J. Stern’s Tee to Dress Tutorial

j. sterns tee to dress

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Stern

Check out Jennifer Stern’s How to make a Tee into a Knit Dress! tutorial. To view the entire tutorial click here for Jennifer’s website.

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Mac Berg Directs the Drama of Serging

You have a serger and aren’t sure what to do next. Do you remain afraid to plug it in or do you fearlessly embrace all it can do?

What we recommend for any serger owner (fearful or fearless) is a day or two with Mac Berg, sewing instructor and serger guru who has years of experience with these mechanical beasts. And that’s just what we did. On July 14, a group of ASG Chicago members crowed (literally) in a meeting room at the Holiday Inn Express in Riverwoods. (Writer’s note: Yep, the room was too cozy, but the facility was great. We definitely would recommend it as well as Tasty Catering for lunch!)

Mac Berg, in white t-shirt sitting at serger, spends time with ASG Chicago members.

Mac, who can be contacted for classes at macbergsews@gmail.com, explained that a serger is like a drama set in an apartment building where the tenants don’t speak the same language; however, when they find ways to actually communicate then something wonderful happens. It can be dramatic, but there are ways to avoid or benefit from that drama. The key to using any serger, as Mac explained, is understanding the basics and building from there. For example, in her apartment complex drama:

  • Lucy, the left most needle, has a controlling personality. She controls the seam.
  • Rosie, the right needle, is very calm, and she adds stability to the building and to the stitch.
  • Bambi, the upper looper, wants to be the center of attention and she dates Rual.
  • Rual, the lover…opps…lower looper, workouts a lot and is very strong, though he instantly reacts to stress and tension.

Once you know that neighbors, it’s a matter of helping them get along in a balanced stitch kind of way. A couple other players every serger owner should know are Knife and Tension, the maintenance team of the complex.

  • Tension can be tense. You can follow what the manual states, or you can use the additional tension tools that just about everyone owns, which are the thumb and index finger. Tension disks, Mac explains, are just squeezing the thread so if you want to alter a stitch, try squeezing the thread with just your fingers. Try it. Go ahead. Then when we adjust our tension dials, we can create decorative stitches. For example, if Bambie has had too many tasty beverages at a party, she is a bit loose and she visits the lower side of the fabric where Rual lives. This makes Rual then tightens up and he runs away from her into the arms of Rosie or Lucy. Oh, the drama!
  • Knife can be a little more complicated. Everyone feels differently about disengaging the knife when serging or changing the set-up. Mac suggests trying avoid disengaging the knife because if you forget to re-engage the knife the damage to the machine can be costly. Rather than disengaging the knife, owners can practice and gain confidence to serge against the knife; just because it’s engaged doesn’t mean it has to cut the fabric. If you do disengage your knife, Mac strongly recommends putting notes, signs, or any reminder to re-engage it. Also, remember that the knife is nothing more than a pair of scissors attached to the machine and you control where it cuts.

Using the serger, like any machine, is about building confidence and that is best done by using it and taking notes. Take a piece of paper and note what is indicated in the  manual and then as you play with it:

  • Name of stitch
  • Left Needle tension
  • Right Needle tension
  • Upper Looper tension
  • Lower Looper tension
  • Stitch Length
  • Cutting width
  • Differential Feed setting
  • How the stitch should be used
  • Attached (stable or tape) a sample of that stitch to the paper

Having this sample library will help when you want to remember what a change in the tension did to a stitch or how it gathered the fabric. Consider saving these papers in a binder with your manual for easy access.

As the day went on, Mac gave more nuggets of information to the class, such as:

  • 3-thread wide is good to finish raw edges and to attach elastic. It’s the stretchiest stitch and most decorative.
  • The closer the knife is to the needle, the more fabric it cuts; you can move it away from the needle, but try to avoid disengaging it.
  • 4-thread is the perfect construction seam for knits.
  • 5-thread seams are better for woven construction.
  • Never put serger thread in your sewing machine, but sewing machine thread can be used in the serger.
  • You can but more than one thread through a looper; think of it as a creative license to be decorative.
  • The thicker the thread, the more the tension will need to be adjusted.
  • Fingers are external tension devices.

Eventually, the apartment complex quieted down as Lucy, Rosie, Bambi, and Rual said goodnight to the ASG Chicago members who attended the class. Keep any eye on the ASG Chicago website for future classes with Mac or contact her directly (macbergsews@gmail.com).

Interview with Sarah Veblen, Part Two

You may remember that we began an interview with sewing educator, author and custom clothier Sarah Veblen in September. We’re looking forward to a Fit Workshop with Sarah at the end of April 2012. Details and a registration form will be published in next month’s issue of Cutting Edge, our Chapter newsletter. If you’d like to get to know Sarah a little better before meeting her in person, you can read the second part of her interview here. Enjoy!

Introducing Sewing Educator Sarah Veblen

We all know that creating beautiful clothes that fit and flatter is an art. It requires talent, skill, a practiced eye and time. Teaching this art requires the ability to break down processes that have become second nature and communicate them in a way the uninitiated can understand, plus a considerable amount of patience and diplomacy. Rarely do we encounter anyone who excels at both. Sarah Veblen is among this rare breed.

If her name sounds vaguely familiar, you may have read one of Sarah’s articles in Threads Magazine. My introduction to Sarah was through her online classes on PatternReview.com. These cover topics such as sleeves, linings, underlining, buttons and buttonholes, knits, wools and sheers. Her class titles use the words “All About” and those classes deliver on that promise. Her written materials are thorough and clear. Her follow-up on the message boards is equally clear and comprehensive. As if that weren’t enough, I am amazed by the fact that she is able to look at pictures students post on the class message board, identify the fit issues and write out suggested alterations to address them. As this is posted, Sarah is putting the finishing touches on her book, The Complete Photo Guide to Pattern Fitting, which is scheduled for publication in January 2012.

Sarah offers an array of classes, workshops and private lessons at her home studio in the Baltimore area, as well as workshops and weekend retreats around the country. We are working on bringing Sarah to the Chicago area soon, and so we thought it would be nice if you got to know a little bit about her in advance. So, here is an introduction to Sarah Veblen, in her own words:

Tell us when and how you got bitten by the sewing bug.

My mother sewed, and when I was in elementary school, I’d play with her scraps and make doll clothes if she had everything out. In ninth grade, I started sewing some clothes for myself, more experimentation than following a pattern. But in high school, I started to sew using patterns. Because of a move that my family made from one state to another, I never had home economics. When I asked my mother about my learning to sew, she said she never really taught me, but that I just started to sew. In her words, “You were sewing circles around me by the time you were finishing high school.” Sewing just made sense to me. I’ve always loved working puzzles, and to a large degree, sewing is nothing but a big puzzle.

After college, I was working in the Boston area as an executive secretary and office administrator, and I needed a better wardrobe than what I had worn in college. Because I was interested in sewing, I started to make more and more of my own clothes. One of my new friends in the area also sewed, and she and I would pour over pattern books and shop for fabric together. Having a friend who liked to sew helped to keep me interested as well. It was then that sewing became a passion. Lots of my spare time was consumed with sewing clothes for myself and friends. I just loved the process and couldn’t stop!

How did you learn sewing, patternmaking and design? How did you get your start designing and sewing custom clothing?

It’s hard to answer these two questions separately, so I’ll talk about them together.

Fast forward about ten years, and after several moves and getting married and having my first daughter, I was living here in the Baltimore area. My friends were really impressed with the clothes I was making for my daughter and encouraged me to sell them. I found a local shop that sold handcrafted items, and they were interested in carrying my children’s clothes. However, I knew that I couldn’t use commercial patterns for this purpose, so I developed a few patterns on my own – some of these were based on commercial patterns, but there were such substantial changes to them, I felt that they were legitimately my own. I sold my children’s clothes through two local craft stores and several small boutiques in New York City for quite a few years, doing all my own production.

It was during this time that I had a few inquiries about making custom adult clothing. When I look back now, I can’t believe that I said yes, knowing as little as I did about fitting. But many dressmakers start off by offering the service of just making up a pattern. I realized that I was on a trajectory that I had never before seriously considered – of becoming a custom designer – and that in order for my work to be really good, I needed to learn patternmaking. With my marriage failing and three daughters, I knew I needed to support myself and couldn’t face going back into secretarial work. So I signed up for a patternmaking class at a local community college.

It was the best thing ever! I learned the theory behind what I had been doing by the seat of my pants. I hardly slept the whole semester because I was so excited about what I was learning. I asked my local independent fabric store, A Fabric Place, if they would give my name to people who inquired about local dressmakers, and I started sewing custom clothing in earnest while continuing with classes in patternmaking, draping, and tailoring.

Although the community college’s fashion program barely touched on fitting, I realized through working with clients that fit was of utmost importance – and in fact, that’s why most clients were coming to a dressmaker. I read what I could find on fitting, but the theoretical examples never seemed to really match what happened in real life. One of my new clients had a challenging body to fit: she was barely five feet tall and quite amply endowed. As I fit a muslin of a jacket on her, I remember not knowing if making a change in a certain way was better than doing it another way. So I asked her if I could do some experimenting, and if so, I wouldn’t charge her for the pattern development. I then copied the pattern and altered each set differently, and in the next fitting, I could quickly tell what worked better. I often did this in the beginning of my dressmaking career – had two muslins going for the same client – so that I could better learn how I liked to fit and what gave me the results that I wanted.

As my fitting improved, I realized how closely linked fitting, patternmaking, and design were. For example, there are often times that by introducing a new style line (i.e., adding a seam), I can both improve the fit and make the garment look more flattering. It was really through fitting that I became more interested in design. And as I developed my own sense of design, I became even more interested in fitting. The two definitely fueled each other. And it was my ability to fit and design that made my reputation as a custom clothier.

Thank you for giving us these insights into your journey, Sarah. We look forward to continuing this interview in later posts.

Celebrate National Sewing Month!

National Sewing Month logoSeptember is here! On the one hand it means a melancholy feeling because summer is coming to an end and we’re heading to cooler temps. But on the other hand, September is a CELEBRATION OF SEWING! September is celebrated as National Sewing Month and is co-sponsored by the Sewing & Craft Alliance and the American Sewing Guild.

A Brief History of National Sewing Month

President Ronald Reagan signatureIn September 1982, President Ronald Reagan signed Proclamation #4976, declaring that September as National Sewing Month. The proclamation recognized the tens of millions of Americans home sewists and  “the skill and the self-reliance which are so characteristic of this Nation.” This was followed with successive annual proclamations by President Reagan during his terms. But in 2005, the request for a proclamation was not accommodated. However, even without a Presidential proclamation, September continued to be supported and promoted as National Sewing Month by various organizations.

In  2008, the American Sewing Guild joined forces with the Sewing & Craft Alliance to continue the promotion of National Sewing Month and provide a central location for the distribution of National Sewing Month information and materials to organizations, educators, sewing enthusiasts and anyone else interested in promoting and/or participating in activities for National Sewing Month.

Celebrate With Sewing: Sew For The Love Of It Contest

 Sew For the Love of It logoNational Sewing Month is celebrated with a contest to showcase and encourage sewing creativity and imagination. This year’s theme is “Sew For the LOVE of it!” 

The contest runs through September 30, 2011. Official rules and entry can be found on the National Sewing Month website. Here’s what you should be thinking:

“Show us what YOU love to sew! You choose the project, whether it’s an article of clothing, a toy, something for your home, an accessory, a quilt, or even an item for your car or boat. Whatever you decide to create, show your love with a within the project. It can be heart fabric, a pillow shaped like a heart, heart embroidery, heart-shaped pockets – it’s completely up to you. The item you enter must be hand-crafted and utilize fabric, thread and sewing machine and there MUST be a visible heart somewhere on the project itself. Whatever you choose to sew, just make sure we see the expression of your love of sewing!”

Think about using National Sewing Month in your neighborhood group challenge this month. If you have pictures, be sure to post them to the Members’ Projects album or email me to post them.

Follow National Sewing Month on Twitter

Twitter logo

The National Sewing Month is on Twitter, @sewingmonth. Watch their tweets for daily giveaways and tutorials posted to the National Sewing Month website.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, @sewchicago. Watch for our special National Sewing Month tweets with the hashtag “#NatSewMo”. We and other sewists around the Twitter-sphere are using the hashtag to share our enthusiasm for sewing!

Lights! Camera! Conference! ASG visits L.A. for 2011

The American Sewing Guild (ASG) held its 2011 annual conference in Los Angeles, CA, from Aug. 18-22. Among the several hundred attendees were a group from the ASG Chicago Chapter. We send a big thanks to National and the L.A. chapter for making this a fantastic conference.

For anyone who has never attended conference, imagine a few hundred ASG members in one location with classrooms, an exhibit/vendor hall, and access to fabric shopping. It’s wonderful! Even if you attended alone, there are no strangers at conference because we all have a common interest: sewing. Mary Ann R., one of the Chicago members, explained, “The conference is a way of bonding with your peers and this happened to me the moment I entered the shuttle at the airport with other ASG members. Everywhere you went, there was another ASG member with a big smile and ‘Hi!'” This statement is so true. In fact, I had a mini-reunion with some of the ASG members I meet on the April 2010 Sew Many Options tour to New York with Marsha McClintock and Marla Kazell

Conference mostly focuses on workshops and classes and this year there was a wide variety from which to choose and those were primarily offered in two- to three-hour slots. “The classes brought out your creativity and made you think outside the box.  With each one, you walked away having learned something new,” said Mary Ann R.

Here are some highlights from some of the Chicago members who attended.

My Purses by Design handbag. Love it!

Purse Basics with Pamela L. Day and Roseanne Lauters of Purses by Design held a special half-day class on Aug. 18 that I attended and walked out with a fantastic handbag. Pamela and Roseanne prepped the class by having all the fabric pre-cut and interfaced. All we had to do was insert the magnetic snap and sew. It was a blast. They use a special interfacing for the lining that helps keep the bag stable but flexible. This was one of four classes the PbyD ladies offered.

Marie Yolande teaching "On the Edge." Wendy G. said Marie turned a hotel meeting room into a couture atelier.

On the Edge with Marie Yolande taught ASG members Wendy G. and Elizabeth H. the beauty of edge finishes and how they can “separate the amateurs from the professionals.” Marie, who has an extensive background in french needlework, showed the class how to use custom piping, shirred and ruched trims, and many other edge techniques. Wendy G. said it was just like being in an couture atelier.

Liz H. showing off her sample of fringed wool in the the "On the Edge" class

Sharleen from ASG Chicago attended Vest-S-Cape with Marsha McClintock of Saf-T-Pockets and walked out with a finished cape/wrap. [We’re waiting for a stunning photo of Sharleen in her cape; check back later to see it!]

It’s almost impossible to list all of the workshops we attended. If you’d like to see who taught, the 2011 conference brochure is still posted on the ASG national website.  Some of the others that quickly come to mind are: Christine Haynes‘ Creating Runway Looks at Home, Katrina Walker‘s Sensational Seams, Diane Ricks‘ Washaway Stabilizers, Anne St. Clair‘s Bra Fit. To read more about the workshops, visit Connie’s post As seen at the ASG National Conference or Celeste’s site “Sew Much Fun” for ASG Conference Reviewed.

Rami Kim's cathedral window coat.

One last class I’d like to mention is Hand Smocking with Rami Kim. She had the class work on two samples and something that seemed so difficult actually was incredibly easy. North American Hand Smocking is a lot of connecting the dots to create the design of your choice. These puckers and pulls of fabric create stunning designs for blouses, jackets, purses, or any item. Rami taught a few other classes on fabric folding, or Chopkey, as she refers to it in her native Korean language. She also displayed a beautiful gold coat done in Cathedral Window pattern.

For English Smocking, visit Vaune, one of the vendors at the conference. She had a beautiful selection of fabric and sold pleaters.

A conference wouldn’t be complete without shopping and tours.  The conference had a exhibit hall for shopping and we made that most of that! But the best is L.A.’s downtown fabric district. It’s maze that could take you weeks to go through. Thankfully a group of the ASG L.A. chapter members put together a handy guide to point out a few spots to visit if you were running short on time. It’s a crazy mix of elegant and inexpensive textiles and trims. From home dec to silk to basic cottons, there was no shortage. If you are visiting on your own, some places you might want to hit in that 8th and 9th street area are: L.A. Fred’s for home dec; Eco Fabric for home dec and Tex Carmel for silks and linens; Trim 2000 for (you guessed it) trims; Michael Levine and Michael Levine’s Annex from just about everything; and off the beaten path were B. Black and Sons for a “step back in time to what a fabric store would be like in the 1920s and 1930s.”

Connie (L) and Wendy (R) with Judy Fitzgerald of Sawyer Brook Fabrics at breakfast. Wendy was thrilled she meet the lady who cuts her fabric and processes her internet orders.

A few of us stayed through Monday to take advantage of some of the fabric shopping tours to Santa Barbara Lace and Textile and another to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) and more fabric shopping. The FIDM group was definitely the most packed with three busloads of ASG members. Sharleen and I made it to the bus that started the tour at Mood in L.A. And even thought I don’t have a photo of this to prove it, I do have witness . . . we meet Burt from Project Runway at Mood! He was so nice and posed for pictures with anyone who asked. You guessed it, I didn’t ask to have my photo taken, but I did wish him luck.

I could go on and on about the L.A. trip. It was a blast. The 2012 annual conference will be in Houston, TX from Aug. 16-20 and 2013 will be in Arlington, VA. Hope we see you at both!

Hug Your Sewing Machine Today!

First sewing machine

One of the first sewing machines

June 13, is /was National Sewing Machine Day. It seemed to slip by us, dear readers. But, we’re in luck! There also seems to be another National Sewing Day in August. But, whatever the day, let’s just say we’ll celebrate our sewing machines from today until August! Go ahead, hug your Husqvarna. Snuggle your Singer. Bow to your Bernina. And exalt your Elna!

The First Sewing Machine Patent, Then A Riot

The first patent for a complete sewing machine was issued in 1790 to English inventor and cabinet maker, Thomas Saint. The patent was for an awl that punched a whole in leather and passed a needle through the whole. Although issued a patent, a later reproduction based on Saint’s patent drawings did not work.

First sewing machine from  Barthelemy ThimonnierIt wasn’t until 1830 that the first functional sewing machine was made. And it was met with a mob riot! Inventor and French tailor, Barthelemy Thimonnier was almost killed by an enraged group of French tailors who burnt down his garment factory because they feared unemployment as a result of his new invention. Wow, so much for wanting progress.

“Sewing machines did not go into mass production until the 1850’s, when Isaac Singer built the first commercially successful machine. Singer built the first sewing machine where the needle moved up and down rather than the side-to-side and the needle was powered by a foot treadle. Previous machines were all hand-cranked. However, Isaac Singer’s machine used the same lockstitch that (Elias) Howe had patented. Elias Howe sued Isaac Singer for patent infringement and won in 1854.” Source: Stitches — The Birth of the Sewing Machine

Read about the beginnings of Bernina on the Bernina blog.

Birth Of The Serger

“Overlock stitching was invented by the Merrow Machine Company in 1881.

J. Makens Merrow and his son Joseph Merrow, who owned a knitting mill established in Connecticut in 1838, developed a number of technological advancements to be used in the mill’s operations. Merrow’s first patent was a machine for crochet stitching. Merrow still produces crochet machines based on this original model.” Source: Wikipedia

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!

If you read our earlier blog post about today’s sewing machines having USB ports and hi-resolution screens, you’ll be just as amazed as we are to think about how far sewing machines have come. So, the saying of “a stitch in time, save nine” might need to be updated with more than saving nine stitches. 

Where can sewing machines go from here? Will they ever be able to get a precise 1/4″ seam without tweaking? Will sewing machines of the future be able to self-guide through curves? Or will they get simpler? Ask today’s designers to look into the future and they have pretty unique designs.

Future Sewing Machine Design

Sewing Machine Design by Brian Kang

Universal Truth of Sewing Machines

Regardless of what new features sewing machines will have or what they will look like or how far we’ve come, I’m pretty sure there will be one constant between the sewing machine and the sewist: Some days the machine just says “ptooey!” to your fabric. Happy Sewing Machine Day…Month…Happy Sewing!

For Better or Worse cartoon

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