Tip: Bottom Up Buttons

Here’s a quick one that will make your life easier in some cases. Certain garments, like a Tuxedo Vest with pointed hems for example, really need careful placement of the buttons to make sure that those points stay even. When making my son’s prom vest, I sewed the buttons on the front from the top down. I did a great job spacing them, but when I got to the bottom I saw that they were placed so the points were just slightly askew. He probably wouldn’t notice, but it made my eye twitch, and I’m sure it would cause my sewing friends to give me side eye. So here’s a quick solution: sew the buttons from the bottom up!

First, of course, I sew the button holes. Then I lay the piece on a flat surface like an ironing board and using a ruler, “level” the points:
Level the Points
Position your bottom button based on this, and sew it on the garment. Then you can move up the garment and sew your buttons on. Ta daa! Points are aligned!
After the Buttons are Sewn

Now obviously, this works best on a garment, like a vest, that has a v-neck. It’s not meant to replace precise cutting and sewing, but it will make it less likely that you come to the end of the buttons and discover that you’re off by a minute but irritatingly visible amount.

Happy sewing!

I’m Bumping This Tip Up to the Top – Make the Lining First

Carolyn, of Sewing Fanatic Diary fame, did a good post on linings yesterday, which got me thinking about a tip I wrote originally back in 2002 (!!), then published on my blog in 2008 (!). For me, making the lining first is logical. It keeps me from getting project fatigue, which often happens to me if I make the outer shell first, then the lining. Anyway, here’s that tip for your reading and sewing pleasure:

Make the Lining First

And the corollary to that:

Make the Skirt First

Both of these seem to speed my sewing process along and limit the number of UFOs, so hopefully they will help someone else.
Happy sewing!

Tip: Trim Your Knit Selvages Before Cutting Your Pattern

I just love sewing with knits, and they are a staple in my wardrobe. Here’s a little hint that will make your knit sewing super successful. I notice this especially with rayon knits, though it also manifests in other fabrications. If you look at the selvages of knit fabrics, you will often see a “cupping” effect. The fabric curves at the selvages, because of the finishing the mill uses. This isn’t a defect. It’s an artifact of the milling process. But it can pull your fabric and have deleterious effects on your finished garment. Check out the selvage on this knit that I just used today for a new top:

May cause some problems, dontcha think?

So what to do? Should you leave it alone and cut your pattern? Should you stretch it out and hold it down? Mmmm, in my experience, both of those are likely to distort the cut pattern piece. Instead, I cut off the selvages. This relaxes the rest of the fabric and eliminates any problems. And it’s easy as pie!

Same piece of fabric, not stretched at all

All it takes is about ¾ of an inch to release your fabric. It can actually free up several inches along the selvage, and it gives you great results. I used this today in my McCalls cowl neck top (to be reviewed shortly).

Happy sewing!

Quick Tip – Template for Fly Topstitching

Here’s an easy tip for your Monday morning. When I’m making a garment that has topstitching along the fly or a mock fly opening, I trace the stitching line on a scrap of pattern tracing paper. Then I pin the template to the garment’s front and stitch through the template along the marked line.
Fly Template
Once I’ve stitched, I tear away the paper. Voila!

For me, it’s easier and more precise than using tailor’s tacks, and it doesn’t rub off before stitching, like chalk lines can.


Third Version of the Demi Drape, and Tip: Chain Stay for Cowl Necklines

This will be the last for a while. I LOVE this pattern, but it’s time to move on now. I’ve never been much of a TNT gal. Really, there’s not too much to add. This one is the reverse of version 2 – I used Super Soft Rayon Jersey in Bright Aqua for the main shirt, and Super Soft Rayon Jersey in Bright Turquoise for the contrast cami. I wore the version 2 top last week when I was in New York, and a designer (Caesar of CZAR) told me, “You should wear those colors all the time. They look beautiful on you.” High praise from a wonderful designer!!

Anyway, here’s the latest version:

Last one for a while
Last one for a while

Tip: Chain Stay for Cowls
There was one thing I did differently this time. I’ve used the safety pin trick, with great success, but the cowl still tends to flip to the outside when I sit down. So this time I used a chain stay. To make one, I ran a long thread chain (about 15 inches) on my serger. I sewed one end into the center front neckline hem of the cowl overlay, and attached the other end at the center front hem of the garment. Here you can see the attachments:

Chain Stay Attachment Points
Chain Stay Attachment Points

And here is a picture looking down the front of the garment on Shelley:

Bird's Eye View of the Stay at Work
Bird’s Eye View of the Stay at Work

To make a chain stay, run a chain of thread off your serger. Make it a long one – 18 to 24 inches will do the trick for just about any garment on any size person. Try on your garment before you hem the cowl or the bottom (I basted the shoulder and side seams on my top). Let the chain hang down, and pin it at the CF so you get the correct length. You don’t want to pull it – you want it to have some slack so it doesn’t distort your garment. You can even give it about an inch of extra slack, like I did with mine. That keeps the cowl in when I stand, but it lets it move about without pulling the hem of the garment up. If you’re making a dress, you can attach it at the waistline seam. If your dress doesn’t have a waistline seam, invisibly tack it at the waistline.

Adding a thread chain stay is an easy, almost-free way to keep your cowl in place. Try it on your next cowl-necked garment.

And BTW, did I tell you how much I HEART StyleArc? Fabulous fit, great designs, and they sew together perfectly. Yes, they sometimes flip the pattern pieces, making them not all right-handed, so they can all fit on the page. But I’d rather they do that than have to print a whole new page and add to their costs. NAYY, just extremely thrilled with every one of their patterns that I’ve made.

Happy sewing!

Easy Way to Keep Track of the Right Side of Fabrics

Howdy campers! I’m finally going to cut into my red wool for my Marfy coat, and I thought I would share one of my favorite little secrets. The fabric I’m using is a wool flannel that looks pretty much the same on both sides – there is a slight difference, but it can be difficult to see if I’m tired or don’t have my contacts in. So to be couture-consistent, I want to make sure that I use the same side as the face for all my pattern pieces. And here’s an easy way (in three variations) to do that!

First, for a fabric like my wool flannel, I make chalk lines within the selvage of the fabric. I put the lines here every few inches, but you can space them more or less closely.

I prefer to use chalk-chalk, which brushes away easily.
I prefer to use chalk-chalk, which brushes away easily.

If you’re chary about marking your fabric, you can also use pins. I used glass head pins here, but you can use safety pins to prevent inadvertently jabbing yourself.

Do make sure your pattern doesn't extend into the selvages.
Do make sure your pattern doesn’t extend into the selvages.

Finally, if you are working with a bouclé, lace, or any type of fabric that might not show chalk marks, and that pins might not grab into, use dots of masking or painter’s tape.

You can also use post-it dots
You can also use post-it dots

By keeping these within the selvage, you won’t interfere with your pattern placement. You will be able to see quickly and easily which side is the one you want facing the world. It’s also a great method for keeping track of the right side on jersey knit.

Happy sewing!

Tip: Stabilize a Crotch Curve with Clear Elastic

When I was in high-tech sales, I owned several St. John Knits suits. They were great for travel. One day I needed to re-stitch the center back seam on a pair of pants, and I made a discovery. They sewed a piece of clear elastic in the seam to stabilize it. I thought that was brilliant! Ever since, I have used clear elastic to stabilize the crotch curve on all my knit pants.

I prefer to use 1/4 inch clear elastic, but I was out of it, so I used 3/8 inch instead here.

You can either serge the seam, sandwiching the elastic between the back pieces (carefully, making sure that the elastic doesn’t show on the outside of the garment), or you can apply the elastic to the seam after you have sewn it. I usually do the latter, and that’s what I show here. It’s super easy. Just zigzag a length of clear elastic within your seam on one side. Using the zigzag stitch allows the elastic to stretch as needed when you wear the pants. Don’t stretch the elastic as you sew it – you don’t want to have your pants bunching up.

This will keep your pants from getting all saggy-baggy

I attach the elastic starting in the front about an inch above where the curve starts, going around to at least an inch above the end of the curve in the back. If I’m working with a heavy knit (rayon doubleknit or the like), I will sew the elastic all the way to the waistline in the back. The elastic keeps the seam from sagging over time. It adds no bulk, and it’s comfortable to wear.

All in all, an easy addition that will make a great difference in comfort and wearability.
Happy sewing!

J? or L?

I got several questions about the “L” crotch curve in my post about the Crime Against Humanity McCalls 6707 Fashion Star Capris. Here’s a little more information on it. I’ve sewn pants for years and years, and while they looked okay, I never was really happy with them. They always seemed rather baggy. I’ve never had a lot of junk in the trunk, but neither am I a flatbottom boat. I figured that I just had to put up with it, because none of the pattern fitting guides at the time had any solutions that worked for me.

Then one day, I took a fitting class with the amazing, amusing and astounding teacher Cynthia Guffey. One of the things she did was use a flexible ruler to show us the curvature of our hinder ends. Well huh, I guess all that time in spinning class has had an effect. Let me show you a couple of pictures. Let’s take a gander at a current Vogue pattern, V8886.

That’s kinda what my butt looked like, too.

Notice the bagginess at the back crotch? It tells me there is extra fabric there. Now look at the pattern piece for the back:

Of course, it would help if I actually INCLUDED the pattern!

It has a gently sloping curve, shaped like the letter J. Keep in mind that the flat fabric will make a 90 degree turn just below the double notch on this pattern, as it heads in between the legs to meet up with the front leg piece, so your bum doesn’t necessarily look like the flat pattern. Now let me show you what the actual curve of my kiester looks like overlaid on the pattern piece at the crotch line:

All that time in spin classes, I guess…

You can see that the my curve is far sharper than the curve in the pattern – more like a capital L. If I cut out the pattern as-is, I get a bunch of extra fabric hanging under my derriere, kind of like the model in the picture. It’s not attractive, and it’s not very comfortable. But by scooping out some of that excess to more closely match my anatomy, I’ve eliminated that problem. Here’s the adjusted pattern piece from my McCalls 6707 pattern, overlaid on the Vogue. The actual cutting line for the McCalls is in pink.

That’s more like it.

I don’t have a picture of me in them from the back, but they conform to the line of moi quite well.

To give you one more picture, since it’s worth way more roughly 500 words I have here, here is a pair of old, pre-L pants that I made, next to the (post-L) McCalls 6707, so you can see the difference in the completed pants.


This adjustment is pretty easy to make. If you have a fitting buddy and a flexible ruler (available at most art supply, crafts and sewing stores), you can see what your own crotch line is: J, L or in-between, which you can transfer to a pants pattern. Try it on a muslin and see what you think of your rear view.

HTH, and happy sewing!

Tip – Finding the Right Side of Knits

I got an email last week from a customer asking how to tell the right side from the wrong side of a knit fabric. Well, here’s an easy answer! While a print is usually pretty obvious, many jerseys and double knits, especially solid colors, aren’t quite so easy to figure out.

Can you tell the right side by looking? I can’t, not always.

The good news is that there’s a simple “smoke test” for the right side. Simply stretch the knit on the cross-wise grain. The fabric will roll to the right side:

If you’re looking at the right side, it will curl towards you.

Whereas if the wrong side is facing toward you, it will curl away when you tug on it.

Wrong side facing you? The fabric will curl away

So if you are trying to find the “right side” of a knit, just tug on it. And of course, remember – the real right side is whichever one you prefer to be facing outward!

Happy sewing!

Tip: Pantone Numbers When You Don’t Have a Deck

Paspaley – be still my beating heart…

We all know that colors on monitors can vary widely. What may look like a plum in real life can take on any hue from lilac to bright purple on different monitors. It’s one of the reasons everyone loves Pantone numbers. They give a more consistent idea of the actual color of a fabric. Alas, Pantone stopped publishing the Shopping Guide several years back, and they have become as rare, and as valuable, as a South Sea Pearl necklace. Okay, well, maybe that’s a bit of hyperbole, but since I didn’t win the half a billion Powerball jackpot, I can confess that I was going to buy myself one of those babies if I had.

Anyway, I digress. If you don’t have a Pantone Color Chart or Shopping Guide, not all is lost. You can enter the Pantone number(s) associated with the fabric in your Google search bar, and it will bring up information about the color in question.

It’s not as good as having the actual color chart in front of you, but it can give you some idea of the color. In the meantime, we can only hope that Pantone decides to publish the Shopping Guide again at some point.

Happy sewing!