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

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Sewing tips - needles and pins

I bought a great book about clever sewing tips some time ago and promised myself that I would dip in and out - these are tips everyday people have come up with for making sewing easier, more accurate or better in some other kind of way. There's shortcuts and all kinds of tips in there: including stuff that I had never even considered before!

This is easier said than done because I misplaced the book. Ach, most annoying. Please let me know if anyone has borrowed it from me at one of the Dressmakers meetings!

We can come up with sewing tips ourselves, please add yours in the comments!  I am sure there are lots of useful things that I haven't listed. This blog post ne is all about pins and needles. Here goes, in no particular order:

To keep two layers together for sewing, put pins sideways (i.e. perpendicular) into your fabric: you won't distort the length of the two layers in relation to each other - pins that run parallel to the cut edge can bunch up the top fabric and shift the layers out of alignment.  NB: If you are left-handed you can try inserting the pins from the left for easier removal.

A great article on pinning for beginners here at How To Sew. And a very fabulous post by Threads Magazine here - who knew there could be so many tips on pins and pinning?

Removing pins
It is probably best to remove pins before you sew over them. Some people do as a matter of course - I find it just as easy to take them out as I sew along than do it later. One big thing: the machine needle usually slips past the pin and keeps on sewing but it is very possible for the needle to hit a pin and break. Small parts of a broken needle can get propelled incredibly fast and quite a distance and would be very bad news if they end up in your eye. It would do serious damage. I would therefore strongly recommend removing pins at all times. Even wearing glasses cannot completely protect your eyes and may provide a false sense of security.

Right side/wrong side
I like to put a pin with a glass head into the right side of all fabric pieces as soon as I cut them out. Some fabrics make it really tough to tell one side from the other, except when you've sewn everything up - then the one piece you got wrong may be glaringly obvious.  At some point I tried to use white glass pins for the front and darker ones for the back but found that too much faffing around.  Other people like to put a chalk X on the wrong side of the fabric instead.

Types of pins
Pins come in different lengths and thicknesses. If you want to take a look to compare them, places like John Lewis department store sell pins that are for all kinds of purposes (dressmaking pins, bridal & lace pins, appliqué pins, and many others) - I like to use the longer ones that are quite thin. These go into fabric more easily and also come back out without having to wrench them (not all fabrics work well with thin pins, others need different ones).  Try out several kinds, see what you like best.

Thread Magazine desribes an astonishing range of pins.

Pins to use with jersey (or stretch or knit) fabrics: pins are also available as ball point pins!  To be completely honest: I had no idea so you learn something new every day. (I also didn't know that there are even Glow-in-the-dark pins! Not kidding)

There are also other kinds of pins: U shaped fork pins, much longer with yellow glass heads or flat flower disks. The latter ones are for use in quilting and might come in useful for dressmaking too. There are also items that pin layers together without being pins: clips and similar that are often used in quilting. Use these on leather and other materials that should not be pierced - if you don't have these, try sellotape or pin only in the seam allowance.

Collecting spilled pins
Magnets are great for picking up spilled pins. Who wants to crawl around on the floor and get them stuck in your fingers. There is just one very important thing: please keep your magnet away from your laptop and computer. I have heard nightmare stories of people who have wiped their harddrive because their dressmaking magnet got too close. Better safe than sorry.

Machine sewing needles

Don't worry if you never paid attention to what kind of needle is sitting in your sewing machine. I sewed with the pre-installed needle for years before having to change it - but I don't think I was sewing very well.  Using the right kind of needle can make things a lot easier.

Universal or sharps needles are for woven fabrics. They come in different sizes, use a 70 or 75 for thinner fabrics, and a 80 or 90 for medium weight fabrics. If you sew with very heavy and dense fabrics then you may need a needle with a higher number but the 70-90 sizes are usually sufficient.

Ballpoint or stretch needles are for sewing knits, also known as jersey fabrics, Ponte, IDC, interlock or any other material that is not woven but made from interlocked columns of stitches similar to what you get when knitting. I find these ballpoint needles better even than universal needles that are supposed to be good for all materials - a ballpoint is just that bit better at slipping in between the fabric's threads rather than piercing them which is what the sharp needles do. In a fine jersey this can potentially cause holes and damage to the stretch fabric. Go with the right needle, it just makes sewing lots easier. I like to put a small dab of nail varnish on a part of the ballpoint needel that won't touch machine or fabric to tell them apart from sharp needles.

Sewing with different and specialised fabrics calls for different needles: there are all sort of special needles: leather, denim, metallic, to stitch, embroidery, gold embroidery, and a few others.

Here is a list of needles by Schmetz and a visual guide here.

There are also twin needles: a single shaft (for inserting into your machine just like an ordinary sewing needle) that carries two needles below. They are a distance of 2mm, 3mm or 4mm apart - depending on the effect you want to get. You use an ordinary bobbin with these. Make sure you use the exact same thread for all three stitchlines, I ran into huge problems using a different bobbin thread once (loop and loops and loooooooooooopppps of thread down below. It took me ages to rip it back out because it got entangled. I wouldn't recommend it)

Problems with stitching
Always make sure that your needle is inserted as high up as it'll go (check your machine manuel for the right position) and ensure the screw is tight. If your machine suddenly develops a problem with the tension, or it starts making a unusal sound, or any other issue - re-threading the machine (top and bottom) is your best bet. This sorts plenty of tension problems. But if that doesn't help then changing your needle is the next step: your needle might have got blunted, or bent too slightly to be noticeable, or just plain gone wrong somehow. A new needle can make a big difference. Make sure to get rid of the old needle (put in some paper and wrap with sellotape to avoid injuries) before you are tempted to use it again. I did run into the problem once that my sewing thread started to shred: it split into different strands and had bits of fluff hanging around. My needle's eye had gotten damaged and was splicing the thread. Get rid immediately.
I ordered some Millinery straw needles #10 (red box), they are incredibly thin

Hand sewing needles
I am still searching for the holy grail of thin but sturdy hand sewing needles that aren't too short for my poor short-ish fingers. Most hand sewing needles are not quite thin enough for me, I find them tough to get in and out of fabric. Also the needle eyes tend to be really tiny on the short, thin ones. I have heard of Japanese made needles that are supposed to be very good. If anyone knows these or can recommend something else, please let me know in the comments!

Threading your needle
Lots of people wet the sewing thread before threading a needle. There is a better way: leave the thread dry but instead put a little moisture at the back of the needle eye. Thread is attracted to moisture and will slip easier through the needle in order to get to the liquid. It sounds a bit mad but it does work.  If poking away at the needle doesn't work, do cut the thread again to get a blunt end (Please DO NOT use your dressmaking shears for cutting sewing thread, paper or tissue - this will damage and blunt them. Cutting thread will put a tiny nick into your dressmaking shears and you won't be able to cut thin fabrics like chiffon or satin without getting stuck).  If that doesn't work either: there are threaders you can try. Try online or at craft fairs. I have yet to figure out how they work, but amazingly they do!
If you can't get your auto threading device on your machine to work: once you wound the thread around the correct bits and hold it slightly tensed: make sure to release the leaver quite slowly. There is one moment just before the magic happens when you need to go extra slow. Try and avoid the leaver jumping upwards.

And last but not at all least: check your pins and needles for any that are bent or rusty. These just make your life more difficult and sewing somewhat annoying. Which would be a real shame. Let's all go with gadgets and processes that make sewing fun and easier!  Rusty pins can damage your fabric or even ruin it if your WIP is left for some time before you are able to go back to it.

These are the tips I was able to come up with. Can you think of anything else that's pin and needle related? Please add in the comments.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Sewing Productivity

We all want to complete more sewing projects. I often look for articles on how to sew faster, and I love reading sewing blogs. In the last year I've become much more productive! There are lots of tips in different places so I've tried to bring them all together and also explain what works for me. The ideas are laid out into several categories including real life, sewing room setup, materials, methods and you. 

1. Real life
We're all busy people, trying to fit sewing into the gaps between jobs, family, friends and other hobbies. Sometimes sewing is the lowest priority and that's definitely ok. One difficulty is overcommitting oneself, which is a major problem I've had in the past. Is there much point creating a rigid queue of complex projects each needing sewn in two weeks, when in reality you might complete three garments in a year? Why not keep a note of all your ideas but use simpler patterns again and again so you don't have to fit them, and have a shorter queue? I now only have one or two projects on the go at any time so changes to the "queue" are easy. This means I'm more likely to finish items when I need them but I can still keep dreaming of fancy ballgowns. Another thing I learnt after the first few years of sewing is to think like the big fashion houses in terms of when to make garments. Make a coat in Summer so it's ready when the cold hits, rather than starting a coat in October, feeling cold, getting busy, giving up, buying one anyway and finishing the coat in March. And make a swimsuit in Winter!

Me and my real-life distraction :)
2. Setup
The ideal setup is a whole sewing room, or even part of a room with a table, sewing machine and ironing board always up. I used to have that but now the room is the baby's nursery so the ironing board is folded until needed. Often use my sleeve board or ham instead which are quicker to pull out! You may only have a tiny desk and that's ok. Whatever your situation, figure out how much stuff you can keep ready to go in an instant. This prevents time being wasted by setting up and putting away equipment.

My sewing room setup: an old school desk with patterns in one drawer and notions and scraps in the other. Fabric is in the large bookcase, and ironing accessories are to the left of the desk. I made no effort to clean up before taking this photo!
Minimising the amount of patterns, books, notions and fabric you have also makes it easier to find things when you need them. What is minimal to one person and their sewing space is different to another so this is your decision. I have one shelf on a bookshelf which contains fabric. My sewing desk is an old school desk with two deep drawers so one contains patterns and paper, the other contains notions and fabric scraps. I try to keep all these areas regularly cleared out.
The pattern drawer: large patterns in pockets on the left, smaller ones on the right. I have around 60 patterns in here, neatly arranged. 

The other thing that helps productivity for me is using phone apps to organise my patterns and fabrics. I use TapForms for both but a lot of people like Cora for fabrics. I'm fairly sure both are only available for iPhones, but please comment below if I'm wrong! TapForms is database app where you can completely customise all the fields. Examples: 1. I have all my patterns stored with a photo of the front cover, the type of garment(s), the era (40s to modern) and the back cover, with an optional field for TNT; 2. Another form for all my fabrics with a photo, width, length, freeform box to note any scraps or other info, type of fabric and drape; 3. Another for notions... I also keep crochet patterns in one but that's not relevant here. This app takes longer to set up than some, but if you want something completely customisable it's amazing. It also has a search function. Using the database means I can search everything quickly when planning garments or buying fabrics.  It also prevents lots of fabric and patterns being scattered around each time I start daydreaming about making new things.

Lastly, my sewing queue is almost nonexistent. I work on a maximum of two garments at once, with the patterns, thread, fabric and all the bits and pieces for both in a shoebox. If I get bored of one I change to the other but I never have more than two. It would mess up the sewing area and confuse my tiny brain. Also, keeping to this means fewer UFOs.

3. Materials
a. Fabric and patterns
It's easy to get overwhelmed by patterns and fabrics, especially if a bunch of both get pulled out each time you ponder a new project. I have 50-60 paper patterns at any time and often clear out ones that I think I won't use again, or represent my fantasy self rather than being items of clothing I will actually wear. 

Regarding notions: keep a few extra reels of thread which match most of the clothes you make, as well as a few weights of black and white interfacing, zips, buttons, stay tape and anything you use a lot. Chuck the rest or use it up. I use up thread in colours I don't normally need by making tailors' tacks.

b. Cutting
A lot of bloggers swear by using rotary cutters rather than shears. They do cut faster and don't lift fabric as they cut, however, they need a big mat underneath and the blades need replaced often. There's an interesting article on Fashion Incubator about why they're not actually better at cutting: As ever, it's really up to you. Also while cutting you can use weights to hold the pattern in place on the fabric. These need storage space and don't hold slippery fabrics as well, but on the other hand they are much faster to place and remove, and won't leave marks in the fabric. I prefer pins but use as few as possible for each pattern piece.

c. Sewing
A comparison of sewing machines is definitely outwith the scope of this post, however, I would like to suggest exploring different feet and needles as these can help you sew better as well as faster. Most machines can take an invisible zipper foot and rolled hem feet of different sizes. I am a recent convert to twin needles for hemming. Lastly, change your needle often. When they get blunt or damaged you only end up unpicking which doesn't save time at all!

d. Pressing
Pressing every seam is important and is easier and faster with the right equipment. My iron is a Rowenta with lots of steam and a million holes on the bottom as well as a special point for tight corners.
Check out my iron!

Some people get big gravity-feed irons to press faster and better but these take up more space. Instead I would suggest investing in pressing accessories: a tailor's ham is amazing to help press curves; sleeve boards make it easier to press seam in narrow tubes e.g. sleeves or childrens' trousers; clappers help set in the seam and press cloths prevent fabric scorching and thus recutting of fabric. The only one I don't yet have is a clapper, though I definitely want to get one, and here's why:
My ironing gear: large ironing board, old tatty sleeve board from a charity shop (50p!), tailor's ham and press cloths. 

4. Methods
a. Blocks/slopers, toiles/muslins, and reusing patterns
Making your own blocks takes an initial time outlay but saves a lot later. Having even a basic bodice block means you can take any pattern and quickly check there is enough space around the bust, that the bust dart actually ends at the apex of the bust, and that the shoulder slope is correct. These things are hard and/or annoying to alter once you've cut and started sewing! Using a block often means you don't need a toile/muslin.

If you don't have (or want to have) a block, making a toile is also useful, particularly if the garment has unusual features, your fabric is expensive, or ripped-out stitches would leave marks e.g. leather. I use cheap jerseys for testing out knit patterns and cut up old duvet covers from charity shops for patterns requiring woven fabric. Duvet covers give the most fabric for your money.

If you'd rather not do either, and jump straight into making things (and there's no shame in that!) one way to sew faster is to reuse a pattern several times as you know the fit and the sewing order already.

b. Pinning
Some sources advise using no pins while sewing. I think this really depends on how comfortable you are with the techniques e.g. curved seams as well as straight, armholes et cetera. I've seen articles suggesting using no pins while sewing in sleeves, but these are industrial machinists who do thousands. Personally I've moved from about 20 pins to 6 for a set-in sleeve, going with my comfort level and certainty that I won't have to unpick the whole thing again! Pinning is also very dependent on the fabric itself. If the two layers are flat and adhere to each other well with friction, you can easily forego pins; if one layer is shorter or the fabrics are slippery, use pins liberally. Again, the question is whether you are likely to have to unpick, losing the time you "saved" by not pinning.

c. Sewing order
One thing that has improved my speed and enjoyment of sewing is changing the sewing order and doing as much sewing as I can before stopping to press, trim etc. Instead of sewing a dress by making the bodice, then the skirt, then the sleeves, and pressing in between, do as many sewing steps as you can, then press as much as you can, then sew... It feels odd at first but does become second nature. While sewing, you can even "chain" the pieces by not cutting the threads in between until you finish sewing as much as you can. I have a small sewing desk and get confused by the resulting lump of pieces, but some people find this really helps their speed.

d. Specific techniques
There's not enough space here to discuss all the different techniques one can use when sewing. I like to read sewing blogs to get ideas and google specific techniques only on occasion. With each new technique, one must balance the time saved with the finished result. I recently made a knit skirt with a waistband containing wide elastic. I found a brilliant set of instructions for sewing a casing fast and neatly, so sometimes you can get lucky with both!

5. You
The usefulness of all of these tips depends on your skill and comfort levels and how much you wandt to push your boundaries. Just because you CAN sew fancy couture methods doesn't mean you have to every time. It's often nice to make a simple pattern with only a few pieces.

Find your mental blocks. If you hate cutting, why? Can you change your materials or processes or get someone else to do it? If you have fitting issues find a buddy to help. Figure out where your UFOs often halt and work through the issues.

Sew in small increments. If you only have ten minutes, do some stay stitching or change the needle and thread. Sometimes I will wind a bobbin while my baby's playing on her changing mat, or I'll simply position the next piece of fabric and put the needle down so that sewing can start immediately next time I have five minutes. Out of all the tips I've just written out, this by far is the reason I manage to sew so much now.

That's it! I hope you enjoyed reading.

A final gratuitous baby photo :)