Fashion

Flatlock Fun Run Tights

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.

Flatlock_testI 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.

I tested various types of thread, seam widths and stitch lengths. I tried wooly nylon, rayon embroidery thread and polyester embroidery thread. I liked the shine of both of the embroidery threads and chose the poly just because I liked the color better. I preferred the narrower 4mm flatlock with the “Seaglass” polyester embroidery thread.*

*Note: This was not a great choice…  keep reading.

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Seam Plan

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.

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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.

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Curved seams. Bleh.

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?

tights_pocket_zoomSo, 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.

Lessons learned for next time:

  • Modify the pattern for roomier thighs
  • Try the higher waistband
  • Use a fabric with more stretch
  • Use a thread with some stretch

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Fashion

Girl Power Shorts

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.

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Trying to fit the shorts pattern on my fat half

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.

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Putting the last piece together with scraps. Note that I am using my favorite quick and dirty basting method again: blue tape.

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!

Thoughts? Leave a comment!

Fashion · Travel · Useful Thing

A Minimalist Bathrobe Part 3: Putting it all Together

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Basting the belt loop with my favorite tool – painter’s tape

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.

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Did I just do that? Ugh! (Sleeve pinned right sides together)

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!

Missed the rest of the series? Start here:A Minimalist Bathrobe Part 1: Making Plaid Work and A Minimalist Bathrobe Part 2: Edge Finish and Seam Experimentation.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.