Sunday, 29 May 2011

"How to Do More With Your Blind-hem Foot! Part One: Blind-hemming"

One thing I love is versatility. Many presser feet are very versatile and one of these is the blind-hem foot. If you have an adjustable blind hem foot that is even better, but I have a fixed one. It came with my Brother XR6600. I have 5 uses for it including, of course, blind-hemming. The rest will be covered in the following posts and they are: pin-tucking, edge-stitching/top-stitching, stitching-in-the-ditch, and edge-joining.

Before you begin, you must attach your blind-hem foot. Yours may look a little different and may be adjustable, but this is mine. At the front you can see that it has a metal guide which goes underneath the foot, kinks in the middle for the needle, and then goes back to its regular path.

Use 1: Blind-hemming
When you blind hem by machine, it is not always absolutely invisible -- that is why I usually hem by hand. You will get instead, a little ladder stitch along the stitching line.

To begin, neaten the raw edge and then turn up the hem. (Photo at left.) Then fold it back on itself so that you have a sort of tuck on the RS and the neatened edge is pointing away from the garment. (Photo at right.)

Select the blind-hem stitch (number 9 below) on your machine, or the stretch blind-hem stitch (number 10 below) if you are using stretch fabric like jersey.

You may need to adjust the stitch width on your machine if you can to make sure the needle catches the fabric on the zigzag swing of the stitch. Secure the stitch or leave long thread tails to hand tie. Holding the thread tails neatly out of the way, start stitching. Keep the fold of the fabric butted up against the metal guide on the foot. When you get to the end, secure the stitch or leave long thread tails to tie.

When you have finished it will look like this: The first image is what it looks like when you remove it from your sewing machine; the second is what it looks like on the inside when you turn the hem to its correct position, and the third is what it looks like from the RS. If I had used a perfect colour match, it would have been less noticeable, but I used white thread because I had some of that.

The machine blind hem is good for people who have poor eyesight or have difficulty doing things with their hands, and for those who are in a hurry.

Well, that is the main use of the blind-hem foot, but as I said earlier, there is more. This post has got to be quite long, so I'll put the other uses on subsequent posts.

Until next time, happy sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown

"How to Shirr -- Two Ways"

Shirring (pronounced like Cher) is when you have rows of gathering. Although shirring can be done with ordinary thread so that it isn't stretchy, most of the time when people say shirring they mean with elastic thread called Shirring Elastic. It's thicker than regular thread and although it is usually sold in just black or white, it is available in many different colours (we sell it in our shop).

A lot of people on the Internet seem to have difficulty with shirring. The instructions just don't seem to work for them. At first they didn't work very well for me either (they do now and I'm not sure why). So I changed them a bit and now I have two ways to shirr.

Before you start
You have to wind the shirring elastic onto your bobbin by hand. It mustn't be slack or stretched too much. Just wind it comfortably and do so evenly so that it looks nice and neat on the bobbin.

A Note About Sewing Machine Types and Shirring
Front-loading sewing machines have higher bobbin tension than top-loading ones so if the shirring doesn't work on your top-loading sewing sewing machine, you may like to tighten it just a bit -- about an eighth or a quarter turn clockwise. If you are nervous about altering your bobbin tension, you might like to invest in an extra bobbin case. If you would rather do neither of these, try the second method of shirring below.

How to Shirr -- the Traditional Way
Backstitch at the beginning of your line of shirring to secure. Set your stitch length to its longest (more or less 5). Put your upper thread tension to the highest number which is usually 9. Sew the line of shirring and backstitch at the end. Repeat for as many rows as you would like. If it doesn't appear to have gathered very much, don't worry. Use a burst of steam from your iron and watch your shirring clench!

How to Shirr -- the Other Way
Backstitch at the beginning of your line of shirring to secure. Set your stitch length to its longest. REDUCE the upper thread tension by one digit compared to the usual tension for a seam. E.g. if your fabric usually takes a 4 to sew a successful seam of two layers of fabric, reduce it to 3 and shirr on the one layer of fabric. Backstitch at the end to secure. Use a burst of steam with your iron and watch your shirring tighten!

This way works because there is less hug on the shirring elastic, allowing it to recover more closely it's original size. Note: When you shirr the second way, you mustn't reduce the upper tension too much or you will get thread loops at the back of the fabric.

Why steam it? And what if I don't have a steam iron?
It makes your fabric more gathered and stretchier. If you don't have a steam iron (and you can get a travel one for under £15) you can put a damp (not wet) cloth such as a tea towel or dish cloth below your iron and hold your hot iron over it.

Which kinds of fabrics can be shirred?
Shirring works best with floppy fabrics. I don't think denim would shirr very well. I made two samples each of two fabrics: stretch moleskin, and viscose plaid. (They're not very tidy; I made them from scraps.) The first is a stretch woven and the latter is a loose weave fabric.  The samples on the right are the ones made using the traditional method of shirring, and the ones on the left were made in the second way. The latter are quite stretchy and stretch out to be nearly flat. The others (the traditional ones) don't stretch out to their original size.

You can make very pretty things with shirring and it so often seems to be in fashion. Maybe you could use it in some new way and start a trend! Be sure to put it on BurdaStyle so we can all see it!

Until next time, happy sewing!

Sabrina Wharton-Brown

P.S. Please comment below on what you think of my blog. I want to know how I'm doing and how I can be more helpful! Thank you. : )

Monday, 23 May 2011

"How to Get Your Sewing Machine Thread Tension and Stitch Quality Right"

One of the greatest annoyances for us sewists is tension. But sometimes, when it looks as though the tension is off, it may be something else. There are four things which seem to primarily affect the stitch quality: the tension, the needle, whether you have correctly threaded the machine, and the thread.

The thicker the fabric, higher the tension must be to lift the lower thread up to the middle of the layers of fabric. You will usually be alright with a 4 or 5 on medium to medium-heavy fabrics like linen and twill weaves such as drill and denim. Thick upholstery fabrics may require a higher tension setting and a longer stitch, and lighter fabrics like cotton or even sheers will require a lower tension setting.

Correct Threading
Make sure you thread your machine correctly. All the little milestones are there for a reason and missing one could totally ruin your stitching.

If the thread is bunching up under the fabric and you machine won't sew, you may have missed the take-up lever or "goose-neck". Without that, the thread will just stay down there and not make a stitch. It's kind of hard to explain it, but if you miss it on purpose, and turn the hand wheel with the machine switched off, you may be able to see what I mean. Until I missed the take-up lever I didn't appreciate it's importance; now I do. : )

Note: If you machine keeps locking up and the thread is tangled underneath, you may have sewn over a loose thread. Turn your machine off, snip the threads and remove the ones that are stuck. Then you can switch your machine back on and sew again, keeping all loose threads out of the way. : )

If you have been spending hours (or possibly days) trying to get the tension correct then it's probably not a tension problem. Try a bigger needle. A size 14/90 is a good average size for medium to medium-heavy cottons etc. and for when you use Sew-all thread.

People will usually tell you that to sew fine fabric such as lining fabric you must use a fine needle, e.g. size 80 or below. What they don't tell you is that that is only correct if you are using a fine thread like fine silk as well, or possibly if you are sewing a loose-weave fabric. Otherwise the needle won't make a big enough hole for the lockstitch and it will look like you have too loose upper thread tension. I seldom go below a size 14/90 unless the type of needle doesn't go up that high.

If that still doesn't fix it, make sure you are using quality thread. For some reason, even polyester cheap thread doesn't give the desired results. Use Gutermann or Coats. They are kinder to your machine anyway because they are smoother and don't leave so much fluff on your machine.

"Good in, Good out"
Remember, if you want your machine to give you good results and to last a long time, you have to look after it and that includes giving it good 'food' i.e. thread. It's the same as any other appliance, or even you. You know that junk food is bad for you. Well, junk thread is bad for your machine.

This is just what I have found out recently through experience. I don't know if it's just my machine, but my Brother XR6600 seems to be rather picky and likes to have the best. : )

Other things you can do
For tricky fabrics, like sheers and leathers etc., it helps to have the right foot, but if you don't have one, you can put tissue paper, such as Burda make, on top to help the feed, or underneath to stop fabrics from getting pulled down the needle hole. Putting it underneath also helps to get embroidery stitches to look right. You can use stabilizer if you prefer.

Save Time with This Helpful Tip
When you sew a new fabric, find the correct needle and tension and write it and the fabric's name on a swatch of the fabric. As you go along you will build a little encyclopedia of fabric. Then you won't have to keep trying to find the right tension and needle for the fabric. You can save hours! You might even try a blind hem and various stitches to find the best stitch settings and the colour and type of thread and write that down. Then you know what thread to shop for when you sew something else from the same fabric.

Until next time, happy sewing!

Sabrina Wharton-Brown

P.S. What problems have you had with your machine, and how have you fixed them?

Monday, 16 May 2011

My First Tuition Customer!

This week I had the pleasure of showing someone how to use her sewing machine. She had had a Singer about 30 or 40 years ago and that had a different set-up to this machine. She had found her 'new' sewing machine -- a Riccar -- at, I think, a car boot sale and snapped it up for only £8! It came fully stocked with several feet, lots of needles and the necessary screwdrivers. It had a straight stitch, zigzag, overcasting stitches, stretch stitch, a triple zigzag stitch and a blind hem stitch, which she was really interested in because she always has to shorten shop-bought clothes.

Apparently, Singer don't have the pre-tension discs (the little sticky-uppy metal thing above the upper tension discs) on their machines (at least the old ones) and so Mrs Customer didn't know what it was or what it was for.

First I showed her how to wind a bobbin and put it in the machine. The bobbin case wasn't inside so the bobbin was too loose in the machine. Then she found it in the accessory department and I showed her how to load the bobbin and fit it in.

We went over how to thread the machine, which was fairly straight forward. We tried sewing a bit to make sure everything was working and we were concerned to find the material wasn't feeding through! Then, being curious as to what it was, I turned a knob on the front of the machine and it turned out to be the feed dog switch! The pictures next to it are little arrows and don't look like the usual symbol for the feed dog position, so I didn't recognise it, thinking perhaps it was the reverse stitch knob. Imagine our relief when we realized she wouldn't have to go to the repair man!

We went over how to thread the machine and wind the bobbin again, with her taking notes and drawing diagrams. (The machine didn't have an instruction book and there was no help on the Internet, even from the people who sell instruction manuals -- I won't say who.)

Then we looked at the accessories. There was quite a selection. I think the previous owner had collected them. There was a zig-zag foot which was alreading attached to the machine, a buttonhole foot, a button sewing foot, an adjustable zip foot with a green screw at the back, and an adjustable blind-hem foot. We went over how to sew a buttonhole. It was a four-step one and a little different to the four-step buttonhole on my Toyota. I told her what the different stitches were for. I also showed briefly how to blind hem by machine.

By the time we were finished, she had her new "instruction book" written on the back of a vet's bill! She was delighted that she can now use her machine. She has had for a year and I think her husband thought it was a hopeless case (he wished us good luck as he left us to look at the machine at the beginning). It only took us an hour, so it was £5. It is nice to be able to earn money from something like sewing and to be able to help people with what I have learned! : )

Until next time, happy sewing!

Sabrina Wharton-Brown

The Adjustable Zipper Foot Fits!

And you'll never guess what the problem was -- I hadn't tightened that screw at the back enough! You see, when I tighten the screw it clicks as it turns round. I thought that meant it was getting too tight, but it doesn't; it's just the sound it makes. The screw's being too loose meant that the front part of the foot moved forward and covered the needle hole on the sole plate. Now the screw is nice and secure the foot stays where it is supposed to! I'm so pleased!

Anyway, the adjustable zip foot is considerably smaller than the standard presser foot (see photo at left).

I wondered why the foot seemed to work once and then never again. The packet says it fits most low shank machines, and I'm so glad it turns out that it does fit both of mine!

Note: when I sew with this foot, the stitch length is for some reason automatically shortened, and when I try to backstitch at the end of a line of stitching, it won't feed backwards properly. It works better if you stablize your fabric. I tried it using the instructions of a pattern I don't want. It works even better if you put paper on top of the fabric, as well as underneath.
I wonder if these problems would occur with a machine-branded adjustable zipper foot. Do you have one? How has it worked out for you? Please leave your comments below. Thank you.

Until next time, happy sewing. : )

Sabrina Wharton-Brown

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Which Is Your Favourite Sewing Magazine?

The Internet is a wonderful thing for finding sewing information, but it isn't the same as finding your magazine in the post and spending every spare moment looking at it, is it? So, I am going to subscribe to a sewing magazine, but I'm having trouble picking one. Having narrowed it down to three (okay up to three, having added Sew Beautiful to the list), I am stuck. The options are Threads, SewStylish, and Sew Beautiful. They look like the best ones, based on the projects and the quality of the sewing. If I am going to improve, I want to see what really good sewing looks like!

I like sewing clothes more than home furnishings because I can use more of them. You only need so many cushions and curtains! I am interested in techniques, pattern drafting, notions and tools. I'm not averse to some home furnishings and quilting etc. but dressmaking is what interests me most.

I like SewStylish based on a special issue I bought last year: The Jacket Issue. Are the ordinary issues good? I haven't read Threads but it looks quite good. Sew Beautiful is marketed as a magazine for heirloom sewing and their projects are undeniably well made (which is quite rare as most projects in magazines are rushed for publishing, and they end up looking rather bad).

So I ask you all, which do you think is the best magazine? What do you like about them? Do you subscribe? Please leave your comments below and help me (and possibly other sewists) to choose.

When I have made my decision I'll let you know which magazine I chose.

Until next time, happy sewing!

Sabrina Wharton-Brown : )

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Happy Sewing Birthday!

I've been sewing (with a machine) since I was 16 but now I am onto my second Fashion Design and Dressmaking Course with the Regent Academy, I need a machine that does a little more than the Toyota 21DES. That's a good sewing machine, but it's very basic.

It was my 21st birthday this April 22nd, so my Mum got me a sewing machine that I chose on Ebay (I really recommend going there if you are looking for a new sewing machine -- we got £207 off the RRP before postage!). It's a Brother XR6600. Here's a picture:

I did have a little trouble with the tension and that took up my attention for nearly a week. It wasn't until the needle bent (I used the wrong stitch for the overcasting foot) and I had to replace it that I found there was nothing wrong with the tension -- the needle was just too small for the fabric. We live and learn.

That round thing in the middle is a thread box and it's just the right size for Gutermann Thread spools and for bobbins. As it turns out the bobbins from my Toyota machine are nearly identical to the Brother ones, except for a little number 16 on the Brother ones.

The blue thing you can see under the presser foot is just a little denim mat I made as stitch practice. I leave it there so that I can keep the presser foot down when not in use (which saves straining the spring inside) and save damaging the presser foot so much on the feed dogs.

Anyway... it came with 7 presser feet! I'm going to have fun playing with those. There is a button sewing foot, an overcasting foot (which can also be used for edgestitching and topstitching), an embroidery foot, a blindhem foot (which I suspect can be used as a stitch-in-the-ditch foot with practice), a one-step buttonhole foot and a standard presser foot. Now, I did get an adjustable zip foot from Hemline (separately) but as it turns out both of my machines are two of the few that don't fit it -- it nearly entirely covers the needle hole! Update: I was wrong -- I just didn't tighten the screw on the back of the foot enough. It does fit both of my machines!

Look. On the front of the machine there is a little door that is a photo frame! It hides the stitch selection and presser foot pictures. The stitch selection buttons and the stitch width and length buttons are very easy to use. The hand wheel is too hard for my mum to turn (she has arthritis) but it's fine for me. The bobbin winder and the drop feed switch however are rather tough. Maybe they'll ease in time.

I could come to love this machine as I get accustomed to it. It's got some very pretty embroidery stitches, a scallop stitch, 5 one-step buttonholes and a bar tack.

The buttonholes' stitch width and length can be adjusted to suit different fabrics and they look a lot more professional than the 4-step buttonhole on the Toyota machine. These one-step buttonholes are also always balanced on each side, which I hope will save making so many test buttonholes!

The embroidery stitch that looks like triangles on the picture is actually really long (3cm?) when sewn and dosn't look very pointed at all, which to me is a good thing. There are two cross-stitch patterns, one pretty, simple one and one with more stitches to it. The latter requires medium-slow speed for good results, otherwise it dosen't look as it should.

Oh, and the purple rectangle on the door is actully a place for you to put your own pictures! The machine comes with a template for you to draw around and cut your pictures and photos to the right size.

It's a little lighter than my Toyota and a little smaller (until I put the hard cover on). Is this a great little machine or what?


I also got two books for my birthday: Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph Armstrong, and Claire Shaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide. They're both about A4 and roughly 3cm thick (I haven't measured).

 I don't want to take photos of inside the books in case I'm not allowed to (copyright laws).

Let's look at the first one: Patternmaking for Fashion Design...

This should keep me busy for a while. It uses the American system of patternmaking, not the European one, and all the measurements are in imperial (inches) but it shows you all kinds of garments, except underwear and accessories. (Though I have a suspicion that the bikini pattern could be used for underwear because the book says it can be made in any fabric.) There is a whole section for children's wear (ages 3 to 14) and a chapter for menswear. In that chapter it also shows you how to sew a jacket and line it by "bagging" the lining, rather than the traditional way of handstitching it in.

I'm not sure I will use the American system for drafting torso blocks -- the metric European one may be better for me. I think I will combine the systems for designing.

Claire Sheaffer's Fabric Sewing Guide is a veritable encyclopeodia of fabric advice, with shopping lists for things like feet and needles that help you get better results. It advises you on fastenings and care instructions. But it's not just about fabric. There is a rather large chapter in the latter half of the book full of sewing techniques for buttonholes (handstitched), seams, and zips. There is more detail there than in the module in my course!


Now let's look at my zipper feet. On the left is the Toyota zipper foot, my best one. The one in the centre is the Hemline Adjustable Zipper foot. It's very small compared to other feet, but it dosen't fit either of my machines -- it covers the needle hole! The one on the right is the one that came with my Brother machine. It's not as good as the Toyota one -- it is a bit wiggly on the shank.

In this photo the zipper foot on the left is the Brother one and the other is the Toyota one. Can you see that the centre bit on the Brother one is almost non-existant in the front? I'm not a sewing machine expert at all, but it seems to make the foot less stable. The Toyota one has a little extra metal there. That seems to help, so I use the Toyota foot.
Now I have to go and put dinner on, so it's goodbye for now. Happy sewing!

If you would like a similar sewing machine to mine, I found this one. It's like mine, but with more features.