Five Things to Improve the Finished
Ok, so this is way more than five things but if I had titled
this "Basic Sewing Tech: Fourteen Things
you'd never have read it.
The completed garment is more than just fabric cut and sewn.
It's a plan come to life. The following tips will make that
plan easier to execute and will improve the completed project
I've broken the process down into three stages: pre-production,
production, and post-production. The following represents
the stages, in order, of how I approach making a garment.
Your actual mileage may vary - test drive and see what works
best for you.
If I ever go to the grocery store without a shopping list,
I inevitably end up spending more than I wanted buying stuff
I don't need and forgetting to buy half the stuff I do need.
It's the same way for me when I put together a garment. I've
found that, if I sit down and plan out a garment, complete
with color sketches and trim ideas as well as a list of notions
that I'll need, I spend less money and time putting that garment
together than if I simply rely on serendipity.
I keep sketchbooks and doodle pads full of ideas on garments,
trim ideas, and scraps of fabric. Mostly the pages are set
up with a sketch of a garment, lists of things I'll need such
as hooks and eyes or estimated lengths of trim as well as
buttons, embroidery thread, or other do-dads. If I've got
a certain fabric at home that I'd like to make a garment out
of, I'll include a scrap of that in the sketchbook with the
line drawing so that I can pick out lining fabric to match
Contrary to popular opinion, you don't have to be a great
artist to use this technique. Just by sketching out a rough,
coloring it in and making your lists, you have given yourself
a plan of action that you can follow. If you know someone
who draws well, have them sketch out a basic outline of the
types of garments you like to make. Xerox those and use them
to draw on and color. Either way, you'll be ready when you
hit the fabric store and they're having a sale. Sketchbook
in hand, you can compare the color of that $1.99 linen to
the swatch of brocade in your book and either buy it or leave
it be (although I still have a tough time passing up $1.99
Another way to make this technique work for you is to xerox
pictures of the various types of garments and portions of
garments you want to make and put those in your sketch book
along with fabric swatches.
B. Material Selection
Garments from the 16th and 17th century have a certain weight
to them that is produced by the types of fabrics both available
and utilized. When a source states that a certain garment
was made of silk lined with taffeta, it is talking about a
fairly heavy bodied silk with a crisp silk taffeta lining.
Most of the silks that anyone of us can afford are much softer
and thinner than would've been used.
There are two ways of getting around this. First, switch
to a heavier but less expensive material that simulates the
look you're trying to achieve. Second, if you can't find a
heavier material or have decided to work with a thinner material,
interline the garment.
Interlining: Cut the interlining layer as with the outer
layer. Put them together and, during the construction phase,
treat them as one single layer of fabric. Baste or pin together
Interlining: Cut the interlining
as with the outer layer. Put them together and,
during the construction phase, treat them as one
single layer of fabric. Baste or pin together as
Pre-wash everything: no exceptions. Even if it says 'dry
clean only'. Burn test first to make sure there are no surprises
- I pre-wash and subsequently wash everything that is made
of natural fibers up to and including silk and linen. The
dryer is actually the big culprit in causing wear and tear
on fabric. So, I usually dry the fabric after pre-washing
but, depending on the fabric used, the garment may end up
being drip dried for the rest of its life. I often take a
small swatch off of the fabric prior to pre-washing and compare
it to the fabric after it's been pre-washed and dried. As
a general rule of thumb I always drip dry any garment made
from upholstery brocades or jacquards. If the garment is made
from good quality cotton, linen or silk, it gets washed and
dried per normal unless the pre-wash swatch indicated an extreme
loss of color, shrinkage or other undesirable effects. Then,
it gets drip dried only.
Pre-washing cannot be overemphasized. Modern fabrics are
extremely 'sized' during the production phase. The term 'sizing'
refers to the bath that most fabrics go through which gives
them more body and sheen after they are pressed through rollers
and then put up on boards for delivery to the store. Once
this fabric is washed, the 'size' is washed out and the fabric
is softer and less shiny.
Pre-washing also deters shrinking later on. Most modern fabrics
are stretched (a little or a lot, depending on quality) during
the weaving and sizing process. If you do not pre-wash your
fabric before you cut and make your project, you will regret
it later when you was that project and it shrinks in very
The best way to determine whether or not your fabric is of
a natural fiber is to do a burn test. If I am at a store and
unsure of a fabric content, I'll ask for a snip and conduct
a burn test in the parking lot (I carry tweezers and a lighter
in my car).
Burn Test Chart -
Iron out your fabric prior to cutting. Just as it is very
difficult to draw on a rumpled piece of paper, it's extremely
difficult to cut out a garment on a rumpled piece of cloth.
E. Laying out the fabric
Lining up the fabric prior to cutting, if you're cutting
doubles and on the fold is extremely important. If the fabric
is not lined up with itself prior to cutting doubles and on
the fold, the grain lines for some of the pieces could end
up being much different and this will have an adverse affect
on the finished product.
F. Pattern Cutting
Pay attention to those grain lines! Cut all pieces of the
garment out (shell, lining and interlining if used) at the
same time. Instead of using pins, consider using pattern weights.
Not only does this save your patterns from getting perforated,
but it streamlines the process. Tuna fish cans make cheap,
excellent alternatives to the more expensive weights sold
in fabric stores. I prefer the weight of Tuna fish packed
in oil but it's not as good for you so I recommend getting
Tuna fish packed in spring water.
Break the garment up into several smaller sections and construct
those sections first. For instance, I typically work the bodice
first, constructing it and getting it to the point where the
other pieces will be laid in or attached. I then move on to
the sleeves. After the sleeves is the skirt or pants. My rule
of thumb is to start with the most difficult section, just
to get that out of the way. I also like to start with the
central section, meaning the section that everything else
depends on. For the most part, this is the body section.
B. Grading Seams and Points
This reduces bulk and allows points to make a crisp line.
In many of the garments of the 16th and 17th century, reducing
bulk is a good thing.
|Grading seams by trimming bulk. Don't trim too closely
if the seam will be under stress.
||Clipping corners makes
for a cleaner, crisper corner.
C. Clipping Seams
This allows concave and convex points to do their thing without
puckering. Many of the seams in garments from the period are
convex or concave. Clipping them so that they don't pull or
pucker also makes the final fit better and allows those seams
to move and shape themselves around the body as they were
designed to do.
D. Pressing Seams
Unless you're sewing by hand (and even then), you should
always open all seams and iron them flat. The biggest difference
between a couture garment and a regular, off the rack garment
is the pressing. Unpressed seams look bulky and don't behave.
Pressed seams have a nice, finished look to them that reflects
upon the rest of the garment.
Pressing seams flat makes for
a better finish.
E. Adding Trim
Adding trim either by hand or by machine at this stage insures
that you can tuck the tails into closed seams later and makes
it possible to lay the trim down on the shell only. Adding
trim later means that you'll have to add trim after all the
pieces are sewn together and you'll have to figure out what
to do with the unfinished ends.
F. Put It All Together
Once the shell pieces have been sewn together and the lining
pieces have been sewn together, sew the shell and the lining
together. This is the modern way of constructing a garment.
If you're sewing by hand, you would put the lining and shell
pieces together and treat them as one in the construction
Before hitting the post-production state, make your last
fitting. Determine if armholes and neck openings are too small.
This last final fitting will also determine if the finished
fit is correct. This is basically your last chance to change
things easily. After things are finished, it's much harder
to go back and fix fit.
A. Finishing by Hand
I know it's a lot faster to finish seams closed by running
the sewing machine across them. Fight that temptation! Nothing
beats a seam finished by hand. It looks better lies flatter
and doesn't disturb the rest of the garment. Bias or seam
binding always looks better if finished by hand.
If it makes you feel any better, I loathe hand sewing
B. Final Touches
Hand sewing buttons, buttonholes, eyelet holes, and other
little details bring the garment to life. It may be easier
and faster to accomplish these things with your machine, but
it won't look as good and it won't look at period, which is
the whole idea