Choosing fabrics

Choosing the right fabric for your project can make or break the finished result. If the fabric is too lightweight, the garment will not hold its shape or structure; if it is too heavy or stiff, the garment will not hang properly. Take note of the suggested fabrics in the pattern as the designer will know which will work best.

There are several points to consider when selecting the right fabric for your project.

WHAT IS THE GARMENT FOR?

Consider the occasion and what you will be doing while wearing that particular piece of clothing. Are you making an outfit for a wedding or a piece of new running kit? These projects will require very different fabrics that will need to perform different tasks.

Fibre
Think about the fibre content with regards to the purpose of the garment. A polyester satin fabric may have a beautiful pattern, but will be rather hot and uncomfortable worn next to the skin – a silk crêpe de Chine would be a better choice for that purpose. However, the polyester satin would work well as a jacket lining where it will slide over other clothing worn under the jacket.

Sheen
A satin fabric with a sheen will catch the light, but could also highlight a host of lumps and bumps. A more matte fabric will cover these and give a smooth overall look to the garment.

Drape
The stiffness of a fabric is described as ‘body’. Fabrics with more body will prevent the fabric from draping as much as a fabric with less body. The best way to check this in a shop is to unroll the fabric from the bolt and drape and hang it yourself to see the level of drape it has.

PLAIN OR PATTERN?

Plain fabrics are easier to work with, but sometimes a pattern is what’s called for. Be mindful of how the pattern works on the garment pieces. For example, if you have a large circular pattern, think carefully about where to place the front bodice pattern piece to avoid an embarrassing faux pas. Similarly, a small delicate pattern may get lost if used all over a garment – it might be better used as a contrast or for a collar.

Stripes and checks
When matched perfectly, stripes and checks look great, but wonky stripes do not. Take the time and effort to match stripes up. It will not always be possible to match up all the stripes across the garment, so focus on the ones that are most visible. Stripes can run horizontally across the body and vertically from the bodice down into the skirt.

  • Mark on the bodice pattern pieces where you want the stripes to sit
  • Mark on the sleeve pattern where those lines fall on the sleeve head
  • Match up the lines on the pattern pieces with the stripes on the fabric

Which way up?
Patterns can sometimes have a particular direction. Always check, even if you think it’s an all-over pattern, otherwise you may find the odd flower or bird that will be sitting on it’s head! Decide on the top of the pattern and mark clearly so that you don’t forget. You could even pin a note to the edge of the fabric to help.

Nap
Even when using plain fabrics, there are factors to bear in mind. Some fabrics, such as velvet or corduroy, have a pile or ‘nap’, which needs careful consideration. As the pile stands away from the base of the fabric, the light will catch it in various ways. It will also feel different stroked up or down. Decide which is top and place your pattern pieces accordingly. It is usual to have the nap of a velvet running down the body.

Making More of Your Patterns : A Frill for Kate

If you’ve ever seen us at a show then you will definitely have seen our mannequin dressed in the brightest Kate Dress imaginable (with coordinating Infinity Scarf). Now before we get to the matter at hand, if you’d like the fabric that this Kate is made up in then you can. It’s Laundered Linen Sulphur. Now onto the frill…

Take 2 x rectangular pieces of fabric. Depth approx 12cm (or however deep you want your hem plus seam allowance) and width approx twice the width of your hem. Measure your hem at front and double it, then measure the width of the back hem and double it.

Pin the short ends together. Hem one long edge by either overlocking and turning up by 1.5cm or turning up 1cm twice. This will be the bottom of the frill.

Sew two rows of gathering stitches around the top of the frill with your longest stitch length on the machine. Sew one just inside the seam allowance and one just outside.

Find the Centre Front and Centre Back and mark with a pin/notch. You can then pull the gathering stitches to fit around the hem of the dress. Pin the side seams and the Centre Front and Centre Back, then gather in between, pin and sew. Finish the seam and press.

What tools do you really need to start with?

When you start out on this fabulous journey that is sewing, it’s tempting to buy every single bit of kit that’s on the market, but all you really need is a sewing machine and some scissors!

However, it is nicer to have a bit more than that, especially if you really want to feel like a proper person that sews! So here is a list of the essential tools and equipment that I couldn’t be without and that will make your sewing life easier.

Sewing Machine
Pretty much a given that you need one of these so won’t go much further with this. See this previous post on “choosing the best machine for you” for some advice.

Scissors
A good pair of sharp, long-bladed scissors is essential. I fond an 8″ 0r 9″ blade is long enough to get a good cut length but not too big they are cumbersome to manage. Oh and please only use them to cut fabric! Using them to cut anything else will just blunt them, and there is nothing worse than blunt scissors!

A small pair of embroidery or needlework scissors are really useful to snip off threads and get right into those corners that need snipping.

Tape Measure
A tape measure is necessary for accurate work and making sure that garments fit perfectly. Try and find a good quality one as cheaper ones can stretch over time and will affect accuracy. You can also drape it around your neck to really look the part!

Pins
How would we cope without these?! Glass-headed pins are easy to see and won’t melt if accidentally ironed over, but long, thin, steel dressmaker pins will last much longer and are far easier to work with when using finer fabrics. Keep them in a decorative tin if you like, but having them to hand in a pincushion is much more useful.

Needles
Get a variety and always use the correct needle for the fabric you are working with. You’d be surprised at the difference it makes to your sewing. We will be doing a blog specifically on this very soon.

Seam Ripper
This small tool is designed specifically to undo stitches in the wrong place. Try and find one with a little bobble on the shorter point, as this is the bit you insert under the seam to zip through stitches.

Tailor’s Chalk
This is a good choice for marking fabric as it’s easy to brush away. It’s important to keep the edges sharp,which you can do by drawing through a pair of part-opened scissors.

Marker Pens
Fade-away pens are a good choice for plainer fabrics but you will need to work with them immediately as they do fade over 48 hours. Wash-away pens stay in place until fabric is washed or cleaned.

Iron
An iron with a bit of weight behind it and a controllable steam will improve the finish of your sewing. Use it to open seams, press hems and create folds and creases. An iron can often reduce the amount of pinning or tacking between steps.

Those are the bits of equipment that I couldn’t do without. But there are plenty more bits of kit you can add to your wish list as you go along.

How to choose the best sewing machine for you

This was a dilemma we faced recently when we had to decide which new machines we would have in our studio as the current ones were going to be discontinued.

With hundreds of machines out there to buy where do you start when choosing the one that’s right for you? After all not only can it be an expensive investment, but it’s something that will offer you hours and hours of sewing pleasure. But if it’s not right for you it could end up being an expensive mistake that just sits in the cupboard.

THINGS TO CONSIDER

What level of sewing do you do?
Are you a complete beginner, looking to improve your technical skills and sewing projects? Or maybe you have been sewing for ages and now want to treat yourself to something superduper with all the bells and lights and more embroidery stitches than you can count!

What do you want to sew?
Are you just looking for an all round machine that can cope with a bit of dressmaking soft furnishings and maybe some decorative stitches? Will you be mainly making curtains or soft furnishings with a few alterations thrown in. Or are you more of a quilter that needs a large throat on a machine for bigger quilting projects?

There will be a lot of crossover here as many machines do similar stuff allowing you to both quilt and dressmake for example. But it is worth considering what YOU will want a machine to do for YOU.

Where do you want to sew?
If you have a sewing space at home and you don’t need to pack your machine away every time you use it then it doesn’t necessarily matter how heavy your machine is. On the other hand if you are going to a regular sewing group or you need to pack your machine away frequently you may want to consider a lighter weight machine that you can mange more easily.

What to look for…


ABSOLUTE BEGINNER LEVEL (£50- £200)
Start simple! But go for the best you can afford. (If you decide you really don’t like sewing – unlikely I know – but then your machine will have a better resale value if you decide to get rid of it). Buying a cheap and cheerful machine can seem like a good idea at the time but could be a false economy if you really get into sewing. You could also look at getting a reconditioned one that has been serviced by a professional. If you are very new to sewing or will only use it occasionally then we suggest a basic electric machine that does the following:

  • Basic range of stitches – stright, zigzag and buttonhole
  • Top-loading (less chance of threads getting tangled)
  • Foot pedal for sewing at your own pace

INTERMEDIATE LEVEL (£250- £800)
Once you’ve got the hang of this sewing thing and you know what it is that you love to sew it’s time to get a bit fancier with your machine. A computerised machine may look scary but it actually far easier to use. One thing that I really looked for when choosing a new machine after using one at my sewing class was whether it had a needle up/ down button (a machine that has an up/down needle feature means that when you stop the machine the needle stays up or stays down in the fabric- you can determine which position it stays in and makes pivoting around corners quicker). We suggest a machine that does the following:

  • Wider range of stitches – including an overlocker stitch to neaten raw edges and a stretch stitch for knit fabrics
  • Wider range of machine feet including automatic buttonhole foot, blind hem foot, free motion embroidery foot (also called a darning foot) and a stitch in the ditch
  • Extra accessories like an extension table as this gives you more flat space to sew on and a presser foot knee lift to leave your hands free.
  • Wider range of features like the needle up/down button, the auto lock button, the auto thread cutter button and being able to lower the feed dogs

ADVANCED LEVEL (£800 plus)
If you sew often and are serious about it you will want a machine that has all the tricks. Depending on what you are sewing we suggest a machine that does the following:

  • Stronger motor that will allow you to sew heavier and thicker layers of fabrics. But this is likely to be heavier machine.
  • Semi industrial machine if you are using your sewing machine for business. But these do not tend to have many, if any decorative stitches.
  • Specialist embroidery machine which has pre-programmed patterns

TRY BEFORE YOU BUY

The best thing to do when you want to buy a machine is go and test them out. Department and specialist stores will expect you to want to have a fiddle to see if a machine is right for you. Also visiting large scale events such as the Sewing for Pleasure Show at the NEC in March or the Knitting & Stitching Shows at Olympia, Alexandra Palace and Harrogate will mean you can chat through with all the major brand names and find out exactly what their machines can offer you.

Happy Sewing Machine shopping!