Sewing Darts

Readers, this post is overdue. So overdue, in fact, that I wishfully included it in the updated cabin instructions before it was posted 😬. Needless to say, life got in the way. But here it is at long last! And I’m so sorry for the wait! 


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Darts are used to form a piece of 2D fabric (your pattern piece) to a 3D shape (your body). Darts help shape the fabric around our curvy parts (breasts, butt, shoulders, stomach, and more) and they do this by closing a wedge of fabric following the shape of your body.

Here are some tips for marking, sewing and pressing darts, as well as tips for handling darts on a curvy figure, including contouring.

Dart Anatomy

A dart, before being sewn, is a big triangle. The tip of the triangle is often called the dart point. The sides are called the dart legs.

Before sewing, you want to clearly mark your dart onto the wrong side of your fabric. An easy way to do this is by sticking pins through your tissue at the dart point and the end of the dart legs at the seam allowance, then folding back the tissue to mark the point on the fabric.

Marking Darts

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Some patterns will include a circle at the end of the dart that you can use to easily mark your dart point. Occasionally, patterns will have additional circles along the legs of the dart at various spots. This is often done for darts who’s legs aren’t in a perfectly straight line, like a contoured dart or a dart that is at the end of a seam. Mark these circles in the same way you mark the ends and point of the dart.

Once you’ve marked the key points of your dart, use a ruler to draw the entire dart shape on your fabric.

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Drawing the whole dart onto the fabric makes it easier to pin the dart accurately. I like to fold the dart legs together and pin along the dart leg marking, flipping my fabric over to be sure that the pin crosses through the dart line on the opposite side as well.

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I also like to place one pin horizontally through the dart point, to make it easier to spot while I’m sewing the dart on the machine.

Sewing Darts

When it’s time to sew your darts, start from the edge of the fabric and sew towards the dart point along the dart line, pulling out the pins as you go.

When you reach the end of the dart point, try to skim the edge of the fabric with the needle before stitching off the edge completely. This helps to achieve a smooth dart point that doesn’t pucker.

While you’ll start your dart with a backstitch to secure, backstitching isn’t always the best way to secure a dart point. It can often make the dart pucker or bunch at the point. Here are three other ways to secure your dart point:

Leave long tails and tie a knot at the end of your dart.

Switch to a short stitch length 1/4” from the dart point and gradually decrease it to nearly zero at the end.

Sew to the end of the dart, then turn your fabric around and stitch along the fold within the dart.

Pressing Darts

Always press darts on a rounded or pointed surface to get a smooth point that doesn’t pucker. I like to use a tailors ham, but you can also use a tennis ball or place the point of your dart at the end of your ironing board, with the dart lying flat.

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You have a few options when it comes to pressing darts as well!

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From L - R:

Pressing open - stick your finger into a the dart and flatten it out on either side of the seam. This helps the dart appear more balanced from the outside and is good for darts with large intake.

Pressing to one side - this is usually how darts are pressed. As a rule, always press horizontal darts down and vertical darts to either the Center Front or Center Back.

Clipping and pressing open - On thick, bulky fabrics or fabrics that show pressing marks from the outside, clipping the dart open helps it to lie flatter and disappear into the fabric. You’ll also often need to do this on darts that are at the end of a seam. If going this route, be sure to reinforce the raw edges of the dart seam once it’s cut. This method is not recommended for sheer fabrics.

Contour Darts

One thing that is important to note about darts: They add shaping to a body with a straight seam. Do those curvy parts of your body happen in a straight line? Usually not. Most of the time, darts cinch in fabric to fit your shape, but the length of the dart still stands away from the curves of your body. In most cases, this is perfectly sufficient. When you get into more fitted silhouettes where the more curvy areas aren’t covered with fabric OR your curves are very prominent, this theory doesn’t always work out.

This, my friends, is where contouring comes in handy.  In pattern making, contouring is the process by which the sections of your garment that don’t lie flat against the body are altered to do so, usually because the part that did lie next to the body is removed. For example, a deeply cut neckline or armhole, where the ease from the original garment may leave the neckline or armhole to gape.

In the case of those who are simply curvier, in such a way that the size and straightness of the dart doesn’t quite fit right on the body, contouring can be used to create a dart with a better fit. The main thing this technique accomplishes is to make the angle at which the dart meets the edge of the fabric less severe, resulting in a smoother dart point.

You’ll contour by sewing along a slightly different line than what you drew. Start by measure about 2.5” from the end of your dart along the dart legs. Mark this point. Then, redraw the dart line so that it curves away from the dart line as it approaches the dart point. (Pictured below, the red seam is the original dart, while the blue line represents the contour.)

This makes it so that the dart point contours to the bust curve, rather than just a straight line. It also keeps darts from appearing too pointy. The larger your bust or dart, the more you might want to contour it.

Contour darts will often need to be clipped in order to lie properly as they have become more of a seam than a proper dart. I often slice the dart open and clip while pressing, to see how much is necessary. 

Do you have any tried and true dart sewing methods? Any pressing questions about dart sewing?

Sewing a Lapped Zipper

As I find myself in the throws of working on a new pattern, I am brimming with excitement and anticipation. However, at this stage, that means lots of days on the computer. Unfortunately, the blog and instagram have been feeling a bit empty and that excitement doesn't really show. I didn't want to leave you hanging in February, so I thought a nice tutorial might be in order.

Last night, I taught a zipper & buttonhole class and while preparing some web resources for my students today, I was unable to find a tutorial that uses the zipper insertion method I teach. I thought, why not put together a lapped zipper tutorial? The lapped zipper is used on my A-Frame pattern and is my go-to zipper finish. I love its ease of insertion and vintage look. I took lots of photographs during A-Frame sample construction to aid in illustrating, but I know that some folks do better with photo tutorials. So without further ado...


To start, press the seam where your zipper will go open. Press the open end of the seam as well, folding back the seam allowance.

With the zipper partially unzipped, align the left side of your zipper teeth with the folded edge of the fabric. There should be a small gap between the zipper teeth and the fabric edge. This will help keep the zipper from getting caught on the fabric. Pin or baste the zipper to the fabric along this edge.

Ever wonder why your zip has extra, toothless tape at the top? This is to give you a bit of room for seam allowance, if your zippers end is being sewn into something else. That way, you don't have to sew over teeth. Align the edge of this tape with the edge of your fabric, or align it so that the zipper head is 1/2" or 5/8" (or whatever your seam allowance is) from the edge of the fabric.

The other side of the opening will become the 'lap'. It often helps to mark this stitching line with chalk. For most zippers, you'll want the stitching to be 3/8"-1/2" away from the opening. You want to be sure that wherever your stitching line is, it must catch both the seam allowance and the zipper tape. Since those two factors are variable, try pinning or basting along this guideline, then checking the back to be sure you've gone through all layers.

Basting is a fantastic technique to have in your arsenal. If you have the patience for it, baste your zipper onto the fabric by hand, instead of using pins. This will help keep things aligned and predictable during each step of the process.

Set up your zipper foot with the needle coming down on the right side of the foot. Starting at the top of your zipper, sew along the folded fabric edge. Try to keep your fabric aligned with the side of the foot, making sure your stitching catches this fold. It's better to be a little further from the fabric edge than miss it entirely while sewing (which results in a zipper that is not attached)

When you've sewn about halfway down your zipper, sink the needle into the fabric and lift the presser foot.

Zip your zipper back up to the top, past the presser foot. You'll almost always have to have the presser foot up in order to squeeze the zipper past it. Before you continue sewing, lower the presser foot.

Continue sewing until you reach the end of the left side of the zipper opening. You'll want to stop sewing just at the end or a little bit past the end of the zipper opening (I'm stopped a bit short in the picture). If your zipper stopper- the metal bit at the end of the zipper - is in the way of where you're about to sew, you can sew a few stitches past it. Since we'll be sewing over the zipper next, you want to make sure the stopper is out of the way.

In this picture, I've attached a ribbon to my zipper seam allowance to give me both a clean finish inside and to add extra width to my seam allowance to be sure that I catch it while sewing the lapped part of the zipper. You can also cut your seam allowance at the zipper a bit wider, a technique included in the A-Frame pattern.

In this picture, I've attached a ribbon to my zipper seam allowance to give me both a clean finish inside and to add extra width to my seam allowance to be sure that I catch it while sewing the lapped part of the zipper. You can also cut your seam allowance at the zipper a bit wider, a technique included in the A-Frame pattern.

With the needle in the fabric, lift the presser foot, turn your fabric 90* clockwise, then lower the presser foot. We'll now be sewing across the bottom of your zipper. Most often, the best way to do this is by advancing the machine by hand. This way, you have more control.

Once you've sewn across the zipper 3/8"-1/2" from the opening, with the needle in the fabric, lift your presser foot, turn the fabric 90* once more, and lower the presser foot.

Now, without tugging on the fabric, align your 2nd fabric edge with the opening, covering the zipper teeth. If you like, you can even overlap your first line of stitching slightly. You can pin your fabric in place if you like.

Sew along your guideline, until you are about an inch or two from the end of your zipper.

With the fabric overlapping the zipper head, pin the end of the zipper tape in place (if you've basted your zipper in, no need to pin). We'll want to zip the zipper head out of the way, like we did in the beginning. Make sure you lift the presser foot only with the needle in the fabric.

Finally, sew until you reach the end of your zipper opening.

When you're finished, give your zipper a light press (no hot iron on the teeth, they might melt!)

My Top 5 Sewing Tips

I'm very excited to say that I'm hard at work on the next Blueprints pattern, set for release in Spring 2015. I'm hoping it will be a great spring & summer wardrobe addition.
Keep an eye out for sneak peaks by signing up for our newsletter (on the right) or following us on Instagram.

In the mean time, as I get my studio into working order now that it's a habitable temperature, I'd love to share a small collection of sewing tips with you all. These are things many often overlook, but I find that they're key to happy, successful sewing.

1. Get a new seam ripper and learn how to use it.

Do you sharpen your kitchen knives? Do you replace the blade on your razor (semi) frequently? We know in other areas of life that implements for cutting work best when they're sharp. You know that seam ripper from your grandmother's sewing kit you've been using? It's likely as effective as using a dull knife from 1979.

Do yourself a favor and buy a handful of little seam rippers, or if you prefer the fancy kind, find one with replaceable blades. If you can figure out a way to sharpen them, more power to you! When you use a new seam ripper, you'll notice a difference instantly if you've otherwise been using one that may be older than you. Ripping seams will go more quickly and smoothly. Just be careful, cutting tight seams with tiny stitches can cut into your fabric if you're not careful!

Here's a tip for ripping seams quickly. Using the pointy end of your ripper, break a stitch every 1/2" or so along one side of the seam. Then, flip your fabric over and pull on the thread. The whole line of stitches should pop out quickly and easily. I learned this from a 1950's sewing text book.

2. Mark everything and embrace the notch

"Little triangle notches? Whatever! I'll just match up the sides of my pieces, " you say, defiantly. Now, I'm not one to observe convention or follow rules in many other areas of my life. But notches...they're important. So are the other markings you often find on patterns. Here's why:

Notches

Notches are clues the pattern maker has given you about how to put everything together. Ever noticed how an armhole & sleeve have a single notch on one side and a double on the other? This is to indicate the front and back of the armhole and help you get your sleeve into the right place. Sometimes there will be a notch at the top of the sleeve to help you match sleeve cap to shoulder seam. Sometimes a panelled garment will have single, double, or triple notches to aid in sewing the right pieces together.

Notches also help you correct your sewing or cutting errors. Ever sewn a seam together only to find one piece extended longer than the other? Trim it even it out, right? Well, perhaps the opposite end of the seam is where the error is. Now you've got problems at both ends! If you match your notches, you'll know where the discrepancy comes from and you can trim or re-sew accordingly. Perhaps one of the fabric pieces has stretched or bunched or your seam allowance was off

Center Front(CF) / Center Back (CB) lines

When making a garment with a closure like a jacket, shirt or wrap dress, the CF and CB lines help you overlap (and in the case of a shirt/jacket, add buttons and buttonholes) and see how the garment will fit once closed. Without those lines, our tendency is to close it so it fits, which is not always on this line. This can cause fit problems in other areas too. It also helps a lot in preventing wavy button plackets.

Other Markings

If you notice a variety of circle marking around the perimeter of your pattern, these might be points to indicate your seam allowance. Often found at corners, they'll tell you where to turn when you're stitching, as with a collar. This is especially helpful with unusual construction.

Sometimes these circles indicate pleat placement or the end of a zipper or where a pocket gets sewn on. Missing these points is a typical source of confusion for the new sewist. When in doubt, your pattern should give you the information you need to decipher these marks.

My suggestions? Mark everything you think you might need. More questions about marking? Check out my tutorial on Marking & Cutting

3. Develop a good work flow

Set up your sewing space so that you can keep it tidy, find all your tools, and practice good habits. On of my favorite things to keep my space tidy is to have little tin thread 'trashcans' around the workspace. This encourages me to trim my threads and put them somewhere. In the past, they've wound up stuck to my pants or in the cat's grip (thread can be dangerous to animals if they ingest it!)

I keep a small pair of scissors at the sewing machine, ironing board, and cutting table so I don't keep looking for the same pair of scissors that have migrated.

I sew all seams that don't have another seam intersect. Then I trim threads on all pieces and press them. Then repeat with each 'group' of seams.

I try to take stretch breaks (super important) and drink lots of water (something I always forget to do)

If you work in a shared space, try keeping all of your essentials in a tackle box, an old silverware tray or a cool caddy.

4. Use pins sparingly

I'm a minimal pinner. On any given straight seam, I don't even use pins. I think to be a confident sewist, you need to develop a real tactile relationship to the fabric and feel comfortable guiding it.

Additionally, so much time is spent pinning, only to take all those pins out as the seam is sewn (and often find that you've pinned unevenly and the seam doesn't line up!)

Not pinning at all may sound crazy to some, so I suggest following these guidlines:

  • On all seams, pin only at the beginning, end, and any notches.
  • Use less pins for stable fabrics, but feel free to use more pins to help keep slippery fabrics that are hard to align by hand at bay.
  • Pin at key points where you're matching an intersecting seam - like waistlines or panels.
  • At places where you require a lot of pins to keep difficult sewing steps aligned (waistbands, zippers, etc) try thread or glue basting instead, which will prove much more effective.

One thing to note is that if you don't use many pins (or any at all) you much take care to match your seam allowances carefully. Since you don't have pins in place, you are responsible for keeping your seam allowance in check! This is a totally worthwhile skill to hone.

One area where you might think pins are essential is the area where I find pins to be the most hindering...curves! Any time you sew a curved seam, pinning this seam will often feel awkward and yield less than ideal results. Try pining beginning, end, and any notches for the sake of alignment, then work slowly, matching the seam allowances a few inches at a time. I like to keep one curve flat (in its natural curved position) and align the other curved piece to it (as in the case of the bias binding, pictured above)

The main reason I champion less pinning is that it encourages the sewist to have a more hands on relationship with the fabric. The more you can feel the seams and know how to make your hands do what your brain wants, the more you'll be able to sew with ease and make your fabric behave.

5. Steer your fabric, don't drive it

I often tell students that the way you should hold your fabric when sewing is like the way you use a Ouiji board. Rest your hands on it and let the sewing machine do the work.

The Ouiji analogy falls a bit short because you do need to 'steer' your fabric, but the point is to do it with a gentle hand: don't push or pull (except in rare circumstances).

Sewing machines are designed to move the fabric for you and to guide it straight. Often, the trick to keeping an even seam allowance is taking an almost 'hands off' approach. Many folks grab the fabric in front and back of the machine, which probably does more to throw the fabric off than to guide it.

Try keeping your hands in front of the needle, holding the fabric lightly, and guiding it when necessary, such as around curves or to correct a narrowing seam allowance. Sometimes, when working on a large object, the weight of the fabric will throw off the alignment on the machine. This is a bit like driving a car who's tires are out of alignment. A slight pull in one direction or the other tends to do the trick.

Do you have any sewing tips that you think are key to easy, accurate, or fun sewing?

Fabric Cutting Tips: Marking & Cutting

In our last tutorial, we covered how to properly align your fabric for laying out your pattern pieces on the grain.

Let's return to our three magical steps to better pattern cutting!

1. Alignment

2. Marking

3. Cutting

Now that our fabric is aligned, we can mark and cut our pieces.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to cutting fabric from a pattern.

Pin pattern to fabric, cut around pattern pieces, mark pieces.

OR

Place weights on or pin pattern, trace around pattern pieces and mark, remove pattern and cut tracing.

I tend to be a fan of the 2nd method because all the marking happens at once and you don't accidentally cut your pattern pieces. So this is the method I'll cover here.

First, let's talk about marking tools. Here's a brief rundown on your options

Marking tools

If you're new to the mark-then-cut method, you may not know which marking tool you prefer to use. This guide will help you decide:

Chalk

Chalk is the good old standby.

Pros: Fairly easy to mark, inexpensive, marks (usually) come out of fabric. Comes in different colors for different fabrics

Cons: Sometimes an iron can set chalk marks (do a test before using), marks can rub off easily before you need them, draws a thick line, hard to use on slippery or stretchy fabrics, can get 'dull' after a lot of marking (to fix, take a butter knife and sharpen up the edge), often breaks.

When to use:  Great for projects using quilting cotton or other medium weight fabrics.

Chalk Wheel / Chaco Pen

This is my personal favorite. All the benefits of chalk, but in a roller that creates a thin, clear line.

Pros: Draws a fine line, rolls so it does not get resistance from fabric making it great for tricky fabrics, makes a pleasant 'clicky' sound, doesn't break like regular chalk.

Cons: Like regular chalk can rub off easily, periodically needs to be re-filled, can be hard to find.

When to use: When marking tricky fabrics like jersey or silk, for markings you intend to sew right away.

Erasable Ink Pen

Be sure to buy the kind for fabric, not paper. Clover and Dritz make them. Goes on blue or purple and erases with water.

Pros: Much longer lasting than chalk, felt tip pen makes marking easier, often easier to see than chalk.

Cons: Sometimes marks don't come out all the way (always test first on a scrap), draws a thicker line than chalk makers.

When to use: When you need a clear, long lasting mark.

Disappearing Ink Pen

A pen with exactly that, ink that disappears after a period of time.

Pros: Clear markings, easier to use, no need to remove as they will fade on their own.

Cons: Fades away - not ideal for marking a project that won't get finished immediately, may not fade completely (always test first on a scrap).

When to use: For quick marks as you sew, when chalk is not ideal.

Thread Marking / Tailor's Tacks

Very old school.

Pros: great for marking on fabric where other methods aren't ideal or are impossible (fine fabrics, sequined or embroidered fabric, lace), leaves little to no residue on fabric, not affected by the iron.

Cons: Time consuming! On very fine fabrics thread can leave holes, tacks sometimes come out or can be pulled out accidentally, thread in sewn areas can get stuck in stitching and need to be picked out.

When to use: Specialty fabrics, marking things like grainline or pocket placement in the middle of garment where other methods leave marks.

Try these tools and see which you like best.

Marking your fabric:

1. Lay out your pieces along the grain (see our alignment tutorial for help with this)

2. Secure your pattern, either with weights, random objects around your studio, or pins. I prefer weights as they do not ripple the pattern paper like pins do.

Here I'm using simple pattern weights made out of stacks of pennies and foreign coins wrapped in muslin. Large washers and paperweights also work well.

Here I'm using simple pattern weights made out of stacks of pennies and foreign coins wrapped in muslin. Large washers and paperweights also work well.

3. Using your fabric fabric marking tool (see below), trace around your pieces.

4. Mark all notches, either with a simple line in the notch, tracing the inward triangle of the notch itself, or drawing an outward facing triangle that mirrors the notch (best for seam finishes where you need your seam allowance un-cut, like the flat felled seams used in Cabin)

Here I've marked the notch in 3 ways, typically you only mark where the notch is.

Here I've marked the notch in 3 ways, typically you only mark where the notch is.

L-R: Inward facing (like the pattern), outward facing, or just a snip. When snipping, be careful not to cut too close to the seamline.

L-R: Inward facing (like the pattern), outward facing, or just a snip. When snipping, be careful not to cut too close to the seamline.

5. Mark darts and other details on the inside of the garment by placing pins through the pattern at key points, then pulling away pattern paper to mark next to the pin. Remember to mark where the pin goes through on the opposite side of the fabric.

Lift up your paper pattern and rub chalk at the point where the pin enters the fabric. The pin should help you make a nice crisp mark.

Lift up your paper pattern and rub chalk at the point where the pin enters the fabric. The pin should help you make a nice crisp mark.

Flip the piece over and mark where the same pin exits the fabric.

Flip the piece over and mark where the same pin exits the fabric.

Now you are ready to cut your fabric!

Cutting:

You can use either scissors or a rotary cutter to cut out your pieces. Both have their pros and cons.

Scissors

The most common scissors used for cutting fabric are dressmakers shears, which have a bent handle. This makes it easier to keep the fabric laying flat while you cut. Use your scissors only for fabric to keep them nice and sharp.

Pros: Usually easier to control your cuts, better for cutting curves or small details, doesn't require a cutting mat.

Cons: Cuts are not always even, especially for new sewists, less control when cutting slippery or knit fabrics, can hurt your hand when cutting large quantities of fabric.

When to use: For general cutting, especially pattern pieces with curves.

Rotary Cutter

Rotary cutters are like pizza cutters for fabric, with a rolling blade.

Pros: Great for cutting long straight lines, helpfuls when cutting sliper fabrics as the fabric stays put while cutting, can be more precise than scissors.

Cons: Must use a cutting mat underneath so as not to damage your table, straight cuts require the use of a ruler, not good for cutting curves, inward corners, or other details, blades dull more quickly.

When to use: Rotary cutters are great for quilting, cutting bias strips, or anything with many long, straight cuts. Though the 'start up' cost (for cutter, mat, and rulers) is more, it is a good investment if you do that kind of work.

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You can use both of these tools in combination, using each one for a specific part of your cutting.

Rather than cutting outside the tracing line, cut away the tracing line. Between the tracing line sitting on the outside of the pattern, then cutting outside of the tracing line, your pattern could grow by a 1/4" all around!

Rather than cutting outside the tracing line, cut away the tracing line. Between the tracing line sitting on the outside of the pattern, then cutting outside of the tracing line, your pattern could grow by a 1/4" all around!

Pattern piece cut out with all notches, darts, and other markings drawn in.

Pattern piece cut out with all notches, darts, and other markings drawn in.

For mirror image pieces, like the right & left side of a shirt, I like to draw a faint letter L and R on each piece in chalk on the fabric's wrong side. This can help avoid unintentional sewing mishaps.

By taking care to align and cut your pieces accurately, you'll avoid headaches and mistakes later on in your sewing. Have questions about cutting & marking? Leave them in the comments below!

Fabric Cutting Tips: Alignment

There's a woodworking adage that goes, 'measure twice, cut once'. The same is definitely true of sewing. Cutting is arguably the most difficult and crucial of steps in any sewing project. While seams can be ripped and re-sewn many times, cutting is forever.

There are three main things to consider when cutting your fabric:

1. Alignment

2. Marking

3. Cutting

Alignment

Even wonder why after sewing something the final garment doesn't hang or sit quite right or a sleeve hem or edge becomes uneven? Or perhaps you notice that the print on your fabric is going in different directions on each piece?

Aligning your fabric properly for cutting will save you time and frustration and help you create a better looking and fitting garment.

In order to better understand why alignment is so important, let's talk a bit about fabric grain.

Woven fabric refers to fabric that is woven on a loom. (When we talk about grain, we're talking primarily about woven fabric. Knit fabric has a different set of parameters. We'll cover that in a future tutorial!) Many fabrics you encounter in stores are woven. In weaving, fabric is created by setting up long vertical threads (called the Warp) and then weaving horizontally through these threads (called the Weft). When we talk about fabric grain, we are referring to the lengthwise threads (the warp) of the fabric. The lengthwise grain is stable, with a little bit of stretch on the cross grain (the weft) and a bit more stretch on the bias (diagonal grain).

When laying out your pattern, it is important to line up pieces properly with the grain. Your pattern will indicate where its 'grainline' is. Easy right? Well, there's more...

Most patterns have you fold your fabric in half before you lay out your pieces. Now imagine you cut out your pieces through two layers of fabric. The top layer seems properly aligned, but perhaps the bottom layer is slightly askew. This will result in uneven pattern pieces which can throw off the fit or distort your fabric print (especially for stripes or plaids!) Even worse, sometimes pattern cut on fabric where the grain is distorted will return to the natural grain alignment after washing, resulting in wonky looking garment.

In gingham (a 'yarn dyed' fabric, meaning that the stripes are made from weaving different color yarns, not printed) it is easy to see if the grain is in alignment.

In gingham (a 'yarn dyed' fabric, meaning that the stripes are made from weaving different color yarns, not printed) it is easy to see if the grain is in alignment.

The same fabric, but 'off grain', meaning that the grain has skewed or shifted, throwing the pattern, and the fabric, out of alignment.

The same fabric, but 'off grain', meaning that the grain has skewed or shifted, throwing the pattern, and the fabric, out of alignment.

Some fabric that your bring home from the store may have a grain that is slightly out of wack - often a result of the process used to wind the fabric onto the bolt. Additionally, sometimes the fabric is cut unevenly at the store. This can cause the nice new fabric to be out of alignment from the get go.

On the plaid above, also 'yarn dyed', it is easy to see when the fabric is cut unevenly. It can be trickier to tell if the edge is evenly cut on solid and printed fabrics.

On the left, you can see threads of the fabric fraying. On the right, since the fabric is cut along the grain, the fabric 'frays' evenly without any stray threads, though you could pull away one single thread of the weft.

On the left, you can see threads of the fabric fraying. On the right, since the fabric is cut along the grain, the fabric 'frays' evenly without any stray threads, though you could pull away one single thread of the weft.

If you notice there are a lot of loose threads coming off of your cut edge, this could be an indicator of an uneven cut. Fabric cut on the grain will have minimum fraying, since the weft threads run all the way across.

To remedy this, it is best to align your fabric before laying out your pieces and cutting. It's easy, here's how...

Fixing your fabric grain:

Pre-wash your fabric. This is a great rule of thumb with every project. It takes care of potential shrinkage, dye bleeding, or fading and will often 'reset' a weird grain. Wash and dry your fabric however you plan to wash and dry the final item.

After pre-washing, you'll want to re-cut one raw edge of your fabric along the cross grain. If you are using a plain woven fabric that is not too loosely woven, you can rip your fabric right along the grain line! Sounds crazy but it works. (It is always best to test the rip before you try it for real. Some fabrics don't respond to this technique. If in doubt, skip to the next option!)

To rip along the grain:

1. Snip your fabric at the selvedge about 2" from the cut line.

2. Holding both sides firmly, rip your fabric in a quick, consistent motion. Each time you rip, hold on near each side of the end of the last ripped section.

Rip in short, quick tugs. It should rip cleanly along one thread of the fabric.

Rip in short, quick tugs. It should rip cleanly along one thread of the fabric.

Once you've ripped all the way through, you may have some long, loose threads. These are the weft threads on either side, and can be pulled away for a clean edge.

Once you've ripped all the way through, you may have some long, loose threads. These are the weft threads on either side, and can be pulled away for a clean edge.

 

If your fabric is not a good candidate for ripping, here's another trick:

 

1. Snip into your selvedge. Pull apart the fabric to reveal a few little loose threads.

2. Holding onto one thread firmly, pull it and scrunch the fabric along the thread. This should create a ripple along the cross grain of your fabric. With printed fabrics, you can often see a line created by this pull.

3. Cut along this ripple across the fabric. With tightly woven fabric, or if the thread you are pulling breaks, you may have to repeat this a few times, scrunching, cutting, and finding the loose thread.

4. You may result with a slightly uneven edge, but the overall cut will be true to your grainline. Pull back a few threads and the grain will be revealed!

Slightly uneven edge

Slightly uneven edge

Pull away the loose threads to reveal the fabric grain! Trim if necessary.

Pull away the loose threads to reveal the fabric grain! Trim if necessary.

Or, if your fabric is a yarn dyed stripe or plaid, simply cut along the pattern.

Cutting along the edge of the green stripe of the fabric to find the grain.

Cutting along the edge of the green stripe of the fabric to find the grain.

Finally, fold your fabric in half, matching up this new on-the-grain cut edge as well as the selvedge.

Using a gridded cutting mat or table is a great way to check if your fabric is aligned. Once folded, it should match up with the lines on the table, just like in the pink gingham swatch shown in the beginning.

Using a gridded cutting mat or table is a great way to check if your fabric is aligned. Once folded, it should match up with the lines on the table, just like in the pink gingham swatch shown in the beginning.

If your fabric folds up perfectly into an even little rectangle, you're in luck! You should have nice smooth fabric at the fold without any wrinkles.

If the fold of your fabric has big wrinkles or folds, even once the cut edge and selvedge are matched up, your fabric is off-grain. Here's how to fix it: 

  1. Make a note of which direction the wrinkles are 'pointing'. Place a safety pin in the corner that the wrinkles point to.
  2. Unfold your fabric and grab opposite corners without the safety pin, and give them a nice hard tug. You may need to do this across the bias (diagonal) grain in a few places if you have a big fabric piece.
  3. Realign your fabric to check if the grain has been fixed.
  4. If not, try folding in half again and steaming with your iron above the fabric. Smooth the fabric into the desired position and let dry.

Once aligned, your fabric should look like the folded fabric in the first pictue. If your fabric looks like this, move on to the next section!

To line up your pattern pieces with the grain:

1. Identify the grain lines on your pattern. The 'fold line' represents the grain on pieces cut on the fold. This is because, ideally, your fabric fold should be right on the grain.

2. Position your pieces as indicated on the pattern.

3. Going piece by piece, measure from one end of your grainline to either the selvedge or the fold of the fabric.

4. Measure from the other end of the grainline to the selvedge/fold. If it is not equal to the 1st measurement, adjust it so it is.

OR

1. Take a square, clear ruler (like those used for quilting) and align one side with the grain.

Not lined up with grain

Not lined up with grain

Lined up with grain.

Lined up with grain.

2. Line the opposite side, or a measurement along the ruler, with either the selvedge or fold line.

3. Secure your pieces with pins or pattern weights.

Now you are ready to mark and cut!

See our next tutorial for marking and cutting...

Juniper: French Seam Pocket

I'm teaching a pants making class at JP Knit & Stitch in April and we're using the Colette Juniper Pants pattern. I have to say, I was a bit skeptical. I typically don't wear pants as I have a figure that makes it hard to fit them and impossible to find RTW that works. Many of my students have expressed a desire to be able to make and fit pants, so when the Juniper pattern came into the store I thought it would be a great opportunity try it out as a possible pattern option.

I personally have been looking for a higher rise, wide leg pant that didn't scream hippie mom or 1940's sailor (thought there's nothing wrong with those looks) and these fit the bill. I have to say, I'm quite pleased with both the fit and the rise so far. I think the absence of a fitted thigh is a huge advantage in my case (In a more fitted pant, I may blend sizes with a high hip 2 sizes bigger than my waist and a thigh/low hip one size bigger than that).

I also really like the pocket construction, and I used the opportunity to try out a slash pocket finish that I have done on a few pieces for clients. I got the idea from a pair of high end RTW shorts and I'm embarrassed to say I didn't think of it before.

I love any opportunity in a pattern to do a self seam finish: I do french (both real and faux) and flat fell seams whenever possible. I especially like this when to do so is sort of counter intuitive.

I wanted an extra strong pocket that was clean without any unravelies to stick out in the pants since they arent lined. I also wanted something lightweight, so binding wasn't in the cards. So here's how to do a french seam slash pocket bag on the Colette Juniper pants.

I realize that while I took the time to make a nicely finished pocket bag, I neglected to do anything at all to the seam joining the pants fashion fabric to the upper and lower pocket bag. In hindsight, I would have probably finished both seams with a flat felled seam sewn on the pocket bag side. I think I decided to do this finish after sewing those seams and was primarily lazy. I avoid undoing whenever possible...it's an exercise in acceptance.

Step 1: With WS together, matching up notches, sew around the pocket bag at a 1/8" SA. Start and stop stitching at the pocket bag seam.

20130315-082204.jpg
20130315-082204.jpg

2. Turn the pocket inside out, push out the pocket along the seam using your fingers or a point turner.

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20130315-082421.jpg

Your stitching will extend almost all the way to the end of your pocket bag seam. The remaining, unstitched seam allowance should be folded out.

20130315-082431.jpg
20130315-082431.jpg

When sewing the pocket bag a second time on the actual seamline, you'll want to start and end where the pocket bag attaches to the main pants front. Mark this horizontal seamline with chalk or a pin if you need to.

20130315-082444.jpg
20130315-082444.jpg

3. Give the pocket bag a nice press.

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20130315-082456.jpg

4. Stitch around the pocket bag as indicated in the pattern instructions. Start with a 5/8" seam allowance at the beginning where your SA is unstitched. When you get to the part where 1/8" is stitched in, your SA should easily line up with the 1/2" mark. Continue stitching around the pocket bag at 1/2" until you come to the last bit of unstitched SA. You should easily be able to keep stitching as the fabric edge lines up with the 5/8" mark. Stitch until the pocket bag seam on the pants front, as indicated on the pattern.

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20130315-082509.jpg

5. Fold the pocket into its final position and give it a good press.

20130315-082532.jpg
20130315-082532.jpg

You now have a nicely finished french seam pocket. A french seam is an idea finish for a pocket bag since it is one of the few applications you can use a french seam on a curve. Why? Because it is never turned right side out, and therefore the curves do not need to flex the other direction or lay flat, something that would be hindered by a french seam typically.

20130315-082541.jpg
20130315-082541.jpg

One of the best parts? With two seams, these pockets will be extra strong!

Can't wait to finish these babies up! As usual, Sarai's instructions, especially for complicated things (like fly insertion), are excellent. There was only one thing I would have done differently. The pattern calls for a 7" zipper. I prefer metal zippers in my clothing as they last longer, wont melt under an iron, and have a bit of a vintage feel that I love. In this pattern, your pants zipper is trimmed at the waistline. Though removing metal zipper teeth resulted in some interesting visuals, I think I would have preferred to use a 5"(4"?) zipper instead.