Elementary Sewing Mistakes, or Have Some Coffee Before Starting to Sew

Sometimes I like to sew first thing is the morning, because that is when I am most optimistic.  Too bad this does not necessarily mean I am also clear-headed!  I cut out the fabric for “Tender is the Nightie” from  Sew Everything Workshop the day before, and was excited to start a new project.  Also, I am on board with Diana Rupp in terms of wearing nightgowns- every women ought to have at least two. Why be frumpy in flannel pajamas and old tee shirts all the time? Class it up a bit!

If you remember, I am making a pink and black satin nightgown with fabric that I got on sale.  I am glad that I got sale fabric, because right away this project turned into a disaster.  Knowing that everything needs to be wrinkle-free, I diligently started ironing.  Without letting the coffee have time to get into my system, and without checking the heat setting on my iron. Yikes.  Right away, my satin turned into a melted mess.  Opps! 

Always check your iron settings!

I know I am not the only one to let carelessness get in the way of good sewing- the hapless seamstress had a similar experience, only on a finished dress!

Still buoyed by my early-morning optimism, and happy that I could replace the ruined piece of fabric with some of the abundant leftovers I had, I continued sewing- without considering the thinness of my fabric, and without doing a tension test on it.  One of the first things you do in this project is a zig-zag along the upper edges of the bodice to prevent fraying.  Too bad all I got was a lot of puckering!

See how much less the tissue paper side puckers?


I must have had a bunch of anti-stress endorphins running through me at this point, because I  calmly remembered that you can sew over tissue paper along with your fabric to reduce puckering, then remove the tissue paper when you are done.  I turned this into an experiment with tension and tissue paper.

The fabric with the tissue paper really did pucker a lot less.  I had to be careful removing the tissue paper though!  I guess these mistakes/lessons were also caused by using cheap fabric.

I’m done with the nightgown now- more about it next time!



Simplicity 2418 Shirt (Its So Easy): View B

Simplicity 2418 Shirt: view B
Simplicity 2418 Shirt: view B
Ok, so far sewing has been a challenge. But I am still excited to learn how to make my own handmade clothes. I know that I will have to learn a lot in order to make anything successfully, and I continuously struggle to understand pattern instructions (which seem to be written in code). My latest project, (Its so Easy) Simplicity 2418 has been my most difficult project so far. I used a smooth polyester fabric that is supposed to resemble silk.

I made the slit front version (View B), not the cowl neck version.  I don’t do cowl necks, although Katiekadiddlehopper made a gorgeous version that suits her perfectly. Two specific parts of this pattern were difficult for me to make: the front of the shirt (the v-shaped part: step 7) and the yoke (step 12).

Step 7 (the front of the shirt) includes lots of stitches that must meet at the correct point for the shirt front to lie smooth and flat.

The yoke was a particular challenge because I had no idea what a yoke was. When I hear yoke, I think ‘oxen’. The pattern instructions for how to attach the yoke are on Step 12. Unfortunately the illustration for step 12 was created by a blind drunkard. Here I have reproduced it:

Simplicity 2418 Top Pattern
Artist's Rendition of Step 12

Thankfully, the pattern instructions explain what is going on in step 12. These instructions were very helpful. Here they are:

12.  Aliquam lorem ante, dapibus in, viverra quis, feugiat a, tellus. Phasellus viverra nulla ut metus varius laoreet. Quisque rutrum. Aenean imperdiet. Etiam ultricies nisi vel augue.Curabitur ullamcorper ultricies nisi. Nam eget dui. Etiam rhoncus. Maecenas tempus, tellus eget condimentum rhoncus, sem quam semper libero, sit amet adipiscing sem neque sed ipsum

Is that clear?

It was at this point that I realized that the pattern authors must have decided to start condensing the pattern instructions to an unreasonable degree so they did not have to include a third piece of paper in the pattern instructions.  Another piece of paper would have cut into the profits.

It took 3 full muslins for me to figure out this pattern, and it still looked terrible.  Here are my tips for help on Simplicity 2418 if you are a novice:

1. Make a muslin.  Use large baste stitches so you can try again if/when you mess up. Don’t backstitch so it is easier to pick out the stitches. You don’t need to make a full length version of the shirt, just work on the neck, yoke and top of the back.

2. For STEP 7: Remember what our friends the Ghostbusters taught us: DON’T CROSS THE SEAMS.  You will sew 3 different stitches to meet at the center low point for the shirt slit.

Simplicity 2418 Yoke
Simplicity 2418 Yoke

Have the exact point in mind where you need to stop sewing so each one of the three stitching sequences do not cross each other. Otherwise the front of the shirt won’t lie flat.

3. For STEP 12, you will be enclosing the raw edge of the back of the shirt inside of the raw edge of the yoke. The aforementioned Step 12 illustration fails to make this clear. If you are a complete yoke novice like me, remember that the yoke is not spread open in the shirt.  It is folded wrong sides together, so you have the right side of the fabric both facing outward and also against your back (just in the yoke portion) in the final completed version of the shirt. I noticed that Miss P mentioned that the yoke instructions were confusing, so if an experienced seamstress feels that way then I don’t feel too bad about being a bit lost.

Here are some details on how to attach the yoke, in case anyone else needs help with step 12. There is probably a better way to do this, but at least this will get the shirt made.

  1. Simplicity 2418 Yoke Help
    Start by enclosing the back of the shirt in the Yoke, aligning the raw edges

    Start by opening up the two pieces of fabric that make up the yoke. Place it wrong side up. You should have already folded up and pressed 5/8 of an inch of the yoke’s raw edges. Place the back of the shirt so that the raw edge of the back of the shirt is aligned with the right side of the yoke flap. Pin and sew, as the directions state.

  2. The directions state to attach the font of the shirt to the shoulder of the yoke. I think you can finish attaching the back of the shirt to the yoke (my step 3) first, but in the end it doesn’t seem to matter as either way will work.
  3. Simplicity 2418 View B Yoke
    Simplicity 2418 View B Yoke

    The Yoke is now partially attached to the back of the shirt. Fold the yoke closed so that the wrong sides of the two pieces of the fabric are together. Align the pressed folded edge of the yoke so that it aligns with the back of the shirt, covering up the raw edge and creating a neat line. Pin and sew as in the directions.

  4. Simplicity 2418 Shirt Pattern View B
    Simplicity 2418 Shirt Pattern View B

    After you have completed Step 12 and attached the front of the shirt to the shoulder portion of the yoke, you will have a nice even neck hole, pleats at the front of the shoulders, and gathering at the center of the back. You are ready to complete the arm holes and sew up the sides of the shirt next.

Ultimately, the sleeves on this shirt don’t suit me, and the shirt looks a bit shapeless even though I made a size smaller. The sleeves stick out too far as the edges are stiff, when they should drape down my shoulders and my arms. This makes the shirt unwearable.

I thin I might have a bit more luck with this pattern after I have a bit more sewing experience.

Zip-o-riffic Pillow, or Zipper Hell

I went into this project so bright-eyed and hopeful; yes, other people complained about zippers, and some people build their project repertoires around projects without zippers. But, surely things would be different for me!  I would just follow directions and be careful, and surely everything would turn out all right! Zippers could not be that hard; other people must not be persistent or brave enough!

I was flushed with my successes so far- no, my work was not perfect, and my last pillow was a lot smaller than  the book said it should be.  But, I do not expect perfection, at least not right away, and was thrilled with my work so far. I was  looking forward to learning a new, useful skill (zipper installation) that would open up a wider variety of projects, likes skirts, dresses, and pants.

I bravely changed the presser foot- I think this was the first time I had done this, and it was a lot easier than I had expected- and got started. True, I was unable to find a diagram about how exactly the zipper is positioned in relation to the zipper foot, but I just tried to figure it out.  It was immediately apparent that my machine does not like sewing anything remotely thick, such as fabric next to a zipper.  OK, I reasoned, nothing is perfect, just coax the machine into doing what is was designed to do. But, I ended up breaking two needles!

Zippered throw pillow
Zip-o-riffic pillow with the Zipper from Hell

As far as I can tell, I followed the zipper directions. I managed to baste the zipper on and get one side of the zipper fully sewn on before slinking away in horror.

After this project, I looked askance at my sewing machine for a week, and was wary of starting a too-hard project, or any project at all. I’m going to come back to learning how to sew zippers after doing the rest of the two-spool projects. I don’t know what I am doing wrong- I might have to put out a craigslist ad asking for help, or find a class on zippers.  For my next project, I am going to make a sewing machine cozy from  Sew Everything Workshop. I am fully committed to learning zippers- they make so many more types of projects possible- but am taking a break from them right now.

Grade: Incomplete

Sewing Project: Simplicty Its So Easy 2040 Misses and Mens Pajama Pants and Blanket

Simplicity Its So Easy 2040 Misses and Mens Pajama Pants and Blanket
Simplicity 2040 Pajama Pants for the Big-Boned

As I’ve mentioned before, I decided that I wanted wanted to learn how to sew in part because of the horrible pajama pants that stores are trying to pass off as worth $20.   I bought the pattern for Simplicty Its So Simple 2040 Mens and Misses Pajama Pants and Blanket while envisioning gorgeous and well made pajama pants that fit me perfectly. I bought some nice cotton poplin from Little Lisette at 50% off to get myself motivated.  I guess the fabric is for kids, but its perfect for cute girly pajama pants. I was excited to use apparel fabric instead of quilting cotton because the texture felt so much more smooth and comfortable.  Perfect fabric for a pair of perfect pajama pants! Feeling optimistic and confident, I began to sew.

Alas, due to my lack of sewing experience it was not to be. What a fool I was to think that I could make these pants. Problems:

  1. The pattern runs big.  Really big.  Huge, in fact.  I made a size small, which should fit me decently.  Unfortunately, it seems that as this is a unisex design that the size options on the pattern don’t compensate for the need for a good fit.  I am all for loose, comfy pajamas.  Instead I made a pair of hammer pants.
  2. The waistband instructions do not make sense. They are vague and confusing. Ok, maybe to a non-beginner they might seem clear and precise. To me, a novice with no instinct, they are gibberish. The pattern instructions basically say:  make the waistband.  To which I say: how?????
  3. Urkelism: The waist is ridiculously high. Again, this seems like a symptom of the one-size fits all pattern.  The waist height is the same for all sizes, which means that its intended to fit both an extra small woman and an extra large man.  You don’t have to be a sewing genius to realize this is going to be a problem.
Simplicity Its So Easy 2040 Pajama Pants and Blanket
Will I ever make a pair of pajama pants that I like??

Ok, so I failed at this project.   I am trying to look on the bright side.  Positive points and things that I learned:

  1. I used the button hole function.  I’ve never made a button hole before, so this was a major accomplishment.  Yes, I did have to painstakingly use my seam ripper to tear out the threads from a failed buttonhole.  Twice. Its all in the name of learning.  Thank God my new sewing machine has a one step button hole feature!
  2. I was able to successfully sew the legs and crotch.  All the fabric lined up to an acceptable degree (i.e., not perfect but it’ll do). The bizarre “insert one pant leg into the other with right sides facing” to sew the crotch totally worked!  Weird sewing magic!  Up until this point I was still brimming with hope.  Then when it came time to sew the waistband I realized I was in over my head and couldn’t recover.
  3. I trimmed an inch off of the waist length when I realized how high it was.   This meant that I had to make extra button holes for the drawstring to come out of.  Hmmm, I choose to view this as an opportunity for practice.
  4. Even though the waistband is messed up and they run big, I think they will make a good present for my mom.  Not a major present like for Christmas or her birthday, ok?  I am not going to ruin a holiday with my crappy pajama pants.  Just an everyday appreciation present that she might get some use out of. She can always “accidentally” spill bleach on them and throw them away after an appropriate amount of time.

Verdict:  So they are not perfect.  There is still a lot of potential.  I am going to try again, but next time I will use the extra small size, adjust the waist height, and see if I can decipher the waistband instructions.

At least they look like a pair of pants.  That’s something.

Failed Project #1: Pajama Pants Without a Pattern

We are truly novice sewers. We don’t know anyone who sews, and have no source of guidance or advice. Thank God for the internet, and all the great sewing blogs that serve as inspiration!

My initial interest in sewing was actually about two years ago, when I found that my favorite source of pajama pants, Old Navy, had decided to put a bunch of uncomfortable and impractical snaps and ribbon on the side of every pair of pajama pants. Gone were the straight-legged, regular length, comfortable and affordable pajama pants! Replacing them was horribly over-complicated and over-designed cargo roll-up-leg pajama pants, which came at a substantially higher price. I knew that the stupid snaps and cargo design were intended to seem to justify the price increase, when in reality it was no added value at all. And thus began my Old Navy boycott.

old navy pajama Pants
The Most Uncomfortable Pajama Pants in the World

I visited my local sewing store on a whim. I ended up buying an old Singer Merritt 4530 sewing machine. Visions of beautiful silky pajama pants began to materialize in my imagination.

Sadly, it was never to be. I found instructions on the internet to make pajama pants without a pattern, using deconstructed old pajama pants as a guide. I hadn’t worked on the waist yet, but the pants I made looked OK. Sure, the legs were a little uneven and don’t get me started about the weird crotch (!), but I was proud. I went to put them on, and discovered that these pajama pants would never fit an adult woman.

This disappointment didn’t completely stop my sewing enthusiasm. I tried and failed yet again. This defeat, combined with losing the tension adjustment knob on my machine (plus the unspeakable trauma of countless unsuccessful attempts to raise the bobbin thread), served to stop my desire to sew in its tracks.

Why didn’t I get my machine fixed? Why didn’t I just buy a sewing pattern like a normal person? I don’t know.

Luckily, a visit from my sister (aka Right), during which we again lamented the horrible quality of clothing and also inspected my sewing machine inspired the hope that we can learn how to sew together.

This blog is our way of helping each other through the ups and downs of learning how to sew. And if we are successful, we hope that this blog might help someone else learn how to sew too.