Category Archives: Sewing help

Rouleau Loops in Sewing World Magazine

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Rouleau loops are a real display of top notch sewing skills.  In the first series of the Great British Sewing Bee they were included in a challenge to make a girl’s dress and described as a “couture” technique.

Well, if you’re looking for a bit of a sewing project this Easter weekend, rouleau loops aren’t just for making dainty shoulder straps or button loops.  Have a look at my article for the May issue of Sewing World which is out now.  I show you two different ways to make beautiful rouleau loops and hopefully leave you inspired use them in some ways you might not ever have considered.

It’s on pages 64 to 66 and Sewing World is only £4.99 which includes full size pull-out pattern sheets.

Happy sewing!

A Mini Lesson on Sleeves

If anyone feels tempted to have a go at the alteration challenge that was set on the Sewing Bee last night (don’t worry, no spoilers contained in this post if you haven’t seen it!), here’s a bit of background knowledge to help you.

Putting a sleeve into a sleeveless armhole is never a good idea, take note from the most successful version last night – Chinelo’s pleated sleeve head.  A sleeveless armhole is much smaller than an armhole designed for a sleeve, with good reason – so that it doesn’t gape!  This makes for a snug armhole that is completely the wrong shape to then go adding in a sleeve.

I’ve also seen the term “set-in sleeve” not being used properly this morning.  So, as I like things to be just so and as I believe that if you’re learning a new skill, it’s best to get it right from the start, here’s a little starter for ten on sleeves…..

sleeve-explanation-web

So, if ever you’re trying to put a sleeve into a sleeveless armhole, remember……you need to add some kind of fullness into the top of the sleeve, be it in the form of gathers or pleats.  That is, if you want to be able to move in the garment!

How to Sew Jersey Fabrics on a Domestic Sewing Machine – Part 2: Hems

As promised in my post on sewing seams in knits using a domestic sewing machine, here’s some tips on getting nice neat hems on your knits, all with the use of your sewing machine!

STITCH SETTINGS

As with seams in knits, you need to choose a way of hemming your knit garment that will stretch.  I’m going to show you my two favourite ways to hem knit fabrics on a sewing machine.

One of the stretchiest stitches to use on your sewing machine is the 3-step zig-zag (a stitch which even the most basic of sewing machines usually has):

3-step zig-zag hemming knit fabric on a sewing machine

hemming knit fabric on a sewing machineOn the right side of the garment you will have a line of zig-zag stitches.

hemming knit fabric on a sewing machine - D reverseTry to get the stitches just covering the cut edge of your fabric on the wrong side of the garment.

The second way of hemming a knit fabric, is one that most looks like the hems on shop bought knit garments that are finished with a coverstitch (a completely separate machine a bit like an overlocker).  Rather than rush out and buy a coverstitch machine try a bit of twin-needling on your sewing machine!

twinneedle

Twin needles are easily available and you can even get ballpoint twin needles – perfect for sewing knit fabrics without causing snags.  Most good sewing shops will sell twin needles and there is even a choice of what size gap you have between the needles.

Replace your normal needle with the twin needle which inserts into your machine in exactly the same way, then set up your machine like this:

machinesettings-twinneedle2-text

Then, sew as normal, but you must sew your hem from the right side of your garment so it’s a good idea to have your hem tacked first, then you can use your tacking stitches as a guide for your twin-needling to ensure you catch the hem on the wrong side.

hemsample-twinneedle-frontHere’s what your twin-needled hem will look like from the right side.  Pretty professional no?!

hemsample-twinneedle-reverse3

hemsample-twinneedle-reverseAnd on the wrong side, the bobbin thread forms a sort of neat little zig-zag stitch.  If you position your stitching accurately, the stitches should just cover the cut edge of your hem on the inside of the garment as shown above.  It takes a bit of practice to get it that precise, but tacking your hem first helps!

TENSION

As with seams, the tension needs to be correct for the type of knit you’re sewing, but most lighter weight knit fabrics eg. t-shirt jersey and lighter need a looser tension of around 3.

WAVY EDGES?

Depending on your fabric and your machine, you might find your hemmed edge going a bit wavy.  First make sure you’re not stretching the fabric as you’re sewing!  If you’re being good and not stretching your fabric (well done!), then if your sewing machine has the facility to, adjust the presser foot pressure and this should solve the problem.  Read more about adjusting the preset foot pressurehere.

So, there you go, you now know how to sew seams and hems on your sewing machine so that they look neat and professional without the aid of an overlocker or coverstitch machine.

Enjoy sewing those lovely knit fabrics, you’ll wonder why you ever avoided them, I promise.  If you need some help finding nice knitted fabrics have a read of my guide here and my range of sewing patterns (most of which are designed for knit fabrics and are very easy to use!) are available to buy online here.

No. 2 of my Finishing Touches Series for Sewing World Magazine

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Last month was bound buttonholes, this month it’s “Decorative Seams” for my Finishing Touches series.

It covers piped seams and slot or channel seams.  Piping is a great way to pick out details like collar edges, pockets, etc and to highlight seams, slot seams can look fab down the sides of skirts and trousers.

Two techniques to give your garments the edge.  Have a go, before you know it you’ll be piping everything.

It’s on pages 64 to 66 of the April issue of the magazine which is out now priced £4.99 which isn’t going to break the bank and that also includes a full-size pull-out pattern section.  It’s stocked in WH Smiths if you were wondering…..!

How to Sew Over Bulky Seams

So, you know how the contestants on the Great British Sewing Bee struggled a bit with some bulky seams on their toddler dungarees this week?  Here’s a little tip for getting around that very problem…..

What you need is to make yourself a little jig!

seamjiginfographic-web

The secret is not in the thickness of the fabric, but the height of the presser foot.  It needs to stay flat all the time in order for your machine to feed fabric through evenly.  When it hits a bulky seam, the front of the presser foot is pointing upwards and the foot is no longer flat.  Your little jig raises up the back of the presser foot so that it’s all on the same level again and off you can go without any fuss.

A New Series for Sewing World Magazine – Finishing Touches

The March issue of Sewing World magazine is out now and has the first article of my new series on pages 68-71.  The series is called Finishing Touches and will explain how to add beautiful and professional details to a garment.

The first in the series shows you step-by-step how to make a perfect bound buttonhole.  They’re not as scary as you may think and look a squillion times better than a machine made buttonhole, especially on coats and jackets.

Go on, try one.  You might just surprise yourself and start putting them in everything you make…..!

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Which Sewing Book to Buy?

sewing booksA cull of books I had last year at a MIY Workshop sale!  Yes you can have too many craft books.

So, the Great British Sewing Bee is back for its second series and the production company are already scouring the country for potential contestants for series three.  It looks like the sewing bug is a stayer.  Obviously that’s a good thing in my book.

Talking of books….(!) as I’m writing a sewing book at the moment (see previous post), the subject of sewing books has been pre-occupying me now for quite some time and I’ve also been thinking a lot recently about craft book authors.

Lots of my students ask me if I can recommend a sewing book.  Here are my tips to finding a good sewing book.

The most important starting point is to be honest about the skills you’re starting with.  Have you had a go on a sewing machine and now feel ready to tackle some dressmaking, have you been sewing for years and now looking for some new ideas or does the sight of a sewing machine bring you out in a cold sweat?!

If you’re right at the beginning of your sewing adventures, you need a sewing book that will have really well explained techniques and easy but inspiring  projects that you will actually want to make and can work your way through step-by-step.  If inspiration is what you’re after, have a look at some of the Japanese sewing books – beautifully designed, inspiring patterns, but usually needing some good existing skills.

What kind of things do you want to make with your new found sewing skills?  Do you want to do mainly patchwork, do you want to make bags and cushions and accessories or do you want do make clothes?  Choose the book that contains the kind of projects that you actually want to make!

Just like novels, the author of the craft book will make a huge difference to the content.

Here in Brighton there is a little hub of expert craft book authors; the lovely Liz of Quilty Pleasures had her first patchwork and quilting book published last spring:

beginners guide to quilting

Julia Hincks, a colleague who teaches at the Friends Centre in Brighton has written a book all about using your overlocker:

overlocker techniques

Wendy Dolan is another Brighton based tutor who is an expert at machine embroidery and has been teaching for many years.  She is currently writing a book all about her style of machine embroidery.  Last but not least, Fiona Pullen of the Sewing Directory (OK she’s not in Brighton, but is everywhere in the world of sewing!) is in the process of writing a book about how to build a craft business. (Have a read of Fiona’s fascinating blog posts about her book writing process.)

The common thread linking all of these authors is that we are professionals and experts in our particular field.

What are the benefits of choosing books written by experts?  

A book written by an expert, an experienced teacher or someone with years of experience working in an industry means that you will benefit from that experience, they will share hints and tips with you that they have picked up along their travels, or unique techniques that they have devised for themselves.  You will also find practical how-to books written by these authors will contain instructions that are pitched at exactly the right level because they know their audience – they have been working with people just like you for years.

The way I look at it is this……would you want to learn to drive a car from someone that had just passed their driving test?  No, me neither!

Incidentally, one of my trusty old favourite sewing books that I’m always recommending to students is the “Readers Digest Complete Guide to Sewing”.  You can read my review of it here.

Happy sewing!  And safe driving….!!!

How to Sew Jersey Fabrics on a Domestic Sewing Machine – Part 1: Seams

Many sewers both new and experienced are unnecessarily scared of sewing stretch knit fabrics.

Most knit-phobes believe these popular myths about sewing knits:

  1. I need to use an overlocker to sew knit fabrics
  2. I can’t sew knit fabrics on my sewing machine
  3. knit fabrics are harder to sew than delicate silk fabrics
  4. knit fabrics have to be stretched when I sew them
  5. it’s hard to cut out knit fabrics accurately
  6. I won’t be able to get seams to match accurately using knit fabrics
  7. it’s difficult to buy nice knit fabrics
  8. I don’t want to make really tight figure hugging clothes.

None of these statements are true!  Let’s go through them again and tell you the truth:

  1. No, you don’t need to have an overlocker to sew knit fabrics.  You can and an overlocker will make the job quicker, easier and neater, but if you’ve never used an overlocker before, definitely don’t start on one with a knit fabric!
  2. All reasonably modern sewing machines have a selection of stitches specifically designed for stretch knit fabrics.  I’m going to show you the best ones for joining seams in this article.  Even if your machine only does straight stitch and zig-zag a narrow zig-zag stitch will do the job.
  3. Some knit fabrics can be a bit more difficult to handle than a standard woven fabric, especially the lighter weight ones, but even a lightweight jersey isn’t going to be as difficult as a slippery lightweight silk.  A few more pins when cutting out and a bit of tacking when you might just have pinned are the only extra steps you’ll need.
  4. I’ve actually seen this recommended in some of the bigger commercial pattern brand’s pattern instructions.  This is absolutely the last thing to do unless you’re after stretched wavy seams!
  5. When cutting stretch knits you need to make sure the fabric isn’t hanging off your table because it will stretch the fabric, resulting in pattern pieces that ping up a lot shorter once you’ve cut them out!  If you don’t have room for the whole length of fabric on your table, pile it up over the back of a chair beside the table. Also use a few more pins than you might do normally to hold your pattern pieces accurately in place.  Using a few weights (or tins of beans!) to hold your pattern in place while you pin it will also help.
  6. To match seams accurately pin them first and if necessary tack them. Also use the nature of the fabric to your advantage…..it stretches, which means it’s very forgiving if something doesn’t quite match perfectly and you can get away with a bit of stretching to fit (as long as that bit of stretch is spread out along the whole of the seam).
  7. Have a read of my previous blog post about where to buy stretch knit fabrics, the different types of stretch knit fabrics available and their uses – knit fabric is a broad category.
  8. You can make some really flattering, draped styles using stretch knits.  They’re not just for leotards and leggings!  Think about the clothes you own that you enjoy wearing…..I’ll bet a lot of them are made from knit fabrics.

So, hopefully I’ve made a start at converting you and you’re willing to have a try.  The first thing I’ll show you is some stitches to use for seams.  I’ll go through hems and finishing edges in separate posts.

NEEDLES

The first thing you need for any machine is:

how to sew jersey - ballpoint needlesa pack of jersey or ballpoint needles.  They’re a bit more blunt on the end than a regular sewing needle meaning that they won’t ladder the knitted structure of the fabric.  You can see they also come in different sizes like regular sewing needles.

Here’s a guide for which size will best suit which fabric:

70 – very lightweight silk or viscose jersey

80 – light t-shirt weight cotton jersey

90 – interlock, ponte roma, some cut and sew knits.

MACHINE SETTINGS FOR SEAMS

The first and easiest stitch to use for seams is the stretch straight stitch:

how to sew jersey fabric

how to sew jersey fabric

how to sew jersey fabricThis stitch is useful when sewing with thicker knits whose edges don’t need any neatening and where you need to be able to press your seam open.

A stitch we use a lot for sewing knit fabrics in my classes is the overlock stitch:

how to sew jersey fabrics

how to sew knit fabric

sampleseam-HtrimmingThis stitch mimics an overlock stitch and can join the seam and neaten the edges in one go.  You can trim off the excess seam allowance close to the stitching as shown in the second picture.  The seam then has to be pressed flat to one side rather than open, so it’s not suitable for more bulky fabrics.  It works well on most t-shirt weight jerseys.

The final stitch for seams is the narrow overlock stitch used with an overcasting or overlock foot.  (See this blog post for more about what an overcasting foot is and how to use it).

how to sew stretch knits

how to sew jerseyHere’s the machine with the overcasting foot attached.

how to sew jersey on a domestic machine

how to sew knit fabricThis stitch again joins the seam and neatens the edge of the seam allowance in one go.  By also using the overcasting foot it means you don’t need to then trim off the excess seam allowance after sewing.  It also means though that you can only use it on narrow seam allowances (the overall width of the stitch).  It’s another stitch that results in a seam that has to be pressed to one side and gives a nice neat finish to lightweight jersey fabrics.  It’s not suited to heavier and thicker knits.

PRESSER FOOT PRESSURE

If your sewing machine has the ability to adjust the presser foot pressure, this can be helpful when sewing some knit fabrics to stop them being stretched by the machine as you sew.  You can read more about how to adjust the presser foot pressure in this blog post.

TENSION

how to sew jersey fabric

As with all sewing, make sure the tension on your machine is set at the right level for the fabric you’re sewing.  If your machine’s tension dial goes up to 9, 4 should be fine for joining two layers of most medium weight woven fabrics.  A lower number means a looser stitch which you need for lighter weight fabric or fewer layers.  A higher number means a tighter stitch which you need for thicker fabrics or more layers.  You shouldn’t need to adjust the tension up or down by more than one number, meaning you will usually stay within the range of 3-5.

Most lighter weight knit fabrics eg. t-shirt jersey and lighter need a looser tension of around 3.

So there you are – how to sew seams in a range of knitted fabrics on your sewing machine.  I hope you’re turning from a knit-phobe into a knit-fan!  In my next article I’ll show you how to get nice hem finishes on knit fabrics using a sewing machine.

Start of my Series for Sewing World Magazine

I’m really pleased to be writing a series of monthly projects for Sewing World magazine.  The first one is out now in the November issue which is currently on sale.  In the first project I show you how to use stencilling and shirring to customise a plain t-shirt on pages 60-62.

Both techniques are quick and easy and give really professional results.

customising-tshirts-web

Here’s some more pics of the finished samples:

stencil print t-shirt customising

shirred t-shirt customising

If you need a bit of help with designs for the stencilling, you could always treat yourself to a pack of my new stencils to use for appliqué, fabric painting and quilting designs.

stencils

They’re available for £5 a pack from my Etsy shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/MIYcollection

In the next issue of Sewing World I’ll be customising a skirt with ruffles…………just in time for the party season…..!

How to Sew Neat Seams – use your seam guides!

Ever wondered what those mysterious markings were by the presser foot on your sewing machine?

They’re seam guides and can help you to get neat accurate seams, here’s how to use them:

seamguidesinfographic

 

If your machine doesn’t have any seam guides – place a strip of masking tape on your machine the correct distance from the needle!