March 31, 2011

Do I really need a Serger?

I'm introducing a new series on the blog called Do I really need...? where I give my opinion on the pros and cons of something sewing or craft related. I'm hoping this will be a once a week feature. If you have any ideas for future Do I really need? posts tell me in the comments! So, onward we go -

(my serger, with my sewing machine at the other end of the table)

Do I really need a serger? I've heard this question asked often on the internet by beginner or intermediate sewers who want to take their sewing to the next level and it's a good thing to consider.

The short answer is no, not really. The long answer is, well, maybe. It depends on what you want to do with your sewing and what benefits a serger can give you.

A serger or overlock machine is like a sewing machine with three or four threads that wrap around the edge of fabric and prevents it from fraying. Look inside any store bought garment and you'll see a serged edge.

This isn't going to be a post about what brand or features to look for when buying a serger. If you're still contemplating whether you need one then we haven't gotten far enough to go on a shopping trip.

First, ask yourself a few questions:
- How serious am I about sewing? Do you want to make clothes that look like ready to wear from the store or are you fine with quick and easy cotton skirts? Do you sew mostly clothes for yourself and others or are you more into crafts and home decorating projects? Do you want to sell your clothes like on Etsy or is it purely a hobby?

If you answered yes to the former halves of those questions maybe you should consider getting a serger. If you plan on selling clothes a serged edge looks professional and is easier and faster to do than a French seam, for example. If you're making clothes for your kids on the other hand, they'll probably out grow the clothes so fast that taking some pinking shears to the seams allowances will be fine.

- Are you sewing with knits? 

Yes, you can totally get away with using a zig zag or stretch stitch on your regular machine for knits but if you sew knits often (like me!) a serger is the way to go. With knits a serger is incredibly quick and easy to sew seams.

- How lazy are you?

This question can go either way. Because a serger sews and finishes the edge in one fell swoop it can make you a speed queen! Hemming a skirt is faster when you serge the raw edge then fold under once and top stitch rather than folding and measuring and pressing the hem twice to enclose the edge. You can sew shoulders one after the other without stopping and clipping dangling strings.

(example of a serged hem folded and topstitched as well as serged seams on both sides of the seam, inside my paper bag skirt)

But there are still times when it is important to sew a seam with a sewing machine first. In that case you would take more time to serge the edges either together or by opening up the seam and serging either side individually as compared to just using pinking shears. I don't always use my serger on seams for that reason.

Also, while threading a serger is not the 7th level of hell that people often make it out to be, it is annoying and time consuming and you'll probably need a pair of tweezers handy. Changing colors on my serger has definitely weighed in on my decision to serge an edge or not...

What can a serger do that my sewing machine can't and does that matter?

One thing a sewing machine can't do - rolled hem. If you ever have to work with very delicate fabrics, something flimsy and slippery and sheer, you'll appreciate the rolled hem feature. It is basically what it sounds like, a tight overlock stitch that rolls the hem in on itself ever so slightly. It makes a great finished edge for bridal gowns and fancy dresses. A serger can also do things like gather or stretch the edge of a fabric, pretty cool when you're doing a flounce or ruffles. If you buy what's called a cover stitch machine you can make those double top stitches you find on the hems of your t-shirts. Oooh la la, very professional!

(under the covers of my serger. it gets a little dirty in there. you can see the threading guide on the far right and the nob where you stretch or gather the fabric to the left of the guide)

What can you do about it?

Sergers can appear pretty foreign if you've never used one. See if anyone in your area offers a serger class where you can use or rent their sergers. If you decide not to buy one, well, it's not big loss but if you do buy a serger you'll already know how to use it!

Do you know a friend or relative who has one? That person could let you mess around on the machine to see if it is something you truly need (maybe she'll even let you have it!!).

Sergers are a significant investment for the home sewer so if you decide to get one perhaps you should go used first. If you do buy from a local shop or person. You can make sure you get all the necessary parts (my used serger was a gift and missing a couple pieces), make sure it works and they might even show you how to use it.

My Serger Story
My serger is a Singer four thread machine which was given to me by a cousin who hadn't used it in years. In fact I doubt she had even used it more than once or twice because it looks brand new even though it must be at least 15 years old.

While I can't complain about free I did discover that my serger is missing a couple pieces (like the metal plate needed to make a rolled hem, boo) and no matter what I've tried the tension bar in back won't raise up any higher than a few inches meaning I have to wrap the far right thread around my right pinky while sewing to keep the necesarry tension. Not so good, ha! I also accidentally threw away the plug for it while moving. I thought it was the plug to an old sewing machine. I had to use a different one from then on. But the thing still works!

If you do decide you need a serger I hope yours is in better shape than mine! Stay tuned next week for Do I really need to take a sewing class?

March 30, 2011

Lisette Copy Dress (based on Simplicity 2209)

I'm having a little ethical dilemma regarding this dress. So let me explain. Simplicity has a new line of patterns called Lisette. One of which includes this dress, a pretty simple design with a pleated a-line skirt, scoop neck and cross over pleats on the bodice at the waist.

Now, I intended to buy the pattern a couple weeks ago when Joann had their $1.99 sale on Simplicity Patterns but for whatever reason I didn't. That sale ended and since I refuse to buy a pattern that isn't on super sale (one of the reasons why 70% of my pattern collection is Simplicity) I wasn't going to buy that pattern.

Instead I just made an inexact replica of it from scratch. I say inexact because I'm sure the actual measurements I made don't match the original but still, it's a copy.

With the pattern envelope drawings as a guide I used a basic bodice sloper I had, moved the front dart and extended it so the pleat overlapped when folded, and attached a skirt sloper that was originally for gathers but instead I made pleats. I even made a little facing inside for the arm and neck openings and a side zip (actually, my first ever invisible side zipper!).

So that's why I'm feeling a little moral ambiguity. I've never straight up copied a pattern design before, though, in many cases I could. This is a sign of my strange laziness - I'm too lazy (or cheap?) to go back to the store and buy the pattern but strangely, not too lazy to make my own pattern and muslin from scratch. Doesn't really make much sense, I know, but this design was so easy to make that I didn't need the pattern.

I feel a little guilty about ripping of a design and not giving Mr. Simplicity CEO my $2 but obviously not enough to not share the dress with you. I think it turned out pretty good! I'm not sure what you'd call this fabric. I bought it at Joann the same time I contemplated buying the pattern but didn't. All I know is that it is shiny on the inside and matte on the outside and it frayed so much I thought I'd pull my hair out. But it had just the right mix of structure and drape for this project.

I guess I can't give much of a review on the pattern itself but the design obviously looks good! What are your thoughts on my devious design plagiarism?

March 29, 2011

Quick DIY - Chain Earring Display

I'm moving (eventually, who knows when!) and I've begun the great purge of junk from my apartment that I don't want to lug around to a new location. I started with my bathroom. I used to house makeup and earrings in a basket on the sink countertop but after tossing old make up and brushes and things I know I'd never use again I decided to stop using the basket all together and opted for a smaller cup to hold brushes and things.

But then what to do about all my earrings?

I found an old broken necklace chain at the bottom of said basket and pinned it up on the tiny bit of free wall space in the bathroom.

You need a chain with links that are big enough to easily slip earrings through. I make a zig zag to give enough room for the earrings to dangle. I left parts of the end of the chain hanging down for stud earrings. The loose chain makes it easier to remove the backs of the stud earrings.

It's a nice way to display earrings in a small space and make use of something that was just sitting around gathering dust. Oh, and yes, there's also a couple fancy bobby pins in there and, yes, I am missing an earring up top. I'll find it one of these days...


I'm working on a new dress made from scratch (although it is based on an existing design) that I hope I can finish tonight and take pictures of tomorrow!

March 28, 2011

Cynthia Rowley Botched Striped Dress(Simplicity 2250)

Have you ever been halfway through a project when you suddenly realized that it is going to be a disaster? At that point you must decide whether or not to continue and hopefully learn something from the mishap or give up on it completely and move on. In addition you are reminded why you really should have made a muslin.

For this dress I had that exact experience and I decided to trudge through it.

I should explain that when I first bought this pattern I thought the bodice was made up of mostly gathers. Turns out it's all darts and after sewing up the bodice I realized it was a hot mess and it only got hotter and messier as I sewed the rest together. Other than the sloppy bodice the fit is good but the details annoy me.

There seems to be no way to tie the flaps on the back in an acceptable fashion and the bodice front was longer than the bodice lining no matter what I tried to do. So I just sewed the skirt to the level of the lining which made the bodice look funky and also makes the skirt look too high and uneven at the waist.

uneven bodice at the bottom

The fabric is a linen look (meaning it's got polyester in it) that I bought on sale at Joann.

Maybe if I used a horizontal stripe fabric rather than vertical I'd like the bodice more but the bodice also has pleats in places and those look so much better than the darts so maybe it's just the pattern?

this is my "what was I thinking" face

I hoped it would be better when all the pieces were together but the final result is still a disappointment. Apparently Simplicity thinks my boobs ought to be three inches higher because the bodice is so bunchy right there (as you can see me pulling on the fabric in the pic above). Lumpy boobs is not a good look for me.

The skirt design is made up of several random sections of pleats mixed with gathers but after accidentally sewing the skirt on to the bodice inside out (a mistake made after realizing how bad the bodice was) I had to seam rip it and reattach the skirt. After that I didn't feel like being so exact about all the gathers and pleats so I just made it fit.

Maybe I'll re try this dress again someday only next time I'll gather and pleat the bodice to make the same effect and hopefully I'll get a better fit. Oh, well. At least this was a learning experience for me.

Even Peanut thinks it's a hot mess and Peanut is never wrong...

March 26, 2011

Sewing Showcase: Miss P

Hello and welcome to a new feature on my blog where I introduce you to inspiring home sewers from around the world (or maybe just next door)! I'm hoping to make it a monthly or twice a month feature. I'm so excited to share with you other sewing blogs that I like to read and draw inspiration from.

For my first Sewing Showcase I'd like you to meet Portia from Miss P! Portia is a young mom from the UK and what I love about Portia is that not only is she working on making her own patterns (something I also like to do) but she's also great at finding unwanted garments and restyling them into something amazing! I wish I had that gift to envision what a garment could be rather than what it is. Oh, and did I mention that she also has a lovely shop full of vintage treasures?

Be sure to visit her blog, Miss P, and her Etsy vintage shop!

Have you always made your own clothes or is sewing something you started more recently? How did you learn to sew and why do you like making clothes more than home decor projects or quilting or other types of sewing?
Gosh no, I wish!! When I first left school I started my A levels in Textiles, Art & Design and business studies with vague ideas of earning a living in the fashion industry. Circumstances at the time meant I had to drop out after only 9 months of study.

Then "life" happened and I was busy paying bills and starting a family. It's only now, 20 years on, that I've come back to it. I started a college course about 18months ago to learn what I should have learned back then. I still class myself as a novice. I don't really feel like I've earned my sewing stripes yet..!

What are some of your favorite pieces you've made yourself? And what's on your list of must-sew projects?
In all honesty I don't have a favourite project as such, as I'm not yet happy with the standard of my finish. (God that sounds terribly self critical doesn't it?!) So at the moment I'll have favourite "bits" of various different projects. I like the concept of the refashion I did on the plaid dress (Using the excess of fabric from the hem to make sleeves,) but not necessarily my execution of it. I left the sleeve head too short which is why there are drag lines on the sleeve. Overall I quite like the denim shirt refashion too.

My "must sew" for Spring/Summer are a couple of pairs of 30's style lounge/palazzo pants in a lightweight print. The kind that swish round your legs and create their own breeze to keep you nice and cool! I bought a vintage pattern on Etsy that I'm hoping to grade up and adapt. That arrived this morning so I'm keen to clear some projects out of the way and get started on those.

You're working on your go-to dress from scratch. Could you describe what this project is and why you're doing it? What are you learning from making this dress?

I have a couple of dresses that fit me really well,are versatile,and I always feel good in. They are my "Go To" garments. My wardrobe fail safes. So I wanted to draft a pattern that recreated all the best elements of those dresses and that I could use as a template to create different variations of the same basic style. I'm sure if I'd have looked I could have bought a pattern that required much less work than I have put into drafting my own. But I find the process fascinating and it really supports my understanding of garment construction and fitting in general. Plus the sense of achievement and ownership is greater.

I never could understand how pattern companies could charge so much. But now I realize how much time and skill is invested in developing a pattern, the price tag seems very reasonable indeed!!

You have many "sewing basics" posts on your blog. What is a sewing technique you with you had learned when you were just getting started?
I wish I had read up on the basics of using a sewing machine. Instead I winged it a bit at the start which led to lot's of frustration and abandoned projects. (Although conversely I'm still an advocate of just diving in and puzzling it out as you go. I think it's a good way of learning) But "understand your machine" would be my best advice to anyone starting out. My first big revelation was the seam guide on the throat plate. It seems so obvious now. I really don't know what planet I was on, but I couldn't figure out how to keep my seams straight. Then came my red faced encounter with the assistant in out local haberdashery store. Intent on making me feel like a total muppet.

How was I supposed to know I couldn't use a 12 needle to sew upholstery fabric, lol! I must confess, I do get really bugged by sales assistants that roll their eyes as if you're a moron for not knowing something. "Don't call someone stupid for not knowing what you only learned yesterday". After all, these people weren't born knowing what a selvage was. At some point they didn't know either!

When thrifting for yourself for restyles - what do you look for in a garment? Pretty fabrics? A blank slate? Something you can take apart completely or just something where you can alter little bits like a collar or sleeves to make it work?
I'm totally led by whatever garments I come across. Some garments just need a little tweak to make them fabulous again. Others require reconstructive surgery! The major factor though has to be fabric. I don't see the point in putting effort into cheap and nasty fabrics. For me, they've got to feel great and drape well. If the materials you start with are beautiful, you've got a fighting chance of ending up with a beautiful garment.
(check out Portia's most recent restyle!)

Do you go thrift shopping with a plan in mind of what kind of clothes you want to make and search for something that can serve that purpose or do you shop with an open mind and let inspiration strike?

Nope. No plan at all. I tend to thrift quite instinctively. I scan with my eyes and hands and I'll be drawn to a color, texture or pattern poking out of a rail of clothes and investigate. (J takes the mickey out of me for it. He makes little noises like a radar bleeping when I'm out thrifting with him in tow. Yep. He's officially hilarious). Then I'll decide whether it'll go in my Etsy shop, my restyle pile, or my wardrobe. When it comes to restyles, sometimes I'll know straight away what I want to do with a garment. Other times I'll just keep it hanging in view for a while and ideas will pop into my head over time.

You're participating Me Made March where you challenged yourself to wear one self made garment each day in March. How has making your own clothes helped you develop your personal style?
Massively. When it comes to clothes, I've never been able to have exactly what I want before. Either because of budget,fit, or because I simply can't find what I have pictured in my head. As my dressmaking skills develop those constraints are slowly falling away. So for the first time,(I'd actually go so far as to say,ever) I am able to properly explore and experiment with what I want to wear and it's having a really positive impact on my confidence and self esteem.

Me Made March is pretty cool too. I'm finding myself experimenting with combinations I wouldn't normally consider, in order to incorporate the "Me Made" element. It's also helped to highlight what areas of my wardrobe need attention and provide a focus for my sewing projects. It's had such an impact in fact, that it's prompted me to have a massive wardrobe purge. (2 sacks worth of clothes, gah!!) As of now I'm starting from scratch, and the only thing I will give wardrobe space to, is something I feel really good in.

I know you have a young son. How do you make time to take care of him, go thrifting, post on your blog and, of course, do so many sewing projects? I don't even have kids and I have a hard time getting everything done! Any time saving tips?
Ah, my Little Tornado, yes! Elliott is totally the love of my life and I work everything around his routine. Which luckily is consistent enough for me to plan my day around. Basically I decide what I want to achieve that day and then break those tasks down into different categories. (Ha ha,I sound a bit obsessive don't I! But seriously, I'd never get anything done if I didn't plan like this.) There are things like housework, (yes, my 2 year old hoovers, it's hilarious)laundry and shopping that he's happy to be involved with. He follows me round with a duster and we turn the music up loud and sing and dance as we go.

Then there's the things (mostly my sewing) that I can only do when Elliott is napping (an hour each day), at nursery (6 hours a week) or asleep at night. (Usually I can fit in an hour or so in the evening) Then I'll squeeze in bits of blogging, college and Etsy while he's eating or happy amuse himself for a while here and there. Overall,when you tot the hours up across the week there's a modest amount of time to "play" with but because it's all pretty fragmented, it takes a little planning to take full advantage of it.

My best tip is to try and have a dedicated sewing space. We built a summer house last year and that is my space that I can just close the door on, then pick straight back up again when I get my next window of time. It's so time consuming when you have to pack everything away and then unpack it all again. If you only have half an hour to spare, you could spend the whole time just doing that. My summer house has been a total godsend.

Thanks Portia for your great interview! I can't wait to see even more sewing projects from you!

March 24, 2011

Using Scraps: Baby Hat

About a month ago I found this great idea for a baby hat from Make It and Love It and thought it would be an awesome way to use up some scrap fabric!

This brown striped knit fabric was leftover from my T-Shirt Mini Dress.

My printer isn't working so I just copied the directions for the pattern from Make It and Love It.

I used the pattern to cut out two pieces for the hat.

Then I cut two rectangles for the bottom of the hat.

I serged the curved edge of the hat and the short sides of the rectangles.

I folded the rectangles in half...

...and pinned the rectangle to the straight edge of the hat and serged.

Here's the finished hat.

And here's the finished hat with the bottom folded up.

It is supposed to fit a 0-3month old baby. Justin's sister is having a baby boy this summer. Hope it fits! The brown stripes are perfect for a little boy.

Since I don't have a baby around to test it out I had to test the fit on my cat. Yes, you read that right. Luckily for everyone Peanut decided it's not her style.

March 23, 2011

Lace Top T-Shirt Tutorial

I thought about making a pattern for my Lace Top T-shirt but then I figured it is so easy to make that a tutorial might be better. Basically you are chopping off the upper portion of a shirt and replacing it with a lace piece.

You will need -
  • A t-shirt
  • Tailor's chalk or sewing marker
  • About 1/3 yd of lace (make sure it isn't flimsy or rips easily, it has to hold up the rest of the fabric)
  • Stay tape for shoulders
  • One package bias binding tape for arm and neck openings
  • Matching thread
  • Paper to trace your pattern on and cutting mat
  • Tracing wheel

Note: I made my original black and gray shirt from scratch but this tutorial shows you how to make one from an existing t-shirt. The blue shirt you see me using in the pics below is an old shirt that I didn't mind cutting up to show as an example.

First put on your shirt and stand in front of a mirror. Using your tailors chalk mark your seam line where you will later attach the t-shirt to the lace.

Go from the point where the side seam of the sleeve meets the bodice across to the other side over the top of your bust. Maybe even try a sweet heart design.

  It is important to do this while wearing the shirt because you can tell where you're bra sits and if you just draw a straight line from sleeve seam point to the other sleeve seam point you'll end up drawing directly on top of your ta-tas and that's no good! You need to fully cover your girls and your bra with t-shirt rather than transparent lace.

If the line you drew is sloppy you can take off the shirt and clean it up while flat.

On the back side of the shirt draw a straight line across from each sleeve seam line.

Now cut along the line you drew on the back.

To make sure your front curved line is symetrical fold the shirt down the center front matching seam lines. Pin and cut along the line you drew.

Separate the sleeve and neck part from the body. Now you have a t-shirt "tube" and we have to make a new top piece.

I made my top in two pieces so that the lace would have a shoulder seam to hold onto. I was worried the lace would stretch out too much if it was all one piece.

Using the sleeve and neck part of your cut up t-shirt, turn it inside out and lay it flat. We'll make front and back pattern pieces based on this so lay the fabric on top of some paper with a cutting mat underneath and trace around with a tracing wheel. Trace a piece for the front and the back.

Here is my front piece. The tracing wheel makes tiny dotted marks that you can connect with a pen. I highlighted my pattern lines in green marker.

Because we're not sewing and attaching separate sleeves like the t-shirt has, the sleeve for the lace top will curve down slightly. I made mine cap sleeves so I shortened my sleeve length from my original t-shirt. If you want sleeveless, well, then disregard the sleeves and instead trace the seam line on the t-shirt where the shoulder meets the sleeve. I also widened my neck opening because lace isn't as stretchy as t-shirt jersey so my big head needs to fit through. You could even try a boat neck or v-neck opening. My altered lines are in pink marker.

Make your adjustments to both front and back pattern pieces.

Add a 1/4 in seam allowance all the way around both pieces. I use 1/4 in because I use a serger. You can add more allowance if you feel the need to. If you don't use a serger use a straight stitch to sew lace to lace and a zig zag stitch to sew lace to t-shirt material.

Cut out your pattern pieces with added allowance and use them to cut out your pieces of lace.

Right sides facing pin the lace to the t-shirt "tube" and sew. If you have sleeves you'll also pin and sew the bottom sleeve edges together as well.

Right sides facing sew the pieces together at the shoulder with some stay tape.

Finally attach the bias binding to the neck and arm hole openings, stitch in the ditch or top stitch and cover your raw edges up nice and pretty.

Now you have a pretty lace top t-shirt! See more finished photos of my shirt at the original post.