The first part was about a sewing machine, a tool that will bring you joy once you start spending nights after work with it! The second part might be less exciting, but don't worry, we will conclude with something that might become your sewing project? Let's see!
Measuring, marking and pattern making
I have accumulated a lot of small tools rather rapidly. In a span of a month, I have become a proud owner of:
- 2 cutting mats - A3 for my computer table and A1 for cutting on the floor.
- A tracing wheel
- Marking chalks
- Temporary fabric markers
- Rotring Art Pen
- Tapes and rulers of various shapes and sizes.
- A regular home A4 printer and A4 paper (yes, I didn't have that boring A4 office paper before)
- An awl
- Hundreds of pins
- The great teacher of humility - the seam ripper!
- Pattern paper
I should probably comment on some of those. Let's start with the printer. I earn my bread and butter with programming and while I like to do things that don't involve computers, technology is, nonetheless deeply embedded in me. So, right from the start, I knew that a big portion of my pattern making is going to be done on a computer and I would like to print patterns rather than draft them the old way every time. There are also online indie patterns that often come in PDF, ready for printing on A4 paper. Of course, most of the patterns are bigger than a sheet of A4 paper and I will talk about this subject in a later post on modern pattern drafting.
The next item I am excited about is my Rotring Art Pen. I didn't actually buy it for sewing, I had it before when I thought I can do beautiful writing (I was wrong!). So I repurposed it for pattern making. I use it when I don't mind permanent marks, it works much better than markers or chalk. Like other nib pens, it is sensitive to pressure so I can create lines that are barely visible or strong ones. Metal nib glides easier than any felt tip and it doesn't bleed ink that much onto fabric. I see it as an update to a quill pen that tailors used before.
I still don't have a yardstick, for some reason, the ones I have seen around are more expensive than I would like them to be, instead, I use a metal tape measure. A note about tapes - some have 0 that doesn't match with the beginning of the tape and it is easy to get wrong/mixed measurements with them once you forget about that small offset.
There is no good replacement for a french curve or a grading ruler, those are just pieces of plastic, but somehow, they are expensive bits of plastic. There are cheaper versions, that are sold in sets, but they are thin, floppy, smelly and look truly horrible, not something I want to use. You might ask why I need those if I print my patterns? Some alternations are easier to do on paper given the quality of CAD programs we have available for home use and my level of experience with them.
The last point is about an awl - it is a necessity for historical sewing. Eyelets and laces were common back then. Thus, an awl with a tapered needle that can make holes of different sizes will make life easier. I didn't know about the tapered needle when I bought my first awl you can see below.
Let me start by saying something controversial - shears are not the best tool for cutting unless one has a big table available and I don't have it. I could use my kitchen table, but I prefer to keep my work out of the kitchen. The only other area I have available is the floor and here comes the problem - it is not comfortable to cut with shears at the floor level.
The alternative to shears is a rotary cutter. When I got mine I couldn't believe people recommend that! I had to press really hard to cut just one layer of medium weight fabric. My whole arm would ache after just a minute of that torture. The solution was rather simple - I bought replacement blades, now, those are sharp! I can cut through multiple layers of fabric no problem and with good precision since I don't have to strain my hand any more. Overall, cutting with a rotary cutter goes faster for me compared to shears. Since it doesn't lift fabric at all, there is a better chance to get a precise cut, especially with multiple layers of slippery fabric. The only thing to watch for is that fabric doesn't shift under pressure, placing weights near cut lines and strategically applying your fingers so that they can't be cut even if the blade slips, resolves all the problems.
Cutters come in different sizes. 45mm diameter blade seems to be a good all-purpose choice. Smaller blades can be good for details and sharp turns but so far 45mm is enough for me. For detailed cuts, a pair of small fabric shears or embroidery scissors might be a better choice. The last thing I should mention is that electric shears and rotary cutters for fabric also do exist, but I have zero experience with them. And the very last thing - specialised CNCs for fabric also do exist, some of them are toys, some are way to expensive for home use and some I need to research in the future. Honestly, I don't enjoy cutting fabric that much, so I would love to delegate that task to a computer if that's possible.
Additional cutting tools worth considering are - small embroidery scissors for snipping off seam allowances and cutting into them, snips for cutting thread. You might also consider a pair of pinking shears, those prevent woven fabric from fraying. Some fabrics fray quite a lot, if you don't plan to overlock pieces right after cutting, pinking can prevent a disaster.
There is a lot to say about that and I am not knowledgeable yet to do that! The same hand stitch can have multiple names. There are stitches mentioned in books on historical sewing, those can be split into two categories: stitches used by tailors and by seamstresses. There are special stitches for leather too. The same stitch can be called by a different name if it is used by a tailor or a seamstress. The last step is to combine that with modern couture and personal preferences to get the idea that sometimes a stitch name doesn't help to clarify what's going on. Luckily, there is enough information available online, I still don't feel like I need to buy a book on hand stitching techniques. Maybe it is just my ignorance speaking!
As for machine stitching, I couldn't be bothered with those little spools of thread that they usually sell for home sewing machines, so I bought a stand for big 5000 yard spools, I still have to finish my first spool after a month of occasional sewing! The next good thing to have is a bobbin box, running out of bobbins in the middle of a project is annoying, so I keep a couple of bobbins ready in every thread colour I have.
Needles, they get blunt and they break (if misused). People give different advice on how often to replace needles, for example, that a new needle is required for every project. I am not sure what constitutes an average project. I haven't developed any feeling yet for good/bad stitching, so maybe I don't change my needles as often as I should. I do change them if I stitched a lot through plastic or caught metals parts on them. Another thing to be aware of is that there are different types of needles - universal, jeans, stretch, leather, double. On top of that, they come in different sizes. Universal 90/14 is what my sewing machine came with, naturally, I bought every other type in different sizes, they are not expensive and it is nice to have them available. I never know what my next fabric is going to be!
There are 3 types of them I know of:
- Display forms - designed to look cute, not pinnable and therefore not very useful for draping
- Pinnable dress forms - come in a standard size, some are adjustable, if you believe that someone's unique proportions can be adjusted like that!
- DIY form - get a copy of your body! No need for a fitting party any more!
I think you have an idea which way I went, right? I made a dress form myself. I still want to get a standard form, but my reasoning for a DIY form as my first one was that I can fit and drape for my body since I don't always have someone available to help me with that. Also, I simply don't feel like putting pins in my real body! There are a couple of ways to proceed. A quick googling will likely bring up duct tape forms - ask someone to wrap your body in duct tape (not naked! on top of a close-fitting dress or t-shirt) Cut the tape on your back, stuff the form and you are done. Simple in theory, but in reality, people report that it is not entirely easy to make a form that is close to your size unless the taping step was done meticulously. Moreover, those forms simply don't impress me visually.
However, there is another way! BootstrapFashion sells patterns for dress forms, they have standard sizes or they can generate a pattern based on your own measurements. I was a bit intimidated, that my first ever sewing project is going to be a dress form, it looked rather complex, with many pieces and quite a big PDF with instructions. It turned out, that this is doable even with no prior experience in sewing. The instructions are clear enough, though they get a bit muddy by the end of the PDF. The result is that I have a pinnable dress form with my proportions. I am not entirely thrilled with the boobal area, I think it could have been patterned better. I have a rather small size and it seems the pattern works better for bigger sizes, but overall I am happy with the result.