Warm Thing, you make my heart sing!

I had thought this garment would be done and blogged Monday or Tuesday, but I ended up in the hospital quite suddenly early this week. No need to worry. I’m going to be fine once we stabilize things, and there aren’t any new problems here, just old symptoms and old problems.  I lost a bit of time this week and am still moving sort of slowly, but I’ll be fine.

And one of the side effects right now is that I am always freezing. Brr! Chicago isn’t exactly tropical this time of year. So when I saw this Warm Thing from DKNY, you can bet I gazed longingly at the picture.

dkny warm thing

I’ll take one in every color, please

Ok, so, yeah, I admit my first thought was that I’ve seen muumuus with more bodycon. This isn’t anyone’s idea of a date dress. Or if it is, I don’t want to know your other ideas about what’s sexy! Yikes. But after I got over the lumpy shapeless sack effect, I knew I had to have this garment.

Actually, after a bit of pondering, I decided to make several variations on this garment. I knew I would want a big, roomy, ankle-length one just like this to throw on over my clothes on a cold day. But then I thought, I might as well make a shorter one with a bit of body shaping, something like a more fitted tunic version of this garment. And guess what new pattern was issued just as I was having that thought?


McCall’s 7061

That’s a nightgown pattern for a knee-length hoodie with some waist shaping and a kangaroo pocket on the front. Some years ago, I made a similar nightgown (shaped hem, pouch pocket) for myself out of some cheap printed sweatshirt fleece bought from the clearance bins at a chain store that doesn’t even exist anymore. Cloth World, you guys. Remember that place? Anyway, I have fond memories of that nightgown and wore it like a sweatshirt over everything on cold days. It was, like the DKNY Warm Thing, definitely not sexy, but I wore it around the house all the time, to the point that family members started to ask me to make the same thing for them. If I wore it that much, it had to be good — that was their thinking, and they were dead right. It was good. Super cozy and warm. I wore it until it was in shreds.

So I figured my first iteration of the DKNY Warm Thing knock-off would be made from this McCall’s pattern. I briefly toyed with the idea of doing side seam pockets instead of the kangaroo pouch, but I wanted this first one to be fitted, and side seam pockets would disrupt the line. So I stuck with the pouch idea and headed to JoAnn’s for some polar fleece. Their fleece isn’t top quality, but it’s cheap and it’s good enough for a garment that I’ll never wear outside the house.

Around this time every year, as people switch to cold-weather sewing, the boards and blogs start talking about how to sew fleece. It’s a surprisingly tricky fabric because of three factors: bulk, curl, and heat intolerance. Bulk — the textile is very thick, and seams can be lofty and unwieldy, particularly at crossing points like crotch/leg joins. Curl — it’s a knit, and like many knits, it curls up along a horizontal raw edge and inward along a vertical raw edge, which can make it a bit hard to control and can prevent the seams from laying flat. Heat intolerance — we might ordinarily use steam pressing to flatten bulk and curl, but this stuff can’t handle an iron hot enough to make steam. The fiber will melt. Some people advocate using the point of the iron to briefly press a seam, but the fabric is so thick that the heat cannot penetrate the inner layers before it has melted the outer layers. I haven’t had good luck using that point pressing technique.

Instead, I use stitched seams to control and flatten the bulk, prevent curl, and create a neat finish. This works for me, but as with any technique I discuss here, you might prefer a different method.

So, first, I just sew a standard 5/8 seam, except I try to keep the fabric just a mite inside that 5/8 marking on my sewing machine template. This is because the loft and curl along that cut edge can mask the actual dimensions of the seam allowance. Yes, commercial sewing patterns are designed with a 1/8″ tolerance in the seams, but I’ve just learned through past fleece adventures that this tolerance is not enough with a very bulky fabric. So 5/8 minus just a smidgen is what I am for, like so.


The raw edge isn’t quite flush with the 5/8 line

Then, I trim one of the seam allowances — just one — to about half its width. This smaller seam allowance will be hidden under its partner soon. Trimming reduces bulk in the seam, and that’s the sole purpose of this particular step.


Then, I fold both seam allowances to one side so that the trimmed seam allowance is sandwiched between the untrimmed seam allowance and the garment fabric. On the right side, I topstitch the seam allowances to the garment fabric, using my presser foot as a gauge. The right side of the presser foot is aligned with the seam itself.


This can be tricky on sleeves and other tight tubes!

And that’s it. This second line of stitching/topstitching flattens the bulk and holds the fabric so that it won’t curl. This is what it looks like from the right side.


And this is what it looks like from the wrong side. Notice that you only see one raw edge. This is because the second raw edge is encased inside the stitching rows.


Also, on the kangaroo pouch, I used two lines of stitching everywhere the pattern called for one line. I’ve just found that two lines of stitching cuts down on the fabric’s tendency to curl, and it compresses the fabric to reduce bulk, and it substitutes for a pressing by holding the fabric in place. It doesn’t seem to matter if the two lines of stitches are very close (a scant 1/8″) or relatively far apart (a generous 3/8″). But I don’t use a twin needle for this — I sew each line separately — because the underside of a twin needle stitch can bubble a bit and add bulk right where we’re trying to reduce bulk. It can also encourage the fabric to curl if the twin needle stitching is parallel to the fabric’s natural curl direction.

This is a close up of part of the pouch pocket showing the stitching.


This picture really shows how the stitching compresses the fabric. Just look at either side of the stitching lines, and you can see how the fabric puffs up away from the stitches. But along those lines, at least, the fabric is compressed enough that the bulk won’t be uncomfortable.

Here’s the final garment. It’s definitely shapelier than the DKNY Warm Thing, but it’s still not exactly bodycon. But for something to wear around the house in the cold dark winter? It’s just what I need.


I’m already at work on a giant, roomy, raglan-sleeved version of the DKNY Warm Thing and should have it done in the next day or two. And I had enough of the dark gray stuff from this first version to make a pair of matching pants in a pattern designed specifically for this textile, so we’ll see how that goes!

How do you wrangle your fleece into submission?




Another type of skirt waistband alteration

A few weeks back, I showed you a method I use to reduce the waist on a simple straight skirt (link). Today I’ll show you how I made that same alteration on a skirt with a fitted yoke waist.

I recently sewed Vogue 8837 (link), a knit skirt with a shaped yoke and shirt-tail hem. When I was cutting this skirt, I was primarily concerned with the finished length of 33″ — as drafted, it would have come nearly to my ankles. I shortened it eight inches (link), and I could have sworn I checked the finished waist measurements on the pattern tissue before cutting.

Apparently not.


How does it even stay up? GIANT!

So, okay, I made a mistake and didn’t measure the waistband, sigh, bummer, etc. This is easy to fix, though. I I didn’t even have to remove the yoke to reshape it. This yoke is one large piece, folded over at the top so that the fabric is doubled. You can see the seam across the hips where the yoke joins the rest of the skirt. That’s almost exactly at the true hip, which on my petite frame is 7″ below true waist. So I started by detaching the folded-over portion of the yoke from the skirt (that’s the facing portion, the “private” side that touches the skin, not the “public” side that faces outward). I left the public side stitched in place.


Skirt waistband interior

You can see the stitching and seam allowances running horizontally on this picture. You can also see that the side seam of the yoke curves inward a bit — not nearly enough for someone with my hourglass, but it isn’t straight from hip to waist. What I needed to do was increase the shaping there to make it smaller through the waist. So I started by marking the point where I wanted the new waist curve to end up. It’s a little hard to see on that picture because the dressmaker’s ruler is clear with red markings, but the white chalk mark is 1.5″ in from the original waist point. It’s smack in the vertical middle of the waistband because when we fold the waist back over to stitch it down, that’s where the fold will be.

Next, I extended that dot into a dash of about 1″, or a half-inch extending on either side of the dot. The purpose of this little flat line portion is to smooth out the curve on the waistband. You know how some waistbands are rectangles and some are curved? I wanted the rectangular effect at the very top bit of the waistband, but I wanted the rest of it to curve.


Marking the flat/rectangular portion of the waistband

Then I used the curved portion of the ruler to extend this line to the hip seam and the top raw edge. This isn’t precise engineering. All you really have to do is find an angle that looks right — pay attention to the way the angle changes over the length of the ruler, because the curve will be steeper at one end than the other. I wanted it steeper as it approached the flat rectangle portion, so I flipped the curve around and positioned it until it looked about right, aiming for the point where the seam allowances at the side seam and the hem seam would cross.


Yeah, okay, that should do it

Then I flipped it around and used the same points on the ruler to draw the same arc from the waist to the stitched hem end. This is what the line looked like.


New stitching line marked in chalk

That sweet little line represents a 6″ reduction in the waist size — or, 1.5″ times four. Do you understand why it’s times four? There are two side seams, and each side seam consists of two pieces. So if we make this 1.5″ reduction on each of two pieces and two seams, that’s four reductions. We don’t have to do it this way. If we have a big belly or an extremely tiny back waist, we can shape the back and front waist yoke pieces in different ways to accommodate those body shapes. But in my case, this symmetrical shaping usually works pretty well.

While I’m thinking of different ways we can shape these yokes, I should mention that I considered adding darts instead of altering the side seams this dramatically. I thought I could trim the side seams a half inch and then do some half inch darts in the front and back and achieve the same reduction. With a different fabric, I might have done exactly this. But this particular ponte (from Mood — link) is heavy enough to be made into coats, and so I wanted to keep the seaming to a minimum. Thicker fabrics work better with fewer of these fine shaping details. In another fabric, though, I might have used darts to distribute the reduction around the circumference of the waist.

Next, I stitched on the chalk lines and trimmed away the extra fabric.


Hunka hunka burning red ponte knit

One thing that might be apparent from this picture is that the angle of that curve is pretty steep along the waist to the hip. And the angle from hip seam to hem is about as straight as any skirt gets. This meant that we shifted from steep angle to straight side seam right at that hip seam, and it made the crossing bit — where the side seam crosses the hip seam — want to stick out a little bit. So I ended up stitching a bit of an angle below the hip seam, too, just to smooth out the transition. It was only a tiny bit of stitching, but it made a big difference in the smoothness of the fit over the hips. That stitching line started about 1/2″ above the hip seam and extended down about a half inch below it.

After all the stitching was done, and the yoke was folded back over and restitched at the hip seam, this is the fit. I’m standing a little twisty to take the photo, but when I stand normally, that side seam does hang at the proper angle. I wanted to take a side view shot so you can see the shirt-tail hem effect at the knee, which was what drew me to this pattern in the first place.


The fit at the waist is ever so much better now! It will even stay up if I don’t hold it in place, much to the disappointment of the neighborhood perverts. I’ll trim the seam allowances to remove some of the bulk and give it one more intensive pressing, but this thing is basically ready to wear. It’s a heavy enough fabric to wear with some fleece tights and boots even on a cold day.

But can you imagine what it would look like if I hadn’t shortened it eight inches? Yikes. That would be bad.

These are the two main alterations (length and waist reduction) I have to make in about every skirt or pants pattern. Do you have standard alterations, too? Or is your fitting done on a project-by-project basis?


One of my favorite gadgets

I bought this really cool gadget at a sewing expo, and I never add buttons without it. It’s handy for sweaters, shirts, skirts — any kind of garment, any kind of fabric, as long as the button band is straight rather than curved.


SimFlex Expanding Sewing Gauge

This is basically a metal accordion doohicky with helpful pointy bits on the end. Those helpful point bits are two-pronged and manage to be about the same width as the holes in a 2-hole button, which makes aligning buttons very easy.

For my Dark Pearl cardigan, I used the top and bottom hem to mark the top and bottom button placement and sewed those into place. Then I used the doohicky to mark the placement of the other buttons.


All you have to do is expand the accordion to match whatever you’re doing — here, I use the top and bottom buttons as my guide, and the middle two prongs mark the spots for the other two buttons. No tape measure required! This tool was a little pricey, almost twenty bucks, but it is worth every penny. No more trying to do math in my head as I try to divide inches by eighths! Just point the prongs, mark, and sew. Perfect results every time.


Forgive the headless selfie — let’s just say I’m looking for a new hair stylist and leave it at that. I’m very pleased with how this cardigan turned out. There were a few rough moments with the ugly yarn, but a bit of dye took care of that, and the sweater fits beautifully. I love the way the lace panel drapes across the yoke, and I can imagine wanting to wear this one All The Time.

What sewing gadgets do you love? Have you ever splurged on a gadget and discovered it’s more an essential than a splurge?


A quick tip for sewing curved seams

I’m working on my fitting muslin for the Vogue 1419 Ralph Rucci coat — this beauty, remember?


Anyway, I’m doing a fitting muslin rather than a construction muslin — that is, the purpose of my muslin is to work out any fitting issues rather than any construction issues. On the sew-along blog, they advocate making a construction muslin to practice all the construction techniques on this masterpiece pattern, and now that I’m actually looking at the instructions, I can see why. There are loads of techniques in this coat that we don’t often use in run-of-the-mill garment construction.

I have to give Vogue Patterns a lot of credit for these instructions, though. They throw in lots of small details to make the process easier, including a note to “clip seams if necessary” in different places. Here’s one of the place that clipping seams is necessary. Here we join the side panel to the front panel along the side seam.


Here, both pieces are face up — right sides showing. You can see the red notches that have to match at the seam lines. The top red notches look about parallel, but the bottom red notches are staggered by at least an inch. The curves on the raw edge are pretty smooth and fit together almost like a jigsaw puzzle. But look what happens when you put the right sides together to make that seam. I’m just going to flip the piece on the right on top of the left side piece — pay attention to the two small red dots between the notches, which will help you distinguish between these two muslin pieces.


Those curves don’t line up so smoothly anymore. It becomes tricky to sew and tricky to keep the seam smooth there. The solution is clipping the seam. That would be the bottom seam — the curved piece to the right, the one without the two red dots. I always confuse the terms complex and compound, so forgive me for not being able to use to proper terminology here. But that curve on the right piece, without the dots, will feel tight if you try to pull it into a straight line. Frequent (1″ or less) clips into the seam allowance will let the piece stretch a bit so that you can match it to the other curve more easily.


Just make sure you don’t clip through more than the seam allowance. You don’t even have to clip all the way to the seam line, as that picture shows. I find a notch of around 3/8″ is usually enough, but on particularly tight curves, deeper and more frequent clips might be necessary. And as you can see in this photo, I only clipped one of the two pieces. The other was fine as it was.

In any case, once those clips are made, the notches are easier to match and the whole piece fits together just like a perfect jigsaw puzzle again. Just thought I’d mention this because we don’t always see the “clip where necessary” instruction in patterns, but we still might have to know when to do it. Curves, baby. It’s all about the curves.


A simple waistband alteration on paper

The other day, when I blogged about my 90-minute skirt, I mentioned that I removed four inches from the waist in the pattern. This alteration was made before I cut the fabric, an adjustment to the pattern itself. I find paper alterations to be easy and effective. They don’t take a lot of time and they make the final fitting easier. Here’s how I did this particular adjustment.

All you need are a tape measure, paper, a drafting ruler, and a dose of self-awareness. I have several different kinds of paper I keep on hand.


On the left is a bolt of Pellon (a brand of non-woven interfacing), available at any sewing store for around $3 a yard. I use my 40% JoAnn coupons on this stuff, buying the biggest bolt I can find so that I always have plenty. The pre-printed blue grid lines are one inch square, and that fact makes this stuff a worthy investment. It’s sheer enough to lay over the pattern tissue and trace, and if you know you’re moving thus-and-so line an inch, that inch is already marked on the Pellon. (Online sources: Amazon, fabric.com, ShopPellon.com) You can also sew this stuff, so it can double as a muslin for tricky to fit items like boned corsets. You can write on it with a Sharpie or other marking tool, but it is slightly prone to bleed-through, so mind what you have under it.

In the middle is a roll of plain paper. It’s slightly sheer, resists bleeding, and is about 18″ wide — I look for rolls in the 18-24″ width range, which seem to work best. This particular roll is from Staples, but this sort of paper is available at any office supply store. Look in the art paper area for banner rolls, but avoid Kraft paper, which is opaque. Something slightly sheer works better. I lay this paper right over the pattern tissue and trace the size I want, and then alter on paper from there.

On the right is an end roll of newspaper. A friend’s husband works in periodical publishing and he provided this, but you can often get these just by stopping into the local news office and asking. They ordinarily give away the end rolls if they have any handy. I know area school teachers who use this stuff for all sorts of classroom decorations, are projects, disposable table covers, and so on. It’s opaque, so I tend to use it to make copies of existing pattern piece — something I’ve done pretty regularly as I’ve lost weight and needed to adjust my slopers. I also use this when I decide I would like to take an existing t-shirt pattern and make it into a tunic or dress, for example — bigger alterations to existing patterns where I want to preserve the original pattern.

So, first I measure the pattern tissue at certain key points — in this case, the waistline, but I also measured hips. On most commercial patterns, the hip line will be 9″ below the waist line, so even if it is not marked, you can still estimate where the hip will be. (In my case, I measure the hip around 7-8″ below the waist because I am petite.) In this case, the hip was a good measurement for my body, but the waist was pretty big.


The smallest waist measurement for this particular skirt back piece was 9.5″. This piece is cut on the fold, as is the front piece. So, we subtract the 5/8″ at the seam allowance from the 9.5″ (9.5 – 0.625 = 8.875) and then double the answer because this piece is cut on the fold (8.875 x 2 = 17.75). The finished back piece will thus measure 17.75″ across the waist. The front piece was identical, meaning the finished waist would have measure 35.5″ wide.


This is where a bit of self-awareness comes in, but first we have to talk about ease. “Ease” is the word we use to describe the difference between body measurements and garment measurements. Positive ease means that the garment is larger than the body. Negative ease means that the garment is smaller than the body (often found in knitted garments). Wearing ease is the standard amount of positive ease that will make a garment fit comfortably at key measurement points, such as waist and bust — the measurements printed on the pattern envelope are places where ease is measured routinely. Then there is design ease, which is what the designer adds or subtracts to make the garment look a certain way. Cigarette pants have minimal design ease through the legs, and palazzo pants have a ton of design ease in the same place, which is why the two kinds of pants look so different. Also, woven fabrics will need more ease than knitted garments because knitted garments will stretch and move with the body in ways that woven fabrics will not.

So. I know that for me, my waist measurement is just a notch over 29″ right now. And I know that with an elastic waistband, I measure the elastic piece to have an inch of negative ease, so about 28″ once it is lapped and sewn. This is the self-awareness part — I know that anything bigger than that, in an elastic waistband, will feel droopy to me and I’ll spend the day tugging on my waistband. The waist on that pattern measures to 35.5″, and I would want to use elastic to draw in 7.5″ of that, which seemed like a lot to me. I don’t like the way a very gathered waist looks on my body — dirndls are just godawful hideous on me these days. So I knew I wanted to remove some of that excess, and I started by marking a point 1″ in on the side seams at the waist on the pattern piece. Then I used my drafting ruler to draw a new curve from that point to the hip.


I also marked the alteration on the pattern piece, only because I know from experience that I can never remember what I did.


And that’s it. That 1″ adjustment on the front and back pieces removed 4″ from the waist, reducing it from 35.5″ finished to 31.5″ finished measure. I still used the 28″ waistband elastic finished measurement, so that meant the waistband was gathered slightly but not much. I also trimmed a bit off the waistband pattern piece, which was a plain rectangle with no waist shaping, so this meant simply hacking off four inches there, too, without worrying about waistband shaping.

This particular alteration is among the easiest to make, and I make it as a matter of routine on my skirt and pant waistbands.


A printed maxiskirt

As long as I had McCall’s 6608 out of the envelope for pattern prep, I decided to cut another maxiskirt, this one in an exquisite lawn from The Needle Shop. This tiny but well-curated shop has the best lawns I’ve ever sewn with, as smooth as silk charmeuse, every bit as excellent as a Liberty Tana Lawn, but at less than half the price. This particular lawn had a zigzag stripe that I initially thought I would cut on the bias for View C, the striped skirt on the pattern envelope.


I prepped the pattern (shortened it about 5″ at the top of the thigh, that is, and regraded the seams), and then laid it out on the fabric to do some print matching along the seam lines. But the more I looked at it, the less I wanted to cut it on the bias. Something about the zigzags just wasn’t reading right on the bias. So I ended up cutting it on the straight of grain instead. I measured the pieces carefully to be certain I would have enough ease down the length of the skirt to accommodate this change. Bias draping adds a tiny bit of give to the finished piece — not stretch, exactly, not in the same way a knit would stretch. But woven fabrics do stretch a little along the bias, so I wanted to be certain the changed cutting plan wouldn’t result in a too-tight skirt. It should work out just fine. There’s plenty of ease built into this one.

When I was first learning to sew, my grandmother taught me a print-matching trick that I find much easier to use than pattern markings. Most matching techniques have you match notches or some similar markings on the pattern piece to the print on the fabric. This technique has you match the fabric pieces instead. In this case, there was a skirt front and a skirt back that needed to be matched along the side seams. I started by cutting the skirt front. I paid attention to where to print lines fell, but only enough to be sure they would fall in a pleasing place on the finished skirt front. Then I laid out the skirt back in an approximation of where I thought the patterns would match, more or less.

Next, I took this cut skirt front and laid it on the fabric where I would cut the skirt back, matching the print so that the skirt front laid exactly on top of the print in a nearly invisible match. Here, you can see that the pattern piece (the gridded pellon at the top of the picture) is laid loosely where I think I might cut it — the marker lines on the pellon are  the side seams for the skirt back. I am matching the cut skirt front (held in my fingers) to the print on the uncut fabric near the seam to match the print.


Once the skirt front is laid atop the fabric, you can easily see how the side seams will sew together, and you can lay the pattern piece with a little more precision. I fold under the seam allowance on the pattern piece to make it even easier to see where the stitching line will fall.


Then, once the pattern piece is laid out so that the pattern will match, I remove the cut skirt front piece and cut out the back. This might sound complicated in this description, but I find it infinitely easier — and infinitely more precise — that the normal practice of matching markings on the pattern tissue.

What tricks do you have for matching prints when cutting fabric?




Everyday French Seams

Normally, we think of French seams as a technique to use with sheer fabrics. However, because I like the clean interior finish of a French seam, I do a modified French seam wherever I can on a wide range of light woven fabrics, sheer or not. My modified version of the French seam accounts for the standard 5/8″ seam allowance in commercial patterns, and ends up around a quarter inch wide instead of the 1/8″ or narrower seam we would hope to achieve on a sheer fabric. Here’s how I do it.

Step One.

With wrong sides together, stitch a 3/8″ seam.


Step Two.

Trim the seam to about half its width (so between an eighth and a quarter inch).


Here’s a view of the trimming without the scissors in the way.


Step Three.

Press this seam three times.

First, press it flat to set the stitches. (Because we always do this, with all seams, to set the stitches.)

Second, open out the fabric and press the seam allowance to one side, like so. This is optional, but it opens up the seam and makes it much easier to do the next (third) press.


Third, flip the fabric around so that right sides are together and press the seam flat. This preps it for the final stitching.


Step Four.

Stitch this beautifully pressed piece using a 1/4″ seam. This, plus the 3/8″ from the first stitching line, equals the standard 5/8″ seam allowance. Because you trimmed the seam allowance in Step Two, no bits of seam allowance should poke through to the right side after this seam is sewn.


Step Five.

More pressing! But you know the old saying — good pressing makes good sewing. First, press the seam flat to set the stitches. Then, press the encased French seam bit to the back from the wrong side. Then, just because I am a bit nutty about a perfect press, I press again from the right side to ensure a smooth, even seam.


And that’s it. For this pair of blue broadcloth pajama pants (McCall’s 6249, same pattern and mods as the voile pair in the previous post, with fabric from The Needle Shop), I used this seaming method on inner and outer leg seams. It gives a clean, durable seam. For the crotch seam, I used a standard plain seam with a zigzag overcast on the raw edges. Because these ordinary, everyday, 5/8″ French seams are a little bulkier than their trimmer (and, let’s admit it, more professional) cousin, they’re not so nice in a crotch seam. Ahem. No further information needed on that one.

Here are the finished pajama pants. I am now the proud owner of two whole entire pairs of pajama pants that fit. So now, if I decide to be a lazy bum on both weekend days and not really get dressed or leave the house, I can do that. Go, me?


What do you like to wear on your at-home, too-lazy-to-dress days?