Archive for the ‘sewing technique’ category

Favourite books – sewing

June 29, 2013

Chosen your style and lovingly crafted your pattern ? Now on to making the garment.
Here are some favourite books on sewing technique.

Previous favourite booklists were on the books I keep by me which are about :
Style and wardrobe
Pattern altering
Pattern drafting, Fit

Several limitations on my sewing book list :
– Many beginners sewing books have a lot on home dec. Square shapes, simple to sew and fit – easy cushions/ pillows and curtains/ drapes. But except for patchwork that doesn’t much interest me, so I don’t notice those books.
– I like learning by being guided through a specific sequence of projects, carefully chosen to introduce new skills. I know many people don’t like that. You have to be willing to make things that aren’t your ideal choice !
– I love wardrobe pattern books. But there are many with patterns for dresses, which I don’t wear. So I haven’t got those books.
– Books on tailoring – none of those either as I don’t wear structured clothes.
– There also are many more advanced books on embellishing clothes, sorry I’m not expert on them.
– And I’m no help when it comes to the best guidance on specialist techniques like sewing lingerie, or advanced and couture technique.

So this sewing booklist is like my other lists – very affected by personal preferences. There are many books which are much loved by other people and have good instructions, but which I don’t mention.

As we all have different styles of sewing and learning, there’s no guarantee these will work well for you too !
I like project based books for learning, though I also really like videos demos for the practical aspects of sewing, to feel secure that I know what to do (see right hand menu). I can learn from good books, and like to keep them by me for a speedy easy-access reminder.

There are several other books I like, but these are the ones I return to more often.

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Complete beginner

Little Course in Sewing
Gentle lead-in with project sequence for hand then machine sewing (not much on clothes)

Kate Haxell Me and My Sewing Machine
Basic sewing machine processes, For reference, not project based.

Jane Eayre Fryer The Mary Frances Sewing Book
This is the 100th anniversary edition with patterns included for 18 inch dolls – hand sew a sequence of early 20c styles.

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Advanced beginner, project based instructions

Kerstin Martensson Easy Sewing the Kwik Sew Way
Simple basic wardrobe – full size traceable patterns included for tee, dartless blouse, 2 skirts and pants with elastic waist, with simple instructions for pattern alterations.


Kay Whitt Sew Serendipity
3 basic full-size tissue patterns included. Variations with ideas for fabric combinations and added trims. Instructions have hand drawings in the style of this illustration. A bit more advanced than the Kwik Sew book (includes zips, trims).


The next book is full of embellishment ideas. There must be hundreds of books with little crafty projects, most of which don’t appeal. This town has good libraries and bookstores so I can check out many of them (sadly no full-scope fabric shop !). So I know only a very small number of these books are to my taste. This must be a very individual matter, so there’s no guarantee the ones I like will suit other people.
For some reason I do return to Get the most from your sewing machine by Marion Elliot, inspires me to have fun with my sewing. Being inconsistent, I don’t actually use the projects in this book. But there are so many suggestions for other things to do with the techniques.

out of print

Garments for beginners
An alternative to the Kwik Sew book. Project sequence of similar garments, though no patterns included (and these days there’s no simple wardrobe pattern for wovens). Simple jacket and vest but no basic blouse. A bit easier than the Kwik Sew book as it doesn’t include collars or pattern alterations. The advantage is this has photos of technique, which I prefer.

Patricia Moyes Sewing Basics
A technique book but organised by type of garment, e.g. all the techniques you can choose between to make pants. No jacket linings or notch collars. More advanced than the Kwik Sew and Kay Whitt books, photos and line drawings.

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Intermediate – wardrobe pattern books

Alison Smith Dressmaking
12 basic patterns supplied for classic styles, with 19 simple pattern variations, excellent detailed technique photos. Could be used as a project sequence. Patterns have to be enlarged from squared diagrams, or downloaded.





(P.S. There can probably never be one sewing book that’s ideal for everyone, as we all have different clothing and learning styles.
The patterns in The Great British Sewing Bee book by Tessa Eveleigh are prettier, and it includes beginner projects and home dec.
But the technical instruction in Alison Smith’s Dressmaking book is very much better. And it goes 3 sizes bigger.)

I also enjoy the style of Japanese sewing books, available from Simply Pretty.
Slouchy crafter casual.
Very visual presentation of technique. Full size traceable patterns included, though usually only small sizes (Extra Large has 38 in. hips !) I have several of these but none stands out as ‘the’ one. Several have been translated into English but none of my favourites.

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Intermediate – Pockets

A specialist little group. Apart from changing fabric or trim, changing pockets is the easiest way to make the same pattern again and make it look different. There are several out-of-print books on sewing them.

Patricia Moyes Just Pockets
Claire Shaeffer Sew any patch pocket
Claire Shaeffer Sew any set-in pocket

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Intermediate – reference books on general technique

Cole & Czachor Professional sewing techniques for designers
High-end RTW boutique sewing. Mainly written instructions, so not for beginners.

Sandra Betzina More Fabric Savvy
Practical details of needle sizes, stitches, threads, technique. for sewing many fabrics.

out of print

Threads magazine Easy Guides (Sewing Companion Library)
Full of information and inspiration.

Vogue Sewing Book 1970 edition
Vogue Sewing Book 1982 edition
Famous tomes.

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Other media for advice on sewing ?
There are a lot of suggestions for on-line videos and DVDs in my posts on learning, if you prefer demos to books (see Index page 8). And many links in the right-hand menu.

I also collect 19C sewing books so yes, I’ve got many sewing books I like !

Hope you find pleasure, supportive guidance, inspiration that is right for you 😀

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Links available June 2013

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Fun fashion and sewing links

March 26, 2013

I don’t think I’ve ever done a purely “have a look at these” post. But here are some starting points for inspirational Weekend-Web-Wandering over the holiday. Links to links !

Enough for two weeks of this – first on fashion and sewing. Later on personal style.

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Here’s a list which claims to be the top 99 most influential fashion blogs.

It’s a good season for remembering the difference between style and fashion. Have been looking at a UK magazine issue for this month. Which says this summer we must wear black and white, or bright colours in big florals or blocking. Emerald, sunflower, red, bright blue, fuchsia.
Well, those will only flatter people with ‘Winter’ or ‘Spring’ type colouring.
And within those colour groupings, only people with some colour personalities and some personal styles would be happy wearing them.
Also apparently neutrals (grey, navy, dark brown) are a no-no this season.

Actually that leaves out a big colour story this summer, the pale beiges and pastels (see Cos) – good for some ‘Summers’.
‘Autumns’ ? – how about some gold or bronze metallic, or tangerine, greyed jade, chartreuse.
Here’s the Pantone spring 2013 colour report.
And there’s the grey/ silver metallics and sheers.

Happily other sources have a wider range of ideas about this season’s possibilities.
Here’s the US Vogue spring 2013 trends.

YouLookFab lists must-haves for spring/summer 2013.

And have a look at what M&S thinks we should be wearing this summer. Set the occasion on the left, the current ‘look’ at the top, and see what they suggest !
Fashion of course, no allowance for personal style. Plus lots of videos of models wearing the outfits. I don’t find them at all tempting (they might not mind this – I doubt I’m their target customer :D), but they are entertaining.

Yet more delight from looking at clothes ? explore the outfits at Polyvore.

While have already listed all the RTW fashion shows for winter 2013.

And’s pre-season report says the Fall 2013 trends (click on ‘The pre-fall Guide’) are :
Candy coloured coats
Leopard print
Turtleneck sweaters
Modest coverage evening wear
Big proportions
Oxfords and saddle shoes

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Patterns and sewing

Sewaholic patterns come out top pattern company in the Pattern Review of top patterns in 2012.
Good instructions, and some patterns have on-line sewalongs (sorry, they’re for pear shape people).

There are many easy free download patterns from Hot Patterns, if you’re looking for an ‘instant gratification’ project quick enough to make over the weekend.
(well except that assembling a download pattern isn’t instant gratification. . .)

Dozens more quick free sewing patterns at AllFreeSewing. Though no guarantee of the quality of the patterns or instructions.

Or look through the Hot Patterns videos – they are intended (and effective :D) to get you to buy their main pattern line, but there’s a lot of useful information as well.
They actually have a ‘channel’ on YouTube.
Click on the words “Uploaded Videos” in the button.
(The Favorite videos are something else entirely.)

Or explore FashionSewingBlogTV if you like to watch easy videos about technique.

Get inspired by the wondrous wardrobe sewing at Stitcher’s Guild. This year’s Sewing With A Plan contest ends in April. Use your Tried ‘n True patterns and there’s still time to take part if you enjoy speedy sewing 😀
Or do it without pressure and follow the seasonal capsule sew along – always one in progress.

And if you get to the end of the weekend and find you’ve made a wadder – make a special sewer’s frustration tool from Shirley Adams at Sewing Connection. Make it from the worst bit of your wadder 😀

Back to serious – you can sign on free for a couple of days at The Sewing Guru (it’s easy to cancel the instructions at PayPal).
You might manage in one weekend to watch all his videos on making a tailored jacket, but would you remember it all 😀 If you get hooked you may want to stay a member so you can watch them slowly.

At the advanced end of the technical skills scale, couture companies like Chanel give more details about what underpins their collections.

Hermes have videos about the work of their expert artisans.

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Second post planned on links for exploring personal style.
Following up all this could take weeks not days !
Have leisurely relaxing fun over the holiday weekend 😀

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Links available March 2013

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Improving sewing success

April 14, 2012

How can we know what we’re getting before we finish sewing ?

I recently wrote some comments at Stitchers Guild on sources of wardrobing advice for beginners. Ejvc commented it’s easy to find garments in the right colours, shapes, personal styles (all except fit !) when shopping. Because you can try before you buy. But much more difficult to get it right when sewing, because you have to wait ’til you’ve finished to know what you’ve got.

Good points. But I think there are many things we can do to increase our success rate. We haven’t got to work completely in the dark until the last moment about what we’re getting.

Incidentally, these are all things that designers do.  They don’t expect to get their designs right first time without any testing of the real life item (as opposed to the mental dream or the glamourised sketch !). They develop on from styles that have been used before, rather than starting afresh for every garment. And they test frequently during development, so they can give up quickly and without guilt on styles that don’t work out.

Colours and fabrication

I always check colours and fabrics before cutting (preferably before buying !). Hold them up against myself in a full length mirror. Is it a flattering colour ? fabrication, texture, pattern in my style ? good on my body (too stiff or too soft) ?

Also hold the fabric up to test how it drapes.
If you have a dress form, pin the fabric on in a rough approximation of the style – does it look good ? drape right ? have the effect you were thinking of ?

There is no longer a fabric shop here. And buying fabrics on-line is a problem for me. Small differences in shade can make a big difference to whether the colour is flattering. And those small differences aren’t usually reproduced well on screen.
I have a rule not to buy without a sample. I still have problems with :
– fabrics that look different in a large piece than in a small sample.
– fabrics that I’ve bought samples of, and then a different dye lot turns out to be completely different. . .
But those problems happen less often than they would without taking any care.

Good on your body shape

Sketching a style onto a personal croquis is a great help (if you have the skills 😀 ).

Even if you don’t make fit alterations to patterns : know what wearing ease you like for this sort of style, and measure the pattern to make sure it won’t be too large or too small. I remember a top in a favourite fabric that looked so fool-proof I didn’t make any measurements or trials – and it had cut-on sleeves that were too tight round the armhole.

Though measuring doesn’t save me from all disasters. I made a top from a pretty print in just the right colour. PR reviews warned about the neckline. I carefully measured, and all seemed well. But when I tried the finished garment on, it slipped off my shoulders so much it was unwearable.

If I had tried on either garment part-made, a simple alteration could have solved the problem. The neckline problem wouldn’t have shown up in tissue fitting, as it was caused by the way fabric flexed on my sloping shoulders, which made the neckline much wider in wear.

There are many good reasons to make a muslin as part of the pre-planning – check the proportions, ease levels, style element placing, etc. as well as the fit, before wasting the good fabric.

Moral – much basting and frequent try-outs needed at each possible stage of making. . .  Many problems can be rescued (let out seam allowances, add a dart, pleat, or godet 😀 ).  If not, a UFO in the middle of construction is a better outcome than spending a lot of time finishing something that turns out to be unwearable. 

Personal style

Go to a store and try on new styles to see if they flatter you, then look for a similar pattern.

It helps to be aware of your own style – quickly filters out a lot of options. Remember one person’s ‘faves’ can be another person’s ‘never’. I enjoy a recent post from The Vivienne Files. Several of the softer items she avoids are my everyday wear 😀 (my thoughts on a successful cascade jacket are here). And most of the trim-fit ‘modern classics’ she loves would look dreadful on me – not flattering for my body shape, personal style, colouring. (Try Burda Style or styleARC patterns if you want to copy.) I do agree with her about many ‘no-no’ items, but a ‘goth’ or an enthusiastic fashionista would love those spikes and skulls or designer logos. Or perhaps you enjoy casual casuals (here are my posts on sweatshirts and hoodies). Or do you feel at your best in square cut loose fitting ‘arty’ clothes and love Sewing Workshop or Cutting Line patterns.

I’m lucky I have a good visual imagination. I stand in front of a mirror holding a picture of a possible style, and imagine myself wearing it. Also while I’m around locally I imagine myself wearing the style. Has saved me from many mistakes. I now know it’s waste of time starting a project that I’m not sure about, as that will just languish as a UFO.

Or find a designer that works well for you, and stick with their patterns. Not a 100% guarantee of success, but better than random.

If I had to use only one designer, it would be a few patterns by Loes Hinse. But she designs for people with very different shoulders and hips than mine. So her main patterns are not a good starting point for me. Instead I make ‘inspired by’ versions. Or morph the style elements onto my own basic blocks. I also don’t follow her fabric choices, as black, gold, and glitter are not good on me. Hmm, I haven’t got an overlocker (serger) and never wear shoulder pads. Obviously I’m not her ideal customer 😀

Repeat successful patterns

I tend towards a repeating wardrobe because I know what has worked well in the past. (And I’m a timid learner.) But not to worry – that fits in well with most wardrobe building suggestions 😀

Here’s a valuable comment from CCCouture at Stitchers Guild.

“I was just in Las Vegas for the International Textile Expo and lived a dream for a bit in the Chanel RTW Boutique in the Shops at the Bellagio.

I was quite surprised, that while the fabrics are gorgeous, there’s really not much sewing in the RTW pieces.   It’s the fabrics, trims and other findings (buttons) that make them so unique.”

Making small variations to a basic style is what some of the top designers do 😀

Improving your success rate is another good reason to develop new styles by changing details of familiar patterns. Or morph style elements onto good basic personal blocks. Rather than starting from scratch with a new commercial pattern every time.

Though repeating isn’t the best strategy for people who like a lot of variety in their wardrobe. Or variety in their sewing 😀

Practice unfamiliar skills

I always do this, and it amazes me that some people don’t practise before trying a new technique for real. But I know this is another strong personality feature, and many people would not be at all happy if they had to follow my slow and careful ways 😀

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The use of time

For every aspect of getting things right (colour, fabric, shape, fit, style, technique. . . ), the best tool for success is try on, try on, try on, at every stage possible.

Many people enjoy the sewing but not the testing.  And many other people like to just ‘jump in and have a go’. I think they have to accept that their emphasis is on the sewing not the result. So, much of what they make will be samples to learn from, rather than wearable items. For me, the good results are well worth the extra effort.

Part of sewing success is a recognition of the use of time – it’s not just about sewing.
Pattern preparation, fabric preparation (my biggest dislike), cutting out, marking, developing sewing skills and finding good techniques for a particular process, pressing, checking what you’ve made so far – they’re all processes which take substantial amounts of time to get right. They can’t just be rushed through (or left out altogether !).

So find a way of making them fun. Sew in a way that makes all the processes a treat for you 😀

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P.S. Despite all this, it still didn’t work out as you dreamed ? Here’s a special sewer’s frustration tool from Shirley Adams of Sewing Connection 😀

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Originally written April 2012, links checked October 2019.

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Notch collar jackets – sources of sewing advice

April 2, 2011

There are many classic notch collar blazers in high fashion magazines this season.

I last made a notch collar jacket in the early 60s (50 years ago – aargh !!). Many memories of making and wearing it. A Vogue Dior double breasted suit with wide collar. Made in an asymmetric stripe wool. I still remember the stripes matching across the bound buttonholes with amazement and pride. And I chose to use the first non-woven interfacings, which were like cardboard. I suspect I’m never going to recover from my resulting dislike of non-wovens 😀 Ah but beautiful beautiful buttons.

That was a work suit. Long before Yves Saint-Laurent made pant suits acceptable for women (no tights/ pantyhose either). For me, a previous sewing and styling lifetime (I didn’t make clothes at all for about 30 years). Goodness, reminds me of the bed-sit I was living in at the time – complete with one-bar electric fire, putting shillings in the meter for hot water, and a handwheel black and gold Singer sewing machine.

Aren’t we lucky with modern standards of living – and the modern free choice of wearing our own style. But I still keep thinking I ‘ought’ to make one of these ‘proper’ jackets as they represent the height of sewing skills, even though I know I would never wear it. That ridiculous requirement has kept me collecting information. So here are some links, in case they’re useful to anyone.

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Patterns with fit guidance

There are innumerable notched collar jacket patterns. I mentioned some in a previous post on classic jackets for work.

There are many different design details in blazers, as I talked about in my post on notch collar styles. And any of these details might affect whether you feel comfortable and happy and at your best. So get to know what works for your shape and personal style. I’ll just mention a few patterns for specific purposes.

If you’d like a pattern with help on fit, there’s :

Palmer-Pletsch McCall’s 6172 (left)


If you’d like pattern pieces for several cup sizes :

“Amazing Fit” pattern with 3 cup sizes Simplicity 2446. (right) (instructions not recommended at Pattern Review.)

Silhouette patterns 4 button jacket, also shoulder princess, pattern pieces for B, C, D cups (no comments at PR).

Or choose any shoulder princess seam style. Add a centre back seam and 1 inch/ 2.5 cm seam allowances to your muslin, to make DIY fitting easier.

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On-line sewing advice – written tutorials

Methods of sewing notched collar jackets range from simple to challenging tailoring. And there are different opinions about the best descriptions of how to do them.

There’s a whole section of Sigrid’s sewing tutorials on jackets.

Here’s another listing of tutorials from Couture et Tricot, with many on jackets.

Ann Rowley has a photo tutorial showing how she made a high quality jacket from a Burda magazine pattern.

Here’s an on-line tutorial on speed tailoring a notched collar and lapel using fusibles.

And here’s an on-line tutorial from Couture et Tricot on giving full support to a collar using specialised interfacings (scroll down for English version).

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P.S. Marie-Christine has suggested 2 other excellent sources of jacket tutorials :

Kathleen Fasanella’s Fashion Incubator site on pattern making and sewing. Jacket tutorials are mainly on linings.

Pattern-Scissors-Cloth, scroll down for a jacket sewalong.

And there’s Kathryn’s Jacket making journey.

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Books, DVDs, on-line videos

Collars aren’t all there is to consider with high-end jacket making skills. There can also be multiple layers of special support structures for roll line, shoulders and armholes, sleeve head, and vents, as well as techniques for quality buttonholes and pockets.

One way of sorting out all the different techniques is to say there are three levels of difficulty. This popular book gives instructions for using : fusible interfacing, machine sewn – not fusible interfacing, custom sewn with traditional handwork : Tailoring : the classic guide.

(P.S. Two new (2013) books which are enthusiastically reviewed :
Vintage Couture Tailoring by Thomas von Nordheim.
Couture Sewing – Cardigan jacket by Claire Shaeffer.)

There’s the Palmer-Alto Jackets for Real People book and DVD on speed tailoring (using fusible interfacing).

Peggy Sagers’ DVD Factory Tips and Techniques 1 : Making Blazers also shows quick and easy techniques. (The only jacket DVD I’ve watched. Mixed enthusiasm about recommending it as there’s no menu. But the content is good, if you can bear to go through it making a list of timings so you can re-view it without too much pain. You’d never guess without viewing, but it also has good tips on sewing band collars and fly zips.)

Petite Plus Patterns have a DVD on Constructing the Princess Seamed Blazer.
Demos of sewing and pressing for two levels of difficulty. The instructions are usable with any size pattern.

The Sewing Guru has extensive on-line sew-along videos about two types of jacket making : industrial and tailoring. Use the free sign up to have a good look round – when you sign up you get an e-mail on how to log in. With a PayPal account it’s easy to cancel.

Kenneth King has a Craftsy class on a Carefree fly-front coat.

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Good instructions with the pattern

The simplest blazer patterns involve no more skills than a basic blouse : darts or princess seams, buttons and buttonholes, faced neckline, collar without band, one-piece fitted sleeve without cuff. Such as Butterick 4138, with interfacing only in collar and facing, shoulder pads, 1-piece sleeve, simple or no pockets, and no lining. (Now oop, and just an example of a very simple style, the instructions aren’t special.)


More complex jacket patterns include more support structures, 2-piece sleeves, welt or flap pockets, and lining. These are some patterns which people have recommended for the instructions :

McCall’s 6172 Palmer-Pletsch (left below)

Vogue 8333 Claire Shaeffer (right) (2 levels of instructions, for quality RTW and couture).


And these are patterns from independent designers which people recommend for instructions to get a quality tailored result :

Nancy Erickson’s 1945 jacket. (left below)
She also has a Jackets Workbook with extra instructions (she’s a fan of using fusibles), and dozens of ideas for pattern altering to make new styles.

Cecelia Podolak’s Fearless notched collar jacket (right)


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As usual with such a wide range of possible techniques, most of us need to experiment to find the methods and results we enjoy best.

If you need inspiration about choosing and making jackets, there’s the Stitcher’s Guild Jacket a Month sewalong.

That itself was inspired by Gigi Louis’ Year of the Jacket.

Pattern Review usually has a lined jacket making contest each year. The discussions include much advice.
Lined jacket contest 2011
Lined jacket contest 2012
The 2013 one will be in October.

There are many people making beautiful jackets who are generous with helping us develop our skills 😀

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Originally posted April 2011, patterns and links updated May 2013

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