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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Start Sewing with my Brand-New E-book!

 

HSM cover small

 

It’s the reveal of the super-secret project I’ve been working on for so long!  And it’s safe to say I’ve never been as excited about a post, or a project, as I am about this one.  Nearly a year ago, I had an idea to make a tutorial that would get people started sewing.  It would assume the reader knew nothing, and explain as clearly and approachably as I could make it, how sewing machines work and how to use them.

Well, it’s here, today!  Hello Sewing Machine is a PDF e-book, available for instant download from my Etsy shop!  I’ve spent the past year dreaming about it, writing it, drawing the illustrations, editing, doing design and layout, and learning so much about all of the above as I went.  It’s kind of unreal to finally see the finished product on a screen in front of me.  

 

HSM in progress

 

So, do you have a sewing machine sitting in your closet?  Would you like to get it out and start sewing?  Do you already sew, but you have someone you’ve been wanting to teach?  Do it today!  This guide will get you going.  It has everything you need to know about how your sewing machine works.  I want Hello Sewing Machine to be a bridge between would-be sewers and all the patterns, sewing blogs, fabric stores, everything that’s out there to help you make whatever you want.  All you have to do is take the first few steps to get started!

 

HSM page 7

 

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I’m a firm believer in handmade, and that by being makers, we make our lives better in just about every possible way: more connected, more sustainable, more grounded, more satisfied, more joyous.  It’s my hope that this little book will give more people the tools they need to realize those benefits in their own lives.

 

HSM page 13

 

I’ll be celebrating this release with some very relevant beginning sewing posts (including an all new one on hemming jeans) plus some other very exciting things, so watch this space!

 

Another Way to Rip Seams

 

pocket seam ripping 1

 

If you’re going to make anything, it’s fairly certain that you’ll have to un-make and re-make part of it at some point.  It’s not bad, it’s just part of the process.  In sewing, this involves seam ripping.  It’s an essential skill for makers, and especially those who are interested in refashioning, repairing, upcycling, etc.

Although some folks rip stitches fast and furious with razor blades, I have always stuck to my trusty seam ripper.  Recently I’ve been using it in a slightly different way on straight and zig-zag seams, with really good results.

seam ripping 2014 0

 

The photo at left shows classic seam-ripper technique.  Slide the seam ripper into the seam, use the pointed part to pick up a stitch or two, and slide them into the blade in the middle of the ripper to cut.  Once you have a couple of stitches cut, pull the seam open and you will be able to see and cut more without harming the fabric.

 

 

 

seam ripping 2014 1For this technique though, everything stays flat, which is especially nice if you have a delicate fabric or it’s hard to see the stitches in the seam.  Use the ripper to cut a stitch, and then another one 1 -2 inches away, creating a small thread section with cut ends.  Then use the long prong of the ripper to pull a few stitches up and out of the back thread without cutting them.  You may need to do this one by one if the stitches are small.  The object is to get a little tail that’s long enough to hang onto with your fingers.

 

Once you get a tail, grab it with one hand, hold the fabric with the other, and pull the the thread section out in one go!  Pulling close to the plane of the fabric, instead of straight up, will make it easier.

 

pocket seam ripping 3

 

If you flip the fabric to the back you’ll see that the stitches on the other side, which were held in place by the ones you just pulled out, are now free.  All you have to do is cut a stitch a little way down the seam and you can use the free thread to pull out another section.  Every time you pull out a section, flip the fabric over and you’ll find a tail ready to pull out the next section.  I find this quite fast, and it also creates fewer tiny thread ends that you’ll have to clean up.

 

pocket seam ripping 4

 

If you are ripping out a specific part of a seam, such as between the pins here, you may want to have a longer thread to work with when you get to your stopping point, so you can tie a knot to hold it in place.  In this case, pull up the last inch or two of stitches without cutting either side.  It may help to turn the seam ripper so the stitches don’t slide into the cutting part.  Once a stitch is loosened, you can also use your fingers, the whole handle of the seam ripper, or another tool to pull the stitches up without cutting them.

 

pocket seam ripping 5

 

When you get to the new end of the seam, pull on the thread to get the last stitch from the back side to pop through onto your side.  Slide the point of the seam ripper into this new stitch and pull it up so that both ends are on the same side.

Tie a knot or use backstitch, and bury the ends if they’ll show.

 

pocket seam ripping 6

 

Again, this last part is only necessary if the end of the old seam won’t be crossed by or stitched over with a new seam, and so you need to secure the end.

This way of seam ripping works great on zig-zag seams, too, although it won’t work with seams where the thread crosses back over itself.  Sometimes I’ll get lucky and pull the right thread on serged seams, but I don’t have a sure-fire formula for those yet.  Maybe you do?

I’m sure that others use this technique, I just discovered it recently and I’ve been using it all the time …

 

Sewing Machine Painter’s Tape Stitch Guide

Just a quick tip today.  Last night I was sewing pillowcases for my wonderful massage therapist, Cindy Clark of Hand Dance Massage.  I know, this is good trade to have, right?

Some of the hems were deep, I needed a seam guide outside the ones engraved on my stitch plate.  Painter’s tape/blue tape is perfect for this – it’s easy to apply and reposition, it has a sharp edge which I  can see clearly against the machine, and it peels right off when I am done.  Other types of tape work too but they may be more prone to leave sticky gunk behind (duct tape = no).

You can either use the edge of the tape as a guide or draw a line (or more than one) on the tape.  Either way be as precise as you can with your measuring.  Measure from the center of the foot, where the needle enters the plate when it’s centered.  Once you know how far out the other lines on your stitch plate are, it may be easier to measure from one of them or from the edge of the plate.  Try to get your tape even, and at the right distance, so you can use the whole length of it to guide your fabric.

Remember that if hemming, you need to sew slightly inside your hem to catch it.  For example, I pressed up 2″ for a hem, so my guide here is at 1 and 7/8″.  By watching the guide, you can sew the hem from the top or the bottom, whichever works better for your project.

Zoom in on the picture to see more clearly what I’m talking about.

What do you use painter’s tape for?  What are you trading for?

All About Backstitch

 

Backstitch Drawing 1

 

Revised and updated with new photos and text (and drawings I found in my sewing class materials), this tutorial is now better than ever! Feel free to grab a fabric scrap and some thread and follow along.

If I had to name the single most useful hand sewing stitch I know, it would probably be the backstitch. I love it for repairs, for sewing in zippers, and for anywhere I need the control and flexibility of hand stitching with a hard-wearing stitch.

When you think of hand sewing, you probably think of running stitches, like the ones below. The needle dips into the fabric and comes up going in the same direction. You can make several running stitches on the needle before pulling the thread through, and the thread slides easily through several running stitches at once.

 

new backstitch 1

 

In a backstitch, the thread loops around itself, which makes the stitch much harder to pull out. To make one, take the needle backwards from the direction you’re stitching in, stab into the fabric, and bring the needle out at the further end of the next stitch. Then go backwards again and take the next stitch.

 

new backstitch 2

 

You can see the overlapping loops on the wrong side (backside) of the stitching. By contrast, the running stitches look the same on both sides.

 

new backstitch 3

 

If you make backstitches touching each other, from the right side (public side) it looks almost exactly like machine stitching, which makes this a great stitch for repairs and touch-ups.

 

new backstitch 4

 

You can also leave more space between small backstitches. This is sometimes called a prickstitch. It’s the stitch I use to sew zippers into just about everything, including my trousers! I love sewing zippers by hand, it gives me great control and precision, and more flexibility about when I attach them. Susan Khalje wrote an article for Threads magazine about hand-picked zippers that’s worth looking up if you’re interested, that’s what got me started doing them this way.

 

new backstitch 5

 

Because each one is almost a knot in itself, backstitches are really sturdy. The zippers I’ve sewn with them have lasted at least as long as the pants!

 

Pickstitch Drawing 1

 

Backstitches are also useful for securing your thread anywhere you don’t want to have a knot. I often use one or two to secure the beginning or end of a seam, and when I’m burying yarn ends in knitting. In the days when most garments were sewn by hand, it was common to use running stitches with a backstitch thrown in every few stitches for extra strength. (I know that from reading The Mary Frances Sewing Book, which is amazing).

Happy stitching!

 

new backstitch 6

 

 

How to Sew on a Button

And make a thread shank, for a better-working button.

 

sewing on a button 10

 

As promised, complete directions!  Anyone can do this.  All you need is some thread and a sharp needle.  Start with a piece of thread about as long your arm, and put it through the needle so you have a double length.

Start by anchoring your thread.  The conventional way to do this is by tying a knot in the end.  But sometimes a big knot on one side is too conspicuous or would catch on things.  Instead try backstitching.  A backstitch is a stitch that makes the thread loop back on itself, it’s very secure.  On the wrong side, slide the thread between the fabric layers and come up near where you want the button to be.  Pull the needle though, leaving a thread tail at the start.  Take a small backstitch.  Put the needle out nearby, then take another backstitch in the opposite direction.  The thread is ready to go!  Pop the needle up to the right side where you want the button.

 

sewing on a button 1Click on any of the photos to enlarge if you’d like.

 

The next part is pretty much self-explanatory, except for one thing.  Use a spacer to make room for a thread shank underneath the button (ignore this part if your button already has a metal shank on the back—just stitch through that).  This makes room for the fabric (where the buttonhole is) to fit underneath the button.  I often use a toothpick which I keep in my sewing stuff.  You may want a bigger or smaller spacer depending on the thickness of the fabric and how curved the button is.  Just sew over the spacer as you go in and out through the holes of the button.

 

sewing on a button 2

 

sewing on a button 4

 

Go through each part of the button a couple of times.  Pull out the spacer and pull up on the button, see how there’s now extra thread underneath?  Bring the needle up from the bottom under the button.

 

sewing on a button 5

 

sewing on a button 6

 

Wind the thread a few times around the thread bars under the needle—but not too tightly.  If you make this whole thing too tight, the sides of the holes in the button can rub and wear through the thread.  Stab the needle straight through the thread shank a couple of times from different directions.

 

sewing on a button 7

 

Secure the thread either just under the button, or on the back side with a couple more backstitches, then trim the thread tails.

 

sewing on a button 8

 

So the next time a button pops off your shirt, you don’t need to send it off to Mom or stuff it in the back of your drawer, you can fix it yourself!  Feel free to post other button questions, too …