Gathers can be tricky little blighters to sew accurately and neatly. Usually a double row of long machine stitches will suffice.
However, if you have a full amount of gathers to sew or even a rather bouncy fabric to tame, an extra row of gathering stitches can be of great benefit.
The first two rows are sewn within the seam allowance, so you don’t have to remove them after you have stitched the gathers into place. Remember don’t reverse and leave long tails to the gathering threads.
The third row can be sewn below the seam line, about 2cm from the raw edge. This gives a wider channel in which to sew the seam line and ensures that the gathers are small and nice and close together.
Pull up the gathering threads as normal by taking up the bobbin threads and gently easing the fabric along the threads.
You can use a pin at the end to anchor the threads by winding them around in a future of eight.
The extra row means that the gathers are held in place as the seam is sewn.
The extra row of gathering stitches can be removed after the seam has been sewn.
Beautifully even and neat gathers sewn with THREE rows of gathering stitches. It might seem like another step to complete but let’s face it, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly!
I have a confession to make – I don’t really do holidays. That sounds a bit sad when you write it down but it’s not that I don’t like going on holiday, it’s more that I don’t really have the time to go away for weeks at a time. So we tend to do smaller mini-holidays instead.
We had such a one a couple of weeks ago when we went to the Good Life Experience. It’s a kind of festival for ‘grown-ups’. Not that there wasn’t alcohol and late nights involved don’t get me wrong! But it was so much more than just getting hammered in a field (and I’ve done my fair share of that too!).
It really is about the good life – no not the Tom and Barbara variety – the GOOD THINGS IN LIFE. And it was another chance for us to use our new bell tent that has a stove – yes a tent with it’s own heating! I can’t tell you what utter bliss this is.
The festival is run by a team that include Cerys Mathews, she of Catatonia and now 6Music and Charlie and Caroline Gladstone who started Pedlars -(yes I do have a wish list) and is held at Charlie and Caroline’s pad in Flintshire – Hawarden Castle.
My Charlie, or @thetallphotographer as some of you might know him, was one of the photographers for the festival which meant we could get in early and joined in the singing at the old castle with Cerys and Sills & Stich. We were creating the beginnings of a festival choir that would continue to grow over the weekend. It’s incredibly uplifting being part of a group of singing people. Not that I can sing particularly well but hiding in amongst lots of other voices is very encouraging.
The views from the old castle were just stunning and we could see over the rest of the festival and the field of official Bell Tents.
It was such a chilled and relaxed atmosphere, everyone was chatting with people they had just met and it was wonderful to just go “ Ahhhhhh” with a G&T in hand. What was even better about this festival was that there was so much ‘other stuff’ going on. There were talks and readings, bush craft, cookery demos, craft activities to try out, lots of amazing festival food, unusual music to listen to, loads of stuff for kids to do, even dogs are welcome too!
I joined a peg weaving workshop and made a surprisingly warm and comfortable cushion/mat thing. Great for sitting on cold camping chairs.
I met people I had only chatted with on Instagram and Twitter who were all lovely, including Sara Tasker whose daughter is called Orla as well. She was giving a talk on Instaphotography – yes there is such a thing!
I listened to the wonderful Michael Rosen, who held a whole tent of kids and adults completely rapt with his stories.
I threw axes and wasn’t really rubbish at it! I hit the target more often than not and I really enjoyed it – now where do we keep the axe at home?
I wore my wellies the entire weekend – yes it rained and was muddy but hey this is Wales in September what do we expect?
And…. I want to go back next year. I loved it. I know spending a wet weekend in a tent isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time (you don’t have to camp by the way, there are weekend tickets too and you can just stay in a local hotel). But it only rained at overnight and I got to listen to the tawny owls in the woods nearby and of course spend some time with my love.
You can order early bird tickets here. It is a wonderful festival full of inspiration and joy I hope you get the chance to go sometime, maybe I’ll see you there next year?
Would a size by any other name fit the same? I know I’m badly mis-quoting Shakespeare here but listening to a programme on iplayer the other day prompted me to think about dressmaking pattern sizing as opposed to commercial clothing sizing.
Surfing through iplayer to find something interesting to listen to the other day I stumbled upon a programme called More or Less. One of the topics covered in the programme was on clothes sizing, something that I get asked about a hugely in our workshops.
It was only a short piece but rather interesting, you can listen to the full programme here and the piece about sizing starts at 19.45.
Commercial sizing hasn’t been around that long at all really, as before the Second World War clothes were mainly tailor made, made at home or were bought from department store or catalogues and then altered.
In the 1950’s the UK Board of Trade did an enormous survey of women’s measurements in an attempt to try and standardise it all to encourage women to shop for stuff and aid the flagging economy after the war. However, due to the huge number of sizes needed to cater for the majority of the population, that was just unworkable.
This is one of the main reasons the fashion industry has to work with averages. If the bust size of the smallest customer is X and the Largest Y then the measurements in between need to be divided pretty evenly to create a ‘range’ of sizes to cover most people and are usually labelled 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 etc. But to be honest it might as well be apples, oranges, pears, bananas, as the name of the size has absolutely no bearing on the actual measurements.
So, if we can accept that the names of the sizes are not directly connected to our body measurements and don’t really mean anything relevant, it all sounds pretty doable – right? Except when you bring into consideration the more modern concept of the ‘target customer’.
Designers and manufacturers all have their own specific target markets. Top Shop’s range is about age 16 -25 young slim and athletic frames. While White Stuff is more 25 – 55 with a slightly more mature figure (that’s euphemism for a fatter tum!). Evans and other brands may cater for even more specific demographics, but each has their ideal customer.
Going by exact body measurements the population would comprise of the 126 different sizes mentioned int the Radio 4 piece, but do you really want to be described as size 114 or size 0? I don’t think I would to be honest. Each group of customers, rather than being differentiated by individual size, has appropriated the ‘normal size’ banding of 8 -26 so a size 12 from Top Shop will of course be different from a size 12 in White Stuff or Evans, yet they are still all called ‘size 12’. And so ‘vanity sizing’ has appeared to become the norm.
Although I don’t necessarily think this is all bad. I am careering headlong into middle age with breakneck speed and have the grey hairs and extra inches to prove it, but even if I still had the figure I used to in my twenties I don’t think I would want to shop where my teenage daughter does. My attitude, lifestyle and general outlook on life have guided me to find my own ‘Style Tribe’. I know the brands of clothing that suit me and I know roughly what size I am. I’m not that bothered if the size 16 I wear should really be a size 24 or anything else. If it fits and I feel good – that’s alright with me.
Perhaps this is where us Independent Pattern Designers have the edge on the ‘Big Boys’. While they are still trying to be all things to all people we can be more specific. Our branding and size charts also reflect who we design for – usually people like us.
I love the aesthetic of Sew Over It patterns, they have a wonderfully distinct vintage look to them. The same applies to Tilly, her pretty colours and 60’s inspired silhouettes again feed another group of dressmakers. A lot of the time we dip in and out of different ‘Tribes’ too, depending on our moods or occasion. I buy from White Stuff, Boden and Hobbs as well as M&S.
So does it really matter that sizing is different from one company to another? Granted it’s hard to navigate the choppy waters of sizing on the High Street, but should it make that much difference to us if we are going to be making our own clothes? The information supplied with each pattern includes the body measurements for the different sizes. After all we measure and fit and alter the clothes to suit our own shapes and bodies.
Or do we just expect it to fit if we make up a specific size? Most of the time I make up a Toile to check the fit before I make up the final garment.
I’m also sitting in the garden with a cup of coffee answering emails and generally planing my day and the week ahead. But I’m wearing a scarf – and there in lies the difference.
The mornings are becoming distinctly Autumnal and there is a bit of a chill on the back of my neck as I sit on the bench in the garden, so my scarf has its first outing of the new season.
August has ended and with it the Summer holidays. Gone are the relaxed mornings without having to duck the sniper like bullets of questions fired at me by a sulky teenager late for school. My kitchen table has been an oasis of early morning calm throughout August, as those of you who wrangle teenagers will know – they rarely surface before noon.
September has sidled her way in and every day the changes in season become more apparent. Our tomato plants have heaved their last sigh and the few remaining fruits have turned a beautiful golden orange. Our Elder tree has almost been picked clean by the starlings, save the ones I managed grab. And my youngest is back to school in her last year of High School.
The wheel is turning – but I rather like that.
I rather enjoy the ending of something you have enjoyed, but know will return. It’s the opportunity to say “thank you, see you again soon” and then “Hello again, back already” to what is to come with all that Autumn has to offer.
I really enjoy making plans for the new things that are to come. Friends of mine lament the loss of Summer and the longer light evenings, but there is nothing nicer that coming home lighting the fire and cosying up as the evenings becomes darker and the weather more inclement.
The change from Summer to Autumn around September time is far more pronounced than the actual New Year in January, for me at least. After all the 1st January is still mid-Winter, but maybe it has more to do with the new academic year starting. Traditionally children were given the summer months free from schooling to help their families with the harvests. Then when all was safely gathered in they had to start back again. So I suppose it all links together somehow.
My sewing plans are changing too. Some of the projects I really want to make have had to go on the “next year pile”. But that gives me space to focus on other projects that need to be prepared and started in readiness for the Winter.
The lovely winter coat I have been using for the last 10 years has finally given up the ghost so that is a project I need to complete fairly swiftly!
I’d like some new trousers, slim legged but not sure of the pocket detail yet.
The Julia top, lengthened is easy to throw on over jeans, so a couple of those in some new French Terry or quilted jersey would be great.
I also fancy a new dress. Maybe one with a waist seam and pockets? Where’s my sketchbook I feel some designing coming on…..
What are you planning on making this Autumn? I’d love to know.
Did you know about the little red blob on your un-picker? It isn’t there to just look beautiful, it really does have a practical purpose as well.
If you want to unpick a seam super quick all you need to do is use the shorter spike on your un-picker, the one with the red blob, under the row of stitching and then “zip”along the row of sewing slicing through the stitches.
The red blob prevents the spike poking through the underneath of the fabric and slicing though the garment as well.
Give it a go, it really does make for quicker unpicking!
Darts are one of the things that I’m asked about frequently when I’m teaching dressmaking. How to mark them, sew them and how to avoid getting that little dimple at the end are the most common questions.
So let me explain….
Firstly let’s look at what darts are and what they do.
Darts are a form of “suppression”. That is they suppress the fabric to create the three-dimensional shape you want to fit around and over the body. Pleats, gathers, tucks are also forms of suppression that allow you to mould and manipulate the fabric to create the shapes you want.
Darts will reduce the fabric from the apex of a curve to the outer edge or in the case of a fishtail or asymmetric darts to an area of ‘fit’. So basically creating shape over your curved bits – bust, buttocks, belly and shoulder blades – those areas really.
In flat pattern terms a dart does the same job as a split in a flat piece of paper which when overlapped pushes the centre of the paper up to create a three-dimensional shape.
Most darts will be marked on the pattern as straight lines.
However, our bodies are not made up of straight lines. We are a series of curves, some more than most but we are all most definitely not Lego people or Madonna with pointy boobs!
This means that the darts we need should follow the curves of the body. I will explain further once we’ve looked at how to mark out the darts.
Transferring the dart markings from pattern to fabric can be done in a whole host of different ways. Many people like tailors tacks and admittedly they do have their place in some sewing projects, but coming from industry and being used to speedier sewing techniques I prefer the double pin method.
Another handy tip is to mark the end of the dart 1cm back from the point of the dart before you mark the dart onto the fabric. You’ll see the reason when we come to sew the dart.
Snip the ends of the legs of the dart as they sit on the edge of the garment.
Poke a pin through the end of the dart (the new one, 1cm back from the original point) and then flip over the fabric and pattern.
Where you can see the pin is poking out from the underneath layer push another back through.
Carefully remove the pattern allowing the pin head to slip through the hole to mark the dart. Then when you remove the pattern and separate the layers of fabric a pin should remain in each piece marking the end of the dart.
You can use this method to mark any type of dart, but just be careful the pins don’t fall out before you’ve pinned the dart in place!
Pinning the dart
Pinch the fabric together creating a small pleat and match up the small snips at the edge of the fabric and pin vertically in together.
Follow the crease of the pleat until you reach the marker pin. Then remove and replace that pin vertically where it came out.
You can draw in the dart line if you choose with a fabric pen or tailors chalk.
Another handy hint is to use the tail of the starting threads to pull around and use as a guide once you’ve sewn a couple of stitches.
Sewing the dart
Starting at the edge of the fabric sew in towards the point of the dart. Now going back to what we mentioned earlier about the darts following the contours of the body, this now means that the dart we sew will be slightly curved and NOT a straight line. Admittedly it is subtle but it will make a difference to how the dart sits and fits over the body.
And marking the end of the dart 1cm back from the point also allows us to curve or “stitch into the dart” by extending the stitching line almost parallel to the edge of the fabric.
This reduces the angle that the sewing line hits the folded edge of the dart and means the end of dart will lay flat and not dimple. My old needlework teacher used to say “think hill not mountain”!
When you get to the end of the dart you can either run a few stitches off the fabric and then knot the ends – great for lightweight fabrics.
Or personally I prefer to drop the needle down, pivot the fabric around and sew back into the dart. This is quick and easy and won’t bulk out the end of the stitching too much.
Sewing a slightly curved off dart is just one of those things to practice. It is a good opportunity to get some scraps out and sew a dozen to get the hang of it. It’s like anything – the more you do the better you’ll get.
Pressing the dart
First of all it’s best to ‘set the stitches’ this just means pressing the dart as you’ve stitched it, so the stitches are pressed into the fabric and ‘set’. Do this from both sides of the dart.
Then press the dart from the right side over a tailor’s ham or if you don’t have one of those a tightly rolled towel will do.
Pressing carefully will help to eliminate those pesky dimples at the ends of the darts as well.
This method of marking, sewing and pressing darts is certainly not the only way to do it, but I know it does give good results and sewing good darts is definitely worth getting right. It will give a much more professional look to your finished garments.
Making your own clothes is an amazing super power. Getting them to fit perfectly can be a little more tricky. What helps is making up the right size for you – yes I know that sounds obvious but when it comes to selecting the right size to make up there are a few things to take into consideration.
Pattern companies are like high street brands in that there is no standardisation in measuring sizes. Just as a size 12 in say Topshop will be completely different to a size 12 in M&S.
The sizing bands on different pattern brands can be a little skewed. However, using the sizing information pattern companies already provide on the pattern envelopes and printed onto the pattern pieces themselves can help.
First things first however. You really need to get a set of your own measurements together. This may sound daunting but you don’t have to show anyone else unless you want to I promise! And if you use centimetres it doesn’t sound ‘real’ anyway. I’ve created a little Crib Sheet download of basic body measurements to help you take your own set of measurements and you can keep them safely under lock and key if you prefer.
The pattern’s measurements
All patterns will have their own sets of body measurements – these may vary but will give you a starting point and will normally include bust, waist, hips.
I generally find it quite useful to mark on the pattern information where I fall in terms of their sizing.
However, what’s more useful are…
The Finished Garment Measurements
Patterns also have Finished Garment Measurements – these are what the garment will actually measure around the bust, waist, hips etc. when laid out flat.
The difference between these and the body measurements is the amount of ease included in the garment.
Let’s digress slightly…
There are two types of ease – wearing or fit ease and design ease.
Wearing ease – this is the amount of space you need inside a garment to be able to actually move about while wearing it. Typically in a fitted sheath dress for example you would need about 5 – 10cm ease on the bust, 3 – 5cm on the waist and about the same on the hips. This enables you to move around easily but still retain a fitted silhouette.
Design ease – this is the amount of extra room the designer has added into the pattern to create the desired shape and silhouette. For example our Kate dress fits smoothly over the bust but then skims out over the waist and hips providing a relaxed and ‘easy’ fit.
Back to the Plan…
You can determine the amount of ease within a pattern by taking the body measurement from the finished garment measurement.
Finished -Body = EASE
The general rule of thumb is to use your bust or hip measurements to determine which size you choose to make up.
Now I want to start waving a little red flag here.
Using your hip measurement for skirts and trousers will probably be fine as it is much easier to alter the waist to make it larger or smaller depending on your waist to hip ratio.
But using your bust measurement can throw up issues, especially if you are of the fuller bust variety of person. Just going by your bust measurement could result in you making a larger size than you need, which could in turn mean the shoulders and neckline are too large and will gape and slide off.
Don’t panic though! This is where the extra High Bust Measurement can help. With most of the Big Four US pattern companies if you are over a C cup you may well need to perform a Full Bust Adjustment to give you the extra fabric you need across the bust but keep the correct sizing to ensure that the garment still fits over the shoulders and neckline alright.
With our patterns it’s if you are over a D cup. Other Indie pattern companies will have their own sizing as well.
This is only a ‘Rule of Thumb’ as of course each pattern will need to be judged on its own merits, fit and measurements.
Once you know the amount of ease included in a pattern and whether you need to make a FBA or SBA (small bust adjustment) you can make a judgement call on whether you want to go up or down a size.
Most of the time you’ll find that you fall across a couple of sizes and may be a size 12 on the bust, 16 on the waist and 14 on the hips. Let me just say THAT’S FINE! Very few people fit one size band completely. This is one of the reasons that modern patterns are multi-size now, so you can grade across the sizes to fit your own personal measurements – after all isn’t that why we make our own clothes?
It is very easy to cross over the lines from one size to another. Just make sure to keep the lines smooth and flowing. We don’t have any odd sharp corners on our bodies, well we shouldn’t have, so neither should our patterns. The best way to do this is to use a set of French Curves or a Pattern Master to help you smooth out the new cutting lines for your pattern pieces.
Now you have worked out a more accurate way of deciding which size pattern to cut hopefully you will be able to sew better fitting clothes.
It can be really daunting turning up to a workshop in a place you’re unfamiliar with and facing people you don’t know. I have let my own fears put me off attending things and joining courses in the past and I actually run workshops!
It was while chatting in one of the workshops I teach that a lady confessed that it had taken her quite a while to pluck up the courage to come along. This surprised me as she was really confident and chatty. So we pursued the conversation and it turned out that she had had her own preconceptions about the workshop and that everyone would be really good and she would get left behind.
This got me wondering if there were others who wanted to join workshops but were just a bit too…. Or it was all a bit….
So these are just 9 reasons why you should find one for you and join in.
It’s easier to See and then Do – I understand that this is a HUGE generalisation but most people I’ve come across who do creative stuff are visual or kinesthetic learners, or more likely a combination of both. By this I mean that it’s far easier to watch how someone else does it so you can copy them. Now I realise that you can do this on YouTube or Google and rewind over and over again. But often the angles aren’t quite right or you just want someone to say, “pin it there” or “hold it like that” and you’re away.
You can ask anything – If your tutor is an expert in what they’re teaching, and they should be, workshops are a fabulous opportunity to ask anything! There is no such thing as a daft question. I think that’s really important and something I want to emphasise. And the ‘daft question’ you want to ask will probably be asked by someone else anyway.
You‘ll meet other people just like you – When you join a workshop you are already with other people that have something in common with you – a love of, or an interest in, whatever the workshop is for. I have lots of lovely friends that go way back, but none of them sew! Unbelieveable I know, but true. So I love it when I can get all nerdy talking seam finishes or the benefits of an overlocker during workshops. I’ve found my tribe.
You WILL learn stuff you didn’t know before – This is something I absolutely guarantee! Even if it’s just that the capital city of Tibet is Lhasa, yes this really did come up in conversation (but if that’s the only thing you go away with I feel I will have failed in my job as an educator). However, there are always things you didn’t know before and extra nuggets of information you will take away with you from a workshop. Everyday is a school day and we all learn things from each other during the workshops too.
When you’re sewing at home it is so easy to get bogged down with all the other really important thing s that need doing like laundry or cooking dinner or, or, or…
Workshops give you time out – The space and time you need away from everything else. We have people come to workshops who could probably do whatever we’re doing in the workshop on their own but really enjoy having some time to themsleves. I’ve mentioned before in other blogs how important it is to have that time and space just for you. Workshops facilitate mindfulness – there I’m getting all Zen again!
They help your confidence grow – Whether you do a one off short workshop or a longer course. You will see an improvement in both your skills and understanding in a relatively short space of time. I think that is because of the tangible nature of what you’re creating. You are physically holding and manipulating fabric to transform it into something else. You can literally see the transformation happening before your very own eyes. So often we work in offices or on computers where you never really see what you’re working with it’s all ‘virtual’. Or we’re or at home running around doing chores and tidying up only to have all our hard work undone when the family get home – I really get that one! So seeing what you create and other people can admire provides a huge boost in confidence.
You can learn at your own pace – Our class sizes are usually pretty small, only a maximum of 6 for dressmaking and pattern cutting so there is no need to feel like you HAVE to keep up. And other independently run workshops are pretty much the same too. I and all our tutors are really happy to go over things as many times as required for you to get it right. And I sometimes act as a “sewing sous chef” to help you get things done during the time we have. Never the interesting bits mind, just the boring bits you already know how to do.
There are no EXAMS! – No one is judging you or testing you on what you’ve achieved or asking you to provide evidence of criteria met. This is learning for the pure joy of learning new stuff. Even when we run a workshop on a specific pattern like the Kate Dress, all the individual dresses created by the end of the day are amazing in their own way. And you are able to take inspiration from other people on the workshops too, who may have used a contrasting fabric or picot edge binding. These ideas are stored away ready to come out when you start sewing again.
There’s always cake! – Well at our workshops anyway. We try and make the cakes and cookies we have at our workshops ourselves. I know Rachel has a bit of a reputation of being a demon baker and my lemon drizzle cake always goes down well. We want you to feel relaxed and at home when you join us for a workshop. After all you are putting your faith and trust in us to be able to help you to sew better.
The least we can do is to make you feel welcome and put the kettle on.