  Then I press the strap in half, to get a clean even fold.  I stitch the strap seam with a short straight stitch, 1/4″ from the edges.  Then turn it right side out.  I use a long wire, as explained here.  The straps come out about 1/4″ wide, and somewhat thick and rounded.  If you do the math, the extra 1/4″ in the width becomes the “turn of cloth”, the extra fabric needed to go around the seam allowances which fill the middle of the strap.

 

hot weather dress hollyhocks 4

 

I decided to use light blue thread for topstitching the bindings and hems on both layers.  I topstitched over the straps as well, to go with the look of the bindings.  At one point, I started to wonder if I was going overboard using up things from my stash and adding more colors.  But if I took a step back, I realized that if I saw this dress in a store window, I would want it immediately.  So that was a good imaginary test!  Since I’ve been wearing it, I’ve noticed that all the colors in the print go with lots of other things in my wardrobe too.

 

hot weather dress hollyhocks 3

 

Special thanks to my aunt Barbara for taking the pictures of wearing the dress, and for letting me use the beautiful hollyhocks in her garden as a backdrop!  That was the first time it was warm enough to wear the dress, as you can probably tell from my lack of tan here. . .   What about you?  Are you making anything for your current weather, or the coming season?

 

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Making Drawstring Bags—Another Option for the Top

 

Hello!  There’s been just a little more radio silence around here lately than normal, but hey, that’s what retreats are for, right?  Today let’s jump back in with some thoughts about drawstring casings on bags.  In the second part of Hello Sewing Machine, I guide you though making a drawstring bag and leaving a “buttonhole”—a gap in the side seam for the drawstring to pull through.  That’s probably my favorite way to finish the casing, and one that helps you think about how a piece of fabric becomes a finished project, which is why I chose it for my beginner e-book.  There are lots of other options though, basically any method that encloses the raw edges and leaves a place for the drawstring will work.  One of my proofreaders asked about making a little hem on the sides of the bag instead, and I wanted to present that option here.  In my example, I’m altering a commercially made bag which doesn’t have much in the way of seam finishing, and is not going to stand the test of time.  You can also easily use this technique on DIY bags.  Click on any of the pictures to enlarge for a closer look.

 

drawstring bag 1

 

On this bag, there’s nothing to keep the raw edges from unraveling.  I’m especially concerned about the area where the drawstring emerges from the bag, because it’s likely to get a lot of wear and tear, which will cause the fabric to unravel faster.

My first step was to take apart the seam stitching, down to where I wanted the seam to stop for the new finish.  I stitched up to that point and back down (with red thread) to hold all the stitching in place.  Then I took apart enough of the seam holding the casing down to let me make a narrow hem on the edges.

 

drawstring bag 3

 

If you are making your own bag, just stop sewing the side seam a little ways from the top, and back tack over the seam end.  To figure out where to stop, think about the parts of the casing you need to leave room for at the top of the bag.

 

drawstring bag 2

 

At the very top is a little extra fabric, usually turned under (or stitched over) so that it won’t unravel.  It serves the same purpose as a seam allowance.  Then you have the inside and outside of the casing (keep in mind we are looking at the bag from the inside), and you will also need a little more room (about 1-2″ or 3-5 cm) for the transition between the hemmed edges and the seam.   Once you figure out where the end of your seam will be, go ahead and overcast the seam edges, continuing a little bit past the point where your seam stops.  Then on each edge above the seam, fold over and press down 1/4″ (or .5 cm) with your iron, towards the inside of the casing.  Fold over the edge again in same direction, using your first fold as a guide, and press in place again.  Then stitch down your hemmed edges, sewing close to the edge with a straight stitch.   Sew across the seam as well, below the top where you stopped stitching, so that all the stress from opening the bag is not on just one point.

 

drawstring bag 4

 

Next, sew your drawstring casing in place.  Normally I would press a small fold at the top edge towards the inside, and then fold and press down the width of the casing.  Since the casing here is already sewn in place around the rest of the bag,  I opted to replace the original stitching, overlapping it with the red thread.  Make a small back tack at each edge, since those ends won’t be held down by any other stitching later.  Then I used a mock-serger stitch to go over the small raw edge below the casing, since I don’t want it to unravel and lead to my casing pulling loose.

 

drawstring bag 6

 

A quick note about ends: I like to bury them inside the casing or hem, or wherever there’s a double layer of fabric, so that enough thread remains to keep the stitching from pulling out, but it’s hidden.  I thread the ends on a hand-sewing needle, pull them between the fabric layers for one long stitch, and snip them off where they come out.

 

drawstring bag 5

 

Here’s an another example of a commercially-made drawstring bag using the same concept.  I think they hemmed the sides of the drawstring first, and then caught them in the side seam, and finished the seam allowances with a serger.  As I said, you have a lot of options!

 

drawstring bag 13

 

There’s lots more thorough and friendly beginner-oriented directions for sewing seams, overcasting, using your iron to make a casing, and everything else you need to know to plan and sew a drawstring bag in my e-book, Hello Sewing Machine!

If you have other beginning questions, feel free to let me know, I’m always curious about what’s on your mind.   You can also read my answers to others’ questions in this post on Sew,Mama,Sew!

 

Giveaway and Sewing Tips from Me on Sew,Mama,Sew! Today

 

smsseamguide

 

I’ve been waiting to see what questions everyone would ask on Sew,Mama,Sew! this week.  I admit that I was a little nervous, kind of like when I first started teaching sewing years ago.  What if someone asked a question that I totally didn’t know the answer to?  Actually, I did get one—but it was a very specific one about piping around corners on a pillow, and since I’ve never done that, I think I can be excused.  In general though, all the questions were great!  And really relevant for beginners.

If you’re wondering about the tension on your sewing machine, or how to clean and oil it, I talked about that.  If you have trouble sewing around curves, or with slippery fabric and knits, I’ve got some tips to help you out.  If you’re not clear about when to finish fabric edges and how, I covered that.  And at the end, there are a few resources to help with fitting and selecting interfacing.  Most of the answers were excerpted or adapted from Hello Sewing Machine, where of course you’ll find a lot more answers to basic sewing questions.

Phew!  Thanks to everyone who wrote in with questions, it was great to see what readers were curious about.  You can read the answers over on Sew,Mama,Sew! today.

Plus, I’m offering both a chance to win a free copy of my new e-book, and a coupon code for a discount if you order one on Etsy, so go check it out!

decoration spool 1

 

Hemming Jeans Part II, with Catch Stitch Tutorial

 

In my last post, we went over how to shorten your jeans, or other pants, keeping the original hem intact.  We left off with the jeans the length you want them, and a little fold of fabric on the inside.  That fold may have cut and overcast edges, or not, depending on how much you needed to shorten the legs.

First, let’s neaten up the thread ends left from sewing the hem by hiding them, and then trimming.  Get out your hand-sewing needle and thimble.  (Any time that the fabric I’m sewing is thick or tough, I use a thimble to protect the finger I’m pushing the needle with.)  Thread your leftover tails onto the needle, and take a stitch between the layers of the fold.  If the ends are short, you may need to put the needle into the fabric, and then thread the tails onto it.  Pull the needle through, and clip the tails where they emerge.  This keeps your stitches from pulling out later, and also keeps the thread tails from showing.

 

Jeans hem ends

 

This next thing I’m going to tell you to do is not exactly industry standard.  It’s better!  If you’ve ever had your jeans hemmed at the store where you bought them, they probably sewed them in a similar way to what I showed you in the last post.  At the store, for some reason, they usually turn the fold of extra fabric up and stitch it in place.  I think that looks weird, and like the jeans have obviously been hemmed after the fact, since the bulky fold of fabric is not where you would expect it to be for the hem.  It looks much more natural if you fold the extra fabric down, where the original hem is.  Try folding it both ways and see what I mean.

So, if we turn the fabric fold down, how to keep it there?  You could stitch beside the original hem stitches by machine, either with thread that blends into the jeans fabric, or a contrasting thread you like.  However, that’s a lot of layers of denim to sew through, and it’s likely to be difficult for your machine, and cause some skipped stitches and broken thread.  There are some times when using a hand stitch really is quicker and easier, and I think this is one of them.

Then hand-sewing stitch I like for this is called a catch stitch.  It’s designed to do just what we want here, to keep two layers of fabric in place against each other.

 

Jeans hem catchstitch 1

 

I used a doubled thread, to make the stitches a little more resistant to abrasion.  Get a piece of thread no longer than twice the length of your arm.  Thread it onto a sturdy hand sewing needle (choose one with a little more metal around the eye if you can, it will be less likely to break in the thick fabric) and knot the two thread ends together.

You want the knot to be on the inside of the fold, so stick the needle in there, and bring it out a little way away, on the outside edge of the fold.

Catch stitch crosses back on itself as you sew it.  To do that, you’ll make each new stitch further along in the direction you are sewing (away from you or to your right in the pictures) but bring the needle in and out going the opposite way (towards you or to your left in the pictures).  Hopefully this will make sense as you read through the next few steps.

Make the first small stitch in the original hem.  Go through only the first layer of denim, to make it easier, and so that the stitches won’t show on the outside.

 

Jeans hem catchstitch 2

 

Make the second stitch in the fold, again taking a small stitch through just one layer.

 

Jeans hem catchstitch 3

 

Continue alternating taking a stitch in the fabric fold and one in the original hem.  Make each stitch towards you/to the left, then move a little bit away from you/to the right, and to the opposite side to take the next stitch.

When you get to the seams, you may want to make the stitches smaller and/or closer together, since those areas are thicker and more likely to flip up.

What if you run out of thread?  No problem.

 

Jeans hem backstitch

 

When you get near the end of the thread, secure it by taking two small backstitches a little way apart.  It’s fine to only go through one layer of fabric, and the stitches can be tiny, as long as they loop back on themselves.

Bring the needle out a little way from the second backstitch, and snip off the thread where it emerges.  Get a new length of thread, and tie a knot in it.  Stick the needle inside the fold (to hide the knot again), and bring it out where you left off stitching.  Keep stitching around the hem until you reach the place where you started.

 

Jeans hem new thread

 

That’s about it!  Backstitch again when you get to the end, to secure the thread.  Bury the ends and clip them off.

Enjoy your new hemmed pants!

Get Your Sewing Questions Answered with Me and Sew,Mama,Sew!

cartoon with both threaded small

 

Here is the first exciting event in celebration of the release of my new e-book Hello Sewing Machine – I’ve collaborated with the lovely ladies at Sew, Mama, Sew! to answer your sewing questions!  Head on over there and put in any basic questions you have, and I’ll answer some of them in a post coming up soon.  I’m curious to see what you want to know!

 

How to Hem Your Own Jeans, and Keep the Original Hem

 

Jeans hem finished hems

 

Once you get started sewing, I’m guessing one thing you’ll want to tackle is to hem your jeans.  You can definitely do it yourself, and keep that distressed hem just as it is.  You’ll need just a few more pieces of equipment than for normal sewing.

(If you need to start with some basic instruction about how to use your sewing machine, check out my e-book for beginners!)

 

Jeans hem equipment

 

A zipper foot lets you stitch with the needle to one side of the foot, right next to the original hem.

Jeans needles for your sewing machine have a sharper point and a longer eye, for sewing through layers of denim.  For the most part, you won’t have to stitch through too many layers with this method, but it still helps.  If you don’t have jeans needles, use a sharp rather than a universal needle.

It really helps to have a spacer, something you can prop up part of the presser foot with as you sew over thick seams (you’ll see why below).  This one came with my sewing machine, but you could also use something not too wide and about 1/8 to 1/4” (3 to 6 mm) thick, like maybe a popsicle stick.

A sturdy hand-sewing needle, and a thimble to push it with, is essential for the finishing of this method (I’ll go over that in the next post).

You’ll also need pins and thread.  The ones you use for regular sewing are fine.  I didn’t happen to have matching thread, so I used black.  It doesn’t show at all on the finished jeans.  Darker thread colors usually blend in easier than lighter ones.

Once you gather your equipment, try on your jeans, and fold up the hem to figure out where you would like it to fall.

 

Jeans hem measuring

 

You can get someone to help measure how much you want to hem your jeans up, while you try them on.  Or pin, try them on, and adjust until you get the hem where you would like it.

Figure out how much in total you want to take out of the length.  Make a fold that measures half that much, starting at the inside edge of the original hem.  You’re going to stitch right next to that original hem, effectively removing the fold of fabric from the length of the jeans.  Whether you’re using cm or inches, the principle is the same, your fold should be half the amount you want to take out, since both sides of the fold are removed from the length.

Make sure your fold is on the inside of the jeans, so it won’t show when you’re done.

Pin the fold in place every couple of inches.  Put the pins in perpendicular to the fold, or at an angle as shown, to make them easy to pull out as you sew.

Pay special attention at the seams, making sure that the original seam lines and topstitching match on both sides of the fold.

 

Jeans hem zipper foot

 

Set up to sew right next to the original hem, using a straight stitch (width 0), length about 2.5 mm.  Use your zipper foot so that the foot can sit flat on just the fold of fabric.  Move the needle position all the way over to your left, towards the original hem, so that you can stitch right next to it (and not hit the foot with the needle).  Let the edge of the foot touch the edge of the hem as you sew.

When you get to the leg seams of the jeans, you’re suddenly sewing through a whole bunch of denim layers, instead of just two.  When this happens, the presser foot ends up at a steep angle, which makes it much more likely to skip stitches (resulting in a weak seam).  This is where the spacer comes in.  When the front of the foot reaches the seam, prop up the back of the foot with the spacer to make it level.  Then as you stitch over the seam, move the spacer to the front of the foot, to keep it level until you are past the bulky seam.  Be careful to keep the spacer in front of the needle, so that you don’t hit it as you sew!

 

Jeans hem spacer

 

If your machine still skips a few stitches, try sewing in reverse and then forward again over the part that’s giving you trouble.  Going slowly over the bulky parts will also help.  You can even use the hand wheel on your machine to make just one stitch at a time.  If it’s skipping a bunch of stitches in a row, check to see if the bobbin thread has broken.  If so, stop and cut the top thread too, then start again so that you overlap a few of the last stitches before the thread broke, to hold them in place.  If the leg seams are giving you a lot of trouble, you can also try flattening them as much as possible using a steam iron, or pounding them with a hammer.

When you get all the way around the leg, sew over the first few stitches that you made, to hold them in place.

Do not skip this step: once you sew around the hem, try on the jeans again to check that the length is where you want it.  If not, at this stage all you have to do is pull out this one line of stitching, and start again.  If the length looks good, you’re ready to finish off your hem.

If you took out more than about an inch in total, it’s likely that your folded out fabric is long enough to show below the hem if you turn it down.  If so, trim it to about 3/8″ (10 mm), or a bit smaller than the original hem (I repeat, try on the jeans and check the length of the new hem before you do this).  To keep these cut edges from unraveling, overcast them with a zigzag stitch.

 

Jeans hem overcasting

 

Use a regular sewing foot for this (zigzag and a zipper foot don’t mix).  Stitch close to the edge.

This whole process is pretty darn simple once you get the hang of it.  You can also use this method to hem other pants, when you want to keep the original hem intact.  It will be even easier if you don’t have think layers of denim to sew through.

In the next post I’ll go over my method for tacking down the extra fabric to make the hem look natural.  In the meantime, if you have any questions, just leave a comment!

 

Hello Sewing Machine—Behind the Scenes, and Acknowledgements

 

So today, a bit more about my new e-book, how I made it, and some well-deserved thanks to those who helped out!

 

 

HSM page 6 small

 

My first idea to make this book revolved around a cartoon sewing machine, and adding real thread to my drawings.   I thought it would help explain how all sewing machines are (in a lot of ways) pretty much the same.  I hoped that the thread would show up, and look like thread, and add a fun element of style (it did!).  But I knew that I needed more detail to explain some things.  For months I was stuck, thinking that I needed photographs, and not figuring out how to make them as good as I knew they would need to be.  That’s when my husband Bryan (a professional photographer) suggested maybe I didn’t need photos at all.  After all, instruction manuals of all kinds are still full of illustrations.   Sometimes they are even clearer than photos would be.  The more I thought about this, the more I thought he was right.  I started drawing, and then I knew he was right.  In an illustration, everything that I would like to be in focus is so, and the visual emphasis can be wherever I want it to be.

 

bobbin winding treadle small

This has got to be my favorite drawing in the book.  To find out what’s going on, you might have to get yourself a copy!

 

As I drew, I took some snapshots for reference, so I wouldn’t have to keep moving my hands back and forth and get them in the same place again, etc.  I also took a couple just to show my process and progress.

 

HSM paper sewing

Sewing thread onto a drawing of my mom’s treadle sewing machine, using that same machine!

 

The fact that Bryan suggested doing these drawings points to another really important thing about Hello Sewing Machine, which is that I didn’t make it by myself.  In fact, sometimes it seems like I didn’t make it all (despite the weeks of drawing, months of writing and editing, etc.), but more like I stood in the middle and brought together elements from everyone and everything I knew, things which already existed, and they coalesced and became this book.  I now understand why authors seem so passionate about their acknowledgements!   Mine are in the book, but I’m going to post them publicly here too.  Lookout!  Thanks below:

 

HSM desk chaos

Desk reaches maximum level of chaos, near the end of the drawing phase.

First and foremost, thanks to my mom.  She made most of my clothes when I was little, and created fabric magic right before my eyes.  Not only that, she taught me to sew, too!  She gave me access to all kinds of creative tools and supplies from the time I was old enough to hold them.  When I grew up, she bought me a sewing machine I couldn’t afford on my own, and I’m still welcome to anything and everything in her sewing room at any time.  I absolutely would not have the skills I do now without her in my life.

A close second for thanks is my husband Bryan.  Besides the idea to illustrate this book, I also leaned quite heavily on his knowledge during the design and layout phase.  Every day I lean on his love and support, and the fact that he believes in me.  I couldn’t ask for a better partner in life and our many adventures together.

 

HSM page 32 small

 

Also many thanks to Van and Charlie Odegaard, for letting me teach sewing to real live students at Odegaard’s Sewing Center!  I’ve learned at least as much as I’ve taught.  And I would like to thank Jena R. and Michael K. for the music. I listened to a lot of music during this project, and the CDs they gave me were like friends keeping me company.  Thanks to Brian S. for a great idea in word processing—it worked!  And last but never least, my truly amazing proofreaders: Kelly, Tom, Wendelin, & Lauren.

I’ve been as much humbled as excited by this whole process.  Both are great feelings!  I hope to continue to share the love here.  More soon . . .