Vague Questions, Answered Vaguely

by Erin on July 1, 2008


newspaper pattern 3297

I want to say that someone emailed me — recently, even! — asking if there were a lot of patterns with sweetheart necklines around. Like this one, above. Except she didn't know the term "sweetheart neckline," and maybe just said "a dress like today's dress"? Which means searching for it in my email archive is futile. Anyway, if you asked, this is my answer, and it is available from Miss Helene's for $9.99, and it's a B37, so have at it!

Another Lisa (not Lisa at Miss Helene's) wanted to know why her finished sewing projects always look "homemade" to her eyes, when she compares them with garments she sees in the store. She says she's not an odd size, and she uses better-quality materials than the store-bought stuff, so why don't her garments look better?

My vague answer is that it's probably the pressing: I find that whenever I make something that looks at bit off for some undefinable reason, it's because I rushed through the pressing-seams bit. The more time I spend with the iron during construction, the better stuff looks. But I admit that's a vague answer and it could be any number of things, so if you have a better answer for Lisa, please let me know!

The last question for the day is from Lynn, who wants tips on how to organize her Brand! New! Sewing! Room! (exclamation points mine; I have a kind of punctuation hemochromatosis, where I must be bled of exclamation points at regular intervals, lest my major punctuation organs go into shutdown). I am still trying to organize my OWN sewing room, after two years in it, so I'd appreciate any hints on this topic you care to give. I told Lynn to go look at Posie's studio as inspiration. Any others come to mind?

Other vague answers:

"Yes, mostly."
"If you want to think of it that way."
"Could be; I'm not sure."
"Let's try it and see what happens."
"I thought that's what s/he said."

Apply freely to your own questions!

{ 67 comments… read them below or add one }

San Antonio Sue July 1, 2008 at 1:06 pm

Lisa: This morning a co-worker showed me a cross-stitch cardinal (bird, not priest) she is working on in memory of her mother. She asked me, “Can you see the mistake?” I couldn’t. I think we are much more critical of our own work than anyone else is. So don’t worry about looking “homemade”, change it to “handmade.” If what you were wearing was ready made, would you notice the back pulled across your shoulders, or the hem rode up in the back? Relax!

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marcia in austin July 1, 2008 at 1:11 pm

I’m with you on the pressing seams bit. However, there could be more to it, and since this is essentially a visual question is there any way to see a photo or two of Lisa’s projects?

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Julie The Vintage Goddess July 1, 2008 at 1:19 pm

I think, like the 1st poster said that we can be much more critical of what we make, though pressing seams really helps.As a pattern seller, the sweetheart neckline question makes me think of the delima I have when putting a title on a pattern. How many words to use? I try to use “pockets” or words that describe the neckline, but sometimes there is just too much to list in a title.and really, sometimes a design is just “awesome”, but who uses that as a search word?;-)

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harthad July 1, 2008 at 1:23 pm

Ya know, there was just a discussion about this issue of “homemadeness” on the Threads magazine boards. Lack of ironing was the number one issue there too. Some other answers people brought up: uneven topstitching, threads hanging off, poor placement or execution of finishing details (like pockets, belt carriers). I’d add to that cutting/piecing issues; a couple of times I’ve ended up with fabric prints looking wonky in the garment because I wasn’t thinking about it when I cut out the pattern.One of the things that bothers me most about my own work is not getting things even–for example, not getting the edges of a garment facing to line up exactly at the top of a zipper. I recently read about “keying” pieces (that is, running a guide line of sewing just inside the seam allowance on both halves before you assemble things) and I’m going to give that a try next time. But I do agree that we’re usually much more critical of our own work than others are. I look at my off-the-rack clothes and find they often have mistakes or fitting issues I just don’t fret about, because I didn’t make them.

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Anonymous July 1, 2008 at 1:33 pm

Thanks for the list of vague answers, I need to add to my repetoir.The “handmade” issue: pressing is vital. Other finishing details like stitching in the ditch on facings, attention to the grain when laying out the pattern pieces, use of the apporpriate weight of interfacing, and stitch length appropriate to the fabric are all skills you develop over time that add to the finished look of your garment. Practice and learn.

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Kandyce P July 1, 2008 at 1:44 pm

I have to add, I grew up using a 30 year-old machine. I totally loved it, but the tension went wonky from time to time. Nothing can ruin the look of a garment faster than tension so tight all of your seams are effectively ruched! :)

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3KillerBs July 1, 2008 at 1:54 pm

Today’s dress is so perfect in its lines that it is hard to believe that fashion ever abandoned such uncluttered, feminine beauty in order to stuff us all into blue jeans and shapeless T-shirts. And yet, in a sturdy, washable cotton it would be something I could sit on the floor in to play Legos with my 2yo.I’ve always been leery of kimono sleeves though since I’m so large-busted. They don’t look good in RTW clothes because by the time I’ve covered my bust without any strain lines I’m swimming in fabric under my arms.Any other DD cup ladies out there who have successfully adjusted patterns with kimono sleeves so that they don’t end up with baggy folds in the armpits?

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edot July 1, 2008 at 2:07 pm

There’s a crazy-long thread (30+ pages!) on the patternreview messageboard on making clothes look less homemade. I haven’t read through it all, but responses/ideas seem to be in two parts: technique, like accurate topstitching and pressing seams as you go, and ingredients, like picking out good fabrics & interfacings for certain patterns. There’s also the thought that a lot of patterns home-sewers use aren’t drafted to the same standards as rtw stuff. Kathleen Fasanella (a serious garment industry crush of mine) has talked about general underuse of interfacing and the bunk of sleeve cap ease, as well as how imperfect commercial sewing patterns are.And 3killerbs, I’ve never attempted modifying kimono sleeved bodices, but I’ve read that you sort of cut off the sleeve-part, modify the bodice with an fba, and then tape the sleeve back on.

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3KillerBs July 1, 2008 at 2:10 pm

I’ll give another vote for pressing and finish details leading to a less than satisfactory look in our projects.Yes, sometimes we’re just running thing up quickly and are more concerned with getting something done than with perfection. That’s the home-sewing equivalent of buying an inexpensive, man’s t-shirt from Wal-Mart and there is nothing wrong with it. (I’m wearing a man’s, Wal-Mart t-shirt right now because tonight is range night and there’s nothing better than a crew-neck, t-shirt for keeping brass out of the bra).But other times we’re sewing the very best and we need to take care to use the fine dressmaking techniques to make the little differences that make all the difference. My own bane is absent or bad topstitching. I am so tempted to skip it because its so tedious to do good topstitching. But careful topstitching makes so much difference that it can look like a different garment.And then there are facings — puckered, shifted, or popping out of the neckline. *sigh*I’ve taken to using my Civil War sewing skills to flatline shirt yokes and pipe the edges instead of wrestling with those ungrateful facings. Of course, what I really need to do is grit my teeth and cough up the money for quality interfacing and then actually USE the stuff instead of pretending that this time my fabric really does have enough body to skip the interfacing.

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Anonymous July 1, 2008 at 2:21 pm

I agree your iron is your best friend when sewing. It should be ON (no auto shut-off) and right next to the dominant-hand side of your sewing machine throughout the whole process of making a garment. It should never be turned off or across the room. You should only have to SWIVEL to use your iron. No excuses now. And speaking of good sewing room layout, location of sewing machine/iron/lighting and other mandatory tools is critical to a comfortable and practical sewing room.My sewing room is a little crowded. In addition to 3 sewing machines, it has a drafting table, a standing paper cutter, a bookcase, 12 foot wide closet with shelves, a lingerie dresser to store medium sized items, an armoire for fabric storage, a paper box, and one of those wonderful old library card-catalogs that is being used to store small tools and notions. I would like to add a husband/ visitor chair, but I don’t think there’s room. Oh, well… he’ll just have to stand in the doorway.-Shaun

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Anonymous July 1, 2008 at 2:25 pm

I agree with the people who cite proper pressing and seam clipping and interfacing and choosing the proper kind of fabric for a certain pattern.I noticed a few years ago that some details can be too nice (not quite the right word) to allow a garment to look anything but hand-made. For instance, fancy buttons are, to me, a sure sign of a hand-made garment, as are an excess of, say, coordinating-print appliqus edged in metallic thread. And zig-zag top stitching–I can’t remember ever seeing that in RTW–especially when it’s of a contrasting thread color…

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Bex July 1, 2008 at 2:31 pm

I love the sweetheart dress; it is cute but simple.I think pressing and extra topstitching really help make a garment look more solid and substantial.

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Melissa July 1, 2008 at 2:37 pm

I finished remodeling my basement studio a year ago:http://www.flickr.com/photos/actionhero/445265137/in/set-72157594326683319/Working down there is great with everything organized and in its place.

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pirate July 1, 2008 at 2:38 pm

“I am still trying to organize my OWN sewing room, after two years in it, so I’d appreciate any hints on this topic you care to give.”Oh yes, the sewing room archaeological dig. BTDT. However, when it comes time to bit the bullet, I start in ONE corner. It doesn’t matter which one, just start. Object by object, pick them up and put them where they belong. Don’t get distracted by organizing *that* place yet … just concentrate on getting the starting point cleaned up. If anything belongs in another room, just put it in that room .. and do NOT get side-tracked by that room.Move in a circle around your sewing room, returning stuff to where it belongs, tossing the trash , bag/box stuff you no longer want (and deal with those bags/boxes LATER). As you move in the circle, everything behind you *should* be done. Eventually, when you return to the starting point, the entire room will be *at least* semi-organized, with items being in the proper place in the room, although not necessarily 100% organized in that proper place.Once all the over-all effort has been done, you then return to micro-manage individual, specific areas … like patterns, fabric, notions, tools, thread, whatever. Don’t feel compelled to do the entire room in one fell swoop; therein lies Madness. :-) Take frequent breaks so you can take stock in your current accomplishment. But *do* be firm about not starting any new projects until the room is organized!

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Anonymous July 1, 2008 at 2:52 pm

I concur with all the suggestions about pressing, interfacing, quality of finishing details.Fabric selection can make a difference. The amount of drape in a fabric can make a huge difference. A pattern designed for a flowing and drapey fabric made up in a stiffer fabric will not hang quite right. Regarding finishing stitching: Tools can make all the difference. A few accessory presser feet, with guides, can assist greatly with accurate stitch placement. I find it very difficult to get consistent top/ditch/edge stitch line placement with a standard presser foot. I use my edge joining foot on every project I sew. I can adjust the needle position, line up that blade in the ditch or against a folded edge, and stitching is always perfect. Just keep your eyes on the blade, NOT the needle. Example of edge joining foot:http://sewingmachine221sale.bizland.com/store/media/ditchP60706.gifThe guide on an adjustable blind hem foot like this one works similarly:http://sewingmachine221sale.bizland.com/store/media/Aft820817015.gifCMC

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Chelsea July 1, 2008 at 2:55 pm

Maybe this is obvious to everyone else, but don’t skip steps on the pattern. If you don’t understand what it means, that doesn’t mean it’s not important. ;)And if your pattern only goes up to size medium, and you need to make an extra-large, it doesn’t always work to just wing it. :DBut the iron can fix a miriad of sins, including the two I mentioned.

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Anonymous July 1, 2008 at 2:59 pm

About studio/sewing room organization, quilting arts just came out with a special publication called “studios”. It doesn’t deal with sewing rooms, but more with art studios, but these are people who dye their own fabric, make are quilts and other sewing stuff, as well as other art. I pre-ordered the book. It was worth it. Fab pictures to drool over.

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Birgit July 1, 2008 at 3:19 pm

On the Sweetheart Neckline Dresses – if you want to find some nice vintage patterns – the Wiki now has a Category named “Sweetheart” to look under…

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Little Hunting Creek July 1, 2008 at 3:21 pm

The most important things I’ve learned – press often, press after every seam, press thoroughly when completed. Also do your homework. Go into a really nice store and really LOOK at the details. What attracts you to a garment, what details look special? Then go back to your sewing room and study technique and practice doing those details until you get it right. After a very short while it will be easy …or easier :)[some things, like hidden button plackets and fly zippers, take more practice than others.]As for cleaning up your sewing room, I’d be struck by lightning if I even attempted to give advice.Kathleenhttp://littlehuntingcreek.blogspot.com/

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Kathleen July 1, 2008 at 3:25 pm

Happy Canada Day!Always, always grade seam allowances, clip right to seam & press well- I agree. I often use a pressing ham. -Flagon Donaldson of the Sewing Conspiracy

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astrojen July 1, 2008 at 3:41 pm

Now, with respect to the question about projects looking homemade, I must first admit I am new to sewing (about a true year in total ), so my thoughts may be obvious to others. I do read every sewing magazine and I have a few DVDs I refer to regarding this. Sandra Betzina mentions pressing and finishing her inside seams in a number of ways. Susan khalje pointed out on a program with a guest the importance of top stitching, and in this particular one the guest was demonstrating very clots to the edge top stiching. It looked so very well done. One of my favorite sewing podcast is Material Mama and “Nutmeg” mentioned the importance of pressing. She even pointed out to my surprise that the presser makes more than the sewer in a production shop. Hope this might help a little. I too have the same question. I must say that Sandra’s DVD is very informative. I constructed a large slip cover using her tips and it came out great, for me anyway:)

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Belle July 1, 2008 at 4:04 pm

Im addition to the issues mentioned above, I find that I wobble when I stitch and sometimes I hold the fabric with too much hand-grip tension so it puckers from time to time. Also, I can’t figure out understitching, which I hear is essential. Hmm.. lots more problems, I’m sure. Lessons learned: get the right needle and thread. Extra fine needles and thread can be very helpful, and never use thread that is stronger than your fabric, except maybe for basting or a gathering thread. >>Alert, alert! Polyester thread can tear cotton, linen, or silk.Staystitching has been an easy lifesaver to learn. Since I have to undo so many lines of stitching and re-do them, my pieces would be a mess without staystitching.Hints to make beginner projects work out better: Avoid delicate or slippery fabrics like the plague. Use dark, rather busy woven prints to hide ALL sorts of mistakes. Ditto for permanently crinkled fabrics. Full and swishy skirts are good too–the many folds of fabric hide the stitching lines. Until I get the knack of sewing, I’m using camouflage as my ally. :pIronically, one of my first projects was a Regency gown (no “swish” there) in cream silk! It doesn’t look to “home ec-cy,” partly because I made up a complete toile three times to get the fitting and the drape. Better to use 90 cent muslin than waste beautiful silk (from Vogue Fabrics, at 5.99 a yard!!!). Now I keep using the finalized toile to make additional dresses that will fit. I just modify the dress with pleats in the skirt or different trim. Plus, with totally different fabrics, the style of the dress doesn’t register.

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Karen July 1, 2008 at 4:38 pm

I have noticed the homemade feel to my own things, and I blame it on my fabric choices. I’ve been getting sucked in by quilting cottons that I adore but that don’t translate to a garment. Adding a lining helps the drape and wear of a lot of fabrics, and contrasting ties, collars, belts, or trims can help make things more modern or unique. Also, try selecting patterns that resemble the rtw that you’d buy and looks good on you.I recently organized my sewing “room” from piles of boxes and bags to actual shelves. I took everything out, sorted it all into categories and piles, and found a plastic or cardboard box for each that was 25% larger than needed. Don’t forget the “intermediate” box, which will rotate. For my fabric piles, I bought extra empty’s, since that grows by more than 25%! I love those embroidery floss boxes for organizing buttons, it is very theraputic to sort buttons! Lastly, I bought magazine file boxes to keep my in-process patterns, sketches, thoughts, cut-outs, and inspirations in.

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vespabelle July 1, 2008 at 4:56 pm

My two home sewing pet peeves: facings (I’d rather fully line a bodice or use bias binding.)centered zippers. I much prefer the look of a lapped zipper or an invisible zipper (you do not need anything other than your regular zipper foot to put in an invisible zipper!)

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Chantelle July 1, 2008 at 5:10 pm

I’ve also had problems with things looking too homemade.Like karen above, when my things look too homemade it’s usually because of my fabric choices. Sometimes I use the wrong weight/hand/drape and it just doesn’t hang right. I have a bad habit of using very drapey fabrics for everything because I love them so much! I also I have a hard time getting good, modern fabrics – a lot of the ones in my local stores would make *anything* look homemade.I’ve found that certain trims and other finishing items can look more homemade than others. Rick-rack and cute (or wrongly-sized) buttons, for example, make a garment look homemade. The industry doesn’t apply that much trim these days but when it does, the trim is often inserted into a seam. I have seen some interesting folded grosgrain as neckbands. Buttonholes are ones of those areas that can make or break a garment. Most industry shirt buttonholes are vertical while patterns are usually made with horizontal buttonholes. Similarly, industry zippers are usually invisible these days, smooth, and don’t pucker. And the cross-seams match closely.As many people mentioned, watch pressing, topstitching, interfacing, and understitching. I don’t think the industry does much understitching but it definitely makes the facings lie flatter.If I’m making a very complicated pattern, I’ll make up a toile or muslin first. Simpler patterns I’ll just dive right into – and some of those definitely look homemade!The thing that bugs me most about the pattern industry is that the patterns are not always fashionable. I find that today’s patterns have WAY too much ease and that’s not what people are wearing these days. Sleeves are usually puffier. These things make finished garments look homemade.3killerbs and edot, an fba adjustment to a kimono sleeve might work but there might be some strange shapes between the bust and sleeve. I’d suggest darting the excess out of the side seam (aka the baggy folds) after the fba. Happy Canada Day!!

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pirate July 1, 2008 at 5:33 pm

Chantelle wrote, ” .. Buttonholes are ones of those areas that can make or break a garment. Most industry shirt buttonholes are vertical while patterns are usually made with horizontal buttonholes….”I believe the reason RTW does vertical buttonholes is for efficiency and speed of construction. It is much easier to simply push the front band away from you to advance the garment to the next buttonhole spot. My pet peeve with vertical buttonholes is they *do not work* with us busty ladies. Put some horizontal stress on those buttonholes, such as what occurs at the bustline, and voila .. you have a popped button. Talk about annoying and embarrasing. :-(Horizontal buttonholes, on the other hand, handle the bustline stress/pull much better simply because the button will be pulled to the end of the buttonhole and *stay there*. Whenever I make garments with buttons down the front, I always make them horizontal just for that reason.As for avoiding that look of “made with loving hands”, the buttonhole issue may, of course, be one factor, but if everything else looks non-homemade, horizontal buttonholes won’t tip the scales.

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SE July 1, 2008 at 6:35 pm

I know everyone has said “pressing” or “ironing” already, but I wanted to chime in because I DO NOT SEW. The only things I’ve ever sewn are tiny repairs, buttons and 1 cat-shaped pillow. But even I could see that the dress in front of me one day was handmade because the hems weren’t really pressed. Because store-bought clothes hems (when they have them) are industrial pressed, they are as flat as a razor. So there you have it from someone who should not even be able to tell. :)

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libby July 1, 2008 at 6:38 pm

So much great advice. No need to reiterate or add. But, as a genetic perfectionist (I swear it’s not my fault) I have to say that there is nothing like the joy of doing something well, no matter how much time and effort it takes. I think of myself as my own best critic and I’ll gladly rip a seam, redo a step , or use a more time-consuming technique to get it right. I’d much rather be the only one who notices something impeccable on a garment that I’ve made than to be the only one who notices a mistake. I applaud you Lisa for caring and I encourage you to go slow, enjoy the process, and fall in love with the creative wonder of it all.

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jen July 1, 2008 at 10:42 pm

i wanted to chime in with my own experience with home sewing and “handmade” looking garments. :) all the points brought up are great, i in particular have had problems with 1. fabric choice (rtw tends to use fabric with better drape) and 2. quality of the pattern itself.like someone mentioned, patterns out there have way too much ease and in fact, part of the problem is the fact that the patterns are made totally shapeless! even a dress that is so supposed to be quick and easy seems to take forever because of all the fittings i do to make sure it really fits. it’s not uncommon for me to take out 3″ of ease in certain places! regarding buttonholes, as a, ahem, not-so-busty girl myself i don’t know a lot about constructing a well-made shirt for large busted women; i can say though that shirts generally look nicer with vertical buttonholes – just make sure to make horizontal ones at places of stress (collar, waist). which reminds me, home sewing machines generally do not make buttonholes as nice as special machines used in the garment industry.

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/anne... July 1, 2008 at 10:52 pm

Australian fashion, OTOH, uses a lot of trim, and not always inserted into seams; it tends to be subtle, but it’s there – grosgrain ribbon through the middle of a waistband or an inch from the hem of a skirt is quite common, and is a pest if you need to alter a garment ;-(. I’ve also seen zigzag topstitching, often on fairly arty/small DE clothing; mostly on T shirts and stitched-down pleats on skirts. They avoid looking home-made by pressing the poor garment to death.Interestingly, really expensive garments aren’t pressed to within an inch of their lives like cheaper garments (well, apart from garments like shirts); seams are pressed, but there’s still life in it. It’s worth paying a good drycleaner to do the final press on a garment, particularly coats and suits – their equipment is way better than anything we can afford.

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Anonymous July 2, 2008 at 4:12 am

Pressing – crucially important (there is a couple of sewing blogs that I cringe everytime because the garments have obviously not been pressed properly). Also, get the pressing tools such as a ham, clap, point presser etc.RTW v sewing pattern instructions – rtw is often constructed completely different to sewing patterns. Sometimes the effect is superior, sometime not. IMO sewing patterns advocate too much hand sewing rather than explain more complicated techiques that would produce a neater result. And they overuse facings. Copy or reverse engineer your RTW to get the same technique.Speciality sewing feet can make a big improvement to your topstitching, zippers etc. They’re worth the investment.Puckered seams are an obvious sign of a home made garment. Always do a test sample of your fabric and play around with different needle types and sizes to perfect the result.And although the finishing is on the inside, it does affect how you feel about your garment. Make it look professional.

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Anonymous July 2, 2008 at 4:29 am

A regular person does not have the machines to process clothes like RTW, so, to avoid a “homemade” look substitution of lots of hand work needs to be done. Preparting the fabric, preparing (adjusting) the pattern, careful cutting, fitting, with lots of hand basting and, as you mentioned, pressing as you sew. There is not short cut to lose that handmade look, substitute industrial machines with lots of hand care.

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jorth July 2, 2008 at 5:00 am

In my fashion degree we did a subject called “Production”, which taught us how to sew garments according to production line standards.Let me tell you, ironing is the key! It makes all the difference, as does a bit of topstitching. The topstitching can be visible or invisible (‘stitch in the ditch’), but does give the garment a far more professional look.Hope that helps!PS I love this blog.

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Anonymous July 2, 2008 at 7:15 am

I can’t give any tips on organising a work room as my whole house is permanantly on the edge of chaos. When it comes to making clothes look less home made there are a few things which help. Pressing, Pressing and more Pressing.Get or make a ham to be able to press curved seams properly and remember to press each seam before you sew the next one.I am currently considering making a master toile and pattern. You take a staight sleeved, straight skirted, fasten down the front dress (or assemble said pieces from patterns you own already) make the toile and then make the pattern alterations required to get a perfect fit such as lenghtening the waist then deepening the bust dart by the same amount for a fuller bust. When you’ve got the perfect fit you can then make those adjustments to any pattern in the same size before you cut it out and in theory eliminate most of the fittings and faffings.Susan

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theresa aka velvet plaza July 2, 2008 at 7:58 am

I don’t sew well. It’s just a fact. But, i dont’ let it stop me. And I wear what I make. I know it’s not perfect. The zipper is always a little wonky. I never hand stitch the hem (carpal tunnel) and i cna’t get the hand of a blind hemstitch. Sometimes I don’t understand the directions. But everytime I wear what I make at least one person says “I love your dress. Where did you get it.” I am proud of everything I have ever made, even the dismal failures because at least I was brave in the attempt. I do not have a sewing room. I barely have a sewing corner. My hosue is just too small. So I cut my pattterns and fabric out at work on my lunch break on our big drafting/art table and then I sew at home. I use a computer desk. And yes, my iron has to be across the room – I have no choice. There is nowhere else for it. But someday, I will have a sewing room.

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Hannah July 2, 2008 at 8:07 am

One thing I’ve begun taking special notice of is the top stitching and hem stitching on factory made garments. Trying to copy how they are done has given my handmade garments a more professional look. For example, many garments are hemmed with two lines of stitches…

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Latter-Day Flapper July 2, 2008 at 8:39 am

Use good fabric, prewash, and be careful not to stretch it as you work with it.I always iron like crazy and topstitch everything. I’m just a topstitching fool. But, man, does stuff look better with neat topstitching (and it frays less).Re: Vertical vs. horizontal buttonholes. I was always taught that vertical buttonholes were the mark of store-bought in a bad way, because they can tug and gap (and the button may slip out) when you bend over or move your arms in a fitted garment. Horizontal buttonholes don’t have that problem. My mother considered horizontal buttonholes to be a “special touch” and a badge of custom sewing rather than the mark of homemade.

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La BellaDonna July 2, 2008 at 9:05 am

The not-easily fixed part:Patterns made by professional patternmakers for the garment industry ARE NOT THE SAME as the patterns made for the home-sewing industry (nor are they made by the same people). I don’t know why this is; the commercial patterns (that is, patterns made for the garment manufacturing industry) are made in such a way that they can be put together easily, quickly and without written instructions by people who (a) may not speak any English; (b) may not read any English; (c) may never have sewn before. Therefore, commercial patterns are EASIER to use than the ones made for home sewers. (Kathleen’s opinion of home sewing patterns is, to say the least, not high.) The weird little glitches home sewers often encounter in putting together patterns? Don’t happen with commercial manufacturing patterns. And yes, people in the business (that is, those who actually manufacture garments, not necessarily “designers”), CAN tell the difference between a garment made commercially, and a garment made from a pattern designed for home use. I’d love to have access to patterns made for commercial use (other than the ones I make myself). In the meantime, making the best of what’s available to us:The fixable parts:Preshrink everything before you start; PRESS EVERYTHING. Press the fabric before you start — and I mean PRESS: lift the iron as you go, rather than sliding it the way one does in “ironing” fabric. IRONING fabric can stretch it in unwanted ways. Press the project as you work; don’t wait until you’re done. Press everything when you’re done.Manufacturing Hint: Kathleen Fasanella (Sewing Goddess!) tells us that “STAYSTITCHING” is NOT DONE in the industry; interfacing is what keeps those areas from stretching. I’m not telling anyone to do that instead, but it is a tremendous difference in techniques. I would also say that if Lisa can tell that her projects look “homemade,” then she needs to sit down with a pad and pen and articulate what it is she sees. If she can tell the difference, she can write it down. When she writes it down, she will know what the problem areas are – and they will often turn out to be: pressing, the #1 contender; the correct fabric weight and type for the project; appropriate finishing techniques; fit. But if she can actually see the difference, she has the knowledge she needs to articulate the problem. Once she does that, we’re in a better position to help her address the problem(s). The problem is least likely to be fancy buttons or trim, I suspect; I do have a number of high-end garments (manufactured, rather than Made By Me) that have remarkably ornate closures! But whatever it is, it’s fixable. And, as always, I do encourage the folks here to check out Kathleen Fasanella’s http://www.fashion-incubator.com! She is THE source of knowledge as to how commercially manufactured clothing is made, and I would go there to learn professional techniques.

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Anonymous July 2, 2008 at 9:17 am

I have noticed that garments that scream “home-made by someone” and not “hand-tailored with skill” tend to have (in addition to poor or little pressing):–fabric that is too heavy for the pattern–buttons or buttonholes that are too large–bulky seam allowances or facings–stitch length very shortIf you look at most RTW, the seam allowance is far less than the 5/8 of a printed pattern, there are about 8 to 10 stitches per inch, and the buttons and buttonholes can be maddeningly tiny. Fabrics are thin, and facings are often minimal. Now, this may mean that the RTW is shoddily made–and much is– but it contributes to the “look.” Also, the thread in RTW usually matches the fabric exactly, which isn’t always possible in home-sewn. Manufacturers have a lot more options available to them. Monique in TX

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Anonymous July 2, 2008 at 10:07 am

Regarding zig-zag top stitching as being a tell-tale sign of something being handmade: this spring I bought a couple of blouses from the Boden catalog, both with contrasting zig-zag topstiching. They are very cute, but they don’t look like I made them.

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harthad July 2, 2008 at 10:53 am

Hear, hear! to those who mentioned that commercial patterns have too much sleeve cap ease. I finally took to altering almost all of my modern patterns to reduce it (slash-and-overlap technique described in Sandra Betzina’s “Power Sewing”) and it makes setting sleeves much easier. Interestingly, most of my vintage patterns don’t have that problem. I also think the garment industry has access to fabrics that home sewers just can’t get. Am I the only person who finds it almost impossible to get cotton/poly blends? All you see are quilters’ cottons. They’re ok for some garments, but they’re often too heavy and always look wrinkly.

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fuzzylizzie July 2, 2008 at 10:55 am

Great discussion! I think the pressing isue (no pun intended!) is well supported. I never really gave it much thought until I read Claire Shaeffer’s book, Couture Sewing Techniques, for which she spent months in couture workrooms. The thing that really stuck with me was that in a couture workroom, you are much more likely to see a worker at an iron than at a sewing machine.

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LadyT July 2, 2008 at 11:14 am

“Dream Sewing Spaces: Design & Organization for Spaces Large & Small” by Lynette Black has lots of ideas for different ways to organize different sewing spaces. Check it out from your local library. I am absolutly in love with indivitual plastic storage pull-out drawers that you can stack and move aorund. Allows me to see my fabric and move it as needed. I have about 60 of them in my garage.

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Anonymous July 2, 2008 at 11:40 am

Contrast color zigzag topstitching is used in Anthropologie clothes to great effect.

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La BellaDonna July 2, 2008 at 12:02 pm

Se, per /Anne’s comment about expensive clothes not being pressed to death, and your being able to tell that a dress was “home made” because the hem wasn’t flat: Couture garments, and expensive ready-to-wear, are pressed during the construction, but the hems and edges are NOT pressed flat-as-a-board; one of the marks of a couture garment is that the hems are actually softly rounded. Such garments need to be taken to specialist drycleaners, and the hems need to be carefully pointed out, and need to NOT be pressed flat – otherwise, your zillion dollar designer special winds up looking off-the-rack! While it’s probably true that the garment you found, Se, really was home-made rather than couture, I did want to point out that if you find a garment that looks wonderful but has a softly rounded hem, that garment is a prize, and you DON’T want to mash that hem flat, either at home or at a dry cleaner’s! N.B.: More often than not, I personally DO mash my own personal hems flat, and not only that, nail them in place with trim. So there’s plenty of room here for your own personal preference.Harthad, have you had the opportunity to look online for fabrics? Granted it’s not as much fun, but it does let you search specifically for poly-cotton blends. Check out places like Fashionfabricsclub.com for your fabrics.

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Mary July 2, 2008 at 12:27 pm

I use commercial sewing patterns but I also copy RTW clothes. The copies of RTW tend to not look homemade. Also, when we buy RTW, we try on several items for fit and reject most. This is harder to do when fitting while sewing, at least for me. Other than that, I agree — good pressing and even topstitching made homemade look better. But to tell you the truth, I don’t care if it looks homemade – would we complain that a meal tastes home cooked?

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wundermary July 2, 2008 at 12:45 pm

Ooooh! I am currently working on my studio and that is so inspiring!I hear the “homemadey” issue. Usually it is a combination of things that point to an inattention to detail and /or rushing. Top stitching must be neat and straight, everything has to line up perfectly, especially when the fabric isn’t wild enough to conceal any flaws. all corners, miters and anything that is turned must be crisp. All of these things come back to marking, basting, pinning, clipping, pressing and not rushing at the machine.Recently I handed off a Chanel inspired vintage suit to a friend. I had bought it at a yardsale and after getting it home, realized it was homemade. The biggest clues were the finish on the zipper and hem on the inside. I liked it even more once I realized it had been someone’s project.

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Melanie July 2, 2008 at 1:57 pm

I have to agree with almost everyone-choice of fabric and ironing/pressing. I was often unhappy with my projects when I first started sewing and I finally took a “sewing basics class” and a few of the things I learned were 1.to take my time when cutting out my pattern2.prewash my fabric, trim, etc.3.press after every seam4.press at the end5.adjust the pattern to my particular measurementsHope this helps.

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lorrwill July 2, 2008 at 2:03 pm

With regard to industry fabrics (aka designer fabrics) oh yes we do have access to them. Manhattan Fabrics, Sawyer Brooks, Candlelight Valley and Michael’s Fabrics (ZEGNA – woot) all leap to mind.Now affording them – that is a whole different discussion.I second that vintage patterns do seem to be superiour to contemporary patterns. Faster is not always better.Very intrigued by the button hole discussion.

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Anonymous July 2, 2008 at 2:10 pm

Hnadmade is one way to put it, another might be couture. There is a lady on the commuter train every morning whose jackets and suits are OBVIOUSLY not RTW. After several weeks I asked her where she got so many well made pieces. She told me her sister (of the same size) sews for a Paris couture house, and these garments were her sister’s idea of gifts for birthdays and holidays. Gorgeous details, perfect finishing, balance, drape, tiny plaid matching, sleeve caps, curved lapels, compeletely beautiful in an understated way. Handmade.

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jen July 2, 2008 at 2:16 pm

re: buttonholesyes! one of the great advantages of making your own clothes (or having them made for you) is the ability to have buttonholes any which way you want. if horizontal buttons provide a better (and more secure) fit, then that most certainly would look better than vertical buttonholes that gap. (although could this be more of a problem with darts and other bust seams, adaquent fabric, etc.? dunno) if you look at a well-made (and often custom) men’s dress shirt, the majority of the holes are vertical with the exceptions of stress points. the vertical buttonhole is more hidden as the button should sit in the middle of it, whereas in a horizontal buttonhole, the button normally sits over to one side, exposing it. if your home machine makes buttonholes like mine (nice but not delicate like the ones you see on high quality rtw) you’ll want to cover them up. :)coats and jackets on the other hand, tend to have horizontal buttonholes which makes sense as they are meant to be layered, resulting in more stress on the opening.

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Pamela D. July 2, 2008 at 3:00 pm

My understanding on the buttonhole issue is that vertical buttonholes are used in a band, as on a man’s shirt(except the collar band, which is horizontal), and horizontal buttonholes are used everywhere else. It used to be that bound buttonholes looked homemade, mostly because they were not used on RTW. They were a mark of couture or hi-end RTW in the 60s and I’m glad to see they are back again in RTW, after a period of commercial disuse.I’m with all the people who believe that pressing makes the biggest difference in whether a garment looks homemade. Fabric choice is also a major determinant. To the lady who has bust issues with a Kimono sleeve: a soft, drapey fabric is what you need. A nice silk or rayon, or a thin knit, cut without too much fullness should work. Base your fabric choices on what seems to work in RTW.I’m a big fan of wool; it always gives a professional look. Moreover, it’s easy to sew and ease, easy to press and lasts forever with minimal wrinkling. My favourite wool is doubleknit. It simply sews beautifully and looks nice on. My daughter is now wearing a pair of wool doubleknit leggings I sewed when I was pregnant with her and later altered to fit. They still look great and are right in style. They don’t look like pantyhose, as do some of the leggings I’ve seen girls wear this year. The right fabric can go a long way to a professional look.I, however, like Erin, love conversational prints, which, face it, are rarely used in RTW. But who cares? It’s all about being creative in your dress! I had a much loved monkey printed corduroy wrapskirt at one time, and my daughter just gave me an apron printed with pattern pieces. I would love to have a silk blouse printed with pattern pieces!

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Pamela D. July 2, 2008 at 3:00 pm

My understanding on the buttonhole issue is that vertical buttonholes are used in a band, as on a man’s shirt(except the collar band, which is horizontal), and horizontal buttonholes are used everywhere else. It used to be that bound buttonholes looked homemade, mostly because they were not used on RTW. They were a mark of couture or hi-end RTW in the 60s and I’m glad to see they are back again in RTW, after a period of commercial disuse.I’m with all the people who believe that pressing makes the biggest difference in whether a garment looks homemade. Fabric choice is also a major determinant. To the lady who has bust issues with a Kimono sleeve: a soft, drapey fabric is what you need. A nice silk or rayon, or a thin knit, cut without too much fullness should work. Base your fabric choices on what seems to work in RTW.I’m a big fan of wool; it always gives a professional look. Moreover, it’s easy to sew and ease, easy to press and lasts forever with minimal wrinkling. My favourite wool is doubleknit. It simply sews beautifully and looks nice on. My daughter is now wearing a pair of wool doubleknit leggings I sewed when I was pregnant with her and later altered to fit. They still look great and are right in style. They don’t look like pantyhose, as do some of the leggings I’ve seen girls wear this year. The right fabric can go a long way to a professional look.I, however, like Erin, love conversational prints, which, face it, are rarely used in RTW. But who cares? It’s all about being creative in your dress! I had a much loved monkey printed corduroy wrapskirt at one time, and my daughter just gave me an apron printed with pattern pieces. I would love to have a silk blouse printed with pattern pieces!

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jen July 2, 2008 at 3:09 pm

Pamela D: very succinct comment about the buttonholes – thank you! Great points made about wool too.I must say, this has been one of the most informative and entertaining discussions about sewing I’ve participated in in a long time. Thank you to everyone! :)

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Kate in England July 2, 2008 at 3:50 pm

On my desk is another good place to get a look at other people’s creative spaces. As a professional of sorts, I am confused by the sleeve cap discussion. In tailoring, we would expect the sleeve to be at least 2″ bigger than the armhole. It does depend on the garment and the fabric, though. Ditto what the whole world said about pressing. But also I think the bulk of the work is in the preparation. I’ve never stay-stitched anything in my entire life, but I do a whole hell of a lot of basting, and pressing, and I probably spend less than 5% of my working day at the sewing machine, if that. One day I will have to work it out, but it is a teeny tiny percentage. It’s all in the preparation. And the pattern. Commercial home-sewing patterns are truly evil in that respect. Learning to draft your own isn’t that hard and will ultimately give you much better results.

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mickey July 2, 2008 at 5:26 pm

I’m going to skip the subject of looking homemade because you all have done such a detailed job it will require a few reading on my part to absorb it all. To Lynn the only thing I can offer is, however you arrange your room, make sure you keep as much as possible visible or labeled. Nothing will drive you crazier than trying to remember where you put a seldom used tool or a piece of just the right interfacing or even buying something you already have. Congrats on your room!

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kagitsune July 2, 2008 at 6:36 pm

The “pressing seams” bit probably just changed my entire sewing life. 8D I have a similar problem with a lot of my sewing… I’ll be more careful with pressing from now on! ^^ Thanks, Erin~

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Anonymous July 2, 2008 at 6:46 pm

“To the lady who has bust issues with a Kimono sleeve: a soft, drapey fabric is what you need. A nice silk or rayon, or a thin knit, cut without too much fullness should work. Base your fabric choices on what seems to work in RTW.”LOL 3KillerBs here — I can’t seem to log in on my DH’s computer.My problem is that with a 46″ high bust and a 52″ bust NOTHING works in RTW. Even worse, because my mother was ill while carrying me, I’m misproportioned so that no two measurements on my body are the same size.I do not generally wear drapy fabrics because I dislike the “Hang a tent from your bustline” school of plus-size dressing. :D

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Nora July 2, 2008 at 10:38 pm

So many great comments! I just wanted to add that “punctuation hemochromatosis” made my day (I also like Gratuitous Capitalization; both remind me of Miss Climpson’s letters to Lord Peter Wimsey in “Unnatural Death” (yes, I am a big nerd).

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lorrwill July 3, 2008 at 12:12 am

I swear I must have some kind of pattern drafting brain malfunction. I do not find it easy at all. Or should I say, drafting patterns that fit properly – FAIL. Want to share some of your mad skillz with me?

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anthrok8 July 3, 2008 at 8:01 am

What makes a seam “softly rounded” rather than just “badly pressed?”

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scormeny July 3, 2008 at 9:52 am

Just some thoughts based on the comments here:(1) On teaching yourself how to sew better: My fave books that help me sew areClaire Shaeffer’s Couture Sewing Techniques (which has wonderful photos, clear text, and illustrations of a pile of handstitches; as she points out, in couture houses there are almost no sewing machines but there are several ironing boards and irons, underscoring points made in this thread)Pati Palmer & Marta Alto’s Fit for Real People (I haven’t used this one much on my own yet, but used it in a slacks-making class that was fantastic)The Vogue Sewing Book, First Edition 1970 (fantastic at addressing assembly and various styles of sleeves, collars, belts, and fasteners — and I LOVE the circa 1968 photos! very trendy now)Elissa Meyrich’s Sew Fast, Sew Easy. An awesome primer on how to read and execute a pattern; I made the simple skirt pattern in this book and continue to wear it a lot, it’s great. This book has become hard to find, but Meyrich is releasing a new book later this month called Sew On, which includes a Wrap Dress pattern AND a basic t-shirt pattern, as well as others; I’ve already ordered my copy!(2) On RTW vs. Home Sewing: I lived in Portland, Oregon for a couple of years, where Nike, Columbia and several other sportswear companies have headquarters and design their clothes. While there I learned a bit about that industry. RTW patterns are based, in general, on actual people called “fit models” who are “perfect” size 8s. Almost all clothes for all companies, as I understand it, are drafted for fit models, and then specialized software operated by skilled pattern drafters is used to size it up and down from the actual pieces of fabric, cut up, that were used to fit on that fit model. The sizes change over time and the software is updated, although the pattern companies do NOT go out and find “perfect” size 16s, for instance, to make clothes for, AFAIK.Home-sewer pattern sizes, however, were drafted sometime back in the 1940s, and the sizes have not changed since, at least in the pattern companies that have been creating patterns since that time. Among other things, this is why your home-sewer-pattern size is usually quite different from your RTW size (ie, I wear a 12/14 off the rack but measure as an 18 or 20, depending on the pattern company and whether it’s a top or bottom, for home-sewing purposes). There are very standard drafting and alteration “rules” that have changed little in the home-sewer pattern-making industry, over all these decades. Author and sewing guru Pati Palmer argues that all this is a GOOD thing for the home sewer, because it reflects standardization in the home-sewer-pattern industry, whereas “vanity” sizing and changes in fashion and technology have led to dramatic size and fit variances in the RTW clothing industry. Therefore, they’ve reduced the guesswork or legwork that would be introduced if you had to, every time you wanted to sew a new pattern, make a muslin, and learn a bunch of new alterations, and in general “figure it out” on your own.In theory, if you pay a lot of attention during the first few garments you make, you’ll have a lot of fitting and altering information that you’ll be able to apply to get the perfect fit, aided by the standardization that allows you to judge the fit and adjust it for every standard pattern.In practice, does this work? I would say, sort of. It’s definitely a relic of an era when hand-made clothes were a status symbol; these days, except for the most couture of couture, it would look tacky to have handmade seams, even though my mom’s “nice” dresses from local dress stores that she bought in the 1960′s all have hand stitching in them.(3) On my own tools: I have a sewing machine (bernina,it’s okay, not great), a serger (secondhand, okay, not great, but awesome for clipping and binding seam edges so they lay flat pretty much forever regardless of how you clean the garment), and a growing repertoire of hand stitches (so slow, but so lovely when I take the time, which I pretty much always do for hemlines and tricky construction.).I also am a big fan of my Styling Design Ruler, which has a big curve on it that allows me to smooth the lines when I have to adjust the hip-to-waist ratio or increase or decrease an armhole or neckline. It’s easy to use, I recommend it.(4) random trailing threads: I’m no fabric genius, and I have found that buying remnants at my local fabric store (I’m lucky as G Street Fabrics is my local) is the best way to get inexpensive, well-made fabric that I’m not afraid to sew. It can be really hard to know, for many of us, how a big bolt of fabric is going to translate into a garment — the pattern, the fabric content and weave, the colors. So I tend to buy neutrals or classic prints, marked down to around $4/yard, and have been pleasantly surprised by what I’ve got. Don’t spend a lot of money on fabric if you’re a novice sewer!!! Especially if you’re a perfectionist who won’t wear or finish a garment that’s not turning out as good as RTW.I’m going to spend part of the summer teaching myself draping techniques, using the packing tape dress dummy I made a couple of years ago but haven’t really used, and the book Draping for Pattern Design by Hilde Jaffe and Nurie Relis, and a couple of articles in recent Threads magazines about draping for plus-sized women. The more you understand your own body and the more work you do in taking big flat pieces of fabric and fitting them to the real, live, fleshy, curvy you, the better for making great garments!Happy sewing, and thank you Erin for such a great website.

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Eirlys July 3, 2008 at 9:53 am

Kate in England, that ‘On My Desk’ site is brilliant! Thanks! I’ve not had time today to scrutinise all comments :( but in case it hasn’t been mentioned yet, you can at a pinch “press” a seam by scraping it open along the edge of a table, say. Anybody know what I mean, or does that sound totally insane? Patchworkers swear by this method (they would be doing nothing BUT pressing if they had to do all those little itsy bitsy seams) and I’d suggest it for the extremely carbon-conscious sewer. But… pressing’s better.

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3KillerBs July 3, 2008 at 10:39 am

To make things simpler and maximize my sewing time with a lot of small kids underfoot, I cut several garments at once and pin up every seam that can be sewn without crossing another seam. Its easy then to sew up all those seams in several garments (changing thread takes less than 30 seconds on my machine).Then I press everything, pin up all possible seams again, and repeat. I find that both makes the most efficient use of my time AND eliminates that temptation to skimp on pressing that comes from a disinclination to keep getting up and down after every six-inch seam.

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La BellaDonna July 3, 2008 at 1:57 pm

Kate C., experience in looking at a wide range of garments will help; however, the garment with a “softly rounded” hem will have other indications of couture quality in it: bound or hand-made buttonholes, fabric-covered snaps, carriers for straps, expensive fabrics – outer fabric AND lining – waist stays, interfacing in the hem to keep it in position, hand stitching in some areas, etc.The garment made by loving hands at home will likely have other indications than just the hem, if the hem is an indicator: fabric that may not be ideal for the garment – or really cheap fabric; cheaply or poorly done inner construction; other seams not pressed or not finished, hanging threads, etc.

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La BellaDonna July 3, 2008 at 3:42 pm

Karen, re: “I have noticed the homemade feel to my own things, and I blame it on my fabric choices. I’ve been getting sucked in by quilting cottons that I adore but that don’t translate to a garment.”I would suggest that you first do some research regarding vintage garments that DID use cottons in those weights, and then translate those shapes into something you can wear. If you’re trying to do something drapey, it’s not going to work; but there are a lot of different styles that would work just fine with some of the quilting cottons that I, too, love.Anonymous on the train, the key here is that the suit lady’s sister trained in a couture house. It isn’t designers who MAKE couture garments, but the workers (mains) who produce them. That isn’t really “homemade,” any more than it’s “homemade” when the IT person builds his/her own computer at home. Although, colour ME jealous!

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Anonymous July 6, 2008 at 3:01 am

My sewing has improved a lot lately, from the “no idea” stage to “predictable results”, and a few things have made a lot of difference. a) I don’t trust the size the pattern company thinks I should wear. I look at the garment measurements, and then decide how much ease I need in that style, and buy according to that. Usually two or three sizes smaller than recommended. b) Understitching. c) Clipping and trimming seam allowances much more than I thought possible as a beginner. d) Putting in zippers by hand. It takes a lot longer to do it once, but if I do it on the machine the first try is never good enough…/Monika

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