Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Steady Pace Wins The Race

When you sew, do you follow the cutting layout exactly and the instructions step-by-step? When I moved away from creating and teaching traditional quilt making, I moved toward creating and teaching pattern free textile art. There are no instructions. Each piece is made by combining what you know with what you're trying to achieve. I find the same is true with creative everyday wear. What I want to accomplish is not always possible following the instructions and so it's important to know how to put the puzzle together following more than one path. Because of the elements I want to add, I'm sewing this coat side-to-side as in the left and the right complete with sleeves before joining in the middle. Not "normal" and that's okay. It'll still look like a coat.

If you haven't sewn without instructions, I'd recommend trying it with simple projects especially if you'd like to move toward more creative, individualized pieces. As your hands move with increasingly confidence, you'll find that your mind begins to bubble with creative possibilities.

When I debated the pattern I'm using, I checked the yardage requirements - 2.6 meters - and thought, perfect, I bought three only to remember that I'd bought three yards and not three meters. Three yards equals 108" and 2.6 meters equals 104" only I'd hot washed and dried this fabric and it shrunk plus the ends are never entirely square. It took several tries to come up with a cutting arrangement that worked. Cutting layouts are a great place to start ignoring the instructions. Instead of giving up, I found a way to make it work with...

... barely any fabric left over. There's one larger scrap and a pile of small bits and pieces that can be used for something but not for anything substantial. This again illustrates why it was such a good idea to quilt the lining and not the fashion fabric. I wouldn't have had enough.

On Monday, I sewed the entire lining and on Tuesday, I created an accent piece that took a considerable amount of time with top stitching and trim only...

... when I attached it, I didn't like the way it looked. It seemed to thick and too eye demanding and drew the viewers attention away from the wonder of the striped fabric. SO... I picked it off and on Wednesday...

... replaced it with a narrow flange. MUCH better. That white spot is from hammering the bulk of the seam allowances flat. Apparently I over-smushed the fabric but I'm pretty sure it's simply the texture flattened and will come out with wetting. It's not as noticeable in real life.

Changing from the band to the flange changed everything I thought I was going to do with the garment which meant taking out and restructuring some seams and making new decisions for the sleeves and the front band. I call this responding to the developing piece. If you cling to what you thought would work even though your intuition is screaming a big NO, you won't end up with the piece that wants to develop. Although it "wasted" a significant amount of work and left me rethinking the entire piece, I'm much happier with this decision. Trusting our intuition is an important part of creativity.

To make the flange, I cut a too wide bias strip of the accent fabric, pressed it in half, and then trimmed it to the accurate size which is the seam allowance plus the width of the flange - or - in this case 3/4". Bias is hard to work with accurately. By cutting too wide, pressing, and then trimming to size, I achieve the most consistent width.

The flange is pinned to one side of the seam allowance and then stitched in place measuring from the folded edge. This makes the width of the flange consistent and hides any variables within the seam allowance.

I use a contrast color in the bobbin - in this case purple to match the flange - so that I can see the seam allowance on the opposite side. The two parts of the seam are pinned right sides together with the flange in the middle and stitched one needle's width further into the garment. Too slow of a speed and you'll wobble and too fast and you'll veer all over the place. A steady pace wins the race.

I love the way this looks. With textile art, I loved narrow borders and knew how to stitch them even and precise. The first time I sewed a flange there was no such luck until my friend Lorraine taught me to sew from the folded edge like this. It worked fabulous on The Marcy Dress I sewed last year. I can see it becoming a common element of my work.

Talk soon - Myrna

Grateful - techniques that work well


  1. I rarely read full instructions. I will check the instructions when the pattern has a design element I'm not familiar with and I do read Louise Cuttings instructions at least once. (I always feel like her patterns are an entire sewing course completed at home.) But like you, I've found my sewing much more satisfying if I respond to the work and change my initial plans. Very nice post and I'm sure the coat is going to be lovely. Can't wait to see it.

    1. I sometimes buy patterns just for that design element. To learn something new. I've never used one of Louise's patterns. Might need to check those out. Thanks.

  2. I will try to remember your bias flange technique. It makes perfect sense.

  3. I haven't followed cutting diagrams since my A level sewing lessons lol.I do refer to the sewing instructions but use my own favorite methods for zippers,plackets etc.

    1. Sounds like a great mix. I definitely have some preferred methods. One of the things The McCall Pattern Company is talking about is updating pattern instructions. It'd be interesting to see if they do how the instructions change.


Thanks for commenting. I appreciate the feedback and the creative conversation.