Welcome to The Stitchery's first Sewalong. We will be working through the Zinnia Skirt by Colette Patterns, providing step-by-step tutorials and support as we sew together. In today's post we'll be chatting about understanding the pattern envelope as well as explaining the different fabric and haberdashery choices. To get you excited about the lovely skirt you are about to sew, take a wee peak at Colette's short video:
To start with I think it would be helpful to have an understanding of how paper patterns came to be the popular method of making garments for home sewers. I'd recommend reading the article A Brief History of Paper Patterns and Home Dressmaking in the 1930s by Fashion Historian Amber Jane Butchart. You can find this article on Tilly and the Buttons sewing blog; it's very insightful.
The big commercial sewing pattern companies such as Vogue, Burda, Butterick and McCalls conquered the sewing pattern industry for much of the 20th century. However, independent sewing pattern companies have been on the rise over the last 20 years or so. With the recent resurgence of interest in Dressmaking and the coinciding advances in technology, the support for home sewers has never been better.
INDEPENDENT PATTERN COMPANIES
Increasingly, new sewers are turning to smaller indie pattern companies such as Colette, Victory, Deer & Doe, DIY Couture and ByHand London (just to name a few) to purchase their patterns. These companies cater for modern, niche fashion markets and generally offer a greater depth of sewing instruction and online support than their more established big-branded competitors.
If you love vintage fashion with a modern twist, Colette is the pattern company for you. If it's unique and unusual fashion trends you're after, try DIY Couture. No matter what your style, there's probably an independent pattern company to meet your needs. Some companies offer PDF downloadable patterns while others offer printed paper patterns or both. With the popular rise of sewing blogs and social media in general, you'll also find lots of online support for sewing your garment of choice.
Sewalongs are a recent phenomenon for the online sewing community and offer a really great way to connect with other sewers from all over the world. They also offer extra support while you're sewing. So without further adieu, let's get started with the Zinnia Sewalong!
STEP ONE - UNDERSTANDING THE PATTERN
Sewing a great garment starts with an understanding of the pattern and instructions you'll be working with. Many sewers are so excited to get started they skip through all the important information in the beginning and jump right into sewing. Often they reach difficulties early in the process when details such as the given seam allowance or fabric grainline are not given the proper care and attention. If you've ever been to a class here at The Stitchery, you'll appreciate that having the foundations laid is the best start to any sewing project. So let's take a look at the first layer of our foundations: the pattern envelope.
Pictured below is the pattern envelope front. Here's a comprehensive explanation of what is found on the pattern envelope front.
- Pattern company name
- Garment name
- Design number: The first two digits refer to the product line (free patterns = 00, Regular line = 10, men's patterns = 20) The Zinnia skirt is the 27th pattern of the regular line, hence the pattern number 1027.
- Technical flat drawings: these are computer generated drawings of the finished garments, showing each version. It is quite common for sewing patterns to have two or more versions for any given pattern. This pattern has three versions.
- Skill level: Colette's patterns have three different skills levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced.
- Garment description: This gives a basic explanation of the style, fit, skill level as well as an explanation of each of the versions.
- Sizes: most sewing patterns are graded in many sizes, often referred to as multi-sized patterns. Colette's patterns are made for American sizes 0 to 18, which translates to British sizes 2 to 20.
THE PATTERN BACK
TOOLS AND SUPPLIES
I think Colette Patterns are quite smart by separating the Tools and Supplies sections instead of using regional terms, such as haberdashery (British) or notions (North American). I live in Glasgow, Scotland but I was born and raised in a small town in Canada, where I also had my education in Fashion Design. I had never heard the word "haberdashery" until I moved to Scotland and visited Mandors Fabric Shop for the first time.
On Colette's patterns, the word tools refers to the items that you will need in order to complete the garment. Here's an explanation of each tool and a recommendation of where our purchase my favourites:
- Fabric shears or scissors: It's important to have a good quality, sharp set of shears used only for fabric. Fiskars is a great brand that is used by many home sewers and are quite affordable. Another company that I love is Merchant & Mills. They have a great range of scissors to meet all your cutting needs! They are more expensive although generally better quality. I also recommend buying an extra, cheap pair of scissors that can be used for cutting paper and other crafty things so that you don't dull your fabric scissors.
- Pins: I recommend good quality glass head pins. There are many varieties of pins: pearl head, flower head, pinhead, to name a few. However my favourite are multicoloured glass head pins, as they won't melt under the heat of the iron and they are easily noticeable once pinned to fabric. You want nice sharp pins that pierce your fabric easily. If they become blunt or you notice a couple blunt ones in a new pack, just toss them in the bin. Blunt pins can cause holes in your fabric and cause unnecessary frustration.
- Iron: A good quality steam iron is essential to sewing.
- Hand sewing needle: It's important to choose the right size needles for the fabric you are working with, the thread you are sewing with and for the techniques you are using. If you are sewing on lightweight, sheer fabric, than a fine needle is necessary. I generally use what are called 'betweens' and most often a size 9. As a rule, your needle should never create a hole in your fabric. If it does than the needle is too big. The thread should easily pass through the eye of the needle.
- Marking pen, pencil or chalk: My favourite marking tool is a chalk pen, although I do often use water soluble or air erasing pens when working on standard cottons. In regards to marking pencils, my favourite are the Clover Fabric Marking Pencils (see image). You need these tools for transferring important markings (such as pocket or button and buttonhole placement) from the pattern to fabric.
- Invisible / concealed zipper foot (Versions 2 & 3): When inserting any kind of zipper into a garment you should use the appropriate sewing machine foot. If you are inserting an invisible zipper into a garment you need an invisible zipper foot. This helps to uncoil the zipper teeth and allows for a seamless (pun intended) insertion. I also recommend an adjustable regular zipper foot to complete the seam after inserting the zipper. You can use a standard zipper foot but I find the adjustable one provides a neater finish. More about this when we cover inserting the zipper.
Additional helpful tools:
- Sewing gauge and point turner (image on right) - For measuring seam and hem allowance; also helpful for marking buttonhole placement. The point turner is helpful in getting a neat corner on the waistband.
- Buttonhole & Button Foot - often comes with your sewing machine but can also be purchased separately.
- Sewing machine needle - Needles for your sewing machine come in many different types and sizes. You need to choose the right needle for the make and model of sewing machine you have. Also, be sure to choose the right size and type of needle for the thread and fabric you are using. Here's a handy table to assist you in selecting the right size needle for your fabric:
- Embroidery scissors or clips - I advise using smaller scissors or clips for clipping your threads as you're sewing. Fabric scissors or shears can be quite cumbersome for this task.
- Seam ripper - Unfortunately this is a necessary tool. We learn from our mistakes, right?
- Main and lining fabric (see Choosing Fabric section below)
- Lightweight fusible interfacing: Interfacing comes in many weights, colours and types. You need to marry the weight of your interfacing to the weight of your fabric. So, because we are using lightweight fabrics for this garment, we should also use lightweight interfacing. For more information about interfacing have a read of the handout we give to our beginner students on this subject.
- All-purpose polyester thread: Polyester thread is very strong and its the most common thread for garment sewing. It is sometimes referred to as sew-all thread. One important tip, when choosing thread, is that if you can't get an exact colour match then you should always go a shade darker rather than a shade lighter. The darker thread will blend more harmoniously. Read our handout about choosing thread for more information.
- 9 inch/22cm invisible zipper (versions 2 & 3)
- Ten 1/2 inch/1.2cm buttons (version 1)
- One 3/4 inch / 1.9cm button (versions 2 & 3)
STEP 2 - CHOOSING FABRIC
If you are new to sewing I would definitely suggest sticking to the recommended fabrics as outlined on the back of the pattern envelope. Once you have more experience of how different fabrics respond to specific types of sewing construction, you'll be better placed to start to experiment. For the time being, it's best to eliminate anything that may cause you frustrations, and difficult-to-work-with-fabrics will most likely add stress! If you are a beginner, then Version 1 or 2 of the pattern options will be your best option, as Version 3 involves working with sheer fabrics, lace or eyelet, which can be quite tricky.
If you caught the first episode of The Great British Sewing Bee last Tuesday you will have seen that, for the first challenge, the sewers were asked to work with the three most common fabrics: Cotton, Wool and Silk. These are known as all-natural fibres and are really lovely to work with, although it helps to have some tricks up your sleeve when it comes to working with silk.
Here's a wee overview on each of these three fabrics types:
Cotton is made from the boll of the cotton plant; the protective capsule that surrounds the seed of the plant. It can be spun into yarn or thread and then finally knitted (using hand or machine) into a stretch/knit fabric or woven into a woven fabric using a weaving loom. Cotton is the most widely used natural fibre cloth in clothing today.
Wool is the textile fibre that comes most commonly from sheep but is also obtained from goats (mohair and cashmere) and rabbits (angora). Tweed is a very common fabric made from wool. If you'd like to learn more about the process of the making of Harris Tweed, read our blog post Unravelling Harris.
Silk is a natural protein fibre spun by a worm. The most common type of silk is obtained from the cocoon of the larvae of the mulberry silk worm. Silk was first developed in ancient China. It comes in many weights and textures. Sheer (chiffon) or slippery silk (satin) can be difficult to work with, while more structured silks like Dupioni or Thai Silk (see image to the right) are generally easier to sew.
Fabrics come in many different weights and the Zinnia pattern suggests using lightweight fabrics. One of the deciding factors when it comes to choosing your fabric weight is how you want your garment to drape. Lightweight fabrics, such as sheer fabrics, are usually quite floaty and have a lightness about them; medium to heavy weight fabrics tend to give a garment more structure.
If you've ever been to a fabric shop, you will know that the variety of fabric types can be overwhelming. Helpfully, most patterns provide fabric suggestions that best suit the garment. This information is often found on the back of the pattern envelope. For each of the Zinnia Skirt suggested fabrics we've given an explanation of the fibre, texture, and weave (where applicable):
Main Fabric - Versions 1 & 2
- Silk or rayon crepe - Rayon is a semi-synthetic fibre. It is made primarily from wood pulp. Crepe refers to a fabric with a gauzy or crispy texture and can either be lightweight and fluid (as in crepe de chine - Chinese Crepe) or heavier and more structured (as in oriental crepe). The silk or rayon is the fibre (silk being natural and rayon being semi-natural) and crepe refers more to the texture and weave of the silk or rayon.
- Shirtings - Are most often cotton, although they are sometimes a cotton/polyester mix or 100% polyester. Read this Dress Shirt Fabric Overview for more information.
- Lawn - a fine, plain weave fabric, traditionally made from cotton or linen.
- Silk twill - Twill is a type of textile weave that has a ribbed texture creating a diagonal pattern.
- Wool gaberdine - Gaberdine is a tightly woven fabric traditionally made from worsted wool. It has a prominent diagonal rib on the right side of the fabric and a smooth surface on the wrong side of the fabric.
- Wool crepe - see wool and crepe
Main Fabric - Version 3
Sheer fabrics - are made using particularly thin thread, which result in a semi-transparant and flimsy cloth. Sheer fabrics are notoriously difficult fabrics to cut. I recommend placing tissue paper underneath you fabric before pinning your pattern (basically sandwiching the fabric between the tissue and pattern paper) as it will stop the fabric from slipping while you cut. It can also be helpful to use a rotary cutter as you can leave the fabric lying on the surface as you cut it, reducing the movement of the fabric.
- Eyelet - is type of lace characterised by the creation of embroidered holes (or eyelets) in the fabric. Is is most often white in colour.
- Lace - is an openwork fabric and can be made by machine or hand. There are many different types of lace, which are made using different processes. For more about hand-made lace watch this short video by the Lace Guild of Great Britain.
Linings - Version 3
- Cotton lawn - see cotton and lawn
- Cotton batiste - is a lightweight, balanced plain wave, fine cloth. It is often used in handkerchiefs.
- Silk or rayon crepe - see silk, rayon, and crepe
- Silk/cotton blends - see image to the right
- Speciality lining fabrics: CUPRO is a cotton cellulose fabric that I have used on occasion as it is much nicer than the acetate options. Silk habotai is also a lovely option as it is lightweight and smooth in texture.
Next on The Stitchery Sewalong:
- Fabric required - metres and yards
- Pre-washing fabric.
- Taking personal measurements for Dressmaking.
- Choosing the garment size.
- Tracing your pattern
- The Finished Garment Measurements and other details found on the pattern back.