Thursday, January 30, 2014

TUTORIAL: Sewing Narrow Hems on Circle Skirts

I have a confession to make. I am really LAZY when I sew. I mean it. If there is a faster/cheaper/easier way, I will always take that route.

Circle skirt hems are a great example. First of all, I usually steer clear of circular hems. I have suffered some emotional trauma at the hands of the curving skirt hem, and I generally avoid them. But, when I can't escape it, I just slap some bias tape on there and move on with my life. Unfortunately, I didn't have coordinating bias tape for my most recent gift for the 7-year-old-fashionista, so I had to take the tough road.
Have you searched online for narrow hem tutorials lately? Abysmal number of offerings. Which is why I decided to put together the options here.

There are several ways to to sew a narrow hem on a circle skirt. One of the most common techniques involves the rolled hem foot on your sewing machine. I know I own one of these, but I neglected to take a picture. You can check your machine manual, or do an online search. If you have never used this attachment, feel free to go try it out. This tutorial will still be here when you come back. Because, yes, the rolled hem foot is THAT terrible.

If you have tried to hem a curved skirt already, then you know all about the evil wrinkles and you are looking for a solution. I hope you find the following techniques less stressful than what you have already attempted.

**Narrow Hem Tutorial**
Option #1 - for those without a serger:
On the right side of your fabric, stitch a scant 1/4" (meaning just less than 1/4") from the raw edge of your hem all the way around.
Clip the curve close to your stitching if you want to (I do).

On the wrong side of your fabric, fold the raw edge over just past the stitched line. Press.

Fold again - appx. 1/4" more. Press.

TOPSTITCH a scant 1/4" (or less) around the hem.
Notes on option 1:
-The reason for stitching along that raw edge is so that you get a more uniform measurement when you fold. Also, it helps to prevent your curve from stretching while you fold.
-I know you may prefer to have the folded side up when you stitch the hem, but you need to accept that the feed dogs (those jagged tracks that move your fabric along) are your friends. By top-stitching, you are allowing the machine to gently stretch the folded fabric and prevent wrinkling.
-You may still get an errant wrinkle or two with this method, but it will not be nearly as bad (or noticeable) as it would be without this technique.
Option #2 - Or, why you should acquire a serger immediately.
Stitch a narrow overlock stitch along the raw edge of the fabric.

On the wrong side of your fabric, fold the raw edge appx. 1/4". Press.

TOPSTITCH a scant 1/4" (or less) around the hem.
Notes on option 2:
-This method results in a slightly longer hem, so pay attention to your garment measurements.
-For as much grief as my serger gives me, this is why I keep it around. The finished result using this method is flawless.
- You could probably use a zig-zag stitch if you don't have a serger, but several launderings could start to produce fray.

And, there you have it.  I hope these techniques help you to get a nearly flawless hem with very little effort. Please feel free to leave feedback about how these tips work for you!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pattern Review - Izzy & Ivy Designs

So, while I wait (impatiently) for my fiber fill to arrive, I thought it would be a good idea to get started on sewing some birthday gifts for my niece.

I picked up an Izzy & Ivy Designs pattern sometime last year, and I finally liberated it from my pattern pile for this occasion.  Am I the only one that gets lured in by the great photography and exciting fabrics on these indie patterns?
Izzy & Ivy Designs

Normally, I'm a commercial pattern girl. I learned on the big name patterns, and I am accustomed to the ease and convenience of those tissue-paper-templates and idiot-proof-instructions. So, I thought I would do a review since indie patterns are new to me.

That being said, the problems started almost right away.

I didn't realize it when I bought this, but the Macy Giggles design uses a TON of fabric.  For size 7, they require more than 3 1/2 yards!! Whaaaaat?  I mean, I know that I am stash-busting this year and should be grateful to get rid of so much in one project, but that seems excessive to me. Do the girls in the picture look like they are wearing that much fabric? What if I had to buy new material for this? I'd be broke!!  But, I do have lots of fabric on hand, so I soldiered on..

And I was perplexed to find that there are only 2 pieces of pattern in this envelope - front bodice, and back bodice. Umm..weird.
That's when I flipped through the book and noticed that the rest of the pieces are just measure and cut. Which seems convenient...until I had to decipher the measurements.  Is that 24.5" wide by 34" long for the skirt pieces, or what?
After comparing the measurements on both pattern views as well as the trim dimensions, I figured it's actually 24.5" LONG by 34" WIDE.

Already. Annoyed. And, I hadn't even gotten to the "step-by-step" instructions yet! So, I got through all of my cutting, decided to skip the pockets since I don't care for them, struggled through the skirt facing description, and fought with my serger (which seems to have a timing issue). During this adventure, I made a few changes/additions of my own, and I am pleased with the final result. But, this pattern definitely proved to be a bit of a challenge for me. Which is why I have decided to GIVE IT AWAY!! (Details below..)

Review Summary - Izzy and Ivy Designs "Macy Giggles"
Skill level - Intermediate
(Disclaimer - I am receiving no incentive for this review. This is a pattern from 2009 that I picked up on the sale rack last year. The designer may have addressed some of these issues in their more recent offerings.)
  • Fun, contemporary design.
  • Easy-to-trace pattern pieces
  • "Measure & Cut" instructions reduce bulk in the envelope
  • Izzy & Ivy tag included

  • Way too much fabric being used here. With all of the gathering in the skirt, they could have cut down a bit. (Most home sewers do it as much for frugality as for art, so you should not have to spend more on a homemade summer dress than you would to buy a new one.)
  • Measurement instructions are difficult to understand. (I can't imagine that adding a "w" and "l" to the type would have been too much trouble.) Also, there are no grainline indicators to help decipher the measurement mystery.
  • Pictures and instructions are not clear or confusing (especially the skirt facing section). I can't imagine trying this out as a beginner.
  • The flower embellishments in the cover photo are not included in the pattern instructions. I would advise against showing sewn-on accessories that pattern purchasers cannot replicate without seeking out additional resources. It's frustrating.
After putting the names in a bowl, and having my son swish them around a bit before he picked one out, the winner is:
Congratulations, and thanks to those who commented.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Neck Pillows and Motivation Murder

Do you ever wake up in the morning and find yourself bursting with project ideas, and the motivation to get them done, like, RIGHT NOW?? Yeah, me too.  It doesn't happen often, but when it does I am very productive.

Today was one of those days, and I am very, VERY sad to say that my plans aren't working out. Let me explain...
While planning a potential 18 hour trip to visit family, I thought about how great it would be to have some neck pillows for the car ride.  And, since this is a stash-busting year for me,  I was excited to use up some fabric.
 So, I free-handed a pattern and pulled some scrap fabric off my shelf. Once the pillow was stitched together, I rummaged through my sewing bins and found an open bag of Poly-fil. This is where the problems started..
I had almost enough stuffing for the pillow that I put together, but I really wanted to knock out a bunch of these today. (I plan to give some to family members for the long ride out to visit us later in the year.)

Now, if I were still living in Chicago, I could have replenished my Poly-fil supply in about 15 minutes. BUT, I live in a super small town now. I was counting on the local quilt shop to have a bag of stuffing available. Um. Nope. Nothing. No Poly-fil in a 90 mile radius.. Argh!
I felt so deflated knowing that I have a partially-filled project on the table, and no filling for the additional pillows that I want to make. Total letdown!

Fortunately, I have another task that I can get taken care of today (while I procrastinate sewing squares for my quilt), but it's not as fun as the pillows. :(

On the upside, I did use up some fabric stash, so that's something. Right?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Camera Strap from recycled denim and scraps..

The thing about stitching together hundreds of squares, is that it is extremely monotonous. I don't love it. So, I am really glad that I joined the sew-a-longs to give me something to do when my quilt project annoys me.

One of my groups is doing a step by step log cabin block tutorial this month, and week 3 was stitching the cut pieces from last week. Finally!

I have to admit that it was a bit of a pain with all the measuring and pressing, but my squares turned out really well. I changed my mind about fabric at the last minute, and went with scraps from the annoying quilt that I mentioned above. 
 It felt great to dip in to my scrap bin again and reduce more bulk there.  I had enough of these fabrics to make 3 blocks, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them.
 As I have stated previously, my projects need to be functional, and I really have no use for fabric coasters or trivets or pot holders. What I have really been needing is a camera strap! The ones that I have seen commercially are so wide, and I hate, hate, hate stuff rubbing the back of my neck! That is why, after owning my camera for several years, I hadn't acquired a strap yet. So, I made one myself that is only 2" wide:
I used some denim from a pair of my son's out-grown jeans, and some hardware that I picked up a while ago for this purpose. I wish I had a better picture, but I have no idea how to get a good picture of a strap. So, you'll just have to trust me when I say that it is perfect!

What a relief to finally have a way to carry around my camera. And, how great is it that the total cost for this project was only what I paid for the hardware that attaches it to the camera? Plus, it only took about an hour to put together once I had completed the blocks. Why did it take me so long to make myself one of these??

Thursday, January 9, 2014

TUTORIAL - Pattern Weights (EASY!)

 Today, I decided to take a break from cutting BILLIONS of quilt squares in order to get crackin' on my stash-busting commitment. I have been trying to decide on a project that would be quick and easy, as well as USEFUL. For me, there is no real point to using up fabric stash if it is just going to become a finished project  that sits at the bottom of a bin. So, I decided to make the pattern weights that have been on my mental to-do list for awhile.
While digging through my fabric piles, I realized that I didn't need big pieces, so I turned to my overflowing scrap bin:
 Pattern weights are a great project for reducing scrap piles, but they are also a good project for people beginning to sew. That is why I thought I would do a tutorial on this.

First, for those who don't know, pattern weights are used as an alternative to pinning when you cut fabric using pattern pieces. (It's a lot faster to weigh that tissue paper down, rather than poking through it with pins.)
Pattern weights come in all shapes and sizes. I have seen people use large metal washers, rocks (like me), and scissors. I chose to make small, round weights because I make quite a bit of children's apparel. And, because you can never have too much practice sewing circles.

Using scrap fabric, find a round shape that is suitable for your needs. I used a pickle jar lid, which is about as small as you want to go since the finished circles come out at about 3".
 Trace around the lid on the wrong side of the fabric using a washable marker, chalk, or pencil.
Cut out your circles and press.
 Lay 2 fabric circles RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER one on top of the other.
Set your sewing machine for a short stitch, and position your needle about 1/4" from the edge of the circle.
Go slow. This is not a race. If you are having trouble stitching the curve, don't be afraid to raise the presser foot (with the needle piercing the fabric) and turn the shape every so often. Whatever gets you through this without turning in to a lunatic...
Sew around the circle, leaving a gap of about an inch or so. The larger the gap, the easier it will be to pull the fabric right side out, but the harder it will be to close it up when it is filled with weight.
 Once you take it off the machine, check the back side to make sure that your fabric didn't slip and cause the stitching to get to close to one edge, as shown below:
 If that happens, you can either rip the stitches out and start over, or decide that it's no big deal (like me). If you choose not to fix it, be careful when you "clip the curve" - you don't want to get too close to the stitch line and fray that edge fabric.
"Clipping the curve" - You will see this term a lot on apparel patterns when making necklines, hat brims, and sleeves. Basically, you can use pinking shears, or cut small triangles to give the fabric some flexibility in order to make a clean, rounded shape.
As you see below, I do not clip the curve at the gap that was left unsewn. It's much easier to fold that "gap fabric" to the inside when it hasn't been clipped.
 Once you have trimmed your seam allowance, turn the circles inside out. Now, stick your finger inside the disk and run it along the sewn edge to force that seam in to the circle shape. Press with an iron to hold the shape.
 Finally, you are ready to fill. You can use metal pellets, washed fish tank gravel, plastic beads, that old bag of lentils in the back of the pantry that you bought when you thought you would make vegetarian hamburgers....pretty much whatever you have on hand that will fit in your fabric disks. I had a bag full of plastic pellets that I got from my MIL many, many moons ago for some other project:
 If you have a funnel with a skinny tip on it, then awesome. If not, just make a paper funnel out of the junk mail in your recycling bin:
 Fit the tip in to the unsewn gap in each disk, and start loading your weight. You want the weights to be flat, and not bulky, once they are filled. We aren't playing a bean bag toss game with these. We are using them to hold stuff down on a flat table...
Once the disks are filled to your satisfaction, you can hand sew the gap shut (to make it pretty), or just shove that sucker under the presser foot on your machine and stitch the edge closed. Make sure that all of your filling is moved AWAY from the stitch area before you use your machine. If you can't move the filling enough to have the presser foot sitting flat, empty a little out and try again.
 Ta Da!! Pattern weights!  You don't need to stop here, though. There are plenty of ways to personalize these a little more, or make them funkier. Grab some buttons, fabric paint, or beads, and get crazy.
 Wouldn't a basket full of these make a great gift for a friend or relative that likes to sew? I know that I would LOVE it. :)

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Best Laid Plans...

Welcome to a new year! 

For me, this year brings new opportunities for sewing/crafting projects, and I decided that I don't want to waste time hemming and hawing (i.e. - procrastinating) about what to create.  So, I have put a few plans in to action.

Plan #1 - Make a quilt. 
A few years ago, my MIL put together a quilt kit for me so that I could easily complete my first quilt. It was a great way to get over my fear of quilting, but all I really did was sew some fabric together and use her long-arm quilting machine to finish it up. This time, I am making my own "pattern," cutting the pieces myself, constructing all layers, and HAND QUILTING the blanket. Or, that's what I plan to do. We'll see. This is my big personal project for the year, and I have yet to clear the first big hurdle - cutting all of this fabric in to 4.5" squares (ugh, how I HATE cutting fabric!):

Plan #2 - Get involved in an online sew-a-long.
In the past, I have stumbled across various social network, or blog-based sewing groups, but I have always shied away from committing myself to any sewing sisterhoods. Mainly, I like to do my own thing when I sew, but I also hate it when I feel obligated to do anything.  It's much more rewarding to sew spontaneously. But, these groups are great for inspiration and support, so I am putting on my big girl bikini and jumping right in to  the deep end of this pool.
I found a great sew-a-long at Sew Can She that is kicking off January with a mini log cabin quilt block. This looks like a fantastic project to ease me in to the scary online sewing community, so I joined. Yikes.
The project is broken down in to weekly tasks, and this week was selecting fabric. This is what I chose for my sew-a-long baptism:

Plan #3 - Pare down the fabric stash.

My sewing has NOT been keeping up with my fabric procurement, so I am serious about reducing my fabric stash this year. It is no fun to buy new fabric when you have nowhere to put it, and this is what my inventory is looking like right now (minus all of the fabric I pulled out for my quilt):

It may not seem like much to veteran fabric hoarders, but space is at a premium in my house, and the fabric has gotten out of hand. I need more room for clothing that I would like to recycle/upcycle, and I would like to get rid of a bunch of this stuff that has been with me for years. I mean, my 10 year old has surely outgrown those pirate and monster flannel print fabrics....

So, I found a great stashbusting sew-a-long at Tumbleweeds in the Wind that I am pretty excited about.

Are you freaking out that I joined TWO sew-a-longs this year?? Yeah. Me too. Frightening.

I am really looking forward to the projects that come from both of these groups, and I am hoping to share tutorials for things that I make.  I'd really like to post more, and revamp this blog a little bit, but I don't want to put too much on my plate. We'll see how it goes, one month at a time.