Two Ways to Tame T-Shirt Hems

Thursday, December 24, 2009
Hemming the knit garments that we sew can often be a frustrating experience. 
Wavy, stretched-out, lumpy, and uneven hems are all too common. 
Here are 2 easy ways to get great looking hems on knit garments every time!

The first way to hem knit garments and the one I use most often is by "Crowding the Needle".  

As you can see in the photo above, as the un-stitched part of the hem of this knit top approaches the needle, I push it towards the needle. This lets the feed dogs do all the work while I gently guide the fabric,  deliberately "pushing" it towards the needle with one hand...while I keep the garment straight by guiding it gently with the other hand behind the presser-foot.  "Crowding the Needle" this way acts like the differential feed of a serger, producing a nice smooth hem with no puckers or waves.  This method works best when there is very light pressure on the foot, and when you stitch slowly.  Just FYI...Sometimes "Crowding the Needle" is referred to as "Feeding the Dogs" :)

The second way to tame knit fabric hems is by using any of the various brands of 
Clear "Water Soluble" embroidery stabilizers...such as the brand-name product, "Solvy" 
(easily available at chain fabric stores).

As pictured below, first cut about a 10-inch length of the stabilizer. Then roll it up into a tube. Next, as shown below, cut off a "slice" of the tube the depth of the hem. I usually cut several 1-inch "slices", as that is the hem depth I use on most knit garments.

Now you have several nice uniform strips of stabilizer ready to FUSE your hem.


Yes, that's right, you will be using the stabilizer to temporarily "fuse" the hem into place before stitching. Here's how:

Just as you would use regular fusible web to permanently fuse a hem, place your strip of "clear wash-away stabilizer" between the hem allowance and the garment ("inside" the hem). Then thoroughly steam-press the hem. This melts the water-soluble stabilizer strip, temporarily holding the hem in place while also making the hem area firm and completely stable.  If the "Clear wash-away stabilizer" doesn't melt enough to hold the hem in place, steam again from the other side, or lightly spray the hem area with water and steam again.

Now stitch your totally stabilized hem. A twin-needle hem works especially well, because the hem area is so stable that the stitches will not "tunnel".
Once your hem is stitched, the stabilizer is easily and completely removed from the garment by a quick trip through the rinse cycle of the washing machine. After drying, your hem will be soft, flexible, and beautiful...with no puckers or waves!

A Suit That Fits - Second Fitting

Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Second fitting of the new suit yesterday, and time for a further review of A Suit That Fits (see my first post for my initial impressions).

One of my biggest problems with A Suit That fits has been the lack of personal service. The person who measured me, the person who gave me my first fitting, and the person who gave me my second fitting were all different, so there's little continuity going through the process. None of them, of course, has any involvement in the actual manufacture of the suit. The lack of personal connection is compounded by the fact that you don't see the suit until it's complete, which means it essentially dissapears for 8 weeks and there's no news as to what stage it is at, or whether it might be ready early.

As a result, perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised that the second fitting was a dissapointment. In all fairness, I was ten minutes late, but I still don't think this excuses the way I was rushed out of the door with my suit, having been told to 'just try on the jacket' (the only part that had been adjusted) and without any assessment, comment or advice from the supposed 'tailor' who was helping me.

However; the fact is, the suit does fit beautifully, especially with the changes I made last time, and it looks fantastic, as only a perfectly fitting suit can. The material is nice, though not outstanding, and the suit has a lot of features that distinguish it from an off-the peg suit, such as reinforcement in areas prone to wear, working cuffs, and a loop behind the lapel to hold a buttonhole stem.

On the other hand, there are some areas where the finish is frankly dissapointing on further inspection - the suit cuffs, for example, show particularly poor craftsmanship where the lining is attached, and I will almost certainly take the suit back to have this remedied at some point. It's not that the quality of work is poor throughout - it's not. By and large, I would equate the construction of this suit to an off-the peg one from somewhere like TM Lewin or Hackett. However, this just draws attention to the areas where it seems to fall substantially short.

I haven't yet had an opportunity to wear the suit 'for real' but I shall do so a couple of times over Christmas and the New Year and, when  I do so, I shall finally get a picture of me in it. I may also write a more detailed review of A Suit That Fits at some point, but this will probably wait until they have also made my tweed jacket at the end of January. Until then, my feeling is that ASuitThatFits is a really good option for anyone who wants a bit more control over the details of his suit, and to have a suit that really does fit. On the other hand, for someone who values beautiful construction and a close relationship with a craftsman, ASuitThatFits is only going to dissapoint. For the price, though, perhaps that's not surprising; and I still feel that I would rather spend the same amount on a perfectly fitting suit made exactly to my design from ASTF as I would on a mass-produced off-the-peg suit from Hackett, Paul Smith or Gieves and Hawkes.

Dress Codes

Friday, December 18, 2009
It's the season when everyone ends up going to a whole string of Christmas and New Year parties. Casual team lunches, client dinners, business drinks, family parties, New Year cocktails; we're faced with a bewildering array of different dress codes, many of which won't be made entirely clear, leaving us no option but to make a few educated guesses.

Dress codes used to be easier, and there was a time when the only two options for an evening event were Black Tie or White Tie. The code was clearly stated on an invitation, and no room for confusion remained. This is certainly no longer the case, and a modern list of dress codes includes a bewildering range of possibilities.

I don't have space in this post to try and explain all the options out there, and there are many places that do this better (I reccomend a good men's style book from Debrett's or Esquire). Instead, what I would like to do is to provide a few tips to people who might find themselves needing to set a dress code, in the hope that by they can avoid some of the pitfalls that make dressing for an event more difficult than it really needs to be.

Be Bold
It's your party, you get to set the dress code. If you want people to wear Black Tie then make that the dress code, but don't qualify it with 'Black Tie Optional' or 'Black Tie Preferred'. This just creates confusion and guaruntees that at least a few people at your party will feel incorrectly dressed. Have the confidence to set a dress code and stick to it.

Be Specific
The classic dress codes of White Tie, Black Tie, Morning Dress and Lounge Suit are clear and unambiguous, everyone knows (or ought to know) what is expected of them.
Things get more complicated, however, with dress codes like 'smart-casual', 'business informal' or just 'smart'. I recently received an invitation with a dress code of 'smart' and this means nothing to me, since I consider both White Tie and a blazer and chinos to be pretty smart in different contexts. Instead of going down this route, say something specific like 'Jacket and tie'. This makes it clear what is expected, and also gives people clues as to the rest of the outfit. Faced with a 'jacket and tie' dress code, most men will know without being told that jeans are out, but a suit is not neccesary.

Consider the time of day
There's a move in some quarters towards seeing black tie as a catch-all formal outfit, which may explain why it is sometimes seen at day-time weddings. Unfortunately, black tie does not look its best in daytime, which is why it has traditionally been worn only after 6pm.
When setting your dress code it is best to bear this in mind and pick a dress code appropriate to the time of day. The daytime equivalent of Black Tie is generally a lounge suit, while the daytime equivalent of White Tie is Morning Dress.
Enjoy the Christmas parties.

Why real professionals wear suits

Monday, December 14, 2009

Photo Property of Gieves and Hawkes

I recently read about a study where two groups of FBI agents were given the task of rescuing some hostages from a building. They were unaware of the other group, all they knew was that they had a certain amount of time to come up with a plan. The only difference between the two groups was that one was issued combat trousers, polo shirts, body armour and baseball caps. The other group was told to wear a suit and tie. The first group came back with a plan that involved arming up and quickly storming the hostages location, with a view to taking out the hostile targets as rapidly as possible. The second group, on the other hand, returned with a plan for careful negotiations to determine the demands of the hostage-takers, along with key facts such as how many hostiles there were, how many hostages, the exact locations of them, and so on.

I don't know exactly what this tells you about FBI agents, and I certainly don't intend to pass judgement on which approach is better. I think what it does tell us though, is that what you're wearing plays a bigger role in how you act than you might neccesarily be aware of. One of my arguments for maintaining the 'outdated' uniform of my old school is that being forced to dress that formally contributes in some way to the behaviour and work ethic of pupils. It's by no means the only factor, but I am convinced it plays a part, and it is why I am dubious of schools that increasingly go down the polo-shirts and sweatshirts route.

In the grown-up world, the argument can equally be applied. Many businesses, indeed probably most outside of the city, have moved away from the strict dress code of suits and ties five days a week. In my own industry, most people in the office dress no more smartly than they would at home and, even when visiting clients, a suit is rare and a tie unheard-of.

Does this matter? Do our clothes influence how we are seen and how we act? It's hard to say, of course, and there's little evidence either way. Many in my office might argue that as a creative company, we are better off in casual clothes, but it's hard to see how wearing the same thing we would wear in front of the TV, or to the pub, can possibly make anyone more creative. On the other hand, it does seems much more possible that wearing a suit makes people look more professional and hardworking, feel more professional and hardworking and (hopefully) act more professional and hardworking.

Why specialists still rule

Sunday, December 13, 2009
I love Aspinal of London. They do a great range of leather goods at prices generally somewhat cheaper than Smythesons, and also carry a good selection of reasonably priced clothing accessories such as pocket squares, ties, and cufflinks. I was also attracted to their small selection of pens, as I have been looking for a new fountain pen, and so I arranged to see a few in their Selfridges concession on Saturday.

After a bit of a struggle to find the pens (although that's largely my fault - I'd neglected to keep a note of the order number) the lady dumped them on the table in front of me and went to deal with another customer. Left to my own devices, I examined the pens and, as I had suspected, they are attractive and beautifully made. In particular I was very keen on a fairly large sterling silver fountain pen, and had pretty much resolved to buy this. However, if I had already been slightly put off by the lack of any help or interest from the shop assistant, things got worse once I started enquiring about nibs.

Choosing a pen without consideration for the size of the nib is unwise if you intend to write with it regularly. Unfortunately, the assistant knew nothing about nibs, although she 'guessed' the pens had medium nibs. I asked if I could try writing with it but, to my surprise, was told I couldn't. Apparantly I was the first person to ever ask to try one of their pens before buying it. I expect she's right, but it does make me wonder what kind of people spend £150 on something as personal as a fountain pen without trying it out.

At this point, I gave up on Aspinal, and perhaps I was unfair to expect them to really be of much use anyway. If they specialise in anything, it is leather goods, and there is no reason why they should have any particular expertise in pens. Except that they have chosen to sell them, of course. Still, I should have known better than to try and buy a pen from a non-specialist, and so I made my way to the spiritual home of the specialist boutique - the Burlington Arcade, one of a small number of similar arcades in the Piccadilly and Regent Street area. Although generally crowded with tourists, it nevertheless remains a unique and exclusive shopping experience. More importantly, each of the shops in it are true experts in their areas.

I visited Penfriend, a store too cramped to allow any chance at browsing, but an absolutely ideal place to get some real assistance in choosing a pen. After discretely establishing my price range, the assistant began to enthusiastically pass pens to me to try; different brands, different models and different nibs, they all began to pile up on the glass counter, and I was free to write with any of them. Eventually, after a bit of back-and-forth between different nibs, I selected a Parker Duofold International in black with gold trim and a gold and platinum nib. The whole experience of being helped to find the perfect pen was far more satisfying than simply picking it up in Selfridges, and reminded me of how important it is to shop at real specialists when possible, rather than being lured by the convenience and glamour of department stores like Selfridges, or retailers foolishly expanding into unfamiliar territory, like Aspinal of London.

Book Review: Debrett's Guide for the Modern Gentleman

Thursday, December 10, 2009
There seems to be a surprisingly large market in guides to being 'a gentleman'. Search on Amazon and you'll see a reasonable selection, or alternatively go in to Brooks Brothers and you'll almost certainly find the headache-inducingly smug 'How to be a Gentleman' series by John Bridges, reprinted specifically for Brooks Brothers. Bridges begins every sentence with 'A Gentleman...', as in 'A Gentleman waits his turn before using the weights machine'. In this way, he manages to make what is essentially a book on very, very basic manners seem like a profound guide to a life of casual James Bond-esque sophistication. Not that Bond would wait his turn before using the weights machines, he'd probably just kill you with a dumbbell.

Anyway, my point is that it's hardly surprising that a guide to being a gentleman ended up relegated first to my loo and then to the bottom of a cupboard. The title gives it away - the book is not for gentlemen, it is for people who wish to be gentlemen, and I suppose they might benefit from the supremely trite advice that Bridges dishes out. Of course, it's unlikely such a person would ever buy the book, which certainly raises the question of who it is aimed at. Enough of Bridges, though, as this is all a preamble to the real subject of this review - Debrett's Guide for the Modern Gentleman

Note the difference in title? This is a guide for a gentleman, and so it manages to take as granted that the average reader was probably already taught basic table-manners and common courtesy by his prep-school housemaster, and so these sorts of topics can be skipped. Instead, Debrett's Guide covers a surprisingly wide range of more difficult topics from buying a bespoke suit to going on a first date.

The advice given is bang up-to-date, while retaining classic values and style, and it's sheer breadth means that even the best-educated and most socially adept gentleman is likely to find one chapter or other useful. The pages on how to be a good country guest might be superfluous for those readers who spend their life flitting from country estate to country estate, but even they may still find the surprisingly detailed section on interior design useful. And even the most cosmopolitan of us can hardly fail to benefit from the handy table of how much to tip, and how to say thank you, in 22 different countries.

The book is laid out in an attractive and user-friendly manner, eschewing lengthy prose in favour of pages broken up in to tables, bullet points, 'top tens', trivia boxes, and so on. All accompanied by appropriate illustrations. Above all, the guidance given is useful and clear. Avoiding generalities, each section gives you exactly what you need to know, neither more nor less, and is so on-the-money in determining what will be useful to its readership that I find myself referring to it on a number of matters, be it a suggestion for a good classic movie to watch or album to listen to, or to remind myself of the pecking order of poker hands.

Perhaps more importantly than any of this, the book is an entertaining read, written with wit and style and not too much sense of its own self-importance. I highly, highly recommend it as something you should have on your bookshelf, or which would make an excellent present for any man in your life, this christmas.

Thoughts on Black Tie

Tuesday, December 8, 2009
I was at an industry awards event a couple of weeks ago. These are some of the few remaining types of events in my line of work where a black tie dress code is still standard and, generally, adhered to. That is to say... it's adhered to, but with a lack of effort or respect for the rules that a lover of formal dress codes such as myself finds disappointing.

Clothing aficionados generally fall in to one of two broad categories (albeit with almost infinite slight variations) when it comes to black tie. Many adhere rigidly to a set of rules laid down some time in the 1930s and '40s and by and large unchanged since then. They might argue that a dress code implies rules and that failing to respect the rules is failing to respect the dress code and, by extension, the host who has set it. Perhaps more importantly, many people in this camp would point out that the rules are there for a reason, and that following them gives you the best chance of looking smart, elegant and at-home in your outfit.

The other view is that clothing conventions do, and must, alter, and that getting overly hung up on 'rules' that are sixty years old is self-defeating. As long as one is dressed well, and appropriately for the occasion, details of collar, shirt, tie, lapel and waist-covering are of small importance.

My own view has always fallen much more in to the first category, and I take some effort to make sure that my own black tie outfit obeys the 'rules'. Nevertheless, I sometimes wonder if I am unfair to be as judgmental as I am of people like those at the awards who were breaking quite a number of the black tie rules. I have come to the conclusion that what I really object to is not so much that the rules are broken, but that people break them without any awareness that they are doing so, or caring very much. A wing-collared shirt with black tie is not the worst crime in the world, and indeed there was a period when it was perfectly acceptable, as white-tie accessories such as a wing collar were frequently worn with black tie. Yet I cringe whenever I see someone wearing a soft, limp, wing collared shirt with black tie because I am almost certain they have not made any conscious style decision, but have simply picked it because it seems at some level more formal than a turn-down collared shirt, and they know nothing of the difference between black tie and white tie.

A friend of mine insists on wearing an ordinary white shirt with his black tie. In my opinion, the visible buttons and single-layered fabric are too informal for black tie, but my friend knows the rule and breaks it deliberately. I think, indeed, because he likes the slightly louche, informal look of it. In all other respects, his outfit is perfect and, in fact, his bespoke double-breasted dinner jacket is far smarter than my own . He is not breaking the rules out of laziness, or lack of awareness, but out of a genuine style choice.

It is my suspicion of laziness that most frustrates me about people who get black tie 'wrong'. That they dress badly out of laziness is quite ironic given that wearing black tie that conforms perfectly to the rules is actually the laziest way possible to look great at a party. When I see a black tie dress code I know that I can wear an outfit I have worn many, many times before, with no thought whatsoever, and still look good in it. If I wanted to break the rules, I would need to put far more thought in to how to do this properly and still look good. It seems sad that people can be so lazy in how they wear black tie and still miss out on the opportunity to look the smartest most of us men will ever look.

I suppose my conclusion is that you can either be lazy, or you can break the rules, but you shouldn't do both.

Barker Shoes

One of my other activities yesterday was to hunt down a new pair of shoes. I was on the look-out for some brown, closed lace half-brogues, and had my eye on
Maybe the best thing about Barker, though, is that their website includes not only detailed sizing (including width fittings) but also information about the last that the shoe was made on. By choosing shoes made on the same last as this pair, and in the same size, I can order online and be almost certain of getting a great fit. Which is good news really, since I still need an alternative pair of shoes to wear with a suit. This time, though, I've been inspired by the footwear of the Barker salesman who helped me, and who was wearing a lovely pair of black monks...

An afternoon in St James, and a suit that fits.

Monday, December 7, 2009
Saturday was a particularly raucous day in central London. The combination of three-week-before-Christmas shopping and a climate change demonstration of some kind (protestors on bicycles completely undermined by police officers in idling vans) made most of Oxford Street, Regent Street and Piccadilly pretty unbearable.

I was in town for a brief visit to ASuitThatFits' new(ish) premises on Glasshouse Street for a fitting of my dark blue self-stripe three-piece. I was slightly nervous about my first view of a suit which I spent a lot of time on designing and which I've been waiting for long enough to second-guess almost every decision I made. In the event, it's looking fantastic, although it needs a few minor adjustments, not least the addition of braces buttons, which they managed to forget to do. Sadly, I didn't think to get a photo, but I shall get one on the 14th when I go back for a second fitting.

I did have the distinct feeling that it might largely be down to me to identify changes I wanted made and I'm not always as confident asking for tweaks as I probably should be. I'd also have really appreciated an all-round mirror arrangement to help me check the fitting from the side and back. That said, David, the Senior Style Advisor who fitted me, was helpful, knowledgeable, and professional and I didn't feel any pressure at all to take the suit home without asking for adjustments. More importantly, the suit itself is lovely, with a number of nice touches that identify it as not just an average off-the-peg suit. Best of all (the adjustments notwithstanding) it fits me better than almost any other item of clothing I own. Wearing a made-to-measure suit feels noticeably more comfortable, with none of the awkwardness that can come from clothes that nearly, but don't quite, fit.

Anyway, after this is was time to escape the crowds, and so I headed to the relatively quiet environment of Jermyn Street and then to the East India Club, where I was pleased to find a large Christmas tree in the lobby adding to the general feel of comfortable peace and quiet.

Gathered Sleeve or Puffed Sleeve?'s All About the Seam Allowances

Monday, November 30, 2009

First...Since many wondered what I'd be making with that luscious striped Japanese knit (shown in a previous post) , you'll see it pictured above, made into the HotPatterns Riviera AnnisetteTop. The Riviera Annisette Top has gathered sleeves, but I chose to alter the sleeve pattern and make long plain sleeves instead. Why? I just felt that there was enough interest in the fabric itself, and didn't want to muddy it up with more details.

Now to begin this discussion of gathered sleeve caps, take a look at the blue top, above. It has gathered sleeves that are very subtle. When you make a top, dress or blouse with sleeve cap gathers, you have a choice to make them "puffed" or simply gathered into soft folds. It's all about the way the sleeve cap seam allowances are pressed.

When the seam allowances are pressed towards the sleeve, you have puffy sleeves like the example to the right.  In my opinion, puffy sleeves are usually better suited to the very young...but to each her own :)

Pressing the seam allowances towards the "body" (neckline) of the garment, results in sleeve cap gathers that lay  "flatter", and present more subtle folds.  It's a small detail, but one that is usually kinder to a mature figure.

Directing the seam allowances of gathers one way or the other can make a difference in other areas of a garment. For instance, pressing the seam allowance of a gathered skirt of a dress "up" towards the bodice will encourage the gathers to lay more flat, in smooth folds. Pressing those same gathers "down" (towards the hem) , will encourage the gathers to puff-up.  It's all about the look you prefer...and now you know you have a choice.
Sewing Notes: Yokes on both of the tops shown interfaced with PRO-SHEER ELEGANCE Fusible Interfacing from  

Empty Closet = Sewing New Tops

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Prompted by the fact that I have almost nothing "nice" to wear this season, I managed to get some sewing done this week. Since I can only stand for limited amounts of time because of my injury, tracing new patterns is not an option for me for a while. So I used 2 of my tried and true patterns, HotPatterns Weekender Sunshine Top, and HotPatterns Metropolitan GoodTimes Top.
The gray Weekender Sunshine Top, shown above, is made from a luscious wool/cashmere blend sweater knit. I made the neckband a little wider and lengthened the short sleeves to full length. I am thrilled with the way it turned feels so luxurious! If you have this pattern, do try it with long sleeves for the fall/winter. If you don't have this pattern, it's really worth a try. It's so flattering..makes your waist look tiny and that's always a good thing!   I made this style several times last spring, and wrote a step-by-step tutorial about how to sew it. It can be found HERE.

Earlier in the week, I made 2 versions of the Metropolitan GoodTimes Top. The olive green version is made from a wool/cashmere blend sweater knit. The blue print version is made from cotton/lycra jersey, and features shirred sleeves.  I am so happy to have some nice new I just have to muster up enough energy to sew a few more tops, some slacks, and I'll be all set for this season...maybe :)  
Sewing Notes: The band and yokes on all the tops are interfaced with Pro-Sheer Elegance Fusible Interfacing. The Sweater Knit yardage has been in my 'stash' for a long time, it was from 
Baer Fabrics, now out of business. 
The Cotton/Lycra Jersey is from

How to Add Seam Allowances to Traced Patterns...the Easy Way

Monday, November 16, 2009
There has been some chat on various sewing lists and forums lately about tracing patterns and adding seam allowances to them, so here is a repeat of a tutorial I wrote several months ago that some of you may have missed and may find helpful...

For those of us who draft our own patterns, or trace them from the various pattern magazines, here's an easy way to add seam allowances--

It's very simple...and while not a new concept, I do it a bit differently.

The method is basic:
Add the seam allowance to the pattern by stitching around the pattern using an un-threaded needle the desired distance from the sewing line.

What's different about the way I do it?

Well...I have discovered that by using a large Wing Needle, and a very close stitch (.5-1), the excess pattern paper just peels off. No need to cut out the pattern!

Some more information--

I run the pattern through the machine...the traced stitching line of the pattern on the RIGHT....making sure the stitching line of the pattern is on the seam allowance I want. Thus, the needle holes are punched to the left of the stitching line, adding the seam allowance.

I can see through the pattern paper easily enough to be able to run the marked stitching line exactly on the 1/4", 3/8", or 5/8" inch line that is marked on the bed of my machine. If I can't see through the paper easily, I just use a post-it or piece of blue "painter's tape" along the desired depth of seam allowance I want to add.

After getting a few are some additional pictures that hopefully will make this process more clear:

1. Mark the desired seam allowance with painter's tape to make it visible under the pattern to which you are adding allowances--

2. The blue line on the paper (shown below) is the traced pattern line. Run it along the desired depth of seam allowance you want to add (see depth of seam allowance pic above), using a wing needle. This punches holes in the pattern paper, adding the seam allowance (the distance from the needle to the blue traced line is the added seam allowance)--

More sneaky Sewing...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Yes, yes...I know...I should be doing so many other things (like Japanese shirt sewing) !   But this morning I just felt like sewing something very fun, very quick, and very easy  :)

This is the "Dots T-shirt" from the new 06/09 Ottobre Design issue, style #29. This one was made from a soft medium weight cotton/lycra knit for my 10-yr old niece, Willow.

Of course, I can never just leave a pattern be without adding or changing
In order to get as much gathering in the center panel as I wanted, I added an inch to the length of the panel as I was cutting it out. Willow has long arms, but the sleeves on this pattern are very, very long...meant to be worn over the hand. After the shirt was sewn, I realized that Willow, as neat as she still a child :)  So to bring the sleeves up I stitched clear elastic onto the seam allowances stretching it slightly as I sewed.  To finish the neckline, I sewed a folded band to the neck, then stitched the edge for a loose ruffled look.  The hems were also zig-zag stitched, letting the pressure of the foot create soft rippled edges.

I can already envision other ways to make this top...different fabrics...perhaps a woven fabric for the shirred panel, perhaps a sheer knit or lace. Oh I have so many ideas...if only I had as much time !

Honored to have authored the ASG Magazine Cover Article

Monday, October 19, 2009

I was honored to be asked to write the cover article for the Fall 2009 edition of the American Sewing Guild's Magazine. 

Titled "Shirt Chic", the article includes my take on Choosing Fabrics, Fine-Tuning Construction, and Adding Designer Details.  
I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing 
it for you !

Japanese Shirt Pattern Journey...Fabric and Pattern Choices

Saturday, October 17, 2009 far, so slow.   The good news is that a shirt pattern is a shirt pattern is a shirt pattern.  What I mean is that I am very familiar with shirt pattern "parts"...there isn't much I haven't seen after sewing hundreds of shirts I've either drafted from scratch or used patterns to make.  

The slow part is familiarizing myself with the methodology of this Japanese Shirtmaking book with no English translation. Specifically,  how these pattern pieces are drafted and how the seam allowance margins are allocated.  Because not all the seam allowances are the same width. This is a very good thing, and a sign of sophisticated drafting.  It saves time to have all the pieces fit together and not need trimming after the seams are also saves fabric, always a good thing.  On the other hand, these patterns allocate allowances a bit differently than I do when I hand-draft a pattern. And since I want to give a fair review of these patterns, I'll cut the pieces their way...I am always open and eager to learn something new. So, This weekend I hope to get the pattern pieces traced and walked...but only after I've given my studio a good tidying up. 

For the first shirt using these patterns, I've chosen a fabric of good but not great quality. One that is good enough to get accurate results (no stretching or shrinking), but one that if it becomes a "give-away", I won't have regrets.   I try very hard to avoid "sewing regrets"  :) 

Exploring a Japanese ShirtMaking Book

Thursday, October 15, 2009

 I've had this book for several months, and finally have the time to fully explore it and make a shirt from one of the many patterns that are included as separate traceable sheets.  Since I am not yet familiar with the fit of these patterns, my DH Roger will be my victim "fit model".   Of course, after I finish the shirt you will see it here along with a full review of this book.
I may decide to do a step-by step series of blog posts, or at least a few posts about the making of the shirt during the construction stay tuned.
In the meantime, here is the book description from the seller, an Ebay Merchant I recommend,
Paperback: 79 pages
Publisher: Bunka Shuppan Kyoku (August 2006)
Language: Japanese
Book Weight: 425 Grams
19 Full-Scaled Patterns of Men's Shirts for 4 Sizes.

  • The book introduces 19 styles of variety kinds of men's shirts

  • Total: 19 Full-Scaled Patterns of Men's Shirts for 4 Sizes.Paperback: 79 pages
    Size Reference:
    The book come with the full-scaled patterns for 4 Sizes: 
    SMALL (Nude): Chest 90 cm, Waist 78cm, Height 155-165 CM.
    MEDIUM (Nude):
    Chest 92 cm, Waist 80cm, Height 165-175 CM.
    LARGE (Nude): Chest 94 cm, Waist 84cm, Height 175-185 CM.
    EXTRA LARGE (Nude): Chest 98 cm, Waist 86cm, Height 185-195 CM.

    This book certainly seems to have it all, including several collar and cuff styles..and a whole lot more!  Here are a couple of pics of the inside pages....

    ~ Click photos to enlarge, then click browser "back" button to return to this page ~

    The Denim Shirt....Complete !

    Sunday, October 4, 2009

    Mens Denim Shirt_blog client's shirt is complete 
    and winging its way to him by Priority Mail !

    I'd like to mention a few things about some of the details of this shirt.  In previous posts, I was undecided about how to best use the contrast side of the denim. As you can see, I ended up using the contrast for both of the front button plackets, the top of the pocket and  both sides of the collar stand (band). I decided to add a contrast detail to the sleeve, but I wanted it to be very subtle. So I made a 2-piece sleeve placket and used the contrast side of the fabric for the under-lap. You can see it peeking out of the unbuttoned cuff in this photo I hastily snapped just before the shirt was packed and sent on its way. more thing...if you notice that one sleeve appears longer than the other, it is because it was pulled forward for the photo.
    Sewing Notes: Shirt is interfaced with Pro-Weft Fusible Interfacing from ~Fashion Sewing Supply~. Fabric is from my shirt-making stash. Tan "faux-marble" buttons from the "light button" assortment at ~Fashion Sewing Supply~

    A Special Shirt Collar...and its Pattern

    Thursday, October 1, 2009
    Many of my clients remark that the collars of the shirts I design are very comfortable and that they don't have to fuss with them. That's because I specifically design shirt collars to follow the natural curves of the neck and shoulder.

    Take a close look at the collar on the denim shirt I am currently making, shown below.  Most (if not all) commercial shirt patterns have collars with top edges that are just straight across or that have one long slight curve.  However, as you can see...I have drafted my collar pattern with curves that follow the natural shape of the body.  SEWING NOTE-This collar has been interfaced with Pro-Weft Fusible Interfacing from ~Fashion Sewing Supply~.

    Here is the pattern draft, first shown as a half-pattern, 
    then again below as the full draft.

    ~ Click on photos to enlarge, click browser "Back" button to return to this page ~

    Note that the bottom edge of each pattern shown is the neck edge, and that the pattern has been drafted with 3/8" seam allowances. It has been placed on a 1-inch square grid so that you can see the scale.  You are welcome to copy the pattern...however if you use my draft and post a photo of a shirt made with it, please link back to this post, and/or reference it. Thank-you...and I hope that you enjoy using this draft !

    I've been asked about the collar stand (band) pattern that I usually use with the collar draft I showed above. Almost any stand can be used with this collar, as long as you draft the collar wide enough to cover the width of the stand (band).
    So, here it will notice it is fairly standard. 
    It really is the refined shape of the collar (shown above) that allows it to fall so elegantly.
    ~ Click on photos to enlarge, click browser "Back" button to return to this page ~

    Slow Going...

    Saturday, September 26, 2009
    Some, but not much progress on this denim shirt!
    Denim Shirt Back
    Here is the shirt back, right off the bed of the machine and hastily pinned to my photo-wall.  It features an inverted top-stitched box pleat. The pleat is open for only about 14 inches. This will allow the shirt to be worn "out", but it will also look neat (and not lumpy) should my client decide to tuck the shirt in.  You'll also notice that I've added a loop at CB.  

    My plan is to attach the yoke tonight, and apply the plackets to the sleeves. If I feel really productive, the fronts will be attached, along with the collar unit. But then again, there's always tomorrow...

    Almost a Denim Shirt

    Thursday, September 24, 2009
    Hastily pinned to the form, and still "Under Construction"....but so far I'm satisfied with how this denim shirt is turning out.

    Almost ...A Denim Shirt
     It is being made for a favorite client of mine from a  fine cotton denim fabric that has a remarkably smooth reverse side. The reverse side of the fabric is so nice that it was able to utilize it for the front button plackets, collar stand and pocket.  I haven't cut the sleeve plackets  or cuffs yet, and I haven't yet decided to use the face or reverse side of the fabric for them.   

    This is one of those shirts that can look "over-designed' or very contrived if too many contrasting elements are used.  So I'll play with scraps and see what happens. I hope to have this shirt finished within a few days.

    The Waterfall Cowl Revisited...Changing the Pleat Position.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009
    Here is another interpretation of Ottobre Woman Issue 2/2009, #5 ...the "Waterfall Blouse"
    Ottobe "Waterfall" Drape Cowl

    I always change the front shoulder gathers into a pleat when I make this style. On this newest top, I positioned the pleat near the shoulder point with the fold toward the shoulder seam. Orienting the pleat in this way results in a rounded drape...which I think suits the print of the fabric.

    When I place the pleat near the neck edge , the drape folds form more of a V shape, as shown to the left (and in more detail further down the main page of the blog).

    Both of these tops are welcome additions to my fall wardrobe.

    Working with Diagonal Prints...The "Waterfall" Drape Cowl Top

    Thursday, September 17, 2009
    I made this top for myself last night, and I am very pleased with the way it turned out!   It is the "Waterfall" top from Ottobre Woman, 2/2009 Style #5.  Fabric is Poly/Lycra Jersey purchased several months ago from Gorgeous Fabrics.  You can see that the print is diagonal, but after draping it on my dress form, I knew it would work well for this style.


    However, a little diagonal print goes a long way. So after some thought I decided to cut the front and back on the straight grain, utilizing the diagonal "stripes" for the main body pieces.  That left the sleeves. Cutting the sleeves on the straight grain would have made for a dizzying garment...all those diagonal "stripes"...oy!  So, I cut the sleeves on the bias. That changed the orientation of the print...the "stripes" now straight, not angled. This gives the garment balance....I won't look as if I am leaning to one side, LOL!

    Of course, me being me,  I couldn't just sew this pattern as directed.  The instructions have you gather the front shoulder to meet the back shoulder.  In my experience, this tends to make the front shoulder look "puffy" after it is sewn. So instead of gathers, I formed a pleat in the front shoulder seam, placing it close to the neck you can see in the photo, below.

    The way you orient this pleat affects the way the cowl will drape. Placing it close to the neck edge with the pleat folded towards the neck, encourages the cowl to drape into a soft "V".   Placing the pleat in the center of the seam and folding it towards the shoulder will encourage the cowl to drape in a more rounded shape.

    So, don't be afraid of diagonal prints!  Changing the grain layout can produce a stylish and flattering garment.

    ProTailor Deluxe...A VERY special NEW Interfacing

    Monday, September 14, 2009

    “Pro-Tailor Deluxe” Fusible Interfacing
      comes to us from the very finest and Famous New York City Fashion Design workrooms. 
    ~Pro-Tailor Deluxe~ is a unique WARP-insertion Woven Fusible Interfacing that is made for tailoring applications like waistbands, collars, lapels, and all other traditional tailoring needs. It is almost like a blend of hair canvas and weft...It is slightly crisp, yet it's special weave gives it a very fluid hard to describe but simply devine!  Use it on wools,  suit-weight silks, medium linen, suit-weight microfiber, denim, gabardine, and more.
    This medium weight Very drapey, Very special interfacing is stable and it Does Not Shrink.It is washable (delicate cycle) and may also be dry-cleaned.

    This Medium weight VERY special Interfacing is stable and it DOES NOT SHRINK. It is washable (delicate cycle) and may also be dry-cleaned.
    Pro-TAILOR Deluxe FUSIBLE Interfacing
    30% Stable Rayon, 70% Polyester -- 66" wide !

    COLOR-- Dark Gray or Natural
    Please Visit ~FASHION SEWING SUPPLY~ for more information.

    Sneaky Sewing

    Tuesday, September 8, 2009
    I managed to sneak away to sew (YAY!) even though I should have been doing other things...

    Willow's Rose top

    This top for my 10 yr old niece Willow started with a basic t-shirt pattern that I changed to arrive at this design. In addition to curving the hem, I added double sleeves and solid pink curved bodice insets to both the front and back. All the edges were left raw, then just stretched and zig-zagged to "lettuce" (ruffle) them.

    How To Pre-Shrink Wool... Fast and Easy at Home !

    Monday, September 7, 2009
    Many of us are ready to sew our fall too!
    So I thought you might be interested to know of an easy yet professional method that I use to pre-shrink wool yardage. It is one of many that I learned during my Tailor Apprenticeship.

    First...the fabric! This luscious yardage is from my stash. One of the pieces was purchased from Gorgeous Fabrics several months ago. The green check yardage is 100% tropical wool crepe, the gray check yardage is a blend of wool and silk.

    Why pay big bucks to take this fabric to the dry-cleaner to steam shrink it,
    when we can do it easily at home?

    Wool Yardage
    Now the method:

    • Serge or zig-zag the raw cut edges of the fabric.
    • Next, wet some clean thick towels with HOT water until they are very wet but not quite dripping.
    • Now toss the hot wet towels and the fabric into your clothes dryer.
    • Set the dryer on HIGH heat, and tumble the fabric and hot wet towels for 40 minutes.
    • Take the yardage out of the dryer and lay it flat until it is cool.
    Align CenterThat's it! Your wool yardage is now ready for the needle!
    The appropriate interfacing for this fabric is PRO-WEFT Supreme Fusible.

    Wool Yardage After SteamingAlign Center
    As you can see above, this "Machine Shrink" method did not visibly change the fabric at all, and it's hand is still soft and smooth. However it did shrink. Each piece was 60" wide and 2 yards long before steam-shrinking. After, the green 100% wool piece measured 59.5" wide and is 2.5" shorter in length. The gray wool/silk blend is still 60" wide but 1.75" shorter in length.

    A Summer Shirt....Featuring a "seamless" Lined Pocket

    Thursday, August 27, 2009
    Where did the summer go?
    This is likely the last short sleeve shirt I'll make for a client this season!

    Mens Stripe Shirt Front

    Made from fine Swiss Cotton Shirting fabric,
    This shirt features a lined bias pocket and a bias back yoke.

    As you can see in the photo below, the client also requested a CB "Locker Loop" that I made a bit more interesting by tying a knot in the center.
    By the way, these CB loops are making a comeback in fine RTW...

    Mens Stripe Shirt Back

    I found that I needed to line the pocket of this shirt. The fabric is very lightweight, and the vertical stripes of the shirt-front clearly showed though the bias stripes of the first unlined pocket I made.
    Since a seamed lining on a pocket crafted from fine cotton will show ugly ridges when pressed, I prefer to line a shirt pocket without seams.

    Here's How:

    • First, prepare the pocket by pressing all edges into their finished position, but do not stitch the pocket hem...yet.
    • Next, just tuck the pocket lining into (under) all the pressed folds of the pocket. The photo below shows all but one side of the lining inserted into the pocket.

    • After all the edges of the pocket lining are tucked into the folds of the pocket, and the lining is flat and smooth, stitch the pocket hem as shown below.

    • Now you are ready to stitch the pocket onto the shirt...where your top-stitching or edge-stitching will "auto-magically" secure the remaining edges of the lining.

    Playing with transfers again........a "Gathered Strap" Tank Top

    Saturday, August 8, 2009
    These heat transfers are just too much fun!

    Willow's Blue Dotty Tank With Gathered strap

    I made this a few days ago for my niece Willow. Starting with a simple tank-top pattern, I ran a line of hand stitching across one "strap", gathered it, and then secured the stitching on the wrong side. Of course, this was done after the transfer was applied.

    The transfer graphic was rendered at from a melange of words.."Willow, Peace, Swim, Water, Love, Smile"
    I printed it onto a sheet of T-Shirt Transfer Paper that you can get at office supply or craft stores, and applied it according to the directions.

    I haven't seen my nieces in several months...but tomorrow my sister, her husband, and the girls are coming for a visit. I am so excited about seeing them...I sure hope that they like their new tops!

    "Twisted Shoulder" Tattoo Tank Top

    Thursday, July 30, 2009
    This fun and funky top was made for my niece Bella, age 8.
    Sadly, she has out-grown ruffles...sigh...

    Bella's twisted-shoulder Top

    I started by using one of the iron-on transfers from the book "Tattoo Tees" (see post below for book details).

    After the "Tattoo" was set, I cut out Ottobre Design Pattern #13, from the 04/07 issue. It is just a flared T-shirt top. I decided to omit the sleeves, and to add a little twist detail to one shoulder:

    To allow for the twist, I added 1/2" in length to one front shoulder as I was cutting it out. Next I sewed the UN-twisted front shoulder seam to its matching back shoulder...then finished the armholes, neckline and hem with the serger because I wanted a very casual look for this top. The other front shoulder was twisted once (maybe twice...I just twisted it until it looked "right"). The remaining shoulder seams were then sewn as usual, Right Sides Together.

    This top was fun and fast to sew...about 45 minutes from start to finish!