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!

 

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Fitting Pants (Trousers) – At Last!

 

Let me just say this has been a long journey.  I’ve never had ready-to-wear pants that fit me, if they fit Ok through the thighs and seat, they’ll be ridiculously baggy around the waist, etc.

I also haven’t had a huge amount of luck making my own pants, until now that is!  I’ve definitely made pants, lots of trial ones and some real ones, but there are just so many variables that sometimes it’s been hard to tell exactly what to change for my next pair.  This pair, however, is really close, and I learned a lot along the way, mostly thanks to my internet friends.  I just feel so self-sufficient wearing these pants, it’s fantastic!  On their very first day I wore them to hang a show of Bryan’s work at a restaurant here, climbing up and down ladders and carrying things around.  Then the next day I wore them with a nicer sweater and looked totally presentable (ok, after wiping off some grime from the day before . . . )

 

 

I’ve definitely learned some sewing lessons along the road to pants that fit.  Among them:

  • It’s possible to draft a pattern from scratch from your measurements and still not like the fit.
  • If you copy a pair of pants made in a stretch fabric, do not try to convert them to a non-stretch fabric, the “fit” you like will probably disappear.
  • Using top stitching, and thick top stitching thread, really makes your pants look more professional.

For this pair, I worked from a copy of some corduroys I thrifted last fall.  I liked the fit of them pretty well through the hard-to-fit booty area, and I knew I could taper the waist to fit into a contoured waistband.  I had made one previous test version out of thin nylon for hiking, which were wearable but a bit tight.  So, my first idea, which I should have thought of a million years ago, for these was to use 1″ seam allowances all around to give me a little room to work with.  I’m totally doing this on every pair of pants I make from now on, and it turns out it’s also recommended in this genius book (more about that in a minute).

 

 

The second thing I learned on this pair is that it’s amazingly helpful to take pictures while you’re fitting.  I NEVER would have thought to do this before I had this blog, but I can’t recommend it highly enough.  You don’t have to show the pictures to anyone, but you can go back and see exactly what you’re working on, long after you’ve taken them off.

The third thing I learned was that there’s great info about fitting pants on the web!  Even though I scoured every single mention I could find in Threads magazine, again, the most useful stuff I found was on other blogs.  Thanks especially to Tasia’s post of fitting resources (her pattern would be a good place to start on pants if you’re pear shaped like me), where I linked to Sunni’s enormously helpful trouser sew-along (my pants looked remarkably like hers in the back picture here).

She also recommended the book Pants for Real People.  I had passed this book by at the library before, since none of the models are shaped like me.  But, don’t let that deter you, the illustrated fitting problems and solutions in this book are total GENIUS!  I have probably never been more happy that a book was at the library just when I needed it, and I ordered my own copy as soon as I read it.  And I quote, for full derriere,

Generally, you need to add only to the back inseam, but rarely you need to also add to the top.  Deeper, or additional, back darts may also be needed.

The back inseam?! It would have taken me at least another decade to figure that out on my own.  Check out my pants on the left above, then I let out the back inseam for the middle picture.  On the right, I used another tip from Pants for Real People, taking out my dart and making it deeper, and taking out part of the waistband so that I could pull up the back to get rid of those wrinkles at the hip.

Maybe I could let out the inseam a little more in the back, but I ran out of fabric to try it, even with my extra seam allowance.  Next time!

 

 

These pants are supremely comfortable in any position except sitting straight in a chair, when it feels just slightly like I’m being cut in half.  I have a couple of tweaks in mind for the next pair, but let me be clear: I am 100% OK with these pants not being 100% perfect.  In fact I’m thrilled that both:

  1. I MADE the best fitting pants I’ve ever had, and
  2. The next pair will be even better!

I have been frustrated along the way by making lots of test pants in muslin which I don’t wear around much, so it’s hard to figure out how they really fit, and I knew I was close enough this time with my copy that I’d end up with something wearable, so I went for “real” fabric.  I also like this approach because it lets me see how a more substantial fabric will behave, and because as I wear the finished pants in real life, I get a much better idea of how they work and what I’d like to improve.

 

 

Just a couple of construction notes: I used a rayon ribbon to bind the bottom of the waistband, which I quite like, although next time I’ll try to get it closer to the bottom waistband seam so that it doesn’t flip up.  I debated whether this was too much top stitching, but on the pants when worn it doesn’t stand out much at all.  This is my third try at a vintage button, the first two did not survive a trip through the washer, by which I learned that if a button looks crumbly, it probably is, and if it snaps in half like a fortune cookie in your fingers, well, it wasn’t going to stand up to much.

Ready to tackle DIY pants?  I’d say there’s a lot of great resources out there, go for it!  I’ll mention one more pattern which could be a good starting place, Juniper from Collette, which just came out, with a similar shape to these.
Whatever you’re making, I hope it’s giving you that “I could conquer the world with this” feeling!

 

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?

Wire Turns Fabric Tubes!

The other day I was making fabric straps, and the time came to turn them right side out.  I never bought one of those proprietary tube-turning things, and I don’t do this very often, so usually I just tie the seam ends to a blunt needle and slide it through the tube bit by bit.  It’s kind of a pain but it usually works.  However, on this day my studio was somehow completely devoid of blunt needles.  I don’t know where they went, but I suspect karma is involved, since I always tell even my knitting students to buy sharp ones for burying ends.  I tried it with a sharp one, but that was clearly the wrong idea, of course the needle point kept piercing the inside of the tube.

After stewing it around in my brain for a while, I remembered that I had some millinery wire left over from another project.  I twisted one end into a loop, tied the thread ends to it, and pulled it through – viola!  Then I tried it with beading wire, which is much thinner and more flexible, but also worked just fine.

This is why we invented pliers, so you can make a loop smaller than your finger.  You may need to squash the loop flatter with the pliers to get it to be narrow enough to go through your tube.

Twist the wire around itself – it’s more secure if you twist both the end and the main wire around each other, not just one around the other.

Cover the pokey wire end with some tape to keep it from catching on the fabric  – I used artist’s tape, electrical tape or painter’s tape should also work, duct tape is too gooey.

Ok!  Slide your new wire tube turner inside your tube.  Take the ends left from sewing the seam and tie them securely around the wire loop.  If your knot is not secure it may pull out part way through the turning process – terrible!  I pushed two thread ends through the loop one way, and two through the other way, and tied them in several square knots on top of the loop.

Pull the wire into the fabric tube, and the tube should start to turn inside itself.  Sometimes it’s a bit hard to get it started, you can try using your finger nails to pull the scrunched up fabric over the end.

General tube turning tips:  Don’t get so much fabric bunched up right where the tube is turning that it gets packed in and won’t turn.  If you get stuck, back the bunched up fabric away from the end and try moving a smaller amount through the turn.  Pull on the wire threader and the turning point, stretching a bit can help.  Once you get going, pull on the fabric end inside the tube instead of the wire, so there’s no danger of the thread breaking.

It’s much easier if you have a slippery fabric!  Mine at the moment is two layers of cotton, not slippery at ALL, but it still worked without too much fuss.  I wanted my straps to be as thin as possible, the limit with this fabric was a 1/4″ seam.  With a slipperier fabric smaller could work, keep in mind though that you have to have enough seam allowance so that your finished tube won’t unravel, and that seam allowance has to fit inside the finished tube!  I zigzaged over my SA since I absolutely do not want to take my dress apart later due to straps coming apart.

What am I making with these tubes anyway? A sundress!  I took this picture on Sunday during our giant spring snowstorm, which is now melting like crazy.  Whatever the weather says, it’s time for spring/summer sewing!  I used the fabric tubes for the straps, and also button loops at the top.  I’m glad to have my new wire turner, I can make some more straps for tops and dresses for the upcoming season.

Here is my sketch of the finished sundress.  I haven’t decided whether to do the big patch pockets or not.

What do you think?  What are you making now?

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