Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pressing equipment

They say, with good reason, that when sewing you should spend almost as much time at the ironing board as at the sewing machine.  A garment whose seams, darts and edges have not been properly pressed just screams "homemade", and not in a good way.

So I thought I'd show you my pressing equipment.

Until about 10 years ago I sewed with the help of what I thought was a pretty good iron - a T-fal.  Since acquiring my first "serious" iron, a steam generator, however, I've never looked back. Having a great iron and learning how to use it, and some specialized pressing equipment, kicked my sewing up to a higher level. 

Pictured to the right is my Euro Pro steam generator iron.  This iron is no longer made.  Other brands now available include Reliable, Rowenta, and DeLonghi.  There are probably lots more.  I paid about $300 for my Euro Pro and it's about 5 years old.

The downside of a steam generator is that it takes longer to get to full heat, and it draws a lot of power.  This is because you are heating the water in the tank, as well as the sole plate of the iron.  Once it's up to full heat, you have unlimited steam until the tank is empty.  Unlike a household iron, the iron does not steam when you hold it horizontal; rather it steams when you press the button at the front end of the handle.  On my Euro Pro you can lock the steam button down, but I always found it better to press the button only when I needed the steam.

I had an ironing crisis one day about a year ago when the Euro Pro would not turn on - it needed a new switch.  In the meantime, I needed an iron!  I headed to Cornwall, Ontario, to Giroux Sewing Centre, after realizing they could fix my iron, and that they sold gravity feeds.

I bought a Consew Silver Star ES-300 which is now my sewing room workhorse.  My Euro Pro is relegated to back-up.  The gravity feed system relies on the flow of water from a plastic bottle to the hot iron.  It is a lot heavier than the iron part of the steam generator, about 5lbs. It heats up as quickly as a standard household iron. 

I love the shape of it - low and sleek.  The button on the handle is the steam control. 
 Here you can see how I've attached a hook to keep the tubing which carries the water and the cord out of the way. 

Unlike the steam generator, the gravity feed iron produces steam when the water hits the heated sole plate. They say the steam from the steam generator is drier than the steam produced by the gravity feed.  I'm not sure I notice.  What I do notice is that because cool water is hitting the hot sole plate, my gravity feed cannot steam continuously the way the steam generator can. But that's OK - I like my steam in short bursts anyway.

These irons only have a few holes for the steam, near the iron's point.  This is not a problem - you give it a burst of steam, and then use the dry iron to flatten the fibres.

A final point about my iron - it came with a teflon sole plate and I use it all the time.

Now for the ironing board - I have a Reliable C81 Vacuum & Up Air ironing board. This expensive item is an extremely sturdy board with a built in heating element and a fan.  The fan can run in 2 directions - down, which pulls the steam through the fabric and cools the piece quickly, or up, which creates a cushion of air you can iron delicate fabrics on. I'm not 100% sure why it has a heating element (to ensure all the steam drawn down inside evaporates, perhaps?) but the fan is great for tailoring or sewing with wool. 

Next up are my pressing tools.

I have a good selection of wooden pressing tools which you can see in the next picture.

At upper left is my Dritz point presser and clapper (they call it a "pounding block").  At upper right is my tailor board (made by my husband).  In the middle is an antique mallet of some kind which can double as a really menacing clapper, and in front is a wood seam stick. 

One uses wood because it gives a very hard and flat surface for flattening seams - the clapper is for convincing the wool to STAY flat!
Of these tools, the most-used is my tailor board.  Here is is with its straight side up.  Both sides have a point presser.  These are great for pressing open the seam attaching the facing to the jacket front and lapels, or the upper and under collar.  The narrow wood edges are easy to get into fairly confined spaces.

I also use the seam stick a fair bit - it's essentially a dowel with a flat side so it doesn't roll around.  Pressing a long straight seam open against the seam stick avoids any risk of the seam allowances imprinting on the garment, since the curved edge means that if you press on the stitching line, there is essentially no pressure between the iron and the seam anywhere else.

Then there are the hams.  These are all commercially-made.  The long sleeve roll to the left is very good for inside any tubular item - sleeves and pants.  It does the same kind of job as the seam stick but is softer.

The standard shaped ham is very good for pressing open seams with a curve, such as at the hip, or for darts.  It basically gives you a curved ironing board so you don't flatten the shape that has been stitched into the garment.

The PresMit is much softer.  You slide your hand into the pocket (you can see the edge of it below the label), and then you can place your padded hand right inside a garment (i.e. inside the shoulder) and press against your hand, without burning yourself.  I inherited this specimen from my sewing grandmother, along with her Featherweight and a few other choice items.

You can also make your own pressing hams.  I made the strangely-shaped one pictured here.  I wish I could remember where I found the pattern - perhaps in an old issue of Threads?  The idea of this one is that it has a number of different curves, and you can even use it to press open a fish-eye dart since the curves of the ham (sort of) have a waist indent.  I made this so long ago I cannot remember if it is a double-layer casing, but I suspect it is since it hasn't lost any stuffing.  On the subject of stuffing, I used sawdust, and could have used more - it's a little on the soft side. 

Finally in this picture, you can see two tools for pressing velvet (not that I've actually made a velvet garment) - a velvet board approximately 4"x8" (10x20cm) and a generous piece of mohair velvet upholstery fabric.  I picked up the velvet board at the Fabric Flea Market which is why it's so full of lint - I guess its previous owner made a ton of items from cotton velveteen in all colours.

And then the silk organza press cloth - I just cut off a generous rectangle and serged the edges.  It's terrific because you can see through it.  

If I ever make any progress on my actual sewing, I'll show these in action. In the meantime if you have questions, post them in the comments.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Vintage 1950s Ceil Chapman party dress

Nope, I did not make this!  My friend with the unerring eye for vintage quality, picked it up somewhere.  Because I was expressing interest in boning, she suggested I have a look at this vintage dress.  Naturally, I had to try it on, and it fits!!  Actually, it fits like it was Made. For. Me.  Smashing!

Details of note:

The dress is made of flowered silk and lined (bodice to hip) with (I think) acetate.  The fitted midriff is boned at side front and side back seams.  The boning perfectly supports the draped upper bodice in its off-the-shoulder style.

The drape is cut on the bias and tacked by hand to the lining at front and back.

There is a line of tiny perfect piping below the bust drape, and another one at the waistline.

The waist dips in the back as you can see in this next picture of the side of the dress.  There is a metal zip in the left side seam, and it has pockets!

Here's a picture of the inside front bodice.  Seams are pinked, and the waist and under-bust seams are finished with rayon seam binding.  The upper edge of the lining is finished with a bias strip facing, which is hand-sewn to the lining.

The horizontal tuck just below the upper edge, at CF, is key to the close fit in the bodice of the dress.  It totally hugs the body, no gapping at all.

The draped tucks of the bodice are hand-tacked to the lining near CF and CB.

The skirt is full circle (side seams only) and it is stiffened with horrible antique Pellon.  As you can see in this picture, the underlining is lining fabric to the hip level to ensure it falls gracefully below the waist seam, then the Pellon. 
According to, Ceil Chapman " is often said to be Marilyn Monroe’s favourite designer and although this may be rather a sweeping statement the star did indeed wear some Chapman designs as did a variety of other stars such as Deborah Kerr, who was a personal friend, Elizabeth Taylor for whom she designed a wedding dress and Mamie van Doren, who chose a white, beaded, strapless Chapman gown to attend a film premier on behalf of Universal Studios publicity machine that was ‘marketing' her as a star.

Ceil designed for the movies and television and specialised in cocktail and more formal evening wear."

Oops - DIGS reminded me of a critical bit of info - the skirt is indeed below-the-knee length.  It measures 44" (approx) from the back neck point (112cm).  Here's a not great full-length picture.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

High Waisted Skirt - in progress

I'm in the midst of auditioning two different Burda Magazine patterns for my next project, a high-waisted black wool crepe skirt.  One of them is in the current February, 2010 edition (skirt 124) and the other is from a year ago - the same edition (January, 2009) that my orange plaid jacket came from - skirt 112. So far I'm liking the older pattern better.

Before I go on, a word about Burda.  I am really irritated that they are seriously mucking up their on-line magazine archive.  At least it still exists in accessible form in English, although who knows for how long.  The German version has gone all to H**L as a result of being "updated" or "improved".  I don't know how they would explain it, since they didn't respond to my e-mail asking about it and pointing out some of the problems with their new site.  For a while, they had two images for most patterns - the artsy posed version from the magazine, and a plain, mannequin shot from straight on so you could actually see the detail in the garment.  They also consistently had technical drawings for all sewn garments.  About a year ago they cut out the mannequin shots and now I notice that the February, 2010 pages omit any link to the technical drawings.  And it's no longer up to date.  The January, 2010 edition is lost in some sort of internet limbo.  Honestly! 

Rant over.

Anyhow, quite a few years ago I had a high waisted skirt pattern that I made over and over.  It was from long-defunct Vogue 2518, a "career wardrobe" pattern that I believe was a cheaper knock off of a then-current designer pattern (Anne Klein I think). 

As you can see from the line drawing, the straight skirt has a high waist coupled with 2 front pleats that the side pockets tuck into.  Back when I was using this 1990 pattern I was a bit trimmer than I am now and sadly, it would no longer fit.  But now that higher waists have been seen often enough that they no longer look odd, I am really hankering after a new version to replace my old TNT pattern. 

With that very long-winded intro, here's my muslin version of the waistband of 2009-01-112:

I left it open at the front for ease of use while fitting.  I traced a 38 which is my waist size, but had to let it out at the lower edge, and take it in at the upper edge (I guess I have a really small ribcage). 

I'm going to morph this waist onto the skirt pattern I developed using PatternMaster Boutique (PMB).  I've already made this pattern in at least 4 different versions and it will lend itself to this waistband very well, since the PMB skirt has princess seams.  Here's a pic of one version of the pattern.

This skirt had only side front and side back seams - the princess seaming and a deep side dart took care of my low curves. 

Here it is in action - the fit is the best I have ever achieved (which is why I've used this base over and over and over).

This particular version was long but for my current project I'm shortening to knee length and pegging the hem slightly. 

So here's my question for all you gurus out there.  Since the waistband on my skirt-in-progress is high, should I bone it to keep the high waist from collapsing?  I have some spiral steel boning (4" length) which I bought for a song at Dressew when last in Vancouver.  The seams in the waistband are longer than 4" but I thought perhaps I could make channels that end 4" down from the top of the waistband.  I would use an inner layer made of something substantial so the channels won't be seen on the outside.  What do you think of that idea?  If I do it, should I place the boning at the side-front and side-back seams or at the actual side seams?  The Sewing Lawyer is a bit embarrassed to confess that she has never ever sewn a garment with boning in it before and this seems like a possibly-good experiment.  If it won't work or you know of a fail-proof trick for making it work, please speak up!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

F - I - N - A - L - L - Y! Orange Plaid

Guess what I'll be wearing to work tomorrow?  Fresh from its photo shoot, I present to you my orange plaid jacket.

To recap, this is pattern #114 from the January, 2009 issue of Burda World of Fashion, as it was then still known.  It has taken an indecent length of time to complete this project but I have several reasons to be pleased, nonetheless.  First, it is a smashing success following a crushing failure, the likes of which had not afflicted The Sewing Lawyer for a very long time.  Second, it's such a sweet little jacket pattern, all curvy and quirky.  Finally, it's such a determinedly cheerful colour!  I've been saving this orange plaid for a few years for just such an outing.

Without further ado, here are some more pictures:

First, those sleeves - a round of applause please!  They match pretty well at the armscye, if I do say so myself!

The lapels are slightly chaotic, but that's to be expected. I just did not have enough fabric to do more than make the bias bands on the lapels symmetrical.  

To ensure the front bands were the same width throughout, I basted a line of stitching at precisely the right width and then sewed the facing to that line, ignoring the fact that the cut edge seam allowances were quite uneven. 

My new label!  In this photo you can also see the inside of the bound buttonhole.  I made a rectangular opening in the facing using 1mm stitches and a small square of silk organza, then invisibly hand-sewed the opening to the back of the buttonhole.

Oh, and check out the orange/blue silk I used for lining the body of the jacket.  Here's another shot of the lining.

I used orange bemberg to line the sleeves though.  It's slipperier.  I hand-stitched the sleeve lining at the armscye. 

What do you think of these cute buttons?  They are vintage plastic, purchased them from my favorite local purveyor, Micheline Gravel.  Micheline is a fabulous resource and her button basement is UNBELIEVABLE.  We had an international button convention in Ottawa, thanks in part to her, in 2008. 

I built shaping into the shoulders and sleeve caps of this jacket.  First, I eased the sleeves using a bias strip of fairly sproingy wool (similar to the interfacing used in men's ties).  The strip should be long enough when stretched to go from the front notch to the back notch (or in Burda's case to wherever the easing should stop, since they only give you the front notch).  Pin it at the top of the cap and then sew just inside the seam line, stretching the strip like mad.  When you have finished doing this, it will look like so:

Amazing - no ease stitching is required.  
Then, I cut a sleeve head using the sleeve cap pattern, out of some kind of needle punch polyester fleece (cheap quilt batting?).  I am sorry not to be able to supply a brand name.  Maybe you can figure out what it is by these photos.

Some of you may use store-bought sleeve heads.  My question is ... why?  Using the jacket's own sleeve pattern produces a perfect-fitting sleeve head that won't ripple inside the cap.  I hand-sew it just inside the seam line to the sleeve after it has been set into the jacket.  The seam allowance folds inside to provide a little extra soft lift at the sleeve cap. 

I also made a back/shoulder/chest padding layer out of the same fleece.  Here you see my pattern development.  I've superimposed the back and front pieces at the shoulder seam and the fleece pattern is traced over this.  It hugs the back of the neck and is cut to end at the armscye seam. 

This acts like a very thin shoulder pad.  The pattern called for shoulder pads and I was prepared to add extra layers of fleece cut in the more standard shoulder pad shape, but found it unnecessary.  It isn't bulky but it prevents my bony shoulders from poking up through the jacket.  It makes the jacket more substantial and luxurious, somehow.

Here is the padding from the front.  As you can see I have hand sewed it along the armscye.  I did the same at the neck edge. 

Notice that the front is fully interfaced with a weft insertion fusible. 

And from the back.  There's no interfacing in the back except at the neck and armscye edges, as instructed by Burda. 

Here's the side view of all the fleecy padding.  In the sleeve cap, notice the bias cut fusible interfacing.  Then the bias-cut wool I used to ease the cap.  Then the fleece sleeve head.  Finally, on top, the single layer shoulder pad.

And finally, some more photos of me wearing it. 

Here's my last plaid-matching observation.  I cut the bias strips for collar and lower back bands to have a centred dominant plaid element.  They can't match because the plaid is not perfectly square.  But they are GOOD ENOUGH!

On to my next project - a black wool crepe high-waisted pencil skirt to wear with my cheery jacket.  Can you believe that The Sewing Lawyer does not already own such a skirt?