Saturday, June 20, 2015

Sewing with L&L: Day 2 - Pins, Pleats, and a Mess

Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to respond and answer our questions! It helps so much to read the explanations from many different people because everyone explains it a little differently and put together it really helps me understand the concept better! ^_^

"Okay Lissie, let's get back to work. I'll heat up the iron."
"Iron? Aye matey! Hand me that iron and I'll teach this rapscallion a thing or twenty!"
"Be careful Lissie! You mustn't touch the metal plate! You could melt yourself!"
"Esh! What's the point of a metal plate if you're not going to have hibachi off of it?"
"Even though we're just using fabric scraps, we still have to iron it or the fabric won't lie evenly and we'll have trouble cutting it."
"But there's no challenge in that! No feat of great astonishment!"
"I think it will be challenging and astonishing enough to get through this project without any mutilated parts, thank you very much."
*Ironing was fun. :D I guess I'm like Lissie. We like some uh... danger! Some excitement! Some hibachi related accessories! ^_^

"Alright, now you sit down here and trace the pattern piece onto this piece of the fabric. I'm going to match up the other pattern pieces with the rest of the scraps."
"No no no no no, there's some mistake my good sir! Why, this is a sitting down and being still activity! If I wanted that, I would've become a podiatrist!"
"See? Cause you know it's funny since podiatrists are feet doctors but they're sitting all day?"
"Just trace Lissie."
*This was more difficult than I had expected! The fabric was slippery and the pencil gets caught on it while I trace. Is this normal or am I applying too much force? If I didn't press down I couldn't see the lines on the fabric though. Does this mean I need a different colored pencil?

"You did an excellent job tracing the last one Lissie! Here's one more set for you to trace!"
"What?!? LILLY!"
"Oh don't fuss! I just saw that the pattern can be made into both a dress and a top, and I thought it would be nice if we each had something, that's all."
"Ughhh! You and your logic, and your good ideas, and your making sense! And why is this long rectangular piece sideways? Is it supposed to represent the angle my neck is going to be stuck in after I'm done tracing?"
"No silly, it's to follow the grain line! You remember what everyone said about that right?"
"I remember excruciating pain."
"Cheer up Lissie, cutting comes after this and you know how you love to cut."
"Well... I do like sharp objects."
*Yes! That's one of the cool things about the Lee & Pearl pattern is that it can easily be adjusted to skirt length or shirt length. :) I had two pieces of fabric scraps that were just the right amount for making one of each, and I thought that would be fun then because both Lissie and Lilly will get something new. ^_^ (And see! I learned about the grain line!)

"Mwahaha! Be cut my pretties! Be sliced into your true form!"
"Lissie, let's trade our collar pieces! That way we'll have a little bit of color variation and our new outfits will match."
"Hmmm... You drive a tough bargain gov'nor, but if it's a collar you want it's a collar you'll get!"
"Okay now-"
"We awaken the Kraken!"

"No, now we mark out the notches and copy the other directions onto the fabric."
"But but but... I thought sewing was an action packed adventure? What's with all the sitting?"
"There is action! Here, take the scissors again and cut out the notches."
"Okay, but I hope you realize you can only change the subject so many times before I catch on to what you're doing!"
*Ah... it was a lot of sitting and marking today. >_< Don't worry Lissie, we'll eventually summon the Kraken!

"Calm do-"
"It's bad enough I have to sit, but now you threaten me with needles???"
"They're for making the pleats around the collar Lissie, they're not going into you."
"Oh sure, not going into me, like I'll believe that! Pleats! Who needs pleats?"
"Shhhhh... Sit down Lissie and take a pin. You'll feel better once you're jabbing a needle into the fabric."
*I struggled at first with figuring out how the pleats were supposed to work but once I figure it out, it was actually a lot of fun pinning them in place! It's amazing how adding pleats on can really dress up a project (even if it takes several tries...). :D

"There, the pleats on finally in place, let's see!"
"The pleats are... com'pleat'ed!"
"Get it? Cause-"
"Okay! Well it looks wonderful! Let's baste them down!"
*Ahahahaha! Sorry I couldn't resist. XD I love a good/bad pun! They're 'sew' terrible! >_<

"Not more sitting Lilly! You might as well glue me in place at this rate. We've been doing this sewing thing for 2 days now and hardly even looked at the Kraken!"
"The prep work is just as important as the machine part. If we don't carefully cut, pin, and baste things down, the end result won't look good no matter how much we use the machine."
"I didn't say it wasn't important... just slow. And boring."
"Why don't you think of a pun for baste?"
"Baste on what?"
*Hahaha ok ok, no more! :D I actually don't mind the prep part so much despite Lissie's grumbles. It feels really calming. I wanted to ask though, is there anyway to keep the fabric from fraying so quickly? I know the more I handle it the faster it'll fray, but I wasn't sure if there was a way to hold/move the fabric to reduce this.

"Kraken time! Awaken great beast of the depth!"
"Now listen Lissie, step slowly, like a car's gas ped- You know, that's a bad example seeing how you drive. Just press down very very very gently when I say so, and you must stop immediately when I tell you to, okay?"
"Don't worry so much! What's the worse that can happen?"
"You could stitch my fingers to the fabric."
"Oh. Well. That's pretty bad."

"We're just going to topstitch these pleats in place so we can remove the basting thread. Now slowly... Too fast! Too fast! Stop! Lissie stop!"
"But... I haven't even stepped on the pedal yet."
"Oh! Um, well, that's good then. That explains why the pin hasn't moved forward yet."
*When do you remove the pin when sewing on the machine? I used the pin to hold the pleat in place on the bottom, and to mark where I needed to stop sewing, but the pin clunks when it reaches to teeth part on the machine that pulls the fabric forward. I tried pulling it out before it hits the teeth part, but then the pleat comes apart and I can't tell when to stop accurately. Do I just eyeball it and then pull out the extra seams? Am I supposed to leave the pin in as it goes through the machine?

"Oh my goodness, I can't believe we survived that."
"Yeah, especially since you wouldn't stop screaming every half second. If you were going to be that terrified anyway, you should've just let me try to drive across water to the moon."
"Sorry Lissie, I was just worried I would make a mistake."
"You were worried over nothing! It looks really good! I would wear it at it is except well, it's missing the back, but it's the thought that counts right?"

"Um well, the front looks mostly alright, but um... well... you see... the problem is..."
*What do you guys think? Is the front alright? Honestly, so I can improve please. ^_^

"The back you see?"
"Eeeessssssshhhhhhh! It ah, doesn't, uh, look as bad as the sinking of the Titanic. At least, not by much."
"It's a mess, I know. I can't understand where these knots in the middle are coming from! And what do I do with the extra part of the thread that's hanging off each end? I want to snip them off, they looks so unseemly, but I'm afraid then the seam will come apart."
"Oh, it's 'knot' that bad!"
*Hahaha okay, I lied there was one more pun left. XD Well, any advice on this mess on the back would be super appreciated. >_< I'm not sure why there's a giant tangle at each of the start places. Is this normal? I can't tell what I'm doing wrong. I'm following the directions for the pattern and for the machine, but it's leaving me this pile of spaghetti each time I start a seam.

Also, what should I do with the beginning and ending loose ends? Do I just clip them? Won't that make the seam come apart? Is there some method to tie them down first before clipping them? I assumed I'd just hide the mess on top in the collar, but at this rate the collar is going to be super bulky.

Thank you all for your advice and help! I'm thrilled and so happy with how generous everyone has been with their knowledge. ^_^


  1. Looks like you are doing good, for the most part (those 2 crack me up!). About the mess with your under seams, well, it means something is wrong somewhere in your threading. Maybe the bottom bobbin is set the wrong way. Maybe the tension isn't good either on the top or the bottom. Maybe the main thread (the one on top) isn't threaded the right way. Maybe you simply need to put on a new needle (the old one might be a little dull)... Maybe this blog post might help you:

    When you stitch, you will ususally go back and forth a few stitches to block your stitches at the beginning and end. What I do is go forward about 4 stitches, then back 4 stithes and then I sew my seam. At the end, I go backwards about 4 stitches, then forward, and then I cut my thread.

    1. Thank you for the link on bobbin tension and the advice on back stitching! I didn't realize that was the method to keep the seams from coming apart and I will try that with my seams going forward. ^_^

  2. It's a little tricky to give advice via internet, and I've been away from the machine for well over 6 months, but I'll see if I can offer a little advice.

    First, you're right, it can be quite trick to trace pattern pieces. For people clothes (big pieces cut from thin tissue-like pattern pieces) I usually pin the pattern down and cut around it like that rather than trace. For doll clothes I find I usually do have to trace. I like to use a special pen/marker with water soluble ink for marking fabric because it's easier to make lines than with the white pencils. (Test on a scrap to make sure it doesn't stain, but should work find on cotton). I see Lissie is marking on an ironing board but I'm assuming you don't. Definitely want a nice hard surface underneath =) Sometimes it helps to dampen the tip of the white pencils to make them mark more easily.

    You probably don't need to worry about the fabric fraying. When the project is assembled you can do some things to reduce further fraying. One is to trim the seam allowances with pinking shears (zig-zag scissors for fabric). You can "pink" the edges before assembly but then it's harder to see what the seam allowance should be or how to line up the edges. Another option is to zig-zag stitch in the seam allowances, letting the stitch go just off the edge of the fabric. You can do this before assembly as well, but it's a lot more work, and with a single thickness of fabric might just turn into a bunchy mess.

    Pins... The rule is generally to remove pins before they go under the presser foot, or at least before they go under the needle. Not everyone does this, but if you hit the pin with your needle you can bend or break the needle or even damage the machine. That said, this is the kind of situation that would be a good exception. I would probably use the wheel on the upper right side of the machine to "hand stitch by machine" the last stitch or two approaching the pin. (Only rotate the wheel towards you as view from the top = down as viewed from the front, not the reverse).

    Speaking of reverse, you will need to locate the reverse switch/button on the sewing machine. When you are putting in permanent stitching (i.e. sewing a seam, rather than basting) you will want to sew a few stitches forward, then a few backward, then the seam, then a few back & forward at the end. These areas where you sew over your stitches secures the ends of your stitching. You don't have to be too precise about it on some seams. You could do this to secure the ends of your pleats, which you'd need to do neatly. Alternatively, to keep it neat, you can pull the top thread to the back of the fabric (for example using a hand-sewing needle) and tie the two ends in a knot. The ends of the pleats that are up at the collar don't need to be secured this way because they'll be caught up in the collar seams anyway. You should trim the parts sticking out to the collar just before you sew that seam, so they don't unravel in the meantime or get caught in the machine when you stitch.

    Your top-stitching of the pleats looks pretty good. It is unusual to choose a contrasting thread color for this task but you are welcome to do what you like! Normally you would use a color that blends in, which also means it matters less how perfect your stitches are ;)

    The tangle at the ends is not normal or good, but not an uncommon problem. Unfortunately I don't remember what the fix typically is and it's hard to help without seeing the machine sewing in person. One final general piece of advice is to practice sewing on scraps of the actual fabric you're using to make sure the stitches are coming out right (tension is correct, threading is correct, etc.).

    Hope some of this helps! Sewing is a great skill / hobby =)

    - Cymbre

    1. Oh thank you so so much for taking the time to type out such a thorough explanation for my questions! You're right, Lissie is tracing on the iron board, but I've been doing it on the table because otherwise it's just impossible. :D

      I don't have zigzag scissors so I will add that to my list of things to pick up next time I'm at a craft store. I didn't realize that the pinking scissors could keep the fabric from fraying. In the mean time, I will use the zigzag stitch on my machine to keep the edges from fraying. Is that the same thing as serging?

      For the pins, I think your suggestion of hand stitching on the machine when I get close to one is a good idea. The pin doesn't move smoothly through the pressor foot so I've been removing it, but this way I can keep the pin in for as long as possible without running the risk of breaking the needle on a borrowed machine. ^_^

      The back stitching is a really great idea for keeping the seam from coming apart! I will have to try that going forward. I used the pull the thread to the back and tie them in a knot method to finish off the loose ends so far and it seems to be working wonderfully.

      I wanted to use a contrasting thread color so it would easy for me to see. ^_^ Once I am more comfortable, I will probably start learning to match my threads, but I figured I'd probably have a lot of mistakes to pick out on my first attempt so I'd better make the thread easy to see.

      Thank you for all the advice and encouragement! I am really enjoying sewing so far!

    2. Just saw this as I was browsing through your L&L stories... Zigzag stitch on your sewing machine is not the same as serging. Serging is done with a special machine called a serger. If you think a sewing machine is a monster, a serger might give you nightmares :) More thread, more needles, a cutting blade...

      Using the zigzag over the edge of the seam gives a somewhat similar effect to serging. A serger would trim off the fraying bits as you stitch. Your sewing machine won't, so you'll want to trim the fraying off bits immediately before you zig-zag so you don't have lots of stuff getting stuck in your machine and generally looking messy.

      To answer your question below about Fray-Check, it dries relatively hard and is intended to stay in permanently. It doesn't wash out. You'd put just a small amount right at the very edge of the fabric, not even close to the seam. As Winter said, I'd only use it on something that frays like crazy, not your basic cotton.

      Glad some of this was helpful!

      - Cymbre

  3. You're doing really well! I'm impressed with your patience and attention to detail. I'm looking forward to seeing the finished blouse and dress.

    For pleats, I usually iron them flat and loosely hand stitch them down before I use the machine. Use big stitches while hand sewing, then pull the handstitches out with your seam ripper after you machine stitch.

    To prevent fraying, I use a finishing stitch on the edges, zig-zag works well. If you have a fabric that frays a lot, you can use a product called fray-check. It's a liiquid you put on unfinished edges and it helps bind the fibers together.

    You need to knot or back stitch at the beginning and ending of every seam. Then you can clip the threads. The tangles may be the result of an upside down bobbin or improper tension.

    You can probably find YouTube videos that will help with trouble shooting. There will probably even be some specifically about the type/brand of machine you're using.

    Good luck! You're well on your way.

    1. Thank you for your kind words and advice Winter! Is a finishing stitch a zig zag stitch or serging? I will put fray check on my shopping list next time I go to a craft store. ^_^ Does it wash off or dissolve easily? Or is it meant to stay on? Will it make the fabric stiff and thicker?

      I think I will knot the seams I've already done so far and going forward I'll do the back stitching method because that seems to be the most popular way to hold the seam in place. :)

  4. I hope this is not a duplicate; Google seems to have swallowed my previous attempt to comment.

    The thready mess under your seam is usually caused by the loose ends of the thread being pulled down into the hole when you start to sew. You can prevent these "bird nests" by holding onto the needle thread and bobbin thread when you first start to sew. Hold it behind the needle until you've sewn a few stitches. Then it will be safe to let go.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to retype your comment! It does seem like Google swallowed your previous attempt. >_<

      You are a miracle worker! That's exactly what the problem is, and the second I took your advice and held onto the threads when I first start a seam, the spaghetti goop is gone! Thank you thank you thank you! This was really confusing me and making me feel put out so I am so thrilled you've taught me how to prevent this. :)

  5. I should add that I never trace my pattern pieces unless it is a fabric like leather or vinyl. I use pins to hold the paper pieces in place and cut along the lines.

    By the way, did you make sure you printed the pattern pieces full scale (actually choosing "no scaling" in your pdf reader?).

    1. That's interesting, I didn't know that you could directly pin the pattern pieces to the fabric! Does that make the cut pieces more accurate than tracking?

      I did print my pattern to full scale. ^_^ It was really helpful that the pattern had a 1 inch scale checker so I could make sure I printed it correctly.

  6. I agree with a few others that I always pin my pattern to the fabric when cutting out. I will warn you will go through straight pins faster as going through copy paper they do dull more easily. The birds nests at the bottom could be a tension problem, if you read your manual it will help u with this. If u don't have a manual, try looking online for a free one. Before messing with the tension though, I would try the suggestion of making sure your trailing threads are behind the presser foot be for beginning a new seam. If that fixes the problem you won't have to mess with the tension. As for the could use tailors chalk to mark where to stop, and just pin lower on the fabric room make sure you aren't catching the pin in the feed dogs. (That is the term for the zig zag part under the presser foot.) I think you are doing a wonderful job for someone just beginning! Way to go!

    1. Oh wow! I know this is going to sound foolish but I had no idea that pins could be worn out and "used up" but that makes sense though, since even knives and scissors get dull. :) Thank you for the advice and tips on the trailing threads! I don't always remember to check to see if they are back and that could be part of the problem. I like your idea for using chalk to mark where to stop so I won't have to risk breaking a needle on a pin. Thank you for your help and encouragement!

  7. It should say "to pin lower on the fabric" not lower on the fabric room.......stupid auto correct. :)

  8. A good friend taught me that if the birds nest of threads is under the fabric the problem is with the top thread. If the tangle is on the top of the fabric, the bobbin thread is at fault. Since your thread knots are underneath, there is something wonky with your top thread. Unthread and re thread, change the needle, try on scrap fabric.

    1. That's really good advice, and really straightforward too! I'll unthread and rethread the top thread and see if that helps. Thank you!

  9. It's usually okay to just cut the loose thread.

    1. That's good to know! I always worry about the seam unraveling if I don't secure it somehow. :)

  10. I'm in the pin-it-to-the-fabric camp. I don't trace patterns. And, I sew right over my pins with no problem. You have to make sure that you pin it so that the pins are perpendicular to the direction you're sewing.

    Well done, you! :)

    1. Oooo, that's good advice! My pins are at a bit of a slant so I'll try again with them perpendicular and see how it goes. ^_^ Thank you!

  11. Look at the bright side, you're better than me. When I sewed using a sewing machine, I stitched myself to the fabric! But a question for Lissie and Lilly, have you two ever hear of a cartoon called Gravity Falls? I think Lissie would like it, considering the action, mystery, and the adventures.

    1. Hahaha! Oh dear, I'll try not to Give any ideas to Lissie. She's liable to try to stitch herself just for the fun of it. XD I have not heard of Gravity Falls but it sounds really fun! Thank you for the recommendation. ^_^

  12. Cut your fabric with fabric shears to reduce fraying. it ahould look like this after you've cut: ^^^^^^^^^

    I had to learn that really quickly...

    1. That is excellent advice! I always thought the zig-zag scissors were used to decorate the edge of fabric, I didn't realize they were for reducing fraying. :)

    2. I thought so when I first started too!