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!