I recently wrapped up teaching a Beginner Sewing Class at my local university and it gave me a ton of ideas on my favorite tools for beginning sewists. It’s nice to know that there are things out there that others have tried and think you should try to (because they are just better and make your sewing experience easier). So here goes – please chime in, in the comments with your tips on your favorite tools:
Glass head silk pins. My favorites are put out by Clover and red and white heads. Why are these a thing? The heads make life so much easier. You can grab them and jab them into anything without hurting your fingers (hello awful headless pins!). And I say silk pins because as a beginner you may not know that there are many many different types of pins. Silk pins or they are sometimes called sharps, basically pin into anything because they are extra sharp and fine for pinning into silk. The Clover ones aren’t too long, they don’t bend too easily, you can use them in knits (which can be hard to pin sometimes) and when you iron over them, the heads don’t melt. So worth it.
Magnetic pincushion. I’m a serious Clover crusher and my favorite is again, put out by Clover. It’s the Magnetic Pin Caddy and the magnet is nice and strong. I know it’s incredibly tempting to use a really cute old fashioned stuffed pincushion. The magnetic ones are not as cute, I’ll grant you. But what they lack in aesthetic, they more than make up for in ease of use. Get one of these and you won’t have to worry about your pins being strewn all over your workspace and pushed onto the floor where you might find one stuck in your foot later. Just sayin is all. These make sewing way, way faster.
A good pair of shears/scissors. Or a good quality rotary cutter – whichever you prefer for cutting. I use a pair of Kai shears that I love to death. But being the sewist that I am, I have several pairs of Ginghers too and both are great scissor options. Invest in a pair and when they get a little dull, go get them sharpened. A good pair of shears will last you the rest of your sewing days – as long as you don’t go and cut rocks with them! Same with a good rotary cutter. I have a Kai for that too and I haven’t needed to change the blade in 3 years – it’s seriously that awesome!
Good thread. It’s a small thing, but good thread is a must. This is what holds your garment together! You really do get what you pay for and if you buy cheap thread, chances are high that it’s crap thread too. And please – do not use your grandmother’s hand me down thread! Thread has a shelf life because it can rot. My favorite thread is Metrosene all purpose polyester thread, but Gutermann and Coats and Clark also put out great threads and these are all pretty easy to get your hands on at either Joann or Hancock. Don’t do the discount thread. It’s discounted for a reason.
Invest in a nice set of hand sewing needles. I love these self-threading Clover ones. You hold a piece of thread over the top, click the thread into place and voila! the needle is easily threaded. Seriously, these are marvelous. They come in a handy set of lengths and weights and make easy work of hand sewing. Especially if you’re prone to continually de-threading your needle while you’re sewing.
Change out your machine needle after every two or three projects, and/or change it out according to the needs of your fabric. There are different sized needles out there for your machine and it’s worth changing out often. My favorites are the microtex or sharps needles put out by Schmetz or a company called Klasse. These guys are extra sharp and work wonderfully on the majority of fabrics.
Last, but not least, get yourself a good iron. My best tip is to get a vintage steam iron. General Electric ones are grand (got mine off ebay, but etsy is a good place to look too). I work with one of these and have done so for the past 3 years. My guy has never given me fit, is hotter than you can even imagine (oh la la), always has steam for me, does not have auto-off (which is great if you’re a sewer) and is heavy. Good grief, I wish he was my boyfriend! I love my iron!
So what are your favorite tools? Was there a specific tool when you started sewing that was the best thing since sliced bread? Do share!
Good grief. It all started with the word yes. Yes to a custom sewing job for a coworker. Now, I’m not saying that I dislike this coworker (quite the contrary) or that this project wasn’t a worthy one (it was a good challenge). I’m saying it’s me, not you and I’m so rotten when it comes to doling out my time for custom sewing. Man, I’m so bad.
It’s a classic story. One that involves a mother-of-the-groom, a bride with a very specific color scheme and no getting out of a full-on peach dress. Add in the drama that not a lot of options come in this color as far as evening wear is concerned and we have a recipe for custom sewing. Ah yes. I’ve heard this story before – a lot. Especially when I owned a fabric shop. There are days when I think it would be marvelous to start a business based around this very problem – oh and the fact that older women get the shaft when it comes to clothing (apparently the media and society think we’re all dead or should be after age 40).
This coworker asked me to do this dress and I do think it turned out pretty nice. She’s petite and she can definitely pull off this cute style – looks totally her! But I was strapped for time (my own fault) and this dress was cranked out over my Halloween weekend and it would be nice if I allowed myself time off when I have time off (again, my own damn fault – no fault of anyone else’s which is even worse!). Then again, it would be nice if my mouth could utter the word “no” with such sly cleverness that it felt like I was saying “yes” to the person I was talking to. Alas, such is the plight of the girl who just can’t say “no.”
There were things that made it worse too. After I said yes, I also said yes to chiffon, which is the overlay to the skirt portion of the dress. OK, actually I mentioned that the chiffon would be nice for texture (just call me dumb). Ugh. You know what I’m talking about. You know. If you’re thinking this dress and jacket look like a one trick pony, think again – it’s all polyester, which if I do say so myself, can be a bear to press. And I’ve never actually sewn a bolero jacket, which though not hard, is making me question a few of my construction choices right now.
It reminded me that when you sew, you do a lot of work. If you’re sewing for yourself right now, you’re probably forgetting that:
- You had to select a style, which involved getting a pattern from somewhere
- You had to select the fabric, which involved getting the fabric from somewhere
- You needed notions for your project – thread, zipper, buttons, interfacing, again, all those coming from somewhere
- You probably did a muslin/test garment to see where the fitting problems were
- Then you had to fix your pattern, do fitting adjustments
- Somewhere in here, you probably pre-treated your fabric
- Next was cutting – which can be a two hour ordeal depending on the project
- Construction takes a good long time, especially when you have to figure out how your going to line this or that and all of this requires forethought, experience and sometimes pattern manipulation and making new pattern pieces
- Remember why you bought that serger? Not just to look pretty, that’s for sure, to say nothing of the investment of both a serger and a decent sewing machine. PS ~ serger threads aren’t cheap
- Let’s not forget pressing with a decent iron as we go
- Oh and pressing tools. Oh my! Let’s see, tailor’s ham, seam roll, clapper, sleeve board, tailor board were all used in the making of this garment
- Fitting as you sew – I know it’s weird but the muslin doesn’t fix everything!
Seems like an awful lot to me. I mean, when the project is for me, I LOVE it and it’s so satisfying. And even when it’s for loved ones – and I picked the pattern and fabric because well, I’m picky – then I love that too. But this was different. I’m glad this turned out well, I was paid and I’m so happy she liked it (yay!) but I have to admit, it’s hard to dole out my time for this. I think my own personal frustration is that I completely forgot how much time it takes to sew this type of project, especially when you’re keeping track of all the hours and I never do that when I sew for myself. Additionally, I have a hard time sewing items that don’t have a likelihood of being worn more than once, twice or even a dozen times. I’m kind of hard core about constructing clothes you can wear in the everyday – it’s like my daily mantra. There’s also the worry that the customer won’t end up liking the end result, even though they picked everything and you just made it up for them. Or even the fitting – I mean after the muslin I try on as I go and pin out here and there and I don’t have the luxury of doing that when it’s custom. Gosh, so much anxiety here! Just call me a ball of nerves.
I think the word no will start coming a lot easier and that part where I tell everyone I sew will start getting a lot quieter. What about you? Do you like custom sewing? How do you stomach it? How do you say no? I know there are lots of sewing enthusiasts out there who love custom. Are you one of them? Why do you like it?
Credits: Duchess Satin, Chiffon & Stretch Lining; BurdaStyle 7798 for the dress and Vogue 8957 for the jacket.
I’ve been a Bernina lover for a long time and I still am. I own a little Bernina Activa 230 and that machine has seen me through thick and thin, literally. Honestly, I didn’t even know how much I loved that machine until I started trying others and working on machines that students would bring to classes I taught. Not trying to bag on any machine, but wow, I noticed a world of difference. Machines that wouldn’t even sew through a certain thickness of fabric (like 2 layers of wool), had crummy, crummy tension problems, made frightful buttonholes, tears started flying when the word “zipper” was mentioned – things I’ve never really dealt with coming from my experience with my Bernina.
Then I decided that I was interested in doing a collaboration with a sewing machine company. There are a lot of reasons why, but let’s just say that I was interested. I did ask Bernina and never got a response. So I looked elsewhere. I had worked on a couple of Pfaffs that students had brought into some of my classes, and I was impressed with their simplicity and ease of use and so I thought I would ask Pfaff if they were interested. And they were. We all got to talking and emailing and we made a deal and by August of this year or so, I had a shiny new Pfaff Performance 5.0 in my possession.
For what it’s worth, and since I’ve had some time to get used to my new machine I thought I would go ahead and give an honest review of my experience with it and what I think. Coming from my great experience with my Bernina, I thought this might be a helpful review if you’re in the market for something new. There’s more than one fish in the sea, it seems.
Let’s start with this. Not only do I love Berninas now, but I passionately love Pfaffs. This machine is marvelous to work with. Again, I have the Pfaff Performance 5.0. This machine has a beautiful stitch. Perfect tension. Truly, perfect. And the great part is, it is perfect even when the fabric is really really thick, or if you’ve got a nice heavy topstitch thread plugged in (something my Bernina struggled with, but still did a passable job). I ALWAYS look at this sort of thing first. A big win there. This machine is a computerized machine, but the computer system is surprisingly easy to use. I say that dreading any kind of “getting used to” computer things on anything. The learning curve here is pretty intuitive. There were very few things that I couldn’t just figure out on my own and the simple manual that comes with this machine is helpful (and simplified – did I mention it’s simple?).
There’s a crazy amount of stitches on this girl. As someone who doesn’t use that many to begin with, I was impressed and then more impressed to find that the stitches are pretty fun to use if and when you get the chance. The triple straight stitch is pretty amazing; my Bernina can’t hold a candle to it. There’s several really, really awesome buttonholes and I love the buttonhole foot that already calculates how big to make your buttonhole just by having a pre-specified size already programmed into the computer interface. I still have to measure the button and do a tester but, it’s a nice change to calculating the right size for my Bernina buttonhole (though my Bernina makes beautiful buttonholes too).
I’m loving the control I feel with this machine. The foot pedal is absolutely marvelous. You have so much control – it’s not just a race car right out of the gate. Still getting used to the knee lift (pictured above – no, that is not just some random crap shot of my dirty sewing room! ha ha!), but I’m beginning to love this more and more. It’s nice to have more free hands in various parts of the sewing process. I die over the free arm space. Feel like I could shove a quilt through that free arm. It’s that big! You can take the bed of the machine out and voila, instant sleeve bed. Love that.
IDT is pretty amazing. I love that you can use it or not. Like when I’m putting in a sleeve, don’t want IDT. But when I’m stitching on a voile, chiffon or other lightweight fabric, this is a dream! No ripples (or lots fewer ripples) and the stitch is even. (IDT is short for Integrated Dual Feed and it’s Pfaff’s built in system for the foot and the feed dogs to feed the fabric evenly – like a walking foot, but without having to change the foot out). In the photo above, the IDT thing-a-ma-jig is that blackish foot at the back of the presser foot.
My Pfaff came with a plethora of sewing machine feet. They are snap on – not my favorite, but I love the fact that they are more evenly priced and I’m loving the clear feet that I’ve got (how did I ever live without these before!). The invisible zipper foot is marvelous and so is the regular zipper foot – my favorite thus far out of all the machines I have ever used. The bobbin is topside. At first I was turned off by this, but the stitch is so marvelous I can’t complain. I love the old-school storage for feet and bobbins in the bed of the machine. Such a simple thing, but something that ticked for me.
I think that about wraps it up. This machine is a goodie and I’m thrilled to be collaborating with Pfaff for it. There’s a crew of us over at the Sewing Party that are working with some fun machine brands and contributing to this site. Lots of good stuff going on over there! Really good stuff. Definitely check it out. And hey, if you’re in the market for a new machine, come this holiday season, get yourself over to a Pfaff dealer and give these guys a test run. Worth. every. cent. Just sayin. I’m giving the Pfaff Performance 5.0 a 5-star rating.
It was fairly recently that I discovered that Style Arc now has an Etsy shop where you can purchase PDF versions of many of their patterns. I stalked it for awhile. I mean, I actually have several of their patterns that I’ve ordered and have the printed paper copy of (their official webstore is located here). Having only heard good things about Style Arc – especially as concerns fit – I’ve long wanted to try one. Why I couldn’t just settle for using one that I’ve already purchased I don’t know. I have that squirrel disease. “Oh look, SQUIRREL!!!!!!!” In other words, my attention span has been fairly short lately.
It only got shorter when I saw a few versions of the Kate wrap dress. If there’s one thing that I know about myself, it’s this. I love wrap dresses, but never make them. Yet, whenever I’m pattern perusing/shopping, guess what pattern I always end up purchasing? Some sort of wrap dress. Always. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many I have. Another disease, I’m certain, but I have a lot of them. Wrap dress patterns, I mean. Not diseases. So the Kate dress. This one somehow, jumped into my Etsy shopping cart and was downloaded and printed before I could even mouth the words Kate in my half-crazed-Kate-Dress-looking-up-everything-and-every-image/review-internet-vortex-stupor.
I cut out and stitched up, what was supposed to be, a wearable muslin. That didn’t turn out. I mean they never do for me because I’m such a picky thing. I think I might finally be cured of the idea that I can make a wearable muslin. Ha. Anyway, the muslin told me a few things that I needed to fix and most importantly it told me that fabric choice in this dress is key. Non of that slinky, show-every-lump-and-bump kind of rayon jersey that I used in my muslin. I needed to use something beefier. So I decided to splurge on a stash piece of wool knit. It’s a pretty nice wool knit and it was perfect for the job.
All in all, I made very few alterations to the pattern, which I found impressive (and which then prompted me to go right ahead and purchase a couple more downloadables from the Etsy shop, but hey who’s keeping tabs on that kind of thing?). I opted to use the left front for both front wrap pieces – wasn’t wild about the tucks on the right front for me (even though yes, I tried them). I lowered the waistline to where my waistline actually is which was about 1 1/2″ down from the original pattern. I chopped about 2 1/2″ off the hem (after lowering the waist). I took 1/2″ off of the neckline all the way around because, hey I’m up for a little sex appeal here and there and a little more skin was just the ticket. I got rid of the tucks in the sleeve (personal preference) and shortened it a mite. Lengthened the tie about 15 inches (wanted to be able to tie in the front) and Voila! done. These are pretty minor tweaks if you ask me – most of which are purely aesthetic. I mean usually I have to do a major forward shoulder adjustment on the bodice coupled with a broad upper back adjustment. Add in a sway back, plus a serious side seam take-in at hips and waist even though my measurements are a whole inch bigger than the size chart measurements on the back of the pattern envelope (I’m sure y’all have no idea which pattern companies these might be, right? Right???)
Some construction deets. These Style Arc patterns come with a few lines of written instruction at best. I’m totally fine with this as I usually have a better construction method than the directions offer anyway. I opted to do a turned under neckline binding and I did the binding out of cotton/lycra jersey, for comfort. I applied it just like bias tape, due to the bulk, and then shortened it so that it hugged the neck. No gaping here! I used SewKeyZ woven stay tape for the shoulders and the knit stay tape for the hem of the dress. Used my coverstitch for the sleeve hem and dress hem and well, there’s not much more to say. This dress is easy peasy. Would even recommend to a beginner.
Wearing one of my Gertie slips underneath this dress and it works out wonderfully! Works well and makes it nice and comfortable against the itch factor of the wool – though the wool isn’t that itchy, slips or linings always help, in my opinion. Plus, in the event that our Utah wind flips the wrap flaps open, I’m covered, literally!
Expect more Kate Wraps in my future. I’m on the lookout for a printy ponte as I feel the print would hide some of those lumps and bumps better (I know, we all have them, well at least I do). This thing is just the ticket for a working girl. Secret pajamas I’m telling you. Plus, once I find the right silk jersey for the job, it’s full blown DVF territory – if I haven’t hit that already. For those interested, here’s my full review of this pattern. Cheers and here’s to a happy October!
There comes a time in every woman’s life (I might be prone to exaggerate just a tad) that she has to face the need for new underpinnings. I don’t know about you, but for me this is such a needle in a haystack. I can look forever and ever for just the right bra or just the right underwear or as the case may be, just the right slip. And correct me if I’m wrong, but especially in the slip department, there are some serious, serious deficits. Even if you can find something, it’s usually an arm and a leg, or it’s just….grose.
Well, I couldn’t even find anything. Nothing. Not a thing. I’ve looked. I’ve scoured. I’ve even tried to find vintage slips at the thrift and right now, there seems to be a serious slip MIA because I finally decided to stop wasting my time and energy and just make something! Personally, I have nothing against making underpinnings of any kind, I just usually always opt to make something else first. But when the need arises, I’ll rise to the occasion.
I had purchased Gertie’s Butterick 6031 awhile back. I was out with my mom and we were getting a few patterns from the local JoAnn. I couldn’t resist this particular pattern because the slips just look so pretty on the model and with some things I make, I do like to wear a slip. I waited several weeks before I even picked up the pattern again and decided that it needed to be made. I just finished up a wool knit wrap dress and was in desperate need of a nice slip to wear underneath.
I pulled out my fabric and found a few micro jerseys to choose from (where I find all this fabric, I have no idea, sometimes it feels like it just magically appears). This is the fabric that Gertie recommends as per her sewalong and I had picked up the nude from Emma One Sock and the grey/blue and lavender from a local fabric shop (Designer’s Resource, if you live here in SLC). There are a few other fabrics that I think would work wonderfully in this pattern, namely swimsuit fabric and/or lining. I’ve seen some of those at the local JoAnn and do think they would do a marvelous job, but if you’re looking for these micro jerseys be on the lookout from something that falls away from the skin, feels cool to the touch and is usually a polyester and spandex blend. Usually something like 92% polyester and 8% spandex. They stretch in both directions but recover immediately.
Anyway, once the fabric was set, all that was left was finding all the notions that one needs for this project. I can see why Gertie did kits for this because there are several things that you need. I happened to have leftover stretch lace from my shop – a blessing since this calls for quite a bit. I actually forgot that I had picot edge elastic and instead used some swimsuit elastic for my first slip and just folded over the elastic and did that fancy straight stitch zig-zag. I had to send off for the strap elastic and rings and sliders (bramakerssupply.com) but I was pleasantly surprised with the quick shipping. For my first rendition I used the strap elastic for the whole of the strap as I didn’t have any of the right width of stretch lace and then for my second and third rendition, I got on a comfort soapbox and tried something else. For those, I opted to make a strap from swimsuit elastic that was encased in the matching micro jersey. First I attached to one edge with a zig-zag and then then folded over twice and did the fancy straight stitch zig-zag. Uber, uber comfy and doesn’t cut into my shoulder (I am so picky about comfort, it’s almost ridiculous!). Stole the idea from a bra I love.
And then I just made silly little bows from the outrageous amount of ribbon I have and voila! Done! I made the third – the nude version – in about 3 hours time, cut to finish. Addicting for sure and a project that I highly recommend. While I don’t look like the model in the finished slips (yup, I have a tummy!!!) I still feel pretty, they do the job and they are so comfortable. All wins in my book!
If you’re interested, here’s my full review. And now, off to make another wrap dress before I put it all together.