July 31, 2007

Tips on How to Sew Faster

I sew fairly quickly. My sister in law call it 'Pulling an Elizabeth' when she cuts out, and sews a complete garement in a couple of hours. I come from a long line of women who sew fast. And truthfully, my great grandmother sewed a lot faster than I do, but then, she was a professional seamstress in a factory, and she had a lot more practice at sewing fast than I ever will, and a lot more incentive to do it! One of the women at Sewing Pattern Review asked for tips on how to sew fast. This is a slightly edited version of my post to her, and I hope someone here finds it helpful.

Sew with your head first.

Sew every day.

Practice helps!

You need to sew a lot to get fast.

But, if you are ready to read about sewing fast in more detail, here are some of my thoughts on sewing fast.

  1. You are the designer, and you are in charge of your sewing, not the pattern sheet. The pattern sheet is only a guide. If you do something differently from the sheet no one will smite you; you will not get a ticket from the sewing police for doing something differently (and faster!). Reading the pattern guide through for a new pattern is suggested, as long as you also read it using your head; reading it through step by step for your TNT after making 14 of them really slows you down. Think through your sewing, and see if there are steps you can change to speed up.
  2. You sew with your head first, and then your hands. You need to picture how you are putting the pieces together first in your head. It can help to put your pattern pieces out in order as you walk through the process. (eg. for the princess style dress: center front piece, side front pieces; center back pieces, side back pieces, zipper...). If you can think through the construction process in your head, you don't need to stop every step, read the instructions, guess to see if you are doing it right, reread the instructions, sew it, and wonder if you actually did it right. (My MIL is famous for this--and then she does it wrong and has to rip and redo). If you lay the pieces out in order, you also prevent those other well known crisis: oh no, I didn't cut the back skirt....and, oh no, I don't have a zipper.
  3. Construction order is pretty standard: you put each of the parts together first--front, back, sleeves if pieced--then the pieces to each other: shoulders, side seams, (set in sleeves here)-- and last finish the edges (neck and hems). Once you understand that the overall sequence does not change between garments, no matter how complex the garment, your sewing will speed up. You almost need to develop an internal sequence for your garments--or your own mini guide with keywords. The steps for all tops/dresses are 'essentially' the same (of course, there are always design variations, and details that change...which is what makes it fun.) But understanding the sequence speeds the process up.
  4. Use industrial seam allowances instead of 5/8 inch seam allowances when possible. Clipping off seam allowances takes time. Unless this is a fitting pattern, a pattern where you need a 5/8 inch seam allowance for a specific seam technique (flat felled seams on jeans, for example, or putting in a zipper), or you are working with particularly difficult fabric that needs an alternate seam finish, a 3/8 of an inch seam allowance is all you need.
  5. Using different seam allowances for different parts (like in industrial techniques) speeds things up. Inside facings, waistbands and necklines--1/4 to 3/8 of an inch seam allowances help you to sew more accurately and faster. For your TNT patterns, particularly the collared blouses, it is worth the time to create a collar pattern with the right seam allowances. You actually don't need to clip as much with the narrower seam allowance, and it looks better. But, remember, you are the designer and you sew with your head first. If your head/gut say use wider seam allowances with certain fabrics, trust them.
  6. Pins are (generally) optional. There are some exceptions to this rule, but normally, once you are a fairly experienced sewer, pins slow you down. Industrial seamstresses do not use pins; they match their notches and pleat up their seams along the edges, releasing a pleat as they come to it--but that is another thing. Having said that--I still use pins for difficult fabrics, and for matching princess seam curves, but I don't use a lot of pins. For example, I use only 4 pins for sleeves: notches, seam and shoulder.
  7. I am not a 'fussy seamstress' and I prefer industrial sewing techniques. I don't thread mark all my grainlines; I don't tailor tack because I am more accurate with pin-marking, or chalk marking; I don't 'tie off' every seam allowance thread tail; I don't hand baste unless it is absolutely necessary. These particular fussy seamstress habits will slow you down. There are always exceptions to this; I would do most of those for tailored garments, because it would make a difference for the final garment. But, I generally don't hand sew unless forced to (except for beading; I like beading). I grew up the only right handed person in a left handed family, and I didn't learn to handsew until I worked as a seamstress. I can do anything with a sewing machine.
  8. Don't be afraid of the machine going fast. Practice sewing with the machine going fast. Let the machine sew at a steady pace, and let the feed dogs guide your fabric. You will get more comfortable with the speed if you practice at a higher speed on things you don't care about, or just samples. You have to practice to work up to accuracy and speed.
  9. Chain sew whatever you can; that is, sew one item after another with only a few stitches of thread between them. Cipping threads takes time; shorter threads, less time. This is a skill; if you quilt, you learn this one fast, but you can learn this one with garments, too.
  10. You don't have to match every thread colour in the serger to your garment (the industry does not!), but the lower loopers should be pretty close or deliberately different as a design detail. Stitch all the same colour garments at the same time, so you don't have to rethread your machine every time you sew.
  11. Wind more than one bobbin of the same colour when you start your garment. I usually wind two bobbing for shirts, simple pants, and simple dresses, and three bobbins for topstitched garments.
  12. You will not be fast the first time you sew a garment; you will get faster by the 6th garment of the same style. If you want to get better at sewing a particular style, sew more than one at a time. You will be faster by the last one, particularly if you are trying to develop that sequence in your head. It helps if you don't have to change the thread for each garment. But, practice will help you speed up.
  13. When you are trying something new, realize that you will be slower at it at first, and give yourself permission to be slow at first. It usually takes about 6 to 10 garments of the same type to become comfortable with the process, and about 10 more to become fast. I'm fast at Tshirts, now. By the same token, try something new and see if you will be faster with that method. Industrial sewing techniques are designed to be faster, with practice.
  14. Have your tools where you need them, and put them back where they go when you are done with them. Nothing slows you down quite like having to go to the store to buy another loop turner because you lost the first one 'somewhere in the sewing room'. I like having thread snips and small scissors at each sewing machine, as well as a garbage can/bag, so I don't spend a lot of time looking for thread snips! (I have multiple machines, ok. I sew a lot. I also have two children and a husband who 'borrow' my tools.)
  15. Take care of your machine. Try to get in the habit of using a fluffy 'blush brush' to clean out bobbin area every time you change bobbins. Oil the poor beast every once in a while (beginning of every garment?), particularly if you are sewing a lot. A well loved machine sews better, and faster, and nothing slows down your sewing quite like a trip to the mechanic.
  16. The honest truth is that practice is the only real way to get faster and more comfortable at going faster. Sewing a little bit every day will help you go faster. Learning to sew fast is like learning to play the piano fast; it takes practice. No one is fast at scales the first time; no one is fast at sewing the first time. Be willing to practice. Wardrobe sewing helps with the practice factor; there is nothing like making 11 garments in two months to get in practice.

July 22, 2007

Phil the phenomonally phatt phoenix

Nicole, of course 'needed' a wardrobe,too. So, down she descended to the dungeon, and up she came with fabric and a plan. This, lovely, lovely bird is her 'accessory' (in the spirit of Harry Potter). She adapted a duck puppet pattern into Phil the phenomonally phatt phoenix! I had nothing to do with this--she totally did this on her own, and let me tell you, I am impressed.

Phil, minus crest and tail feathers, being faithfully stitched up. Nicole and Julian took about an hour to find the perfect button eyes for Phil--and I am still finding buttons on my kitchen floor.

Nicole is wearing her first 'wardrobe' top in this picture, just to prove that Phil is a perfect 'accessory' for her wardrobe. (Ok, I am not a teenager, but, I am still impressed....)

In the spirit of Harry Potter, Phil enjoyed many festivities at our local bookstore waiting for Harry Potter number 7 to come out.

The yellow top she is wearing is one of her wardrobe tops. She cloned the pattern from a favourite top, and made two. The full pants are a PMB pattern, that she loves. The skirt, she cloned from one her Auntie made for her, and then she painted it with paints mixed with fabric medium. It washes well. She has also completed a striped top (no pictures yet) which needed minor surgery to be made large enough. The top she cloned it from was super stretchy lycra, and the fabric she used was not as stretchy. Oh, yeah, and Phil. Now, she is onto the shorts and tank tops...

Not to be outdone, Julian, my nephew, has completed his first FOUR pairs of pants. Yes, FOUR pairs of pants. They have side seam pockets, and elastic waists. Two of the pairs have fancy front pockets too. Julian is a beginner, and his topstitching is great. He didn't have fun with the grey fabric, though; it was very stretchy.

This is a close up of his first 'mock fly' with topstitching.

He has completed a pair of navy twill dress pants, a pair of light grey sweat pants, a pair of grey pants with extremely cool pockets and a pair of denim pants with fancy pockets (working on pictures for that pair.). This was week one of sewing camp, and he had never done 'pants' before.

He has a plan to finish 4 t-shirts, and 3 dress shirts this week, along with a water bottle bag, for the wardrobe contest. Who am I to say no???

July 9, 2007

Planning a wardrobe....

The question is: How do you plan a coordinated wardrobe that will work for you? (This is a long post, and has a lot of thinking for me, so be warned).

I have been thinking a lot about wardrobes and planning this weekend for two reasons. My sewing pattern review wardrobe is great, but it has a pretty major problem. The main print is not in my colours (or most of them are summer colours) and I am having a real problem coordinating the rest of my wardrobe with that print. The dress fits. I like it. But everything that really goes with the dress that isn't navy doesn't go with anything else I own... problem. The other thing that happened is that my oldest started early on the weekend whining about not having a wardrobe, too. Yes, I am going to end up making 3 wardrobes, hopefully before the end of this contest. But, we are going to do this wardrobe thing with a plan. And, she, too, will have to thin down to what works with her wardrobe.

Most wardrobe plans start with the sewing concept using one of two basic approaches. The first is the 2 suits approach: 2 suits of coordinating colours, 1 dress made of a print that goes with both suits, and at least 4 tops that coordinate. The second is the more tops than bottoms, and a jacket approach (4 bottoms, 6 tops and a jacket, which is basically what the sewing pattern review contest uses). It is really a more 'generic' version of the two suits idea. You can use the print to set everything else, you can pick your favourite colour. All kinds of things can make it work for you. But, most of the things I have seen start with SUITS. (And, if you pick a print that really doesn't go with everything else, you end up with a problem....)

Ok, I don't know about anyone else, but I don't live in Corporate America, and I don't wear suits. I wear casual separates. I wear outfits. I wear sweaters, with dress pants. I teach elementary school. I get covered in chalk, and handprints, and I have to have wash and wear clothing. I don't need suits, suit jackets make me look like I want to be a principal, or I am going for a job interview, and I just don't need to be there.

If I was totally starting from scratch, I would start with the question: What looks good on me? I don't need to start there, though, because I have been a member of Missus Smarty pants for about 4 months, and her suggestions really have worked for me. There is also: Mystyle.com that has great ideas for people who sew, if you ignore the fact that they are trying to sell you something, and the go to the mall and try it all on approach. But, I hate doing that because I spend hours, and nothing fits, so I come home and sew things that do. Thus, the reason why I sew.

So, I'm going to start wardrobe planning with step number 2: a needs assessment. The questions I am going to work with go like this: What do I like to wear? What would work with my lifestyle? And all the other clothing I have in my closet? What do I need right now? What do I reach for and not have in my closet? What is my best base colour?

So, to answer my own questions right now.
  1. What do I like to wear? Casual, separates, outfits. I love embroidered items, heirloom that is practical and washable. I like things a little different, a little fun.
  2. What would work with my lifestyle? Wash and wear, corporate casual. Nothing that requires dry cleaning! I need to look put together, but with a bit of a twist because I am always 'on stage' so to speak, with my job. I need to look like I can be trusted with other peoples' children!
  3. What would work with all my other clothing? My favouite outfits coordinate with a simple v-neck black sweater, open down the front, or a simple brown sweater, similar style. Mostly, I wear pull on shirts and dress pants with a sweater at work. Casual dressy, wash and wear. (If that sweater dies, I am in trouble!) I need clothes that will work into that in a summer way, that I can wear to the grocery store and not worry about meeting parents...
  4. What do I need right now? More summer type clothing, capris, shorts, summer dresses. Clothes that will work into the fall easily, when it is hot and I have to teach in the hot portables. Tank tops, short sleeve tops, cotton pants, pull on clothes that coordinate totally.
  5. What do I reach for in my closet and not have? A sweater that coordinates with my summer wardrobe, a jean jacket, a fleece jacket/sweater in a colour that goes with my stuff, a raincoat that works with my wardrobe.
  6. What is my best base colour? Black, with lots of colours to go with it. Think rainbow. Clear and bright.
  7. What would my second colour be to go with this? This is where I actually get stuck with my sewing. I keep thinking black, navy, and pale blue, but then there is brown, rose, cream, white, and pink.... For the sake of this exercise, and since we spent all weekend sorting fabric, I think I am going to use navy and aqua blue as my base colours (since I have about 6 coordinating fabrics of aqua blue...), and pink and yellow knit for tops/contrast. I could also do a complete wardrobe in black, but I want to lighten things up for the summer, or in brown (same deal as black). I may go back in August, and review the brown thing, though, since I really do have a lot of things that go with brown already in my wardrobe.

Now, for the fun part: the stash/style brainstorm. Eventually, my goal is to have a sewing plan for 4 bottoms, 6 or more tops, 1 or 2 jackets to go with it all. I keep thinking that 6 bottoms, 11 tops and 2 jackets would be more realistic for my sewing, but not everyone needs to go there. That is a lot of sewing. I'm going to sort this by category, and in each category ask what I would like to wear, what I need to add to my current wardrobe to make it work, and what styles appeal to me (thinking of my pattern stash, and of what I have learned from Mystyle.com and Missus Smarty pants about what works well on my body.)

What do I want to wear? What do I need to make my wardrobe work right now? What styles am I missing that are current, or would extend my wardrobe?

  • Jackets: I need to have a sweater style jacket, and a raincoat that is more dressy in my wardrobe, and I wouldn't mind a jean jacket, too. I also need some kind of fleece jacket with a center zipper. This will need some more thought. I could make all four, but that seems like overkill. Everything needs to open down the front totally for my jackets.
  • Tops: I want some more casual styled tops, with and without sleeves. Maybe some tops from New Look 6515, some simple t shirt tops with some embroidery on the front, and a princess style shirt or two. Something slightly more dressy than just tank tops, but still washable, and works with what I already have. Definitely short sleeves, or sleeveless. I could also really play with the tank top and make a million different styles of tank top, with all kinds of interesting heirloom type details. There is the one pattern, many looks challenge on sewing pattern reivew, and I drew about 18 styles of tank top this weekend. This may turn into the 11 tops plan...
  • Pants: In the non-wardrobe category, I absolutely need to replace my black dress pants and my brown dress pants since I outgrew them. I have two new TNT patterns from Burda. Jeans style dress pants, since I have a pattern that works well, and some boot cut dress pants style pants. Maybe pull on style Capri's. I really need a couple of pairs of shorts, but I don't want the totally slouchy around the house style shorts that I have worn the past couple of summers. I think I want something more dressy. I also think I would like a pair of Capri's that have some details on the bottom hems, either embroidery or beading or trim. Something more interesting that just 'hems'.
  • Skirts: I don't wear a lot of skirts in the summer, but I think I would like to have a bias cut pull on A-line skirt, with the lingerie elastic waist band. I have some blue print that would work for this, I think, and it would be a good transition piece. I think I need to make some 'save the thighs' underwear, if I want to make/wear skirts. Not that I don't have the fabric and the patterns in the basement for that plan from about 2 years ago to do that, but I haven't yet.
  • Dresses: Sheath style dress with a v-neck, darts front and back, either A line, or straight, knee length. Sleeveless or short sleeves. Pull on knit, A line dress, scoop hem, short sleeves (this one I have the pattern, the concept and the fabric, so this will likely get done first). I also keep thinking that a shirt dress with buttons down the front, with gathers at the center between the bust, would be a fun transition piece. I would have to really plan this one, and draft it for myself, though.

I'm going to work from my stash here. I have to work from my stash, since it would probably clothe a small army. My problem, here, is really too many ideas, way too much fabric that could make it work, and I could actually make it all. If I simplify, though....Who am I kidding? I could sew all my ideas and not even make a dent in my stash....I also really think in outfits, not coordinates. I dress in outfits. It is nice when the outfits can mix and match, but really, outfits are how my brain works.

Another thing I probably should consider is a focal point or theme. Often, people will create or purchase a focal point piece (a great jacket, an embroidered top, for example) and then work their wardrobe around that. Or, they will pick a theme: elephants, flowers, the sailor suit look, safari in the city, and work around that. It creates unity, and allows for some experimentation in a coordinated manner. I am waffling on theme, here. My original plan was summer roses. Maybe I could keep that plan, and work more into the blues. So, a plan. (Hahahaha. My children are laughing at this, since they know unless I sew it in a week, it will morph many times beyond what I plan...)

  • Jacket 1: jean jacket, with 3/4 sleeves, and embroidery; made from navy stretch denim
  • Jacket 2: sweater style jacket, aqua knit, matching pull on Capri's, white embroidery to match Capri's
  • bottom 1: dark navy stretch jean style Capri's, with matching embroidery to the jean jacket on hems, TNT Burda pattern
  • bottom 2: aqua blue jean style Capri's, with white embroidery, TNT Burda pattern
  • bottom 3: pull on a line skirt, with lingerie elastic waist, lined
  • bottom 4: ?shorts...
  • top 1: top view A, NL6515, matching the pull on skirt
  • top 2: pink tank top with heirloom style sewing/white lace, self drafted pattern, TNT
  • top 3: yellow knit t-shirt, with embroidery, self drafted pattern, short sleeves
  • top 4: aqua knit t-shirt, with embroidery, self drafted pattern, short sleeves
  • top 5: white t shirt, with embroidery, self drafted pattern, 3/4 sleeves
  • top 6: ? princess line top shirt, pink, with heirloom details, self drafted shirt, cap sleeve or 3/4 sleeve
  • dress 1: aqua blue knit dress, short sleeves, a line skirt, pull on style
  • dress 2: navy knit dress, with interest around the neck...
  • dress 3: blue shirtwaist dress, medium blue colour...

Or at least, that is the plan of the moment....

July 5, 2007

Wardrobe Number Two: All this--and Duckie too

In the midst of doing my wardrobe, my youngest came downstairs one morning in her shorts--that were too short. Normally, I don't care, but seriously, they were showing things from below. This isn't what I want my almost 12 year old to be doing, apart from the fact that she has grown about 3 inches since march break!

She went down to the basement, and then came upstairs with two patterns, and some stash, and said: Mommmmyyyyyy, can you ppplllllleeeeeaaaaassssseeeee sew me some new shorts? Here is the pattern, and the fabric I like....?! (Add cheesy grin, cute smile, hugs, and you get the idea).

So I went away for a sewing weekend with my Mother in law, at my Mother in law's house, with a pile of fabric for me and a pile of fabric for the child. All other living beings deserted the field to the cottage (smart people that they were!).
This is what came back from Grandma's house: a complete wardrobe (yes, complete!). And yes, it is possible to sew an entire wardrobe in 48 hours. I started with cutting and tracing on Saturday night, and finished the last embroidery about noon on Monday of the long weekend. Of course, sewing like this means that you don't cook, play with the children or speak in coherent sentences, but....such is the price you pay for beauty.

From start to finish:
5 tank tops, from Kwik Sew 3519:
pink double knit, yellow poly cotton ribbing, green, white and blue cotton lycra.
Adapted from the tank top pattern: colour block dress/tunic top, from the leftovers of the tops. (There was not a lot left after that, let me tell you!)
Shorts: View B of Kwik Sew 3519:
Green twill, and pink cotton fabric.
Long pants from Kwik Sew 3101: Blue stretch denim, and black flowered cotton print. (This pattern is for a knit, and I adjusted the pattern slightly for the lack of stretch of the fabric, since I didn't have my tried and true pattern with me--Kwik Sew 3056).
Jacket: same Kwik Sew pattern 3101. This is one that included pockets, and my very first professionally faced separating zipper. I adapted the instructions from Fashion-incubator.com for a centered and lapped zipper to do this, and I am totally happy with how it turned out.

We didn't do any sleeved items, since she has about 5 tshirts that already go, as well as a couple of pairs of jeans.
Getting pictures was a bit of a challenge: I had to defend the clothes long enough to take pictures. (She climbs trees, and they tend to leave black marks everywhere--not a problem, but I wanted to have a nice picture or two to start!).
I did all the embroidery with my Janome 300E, and used colours that co-ordinated with the rest of the wardrobe, mostly in a flowered theme, since that was in the print. But, the ducky was too cute, and she totally loves them, so I used that for the dress, instead of a cute flower.
Can you tell how she feels in her new duds?

July 4, 2007

The great Wardrobe Challenge

In my spare time, I do things like sew, costume, play music, write, sing and all those other creative type things. This month's fun is brought to you by the great Wardrobe challenge (sewing with a plan). This concept has been featured in Australian Stitches for many years, and has fascinated me. One night, in the middle of writing report cards when everyone else was actually elsewhere, I spent about four hours searching the interent about sewing a wardrobe. I found this article, about sewing a wardrobe:

Of course, I missed the contest by more than a month, but such is life. Since I didn't know it existed, it was hard to join it. But, since I had just finished a bias cut tank top and a prarie style skirt of a rayon print from my extensive stash, I thought I should come up with something to go with it.

Then I found a similar contest, on Sewing Pattern Review. I liked two things about it: I didn't have to buy anything to join (this is an issue for me, since I have a pattern and fabric stash that resembles a small store, and have no need to purchase something just to join a constest!), and the bottom line was that we were all winners, since we ended up with a great wardrobe. So, I joined Patternreview.com, and took the plunge and started a wardrobe. (Did I mention that I love to sew?). Since I had just finished the blue skirt and bias cut top to match out of the scraps, I thought I should try and coordinate a comfortable summer wardrobe to go.

The rules are pretty simple:
At least 3 bottoms; more tops than bottoms; at least one accessory, and it all has to work together.
The tops:
Simplicity 4076, view F and E (the Knot top), with sleeves from view B.
White cotton lycra, trimmed with lingerie lace
Lilac cotton single knit (with no stretch!)
and navy cotton lycra.

The pants:

Burda jeans pattern: 8085, done in over embroidered black stretch denim, and in a mid weight navy stretch denim. (I had to lengthen the top with lace, because it looked too short. )

The tank top is one I drafted from my moulage, and I made 3 tank tops, and a white t-shirt from the pattern (so far...).

Last, but not least, I sewed a couple of pairs of knit capri pants (navy and aqua). I think my wardrobe is pretty close to done (although, I do believe that this is beyond my limit...everything still goes together, and is mix and match. Of course, to prove it, I have to actually not be wearing it, or having it in the laundry.....