Friday, June 26, 2020

Tutorial: Prepping with Linen

Isabel and I have a little cross-continent sewing project underway. We've decided to make Sew House Seven's Tea House Dress (on the right).

This tutorial is to assist Isabel in prepping her Merchant and Mills Laundered Linen. Prep work done properly and not rushed makes everything come together more easily. It's the sewist's equivalent to doing a wet-blocked gauge swatch in knitting.
Start by finishing the raw edges of the fabric. We both have Singer's Heavy Duty 4423 which has an overcast foot and setting. You could also use a serger, or in a pinch sew a straight line and pink the edge, although with linen that might not be enough. If you do nothing, when you pre-wash the linen you''ll end up with an impossibly tangled mass of threads and probably a damaged chunk of expensive fabric.

Now wash the fabric on hot and dry it on hot. THREE TIMES. You can save on soap by using just water alone for the second and third washes. Also, make sure to wash the linen with a few other items of a similar colour so that it doesn't clump together into a crumpled heap in either the washer or dryer. I often throw in some other fabric or old towels. Your lint catcher will be shockingly full. Many sewing instructions say to treat linen more gently, but in fact linen is tough and once it's properly shrunk you'll never have to worry about laundry accidents.

Next, straighten the grain of the fabric so that when you fold it for cutting, the ends will match. Failure to do this will ruin the way your garment hangs. You can't tear linen in the same way as cotton. Make a small horizontal cut into the selvedge and gently pull on a thread.

The pulled thread will show as a line across the fabric. See?

You likely won't get more than 12" before the thread breaks. Cut along the line of the pulled thread as far as the break, then find a new thread to pull just above or below the previous one.

Eventually you'll get all the way across the fabric. No one said prepping fabric was quick. Keep reminding yourself of how much easier the sewing will be.

When you get all the way across, pull a few threads until you get one that zips all the way from one selvedge to the other. The edge will look somewhat frayed.

With your scissors, snip away the frayed edge until you have a nice clean line.

Time to do the other raw edge.

Finally, it's time to press the entire piece. Depending on how your fabric has been woven, you may notice that the selvedges are tighter than the main body of fabric. In this case if you do nothing, they'll draw those edges in and make it hard to get a flat surface for cutting. See how the selvedge on the right is pulling up on the fabric?

To solve this, make little snips into the selvedges about every 2 inches to allow them to open up as you press with a steam iron.

Now it's time to prep your paper pattern. I always want to preserve the original, so I buy rolls of tracing paper to make my own paper pieces. It means I can come back to the original whenever I want to make a different size or alterations. This particular pattern is printed onto very large sheets of rather thin tissue paper. To make things easier to handle I roughly cut out the tissue paper pieces, then trace around the size I want. I do most of this on the dining room table, but for a few smaller pieces I tape both tissue paper and tracing paper to our front window with washi tape and use the light coming through the window to make the tracing easier.

Once the tracing paper pieces are cut out, I shorten some to adjust for my lack of height. Sew House Seven's website says that the patterns are designed for someone 5'6". Seems that only a few decades ago patterns were mostly made for women who were 5'4". Women must be getting taller. I'm only 5'1". Here's the rule for shortening. Take the difference between the two heights and divide by 2, then distribute the result in a way that's appropriate for the pattern.

I am 5" shorter than the designed-for height. 5 divided by 2 = 2 1/2 ". Since I don't want to interfere with the yoke of the dress, I follow the advice on the printed pattern and remove 2 1/2" from the lower hem. I also decide to take 2 1/2" off the ties, even though there was no suggestion to do that.
So, now I'm ready to lay out the fabric, trace around my pieces with tailor's chalk, and cut them out. Yay!

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Tutorial: Charting Decreases

This is going to be a boring and technical post with no pretty pictures. I'm in the process of editing Willingdon in advance of sending out PDFs of the draft to my testers. I've just been through the instructions for the upper body, which involve both raglan and neck decreases. There's a lot going on all at once, as these decreases occur at different rates. It's one of those annoying situations where the instructions explain how to do the raglan decreases, then the next paragraph begins with those ominous words, "AT THE SAME TIME". Yes, I always write this phrase in bold caps, hoping to catch the attention of those knitters who have failed to read the entire pattern through before charging ahead (haven't we all been guilty of this?)
To simplify matters for myself, both as designer and knitter, I make charts. Here's an example of the chart for size 49".

I could do this with EXCEL, but find it much easier to use paper and pencil, which allow for more portable and easier changes. There's no definitive way to set these things up. I have separate columns for sleeves, body, and front sections. I show only RS rows. The asterisks show where to do the neck decreases. The dashes indicate RS rows where no decreases take place. As I work my way down a chart, I simply check off rows as completed. At any point I can double-check my stitch count, and most importantly, I never have to hold my breath as I near the end, wondering whether the whole decrease event will work out as intended. Try charting. You'll like it. Unless you crave suspense, that is.
*My chart has more numbers than you will need, as this is a designer's chart used in "grading" the pattern, i.e. writing it up in different sizes.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Collar Island?

Is there such a place as "Collar Island"? There ought to be. I always underestimate the length of time it takes to knit a deep shawl collar. It inevitably feels like forever. The only way for me to get it done is to pull up a good audio book on my phone and stick with it.

Finally, on Day 2, while dinner was in the oven, I finished the casting off (regular casting off in pattern for the buttonbands, and Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off for the collar).

Now only the underarm closure (this method), weaving in, and blocking remain. Look carefully and you'll notice that the lower body has already been blocked while the upper body and most of one sleeve are still a puckered mess. Time to get out the button box to see what might work.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Getting On with It

I know a lot of you have been waiting for the Willingdon cardigan.

I'm finally back to editing the pattern, which I actually wrote up back in March, before the lockdown. As usual, I'm knitting a different size from my own instructions before I pass the pattern on to testers. If you think you'd like to be a tester, please let me know through Ravelry. The wool I'm using is Cascade Eco+. The yardage calculations still await completion, but I can confidently say that up through size 40", only two skeins are required.

The blessedly cool weather, 16C, means that I'm actually wearing my grey Willingdon while working on the aqua version. When the weather heats up, my knitting tends to slow down or stop. No air conditioning here, other than the breezes off Lake Ontario. More than breezes blew in last week. Check out the marble-sized hail that fell out of the sky. Sorry for the fuzzy photo; I think I was in shock, as were the vehicle alarms that the storm set off up and down the street.

Now it's back to sunshine. The view from the window in front of my laptop is all lush June greenery.

I sent this photo to Isabel who is stuck in her California studio apartment, without ready access to Mother Nature. Please, let there be a vaccine in our future!

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Tutorial: Bias Binding Shortcut

Yes, this is a SEWING tutorial. An explanation... We're in COVID-19 lockdown, and the border is closed. Even if it weren't, there's no safe, simple way for Isabel to get to Canada. She's working from her studio apartment in California, and to provide herself with some extra amusement, she's bought herself a sewing machine. She already knows the basics, but I'm providing additional guidance from across the continent. This tutorial is for her. You might find it useful too.

What is bias binding?
It consists of a strip of fabric, cut on the bias (diagonal) for stretch, that's applied to a raw edge such as an armhole, neck edge, or pocket.

Why not just apply a facing?
There may be times when that's preferable, but in general, I like to use bias binding because it's simple to apply, doesn't require careful ironing after laundering, and makes a beautiful tidy edge.

Why make your own?
It's customizable, simple to do, and adds some pizazz to an otherwise staightforward garment. You can make a whole whack of it at once and have it on hand for when you need it.

What do I need to get started?
  • a 100% cotton fat quarter (this is a quilter's cut). I prefer batik cotton because even though it's more expensive, it's tightly woven and makes a nice firm edge. Make sure to wash and dry it a few times on hot to pre-shrink.
  • Follow this tutorial to make a long length of bias binding 1 1/4" in width. Use the shortest stitch length possible when sewing so that when you cut, nothing will come undone. Here's what you'll end up with.

  • Pins.
  • Sewing machine.
  • Steam iron.
OK, so what's the shortcut? 
With this method there's no need to pre-iron folds into the tape, no need to sew the ends of the tape together, no need to grade any seam allowances, no need to understitch anywhere. (I should add that I also rarely bother to staystitch.) Major time savers.

1. Finger press one end of the tape into a 1/4" fold as shown below and, right sides together, pin the tape all the way around the armhole/neck. When you all the way back to the beginning, overlap the ends and cut. The stitching will hold the folded end under to create a tidy closure.

2. Stitch around the edge with a 1/4" seam allowance. (The diagonal seam you see here was made during the bias binding making process.)

3. Press the tape and the seam allowance away from the body of the garment.

4. Fold #1: turn the raw edge of the binding back toward the garment and line it up with the stitching and press it into place.

5. Fold #2: Fold the entire width of the binding toward the inside of the garment again, leaving just a narrow edge of the main fabric peeking over to the inside.

6. Pin the folded binding in place,

7. and edgestitch.

Here's the resulting armhole from the right side.

The finished Ashton Top is ready to wear. I've been using this type of edging for years, and it wears extremely well. There's no curling to the right side and I love the look of the printed binding, even though only I can see it.

The perfect linen summer top. If only the weather would feel like summer. Brrr!
It may be only 13C, but the lilacs are out,
and the horse chestnuts.