Me-Made-May and Putting My Best Self Forward

 

mmm15 sleep top 2

Hi guys!  This year I’ve decided to give myself a harder challenge for Me-Made-May, and it’s definitely leading to some good thoughts about how dressing handmade pushes me towards making and wearing more of what really reflects me and how I’d like to be seen, rather than just wearing what I happen to have.

I wrote a piece about all this for Zoe, the lovely host of mmmay, and it’s on her blog today, so do head over there if you’d like to read more about what I’ve been thinking and making (the top at left) in preparation for May.  Here’s my pledge for this year:

“I, Tasha of Stale Bread into French Toast, sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May ’15. I endeavour to wear only garments I have made, altered, or repaired, for the duration of May 2015. The only purposeful exception will be my raincoat, which isn’t any of the above, but I will definitely wear if the need arises. Everything else is included!”  Gulp!

There’s still time to sign up and participate yourself, I highly recommend it, and you can make a pledge no matter how many or few handmade things you have to wear … I hope you’ll do it with me!

 

Four Upcycled Winter Tops

In which I think about the difference between fit and flatter, ways to seam knits for a pear shape, and the pros and cons of sewing with recycled sweaters.

 

Last fall, I knew I could use some more long-sleeve cozy tops for the coming winter, and I decided to see if I could find some “fabric” (in the form of large garments) at our local thrift stores, figuring that it would be cheaper than ordering quality wool knit, and I would be more willing to experiment if I wasn’t super attached to the materials.

Many things still take longer than I think they will, so I just finished the last of these a couple of weeks ago … luckily they still work as light sweaters for spring, and I’m now set for next fall/winter. Some people would probably call these light sweaters at any time, but for my winter wardrobe they’re shirts, something soft and warm that goes under a bigger sweater. (If it’s winter, I’m pretty much always cold. Heck, if it’s Texas in Spring but I’m inside and the is AC on, I’m still probably cold.) I’ve switched pretty much exclusively to wool (or cashmere etc.) and silk for winter wear, and I just love it that way, so those were the fibers I was looking for.

One of the biggest problems I’ve found with trying to upcycle tops for me out of existing tops, is that for there to be enough fabric to cut a new garment, the original sweater must be truly huge. Yet in the past, trying to reshape something without treating it as fabric and cutting new shapes has been a recycling nightmare that eats up way more of my time than the results are worth …

The first top I found this time was a women’s size large, with a pretty awful turtleneck, but in a nice brown cashmere. There just wasn’t enough fabric to dramatically reshape it, but it definitely needed a new neckline, and some ease around the hips (not a surprise to my pear-shaped self). I decided to take a wedge of the cable pattern from the old neck, cut a slit at center back, and splice it in.

 

brown winter top alterations

 

This worked—and I learned a few things. Probably the most obvious thing is that the wedge can’t be too large, unless you want it to ripple like a little peplum. I ended up folding in the sides and sewing them down again to make a flat wedge. It doesn’t look perfect, but I was experimenting. If I did this again I’d also add a little more pull-in factor to the neckline, probably with some slightly stretched clear elastic in the neck seam. But the biggest issue with this shirt is that it just isn’t that flattering. It fits OK, but I’m aiming for better. This one found a good use as my new winter sleep shirt.

 

brown winter top on form

 

The next top I found to use was a little bigger, at least big enough to cut out new pieces from it. My favorite part about this one is the fabric; it’s Merino, and just the perfect amount of stretchy, cozy, soft and wooly. If I could buy a bolt of this I probably would. This top came out quite a bit shorter than I’d like (again due to lack of fabric—by the time I cut the old sweater apart and put the pieces for my regular knit top pattern on it, this is what I got), but I’ve been wearing it all the time.

I played with the ribbing on this one a little more, cutting and sewing lengths from the original hem ribbing and treating it more like elastic, stretching it to sew around the neckline. That worked well, the ribbing on these sweaters has a tighter structure, and I suspect some added stretchy fiber that makes it behave quite differently from the rest of the garment. Sewing ribbing on things reminds me of the late 80’s, when my mom would order fabric by mail to make tops for us, along with coordinating ribbing in various colors. I wish I’d had a little more of the matching ribbing for this project, as it is the tiny hem on the bottom has to be encouraged to lie flat as it’s drying, otherwise it will flip up, and I had to baste it on before sewing to keep those little bits in place.

 

tan winter top on form

 

I’d been thinking how, in order to fit my figure better, I really need more seams, even in a knit fabric, than just one at each side. I love princess lines, but I thought that traditional ones would be more structure and more of a closely fitted, formal look than I want in a knit top. I was thinking of making a curved panel at each side, when I realized that I already have a top/sweater like that, it just fits a little looser than I’d want for this. So, I tried it on and pinned out the extra to get a fit I liked, traced a new pattern from the old one following those modifications, and cut it out.

This berry colored top was my most frustrated moment in this batch of upcycling. It came from a men’s XXL sweater in “cotton (90%) cashmere (10%)” which I went for despite the fiber content, going on color and the fact that I could definitely treat this one as a “muslin.” At first I was kind of miffed that even starting with a sweater this big, I couldn’t cut the sleeves long enough and I had to piece the side panels … but as soon as I gave up wanting it to work out “right” and embraced the experimentation and improvisation of working with recycled materials, suddenly it was fun again.

I really like the ribbing on the side panels, but the double sleeve ribbing came out wonky no matter how you look at it, the back neck has too much ease, making it slide off one shoulder sometimes (again with the 80’s), and the whole thing has all the baggy/low-recovery properties of thick cotton knit. However, it’s good to have at least one top that I don’t really care what happens to, and I brought it on the road for that purpose, it’s great to throw on in the truck etc.

 

berry winter top on form

 

I’m also having an ongoing thought process about the difference between fit and flatter. I want things to fit well, as in to harmonize with my shape—but maybe not to hug every curve. Sometimes if I aim for enough ease to really skim my hips it ends up emphasizing my pear shape instead, in a way I don’t find flattering, especially if I don’t also add ease around the bust. Also, if I curve a back seam in enough to fit close around my waist, the amount of curve required to flare it back out again over my hips is not really workable or looks a little crazy.

With that in mind, I cut the last shirt a little less curved in at the waist and out at the hips in back. I also added a side seam, mostly so that I could cut set-in sleeves (doesn’t save as much fabric as I thought it would vs. raglan) and set them in flat, then sew the side seam and underarm in one go, which apparently I like so much better than setting in knit sleeves in the round that I’ll do extra pattern tracing to get it.

I’m so happy with this last top. I dig the length, the slight high-low hemline, the side panels, and even the lighter accents (piecing again). And the bottom ribbing! This is every single millimeter of the ribbing at the hem of a men’s XL cashmere sweater (a bit frightening) and it’s just right. I flipped it over so that the original seam is at the bottom, so if anything it flares out a bit at the hem rather than cupping in. It hugs in just enough to feel cozy without riding up too much—like the dream of what ribbing could be on my figure. I’m still undecided about the extra fabric around the small of my back. It’s definitely a bit baggy there, but is that a bad thing?

 

grey winter top on form

 

Since I had to piece in a little lighter grey scrap at the side panels, I decided I should also add some to at least one arm to make it look purposeful. I also decided, after the berry ribbing, to make a real effort at getting the two knits to play well together, rather than sticking them under the machine together and hoping for the best. I tried sewing with tissue paper under the bottom layer (inside the sleeve) and it actually worked really well. However, I’m not in love with trying to position the paper around the free arm inside the sleeve, or with picking out tiny bits of tissue from the seam, so further experiments are still necessary.

 

grey winter top detail

 

I may have to go for another round of cozy top upcycling at some point, I’m getting kind of fond of the built-in matching ribbing. Although, I think I should resign myself to the need for an extra sweater for every couple finished tops, one to one just doesn’t quite work. And then, since I can’t be nearly as efficient with layout as I could with the same amount of raw fabric, it feels a little wasteful to cut up a shirt which is really perfectly good as it is … unless it has holes in it etc. So there’s a Holy Grail of thrift shopping, as if finding huge sizes in quality fibers wasn’t hard enough, now I need two or three that all coordinate with each other or with another one for extra fabric, preferably damaged! Maybe I’ll just order some nice fabric next time …

 

Fixing Store-Bought Socks

 

fixing blue stripe socks 3

Isn’t the phrase “store-bought” kind of funny when you think about it?  Maybe I should have said mending “factory-made” socks?  Maybe not, that sounds weird too.  Fixing “non-me-made” socks … never mind!

Anyway, I get a little depressed any time our society expects me to get rid of something which is mostly perfectly good, but has one flaw/broken part/hole/mold on just one corner.  Although I do accept that there’s a point at which socks are well and truly worn out and need to go, what happens to most of mine is that they develop one or two really worn places somewhere around the heel first, while the rest of the sock fabric still seems totally intact.

The really tiny gauge which commercial socks (I might like that phrase best so far) are knit in makes it hard to darn them in the traditional needle-and-yarn ways.  I’ve been experimenting with patching them, using compatible knit fabrics, and it’s been working well.  Experimenting over some time now, so please forgive the different lighting in the photos, I’ve been documenting the socks as I fix them.

As most of you reading probably already know, I love the idea of “visible mending”, of showing the world that I fixed something and I’m using it.

 

So, should you have the audacity to mend a store-bought sock, here are some things I’ve worked out:

The fabric for the patches should be similar to the socks: knitted (stretchy) and fairly sturdy.  I’ve been using wool knit fabric swatches, scraps from making these leggings, and parts of other socks.  Although I’ve been seeking out wool patches, I think cotton knits would work too, as long as they are fairly thick/tough.  Check that the care requirements for the patch fabric work with how you wash your socks (I usually machine wash & line dry mine, occasionally they go through the dryer, and the wool patches have worked fine for me).

 

patched purple hobo socks

 

sock under machine It’s totally possible to mend shorter socks with a sewing machine, any time that you can scrunch the rest of the sock out of the way (kind of as if you are turning it inside out), so that just the layers you want are under the foot of the machine. I used an overlock stitch for maximum stretchiness & sturdiness.  As with any knit project, you may need to experiment a bit to figure out which stitch and settings work best.  Expect to do a lot of lifting the foot with the needle down and repositioning things while sewing on the patches.  You can cut down on that somewhat by basting the patches on first (takes about 30 seconds).

 

When the patch is done, I finish by getting all the thread ends to the inside, and burying them before trimming, using a hand sewing needle.  You can also trim the edges of the patch outside the stitching if they come out funky looking.

 

thread ends fixing socks

 

For heels and toes of knee socks, and any time I can’t easily get the part of the sock I want under the machine, I find it just as easy to sew the patches on by hand.  (I like hand sewing, and I don’t like fighting with my machine.)  I’ve been using a catch stitch (explained in more detail here) around the edges, sewing through both the patch and the sock when possible.  An old-fashioned darning egg (or improvise with a small block of wood etc.) inside the sock is so useful here that it’s almost essential, making things much easier by assuring that you only sew through the layers you want.

 

fixing blue stripe socks 2

 

fixing blue stripe socks 1

 

For either method, cut the patch definitely bigger than the worn place/hole, otherwise it will quickly wear right along the edge of the patch.

  For cuffs, you can use a scrap of ribbing to cover worn places and/or make a new cuff.  Make sure the ribbing is long enough to stretch around the widest part of the leg which the sock will go around.  Mark and sew the ribbing together, then stretch it evenly around the sock.  I find it’s easier to sew two seams, one on the inside and the again around the outside edge of the ribbing, than to try to catch both edges perfectly in one seam.

 

fixing sock cuff

 

Both my hand- and machine-sewn patches have worn well, adding a year or more to sock life, and lasting until the rest of the sock fabric gives up the ghost.

 

The socks below I didn’t even mean to fix, but they ended up being some of my favorites.  They’re the ones I wear in the summer when we’re setting up the booth.  I was going to buy new ones, but in the end I couldn’t bring myself to spend real money on new socks for such a humble purpose, and I knew cheap socks would wear out super quick under those conditions.

The new short length is perfect for when it’s hot but I still have to wear shoes, and I love seeing my little mended socks during what can be a stressful situation.

 

mending set-up socks 1

 

mending set-up socks 2

 

Finally, just in case you’re thinking that I have a magical house where socks are fixed as soon as they develop holes, let me tell you, it ain’t so.  I’ll admit that I tend to let them pile up until my sock drawer is looking sparse, and I’d forgotten about the very existence of some of these by the time I got around to mending them … when I start to run out of socks that don’t need fixing, then I settle down and do one or two pairs a day until they’re all fixed.

Happy mending!

 

 

Some Thoughts About Sewing Leggings

 

I’ve been wearing leggings more these past two winters.  I love how warm they are under my skirts.  The fit though, often leaves something to be desired, so I decided to try making my own.  Good decision!  These are totally the comfiest pair I own.  I’m more than a little behind on sharing them, but the plus side of that is I can already report that I took them with me on our spring and summer travels last year, and they served me really well as a base layer under dressier clothes when the weather at shows was chilly, for hiking, and as PJs when camping in cooler weather.

 

green wooly leggings 4

 

I used the Espresso pattern from Cake.  I love that it’s designed so that you transfer your measurements in both length and width right to the pattern to make your own custom size.  Overall the amount of ease the pattern added worked great for me.  These fit just how I’d like them to: not too tight or constricting, not to loose or wrinkly, but like a second soft wooly skin.  The only problem I had with the way this pattern is drawn out is that it doesn’t allow for curves between the booty and waist.  One look at my body would tell you that a straight vertical line in this area isn’t going to cut it.  After a couple of iterations I ended up taking a huge curving dart out of the center back seam, from the waist down to nothing at the widest point.  But since the fabric is stretchy and I basted the seams together first, it wasn’t hard to do.  (I highly recommend basting the seams if you’re making your first pair.  Long straight stitches are just amazingly easier to pull out than zigzag.  Once I had the fit I wanted, I trimmed the seam allowances to match the new seams, pulled out the basting, and sewed the seams with a narrow zigzag.)

 

green wooly leggings 2

 

Once that was settled, I tried them on and marked with pins where I wanted the waistband to sit.  I just don’t like constriction, especially elastic, around my natural waist, and I tend to cut the waistbands of trousers and skirts so that they sit just below my belly button.  I knew that I wanted the leggings to sit a little below that, so they’d layer well with the rest of my wardrobe.

 

green wooly leggings 3

I would NEVER wear only these in public, or show you my booty in leggings on the internet.  And I just need to get this off my chest, because I keep wanting to say it to young women I see on the street: leggings aren’t pants!  But somehow, I’m OK with you seeing the fit on the dressform, even though the whole point of this dressform is that it’s as close to my actual shape as possible … go figure. 

 

I decided to add a wider waistband, which I hoped would make the top more stable and also give it a little more recovery.  I cut two pieces about an inch less wide than the leggings are at the top, and 3″ deep.  I sewed those pieces together, and then to the inside waist of the leggings, also including clear elastic in the top seam.  Then I flipped the waistband to the outside and zigzagged it in place just over the raw edge, and again at the top just under the seam allowance.  I didn’t want the bulk of another turned-under edge at the bottom, and it’s worked out pretty well, the fabric has fluffed up only slightly around the cut and sewn edge.

But, they didn’t stay up.  To be clear, I don’t blame the pattern at all for this, since I was off on a choose-your-own-waistband adventure by this point in the process, all learning around the waistband issues is my own responsibility.  And I did fix it; after considering taking things apart and/or adding more elastic, I decided to try a thin ribbon drawstring, a trick that’s worked for me in the past on a strapless elastic top.  Since I already had a small channel at the top of the waistband from the topstitching, I cut a tiny hole there at each side of center front on the inside, and reinforced it with a little hand stitching around.

 

green wooly leggings 5

 

Then I used a little safety pin to thread the ribbon around.  When I’m wearing these, I tighten the ribbon to the fit I want, and tie it in a firm bow.  Sometimes by the end of the day, I get ever-so-slightly irritated by the one fairly tight, unmoving place around my hip.  But would I gladly trade that for leggings that stay up all day, exactly where I want them, with no dropping crotch?  Yes, yes I would, quite happily.  And when I make another pair, I may experiment with some stronger elastic at the top.

This fabric is mostly wool, with a little stretchy stuff, from The Fabric Store LA.  They have the best selection of fine wool knits I’ve found (also where I got the lovely stuff for these tops).  It’s a bit vague on the site whether or not their swatching service is up and running, but it totally is, just call them and tell them what you’re looking for.  Last time I got a generous selection of organic wools and leggings-appropriate fabrics.  I went with the pattern recommendation of minimum 5% lycra/spandex added, and chose this green with black, double layer knit.  This is about as thick a fabric as I would use, as you can’t avoid a few wrinkles around the knees, etc., but they’re wonderful to wear!  I love the slightly plush inside of this fabric, it makes the leggings even cozier and comfier.

 

green wooly leggings 6

Putting a little tab of ribbon at the back is another idea of Steph’s I like!

 

I’m definitely a sew-your-own-leggings convert.  A fit this good is hard to argue with.  After years of knowing that the only way to get pants/trousers to fit my legs & booty was to make my own, I’m kind of surprised that it wasn’t more obvious what a difference custom-fit leggings would make … but there you have it.  Plus they only take a yard of fabric (on me), have only one main pattern piece, and once you have the fit down they would make up lightning fast.  What’s not to love?

Update: for what I figured out about elastic at the waist in next versions, and making these from repurposed sweaters, click here.

 

Tips and Ideas for Sewing Cover Buttons, DIY and Store-Bought

 

diy sewing cover buttons 1

 

As I mentioned in my knitted cover button post, I got into some online research on DIY cover buttons, and I couldn’t resist making up a couple of sewn ones.  Special thanks to Sophie of Ada Spragg for pointing me towards Ebony H’s tutorial for fabric covered buttons on SewStylist!  I love the idea of covering existing buttons, and especially that you can sew through them.  But, I’m kind of a purist, I like things clean, and held together with needle and thread alone.  And I had some more ideas … so, below is my version.

If you’d rather use a cover button kit from the fabric store (I do this a lot too), scroll down (way down) towards the bottom of the post, and I’ll include my favorite tips for those as well.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Measuring & planning the button front

Draw around your button with a fine-point marker.  It’s easiest to use one that erases with water or air, but if you don’t have that, you can use any regular marker that won’t show through your fabric, just keep all markings on the wrong side of the button.  Draw another circle outside the button outline—this is the fabric that will wrap around the button to the back.  It should be just a little smaller (about 1/8″ or 3mm smaller) than the thickness of your button plus half its width.  If your button is bigger, you can have more of a gap in the fabric at the middle of the back.  For these little buttons, I wanted as much fabric on the back as I could get without it bunching up in the middle, so that it has the best chance of staying in place and not fraying as I sew it.  Mark the distance you want outside the button outline at several points, then connect them to make an outer circle.  (This picture also shows the markings for the back piece, which we’ll get to later.)

 

diy sewing cover buttons 2

 

Embroidery (optional of course)

If you’d like to add any embellishments, it’s easier to work them before you cut out the fabric pieces.  I was inspired by this post on The Purl Bee, but decided I’d rather have simple stitching.  I think this would look great if you used the same thread as the topstitching on your project.

Since I used a water-erasable pen, I could stitch on the same side as the marks, following the button outline.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 3

 

Once I was done with my embroidery, I caught the thread ends in the stitching on the wrong side, and trimmed them off.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 4

 

Sew & gather the button front

Cut out your fabric circle.  Then sew a line of running stitches around the edge, around 1/8″ or 3mm inside the cut edge.  Ordinarily I’d use matching thread for this, but as you’ll see, it won’t show, so use contrasting if it’s easier to see.  Start with a knot, or leave a long tail so you can pull on both ends of the thread when you’re done.  The smaller you make the stitches, the easier it will be to pull your gathers in tight.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 5

 

diy sewing cover buttons 6

 

Time to pull the gathers around your button.  At this point it occurred to me that I needed to get the button wet at some point to erase the marker, and it might be easier to manipulate the gathers if the fabric was damp.  It totally was!  So I highly recommend spritzing your fabric with a little water before you cinch it around the button.  This should work for all natural fibers.

Pull the gathers in tight.  Use your thumbnail or an awl, etc. to redistribute any gathers that are bunching up.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 7

 

Once the gathers are set how you’d like them, stitch around the back, a bit inside the edge, with a series of backstitches to hold them in place.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 8

 

The button back

I wanted another fabric piece to cover all these raw edges on the back.  To make one, draw around your button again, but this time just add a tiny bit around the edge, I found 2 mm to be just about perfect (I know you have a metric ruler, fellow Americans).

Stitch another circle of running stitches, this time just inside the line you drew around the button.  Leave a tail of thread at the beginning and the end.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 9

 

Pull on both the thread tails to gather the raw edge to the inside.  It may help to get the fabric wet again.  You can use the blunt end of a needle to push out any parts of the turned-in edge that get bunchy.  This doesn’t have to end up as a perfect circle, since it will be on the back, but roundish is helpful.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 11

 

Once the back looks pretty good, I like to tie the thread ends in a knot, so the fabric won’t come ungathered as I sew it on.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 12

 

You can guess what to do now, right?  Yep, sew the back piece in place, using tiny stitches around the edge.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 13

 

Finish off with a couple of backstiches under the edge.

 

diy sewing cover buttons 14

 

That’s it!  I sewed them on using my favorite method, making a thread shank on the back. You could also sew just through the fabric on the back of the button, rather than through the original button holes, but I think this would leave the fabric on top of the button free to shift around a bit.

The possibilities here are endless … and speaking of endless possibilities:

 

Tips for store-bought cover button kits

I use these a lot (at least I did before I discovered the above technique).  My favorite are the tiny ones (surprise).  Here are my best tips:

1.  Get the kind with the teeth facing inwards, not the ones with the flat metal edge.  The teeth are a lot easier to work with, and you can use them without tools, precisely centering your fabric.  The flat edge also cuts through the fabric over time, meaning your buttons wear out faster.

 

cover button packagesOnes on either side, good, the center ones, not so much.  Her hair!  Can you tell I inherited cover button kits from both my grandmothers?

 

2. Use another layer of fabric, or something thin and opaque like interfacing, under your button fabric.  This prevents the shiny button from showing through, and gives your button a subtle but nice plusher look.  The extra piece only needs to be the size of the button top, since it doesn’t need to wrap around.

 

cover buttons coatI replace the fabric on a couple of these buttons on my coat about once a season.  The ones with a layer of interfacing do seem to last longer.

 

3. The guides printed on the back of the button kit are probably too big for thick fabric and/or knits.  You need enough fabric to secure in the teeth, but not so much that it bunches up and keeps the back from seating in securely.  You may need to experiment to find the right size circle for your fabric.

4.  Pull the fabric up from two opposite sides, and hook it onto the teeth by pressing it under them.  Repeat at right angles to your first two points, and then do the places in between.

5.  For knits, it’s up to you how much you stretch the fabric as you pull it over the button.  Pulling less will make the buttons look more plush.  Try to be consistent, however you like it.

 

cover buttons small wool knit

 

6.  It’s totally possible to use the metal parts of these kits many times when the fabric wears out (like on my coat).  Use any small flat tool to pop off the back, then pull off the remains of the fabric, and start again.

7.  You could definitely use embroidery on these as well (they do in that Purl Bee tutorial), just be careful when centering the fabric—see 4.  You could even use the embroidery to tack your two layers together.

 

cover buttons small wool knit finished

 

I think that’s the lot, for now anyway.  Best returns of the season, everyone!

 

How to Add Pockets in Seams

finished pockets on

I used to joke about this, but I’ve decided it’s actually true: the lack of pockets is holding women back.  I mean, if our choices are either carry a purse everywhere and don’t let it out of sight, ask someone of the opposite gender to hold things for us, or attempt to stick our phones in our bras, of course we’re going to struggle to be taken seriously.

I do carry some kind of bag most places I go (with essential stuff like my notebook, and sometimes knitting in it), but there are lots of times when just pockets will do.  Everyone needs pockets, good pockets that are actually big enough to put your phone in, and sit down afterwards.

 

I was so exited about finishing this dress that I forgot to add the pockets, and had to go back and put them in! I’ll include a bit about the decorative edging I used at the end of the post.

 

This is why maker & fixer skills are important: instead of complaining about the lack of pockets, we can change it, and add some ourselves.  Guys who don’t have enough pockets in their lives are welcome too!

In this post I’ll go over adding pockets to a seam in your garment, commonly called “side-seam” or “in-seam” pockets.  You can do this as you’re sewing, or retrofit pockets into a garment that’s already finished.  In short, the steps are: 1. Plan your pocket, and prepare the pieces.  2. Sew the pocket pieces to the garment seams.  3. Sew the garment seams, including around the pocket.  If you have some beginner sewing skills, you can handle this.  (Ahem, get some skills here.)  Let’s get started!  As usual, click on any of the photos to enlarge for a closer look.

 

Plan & Prepare Your Pocket

measuring pocket patternFirst figure out how big and what shape you’d like your pocket to be.  You can use a pocket piece from a pattern you have, or trace the shape of an existing pocket that you like onto paper for a pattern.  (If you trace an existing pocket, remember to add extra space—seam allowance—all around it to account for the fabric that will be used up in the seams.)  I used the pattern piece at right, which is a common shape for side-seam pockets.

Figure out where along your seam you want your pocket to go, and mark it with pins.  Measure the length of the flat side of your pocket, the part that you’ll sew into the seam.  This is how much space you’ll need on your seam for the pocket.  If you’re sewing from scratch, you can just center the pocket on your pin marks, and sew it as explained below, before you sew the seam.  If you’re adding pockets to a garment that’s already finished, you’ll need to rip the seam where you want the pocket to go, taking out a space a bit bigger than the pocket piece, to give yourself room to work.  I really like using this method to rip seams.  Don’t worry about tying off the ends of the old seam here, because you’ll sew over them later.

 

adding ss pockets drawing 1

 

Fabric and Piecing

You’ll need two pocket pieces for each pocket you want to add.  Cut them so that they’re mirror images, i.e. so that you can sew the shape together and have the right (public/outside) sides of the fabric touching.

This kind of pocket doesn’t show much, but you’ll probably be able to see a bit of it peeking out.  If you have matching fabric, obviously cutting your pockets from that will make it blend in the most.  If not, choose something you like that you won’t mind seeing a bit of.  The pocket fabric should be fairly tightly woven/sturdy, especially if you plan to carry heavy objects in it.

If you have only a bit of matching fabric, you can cut each side of the pocket in two pieces, so that the matching part is at the top.  When planning this, don’t forget to add extra seam allowance where the pieces meet.  Sew the pieces together into the pocket shape before you attach them.

 

pieced pocketOn close inspection you can see that the two halves of this pocket are pieced in different places, and that’s fine.  The printed fabric matches the outside of this dress, and the white is scraps from the lining.

 

Note: You can also add to a skimpy existing pocket (I hate those!), by cutting off the bottom and adding more.  Rip a bit of the old pocket seams along the sides to give yourself room to work.  Sew each side of the new pocket bottoms to the old pocket tops, then sew around the pocket, overlapping the old seam.  The finished pocket may look something like the one above.

 

Sew the Pocket to the Seam

Once you have your pocket ready and know where it will go, pin one pocket piece onto one side of the garment seam.  Line up the seam allowances, and make sure you place the right side of the pocket touching the right side of the garment piece.  Sew the pocket on, using the same seam allowance as the garment seam, or just slightly narrower.  Start and stop a little bit outside the pocket.  You don’t need to back-tack your seams, they’ll be held in place by other stitches later.

adding ss pockets drawing 2This illustration shows attaching the pocket to a seam you’ve ripped, which is still in place above and below the pocket.  It’s the same if you’re starting from scratch, except that the other piece of the garment won’t be attached yet.

 

Repeat this procedure with the other pocket pieces, making sure that any two sides which will be one pocket are aligned at the same place on the garment seam.

Using your iron, press the pockets open, away from the garment.  Don’t skip this step!  It will make all the difference in a clean finish.

 

adding ss pockets drawing 3Here’s what it looks like in real life, with one side of the pocket sewn on and pressed open, although it’s a little hard to see in the tiny print:

pocket seams one side done

 

 Sew the Seam with a New Pocket

To finish, sew the garment seam, including around the pocket.  When you get to the top of the pocket, sew just inside of the pocket stitching and fabric, to avoid catching anything in the seam that will show.  Stop with the needle down, and pivot at the point where the seam allowance matches on the garment and the pocket.  Keep sewing, around the pocket, and pivot again when you reach a point just inside (towards the garment, not the pocket) the first seam at the bottom of the pocket.  If you’re sewing from scratch, you’ll sew the whole seam above and below the pocket in this step as well.  If you’re refashioning a pocket, you’ll start and stop just enough away from the pocket to overlap the old seam stitching.

 

adding ss pockets drawing 4The stitching for this step is shown in the darkest color, overlapping the old seam, and just outside of the seam that attaches the pocket pieces.

 

Look, brand new wonderful pockets!

If your garment has a lining, you now have two choices.  You can leave it alone, meaning the pocket will sit between the garment and the lining, which is usually good.  On my lightweight dresses, I decided to make an opening in the lining seam, so that the pocket would be inside the lining too, and show less from the outside.  All you need to do for this option is to rip the lining seam at the pocket opening, or leave a gap when you are sewing the seam.  Knot the thread ends, or back-tack your stitching, to hold the edges of the gap in place.

finished pocket inside

 

And Finally, Optional Decorative Pocket Strips

Since I was thinking about celebrating pockets, I decided to make the ones on my latest sundress a little more visible by adding fabric strips that matched the binding and straps on the dress.  Just in case you like this look, here’s how I did it:

1. Cut strips 1/2″ wider and longer (for 1/4″ SA) than you want them to appear when finished.  I made them 1/2″ wide finished, (cut 1″ wide) and slightly longer than the pocket opening.

2. Press the strips in half to mark the center, then press the SA under all around.

pocket decorative strip 1

 

3. Topstitch each strip in place, close to the edge of the strips.

pocket decorative strip 2

 

4. Sew the seam, and around the pocket, as you normally would.

finished pocket outside

 

Have you ever added or improved pockets?  What do you think about how the pockets in ready-to-wear relate to our society’s image of women?  Any other relevant thoughts?

 

A Cashmere Scrap Rainbow Baby Blanket—Selfless Sewing


rainbow ribbing baby blanket 3


After reading this post in the spring on Ginger Makes, I started thinking about how I do actually sew things for other people sometimes, and maybe I should post about some of them.  Especially when I actually go outside and take pictures before mailing the thing off.


Sometimes, I sew a blanket for the new arrivals in the families of my nearest and dearest.  The last several have been made from the scraps from these hats (quick shameless promotion: they’ll be back in my Etsy shop soon!  Ask for them at your favorite kids’ store.  Get me in touch with that store!  Ok, I’m done).


I can’t get rid of these ribbings, they’re so irresistibly textural, and so vibrantly colored, and so buttery soft, basically perfect for a new baby’s blanket as far I’m concerned.  Mamas, did I mention already felted = machine washable?  (Just like the hats.)


rainbow ribbing baby blanket 5


rainbow ribbing baby blanket 2


I used the mock-serger stitch on my machine, for strength plus some stretch.  With these materials, the seams will never be 100% ripple-free, so I’m going with “ripples are part of the charm.”  In lieu of extra decoration, I switched thread colors at intervals as I went, and it made a big difference in the look, I love that the thread isn’t distracting from the ribbing colors.


rainbow ribbing baby blanket 1


We’re actually going to meet the recipient of this blanket today! I’m really excited.


rainbow ribbing baby blanket 6


One thing I love about making things for other people, besides the warm fuzzy feeling, is that it’s often an opportunity for me to try out a new idea and be more creative, thinking about things from another perspective.


rainbow ribbing baby blanket 4


What about you? How do you feel about making things for others?


A Cabarita Top Variation, with Tips for Matching Stripes

 

The first picture I saw of the Cabarita Top from Cake patterns must have been one where Steph is wearing the “back” as the front. I’m hardly ever struck by the sudden need to make a pattern exactly as shown, but in this case I knew I needed this top … even though it turns out that’s not exactly what the pattern intended. I also hardly ever make anything trendy … but I love how many chevrons and clever stripe matching I’ve seen in the last couple of years, so I guess it’s a trend I don’t mind being part of. (Fair warning: I’m going to wear this top until it falls apart, whether or not it starts to look dated.)

 

cabarita front

 

Anyway, how about some tips for stripe matching first, and then a couple notes on changes I made to the pattern?

The first step of stripe matching is careful cutting & planning. I cut striped fabric in a single layer, so I can see exactly where the stripes on each piece go.

Lay your first pattern piece, the one you most want to match, on the fabric, and trace the stripes onto that pattern piece with a pencil, so you can see exactly where they line up, and then cut them the same, or in a mirror image, on the next piece. I could swear that I took a picture of this step during this project, but apparently I was mistaken.  I’ll have to get one next time I’m in the studio. The point is to carefully draw the stripe placement along the seam lines of the pattern piece.  Draw both edges of key stripes, so you can see how wide they are and where each edge goes.  It may help to use colored pencils that match your stripe colors.  For a fairly simple stripe, you can go ahead and cut, and then move the pattern piece as necessary (don’t forget to flip if needed), align the stripes with the ones you drew, and cut again.  If you want to match along a seam where two pattern pieces meet (like a side seam between a front and back) you’ll need to transfer your drawn stripes from the first piece you cut to the second one, making sure they are aligned at the bottom.  This project was a straightforward one for this part, since there are just four copies of the same piece.

 

cabarita side

 

Sometimes, especially with plaid fabrics, or more complex garments with lots of seams, you may have to pick your battles, choosing the most visible/important seams to match stripes on as you’re planning and cutting the fabric. Also keep in mind that if a seam runs in the same direction as a stripe, it’s much much easier to make it look good if the seam runs through a wide area of the same color, than if it’s along the border between two colors or a narrow stripe, where it’s likely to look wobbly.

When you get ready to sew the stripes, my all-time best step for perfect matching is: baste! Don’t worry about exactly matching the seam allowance edges, worry about exactly lining up the stripes. Peel back the fabric and look. As you stitch, check to make sure that the needle goes in and out in the exact same place on the stripe in both layers, and adjust if necessary. You can check, and even try on your project, after basting to see how it’s coming out. You can bet that if your stripes are matched as you baste, they’ll be matched after you sew the seam.

I also use my walking foot for stripes, as a little extra insurance against the layers shifting.

 

basting stripes

It works:

 

finished matched stripes

 

Just in case you want to make Cabarita hack like this, here’s how I did it:

I compared the v-neck on the pattern to another me-made shirt I like, which suggested I should use the marked neckline for the group of sizes bigger than mine. I forgot that having a V in the back as well (instead of a plain round neck) would give the top more leeway to slip off my shoulders. I ended up adding thin clear elastic, barely stretched as I sewed, all around the neckline in the seam allowance of the binding seam, to keep it hugging in a bit. I like it, but if I cut this again I would use the V suggested for my size for both front and back.

 

cabarita left

 

To make the bands at the shoulders, I took an inch off the shoulder from the top down, minus seam allowance, and cut a separate piece 2” wide plus SA, across the stripes. I sewed the extra shoulder piece between the front and back on each side, and then the binding around the neck and sleeves.

I sewed the binding once on the seam, and again near the edge to keep everything flat as it’s washed and worn. Then I flipped the binding around and sewed one last time just along the edge, from the right side. Have I mentioned I’m really liking zigzag as topstitching lately?

 

cabarita stripe bands

 

This fabric is an organic cotton & hemp blend from The Fabric Fairy. It’s yummy, and I’m looking forward to it getting even softer and drapier as the hemp ages. I decided to use the “wrong” side as the public side, because I love how you can tell that the stripes are knitted in, and how the little rows of purls (for you knitters out there) soften the transitions between the stripes just a bit.

 

cabarita back

 

I’m really liking wearing this over tank tops, maybe even more than on its own. I think I like how another layer showing below it breaks up the pattern a bit, but it also could be just because this summer has been generally cool enough that light layers have been a good option.

 

What about you, what have you been sewing? Any more tips for stripes?

 

Basting: Thread Magic

 

new backstitch 1

 

I kind of feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t like basting, or thinks they don’t.  It’s a like a magic wand for your sewing.  It keeps things exactly in place for exactly as long as you need it, doesn’t distort your final sewing, doesn’t need to be removed as you go, and can be pulled out when you’re done, leaving no mark behind.

I fell in love with basting many moons ago, while sewing a collar onto a button-down shirt.  I had all the layers of shirt and collar scrunched together ready to sew, and no matter how many pins I put in, the fabric kept shifting under the sewing machine as I went and getting terribly uneven, and/or folding over and catching pieces of the shirt I didn’t want in the seam.  After ripping it all out and starting over two or three times, I decided to baste it in by hand and see if that was any better.  Held by the basting, the shirt and collar seam went through the machine without a hitch, as nice as I could ask for, on the first try.

 

basting stripes

 

Basting just means any kind of temporary stitching, meant to hold fabric in place until you can get the final stitching done.  The advantage is that the basting doesn’t have to be neat and even, or strong enough to hold up with wear, so you can concentrate just on the fabric while you’re basting, and then just on stitching when you’re sewing the final seam.

If I’m in a situation where I want basting, usually it’s because I need more precise control over the fabric, so I baste by hand.  To baste, simply sew running stitches (illustrated at the top).  The stitches can be pretty big and uneven—concentrate on the placement of the fabric layers with each stitch, rather than the stitches themselves.  I like to begin and end with a backstitch, just to keep the basting from pulling apart until I’m done.

Some good places to use basting are: when you want things to align exactly (like matching stripes), when there are a lot of shifty layers (like the collar seam), or any other time when you want to make sure some part of your project will stay in place while you sew it.  For the soft bra below, I knew there was no way the lace would stay in the folds I wanted against the fabric if it was held only by pins.  Plus, basting allowed me to put everything together on my dress form, seeing exactly how the lace would work on a body, and then take the whole thing off the form and sew it.

 

basting lace on form

 

finished soft bra lace

 

It worked great!  When you’re done with the final seam, you can remove the basting easily.  Pick out the backstitches at the ends and grab one thread tail, then you can often pull out a long basting thread with one pull.  Unless of course you sewed over it in the final stitching, but no worries, that happens.  Just pull out what you can at once, you may have to cut and pick out a few small thread bits.

Although it may sound like a technique for more advanced sewing, I definitely recommend basting for beginners too.  When you’re just starting out, learning how your machine handles fabric, especially in tricky situations, isn’t easy.  You can baste practically anything that you just can not get to stay in place while sewing on the machine, get much better results, and save yourself a lot of frustration.  According to The Mary Frances Sewing Book, back when most garments were sewn by hand, it was more efficient to baste a seam first, and then sew it, than to sew the final stitches while trying to keep the fabric layers in place.

Best of luck with your sewing!

 

Thoughts about Sewing, Empowerment, and Body Image

 

As we near the end of Me-Made-May, it seems like a good time to share some thoughts about sewing, empowerment, and body image. Although I get a huge boost of self-sufficiency when I’m wearing the clothes I made, I actually don’t think much about sewing as it relates to how I feel about my body. Except for when I’m making pants. I originally wrote these thoughts as part of a proposed series on the Colleterie, which didn’t get off the ground, but it seems a shame not to get them out into the world. I thought about a lot of this again just recently when I was working on my trousers.

 

blue stripe trous and wool knits 4

 

I’m lucky that when I was growing up, my parents always stressed that I’m just fine the way I am. I’ve never had a really negative image of my body. But I have always had trouble finding pants that fit at all, or were remotely comfortable. I would describe my figure in a nutshell as small and pear shaped. When I’m good about exercise, my thighs get firmer, but they don’t exactly shrink. In fact, in High School, when I was doing lots of power yoga every week, and in the best shape I’ve ever been, I just about gave up wearing pants altogether. It wasn’t worth it; they were just too uncomfortable. I have a vivid memory of sitting in class wishing I could just grab the top thighs of my jeans and yank upwards, and that the seams would pop down the sides, releasing my legs.  I never actually tried it, but after that I stopped wearing jeans.

 

grey pants side

 

Since then I’ve explored my style, how it relates to my body, and to how others see me, through my sewing—starting with long skirts. As you know if you’ve read this blog for a while, I’ve also been working on and off for years on pants that actually fit me. It wasn’t until I was making the purple pair that I realized how much not being able to find clothes that fit or flatter could affect my conceptions about my body. Those purple pants aren’t perfect, but they show off my shape and are comfortable—a miracle to me. When I’m standing in front of a dressing room mirror and no pair of pants I try on looks good or feels right, I think that encourages me to feel like I need to change, like my body is not right. I was fairly amazed at how, looking at my legs in these new me-made pants, it was so much easier to say, “I love my body! It’s so cute and curvy!” It’s not my body that needs to change—it’s the pants. From my hair to my thighs, I’ve had the best experiences with my body when I realize not only that I can’t change something, but that I shouldn’t be trying to change it, that the beauty the universe gives me is for me to embrace and to work with, not to fight. And I can only do that if I’m willing to think outside the box, to take the time and develop the skills I need to get what I really want and need.

 

purple cords side

 

To me sewing, and making anything, is all about empowerment. Since I sew, I can break free from the consumer culture that gives me limited choices, while at the same time encouraging me to find fault with everything, in order to sell me more cheap stuff. Sewing is a way out of that cycle, and also a way in to a deeper and better understanding of my own body and taste, my personality, my unique self. Perhaps the best part is that this kind of freedom is available to anyone who wants it, anyone who’s willing to can their own jam or sew their own jeans.  Let’s go get it, people!