Quick and easy, 5 PM Pacific on Tuesday the 15th of December and Thursday the 17th – I’ll be demonstrating how to make a lined Christmas stocking as well as the twist-top headband you are often seeing me wear!
I often get questions about teeny-tiny hems – on men’s shirts, baby clothes, or frocks. I tell them: use a ban-roll. They ignore this advice. They struggle. They have ripples. They ask for advice again. I say: use a ban-roll.
So, ban-roll is sewing notion, a a waistband stiffener used to provide structure inside a garment. It is also a notion we can cleverly repurpose as a teeny-tiny comb. I have yet to meet the fabric it cannot conquer! Shown above a semi-sheer dress in a single gauze. I not only finished the v-neckline with the ban-roll technique, I finished the highly-curved armscyes – without a ripple in sight. This was done to avoid facings – which are fiddly and would have shown through – and a lining, which would have changed the entire appeal of the garment.
You want to purchase ban-roll that is at least an inch wide, and make sure it has a weave to it; not all items advertised online have this weave. Cut a fairly long length; for necklines and armscyes about three feet is plenty. You will want more, if you use the ban-roll for hems.
After you cut your ban-roll strip, carefully cut the thick “selvedge” edge strand at one long edge (you can see this long edge at the top of the strip in the photograph below). Then peel more of the long strands, until you have a depth you like. Shown at the bottom of the strip below: about 3/16″. This corresponds to the 3/8″ hem allowance I have for these seams, since the depth of the ban-roll comb will be half the depth of the seam or hem allowance. Adjust your allowances, or your ban-roll comb, accordingly.
This is the armscye we’ll be tackling! Please note, there are tons of ban-roll tutorials out there that show how to do straight seams or very subtly curved hems. We’re about to tackle a deep curve.
Place your ban-roll right up against the right side of your fabric, with the free end of the comb touching the raw edge of the fabric. The needle will magically travel over the comb. Now, stitch carefully – right up against the base of the comb. Your needle should just kiss that first long fiber on the left. Go slowly! If you stitch over the long strand, it’s kind of a pain and will muss your finished product a bit.
Now here’s a bit of a tricky part. Look how severe the curve is, that I’m approaching. Instead of pulling the raw edge straight – as if you were serging a curve, say – simply sew slowly, take your left fingers in between the ban-roll and the fabric, and push (gently) the fabric into the foot. This finesse is how you avoid ripples in the final product!
When you get to the end of your seam, you can carefully backstitch, or pull the work off the machine while making sure to snug the stitching line right up against the base of the comb. You can see below, how my stitching line has drifted off the comb base. Simply snug it right back down. This is important, before the next step – making sure the stitching line is right up against the comb base.
Next, you are going to fold the fabric over the ban-roll until the teeth of the comb are nestled in the fabric fold! Some people consider this a two step process. But when you’re done, you will have a nice double fold, and the wrong-side of your fabric will be facing the body of the ban-roll strip.
Next, stitch with the wrong-side of the fabric facing up, right on the inner fold of that baby hem. This essentially means you are turning the work and stitching back against the direction you came. Keep about 1/16″ in from that fold, and stitch slowly. If you come to a curve again, repeat the gentle – very gentle – pushing motion with your left fingers between the ban-roll strip and the fabric.
Now, remove the work from the machine. Here is my curve – before pressing, it already looks pretty good!
This is the fun part – you get to haul that ban-roll out of the finished hem – and you can reuse the strip many times! Gently tug it out of the seam. Even on very fragile fabrics, this has always gone beautifully.
Gently press your hem/curve – and admire your results!
This technique is a lot of fun and provides lovely finishes. With practice you just get finer results each time.
I can’t be the only person irritated by the fairly untidy nature of inseam pocket finishes. Often we are lining garments, and in that case there is no need for pocket finishes to be perfect. But for other articles of clothing – like hoodies or simple pants – these pocket finishes will be visible when the garment is inside-out.
I fiddled around and finally came up with a very quick, reliable, and easy method for a good pocket finish. This method uses a sewing machine for the stitching line and a serger for the finish, but you can also zig-zag and trim in place of serging.
So first: cut your pieces as per usual, except use thread-tails, chalk or washable marker to mark your pocket position in the side seam, rather than clipping into the seam allowance.
Now, we have the four pocket pieces – I call them “kidney-shaped” although that’s not perfectly accurate:
We are going to serge-finish the curved edge first. Go around the very edge, careful not to trim any of the piece:
Now, we are going to serge the straight edge, leaving long tails:
Next, take these long tails and, using a blunt darning needle, thread them through one of the curved seams and trim. You will end up with a perfectly-finished pocket seam:
Pin your pocket to your side seam, right sides together:
Stitch 1/8″ from the seam allowance, starting right at that pocket piece and performing a firm backstitch at the beginning and end of the stitching line. This garment is made with a 3/8″ seam allowance, so I stitched at 1/4″ from the finished edge:
Now, either steam-or finger-press this last seam, then press it open such that the seam allowance faces to the pocket. Press again, if you like. Stitch 1/8″ from the seam along the full length of the pocket, catching all layers:
Once you’ve completed the pocket join for all four pocket pieces, it’s time to join the shoulders and then the sleeves. Finish the sleeve long edges before joining to the body, join the sleeves as the armscye, and finish the armscye seam leaving long serge tails.
Next, pin the side seams of the garment together:
You want to really get your pocket pieces lined up exactly. Sometimes that understitched seam allowance will want to push towards the body of the shirt while you are sewing the side seam and pocket closed. To keep this from happening, I usually sew this long side seam from the sleeve hem, and then stop in the middle of the pocket curve. Then I flip the garment over, and sew up from the shirt hem, meeting in the pocket curve. This keeps the seam allowances from trying to push away from the pocket.
When you get to pinning your pocket curve, really make sure the pockets are lined up perfectly with one another. If you cut accurately and you did not trim anything with the serger blade, they will line up beautifully:
When sewing toward that pocket I usually “cut over” from the side seam allowance, to stitch right on the finished edge of the pocket kidney pieces. You can of course maintain the garment seam allowance instead, and then go back over the serged edges with a stitching line on a second pass, if you like.
Here is that underside of the pocket – it’s perfect!
Finally, those long tails we have at the armpit? Knot these and then slip them into an inner serging channel. A firm finish, and a good-looking one too!
Those are some sexy pockets!
So to sum up, the method is fairly simple:
1. use thread marks, not clips, to mark pocket location
2. clean finish the entire kidney-shaped pocket piece
3. finish the side seams, leaving long serge-tails at the armpit and hem
4. sew the pockets to the side seams, right sides together
5. understitch the pocket side seam to the pocket
6. join the shoulders, sleeves, and then side seams of the garments, keeping a very exact seam allowance
7. continue to finish the shirt
I’ve pointed out before that my first sewing studio was a closet – a closet with a shag-green carpet (occasionally redolent with cat piss; joy!); and a closet I shared with my partner’s computer and with our clothes! This was in an impossibly-small studio apartment! There wasn’t even enough room for my sewing machine (a cheap plastic Kenmore my mother bought me) – I had to store it on the porch in a cabinet.
So I know all about how hard it is to “make space”.
When people learn I sew they often tell me, “Oh I can’t even sew on a button!” – it’s an oft-repeated phrase that means, essentially, one has no sewing skills whatsoever. But I find this phrase funny because actually, sewing on a button is more difficult than it seems!
Here I’ll illustrate how to enact a button installation – in this case on a folded edge of felt. My method hides thread tails and creates a very strong, and very tidy result. It can be used almost any place you need a button – whether a new garment, or a repair!
Bow ties never went out of style, but they are enjoying the spotlight again at the moment. My sons and partner all enjoy wearing this type of neckwear and it is not only satisfying to make them, it is the absolute perfect opportunity to add some panache to the wardrobe.
In order to make a bow tie, ideally you’d have a properly fitted one (or a mockup cut out of a piece of woven fabric) to make your pattern. If you are starting without a tie to trace, you will need to draw up your own. The shape of the tie is a long straight stretch for around the neck, ending in the trademark fish-like shape at the ends (there are doubtless many templates online). The bow tie shown here has a straight stretch of 5″ longer than my son’s neckline; that accounts for the knot to tie.
It can be fiddly getting the right length, but remember once you have it down you have the right tie for life. I recommend you purchase a high-quality adjustable tie (like the red swiss dot version shown below), tie it on your intended client, and make the pattern from there.
Shown below next to the tie I’m copying: the fabric I’ll be using – a gorgeous rayon faille – and a very lightweight knit interfacing. You will only need a feather- or lightweight interfacing and make sure it has stretch, or the loveliness of cutting on the bias will be for naught. If your interfacing is too thick the tie will be hard to turn.
You will also need blank paper and pencil, a transparent ruler, and tracing wheel and paper. We will be folding the example tie in half and tracing only 1/4 of the tie, then folding our paper and using our tracing implements to get the symmetrical shape.
Folding the tie in half, I place the short folded end a the base of the “T” with the wide end at the leg of this “T”, bisecting the entire tie. Then, I trace. Beware you don’t make the straight stretch of the tie any thinner than about 3/4″, or you may have trouble turning it.
After tracing add your seam allowance to this 1/4 of the tie (I used a 3/8″). Then fold your paper down that long center line and trace both the stitching line and the seam allowance, using your carbon paper. So when you are finished, you will have half a tie traced, including seam allownaces.
Instead of having a bulky center seam down the middle of the tie, I drafted a bias-seam for the join. This can seem confusing but it is quite simple. The short end of the tie (the top of the “T” I drew above) represents the center line (back of the neck) of the tie. Simply draw a 45 degree angle through the center of the tie, and add your seam allowance to that line.
Now, we get to sew. You want a fairly firm stitch – say 2.0 mm or so – as you’ll be trimming these seams pretty closely before turning. Take the tie pieces to the machine and sew the short bias ends together; joining your four pieces into two:
Now, place your long tie pieces right sides together, and stitch, leaving a 2″ or so gap in one of the long straight edges (but not where the bias seams are joined):
Cut the corners of the tie ends, and then trim the entire tie down to about 1/8″. Again, this is where you need to make sure your stitches are tight and firm enough the seams will not unravel later:
You know, I rarely do a basic-basic tutorial, but recent events inspired me! I put together four maxi skirts from African wax print cotton (two adult and two matching toddler skirts), and the project was delightful. Besides the kidney-shaped pocket pieces, every aspect of the skirts were rectangles: the body of the skirt, the waistband, the sash, and the sash carriers.
I got to thinking that I can put together a lovely sash in my sleep, but I had troubles earlier on in my sewing career. While no tutorial can cover *every* eventuality, this is a basic tutorial from a sash made of a stable, woven, nonstretch knit. You need your sash strip – the width and length of the finished sash plus a seam allowance per side.
As you can see above, I cut my sash with a rotary cutter. Tearing is also a great way to get the sash right on the grain; not all wovens tear that well. YOu want everything along the crossgrain as much as possible.
Next, I fold the sash right sides together, lengthwise, and give them a light press. In this photo you can tell the strip is right sides together as the gold metallic print is only on the right side of the fabric:
Then right sides together I sew up the long edge, leaving about a 2″ gap in the middle of the long edge. I backstitch firmly at this gap:
Taking the piece to the ironing board, I iron the seam allowances back toward the main part of the strip – one at a time. I do this for both long edge seam allowances, and all four short edge seam allowances. This is a great time to really use that iron to press the strip into a flat shape:
At the gap, I carefully fold down the seam allowance and press that too:
Now, it’s time to turn the sash right-sides out. Leaving the gap in the center of the strip makes it easier to turn. If the sash is narrow, I use a wooden chopstick to turn:
Close the gap of the sash by a slip-stitch or machine topstitch, give a final press – and voila!
As simple as menswear shirts are for me now, for a long while I struggled to understand their components. Years ago when I started wanting to convert my shirts to an entirely clean finish (meaning no serge, pinked, or zig-zagged internal seams) I really foundered in knowing where and how to do this.
While it’s impractical for me to attempt to detail every kind of menswear button-up shirt out there, and while there are many ways to clean-finish a shirt, I’m going to share my tried and true method with the more common builds of menswear shirts. I generally use french seams for all the block joins, including the curved armscye (which some people tend to flat-fell – not me). The collar, yokes, cuffs, and front plackets generally do not need any changes to cutting and marking, but these block joins do.
By french seaming the interior of the shirt, you get a gorgeous finish on the interior. I also think it is faster than flat-felling and leads to a more agreeable effect:
For french seams, you usually need a minimum of a 5/8″ seam allowance. Can you just ignore this and make the shirt up anyway? Not if it is at all fitted or semi-fitted – your shirt will be too small. So if you have a pattern with a smaller seam allowance – 3/8″, 1 cm, 1/4″, or 1/2″ seam allowances, you are going to need to add some seam allowance to the vertical interior seams (body and sleeve), the shoulder seams, the armscyes, and (possibly) the yoke joins.
Let’s try to understand a menswear shirt a bit first. Disregarding for a moment the collar/collar stand, cuffs and cuff plackets, and front placket, let’s just think about the body and sleeve pieces. Below is a basic example, which includes four body blocks: a front, a back body, a back yoke, and a sleeve:
If you have been following my blog, you may notice I am enjoying the Euro fit pattern (this version by Bootstrap is great). Even though this shirt does not have a back yoke, it is functionally rather similar. There are five body blocks: a front, a side front, a side back, a back, and a sleeve:
In general, the only place you will need to add more of a seam allowance are these basic block seams (including the shoulder and armscye). This is because the collar, front placket (whatever way it is formed), and cuff and cuff placket generally come with the seam allowances required to finish the garment cleanly. There are likely exceptions to this, and if you have any questions please take a few screenshots and ask in the comments.
There are several common variations on collar and front placket, and that can be confusing. I’m going to talk about those a bit.
So for a basic shirt, below are our pattern blocks with seam allowances included (minus the cuff placket piece). We have a collar and collar stand at top left, and a cuff at top right. Below that we have the body back (left), the shirt front with a cut-on front placket (center), and the sleeve (right). My blue lines indicate where you want to add your seam allowance for a total of 5/8″ seam allowance. If your back block is not cut on the fold – if there’s a curved center seam for example – you will also add to your seam allowance there, as it is a vertical body seam. Note you do not have to add any additional seam allowances to the collar pieces, the cuffs, or the cuff placket. Think of these as little mini-blocks that are self-contained.
Also: if you have a back yoke, you don’t have to add a seam allowance to the yoke/body joins if the yoke is lined; most yoked menswear shirt patterns will ask you to cut out two yoke pieces and sandwich the back body between them when you join. You could also ignore adding seam allowance to the shoulder too, in order to finish the front and back shoulder seam using the burrito method.
Below: a lined yoke, inside a plaid shirt I made my partner.
But I mentioned variations – yes? Below are a few more common shirt pattern blocks. On top, we see a collar with cut-on stand (meaning: the collar and stand are one piece). At bottom left, a front with a cut-on front facing. At bottom right, a shirt front with a separate front placket. Again: the collar, neckline, and the front placket pieces have enough seam allowance for a clean finish. So does the front placket. But you will want to add a seam allowance to the shoulder, armscye, and side seams to get your 5/8″ for these french seams:
By the way – if you are curious – of all the styles of shirt placket and collar I like the cut-on straight front placket, and the separate collar and stand. This allows me to colorblock and affords me a great deal of control in hand-finishing.
Below are the blocks for the Euro shirt build I mentioned (which is featured in the photo directly above). Instead of two body pieces for the trunk (a front and a back), the shirt has four body blocks for the trunk that feature princess seams – really great for shaping. Here, we are still only adding seam allowances to the vertical seams, shoulder seam, and armscye. The neckline and front do not need more seam allowances for a clean finish.
So there you have it! When you think about changing any construction of a garment, it becomes so much easier to tackle it when you start to really think about the parts, and that is easier with experience. Now, there are loads of tutorials on making french seams online and I trust you to find them. For the 5/8″ version I am mentioning here I sew a 1/4″ seam (just a hair scant) wrong sides together, press open, and trim (if it seems necessary). I then re-fold right-sides together, press again, and sew. And then – the final press! Pressing several times yields very smooth results, which is especially important for that curved armscye.
For the front placket, I find that sewing from the right side of the shirt secures a gorgeous front finish. For the cuffs, I hand-finish the bottom of the collar stand (shown below – you can’t even see the stitches) and hand-finish the inside of the cuffs.
If you are new or new-ish to sewing menswear style button-up shirts, contemplating all these different shirt patterns can be overwhelming. I advise you make a few of these shirts, and bookmark your favorite tutorials as you do. Soon they will be easy as pie!
Knit chiffon, or tissue knit: absolutely a gorgeous material to work with. Typically made in 100% cotton and often with a slightly slubbed appearance, this luxe fabric usually has stretch with little if any recovery. I find making a size down, the garment will often stretch with time. In order to shrink it back, you will have to occasionally put the garment in the dryer (remember those tissue tees so popular with the GAP etc, in the late nineties?).
Sheer and semi-sheer fabrics are absolutely wonderful, in that each seamline, dart, and detail is really shown off – like a stained glass window. I tend to make french seams in these garments. And for a bit more interest, here I demonstrate how to create simple 3/16″ pintucks in a black knit chiffon.
1. prewashed and dried fabric
2. marking chalk
3. cutting mat, rotary cutter, and see-through cutting ruler
4. masking tape
The first thing to note about tissue knits is the grain can often be quite distorted – in other words, not parallel to the selvege. When laying out your yardage you have to determine if you need to cut the pieces on the grainline or no. For the front panel of this tunic, I decided to cut off the grain since I’d be making two rectangular panels abutted together, and could flip the grain (to chevron), making the garment symmetrical. For the sleeves, neckband, sleeve band, and back panel, I cut along the grain in one layer.
Shown below; the yardage arranged with the grain corresponding to the cutting mat; you can see what I mean about the selvege.
Now for marking tucks, it is best to cut the fabric and leave it be on the mat – don’t shift it whatsoever – then mark right away. Cut out your panel according to your cutting mat; next you’ll be marking the centerline of your tucks.
When marking, I use a ruler and line it up with the guide lines on the mat; the sheer nature of the fabric makes this easy to do! You want to be very careful and apply firm vertical pressure to your ruler as you mark, or else you will shift your fabric. If you do shift it, just carefully rearrange to the guidelines on the mat.
Here I am applying lines at a 45 degree angle.
Be patient; this is the most exacting part of the process. It’s easy from here on out!
Once you have your tuck lines marked, take the piece to the machine.
Using a straight stitch or a very narrow zig zag, start your stitching line on your first tuck, folding right on the chalked line and making sure you are stitching at the width you want. My tucks are 3/16″. After you’ve started your tuck successfully, pause and retrieve your roll of masking tape.
I like to create a little seam guide by layering about six layers of the masking tape very accurately on top of one another, then applying it to my machine bed. This will help you get exact tucks – note you can use this method to create tucks as deep or shallow as you like!
Make sure not to stretch your fabric as you stitch. Just let the machine action guide the fabric through.
There are many ways to create a double-welt pocket, but this is my favorite for a very fast and easy pocket. This method involves no measuring (that’s right!), and no interfacing. Best of all, it’s really easy to memorize. This translates to great-looking welt pockets that come together very quickly.
This method is also ideal for very spongey, thick, or wonky fabrics that don’t respond well to fiddling. I came up with it after dicking around for wayyyyyy too long with this perfectly lovely ponte that was bulky and terribly susceptible to pressing transfer.
For February I’m putting together a tutorial for double welt pockets in difficult fabrics. No interfacing and no steam, no pocket bag measuring or fiddling! A very fast, accurate, low-bulk and good-looking pocket. I came up with this method while working with this lovely but very spongey ponte; the method works well for fiddly grain, thick fabrics, and fabrics like velvet that are risky to press! #vegantailor #sewing #customclothing #tutorial
This method only needs a few supplies!
At left: shell fabric (houndstooth), pocket bag (shot cotton), and welt fabric (typically the same for shell but, for the sake of this tutorial, a dark brown). You also need 7/8″ grosgrain ribbon,basting spray (or gluestick), and marking chalk.
I like to use a fine cotton, as I like to tear (not cut) my pocket bags. Very fast, very accurate. If you use satin or some other foolishness, you will need to cut.
Cut a piece of ribbon that is at least 2″ longer than your pocket. Lightly spray the grosgrain on one side, and lay the ribbon along the crossgrain of a piece of welt fabric, making sure the welt fabric is about 4″ wide. Pro-tip: I spray by placing the ribbon in my wastebasket, so the trash liner catches any overspray.
Next, sew two channels a generous 1/4″ from the grosgrain edge, using a basting stitch. I like to stitch in the same direction for both channels. You don’t want to stitch any closer to the edge than this 5/16″, or the threads may show in the welt lips.
This is what your stitches will look like on the other side:
Now, flip the assembly with the ribbon side facing up. Fold over one edge, snugging it against that ribbon. Stitch at 3/16″ from the folded edge, using a regular stitch:
Now, cut 1/8″ from that stitching line:
Repeat with the other side, folding and stitching, then trimming from that stitching line:
So for pocket placement, you really only need your vertical end marks! Pin the welt to the right side of the shell fabric, with the trimmed part of the welt facing up. Pin well and, if you’ve already done a sample and are working on the garment, you can use this opportunity make and align the other welt to the corresponding side:
Now, we’re going to stitch the welt to the garment – think two parallel lines (NOT a rectangle). Stitch right on top of those previous 3/8″ stitching lines, making sure to stop and carefully backtack right at the ending marks of the pocket. Unless the fabric is very shifty indeed you can confidently backtack – but if you are worried, leave long tails at these four ends, pull the ends to the welt-side after stitching, knot, and secure the thread tails in the welt.
You really want these stitching lines to be a very scant 3/8″ although this is why you make a sample – because the turn of the cloth will vary a bit depending on what you’re sewing:
Here is the backside of the work – two parallel lines. Make sure to double check before proceeding.
Next, you want to cut from the backside, catching only the shell (not the welt). You want to cut to the stitching lines, and right exactly to those stitching lines. Make sure to make a very long triangle at these ends. I like to start cutting at the triangle point that intersects the center line, and cut right to my stitching lines using a very sharp scissor. Then I cut the center line.
Now flip it! FLIP IT GOOD! From the front side of the work…
So go ahead and flip your shell back and, using a zipper foot (or not, but it’s handy), stitch that triangle right to the welt. The ribbon will help the welt lips lie wonderfully close together. Repeat with both sides.
Time for the pocket bag!
Two things, before we proceed.
1. If you want, you can tear or cut a shell facing strip, to put at the top right side of the pocket bag. This is pretty standard, especially for a pocket that may gape. For kidswear or casual wear or a small pocket, I don’t add the facing bit as it is unneccesary and adds bulk, and pocket gap is not an issue.
2. This pocket treatment looks gorgeous enough it does not need a lining to obfuscate it. That said, the only application I would install these without a lining, would be the back of trousers. In that case, make sure your pocket bag strip is very long, so you can bring up the top edge to later snug it into the waistband of the trouser – a really classic look.
OK so – here is our trouser bag, torn at the exact width of the welt, which I have trimmed to about 5/8″ past the pocket width:
Now how long do you make the bag? Well I like to measure such that the torn bottom edge overlaps the bottom raw edge of the welt by 1/4″, and the fold is no deeper than the bottom edge of the garment (obviously). If this is confusing you, don’t worry. If your pocket bag ends up too long, because you can always stitch it shorter. I love the neat look of the fold at the pocket bag bototm, but it’s also standard to stitch a U-shaped curve and cut the fold off. Reminder: that torn edge at right, on the trouser application I described above, will extend much further than the top welt raw edge.
So let’s stitch that top edge! Go ahead and place the assembly right-side up, and flip down the top edge of the shell. Stitch, using that zipper foot, and aligning the pocket bag just a little past the welt raw edge. No need to back-tack here, as we’ll be catching the stitching line with our side seams – but do use a short stitch length:
Here’s the right side with a finished top welt edge and the pocket hanging all the way down, not yet pinned to the welt’s bottom raw edge:
Now bring that bottom edge up, getting ready to stitch, tucking it under the pocket:
Go ahead and stitch the raw edge of the pocket bottom to that bottom welt, just as you did the top welt:
Now finger-press the pocket down, and prepare to stitch your side seams! Make sure you stitch the side seams down the right way, or you’ll make an upside down pocket (ask me how I know this!). If the pocket is going to be visible in any way – or if like me you just like accuracy – go ahead and trace your stitching lines straight down from your side seams, before stitching:
You can leave these side seams as they are, or pink them. If I was using a trouser application, I’d probably pink, bind or serge them, depending on the weight of my trouser fabric (this houndstooth is too thin for binding).