Monday, October 20, 2014

Use a Double Needle for Sewing and Hemming New Stretch Fabrics

Kenmore Sears 1974 sewing machine with double needle and multi-purpose foot
1974 Kenmore Has Everything Necessary for Double Needle Stitching

Sewing Stretch Fabrics and Knits with a Double Needle

Pants and jeans are skinny again, and stretch fabrics are back. If you’re short, you probably have to hem every pair of leggings, jeggings, jeans or whatever name we’re using this year. Even if you have mechanical sewing machine (not electronic) with straight stitch and zigzag, you can use a double needle to sew stretch fabrics and it’s worth the needle purchase to have double stitching that will stretch with the garment.

A double needle has one shank, so it fits in the needle slot just like the single needle. You need two spool holders for thread and a presser foot that will accommodate a double needle. My 1974 Kenmore will sew with a double needle, although it didn’t come with one.

Schmerz makes a universal double needle that you can find at Hancock, JoAnn or maybe even Michaels or Hobby Lobby. It should work in your sewing machine if you have two spool holders. Buy two double needles in case you damage one while sewing (they’re less than $5 each).

Remove your single needle and replace it with the double needle. Replace the presser foot with one that allows zigzag stitching -- you need the width for the double needle stitching. I use the Q-Foot or multi-purpose plastic foot for this with the best success.

Close up of threaded double needle in sewing machine
Double Needle Has Two Needles on One Shaft

Place a spool of thread on each of the spool holders. You may find that stitching works best with thread coming from the front of one and the back of the other. Thread the sewing machine with one of the threads according to the machine instructions, but when you get to the eyelet just above the needle, you may have two channels for thread. Choose one and thread the needle closest to the channel you choose.

Run the thread from the second spool in the same guides as the first one, including the tension guide, until you get to the eyelet above the needle. Place the thread in the unused guide and thread in the empty needle. Pull both threads to the back. 

Thread the bobbin as usual, and pull the thread up through the soleplate by easing the wheel forward slowly until the double needle goes into the bobbin, catches the thread and comes back up. 

Use a piece of fabric to see how the double needle works, and check the tension. You may need to adjust the tension for knit or stretch fabrics.

Close up of double needle sewing showing top stitching
Front of Fabric with Double Needle Stitching
Your stitching should appear as two lines on the front and a zigzag on the backside of the fabric. 

Sample shows backside of double needle sewing
Backside of Double Needle Stitching is Zigzag Stitch

For stitching leggings or stretch pants, you’ll need to pin the hem so you can sew from the front to the back, since you want the double stitching to be on the front. Use a seam gauge to make your stitches about the same distance from the edge all the way around the pants leg. Hem the other pants leg the same way. The double needle sews a stretchy stitch so the hem won’t rip out as easily. 

Close up of stitching in progress with double needle on knit pants
Sewing Knits or Stretch Fabrics with Double Needle from the Top

You can’t pivot with a double needle in the machine, so it won’t sew to the end of the row and turn to stitch the same area again. You can backstitch with the double needle in place, but it’s easier to go forward and overlap stitching. Once you’re familiar with double needle stitching, use it for topstitching and crafts projects.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Sewing is Easier with a Few Nifty Tools

image of 1974 Kenmore portable sewing machine
1974 Kenmore is 40 Years Old and My Primary Sewing Machine

Twentieth century sewing was more difficult than it is today. You’ve seen that with the newest sewing machines and sergers that do stitches we never imagined before the millennium. I had a straight-stitch Singer for 10 years and when I got my Kenmore in 1974, the zigzag was a thrill. So was the automatic reverse. Likewise with the cams I could use for fancy stitches for my baby girl’s clothing.

I’ve buzzed along for 40 years with the same Kenmore sewing machine, and haven’t needed an electronic machine or many new doo-dads. Since I quilt and sew as well as do fabric crafts, I’ve added a few tools to my “notions” that you may not have considered necessary if you sew.

Olfa rotary cutter and C-Thru self-healing mat
Rotary Cutter and Mat

Rotary Cutter and Mat -- Old cutting boards were usually a piece of cardboard with a one-inch grid. Add a self-repairing mat and a rotary cutter to make sewing easier. A large mat and a small one are most useful, as you don’t have to clear the table completely to use the small mat. This isn’t for dressmaking, as nothing works better than your old cardboard cutting board and a pair of scissors for following a curvy pattern. If you make home d├ęcor like curtains, drapes, pillows or bedspreads, you need the rotary cutter and mat for more accurate and easier cutting. Gingher, Fiskars and Olfa all make rotary cutters now, and Olfa makes a pinking blade for a rotary cutter.
Silver colored lightweight metal needle threader
Needle Threader is Inexpensive and Useful

Needle Threader -- If you don’t have a needle threader because you have excellent eyesight, you’re missing out on a handy tool to thread your sewing machine as well as the hand sewing needle. Maybe your machine has an auto-threader -- but I can thread a needle the first time every time with an ordinary needle threader and good glasses. A built-in needle threader for sewing machines doesn’t seem to be an improvement over the fine wire needle threader I’ve used for years.

Seam Ripper is an Essential Tool for Sewing
Strong Glasses -- Sometimes drugstore glasses are better than your prescription ones. I have a pair of 3.50 magnification that are about the strongest I’ve seen available at the local stores. I leave them at the sewing table and use them only when doing close work. They have saved me hours of time with threading, accurate sewing and (occasional) ripping.

Seam Ripper -- Rippers have been available for years. If you thought you didn’t need one, now is the time to treat yourself to a sharp ripping tool for removing stitching mistakes and old seams for alterations. It’s an indispensable tool for sewing, crafting or needleworking. 

Right Angle -- A right angle isn't just a quilting tool. It helps you cut on the grain by lining the edge with the selvedge, and it is useful for many crafts. You can make a right angle from cardboard, or purchase one at Hobby Lobby, Michaels, JoAnn Fabrics or Hancock.
Cardboard commercial right angle ruler in package
A Right-Angle Ruler is Handy for Crafters, Quilters and Seamstresses

Other Notions -- A quilt basting spray holds pieces into place on one another, and a fray checking solution will keep your fabrics from fraying while you work. Sometimes it's just easier to pin items in place or zigzag stitch around the edge, but occasionally, these products are handy. Pinking shears are not essential, but are sometimes useful as well, but there's nothing worse than a cheap pair of pinking shears. The chew the fabric -- so you might as well have it frayed. I keep a crochet hook on hand when I sew, and use it as a bodkin to make points sharp when I turn a belt or a craft item. A knitting needle will work just as well to push in the corners to get them sharp.

Think through what you could use to speed your sewing or make it easier, or take a look on the notions wall at your local fabric, craft or hobby shop. New items are available and many aren't necessary or very useful, but a useful tool can save time and errors. Make your sewing, quilting and crafting easier by using notions suited to your style.

See you soon!

Cajun Collection

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Make a Tote Bag Bottom with Plastic Canvas and Easy Sewing

Tote bag made of upholstery fabric with fall flowers
Tote Bag from Crafts Show

A well-made tote bag at a crafts show caught my eye and my purse strings, and I tried to use it the other day. It has no stiffening in the bottom, so I set about to fix that with plastic canvas. Rather than take the bag apart to place the plastic canvas between the lining and the inside of the bag, I just added the plastic canvas to the bottom of the lining by stitching the ends securely on the sewing machine. I’ve used plastic canvas before for sewing crafts, so I know it sews easily with regular thread and the straight-stitch presser foot.

burgundy lining fabric shows inside of tote bag
Turn Tote Bag Inside Out with Lining Free from Bag Fabric

Lining of Tote Bag with Sheet of Plastic Canvas
Use Any Color Plastic Canvas for Bottom

Turn the lining of the bag to the outside. Measure the length of the bottom side seams and the length of the bottom of the bag. You’ll have rectangular measurements to apply to the plastic canvas. If you have a tote bag with a round bottom, you’ll need special round plastic canvas for it. 

Cut the plastic canvas close to a solid row (so the prongs aren’t sticking out) in the approximate size of the bottom of the tote bag or purse. 

bottom of tote bag with plastic canvas in position to straight stitch side
Lay Plastic Canvas on Top of Bottom Edge of Lining to Stitch

Lay the plastic canvas on top of the lining of the tote at the side seam and place under the presser foot with the plastic canvas on top. Stitch down the side of the lining and on top of the plastic canvas to the end of the side seam. Pivot the fabric and plastic canvas and stitch through the same area again. Tack with a backstitch and cut the thread. 

Shows stitching down side of plastic canvas and bottom of bag
Pivot needle and stitch down the same side again to hold plastic

Check the size of the plastic canvas again. You don’t want it to buckle because it’s too long for the bottom of the bag. Trim a row or two off the plastic canvas end if necessary.

Stitch the other side the same way as the first, sewing down the edge of the canvas and lining seam, pivot and return to the place you started. Tack with a backstitch and cut the thread. Check your work by returning the lining back inside the bag. You don’t need to stitch the long sides because you’re just trying to keep the plastic canvas from sliding around or coming out when you dump the contents.

Plastic canvas isn't as heavy as I like for the bottom of a tote bag, but it works better than no stiffening at all. I like a piece of hard plastic or stiff cardboard, but both of those have drawbacks. The hard plastic breaks and the stiff cardboard can't get wet, so the plastic canvas is an alternative that allows the bag to sit with a little structure instead of taking the shape of the objects in the tote. It won't break and water won't damage it. The next time you need stiffening for a crafts project, consider plastic canvas. It's almost indestructible, easy to sew and comes in several different colors. It's available at your nearest hobby store.

See you next time!


Monday, July 14, 2014

Make a Mastectomy Bra from a Purchased Bra with Easy Sewing Instructions

Orange gerbera daisies with imperfect petals
Imperfections Can Be Beautiful

A mastectomy without reconstruction requires some clever underwear to look normal. Mastectomy bras are available for purchase at a high price, but they may not be the style you like. Many look Victorian and fit up around the neck, while others are itchy fabrics. Revising a purchased bra gives you a better selection and more choice of styles. You may also find the price worth the effort. The Fruit of the Loom bra shown here is about $8 in 2014, compared to $80 for a mastectomy bra.

You can choose a bra you like and turn it into a mastectomy bra in a few easy steps. You’ll need a straight-stitch sewing machine and ordinary sewing supplies, along with a purchased bra and a fabric square or squares the size of the bra cups. You’ll need two squares of fabric for a double mastectomy bra and just one for a single left or right side. A soft knit fabric seems to work best for the cup pocket that holds a prosthetic breast.

Wash the bra and the fabric you plan to use for the lining or pocket the way you normally launder bras, using the same water temperature and drying in the dryer, if you dry your bras. This allows the bra to shrink before you start sewing.

Wrong side of white bra and white single knit fabric
Wash and Dry Bra and Fabric for Inside Pocket

Lay the purchased bra on a flat surface with the inside facing you. Choose the side you need to revise and place the fabric square along the top edge of the band (bottom of the bra), with the edge of the square folded under about 5/8 inch. Make certain your fabric square will fit all areas of the cup. 

Determine where you want the opening pocket for the prosthesis to slide in place. Most purchased bras have the opening on the side near the arm, but opening at the top keeps the prosthetic in place and makes the underarm area of the bra smoother. If you choose the side for the opening, leave the side and part of the underarm seam open or your prosthesis might not fit.

Bra with fabric pinned at center and bottom edge
Pin the Fabric in Place Starting at Center of Bra
Trim the fabric square to fit about 5/8 inch outside the edge of the bra, starting at the center; fold the edge under about 5/8 inch and pin in place.  Work one edge at a time for best results.

Trim the bottom edge about 5/8 inch longer than the bra and fold the bottom edge under 5/8 inch and pin it in place above the elastic band.

Trim the arm side and the top edge of the fabric individually and pin the fabric piece in place all around the bra cup. You want it to be flat and smooth, not cupped like the front surface. (If you've had a double mastectomy, unpin and use the fabric to make a mirror image with another fabric square by placing right side to right side and cutting the shape. Pin the fabric back in place.)

White bra with fabric square edges folded under and pinned in place
Continue Pinning Clockwise Around the Cup Edge

Unpin the side you want to leave open for the pocket, but don’t unfold the edge. Stitch along the open edge with your sewing machine straight stitch with thread the same color as the bra. This gives the open edge a finished seam and some structure. Pin the edge back in place. 
Shows stitching in place and completed mastectomy bra revision
Stitch Around the Bra Leaving an Opening for the Prosthesis

Starting at the top center of the bra, sew with a straight stitch where you’ve pinned the fabric down to connect the lining fabric to the bra. Turn the garment and stitch around the bottom, making sure you're stitching above the elastic.Stitch three sides of the edge of the bra cup where you’ve pinned the fabric, leaving the opening at the location on the cup that you’ve chosen. 

Trim the threads and try the prosthesis into the opening. (Repeat the process for the other side if you have a double mastectomy.)

Front side of Fruit of the Loom bra with revisions
Stitching Shows A Little from Front

Save money and put your sewing skills to work with an easy revision to a purchased bra. Once you learn this technique, you'll be able to revise any ordinary bra to fit your new body shape.

See you next time!