Here’s a quickie that can really reinvigorate old pants and shorts. Making a raw edge by leaving everything unfinished and letting the fraying process take its course is a fine option. But sometimes a neater finish is a better fit. Here’s what I did to some tapered jeans that I wanted to make into shorts.
First, decide on the length you want and how deep you want to make the hem. I decided to go with a one inch hem and a 6 inch inseam. Carefully measure and mark the legs before cutting. I like to use a temporary marker that fades in a day or so. Cut the legs.
Since these bottoms were tapered, they needed a little extra work. I examined the legs and saw that they were only angled on the outside seam. So I picked the stitches out until the outside leg seams opened just slightly below one inch. Next, mark the right side of the legs at one and two inches from the bottom all the way around.
Fold the hem into place and press.
Set up the coverstitch machine with topstitching thread in the two needles and wooly nylon in the looper. I found that plain orange polyester thread works well for jeans topstitching. Using nylon helps keep the seam flat. Otherwise, you may risk creating a ridge or “tunnel” of material under between the two topstitch lines. The nylon color isn’t important since it will not show.
Using the 2 inch line as a guide, stitch the hem.
I had contemplated getting rid of these jeans at first, but I’m really glad I didn’t. Sewing to the rescue!
I recently decided to audit my workout gear. My activewear drawer had been packed full, but when I got rid of the things that didn’t fit, were damaged or just plain ugly, there wasn’t much left. The worst category was bottoms that could be used in a gym workout.
I was off to a good start with my Girl Power Shorts, but I also wanted to put together a long tight with some compression and at least one pocket. I landed on Greenstyle Creations’ Stride Athletic Tights PDF pattern. The pattern offers options for high and medium rise waistbands, different lengths, with or without pockets, and with or without a crotch gusset. For my first pair, I chose the long length, pockets (always!), medium rise, and gusset.
TIP: Use a gusset if you are planning on wearing your tights for yoga or activities that require a degree of contortion. You can leave it out if you are just going to use them for walking or running.
I had a piece of really nice medium weight black poly/lycra calling out from my stash. The deep solid black was the perfect base for decorative stitching.
Flatlocking is a seam technique where the fabric pieces are joined at the raw edges with a covering stitch. It’s particularly useful for thicker fabrics since there is no double thickness at the seams. It’s also great for activewear because the inside of the garment is smoother, reducing the possibility of chafing.
When considering a flatlock technique, you need to think about how the seam lines will affect the appearance of the garment. You will be stitching a stripe between all of the fabric pieces where they are joined. You can downplay the stripes by choosing a matching, or slightly darker thread. I thought it would be fun to play with it though, keeping the fabric simple and making the seam stripes the focal point.
My next step was to make a plan for which seams I wanted to highlight and which I wanted to disappear into the background. I wanted to hide the gusset, inside leg seams, pockets and hem. My regular black serger thread worked well for this purpose.
Sewing a flatlock seam is really easy. You simply set up your serger for a 2 or 3 thread overlock with the knife down. (For most of my seams, I chose to do a 3-thread version for durability). Thread the needle with the thread for the underside of the seam. Thread the lower looper with the thread you want to show on top. Adjust the spacing so that the overlock extends slightly past the cut edge of the fabric. Stitch the seam as usual, right sides together. When you have chained off and taken your piece out of the machine, gently pull the two pieces apart and flatten. If your tension is right, you will have a nice, flat seam joining the two.
The PDF pattern includes easy to follow instructions, so putting the tights together went smoothly.
Since I was featuring flatlock seaming, I hemmed the pockets using black thread and a 2-thread decorative flatlock. I’ve seen this in ready to wear, but never tried to do it. The process is not difficult. Press the hem in place as usual, then fold over once more. With the knife down, stitch a two-thread overlock over the outside (or top) edge of the fold. When it is done and smoothed flat, the front has a decorative flatlock stripe while the back’s ladder stitches hold the hem in place. Neat!
I like that Clear elastic is used inside the waistband to add a flexible, invisible bit of structure.
I didn’t like pinning those curved seams!
I sewed my label inside the hidden pocket – no chafing! Also – hey, hidden pocket!
I had intended to do a coverstitch hem, then I realized that it would be impossible to work with the small diameter opening on a machine with no free arm. I ended up zig-zagging the hem on my regular machine.
Full disclosure: I messed up one of the decorative seams. It was close to the bottom of one leg, and could not be fixed. So I cut the ends off of the legs, saving as much as I could. My tights are capri length instead of long. Oh, well. We’ll just keep that between us, okay?
So, what was wrong with the thread? No stretch. The first time I put on the tights and tried stretching, the seams pulled right out in the tighter areas! I was able to repair them, but there is no way that I will be using my tights for anything more athletic than housework. I’m keeping the pattern, though. With a few changes, this could still be a great staple piece.
I spend a lot of time with my ironing board. Lately, the deplorable state of its cover has been getting under my skin. Why not make a new one?
Making a new cover couldn’t be easier.
First, remove the old one.
Choose a tightly woven, colorfast material for the top. I pulled a cheerful plaid from my stash.
Using the old cover as a pattern, cut the new material.
Set up the serger for a 2 or 3 thread overcast with the knife up.
Lay about 6-8 inches of cord to the right of the fabric edge (next to the foot) and draw to back of machine.
Starting on one of the long sides stitch a wide overcast around the edge, feeding cord through at the same time. Stop about an inch from where you started sitiching. Leave another 6-8 inches of cord at the end.
Alternately, serge without the cord. With a tapestry needle, thread the drawstring cord through the overcast stitches.
Pop the new cover on the ironing board and gather in place.
After so many relatively complicated projects, it feels great to have a little instant gratification! This project took about an hour (not counting blogging).
A friend gave me a neat cotton/spandex panel which features some of my favorite movie heroes. I really wanted to make something with it, but I didn’t have any matching fabric and the design was located inconveniently right in the middle of the small (fat half size) piece.
After ruminating for a while, I thought it was worth a try to just lay out some pieces and see how they fit. That way I would know how best to plan color blocking for the extra material I would need to get.
Since I was really trying to conserve fabric and I also needed some new workout shorts, I raided my pattern stash for the simplest, smallest shorts I would actually wear. I have some fancy patterns with interesting details, but those extra seamlines and pieces take more yardage. I found a very basic leggings pattern with lots of length variations (McCall’s M6360). After just rough cutting the tissue pieces and placing them over the design, I was a little discouraged. It didn’t seem like there was any way to have a logical placement of the design and still have yardage left to cut more than one piece. It was really close though.
I took my measurements and found my pattern size. The outside lines of the multi-size pattern were two sizes above what I needed. Things were looking up!
Next, I carefully placed the pattern tissue for one of the back pieces over the graphic. I was able to get the whole image only if it wrapped around my rear on one side. I can live with that. There was only one way the design was going to fit (okay – I had to cut off a tiny bit of the design), so I cut that piece first.
I figured it was also fine to put the white border inside the seam allowance and hem, so that made my working area a little bigger. With that in mind, I cut two more pieces – the other back and one of the fronts. Now it was really just scraps.
I just wasn’t happy with my options for the last front piece. I knew if I didn’t have the same fabric, any color blocking would risk uneven wear and probably a weird looking result. I’m all for weird, but on my terms.
Finally, I realized that if I carefully used the white border to make horizontal stripes, I would be able to take the odd-sized black scraps to complete the last piece.
With a little more careful cutting and piecing, I had the striped piece ready to go.
Putting the shorts together was super easy. It was all done on the serger using familiar techniques. There is an elastic waistband and coverstitched hem.
I feel quite pleased that I squeezed a whole pair of shorts out of half a yard – and no leftovers!
Well, I’m off to rule the universe. When I get back – more fun activewear!
Asymemetrical pieced stripes give the shorts a sporty look
Once again, I can assert that sewing is a small part of garment construction. Putting the robe pieces together was a relative snap after all of the planning and preparation.
After sewing the pockets and the darts, I was ready to start putting pieces together. In the last post, I tested various seam finishes and landed on flat-felling as the best option. I love the clean lines the enclosed seams make.
Of course, nothing ever goes exactly as planned. I carefully pinned the sleeves in place and was ready to sew them, when I realized that I had pinned them right sides together (flat-felling starts wrong sides together). Rather than pull everything out, I figured it would be fine to have the sleeve cap seams on the inside and use faux-french technique to finish them. It turned out fine, I am happy to report.
I also forgot to put a loop in the neck seam for hanging the robe on hooks. This goof I dealt with by sewing a small reinforced panel with my name tag and loop, then stitching it to the inside back neck. I used a panel because the fabric is so light and fragile that the weight of the whole garment pulling on two small attachment points would quickly lead to holes. Stitching a square creates stability by distributing the load over a larger area. Just for fun, I used the selvage to make the loop. I just liked the way the thread frayed around the edge – and because it is the selvage, it is very stable.
I really love the finished result. I will be taking my super-light robe not just to the gym, but any time I pack a suitcase for myself. It’s so light that I could even find room in my carry-on bag.
The whole project became much more of a technique sampler than I intended. I hope that some of my experiments and fixes inspire you to do something you haven’t tried!
Before I started putting the robe pieces together, I tested out some ideas for seam and edge finishes. I was looking for a good compromise between durability, attractiveness, and lack of bulk.
For the raw edges, I looked at applying binding and different overcast treatments. I wanted to work with supplies I already had, so I wasn’t able to get exact color matches. I chose several bias tapes I thought might work and two colors of nylon serger thread. I liked the way the blue tape looked, but none of the others. I played with different settings on the serger to get a nice decorative edge that completely covered the raw edge (already starting to fray). While both the white and the purple were a nice match for the plaid, only the purple completely covered the edge. The purple is Wooly Nylon and the white is Guetermann’s textured nylon. The wooly fills in the edge much better than the textured. I decided to go with the purple wooly nylon edge because it was best of the less bulky overlock finishes.
Since raveling was going to be an issue with the material, I went ahead and finished the raw edges on all of the cut pattern pieces. I left the edges that were going to be inside a seam unfinished while I decided how to sew them.
Next, I took some more scraps and tested out a few types of seams
Seam 1 – Bound seam
There are a number of options for what to bind the seam with. I could make my own bias tape out of the robe fabric; I could use seams great; or, I could use a pre-made tape from a package. I already looked through the packages I had on hand when looking at edge finishes and couldn’t find a color I was happy with. Seams great would work, but for something that is going to show, it is too sheer to look right. So I moved on without even testing bound seams.
Seam tests right side
Seam tests wrong side
Next, using my regular sewing machine, I tried out 2 different kinds of enclosed seams.
Seam 2 – Mock French seam
I really like the way this looks from both sides. Having two rows of stitching makes the seam more durable. The extra weight from having essentially 3 layers of fabric stitched together actually makes the seam more structural. The very lightweight fabric really is pretty shapeless, so the extra stability really helps.
Seam 3 – Flat felled seam
The flat felled seam has the same advantages as the mock french. The main difference is that it is started with wrong sides together and trimmed and stitched from the right side. Technique aside, it’s slightly less bulky and slightly wider. I’m familiar with flat felling from other projects, so for me, this is the easiest one to consider.
I have never used the serger for any other seam than a 3 or 4 thread overlock. I knew that I could go that route and it would be fast and easy. I really wanted to try something else for this project though.
Seam 4 -2 Thread flatlock with serger
This seam is really fun to do. It’s cool to make what appears to be a plain overcast edge, but then pull the two pieces of fabric apart and have them lay flat with a neat decorative join. I’m glad I tried doing the sample first, though. It just didn’t look as “finished” as the enclosed seams. It would be really fun to use on a thicker material, like a neoprene or fleece.
The winner: Flat felled on the regular machine.
BONUS Technique: Covered Cord
I came across a neat idea while I was browsing my copy of Serger Secrets. One of the examples illustrates a technique where a serger can be used to make decorative covered cord. I probably never would have thought of this on my own, but now that I know about it, I am sure I will find all kinds of ways to use it. This will definitely be the go-to choice for belt loops.
It’s super simple to do, too. Just cut a length of gimp or thick thread. I used white crochet thread.
Set up the serger:
Needle position: right
Stitch length: 1mm
Stitch width: as narrow as your machine will go. Mine is 4.5mm
Presser foot: a gimp foot is recommended. I don’t have one, so I used my cording foot instead. I think anything with a channel on the sole of the foot would probably work.
Thread: decorative thread in the upper looper, all-purpose in the needle
Stitch finger: rolled
Tension: set for 2 thread rolled edge
Make a few inches of chain. Pull the chain threads towards the back of the machine. Slip the cord under the presser foot so it feeds through the channel and exits just to the left of the needle. Add the cord to the other threads and hold them together to start. Then just hit the pedal and watch it go. Magic!
Now that I have a bathing suit that I don’t mind wearing to the gym, I turned my thoughts to making swimming at the gym easier. When I do a swim, I have to carry a bag with a minimum of a towel, swimwear, shower shoes, bathing cap and toiletries. Ideally, I would have a bathrobe to come and go from the dressing area to the showers. I never bring one, though, because the ones I have take up too much room in the bag.
Somewhere in my past, I picked up a few yards of soft double-faced cotton. One side is plaid, the other stripe. I realized that reversible fabrics don’t necessarily need facings or hemmed edges. I could use bias tape or a densely stitched overcast to neaten the edges.
I took a pattern for a short, shawl collared robe I have already made and made some modifications. I eliminated the seam allowances and hem length on all of the outer edges. The original sleeves were slightly puffed 3/4 length, which wasn’t what I wanted. I measured the front and back of the arm opening at the seamline and wrote the numbers on my pattern. Then I looked for a simple, full-length sleeve with the same measurements. Luckily, the first one I tried was a very close match. The belt didn’t need a pattern, since it was just a long rectangle. Although it added a little extra bulk, I thought it was worth it to add patch pockets, a loop at the back of the neck, and belt carriers.
I knew if I wanted the finished product to look good, I would have to be careful about placing my pattern pieces. There are a few things I do that make this process much easier. Before even starting, I try to choose a symmetric plaid. I think about how I want the plaid to be arranged on the garment, then make the foldline on the stripe I want to run down the center back. I lay out the doubled fabric on a large, gridded cutting mat. If the fabric is slippery or hard to align, I use blue painter’s tape to keep it aligned to the grid. To make sure the upper and lower edges stay aligned, I pin the bottom and top together on a prominent stripe every few inches or so. It probably goes without saying that I have pre-washed and ironed first. I carefully examine the plaid and make sure the stripes align to the cutting mat’s grid in several places. They almost never do at first, but a little patience smoothing things out always pays off. Then I arrange the pattern pieces so they line up on the sides. Commercial patterns almost always mark the waist, so that’s a convenient place to check alignment. Otherwise, you can use notches to match a horizontal stripe. I usually start with any piece I want to go on the foldine.
After all of that, I cut the front and back. I decided where I wanted the patch pockets to go and cut squares in the right size, again being careful to match the plaid.
In the next post, I will be trying out different types of edge and seam finishes. See you there!