. . . . . . A place to contribute, exchange tips and ideas and find further info on the LDC group on Meetup.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Woven or stretch fabric?

I like trying out Lekala patterns because you can get a sewing pattern to your own measurements, and you can use the advanced features (called 'Optional' or 'Adjustments') to further personalise the pattern: arm or leg length relative to torso, neck or upper arm width, short-waisted, narrow-shouldered...  there are all kinds of different options.

This Lekala pattern #5081 is the most standard blouse pattern I found on the site. I thought it would make a good basic pattern that I could then adjust for other versions.

I am not sure though that the required fabric is listed correctly. It says: "Fabrics: Knit" and "Is stretchy: yes". Really?

Can this be right?  This is a blouse with bust darts, a buttoned front opening and placketed cuffs.  I have never seen these kinds of features in a pattern for stretch fabrics.  I feel that this has got to be a pattern for woven fabrics instead.

I decided to try a polycotton fabric to see how it works out.

Unfortunately the sleeve/body seam is very puckered despite gathering the sleevehead in the normal manner before sewing them in.  So there is not a good fit in this area.

On me the blouse shoulders are too wide (I didn't use the "narrow-shouldered" advanced option, I didn't think I was) - I may be able to adjust this by cutting the armholes a touch bigger to narrow the shoulder and sewing the sleeves as they are back in. This should reduce the puckering.

My biggest gripe is that the blouse doesnt overlap enough for buttonholes and buttons - in fact this would be a perfect fit if the front closed with a zip: the centre fronts fit wonderful if they meet flush with each other. I had to add a piece for the 'underlap' and attach loops to the edge of one side to catch the button I sewed onto the seamline with the added piece, i.e. onto the front centre line where they need to be.

I should be able to adjust the pattern at the front centre by adding about 2/3 of an inch (around 2cm). This would also increase the tiny little lapel to a more reasonable size (just look at them in the above photo: they're barely there!). I just feel that the very small lapels look rather ridiculous - as if something had gone wrong to be honest.

I think all round this is not the most successful of Lekala's patterns, but it has potential. I just dread having to make all the adjustments when I had been hoping I could just sew this together and be done. Which is really what you want when you go for a personalised pattern.

I am also not enamoured of my fabric choice: this polycotton is just that bit too stiff and I worry that I won't want to wear this blouse much.  A big reason why I am finding it so hard to finish this - this project has been languishing in my sewing basket for at least the last year.  What a shame.

What kinds of fabrics do you think are suitable for this pattern? Is the website right or should I try some other fabric?  I could really do with some advice and ideas.

Thank you.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Tilly & The Buttons Cleo Dungaree Dress. Part 2 - In which I learn some lessons for the next time I make this dress.

Since writing Part 1 I have discovered that the error on the front facing pattern of the dress only affects those patterns sold between 3 and 8 November.  All  patterns sold subsequently have been corrected.  People who ordered the pattern and received it prior to 8 November have been sent instructions on how to correct it.  I was just unlucky as I bought mine on 6 November direct from the charming Tilly herself, she was wearing a great example of the Cleo dress in dark blue.  How to correct the facing is explained here  by Tilly.
If you read Part 1 you will know I was contemplating cutting out a new front facing but I got lazy and cut through the middle of my too big facing then, instead of joining them together by sewing a 1.5 cm seam allowance along the centre front, overlapped the two pieces one on top of the other by the appropriate amount and did a large zig-zag stitch down the centre front.   Then I decided that I wanted to line the dress, as you can see from this photograph of the inside.

Instead of creating a proper lining pattern to fit the facing properly I bodged it by sketching the facing onto my traced patterns  for the front and back of the dress and roughly folding the pattern down  by the facing amount minus sufficient for a seam allowance.  It didn't have to be exact as, once I had cut it out, I just placed the facing with the lining beneath the facing on top of the outer dress pieces, which showed me the shapes I needed to match,  and pinned the lining to the facing to align it. I zig-zag stitched the lining to the facing.  Next I added another line of stitching about ! cm away from the zig-zag  and trimmed away any excess lining fabric beyond this line.  I then followed the instructions for applying the facings to the dress,treating the combined facing and lining in the same way as I would have were it only a facing  It is not a beautiful inner but it worked- almost!
 I thought I would be clever in cutting out the lining and eliminate the centre seams for the front and back as unnecessary so cut the lining on the fold excluding the central seam allowances.  This works well for the back BUT I forgot that I had a centre front split in the version I was making.  Because the lining need not meet exactly at the edge of the split, I managed by cutting the lining up the centre front from the hem as far as the top of the split and turning under the tiniest of hems on the edges on either side of the cut.  I might improve this and make it more secure by binding it with some thin ribbon later - or I might just leave it as it is.

So there is the finished article.  Not as exciting as other versions that I have seen on the internet so far- and I look particularly grim, not just because I am outside in the cold but also because our boiler has been out of action for about 2 weeks.   It is a great item just to fling on in the morning over a cosy handknit sweater, thermal vest and some warm tights when faced with boiler malfunction that has defied the efforts of the engineer to repair it.  If the boiler situation  continues I may well make a Cleo with a fleece or fake fur lining.  I heartily recommend this pattern to a beginner- or, indeed, anyone. Do not be put off by my Victorian Workhouse style version but think of all the interesting prints, exciting thread colours for topstitching and alternative pocket styles you could use.

So the lessons I learnt for next time were:
1.  If I am going to have a lining consider eliminating the facings and applying the fusible interfacing to the lining.
2.  If I am going to have a version with a split then consider a) lining only as far as the split or b) incorporating a small stitched pleat in the centre front of the lining to be released at split level so there is a larger amount allowed for turning back and hemming.
3.  The slit could go at the back and I might do this for my next effort. 
Do you have a pattern that you can enthuse about?  Perhaps you could tell us about it in a comment or, better still, write a blog post about it for the London Dressmakers Club.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Tilly & The Buttons Cleo Dress. Part 1. In which I discover two flaws

If you are a habitue of sewing blogs, dressmaking shops and sewing Fairs then you must know about Tilly and The Buttons patterns.  They are celebrated for their stylish designs, the quality of the packaging and the pattern paper (no flimsy paper envelope and easily torn tissue here) and the calibre of the instructions.  They are more expensive in price than the big commercial companies but, in my opinion, the superiority of the aforementioned justifies this.
I have never tried one of the patterns but, when I was at the Renegade Craft Fair in November, I came upon Tilly's stall and thought that I should try out a pattern for myself.  I almost bought the famous Coco dress pattern but then my eye lighted upon a new issue- the Cleo Dungaree Dress.  This was marked as a pattern for beginners and looked very easy with no zips, sleeves to set in, pleats or gathers, not much in the way of fitting issues.  Plus it was the perfect all year round wear, layered over a T shirt for Summer, a blouse for Autumn or a sweater for Winter.
I was determined to use some fabric from my stash to try to alleviate my guilt at buying a pattern when one of my 2016 resolutions was not to buy any.  The back of the envelope suggests medium to heavy weight fabric. After pondering I chose a textured grey fabric, bought many years ago from Abakhan in Liverpool.  I don't know the fabric content but it has a certain amount of body and resists creasing.  The picture below does not reveal its annoying tendency to fray on handling.

There is a good choice of sizes for this pattern from 61 cm waist and 84 cm hip to 96.5 cm waist and 119.5 cm hip.    I wanted to do the knee length version but the pattern came above my knee.  There was no indication on the pattern of the height for which this pattern is drafted so I decided to seek help from Tilly & The Buttons Facebook page 
The  prompt answer was that it was for a height of 5' 5" to 5'6".  I am 5'7" and I needed to add more than 1 inch to the pattern  but I know the proportions of the various parts of my body do not conform to the "norm"- whose does?!   I traced out the pattern for pattern size two, and, as well as lengthening, slightly decreased the waist size.  The pattern instructions includes the finished garment sizes (Hurrah!) and also warns that you should not take in the waist too much- this garment is a pull-on but in a woven fabric so does not have any give.  If you have any doubt then cut larger and pin the garment together to try on.  This is very easy to do, there are only a few pieces and you can easily reduce the dress where appropriate if you need to do so.  A cutting layout is provided but play around with your placement, taking note of the grainline, as you may be able to use less than the given quantity.  I did.

The pattern pieces are clearly marked so that you have no doubt which edge is the armhole edge or side seam.
The instruction booklet, that's right- a booklet, is illustrated with photographs and clear instructions for every stage.  For someone who first started sewing when you were lucky to get half a page of brusque directions without any illustration, this is sewing heaven.
So I started sewing merrily.  All went well, my two back pieces and two front pieces were sewn together and top stitched.  I did contemplate sewing on the front hip pockets ( this is the version I decided upon)  before sewing the two front pieces together but decided against it because I reckoned that I would be better able to ensure that the pockets were evenly aligned once the fronts were joined.  I had sewn the side seams and I was top stitching the second strap when my thread ran out.  Too late to go and buy some more so I thought I would jump to applying the interfacing to the facings.  This is when I discovered the first problem.
The front facing should fit the front of the dress exactly but it doesn't, it is too big.  At first I thought I had been stupid and traced off the wrong size but I had not.  It seems to me that the facing was drafted as though it was intended to have a centre front seam the same as the dress itself.  There is no need for the facing to have that seam and to have it would make the front bulky.  I took a photo, see below, to demonstrate this problem but, unless you peer at it closely, it is difficult to see, due to the nature of the fabric, that it shows that the facing extends beyond the dress front at the sides.  Luckily I have spare fabric so I can cut another facing, once I have changed my traced pattern piece to match the dress front by deducting the necessary amount from the centre front of the facing.  Luckily I have not yet cut out the interfacing so I will be able to cut the front interfacing correctly on first go.
21 November 2016. I posted a query about this error on Tilly & The Buttons Facebook page and 3 days later I got a response to say that only the patterns sold between 3 and 8 November had this error and all  patterns sold subsequently have been corrected.  Those who ordered the pattern and received it prior to 8 November have been sent instructions on how to correct it.  I was just unlucky as I bought mine direct from the charming Tilly herself, who was wearing a great example of the Cleo dress in dark blue.

Subsequently I noticed a minor discrepancy in the instructions for the straps.  The instructions indicate where there are variations in the method of instruction depending upon the version of the dress that you chose to make.  The strap construction is clearly labelled "For all versions" and tells you to sew two of the open sides of the folded strap piece.  Later on, if you are making the version with button and buttonholes, you are  told to trim the short end, according to the length of strap required, and overstitch or turn and topstitch the now raw edge.  In this case why do you need to sew the end when creating the strap?  Maybe it was thought not to be possible to turn a tube without sewing the end  but I can do this using a big safety pin  and here is a video that shows you how.
I am hoping to buy the thread tomorrow, if I can get the same colour, and crack on with the dress at the weekend because, despite these minor hiccups,  I think it will be a great addition to my wardrobe and it is a pattern any beginner could make.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The clapper - highly recommended sewing gadget

Have you ever heard of the clapper?  Sometimes known as a clapper board? No, not the black thing they use in filming, this is the wooden instrument that helps you put a beautiful finish on your dressmaking project and labour of love.

It produces crisper creases, at hems or along seams where you want them to lie flat and smooth.

The way to use a clapper is to first press a seam or hem with the iron using steam, then press the clapper onto the area that's hot from pressing and either just hold there some seconds for easily creasing fabrics, or press down a bit harder for fabrics that crease less easily. The raw wood of the clapper will absorb moisture and heat and leave the seam or hem cool to the touch - and the material will "remember" to hold this crease.

You can use it on hems, seams like shoulder and collar seams and it works beautifully on darts too.

I wouldn't have thought so myself before trying it, but it does work - the waterfall collar jacket I am making at the moment does look just that bit better than it would without using a clapper.  I am really pleased with the result!

It is made from hardwood, has a handy groove along both longer sides for easy handling:

And one side is narrower than the other:

As with everything, the best gadget does not guarantee an absence of user error - which is what I managed today: I was using my newly purchased clapper with abandon and delight on the seam between sleeve and body - to get the seam to lie that extra bit flatter, which it did...

...then I discovered that I hadn't removed the basting stitch and was therefore producing a crease where I didn't want one. Noooo! Just imagine...

Luckily my Jacquard-type fabric did forgive the rough treatment: with a bit more steam I was able to get the fabric to crease where I wanted it to, and the first crease in the wrong place did come one. Phew! Now that's a relief.

~ ~ ~

Monday, 29 August 2016

Sewing Reward or Sewing Comfort

This is for those moments when you have cut, pinned, stitched and trimmed late into the night and, at last, your perfect creation is finished so you want to reward yourself. OR things have gone wrong, you have sewn the wrong sides together, the waist has turned out too small, the buttonholes are unevenly spaced and you need tea and comfort to enable you to think of a solution or come to terms with the idea that this dress is going to end up being cut up into an apron.  You need a special little something- but the shops are shut and the cupboard bare of biscuits and cake.
Do not despair- SUPERMUG to the rescue.  With the aid of a microwave and some store cupboard ingredients you can have a luscious chocolate brownie in less than 5 minutes.

I found this recipe in a  book in my local library - "Meal in a Mug" by Denise Smart, published by Ebury Press.
You need a microwaveable mug or cup that can take 200 ml (7 fluid ounces) of liquid.  It doesn't matter if it is bigger than this .  Also a measuring tablespoon, the sort you get in a set of measuring spoons, not the sort of tablespoon you put on the dining table.

2 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp of soft brown sugar
1 tbsp of cocoa powder
Pinch of salt ( I have tried this recipe with and without salt and I don't notice the difference)
1 tbsp of sunflower oil
2 tbsp of milk
1 tbsp of chopped nuts (I have tried almonds and also brazil nut but you could leave the nuts out if you wish or maybe try raisins or raspberries or whatever you have)
1 tbsp of chopped milk or dark chocolate.

Put the first 4 ingredients in the mug, add the oil and milk and stir until a smooth batter. Stir in the nuts and chocolate. Cook in a microwave on high,  for a 1000 w, category E microwave cook for 1 minute.  I have a 900W microwave and cooked it for 1 minute 10 seconds.  If your microwave is different then adjust accordingly.  Leave it to stand and cool for a minute or two.
Then I spoon it into my mouth directly from the mug- oh, warm, chocolatety, rich, delicious!  You can turn it out by running a knife round the edge of the mug but it sticks to the mug a bit so it will look something like this.

If you needed a really big reward or extra comfort you could add cream or ice cream if it is to hand.  This is also useful for impressing an unexpected guest with cake in little more time than it takes to brew a pot of tea or make a filter coffee.
As the mug in the picture says "Happy Sewing".

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Press, press and press again

A good press with the iron makes sewing so much better! 

One of the most valuable sewing tips I can give is about pressing your work as you go along.  One caveat: I sew mainly with woven fabric, the need to press may or may not apply to jersey fabrics.

I used to underestimate the difference it would make.  I dismissed the need for pressing and felt it was just a bit too over-the-top, too fussy and pernickety - I wanted to sew!  Which meant that anything that was not about sitting at the sewing machine and putting my foot down (literally, on the foot pedal) didn't feel like 'proper sewing' - it just didn't count in my book.

I used to get incredibly impatient with the need to cut out the fabric, mark it, overlock, baste or pin and when I finally got to the sewing stage I just didn't want to stop for anything.  Getting the iron out?  What for?!

Well, I learned from experience that sewing over unpressed seams produces an end result that I am not happy with. Fabric has this habit of not creasing by itself: it will hold a certain rolled shape at the seam until you press it flat.  If you are really stuck without an iron you could try to use your thumb nail to crease a seam flat enough to be able to sew over it, but it is not ideal.

You will need the iron anyway for attaching interfacing but keep the ironing board out, or you could get an ironing mat you can spread out on a table - quilters use this a lot but their projects start smaller than full-size garments. It is so very much worth the time to set this up because you can wander on over whenever needed. Use it often: if in doubt, press!  Except, perhaps:

...there are areas where pressing is not wanted at some stages of construction: when you make welt button holes or pocket openings you don't want press the welt lips flat because it would distort them before you carry on with further steps. A skirt waist edge that will be understitched to stop the facing or lining rolling up into view should also only be pressed once the understitching is done.  There might be other occasions, let me know if you can think of other elements.

But most of the time a quick press is hugely important for a good result that brings joy as opposed to the frustration of a bodged project: it feels very demotivating to have put all this time and energy into a sewing job and then it doesn't turn out very well.  You're not quite sure what went wrong so you don't even know how to fix it next time.

Pressing seams flat might just make the difference.  Try it!

What are your experiences of using an iron while sewing?  Any mishaps, any tips?

Thursday, 21 July 2016

"It's got to be perfect...Now I'm determined, I'm gonna get it right" *

I unpicked a seam for the fourth time in order to stitch it again.  Despite this I still did not get the perfection for which I was striving, I think, partly, because so much handling and resewing had distorted the fabric a bit, so I settled for that fourth attempt at sewing the seam  I know it isn't exactly  right but will anyone else notice when I am wearing the garment unless I draw attention to it?
Recently I admired a sewer's polka-dotted skirt and immediately she pointed out where the pattern did not match completely.  A couple of days later another sewer, when I commented on how great her dress looked, replied that the belt ought to be a bit lower.  I know, when in the same situation,  I  hasten to point faults out with my sewing.  Do you do this also?  I would bet that many of you do.  Do you point out slip-ups only to other sewers or does it extend to whoever makes a comment on your garment?   If we were complimented on a ready-to-wear garment would we behave in the same way?
Why do we do it?  Is it due to a form of "impostor syndrome", the frame of mind where one feels that one does not deserve to be praised. Does a confession of a fault help expiate the perceived "sin" of not being "perfect"?  Has the proliferation of helpful bloggers and pattern reviews, writing about problems that arose in their sewing and fitting of a garment, made us feel that we need to point out our own complications and mishaps?
If I look at all the me-made garments that I have now (and some of these can be categorised as vintage! due to the length of time since I made them) only two seem to me to be without mishaps of sewing or fit- the zip perfectly inserted, the buttonholes exactly matching and evenly spaced, the pattern matching, the hem stitching invisible, the inside neatly finished, the collar points sharp and no bodging or tweaking.  Unfortunately they are not my favourite garments, they are very boring, and they are not the ones that get compliments.  Usually the favourable remarks arise due, not to the perfection of their construction, but to a striking fabric or unusual detail (sometimes this later has been created by me to cover up a sewing deficency- there you are, the urge to confess surfaces).
Etiquette says that you should accept a compliment gracefully.  Telling someone that the dress they have just admired is faulty is tantamount to casting aspersions on their judgement.  So, in future, if a non-sewer  gives me a bit of praise I shall try just to smile and respond with something nice about them.  However if it is a sewer and they ask me what the pattern was like to sew I shall probably regale them with stories of what hell the fabric was to stitch without puckering, how I misread the instructions twice and how I sewed the left sleeve to the right side of the bodice.  What about you?  How do you react  when someone congratulates you on something you have made?  What do people most remark upon?  I'd love to hear.
* Taken from the lyrics of the song "Perfect" by Mark Nevin

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Sewn in One Hour- Not! And a Re-fashion

This pattern, New Look 6483, came with the June 2016 edition of Sew Magazine.
It looked the answer to many a sewer's prayer- a simple top in woven fabric with neckline variations and a sleeveless or short sleeve option- plus the promise of a swift sewing time, one hour, as it had no zip to insert or buttonholes to make.
My partner, Nick, was keen for me to make it in the same fabric that I used for my carry-on luggage rucksack blogged here but I drew the line at wearing a garment in bright yellow with multi-coloured spotted and striped ponies cavorting on it.  However I did want something cheerful so went for this poly/cotton at only £2.99 per metre from the Sewing & Craft Superstore at Tooting Bec.
I bought 1.60 metre as I wanted to make version A but with longer sleeves and possibly a matching headscarf. 
I traced a size 10 (83 cm bust) using horticultural fleece as described here
and pinned the pieces together to check for fit.  Since my bust is just under 85 cm I thought that I might have to make an adjustment here but it was a perfect fit across the bust with just the amount of ease that I wanted.  However I did make several adjustments to the pattern before cutting out the fabric, due to my narrow shoulders, thin arms and rounded upper back, as follows:
1. Decreased the height of the armhole by sewing a larger seam allowance on the shoulders and decreased the size of the sleeve cap to match by making a horizontal pleat on the pattern across the sleeve head.
2. Extended the length of the sleeves to below elbow length by continuing the line of the original short sleeve pattern to the appropriate length but tapering the sewing line to create a slightly narrower sleeve.
3. Put a dart in the back of the neck so that it fitted my rounded upper back and amended the back facing pattern to take account of this.
4.  Instead of using one large button for the closure of the back neck opening I used two tiny ones as I thought it gave a neater look.  The button loops are hand stitched using red thread.
The photograph below shows the fastening and the back neck darts.
So how long did it take to sew?  By sew I mean actual machine stitching time- stay stitching, basting the sleeve head to gather for sleeve insertion, edge overcasting, sewing the seams and top stitching (which I did on the bottom and sleeve hems and around the back neck opening).  Definitely more than an hour.  I am not a fast sewer but I note that reviewers on Pattern Review also mention that it took them more than an hour.
 However, if not as speedy as claimed, it is easy and not a long project.  I like it very much and a complete stranger came up to me yesterday saying how much she liked it and was disappointed to discover it was not a RTW buy!  It can be worn loose or tucked in and goes with loads of separates already in my wardrobe.  The naive fabric design brings a smile to my face when I put it on, something much needed given Brexit and the dismal, dull weather we have been having.  I am already thinking of another version, with a different neckline and  longer sleeves, using fabric from my stash.
This fabric also inspired a refashion of a fleece pullover that I had.  Although it was a useful item, I found it annoying that it had no front opening so the only options were Fleece on or Fleece off.  I could get too hot wearing it but then become too cold when I took it off.  While I was in the store buying the fabric for the top I spotted, in one of their zip offer bins, an open-ended zip that was the same blue as the fabric and exactly the right 25 inch length at only £1.50.
To make the jumper into a jacket I just cut up the middle of the front of the fleece and stabilised the underside of the front edges with a narrow strip of  light-weight fusible interfacing before turning the edges under on either side of the zip and sewing the zip in.
 I used some horticultural fleece to trace off the underside of the little stand-up collar and created a facing pattern to cut out in the boat fabric.  Then I hand stitched the facing in place.  Eh voila!, a zip-up jacket that I can just unzip for a bit of a cool down.  Plus it makes a rather dull fleece a bit more exciting and individual.  My tame photographer had to leave for work so you don't get to see me wearing it but here it is.
But the best bit is the inner collar.
Costs for top and jacket refashion - Fabric £4.98, Zip £1.50, The white, the blue and the red sewing thread, fusible interfacing for the facings and the buttons all came from my stash.  Total £6.48.

Have you made something that puts a smile on your face when you wear it?  Tell us about it on this blog, contact Giselle, London Dressmakers Club Organiser through the Meetup site here
for information on how to write a post for this blog.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The woosh

I'm not sure why one of the pins sits diagonally? It was supposed to sit straight like the others

Are you a beginner?  Do you want to sew but don't find it easy to get started?  You fire up your machine and begin your first seams, but they could be nicer and better?

Here is a tip aimed at very new sewers: using your sewing machine so you get good results which in turn motivates you to sew more.

I still remember how difficult I found guiding my fabric straight through the machine. I did my best but my stitching line would still wobble from right to left and folds from the fabric would somehow get pulled under the needle and caught up in the stitching  it was driving my bananas.

Here's my tip:

For your fabric to move smoothly through the machine, the two layers of fabric have to run up as flat and even as possible. It all starts off so well but then things go wonky.  To make the fabric lie flat: put your left hand under both layers of fabric (I am attempted to demonstrate this in this photo: try and spot my hidden hand! That's why my thumb is showing) while holding the edge in your right hand (I would love to have three hands available for taking pictures!).  You can make the layers lie flatter by moving your hand up a bit (towards you) and then in a big sideway sweeping motion swoosh it all over to your left. I bit like a 'that's enough' gesture - if that makes sense.
I call that 'The woosh', I guess it's the sound of the fabric moving that makes me think of that.

Moving your material in this way makes sure that the stitching process hasn't dragged your fabric up in folds that will pull another layer into the path of the needle. A really big aside motion will smooth out your fabric the best. I have tried pulling at it from the left, or pushing from the top but neither of these work as well as letting the fabric layers run over your left hand.

Try it out, see what works best for you.

Some dressmakers swear by extension tables: the entire area around the machine's stitching area is flat and that makes it easier to move your fabric as a flat piece (thank you Pia for this tip!)

PS: my other tip about keeping the seam wobble-free: experiment with where you look to check in order to keep your fabric run through evenly. Do you look at your fabric only, or where it moves under the sewing foot? See if changing where you look makes a difference.

~ ~ ~

Do you find this a useful tip?  Is this something you already do, do you do this differently? Please let us know in the comments!

Thursday, 16 June 2016

A 2 Day workshop on Patchwork and Quilting for Beginners.

At the beginning of April I happened to be in Devon when the Exeter Quilt Show was taking place and, loving all things fabric as I do, I was unable to resist its lure especially as I had decided to try to make a very simple single bed quilt to use up some of the fabrics left over from my dressmaking attempt.
A conspicuous amount of  imagination, hard work and patience had gone into making the items on display and I could see that it demanded more than sewing a few bits of fabric together to create a satisfying quilt.  Thus I signed up for this 2 day workshop, run by The Exeter Sewing Machine Company ,to make a mini-quilt and intended particularly for Beginners.  I was so glad that I did as I learnt about many aspects that I had not considered at all. This sample 24" x 24" was roughly what we students aimed to produce using our own choice of fabrics.

 Day 1. As requested, I arrived on the first day at 9.45 am for a 10 o'clock start clutching the only items that we were asked to provide- 4 "fat quarters" for the body of the quilt and 25 cm of fabric at least 110 cm wide for the binding plus a packed lunch.  All the fabric had to be 100% cotton and well-pressed (the instructions were very explicit) so as not to waste working time removing creases.  All other materials and all tools were provided.  The workroom was light and airy.  Each work station had its own Brother 1000 machine, large cutting board, iron and ironing surface and all the necessary equipment.  There were 4 of us at the workshop and, after settling at our work stations and finishing the coffee or tea provided, we were ready to go.  The tutor, Jenna Clements, was excellent, taking us in clear and logical steps through all the processes.
First of all, Jenna took us through topics such as types of fabrics to use, colour selection, the reasons for and against pre-washing the fabric, measurement and seam allowance while we all made notes. Looking at the sample mini quilt, we had the opportunity to think how we would place our own fabrics in relation to one another when constructing the blocks for our own mini-quilt.  I had brought along 5 fat quarters, one more than required, as I had been given one fat quarter for turning up dressed in vintage style at the 70th anniversary of the Sewing & Craft Superstore in Tooting Bec.  I decided to use all five in my quilt while another student went with just two for her design.
Then we learnt how to remove any selvedges and accurately cut on the straight grain to exact measurements using a rotary cutter and cutting mat.  I was really pleased to learn this technique and realised that I had not been successful in my previous attempts at using a rotary cutter because I was not doing it correctly.
The next step was to sew our cut fabric into blocks and, before we tackled this, Jenna explained what type of machine foot, needle, choice of thread and best stitch length to use.   To avoid adding bulk you must not back stitch when sewing the seams and you have to start at the very edge of the fabric.  This means that the feed dogs behind the needle are exposed and this can cause fabric to be dragged down into the feed dogs.  You can see what I mean in this picture, I have lifted the foot so you can see the feed dogs exposed.

To avoid the fabric being caught up in the feed dogs you can place a scrap of spare fabric over the feed dogs and immediately abutting the fabric that you are going to sew (as in the photograph below) - a useful tip that you may well be aware of but which was new to me.

 Using the correct method of pressing of the sewn block is very important to ensure a successful result.  Seams are not normally pressed open, as in dressmaking, but to one side. It does mean that you have to think carefully how the blocks will be sewn together so that you press the seams to avoid bulk where two seams meet by making sure that the seam of one block has been pressed to the right and the seam of the block to be sewn to it is pressed in the opposite direction.
This brings us on to the all-important "matching of points", that's where seam lines meet.  Apparently the accuracy of the matching is one of the key factors by which the standard of your work is judged.   Many points can occur on a large quilt.  Fortunately I only had to match five points in my mini quilt.  See if you can spot them, they are the points where four seam lines meet and the junction of those seams should be exact.  The joy I felt on achieving my first correctly matched point was enormous.
 By the end of the first day at 4 pm we all had the main section of our quilt sewn.  Here's a photograph of another student's work, she  decided to make her quilt as a linear runner instead of a square.  I love all those dramatic blues.

If you had not finished or wanted to redo a point that had not quite matched, you could stay on, as the shop remains open until 5.30 pm, but I went to explore the fabric section in the basement and the haberdashery on the ground floor, plenty of scope for shopping there.  However the thought of having to carry it all back to London on public transport helped me resist and not break my "No more fabric buying" resolution yet again.

Day 2.  Overnight the tutor had tacked wadding and backing fabric to our quilt fronts  ready for us to to begin the day and crack on.  So that we would understand this process Jenna explained the different types of wadding available, their uses, advantages and disadvantages and various other details about wadding, such as the maximum distance apart for quilting lines appropriate to each type.  This lead to an explanation of how to construct a quilt "sandwich" (the top, wadding and backing) and how to correctly tack it together preparatory to quilting.  Below you can see the 3 layers of my quilt before it was trimmed.
And here, on another student's piece, you can see how the whole quilt is tacked to secure the 3 layers together so the fabric is held in place while you machine stitch the layers permanently together.  This one is destined for a grandchild. The pigs are so cute.

Before we got down to sewing we needed to trim the wadding and backing to size with rotary cutters while using the quilting ruler to "square" the quilt i.e. making sure that the side edges were parallel and the corners at right angles. Luckily I must have been accurate with my cutting and sewing (an unusual occurrence for me) as my deviation from the required shape was so minimal as to have no need for correction since it would be hidden by the binding to be applied later.
To machine quilt the 3 layers together we used a "stitch in the Ditch" type technique using a walking foot and following the seam lines of the patches though not right on top of that seam but immediately to one side by an infinitesimal amount.  This means that, actually, you can't see the machine quilting on the right side but it is there, securely holding the layers together.  It was a slow process for me, needing concentration to keep the needle stitching in the correct place.  Jenna taught us an incredibly neat way of fastening off the stitching so there are no signs of stopping and starting on the front or the back.  If you look at the photograph below I hope that you can only just see the machine stitching, although the tacking is plainly visible.

I had hoped that we would do some visible machine quilting but there was insufficient time.  Jenna described some simple quilting effects and how they were achieved and discussed tools for marking out designs.  We pressed on to cut strips of fabric for the binding for the edges.  To make the necessary length we joined our strips with a machined seam on the diagonal so the bulk of the seam would be distributed when it was folded over.  This photograph below shows the diagonal sewing line I have marked on my strip,  once that was sewn I had a long straight strip.

This strip was folded in two along its length and a diagonal point created. 
This folded strip was laid around the top of the right side of the quilt with the raw edges of the quilt and the binding strip aligned and mitred at the four corners.  Then the strip was stitched to the quilt a quarter inch from the edge.
 The binding was folded in half to the back side of the quilt and, our time being up, we would be able to finish the quilt at home by hand stitching the binding down on the wrong side or machine stitching on the right side along the join of the binding and the quilt body. I had to leave my quilt behind in Devon to be continued next time I visit but I roughly pinned the binding in position to take this photograph, which gives you some idea of how the finished item will look.
I can see plenty of faults with it but I am quite pleased with this first effort.  I think I might try hand-quilting something simple on the four cream squares but I will wait until I have finished the binding before deciding on this.
One of the things that I liked so much about this course was the amount of information about tools and techniques so one understood not just how to do something but also the reasons why you did it and what other options were available.  I was able to comprehend the techniques to a greater degree than I would have done by reading a book in quilting.  It certainly taught me the importance of accuracy  and also some processes that I can use in dressmaking.  
Exeter is a very interesting city and there is beautiful countryside around it.  Should you be thinking of taking a long weekend break you could consider Exeter and combine it with one of the workshops run by The Exeter Sewing Machine Company. Honestly, I am not being paid for this!
I am now looking for some good dressmaking workshops that I would be able to attend  as I can appreciate how they can improve your skill.  Is anyone able to recommend some?  Do add a comment with the details if you have attended a workshop that you can vouch for and would like to bring to members' attention.
Happy Sewing, Barbara.