though they be but little, they are fierce

The restaurant is crowded with happy Friday night diners; the delicious headiness of frying onions and peppers, brisk steps of servers walking between tables, jubilant voices bubbling over one another. In the foyer, a woman in a smart apron stands at a portable bar smashing ripe avocado with a large mortar and pestle, right on the spot making guacamole. She scoops small portions of this deliciousness into cups, garnishes each with a fresh tortilla chip, and passes the delightful repast to waiting customers.

We have ordered, our drinks are arriving, and it’s time to wash hands. I stand, and my eldest hovers at my elbow. “You’re fine, you can do it,” I say cheerfully, and put a confident hand on his back. We split up into our separate restrooms and I am in and out quickly; hair standing on the back of my neck, a deep breath. Every journey into a public men’s room is fraught and I relentlessly muster a casual confidence I do not always feel. Every other diner in the place has no clue; they are chattering, lifting frosty drinks to mouths, forks busy. But a simple family dinner out is a little less simple for us, most of the time.

My sons speak the same language these days, back and forth, snickering over phone screens and sharing meme-speak. Nels came out as gay June 1st and it seems to have brought the two of them closer together. Their disagreements have matured, as well; and they argue rarely. A terse word here or there, and the other will usually back off. I can’t say there aren’t resentments here or there simmering beneath the surface, but mostly they get on like a house on fire.

Their temperaments are, as ever, the moon and the sun. Phoenix, the eldest, solicitous, more community-minded within the family. Nels, recently hooked in to a group of five teen boys who are passionately gaming and socializing together every waking hour, well Nels is a little flightier, a little more self-absorbed.

Astonishingly, my scheduled two-week break from work is almost up. Time is flying, of course. In spite of this I have enjoyed more time with the boys, more time reading barely-historical novels and watching creepy television, and more time for family projects – for instance, today, surprising Ralph on his birthday by having car speakers installed and scrubbing the kitchen floor.

I am continually amazed at how quickly those early child-rearing days flew. And it seems I receive so many reminders; as friends, old and new, have their own babies. I drank deeply of those early years, and they passed so quickly regardless. It’s easy to lose my head and rush off to more work and new things, but I know if I’m not very mindful this present reality will fly by, too.

For March: Bralette Sewing (Livestream)

“seams legit” sewing lesson: a bralette!

It’s March – already! We had a lovely time sewing briefs last month; this month we continue our lingerie efforts by making a bralette.

A reminder that for all sew-alongs you need:

1. a machine with it’s manual, tuned-up, that can sew a balanced zig-zag
2. the supplies listed in the pattern, as well as a thorough read-through of the pattern you use

From here on out we will be cutting with a rotary cutter and mat. March 15th I will also list some preparation work we can do for the bralette sew-along, to make sure our livestream class goes smoothly!

So! Let’s talk about this month’s project!

Ban-Roll Tutorial

tutorial: ban-roll finishing

Ban-Roll Tutorial

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.

Ban-Roll Tutorial

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.

Ban-Roll Tutorial

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!

Ban-Roll Tutorial

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.

Ban-Roll Tutorial

Ban-Roll Tutorial

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.

Ban-Roll Tutorial

Ban-Roll Tutorial

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.

Ban-Roll Tutorial

Now, remove the work from the machine. Here is my curve – before pressing, it already looks pretty good!

Ban-Roll Tutorial

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.

Ban-Roll Tutorial

Gently press your hem/curve – and admire your results!

Ban-Roll Tutorial

Ban-Roll Tutorial

This technique is a lot of fun and provides lovely finishes. With practice you just get finer results each time.

Enjoy!

Ban-Roll Tutorial

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

tutorial: clean finish inseam pockets

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets
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.

Enjoy!

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:

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

We are going to serge-finish the curved edge first. Go around the very edge, careful not to trim any of the piece:

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

 

Now, we are going to serge the straight edge, leaving long tails:

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

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:

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets
Now, finish the side seams only of both the front and back piece. Below you can see my black thread tail marking the pocket position:

 

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Pin your pocket to your side seam, right sides together:

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

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:

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

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:

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Here is the underside of that understitching – it looks great!
Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

And here is the view from the public side of the garment:
Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

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:

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

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.

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

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:

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Now, it’s time to sew that side seam. Take your time and really make sure your finished edges line up well together.
Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

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.

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Here is that underside of the pocket – it’s perfect!

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

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!

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam Pockets

Those are some sexy pockets!

Tutorial: Clean-Finish Inseam 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

Enjoy!

Nels + Ramen

dear little fighter

I have decided a huge amount of conventional wisdom about teenagers is utter bollocks, as they say. Teenagers are not ridiculous or less-than; they do not deserve our smart-aleck comments and eye rolls. They do not warrant our smug and authoritarian parenting. My teens are not rude, entitled, “crazy”, “hormonal”, non-sensical. They are not especially loud or dirty. They are exactly as I would have predicted from my incredibly extensive and intensive experience unschooling them through childhood: they are whip-smart, kind, funny, sensitive, and joyful. They are genuinely interested in other people, not just themselves. They are interested in the whole of life, not just work. They do not have the martyred energy, the passive aggressive forms of communication, the entitled and inflexible attitudes of adults. They respond to criticism or correction with open-mindedness and they change their behaviors if their behaviors are deemed problematic.

If the citizens of this country were anything like my teenagers, the world would be a much better place.

The Old Singer

tutorial: my favorite methods

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”.

Tutorial: Sewing A Button

tutorial: sew a button

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!

vegan tailor, tying a bow tie

tutorial: bias-cut bow tie

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie

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.

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie

Below, I draw a “T” shape a little longer than 1/2 the length of the tie:

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie

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.

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie
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.

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie

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.

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie
Now, take your fabric and fuse your stretch interfacing:

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie
And place the tie pattern piece on the fabric; remember, you will want 4 of these pieces in total:

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie
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:

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie
Press these seam allowances open and grade them. You can use this opportunity to tie the tie around the neck of your recipient, to make sure the length is appropriate.

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):

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie
Go slowly around the curves; this is going to yield a beautiful result!

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie

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:

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie
Now, we get to turn the tie! This can be tedious, but is best accomplished gently and with a chopstick or similar high-falutin’ turning tool:

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie
Now press, carefully! I was so pleased that my tie is the precise length I was aiming for, even with my fancy little bias-cut seam:

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie
Next, all we have to do is slip-stitch our little gap closed:

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow TieTutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie+
And – all finished! Provided our finished accessory is the right size, we now have a paper template and can make as many gorgeous ties as we like.

Tutorial: Bias-cut Bow Tie
And of course: how to tie it:

vegan tailor, tying a bow tie

Tutorial: A Perfect Sash

tutorial: a perfect sash

Tutorial: A Perfect Sash
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.

Tutorial: A Perfect Sash

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:

Tutorial: A Perfect Sash

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:

Tutorial: A Perfect Sash

Next, I sew the two short edges:
Tutorial: A Perfect Sash

Next, I clip both the folded corner and the sewn corner at a 45 degree angle, right up to the stitching line:
Tutorial: A Perfect Sash

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:


Tutorial: A Perfect Sash

Tutorial: A Perfect Sash

At the gap, I carefully fold down the seam allowance and press that too:

Tutorial: A Perfect Sash

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:

C
Tutorial: A Perfect Sash

The ends should turn out nicely – no need to push and prod them. Here are my ends, before pressing:

Tutorial: A Perfect Sash

Close the gap of the sash by a slip-stitch or machine topstitch, give a final press – and voila!

Tutorial: A Perfect Sash

 

 

Tutorial: Pintucks in Tissue Knit

tutorial: pintucks in tissue knit

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. 

You need:

1. prewashed and dried fabric
2. marking chalk
3. cutting mat, rotary cutter, and see-through cutting ruler
4. masking tape

Tutorial: Pintucks in Tissue Knit

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.

Tutorial: Pintucks in Tissue Knit
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.

Tutorial: Pintucks in Tissue Knit


Tutorial: Pintucks in Tissue Knit

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.

Tutorial: Pintucks in Tissue Knit

Here I am applying lines at a 45 degree angle.

Tutorial: Pintucks in Tissue Knit
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.

Tutorial: Pintucks in Tissue Knit

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.

Tutorial: Pintucks in Tissue Knit

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.

Tutorial: Pintucks in Tissue Knit

Below, I am about 60% of the way through my tucks. They may look a little wavy but don’t fear – we will be pressing them and they will be #legit!

Tutorial: Pintucks in Tissue Knit

The pressing is the most fun. Taking them to your pressing surface, carefully press each tuck as-sewn and then, if you like, you can press them a particular direction.

Tutorial: Pintucks in Tissue Knit

Gorgeous!


Tutorial: Pintucks in Tissue Knit

Tutorial: Pintucks in Tissue Knit
These tucks can be used to create interest in any project – gowns, tops, robes – what-have-you. They add a bit of drama and set your garment apart from others!