Project: Vogue 2461 (1990): Calvin Klein anorak, part 2

Readers,

This Calvin Klein anorak, dating from 1990, is unlined and calls for the clean finish of flat felled seams.

This Calvin Klein anorak, dating from 1990, is unlined and calls for the clean finish of flat felled seams.

I’ve been making more flat fell seams.  The shirt I’ll make for Jack calls for them, and so does this anorak. So, having practiced using my flat fell foot following the directions on David Page Coffin’s Shirtmaking Techniques DVD last week, I felt pretty smug testing a flat fell seam using the anorak fabric.

My best guess is this fabric’s a cotton with a some spandex in it. When I burned a little sample a couple of weeks ago it had a burning-paper smell like cotton, and it didn’t have an ash like pure cotton but some solid residue.  This fabric has a cross-grain stretch, which suggests spandex.

The 4mm flat fell foot made a tidy seam in this stretch cotton fabric.

The 4mm flat fell foot made a tidy seam in this stretch cotton fabric.

I say all this because this fabric resists not only wrinkling but also taking a good crease, which I thought might pose a problem feeding the fabric through the flat-fell foot. But no, I just needed to adjust to the characteristics of this blend. The resulting seam looks very good. I’m happy with it.

The armscye seam, where the sleeve attaches to the body of the garment, also is flat felled in the anorak.

David Page Coffin figured out a way to sew that seam neatly and accurately in shirts using the standard presser foot.  It involves making the seam allowance of the sleeve cap 7/8 inch and then pressing in a fold of  3/8 inch. The seam allowance of the armscye is  3/8 inch.

A sample sleeve, with a 7/8 " seam allowance with 3/8 pressed over, and a sample armscye.

A sample sleeve, with a 7/8 ” seam allowance with 3/8″ pressed over, and a sample armscye.

You place the armscye on top of the fold of the sleeve cap, offsetting by 1/8 inch. Starting at the top of the sleeve cap, you stitch  3/8 inch in from the armscye, stopping every inch or two to align the two fabrics under the presser foot.

Then you stitch from the top of the sleeve cap to the other end of the armscye. Press this seam over a tailor’s ham. Then stitch the second line of stitching using the seam as your reference point. Done!

The sleeve with pressed-in sleeve cap is underneath the armscye, which is offset 1/8".

The sleeve with pressed-in sleeve cap is underneath the armscye, which is offset 1/8″.

I made a good faith effort to cut the 7/8 and 3/8 inch seam allowances , make a template and press in the 3/8 fold, and align the fabrics under the presser foot exactly as directed. My reward was getting a fine result on the first try. Fantastic! What a confidence builder!

I think it also helped that the anorak’s sleeve cap had a gradual, not steep curve–a “bunny hill” of a sleeve cap that was easy to sew smoothly.

I’m not doing justice here to David Page Coffin’s DVD demo or written instructions, so if you’re really interested, do look at both.

First row of stitching.

First row of stitching.

Readers, I should have learned this wonderful technique when I was first exposed to it in my shirtmaking classes in 2005 and 2006. But I was convinced that all these different seam allowances and precise pressing and offset stitching was too fussy and I wouldn’t succeed.

So I stuck with the Vogue pattern instructions, which involved a lot of time-consuming trimming, pressing, pinning and unpinning. For all that work, my result from following the commercial pattern was often lumpy and uneven. When I refer to “slow sewing,” this isn’t what I mean.

Ready for the second row of stitching.

The second row of stitching is done.

Now that I’m seeing the great results from putting in just a bit more time up front to try construction techniques, I’m actually looking for tests to run to make actual construction go faster.

This is a big turnaround for me. I used to want to get right into the cutting and sewing, preparing only as much as absolutely necessary. Now I’m finding myself enjoying the preparation, not just enduring it. I’m succeeding more, and more quickly, than I’d expected, which is a great incentive.  My investment of effort is building a stronger knowledge portfolio–in my head and my fingers–for all my future sewing endeavors.

A closer look at the completed armscye flat fell sample.

A closer look at the completed armscye flat fell sample.

Readers, I spent a lot of time in my former line of work learning policies and procedures that eventually were replaced by other policies and procedures. I went to computer training sessions that were superseded by other computer training sessions. I was not building a fund of knowledge that made me more valuable or brought me a greater sense of accomplishment with the years.

But in a few short hours I’ve learned to make flat fell seams that are beautiful, functional, and lasting.

With flat fell seams there’s no built-in obsolescence. And that suits me just fine.

Shirts: Best Feet Forward

Readers,

I’ve been watching segments of David Page Coffin’s Shirtmaking Techniques DVD and practicing using the two specialty presser feet Coffin says are essential for professional-looking results: the rolled hem foot and the flat fell foot.

Feeding the fabric into the scroll of the rolled hem foot results in a tidy enclosed edge.

Feeding the fabric into the scroll of the rolled hem foot results in a tidy enclosed edge.

The rolled hem foot came with my machine, which I bought in 1986. Years ago I tried using that foot to hem an oval tablecloth, which turned out not too well. I now know that a curved edge is trickier than a straight edge to run evenly through the scroll of the rolled hem foot.

Bottom to top: a practice rolled hem using the specialty presser foot; a Lands' End shirt; a shirt I made with a pressed-in, turned and topstitched 5/8" hem.

Bottom to top: a practice rolled hem using the specialty presser foot; a Lands’ End shirt; a shirt I made with a pressed-in, turned and topstitched 5/8″ hem.

I know that now because David Page Coffin very helpfully shows what happens when you feed a curved edge, like a shirt hem, off-kilter through the foot. To achieve consistency he advises practice and familiarity with your machine and attachment. If your hem falls slightly short of perfect, he recommends shrugging it off.  And you’ll be tucking in the shirt anyway (right?) so who’s to know? This is not an option with tablecloths.

Fortunately, I managed quite a decent hem on a curved muslin sample faster than I expected. How?

A practice aid: mark a bold line at 1/4 inch for guiding a consistent amount of fabric into the rolled hem scroll.

A practice aid: mark a bold line at 1/4 inch for guiding a consistent amount of fabric into the rolled hem scroll.

I knew I had to keep feeding  1/4 inch of fabric into the spiral. On my muslin sample I drew in a bold line 1/4 inch in with a blue Sharpie. Then as I fed the fabric in, I tried to get that blue line right on the edge. It really wasn’t that hard to do. On a sewing project I would try a light pencil line rather than a Sharpie. Or eyeballing could work.

The blue Sharpie line is right on the edge, where it should be. Now I know I have a consistent 1/4 inch of fabric turned under.

The blue Sharpie line is right on the edge, where it should be. Now I know I have a consistent 1/4 inch of fabric turned under.

Maybe I’ll give that oval tablecloth hem another try.

The 1/4-inch rolled hem is so much better-looking and faster to produce than a 5/8-inch double-folded, pinned and topstitched hem, I can’t wait to use it on my next shirt project.  Once I have my shirt pieces cut out, I’ll do a practice run on scraps just to be sure I’ve got this technique down.

The 4 mm-size flat fell foot is also easy to use–now that I’ve gotten the hang of it.  There’s a little detail I had to figure out for myself.

Feeding in 1/8 inch fabric to sandwich the raw edge.

Feeding in 1/8 inch fabric to sandwich the raw edge.

If you haven’t sewn a flat-felled seam before, you should know that the bottom fabric is offset and folded over the top fabric, enclosing it. Then you stitch down that enclosing edge. That’s part 1 of a two-part process.

David Page Coffin says to press in a 1/8 inch fold for a couple of inches to start enclosing the fabric.  So I diligently pressed in exactly 1/8 inch, not more or less. And I diligently fed in a 1/8 inch fold-over and stitched just the very edge of the fabric, following the letter of the flat-fell law.  Shirtmaking rewards precision. Edith, my sewing teacher, has a saying, “Don’t be a neurotic sewer,” but sometimes precision is exactly what’s needed.

After pressing the seam open, I ran the seam through the second time to stitch down the fold, as you’re supposed to do.

Left: Seam width is 4mm--just right. Right: seam width is 1/8 inch: too narrow.

Left: Seam width is 4mm–just right.    Right: Seam width is 1/8 inch: too narrow.

The result was neat, for a first try, and narrow–incredibly narrow. Too narrow.  It looked like a seam for doll clothes, not for a man’s shirt.

I watched the video again, tried again–same thing.

But then I watched what Coffin was doing, not saying.  The width of his fold was the width of the opening in the foot–and that’s more than 1/8 inch. It’s 4 millimeters, actually

That’s enough of a difference to be significant.  I Googled “millimeters to inches” and entered 4 mm.

4 mm is a little bigger than 1/8 inch--and sometimes that matters.

4 mm is a little bigger than 1/8 inch–and sometimes that matters.

Four millimeters is .15748 inch. One-eighth inch is just .125 inch.

When I fed in the enclosing fabric so it filled the width of the flat-fell foot opening, as shown in the video, I got a handsome result that’s in keeping with the proportions of a man’s shirt. Hooray!

A properly made flat fell seam made with the 4mm foot. The groove in the bottom is the width of the seam

A properly made flat fell seam made with the 4mm foot. The groove in the bottom matches the width of the seam

Now that I’ve had success with both of these feet I look forward to using them on shirts and other garments.

I’m even looking forward to trying other presser feet. When you think about it, they are amazing little tools.

I saw this tiny Stephens Brothers shirt  on display in a shop window in Eton, England. The tiny flat fell seam I made at first would be perfect here.

I saw this tiny Stephens Brothers shirt on display in a shop window in Eton, England. The tiny flat fell seam I made on first try would be perfect here.