Category Archives: Tips

Better Pictures Project + a quick editing tutorial

Hallo! If you read Gillian’s blog, Crafting a Rainbow, you’ll have seen she asked me to contribute to her Better Pictures Project this month on the subject of taking better indoor photos, especially in winter. I was flattered when Gillian asked me to share some tips because I don’t see my photos as particularly great; in fact I often feel bad that I don’t get outside to shoot more often. I usually feel too self-conscious to shoot in public, plus it’s so much faster and easier to control conditions and get a variety of detail/angle shots indoors, which is what I like to see when I’m reading blogs myself. So it’s likely you’ll be stuck with my fireplace and sewing room wall some more this year, ha ha.

Edit blog photos

You can read the post over on Crafting a Rainbow for details of my photography setup, and I’m sharing a bit more detail here on my typical editing process, which I believe makes up a large proportion of getting a decent indoors shot. I’m using Adobe Photoshop CC 2015 on my iMac – I’m afraid I can’t advise on other software solutions as I only use Photoshop!

Edit blog photos

Here’s a typical photo straight out of my camera. It’s not too bad, but my typical adjustments to make a shot like this a bit better are to correct the light levels and cropping.

Edit blog photos

Because I use a wide-angle lens and my light source – the window – is coming in from the side, I often get vignetting: darker corners compared to the centre of the image. To brighten them out I use the Dodge tool. Select a large, soft brush on the top toolbar, set the Exposure to 20-30%, and gently brush on the dark areas until they brighten up. I might also brush on other areas that have got a bit shadowy like my face or darker areas of the garment.

Edit blog photos

The bottom half of my images are usually dark and shadowy so you can’t see the details of the garment properly, so I even this up too. Enter Quick Mask mode by hitting the little ‘dotted circle inside a rectangle’ icon near the bottom of the left toolbar, or shortcut: hit the Q key. Now select the Brush tool and paint over the dark patch with a large, soft brush. The mask is painted in red – that’s just temporary so you can see it!

Edit blog photos

Then I press Q again which exits Quick Mask and turns the mask into a selection, outlined by a dotted line. The mask actually selects the inverse of what you painted, so hit cmd+shift+i to invert the selection.

Edit blog photos

Then I use the Curves tool (Image > Adjustments > Curves or cmd+M) to bump up the brightness of the selected area – it will just affect the bit that was masked, and because we used a soft-edged brush it will tone in with no obvious edges. I don’t really understand how Curves works, but by pulling up the middle of the line I find it creates a nice even brightness-punch without blowing out the colour or detail.

Edit blog photos

As I say in the post I wrote for Gillian, I try to reduce things poking into shot as it’s visually distracting. I haven’t shoved my coffee table out of the way enough so I’m going to clone it out. Again use the Quick Mask to brush over the thing you want to remove.

Edit blog photos

Invert it, right click on the selection, and hit ‘Fill’. Make sure ‘Content Aware’ is the contents type and hit OK. The selected area will be filled with a sampling of its surroundings so it disappears. PHOTOSHOP MAGIC. I may also use the Clone Stamp tool to brush out smaller distracting details.

Edit blog photos

Finally, I’ll straighten and crop the image using the Crop tool. Make sure ‘original ratio’ is selected so you have uniform image sizes and drag and rotate the handles to a nice composition. You’ll see gridlines come up dividing the image into thirds and it’s nice to try and have the image’s focal points sit on one of the gridlines for a pleasing composition (the rule of thirds).

Edit blog photos

Finally, I may apply a couple of filters – I find these help my images have a cohesive ‘look’ to them. I save these as Actions so they can be run instantly across every photo in the set. You can find lots of free filter actions online: try DeviantArt. You’ll probably want to tone down the result by setting a lower opacity on the Layer palette. When you’re happy, merge down all the layers and save.

Edit blog photos

Done! This process takes me under five minutes per image, and I think it’s worth the small amount of effort. I hope it was helpful, and let me know if you have any other questions or tips about indoor photography or photo editing. Are you participating in the Better Pictures Project? Are you a fan of indoor or outdoor shots on sewing blogs? Should I suck it up and get outdoors sometimes?

Kaleido-Datura, and tips on machine-sewing buttons

Datura

In anticipation of springlike weather, I scooped up the Deer & Doe Datura pattern from Ray Stitch recently. It had been on my to-buy list for a while but seemed an extravagant price for a tank – but I was swayed by how well D&D patterns fit me and the snazzy triangle cutout neckline.

Datura

I used 1m of this lovely Liberty lawn from Shaukat, a digital collage print called Matt Maddison: the kaleidoscope triangle pattern seemed just too perfect a pairing with the Datura’s neckline. I toyed with the idea of blocking the yoke in black but decided to just insert a bit of flat piping into the seam instead.

Datura

The Datura is labelled as advanced and there are indeed a few techniques in there to make things satisfyingly challenging. The language and diagrams in the instruction book weren’t always super clear either – I got a bit confused when attaching the shoulders, but luckily found this sewalong tutorial which cleared things up. Attaching the bias along the neckline with the correct gaps between the triangles took a bit of trial and error too. Size-wise I cut a 38 at the top blended to 42 at the hip, and cut the hem length of the largest size.

Datura

I’m really happy with the fit and wouldn’t change anything, but something is still making me feel a bit unsure about the finished garment. I think it’s perhaps a bit too fussy in design for my day to day wear, and I also don’t find the shape very flattering on me – it seems to enhance pear proportions. We’ll see if it grows on me or languishes unworn once spring comes along.

Sew on buttons by machine

But how about a buttony bonus? I thought I would share how I sew on buttons by machine, in case anyone is doing this tedious chore by hand and wondering how I can sew so many without going crazy. You’ll need a button foot (I have this cheap generic one for my Janome) and some clear sticky tape. If you don’t have a button foot, you can remove the presser foot entirely and just use the ‘stump’ to hold the button in place, though it’s trickier.

Attaching buttons

1. Mark your button positions per the buttonholes.

Attaching buttons

2. Place the buttons and tape them down. You can tape each separately or use one long bit of tape.

Attaching buttons

3. Measure the distance between the holes of your button. Mine’s about 3mm here. (For four hole buttons you can either measure and sew the holes in pairs parallel to each other, or diagonally across from each other. Or a jaunty arrow!)

Attaching buttons

4. Set up your machine: go for a zig-zag stitch with the width set to the distance you measured between the holes and the length at the shortest your machine will go (mine’s 0.2mm). And best to set your machine’s speed to the slowest it will go, to negate needle-slamming-into-button situations (heed the voice of experience).

Attaching buttons

5. Fit the button foot to your machine. As you can see, it’s like a little clamp with a gap in the middle, which holds the button nicely in place for you.

Attaching buttons

6. Slide the button under, aligning centrally under the foot and making sure the holes are horizontally parallel. At this point I usually lower the needle manually to check it’s going to hit the left-hand hole in the right place, then go ahead and run the machine on slow speed. I go for about 5 or 6 passes of the zigzag between the holes. For 4-hole buttons you’ll then need to re-align to the second pair of holes. My machine has an auto locking stitch which anchors my stitches at the start and end, but if yours doesn’t you will probably want to leave a tail and secure by hand.

Attaching buttons

8. Pull off the tape and cut your thread tails (if you need to secure your ends, thread the tails onto a needle, bring to the wrong side and knot to secure.). Voila, fast and secure buttons – I’ve never had one fall off yet. Hope it was helpful!

Tips to save time on fitting

Save time on fitting tips

Another ‘readers ask’ email came in, this time from Linda, who asked me about striking a balance between time-saving techniques and ensuring a good fit. Skipping the fitting process to save time is clearly a false economy if you end up making garments that don’t fit properly – but who wants to make a toile every time we try a new pattern? When I thought about how I approach this issue, I can offer up a few tips which might help to speed along the fitting process.

Save time on fitting

1. I know own my shape pretty well now, so I make pre-emptive changes to patterns based on how my body deviates from the ‘norm’. For me that means cutting smaller at the shoulders and bigger at the hips, taking out neckline wedges, making a sway back adjustment, and shortening the bodice. The Big 4 commercial pattern companies (Butterick, Mccall, Vogue and Simplicity) all use the exact same fitting block (thank you Fit for Real People for that nugget of insight), so I make those same alterations to any new Big 4 pattern as soon as it comes out of the envelope. Often this addresses the major fit issues and I can fine-tune as I sew.

Save time on fitting

2. Do a bit of research into pattern companies and pick one that targets your body shape. For example, Deer & Doe designs for slimmer shoulders, bigger hips and a C cup bust so usually fit me straight out of the packet. Try Sewaholic for pears, SBCC for petites, Named if you’re tall and willowy, etc. Check the company’s standard sizing chart and if you span 1 or 2 of the size range instead of 3 or 4 then you might be onto a good fit.

Save time on fitting

3. I refer to the finished garment measurements to check I like the design and wearing ease that’s been adding to the pattern. Often I’ll compare it to a similar RTW or pre-made garment to see how it measures up. If the finished measurements aren’t given you can just measure the pattern pieces, being sure to remove seam allowance and fold out any darts/pleats.

Save time on fitting

4. Self-draft from your own fitting blocks. This obviously takes a bit more upfront effort, but you know it will fit properly. You could also compare your blocks to commercial patterns, but to be honest I find this a bit difficult because it can be like comparing apples to oranges – a closely-fitted shell without seam allowances will not correspond to a fully-designed pattern with wearing and design ease added.

Save time on fitting

5. Make the same pattern over and over! It’s surprising how much variety you can get from one pattern, and once you’ve ironed out the fit and construction it goes really fast the second, third, fourth time. If your chosen pattern allows it, try altering the base fabric for wardrobe variety. Try pleated trousers in both a rigid twill and drapey wool suiting, or a shirt-dress in crisp wax cotton and flippy viscose.

I hope these tips were helpful – they definitely work for me to save time, and I don’t have fit disasters very often these days even when skipping the toile process. Anyone have more tips to add?

Quick tutorial: Weave-in serger tails as you sew

Serger

This is a special weekend, because I have my overlocker back! The lovely man at Maury Sewing Machines in Hackney patched it up real good for me, and also gave it some general TLC – sharpening the blade, changing the bulb and giving it all a nice clean and oil. It’s like a new machine and I’m so glad to have it back in working order for only £50. I’ve spent all weekend sewing up the pretty knits in my stash into some much-needed basics to replenish my Kondo-ed wardrobe – tees, sweaters and casual dresses. I’ll share them soon, but for now I have a quick tip on how to speed up your overlocking process a bit by weaving in thread tails as you sew.

Weave in serger tails as you sew

I first saw this technique mentioned as an aside during Heather’s Ginger sewalong, and it’s also outlined in the Simplicity sewing book, which of all my reference books is the one with some really handy tips, especially in the overlocker chapter. It’s a really useful time-saver to neatly finish an overlocked/serged seam wherever you’ll be leaving the start of the seam open (ie not crossed over by another seam) in the finished garment. For example at the shoulder seam if you sew on a neckband in the flat, a sleeve seam with a flat-set cuff, or some types of pocket bag. I hope the photos and descriptions make sense, shout in the comments if not!

Weave in serger tails as you sew

1. Make sure you have a decent length of thread chain (a couple of inches) coming off the machine before you start sewing. Now feed in the seam and sew the first 1 or 2mm, so the needle is only just engaged with the fabric. Stop and hand-crank the needles to the down position if they aren’t already.

Weave in serger tails as you sew

2. Raise the presser foot. Grab the thread tail and pull it round the left-hand side to the front. You want to pull pretty tight so that any stitches on the little prongs behind the needles fall off and become taut.

Weave in serger tails as you sew

3. Pull that tail right around to the front so it’s in front of the presser foot in line with your stitching line. Lower the presser foot again.

Weave in serger tails as you sew

4. Now keep sewing, and your thread tail will get caught in the seam as you sew it. After a couple of inches you can pull it off the right-hand side so the excess is cut off by the blade.

Weave in serger tails as you sew

The result! Tidy seam edge, zero effort. Will you be giving this a go?

Lazy sewist tips: what’s worth the effort – and what isn’t

lazy sewing tips

Reading Janene’s brilliant 40 top tips for sewists today reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to do for a while, albeit with a slightly different angle. You see, I’m a lazy sewist – or more accurately, a time-short sewist. While getting great results is definitely important to me and I love the actual sewing process a lot, I do like to cut corners and miss out as many of the boring steps as possible. Sewing time is precious and I don’t want to waste it completing steps that aren’t necessary.

Over the course of the last few months I’ve been realising which steps and techniques really are worth spending time on to get a good finish, and which you can quietly skip and not really notice the difference. Plus some of the ‘worth it’ things actually save you time in the long run! Here’s what I came up with – see if you agree…

Worth it

Deer & Doe Centaurée

Lining

I used to think, why on earth would anyone spend their time making a whole other garment just to sit inside the real one? But I’ve definitely seen the error of my ways on this one. Lining a garment means you can enclose all your raw seams so you don’t need to worry about finishing seam allowances too neatly. You can also cleanly finish necklines and sleeves with a simple understitch or topstitch, saving the need to hem or bind edges. I try to burrito dresses and tops wherever possible – it’s incredibly fast and makes a lovely clean finish inside. I also love to line wovens in stretch mesh as you can usually skip darts and pleats and get a nice snug lining in fewer pieces.

Understitching

I always used to skip this, thinking it was a waste of time. But nope, understitching your lining or facings is completely worth it as it really does help them stay tucked inside the garment and often saves the need for extra topstitching.

Changing needles

DO change you needle regularly, and match the right one for your project (jeans, ballpoint, fine etc). I can now immediately tell if my needle is old or not right for the fabric. For the record, I like Schmetz needles the best as they have colour-coded bands so I know what I have in the machine at any time.

Hand-sewing

I love a bit of hand-sewing, not least because it’s secretly lazy: one of the few tasks you can do in an armchair in front of the TV. I’ve started hand-picking all my zips and do a fair bit of invisible slip-stitching for facings and inner waistbands.

Pressing

Yeah, it’s really tedious but massively helps make garments look more polished. I sew the most amount of seams I can without intersecting them and press all at once. Also, tiresome as it is, pressing fabric before cutting and the pieces again after cutting helps with accuracy.

Not worth it

Pinning

I hardly ever pin anything. I guess that’s just down to preference and practice, but I find I get on fine working by hand and eye to match pieces together. At the most I’ll pin at the quarter and centre points when setting something in in the round. For knits I use Wonder Clips and for hems and bindings I secure with Aqua Glue. For cutting out I use weights (I like these grippy ones) and a rotary cutter and mat for maximum speed/accuracy.

Polka dot skinny jeans

Interfacing

Over the course of making lot of pairs of trousers and shorts, I’ve found that the correlation between interfaced waistbands and well-fitting, non-bagging waistbands is close to zero. It also makes it much harder to sew the inner and outer bands together accurately with one of them stiffly interfaced. My preferred method now is to cut the inner band (or interline) with a rigid fabric like twill and skip the interfacing completely – my favourite handmade jeans use this and they are performing best in terms of keeping their shape and not creasing. I still begrudgingly use interfacing where it really is needed like for facings, but don’t really like facings anyway so try to avoid them.

Backtacking

I rarely backtack at the start of a line of stitching, here’s why: nearly every raw edge will be covered by another seam or hem later on, so it really isn’t worth it for secure-ing reasons. Plus on delicate or loose-weave fabrics (and knits) it can leave an ugly bump or chew up the edge of the fabric: a plain stitch is much easier to press open and stitch over. I find that on the stitch length I use (about 2.5mm) unravelling while I work is never a problem. I also don’t backtack at the start of sewing a hem or seam in the round as then you’d have six layers of stitching over the stop-and-start point.

Following instructions

It’s incredibly rare that I follow a pattern’s instructions these days, unless it’s particularly complex or new to me. Instead I have a stock list now of ways I prefer to make things which can usually be adapted to most patterns – pants construction order, zip insertion, attaching linings and so on. Find ones that work for you and see if you can re-use them on new projects.

Do you agree with me on any points? Or have I massively revealed myself as a corner-cutting sewing fraud?! Any other time-saving tips to add?

Operation knit-stashbust, and overlocker tips

I’m on a bit of a fabric-busting mission at the moment: matching up all my stashed-away fabrics to appropriate patterns and getting them sewn up. I get a bit antsy when there’s too much stuff accumulating in my house, and my fabric pile(s) are getting slightly out of control. I now have a Google spreadsheet so I know exactly what I have and how I want to use it, and I promise I won’t buy any more until it’s significantly reduced. Apart from that Goldhawk Road visit with the Spoolettes last weekend, ahem.

The main things in my stash are printed jerseys (thanks to a few binges at Rolls & Rems, Girl Charlee and Fabulace), and awkward sub-1m pieces left from other projects. Naturally jersey is easier to think of projects for and is also a large component of what I wear day to day, so I’ve been whizzing my way through this pile. I don’t have all that much to say about them though, so I thought I’d dump them all together here. I also thought I’d jot down a few tips for working with knits/an overlocker, in case anyone find it helpful.

Franken-Anna dress

First, a simple elastic-waist frock in a rayon knit from Fabulace. The skirt part is Simplicity 1800 again, like my favourite feather dress, and the bodice is By Hand’s Anna with minor alterations. In retrospect the large geometric print wasn’t the best choice for Anna as it gets chopped up by the waist pleats and you can’t really see the ‘blossoming bust’ detail, but I really just wanted to see if it worked in a knit.

Franken-Anna dress

I had to take a large dart out of the centre back to compensate for the stretchy fabric. Next time I’d do this before actually cutting the piece out, I had to kind of fudge it afterwards. To be honest, this was one of those ‘it’s 9pm on a school night but I really feel like making something NOW’ kind of projects, so it’s a bit rushed and wonky in places, but I still like it a lot. How nice is the green with the black and white? I need more green makes, I think.

Burda 07/11 pants

Next, another pair of Burda 07/2011’s (see more here and here), made in another rayon jersey from Fabulace. Jazzy prints are apparently my Achille’s heel.

Burda 07/11 pants

This time I made a waistband with encased elastic rather than the folded-over ribbing band the pattern recommends. These are basically a copy of a pair of RTW trousers that I wear all the darn time for work-at-home days, and they’re just about outside-acceptable too. Right?!

Hemlock tee

A Grainline Hemlock using some slubby grey knit from Minerva and a scrap of a darker grey. Lovely pattern, takes like an hour, will sew again and again.

Peplum tee

Here’s a peek at what’s been my little project since the new year: a totally self-drafted peplum tee, which I’m going to make available as a free PDF download very soon. I’ve made several during the process of drafting the pattern and think this plain black one is my favourite, even though it was an earlier version and the bust still isn’t quite right. Watch out next week for the pattern release if you like it.

Overlocker tips

Now, here are some of my top tips for working with jerseys, as I know a few people got overlockers for Christmas so might find these useful.

Cutting

Overlocker tips

I use my pleasingly matchy-matchy weights and rotary cutter to cut. I find using scissors and pins can cause distortion and a ‘hacky’ uneven edge, and you want to be as accurate as possible to make life easier when sewing. I only have a small cutting mat, so I have to move it around under the pieces as I cut.

Setting up

Overlocking tips

Buy the big cones of thread in packs of 3 or 4 depending on how many your machine takes (my machine can take 4 but I usually sew with 3). eBay and Jaycotts are good sources, they can be tricky to find in shops. I’ve only ever needed black, white and a medium grey, which seem to blend into nearly everything I’ve made (telling, huh?!), and they last forever – over a year and counting for mine and still nowhere near finished. Rotate the spools often, because the lower loopers use more thread than the upper needles.

Once your machine’s threaded up, you never need rethread it, even when changing colour. Simply snip the threads at the top, tie on the new colour and knot securely. Snip the loose ends short then run the machine in short bursts to pull the threads through, stopping when they get to a tension dial and manually helping them through. You’ll find the lower loopers feed through first as they use up more thread, so I usually run the machine until they are done then pull through the top needle thread manually and rethread the needle (or both needles, if using four threads). This takes under 90 seconds when you’ve done it a few times. Andrea has done a photo tutorial of basically the same technique I use. I can make a video on my process if anyone would find it helpful?!

Sewing

Overlocking kit

If you’re a bit scared of the overlocker, there’s no harm in basting your seams first with a regular sewing machine. Either stitch close to the edge so the stitches are covered by the overlocking, or further in so you can easily pull them out later.

Always do a quick test run on a scrap of fabric before starting each project. Tension can vary quite a bit between different jersey weights.

Sometimes I remove the knife from my overlocker, trim down the seam allowances if necessary (but leaving an allowance the width of the overlocked stitch, in my case about 5mm), and stitch my seams without using the blade to cut off any excess. This can be handy when going around tight corners so you don’t accidentally slice a bit off, and can also create a more stable seam at shoulders as the fabric bunches a little into the stitches. It also means you can unpick and re-sew if you make a mistake!

Unpicking overlocked seams is quite easy – quicker than regular stitching, I think. Here’s a tutorial.

I use Clover wonder clips instead of pins, as I’m terrified of what would happen if I accidentally ran a pin through my overlocker blade *shudders*

A walking foot is a great investment for sewing with knits on your regular machine. Mine is a cheap unbranded snap-on one and does the job fine.

Overlock tips

To finish an edge where an overlocked end is left loose (as opposed to being covered by another seam), I thread the tail ends onto a large darning needle and weave it back into the overlocked seam, cutting after an inch or so and securing with a drop of Fray Check or a small bar tack.

Hemming

Feather dress

My usual technique is to finish the raw edge with the overlocker, fold up once anywhere from 1/2″ (on a sleeve) to 2″ (on a dress hem), press, and stitch directly over the overlocking using a walking foot and zigzag or twin needle stitch. A double-folded up edge can look bulky on some jerseys and affect the drape. You want to catch the very edge, or even tip over, the finished overlocked edge so your seam won’t flip unattractively to the outside. I also love to do a machine blind hem on jersey dresses as it won’t ever flip outside, looks nearly invisible, and doesn’t affect the hang or drape. Press well after stitching.

Neck and cuff bands

Feather dress

I sometimes use this Megan Nielsen technique, which has you stitch the neckband to the inside (wrong side) of the garment, then press to the outside and topstitch. This has the benefit of giving a bit of stability, but can look a bit poor in lighter or loopy knits as the topstitches will just sink in. Or you can sew a band straight to the right side and press upwards, like this tutorial.