Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hemming Knit Garments with a Bernina 830

Quick and Easy Hemming Technique for Knits

You don't need a fancy machine or a serger to easily hem knit garments, be they t-shirts, pajama bottoms, or dresses and skirts. Even though I have a professional-grade blind hemmer for use on woven fabrics, I have for years successfully hemmed knit garments using only my Bernina 830.

Until you become familiar with this technique, I recommend that you practice it on scraps of knit fabric left over from your cutting. Doing so, you will learn how to adjust the width of the zig-zag to make the most minimal showing on the right side of the garment.
First of all, you need to have the Blindstitch Foot #016. Indeed it is a funny looking one, but it works well!
Next, you will need to adjust the settings on the top of the machine as shown. I've chosen stitch pattern #1, and moved the right hand lever to the upper (rear) position.

The third step is to adjust the stitch width to a setting that just barely catches the folded edge of the knit. On this example, which is a nylon/spandex knit skimmer dress, I used a setting just below #2 for the width of the zigzag.
The final setting is for the longest possible stitch length, which is #4 on my machine.

The machine is now good to go!
To prepare the garment, mark the hemline and then cut a 1.25" hem. On rare occasions I will make a wider hem, but for T-shirts and skirts, the 1.25" hem is optimal. It adds just enough weight to the hem to help it lay well, while at the same time allowing enough fold-back of the hem to allow for optimal stitching.
In this example, I'm sewing a dark blue printed knit, which you are viewing inside out. I have placed the pins that secure the hem perpendicular to the hemline.
The next step is the most tricky, because it's a bit counter-intuitive. Take the lower folded edge of the hem and fold it UNDER towards the right side of the fabric. You'll see that about .25" of the hem is now laying right on the table, with a fold at the edge of the remaining body of the dress. (My apologies for the poor quality of this photo.)

To begin the actual hemming process, you position the black thin metal bar on the machine foot right next to the fold of the dress body. In this photo, the metal bar is on the right side, pressing down on only a single layer of the fabric. The left hand silver metal portion of the foot is resting on the fold you created in the body of the dress.
Three straight stitches will be formed on the right side, going through only a single layer of the garment fabric (which is the upper-most part of the hem.) The forth stitch will be a single zig-zag, which will cross over the black metal bar to the left, and stitch through the very edge of the fold in the garment. The needle will then return to the right side, and repeat the pattern.
As you begin to stitch the hem, stretch the knit as you sew by pulling the portion of the garment closest to the front of the machine. This allows the hem to stretch during the wearing of the garment. (If this had been done on a blind hemmer, the hem could not stretch with the fabric.)

In the final photo, you can see the matching dark blue thread as it forms the stitches for this hem(remember, the fabric face is a dark blue print. You've been looking at photos of the UNDERSIDE of the dress)
Once you have stitched all around the hem, flip the garment over, and press the hem as usual. The ironing helps the single stitches the went through the fold sink further into the knit fabric, and become fairly invisible.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Appliques for Children's T-Shirts

Have you seen those wonderful-but-pricey children's catalogs that feature darling appliqued t-shirts starting at $30 or more? Well, I'm a generous Great Aunt, but I can't afford things like that for a 5-year-old. I can MAKE things, though, and I'll share my tricks with you.

I have a fun story about my first foray into appliqueing manufactured clothing. After referencing those expensive catalogs, I found a child-sized legging and t-shirt set at Wal-Mart for less than $8. Using the techniques I'll explain here, I added a customized applique to the shirt, and sent the outfit off to my favorite little girl.

Some time later, her mother had to travel out of town, and her best friend took care of her daughter. As the friend was changing the girls clothing, she was delighted with the outfit, and peaked at the label to see what wonderful catalog company had made it. When she saw the Wal-Mart house brand on it, she couldn't believe her eyes, and when the girl's Mom returned from her travels, the two women tried to figure it out. The girl's Mom had not realized that I was responsible for the design work! Later that summer, we all had a good chuckle over the whole thing.

To start this project, buy some plain t-shirts. I prefer 100% cotton, and I've found that Wal-Mart has the very best prices and value, although these items are sold at many stores. If you want to, buy leggings to match or blend with your selection.

Wash and dry the new tee's, along with any fabric scraps you've identified for your project. As with most sewing projects, pre-washing the fabrics involved greatly reduces differences in shrinkage rates during the life of the garment, and makes your final product easy to launder without additional ironing.

Next, design your applique. You can use those expensive kids catalogs for ideas, or you can ask the child what sorts of images interest them.  If you're a good artist, you can draw your own designs, but if you're like me, and need some help, one of my favorite sources is Google Images ... specifically, silhouettes. These give you the basic outline of the image.

You may need to scale your images to fit well onto the t-shirt size you're using. I just go to my local copy center and experiment until I get it right. You can even take one of the pre-shrunk shirts along with you when you make the adjustments, and decide right there if you've got it right.

After you're satisfied with your image selection and size, select the fabric(s) you'll be using for your applique. As you can see, sometimes I use several fabrics, and sometimes only one. Many designs are effectively done using plain fabrics with added details. I use whatever I have on hand in my scrap boxes. If I'm using a print, I look for a suitable scale for the size image I'm adding, and of course, I'm looking for pleasing colors. To be effective, the colors should contrast from the color of the shirt, but blend with it. If there are leggings, or any other separates, take those into consideration as well. You can also create a complete outfit by making shorts or a skirt out of the same fabric you use for the applique.

Carefully cut out your selected image from the paper. Select a fabric scrap about the same size, and iron it flat before you trim the fabric to just slightly larger than your image.

Apply fusible web to your fabric scrap, following the manufacturer's directions. If you're unfamiliar with this wonderful invention, fusible web is a substance that allows two fabrics to be adhered to each other using heat and/or heat and steam. You'll usually find fusible web in the interfacing section of your fabric store. The substance comes applied to a sheet of paper, and you purchase it by the yard. Usually, you cut a piece of the paper just slightly smaller than your fabric scrap (so the adhesive doesn't risk getting stuck on your iron!) and lightly iron it on to the WRONG side of the applique fabric using a DRY iron. Once the adhesive layer is transferred to your fabric scrap, you remove the paper, and then use heat plus moisture to bond the two fabrics together. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Once you've applied the fusible web to your fabric scrap, you remove the paper, and then use your adjusted image as a pattern to cut out. Cut carefully with appropriately-sized scissors so that your image maintains the desired details.

The image of the bunny above came from the book Grandma's Bunnies by Darcy Ashton. The images in it were intended for quilt making, so I reduced this to a smaller size for a child's t-shirt. The cat and horse images came from Google, and I created the bird.
When your image is ready, position it on the front of the t-shirt, which should be freshly ironed. Press your iron down to lightly fuse it to the shirt, and then follow-up the adhering process by using a damp press cloth and a steam setting on the iron. Again, follow the fusible web instructions.
You'll notice in the images above that sometimes I use two different fabrics in my appliques. The bird's wing, and the horse's mane show this. I follow the same fusing techniques for those additional layers that I use on the base layer.
After the applique is fused to the t-shirt, you will zigzag around the whole circumference of the image. For garments for small children, I use a fairly narrow zigzag stitch. The larger the image, the wider your zigzag could be. I begin my stitching process taking a few tiny straight stitches before beginning the actual zigzag. I use a pressure foot with a larger-than-usual hole in it so that I can see the edge of my applique, and I loosen the upper thread tension just slightly to help the threads float cleanly on the top. Having a free-arm machine makes this process quite easy, for the shirt fits easily over the arm, and can be moved to follow the lines of the applique. As you zigzag, make certain that the stitches are primarily over the fused fabric, not the knit of the shirt. This cuts down on the possibility of distorting the knit fabric during the zigzag process.
Besides zigzagging all around the image, you can zigzag to define lines in your applique. You'll  notice that the bunny image includes design lines that help define his shape. I transfer any design lines onto my appliques using tracing paper or a pencil, and then I follow those lines with a zigzag stitch.
Sometimes, additional hand embroidery can enhance an applique. In my examples, the bird's legs and eye, the dog's nose and ear, and the cat's ball of yarn were all created using hand embroidery. When you do this, be sure to secure the threads adequately to allow for multiple washings.
That's all there is to it! Use your creativity and MAKE something delightful.'s priceless!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Keeping Your Bernina 830 Clean and Oiled!

Instructions for cleaning and oiling the Bernina

I've been  a professional seamstress for 49 years, and this has been my main machine for the past 36 of them. I suppose she's had over 700,000 yards of fabric run under her needles in that time, and she still works great. Of course, my machine is used on a regular basis, but I've also taken the time to take care to clean and oil it frequently. The fantastic Swiss design features on this model, the last, all-metal machine made by Bernina, make these maintenance chores easy to achieve.

1. Open the door covering the bobbin area.

2. Press the second lever from the top on the left hand side to release the ‘door’ that holds the shuttle and the bobbin case in position.

The shuttle, which is the metal thing with the holes in it, will fall forward. The shuttle may still be holding to the bobbin case if you have not yet removed it.
The shuttle is the quarter moon shaped piece with the pointed tip. The bobbin case is in the center of the shuttle.

3. Using a machine cleaning brush, sweep away any lint or tiny threads in the area, moving the brush away from the machine.

4. Wipe the shuttle area clean with a scrap of sheet, or other material that does not have fuzz on it.

The bobbin case is on the left, the shuttle is on the right.
5. Turn the SHUTTLE itself upside down, wipe it off, and add a single drop of oil.

6. Using your finger tip, spread the machine oil across the outside bottom of the shuttle and around the outside ridges of it. You can also run your oiled finger around the metal chamber in the machine into which the shuttle fits.
7. Place the shuttle back into the casing, and close the door mechanism that holds it in place.

I’m pushing the ‘door’ that holds the shuttle back into place closed. It clicks audibly when in the closed position.
8. Next, using the lever inside this same area that is closest to the top of the machine on the left side, release the cover that forms the bed of the machine’s arm.

The arm cover will pop up and release. Pull it towards the left and set it aside.

9. Again, use the brush to remove any loose particles, dust or threads. 

10. Looking down into the arm, slowly run the machine for a few moments and visually note which parts move. Some will slide, piston-like, and others will partially rotate.

11. Add a TINY drop of machine oil at each point of movement of all the components of this section of the machine.
The copper-colored ‘rod’ you see here is a long tube that extends from my oil bottle to dispense a drop of oil on one of the contact points.
12. Replace the arm cover by sliding it from the needle end, in towards the right side of the machine, and pushing down on it until it clicks back into place.
13. Next, turn the machine so that the end that holds the needle faces you.

14. Open the door covering the mechanics above the needle. It hinges on the rear side of the machine.

15. Sweep or wipe away any dirt, fuzz or threads.
16. Run the machine for a few moments, noting which sections of the machinery move.

17. Place a TINY drop of oil at each friction and movement point on the machinery.
18. Wipe off any residual oil so it does not run down onto the needle.
19. Close the door.
20. Stitch for a few moments on a scrap of fabric, to make certain there is no oil remaining to stain your good fabric.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

How to Select the Best Size for YOUR Female Body: American Clothing Sizes for Females

As a custom seamstress, I spend most of my time altering commercially made clothing to fit my individual clients. Increasingly, I find myself explaining the current American sizing definitions to these females to assist them in selecting the VERY BEST SIZE for their body when they shop off the rack. During this process, I have been surprised at how much confusion there is about sizing.

I am using the word "female" sizing, because the term "Misses" and "Women's" sometimes refer to a size range, and sometimes are only used in the general sense of the word. This blog refers to adult female sizes.

The first thing a person needs to know is her CURRENT height. Because height sometimes changes during the aging process, I intentionally emphasize the need for everyone to have an updated height measurement.

At this time, American Standardized Sizing Charts consider the average height of an adult woman in America to be 5' 6". To the best of my knowledge, the last time the standards were nationally set was in the early 1960's, when there was a major shift in the definition of size ranges. For those of you who purchase vintage clothing made prior to 1960, you have undoubtedly found that the marked size of the garment does not convert accurately to contemporary sizes.

NOTE The national business press has been awash recently with comments about how terribly varied sizes have become, and about how many manufacturers are now using in-house size standards, rather than using the American Standardized Sizing guidelines (which you can get from the US Government.) To adjust to this trend, most of us just take several different sizes into the dressing room with us. This matter is particularly crucial if you are shopping online. See my notes on that topic below.

In American clothing sizing PETITE MEANS 5'4" AND UNDER.  It does not necessarily mean skinny or tiny. It means SHORT. Garments that are sized for petites are shorter overall, but more importantly are shorter in a number of different segments of the body. Petite sizes are shorter than regular sizes from the neck to the bustline, from the bustline to the waist, from the waist to the crotch, from the crotch to the knee, and from the knee to the floor. They are also shorter from the armscye to the elbow and from the elbow to the wrist. Because humans are so marvelously diverse (and a standard size really only works perfectly for a doll that comes out of an injection mold and is always the same size,) a woman can be petite in one area of her body, say, the torso, and be a regular size below the waist for pants. Some of my clients are short overall, but have a very long rise (the distance from the base of the crotch to the waistline) and thus need to purchase petite sized  tops, and regular misses sized bottoms.

NOTE  Larger department stores that have both a petite and a regular "Misses" department often make it easy to mix and match garments in the two different size ranges. Macy's is an excellent example. Many of the brands they carry, including INC, Alfani, and others, produce very similar clothing, using the exact same fabrics, in both of these sizes. Thus you can sometimes find the top in one size and the bottom in a different size, both made of the same material. The revitalized Talbot's brand seems to be following suit.

MISSES sizes, sometimes referred to as "Missy," REFER TO AVERAGE HEIGHT (5'6") ADULT WOMEN. Misses sizes are EVEN NUMBERS, most often 0 through 16. The size is designed for a fully developed woman, one with some hips and an average (B-cup, actually) bust size. This size range has nothing to do with age. I didn't fit into Misses sizes until I was in my mid-30's!

JUNIOR SIZES ARE FOR LESS-DEVELOPED FEMALES, usually with smaller hips and busts. Junior sizes are UNEVEN NUMBERS, usually 1-15. The problem here is that junior sizes are often considered to reflect a youthful STYLE, not just a more 'youthful' SIZE. Females who are very flat or narrow in the hip, and those who have small fannies will do better in Junior sized pants than in the Misses sizes, which are more rounded in the hip area. My older female clients often loose their fannies as they age (a statistical fact of life,) and while I've developed some highly effective alterations to adjust their pants, I often have to encourage them (dare I say "force" them) to try junior sized clothing. They argue, they resist....and the come back later wearing a pair of pants that requires no alteration whatsoever. On the other end of the age scale, I have high school female clients who are so fully developed in the bust and hips that they cannot wear Junior cut clothing. They are profoundly unhappy, because they want to shop with their skinny girl friends in the Junior Department, but they are a Misses size. In truth, Misses STYLES often reflect more maturity than Junior STYLES, but I have found that, when you shop carefully, you can meet both your SIZE needs and your STYLE needs.

WOMEN'S SIZES, sometimes referred to as Plus Sizes, REFER TO AVERAGE HEIGHT WOMEN WHO CARRY MORE BODY WEIGHT THAN A MISSES SIZED FEMALE. Plus sizes most often include 0X, 1X, 2X and 3X, but also include 16W-26W...the W standing for Women's size. Again, this can be confusing, because I have gone to retail web sites that list "Women's Clothing" as one of their categories, but it usually includes primarily Misses sizing. No wonder my clients are confused! As with the petite sizes mentioned above, many women are often one size range on the bottom and a different size range on the top, and like the petites, they can mix and match between departments at some stores.

Not quite as commonly found are WOMEN'S TALL sizes. These sizes are for women with proportional body mass who are TALL. Well, "how tall?" you may ask. It's hard to say, but I have two daughters who are 5'9"+ and they often purchase tall pants--but not always. I'm only 5'6", but I have "tall" legs. Many regular lengths, especially in the less expensive brands, are too short for me. So it's the same thing as with petite sizing. A woman may not be just one size, she may be a combination of the two. At any rate, tall sizes are increasingly available at retail on a regular basis. We have recently found talls in stock at JC Penney, Kohl's, and Wal-Mart. It makes laundry day easier for us...we can actually dry our pants in a drier!

Now that you know the major size ranges for adult women, allow me to mention a few other shopping pointers. As most of us know, some manufacturing companies "run large" and some "run small." In my experience, the Ralph Lauren  and INC lines tend to fit quite close to the body, and I will often refer my thinner clients to those brands. Jones New York and Liz Clairborn, on the other hand, seems to run large, and I can often downsize when I shop in those departments.

NOTE  To make yourself feel better about a clothing size that is, after all, only a number, feel free to remove the size tag when you decide to keep the garment. Instant guilt-free happiness!

There are many in-person shopping venues that do not employ professional clerks with knowledge about fitting. Never-the-less, I counsel my clients always to state the obvious to a clerk when shopping, to make it easier for her to help you. "I am very narrow in the hip. Are you aware of any companies who cut for my body shape?" would be an example.

Be aware that within the past few years, many national brands have begun to produce lines of pants to fit women with three basic shapes: the curvy woman (her hips are larger by one size than her waist,) the straight-figured woman (with less size change between the waist and hips,) and the 'regular' woman. Every manufacturer has developed their own unique names for these shapes. Some are named after geographical areas (Eddie Bauer, Lane Bryant,) some are named after famous women (the J-Lo cut, the Audrey,) some are numbered (think Levies) and some just state the obvious (new at CJ Banks: "straight") You might be surprised that Wal-Mart does an excellent job defining the cuts of the many different jeans they carry. So when you're shopping, pay attention to the cut of the pants, and ask the clerk for help fitting YOUR figure.


As we all become accustomed to the ease of looking at a million garments from the comfort of our computer, I have a few tips for those of you who wish to shop online. First, know your height. If you are 5'4" or under, shop for Petites first. Many retailers who do not carry petite sizes in their brick and mortar stores DO carry petites online. The same is true for plus sizes and talls.

Second, know your 3 basic measurements--bust, waist and hip. To learn these, use a soft tape measure, wear your usual undergarments, and make all three measurements with the tape parallel to the floor. Do not pull the tape tight, just rest it on the surface right around the real you. Then, when you go to a new web site, visit their sizing page first. Forget about what size you think you are, and use the company's sizing chart to decide which item to order. This will insure that you get the closest to the correct size for you. (When I order from Garnet Hill for my daughter, I notice that I will order some items in Medium and some in Large, depending how each individual manufacturer does their sizing. Same person/different number.)

Third, read the reviews and feedback comments. Other shoppers may comment that a particular item runs small, etc., and you may glean valuable information. Zappos has done an excellent job noting such variations in shoes, and clothing should be no different.

Finally, before you order, consider whether the potential cost of returning items that do not fit is worthwhile for you. As shipping costs increase, this is a very real aspect to shopping online.

OK, so now you're armed with some up-to-date information about how clothing is sized for females in America. Remember to have FUN shopping!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Storage of Wool Clothing

As a professional seamstress, I am surprised by how often I am asked if I can repair moth damage in either knitwear or woven cloth. My customers usually need to be reminded to PROPERLY STORE THEIR CLOTHING to prevent this damage, for it is not easily repaired. Seattle still hosts a few re-weavers who can, at considerable expense to the consumer, reweave a moth hole in cloth. I do not practice this trade. Most seamstresses will have slightly better results mending a moth hole in a sweater, but it never looks perfectly new again.

I don't believe there is a state in the union that does not have wool-eating moths. Growing up in the Midwest, my family always stored their woolens in large trunks in the attic...trunks left over from the guilded age of steam ship travel, no doubt. They were airtight, and they worked well, but few of today's homes have either trunks or attics.

My preferred clothing storage containers for woolens are canvas dress bags that I've found at a most reasonable cost at my local Wal-Mart store. Canvas, or any heavy cloth, allows the fabric to breathe. Plastic garment bags, in addition to being easily damaged, do not allow any air flow at all. Nor is there air flow in sealed, solid plastic containers.

Protect your clothing investments. Have your woolen garments cleaned before you retire them for the summer, and store them in a carefully closed, cloth garment bag.  Or in a large steamer trunk in the attic!

Child's Super-Hero Cape Project

I just made three"super hero" capes for my Grand Nieces and Nephews in Minnesota, and a friend suggested that I post the directions here on my blog. To handle heavy play, I chose to make my project out of pre-washed, cotton broadcloth, rather than something shiny or slinky. I consulted with the two older children about what colors they preferred, and whether they had any ideas for their personal logos. I think it aids in the development of creativity in children if you can ask for their design input on a project. The capes have draw-strings that go through a tube binding at the neck edge, allowing the cape to gather tightly against the neck. The additional panels that display the child's logo button onto the neck edge, with buttons placed on both sides of the cape to allow to color changes during play. By allowing the panels to be removed, the capes can be used by a variety of children, regardless of alphabet letter or symbol, and can serve in a variety of fantasy situations. In addition, as the older children outgrow their cape phase, the capes can still be used by younger siblings.


1. Start by cutting a half circle out of cloth, with an even smaller half circle cut out of the very center of the straight line (this will be the neck area). Since most fabric is about 45 inches wide, you can make a cape up to about 40" long with regular yardage. After researching cape lengths for super heroes, I aimed for about knee-length as the finished length of each cape. Obviously, that differs from child to child, so measure them before you start.
      Let's say we're making a 36" long cape. Lay a single layer the fabric out on the cutting table without folding it. Measure along the selvedge 36" up from the cut end of the fabric. Now measure about 8" further along the selvedge, mark it, and then once again measure 36" along the straight edge. The 8" area will end up as the neck edge, and you can create a circular, or slightly oval shape here, measuring 4" in from the edge for the depth of the radius. Chalk the curve for this neck area. Now measure 36" down from you neckline all around Your layout will end up looking like one-half of a circular skirt pattern. Cut out this first shape.

2. Cut a second cape shape out of contrasting fabric, using the first one as your guide. I just pinned mine with right sides together, so I could move right on to the sewing stage.

3. Sew the two capes together, leaving only the neck-line area at the top unsewn.

4. Turn the whole thing inside out and press all the seams. Try to handle the curved area of the neckline carefully to avoid stretching and distortion.

5. Utilizing the scraps of fabric left from the sides, cut a strip of cloth 2 3/8" wide and a bit longer than the neck opening.

6. With both layers of the cape together, sew the strip to the neck edge along one side, using just a 1/4" seam allowance.

7. Fold the ends of the strip to the inside, even with the front edge of the cape, and stitch them down.

8. Fold and press under the remaining long side 1/4".

9. Bring this folded edge down to meet the first neckline stitching line and top stitch it in place, thus forming a draw-string tube. I used 1/2" gross grain ribbon for my draw string. Run your drawstring through the neck edge, and then secure it with a perpendicular stitch line right at center back so it can't pull out of the casing. The basic cape is now done. Stop here if you're looking for EASY!


    For the panels, just come up with something that means something to the super hero for whom you are working. Young children are usually interested in their own initials, which I used here, but shapes of any kind are appropriate. Again, do a design consultation with the child!
1. Design the panel shape. Working with the cape out flat, design your panel shape with newsprint to work with the scale of the cape. I cut each of my panel shapes to more or less follow the curve of the cape's neck edge (which is going to be slightly gathered up with the draw string) along the top, and then just invented a shape that worked with the child's initial. Remember to allow for your seam allowances as you make your design (but you really only need 1/4" allowances.) You'll see that one of my panels is shaped like a leaf, one is somewhat oval, and the third is a sort of a pentagon. Be creative!
2. Cut two panels, one of each of the colors, once again using the scraps left from cutting the half-circle.
3. Sew the panels together just like you did the cape, leaving the neck opening unstitched.
4. Turn the whole thing right sides out, working through the neck opening.
5. Carefully clip along the curve edge of the neck opening, and fold the raw edges to the inside.  Top stitch them together, resulting in a completely enclosed panel.
6. Next, design a pattern for decoration and chalk it onto the panel. Of course, you could applique a design onto your panel, but I chose to use a method utilized by the San Blas Indians where one cuts through and removes the top layer to show the layer beneath. (The Indians work with multiple layers, resulting in intricate patterns of many colors!)
7. Set your machine to a medium-wide zig-zag stitch that is very close together, and stitch around your drawn design, stitching through BOTH layers of the fabric. Turn the panel carefully as you work, so you don't distort the fabric. Zig-zag stitch around your complete design.
8. Carefully separate the two panel fabrics within the zig-zagged line using slightly dampened fingers. With a sharp-pointed scissors, cut through the layer to be removed, and then cut away all of that fabric right up to the edge of the zig-zag stitching. This leaves a contrasting pattern or letter showing. If you have applique scissors, they work well here.
9. At the upper outer corners of the panel, add one button hole at each end of the neckline edge.
10. Finally, sew buttons on both sides of the cape (for a total of 4) so the panel can be moved from one colored side to the other colored side.
If you're working with fairly light-weight fabric, you want want to fuse interfacing onto the underside of the fabric where the button holes will be sewn. This will adequately reinforce the button holes for heavy play use.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Using Piping and Welt

Call me old fashioned, but I continue to be a huge fan of adding piping to both clothing and interior decoration projects. I do it on the doll clothing I design for Doozie For Dolls, I do it on clothes for real people, and I do it on slipcovers too! Piping is a way to define or outline a portion of a project, and to enhance the design details.

The word piping is usually used when discussing clothing, and the word welt is usually used on interior decoration items. Both of these terms refer to a long strip of cloth cut on the BIAS that encloses a soft cotton cord, and then is sewn into a seam. Smaller cords are usually used for garments, and larger cording is used for upholstery projects.

Here is piping on a doll garment.

Here is welt on the cushions of an upholstered chair.
You can purchase manufactured piping in 4 yard packages, with all the work done for you, but pre-made piping usually comes in only a limited range of colors. You can also easily make your own piping or welt, either from a fabric that matches your project, or, preferably, from a contrasting fabric. It's the contrast that accentuates the design detail. While it is traditional to use a solid color piping or welt with a printed base fabric, I find it fun to mix prints.


Bias is the diagonal cut of a woven fabric, cut on a 45 degree angle. The lenthwise grain of a woven fabric refers to the threads running parallel to the selvedge of the cloth and the crosswise grain of a woven fabric refers to threads running at right angles or perpendicular to the selvedge. Bias is diagonal to these two grains.

The primary characteristic of bias is that it stretches. Before knits were readily available, the stretching quality of a bias cut was used to help fabics cling to the body, and move with the body. Think of those great draped gowns from the late 1930s and 40s. That look was achieved by using the bias attributes of the cloth.

Bias is useful with piping and welt because it allows them both to follow the lines of any section of the garment, going around curves. Think of a round yolk on a child's dress, or the curved yolk lines on a cowboy shirt. These design lines are more apparent when they are 'outlined' in piping, and the piping will lay better when the fabric is cut on the bias.


The first thing you need to decide is what size cording will work best with your project. Large sewing supply stores will usually stock a number of different sizes, which you can purchase by the yard. For slipcovers and decorative pillows, our workrooms usually use 1/4" cording. For garments, I keep lengths of smaller cord on hand, judging the size by eye rather than diameter. It is important that the piping or welt be in scale with the project on which you are working.

Next you will need to figure the width of the bias strip cuts. Select some cording, and then cut a 5" length of fabric on the bias to wrap around it. The width of your cut will depend on a) how much seam allowance you wish to have on the welt/piping and b) how much fabric it takes to go around the cord. The best way to figure this out to to try a section with the actual cloth you intend to use, for some of the more heavy, upholstery fabrics will require more width to actually go around the cord and form the seam allowance. For interior decoration projects we normally plan for a 1/2" seam allowance, but for clothing projects, you can have as little as 1/4" (which is the standard for the pre-made piping) up to 5/8", which is the width of the seam allowancs on most patterns. Proceed to cut as much bias stripping as you will need.


To cut bias strips, first determine the width of your cuts (see above) and then determine approximately how much piping/welt your project requires. This varies quite widely (an upholstered side chair may require 10 yards of welt if it has two boxed cushions.) If you are simply adding welt to an 18" pillow, you will only need just over 2 yards. If you're adding piping to the yolk of a garment, measure the seam length on which the piping will be applied (remembering to double it if you are cutting two pattern pieces) and cut a few inches more just to be on the safe side.

To prepare to cut bias strips, first one raw edge of the fabric straight across from right to left. Working with a single layer of fabric, pick up the lower left hand corner of you fabric and move the cut side (cross grain) on the diagonal until it lines up with the selvedge, forming a triangle of fabric with a fold on the diagonal. Make a second crossgrain cut of your fabric through one layer only across the top, separating your triangular piece from the rest of the yardage. Next, slip your scissors in the fold and cut it completely apart, allowing the top piece of fabric to land right on top of the bottom piece. This cut edge is the BIAS, and it must be handled very carefully so it does not stretch during the cutting process.

Next, mark the width of the bias cuts you need. We have found that many of the metal yard sticks in our workrooms are just the right width for certain sizes of welt. For piping, I usually use my clear plastic ruler that is cross marked in 1/8" lines, making chalk marks at the prescribed width on either end, and then lining up a yard stick between those marks.

To prevent distortion of the bias, I usually cut my strips using a rotary cutter and a special mat. I place the yard stick at the proper mark points, and run the cutting disk right along it, carefully holding the yard stick in place.

At the beginning of the cutting process, I enter the total number of inches I will need onto my calculator. As I rotary cut each PAIR of strips (remember, you have two layers of fabric) I measure them and subtract that amount from the total I need. I continue to do this until I have more than enough inches to do the project.

When you finishing making your cuts in this manner, you will usually have an angle cut at each end of each strip. This cut will actually be on the STRAIGHT GRAIN of the fabric, for the long cuts are all on the bias. To create the length of bias strip you need for your project, you will sew these angled cuts end to end until you get the total overall length you need. I normally use only a 1/4" seam allowance to join each section, and to further reduce bulk, I cut away any selvedge before I make the seam. Once all the pieces are joined, I press each seam open and flat, taking care not to let the length of the bias strip hang down from the ironing board and thus risk stretching out.


Now that you have the full lenth of bias strip that you need for your project, the next step is to wrap it evenly around the cord you have chosen. Working at your machine with thread that matches your bias fabric, fold the bias strip in half, encloing the cord in the fold. To prevent stretching during this part of the project, keep the length of unsewn bias strip supported, either on your table or on your lap, so that it is not unduly stretched while it is being sewn. Using your zipper foot, sew a line of basting stitches through both sides of the fabric to secure the cord inside your bias tube. but DO NOT PLACE THE STITCHING RIGHT UP AGAINST THE CORD. Instead, have your stitch line just a bit away from the cord. This is important to avoid any stitches showing later on in your project. Continue to enclose all the cord in the bias strip until you have enough piping/welt for your whole project.


Once you have all of your piping/welt made, you are ready to apply it to your project. Let's say your are applying it to the circular yolk of a child's dress. First, you will sew the shoulder seams of the yolk together and finish them, to that the total yolk is formed.

Then, working on the right side of the fabric, pin the piping so that the cord lies right on the seamline all around the yolk. DURING THIS PHASE, IT IS IMPORTANT TO HANDLE THE PIPING GENTLY AND NOT TO PULL IT. While one usually keeps a certain tension on fabrics being sewn together, if you pull on piping (or bias of any kind, actually) during the sewing process, it will cause puckering in the base fabric.

Next, baste the piping to the yolk piece, once again, not stitching right up tight against the cord, but allowing the stitches to run just slightly to the side of the cord. If you are sewing the piping onto the yolk freehand, without first pinning it, you must actually PUSH THE PIPING INTO THE PRESSER FOOT rather than keeping a manual tension on it. If you pull on piping or welt, it will cause the base fabric to pucker, and would thus affect the size of the piece on which you are working. Learning how to handle piping and welt so as to not cause distortion of your project is the most important part of working with these kinds of projects. Practice before you use that $100 per yard fabric!

JOINING WELT (Putting welt on a pillow top)

While most piping projects don't require a fancy joining, things become more tricky when you are working with welt, which is much larger and more bulky. As an example, let's pretend that you're applying welt to the front face of a decorator pillow.

First, unstitch about 6" of the welt you've made. Using standard masking tape, wrap a band of tape around the cord about 4" in from the cut end. Cut the cord only right through the tape and throw away the 4" tail. Mark the center point of the bottom edge of your pillow top. Place the welt where the stitching begins just a bit to the right of this center point, lined up with your stitching line and begin to apply the welt to the pillow top, leaving the uncorded tail section unsewn. Once again, do NOT stitch right up against the cord in the welt, but keep the stitching just to the side of the welt, and PUSH the welt into the presser foot, do not pull it.

Stitch from near the center to 1" from the first corner. Stop stitching with the NEEDLE DOWN. At the exact point where the welt will turn the corner of the pillow, make a small cut in the welt, not going in as far as the cord. Re-commence sewing and sew right up to the corner point. Stop with the needle DOWN. Rotate the whole project, allowing the cut in the welt to open up right at the corner. Continue to apply the welt to the pillow top, pushing the welt into the presser foot and treating each of the corners the same way. When you get about 4" away from your starting point, stop.

At this point, you can remove your project from the machine. Later on, you will be able to do this next step right on the machine, but while you're learning, this will be easier.

What you should see in front of you is a pillow top with welt sewn around about 95% of the perimeter.  Overlap the left side welt end with the cord still enclosed about 4" past the center mark on the pillow and cut off the remaining welt. Next, unstitch the basted welt holding in the cord back about 6", just as you did at the very beginning of this section.

You will now have two separate things to join. You need to join the bias strips, and you need to join the thick cording that forms the welt. Think of these two things separately.

First, you'll join the BIAS STRIPS. Remember how they were joined as you were forming the long strips! The ends were cut at a 45 degree angle, along the straight grain of the fabric. Cut the end of the right hand bias strip at such an angle if it is not already thus. Lay it down towards the left on the edge of the pillow. Now take the left hand bias strip which you have just unstitched from the cord and place it over the right had strip. You will need to seam these two pieces. If you cut the right hand strip 1/2" longer (all along the diagonal) than the point where they overlap, you will end up with the perfect length of strip. BEWARE TO CUT THE RIGHT HAND STRIP AT A DIAGONAL THAT MIRRORS THE LEFT HAND CUT, i.e.with the slanted cut going the same direction. When you're a beginner at this, pinning the sewing line before you cut just to make sure you've got it right is a safe idea.  Sew a 1/4" seam to join the two ends of the bias strip and press the seam open with your fingers. Now the bias strip is joined.

Second, you will join the CORDS. You'll recall that one of them has already been bound in masking tape and cut. Lay the piece of right-hand cord flat along the edge of the pillow towards the left. Take the left hand section of the cord and lay it out toward the right until it lays flat along that edge of the pillow. Place a collar of masking tape around the left section of cord, centered on the point where the two cords cross. Gently tug each cord to lay flat, and mark the masking tape on the left side cord at the point where the two cords meet. Cut the left hand cord. Now, take another piece of masking tape, and tape both cord ends together, butting them against each other.

Now the cords are joined and the bias strips are joined. Place the cord inside the strip, and continue to baste it onto the pillow until all the welt is applied. You have now successfully joined the more bulky welt.


The final step in applying piping or welt is to enclose it into the seam which it is to accent. Let's use the pillow as our example. Get the back section of the pillow, and place is face town on the front section to which you have applied the welt. Pin the two sides together at each of the four corners.

FLIP THE PILLOW FACES OVER SO THAT THE WRONG SIDE OF THE FRONT FACE IS FACING YOU. Beginning 4" to the left of a corner, sew through all layers using your zipper foot. At this final stage, it is crucial that you push the side of the zipper foot as close to the welt as you can possibly get. You will see the former line of stitching that attached the welt to the pillow top, and you need to get closer to the welt than that line of stitching. The larger the welt, the more difficult this step can be on a home sewing machine (it is somewhat easier on an industrial walking foot machine.) Still, you can do it! You can even manually push the welt with your left hand up against the edge of the presser foot. Continue to sew around the pillow until you are about 4" past the final corner. Back tack, turn the pillow right side out, and hand stitch the opening closed once the pillow form has been inserted.

When you're sewing piping, which has much smaller cording, getting a close stitch is easier. You may also want to try basting the two sections together first and then sewing a second time using a smaller stitch length, and again, pushing the zipper foot up tight against the cording. With piping, you have to be careful not to inadvertantly go too far and go over the piping. Practice! The results are such fun!

PS  I know that this section, more than most, could benefit from photos. I'll do it when I have some more time!