Time to reflect

It has now been a year since I officially opened my dressmaking business. There was, and is still so much to learn!  The sewing part I figured I had down pretty well after 35+ years, but there are always new techniques to try, and courses to take. For now, it is time to reflect on what I have done and think a little about the future.

In working on my business:

I have embraced blogging, Facebook and internet learning.

I have realised that photography is not my strong suit, but I’m going to have to learn more about it and take more time to get good photos of each project for advertising purposes.

Finding local suppliers and some not so local was a major challenge. When one moves halfway across Canada, her favorite fabric stores are no longer readily available and one has to start over.

I have discovered I love working for myself and that I am organised enough to do it. But working from home means being alone all day and that can be hard.

I have found that I love to teach and worked with White Rock Leisure Services to offer a new sewing course.

And in working in my business:

I have made 20+ garments from a simple shawl to a fully crystallised ballroom dance gown.

I have discovered a designer hidden inside my “techie” head and have created a few
fabulous ballroom dance costumes.

Ballroom dance costumes.
Ballroom dance costumes.


I have taught a young teen how to sew and the lessons continue.

Next year will bring more teaching, more ballroom and some much-needed vacation travel.   I am looking forward to 2013 and hope you will too.

Working with knits – the sewing process

Sewing with knitted fabrics can be freeing although it is occasionally frustrating.  It is freeing because knits like Spandex are so forgiving and very little fitting is needed, and the seams don’t need finishing.  It can be frustrating if you don’t use the right tools and techniques when working with them.  This blog will give you an overview of how to sew with knits so that the frustration is lifted and you can be free to enjoy sewing these comfortable fabrics as much as you enjoy wearing them. (check out my previous blog for information on choosing fabric and laying out the pattern)

The tools:

Ballpoint sewing machine needles are a must, especially when sewing through elastic.

Fine, long straight pins are much easier to work with and don’t stick to the fabric.

A machine with a zigzag stitch and/ or a serger is best. A coverstitch machine is sweet but not essential.

For cutting knits I prefer a cutting wheel, but have used serrated scissors in the past (before the Olfa wheel was introduced). Regular scissors don’t work well as the knit has a tendency to slip and stretch whereas; the serrated edge holds the fabric against the cutting blade.

Pattern weights make cutting out faster.

A toothed tracing wheel works better than the smooth blade as the fabric tends to be thick.

Beyond this list, you can use pretty much what you already have in your sewing room. Make sure your thread matches your fabric type and not just the colour, i.e. use polyester thread for synthetics.

The method:  Set your stitch length at 3-4 mm.  3mm is best for most garment weights, but you’ll need longer stitches for heavy fabrics like fleece.

Adjust the tension for the weight of the fabric as you would for a woven. (Tension adjustments are unique to every machine, so follow your manual on this.)  Always stretch as you sew with a straight stitch, even when basting.  Play with this on sample pieces until you’re comfortable with how much you have to pull on the fabric to get a seam that gives, does not pucker and maintains its shape.  You should have one hand behind the needle and one in front keeping a steady tension and allowing your machine to pull the fabric through.  If the seam appears stretched, you have put too much tension on your fabric and there is too much thread in the seam to allow the knit to relax back to its original shape.  If it puckers, you haven’t got enough tension on the fabric and the seam will break when you try to stretch it.

Once the fit is right, serge the seams to give a ¼” seam allowance and a stretchy seam.  If you are using blanket fleece serging just adds more thread to the already bulky seam and you don’t really need to finish the seam allowance.

Pressing knits should be done carefully and as little as possible as the fabric can stretch out of shape if worked too hard – or melt if the iron is too hot!  Very often finger pressing is sufficient while sewing, especially on Spandex. Use a warm iron and steam and just touch the tip of the iron if possible.

Use a stretchable iron-on interfacing if it is required. You will want to maintain the soft feel of the knit even in a collar or cuff, so choose the weight of the interfacing accordingly.

Heming can be done by machine with a zigzag hem stitch or top stitch, twin needle top stitching or by using a two or three needle coverstitch.  The coverstitch is used on most ready-to-wear tops and dresses. Whichever method you choose, keep in mind that the hem needs to stretch.

I hope this short lesson helps you with your next project. As always your comments and questions are welcome.




Working with knits – getting started.

Knitted fabrics come in all weights and textures and need to be handled according to their individual characteristics. Before cutting into the fabric you should experiment a bit to see how it reacts to things like stretching the cut edge, pressing, washing and foremost how much stretch it has.  The pattern you intend to use will tell you how much stretch the fabric needs as a percentage and can be from 10-25% or more.

To determine the amount of stretch, hold 10 cm of fabric across the grain and stretch it as far as it will go. If it goes to 12.5 cm then you have 25% stretch (2.5/10= 25%). Is it 2-way stretch or 4-way stretch (across the grain and with the grain like a bathing suit)?

If you plan on washing and drying the finished garment, then wash and dry the fabric before cutting. I like to do this step with all my fabrics regardless of the weave.

Press a small area of the fabric with a cool iron and steam to see how it reacts. It might stretch out completely and lose all its shape so it is better to find this out now before you try pressing seams or pleats.

Stretch out each cut edge to see if the fabric will “run” like your pantyhose.  Usually, only one edge will run. If your fabric has this characteristic you must use the pattern layout designed for a “napped fabric” with the hems toward the end that does run as neck-lines and waist-lines get the most abuse when worn and are most likely to start to run.

Most patterns are designed with a “straight of grain” indicated on each piece, however, patterns for stretch fabrics will often indicate “stretch” instead.  For these you will need to determine where on your fabric the greatest stretch can be obtained – across the grain or with the grain.  It is important to have the grain straight on any fabric before laying out your pattern and this is true with knits as well. Put  about  one meter of the selvages together and hold them above your head so you can see how the fold falls, shift the layers until you can see it is straight and not pulling in one direction or the other.  Pin the selvages together so they stay where you want them. Knits tend to be slippery and shift when you aren’t looking.

To hold your pattern pieces in place while cutting I prefer to use pattern weights with only a few pins holding the grain line in place. For heavy knits like fleece, cut the pattern out first so that when you cut into the fabric the pattern isn’t pulled into it and torn. For fine knits I like to leave a bit of tissue around the cutting line to help stabilize the fabric while I’m cutting. My preferred cutting tool is a wheel. It allows for more accurate cutting and prevents the fabric being pulled out of shape when lifted into scissors.

Marking knits can be done with tracing carbon and a toothed tracing wheel, although for the fine georgettes you may want to do tailor’s tacks.

My next blog will go into actually sewing on the knits.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments.



What we wear affects how we think?

Have you heard the term “you are what you wear”? There has actually been a study done recently that has determined that this is actually true and not just your mother trying to convince you to get out of your jeans. It was reported in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology by Dr. Adam D. Galinsky that our thought processes are based on physical experiences, including the clothes we wear. (New York Times, April 2, 2012 by Sandra Blakeslee) I think it is fair to say that all of us have encountered the feeling that our clothes affect our moods and the way we carry ourselves and I find it interesting to find they actually affect the way we think.

Dance teachers tell us we dance better in the right outfit. They can feel it in the way we move and see it in the way we approach the dance. I hadn’t thought of it before but the children’s ballet schools always insist that the children are in the correct attire for the simplest practice. Those teachers know that their students focus on the dance when dressed as a dancer. Ballroom instructors are pleased when their lady students come to class in a practice skirt that moves with them. They say the student stands taller, moves more gracefully and achieves more in the lesson. It shows in the men when they wear dress pants instead of jeans. You can see them stand straighter and hold their frame better when they have a good shirt on instead of a t-shirt.  So, our thought processes and not just our moods are affected, hmmm.

An interview always goes better when you’re wearing your “power suit” that fits well and suits your figure.  You feel more prepared to answer the tough questions and show how capable you are.  That special event you were dreading becomes somewhat entertaining when you find just the right outfit to wear. Conversely, the event can be worse than anticipated when you wear an outfit that makes you uncomfortable. I become withdrawn and discover I have trouble with conversation when I’m dressed inappropriately for the occasion.  It appears that Mother was right when she told us to put out our clothes for morning before we went to bed.  If we plan what we wear, we can even plan how we think!

As always, your comments and questions are welcomed.



Dance wear – special choices

There are many forms of dance and the costumes for each one have specific requirements. We are all familiar with the ballet tutu and most of us recognise the flamenco dancer’s many layered skirts, but what about ballroom? Dancing with the Stars has given us a glimpse of the fabulous gowns and sexy little cha-cha costumes. How does the amateur dancer choose the right costume?

Let’s start with the basics – the style of the dance. Smooth dances such as waltz and fox trot require gowns that fit snugly to the upper body and allow the arms to be raised to shoulder height without disturbing the line of the dress. The skirts are full and heavy so they swing out with the turns and drop back in place as soon as the movement changes. Embellishments can enhance the dancer and the dress. Feather boas at the hem were popular in the ‘90s, crystals on the bodice, and floating scarf-like pieces continue to be popular.

Latin dances on the other hand; cha-cha, rumba, salsa, etc. call for short and sassy costumes.  You want to emphasize the hip movement and have the costume move with every beat of the music. It must fit snugly from shoulder to hip and can expose as much skin as the dancer is comfortable with. The pros often wear a costume that looks like a bikini with ruffles, but most amateurs feel too exposed in that style and want a bit more coverage. Fringe and crystals are popular embellishments.

Tango is in a class of its own requiring slinky dresses that expose the leg but looks like a smooth/standard gown.  The skirts are not as full as those for smooth dances; in fact a straight skirt is often preferred with split up the hip to show off the leg movement. Irregular hems and minimal embellishments define these gowns.

Watch this site for more information on how to choose a costume that suits your body and style. You can see some samples on my Facebook site.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

email: diana@dianarose.ca