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Saturday, March 28, 2015

A sewing techniques tutorial

Vogue Tute 01My sister has been bugging me to do a sewing tutorial for several years now.  We have been separated by vast expanses of territory our whole adult lives, and she has never been able to take advantage of my "expertise," although it's only fairly recently she's gotten involved in sewing herself. 

While I have a lifetime of sewing experience, I have very little teaching experience, and I've never done one of these now common web tutorials.  As I just made something from both a pattern and fabric that my sister gifted me, perhaps this is the time to take a stab at it.  So, Sister Dearest, this one's for you!

Vogue Tute 02
Samantha wants to sew, too

I picked this pattern out, attracted by the version in blue.  It's different from any blouse I've ever had, and I like different.  She picked out the fabric in my favorite color, so this was a very enjoyable project to embark upon.  Unfortunately, the fabric is really shiny and turned out not the best to attempt a tutorial with, so I hope you can see any details I'm trying to show. 

But for starters, here's evidence that I merit my Sewing with Cats badge!

There are so many books and tutorials out there, I am not going to attempt to teach anybody how to sew.  I'm just going to try to pass on various little techniques I've learned over the years that may not be as obvious to everybody else.  I certainly don't remember when, where, and how I learned some of this myself; but if I can help somebody learn an easy way of doing something they may not have thought of, perhaps that will allow more time for learning something else new.

Vogue Tute 03
All the pieces cut out
I learned to sew with the cutting board you can see.  Those don't seem to exist over here; I don't know what Europeans do to keep all their lines straight.  Wood floor boards and floor tiling seem to work for some, but they are lot harder to stick pins into!  Whatever surface one uses, here's how the finished cut out looks.

I don't know how anybody cuts with weights; I've used pins my whole life.  I like using long quilting pins for pinning, but they are too big to sew with.  One of the most important rules to follow is to keep the grain line straight.  No cheating!  Most of the markings given are a good idea, too, although I usually don't bother with seams that are fairly straight to line up.  One that I missed for years were the little dots in between the notches on the sleeve and armscye.

Vogue Tute 04
Marking the correct side

While some fabrics are really obvious as to which is the right or wrong side, some are not, such as this fabric.  I just picked the side I used (after pre-washing and drying, there was no way to tell how it came off the bolt), but then I needed to be sure to always use that same side, just in case there would be some kind of shading difference. 

The way I mark that is simply with a pin in each piece on the right side.  I absolutely do not take it out until after I've attached two pieces together and know I don't have to redo anything.  It can get confusing really fast.  (And how would I know this?)

Vogue Tute 05
First step lining up a curve
Vogue Tute 06
Ready to stitch a curved seam

Sewing curves can be really tricky, and this blouse has a good example, having a princess seam in the front.  Somehow you have to get those two edges together with no puckers. 

This is one area the markings on the pattern are very important.  As you can see on the left, I've pinned the notches together, without fighting in between them to match the edges, while the rest of the seam fits together nicely.  On the right, you can see how I've pulled the one curved area up to meet the opposite curve.  In my early days, this used to distress me, because the one edge seemed so much smaller than the other one.  It was like magic when it all sewed together smoothly.  It took some time to realize that the two pieces were actually the same size at the seam line, duh. 

While the fabric pulled enough in this case to fit together, sometimes it doesn't.  In that case, it can be very helpful to clip the concave side at least halfway into the seam allowance.  More magic.  It took me about 15 years to dare to do that, such wasted time and stress.  You also want to keep the fullest side down, closest to the feed dogs.  (On very tricky fabric, when I've had something with a double curve in one seam, going in opposite directions, I've had to stop and turn over the fabric to get the curve to seam nicely.  But that's rare.)

While I always look over pattern directions to see what they expect me to do, then I do my own thing, sometimes I've run across surprises when some kind of detailing takes an odd approach.  But I almost never do things in the order given.  I will pin, cut, and mark everything before continuing with anything else.  I will then pin together everything that can be sewed without something else being done to it first.  Anything that has to be interfaced gets ironed before the first stitch (except for facings, which I stitch the shoulders together on both fabric and interfacing first).  At the same time, I turn up any edge that can be pressed already while everything is still all flat.  Sometimes I have the garment half made before I take the first stitch, sometimes it's half sewn before the first pressing.

Vogue Tute 07
Prepping collars and cuffs
Here you can see that I've ironed on the cuff interfacing.  But before sewing the sides together, I've pressed up the edge that needs to be turned under (the second side of a cuff, collar, front placket, that either will be topstitched down or hand sewn).  I've also pressed the uninterfaced side of the collar stand.  Then, while it's all still flat and easy, I trim the seams.  It took me a lot of years to realize it was easier if I didn't cut away into the crossing seam, so that I still had full raw edges to match up on the next set of seams.

Vogue Tute 08
Vogue Tute 09
Results of enchaining

Now it's finally time to start putting that sewing machine to work.  I learned to enchain the various pieces together many many years ago.  When you get to the end of your first seam, after backtacking, just stick your second set at the needle and start sewing it, but don't forget to backtack if called for.  Continue for as many pieces as you have ready to sew. 

Look how many I did all at once!  Sometimes it's a game.  I'll sew as many together as I can, saving less urgent pieces for last, then cut them apart with the last one still in the machine.  I'll trim, press, whatever is needed before the next step, then come back to the machine and continue enchaining!

Not only does this method save a lot of thread, but it helps keep loose thread ends from pulling down into the bobbin (what, that's never happened to you?), and it helps give support to more delicate fabrics, like this, for not pulling down into the bobbin when starting the seam.

Vogue Tute 10
Rolling the topside of a collar seam

Another trick I learned a long time ago was to roll the seam edges, like faced collars and cuffs.  On thicker fabric, it's best to trim the seam allowance of the facing a little before cutting it out, but this didn't need that.  Once I had the collar sewn together, I pressed the stitched edge so that the seam rolled to the underside.

Vogue Tute 11
The rolled underside
From the topside, you end up with a nice smooth look.  On the underside, you've hidden that seam edge from view. 

The advantage of trimming the facing piece about 1/8" is that your bottom edges should still line up.  Here I have a little excess, but that won't make any significant difference to the end result.

Vogue Tute 12
Prepped front plackets
This is what a front placket will look like.  As I detest hand sewing, I always put them on opposite of the directions, which tell you to sew right sides together then handstitch the facing on the underside.   As they then usually have you go back and topstitch the whole thing anyway, I sew it upside down, with the loose placket on top, then topstitch that down close to the edge.  In this case, I didn't want any topstitching, so I had to break down and get out a needle and thread.  Not my idea of fun and relaxation.  You can almost see that the edges are rolled under.  You can also see that this fabric was hard to cut and the curves hard to get turned under evenly.  I like to be more precise than this, but I didn't go back and fix it up.  (I should have.)

Vogue Tute 13
Attaching collar to collar stand
A collar isn't hard to do, but it does require precision to look nice.  Above, I stitched the collar itself together.  If I had topstitched, that would have been done after pressing it all pretty.  Now it's time to sew the collar to the stand.  It is sandwiched together.  First, pin the interfaced part onto the collar. Hopefully the center front marks were made, as the collar itself goes in between them.  The rounded edges finish the front placket later.

Vogue Tute 14
Sandwiching the collar between the two collar stand pieces
Now turn it over and pin the other piece along the same edge.  But now you have something to pin the rounded edge to.  And you can see why I left some untrimmed seam allowance there, so I didn't have to guess where the trimmed edge was supposed to line up (been there, done that). 

Whenever you sew something interfaced to something not interfaced, always put the interfacing on top.  Often the fabric itself will expand by slight stretching, and the interfacing keeps the size more stable.  The feed dogs will help make everything come out nice and even.  (Try it the other way and see how much harder it is.)  Once this is stitched together, you can finish trimming the turned under edge at the same time you trim the whole collar/stand seam.

Vogue Tute 15
Finished front
Vogue Tute 16
Finished back

I didn't end up taking any more pictures because the object of this tutorial was to show a few techniques, not make this blouse step by step.  The directions in the package are adequate, and using them is how I learned most of my sewing in the first place.  Also, plenty of others have nice informative sites on how to do specific aspects if you don't figure something out.  But here's how it all came out.

Vogue Tute 17
Guarding the worksite
We have three cats.  One prefers to stay outside but loves us when we come into her world.  One seems to enjoy camping out on top of computers (or inviting herself to our dinner parties). 

And then there's Samantha.  I'm learning that she's my sewing buddy.  Whether I like it or not.  She had a particularly involved role during the construction of this blouse.

Vogue Tute 18
Worthy of a contest
And here's the finished result being an actual part of a wardrobe. I hope somebody reading this will have learned a few new tricks, but mostly I'm hoping my sister will bite the bullet and realize that Vogue patterns don't have to be any scarier than anything else.  Or that anything else isn't really all that much harder than whatever else.  As with everything else in life, it's just one step at a time until you master it.

I actually made this blouse for a contest.  You can see my review and entry here, plus more pictures.  There is some pretty great competition (including two more of my own!), so it will be exciting to see how this particular item places.  Voting starts next week and lasts for a week, but I'll let you know how I did overall.


  1. Nikki (catinthehat2 on PR)March 28, 2015 at 1:03 PM

    Great tutorial - congrats on your blog!

  2. Very informative and I use the enchanting all the time, it is a great time saver. Beautiful blouse and the colour is gorgeous on you.

  3. Thanks - I picked up a couple of tips. Enjoy sewing and just got a new machine!

  4. That blouse is really lovely. Great work. Sadly, I don't attempt anything harder than new curtains at this stage of life, which are all straight, straight, straight. You have made so many beautiful things. I had to laugh as your sister never did want to follow the directions on the pattern and now I find that you don't either. Well, if you don't need to, I guess you don't have to. Enjoyed this!

  5. Fascinating. What a great tutorial! I'm really going to have to think through your method of having everything "done" before you even start to sew. I bet that helps to cut down on the "oops" moments. But, Vogue patterns, in general are difficult. I won't be trying one without a tutorial to follow. I don't wear blouses, but I really like this one. And the shaping suggests that it might actually fit. Anyway, I'm looking forward to more tutorials.


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