Project Organization

2019 Aug 22_0352

How’s your summer going? Are you keeping cool? We finally have some slightly less hot – slightly – weather in the Houston area coming this weekend.

A sewing friend asked me recently how I keep all my different projects organized; between garment, home décor, quilting, Sashiko and embroidery sewing, I usually have at least three or four (and sometimes many more!) projects going at once. She picked up a few new ideas from me, and maybe you will too after reading my tips below.

Collect Everything You Need

I gather all the supplies I have for a project: fabrics, interfacings/ underlinings, buttons, zippers hardware, threads, decorations (rhinestones, decorative threads, embroidery pattern etc.) and of course the pattern! I make a list of everything, check off what I need, and add what I don’t have to my shopping list.

Make A List or Two

Then I make list of things I need to do: an FBA, lengthen a sleeve; pre-quilt the fabric and batting, cut bias binding; mark out the quilting lines, print embroidery templates, fuse interfacing – whatever preliminaries need to be done before I can start assembly. This list stays with the project, along with a list of my progress so I can drop a project and pick it up again, no matter how much time has passed. For example, I’ll write that everything for a shirt has been pre-cut, but I next need to fuse on the collar and cuff interfacings. Maybe I did the FBA already, but still need to lengthen the sleeves – keeping a running list of your progress lets you put down a project and pick it back up without missing a step.

Keep it Together

I keep my individual projects in zipper bags; these can be ones you purchase or you can collect any that come with your fabric orders. For clothing, I keep the pattern and the adjusted muslin in a clear string folder; all the notions and little items go into yet a smaller bag, and all of that goes into a larger plastic bag with the lists to keep it collected and clean.

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A Dedicated Storage Space

For my current and “on-hold” projects, I have a set of drawers in my sewing room. For items I want to complete eventually but don’t have space to keep in my drawers, I have a shelf in a closet where I keep a couple of very long-term projects.

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How do you keep your projects organized?

When Embroidery Goes Wrong/ Tips for Stitching on Silk

2019 jan 04_0063

Happy New Year! How were your holidays? Did you make any fun projects? How about gifts for anyone (including yourself?) I made a gift for someone, and there was a glitch with the embroidery….

I made Decades of Style Pattern 5006 in a cozy wool and silk bouclé (sold out), and lined it with a lovely red charmeuse, both from my local fabric supplier Sew Much Fabric. DS5006 is a fast and fun make, a 1950’s shawl with a sleeve. I wanted to personalize this gift with a monogram so I did a practice stitch-out, no problems. Well when I put the lining fabric into the machine – problem! It seems the bobbin thread was being pulled to the front and because my practice run was done on white fabric, I couldn’t tell. But I didn’t have enough of the red charmeuse to completely remake the lining, so what to do?

2019 jan 03_0059

Well, I could have used another color altogether, but I felt red was the best for the black and silver bouclé. At first I tried using a fabric marker to touch up the small white spots; this turned out horribly, as the red was just enough of a different color to look bad, and the marker seeped into the rayon thread and made it dull.  I decided instead to re-stitch the design on scrap fabric and create an appliqué; I even wound a bobbin with the same color thread I was using on top, so if it got pulled through it wouldn’t matter. Unfortunately I forgot to place the topper on my second try and the silk got pulled threads, yikes! In addition, the stitching was lumping up on the back and front of the design – was the 40-wt. thread too heavy for the bobbin? To heavy for this design?

2019 jan 03_0060

I decided to try again, but made a few more changes: First, I cleaned out my bobbin case – always clean out your machine when you have problems stitching! It really is this simple most of the time. Second, I changed the needle, just in case; third, I used a black pre-wound bobbin; and lastly, I changed the design. In the end I decided that the original design didn’t look good in monotone, and I wanted to use a design I had successfully used before. A little while later I had a successful stitch out and was ready to sew on my appliqué. Here’s the finished monogram:

2019 jan 08_0061

I think it came out just fine; some may think it’s not the best solution, but an appliqué is often used to cover up old monograms instead of putting in a whole new lining, and in a way it frames it and helps it to stand out. Here are some tips for embroidery in general and silk in particular:

  • Always do a test stitch out with precisely the fabric, thread, bobbin, stabilizer and topper you intend to use. It seems like overkill, but if I had used the red silk instead of white in the practice run, I would have seen the problem before I ever touched my lining.
  • If you’re having a problem, clean out your machine and change the needle! As a friend recently reminded me….
  • Always use a topper with silk charmeuse; even a new needle can pull fabric threads because of the satin weave. A topper keeps it from pulling.
  • Try 60-wt. thread for lettering, and use 90-wt. for the bobbin. My software manufacturer confided that most lettering, though digitized for 40-wt., turns out better with the thinner thread. The original design was a lettering design, and the 40-wt. thread in the bobbin was not working. The second design was a very large satin-stitch design and worked fine with the 40-wt.
  • Even if you’ve “ruined” your fabric, you can still salvage your project: try a different design, use an appliqué, replace that part of the pattern with a new piece, etc. There’s usually something you can do to fix it!

Crimes Against Couture?

chanel boucle 6
Can you tell there are serged seams?

For those who are not familiar, couture sewing has some expected (or antiquated) techniques and parameters: multiple muslins and fittings, generous seam allowances, using the stitching line as opposed to the cutting line, and a lot of hand sewing. A LOT of hand sewing…. This makes couture sewing unappealing to many modern sewers; no short cuts, no new techniques, and definitely no sergers.

But I really enjoy couture sewing, there’s something almost meditative about the process. And of course, not every garment has to be full on couture all the time. Some of my fellow Fashionista’s and I do what we call “demi-couture”: we use the techniques that we find most enjoyable, give the best finish or are the most practical – and couture sewing is nothing if not practical.

So what to do when your designer bouclé remnant leaves you with scant 5/8-inch seam allowances (and I mean scant as in more like 3/8-inch) and the edges are raveling faster than you can sew them? You bust out the serger. Yup, there are serged edges in my mostly couture a-line skirt. I stabilized not only the edges of my pattern pieces with the serger, I cleaned up the hem as well. This to me is not much different than whip-stitching the entire edge to stabilize it; I just did it by machine instead of by hand.

fixing the skirt-4
Hot off the serger – the edge is now being held securely

The most fervent adherents will claim that Madame C is now rolling over in her grave, but I think if she had a serger she’d’ve used it if she needed to. Because you see, couture also teaches us to do what is needed when it’s needed. For instance, I wound up with a strange hole in one of my side seams; it looks like a little notch was cut out of the hem allowance – I’ll blame it on a gremlin. But my otherwise nice and even 2-inch hem has a very shallow spot; what to do?

fixing the skirt-1

I took a scrap of organza and zig-zagged it to the wrong side of the hem, then folded it over and zig-zagged it down. I now have a lovely stabilized edge to catch-stitch down with the rest of the hem. Won’t it show? It shouldn’t, especially with the lining in place. Only someone being nosy would see it, and if someone is that nosy then I have way more to worry about than them seeing my little organza bandage….

fixing the skirt-3
All Patched!
Chanel Boucle Skirt-1
A silk lining is lovely and hides all the stitching

Save the Wool! (Or, you may not have ruined it yet!)

I’m in the midst of finishing my winter wardrobe projects; I finished several sweaters and fall-colored tees last month, and this month I’m working on skirts – I finished the first one last week. This week I’m working on my woollies: one designer cashmere, one designer bouclé, one acrylic/ wool blend, and one that’s a cotton/ acrylic/ viscose.

Everything washed fine, except the designer bouclé: it’s a wool blend, but it shrank much more than I thought it would (I suspect it was actually a cotton fiber in one of the yarns that shrank the most.) I had washed the two wools on my machine’s hand wash/ washable wool cycle, and hung both to dry. The cashmere lost barely a half inch width wise and nothing lengthwise, but the bouclé went from a barely-enough-for-an a-line skirt 56” wide and one yard long including the frayed edges, to 53 ½” wide and 28” long… yikes! While I was laying out my organza underlining yesterday morning, I realized my mistake.

But then I remembered that wool stretches (the reason for the organza underlining to begin with!) So I sent the piece back through a rinse and spin cycle with liquid fabric softener (I’ve heard hair conditioner works too) and while wet I stretched it gently but firmly across my shower’s grab bar. I was able to get it stretched to a decent 59” wide and 36” long, not including the frayed edges. I weighted it with trouser hangers across the bottom and left it like this to dry.

designer boucle_2018 10 24_0011

The final measurements? After being hung to dry for twelve hours, and left to completely dry for another twelve it is now 56 ½” wide, by 35” long, not including the frayed edges. And now I can finish making my skirt…

Fun with Checks and Plaids

Or, how to save on fabric when you didn’t quite buy enough

One of the best parts of sewing for yourself is deciding how to use the fabric: will you put the stripes vertically, horizontally or on the bias? Will you fussy cut the motif from your print and make it the focus of your project, or even align your pattern pieces so the print repeats in a way to make the seams look invisible?

Two types of print I really have fun with are checks and plaids. And the best place to have fun with them is in a tailored shirt. I’ve made many shirts for my husband and whenever I get a check or even plaid I go a little overboard with my options. (You can do all the following with an uneven plaid, but keep in mind you won’t have the symmetry of an even one.)

I like to put any pieces I can on the bias; did you know most shirt pieces can be cut on the bias? No, it’s true! The only pieces you wouldn’t normally cut on the bias are the bodice front and back (and even these can be cut on the bias if you’re careful.) Everything else is fair game – the sleeves, cuffs, collar and stand, yoke and front band are all there for you to have fun with. Here are some example below:

Inner and Outer Collar Stands

Fun With Checks and Plaids-2

Outer Cuff; the inner cuff in this example is on the straight of grain, but you can cut both on the bias or reverse them

Fun With Checks and Plaids-4

The Front Pocket

Fun With Checks and Plaids-9

The front pocket can also be cut on the straight of grain and then placed so it “disappears” on the front for a clean look

Fun With Checks and Plaids-5

The Tower Placket is also a good place to cut on the bias for contrast

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Fun With Checks and Plaids-8

The Collar – Upper or Under. In this case, it’s the under collar, which is pieced

Fun With Checks and Plaids-1

The Yoke, Inner or Outer is a favorite of mine – and the inner yoke is the best place for embroidery! Note the inner yoke is also pieced here

Fun With Checks and Plaids-6

Here are a few tips for using pieces cut on the bias:

  • Treat them gently – the edges will fray more easily with handling
  • Starch heavily – small or narrow pieces such as the collar stand or tower placket will retain their shape better if you starch them well first
  • Stay stitch long edges. Just as you stay stitch curves to prevent stretching (because it’s usually a bias edge) stay stitch long edges like the sleeve seam to prevent stretching

So how does this save on fabric? Well when you put pieces on the bias, especially smaller pieces, you can fit more pieces on less fabric. Say you needed an extra quarter yard of fabric to cut out the yokes, but you ran short. If your try placing the pattern piece in a different area on the bias, you can usually fit it in. This works especially well with wider fabrics, 54 inches or more.

Some other tips for saving on fabric when you don’t quite have enough:

  • Cut on a single layer of fabric. You’ll have to trace out a second set of pieces but you can get a much tighter fit with most patterns this way
  • Piece your pieces – instead of cutting a piece on the fold, cut it in two pieces – don’t forget to add a seam allowance where the fold would have been. Sew up the new seam and use the piece as usual. This works especially well with hidden pieces such and the inner yoke, under collar and inner collar stand, and can be used on the bias or straight grain
  • Have fun with contrasting fabrics – use a different but coordinating (or not!) fabric for small or hidden pieces such as the inner yoke, inner collar stand, under collar and inner cuff; or be bold and use the contrast on the front band, pockets, or outer cuff, collar or yoke. One great way to match and contrast at the same time is to use the same print in different color ways
  • Piece your sleeves – if your pattern has a single-piece sleeve, make it a two piece. Draw a line parallel to the grain line, about halfway between the center and back edge of the sleeve pattern. Add a seam allowance to each side of the cut and sew them back together – you’re right back where you started! This allows you to put the smaller piece – now the undersleeve – in a different area so you fit more pattern pieces on your fabric. You can even put the undersleeve on the bias or in a different direction if it helps you save on fabric.
  • Piece your sleeve 2 – cut your sleeve right down the middle, parallel to the grainline. Draw a new grainline 45º to the old one (don’t forget to add a seam allowance to the cut edge!) and now you can put both pieces on the bias. If you have a plaid, stripe or check you can put the pieces on opposing bias and create a chevron pattern for your sleeve. The outer yoke is another fun place for this chevron technique

And you can do any of the above with plain fabric of course, it’s not just for checks and plaids!