Sunday, April 24, 2011

Kids coats

Making garments for little kids is very liberating.  You can test out new skills and techniques and the recipient, if little enough, appreciates the end result (or at least can't refuse to wear it) and always looks cute.

This is a pattern I bought when my son (now almost 21) was an infant.  I made many little jackets for him until he grew out of it.

Here's one I made when he was 2 years old.  I realized that on little kids' clothes, I could combine colours that really popped - here, purple and green.  I'm not a big embellisher but I had fun making the dragon appliqué for the back of his jacket.

The dragon design was lifted from a strange little stuffed object, which you can see at right.  I have no idea what its origins might be.  I think it was mainly red on the other side.

I traced the shape from the original and cut it from some sturdy green fabric.  I must have interfaced before applying the eye and machine stitched decorative zig-zag pattern since there is no puckering at all.  The teeth and nails were little folded pieces of white fabric, and the tufts were made from some white yarn.  The eye is a black button.

I balanced the back's fanciness by making up a star and moon for the front pockets.

The coat itself is super simple.  For the shell, I used an outerwear fabric called Commander (according to the MacPhee Workshop site, it's a 75-25 poly-cotton blend).  To line, I used a 200 weight polar fleece.  With a pair of bib-front overall snow pants (from a Kwik-Sew pattern, also much-used) in the same fabric, the suit kept my two-year-old warm and dry all winter.

The following winter, my toddler had turned into a little boy who was pretty interested in fire trucks.  He told me he wanted a snow suit that looked like the uniforms then in use by Ottawa firefighters.  I found the guys on the trucks quite willing (after they had verified the call to our street was a false alarm) to talk about the features of their suits so was able to take notes and sketch the details, including the distinctive pattern for the retro-reflective tape.  It's different for the front and back which is useful in a dark and smoky environment.   The hardest part was locating yellow retro-reflective tape but somehow I did it.

Again, the outer shell was some sort of cotton-poly water resistant stuff.  This coat was insulated with Thinsulate.  The collar is black corduroy, apparently traditional.  The matching snow pants have red elastic shoulder straps, repurposed from a pair of men's braces.

The year after that, dinosaurs were the all-consuming passion.  You've already seen his Hallowe'en costume.  Well, his winter jacket had dinos on it too, but they were pretty subtle... (click to enlarge).

This coat also incorporated retro-reflective features - piping at the collar, shoulder and forearm.  I probably put some in the back too.  It's a really great safety feature during our long dark winters.

If you have a little one, experiment and enjoy!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The exception that proves the pressing rule

Mary left a comment on my last post asking why I don't press the seam (attaching the garment piece to facing or lining) before understitching.  Isn't this inconsistent with the usual rule that you must press every seam before going on to the next step?

Great question!  Like Ann (Gorgeous Things aka The Pressinatrix) I am a firm believer in pressing.  During construction.  Pressing while you go makes a HUGE difference to the look of the finished project.  Not pressing will 100% guarantee that your finished garment will look home made in the worst way.  This is why I've invested in a great iron, a ridiculously expensive ironing board, and a lot of pressing equipment.

So yes, Mary, always press a seam before doing anything else to that seam.

Except ... experience tells me that you get a better result if you do not press before understitching, and that in this specific situation, pressing is a waste of time.  They say an exception proves the rule...

Why?  Well, bear with me as I return to the goal of understitching, which is to exactly preserve the shape of the sewn seam by allowing you to easily fold the two pieces along their curved edge.  The finished edge will ideally be perfectly curved with no rippling, unevenness or other distortion, and it will lie perfectly flat with no bulk.

The problem is that the cut edge inside a sewn oval (such as the neck or arm opening) is always smaller than the seam line, as illustrated.  This means the seam allowances have to be stretched (distorted) to be folded back, and will always want to unfold themselves.  They will take the thinner (lining) or shorter (facing) edge with them.

Pressing this edge without understitching just doesn't produce as good a result.  Understitching is more aggressive with the pesky seam allowances than pressing.  It sews them down flat in their stretched position, rather than just folding them back.  Sewing the seam allowances to the lining or facing also firms up the curved edge.

OK, so why not press first and then understitch?  Well, because you just don't need to.  It's an inferior way to achieve your ultimate goal.  And pressing first does not help you understitch.  In fact, it tends to make the job a little bit more complicated.  It's hard to press this type of opening without building in some distortion.  This can be from stretching the fabric as you try to open the curved seam exactly, but more typically in my experience you will find that you have pressed in a fold which is not precisely along the stitching line.  If you are going to understitch (always!) you end up having to correct this fold as you understitch.

So pressing (but ONLY in this one situation) is (1) unnecessary as well as (2) difficult and (3) counterproductive.

Clear as mud?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

More about the sheath dress

Thanks to those of you who signed up to follow my blog (now at 209 210, woo hoo!), and for all the very nice comments on my last post!!  Getting your comments and feedback is the nicest part of blogging so please keep them coming!

 I was going to write a tutorial for how I finish a facing around a zipper.  However, there are several excellent tutorials already illustrating this technique on Sigrid's sewing tutorial site (which is a superb resource, if you don't already know it), so I decided not to reinvent the wheel.  

In particular, I recommend Sherry's clearly-illustrated tutorial.  This technique can also be used to finish the top of any zipper opening.  Kathleen Fasanella has published a great set of instructions for finishing a lapped zipper and centred zipper in the same basic way.  Another variant is the faced fly front zipper - I shamelessly recommend my own tutorial for that, which is also linked at Sigrid's site.

To the left, you can see how neat and clean the inside is, as a result of this easy technique.

The zipper looks as clean from the outside.  This photo also shows the fabric from my sheath better.  At least on my monitor, the colours are accurate.  The fabric is slightly tweedy.  It's got the extremely dark coffee colour of my leather jacket embedded in it along with a tan and a rich reddish brown.  The fabric is a suiting weight wool, with a tiny bit of lycra (not useful in this sheath, since I underlined it with silk organza).

Here's another detail from my dress.  Understitching at the neck and arm hole edges ensures that the lining never shows.  (Topstitching does the same thing, but understitching is invisible from the public side of the garment.)  If not understitched, the inner layer, especially if made from a light-weight fabric as here, would roll to the outside.  Once understitched, the seam attaching the lining to the dress fabric naturally rolls instead to the inside, as you can see at left.  Understitching is also great for a faced edge, since facings also tend to roll to the outside.

Understitching securely attaches the enclosed seam allowances to the inside layer.  To understitch a curved edge like the neck or arm opening of my dress, first trim and grade the seam allowances.  I'm not a fan of clipping because little corners may form where the clips release the tension.  Trimming results in a smooth curve.  If you trim aggressively (leaving about .7cm or .25", or even less) the seam allowance will easily stretch enough so that the edge won't pucker or refuse to press flat.  If you are understitching, there is no reason to worry about the small seam allowances compromising the strength of the seam.

The secret of understitching is to keep the lining or facing as flat as possible on the bed of the machine, forcing the seam allowances underneath to stretch into the curve.  Don't sew straight ahead.  Instead, rotate the piece as you sew around the curve, keeping the stitches close to the seam (and checking to ensure that the seam allowances lie under the inside layer so they will be caught in your stitching). In the photo at right, as I sew I am spreading the lining flat with my left hand, and guiding it through the needle by rotating the garment clockwise.  I do not press the seam at all before understitching.  While sewing I keep spreading the lining away from the garment fabric to ensure the lining isn't folding over on itself.  The goal is to ensure there is no distortion in the curve.

I used the triple stitch zig-zag on my latest sheath dress.  This stitch really ensures that the trimmed seam allowances are well-attached to the lining.  Of course it's a pain in the neck if you have to pull it out (ask me how I know!!).  You can also understitch with a straight stitch, ordinary zig zag, or by hand if you are so inclined (as I apparently was when making my 2nd last sheath, shown to left).

If you don't already use this technique in your sewing, I highly recommend it!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Another sheath dress

The Sewing Lawyer cannot have too many sheath dresses, since she has a pattern that fits.  For years, a simple dress with no waist seam that fit everywhere was an elusive goal, given a hip measurement that is about 2 sizes bigger than the waist or bust.  PatternMaster Boutique to the rescue.

PMB produces a pattern that is a decent but not excellent fit.  It needs tweaking in the pattern editor (CAD) component of the program.  My goal for the program is to produce basic blocks, like this dress and my princess seamed skirt, that I can make over and over as is, or adjust for different styles.

For this sheath, I started with a princess seamed dress.  This is a simple shape that as originally drafted, had both a shoulder princess seam and a second seam that corresponds to the second waist dart in front and back.

To the right are the finished pattern pieces.  One of the standard changes I make is to take a little wedge at the CB waist, since PMB drafts with a dead straight CB seam.  I'm not straight there, are you?  As you can see, I converted the second princess seam back to a fisheye dart in the front.  In the back, it's a long dart that ends in the armscye.  The hem is also slightly pegged so it looks less blocky.

So this is at least the third sheath dress I've made from the pattern.  You last saw it here.

Here are the pictures of my most recent iteration of this dress.  So comfortable!  It has about 2" or so of ease at the hip.  

I think it looks pretty good with my leather jacket.  

I wore this to the Haute Couture Club of Chicago luncheon and fashion show last Sunday.  But I had not correctly anticipated the weather.  It was 85 degrees F (29.5 C)!    

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Just one more?

I know those of you waiting for more sewing news, or perhaps pictures of my fabric purchased in Chicago, will just be annoyed by this but I can't help myself.

Look to the right of your screen.  How many followers do you see?

I see 199.

Just one more will make 200, a nice round number don't you think?

I promise to post something more interesting soon!!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Chicago! (the weekend, not the movie)

The weekend has already been written about. We descended upon Chicago from far and wide - Nebraska, New Mexico, Boston & Ottawa.   I was curious to meet Liana, Ann, Nancy & Patti in real life after corresponding on e-mail and reading blogs and pattern reviews.   I had the best time!  Good food, good company, good weather, and great sewing-related activities.  Who could ask for more?

One highlight of the weekend was a walking tour in downtown, guided by Patti's friend Harry, a docent with the Chicago Architecture Foundation.  The day turned out gloriously sunny but still cool in the shade.  Perfect for a couple of hours on foot.

The warm air and cold water produced an ethereal mist, up high.   
Throughout downtown, planters featured painted branches - too early for flowers, though we saw some of those too.  
 This building will look familiar to anyone from Toronto
 - the Federal Center designed by Mies van der Rohe.  
 And the Flamingo by Calder.
In the background, the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower).  It's still the tallest building in Chicago.
Our group studies a Chagall mosaic.
  Formerly the home of Carson, Pirie & Scott.
The El.  A great way to get downtown.  

Overheard (teenaged girl):  "I love the bean! I want to hug the bean!!"

It turns out everyone wants to hug the bean!!

 The mist vanished but the ethereal quality of the day remained.