Sew Along Part 1: Tools

So, it’s time to start talking about sewing.  I’ve been doing more and more of this lately because I can only weave so many dishtowels and scarves and I really love having the ability to make clothes that fit and flatter.  Even better that they’re made from cloth I’ve woven myself.  As my friends have watched my progress, some have also gotten the sewing bug and I wanted to pass on some of the help that a good friend has given me.  A “sew-along” seemed like a good way to do this both for accessibility (not everyone is on Ravelry) and also to ensure the information would be around for anyone not wanting to start at the same time.  And here we are.  On with the show!

The first thing I want to talk about is tools – or what’s often thought of as “notions”.  Sewing machines are a whole different beast, and I’m not going to cover that at all (either you already have one or you can simply hand sew your pieces) but there are some small things to get that will make your life easier when it comes to cutting, assembling, and sewing your project.


Some handy tools


Pictured above are (clockwise, starting from upper right) a clapper, 8″ angled dress shears, seam ripper, point turner, tailor’s chalk (two kinds), pins, sleeve pressing roll, and a tailor’s ham.  Underneath is a see-through ruler that has both a grid and standard measurements.  You can find most of these things at your local fabric store, like a JoAnn’s, or you can get them from mail-order places like Sew True Supply (no affiliation, just a super happy customer).  The shears, pins and seam-ripper are mandatory – all the others are “nice to have” but you’ll quickly find that the ability to properly press your garment makes a HUGE difference when seaming or finishing.  They’re not expensive and they’ll also help improve your everyday pressing.  Two things that didn’t make the picture are pattern weights and a sewing gauge – again, both readily available at JoAnn’s or other fabric store.

Dress shears longer than 8″ can be difficult to get around corners – for long straight cuts, you may want to go with a rotary cutter/mat set (often used for quilting).  But, regardless of size, make sure the shears you buy have an angled handle so that the blades run parallel with your cutting surface.  As for pins vs. pattern weights – I prefer the latter.  I find that it’s easier to cut out pieces and I get less distortion.  Whatever works best for you is what you should use.  But, if you are going the weight route, you’ll want at least eight of them if you’re cutting out garment-sized pieces.

Finally, the other thing you need is a good iron.  It should have multiple temperature settings so that it can deal with multiple fabric types and also the ability to both work as a dry or steam iron.  And, that steam should not only be hot, but there should be a lot of it.  Heavy irons mean less effort for you when pressing, so don’t think “lightweight.”  I finally got my dream iron – a Consew from AllBrands.  This thing makes me look like a hero.  I took some flack when I got it (you bought a WHAT?!?) but, the first time my husband needed to iron a dress shirt, he was a convert.  The downside of this iron is that I needed to put hooks in the ceiling to hang the reservoir, but there are ironing boards that include a mounting point for the tank.  Regardless, sewing is as much about pressing as it is about making stitches – so don’t skimp.

Ok, first post done.  The next one will cover looking at and navigating a pattern.

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So I did this yesterday

As I get more and more into designing, the process of learning seems to inevitably result in I HAVE AN IDEA AND I NEED TO MAKE THIS NOW!

While this isn’t usually a big deal, when there are only (checks calendar) six weeks until Art Fair, it can be pretty disruptive.  Yesterday was one of those days.

It all started when I wove off nearly 12 yards on Wednesday to get the AVL cleared off and ready for it’s next warp.  During the last hour of that stint, my mind started drifting off to plan the next project and I wanted to do something a bit more complicated than plain weave.  In the evenings, I’d been trying to wrap my head around a technique called “Network Drafting” because the notion of adding curves and circles to color blending is something I’d like to incorporate into my work.  So, that evening, a glass of wine and my newly-reborn laptop combined to hatch a crazy plan.  One day, one scarf.

The threading I adapted used all 16 shafts on the AVL and is a combined weave structure – using both plain weave and a 7-shaft satin repeat in the tie-up to weave off a network twill undulating curve.  The end result of that is a blurred circle pattern with two distinctly different faces – not unlike what is created when using turned twill – but with a more coherent structure thanks to the plain weave.  I knew that if I was happy with this adaptation I would use this for my booth, so that was all the push I needed to try and finish it over the course of the day.  Off I went.

The adaptations were focused on turning a large shawl into a scarf, so I needed to adjust the number of pattern repeats and also recalculate how much warp to put on.  I also spent time ensuring that the motifs would be set on the cloth in a pleasing way along both selvedges, adjusted the thread count to fit into my warp beam sections, checked for long edge floats and determined how much to weave in order to get a finished length that would work.  That took an hour or so and then it was time to pull yarns off the shelf and get weaving.  The yarn was the only thing I didn’t change – 10/2 cotton; in this case, organic cotton in undyed and a natural green.

The loom was beamed, threaded, sleyed and ready to go by lunch time (only 200 ends, so let’s not get too excited here) so by 1:00 I was weaving.  By 3:30 I’d finished not only a short sample but also the full scarf length with hemstitching along both ends.  That meant it was cut off the loom, washed and hanging up to dry by 4:00p.  From there it was out of the house for a quick run, come back to shower and then give the scarf a hard press (also to help dry it off) so that I could wear it out to a local taping of “Wait, Wait!  Don’t Tell Me!” that night.  Consider it a trial run to make sure I liked everything about it.

And, it’s wonderful.  A perfect length, soft as butter and the cloth came together perfectly.  You’ll be seeing more of these if you stop by my booth on Labor Day weekend.

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