Pattern Review: McCalls M6559 Bolero, AKA Snow Day Sewing

When the weather does that, and the fireplace does this, it’s time to head upstairs and sew!

Snow Day! I seem to get either my baking or my sewing mojo going during snowstorms. Today we have had at least 6 inches of snow -they’ve been forecasting a foot- and my sewing mojo made an appearance like a long lost cousin of Punxatauney Phil. Yay! I rummaged through my (long neglected) pattern collection and found this gem. I previously made the maxi dress, but I wanted something I can layer over tee shirts and tanks as the weather gets warmer. A girl can dream, can’t she? This fit the bill perfectly!

Pattern Description: From McCalls’ website, “Close-fitting, unlined jacket in 2 lengths has front extending into single-layer tie ends (wrong side shows). A: Three-quarter length sleeves. B: Long sleeves. Very close-fitting, pullover dresses are sleeveless. E, F: Racerback straps, front seam detail, bias upper/middle fronts, and lower front/back (cut on crosswise grain of fabric. All have narrow hems. F: Star detail.”

I made view A, the shorter bolero with ¾ length sleeves.

Sizing: 6-22. I made the 12.

Available as a PDF? I thought it was when I made it before, but now it appears not.

Fabric Used: Silk jersey in Soft Mauve from Gorgeous Fabrics. It’s long since sold out, sorry, but there are a few Here

Machines and Tools Used: Pfaff 2030, Juki MO654DE serger, Reliable Steam Generator iron, ironing board, sleeve board, shoulder stand, silk press cloth.

Needle/Notions Used: Scraps of weft interfacing, Stretch 75/11 needle, thread.

Tips Used during Construction: Tricot – It’s Not Just for Lining any More, Anything by The Pressinatrix, Tip – Check the Grain on Knits, Tips and Tricks for Sewing with Knits.

Did it look like the photo or drawing when you got through? Yes

How were the instructions? I did look at the instructions after I finished and they seem fine. I didn’t need them during construction, since this is pretty straightforward.

Construction Notes: I made a FBA. I also applied scraps of woven interfacing to the shoulder seams to stabilize them. I serged the seams. I Flat Set the Sleeves.

I made narrow hems all around the edges.

All in all, this took an afternoon to make, and that was with long breaks for checking in on orders and emails. I’d estimate this took me about 3 hours from first cutting out to final stitch.

Likes/Dislikes: Love it! This will make a great piece for transitioning from winter to spring. It’s also will be pretty tossed over a tank or dress for cool summer evenings.

Would you do it again? Would you recommend it? Yes and yes! This one will definitely go into rotation. Great pattern. I made this one from silk jersey, but I’ll make a more “workaday” version with ITY.

Here are pictures on Shelley:



Conclusion: A great pattern, this will get lots of wear. It’s easy enough for beginners, but also a great wardrobe component.

Happy sewing!

Tip – Check The Grain on Knits

When cutting out patterns, many people use the fabric’s selvage as a guide for pattern placement. In woven fabrics, this is often a good guide. Place your pattern with the grain arrow parallel to the edge of the fabric and you are (in the case of good quality fabric) ready to cut.

With knitted fabrics, that may not always work as well. The reason is that many knits are created on machines that knit the fabric in a big tube:

Totally tubular, Dude.

On occasion, I have tubular knits at Gorgeous Fabrics that are straight off the machine.

Once the tube is removed from the knitting machine, a worker cuts it open so you get the flat fabric we see in fabric stores. And have you ever noticed on some knits, especially rayon jerseys, there are dabs of dried glue running along the selvages? That’s because the edges curl along the cutting line, so the glue keeps them flat.

Sometimes these cuts are not done along the grain of the fabric. Even in really high quality knits, the grain can be askew to the edge of the fabric. So rather than using the “selvage” (which this really isn’t, if you think about it) of a knit to gauge the placement of your pattern, I prefer to fold my pattern piece along the grain line and lay it so the line runs along the ribs in the fabric. This will guarantee that your fabric hangs properly. Here you see a picture of my pattern placement on a wool jersey.

Check out the different distances from the cut edge

Notice that the top of the grainline is significantly farther away from the cut edge than the bottom. By checking this on all my pattern pieces, I avoid the twisting and discomfort that would ensue if I just blithely measured from the edge of the fabric.

It only takes a few extra seconds to do this, and the results will be well worth it!

Happy sewing

Can 4-Way Stretch Eliminate the Need for an FBA?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I got an email one time, telling me that 4-way stretch knits (that is, knits that have equal stretch in both their length and width) are recommended for many tops because they allow for “busty ladies” to wear them.

That logic never really sat well with me. Certainly 4-way knits have a lot of stretch, and they move well, but for fit, don’t you think you would still need to do a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA)?  I’ve been too busy to test it out until today. Plus, I don’t keep a lot of 4-way knits around. But I had some Milliskin left over from Tatiana’s skirts, so I decided to put that theory to the test. I whipped up one of my favorite tops, which I have made before, and I skipped the FBA, letting the fabric do the work. Please pardon the crappy cell phone pictures. We lost power in Irene, so I’m at the studio without my good camera, and I don’t have patience to take 50 shots to get one good one. Here’s a picture of it on me, pulled down after I had just put it on.

When I first put it on, it looks okay over the bust

Now here it is after wearing it for just a few minutes. I wasn’t doing anything super extend-wise. I just walked around the studio and put some things away.

After movement, not so much...

Again, I apologize for the lousy phone picture, but you can see some telling differences. First, look at the horizontal crease above the bust at my right side. The fabric has pulled up to give more room to the bust. Also, note that the lines from the gathers are pointing more towards the sides in this picture than they are in the first picture. Again, the fabric, even though it stretches in all directions, is adjusting itself to accomodate a large bust.

The problem is that, even with a very stretchy fabric, there isn’t enough room without an FBA for the garment to fall the way it was designed. Fabric is notoriously lazy. It will move around to alleviate strain, even if it has the elasticity and tensile strength to do otherwise. An FBA would mitigate all of these symptoms, and give a more flattering fit with less tugging.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but yes, you do need an FBA, even if you are working with 4-way knits. 4-way knits are great for leotards, swimsuits, and regular old street-wear, but they don’t take away all the fitting issues.

Happy sewing!

Tips and Tricks for Sewing with Knits

ETA 6/23/12 Great News! I recently started doing videos to help you with your sewing, and the first one is on Sewing with Knits!

Click Here to see the Video!

I did a post a couple of years back for SewStylish about this, and since I get lots of questions about sewing with knits, I figured it was time to bring it back to the top. So here you go!

Some Helpful Hints for Sewing with Knits

Knits are a fabric mainstay of our lives. Fashionistas of all ages and sizes embrace the comfort, ease and wearability that knits afford. But for the beginning (and even not-so-beginning) sewing enthusiast, there are some techniques that make sewing with knits easier and more enjoyable. Here are a few to get you started.

Use the right needle – The needle you use in a project with knits can make or break the results. Generally speaking, you need a specialized needle to sew knits. There are two types that I use for knits: Ballpoint (also called Jersey)  and Stretch. Ballpoint needles are best used for sweater-type and loosely woven knits. They have a rounded point that penetrates the fabric without catching or cutting through the yarns. Stretch needles are perfect for sewing through tightly knitted jersey fabrics with high Lycra content. I use them on all my wool, polyester and rayon jersey garments.  For more on choosing the right needle for your project, check out This Article from Threads.

Stitch type and length – If you have a straight-stitch-only machine, set your stitch length to a medium (2.5mm-3mm) setting. When sewing knits with a straight stitch, you need to stretch the fabric very slightly (and very gently) as it goes under the presser foot. To do this, apply equal pressure on both sides of the needle by slightly pulling the fabric as shown.

Stretch very slightly on both sides of the needle

Do not pull the fabric as it goes through the feed dogs; you may risk breaking your needle and damaging your machine if you do.

If you have a zigzag machine, set your stitch length to the narrowest zigzag setting (.5mm on many machines), and your stitch length to between 2.5mm and 3mm. If you have a very thick knit, you may need a longer stitch length. You do not need to stretch the fabric as you sew. The slight zigzag will give you the stretch you need.

Seam Finishes – Knit fabrics, especially jerseys, don’t generally ravel, so you can get away without finishing the seams in many cases. If you are fortunate to have a serger or overlock machine, you can use that to stitch and finish your seams in one fell swoop. You can also use your serger to finish the raw edges of hems before sewing them in place. I like to do this when working with sweater knits, terrycloth, or any knit that might have a tendency to ‘shed’ slightly at the edges.

About Face – Many patterns for knits call for using a facing for necklines and other exposed edges. With most knits, especially very stretchy jerseys, you can often skip the facing entirely. Simply fold under the seam allowance and stitch in place. I have been able to eliminate the facings on most necklines this way. If you have a very curved edge (like an armhole), you should test on a scrap of fabric cut to about the same curvature to see how you like the results.

Shouldering the Burden – When making a knit top or dress, I stabilize the shoulder seams to prevent stretching. To do this, fuse a piece of interfacing to the back shoulder piece or pieces. I prefer to use a ¾ inch wide piece of fusible tricot, which I have even with the cut edge of the fabric, and which extends slightly beyond the seamline. This adds stability, but is light enough and has enough give to work with most knits. For heavier knits or sweater knits, I center a selvage of silk organza in the seamline and stitch through all layers. The organza provides a lot of strength to the seam, but adds no bulk.

Hemming – If you examine knit Ready-to-Wear, you’ll notice that most hems are sewn with a double row of stitches on the outside. Manufacturers use a specialized machine, called a coverstitch, to achieve this finish. If you don’t have a coverstitch, you can still achieve this look. Most zigzag sewing machines can accommodate a double needle. This needle sews a perfectly spaced double row of stitches on the needle side of the fabric, with a zigzag on the bottom.

A double needle adds a professional finish to your knit hems

This stitch has more stretch than a regular straight stitch, and is perfect for giving you a professional-looking finish.  Before stitching your garment, make a test on a scrap of fabric. Double needles may require some adjustments to your needle and bobbin tension to achieve a smooth, flat hem. Mark your hem on the right side of your garment. I like to use tailors chalk that can easily brush or wash away. Then sew along this marking so your double row of stitches is on the right side.

I hope these hints will help you get started with sewing knits. With a little practice, I think you will find sewing with knits addicting!

Happy sewing!

Fab Finish for Knits: Bound Edges

I love the ease of sewing with knits. And one of my favorite finishes for knit garments, especially necklines and armholes, is a self- or contrast-fabric binding. It produces a clean, elegant look, and it is really easy to do. Let me show you how I do it…

Measure your bound edges
First, measure the edges you want to bind. In this case, I’m binding the neck edge of a wrap-top. Use a flexible measuring tape for greater accuracy. I don’t worry too much about getting the exact length of the edge. I usually make extra long strips of binding and trim off the excess when I’m done.

Next, cut your binding strips. I cut strips of knit fabric on the crosswise grain, which has the most stretch. To figure out how wide my strip should be, I first decide how wide my binding will be on the outside of the garment. I multiply that number by 3 and add a scant ¼ inch. For example, if I want my visible bound edge to be ½ inch wide, I use the following equation to figure out how wide my strip needs to be:

3 x ½ inch = 1 ½ inches. 1 ½ inches + ¼ inch = 1 ¾ inch total width.

This will give me enough width to bind the edge with a little extra on the inside. If you prefer, you can make your binding even wider, and go back and trim the excess when you are finished.

Apply the Binding
Once your binding is cut, you need to do a little prep work on your garment fabric. First, trim off the seam allowance from the edge that you will be binding. Placing right sides together, sew the binding to your garment, keeping the raw edges even. Press the seam toward the binding, as shown.

Next, fold your binding over your garment edge to the wrong side and pin:

Working from the right side of the garment, sew very close to the binding:

This will catch the folded binding on the inside of your garment, enclosing the edge and making a clean finish, as shown:

Ta Daa!
Here’s the finished neckine:

That’s all it takes for a beautiful finish. One of the fun things about this is that you can use any contrast knit you would like to create a great garment with a designer touch.

A couple of afterthoughts:
I got a couple of questions in the comments section that merit some additional information here. First was a question about stitch type. You can see a primer on sewing knits that I wrote for Taunton Press here on their CraftStylish website.

Second was a question about whether to shorten the length of the binding to “snug up” the closing. The answer is that it depends. It depends on the style of the garment that you are making and on the fabric of the main body. I’ll use a neckline as an example. If the neckline pattern has a facing, compare the measurements of the facing’s neckline edge against the measurement of the neckline. If the neckline facing is shorter, then it’s a good bet that the designer intended for the “snugging” effect. In that case, go ahead and do it, using the length of the facing as your guide. If not, you need to make a judgment call whether the garment opening needs it and how much.

Happy sewing!

© Ann Steeves 2010, all rights reserved

Tutorial: A Better Way to Attach a Collar Band

A couple of folks asked me for some clarification on how I attached the collar band, so here’s a picture tutorial. I’ve made another Simplicity 2603 tank. This time I made it from our Flowers in Showers jersey, which is not sold out.

First up, apply your interfacing to one collar band front and back section.

Once that is done, sew the interfaced sections together at the shoulders, then sew the uninterfaced sections together at the shoulders. The uninterfaced section is the collar facing.

With right sides together, sew the collar to the collar facing at the neckline opening.

Turn right sides out. Understitch your collar facing. Press. Baste raw edges together.

Now you have just one piece to attach to the garment. Using a zigzag stitch or a serger, attach the raw edges of the collar band to the garment.

Press the serged edges down toward the garment. Sew the rest of your garment as usual. With this attachment method, you don’t have to topstitch the collar band, though you can if you wish. Here’s the front of the finished collar.

And here’s the back.
HTH. Happy sewing!

Mesh Tutorial – Jalie Sweetheart Top

June of 2009 is shaping up to be the least sunny in Boston ever. Seriously, we have had 3 days of sun this month and that is it. I decided that I need to make some sunshine, so I settled on Jalie’s Sweetheart Top made up with Citrus Paisley Mesh from Gorgeous Fabrics (of course). I made the short sleeved version this time. I’m not going to review it here, since you can see everything I did in This Review.

Because I was working with a mesh fabric, there were some changes I needed to make it wearable in public. Mesh, by its very nature, is sheer. You can counteract that in several ways: wear a camisole underneath, line it with tricot fabric or take the “Sweet Pea approach”, which is what I did.

A couple of years ago I bought myself a top by Sweet Pea. The top is mesh, and it had some interesting construction details. To solve the sheerness issue in the body of the shirt, they used a double layer of the mesh, with the wrong sides together:

The sleeves, on the other hand, are just a single layer:

This is quite easy to translate to your sewing projects. Cut duplicates of the pattern pieces that you want to cover up sensitive parts, and just singles of the rest. In the case of the Jalie top I cut the front, the back and the yoke pieces twice. I cut the sleeves and the neckbands (which are folded over anyway) just once.

I basted the fronts and backs together just as you do with an underlined pattern piece. Like the Sweet Pea top, I basted them wrong sides together so the right sides face the world and the body. I then proceeded to sew the top together just as the instructions say. There were no other changes. The result is a top that is sunny, but not see through.

The other thing to know about mesh is that it doesn’t run or ravel, so you don’t need to finish the hems on it. Here you can see it in the sleeve and at the bottom:

It makes it a snap to finish! Of course, you do want to finish your seams nicely so they don’t leave thread tails hanging down. Since I used a serger for this project, the way I finished off my seams was by threading the tails back through the stitches using a large-eye needle:
Trim off the excess and you’re ready to go. I’ve done this lots of times and it works great.

It’s supposed to rain again tomorrow. You can be darned sure I’ll be wearing my sunny top.
Happy sewing!

Meshin’ Around

I’m feeling under the weather today. I always get sick after Thanksgiving. I think I must be allergic to turkey. I can’t even begin to face food today, so I figured I would let DH take the kids while I pop tums and spend time in my sewing room. I’m trying to clear out some stash fabric (yeah, as if!), and I had a couple of pieces I had grabbed for a brown fall grouping. One of them is a super soft jersey (since sold out, sorry) in bittersweet chocolate. The other is a really fun (also sold out) Walk on the Wild Side Mesh.

I had this idea that a mesh top would be nice, but face it – unless you are 17 years old and live in a very warm clime, a mesh top is a wee bit impractical. Plus, I went through that phase back in the early 90s where I would wear a sheer top with a black bra, and there is no way I’m going back to that club girl look. That would be very, very bad.

The idea came to me to make a top that has a built in liner, and I immediately thought of J. Stern Designs Tee Pattern. The design has separate pieces for the upper and lower bodice, so it would work perfectly with no alterations. I set to work.

It really was quite simple. I’ve already made this tee, and You can see my review of it here. I made a few changes to get the results I desired. First, I cut the lower front and lower back bodice pieces from both fabrics:

I underlined the lace with the solid jersey, basting them together and then treating them as one fabric.

I cut the bodice top pieces and the sleeves from just the lace. Though if you want, you can create a nice design touch by underlining the sleeves and bodice side front, leaving just the upper front and upper back bodice pieces unlined.
To sew the lace pieces, I set the stitch length on my serger to 2mm. That’s about half the stitch length that I usually use, but since this mesh is so, well, meshy, I wanted to be sure there was enough coverage in the seam. I also reinforced the shoulders with a 1/4 inch strip of fusible tricot interfacing sewn into the seam.

I made a 1-inch by 19 inch facing strip for the neckline using the solid jersey. I eased the neckline onto that using a 2.5 mm zigzag stitch. I would have preferred to use my coverstitch machine (yes, one of these days I will get around to posting about that beast!), but I really don’t feel up to leaving the house. So I made do.

Finally, I did a narrow overlock on the hems of the top. Again, had I been feeling up to it I would have prefered to head up to the studio and run it through the CS. Next time. Here you can see the result on Shelley.

I really like the fact that this gives the pattern a completely different look. I’m thinking I’ll give this to my neice when she comes home for Christmas. I think it will look really cute on her, and it will give her something to wear for New Years.

Tomorrow I hope to make lots of progress on my coat if I’m feeling better. Tatiana’s dress is also coming along, but she wants to change some of the design. Tell me again why I wanted to do this? Oh yeah… it’s a challenge!

Happy sewing!

Tricot – It’s Not Just for Linings Anymore

When I was in New York City last, I was walking down the street in the garment district behind a woman who was wearing the most fascinating top. It looked like she was wearing an impressionist print. I wish I had had my camera at the time. As I looked a little closer, I realized that she was wearing a black mesh top over a black camisole. What gave the impression of a print was the play of mesh on top of her tattoos. It was a gorgeous effect! I don’t have any tattoos, and I won’t be getting any in this lifetime (I have an aversion to needles that don’t have doctors’ orders attached to them), but I think that a little mesh top over a tattoo or wild print top gives a really nice change to your look without drowning it out completely. And making a top like the one that woman wore is so easy. You can do it in less than an hour and for less than $10. All it takes is a good tricot mesh, a simple pattern and a zigzag sewing machine or a serger.

I decided to make a tie-front bolero. I used an out of print New Look pattern, but you can use a pattern like McCalls 5241 with great results.

For the fabric, I used Black Tricot Knit from Gorgeous Fabrics

The only notion I used was serger thread.

Construction Notes
I did all my construction on my serger. I used a three-thread, right-hand needle setup. My stitch length was just under 2.0 mm. You can make this just as easily on a zigzag machine. If you use a zigzag machine, use a medium width (2.0-2.5 mm) stitch and set your stitch length to 2.5 mm.

One thing to note when you are cutting tricot. Most tricot knits that I have worked with will take stress in one direction, but not the other. Here are two pictures that show you what I mean. I cut a rectangle of tricot about 8 inches wide by 7 inches high. In both cases, the lengthwise grain line is running toward the camera. You can see that when I stress one end of my fabric rectangle by stretching it on the crossgrain:

The fabric runs along the lengthwise grain. But when I turn the same rectangle around to face the other direction and pull:

I don’t have a problem. When working with a tricot knit, test your fabric, and use a nap layout so you align the tops of your garment pieces, or any parts that might get crosswise stretch, with the end of the fabric that doesn’t run. You don’t want to have your fabric running if you are trying to set a sleeve or match up uneven length seamlines.

On to the actual construction. First thing to do is stabilize the shoulders of your top. To do this, fuse strips of tricot interfacing to the back shoulders just in the seamline.

Stitch your seams together as you normally would. Here you can see the serged armhole.

Finish sewing your top as normal. To finish the edges, I used a narrow overlock stitch on my serger. It’s similar to a rolled hem, but it tends to use less thread and gives a lighter finish. I like the way it gave a picot effect to my hems. Here’s the sleeve

And here’s a closeup of the neckline edge:

And here is the finished top:
Wont this be fun over a really loud print? And if you are decorated, this is a very cool alternative when you want to partially cover up. I made my top from New Look 6543. But you can use almost any simple tee or long sleeve top pattern, or any other bolero pattern with good results. Here are a few to consider. Pamela’s Patterns Versatile Twinset:

And Kwik Sew 2740 are both good choices. The point is to keep the lines simple. You’ll have a kewl top in less time than it takes to type this post.

Jackie asked to see the shrug over a print. I am waaaaay behind on laundry, so all my fun knit tops that would look good under this are in the washing machine. But here you see it over a piece of rayon woven print that will be up on Gorgeous Fabrics tomorrow. I hope this helps!

Happy sewing!