Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ready to cut the fabric...or am I?

I'm happy with my muslin for the Knipmode tunic, so I'm ready to cut out the pattern pieces in my fabric. Or not. I've never really liked cutting the fabric. It's so final. I've ripped out many a knitted piece with hardly a second thought when things weren't going right, but you can't do that with fabric.

And before you take scissors or rotary cutter to the fabric, there are a number of things you need to do first if you want to assure success.

Prepare the fabric:

Thinking I was ready to cut, I spread out the fabric so that I could get it straighten and folded, and the first thing I noticed was that it was all creased from being stored. Step one: it needed to be pressed (don't iron back and forth - that distorts the fabric). I often don't prewash my fabrics unless the end result will be washed in warm or hot water and dried in the dryer or the fabric got dirty or something. I wash all my clothes in cold water and hang them to dry so I'm not worried about shrinking. Also, I have sometimes wound up with terribly distorted and off-grain fabric after prewashing, not to mention a ton of wrinkles.

Examine the fabric:

While ironing pressing, I had a good chance to really look at the fabric. Examining the fabric is always a good idea, in case there are flaws you need to work around. Or writing on the fabric. Not on this piece, but when I was looking at another piece of fabric I have, I was shocked to see that someone had written a number in ink pen and rubber stamped something right in the middle of the piece. It was a long-ago purchase from an online vendor and way to late to do something about it, but a lesson learned to look at your fabric as soon as you buy it or before if you're at the store.

Check for direction:

Another reason for looking over the fabric is to identify if there is a nap or direction. I've failed that one twice.

Right side vs. wrong side:

Which side of the fabric is the right side? Honestly, when you're the designer you can choose whichever side you want. There is no right side.

My fabric is a thin cotton voile, with embroidery over dotted Swiss. One side has the raised bumps of the dots, the embroidery is more vibrant and consists of chain stitches. The other side has the image of the dots, the embroidery is more subdued and is all straight stitch. Both sides would look good, so I couldn't decide. Since I've never sewn or worn dotted Swiss, I didn't know which side was intended to be the right side. A quick internet search showed that most garments are sewn with the raised-bump side (didn't find any the other way actually). I also went so far as to see if there was a picture with the invoice from when I bought the fabric to show which side was "right". Since I'm lazy and don't delete emails of stuff like that, I actually had an email. From 2007.  Yes, this has been in my stash for quite a while. There was no picture but it did show that I paid $18/yard for the fabric. Now I really don't want to mess this up, however I think it's better to use $36 dollars worth of fabric than to just store it.

Lay out the fabric:

Straighten, straighten, straighten. This step seems to take me forever because I fuss a lot with the fabric. If the selvedge is good, then I use it to help keep things straight, but sometimes it's wavy and bad. I often use the repeating motif pattern but sometimes it's printed crooked, intentionally or not.

The fabric I'm using today is a perfectionist's dream - all those little Swiss dots to line up! It's a good thing too because the embroidery designs aren't perfectly placed.

Matching patterns and repeats:

With plaids and stripes you know you'll need to be careful laying out the pieces so that things line up, but this may also be the case with prints that have repeating motifs.

The embroidery on my fabric has a definite repeat in both directions, and I decided that my tunic would look best if I maintained the same vertical placement from front to back.

Will all the pieces fit?

This is a two-part step. 1) Make sure you have all the pattern pieces and 2) make sure they all fit, taking into account any requirements for direction, pattern matching, and the number of pieces. There have been times where I cut two when I needed four, flipped a piece around the wrong way, or failed to cut something on the fold (like yesterday!). If you're using the suggested pattern layout then you're probably ok, but I always seem to do a creative pattern layout to squeeze my pieces into the fabric that I have. Or in the case of knits, I like to cut pieces out whole instead of on the fold. Still I should consult the pattern layout.

Today I had to get creative. The embroidery on my fabric doesn't extend all the way to the edges and using the suggested layout would not work. Fortunately I found a way to make everything fit. Whew!

Are there any extra non-pattern pieces to cut?

This is generally not an issue for envelope patterns but magazine patterns that you have to trace (and maybe pdf patterns too?)  almost always leave off pattern pieces that are just squares or rectangles and instead give you the dimensions you need to cut. Another reason to look at the pattern layout even if you're doing you're own thing.

One last check.

Are there any fabric motifs in less than desirable locations? Double check the direction. Look for any pattern pieces on the floor.

Take a deep breath and...

Go have a cup of tea. Eat a cookie. And decide to go blog about how many things you need to do before you can start cutting out. And now it's time for dinner, so tomorrow then.

Ready to cut...or not.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Sewing for fit

Making clothes that fit is one of my major reasons for sewing. But most of what I've sewn over the years has been out of knit fabric, or it's loose fitting, or pajamas - not much call for fit. I did make this Burda jacket/cardigan thingy, which was my first attempt at doing a full bust adjustment (FBA) on a pattern. It sort of worked but wasn't perfect.

My latest project is a tunic top from the May 2016 Knipmode (second project out that issue!). I'm using an embroidered fabric I bought a long time ago from Gorgeous Fabrics, and since I really like the fabric and brought it from my stash in the US all the way to Germany in my suitcase, I want this top to be wearable. So I'm making a muslin first so that I can make corrections for fit before I cut into the fabric.

First, let me say that tracing Knipmode patterns is a real challenge. Some time last year they started publishing every pattern in every size, from 34 to 54. I love that there no longer is a plus range - just sizes and women large and small can sew the same cute clothes. But, the downside to this is that eleven sizes are crammed onto the pattern sheet. Needless to say the lines can get a bit crazy to follow. First I study the pattern lines, making sure I know what each piece looks like and the location of any notches or marks, and then I put down sticky notes to help guide me. But it's still hard to find the lines under the tracing paper.

The first and only thing I've made from Knipmode so far was the knit top from this same issue. For that top I went by my measurements and traced and cut a size 44 with no changes (and no muslin). It came out a bit big in the upper chest, something I've had happen with Burda patterns as well. So for this tunic top I traced a 42 in the upper chest, a 44 in the mid region and blended to a 46 in the hip. Then I cut out a muslin of the front and back and quickly sewed it together, anxious to see how a 42-44-46 combo worked for me straight off the pattern. I've always heard "the drag lines point to the problem" and it's true - they were like an arrow to my "boobs". No surprise that I needed an FBA. I also needed to lower the bust dart and take in the center back seam in the upper back. You can see some of my messy adjustments on the pattern.

I did cut out one sleeve in muslin - I didn't want to waste any more of my muslin (expensive to buy here) so I only cut one. But it's important to check the fit with a sleeve because the extra weight on the shoulder can change the way the neck and chest fit.

I'm pretty satisfied with the fit now, so I think I'll proceed with cutting into my good fabric...but tomorrow because it's super hot today and hotter in the afternoon.

Oh, and there's another good reason for making a muslin first: catching stupid mistakes. When I traced the pattern, I assumed there was a center front seam and added seam allowances to the center front. I cut out the muslin assuming a center front seam but then I looked at the pattern layout in the magazine and saw that it was supposed to be cut on the fold. Instead of looking at my pattern and seeing that I had added seam allowances, I thought I'd made a huge mistake and cut at the fold line. To correct my "error" I needlessly sewed an extra strip to the front pattern pieces to make up for the "missing" seam allowance. Still not realizing the error, I made the adjustments to the pattern for the FBA (even with the erroneously added fabric at center front, I still needed one). Then I cut out a new muslin of the front piece - with the fold at the cut edge - still not seeing the seam allowances I'd added at center front! I blame the heat. Thankfully I finally caught the mistake. I stitched out the seam allowance on the muslin and the top fits better without that extra 1 1/4 inches. Imagine that.

So I think I'm good to go. No more mistakes...I hope.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

"Free" patterns

UK magazines from the news stand are fun. The fashion magazines, like Glamour, Elle, Marie Claire often are packaged with a tube of lipstick, an eyeliner, or some other sort of beauty item - I once bought a magazine that came with a nice tube of L'Occitane hand cream. The knitting magazines often come with knitting needles or a handy notion. Cross stitch magazines can come packaged with a tiny project. I was visiting Edinburgh, Scotland over the weekend and came across this sewing magazine in the airport news stand that came packaged with two McCalls patterns:

I don't know that I would pay £8 (about $10.50) for a magazine I knew nothing about and couldn't even leaf through (since it was encased in a plastic wrapper), but the patterns sold me. Not that I need more patterns. These patterns are ones that I would actually sew, though I have to grade up since I don't think I had an option to buy a different size. The 66-page magazine is not bad either. There are short little pieces with newbie sewing advice - but useful as reminders for seasoned sewers too, both garment and non-garment sewing projects, analyses of some McCalls and Butterick patterns, and one feature article. The sewing ads are also useful and may introduce me to some new online sources. This issue also came with a printed pattern for a jersey dress, which you can also download for free when you register at makieittoday.co.uk.

German magazines sometimes have some freebies packaged with them, but not to the extent that I've seen UK magazines. It's fun to buy one every now and then but I do have to watch myself and not buy a magazine just because, you know,  free stuff.

Friday, June 24, 2016

What a difference color makes

My latest sewing projects are good examples of how different use of color can totally change the look.

My first project is actually a redo. I made this top late last summer - so late that it turned cool before I could wear it, but it was looking like I was never going to wear it anyway. I wasn't pleased with how it turned out. It fit ok but the white binding - I used a cotton/linen blend - was too stiff and too bright. I couldn't help but think "hospital gown" when I looked at it. So I changed the binding.


It was a crazy amount of work to change the binding, but worth it because now I will wear the top. I used some rayon binding that is probably meant for finishing seam allowances but I think it works well as trim here, both for the color and because it's softer. I machine stitched the strip to the edges first and then hand sewed the other edge in place since it wanted to twist when I tried stitching in the ditch.

Much nicer, I think.

The second project is a top I made using two coordinating knit prints, one a print and one solid. The pattern I used is from the May 2016 issue of Knipmode - actually I used the German version "Fashion Style", but it's the same magazine.

I couldn't decide whether to use the print on top or bottom so I asked my sewing friends. They unanimously said "print on top" so that's what I did.

But look how different the shirt would look with the print on the bottom:

The use of color is ultimately a personal choice. There are no rules but there are color relationships that seem to be more or less favorable to the majority of people. When I was searching pictures on line to see other examples of two-tone shirts, I found more had the darker color on top and the lighter on the bottom, regardless of whether there were prints involved or not.

When I'm planning my sewing, knitting, or weaving projects I often get stuck on how to best use color. I have a book in my library that might help with this, and I should really take some time to read it!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Leather coin pouch - first time sewing leather

I've found that a coin pouch is almost a necessity in Europe because of the 1 and 2 Euro coins. Even if your wallet has a coin section, it quickly gets filled up - and gets heavy. 

I did not make this lovely pouch - I bought it in Buenos Aires.
My husband's coin pouch has nearly disintegrated after four years of constant use. I'd already repaired holes in it a few times but it's beyond repair now.

This was once a lovely tan pouch of soft leather.
So naturally I thought to sew a new pouch to replace the worn-out one. I never sewed leather before but always intended to, so I already had the necessary tools (of course!). I've included my pictures and process and lessons learned, in the event someone reading this would also like to make a little coin pouch.

I found the leather scrap in the remnant bin of a fabric store in Paris for 1 Euro. I bought a few pieces, but this one is perfectly sized for the small pouch. A Teflon foot is very useful for sewing leather, as are leather needles. I already had a zipper in my stash - longer is just fine. I thought I'd use heavy button thread, but it didn't work (more on that later). I drew up a paper pattern, using the old pouch as a guide. I used a pen to trace the pattern onto the wrong side of the leather.

One more useful tool for sewing leather is double sided, wash-away tape. Mine is by Dritz, but I'm sure there are other brands. The tape is useful for positioning the two pieces of the bag onto the zipper tape. You don't want to use pins because they'll put permanent holes in the leather.

Now about that buttonhole thread. I first did some sample stitching on a leftover scrap and just could not get my tension to work, despite fiddling with the tension on both the needle and the bobbin in various amounts. I tried regular thread in the bobbin only, but that didn't improve things, so I decided that either my machine, or the eye of the needle, couldn't adequately accommodate the thicker thread. Or perhaps the hole in the leather made by the needle was too small. I re-threaded my machine, a Pfaff 7570, with regular thread and got the tension set almost right away. But to me the regular machine sewing thread just seemed too skimpy for the heavy use this coin pouch will get. So I decided to increase the thread thickness by 50% by using two threads through the needle and one in the bobbin. This was easy to do because my machine has a second spindle for such a purpose. After a little adjusting I was happy with the tension and the sewing commenced.

It was actually quite easy to sew the leather. I used a 3.0 mm stitch length, and since my Teflon foot has a space for moving the needle side to side, I took advantage of that and used the edge of the foot as a guide and set the needle set the distance I wanted.

The next step was sewing the bag closed. Since my leather is very soft and not too thick, I decided to stitch it right sides together because I was pretty confident I could turn it inside out. With a thicker leather I'd sew it wrong-sides together.

I used binder clips to hold the leather together - the pin you see is only through the zipper tape. I trimmed the other end of the zipper tape so the stop wouldn't get in the way of the Teflon foot. Also, I started the stitching away from the top edge because I figured it would be next to impossible to start at the zipper edge due to the bulk. Then of course I just went back and sewed up the last bit, starting where I began the stitching. And don't forget to move that zipper pull before you sew, making sure that you can get into the bag to turn it inside out.

I did end up doing a little hand sewing at the zipper ends to secure them. I also trimmed the seam allowance so it would form a nicer curve. But then I feared that I'd trimmed it too close and envisioned coins wearing at the seam and eventually popping out the bottom, so I stitched another line of sewing in the seam allowance. I found it so easy to sew the leather, even in such a narrow space of the trimmed seam allowance (probably 1/8 inch) - there was no shifting at all.

And Voila! One new leather coin pouch.

If I make this pouch again - we'll see how long this one lasts - I would maybe line it. I noticed that the suede finish on the wrong side of the leather had made my hands a little black from handling it so much. I warned my husband about that. The pouch I bought in Buenos Aires has what looks like interfacing on the inside but I wondered if that was because they'd used a thinner leather. I noticed that the top edge where it's attached to the zipper is actually turned under (stitched right side to the zipper). If I'd done that, the seam would have been too bulky. Also, I might make the zipper end a bit neater, although the worn-out pouch was made pretty much the same way. On my Buenos Aires pouch the zipper ends are covered by the interfacing/lining.

All in all, I'd call it a successful first time sewing leather!

Monday, May 09, 2016


First the final result, then the back story:

At the Frühlingsfest!

Two years ago I decided I'd make my husband a traditional-style sweater to go with his German lederhosen. We like to attend the Volksfest (like Oktoberfest) in September/October and the Frühlingsfest in April/May, both held in Stuttgart, Germany. At those times of the year it can be cold and rainy so a sweater would be a welcome addition to his ensemble.

At these fests, it's popular to wear the Trachten, or traditional folk costumes of Bavaria (southern Germany) and Austria. In the tents, it's a real party of beer, food and music and wearing dirndls and lederhosen is almost a must, especially if you don't have an entry ticket. We got in once without a ticket but I think our clothes and age - as in "not likely to cause trouble" - got us in.

Live music adds to the atmosphere
Proof that I dress up!

I did not make my dirndl. I certainly have the patterns, thanks to many September issues of Burda in my stash, but buying one was quicker and easier.

So about the sweater. I used a pattern from a (now out of print) German specialty magazine with lots of patterns for knitting Trachten.

Of course the instructions are in German. I had some help translating them from my German tutor, except she's blind, so that was an additional challenge. And yes, she knits.

To complete the German-ness of the sweater, I decided to use the yarn called for by the pattern - Schoeller + Stahl Fortissima 6fach - which is of course a German yarn. I found it in a local yarn shop, but they only had 5 skeins, enough for the smaller size. I figured this would work because my husband was between the small and larger size, and I didn't really like the oversize-look of the sweater on the model. So I bought the yarn and knit up a swatch...and ran into my first problem: needle size.

My gauge on the 2.5 mm needle size called for in the pattern was too small, but 3.0 mm was too big. I needed 2.75 mm, which I did not have, but this is not a size that is easily - if at all - found in Europe. So I had to order them from the US and wait.

I started the sweater on the 2.75 mm (US 2) needles and after a few inches I became worried that the sweater would be too large. Somehow my gauge was now a bit big. So I ripped it out and started over with the 2.5 mm needles. I knit the entire back piece but now worried that the sweater was going to be too small! There was some leeway with blocking, as the garter stitch seemed to grow a bit when wet, but when I compared the back to some of my husband's other sweaters, it was clear that the smaller size was too small and I needed to knit the larger size. But I didn't have enough yarn to knit the larger size, and now the yarn was discontinued. I even tried to find some at the yarn manufacturer's outlet store, which lucky for me was only an hour drive away. I left my name and number with the clerk, who thought they might be able to get some but when they eventually called, I understood enough German to know that this was not the case. I was out of luck. I trolled the internet looking for the yarn in on-line stores and found one in Austria but wasn't sure how to order - or pay them. Many on-line stores here use direct payment from a European bank account, which I don't have. They'll also use PayPal but my address in PayPal is a US one and PayPal requires you to create an account in the country that matches your address and for some reason I couldn't set up a German one. Another source for the yarn was Ravelry.com. Sometimes knitters will offer yarn for sale or trade, but I couldn't find any in the color I needed.

This husband-sweater was looking like it wasn't going to be finished. My husband, having seen a knitting friend re-knit her husband-sweater multiple times, now assumed that finished husband-sweaters were an urban legend.

While I was at the outlet store I bought different yarn to make his sweater, but they didn't have the same color. I bought light blue with dark blue for the trim, but it didn't seem right. I wanted the gray color of the original yarn. It also didn't help that the yarn called for wasn't the more common "worsted weight" size, but a slightly thinner "DK or sport-weight" size, which is not as common. Finding a replacement yarn wasn't going to be easy either.

The spring and fall fests came and went with my husband sweater-less. Then I decided to try again. I got out the larger, 2.75 mm needles and started knitting. I'd just had success with a previous sweater where the gauge was too big, but I knit a smaller size and got the larger sweater I wanted. It can be a risky thing to do - with that sweater I had to rework the sleeve decreases to get the right shape, but miraculously it worked out. On the plus side, the pattern for the husband-sweater had a detailed schematic that showed what the dimensions for each size should be. I figured if I could knit the number of stitches and rows needed for the small size, but get the flat dimensions of the large size, it would work. And it did. I also compared the knitted pieces with his other sweaters as I knit them, making sure that they were in the ballpark for size.

But the husband-sweater saga did not end there. As I began knitting the first sleeve, even though I was knitting the small size, the amount of yarn I had left was dwindling at a fast rate. Too fast. I checked and rechecked my project bags and yarn stash. Nope. No mislaid ball of the yarn. It occurred to me that even though I was knitting the small size, I was probably using up more yarn since my gauge was larger. The fear of running out of yarn was growing with each row that I knit. I couldn't wait to get to the end of that sleeve so I could weigh the sleeve and compare it to the yarn I had left. You may remember this post a few months ago where I had the realization that sleeves take up quite a bit of yarn/fabric. Fortunately I found that I had enough yarn to finish the husband-sweater.

Except that I forgot about the trim. I didn't use the same yarn for the trim, like the pattern called for. Instead I used a different German yarn: Lana Grossa Meilenweit. It's a sock-weight yarn but when I knit with two-strands it was close to the original yarn and resulted in a close enough gauge that it worked out just fine. I had two skeins, which I thought would be enough. Well, it was and it wasn't. The last part to knit was the trim that runs along the front and neck edges, and I ran out of yarn on the bind-off row. I was probably short by a yard or two. Again I searched project bags and my stash and I found one doubled over piece, but it wasn't enough. Fortunately the yarn wasn't discontinued but I came up with a different idea - and it didn't involve ripping back one row. I simply bound off using a single strand of the yarn. I barely made it.

Here is the yarn I had left after finishing the sweater:

Just scraps of the darker trim yarn and a tiny, tiny ball of the main yarn. I do still have the swatch I knit, so there is a bit more, in case I need to make any repairs to the sweater.

I finished seaming the sweater during the 2-hour car ride down to Stuttgart until it was too dark to see and then the next morning, which was the day before the fest. I bought the wood buttons at a Stuttgart fabric store and sewed them on that afternoon. The buttons cost almost as much as the yarn did, but I just couldn't put plastic faux wood buttons on this.

You might say this sweater was a labor of love. My husband didn't believe that I would really finish it but I proved him wrong. Needless to say, he loves the sweater. He says it's his new favorite sweater and wore it right away to dinner that night. He wore it to the fest of course, which was perfect for the cooler weather of the morning, but in the tent it was too warm. He kept it on as long as he could and then stashed it in a plastic bag to protect it from beer spills (everyone brings bags for this purpose - you see bags bulging with jackets and sweaters stashed under every table!).

Husband-sweater #1 is done. There will be more, but now it's my turn for a sweater. It's another sweater restart - a sweater I started in 2005 but after knitting the back and starting on the front decided that it would be too small. I'm knitting a larger size this time.

"Liv" from Elsebeth Lavold
I hope I don't run out of yarn.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Style Arc or Burda?

I've watched the sewing community's interest in Style Arc from afar. The patterns look nice and the sketches make the designs look very appealing. Also, and maybe most importantly, the patterns have gotten fairly good reviews overall. But at $10-$12 (US) a pattern + the shipping from Australia ($$), I haven't bitten. Also, they're single-size patterns, so you better get your size right! They do sell some of the patterns in multi-size versions through amazon.com, which in addition to helping with the size issue also helps reduce the shipping costs. And I hear you can buy their patterns as pdf files on Etsy, but they're still pricey at $7+ (US) and you have to print them out and tape them together. I'm not a fan of pdf patterns - I'd rather trace. In fact I have two free pdf Style Arc patterns and I haven't attempted either one yet.

I think too that what's keeping me from buying any Style Arc patterns is that the designs remind me of patterns I already have, mostly among my many Burda pattern magazines. I received an email from Style Arc advertising their March patterns and at first glance I really liked them - a dress with a boxy jacket.

Photo property of Style Arc
I thought maybe I'd break down and buy my first patterns from them but then I browsed my Burda collection. Just add sleeves...

From BurdaStyle 06/2013 #116

I couldn't find as close a match for the jacket but these aren't too far off:

From BurdaStyle 02/2014 #132

From BurdaStyle 09/2014 #127

BurdaStyle 08/2015 #109

So I guess I'll just stick to my Burdas for now, especially because I have sewn Burda before and know that they fit me. Sorry Style Arc.