Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Project Runway preview, continued

Welcome back to part two of my Project Runway season 13 preview! I forgot to mention this last week, but commentor Amy reminded me: in addition to these designers, there will be a "Runway Redemption" contestant brought back from an old season. It will be either Alexander, Amanda, or Ken. If those are my only choices then I'd pick Alexander. I think he was eliminated right before Fashion Week though he deserved to go.

But let's finish off the facts and figures about the rest of the cast!

Kini--Lots of education and experience. He comes from Hawaii so he likely has a different perspective than all the NYC designers. He makes the second designer to list Craigslist as a favorite website (what?!). Has done a lot of cool stuff with denim.

Korina--All designer and not so much workmanship. Anya proved that this is a combination that CAN work...but that depends on your aesthetic. If you're not making maxi dresses every week than you probably can't get by on ideas alone. A lot of her work is asymmetrical, which drives me bonkers.

Kristine--Now this girl I like! Although her work is a bit crazy. Seems realistic about fashion as a business, but that doesn't limit her creatively. And THIS: Fashion must? Fashion as a style: Wear what you are confident about and what expresses your true self.

The Mitchell Perry--Okay, I wanted to dislike this guy because of how he phrases his name (apparently the domain name was already taken), but he won me over with one of his responses to the online Q&A. In case you've never read one of those, the producers always ask the designers what they would design for Michelle Obama. After all these years, I'm so tired of this question. The Mitchel Perry responded with a similar sentiment, that he wouldn't necessarily want to design for her. THANK YOU!

Nzinga--Uh oh, she lists estimating time for garment completion as a weakness. Her designs are very soft and pretty, which always goes over well with the judges. As long as she doesn't get too ambitious with a zillion yards of pleating!

Samantha--It took my approximately 30 seconds to read her entire Q&A, that's how brief she was. Her portfolio was a strange mix of torture devices and easy separates. The only remotely unique thing she said was that she hates open shower curtains. So...there's that.

Sandhya--Watched PR from her native India for years, but only recently could apply due to moving to the states. I respect that a lot, since many contestants don't even watch the show, which irks me. Some of her fabric choices were so colorful that it was hard to make sense of the style lines.

Sean--He lists Uggs as his most-hated fashion faux pas, so we can be best friends. All of the photos in his online bio are of menswear...I hope someone mentioned to him that this show primarily designs for women? Also, he's from New Zealand, so I probably will be so busy listening to his accent that he could design a paper sack and I'd want him to be safe.

Tim--His mom taught him to sew. He says that when he was a kid, if he didn't like his hand-me-downs he was told to alter them to his liking. Ha! Sadly, he has a vest obsession. I hope it doesn't show up in all his designs. His background is mostly in tailoring, so I worry for him if there's an eveningwear challenge.

Between the first batch and this group, does anybody stand out to you? If I have to make a prediction (and you all demanded one, right?) then I'd guess Angela will be first out (or maybe Fäde), and my guess for a winner will be Carrie or Emmanuel. Project Runway premieres Thursday night at 9pm/est, and I'll be there with a glass of vino! Check back Friday for the first episode recap!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Knit Finishes Part 3: Narrow Hem

Hello again fellow sewists! Ready for another explanation of a knit finish?

Last week I wrote about one of my favorite knit finishes (binding) so why not follow that up with one of my least favorites? The dreaded narrow hem! But don't worry, I've got plenty of tips and tricks to help you.

A narrow hem is one of the laziest finishes (in my humble opinion) but is inexplicably the most common one called for in patterns (the Big 4, at least). Part of why it's so common is its versatility; you can sew a narrow hem on any opening. I've most often seen it along a neckline, bodice/skirt hem, and sleeveless armhole. Personally, I prefer a deep hem (at least 1") on the bodice of a shirt, though there is an argument to be made about bulk if your knit is medium to heavy weight. A curved skirt hem also needs a narrow hem to make easing the curve less difficult to sew.

A narrow hem is sewn exactly as it sounds. The fabric is turned to the wrong side by the amount allotted in the pattern.

If you're having trouble getting your pins into the hem, try pinning directly into your ironing board. Give it a good press with the appropriate amount of heat (high heat for natural fibers, low heat for polyester). Sew it down. Since knits do not fray, there is no need to turn the hem back a second time.

After the hem is sewn, press it again, with steam. The steam will help eliminate any waviness that appears as you're sewing the hem. You'll notice that I've used a straight stitch here. This is an arm opening for a Coastal Breeze Dress and it does not need to stretch to go over my body. I see no reason to use stretchy stitches (zig-zag, stretch stitch) unless absolutely necessary, so I use a straight stitch often on knits.

There are a few tricks you can use to make sewing narrow hems easier and to hopefully eliminate waves before they even appear. Waviness happens when your knit is stretched through the machine due to the contact between the feed dogs and the presser foot. If you have the ability to adjust the pressure foot pressure, trying reducing the pressure.

This is the presser foot pressure dial on my serger.
Sadly, my regular machine doesn't have one :(

If the fabric is lightweight and is being sucked down into your sewing machine, try using a stabilizing paper (here is a great article from Threads about stabilizers). I've never used a commercial stabilizer, but I've had lots of success with regular old tissue paper.

Place the tissue paper under the fabric and sew like normal. The paper provides more surface area for the feed dogs and prevents the fabric from disappearing down into the machine. Afterward, carefully pull the tissue paper away from the line of stitching.

Use tweezers to pull out leftover pieces. I recommend using tissue paper only on washable garments, as a quick trip through the washing machine will eliminate any pieces that are totally stuck under the thread. If your garment is not washable, then try to match the color of the paper with the color of your garment to hide any lingering shreds.

If you're working with a synthetic fabric, it might be nearly impossible to get it to stay flat long enough for you to sew it. In that case, I have a fantastic notion that will save you hours of headaches:

This tape is sticky on both sides, is a quarter inch wide, and dissolves in the wash. At my Jo-Ann Fabrics it is sold with the quilting notions, not the garment notions. It's also available from Amazon (affiliate link). Sadly, I've only found it in a quarter inch width. It's perfect for narrow hems, but I'd love if it came in a half inch (I've never used them, but I've heard good things about Emma Seabrooks' knit tapes as well).

To use, unroll it and stick it down on the raw edge of your fabric, on the wrong side. Remove the backing tape, and then fold.

The tape provides stability for a narrow, slippery hem, and works particularly great with unpressable synthetics. This tape is far superior to Steam-a-Seam, as it washes away and leaves your hem soft and natural.

Lastly, you can use clear elastic in a narrow hem in exactly the way I described for the dissolving tape. There is no need to stretch the elastic as you sew, it's simply there to provide stability and prevent your hem from sagging out over time. I've had success with this technique in a neckline of a boatneck tunic, as well as the front of a wrap dress. On this wrap dress, I used a glue stick to stick get the elastic to stay in place along the raw edge. I zig-zagged it down, then turned it to the wrong side and topstitched.

Wrong side, wrap dress

Right side

Who knew the most "simple" finish could require so many tricks? I'll be honest, it's been a long time since I've used a narrow hem, but on certain garments it's the only method you have available.

Next week: fold-over elastic (my nemesis!)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Project Runway preview!

Can you believe it's been seven months since Project Runway: All Stars ended, and three months since Under the Gunn?! It's been nine months since a "real" season of PR! Holy moley! In this desert wasteland of TV known as "summer" it will be nice to have something new to watch. Don't worry about me, I've been spending plenty of time outdoors, but by 9pm I'm comfortably settled in my jammies and ready to veg out.

I've taken a look at this season's contestants and done the hard work for you. Here's a quick summary of my impressions!

Alexander--1st time auditioning, loves black, wouldn't mind a team challenge: It all depends who is on my team, however I like the idea of being able to bounce ideas around and collaborating to make a strong look.

Angela--Honestly answered that she's not sure she could win, she could "have a bad day" and be eliminated. That's totally me! But she sounds very hard-working and determined, though inexperienced as she recently changed careers.

Carrie--Listed pink as one of her favorite colors, so a win for me! She has a lifetime of experience and can work quickly, which is always an advantage. However, her designs are intricate, and she might be one to run out of time and throw out a bad look.

Char--She's wearing jeans and a t-shirt in her photo online. I love her already. She's self-taught and listed knits as a favorite. She has some cool photos in her portfolio, but I have a hard time seeing a clear message about "who she is as a designer" which always riles up the judges for some reason.

Emily--She didn't make a huge impression on me, but she works at Britex, which is cool. Another knits lover. Could be a dark horse.

Emmanuel--I think he'll be a strong competitor. His portfolio shows a lot of range, from complicated menswear to simple, beautiful dresses. He has a lot of education and professional experience.

Fäde--"I used to cook until I bought a sewing machine, since then no time for anything else." Amen! That's how I feel. I'm not sure he has enough experience to go very far.

Hernan--He's already presented at Fashion Week. Kind of tight-lipped in his Q&A, but hey, at least he mentioned Heidi as one of his super model muses! She hardly ever gets a mention for some odd reason!

Jefferson--Claims to have a good sense of proportion, and I can see that in his work. Otherwise he seemed "completely ordinary in the best way" (any other Frozen watchers out there?).

Are your eyes glazing over yet? Mine too. This is only half the contestants. Stay tuned until next week and I'll review the rest! Project Runway premieres Thursday, July 24th at 9pm/est!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

My First Renfrew

Oh. My. Word.

It's taken me TWO MONTHS to blog this shirt. I whipped it up back in May (you can see it as part of MMM here) and kept meaning to blog it ASAP.

However, every time it came out of the laundry, it was on me within 24 hours (the "Golden Boy" of shirts as I just saw on an episode of Seinfeld). And then I'd forget to take pictures, and then I'd wear it to bed...anyway, enough excuses!

Altered pattern piece, back bodice.
The portion to the left of the green line was removed.

This is the Sewaholic Renfrew in a size 4 with significant width removed from the center-back along the shoulders, following this excellent tutorial. I think I removed maybe an inch (on the fold, so 2 inches!) and it's still not enough, as evidenced by some back neck gape. I have seriously narrow shoulders.

The fabric is a cotton/spandex knit from Girl Charlee. It is SO. SOFT. The bands on the sleeves and neckline are a solid black cotton/spandex, also from GC.

This was my first time sewing a V-neck, and the results are pretty good for a first try, I think. Black hides all sewing sins!

I went with the V-neck in order to keep this somewhat masculine print from overwhelming me and making the shirt look like boys' pajamas. I LOVE a V-neck, I think it's super flattering, so expect most of my Renfrews to go that route. And of course, there will be more! 

I've got a bunch planned (and apparently they're all striped!), but I'm waiting for a good time to sit down and make them all assembly-line style. Probably soon. I'm in love with the way this pattern is drafted, with just the right amount of ease through the torso, sleeves that are a cinch to sew in the flat, and yet it doesn't look sloppy at all. I made this one during ONE toddler nap (just the sewing, anyway, not cutting). How can you beat that? Especially for my first time making this pattern.

I did try a new trick for serging in the round, which I read about in Serger Secrets (I think it was that book, anyway...). Basically, you cut a rectangle out of the seam allowance, creating a "starting point" to begin your serging:

Serge around in a circle and meet up with your start point. The only disadvantage, which I figured out AFTER I'd already started, was that my serger could not accommodate the full seam allowance. My bands are bigger than called for because of it. No biggie, and next time I want to try this, I'll trim the seam allowances first.

There isn't much more to say about this pattern than what's been said before, so I'll leave it at that. Add me to the list of Renfrew-lovers!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Knit Finishes Part 2: Binding

Welcome back to my weekly series on knit finishes!

Today's finish is one of my recent favorites. Applying a band is great and all, but sometimes you want something more substantial. A knit binding does take longer to sew, but I think the results are worth it!

A knit binding is appropriate for a neckline, or for the armhole of a sleeveless garment. Some patterns may be drafted for this approach (the Coastal Breeze dress by Make It Perfect patterns comes to mind) but it's not that common. You may need to adjust your seam allowances if you want to swap out a different technique for this one.

Binding, with topstitching.

Much like applying bias tape on a woven garment, knit binding wraps around the seam allowances and encloses them. You CAN sew it exactly like the traditional double-fold bias tape, but that can create a lot of bulk with knits. I prefer a different way that produces less bulk, and requires no stitching in the ditch-yay! You're guaranteed to catch the back every time. Let's get to it!

First, deal with your seam allowances. Decide how wide you want your finished binding to be, and where you want your neckline to be. For simplicity's sake, let's say you want your binding to be 1/2" and your seam allowance around the neckline is 1/2" already. Unlike other methods, your seam allowance is not going to disappear. To say it another way, your final neckline will be where the cut edge is (in this example). If you wanted your neckline to be lower, you would need to trim the seam allowance accordingly.

If your pattern gives you dimensions for the binding, then cut it out with the stretch going with the long side. With this method, only one long raw edge needs to be straight. You can be a little loosey-goosey with the edge that will eventually be on the inside of the garment.

Binding on armhole of bodysuit.

You may not have the dimensions you need for the binding if your pattern does not call for it. For example, the sleeveless bodysuit that I recently made for my daughter originally called for sleeves. I determined the size of the binding on my own. Note: if at all possible, when determining your own binding, construct your garment "in the flat" (see this post for an explanation). That way you don't have to be too exact.

To find the length you need, turn a measuring tape on its side and measure along the seamline (not the cut line) of your opening. 

If constructing in the flat, round up your measurement to the nearest inch to give yourself some wiggle room. If constructing in the round, round DOWN your measurement to the nearest inch, then add two seam allowances, since you'll be sewing it into a loop before sewing it to the garment.

To determine the width, let's return to our original example. The seam allowance is 1/2". You'll be folding the binding back around the seam allowance, so add another 1/2". The binding then wraps to the back, so add another 1/2". To give yourself some wiggle room, add another 1/2". That puts it at a width of 2", or 4 seam allowances. Some of this will be trimmed away at the end.

You can see that one of my long edges is very straight, and one is a little wonky. The wonky edge will be trimmed away so it doesn't matter that it's wonky. I'm all about speed and not wasting time on unimportant details. Knits curl, and the less time I have to agonize over unrolling an edge to see if it's straight--the better!

Assemble your garment so that it has one open seam. In this example, I'm using a bodice with one shoulder seam open. You can apply the same method to an armhole with the side seam open. To construct in the round, sew your opening closed and also sew your binding closed into complete circles.

Right sides together, place the binding on top of the garment, raw edges aligned. Pin the binding around the edge until you reach the other end (for in the flat). If sewing in the round, distribute the binding evenly. You will naturally stretch the binding a little as you go, to make the straight edge match the curve. You want the binding to roll in just a tad, but you don't want ripples in the garment itself.

Using your regular sewing machine (do NOT serge) sew the two pieces together. In my sample, I'm using the 1/2" seam allowance previously discussed.

Trim the excess binding that hangs off at the open seam. Do NOT trim the seam allowances.

Next, press the binding up, with the seam allowances. Close the open seam (you can use your serger if you have one), making sure that your seam allowances are sewn facing up towards the opening.

If you're using a lightweight or drapey knit, the next part can take some patience. Use lots of pins and I promise it will be worth it! Wrap the binding around the seam allowances, to the wrong side. Try to prevent the seam allowances from rolling, you want them to be flat (inside your binding) so that your binding is a consistent size. Use your fingers to feel that everything is flat.

Once you have all your pins in place, visually examine the binding from the front to make sure the depth is even all the way around. You may want to press it again (I use glass-head pins, which don't melt). 

Now we will topstitch the binding in place. There are a few options. I like to use the wide two-needle setup on my coverstitch machine, which lets me topstitch the binding and the garment at the same time, or just the binding. You could do the same thing with a twin needle. Otherwise, you'll need to sew one or two rows of stitching, either just below the binding or just at the edge. Since you cut the binding extra long on the wrong side, you should easily be able to catch the back no matter what method you use.

Topstitching on the garment, using my blind hem foot as a guide.

The topstitching catches the back of the binding.

When you're done with your topstitching, carefully trim away the excess binding on the inside of the garment. Knits don't fray, so you don't need to do anything to this cut edge. Hooray! Then give it all a good press.

In my example, I sewed only one line of topstitching, on the garment. This neck opening is large enough that I don't need it to stretch to fit over my head, so I used a slightly longer straight stitch. I easily could have sewn a second line just above it, on the binding itself. Or one line on the binding, only. Or used my coverstitch. There is no right or wrong way, you're the designer so you decide!

Next week: the narrow hem!