Top Sewing Tips

Sandra Betzina

How To Sewing Solutions 

Biased Opinion


Can a pattern for knit be made in a woven if cut on the bias? Yes! The first thing you need to do is change the grainline. To prevent ripples on bias seams, add 1" to the cutting line on vertical and diagonal seams. If you want the bias garment to fit a bit looser, cut an extra 1" for fit insurance at the side seams. Baste the side seams at 2L": L" for the existing seam allowance, 1" for bias and 1" for fit insurance. Let out or take in to suit, sewing the seams with a narrow zigzag (1.0 mm wide, 2.0 mm long). This will allow the seams to relax as the fabric relaxes. Cut the seam allowance width down to 1". Press open the seams, slightly stretching the seam allowances vertically as you press. Forget letting the garment hang 24 hours before hemming. Then give the whole garment an overall press, stretching the fabric slightly vertically with the iron. This will relax the fabric so you can use a hem marker to get an even hem.


DIY Darts

If bust darts are always too high for you, try this easy solution: Across the front bodice, draw a horizontal line across the pattern 1" down from the bottom of the armhole. Cut apart the pattern and lengthen the bodice the amount you want to lower the front dart. Draw a horizontal line on the same front, somewhere under the dart and above the waist. Shorten the pattern on the second line the same amount you lengthened above the dart. Now the length of the side seams match.


This is Only a Test 

Before preshrinking any fabric with a metallic finish in the washing machine and dryer, cut a 4" square and toss it in with your next load of laundry. The metallic finish might wash off. You'll be glad you didn't throw the whole piece in. Dry-clean the completed garment to maintain the fabric's luster.


Handle With Care

Can silk doupioni or silk shantung be washed? Yes, but only by hand using my favorite detergent for silk, a tablespoon of shampoo. Rinse in cool water and air dry. That being said, washing silk makes the fabric become softer and lose body. If you want the fabric to maintain its crispness, dry cleaning is recommended. In this case, no preshrinking is needed.


Hem Allowance

Not all hem allowances are created equal. Not only does the garment style determine the width of the hem allowance, the fabric comes into the decision as well. Typically a hem allowance on a knit top or full knit skirt is H", but on a straight or A-line knit dress, a 1H" width is preferred to give the hem weight. A jacket hem can be 1G" to 1H" while a coat hem is 2H" wide to give it weight. A blouse hem often uses a double turn of G". A full skirt has a narrow H" hem to eliminate bulk while a straight skirt needs a 2" to 2H" hem to give weight. Trouser hems are typically 1G", while a fuller pant needs a H" hem to eliminate bulk. For jeans, a double turn of H" is standard. Don't always use the hem width called for on the pattern. Make the decision to get the look you want.


Wash & Wear

A pair of white wool gabardine pants or a straight skirt can be a great investment but not if it needs to be dry-cleaned each time you wear it. You can launder the garments at home if you preshrink the gabardine in the bathtub in lukewarm water. Fabric can then be air dried over the shower pole. Launder soiled garments in the same way. Gently rub out spots without too much agitation, using a mild laundry detergent.


Stay in Shape

Lycra blend fabrics, while comfortable to wear, often don't retain their shape in areas of stress, such as in pants. After pants are worn once, the shape reflects your body, which may not be what you want. Another consideration is that Lycra blends don't press well. Plan on topstitching to flatten seams and details.


Color Coordinated

Why organize your fabric stash? Silly question, when the obvious answer is that you can't find anything. If you organize your fabric stash by color, you'll often find tow or three pieces that coordinate by accident. Now you have an outfit.


Tool Time

When trimming fabric close to the stitching line, nothing beats Gingher's 6" appliquŽ scissors. These are sometimes referred to as pelican scissors because one blade looks like a pelican beak.


Facing Free

To eliminate a facing, staystitch the garment using a 5/8" seam allowance. Trim away 3/8" of the seam allowance. Cut a 2" -wide bias strip the length of the garment seamline. Press the strip in half lengthwise. Open the fold and stitch the ends using a 1/2" seam. Press and trim away the seam allowance at the joint. With right sides together and the side of the garment with staystitching facing you, stitch both raw long edges of the bias strip to the garment, stretching the bias strip to fit the garment. Serge-finish the seam allowance. Press the seam allowance toward the garment. Secure the bias strip seam allowance to the underside by topstitching close to the seam.


Sandra Betzina designs patterns for Vogue under the Today's Fit label,writes a fitting column for Vogue Pattern magazine, is the author of More Fabric Savvy, Fast Fit, Power Sewing Step By Step and Sandra Betzina Sews for the Home, has produced nine instructional DVDs and conducts week-long sewing retreats in San Francisco. For more information, visit sandrabetzina.com or call (415) 876-2434.

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