How to Shop For Long-Lasting Apparel: Key Elements to Consider When Searching For a Wardrobe Staple.
A classic wardrobe staple requires the perfect balance of design, fit and versatility. Lets face it, in this fast-fashion market consumers have a short interest span. Clothing companies focus mainly on trend and how fast they can bring new, low-priced clothing to market. What used to be seasonal has turned into monthly and even large department stores are having a hard time keeping up with the need for constant inventory replenishment. Trendiness has caused clothing to become somewhat dispensable, making it that much more difficult to find a long-lasting style worthy of becoming that true go-to in your closet. When you are lucky enough to find it however, chances are you'll hold on to it with dear life.
If you have your eye on finding long-lasting, versatile clothing items that stand the test of time, it is best to be on the look out for some specific qualities at the shopping stage.
Bellow, we'll give you a few suggestions and factors to consider as you shop for good quality, long-wearing clothing. Since the Sweater Blouse is designed with that concept in mind, we'll use it as an example as we walk you through some important elements every wardrobe essential should feature.
The color and design aesthetics:
Let's start of course with what normally catches the consumer's eye first: the aesthetics. All the design elements incorporated into that perfect clothing item should meet your taste and style expectations. When it comes to shopping for clothing, something unique yet wearable is always what pushes us to bring it into the fitting room. Of course the subject of aesthetics is very personal. There are certain elements however, that seem to fit within most styles worthy of eventually becoming that well rounded, classic item in your closet.
Let's start with the fabric/fabric combination. Although fabric goes hand-in-hand with functionality and comfort, it is actually quite important design wise as well. A long-wearing clothing item uses or combines fabrics that can be worn across many settings, having the ability to fit within any environment both functionally and aesthetically.
In the case of the sweater blouse for example, a juxtaposition of texture allows for the casual sweater knit fabric in the yoke to compliment the elegant chiffon fabric used in the rest of the blouse. The knit fabric is able to accommodate a more casual, relaxed setting while the chiffon fabric elevates the style for more formal use. This allows for a variety of style combinations accommodating your outfit from day to evening.
Color is another element that is essential in defining a true wardrobe staple. Classic, solid colors like black, white and neutrals are easy to wear and style. Because of their unlimited styling options, these colors have a greater chance of defining the longest-wearing clothing items in your closet. Of course a wardrobe staple is much more than just about color. Color should ideally work in unison with other elements like good fit, durability, versatility and a flattering silhouette. Let's take the sweater blouse as an example again: It features a multi-color print that can be paired with any color bottoms of your choice. The reason a multi-color print in a top allows for so much versatility is due to the fact that most women prefer wearing solid colored bottoms which allows the colors of the printed blouse to match any solid colored bottoms effortlessly.
Perhaps what truly defines a clothing item aesthetically is the combination of its main design lines and decorative elements. Some of the most functional, long-lasting clothing items feature very clever design elements that facilitate styling and are visually flattering to the body. The cut of the silhouette, whether organic or structured, should be such that it pairs well with a range of other clothing items without jeopardizing comfort or the overall look of the garment. Clean design lines with a simple straight or semi-flared out silhouette serve as a great option to enhance versatility.
The sweater blouse features a short horizontal yoke on the front and a longer yoke line on the back. This creates separation between the two fabric textures while offering enough stretch and comfort across the back. Visually, a yoke blouse is very easy to pair with more tailored bottoms and works just as well combined with a pair of casual distressed jeans. Additionally, the straight silhouette and hip length allows for the perfect dimension to either tuck the hem into the bottoms at the waist, or leave it draping over the hips in a more relaxed style.
When it comes to a long-wearing wardrobe essential, decorative features should ideally consist of elements that do not compromise comfort, easy care, and versatility. The downfall with adding certain decorative elements to what should be a wardrobe staple is the fact that more often than not, they make the garment increasingly difficult to wash in a regular machine cycle often requiring dry cleaning. A multi-faceted, long lasting clothing item that is worthy of becoming a classic in your closet will most likely not require any special care thus minimizing the extra hassle in the long run. If the extra stress of dry cleaning is something you prefer to avoid, then remember to always check the care instructions before making the final purchase.
Avoiding fit issues: Comfort for everyday wear.
Fit is perhaps the most important aspect of a long-lasting clothing item. The correct fit starts at the pattern-making stage. A garment that is constructed using high quality sewing patterns that are cut and sewn carefully to allow for enough movement in key areas of the body is worthy of being called a wardrobe staple.
Fit often accounts for the comfort of a clothing item. Although it sounds simple, finding the perfect fit for your body type comes with lots of trial-and-error and is more often than not, a process. Although clothing companies personalize their building block patterns to suit their average customer base, they do not always meet every need and expectation of every consumer.
If you're curious, here are some aspects of the construction/design process that affect fit at the manufacturing level:
- Cutting costs affects elements that are sometimes essential for good fit: The most common example of this is eliminating bust darts in blouses or dresses in order to cut sewing costs. This eventually causes the clothing item to pull horizontally along the bust area. We've all experienced this issue at one point or another especially with button-down blouses and dresses. If a button-down blouse you purchased pulls and separates at the bust area, it is most likely missing bust darts on the sides.
- The fit models manufacturers work with to draft and make pattern corrections have a very different body type than the average consumer. Often times, they are a bit taller and might have very different body proportions ultimately affecting the fit of the final garment.
-Cutting and alignment errors at the factory stage (especially when manufacturing large orders). When a large number of fabric layers are cut simultaneously, some layers underneath might become misaligned causing fit errors in the final product. You've most likely experienced it with certain pairs of jeans- if one of the pant legs twists and the side seams do not align straight (causing comfort issues), then this is most likely a cutting error.
-The fabric does not work with the style, design, and construction elements of the clothing item. This happens more often than you would think and it creates comfort and fit issues that are very difficult to detect. The problem is in using and combining fabrics that do not have the correct stretch, drape, or flexibility for the style they are applied to. Some fabrics lack the right amount of stretch necessary to work with form-fitting styles, creating discomfort at the waist and other key areas necessary for easy wear. Unfortunately, many designers cannot always predict these issues at the design stage and they become apparent later on, at the wear stage.
To ensure that you avoid some of these fit inconsistencies, there are a few things to look out for at the buying phase:
-Look for fabrics or fabric combinations that allow for stretch along areas like the upper back, shoulders and waist (if the garment is form-fitting).
- If a blouse has no stretch and features a more tight fit around the bust area always ensure that it has bust darts on the sides. Do so especially when purchasing button-up blouses. You can learn more about bust darts and what they look like by reading: How to Sew Basic Darts.
-Pay attention to how the seams lay and the silhouette fits when trying the item on in the fitting room.
-If the fitting room has a sitting area, sit down for a few seconds and notice if the garment becomes noticeably uncomfortable or pulls too tight, especially at the waist, hips and upper back.
The sweater blouse is a good example of tackling some of the issues described above: It includes bust darts on both sides and a very stretchy sweater knit fabric across the chest and most of the back. This increases movement and flexibility along the back encouraging a comfortable, adjustable fit.
A single styling options for very occasion:
A wardrobe essential should withstand any occasion whether it is work or play related. It is in this category that design and color come into play most.
Lets start with the silhouette. We discussed earlier the benefits of being able to wear a blouse either tucked in at the waist or draping over the bottom. This simple styling element allows a shirt/blouse to be worn in a tailored atmosphere or a more relaxed setting. Being able to switch from day to evening is essential in defining a well-designed clothing item. A silhouette should be simple and functional enough to accommodate a style switch from formal to casual without compromising key aesthetic features and comfort elements.
When it comes to styling and versatility, color is another important element that comes into play. Wardrobe essentials you currently own are most likely neutral, solid colors. As in the case of the sweater blouse however, a colorful print can keep things interesting yet allow you to effortlessly mix the blouse with any color bottoms. The option of a unique print is also a great way to avoid having to elevate a simple outfit with accessories allowing the design elements and print to be strong enough to stand on their own.
Construction quality and long-term durability:
Not many of us turn a clothing item inside out and check how well the seams are constructed while in the shopping process. Durability however, is important whether related to a wardrobe staple or a single-occasion item. After all, a clothing item with a short life span can never truly become a wardrobe classic- it simply lacks the capability to stand the test of time.
The construction quality of a an apparel item is the main contributing factor to durability. Of course, the more work and complex finishes applied, the more expensive the garment will be. If you are not one to spend hundreds on a clothing item just to get the highest quality finishes, then don't worry- you can still get your hands on a well-made style while being on a budget. All you have to do is be able to recognize a few important sewing/construction features that aid in the long-lasting durability of a garment.
Here are a few sewing elements to look out for:
- Is the stitch length too large? It sounds a bit complicated if you are not familiar with sewing techniques but stitch length plays quite a role in the durability of a seam. Stitch length is determined by counting how many stitches are within a 1" increment. Usually, there should be about 7-8 stitches per 1" increment on a regular, fairly durable straight stitch. A less durable seam will have longer stitches that are less dense thus decreasing the durability of the seam by making it looser. You can easily test this on the front of the garment by pulling the seam slightly apart- if while pulling, the stitch thread is showing too much on the face side of the garment, the stitch is most likely too long. This might compromise the durability of the seam over time.
- All seams should be clean finished. A serging stitch is the most common method used for clean finishing seam raw edges. It is fairly inexpensive and overall, pretty durable long term. A denser serging stitch will offer more durability over time, while a looser stitch with less loops will form a weaker finish.
- Top stitched seams increase the durability of a garment: top-stitching offers an extra layer of durability by the addition of a second stitch. While commonly used for decorative purposes, it also provides extra seam reinforcement for long term durability. It is for that reason that you'll notice top stitching being so prevalent on denim items like jean bottoms and jean jackets, as well as work wear that requires long-term strength.
-Watch for synthetic smells. This is usually not an issue with most apparel because retailers do their best to work with trusted vendors. However, if you are really on a budget and looking for the least expensive alternative, you might come across some clothing items that have a lingering synthetic, plastic-like smell. This is due to the use of a lower quality mix of synthetic fibers that in many cases, accompanies a smell that is difficult to get rid of even after a multitude of wash cycles. This synthetic smell is usually a tell-tale sign that the garment might not be of the best overall quality. Fabric choice and quality is usually one of the first steps made in the apparel construction process. If the fabric is not up to code, you can often assume the rest of the garment will not be either.
-Fabric raw edges should be reinforced (using various techniques). While it is a given that seam raw edges should always be clean-finished, other vulnerable edges such as the neckline, armholes and waist should also receive the right amount of reinforcement at the construction stage. Overtime, sensitive areas such as these get stretched in the wear-and-care process. If they are not properly finished either with binding, facings, twill tape etc., you can expect to say goodbye to wearing these clothing items much earlier than expected.
Also keep in mind that garment durability is essential when it comes to long term wash and care. Apparel that is sewn to be durable, will be able to withstand lots of regular machine wash cycles without incurring damage over time.
Easy wash and care over time:
We touched on the hassle of dry cleaning earlier but lets break it down a bit further:
It is very easy to fall in love with the feel of fine fabrics like silk or the uniqueness of highly decorative fabrics featuring beading or sequins. However, if you are looking for that wardrobe staple that requires the least amount of hassle to care for, then finding alternatives that can withstand a regular wash cycle is perhaps the smarter way to go in the long term. If easy care is what you are after, it is suggested that you get in the habit of reading the care tags and instructions before making the purchase. Choose fabrics that look and feel like natural fibers but are constructed to be low maintenance.
If you like natural fibers, stick to cotton blends- They are easy to care for while being extremely comfortable and wearable. Rayon (viscose) fabrics are easy to take care of, feel great on the skin and feature a flowey drape. However, keep in mind that rayon is not the most durable fiber over time.
For example, the sweater blouse is constructed of a polyester chiffon that is meant to resemble the drape and softness of silk chiffon . However, the polyester content allows it to be washed in a regular washing machine cycle and easily tumble dried at no cost of damage or fabric shrinking. Respectively, the sweater knit fabric in the blouse's yoke is also made of polyester content but has been woven to be soft and breathable enough to resemble angora knit.
If a clothing item consist of a fabric combination, check the tags and make sure both have similar care instructions. Often times, if a garment has a difficult-to-care-for element (no matter how small) it will affect the care of the rest of the clothing item.
A round hem on blouses, tunics and even dresses can be quite flattering. There is something very functional about a curved hem, especially one that is extended in the back. It is elongating and slandering to the figure while still maintaining immense comfort.
Round hems work best with lighter weight fabrics having a flowey nature because it allows the garment to drape naturally and comfortably while molding to the body's organic shape. While they look and feel beautiful, if you've ever tried to sew a garment with a curved hem, you'll find that clean finishing one is much challenging than it looks.
Almost all methods for sewing and clean finishing a rounded edge on fabric involve some style of folding and stitching. It is actually the folding part that can prove to be quite problematic if you don't have enough practice or maybe are not following the correct steps. In this tutorial, we'll teach you two common and easy methods (and a few tricks) for clean-finishing a difficult-to-work-with curved hem.
The secret to sewing a rounded hem starts with the pattern-making process and specifically, hem allowance. Hem allowance is the excess fabric used to clean finish the hem. The trick to rounded hem allowance is that the smaller it is the easiest it will be to fold it around the curved edges. The best excess allowance to work with for a double folded round hem is 1/2" (especially as a beginner)- this gives you enough room to comfortably fold the edges by hand. If you have a serging/overlock machine and would like to do a serged and folded method, the best seam allowance to work with in that case is 1/4".
Double folded and machine stitched method with a 1/2" hem allowance:
Your best friend when it comes to accomplishing a good quality rounded hem is the iron. Before sewing a hem, fold it in place first and then use your iron and a few pins to hold this fold in place. It is very difficult to achieve good stability with just pins- it is the use of an iron that really maintains a clean, even fold throughout both in the construction process and the finished hem respectively.
Step 1: Fold the raw edge of the hem in at 1/4" throughout and iron as you fold. As you get to the rounder curves, it will take a bit more time to turn the edges in. The secret here is folding and ironing very small portions at a time. You might notice that there are a few small wrinkles gathered up along the roundest parts. Don't worry too much about this- it is just a little excess of fabric that you will be able to enclose in the second fold and iron out once you've stitched the hem on your machine.
Step 2: Once your first 1/4" fold is complete along the entire bottom edge, fold in one more time at 1/4" to enclose the raw edge. Iron the fold and place a few pins along to secure the fold in place. Again, take your time along the most curved edges and fold little by little. Ironing along the curve really well may get rid of some of the more wrinkly portions.
Step 3: Place a few pins vertically parallel along the edge to hold the fold in place.
Step 4: Add a temporary hand baste along the folded hem to keep it more stable during machine stitching. Basting is a helpful tool when it comes to stabilizing layers of fabric preventing them from shifting in the sewing process.
In this case, adding a basting stitch, especially along the deepest curve of the fold, will facilitate stitching and keep the fold flat and even in the process.
Step 5: Machine stitch along the fold line, trying to stay as close to it as possible. The goal is to completely enclose the raw edges within the fold. Go slower along the curved edge as this may be somewhat of a challenge for beginners. If you feel like the fabric is difficult to control along the roundest portion, you could lift up your presser foot and re-arrange the hem in a more comfortable-to-sew position. Feel free to repeat this step until you are finished sewing along the more difficult curve.
Remember, practice makes perfect so don't give up on your first try!
Step 6: Remove the basting stitch with a seam ripper.
Iron the round hem for a clean, professional finish. Fabric permitting, iron at the highest setting adding some steam.
Sewing and clean-finishing a 1/4" folded serged edge:
This is perhaps the easiest way to finish a difficult round hem, but an overlock machine is required for best results. You could practice with a zig zag stitch on your regular sewing machine, but this might not always achieve the most durable smooth finish. In all honesty, if you don't have a serger (overlock machine) it is highly recommend that you utilize the double-fold method describe above for finishing the round hem.
For learning purposes however, you could use the zig zag stitch on your home sewing machine just so you can practice the steps for this particular finishing method.
Step 1: Serge or apply a zig zag stitch along the entire raw edge of the hem.
Step 2: Fold the serged edge at 1/4" towards the inside of the garment and iron as you fold. If you are having a hard time along the more curved areas, fold it little by little and maintain the 1/4" hem allowance throughout. Place a few pins along the fold (parallel to the bottom edge) to secure it in place for sewing.
Step 3: Machine stitch on the wrong side of the hem (wrong side of fabric), using the serging as a guide. You can stitch on top of the actual serging or about 1-2 mm bellow the serging stitch. If it gets difficult to align the fabric along the roundest edges, you can lift your presser foot, align and drop it back down in order to position the fabric in a more comfortable position. Repeat this step along the curve until you've achieved an even, smooth stitch. It is highly recommended that you baste the fold before machine stitching. Basting by hand is a great way to stabilize the rounded fold and facilitate the sewing process.
Iron the finished hem for a smooth, professional finish.
As you delve deeper into learning how to sew, the process can be just as much rewarding as it is frustrating. After all, it does take lots of time, patience, and a little bit of persistence to learn the ins and outs of making your own clothing. The good news is, if you get started the right way, building good habits as you learn, you will find sewing to be one of the most rewarding hobbies. Building a good foundation and developing the correct practices from the get-go will save you lots of time and frustration as you start experimenting with more complex sewing tasks in the future.
To help you get started on the right foot, here are 5 helpful habits to start developing now in the learning process:
Pinning seams correctly during sewing:
Ah, the pin mystery... Many beginners wonder if there really is a correct way to pin seams and layers of fabric together before machine stitching. Realistically, most beginners don't pay much attention to it and just go by what feels comfortable. However, learning how to pin in the correct direction from the beginning will save you time, add comfort to your sewing process, prevent you from making a pin mess all over your working space, and keep your fingers safe from pin pricks.
There are really two ways/directions you can pin seams together: perpendicular to the fabric's edge/seam, and parallel to the seam/fabric's edge. The perpendicular method is the one recommended for sewing most seams, especially regular straight seams normally consisting of two layers of fabric. Placing the pins perpendicular to the seam's edge allows you to easily and comfortably remove the pins in a horizontal orientation as you machine stitch.
If you are right-handed, place the pins so that the ball head of the pin is aligned on the right side, towards the fabric's edge. If you are left-handed, it might feel more comfortable to place the pins such that the ball-head is aligned left, away from the seam's edge.
A perpendicular (or horizontal) pin placement allows for more control and locks the vertical layers of the seam in place more efficiently than a parallel pin placement, especially in a straight seam. Additionally, it provides you a safety measure against accidentally pricking your fingers with the pin's needle- the sharpest edge is pointing away from your hands providing a means for comfortably removing the pins from the closed edge.
There are however instances when a vertical/parallel pin placement simply cannot be avoided. When you are sewing through very thick layers of fabric or very curved, folded edges, aligning the pins parallel in relation to the edge provides more control. Specific examples when a parallel pin placement is desired include: sewing along a double-folded curved hem, top stitching double-folded binding (especially along very curved areas of the armhole and neckline), and during certain decorative or functional applications that may benefit from a vertical pin placement.
If you are unsure and still not quite used to working with pins, try to get in the habit of placing all pins perpendicular to the edge. Switch to a parallel placement if you find that a perpendicular direction is not holding the layers of fabric properly, or the pins are difficult to insert through the fabric layers horizontally.
Note: Don't sew over the pins! Always remove each pin as the machine needle approaches it.
Ironing every seam as you sew it:
This is perhaps the number 1 rule in dressmaking: Always iron every seam and fold in the sewing process right after the stitch is applied. Not ironing every seam at the construction stage not only makes the garment a lot more difficult to handle and sew, it will be close to impossible to iron each seam when the clothing item is already completed. As a result, the garment will most likely not look clean/professional, giving the impression of puckering as if there are tension issues at the seams. This can also make the garment appear to have some major fit issues even if it truly does not-Fit issues are not caused by whether you iron the seams during sewing but rather by a combination of factors starting with your sewing patterns down to how you cut them and sew the seams.
It is also important to keep in mind that in many cases, seam allowance needs to point in a specific direction for the most correct results. Ironing each seam (usually done on the face side of the garment) allows you to set the correct seam allowance direction in place, thus facilitating the sewing process for optimal quality.
You'll find that if you iron every seam as you sew it, you'll save yourself some time and headache as you get through each step of putting a clothing item together. Aside from the fact that it constitutes the most important factor in sewing a good quality garment, there are some additional benefits to ironing every seam as you go. First, if your sewing machine has some slight tension issues, ironing the seam on a higher setting (fabric permitting) and adding steam can sometimes release some of the gathering/puckering caused by tension problems. In addition, you may want to use ironing to set and stabilize folds before they receive a final machine stitch.
Staystitching vulnerable curved edges:
Staystitching is quite often overlooked by sewing beginners. To give you some background, staystitching is the act of applying a straight stitch along vulnerable, curved edges along the seam allowance at a short distance above the seam line. It is done right after the fabric pieces are unpinned from the sewing patterns before any other sewing finish is applied. It is basically a security measure against stretching and pulling sensitive curved edges during the construction process.
Understandably, there are so many small and big rules required in the sewing process that staystitching is for some reason, the one that always gets overlooked. You may be able to get away with it in some situations, for instance when working with fabrics that don't stretch easily and have a very dense weave. Most of the time however, it is a good idea to develop the habit of staystitching at least along neckline and waistline edges in order to be on the safe side. This is especially true if your garment requires a facing, particularly at the neckline. By staystitching you can prevent the neckline curve of the garment from stretching and de-stabilizing so much that it's curve fails to match the curve of the facing properly.
Staystitching is a sewing application that will come with practice as you experiment with constructing a variety of different styles as well as work with different fabrics. Sewing beginners often learn the hard way that stay-stitching is a necessity in the sewing process. The good news is that learning the hard way when you are learning how to sew is actually a good thing! The downside with not applying a staystitch in a timely matter is that once those vulnerable round edges stretch it is unfortunately impossible to undo the damage. The worst part is that this issue often goes unnoticeable until the garment is finalized.
For good measure, always stay-stitch any curve you feel might stretch. If you get in the habit of doing so from the start, it will become quite automatic as you expand your sewing portfolio, not to mention save you some headache and frustration along the way.
Backstitching is another one of those necessary sewing applications that becomes quite automatic once you build a habit for it. Backstitching is usually done on the sewing machine to lock the beginning and/or end of a straight stitch preventing it from coming undone. A backstitch button or lever is included on every sewing machine no matter how very basic or complicated it is. An important benefit of backstiching offers the ability keep the edges of seams completely closed and locked in place for stability when they are ironed and further connected to other parts of the garment in the sewing process. It allows for a durable finish in the final product and makes the process of clean-finishing seam allowance raw edge more comfortable by keeping all the seams consistently closed.
Many sewing beginners underestimate the crucial step of backsticthing. As a result, the whole sewing experience can often become unnecessarily difficult and frustrating. Although it is important to backstitch each seam, it is not always necessary or desired that you backstitch on both the beginning and end of the seam.
Many experienced sewers learn exactly when backstitching is crucial from experience over time. However, if you are just starting out, it is a good habit to backstitch just at the beginning of the stitch and leave the other end as is. Next, iron the seam in the direction of the end that is not backstitched- this will release tension in the stitch making it quite beneficial for those beginners that do not yet understand the concept of machine tension. If you are convinced your machine has no tension issues by the fact that it sews a smooth stitch consistently through every fabric, then feel free to backstitch on both ends for added stability.
There are however some instances when backstitching should be avoided all together. Never backstitch on very fine fabrics like lightweight silks and fine chiffon. Unless you know your needle is sharp enough and your sewing machine does not cause tension issues, you may get away with backstitching some of these dainty fabrics. If you are unsure, stick to applying backstitch by hand when necessary. As a sewing beginner, try to also stay away from backstitching at the vanishing point of darts. Doing so may damage the fabric and create puckering on the face side of the garment. The best way to avoid this is to manually tie the loose threads of the dart stitch a few times to lock it in place.
Using a temporary basting stitch during sewing:
Temporary hand basting is used quite often during sewing to hold certain edges and layers of fabric stable prior to being permanently stitched. There are a few different types of basting stitches used for a variety of purposes you'll most likely learn as you become more advanced. However, the most commonly used one you should know as a sewing beginner is a temporary uneven hand baste which is removed after the final stitch has been applied.
If you are experimenting with zippers, double folded binding, waistbands and any sort of decorative or functional appliques, use hand basting to stabilize all the necessary layers in place before the final stitch is added. Doing so will save you the headache of having to undo certain stitches due to the fact that they have shifted or puckered during construction. It often takes some experience to know when hand basting during garment construction is truly necessary but it always goes hand-in-hand with your skill level. Most sewing beginners start with hand basting most seams until they feel comfortable with using just pins. However, even after years of experience, temporary basting continues to be a valuable tool in the construction process.
Lets face it, basting can sometimes feel like such a time consuming task. Most sewing beginners try to skip it and assume they can get away with using pins alone. However, it is in the learning process that hand basting during garment construction is most valuable. If you are a sewing beginner, avoid using pins alone to sew along very curved edges, zipper applications, or folded edges. Not only are pins difficult to manipulate along more challenging seams and applications, they do not hold the fabric flat and stable enough to be controlled and sewn efficiently. It is recommended that you do a quick, temporary hand baste before adding a machine stitch any time you feel that pins aren't enough to stabilize the fabric layers.
Learning how to sew is an ongoing process that takes time, patience and consistently learning from mistakes. If you're able to develop some good habits from the get-go, you will avoid many unnecessary pitfalls and save lots of time in the process.
As perhaps the most common of sewing alterations, converting a pair of jeans into a shiny new pair of shorts is actually quite simple to do. If you have a good pair of scissors and some means of taking precise measurements (like a ruler or measuring tape), you'll find the whole process fun and pretty rewarding. For many that have tried to do this simple alteration, the issue is always about using the proper measuring technique. As is true for any sewing alteration that requires trimming or cutting the garment, it is always a good idea to allow yourself enough room for error no matter how confident you feel. This is especially true when converting pants into shorts. Stay on the safe side by allowing yourself enough room for error.
The great thing about transforming a pair of pants into shorts is that you have control over the final design. Denim is quite fun to work with and withstands a variety of different decorative and finishing techniques. You may choose to simply cut the pant legs at your preferred length and leave them to fray a bit at the bottom for a more causal style. You can do that with denim due to the fabric's ability to lock the threads after a few rows of fraying thus stopping the edge from unraveling further. If you like the causal look of a raw denim edge but want to take the design a bit further, rolling the edge up and tacking it at the sides allows for a more "store-bought" look. On the other hand, if you like a clean-finished edge, you may use a variety if hemming techniques to finish the raw edge of fabric for a more elevated look. Converting pants into shorts allows you to experiment with a variety of decorative techniques like patching, distressing and adding lace and embroidery finishes. All of it is possible once you know how to measure and cut the pant legs to achieve the desired overall length, and an even length on both legs.
Cutting the pant legs:
Although it sounds easy, a single error when cutting the pant legs can put an end to the project all together. Any time you alter pants it is important to keep in mind that they fit and lay very differently on the back than they do on the front. Aligning the front waistline in relation to the back waistline will prove to be crucial in whether the shorts will fit and the hem of each leg will be evened out properly.
1. Lay the jeans flat on the table ensuring that the front waistline is aligned lower than the back waistline. Usually, that is how pants lay naturally at the waist. However, you should take extra precaution that you maintain this alignment throughout the cutting process.
Try the pants on and measure with a ruler or measuring tape the desired length for your shorts. It is best to measure along seams. The in-seam is the most appropriate to use as this will eventually ensure an even, correct cut.
2. Measure from the crotch seam down along the in-seam and use a fabric pencil to mark with a horizontal dash line at your chosen length. In this case, 3.5 inches.
3. Starting at the marked measurement from Step 2, position the ruler horizontally across the pant leg aligning the straight edge of the ruler with the side seam. This will ensure that the cutting line is straight and even in relationship to the side seam.
4. Use the fabric marking pencil to draw a straight line across.
5. Place a few pins horizontally through both layers of fabric to keep them stable during cutting. Cut across through both layers as shown.
6. Mark the same measurement on the other pant leg's in-seam with a fabric marking pencil. Use a horizontal dash line.
7. Flip the cut pant leg on top of the uncut portion as shown. Make sure the front and back waistlines maintain the same alignment as described above- the back waistline should lay higher than the front waistline.
Use the side pockets and waistband as an alignment guide, ensuring that each part overlaps right on top of one another.
8. Use the bottom already cut line as a guide to mark the cutting line on the remaining pant leg.
Be careful not to shift the pant legs out of alignment in the marking process.
9. Place a few pins horizontally along the second pant leg right above the marked line, and carefully cut through both layers of fabric as shown above.
Once cut, the shorts should be even on both sides and the back waistline should lay higher than the front as described.
Hemming the jean shorts:
Because you cut through the seams, you will have to reinforce each seam stitch at the hem area so that the stitches don't come undone during wear.
10. To do so, stitch from the hem up at about 1 inch and backstitch to reinforce.
You can manually unravel the edges for a more distressed, casual look. This however, will happen naturally during the first wash cycles. If a more distressed denim look is the style you are after, that is all that's necessary to start wearing your new shorts!
If you like the rolled up hem look, follow the steps bellow to learn an easy technique for achieving it:
11. Decide on how high you want the roll to be. If you are unsure, a good standard measurement to follow is 1". Keep in mind that you should leave enough excess at the bottom of each pant leg in the cutting process such as to allow for the raw edges of the hem to be rolled up accordingly.
12. Match all the seams so that they overlap as shown above. Place a pin through the rolled-up hem to keep the seams aligned properly and maintain the correct fold measurement at each seam.
Repeat Step 12 on every seam, rolling the hem up at the same distance throughout and placing a pin through every folded seam. Doing so will keep the rolled edge in place at key areas of the hem.
13. Starting from the bottom up, stitch through both layers of the rolled hem as close to the seam as possible.
14. Backstitch a few times to reinforce and repeat the process along every seam.
15. Iron the rolled hem in place to maintain the fold along each bottom edge.
After every wash, you may need to re-iron the cuffs. However, the side stitches will ensure that this is very easy to do without having to re-measure the rolled distance after every wash cycle.
Adding a machine stitched hem:
Ensure that before adding a machine stitched hem, you left enough excess hem allowance in the cutting process so that you don't compromise the desired length of the final shorts.
In this tutorial, our hem allowance is 1"
1. Fold the raw edge of the hem towards inside the garment at 1/2" and iron the fold in place. Fold the ironed edge one more time at 1/2" to completely enclose the raw edge. Iron the second fold as well.
3. Place a few pins perpendicular to the edge as shown above to keep this fold in place during stitching.
3. Machine stitch on the inside of the garment as close as you comfortably can to the fold line. It helps to use the line of the fold as a guide.
4. Iron the finished edges of the hem and don't forget to backstitch every stitch for durability.
No Sewing Machine? No Problem. 4 Hand Sewing Techniques And Stitches You Should Know As a Sewing Beginner.
Whether you own a sewing machine or not, learning some basic hand stitches will prove to be quite useful in the long haul. You can't physically take your sewing machine with you everywhere you go, so knowing how to do a few quick fixes by hand can sometimes be a life-saver. In the case you do not actually own a sewing machine, you can use hand stitching not only to fix rips but also sew smaller permanent seams. If you do own a sewing machine, taking it out just for a quick fix can be a hassle sometimes, so learning how to imitate a machine stitch by hand will prove to be quite handy.
Other instances when hand sewing is necessary in the sewing process is for stitching areas that are difficult to access with the machine needle, attaching patches, trims and other appliques manually, and completing blind finishes like a slip stitch and catch stitch. Another important hand stitch worth knowing is the blanket stitch which can be used to replace the zig zag stitch on a home sewing machine. It can be applied along raw edges of fabric to contain fraying as well commonly as used for decorative purposes. This is an important hand stitch to know often used in apparel and especially quilting.
If you find that you enjoy the therapeutic aspect of stitching by hand, there are also plenty of intricate hand embroidery stitches you can experiment with as you become more comfortable in the process.
For now, if you are a still in the beginning stages, we suggest you focus on just a few basic but necessary hand stitches applicable to almost any project. We'll introduce you to 4 such stitches below. If you were to use these 4 stitches together, you would actually be able to sew a clothing item from start to finish without the need for a sewing machine.
1. The Blanket Hand Stitch (Oversewn/Overcast)
This is a great stitch to use as a zig zag substitute when needed. Just as the name suggests, the blanket stitch (also commonly referred to as oversewing or overcasting) is often applied along the edges of blankets, certain towels and comforters in order to smooth and prevent them from rolling. It is also used quite often in quilting along the fabric's edge both for decoration purposes as well as to keep the edge from unraveling. Just as you would on a sewing machine, you can actually control the density and length/size of the blanket stitch while hand sewing it. A denser, shorter stitch works better for lighter fabrics that fray easier. On the other hand, a larger, less dense blanket stitch is applied along the edges of thicker fabrics with lower fraying.
1. Choose the desired length for your blanket stitch and insert the needle at that measurement down from the fabric's edge. In this tutorial, our blanket stitch is approximately 1/4". The length you choose depends on the fabric at hand. The thinner and lighter-weight the fabric, the shorter and denser the stitch should be.
2. Position the thread in a loop/circular shape and insert the needle again at the same distance down from the fabric's edge. Where you insert the second stitch will determine the density of the blanket stitch. The closer the bottom stitches are together, the denser the blanket stitch will be. It is always a good idea to practice a few different lengths and densities on different fabric types.
3. As you pull the needle out, position it so that it goes thorough the thread loop as shown. The thread loop should be at the bottom and the needle should go on top.
4. Pull the thread gently until the stitch aligns with the fabric's edge. Be careful not to pull so hard that the fabric wrinkles and creates tension along the edge.
5. Repeat the steps described above making sure to follow the same measurements throughout. The density and the length of the stitch should be distributed evenly along the edge.
As you continue stitching, be cautious not to pull on the thread too tightly or you risk creating tension issues along the edge.
As you apply the blanket stitch, you'll notice that the edge becomes contained within the thread loops thus preventing the fabric edge from unraveling or rolling. This allows the blanket stitch to be the perfect hand sewing substitute for a zig zag or serged machine finish.
2. The Hand Backstitch
A backstitch done by hand is perhaps the most durable straight stitch you can achieve by hand. You can actually substitute this for a regular machine straight stitch if needed. The reason it is so durable is because the process requires constant backstitching which doubles the stitching layers. Just like the straight stitch setting on your sewing machine, you can control the length and density of this hand stitch. Keep in mind that a shorter backstitch will create a stronger, more dense finish. This is a great hand stitch for sewing or fixing small seams. You can also use it to top-stitch by hand or stitch in areas that are difficult to reach with your sewing machine.
In the example below, we'll show you how to use a hand backstitch to sew a seam by hand.
1. As is customary for any time you prepare a seam for sewing, align the edges of the seam so that the face of both layers of fabric are touching.
2. Decide on the stitch length and insert the needle lengthwise through both layers of fabric at the chosen length. Make sure you position the stitch at the correct seam allowance from the fabric's edge.
In this tutorial the stitch length is approximately 1/4" thus the needle is inserted at a 1/4" interval.
3. Return to the point where the first stitch begins, and insert the needle forward at double the stitch distance as shown. The needle should go past where the last stitch ends.
4. Pull the thread gently. Ensure that you don't stitch too tightly as this can cause the final seam to pucker and create tension issues.
5. Repeat the process by inserting the needle back through where the last stitch ends at double the distance of the stitch again.
Maintain the stitches as even as you can ensuring that you follow the correct seam allowance throughout.
You will notice that a hand backstitch resembles a straight machine stitch very closely. However, if you look on the back side of the stitch, you'll find double stitched layers with a slightly different look. These stitch layers contribute to the seam's durability and long term wear.
If you do not have a sewing machine available, the hand backstitch works just as well for sewing permanent seams.
3. The Slip Stitch
A slip stitch is great hand stitch to master whether you own a sewing machine or not. It is often used in conjunction with other machine applications to sew difficult to reach areas or apply a blind finish. You can use a slip stitch to finish the inside of waistbands, collars and cuffs. Most commonly however, you will find it as a blind hemming method used on a variety of different garments. Slip stitching is also a great technique for fixing surface tears or connecting seams on the face side of the fabric. It is a hidden stitch that should not be noticeable on the face of the garment and difficult to see on the wrong side, if applied correctly.
Below, we'll walk you through the process of applying a slip stitch on a hem to create a blind finish.
1. Double fold and iron the fabric towards the wrong side to enclose the raw edge. You can also insert a few pins to hold this fold in place.
This folding method is the most common technique for finishing hems. Make sure the fold stays aligned properly and folded at an even distance throughout. Follow the hem allowance.
2. Insert the needle though the edge of the fold as shown above.
3. Next, catch 1 or 2 threads from the fabric surface right above the fold. Catching just a few threads will result in an invisible stitch on the face side of the garment, especially when applied with matching color thread.
4. Insert the needle back through the fold at approximately 1/4" in length. You can control how loose or closely together you want the stitches to be. A denser, smaller stitch will allow for a more durable, tight finish.
5. Repeat Step 3 again by catching a few threads from the surface of the fabric.
6. Repeat the stitching process described above until the fold is attached to the fabric throughout. You'll notice that the slip stitch resembles small "v" shapes aligned next to one another.
Only small points from the slip stitch are visible on the outside of the fabric. When the thread matches in color, these stitches blend in to look invisible on the face of the garment.
4. A Permanent Tack Stitch
A permanent tack stitch looks quite subtle and is easy to apply. It is used as a stabilizer to hold certain layers of fabric from shifting or to link separate garment sections together. A permanent tack stitch is localized and applied most commonly on the inside of facings and lining to stop them from shifting out of alignment or flipping to the face side of the garment. It is also a great way to keep rolled cuffs in place through wear and care. You might have already spotted this stitch on cuffed jean shorts and cuffed blouses. There are a few different styles of tack stitches both permanent and temporary that are used for various purposes. The most common are cross tacks, bar tacks (which we'll discuss below), heavy duty tacks and french tacks. The most commonly used are cross tacks and bar tacks thus it is a good idea to start with mastering one of the two.
Applying a simple bar tack:
1. Insert the needle through all layers of fabric that require a tack stitch. In this case, the edge of the fold is being attached to the surface of the fabric- a common technique for stabilizing rolled cuffs.
2. Leave some excess thread to use for completing the stitch with a knot at the end.
3. Stitch in place a few times forming overlapping loops until a tight, durable layered stitch is achieved.
4. When cutting the thread, make sure to leave enough excess so that you can tie the two loose threads together for a more durable, clean finish.
5. Tie the threads together 2-3 times and carefully trim close to the knot.
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