That merry tune you heard someone whistling Sunday afternoon was just me celebrating a major milestone. Yes, after starting this saga a year and a half ago, finally I have a pants pattern that fits!
Until I can model the pants myself in the ideal lighting conditions of my sister’s photo studio, I am using my point-and-shoot and my store mannequin, Ginger, in my sewing room.
These pants are a wearable test sewn from a stash fabric–a wool blend with the characteristics of wool crepe.. I didn’t choose the fabric for the color–a cool gray–but I wanted to see how the pants would feel and hang using a fabric of this weight and drape for future reference. The result was very nice.
I want to test other fabrics, like linen and linen blends with a range of weights and crispness, to see how differently the pants will turn out and whether I need to adapt the pattern. I also want to test which types of pockets I can use that won’t gape. But the upcoming tests of fabrics and construction techniques feel so much more doable than pattern-fitting!
One of the choices I made for my master pants pattern was a simple back closure with an invisible zipper for a streamlined look. And I came across a wonderful method for installing an invisible zipper in a video by Kenneth King on the Threads website. My efforts in the past had always resulted in the last inch or two of zipper tape not securely stitched down, which made me leery of using an invisible zipper in a pants application. But Kenneth addresses the problem so well that I couldn’t wait to try his method, and with success after one try I’m a believer.
You know that student in every classroom who’s struggling to keep up, who’s asking too many questions and whom teachers have an instinct for avoiding? That’s usually me. So I am eternally grateful to teachers like Kenneth King who explain steps clearly and help students achieve enough success to build the confidence to continue.
After months of pants pattern-fitting and muslin-making without much to show for my efforts (yet), what do you suppose perked up my sewing spirits again recently?
An easy project using existing skills, with virtually guaranteed success, requiring no fitting:
It’s ridiculous how long it took me to make placemats from this cotton print. We bought the yardage traveling through France in 1997. I loved the gutsy mustard-yellow background. (Could this be called an ocher yellow?)
I hemmed this yardage and used it as a tablecloth a couple of times, but then returned it to my stash. We don’t use that table anymore, and even for me, this was a large dose of color and pattern.
Plus, I just like placemats more. One spill on a tablecloth, I have to wash and iron the whole tablecloth. Placemats are easier to clean and return to use and can dress up a table without looking fussy.
When I got to a stopping point in my pants-fitting saga, my eyes landed on my stack of table linens and yardage waiting to be converted to placemats. This was just the sewing break I needed.
Years ago I had made placemats from another fabric bought at the little fabric store in France in 1997. I liked the cheery print–
–but my hamhanded efforts at applying the bias binding annoyed me every time.
And over the years the binding faded while the print remained vivid through dozens of washings. I wanted to ensure my next design would avoid these blunders.
It turns out all I had to do was search “How to make quilted placemats” to find a nifty method disposing of binding altogether. Thank you, Deborah Moebes of Whipstitch for providing the inspiration.
Here’s how I made my placemats:
I liked the size and shape of this commercially made placemat, which is 17 by 13 inches. It became my template.
Just to be sure this would be a good size for eight placemats, I traced the placemat onto newspaper,
and laid my pretend mats on the table.
(Reminder to self: finish that chair-painting project before planning dinner for 8!)
Yes, I liked that size.
I cut my rectangle and rounded the corners using my dandy pocket curve template. (I love it when I can think of another way to use a gadget.)
I cut my placemat template from sturdy tracing paper and drew intersecting lines on it for aligning the pattern.
For the first three placemats I used the same fabric front and back. I realized I’d want the quilting lines to appear in the same place on both sides, which would require the print motifs on the underside to be in the same location as on top. I did my best to match the motifs:
The printing was done well on the straight of grain and cross grain, so the quilting lines did line up in the same place on both sides.
When I saw that I wouldn’t have enough yardage for eight reversible mats I switched to an old linen tablecloth to supply the remaining reverse sides.
I am 90 percent sure I used The Warm Company’s Soft & Bright polyester batting to create my placemat “sandwich.” I laid the two fabrics right sides together with the batting on the wrong side of one fabric.
I sewed a 1/4″ seam, leaving an opening at the bottom of the placemat for turning it right side out.
I don’t know whether it was strictly necessary, but with my tailoring experience how could I not trim the excess batting and notch the rounded corners?
I drafted a trusty old–clean!–wooden kitchen tool to slide between the layers of the placemat to press open the seams.
The next step was turning the placemat to the right side and slipstitching the opening closed.
I topstitched the placemat 1/4 inch in all around using my standard presser foot.
For the quilting I switched to my walking foot (aka an even feed foot). Here was another item that had long languished in my sewing room waiting to be used. I must have bought it after reading (and ignoring!) multiple recommendations to use one to match plaid seams.
The contraption always looked daunting to me, but I am easily daunted.
The instructions for installing this thing were somewhat confusing. I needed a demo.
YouTube to the rescue!
All I really needed to see was how to position the lever over the needle clamp screw. Then I was good to go.
Okay, I confess I stuck the finished placemat under the needle to get this picture, as you can see from the line of stitching in front of the foot.
The quilting went really smoothly for my placemats using the French fabric on both sides. But for the first mat using the soft and more loosely woven linen on the underside I had too much play in the fabric. Even using the walking foot I had a problem with the linen bunching up as I stitched more and more lines of quilting.
The soft and floppy linen on the underside sometimes bunched up as I quilted the printed cotton on top.
For my second try I cut the linen slightly smaller than the print, and pinned the raw edges together which reduced the play and created a little surface tension on the linen side. I also pinned ahead of my lines of stitching at close intervals to distribute the remaining play. This solved the bunching problem well enough to satisfy me. The linen side of the placemats will never be visible on the table.
My second try, which worked better.
Cutting the linen smaller and stitching the linen and cotton together with raw edges matching caused the cotton to favor to the underside subtly. I did this so that all the placemats would look similar from the top–not some with two layers of the ocher cotton print and others with this little line of pale mint green linen showing. (It’s just a small thing, but something else I applied from my experience with tailoring and shirtmaking.)
Yes, I managed to make my five (so far) placemats more labor-intensive than your average whip-it-up-in-an-afternoon project, but I had such fun using souvenir fabric from France, learning to use a new sewing machine attachment, and applying my knowledge and experience to produce things we’ll enjoy in our everyday life.
It was such a welcome change from (groan) sewing pants muslins!
There was one instruction on the slip of paper that came with the walking foot that I thoroughly understood. In fact, it made me smile.
5. Place the fabric between the Walking foot and the feed dogs; sew as normal.
Yes–sew as normal! I had almost forgotten what that was like!
I was browsing recently through a lot of photos my photographer had shot in a session last fall and realized I’d never gotten around to writing about this Misses’ top designed by Katherine Tilton that I’d made.
I just looked through my notes to recollect what changes I made. They were the usual ones: folding out a little excess, which raised the underarm, the waist, and the positioning of the pin tucks. I think I narrowed the back piece a little, too.
I’d never made pin tucks before. I knew I had to do these 1/16″ tucks precisely so that the neckline edge would be the right length for properly attaching the collar. My sewing machine manual showed how to use the blind hem attachment–
to make the pin tucks:
You seasoned pin tuckers are probably laughing up your sleeves, but I was amazed that I was able to achieve accurate results easily after just a little practice.
I chose a cross-dye cotton for a practice run.
The fit turned out fine.
But even though I enjoyed making this blouse I don’t have plans for another one. For one thing, I’m actually not keen on the effect of the pin tucks on me. I think the lines draw the eye toward this poofy middle, where the viewer may wonder whether I had seconds of everything at the brunch buffet last weekend.
I mentioned this suspicion to a friend, who assured me it was all in my imagination. Maybe so. I still think there are more flattering looks out there for me, like the Vogue 8772 blouses I sewed a few weeks ago.
Also, I like having a blouse I can choose to wear tucked or untucked. This blouse is one to wear untucked only, to show off those radiating lines.
Speaking of showing off radiating lines, when I first saw Katherine Tilton’s pattern I was reminded of Ginger Rogers in The Gay Divorcee.
That humming sound you hear is coming from my head, which is still spinning from spending last weekend at Janie’s Sewing Corner in Cleveland, Ohio.
Students gather around Kenneth for a closer look.
That’s where I joined 31 fellow sewers to see Threads magazine contributing editor, adjunct professor at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, and self-described “couturier to the stars” Kenneth D. King demonstrate tailoring and couture techniques for about 11 packed hours spread over two days.
The class description on Janie’s website read, “Kenneth will teach a workshop on tailoring details, focusing on old-school techniques the first day and more modern techniques the second day.”
Actually, Kenneth led off on Day 1 with his “new school” tailoring innovations–not that it mattered, since nearly all of us had signed up for both days.
I had e-mailed Kenneth earlier in the week:
I thought I would drop you a line to say how much I look forward to meeting you Saturday and Sunday at Janie’s Sewing Corner.
I also wanted to tell you that I bought Smart Tailoring the day it was announced on the Taunton website, and made a jacket following your “old school” methods. I was going to follow up with a “new school” jacket, but remained confused about the collar-lapel pattern adaptation, so I will learn from you this weekend and then produce a “new school” jacket—the first of many, I think.
I documented the process of making my jacket using Smart Tailoring on my blog, Getting Things Sewn. In this post, https://gettingthingssewn.com/tailoring-with-kenneth-king/ I explain why I took on this project.
Sewing is not easy for me, but I’m capable of good work, especially with expert help. I look forward to getting my questions answered this weekend!
Thank you, Kenneth,
Minutes later Kenneth replied:
Be sure to bring your pattern, and I’ll show how to adapt the under collar to the body for everyone else to learn….
See you this weekend!
So in class I was prepared when Kenneth asked me to retrieve the pattern pieces for the under collar and front of the pattern I was trying to adapt for a “new school” jacket. He pinned the front to his flip chart, and then pinned on the under collar at the notch on the neckline. He pinned the collar to the chart at a second point, showing a gap between the two pattern pieces.
I was watching intently and scribbling notes at the same time and didn’t even think to take a picture. Here are my notes, in their entirety:Okay: “gap…curve…take out there…add back here…make a muslin…my jacket does have a peaked lapel…this adaptation does work for peaked lapels…” I have fragments here, but not a clear picture.
I don’t write fast enough, and I barely grasp patternmaking principles, which are both big impediments in a fast-paced sewing class.
In short, it is still a mystery to me how to combine the under collar and the front into a single pattern piece to simplify making a notched collar. How to “finesse some of that gap” remains beyond my grasp. I doubt a photo of the flip chart would have provided the solution to my puzzlement. I needed one-on-one instruction, and that wasn’t going to happen with 31 classmates that day.
See this? No seamline between the undercollar and the front, which means one fewer pesky, bulky seam to deal with. This is the result I want to achieve with my own jacket pattern pieces.
When I do adapt my pattern at last, I’ll post a step-by-step process. Promise!
(See my previous three posts to read about attempting to adapt my pattern.)
On both days Kenneth taught at a steady, swift pace, frequently checking our faces for comprehension. One time I must have been staring back blankly, because he asked again if I was following him, and I said “I’ll have to practice to lock in the knowledge.” It was an honest answer, and it seemed to satisfy him.
When I looked at my notes I was astonished at all the ground Kenneth covered. For example:
How to make a muslin framework to suspend canvas inside a jacket front, providing support but avoiding bulky seams
How to tape a roll line and machine-stitch it in place through the canvas and fashion fabric
The stay tape is stitched in place through the canvas and fashion fabric along the roll line.
How to steam, press, and baste in the turn of cloth in a lapel
How to stitch a notched collar with a minimum of bulk, avoiding the usual “train wreck” of seams meeting in one place
A notched collar “new school” style.
How to make mitered cuffs
How to make a “hidden pocket” in a jacket front lining
How to remove bulk from a pocket flap pattern piece by cleverly relocating the seams
The “origami” pocket flap means no bulk at the edges because the seam allowances have been shifted out of sight. This is the back.
This is the front of the flap. The edges are free of bulk.
How to make a bulk-free seams and welt pockets in nonravelly materials like felt or leather
Sketching a pocket for nonravelly materials like felt and leather.
The pocket in felt. Nice.
The pocket bag of the felt pocket.
When a three-piece sleeve is better than a two-piece
How to draft a notched lapel from a shawl lapel
How to reason out the proportions of a garment in a fashion illustration or photograph from knowing the average neck-to-shoulder seam measurement and knowing that the elbow bends at the natural waist.
How to make a surgeon’s style jacket cuff with working buttonholes
Surgeon’s cuff, with working buttonholes.
The surgeon’s cuff, neatly finished inside.
How to make bound buttonholes and welt pockets of consistent dimensions and quality
Kenneth demonstrated bound buttonholes and neatly finishing the facing. That’s silk organza.
How to smoothly install an invisible zipper
How to make fell stitches, tailor bastes, and pad stitches
How to stay curves even before cutting out the pattern piece
Why cut some seam allowances 1 inch wide and how to press out the ripples along the edges
How to make a Hong Kong finish the couture way
Both days Kenneth produced samples from scratch or finished ones he’d started and then passed them around for us to scrutinize and photograph.
Kenneth King demonstrated sewing a notched collar, “new school” style.
What a nice looking felt collar.
He brought several jackets, familiar to users of his DVDs, books, and Threads articles, that we could look at inside and out.
The “new school” jacket that appears in the Smart Tailoring DVD.
His tool bag lay open on the table. It was fun to see the tools he had amassed or created over the years and how he used them.
Kenneth King’s tool bag.
I’d never heard of a Florian pinker. “Pinking shears tend to chew some fabrics,” Kenneth said, as many of us nodded in agreement. When I saw how neatly this gadget trimmed edges, I wanted one for myself.
The Florian pinker
“I’m all about having the right tool for the job,” Kenneth told us, and sometimes that means adapting a tool to improve it. He did not hesitate or apologize when removing a spring mechanism from a zipper foot, pronouncing it useless, and dropping it with a “plunk!” into the wastebasket.
We got more advice on equipment, tools, and supplies:
Don’t use a Teflon ironing board cover, which repels moisture rather than allowing steam to move through a garment
Collect and use good pieces of pressing equipment–tailors’ hams, a point presser, a clapper, sleeve rolls, a sleeve board
Get a really good iron. (Kenneth has a Reliable i600, which has amazing steam–and runs up an equally amazing electric bill.)
Have at least one pair of Gingher tailors’ scissors, and ship them back to Gingher to be sharpened.
A vacuum table? “Not really. Good for a dry cleaner. Too much for me.”
Use a trimmed shaving brush to remove chalk markings.
Iron thread for hand sewing, and it won’t twist
“Don’t cheap out on needles.”
Then there was the quotable Kenneth:
“I wasn’t formally trained except for patternmaking.”
“Know the rules.”
“Know when to break the rules.”
“I’m not wild about wearable art.” In couture, the wearer is more important than the garment; with wearable art the garment is more important than the wearer, he said.
“I believe in spending the time you need to get a beautiful result.”
“I’m lazy–I don’t want to do any more than I have to.”
“You need to put your time in where it shows.”
I’m very much about repeatable and reliable.”
“I’m known for handouts at FIT.” (And at Janie’s, too: We all got to take home a CD of Kenneth’s ten handouts for the classes.)
Drafting a notched-collar jacket from a shawl collar pattern. Kenneth makes it look easy.
“When it’s all said and done, if it gives you a good result, it’s correct.”
“There’s this whole thing on directional sewing…” Kenneth disagrees: “I have a life…”
“A lot of Bemberg lining you can read a newspaper through, and I hate that.”
A tedious or time-consuming task is “a nosebleed.”
“I tell my students, ‘I started when I was 4; I’m 57–do the math.”
Sewing purists who endlessly debate fine points are “clutching their pearls” or “wrapped around the axle.”
Quoting Fred Astaire: “If you make the same mistake long enough, they assume it’s your style.”
Kenneth takes his own photos for his Threads articles.
His next DVD in Threads’ “Smart” series will be about sewing fake fur.
He loves Fortuny fabric. (Shocking, I know.)
He takes a dim view of mimes.
Better Dressmaking by Ruth Wyeth Spears is “one of those good all-around books from the forties.”
Check out the great content on Threads Insider, where Kenneth’s beautiful “bark coat” can be seen.
Support your local independent fabric store, which can provide supplies and services that the big chains can’t or won’t.
It’s been six days now since Tailoring Details with Kenneth King ended, and I’ve been thinking about what I got out of it.
I got to meet and listen to a master. I find being around any kind of mastery has a good effect on me.
I saw with my own eyes techniques demonstrated with successful results. (I am a little bit skeptical of most sewing directions–and directions in general.) I’m much more likely to try these techniques now.
I made, or renewed, the acquaintance of fellow sewers.
I bought myself an impressively large sleeve board.
It would be a shame, though, not to invest a little more effort to yield richer, longer-lasting rewards. Like:
Researching irons and buying a much better one
Making or buying the right ironing board cover
Seeing how far I could get following Kenneth’s handouts for his FIT students
Trying Kenneth’s bound buttonhole method
Trying his “origami” pocket flap, not only to reduce bulk but as a pattern-drafting exercise
Using my Threads and Threads Insider subscriptions more, and more strategically
And, most of all,
Continuing to amass experience and knowledge making jackets and coats.
Although I brought my “old school” jacket to class to show Kenneth and to ask questions about it, I may have given him a mistaken impression. If I had listed my specific questions in that e-mail earlier in the week, Kenneth probably would have woven those topics into his talk.
My jacket made following Kenneth’s “old school” methods still needs a final press.
Instead, my jacket waited in the wings and never got onstage. And when we wrapped up Sunday afternoon and Kenneth had a plane to catch, I thought it would be insensitive as well as untimely to press him for advice about–pressing, among other things.
But you know what? I’ll just look at my jacket again on my own and figure out what to do next.