Tutorial: How to Sew a Shirttail Hem Without Ripples

Yeah, sorry – my bad in the last post. I was writing late, after a long day, and DS and DH decided to stream “Stranger Things” on Netflix. Oooooh, shiny! I got distracted. BTW, that show is really creepy good. I love Winona Rider, and the soundtrack brings me back to my youth. But I digress.

Rippled shirttails make my eye twitch, whether it’s in RTW (which is inexcusable) or in something I’ve sewn (which is only slightly less so). The key to a professional, unrippled look is patience, grasshoppers. Here’s how I make a shirttail hem that doesn’t ripple. I did a mockup of half of the Simplicity 8166 hem for this demonstration.

1 – Sew your side seams and any other vertical seams as you normally would.

2 – Run a row of basting stitches along the hemline

I used white thread for contrast

3 – Fold the hem along the hemline and fold it again to form a narrow hem. Pin the bejeebers out of it. Seriously, I pin about every quarter inch, sometimes closer. Make sure you pin down the “stress points” – areas of sharp curves.

It’s a lot of pins, but it is worth the effort.

4  – And this is REALLY important. Before moving to the sewing machine, gently press or steam along the hem. I don’t even let the iron touch the fabric, I hover it about 1/16 of an inch above it and use light steam. But you can apply very light pressure if you wish.

Don’t worry about pin marks. They will come out. I’ve done this with everything from charmeuse to silk to wool and cotton, and I’ve never had an issue.

Post-pressing, the curve has “calmed”

5 – Sew your hem.

IRL I would remove the pins just before the needle reaches them, but here for speed’s sake I sewed over them.

6 – Remove the basting, press, and you are ready to go!

Look ma, no ripples!

It takes a little bit of time. Surprisingly not that much, and the results are SO worth it.

HTH and Happy Sewing!

How to Use Sleeve Heads and Chest Shields

The other day I had a lovely conversation with a customer about making a jacket. Jackets and coats are my favorite garments to make. She asked me where I had gotten the sleeve heads for my Lori Jacket, and mentioned that she wanted to balance out some hollowness in her upper chest. She said, “So I want a sleeve head to put in between my shoulder and the top of my bust.”

I replied, “Well, actually that’s what a chest shield is for.” There was silence on the other end of the line, then she asked, “What’s a chest shield?”

Well, let’s talk about the differences and uses of chest shields and sleeve heads, shall we? This is a long one, so grab a cuppa and settle in.

Q: Ann, what is a chest shield?
A: I’m so glad you asked! A chest shield is a layer (or sometimes layers) of interfacing that gives body to the upper chest area of a garment. A chest shield is generally cut in the same shape as the upper chest part of the pattern. It can be a single layer of interfacing, or, if there is a pronounced hollow above the breast area, you can pad it with batting or several layers of interfacing. Chest shields are quite common in men’s jackets, and they are de rigeur in bespoke tailoring and couture tailleur garments. You rarely see them in women’s ready to wear.

Q: What’s the difference between that and a sleeve head?
A: Another excellent question! A sleeve head is a rectangular strip of batting, usually backed with a bias strip of interfacing. It gives support to the sleeve at the shoulder. You do see sleeve heads in better ready to wear.

Both sleeve heads and chest shields are useful in tailored garments. They help support the weight of the fabric and give it good fall along the body. I mocked up half of a jacket (OOP Simplicity 4698, if you were wondering). Here’s the jacket (sans sleeve) on a dress form:

Nothing supporting the fabric, so it collapses

The arrows point to hollows where the fabric collapses from its weight. If you want something that looks more structured, then adding a chest shield will give you the support you need. You can buy pre-cut (men’s) chest shields from tailoring supply companies, but they are simple to make. Just trace the upper chest part of your pattern, eliminating the seam allowances.

Traced off the pattern

In this case I used fusible hair canvas, though you can also use sew-in canvas, or layers of interfacing and/or batting if you need to build up the front.

Applied to the upper front garment piece

Adding that interfacing eliminates much of the fabric collapse in the upper chest.

Much nicer!

Okay, so now let’s talk about sleeve heads. But first, let me go back to the conversation that started this blog post. Here’s a pair of sleeve heads in their natural state:

Batting on one side, bias cloth or interfacing on the other

One long edge of the sleeve head is finished, the other is left raw.

In the spirit of There are No Hard and Fast Rules in Sewing, sure, you can use those to fill out hollow areas in the upper chest. But… look what happens when you do:

It only covers about half the width of the chest.

And, sleeve heads are a lot more expensive than two small pieces of interfacing. So I stick with the chest shield.

Now, let’s talk about how I use sleeve heads. Sleeve heads are inserted into the sleeve at the shoulder seam to control the fall of the fabric down the arm. Here’s the jacket mock-up with sleeve attached, but no supporting understructure:

Note the deep hollow

The arrows show how the fabric collapses down the sleeve. Adding a sleeve head will eliminate that. To insert the sleeve head, sew the finished long edge just inside the seam allowance, with the raw edge facing out into the sleeve. You don’t need to worry about finishing that raw edge. It will be covered and protected by the lining of your garment. I generally attach the sleeve head starting at the front sleeve notch and ending at the back sleeve notch.

In a real garment I use shorter stitches, but I don’t use much tension.

Trim the excess length from your sleeve head (I’m not doing that here because this is just an example and I’ll use those sleeve heads in a real jacket or coat at some point). Here you can see how the chest shield and the sleeve head relate to each other.

Finally, from the outside, here’s how they work together:

Yeah, that’s the ticket!

And for a final before/during/after shot:

That was a bit of tome, but hopefully it’s helpful. Now go and make yourself a Gorgeous jacket!

Happy sewing!

Easy Peasy Hairband from Fabric Scraps

The backstory: I take spin classes twice a week at my gym. Usually I wrap a bandana around my head to keep my hair out of the way. Tuesday morning I went looking for one and there were none to be found. So necessity being the mother of invention and all, I grabbed a length of leftover rayon doubleknit that I used for my Ann Tee. It worked like a charm so I thought it would be nice to share the how-to…

The requirements: a scrap of stretchy knit fabric. For this pictorial, I used a piece of Beefy Cotton Jersey (LOVE!!!), but you can use doubleknit or a lighter jersey as long as it has good stretch and lycra for recovery, and as long as it doesn’t ravel (in other words, not tricot knit). You’ll also need a serger and thread. That’s all.

Cut a rectangle of fabric measuring 18 inches by 3 inches
Headband 1

Fold it in half and run it under the serger
Headband 2

Tie off the ends of the thread close to the headband
Headband 4

Ta daaa! You’re off to the gym in under 5 minutes and your hair won’t get in your face.

You will NEVER see a gym selfie of me. I go there to work out, not show off.
You will NEVER see a gym selfie of me.

It takes less time to make it than it does to read this post. Depending on your fabric and head size, you might want to vary the size of the headband a bit. It’s a great way to use little scraps of fabric, and it costs you essentially nothing.

HTH and Happy Sewing!

Tutorial: How to “Flat Set” a Sleeve

I originally published this as part of a review of a StyleArc pattern, but I figure it will be easier to find in its own post.

How to “Flat Set” a Sleeve
First, sew your bodice front and back pieces together at the shoulders:

Here you can see the sleeve head and the armscye.

You can see here that the notches (I used tailors tacks) line up pretty readily. Lay your sleeve on top of your garment body with right sides together and match up all the markings. I basted the seam here, which is optional. It only adds a few seconds to the construction time and it makes everything lines up perfectly.
You may have to stretch the armscye slightly as you sew to match all the notches.

Then stitch or serge your final seam.
StyleArc uses RTW standard 1/4 inch seams in knits.

Remove the basting, press your seam and then you can sew the side seams.
Ta daaaa!

Setting a sleeve this way takes much less time than the old sew-the-sides-sew-the-underarm-easestitch-and-set-in way. It works really well for knits. It also works pretty well for some stretch fabrics. It doesn’t always work for wovens (I probably wouldn’t use it on a tailored blazer, for instance), but it does for many shirt patterns. Give it a try!

Hemming the Marfy Coat, a Tutorial

Toby asked about hemming the coat, so I figured it was worth showing what I did. There are lots of different ways to hem coats, depending on the finished look you desire. You can interface the hem, in which case you hand stitch bias-cut 2 or 3 inch wide interfacing (for a coat you usually use hair canvas) along the hemming line. You can also pad the hem with a 2-inch strip of lambswool. I didn’t do either of those for my coat. I didn’t want to add any body to the hem, and I didn’t want to have a very soft edge, which the interfacing and lambswool would do, respectively.

The first thing I did was to trim out a triangle of fabric within the seam allowances at the hemline, to reduce bulk:

Trimming a triangle on both sides of the SA, with the point close to the seam, eliminates much bulk when folded.

I pinned up my hem (2 inches, in this case)

Note there is fullness that needs to be eliminated, thanks to the cut of the hem.

Now, there are several ways to eliminate the fullness at the hem. One is to use a gathering stitch to ease the fullness into the hem. That works very well with lightweight fabrics, especially when you have a circle skirt or any other type of skirt where there is a pretty good-sized difference in the circumference of the raw edge and the hem. Another thing you can do is to cut little triangles out of the hem allowance. That also works very well when you are dealing with a large cut-edge/hem circumference differential. But neither of those were really appropriate here, thanks to both the hem and the type of fabric that I’m using. Instead, I decided to shrink out the excess with steam and a very light hand

I don’t put the iron on the fabric, but hold it about 1/8th inch above and steam it like crazy

This leaves a soft, rather than sharp, hem.
Much better fit!

Shrinking it down took just a little time, and once it was done, I used a catch-stitch to secure the hem.

Yeah, that looks pretty nice

To affix the lining, I pressed a ½ inch hem along the bottom. I matched this to the raw edge of the coat hem and used a slipstitch to attach it to the coat hem.

Lining attached to the coat

And a closer view

So that’s how I do it. No rocket science. I’ll do the same thing on the sleeves, then I’ll attach the closures and be done. Hopefully it will be all finished this week. Hope that helps, and
Happy sewing!

Progress on the Marfy Coat and a Tutorial on Topstitching

Happy Holidays, Campers! Now that I’ve picked up the Marfy coat again, it’s coming along very nicely. It’s amazing how taking a break from a project gives you a fresh outlook. The major construction is pretty much done (and there are some serious construction considerations that I’ll put in the review, for anyone who wants to make this coat – nothing bad, just stuff you need to know). I spent a lot of time thinking about the topstitching on the lapels and front. I wish like all get-out that I had thought about it last year when I was topstitching the pockets and the chest shield. The topstitching on those is not bad, but it could be better, and it could be closer to the edge. Live and learn, eh?

Recently I saw a blog post from a self-styled ‘expert’, where the topic of topstitching was discussed. I have to say, it was appalling. Seriously. I try very hard not to criticize, but the information in the post was so wrong, and it is read by many new sewing folks, that I have to say two things right up front. (Bad language alert)

1: Topstitch all the way around any piece. Half-way is half-assed, people.

2: Topstitching is not used to finish an open seam. And most certainly not partial topstitching. See #1. Slipstitch your openings, then topstitch. It takes less than 5 additional minutes and you won’t have your seams falling apart after the first washing. Just do it, dammit.

Okay, now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about topstitching in general terms. The Marfy coat has a fair amount of topstitching to it. I haven’t done the topstitching on the cape pieces, yet, but I did topstitch the lapels and smaller pieces. When doing the lapels, I decided to test out a few different options for getting my topstitching done well. I have to tell you that, while I have very little OCD, seeing wobbly topstitching is one of the few things that makes me want to take a seam ripper to someone else’s work, especially when there are so many different tools to help you do a nice, even line of stitching. Let me show you some of the options that are available on my Pfaff machine. I suspect there are similar options for just about any machine. I made tests of each of them on some scrap wool. I’m using black thread for contrast so you can see it clearly. I’m only using a single thread (I’ve seen recommendations to use doubled thread for topstitching, but it’s not the effect I’m going for here). I set my stitch length to 3.5 mm. And I have several different feet that I can use to get an even topstitching line. Here are the results for each:

I prefer to sew my seams with an open appliqué foot.

When I sew seams, I use an open appliqué foot. I find that it Gives Me Good Control. If you have a steady hand, and don’t have to go over many layers, it can work well. But in a coat, it can move around a lot, giving you uneven topstitching.

One of the standard feet included in my machine is a Blindstitch/Overlock foot. It has a little wheel that rides (in this case) along the edge of the fabric. It’s rather like a stitch in the ditch foot (which I don’t own). I think that foot could also work well for topstitching along an edge as well.

The little wheel runs along the edge of the fabric

I also have an edge stitching foot. The only difficulty with it is that it is left-handed, meaning the bulk of the coat has to fit under the harp of the machine. When you are dealing with a big ol’ winter coat, that’s pretty much a non-starter. It’s perfect for shirts, though.

This foot has a two-tier bottom. One is lower than the other to easily run along the edge of your fabric.

Last but not least is the regular foot (or I could use the appliqué foot) with an edge guide. I don’t know if other manufacturers do this- I would assume they do. The nice thing about this is that it’s adjustable to whatever distance you want from the edge of the fabric, so you can topstitch wherever you would like:

The distance from the edge is adjustable


So what was the winner in this case?

The Blindstitch/Overlock foot!

For my preferences, it gave the best results. I moved the needle over all the way to the left, so I got a wider edge.

I liked this foot the best, though all of them have their merits. Of the four feet I tested, all but one of them (the appliqué foot without the edge guide) give you good, solid guides for topstitching. Here you can see the coat in its still-unfinished glory. It’s getting really close. I need to hem it, then I have to figure out when I can get to Jonathan to put the buttonholes in. I hope to finish it before Christmas, so it’ll only be a year late. More shortly.

So far so good…

Happy sewing!

Was Ist Das, “Bra Catcher”?

I’ve gotten that question a lot this week. I believe I first heard of bra catchers from Els, one of the original Sewing Divas, but I can’t seem to find a post about it. I remember thinking they were a great idea, and they are perfect for preserving your modesty when wearing a wrap dress. So what is it? Essentially, it’s a tab that “catches” your bra so the bodice stays close to your body, regardless of whether you are sitting, standing or bending over. I think it’s a pretty cool idea. And on top of it, it’s super easy to make! Here’s how I do it:

First, cut a piece of boning, between 2 and 3 inches long.

I also like to round the edges of the boning with scissors or a nail file

Next make a “pocket” for the boning with a scrap of fabric. I make the pocket’s finished length about 1 inch longer than the boning. This will allow for movement and a little bit of give.

The finished width of the pocket is the same as the boning.

Slip the boning into the pocket, then invisibly stitch the open end of the pocket along the outer layer of the wrap neckline at center front.

I use small hand stitches to affix it to the neckline.

When you wear the dress, just tuck the bra catcher into the center band of your bra. This will keep your wrap dress snugly and comfortably in place.

I padded out the bra to give Shelley a closer approximation of me.

It’s a great and easy addition to a wrap dress that makes it infinitely more wearable. And it’s not only good for wrap dresses. It works for any top or dress that you want to keep from gapping. Give bra catchers a try. I think you’ll really like them, and you might even find yourself wearing more wraps!

And it’s pretty unobtrusive!

Happy sewing!

While You Wait…

I know, my dears. I’ve been AWOL. But I’ve been as busy as can be with something incredibly exciting! Alas, I won’t be doing the Big Reveal for a little while yet, and since said something incredibly exciting is keeping me from working on the Marfy Coat, I haven’t had much to talk about. But here are a few posts that I think are useful, but you might have missed. First up, a reminder that, regardless of your age, shape, or size, there is a good foundation garment that will hoist the girls up and point ’em forward:
The Right Bra Makes All the Difference

Second, I don’t care that you’re working with knits, you still need a FBA:
Can 4-Way Stretch Eliminate the Need for an FBA?

Want to add a professional touch to your jackets/coats? I wrote this welt pocket tutorial back in about 2005 for Threads Magazine:
Not-so-instant Replay: Welt Pockets

And for those of us shivering through the c-c-cold winter, here’s a tutorial on adding a wind-blocker to coat sleeves. You will be amazed how much warmer that makes a coat!
Adding a Bellows “Wind-Shield” to Coat Sleeves

Also, 20% of Knits at Gorgeous Fabrics this weekend, so get your bad self over there!

There is LOTS of exciting stuff coming soon, so keep an eye here, on your email, and Facebook for announcements. I can’t wait!

Happy sewing!

Pattern Review: StyleArc Ann Tee Top, Plus a Tutorial and Miscellany

About every two to three years, all my winter tops decide to commit mass suicide. Right on schedule, these past couple of weeks I’ve been finding holes in my tops, and some of them have just plain ol’ worn out from wear. Since my mojo is going strong right now I cut out this pattern and started on it last night after the Pats game, finishing it up today. Plus, Leah asked for some help with setting sleeves in flat, so I have a tutorial for that at the end of the review.

Pattern Description:

(From StyleArc’s website) This fashionable t-shirt hides a multitude of sins with side rouching, make it with long or short sleeves.

I made the long-sleeved version.

Sizing: 6-30. I made a size 10.

Fabric Used: Über-soft Rayon Jersey in Heathered Stormy Gray from Gorgeous Fabrics.

Needle/Notions Used: Stretch 70/10 needle. Pro-Weft Fusible interfacing from Fashion Sewing Supply to stabilize the shoulder seams. Thread.

Tips Used during Construction: Sewing With Knits, Press that Bad Mamma Jamma.

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

How were the instructions? I didn’t need them and I didn’t use them. This is a very straightforward pattern to make. If you have any experience, you can put this together in a very short period of time. That said, the instructions are pretty fair. StyleArc assumes you have some basic sewing knowledge. Possibly the trickiest part of this is attaching the neckline band. If you want to see a tutorial on how to attach one, Click Here.

Construction Notes: There was one thing I did very differently from the way they recommend. They suggest you use elastic in the side seam to do the ruching. My thin elastic is old, and when I used it, it stretched out of shape. So I ripped it out and just gathered the front side seams to match them up to the back. I set the sleeve in flat (see below) and I serged all the seams. I used Bernie to hem it, so I could get a little feel for it. What a great machine!

Likes/Dislikes: Generally, I’m not a fan of ruched seams. They tend to make one look poochy. But the ruching here isn’t so extreme. And besides – how could I pass up a pattern that has the same name as mine? This pattern is beautifully drafted, and it sews up like a dream. It’s long, too, which I really like. The fit through the upper chest and shoulders is very much like RTW, with no gapping that I’ve had to deal with in other patterns. No dislikes.

Would you do it again? Would you recommend it? Yes and Yes! This is a great looking shirt that goes together in a little more than an hour. Also, the long sleeved version takes less than a yard of 60 inch fabric (as long as it’s not directional), so this is a great pattern for using up small bits in your stash.

Conclusion: I will definitely be making more of these, both short and long sleeved versions! Here’s a picture on Shelley:

Love it – comfortable and stylish!

How to “Flat Set” a Sleeve
First, sew your bodice front and back pieces together at the shoulders:

Here you can see the sleeve head and the armscye.

You can see here that the notches (I used tailors tacks) line up pretty readily. Lay your sleeve on top of your garment body with right sides together and match up all the markings. I basted the seam here, which is optional. It only adds a few seconds to the construction time and it makes everything lines up perfectly.
You may have to stretch the armscye slightly as you sew to match all the notches.

Then stitch or serge your final seam.
StyleArc uses RTW standard 1/4 inch seams in knits.

Remove the basting, press your seam and then you can sew the side seams.
Ta daaaa!

Setting a sleeve this way takes much less time than the old sew-the-sides-sew-the-underarm-easestitch-and-set-in way. It works really well for knits. It also works pretty well for some stretch fabrics. It doesn’t always work for wovens (I probably wouldn’t use it on a tailored blazer, for instance), but it does for many shirt patterns. Give it a try!

Miscellaneous Stuff
DH dragged himself from his sickbed today long enough to take a couple of pictures of me in my Paco Skirt and Marcy Tilton Jacket. I was wearing my fierce boots too, but they don’t look right with a skirt, as it turns out. They are spats boots, and they look like I’m wearing pants under the skirt, which just doesn’t go. So after he took the picture I went upstairs and changed from the skirt into black jeggings, which look phenomenal with the boots. I need to invest in a new pair of black pumps, which I’ll wear with my skirt. But here you can see a picture (My tee shirt says “Meh.”, which I just love).

First day in a week I’ve looked like I wasn’t going to keel over.

Everyone is on the mend here, except for DH. He seems to have relapsed into full blown flu, even though he had a flu shot. That stinks. I made chicken soup for all of us tonight. Here’s my weeknight chicken soup recipe:
1 rotisserie chicken from the supermarket
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
half a bag of carrot chips
one medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smushed and minced
3 large stalks celery, coarsely chopped
6 cups homemade (preferably) or low-salt chicken broth
1 bag of broad noodles
Salt and pepper

Skin the chicken, feed the skin to Hoover, and remove all the meat, tearing it into about 1 inch pieces. Set the chicken stock to simmering in a large stockpot. In another pot, cook the noodles according to the directions on the package. While the noodles are cooking, melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the garlic, onion, celery and carrots and sauté, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables soften. Drain the noodles, and add all ingredients to the chicken broth. Heat until just below boiling. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve to anyone who has a cold or flu and they will know you love them.

I hope you manage to avoid this nasty bug. If not, this soup couldn’t hurt.

Happy sewing!

And Now, a Word from the Pressinatrix – Press As You Go

Kids, listen up. It’s time for a little tough love. A few years back, I wrote an article for Threads titled, “Pressing Matters” and I think it’s time to revisit that. I’m so thrilled to see what seems to be a resurgence in sewing. It’s delightful to see new sewing enthusiasts creating and presenting their finished works. The problem? I wouldn’t call them well finished in some cases. What I’m about to tell you is said with love, and with the desire to see you end up with a garment that you are going to wear proudly.

Let’s face it. We all love sewing, and the best part of the sewing process is sitting at the machine, feeling the fabric zip under our fingers, watching two-dimensional fabric turn into a three-dimensional garment. That’s the most fun! But that’s not the most important part of the process. Getting up from the sewing machine after stitching a seam, going to the ironing board, and pressing that seam into shape is the most important part.

Got that? Let me put it to you again.

Pressing is the most important part of your sewing process.

And notice that I say it’s part of the sewing process. Here’s how I sew a garment:

  • Stitch seam
  • Press one side of the seam flat
  • Press the other side of the seam flat
  • Press seam open (or to one side, if indicated) on the wrong side
  • Press seam on the right side.
  • Repeat

An interesting thing to note is that, for each single seam I stitch, there are 4 pressing steps. And you know what? If you ever go into a clothing factory, you’ll see that the presser spends much more time with the garment than the stitcher does. Pressers get paid more, for that reason. A well-pressed garment is a hallmark (along with a perfectly straight seam) of a fine sewing job. Here’s a picture from the article I wrote for Threads.

Which would you rather wear?

Jennifer, my editor for “Pressing Matters”, and I call the garment on the left the “Sad Top” and the one on the right the “Happy Top”. Clearly the Happy Top was pressed at every step. The Sad Top is, admittedly, an egregious example of lack of pressing. But if you press your garment only at the end of its construction, you’re going to get less than stellar results.

Let me show you the difference, using silk charmeuse. I chose charmeuse because it’s notorious for showing every little lump bump and pucker. But it also responds beautifully to proper pressing. I’ve stitched the seam using contrasting thread in the needle and bobbin, so you can see what I’m doing.

Stitched seam before pressing
Press one side of the seam flat
After pressing one side, you can see there are still some ripples
After pressing the other side, all the ripples are gone
Press seam open

Once you’ve done this, turn the fabric and press the seam on the right side. This whole process takes far less time to do than it does to read about it. And it’s worth every second you put in. Here are two samples of finished seams. The one on the bottom is the piece you see above. The one on the top is another piece of the same charmeuse, but I didn’t press the seam flat on each side, I only pressed it open.

Subtle, but telling, difference

You can see that it’s not as clean as the one where I took the extra time. It may be subtle, but it’s those subtleties that differentiate between a garment that looks like it came from Neiman Marcus and a garment that looks like Happy Hands at Home.

So next time you sit down at your machine, remember the sage words of the late, great Bobbie Carr: “Pressing is sewing.”