Taming wiggly stripes

…Or not.

While waiting for my packages from India I started a couple of sewing projects from the same stripy fabric. It was not the most joyful sew however. You see, it all started with the iconic Jean-Paul Gaultier version of the Breton T.

I lust myself one but bought the wrong type of stripy knit. An earlier swatch I had would have been perfect. But because I’m not a great fan of B&W stripes much less navy I didn’t commit then. When I subsequently took the plunge I didn’t have that swatch with me. All I could remember was that it was a B&W stripe bamboo+lycra from B&J Fabrics NYC. The only one I found when I went back was this thinner bamboo even stripe. Taking a closer look at the inspiration pictures I discovered shock horror most Breton T called for uneven stripes – ie thinner black/navy & thicker white stripes. I lost all enthusiasm for this fabric, but decided to get it over with asap by sewing something up quickly. Oh no, I ain’t wasting this $19.95/yd fabric by trashing or swapping it.

To motivate myself I hunted the internet for inspirations that don’t look too complicated. Something that’s just interesting enough to keep me going but not so ambitious that I have to drag my feet to finish. You know what, inspiration número uno came from another blogger – Tia Dia’s vavavoom stripy dress version of Donna Karan Vogue Pattern 1282. Her version looks Vivienne Westwoodish. So I followed that clue to find my inspiration número dos, a VW original top. The asymmetry were the hooks. And I know V1282 should be an easy peasy sew & VW top looks just about achievable if I stick to feature on the front only. The original may very well have asymmetrical back as well. But that’s a bit more effort than I’m willing to spent on this fabric miscalculation.

While both designs were relatively straightforward to construct, like the current series of the Great British Sewing Bee, the projects were made hard, Really Hard, by PITA fabrics. This thin & drapy bamboo knit was really unstable. So you can imagine how stripe matching went. The asymmetry of both designs didn’t help. There’s only so much one can do if the two sides of a seam has different number of stripes. Here’s what I tried this time…

Stripe matching: Where the stripes are fairly even & running in the same direction on both sides of the seam I just pin almost every other stripe edge. Where the stripes are uneven in number and/or running in different direction I had to work from the right sides, fold one seam allowance back, align the seam line, and cajole as many stripes to match as possible, aiming for at least matching stripe edges if not colour. Then this alignment is basted with slip-stitches, again from the right side. Lastly turning to the wrong sides, I starch the hell out of the seam line area. Which leads me to…

Homemade starch: My last few knit projects I’ve used commercial spray starch. This time I ran out of the commercial stuff & as I was stuck at home waiting for delivery I had to give homemade starch another try. I tried the proportion of 3 teaspoon corn starch/flour to 1 cup water suggested by someone who sew a lot of jersey knits and this time it worked a treat! Not only did the stitch area becomes stiff & stable as thin cardboards, it tamed the curling edges, and bonus – it acted as temporary glue sticking the two sides of the seam together – great for matching wiggly stripes! One down side is that it took many MANY rinses to get the starch out. But definitely much saner than unpicking stitches multiple times! Will have to test some more. I had tried homemade starch before but abandon that for some reason. May have been clogged spray nozzle. Or maybe trying to use that on water-hating petro-checmical fiber like poly-lycra.

Even with my bag of tricks however, the stripe matching wasn’t perfect. So hats off to the contestants of the Great British Sewing Bee. Presumably they’re not allowed the tricks nor the time to properly tame such beasty fabrics. Hope those viewers who don’t sew appreciate how much skills go into making even their cheap fast fashion & not think that these home-sewers are just not very good.

More about my two stripy projects later. My orders from India have actually arrived by now & I must go shopping for shoes so I can hem the half-made skirts, and maybe make my own embellished blouse from scratch. Yuppie! More fabric shopping!

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Remind me never to buy furry mohair again!

Well, what was suppose to be fun pick-me-ups turned into a marathon slugfest. I must have finished all five of my funky-knit projects at least a couple of weeks ago. But every single one hit a snag. By the time the last one was done I was too sick of them to blog straight away. My subsequent project – another foray into pants/trousers-making – didn’t fare much better. So I have to accept that I’m in a sewing funk. And it would be better to tie up the loose ends with these unsatisfactory projects (by finish blogging them) so that I can start afresh when my sewing mojo returns.

What went wrong…

Some problems are common to all the projects, I’ll tick them off in one go:.

  1. So much unpicking urgh! To sew more accurately I had the furry sides together. But this caused velvet-like creeping despite every seams being basted first. Tape or glue wouldn’t have work with the furry surface. I had to bite the bullet & redo where it didn’t come out right.
  2. Mohair is really too itchy for me. They look so seductively soft. But like most (all?) wools, they still have scales. I have no problem so far with faux fur. But every mohair fabric I’ve tried made me twitch.
  3. f_OB 2 stitch 2My choice of stitches – flatlocked seams & overlocked hem – didn’t work as well on this fabric as it did with the felted Teal + Brown Floral Print Reversible Moto Jacket. Even though this fabric doesn’t really fray much, the cut edges nonetheless have little thread-bits that look untidy. It didn’t help that I chose a less dense stitch setting to so the seams would look more in keeping with the tweedy look of the black side. I can only count my blessing that the untidy edges are somewhat obscured by fuzz on the orange side, & kind of works with the rustic feel of the tweedy black side.
  4. I made many design miscalculations & construction mistakes which I’ll detail in the project posts.
  5. Notions that didn’t work out. Machine that conspired. Cack-handed manual sewing. etc etc.

All in all it felt as if Mercury was retrograding. I can’t tell if the Universe was telling me to take a break from sewing or challenging me to persevere. I persevered, as despite these challenges I still feel like sewing is the only thing I’m somewhat good at nowadays.

Tips & lessons learnt…

Flatlock seams

f_OB 2 stitch 1I didn’t show-n-tell the flatlock seam last time I used it, so here’s a WIP shot showing how it works (for those of you who finds it scary-looking like I did before I tried):  Once stitched on the overlocker, gently pull the two fabric layers apart at the seam. If one layer of seam allowance won’t pull flat (folds onto itself), gently tease it flat with a large blunt stick like a plastic sweater knit needle. For these two-sided projects, I flatlocked with the orange sides together (black side out) with orange threads in the needle & lower looper & black thread in the upper looper. Once stitched, the top black side has black stitching & the bottom black side has orange stitching. But once pulled apart, the orange stitching is pulled into the orange side.

Unpicking Flatlock & Overlock stitches

As I had to do a lot of these, thank God there is an easy way to do this. For the 3-thread flatlock seams I clip & pull the lower looper thread which sits at the cut edge of the seam allowance. Then the longer needle & upper looper threads come away easily as continuous threads. For the 3-thread overlock hems I clip & pull the needle thread which is short horizontal stitches away from the cut edge of the seam allowance. Then the upper & lower looper threads come away easily as continuous threads. Sometimes I have to do the clipping at more frequent intervals to be able to pull them out more easily – eg every 2-3″.overlocker-stitches-unpick-1

Putting a twin-pull zip slider on a nylon coil tapef_OB 2 notion-3

This goes on more smoothly if you align the slider to the tape correctly. The YKK twin-pull reversible slider (#5043) from Quest Outfitters that I used actually has two different inner sides to the slider – a flat side & a ridged side. I didn’t notice this initially, so tried to put the slider onto the tape any old way & couldn’t pull the slider on. Once I noticed this subtle difference it made sense to match the ridged side of the slider to the right side of the coil tape – ie the side with the protruding visible coil – and the flat side of the slider to the flatter wrong side of the coil tape. And presto, the slider goes on like duck to water!

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Twin needle light bulb moment

You know how twin needle is supposed to mimic cover stitch & give you stretchy hem with just a sewing machine? Well I’ve never managed to get it to work. Not only do mine come out with an ugly ridge between the two rows of stitches they were never stretchy enough either.

But with my failed mock ribbing experiment came an eureka moment for my twin needle stitching. The Threads article on mock ribbing showed examples of how changing tension affects the twin needle stitching. Loose tension makes the ridge go away. Now I’m sure I’ve tried this before but ruled it out because it also make the zigzag of the bobbin thread disappear. But this time I had left long starting & ending thread tails, & stretched the sample afterward to see how much it’ll stretch. The thread tails got pulled in & gave me a bit more zigzag in the bobbin thread. Best of all the sample then stretched as much as the fabric would stretch!


Now I’m not sure if this is how you’re suppose to sew it. The loose tension & bobbin thread that pulls easily worry me a bit. Would it be strong enough? But I reckon that as long as I secure the ends this properly stretchy hem surely must hold better than less stretchy ones that pop. Maybe it’s like willow in the wind – wimpy looking but in fact holds up better for going with the flow?

Anyway, I’ve tried it on the Crouching Batwing Hidden Python top. To make stretching in the bobbin thread easier I sewed the hem in two halves leaving  thread tails at both side seams. Maybe one day I’ll feel deserving of a serger with cover stitch (separate machine is not an option in my cramped home). For now I’ll give this new trick a few more chance to prove itself. What about you? What’s your favorite way to sew a stretchy hem?