Saturday, March 30, 2019

NLS 7.1 , Seam Secrets and Understanding Understitching


This post was prompted by some very frustrated newer sewists. I'm here to help. In the period of a week and a half I saw 4 separate posts by newer sewists on various forums, all tanking and trashing the Big Four patterns. All four posts were accompanied by pictures of their problem. Each photo was followed by an in depth rant of everything wrong with Big Four "tissue" patterns. One complainer did actually add indie patterns into her complaint as well. Then the pile on began. You know how the internet is. No one knows you, sees you, works with you, lives with you and everyone feels they can say anything. I thanked my lucky stars I did not own the business they were trashing. Let's stop there and back up a bit. I saw the first photo and before I even read the first sentence from the poster I knew what the problem was. The photo was an awful mess of unmatched seams that the sewist had ripped and sewn several times  and they never matched, ever! Disgusting, awful tissue patterns!!! All their fault!!!


Well, no. Immediately, the photo showed me that the sewist, in every case, matched the cutting lines  and not the seam lines. In three of the four the sewist never eased where they were told to ease on the tissue. Experience can be a tough teacher but I think our sewists have now learned what their issue was and I will go over it here in more depth. Before you cut into any fabric, before you pin any pattern to fabric, there is work to do, "Pattern Work". This is standard operating procedure. I am not going to go into all of that here but Threads Magazine, in issue #200, January, 2019 has a superb article on Pattern Work by Sara Veblen illustrating 10 necessary skills and how to do them. I highly recommend reading this for more in depth understanding of the Pattern Work necessary every time you want to cut a new pattern. Let's look at the photo above in the meantime.

Bodice front on the left, bodice back on the right. They are different, aren't they? This is a pattern with the front bodice on its own tissue for each size. The back bodice has all the sizes on one tissue. This is the same pattern. Look closely at your pattern pieces. Make sure you are cutting the correct pieces. You can't see it, but on the shoulder of the back bodice is printed EASE. So you need to ease. That means making a larger pattern piece match up to a smaller pattern piece.
Let's put this shoulder seam together.

Pieces are matched AT SEAMLINES, not at cutting lines. This means a starting match point needs to be established. On the wrong side measure in from each corner 5/8ths of an inch or whatever size is specified. You can see it's easy to do with a gridded ruler. I just put the dot in the corner. Why? They have to match perfectly.


Crap, the back is longer than the front. We need to pin.

Stick a pin in that dot we made at the corner and match it to the dot we made on the opposing piece.  Pin. Do the same to the opposite side.

Oh, no, there is a big blop of fabric on one side. It doesn't match. Well, it is not supposed to. You will find on nearly all well drafted patterns certain areas almost always are eased in. Back shoulder seams are eased into the front should seams. Upper inseams on pants are often eased into their opposing seam and on and on. You will learn this as you sew more but for now be really critical in looking at your pattern pieces to make sure you don't miss little words like "ease". Why are we easing the back shoulder seam? Because we all have shoulder blades and this allows them to have the extra room they need to function. They are not flat and the easing accommodates them .


Now you will very slightly stretch the seam out on the table  until it is flat and put a pin in the middle of the seamline. You will put a couple more between that one and the end pins. This spreads out the fabric to be eased equally into the front shoulder seam. Now let's sew the seam. Go to the machine and sew, with the larger piece on the bottom, touching the feed dogs. This way the machine will do the work for you and the feed dog will ease in the extra fabric, really, and do a nice job of it. If you have IDT on your machine, this is when you disengage it.



Now we will head to the iron. Press it as sewn. Press it open on the wrong side. Press it open from the right side and voila, above. We have a seam that appeared to the unknowing to be "cut wrong, doesn't match, no good" matching beautifully and providing space for those lovely angel wings on our backs. On to the next phase.


The next problem that kept appearing among newer sewists in my visits around the web were lots of complaints about facings and bindings rolling out despite all effort to keep them inside the garment. Let's talk about the "U" word.

Understitching!

There were a lot of misconceptions about understitching. It is necessary, friends, and a well done understitch is a joy to behold and a sign that you may not be a newbie sewist. I learned this way from the late, great Nancy Zieman and am pleased to pass it along to you. Let's start at the beginning. We will put a facing on the armhole of this polka dot bodice. 

Above you see a seam sewn on the facing that matches the shoulder seam. Notice how it is trimmed. One of the big rules of sewing that I actually try and always follow is "reduce bulk whenever possible". This facing seam is sewn and then trimmed back to the 5/8th seam line. You should be trimming back any seam that will cross any other seam before sewing it, back to the 5/8 seam line as you see above. press this open. 


Next we will stitch the facing to the armscye seam. We will then grade the seam.


Grading is trimming back the seam, usually on enclosed seams, to reduce bulk and facilitate movement. Above you can see the facing is trimmed back to 1/8th inch. The bodice/armscye is trimmed back to a 1/4 inch with pinking shears (not necessary but nice). The seam allowance that is on the PUBLIC side of the garment is the one that stays the longest. This helps pad out the rest of the seams from the public eye, real important when tailoring. The graded seam is then clipped to prevent lumping when the seam is turned in and pressed.


Press the seams toward the facing. Now go to the machine. Put your fabric under the presser foot so that the facing is on your right and ALL the seam allowances are under it, facing right as well. The bodice side of the seam is only one layer, the bodice, and on your left. Set your machine up for a triple zigzag stitch. This stitch really flattens the bulk of those seam allowances  and they will not be flopping out at all when complete. I used a 4.5 width and a .7 length. I stitched all around the facing on the facing side, catching in the trimmed seam allowances all along the way. Once stitched go back to the iron and press your facing as sewn. Using a ham helps hold the curve on this but not a must do.


But we're not done yet. We have one more bit of work to do to insure this facing never turns out. The red arrow is pointing at the shoulder seam. Once your facing is pressed into place find where it lays under the shoulder seam and pin. Go to the machine. Set  your machine at 1.5. Put in a matching thread. I did not do matching thread here. If you have an edge stitching foot or blade type foot, put it on the machine with the blade in the well of the seam. Put your shoulder seam under the presser foot with the neck edge about a 1/4 inch in. Stitch for about an inch and a half in the well of the seamline, where the red arrow is pointing. Try and spread the seam apart as you sew. When you reach the end remove the fabric from the machine leaving long threads. Pull your threads to the inside of the garment and tie them off and cut. This will insure your facing will not turn out. I used white thread in mine but covered it up with Derwent Inktense pencils. Love them.  You dip them into a bit of water and they turn to paint. Then you heat set with an iron and they are permanent. My Inktense pencils have hidden a lot of mistakes, a lot! I used the pink pencil on the white thread in the ditch to show you.

Give  your facing a good press over a soft surface and a ham for the best results. Pretty professional, eh?


This lesson has aimed to help those I saw struggling and ranting last week and all others who need to understand how you match seamlines, not cutting lines and for those who may miss the "ease" directions on the pattern tissue and think their pattern is poorly designed because their seamlines don't match. This post is also dedicated to those who just could not get their facings to lay down and stay inside their garments, very nice garments and were also blaming it on the pattern. I hope this Nancy Zieman method of understitching give you that professional touch and saves you some aggravation.

Please forgive all the Sharpie marks, the better for you to see what was going on here and for me to keep track. Any comments or suggestions are greatly appreciated. I will keep monitoring the web for those techniques that are driving our beloved new sewists up the walls of their sewing spaces. We are all here to encourage and help you along.........Bunny

26 comments:

  1. THANK you! I learned something new about the facings how to. The triple zig zag stitch !

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  2. Wow! I just learned a ton and I have been sewing for about 4 years. I am one of those "taught by the internet orphans", so this is very helpful. Thank you so much. I love how generous the sewing community is. :)

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  3. Thank you. The information about understitching is very interesting. I had thought my understitching was pretty good but I am sure this will give me an even better finish.

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  5. Very good and essential advice..

    The importance of matching seamlines is why I do not like US style patterns. European patterns indicate sewinglines. I mark the sewinglines according to the pattern. It does not matter what the seamallowances are, they may vary, I may want other width than the patternmaker.
    Adding SA is easy and fast compared to marking them if the pattern does not indicate them.

    The understitchig IS a secret superpower!

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  6. Great advice.
    Really helps make the garment look finished.

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  7. I have been sewing as long or longer than you have, but I am happy to have this review. Most impressive is the time you took to share so exactly and completely this information with the newest members of our sewing community!

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    1. I hope to share more soon. My life was in big flux the past couple years and is now settling back into a lovely flow. Glad to share my passion.

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  8. Bunny you are so kind to spend time on this! I never thought of using the triple zigzag!
    Something I get bogged down in is doing things the "right" way. Then I'll read an article somewhere "Famous sewer sleeve method" and it's the way I was doing it!

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    1. The triple zigzag understitching is the brilliance of Nancy Zieman. She taught us all so much and truly made my sewing better.

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  9. Well, thank goodness you are doing these posts! Doing them will surely help beginner sewists. Karen

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  10. Thank you for this very clear explanation! I have been sewing for decades but it never occurred to me to use a zigzag stitch on facings. It is so generous of you to explain these basics with clear illustrations.

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  11. Thanks! Your directions and illustrations are very clear. You do a good service to our sewing community!

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  12. Thank you! It is always good to have a gentle reminder as to why we do the things we do, even when sewing for 40+ years.

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  13. I have been sewing forever but only understitch sometimes - sometimes it doesn't seem to work, my error I'm sure. But you know what really taught me how it should work? Understitching the lining and elastic into my bathing suit is TOTALLY necessary. A great lesson in this technique. Thank you for your generous lesson!

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  14. I cannot imagine taking up sewing as a total newbie and figuring it all out by yourself. I have been sewing for years, having learned from my mom and also from several years of home-ec(!!) and the basic skills are just second nature, then all the internet tutorials for the special stuff! The pattern companies put together such amazing instructions. My testimonial to that is my son who was in film school decided he would sew civil war era soldiers uniforms (including lined jackets) for the actors in his thesis film, using one of the big four pattern companies' patterns. And he did it! Just by following the directions, no help from anyone! He is very detailed oriented. He did such a good job that at least one of the actors changed the photos on his promo site to photos of himself in action in the uniform my son made. Anyway, great job on these tutorials! Always beautiful stitching! Hopefully some of those folks who needed help will read this!

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    1. Wonderful story and it validates the importance of reading the directions carefully. Thanks for your comments.

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  15. I too learned to under stitch from Nancy Zieman. I watched her from the 90's until the last episode. I miss her still. I also learned a lot from Shirley Adams. The triple zig-zag stitch if pretty as well as being functional.

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  16. I am so glad you are doing these kind of posts again. I always learn so much from you, you are one of my favourite bloggers. Thank you for such great instructions.

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  17. I was taught to sew by my great grandmother (who'd been a seamstress in a tailor shop) and my mother (who once had a job sewing on thumbs in a glove factory), so these concepts weren't new to me -- but thank you for stepping up to explain how and why, and for doing it so well. Special love for the part about needing to press (not iron) the eased seam 3 different ways -- I find myself spending nearly as much time pressing as I do sewing, I think.

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    1. I always say "Pressing is Sewing". It is fully to be expected as a big part of the process and it's lack makes a garment woefully sad.

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  18. Great explanation. I learned to understitch on a straight-stitch only machine, but see I need to zigzag. I still don't have a triple zigzag.

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    1. Remember, it's the triple zigzag that realy tamps down those inner seam allowances. A regular zigzag has the risk of tunneling. The triple doesn't.

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  19. Thanks for taking the time and going into such detail. It never hurts to have a refresher for those who know and helps those who don't.

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  20. First, thank you for presenting this information. I strongly feel that it is an obligation of sorts to help newer "Sewists" do things properly. That came to me a few years ago when scanning internet sewing sites where well intentioned, young women mostly, were presenting their latest creations. I had flashbacks of a home ec teacher screeching at some of the A Line skirts class mates had finished. They were poorly made at every level and not pressed. These newer stitchers were lamenting that although the project was "easy-peasy" the patterns were terrible. While several contributors attempted to explain what the problems could be these newbies did not want to hear that it was anything but the patterns. I stopped reading. I was fortunate to have taken a few classes with Nancy, what a gracious person she was but her legacy lives on in generous people, like you, who teach and share.

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  21. Great info on this blog and I think any new sewist would benefit a lot by having a look at some of those Nancy Zieman videos. I'll always be grateful we 'older sewists' had the help of home economics in high school. Sewing like anything else requires you learn the basics first and lots of sewists want to dive right in andmake a dress without doing any 'prep'. The more tricks you have up your sleeve (no pun inteneded) the better your garment is going to turn out.

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