Saturday, December 20, 2014

Learn to Sew: Cutting Line accuracy

I've worked with many a beginning seamstress. Some are naturally meticulous (and can go overboard, even for me!) and others are...well, a bit sloppy. Not because they want to be, but because they don't know. When I start a project, 75% of the time goes to the prep work - pressing the fabric and pattern, checking and correcting any problems with the grain, meticulously arranging a double layer of fabric so that both layers are on grain and perfectly straight, and then carefully measuring each piece in the layout. With all this care that goes into the prep for layout, it makes sense that just as much care would go into the cutting. In terms of fit, assembly, garment hang/quality, and cost - cutting is the most important task there is, and in the industry, the cutters job is given only to the highly qualified.

Here is the pattern piece we will be working with. I use a mechanical pencil when creating my patterns so that the line is as thin and precise as it can be. I cut on the outside of this line leaving no paper margin, but yet the pencil line remains.The goal is to create an exact fabric replica of the paper.

In this photo example above, I cut the top and a beginning seamstress cut out the bottom. Do you need to ask yourself which side best matches the shape of the pattern? Just in case...

Both top and bottom should look like this example with smooth edges and crisp sharp corners.
Beginners should:
  • Use a sufficient amount of pins to keep all layers firmly together. 
  • Aim carefully using long strokes with sharp scissors. use short strokes for curves.
  • Don't lift your fabric up- keep it level with the table as much as possible
  • Cut in the same "groove" as the cut before it.
  • Ideally, move your body, not the fabric to get a better cutting angle. 
  • If you must move the fabric, cut around the pinned pattern piece leaving a fabric margin, then turn the piece to cut the margin away. 
Why is this important? Because our seam line is determined by the cutting line. If we take care at this stage in the game, everything else is smooth sailing.

Want to get away from meticulous cutting? Mark all of your SEAM LINES with dressmakers carbon. Then your cutting line can be as sloppy as you please and no one will ever know!

Now that you are no longer a beginner, you may want to get adventurous and explore some of my other tutorials. If you have a pattern that just doesn't quite fit, try Pattern Sizing Tutorial Part 1: Small to Large or Pattern Sizing Tutorial Part 2: Large to Small

Happy Sewing!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sewing Indie with Craftsy: Flirty Meets Sassy, part I

This tutorial was first written for Indie Pattern Month, as I was assigned to write a blog for Christine Haynes. Since we are both Craftsy teachers, it seemed appropriate to apply a related topic.



...I thought it appropriate that my tutorial for Sewing Indie should focus on our Craftsy Class projects. Pairing Flirty with Sassy makes for one adorable outfit, perfect for spring! So here we go with Sewing Indie with Craftsy: Flirty Meets Sassy Part I

Via this tutorial, Miss Sassy has become a jacket, perfect for warding off cooler weather, or a room with too much air conditioning!

This jacket adds some great color to match the dress trim in a fabulous vintage silhouette.
Miss Flirty, also known as Tia #1312, got a make over too! Adapting the trim to mirror the collar and incorporating rows of tucks down the front with a couple of cute covered buttons is perfect!
I've even included some cross tucking on the pocket just for fun.  To get all the details on how to take on the Tia dress adaptations, head over to my blog at It's Sew Chic, but stay right here for the Librarian Blouse make over.

Turning your Blouse into a light weight jacket is really easy, and only requires a few pattern changes. I always start with the top at the front and make my way down the pattern. Always mark on your pattern the changes you made from the original to guide you if ever come back to this pattern and wonder what you did!

Transferring the new neck line to pattern front

Because I knew the neck would be too high for my liking, using the pattern front without the tucks, I lowered the neck at center front by 1/2"redrawing a new line from the shoulder. (I used that pattern to keep all those tucks from getting in my way.) With the tucks closed, I transferred that new line to the view with the tucks.

Cutting this one into a short jacket
Using my bust point as a guide for length, I decide to cut off  7 7/8" from the bottom of the pattern. I am using my grid to draw a cut line perpendicular to the grain line. Draw a line 1" above for your hem mark.

Matching the side seams, front to back
  Mark your back pattern in the same manner, and then close the side dart and check to make sure that your side seams will match up.

Cut the pattern
  Now it's safe to cut away the extra.

Add additional to the collar

 Because I lowered the neckline, I know I'll have to add some additional to the collar pattern. To know how much, I have to walk the collar to the back and front pattern pieces. I had to add 3/8", and if you lower your neck the same amount that measurement will be the same for you also. Size will not matter.

Add length to the sleeve
Next, I added 8 3/8" to the bottom of the sleeve, which also includes 1" for the hem. You may need more or less length depending on your arm.

Copy these changes to the facing
Be sure to make the same changes to your facing piece. Lay your pattern right on top matching the edges and trace those off.

The facing now matches
Trimming away some of that neck front left that edge a little bit sparse, so I reshaped that curve on my facing. If you wanted to line your jacket, you can cut a lining from the front without the tucks, but you'll still need to use this piece to cut an interfacing. 

Now that your pattern is ready to cut out, let me share with you a few tips to get those tucks perfectly aligned and sewn without measuring.

Clip into the fabric
 Following the pattern markings, clip into the fabric at the top and bottom of each column. You can clip both, but the fold line is the one you need to keep track of.  

Press the fabric
 Holding your fabric at these ends, fold the fabric in half along these clips. The grain will help you line these up perfectly. Press each fold line before ever sewing a stitch.

Set your guide
Put your pattern under the sewing machine and put the needle down into the stitching line. Using a guide, set the distance to match the fold perfectly. Tape is a poor man's substitute, but these guides work better than the bumper rails at the bowling alley!

Thanks for joining me in this Flirty Meets Sassy tutorial! If you have questions you can find me on Facebook,and Twitter: @sewchicpatterns. Now head on over to part II

Monday, October 20, 2014

How to Shorten a Sewing Pattern

I've had a few questions lately about how to shorten (or lengthen) a pattern, and more specifically, what to do if there is no line with instruction to "Lengthen or Shorten Here."
Where to shorten may vary for your figure, but these are the most common locations to shorten or lengthen a pattern:
BODICE: below the bust in the midriff (tummy) area.
LONG SLEEVE: either or both above or below the elbow, depending on where your elbow is. If the pattern does not have an elbow dart, then pick any place close to the middle.
PANTS: at the crotch, and either or both above and below the knee, or in the middle depending on the pant style.
SKIRTS: any place below the hip

This tutorial deals specifically with how to shorten a bodice pattern using the Tia Dress, #LN1312, but the same methods and rules apply for shortening the length of a pattern in any and all locations, standard or not.
 There is no limit to the amount you can lengthen a pattern, but with short people, it's a bit more limiting. A pattern with seams across the body cannot be shortened more than the length of the midriff. Take away the seam allowance and we have 4" left to work with.  3" is about as much as can be taken away and still have a midriff left to sew!
How much to shorten? Take a look at the pattern back waist measurement. I'm using a size 2 for my example, which is made for a person that is 15 1/2" from base of neck to the waist. If you are taller or shorter than the measurement noted for your size, then you'll need to alter the pattern for length in the bodice.

Now you might ask- what is a backwaist??? The backwaist is a sewing term used to mean the  measurement of the space from the neck to your waist. You'll be looking for that prominent vertebra at the base of your neck that sticks out just a little more than the others. Your waist is an anatomical space between your rib cage and pelvic bones where your body bends in half to pick something up. Yeah, we'd like to think it's the smallest part of our torso or we could pretend it's three fingers above the belly button, but that doesn't make it truth! If you have a hard time finding these two places, put on a chain necklace that has some weight to the front and a tightly cinched narrow belt. Feel around for that gap between those bones, and it may help to bend around a bit to check that the belt is settled into the right spot. Measure to the bottom of the belt. It's better to be too long than too short!

Now, if you'll turn to page 6 in your instruction booklet and work along with me, here is the LONG version of what it says there ...

 So now we are ready to make our very own "lengthen or shorten here" line.   This line must be squared up with, perpendicular, or at right angles to the grain line. When the grain matches Center Front or Center Back, then we use that line for reference instead. I'm using my trusty grid ruler of course, and with my pink highlighter, I'm going to draw my line about 1 1/2" away from the bottom. This avoids the seam allowance and I still have room to fold up and take away length.
 I'll do the same with the back pattern piece. We want our lines to be in similar locations to each other. You can write a "length or shorten here" note to yourself if you like.

I'm thinking I'll be making this dress for a pre-teen who has not quite reached adult height and has a backwaist of 14 inches, so using a bit of math and the chart above, I need to take away 1 1/2 inches. I'll now make a parallel line 1 1/2 inches away from the first line.
 Now comes the tricky part! Just to make a crease, I've folded my pattern back and under along the first line.
Bringing that first line up to meet the second line, I pressed it flat in place. That excess length is now folded to the back and out of the way.
 Do that to both pattern pieces.  Now pin or tape it in place. With tape, time will more or less ruin your paper pattern, but if you aren't worried about longevity, tape is nice and secure.

See the black arrow pointing to a nasty jog? Our dart wouldn't come out very well if we tried to sew it like that! We need to take care of the "jogs" we've created with our alteration. The next step is to straighten or true all of these jogs by using a ruler to draw new lines using the same end points we had before.
That dart looks so much better!
Now do the same thing with the side seams. It's best to leave paper around your pattern until after all alterations are done, but if you've trimmed yours away already, don't dispair! Tape more paper to the sides and then straighten up that line.

If your pattern has more parts to the bodice, you'll use these same steps for all pieces around the midriff. Choose a location where there is relatively no fussy lines or decoration to deal with. Choose a location below the bust. Shorten above the bust if your bust point is high in relation to the pattern. Measuring is the only way to know the difference.

Now that you know how to lengthen or shorten, you may be interested in taking on a bigger project. Try one of my Pattern Resizing tutorials: Part 1: Small to Large or Part 2: Large to Small.

Happy Sewing!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

New Sew Chic free HAT

To celebrate 1000 Facebook "likes" I wanted to share the love and to do something special for you. My requirements were:
  • NO COST: something free and available to everyone everywhere
  • DOWNLOADABLE: Small enough to fit on a few pages
  • EASY TO MAKE: something a beginner could do, so more instruction is included.
  • OPEN TO CREATIVITY: Lend's itself to embellishment.
  • UNIQUE: Something you won't see everyday!
  • USEFUL: I love hats, and wear them often on dress up days. Many of you said you like them as well.
Inspired by the stylishness of Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" I designed this hat to go with the Phantom Pattern photo shoot several years ago, so I thought- why not make that into a PDF?


And, it's on the first page of 171 PDF hat sewing patterns available on 

Happy Hat Day!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sewing Mistakes and Seam Line Accuracy

Which is more important: Fit or Quality? Personally, I like both, but if I can only choose one- fit gets my vote every time. When you and I choose a size from the back of the envelope, we trust that it will fit those measurements reasonably well.  

Getting the intended fit also depends upon our ability to cut the pattern with accuracy. The goal is to to have the fabric to match the paper shape as exact as is possibly. With multi- sized patterns, lines go this way and that and it's easy to get tangled up in them.  I promise, checking the size marks and using a highlighter to carefully follow the cut line before it ever touches fabric or scissors can really  avoid trouble, but I know you get in a hurry like I do and this ONE time you decide to take a short cut... and then cut along the wrong size line.
Since we use the cut line to find the sewing line, we've got a problem. See that solid line (our cut line type) to the right along the pencil points? Yup, that's the one. The numbers at the end indicate the progression in size...and we are now shy about 1/4", and that's 1/2" we've just shaved off our waist and hip. Not only that, but it won't properly fit together with the other pattern pieces either. Luckily, we still  have a little bit of seam allowance to work with.
With fabrics wrong sides together, put two pieces of dressmakers carbon, color side to fabric, between your pieces along that wavering line.
Use a ruler or a gauge to mark the sewing line with a tracing wheel 5/8" to the inside of the cut line.
 Yup! The line tapers a little, but I have about 3/8" left right here.

Now I need to match that mark to the seam line of the corresponding pattern piece and I'm ready to sew along that mark. Whew! So glad I caught that now because I know how much trouble it will save me down the road. AND I know I'm going to like the fit.! Happy Sewing!

Friday, August 8, 2014

HOW TO: Sewing for Competition

I thought it a good time to follow up my sewing for competition series with a final post about how to prepare for, and plan a project that will be judged. I began my career in design by sewing for competition, and having also helped judge, I can speak from experience on both sides of the table.

It can be really fun and rewarding to sew for completion, and there bounteous prizes out there ready for the taking, but you should plan your project thoughtfully in order to bring home the booty. Here some of the things to consider:

Meet and Exceed the Requirements

When learning about a competition, the first thing we do is assess the rules, requirements and deadlines. Very quickly we must decide if we can meet the deadline, have the tools or materials, the means, and ability to meet the minimum requirements. The competition rules will ask us to DO something such as use a certain fabric, theme, or pattern, but this is only the minimum requirement.  Meeting the rule minimums will very often get you in the door, but if winning is the goal, then you must employ every way you can think of to go beyond this mark. Don't just meet the requirements- exceed them. 
I was not particularly competitive when I began sewing for competition, as I was just excited to be accepted and to see my designs on professional models and on the runway. I learned a lot by watching others, reviewing what they were doing, seeing the winning designs and trying to better myself. It wasn't too long before I decided I was in it to win it!

Originality Counts 

You are in this to impress someone! I believe we call it the WOW factor. Get ideas from where ever you can, but in this realm, originality counts. If we've seen it too many times, or it looks like something everyone else is doing then you might want to experiment a bit more. Everyone loves a new idea, new technique, or an unfamiliar silhouette. Take the time to come up with an unusual twist like using an old idea in a new way.  Sewing for competition is a license to be clever!
This bias dress was designed specifically for an ITAA competition, draping to fit the body in geometric shapes I used insets and godets throughout, and large swaths of cloth, piecing where ever necessary. The beaded accents have a purpose, as the sleeves are filled with layers of net, all held in place with beads to help keep its shape.

Keep the Judges, Competition, and Audience in Mind

In choosing your project, think about who the people or group or audience is that will be judging your garment. What might be the goal of the competition, or the sponsors? What can you make that will best represent this sponsor in meeting their purpose? Are they selling a product? Are they interested in unique or technical design? Are they looking to encourage the young, mature, or art and design oriented? Will your garment be judged by many or a few people? Take all of these things into consideration and try to get inside the mind of your audience.

One competition required that I submit photos of three different designs to show my capability. Once accepted, I could model only ONE of the submitted designs. I sent a survey to all my friends and family, then made arrangements with a model to wear the gown with the most votes. I had this feeling that my judges/audience would be a sophisticated group, and that this dress my friends had picked would be the wrong one to show. At the last minute I changed my plan and showed a cocktail style instead. Taking home the title that day helped me know that being mindful of the audience is key.

Provide a Top Notch Presentation

Most rules will ask for a minimum of one or two photos as an initial round of judging. Provide your judges with the best possible photos to avoid being eliminated in this earliest phase!  If not specifically prohibited, ALWAYS provide a minimum of three photos- front, back, and a detail. Provide others only if it's relevant and necessary to show the fabric, design, or quality of workmanship. Don't overwhelm judges either. Some competitions will require professional photography, and serious competitors will definitely be paying for photos. If this is your first time, be aware that not all photographers know how to shoot clothing appropriately. Ask around for referrals, and ask the photographer for a quick practice run. If photographing DIY, always shoot in natural, but not direct light, high resolution without a flash. Give your garment a back drop using a bed sheet in gray if you have it- cream (white is usually too harsh- avoid it if you can) or some other complimentary (to the garment) pale color can work also. Thumb tack it to the side of your house to block out distracting lines and scenery. One back drop color from top to bottom, and under the garment is great. A hanger is not the best presentation. Put your garment on a dress form or on a body to show the shape. Cropping outlying areas and heads are just fine.  If your photos are in focus and high quality, three will be enough to convince the judges that your garment is worthy of a second look!
Showing your workmanship with a plain background in a beautiful and artful way will definitely catch the eye of your judges.

Give it your Best Workmanship

Now that you've planned your project in a purposeful way; it's designed to meet the needs of your competition sponsors, and you've reeled them in with the best photos possible, this is where the rubber hits the pavement. IF this is a photos only competition, then workmanship isn't going to be the biggest factor because no one can see your workmanship. If this is a garment-in-hand competition, your workmanship should be as flawless as you can get it. No raw edges. No sloppy hand stitching. No shortcuts. Add in linings, structure, seam finishes, and high quality garment details to give your garment that something special. Keep in mind your skill level when choosing an embellishment. Hand painting with dye is going to win over stencil and paint, and embroidery is generally the better option compared to fabric markers, but I can make no rules here. I have seen some marvelous things happen with nothing but a sharpie!  Suffice it to say that if your workmanship is beyond average, it will set your garment at least equal to, if not above, anyone else in the competition. It's the workmanship that will ultimately get you across the finish line.

Does this mean that you must sew couture or give up? No. BUT if your competitors are sewing couture, and you did not....well, I think you get the picture.

What are you making for competition? Send us links!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Sewing for Competiton: Kathy Knapp

Today will be my last post about the IPCA PLARS competitors,  the "People's Choice" winner by Facebook "likes" Kathy Knapp. Kathy's entry went on to compete against other IPCA member companies, coming in second. Kathy received $100 in product from my company, and as 2nd place grand prize winner, she took home a brand new fabulous iron from the Reliable company too.

Like Eve Kovaks, whom I posted about last week, Kathy has sewn for. and won many, many competitions. But unlike Eve, who employs a versatile range in competition styles, Kathy stays with a consistent method that identifies her work where ever she goes. Some of her other garments for competition are below:

 And a close up of that jacket shows how she sculptures and highly embellishes the fabric: 

Here is what Kathy had to say about her PLARS entry:

"As a collector of vintage clothing and accessories, I wanted to enter the challenge to try to put my own spin a vintage dress.  My aesthetic as a wearable art designer is to elevate traditional quilting techniques to a high art form.  As a rule I study historical garments and use them as a starting point to transform these ideas into a more wearable product with a modern edge.  I generally like to create structured pieces as a rule; the challenge pushed me beyond my limits to create a flowing garment. 
My inspiration in this case came from enjoyment of the vintage inspired garments worn by Katy Perry and the attention to detail in her early music videos.   The resulting “Party Dress” would be appropriate for the various music award after parties.
As an artist, I love to create intricate surface designs using unusual and vintage embellishments, if possible.  Beaded yo-yos and jewelry making beads along with accent pieces obtained from recycled costume jewelry; all hand sewn onto a quilted background comprise the surface design.  The bodice of the dress is constructed using free-motion quilting, boning, hand beading and non-traditional quilting of raw edge two inch squares.  The oval accent piece on the back uses hand applique.  Hand beaded and crystalized covered buttons are used as an unique closure.  A rare vintage French trim serves as a border on several pieces.  I used Hoffman fabrics of California for the dress purchased from Hancock’s of  Jewelry end cap beads can be purchased from Fire Mountain as they have a huge selection.  Look in your unused jewelry box or even thrift stores for elements which can add that extra twist to your design.
I encourage others to try and go out of their comfort zones of creativity – you may be amazed at the results!"

Kathy's entry as shown below shows the exquisite interior workmanship too:

Stay tuned! Next week I'm going to talk about how to plan for, sew for, and present your garment when Sewing for Competition.