Fashion · Useful Thing

A Minimalist Bathrobe Part 2: Edge Finish and Seam Experimentation

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.

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.

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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!

Next time: putting it all together.

Find Part 1 here

Fashion · Useful Thing

A Minimalist Bathrobe Part 1: Making Plaid Work

robe_plan
Step one: make a plan

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.

plaidlayout
Fabric pinned to itself and taped to mat. Pattern pieces aligned to match plaid at seams. Plaid sorted!

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!

 

Fashion

Coordinating Swimwear: The Rash Guard

swim_design
Planning the layout

Rashguards used to be just for surfers, but they have earned a place as a required item in anyone’s complete activewear wardrobe. They are especially popular as children’s wear. Any parent can tell you that they protect delicate skin from the sun way better than sunscreen, which wears off before you know it. It’s easier to pull on a rashguard than to put on sunscreen and they are sporty and fun for men, women and kids.

Like everything else, fit matters!  Personally, I usually end up buying oversized, sloppy rashguards because the ones that are in standard sizes are both too tight and too loose at the same time. Sound familiar? Spandex stretches, so even if it doesn’t fit, you can usually pull one on anyway. But the results and comfort leave a lot to be desired.

ultra_stretch_test
Sample / test of seam finish

The solution? Sew your own, of course!

I had enough fabric left from my maillot to make front and back pieces for a color-blocked rashguard.  So not only could I make a rashguard that fits, I could coordinate it with my swimsuit.  Fancy!  I got a yard of solid plum lycra for the contrast. I chose a pattern from McCall’s with a raglan sleeve and sleeve length and overall length variations.  If you want to make Mommy and me looks, there is also a matching kids’ pattern available.

rg_inside
View of the inside, showing wooly nylon thread

Of course, you don’t have to do things exactly the way the pattern tells you to.  I cut the pieces for the long length, long-sleeve version. Instead of doing the blocking the pattern suggested, I made it solid plum overall with only a floral front and back panel.

The top went together quickly.  In some ways, sewing the stretchy spandex was simpler than doing the same type of shirt in jersey.  I’m not sure why, but it seemed to feed more evenly than cotton jersey and attaching the the neck band was more forgiving as well.  I continued to use a stretch needle and the walking foot for all regular machine work. But, most of the sewing was done on the serger set up for a 3-thread super-stretch overlock. I threaded the lower looper with wooly nylon and the needles with regular polyester thread. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I only needed to loosen the tension a little bit on the lower looper to make a nice even edge finish.  I love the softness of the wooly nylon against the skin.  I have read that wooly polyester is a better choice, because it stands up to machine mashing better.  I plan on getting some and seeing for myself, but for now, nylon it is!

threads_on_serger
Thread conserving spool setup

This was a great opportunity to finally use my new serger’s coverstitch function.  I only had one spool of plum-colored thread, so to make two lines of matching topstitching, I threaded one needle with the spool and the other one with the bobbin thread. I kept going with the purple wooly nylon on the inside.  I think it looks pretty nice, although I wish I had found a closer match for the wooly nylon.  I used the coverstitch for all of the hems and for a nice neckband finish. (Okay, they are a little wobbly, but it’s fine for a first effort).

I really like it. Now that I know how easy it is, I am going to make matching rashguards for all of my future swimwear.

Coming soon – working with plaids and a return to wovens.

coverstitch_examples
Coverstitch tests.  Upper sample shows flat result from decreased cover stitch tension

 

 

 

 

Fashion

One-piece Floral Swimsuit Part 2

As I write this, the temperature has climbed above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  Shorts and swimsuit weather is finally here so I couldn’t wait to finish my suit!

suitback_on
Maillot back – sweet and simple

The suit is a simple scoop neck one-piece, fully lined with sewn-in foam cups.  This project really exemplifies why to learn to sew for yourself.  If a suit that fit this well existed in the retail market (which it doesn’t – trust me), it would probably be in the $100-$200 price range. That is the going rate for a suit that has lining in the back and uses high quality materials.  After taking the craftsy class, I have a pattern that I can use again, and the skills to branch out into different styles.  When you think about how little fabric you need, you can really splurge on something great that’s exactly what you want and still come in a lot cheaper than $100.

suitside_on
Maillot side – everything fits!

Putting the pieces together was pretty fun.  I am so glad to have my duct-tape friend to help me with fitting.  It made putting in the bra cups so easy.  Using the class instructions, I pinned the foam bra cups directly to the mannequin.  Then I pulled the basted-together suit lining over it. After carefully pinning around the foam edges, I cut starbursts into the lycra over the cups until the fabric around the armholes lay flat against the body.  After carefully removing and unbasting the lining, I measured to make sure there was enough fabric around the cups to put in the elastic.  There wasn’t, so I shaved a bit off the upper edge of each cup.

Using my everyday sewing machine, a size 75 stretch needle, the walking foot, and regular polyester thread, I zigzagged the cups to the lining.  Once I cut the extra fabric away from the seams, I was pleased to see how professional it looked.

The next step was to cut the fashion fabric pieces and pin them to their lining counterparts. You could also put them together with a spray adhesive, but I didn’t want to deal with overspray mess.  I would seriously consider doing it that way if I was making a bunch at once though.

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Assembly was pretty straightforward until I got to the elastic casing.  This was my first time using “plastic elastic,” also known as clear elastic or Mobilon.  While it was very simple to zigzag into place, I did have some tension problems.  The underside is pretty messy.  Good thing it doesn’t show!

Although I really like my suit just as it is, I think it could be improved with a few more tweaks.  I wanted to raise the neckline a bit and smooth out the leg curve, so I re-re-modified the pattern pieces.  Then I made a good copy on Swedish pattern paper, so the next one should be super easy (with a lot fewer mistakes!).

Something tells me there will be a spandex stash in my sewing area’s future!

Missed Part 1?  Find it here.

 

Fashion

One-piece Floral Swimsuit Part 1

I recently signed up for Sewing Swimsuits: The Supportive One-Piece on Craftsy.  For those of you that are unfamiliar, craftsy.com offers interactive online courses for many subjects, including sewing, knitting, art, photography, and cooking.  I have taken a few of these in the past and always found them to be worth the time and expense.

Sewing Swimsuits is taught by Beverly Johnson, a Canadian lingerie and swimwear designer.  I love her.  Her teaching style strikes a nice balance between just-the-facts and friendly chat.  She also offers classes on sewing shapewear, bras, and panties.

I have been wearing two piece swimwear for at least 20 years.  One-pieces are always too short or too high-cut or too something.  Making my own one-piece has been on my sewing bucket-list for years.

Beverly’s class teaches how to make a simple maillot that fits.  The idea is that once you know how to do that, you will be able to apply your swimwear skills to other styles. Craftsy rates it appropriate for the intermediate student: “For those who are already comfortable with the sewing machine and have made at least a few projects successfully.”  I would say that’s about right.

Gathering the supplies took way longer than actually making the suit.  I ordered a variety of foam bra cups to find out which size and shape worked best.  I needed swimwear elastic, which is designed to withstand chlorinated water.  Of course, I needed lycra fabric that I liked, but also nylon swim lining.  The class does not include a pattern, so I had to get that also.

B4526_04
Art from B5426 pattern envelope, view B

I started with Butterick B4526 which contains a pattern for a simple, scoop-neck one-piece.  But after re-watching the class, I put it back in the envelope.  Why?  In the first lesson, Beverly advises against patterns with a back piece that is cut on a fold-line.  The reason is that you need to have a curved seam in the center back to accommodate the shape of the wearer’s lower back.  I already have to make adjustments there when I sew pants, so the two-piece back was a must-have. Aha. That’s one fit problem identified.

I hunted online, and other than the instructor’s own patterns, there are none currently in print that have a two piece back and a plain scoop neck. I didn’t want to use the instructor’s patterns just because there was no download option and I was too impatient to wait on the mail.

Sometimes being impatient leads to a lot more work.  I took my Butterick pattern and extra pattern paper and started marking it up.  I made modifications to the back pattern piece to make it look more or less like the shape of the one in the video.  Finally, I added seam allowance to the side that used to be placed on the foldline.

orange_muslin_leg
Spandex muslin marked with new leg curve

I had some plain orange lycra that faded like crazy when I washed it.  Since I no longer wanted to use it, it made good “muslin” for testing the pattern.  I cut out a set of pieces then basted it together and tried it on (with a bra, to simulate having foam cups).

Okay….  the bust darts were too low and the leg openings were way too low.  Seriously unflattering!  This kind of thing happens when I try on ready-to-wear suits, so it’s not surprising. No problems with the center back though, so the two-piece modification worked.  Standing in front of a mirror, I took a fabric marker and sketched in the changes I wanted to make.  I marked the true bust point so I could place the dart correctly.  I also drew lines (a little wobbly, but that’s okay) around my leg opening showing where I wanted the new leg opening to be.

duct_tape_swim_fitting_1
Lining test fit on duct-tape double. Much better!

With a little math, the marked-up muslin, and some rulers and markers, I made more changes to the pattern.  At this point, it doesn’t look very much like the original at all.

I was fairly confident in my pattern, so I cut muslin 2 from my good lining fabric. I basted it and tried it on for fit.

In Part 2, read about putting it all together.  Until then, happy sewing!

 

Fashion

Easy Pull-On Cuffed Pants Part 3

If you have been following along, you know that I just made cuffed pants that I can’t get my feet through.  Sigh.

If I had gone right back in and tried to fix it, it might have been a real mess.  I needed to sleep on it for a few days.  So here we are, a week later, and have I arrived at a solution I am happy with.

newcuffoldcuff
Problem on the bottom.  Solution on the top.

I didn’t have very much scrap, but I had enough to make a little bit of bias tape.  I cut the leg at the inside seam, going from the bottom to just above the cuff. Carefully, I pinned and sewed double-folded bias around the cut area. Once again, working in this area was pretty fiddly, since it was small, multi-layered and the other side of the cuff kept slipping under the needle.  I powered through though.  The next step was a lot easier.

I cut short lengths of the waistband elastic and pinned them horizontally one on top of the other on the inside of the new opening.  I sewed one side down, but left the other pinned.  Before sewing the other side, I tested for fit.  (See, I learned something!) It fit, I sewed the other side down and repeated the process with the other pant leg.

Finally, my “easy” pants were done!

burdapant3
That’s what I call high-waisted!

For the most part, I like these pants.  They are very high waisted. Even when worn at the natural waist, the crotch is on the low side.  Still, since I’m probably only ever going to wear them with an untucked shirt, they should be fine.  The legs and cuffs look good and that’s what the world will see.

I always like to think of what else I could do with my patterns after trying them out. Assuming I plan the cuffs better, this really is an easy, versatile pattern. Burda Style shows them in dressy, luxe fabrics – even sequins.  They even have a little article on how to put together outfits with sequined pants, which is something I never would have considered before. Any drapable fabric thin enough to stand up to a 2 to 1 gather at the waist would work. So, I would consider anything from silks and sequins to jerseys and french terry fair game.

burdapant2
Proof I can put my feet through the cuff

Thanks for reading all about my casual clothing reboot.  Coming soon: sewing with spandex, using the serger for something other than seams and more!

Home Dec · Whimsy

Rooster Pillow (Nap-a-doodle-doo?)

roosterplan
Original drawing with pillow supplies

Did you know that the Rhode Island Red is the state bird or Rhode Island?

When I am not sewing, I enjoy drawing.  Some of my favorite subjects are animals, such as this handsome rooster.  I really liked how his portrait turned out.  It occurred to me that it might make the focal point of a really neat throw pillow, if I could figure out how to go from a piece of paper to a piece of fabric.

Spoonflower is a company that specializes in custom textile printing for the independent designer.  People can upload their own designs or choose from an immense collection submitted by others.  Designs can be printed on over 20 different types of fabric, wrapping paper, and wallpaper.  I have shopped the spoonflower website in the past, but had never tried making my own design.

The spoonflower website has a lot of helpful tutorials, so I won’t go into the nuts and bolts, but they have made the process fairly simple.  I scanned my drawing, made a few edits, then uploaded it to my spoonflower account.  I used their editing tools to center and scale the image.  At this point, I could have my design printed or even publish it for others to use (and get a small royalty for sales).  I chose to get a fat quarter of plain quilting cotton as the base, and clicked the Order button.  Easy!

trim_pinning_rooster
It doesn’t have to match to go

It took about 2 weeks to get my order.  Everything arrived looking just like the digital preview.  The only fault I could find was that the part of the fabric that was not printed was pretty thin.  Any color placed behind it showed through.  To make it opaque and give it a little more stability, I fused lightweight interfacing to the reverse.

I went through my scrap heap to find a nice coordinating fabric for the pillow back.  The material left over from my vintage apron was perfect.  Other supplies included a zipper, some bright yellow pom-pom trim, and a 14×14 pillow form.

I love how my pillow turned out.  Now that I know how easy it is, I know I will be printing my own designs again.

 

rooster_unfilled
With interfacing, the background is much brighter
pillowbackrooster
Reds and browns look good with the drawing