Archive for May, 2008

New Look 6483 – Reversible Tank

May 19th, 2008 2 comments

After my Pfaff went into the repair shop, I had to revise my Mini-Wardrobe Contest plans. I’m considering substituting this top for a knit one that requires the precision of my absent machine. I’d made this tank recently, and planned to make a reversible version for my next ‘wardrobe’. Once I lost my Pfaff, the reversible version stepped into the line-up. Technically, this one is a muslin — it’s the dry run for the ‘real’ top for my next series of garments. But, as it happens, it’s now also in the running for garment number two for this month’s PR Mini-Wardrobe Contest.

The previous tank wasn’t reversible (or lined), and I’d made some changes to the original pattern. I’d removed the center back seam and added a retro-style side zipper. For this new version, I reinstated the center back seam and eliminated both the zipper and the small vents at the hem. The zipper wasn’t needed (and might have weighed down such a filmy fabric), and the vents would have just been lost in all the puffiness of the latest fabric. And, of course, I eliminated the facings, since I was essentially making a fully lined tank.

Though this is not a stretch fabric, there was more than enough give to allow me to get in and out of the tank without any additional opening. This time, I used directions from a Sew News tutorial called On The Double as my guide. They were quite helpful, though you do have to think ahead a little bit — the tutorial really only covers the reversible stuff; it’s important that you remember details like darts, and that you sew them up before getting on with the reversing bits.

I used a crushed poly fabric for both sides — it’s quite expensive at JoAnn stores (bizarrely, about $15 a yard) , but I picked up these pieces at a discount store for under three dollars a yard. The thermal crushing process makes the fabric quite springy, so there’s a lot more give in it than there was in the tightly woven cotton I’d used for the first tank.

In order to make this garment reversible, you make two separate tanks. Instead of interfacing only one tank (or, rather, only one side of the garment), I used the lightest sew-in interfacing I could find, and interfaced both tanks. This seemed especially important because serious pressing wasn’t really an option — unless I wanted flattened sections of fabric wherever I’d used my iron.

After trimming the interfacing at the neckline and armholes, I serged those seam allowances to 1/4 inch. I finished the back and side seams by serging the outer edges, but did not trim them, as I wanted them to lie flat without a telltale serge ‘rim’. To keep everything in place, I tacked the back and side seam allowances together inside the garment. This only took a few minutes, but the extra effort paid off in terms of keeping the layers from shifting.

I edge-stitched the neckline and the armholes for the same reason. As much as possible, I wanted to avoid any hint of the contrasting color when wearing the tank. I’m not sure I succeeded perfectly; the puffy texture is a bit obvious around the curved edges.

Reversible garments like this one tend to work best if the colors are similar on both sides; a great way to fake this is to use prints with consonant hues. Then, if you must use two different colors for main thread and bobbin, it’s not so obvious if the tension isn’t absolutely perfect — the differing colors won’t show though so much on a print. Because the colors I chose here are so different, I used transparent thread for both the main thread and in the bobbin; it picks up the background color very nicely.

In the past, I’d tried sewing with poorer quality transparent thread; this time I used Gutterman, and it made all the difference. I hadn’t been able to use the cheap stuff in a bobbin at all, but the Gutterman worked perfectly — though I had to take special care when winding the bobbin on my Fashion Mate machine.

The Sew News directions have you sew the bottoms of the tanks to each other. I decided to let mine hang freely instead, and opted for hand-sewn hems. I think the garment sits more naturally as a result, but this does mean that I had to make the lengths identical to prevent the lining color from showing on the front. Fortunately, when worn, the ‘inside’ color seems to naturally pull up a little, which helps to keep it from showing.

This fabric is not my favorite. The turquoise side looked alarmingly like snake skin once I’d sewn it up. The rose side isn’t quite that bad, but it’s still a bit much. My spouse — he of the bad, bad Hawaiian shirt collection — raised his eyebrows when he saw it, and almost guffawed. “You’re definitely getting your technical skills back” he said. “Now you just need to work on taste.” I hissed, of course, using my best cobra imitation. But even I am hoping that the real thing will look a bit better.

Categories: Tops Tags:

Wherein the Back-Up Machine Gets Fixed

May 17th, 2008 No comments

When I sent off my lamented Pfaff to be fixed, I hauled out the Singer Fashion Mate 237 I bought several years ago as a stand-in. I’d gotten it in California, after I’d ended up living there unexpectedly for months, far from home, and without access to sanity-preserving activities. It fit the bill well — the Fashion Mate’s a solid work horse.

When I returned from California, I hand-carried the machine onto the plane; once I was home, I put it into storage without opening it. This week, I was surprised (and horrified) to discover that several things had happened during transit. First of all, the lower part of the case had cracked and split on one end. That’s a big deal for this machine. It’s designed so that it can be used in the case, or lifted out and used in a custom table. Nicely versatile! However, I don’t have the requisite table, so I must use the case as a base.

The problem, of course, is that this machine is a tank, and it weighs like one. If you want to tip the machine back to view the underside, you first must slip support strips out from the underside of the case — otherwise, machine and case fall over backwards together. You can imagine the problem, then, once the case has cracked, since it’s barely strong enough to support the machine in the first place.

The immediate fix for the case was this belt:

It’s just a strip of webbing wrapped as tightly as possible around the case. Surprisingly, it works pretty well. Well enough, anyway. The weight of the machine still pushes the case out a little, so that the machine’s at an exaggerated angle, but I can work with that.

More problematic were two other difficulties: When the case shifted, it somehow flattened the bobbin winder stop, and the spring that belongs on the bobbin winder went AWOL. (That wasn’t too surprising; sometime long ago it had been repaired with a somewhat clumsy weld.)

I bent the bobbin winder stop back up, but you can see that the metal along the fold is cracked, and about to break:

That post rising out of the machine is the bobbin winder assembly; the curved arm behind it is the bobbin winder stop. It’s held in place with the bobbin winder stop screw, and beneath that is the bobbin winder stop screw nut. (You never know when the right words might come in handy . . . )

And here’s the bobbin winder tension bracket and thread guide, with the lump of welding where the spring used to be. You can see that it has issues in a previous life, because the machine is scratched and grubby under where the spring should be:

There was just enough of a groove in the weld on the bracket to allow thread to feed through as I sewed this week, but this arrangement wouldn’t have worked if I’d been sewing on a more finicky fabric — or with a more finicky thread. The bobbin stop was less of an issue, since it’s possible to stop the bobbin manually. I managed to make a pair of Marcy Tilton’s pants using the machine as is, but it was a kludgy arrangement. The next garment, though, is definitely made from more sensitive material, so a fix was critical.

An Internet search turned up a fantastic parts list at TNT Repair. It was for slightly newer machines than my 237, but the schematic was pretty much the same, and it gave me the vocabulary I needed to describe the parts. I couldn’t order the spring from them, though, not only because I needed it immediately, but because my machine doesn’t seem to be in their inventory. Their extensive lists — culled, it seems, from old Singer service manuals — did make parts identification easy, and I will be keeping them in mind for accessories or parts I might need in the future, if I can’t find them locally.

Once I knew what to call the missing part, I called up Trev Hayes of Hayes Sewing Machines in Wilmington, Delaware. Wilmington’s far enough from my home that I don’t get there too often, but when I do, I always stop in at Hayes. They carry a full line of Kwik Sew, Lazy Girl Designs and a few other independent patterns, tons of machine accessories and embroidery and purse-making notions and an especially good selection of cottons. They’re also very helpful and friendly; it’s a family-owned store, and it shows.

Best of all, though, is that Trev Hayes repairs machines in his shop. I removed both parts from the machine, wrote a list of the parts involved (so that I’d know what I was talking about), and printed photos of the damage, since I really didn’t want to haul the machine around. (The case would never have survived.) Thus armed, I took off for Wilmington.

Trev Hayes took a look at the parts and announced that he’d get the “boneyard”. I knew exactly what he meant — my parts numbers were probably useless, since it wasn’t very likely anyone had an inventory anywhere. But there was a box of parts cannibalized from decommissioned machines in the back of the shop, and that’s where my hopes rested.

Mr. Hayes pulled a chair up to a table, handed me the box, and I plunged right in. Much to my happiness, I found the critical piece — the bobbin winder tension bracket and thread guide — almost immediately. No gold rush miner could have been more pleased — and I think Trev Hayes was just as tickled as I was!

I didn’t find the bobbin stop, but that I can live without. I did some shopping while I was at the store (and even found some super-light sew-in interfacing I’d been searching for fruitlessly elsewhere), and then headed home. Replacing the parts wasn’t difficult; it just took care, patience, and careful use of a pair of tweezers — the inverse of the procedure I’d used to remove them.

So now my back-up machine is back in business. Here’s how that spring is supposed to look:

I always spend too much when I go to Hayes, but experiences like these are a vivid reminder of how much more an independent store, owned and run by someone who really loves and understands his work, offers those of us who feel the same about what we do. There’s no Trev Hayes at a place like JoAnn’s — in fact, there’s hardly even anyone who sews. It’s important to do what we can to keep these independent stores alive — a world full of nothing but JoAnn’s would be a grim place indeed.

Categories: DIY Tags:

PR Mini-Wardrobe Contest: Vogue 8499

May 17th, 2008 No comments

First piece finished! I originally made a muslin of these Marcy Tilton pants from a linen-like fabric. This version, for this month’s Pattern Review Mini-Wardrobe Contest, is made from a black cotton blend sateen fabric with just a little stretch. The “stretch” was pretty irrelevant to this particular pattern, but it adds nice wearability to the pants.

These pants are just as much fun to wear as the first pair, but they look very different. The linen version has a flowing weight, and a casual, crumpled look. The black sateen is crisper, and these pants look almost tailored, even though the legs are so over-sized. I love the effect — these are pants I never think about while I’m wearing them. They just feel like a part of me.

Many reviewers have commented the sizing on this pattern is huge. It is! Be careful when you cut — you may need as many as four sizes smaller (I did!). Once you’ve got the right size, though, these pants are great — the flat front keeps them trim looking, and, even though the back waist is elasticized, shaping in the rear keeps the seat from bagging or looking puffy. In real life; this photo isn’t exactly proving my point, so I’m asking you to take it on faith. There’s the ease you’d expect from an elastic waist, but the seat fits mine pretty closely:

When I run elastic through a waistband, I like to make it adjustable and replaceable. Normally, I add buttonholes to each end of the elastic, but this time I sewed a bit of woven trim to each end, and will make the buttonholes in it. I’m waiting for the return of my Pfaff to do the buttonholes, but here’s what the tabs look like:

Not only does this look a little nicer, but it’s also a bit more comfortable to wear.

These were sewn on a Fashion Mate 237 that I bought several years ago, but hadn’t used since then. The fabric for the next item on my mini-wardrobe storyboard isn’t as forgiving as this one was, though, and I’m going to have to address some issues on the Fashion Mate before I start on it. Yikes! We’re already more than halfway through May!

Categories: Pants Tags:

Keen Bag Review and Mod

May 17th, 2008 No comments

On a trip to REI a couple of weeks ago, I found this Keen Rose City Shoulder Bag crumpled under a stack of stuff in the miscellaneous luggage department. Since it had been remaindered, I snapped it up: it’s the bag I copied and wrote about in this previous post. Here’s the fabric side of the bag, in a really nice, Ultrasuede-like lime (Keen calls the color “Sweet Pea”):

When I got it home, I discovered some interesting things. First, the reason one side of the Keen bag is so unforgiving is because it’s made of recycled rubber. Kudos to Keen for the environmental action, but this is a reversible bag, and, yuck, that’s really not nice next to the body! However, when I tried it on, I realized that there’s no reason it wouldn’t work fine as the lining. Here’s the rubber side, in deep purple:

The second thing I discovered is that Keen’s side pockets are really small. The interior pocket is teardrop-shaped — great for a hand, but maybe not so useful for stuff you might put into it. The pockets are hidden in the center seams, but there’s just one on each side. There’s also just one pocket along the neck strap. I like my version better, with two pockets on each side (one inside the bag, one outside), and two on the neck strap.

I didn’t buy the bag in the first place because of that stiff rubber, and because I really disliked the puffy look of the edges. See how the the different types of material fight with each other above? Well, now that I had one to play with, I decided to see what I could do about that. Here’s the result:

I edge-stitched all around the bag’s openings. That gave the bag a really sleek, tidy edge all around. Ideally, I’d have used a topstitching thread, but, not surprisingly, I couldn’t find one in the right shade of lime. Sometimes stitching a heavy synthetic non-woven can result in perforations that act as a tear-away line; using a heavy thread can prevent this. Since I had no choice about the thread, I used a longer stitch length to create more distance between the holes on the rubber side.

Here’s a detailed look at the edge of the shoulder strap. (The bag’s on my dummy’s shoulder, and the color you see probably isn’t anything like the really glorious Keen color.)

That’s probably too much detailing for a relatively inexpensive commercial bag, but it really makes a huge difference, not only in appearance, but also in the way it lies when worn. Which is exactly why we sew, isn’t it?

Categories: Accessories Tags:

Kwik Sew 3497 Easy Tank Top

May 11th, 2008 1 comment

Until I made my travel vest, it had probably been decades since I’d used a Kwik Sew pattern. I used to like making swimsuits from them, but I don’t really remember making much in the way of everyday wear using KS. My travel vest isn’t really a whole lot like the original pattern, but it got me thinking about KS again. I’ve always been a bit intrigued by how frequently KS patterns look like RTW.

When I decided that I wanted a simple, flattering summer top in a common RTW style, this Kwik Sew design seemed the way to go. Pattern pieces are few and the instructions simple; even better, once it was fitted, it should be a sewing staple for years.

I was thinking “one hour top”, but I was pretty much wrong, at least initially. First mistake: I cut View A in a medium, based on the measurements on the back of the envelope. There’s no doubt that the cut looked great on me; but this first muslin was just hugely too big in the back, shoulders, and bust. (That last was a first for a medium-sized anything.)

I pinned and fitted like mad, and ended up with a set of alterations that are completely different from anything I’ve done before. For the second attempt, I cut the top half in a size small, grading to a medium from below the bust to the hemline. With other patterns, I’d typically be doing exactly the opposite, so this seemed a little strange.

I didn’t actually complete the second muslin, either, which was made of a particularly awful shiny orange spandex bought just to fit and toss. Instead, I sewed up the third one in this black and gold poly/spandex. It fit beautifully, but, in the end, I decided to make two more changes. For my final version, I’ll add 3/8ths of an inch to the top 2/3rds of each armhole, so that the straps are a little wider. I think the width of the KS version is just a little too underwear-like. And I’ll be lengthening the tank by one more inch.

Due to my machine catastrophe, this version was never quite finished, either — though it’s close enough for modeling on my dummy, as you can see. Once it’s fitted, this pattern definitely lives up to the “Kwik” name: There are no facings, and everything just as simple as it could possibly be. You use clear elastic to finish the underside of the neckline, and simply turn under the hem allowance to finish the armholes. Serging makes it all go even faster. I may have spent hours and hours on the several muslins, but every future top will be incredibly fast!

I’m expecting this one to be easy and comfortable to wear, and perfect for travel, as it should dress up or down on a moment’s notice. It’s very flattering, too, and, made up in a light knit, takes up no space at all in a drawer or suitcase.

Categories: Tops Tags:

Is There a Sadder Sight?

May 10th, 2008 18 comments

. . . than the space where my much-loved Pfaff used to be? Thursday night, as I attempted to sew the last eight inches of the hem on a Kwik Sew top, the tension went all wonky. Irretrievably, unfixably wonky.

I’ve owned my Synchrotronic 1229 for 25 years, having acquired it new shortly after it was manufactured in April of 1983. (Shown here as the disaster multiplied. How about that tangle of thread on the left, eh?) I bought it because it did four things beautifully: the needle stops the minute instant power is cut; the walking foot feeds tricky fabric beautifully; it has a hands-free reverse stitching feature; and the machine edge-stitches with a precision that is amazing. For all these years, it’s done these things, and more, perfectly. Predictably. Wonderfully. I love this baby! So Thursday night was a bit devastating. A quick Internet search revealed a Pfaff dealer only 45 minutes away, which helped. After I called Friday morning, I felt even better — the technician was trained by Pfaff 22 years ago, and periodically since. That’s my era! My baby won’t leave the shop, and I should have it back in two weeks.

Not that it’s going to be a good two weeks. On the plus side, I do have a couple of options, at least for sewing wovens. The Singer Fashion Mate 237 that I picked up in California a few years ago will pinch hit, and, if I want, my 60-year-old Singer Featherweight is available, too. But nothing is quite as versatile as my trusty Pfaff; I’ll be feeling a bit of pain, even though I’ll still be able to sew. My spouse was sympathetic, but not really dismayed. He pointed out that I’ve been wanting to re-make my duct tape dummy, and that this could be the right moment. That’s a pretty good idea, especially since I keep putting it off in favor of actual sewing. We’ll see. Two weeks? I can probably survive two weeks, right?

Update:  It’s fixed!

Categories: Home, Tips Tags:

Of Course, There’s a Cat

May 6th, 2008 No comments

I write several blogs, and have so far managed to avoid mentioning cats (except once, tangentially, when it was appropriate — and it wasn’t my cat). Leaving Emma out of my sewing blog, though, just seems wrong. Here she is, in her favorite place, just to the left of my sewing table.

Emma is a Cat Angel Network rescue baby with a traumatic history. It took a year to get Emma to this point of bliss, purring in her own window on her own shelf, with her own human and the hum of a sewing machine to keep her company.

Categories: Home Tags:

Vogue 8323 – Cowl Neck Tee

May 3rd, 2008 2 comments

I cut this shirt out last year during the week I made my Soho coat when my spouse and I were vacationing with my in-laws.

Only the front and back seams were done by the time we got home, and somehow it got set aside until now, when finishing it became important. I’d cut out View B (on the right, above), but I’ll be making View C (on the left) the MIni-Wardrobe Contest, so getting this muslin finished mattered tonight. What was I thinking when I chose this fabric for this shirt? That’s right, folks: Itsy, bitsy stripes and princess seams. Curvy princess seams. In days gone by, I used to pride myself on my ability to match complicated plaids (and I really was very good at it). But that was a long time ago, and, if memory serves, half the battle was choosing the right pattern in the first place. This was not the right pattern. Just to prove that I actually can match stripes, though, I offer this:

You can hardly see the seam. Needless to say, I didn’t do as well on the bust curves, nor at matching the sleeves. In fact, I pretty much tossed in the towel after multiple tries. This was a muslin, after all. All of that said, I really do like the shirt. I’ll wear it under a fleece, and no one will realize that my stripes are an eighth of an inch off in strategic places. (And worse on the sleeves; they’re not quite as bad as they look in the photo, but they’re not good.) The pattern itself couldn’t be simpler, or more flattering — the shape really is wonderful, and, as is (size 12) fits my bust perfectly.

If you have the good sense not to use stripes, it should make up extremely quickly. The cowl is very, very long. In fact, it works well as a hood, and I’ll wear it that way with a fleece vest once the weather gets cooler. This pattern is definitely a keeper, and I’m eager to see how it works in my turquoise cotton knit.

Update:  “Epileptic” said my poor spouse, shielding his eyes from the horror of these stripes as I modeled this shirt for him.  I see his point, sort of, but what’s a little eye strain compared to the relentless boredom of one solid color after another?

Categories: Tops Tags: