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Common Troubles with Sewing Machines!

November 23rd, 2010
Sue Hausmann & America Sews

The Hausmann's
This past Saturday, November 20, 2010, Nashua Sew & Vac hosted a day with Sue Hausmann.  She has a show on PBS, called America Sews.  She was in town to share much of her expertise and inspire us in our creative endeavors.  It was a little heavy on machine embroidery hints, but there were a few gems she gave us, that I must pass on to you!  And, I couldn’t help but elaborate on related troubles and their solutions.

Bobbins, how to wind them without damaging them.
plastic bobbins
First, Jan Bickford, our serger/sewing teacher, has been educating us to wind plastic bobbins at a medium, rather than fast speed.  The friction on the thread, as it goes from spool, through the tension discs, to the bobbin, causes the thread to heat up.  Sue elaborated on this info by showing us that the heat can be high enough to actually warp and distort the bobbin!!!  She showed us one that was damaged in that manner.  I have wondered why some bobbins are like this when I go to wind them, and now I know!  Warping will cause the bobbin to feed thread unevenly and therefore your stitches will not be consistent.  (This doesn’t apply to metal bobbins.)  Another thing to be careful of, whether using metal or plastic bobbins, is that high speed winding can stretch the thread.  So, NO lead footing allowed!

Problems for which the Solutions involve the Take Up Lever

Many of you have had problems with your sewing machine, and whenever they happen, you’ll say, “What’s wrong with this @#%$&   thing!!!!  %#^@&$*%!”  Often, the machine gets shoved into the closet and collects dust.

Well, here are some hints for you.  First, whenever you wish to stop your line of stitching and pull the fabric away from the machine, you must put the Take Up Lever to its top position. (See the photo and drawing above.)   If your machine has a Needle Up/Down button, use that.  If it doesn’t , then turn the hand wheel, (on the right end of the machine,) top toward you, until the needle is at its highest position and just starting to move downward.  Or, until the Take Up Lever is at its highest point.  I say “top toward you” rather than clockwise or counter-clockwise, because if you are sitting to the right of the handwheel, it turns counterclockwise, and if you are seated to the left of the wheel, you would observe that direction as clockwise.  Since the machine is usually in front of you, I say “top toward you” to eliminate confusion.  Did that help?  Or, did I just muddle your thinking?

What having the Take Up Lever at the top will do for you, is eliminate 3-4 problems that commonly happen to beginners and even more seasoned sewists. (I have to tell you, that I don’t really like the term “sewist” but as I write “sewers” it looks more like “soo-ers” than “Soh-ers,” not an appealing thought!)

Please click on this link to the How Stuff Works website. It will take you to a page on how sewing machines form stitches.  There are 2 animated drawings showing first, how a chain stitch machine works, then, secondly, how our standard sewing machines work.  When you look at the second animation, note that the needle penetrates the fabric and a hook grabs the thread and brings it around the bobbin.  You can see that the needle exits the fabric before the needle thread completes its journey around the bobbin.  The needle thread is made long enough to wrap around the bobbin, by the Take Up Lever giving slack to the thread.  It “Takes Up” that slack, after the needle thread goes half way around the bobbin.  Most people look at the needle when they sew.  So, they think that as soon as the needle comes out of the fabric, that you can pull it away from the machine. Unfortunately, the stitch is not complete, until the Take Up lever does its job and returns to its highest position.

What are the problems that occur when you try to stop before the stitch is fully formed?

Problem 1 You cannot pull the fabric away from the machine
Why?  The hook holding the needle thread has not released it from its journey around the bobbin case.

Problem 2 When, with great effort, you do pull it away, you end up with 4 threads coming out rather than 2
Why?  Again with the needle thread being trapped below, you are pulling the bobbin thread, the needle thread and the 2 sides of the loop around the bobbin, up with your fabric.  You cut all 4 threads and then pull the end of one thread and it comes out of the machine’s throat plate (this is the metal plate that the needle passes through and where the feed dogs pop up.)

Problem 3 When you start sewing again, the thread comes out of the needle and you have to reinsert it into the eye of the needle!
Why?  You cut the thread and the Take Up Lever still has to travel up, before it goes down.  So, it pulls the needle thread out of the eye of the needle and you say, “$@%#^$%%!” and rethread it and continue.
Problem 4.  ALL of these problems can be eliminated, if you do one thing!!!!
When you stop sewing, make sure that the take up lever is in its highest position.  (Circled in red in the photo above, most will stick out of the machine at the top)  If it is not at the top, ALWAYS, turn the hand wheel on the machine, top toward you.  Now, this is counter-intuitive for us.  We bicycle, and walk and crank things in a “top away from you” motion.  But, the motor on your machine turns the handwheel, “top toward you.”  It you turn it the other way, you can jam the machine.

Problem 5 When you start sewing, the machine makes an AWFUL racket and makes a mess of thread underneath, and gets stuck in place.

A.  One of the most common reasons, is that you have forgotten to put down the presser foot.  When you lower the presser foot, you also engage the tension discs, which grab the thread and let it go in a well-timed rhythm.  If the presser foot is raised, the thread flows freely (it isn’t grabbed at all) and when the take up lever rises, it takes the thread from the spool (the path of least resistance) rather than from below the fabric.  Meaning, that the loop that is being wrapped around the bobbin, doesn’t get pulled back up through the fabric.  This will cause a pile up of thread loops underneath.  It’s a domino effect.  Like those classic comedy sketches where a line of people are moving forward, the first person stops and everyone bumps into the person in front of them.  If this does happen to you, don’t just put the presser foot down and try to continue sewing, you’ve made your mess and you have to clean it up before you can sew again. You’ve plugged the drain and it must be unclogged.

Mickey Hudson likes to call this mess “bobbin vomit!”  Sometimes, it seems the most appropriate term for such a mess.
P.S. Another reason, that I overlooked for thread jams, is that whenever you start sewing, you must have the needle penetrate fabric.  The fabric holds the thread so that the loop comes back up from under the fabric.  If you have the needle go down before the fabric, the loop gets stuck underneath and the same bobbin vomit forms.  Yuck!  I do have an industrial machine that always leaves a small knot on the underside of the fabric, unless I hold both thread tales to the back, while stitching the first 2-3 stitches in the fabric.  If you are concerned about sewing all the way to the edge of the fabric, then start with a1/4″ of fabric behind the needle, go forward one stitch to establish the thread in the material, then backstitch/backtack/or reverse stitch to the edge and then go forward.  This secures the thread tales and keeps you from having a knotty mess underneath.

B. Another time that this happens, is if you are trying to sew past a thick seam in the fabric.  If the presser foot gets tipped high in the front, it cannot move forward.  The pressure on the foot is in the back, if the fabric changes from thin to thick, the foot gets stuck in place.  The way around this is to make the foot level.  You need to shim the back of the foot to be even with the front.  If you do that, there is no problem getting past a thick area of fabric.  You can buy tools designed for this called, “Hump Jumpers” or Jean-a-ma-jigs.  I own these tools, but can never find them when I need them.  So, I improvise.  I find a business or index card, folded to the same thickness as the fabric, works really well.  (for those of you who are more adventurous or lazy, who like danger, use a sewing machine needle case, but wear your safety glasses)

Hump Jumper inserted behind needle to level foot over a thick seam.
Jean a ma jig, inserted before seam, to level foot.

How to level or shim the presser foot:  as the presser foot encounters the increased height of the seam, stop the machine, put the needle down and insert shim behind the needle.  Lower the presser foot, continue sewing across the seam.  It will pop out from under the foot when no longer needed.

Leveling Presser Foot, also does general sewing.

Some machines have a shimming mechanism built into the standard presser foot.  Do you have a presser foot that has a spring-loaded, black button on the side near the back, like the picture above?  Have you ever wondered what the heck that is for?  Well, when you sew and encounter a thicker area, let the foot start traveling over the seam, stop, put the needle into the fabric.  Level the foot and push the button in on the side so that it engages with an indentation in the back “ankle” area of the presser foot connection.  Hold the button in while you lower the presser foot onto the fabric.  Then, let the button go. It will stay pushed in.  The foot will remain level as you sew across your seam.  The button will pop out of place when you have passed the thick area.  It is quite amazing!

Now, for those of you, who have had a problem with the thread coming out of the Take Up Lever, this is for you!  I have been trying to figure this out for a long time.  I don’t have this happen to me, but it happens to a lot of my students when they use one of my sewing machines, in particular, the Kenmore model 16231.  Sue Hausmann talked to us about this and I was so happy to learn this, that it was worth attending the 6 hour seminar, if only for this explanation.

This usually happens for people who have a sewing machine which can stop the needle in either the UP or Down position automatically.  (Though, just today (11/23/10,) I had a student, whose machine doesn’t have this feature, have this problem, so all of you should read this!)

Many times, you may find that that AWFUL sound happens when you start sewing a seam.  When you stop, there are big loops of thread down below and you may or may not be able to pull the fabric away from the machine.  This is caused by using the handwheel, rather than the UP/DOWN button, to move the needle/takeup lever to their UP positions.  Sometimes, your machine’s UP position may vary a little bit from what you expect.  If you turn the wheel  by hand, you may not put it right where the machine would and it forms some slack in the thread, that allows it to come out of the take up lever.  Since I love the needle up down button (you can have it stop in the fabric whenever you take your foot off the pedal, so it acts like a third hand, holding your fabric in place on the machine while you adjust it to continue sewing.)  You can also have it stop in the UP position every time you stop.  If it is in the Down mode, make sure that at the end of stitching your seam, that you push the UP button rather than turning the hand wheel.  The designers of the machine want you to use the button rather than the wheel.

Another task that is effected by not using the UP/DOWN button, is threading the machine using the automatic needle threader. Most new sewing machines come with a needle threader.  How it works, is that you push a lever down, as it is depressed, it rotates forward and puts a teeny, tiny hook, through the back of the eye of the needle.  You draw the thread around a guide and then up the front of the needle until it encounters the underside of that teeny, tiny hook (like a minuscule crochet hook.)  You let the thread in your right hand go, at the same time as you release the lever on the left.  Spring loading allows the hook to draw a thread loop through the eye of the needle.  You then pull that loop all the way through to finish threading the machine.  Most needle threaders look like the one above.  None of them work right, unless the machine is IN the pre-programmed UP position.  If you are not sure if the machine is in the right place, hit the needle UP/DOWN button, until it is.  If you do not do this, it will bend the hook so that this will not work in the future.  Many people do not know this.  Remember………If all else fails, read the instruction manual.   Or, come to a class and we will show you what to do!

Pictures of Student’s Work

December 6th, 2009

The following pics are from 2009.  These are just a portion of what students have accomplished here in their classes.

March 27th, 2009

Gumdrop Pillows!

February 19th, 2009

Amy Lou's daughter, Addy, on the pillow that inspired us all.Amy Lou and the Gumdrop pillow I made for her as a baby shower giftCloseup of top of Amy Lou's pillow, check out the kaleidoscope effect made by fussy cutting the panelsBotton of Amy Lou's pillow, cutting the panels in the same place on the fabric creates a wonderful kaleidoscope effect.Katie pretending to sleep on the cushions.My niece, Katie, on her sister, Sanna's, PillowBottom of Katie's pillow, this is the smaller, 18Top of Katie's pillow

All the rage here at Laura’s Sewing School, we are having such fun and interest in making Amy Butler’s gumdrop pillows that I have scheduled a one day workshop for us to go wild and make them together.  I will order the stuffing and patterns and you will purchase the fabric of your choice.  You can see the details (dimensions, materials list) about the pattern on Amy Butler’s website.
These cushions are made of drapery weight fabric.  You can find that weight of fabric here in Arlington, at Fabric Corner, at Freddy Farkel’s in Watertown (also known as Fabric Showplace) and online.  Fabric Corner just ordered a large selection of Amy Butler home dec fabrics and they have received 12 of them! They will go fast, especially because they will be posting them for online sale, too. So, you may want to get there as soon as you can to pick up the fabric.  If the weight is fine, it can be any brand of fabric.  You just don’t want a fabric which is too loosely woven, or unravels easily.  Fabric.com has a nice selection of Amy Butler printed twills if you want to use her fabric designs.  There are 8 panels, all the same, which are sewn together like sections of an orange.  They are packed with a LOT of stuffing.  I found hand sewing the first one, Amy Lou actually did that work since it was her project, rather tedious.  So, when I made MY first one, I used an invisible zipper to close the pillow once it was stuff.  Much easier and quicker.

Kids absolutely love this pillow. They have found it as a great place to sit and bounce and roll on or off.  Adults do find it useful as a footrest.   You can make them with one fabric or two.  If you cut it from one fabric, you fussy cut it, making sure that it is cut in the very same place on the fabric, for all the pieces.  This makes interesting, kaleidoscopic patterns, especially if the fabric has symmetry.  You can see this on both of Amy’s pillows.  Even though I used 2 fabrics in the pillows for my nieces, I did cut all of the large-scale, patterned fabric in the same place.  There is an octagonal patch on the top of the cushion.  I fussy cut that, centering it on a flower or pattern.

I propose that the workshop be on Sunday, March 15th.  From 10am-4pm.  That should give us plenty of time to work and eat and stuff and finish one gumdrop cushion.  The next one, you will be able to do on your own and much faster.  I will provide the stuffing and the pattern. You provide the fabric, thread (good quality polyester like Gutermann or Mettler) and an invisible zipper in a matching color.  The only part of the zipper to show will be the tab.  Buy a 12-14″ zipper or longer.  It will work for either size pillow.  And, if you have to buy a longer zipper to get a color match, it is very easy to shorten.  Better too long than too short!  The Fabric Corner sells invisible zippers and the presser foot to apply it to your project.  I just talked to them about ordering enough for all of you.  The presser foot is adaptable to most sewing machines and can be used over and over again.  It is reasonably priced and worth buying.

I will have to price out the patterns and stuffing.  So, I will have to get back to you on the price for the class.  I think that we can have 5, possibly 6 students for the day.  Let me know if you want to take the class and I will let you know the price.  If the 22nd of March is better than the 15th, let me know.  I am flexible about the date.  If you are available during the day, M-F, I could possibly meet with you for a workshop on a Thursday.  I am excited about this project.

Pictures of projects from my old website

January 28th, 2009

Here are just a few photos I had posted on my Wirkkala Designs website.  I thought that I would copy them here.  The first is of the curtains and pillows I made for the Master Bedroom in my old house.  You may recognize them, since they now hang in the front windows on my Sewing School!

Second picture is of a lamp I found in the trash.  I cleaned it up, had it rewired and made a lampshade out of some Elephant print fabric I have, which you may recognize from a quilt I have pictured below and in another post.  I glued the trim on with white glue.  I prefer double sided tape nowadays.  Less messy, instant tack and no burning potential when using a hot glue gun.  This picture was taken at the base of the stairway, leading to the 1/2 bath on the first floor of my old place.  The painting on the wall is a watercolor I did.  I copied a picture of leaves scattered on the forest floor.

The third picture is of my daughter’s crib, from when she still slept in one.  Of course, she slept with the side on, but the picture looked much better without the railing.  I made the dust ruffle, bolster pillow, the bumper pads and the duvet cover for the crib-sized down comforter.  (The only place I was able to find that size of down comforter was at the Company Store in Wisconsin)  Amelia still uses the duvet and even though she is too long for it to cover her, she takes it with her on sleepovers and, at home, has me put it on top of all her other blankets.  Once I pieced the top, I backed it with cotton batiste, stitched those layers together in the ditch so that it would keep the patchwork seams from fraying in the wash.  It has worked well because this cover has been washed many times in the last 8.5 years.  Don’t you just love the walls behind the crib?  They were painted during the 4 days I was in the hospital when I had Amelia.  The painters did this beautiful paint effect.  Plus, they painted faint cloud images on the ceiling.  Dave Matuccio and his crew did the work.  Great guys.

Master Bedroom right after I finished it, note curtains, both red print and sheers, and pillow on bed.  Plus, chair I had made out of a gorgeous tapestry. Lampshade and painting I madeCrib with dust ruffle, bumpers, pillow and duvet cover I made

Elephant Walk Quilt, done with freezer paper piecing and hand applique, machine quilted Closeup of Elephant Walk Quilt Center

Various projects of mine over 2008

January 23rd, 2009

Following up from the Quilt project posting, here are pictures of various projects I completed in 2008. It’s not all of them, but the ones that are loaded into my shop computer. As you scroll onto the picture, each has a label of what it is.  Just like on the other pages, if you click on the photo, it will enlarge. To return to this page, click on the Back Button. (When I made so many items from a duvet cover: shower curtain, sink skirt, a top and a dress and then had some fabric left over, I couldn’t help but think of Carol Burnett’s “Went with the Wind.” Their take on “Gone with the Wind.” Check it out on YouTube, especially part 2 and the dress she makes…… Part 1 and Part 2)
My daughter, Amelia, in the knit shirt I made in 2 hours, including copying, altering style and sewing.Made from one twin duvet, a shower curtain, sink skirt and hidden in front, my daughter wearing the top I made her.Amelia and her friend, Olivia in the top and dress I made them from the twin duvet cover. (Pottery Barn issue.)Baby Quilt made by Laura and Gina, for Deb who cuts our hair.

Andrea's cushion before I made a new coverClose up of the front of Andea's cushion, I matched the pattern between the top, bottom and boxing stripSide view of cushion I made for Andrea

Placemats and napkins I made and gave to my friend, TimWrist warmers, I made the patterns for all of them and sewed the red print ones.Detail of Sheer Curtain valance, ribbon and decorative stitching

Window without sheers.  Looks rather bare.Sheers from IKEA before I altered themMy bedroom curtains.  The linen sheers were from IKEA.  I changed them.  Put red ribbons and decorative stitching and a flop over valance on them.

My little niece, Katie, in a night gown I made for her when visiting my sister.My niece, Sanna, and daughter, Amelia in nightwear I made them on our visit to Maryland.Front view of Amelia in her Ottobre pattern dress.Amelia in dress I made her from pattern in Ottobre Magazine

Shirt/vest I made from fabric purchased from Vogue Fabrics at the Sewing Expo.  It was only aged a few months before I made it!Blue Linen Shirt I made from a Burda pattern.  I found the large mother of pearl button in a collection of buttons from my Grandmother.Sleeveless tunic shirt made with Amy Butler fabricSkirt, first pattern I made from Ottobre Women's magazine.  I ended up adding a yoke and button placket.  Changed a couple other features, too.

Latest Quilt Project of Mine

January 21st, 2009

Biblical Blocks Quilt
Well, I haven’t been very prolific when it comes to posting new things. I do sew as much as I can, but haven’t been keeping up with posting pictures of my work. And, I have made more things than I have the photos to prove.  So, I thought I would quickly post my latest quilt project. I make quilts, not for money, but for friends and family. There is so much time and work involved, it would not be a financially viable way to make a living. I do it for the love of the process and the recipient. Piecing a quilt top requires precision, and since I have a streak of perfectionism in me, it is a good outlet for that. (To see an image closeup, click on it. To return to this page, press the Back button.)

Star and Cross BlockRoad to Paradise Block

Wither Thou Goest BlockCenter Block :  Tree of Life

Dove in the WindowWedding Ring Block

A Walk in the Garden BlockPillow Amelia designed and made herself to go with the quilt.

The pictures of the individual blocks are in order from left to right, top to bottom. If you look closely, you can see that I put the border print in every block. I had to “fussy cut” them but the effort was worth it.

The Last picture is of the pillow my daughter, Amelia, made for Joan. She took scraps from when I was making the center block, and without help from me, cut and sewed the pinwheel. Then, she asked me to rotary cut some strips. She did all the sewing and stuffed the pillow and hand-sewed it closed.

This quilt was started in the fall. It was a gift for my daughter’s great aunt, who was suffering from cancer. I had bought a set of 1800′s reproduction fabrics from Keepsake Quilting in New Hampshire. My friend, Sara, and I went on a day trip there a few years ago. We wanted to see their store and take a day off together. She makes wonderful quilts. Sara always has a quilt in process and is very organized. She brings a file folder of fabric swatches with her so that she can fill out the colors needed for the quilt. I tend to enter a store and buy what appeals to me. I didn’t plan on buying anything that day. But, of course, I could not resist…… 19th century style fabrics are not what I usually work with. I tend to like batiks, bright colors, and more contemporary styled prints, including some modern. I bought a variety which would go together well. Trying something new, or should I say “old?” I thought I would make a feathered star quilt. But, as I let my fabric age, I never started it. When I thought of doing so, I couldn’t find them in my stash and then, when I could find them, I had misfiled the pattern.

Last Fall, I decided to make a quilt for Joan. I thought she would like the more traditional fabrics. She was a fine needleworker. Amelia received several gorgeously made smocked garments. And, Amelia was christened in a gown Joan had made for her children, grandchildren and other family members. Amelia was the 11th to wear it 9 years ago. She was a photographer, and writer, too. I decided to use Biblically inspired blocks for the quilt, since Joan and her husband are devoted Christians. I used 2 books by Rosemary Makhan for the patterns, “Biblical Blocks” and “More Biblical Blocks.”

The 6 squares above and below the center block, are 12 inches square and placed on point. They are divided in thirds, fifths, sixths and sevenths. That means that some of my cutting was to the 1/16th of an inch, yikes! For the triangular piecing, I used a paper piecing technique using freezer paper patterns. I used freezer paper templates, ironed to the fabric for the odd shaped pieces in the Tree of life block. The rest were cut to size and pieced together. The borders were cut to show the pattern at its best. It was hard to match them at the corners since the pattern in the red section was not symmetrical. I was in a hurry to put on the outside border, so I just crossed my fingers and left it up to serendipity that they would look good. It turned out better than if I had tried to second guess it. As you have probably figured out, I did all of the cutting and sewing for the quilt top.

Since I needed a fast turnaround on the quilting, I decided to have a professional machine quilter do the work, if I could find someone who was available. Georgette Gagne of Black Wolf Quilting Services was able to help me. I gave her the top on a Sunday afternoon. She lives in Webster, NH. We met the following Wednesday at 5pm in Nashua. I drove right back to my shop and started putting on the binding. I finished it after my evening class, around Midnight. I printed a label on my inkjet printer. I set the ink with a dry iron. The printing was done by ironing a sheet of 8.5 x 11″ sheet of freezer paper to the back of the fabric. I trimmed the sides evenly and ran it through my HP. I used the same fabric as the quilt backing. So, to have it stand out, I bordered it with a rust colored print, which coordinated with the binding fabric.

Detail of quilt stitching on back of quilt.Picture of quilt label

I used the freezer paper piecing method on my Elephant Walk quilt, pictured below.  It hangs in my shop near the cutting table. It is easy and precise. All of the triangles in the compass and the borders are done this way. It was especially helpful when I did all of the green triangles in the Tree of Life Block. This technique was the brain child of Judy Mathieson. I took a workshop with her a few years back in which I did the center compass of the Elephant quilt. She is an extremely talented quilter whose best known for her Mariner Compass quilts.  Since I was intent on using the Elephant print fabric somewhere, she suggested that I have Elephant’s walking across the quilt.  Thank you, Judy!  I machine pieced all of the geometrics.  I hand appliqued the various Elephants who are walking outside the lines.  Needle turning under the 1/8″ inch wide tail of the smallest elephant is not something I would like to do again.  Then, I machine quilted in the ditch around all of the triangles and compass points and borders.  Then I free-motion quilted around all of the elephants and plants and flowers and the cream colored background of the center block.  Trimmed bound and labeled it.  The label is also done on the inkjet printer, like the Biblical quilt above.  It’s been in 3 shows.

Elephant Walk Quilt, done with freezer paper piecing and hand applique, machine quiltedCloseup of Elephant Walk Quilt Center

Student’s Work Summer 2008

September 8th, 2008

This summer was amazing. I met so many new students and was thrilled with their work. I wanted to share some photos of a few of the many projects which were completed over the 7 weeks of classes. I will be adding more pictures shortly.

You can click on any one of the images to enlarge it. When you want to return to this page, just use you “Back” button once.

Sammy and her apronSofia and her gathered, tierd skirtSofia and her first project

First Summer session campers with their finished apronsIla and the messenger bag she designed and madeEmily in her new dress

Elizabeth with her pajama pants and fabric tied flips flops.Alisha and the bag she made
Isaac and the bag he designed and madeIsabella and the skirt she designed and made with pattern drafting software I haveAudrey w/ her reversible bagReversed bag of Audrey's

Sarah and the baby quilt with 425 piecesMaura holding Sarah's quilt to show us how neat and tidy the back of it isMaura holding the quilt she made for her nephew's 1st birthdayJennifer and the quilt she made for her daughter's doll

Kerri Ann's Quilt made from her late Grandfather's shirtsClose up of Kerri Ann's quilt

Patterns for beginning clothing projects

July 20th, 2008

I know what follows is a lot of text.  BUT, IT’S VERY IMPORTANT INFORMATION.  PLEASE READ IT THROUGH!  You’ll be much better informed when you go shopping for patterns and fabrics.

Before I say anything else…….CHECK YOUR MEASUREMENTS AGAINST THE PATTERN SIZE CHARTS!!!!!!!!!! The current retail market sizing does not coincide with the sizing the pattern companies use. The major American pattern companies got together in 1971 to agree on a standard for sizing their garments. They not only agreed on the standard measurements for each size but that they would not change them in the future. This means that, for the most part, those measurements matched the retail industry at that time, 1971. Over the last 43 years, the retail industry has been “deflating” sizes. Why? This is because most of us females will choose a smaller size number when offered 2 garments that are exactly the same. (Vanity is hard to admit!) Designers have been doing this for decades. Now all of the retail market has done it. And, the sizing has gotten to be very inconsistent from brand to brand and store to store. Sometimes, you don’t even know what size you will wear until you try it on.

One of the most basic things you must not get stuck on when you make your own clothing, is the number of your size. If you currently wear a size 4 in women’s, you may end up making a size 12 or 14 Misses in the patterns. The fit is what is important, not the number. Also, no matter what the style of the garment, your measurements are taken in the same place on your body as indicated on the size charts. Currently, the common placement for a “waistband” on clothing for young people (tweens, teens and young adults) is below one’s natural waistline and belly button. It can vary widely depending on the style. When the size chart refers to your waist measurement, it is referring to your natural waistline, which is above your hip bone and below your ribs. Usually, it is the smallest measurement of your torso. Please click on the following link to find the instructions to measure your body and size charts for McCall’s patterns. Each company has size charts listed on their websites.
All of the patterns have multiple sizes in each envelope. There will be at least 3 sizes, possibly more in each pattern. If your measurements span more than one size, that is OK. Several sizes are included with each pattern. If you bridge the gap between size groups (you straddle sizes 12 and 14 and the pattern you want comes in sizes (8-10-12) and (14-16-18), purchase the size that most closely matches the measurements you need for the garment you want to make. For example, if you are making pants and you are bigger on the bottom than the top, buy the larger size.

When you purchase your pattern, MAKE SURE YOUR SIZE IS INCLUDED IN THE ENVELOPE YOU PICK UP. STORES DO NOT TAKE RETURNS ON PATTERNS. The envelopes for different size groups all look the same, except in the small area designated to label what sizes are included in the package. Make sure you check for that. It will be along the top or side edge of the front of the pattern envelope.

I am including many pictures and links for patterns from the Big 3 American Pattern companies below: McCall’s, Simplicity and Butterick. Also, I found some interesting patterns from New Look and Hot Patterns. All of these are meant as suggestions for learning sewers (pronounced Soh ers). Usually, the less pieces and details, the easier the clothing is to make. Also, the less tailored, the easier it will be to fit you.

I strongly urge you to stick with woven cottons or linens/linen blends for your first clothing project. A nice stable fabric will be much easier to work with than something flowing or sheer or slippery. Please follow this advice. There is nothing more frustrating than to have to work with a fabric which is hard to control, especially without the experience to back you. Also, no knits! We wear knits all the time. They are so inexpensive to buy in ready-made clothing. But, for sewing, they are not easy to handle if you haven’t sewn clothing before.

When I mention cottons or linens, here are some examples. Many cottons designed for quilting are wonderful for pajama bottoms, skirts and tops. Flannel is great for pajamas. Linen and blends can work very well for any of these items depending on the weight, or thickness, of them. Cotton eyelet can work nicely. Also, for a closer fitting skirt or pant, you can find some nice bottom weights, like a stretch twill cotton, which includes a little lycra. Or a lightweight denim.
Please wash & dry your fabric ahead of class time. This will preshrink the fabric and remove any sizing (starch) and residual pesticides that have been added to the material to keep it well in transit and storage and on display. Do not use fabric softener in the wash or softener sheets in the dryer. If you will be using a fusible interfacing, the softener will keep it from adhering to the fabric. After the garment is made, it is fine to use fabric softener when it is laundered.

Make sure to check the back of the pattern envelope. It has a lot of information. Here are the items to take note of: a list of required “notions.” These are the items you need such as thread (which they may or may not list), a zipper, buttons, hooks and eyes, elastic, cording, etc.; you may need “interfacing.” This is material which goes between the layers of fabric to give you more strength and stability in certain areas or the gament like, the collar, cuffs and button band, the waistband, the neck and armhole area of sleeveless, collarless shirts, etc.; the patterns below may suggest lining, Bemberg/Ambiance rayon lining is wonderful or you may want a cotton batiste, but, I hope that there is no lining in your first project.

As far as thread goes, buy a good quality 100% polyester thread such as Gutermann or Mettler. Both are made in Germany. One spool is usually enough for a basic project. Do not buy discount, cheap thread. As with fabric, you will be spending a lot of time and effort sewing, don’t scrimp when it comes to thread. If it is low quality, your garment may fall apart at the seams. Purchase a color which blends with your fabric. If you cannot find the exact color, use one that comes close in the same shade (lightness or darkness.) If you must choose a color which is a slightly different shade, see which one blends better. Usually, go darker for a dark fabric and lighter for a light fabric. It is hard to judge how well a thread will match by holding the spool to the fabric. If you have ever tried choosing a paint color, you may have had the experience that the sample chip from the store looks a whole lot different when the color is intensified by being painted on a wall. The spool is like the wall, what we want is the “paint chip.” The color of the spool is too intense. Separate a tail of the thread, lay it across the fabric and see how that looks. It comes across a lot different. Perception of color is subjective. It is influenced buy the colors it surrounds.

When you first work with clothing patterns, there are so many things to learn. Your first pattern will be the hardest because of this. Patterns contain a lot of information, but they also assume a certain amount of understanding in order to work with them. Once you have gone through one pattern, with help, you will find that following projects are much easier to do on your own.

I mentioned some pattern makers above. There are many other companies which produce patterns for clothing. Burda is a German based company. They have many great designs, but for beginners, I find that their instructions and illustrations lacking. Kwik Sew is based in Minneapolis, MN. They offer patterns for clothing items you may not find in the big companies. The one thing that I don’t like for beginners is that many of their patterns include a very small “seam allowance” of 1/4.” The major companies usually use a 5/8″ seam allowance. It is much easier to work with when you are learning. Vogue produces many beautiful patterns. But, they lean toward designs which require more advanced sewing skills. So, keep them in mind for later projects.
There are small pattern makers. They can have very innovative designs. Often, the instructions are geared toward a more experienced sewing enthusiast, so I recommend that you gain some skill before endeavoring to use their patterns.

I say all this because I wish you success in your first clothing project. The best way for you to finish and have pride in your work is to keep things as simple as possible. Usually, simple pants and skirts are easier to start with than tops. Some of the patterns I link below include tops and dresses. Some are very easy, like a peasant blouse. Some are a little more involved, especially if it involves setting in a sleeve or collar. I tried to only list ones which I thought would be good for a novice. Some of the tops, included in pajama patterns & separates, may be for knits and I do not recommend that you make them at this time.

The links for the patterns will lead you to the online stores the their respective companies. There are many places to buy these patterns. The companies which produce them, local fabric stores, like Fabric Place Basement in  Framingham (www.fabricplacebasement.com) , or JoAnn Fabrics in Burlington, Natick, Saugus and elsewhere in the Boston Metro Area. I have links in the right hand column of this page for many resources, including a company called Sewing Patterns.com. They carry all of the pattern companies from big to small and offer good discounts and many sales.

I am happy to answer questions for you. If you want to know if a pattern no listed here would be appropriate for your project, please send me a link for it so that I can give you my feedback.


Butterick Pattern company is now part of McCall’s and Vogue. They do not have very many Kids/Teens patterns. So, go further down to Simplicity and McCall’s Listings to see more for youth.

It’s been some years, close to 6, since I wrote this post and the Butterick links no longer work.  I will come back and reload them soon.  And, I’ll fix the ones that don’t work below.



Simplicity has some nice styles and some very up-to-date looks for young people. They have patterns inspired by the show “Project Runway.” I do not link any of those here because the patterns are more complicated to follow. But, they could be in your future if you gain the skills to make them. The Simplicity web site also lists the New Look patterns.






McCall’s has a large selection of patterns. They have been around for awhile. There are some nice styles for kids and teens, as well as women and plus sizes. The McCall’s web site also lists the Hot Patterns.
The McCall’s links for patterns/pics are not working as I set them up over 6 years ago.  I will come back and fix them in the very near future.




They have a lot more patterns on their website, which is linked above. Check it out for yourself. They have a set called “No Sweat Easy Sew” which I show 3 of below.

Sewing Machines, how they work

February 4th, 2008

Many of you find me online and are looking to learn how to sew or rediscover a lost skill. Now that is not true for everyone, since I do teach experience seamstresses, too. But, even if you have been sewing for a long time, you may not know how a machine works. We drive around town unaware of the mechanics of a car and we use computers while being technologically ignorant. And, that’s OK, because those machines are meant to be user friendly to those of us who don’t care to know how they work. As long as I can turn the key and go, I’m happy.

I do find that knowing how a machine works can be very helpful for understanding problems and overcoming them. Here is a website that you may find interesting for many items. This link will bring you to the sewing machine page. “How stuff works” is a great site for explaining and showing animated illustrations of how different mechanical items function. Make sure that you scroll down on this page so that you can see the animations.

When I sit down with a new student, whether they have experience or not, I try to show them how a sewing machine functions. And I explain how every standard household sewing machine is threaded in the same order. It may look different on different machines, but the function is the same. The first workable sewing machine was invented in the mid-1800′s. It is a fascinating history, for people like me who love to sew, and you can learn more by following this link to About.com Another history of the sewing machine is written on the Singer website.

The household sewing machine we use today is called a lockstitch machine. It is the one that has a thread on the top and one down below called a bobbin, which looks like a mini spool of thread. Each machine has a bobbin winding mechanism on it so that you can wind your own bobbins from the spool of thread which will be feeding from the top of your machine.

In the How Stuff Works illustrations, the first one is for a looping stitch, or chain stitch. That is done with one thread fed from the top. Your home sewing machine doesn’t do this stitch. But, this kind of stitching is like a chain stitch in crochet. It is a loop pulled through a loop and if broken, can come undone easily. Have you ever bought a paper bag of potatoes? There is a line of stitching at the top. It you cut the right end, you can just pull and all of the chain comes out.

There are other machine, used with fabrics, that produce a chain stitch. A Serger has multiple cones of thread and all of the stitches formed are made by the threads looping around each other. If pulled just right, they can come off. Of course, most people who use sergers, know how to secure the threads at each end so that this is unlikely to happen. If you look inside your clothing, you will find that the seams are all covered with thread, this is made by a serger, or overlock machine. If you want to see what one looks like click here The image you see is the model of serger/coverstitch machine I own. I wasn’t sure which one to input and there are so many brands. Just because I bought this one, it isn’t the only one I would recommend. If you want to read about the functionality, read here.

There is a series of videos I came across in my web search. It has thorough instructions on its use and how to thread and run it. The website is called Expert Village. This link leads you to the first video in a series about the serger. So, if you have a serger and need some help, visit this site to see if the video explains what you need to know. If you do not have a serger, but are curious about it, you can glean something from this, too.

If you have taken your clothes to be hemmed at the cleaners, especially dress slacks, the stitching will not show on the outside. This is because the tailor is using a blindhem machine. Often done in invisible thread, you will be hard pressed to see any stitches on the outside of the garment. These machine may also be used with curtains and other items. You may also find that it you catch your heel on the thread inside the hem, one too many times, that once the thread breaks, all the stitching comes out. The blindhem machine uses a loop stitch, and once it is no longer secured, it unravels.

So, the home sewing machine, is a lockstitch machine. 2 threads, one on top, the other below, are intertwined so that they are locked together and will not give way like a chainstitch will.

About.com has a page of interesting sewing links. I will link it here so you can go exploring, too.

If you have an old Singer, you can find out when and where it was made, by visiting the Singer website. All you need is the serial number off of the machine. They even show you how to find it. So, if you want to know when Grandma’s machine was made, visit Singer here. Or, there is one link off the About page you can explore, which will tell you the history of the brand of machine you own, or for which you are interested. It is called the International Sewing Machine Collector’s Society I have this linked to the Singer information page on About/ISMCS, but the left hand column sports links for all the old brands of machines. Some of the companies are still in business. And, some you may never have heard of. And, some of the current brands are not listed. But, it can be fun to jump around to learn what you can.

I have many sewing machines. Some are very old. My grandmother left me her old treadle machine, but it is in Minnesota, so I am not sure when I will be able to retrieve it. I have some early, electric, portable machines; my first sewing machine from the 50′s, plus some from later than that to modern computerized machines. Also, I have some industrial machines for my accessories business.

The majority of your sewing is a simple straight stitch. All of my machines from before 1960, have only a straight stitch function. In fact, I started on a “New Home” that my mother used, and it did a zigzag. Then she bought me a Viking which only did a straight stitch. At first I was upset, because I was ready to make buttonholes on a shirt I was finishing, and this machine couldn’t do it. But, it came with a buttonhole machine which had cams of various sizes and shapes of buttonholes. It makes the nicest buttonhole you have ever seen. I used that machine for several decades for all of my clothing and quilting. It was only a few years ago that I started using a more modern machine for those projects. And, it was only because I was wanting to be able to blind hem or overcast without changing machines.

I plan to put up another post about what I like in sewing machines. What to watch out for and what features are really helpful to have. I will also talk about Sewing Machine Dealers vs. big chain stores vs. online purchasing, including auction sites. Also, I am looking into posting some video instructions for “How to thread your sewing machine;” “How to wind a bobbin;” and other helpful items. I hope to have you be able to visit my site and get answers to questions you can’t find elsewhere. Or in a format that makes it easily understandable for you.

So, keep in touch and check back with me. If all else, just come to class and have me show you what you want to learn.