Category Archives: Workroom

Using Commercial Patterns

Commercial patterns are your friend

Since the spread in popularity of PDF sewing patterns, many have turned their backs on commercial patterns from the big 3 (Simplicity, Butterick and Vogue) saying they’re just too hard and confusing to follow. But really there’s so much to learn from these patterns and if you’re trying to teach yourself to sew without paying for lessons, using these patterns are your best bet in discovering the “right way” to sew.

Here are my top 3 reasons why I believe commercial patterns are the best way to learn –

Clear photos – All the steps are written and illustrated clearly and there are no poorly lit images or distracting fabric designs. To understand the sketched diagrams, you need to also read the key – ie which is the right side, wrong side, lining etc.

Clear steps – The number of steps shown will match the skill level of the pattern. For example a beginner pattern will show more steps to demonstrate techniques clearly. More complex patterns will assume you can do certain steps without guidance and will therefore only refer to them briefly.

commercial patterns are your friend 3

Proper techniques – Commercial patterns show proper sewing techniques. Yes there is always more than one way to do things, but learning the standard tried and true techniques will allow you to make your own informed choices later. Like a wise man once said – learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.

commercial patterns are your friend 1

Sewing well is a skill that can only be learnt by understanding the basics and by hours of practice. It can bring you a tremendous amount of joy and pride, just be prepared for a few frustrations along the way. Don’t give up at the first failure – toss it to the side and try again!

If you have any pattern troubles I’d be happy to help you out – either leave a comment below or email me at debra(at)stitchingrules(dot)com

This post is also shared with the And Sew We Craft Together Linky Party.

Creating a Sewing Plan

How to Create a Sewing Plan

If you’ve been sewing a particular item for a while, you’ve probably already established a sewing plan without even knowing it. A sewing plan is a bit like the sewing instructions but simplified into bullet points and is useful for when you’ve got a large order of the same thing and need to work like a production line.

A sewing plan for a pair of elasticated shorts for example would look like this –

  1. centre front (CF) and centre back (CB) seams
  2. side seams
  3. overlock
  4. hems
  5. crotch seam
  6. overlock
  7. waist casing and labels

As you can see, it’s not a detailed set of instructions, but more of an ordered list of steps. The underlined steps are done on the straight sewing machine while the others are done on the overlocker. Doing the first two steps together saves a trip to the overlocker and will save you time.

For these shorts I’ve chosen to do the hems before the crotch seam because it’s easier and quicker to do the hems out flat. This is common practice in  children’s wear because of the size of the items. A hem on a pair of size 1 shorts can be a small area to work in and maintaining an even hem stitch line can become tricky when you’re trying to work quickly.

Top Tip – Elastic Casings

Not many commercial patterns show this, but you can insert elastic into a casing as you’re sewing. This eliminates the need to thread the elastic through the casing later. Learning this method will save you time and double handling – you won’t have to take the garment back to the machine to sew up the opening. It’s trick, but well worth mastering.

This post has been shared in the And Sew We Craft Linky Party.

More Sewing Mistakes

Another 5 Common Sewing Mistakes

Following on from this post I’ve gone ahead and described five more ways you can improve your sewing. Many of these tips were originally basic sewing rules that have been forgotten over time.

Incorrect button attachment – Unless you’re attaching buttons as a decorative feature, the stitching in four-hole buttons always sits like a number 11, not a x. When using a two or four hole button you also need to allow the button to sit a bit above the fabric. Do this by winding the thread around the stitches to form a shank. Shank buttons already allow for the thickness of the fabric so this winding is not necessary.

button shank

Mismatching thread – It might not seem important and it’s certainly tempting to use what you have when you’re in a rush, but taking the time to match the thread to the fabric will make a big difference to the final look of your item. When you’re in the haberdashery section, unravel the thread from the spool to hold it against your fabric.

Overlocking thread is not as important to have matching perfectly, but investing in some larger spools of the basic colours is a good idea.

matching thread

Incorrect interfacing – There are many types of interfacing available and they all have their purposes. Iron on or sew in, woven, non woven or knitted and light, medium or heavy weight are all varieties of interfacing. Follow the pattern instructions and learn which one is best for your project. Bottom line – if your pattern calls for interfacing – use it!

Incorrect hem allowance – Hems can vary, but are generally between 2cm and 5cm. Sometimes a hem can be larger because it’s a design feature. Always aim to stitch along the center of the overlocking, or close to the edge if it’s a double neatened hem such as on jeans, shorts or children’s clothing. Curved hems will always sit better with a narrow hem. Once again, follow the pattern instructions as the designer has decided the hem for you.

hem sizeNot enough pressing – Best practice is to press seams as you go. Sometimes you can get away without it, but generally if you’re spending the time making something, pressing as you go can help keep the item neat.  It’s also an opportunity to double check a step before continuing with the next.  Pinstitching can help keep seams flat by holding seam allowance to one side.

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My Custom Order Workflow

My Workflow for Custom Orders

Building a business around made to measure work can be hugely satisfying as you help fulfill peoples dreams by creating their ideal outfit. This week I’ve been working on senior formal (prom) dress orders and thought I’d share some of the process.

Lisa has a formal to go to in 12 weeks and has been in to discuss her dress. She brought along a drawing and her iPad with all the photos she’d saved of dresses she likes. We went through the images talking about what parts she likes of each dress and what parts she specifically wants. Since the first meeting is all about getting the design down on paper I worked through the photos and drawings and produced a sketch of the final design.

Lisas sketch and design notesAt the meeting I took all the measurements I needed and calculated fabric. I sent her off with a list of recommended fabric stores and some fabric suggestions. Once Lisa bought and delivered her fabric we made an appointment for her first fitting.

My first step was to construct a toile – a mock-up model of the garment – usually done in calico or cotton. I prefer to use the lining that will be used in the final outfit as it saves wasting fabric and the customer gets to see the true colour. Referring to the sketches and measurements I chose a pattern block closest to the design and started marking out the pattern pieces on the lining. I sewed the pieces together with a large stitch so it will be easy to pull apart later. Once the lining was together I measured the lining and checked against the body measurements. The toile needs to be looser than the body to allow for movement.

working out the panel lines on the skirt

At the first fitting Lisa tried on the toile and I pinned it at the back and began fitting the garment. At this point I’m looking at

  • making the waist fit securely (Lisa is wearing a belt with this design and the waist needs to be firm)
  • fitting the skirt over the hips and shaping it close around the knees
  • checking the top/waist join for the right amount of blousing
  • making sure the straps sit comfortably
  • making sure the cut away back sits close to the body

So generally I’m fitting the garment close to the body and making sure the bust, waist and hips sit at the correct level. Since we’re fitting so closely around the legs I suggested having a back split to make it easier to sit and walk.

From here I unpicked the lining to use as a pattern to cut out the main fabric and make the dress all over again. At this point the zip is left out, the straps are only pinned at the back and the hem is just overlocked.

preparing the pieces to cutAt the second fitting we pinned it in a bit further down the side seams and I asked Lisa to try sitting. The back split has been a success! We marked where the straps will finish and tried on the belt. All good.

Because I need to wait for Lisa to come back with the shoes to do the final hem check, I can insert the zip, sew some hooks to the straps and run in the skirt a final time. At Lisa’s final fitting I’ll be pinning up the hem and making sure the hooks on the straps sit properly.

This formal dress has been a pleasure to make and the fittings have all gone well without any dramas or misunderstandings. Communication is crucial to making made to order customers happy and being able to understand their needs and expectations means there are no mistakes along the way.

Check back soon and I’ll be able to share with you the finished dress in all it’s glory.