Traditional vs. Modern Quilts - What’s the Difference?

Traditional vs. Modern Quilts – What’s the Difference?

Do you understand the differences between traditional and modern quilts?

Let’s look and see just what sets these different styles apart.

Traditional quilts

Traditional quilts are tried and true. Folks have been piecing and quilting these familiar designs for hundreds of years. Traditional patchwork designs have names: Log Cabin, Courthouse Steps, Nine-Patch, Dresden Plate.  There are thousands of these traditional patterns, and these are based on blocks and a grid.

Traditional vs Modern Quilts-What's the Difference?

Traditional quilts use regularly repeating shapes and blocks, based on a grid.

Traditional patchwork can be simple or complex, but it is usually made up of many repetitions of the same block and orderly rows. These are frequently combined with uniform sashing between individual blocks and/or borders all around. They rely heavily on symmetry in both the patchwork and the quilting.

Traditional quilt patterns are still made and loved today, but we can say that these are our grandmothers’ quilts—and their grandmothers before them.

Traditional vs Modern Quilts- What's the Difference?

Modern quilts

As the name implies, modern quilts are something new. They are more experimental and rely less on rules and order.  Modern quilt designs began popping up in the last half of the twentieth century. But they really hit their stride just before the new millennium.

Modern quilts differ from traditional quilts in many ways. Traditional quilts rely on a grid of regularly repeating designs, symmetry, sashing, borders, often complicated patchwork, and simple quilting. In contrast, modern quilts go off the grid and use asymmetry, less fuss, minimalist designs, and a more improvisational style with unusual arrangements of blocks and settings.

Traditional vs Modern Qults- What's the Difference?

While there is a definite list of characteristics that categorize the modern quilt style, these are not rules. Most modern quilts will fulfill at least one but not usually all of them.  In general, modern quilt characteristics include a minimalist style; they emphasize negative space rather than intricate patchwork. They may feature bold colors and graphic designs that give high-contrast pop. And modern quilts often feature asymmetry and use unusual block placement and off-center motifs.

Traditional vs Modern Quilts- What's the Difference?

photo courtesy redheadwiththread

Modern colors and fabrics

Colors in modern quilts tend to be bold. High contrast graphic designs are created with brightly colored solid fabrics and striking modern prints. These are used more sparingly than in the more familiar repeating patterns which march across so many traditional quilts.  The focus is on the bold modern fabrics, rather than fussy technique.

Traditional vs Modern Quilts- What's the Difference?

Bold colors make modern quilts pop

Negative space and dense, innovative quilting

Negative space features heavily in modern quilts.  In traditional quilting, the repeating patchwork is meant to stand out. So traditional quilters most often construct backgrounds from neutral, receding colors. But backgrounds in modern quilts are brighter and more expansive. Whites and grays are popular choices to bring these negative spaces forward.

All this negative space highlights asymmetrical, alternate grid, or graphic modern quilting.  Simple piecing contrasts with dense quilting in innovative designs. Whereas patchwork commands attention in traditional quilts; on modern quilts, the quilting more often stands out.

Traditional vs Modern Quilts- What's the Difference?

Zig-zag modern quilting

No rules quilting

Traditional quilting stitches may be straight and simple lines, such as with “stitch in the ditch” lines that follow piecing seams. Or they can be elaborate curliques and designs which are deliberately and symmetrically placed to line up with wide borders. They may even meander as free-motion stipples, but these must follow rules, and not cross each other.

Modern quilters are free to abandon all these rules. Modern quilting lines may cross to form geometric patterns, irregular curlicues, or any other design an imaginative quilter can dream up. Quilters can even combine many varied stitches and feature each separately to break up a large expanse of negative space into different sections, for example.

Traditional vs Modern Quilts- What's the Difference?

Another quilt by Columbus Modern Quilt Guild member DanaK

Free-motion quilting is one way to let loose and experiment with fun and free modern quilting. To quilt in the free motion style, use your darning foot. You can either lower your feed dogs to guide your fabric by hand, or you can leave your feed dogs up and just set your stitch length to zero. Either way works!

Leah Day, who teaches free-motion quilting online, challenged herself to create a new filler design every day for a year. And her Free-Motion Quilting Project blog is an excellent resource and inspiration.

Off the grid layout

Patchwork in modern quilts can include off center or tessellated designs.  Modern quilts differ with much less reliance on uniform blocks and borders than is traditional and may feature irregular rows. Lack of borders and offset blocks create designs that continue beyond the quilt’s edge.  In general, both the patchwork and the quilting on modern quilts tends not to rely on a grid.

Traditional vs Modern Quilts- What's the Difference?

Example from Flickr user Gabrielle shows a modern, off-the-grid design

Modern quilts may make use of technology, such as computers for visualizing designs, and tools such as cutting machines or tessellating or other specialty rulers, to assist with cutting and design.

Traditional vs Modern Quils- What's the Difference?

This quilt by Columbus Modern Quilt Guild member shows a fun take on pixelation.

Hybrid design: modern traditionalism

You don’t have to choose between these two styles, however! Modern traditionalism is a hybrid of both. These quilts marry the improvisational freedom in design, piecing, and quilting of modern quilts with the traditional patchwork designs that connect us to the many generations of quilters before us.

A modern traditional quilt may shrink a traditional pattern and sprinkle these sparsely as isolated individuals amongst a wide expanse of negative space. Other modern treatments of traditional patchwork include combining patterns or enlarging blocks to a single design. A quilter may then feature such blocks this off center, for example.

Traditional vs Modern Quilts- What's the Difference?

Modern traditionalism features new settings for traditional blocks. Photo courtesy of Trillium Designs

Which style do you prefer? I love them all!

For more modern and modern traditional inspiration, check out the gallery at the Modern Quilt Guild.
Flickr images licensed under Collective Commons.
Hero Sea To Summit Pillowcase

DIY pillowcase for Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow

Hero Sea To Summit Pillowcase

This past weekend my family went on an overnight backpacking trip near our home in the Eastern Sierra. When you are carrying all of your gear on your back you want your items to be as light as possible so I picked up this inflatable Sea To Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow.

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Of course I’ve never met a pillow that didn’t deserve a handmade pillowcase, so I set to work making one for this uniquely shaped fellow.

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Fully inflated the pillow is approximately 16″ x 12″ x 4″ with an interior curve on the neck side and an exterior curve on the opposite side. The top and bottom edges are all rounded as well. I used matching fabric from the DIY bandana I sewed in this post and draped it over the pillow to see if it would fit.

Once I knew the fabric would fit, I turned the fabric wrong sides up and used pins to mark the four curved corners. Be careful, you don’t want to puncture your brand new backpacking pillow!

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On the interior curve, I found the approximate center and cut the fabric up a ways.

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Then I used pins to tighten up the fabric around the top of the curve.

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Once everything looked right, I used a marker (but you could use a pencil if a marker would show through your fabric choice) and marked the corner seams and the portion of the interior curve I had pinned.

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Then I used a sturdy ruler and placed it against the sides of the pillow, marking the approximate edge all the way around.

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Carefully, I slipped the case off of the pillow, making sure not to disturb any of my pins. I only removed the pins corner by corner as I sewed following my marks.

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For the interior curve, I sewed the small section I had pinned to cinch the fabric around the corner, then finger pressed the raw edges of both sides of cut fabric over twice and sewed a hem.

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Here I took a moment to turn the pillowcase right side out and placed it over the pillow, just to double check my sizing. I would be adding elastic to bring the loose fabric under the case, but this was good to see before cutting the excess fabric off of the corners.

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Once I knew it was correctly sized, I turned the pillow case wrong side out and trimmed off the excess fabric on the sewn corners.

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Then I marked a 1″ hem all around the case using the line I’d created earlier as a guide.

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At this moment I realized I didn’t have enough fabric on the side opposite where the neck would lie. I took a spare piece and sewed it onto that side, pressed the seam down, and then continued drawing my 1″ hem.

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Once the 1″ hem was drawn I cut out the fabric. Now you could really see the shape of the case coming together.

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I finger pressed the hem over ½” and then another ½” and sewed my hem as I folded and pressed.

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Then it was time to finish the interior curve. I fit the pillow case on right side out and pinned each flap from the center so the fabric hugged each curve. I sewed the flaps.

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Now it was time to add elastic. I used ¼” elastic.

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When I had fully sewn around the hem, I drew the elastic across to a point on the opposite side of the pillow and sewed the elastic in place.

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I then repeated on the opposite side with a separate piece of elastic, creating a crisscross pattern on the bottom of the pillow.

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As long as you don’t sew the elastic too taught, you can absolutely slip the inflated pillow into the case. Take a few moments to work the case into the shape you’ve sewn and then flip it over to enjoy your handiwork.

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For backpackers who weigh everything that goes in their pack, this pillowcase weighs 1.4 oz. Happy backpacking!

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Charlotte Kaufman is a writer and sewist in Mammoth Lakes, California. She specializes in marine and home interiors and continues to fall more and more in love with quilting. You can follow her at charlottekaufman.com.
Confetti Quilt-Art for Your Walls

Confetti Quilt-Art for Your Walls

Speaking of fall projects, I’ve recently come across a quilting technique that would be fantastic for creating a beautiful piece of autumn to use for wall décor. The problem, though, is that the technique used to build this work is a bit advanced, so it’s something I’m going to have to put on the back-burner for a bit until I potentially get the hang of more intricate workings of specific sewing processes.

The overall idea is out of my comfort zone right now, but it’s still something that seems like a great enough idea to share with those reading this blog post. Maybe you’re more advanced than I am in the sewing world, and this would be a simple project to you to bring fall coloring to your home’s interior. If so, gather your fabric and tulle, and get to working!


Project: Confetti-Quilted Wall Hanging


Tools and Supplies:

Sewing machine, scissors or rotary cutter, fabric (some for shredding purposes), tulle, and straight pins

The Idea:

Creating a work of art from bits of fabric
Mulberry Patch Quilts

See all of these leaves? Those are tiny bits of fabric placed on the piece, or confetti fabric!

It would be easy to label this a mosaic-type project, and in a way it is because it’s a bigger picture that’s being constructed by smaller pieces. But the incredibly small sizes of these pieces are tiny enough to compare to confetti being tossed in the air, so the confetti name is actually more fitting than the mosaic title—especially since the confetti can bunch up and overlap on your design in contrast to the side-by-side nature of a mosaic piece.

This is an idea that can be put in practice to make a full quilt, but the number of times you’d have to go through the process to create enough blocks for a quilt sincerely escalates the amount of time you spend on a project. Considering fall is so close, using the one-block notion for a wall hanging is more reasonable—and it’ll create a one-of-a kind piece to show off to your home’s guests.

The advantage of confetti

The beauties here are that you can pick the size of the confetti art work, you can choose the image you want to depict, and you can even use scrap material from other projects that have little to no value for other concepts. These confetti dots are tiny, so it doesn’t take extended amounts of fabric to create them. You might want to keep that in mind as you trim up your fabric for other projects and stash away the scraps and remainders in some kind of a confetti-quilt container. That way, you can build your supply for a confetti project that pops in your head, giving you the ability to start constructing immediately rather than having to search for fabric bits.

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For a fall project, this is a good option because autumn comes with a great deal of outdoor imagery, like trees filled with colorful leaves or pumpkins placed in front of haystacks. Through the outdoor elements comes the prospect of movement and wind, so having the confetti scraps present to drizzle across your project can give the viewer that sense of movement in a display that’s random enough to highlight the notion.

Working with layers

You can layer the colors and fabrics to boost that realism until you have a strong tree covered in a series of leaves that are dropping to the ground and flying away, a pumpkin patch with dust and leaves blowing past it, a scarecrow that’s caught up in seeds that are breaking away from crops and sailing by… Lots of ways exist to put this idea into practice, and each has a look of intricate realism that’s sparked from the confetti approach.

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The process to perform this task seems basic, if intricate, and so long as you keep the confetti pieces in their places with straight pins, tulle, and early sewing, you can make sure everything stays close enough to the arranged order to highlight the scene as you intended it above your mantle or over your couch—or wherever you choose to place the finished work!

Inspiration is key

If you want to find inspiration for what to depict in your confetti project, try going for a nature walk to look for signs of autumn’s approach, and when something particularly seasonal catches your eye, freeze that memory in your mind (or snap a photo) to remember it. As the month rolls on, nature itself can give you plenty of sights to choose from to be the main scene of your confetti project!

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So, if your skills allow you to handle this intricate of a project, start looking for that autumn image to commit to a wall hanging!

Sewing Baby Toys

Sewing Baby Toys

I just learned that a dear friend of mine is pregnant. After the announcement and our subsequent celebratory lunch, my mind starting thinking about what I could make to welcome her child into the world. It’s too early on to know if it will be a boy or a girl, which also means I’ve got plenty of time to make something by hand and from the heart. Here’s a few of the baby toys I’m thinking about making. I’d love to hear your thoughts on them!

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Two-Sided Baby Blanket

I love this idea. I used to love my two-sided comforter because I could flip it around based on my mood (and also based on which side had less cat hair…) My friend and her man are super unique, so I know their baby’s room is going to have flair and style. A reversible baby blanket would be right up their alley. Of course, I’d want it to match the colors they choose for the nursery, so I’ll have to check about that before I start.

Super Soft Receiving Blanket

Like all babies, I’m sure my friend’s bundle of joy is going to want to be held A LOT. And I know my friend is up to the task. She’s going to be an amazing mom! The new arrival is due in the February/March timeframe, so it will still be cool where we live. It makes me think that a super soft, and warm receiving blanket will help new mom and baby snuggle and bond.

Crunchy Jellyfish

It won’t be long before that new bundle of joy is putting everything in his or her mouth. (By the way, I’m certain it will be a girl.) Between teething and the need to understand the world using all her senses, her mouth is going to be full of all sorts of stuff. I love this crunchy jellyfish pattern because it will give her something safe to mouth on and it’s so cute!

Sun Toy

Along the same lines as the crunchy jellyfish, this sun toy is super cute and great for littles ones putting everything in their mouths. It’s got loads of textures too, making it entertaining in many ways. And when baby decides it’s time to throw her toys, it’s soft and won’t hurt or damage anyone or anything.

So, if it was your friend having a baby, which of these cool baby gifts would you make?

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Sew your own Bandana

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This weekend my family is going backpacking. It’s the first time all four of us, my husband, myself, and our two daughters, ages 7 and 4, will go on an overnight backpacking trip together. My husband, Eric, compiled a detailed list of the things I’d need to bring (he is taking care of the girls’ packs. Rad guy, right?).

On that list was a bandana. It’s been awhile since I had a bandana but I remember how useful they were when I used to go backpacking. They can be used as sweat catchers, scarves, headbands, face masks, pot holders, to keep the sun off your face or neck, and even to tie a tourniquet. Honestly, their uses are endless. I just didn’t have one and darned if I was going to buy a bandana off of Amazon when I have a wall full of fabric bins and a sewing machine.

Getting started…

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I grabbed a ½ yard of fabric which was a little over 18″ tall. If you have a bigger neck than me (that’s me in the photos) or want a larger bandana, grab 3/4 of a yard of fabric.

I cut out an 18″ x 18″ square. Again, size up if you want a larger finished piece. Once you’ve cut the square, roll it up and test it out unhemmed. Does it fit around your neck? Around your head? If you want it big enough to create a possible tourniquet, around your thigh?

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Key step

Now is the most important part. Press and starch that sucker, especially around the unfinished edges.

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You can make your hems as large or as small as you like. I like bandanas with TINY hems, so I rolled mine over even smaller than ¼”, pressing and starching all the way around. Then I doubled that over again, pressing and starching.

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Start pinning

Done! At this point, you could pin the pressed and started hems but I have a feeling that if you used enough starch they are going to stay put while you sew.

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Pick your thread. For this project I went with a purple that matched but once it was finished I wished I had gone with the lighter purple just for a fun contrast. You live and you learn.

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If you are going to use a decorative stitch, make sure you have enough thread in your bobbin.

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I tested out this decorative stitch on a separate piece of fabric first. I wanted a stitch that would look good and keep my hem nice and flat.

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Easy-peasy

Start sewing a square. This is the easiest part after your prep work to get there.

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If you have a shallow hem, use a seam ripper to hold down the corners as you go.

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Admire your creation

Look that beauty! And you didn’t spend $12 on Amazon for it.

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Try it on and enjoy. Happy camping!

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Charlotte Kaufman is a writer and sewist in Mammoth Lakes, California. She specializes in marine and home interiors and continues to fall more and more in love with quilting. You can follow her at charlottekaufman.com.
The Problem with Over Fitting

The Problem with Over Fitting

In my almost 30 years in the film and television business, I’ve worked with a lot of different designers. Every designer has a specific way they like things to fit, at least in the film and television world. Tailors at men’s suit stores like Brooks Brothers, or department stores like Nordstroms, have standard fit and length parameters they follow.

They’ll tell you that a suit jacket hem must end at a certain point on the wrist and the proper length of the jacket is determined by whether or not you can curl your hand around the hem in a certain way. They’ll also tell you that a pant hem needs to have a specific amount of break over the front of the shoe (the amount the hem buckles in when you’re standing straight up).

In television and film, these things can vary depending on what designer you’re working with. I have five or six different designers I work with fairly regularly and they all have specific ways they want things to fit. I’ve worked with them enough to know what each of them like. One of them likes suit pant hems on the short side but lots and lots of ‘stack’ when it comes to jean hems. Another always wants a rake in the hem because they hate to see an actor’s socks showing in the back when he walks. One likes the shirt sleeves to show a ¼” below the suit jacket. Another tends to want things very slim fitted.

One size fits all

As a tailor, one of the most annoying fit attributes is when a designer wants you to, essentially, over fit something (none of the designers I work with regularly do this). By over fitting I mean, they want me to fit something so tightly that there are absolutely no wrinkles present anywhere at anytime. The main problem with this is that it’s only achievable if the actor or actress happens to be a non-moving, stationary dress form or mannequin. And, as I’m sure you know, most are not.

Actors move, clothing wrinkles. If you fit a dress too tightly, it’s going to ride up at the slightest provocation. If you fit a man’s suit jacket within an inch of its life, the actor won’t be able to lift his arms.

There are a lot of wrinkles I can fix, but I can’t get rid of them all. An over fitted garment looks just as bad on camera as one that isn’t fitted enough. Unless you start putting all kinds of extra seams into a thing, you’ll never be able to get something that isn’t spandex, completely wrinkle free all the time. Wrinkle free-ness is only completely achievable when the actor stands in one specific way and doesn’t move at all, ever.

Oxygen is overrated

I can’t tell you how many times a designer has insisted I take something in so tightly that after it’s done, the actor complains about not being able to breathe. I usually don’t take anything in as much as I pinned in a fitting if I’m working with a designer like this. I honestly find it ridiculous that there are costume designers who don’t understand that when humans move, the clothes they are wearing also move. Sometimes there are wrinkles, and this does not mean that the garment is not fitted correctly.

Stylists who dress people for print or short shoots like commercials tend to fit things more tightly because they’re not used to dressing people for realistic scenarios and situations that involve actual movement.

Stylists who dress people for print or short shoots like commercials tend to fit things more tightly because they’re not used to dressing people for realistic scenarios and situations that involve actual movement.

Stylists who dress people for print or short shoots like commercials tend to fit things more tightly because they’re not used to dressing people for realistic scenarios and situations that involve actual movement. In a photo shoot for print, there is no movement so you can over fit to your heart’s content. That’s why clothing never fits you like it does the model in the catalogue or on the website. And this is not a bad thing.

I’ve also worked with designers who do this thing where they grab a whole wad of fabric center back to demonstrate how something should be taken in. Well, first, when you do that, you’re pulling the side seams into a weird place that they shouldn’t be. Unless its men’s pants, I rarely take something in just from the center back, especially if it’s a wad-full of fabric. One reason is that I like to avoid having to reset the zipper if possible and secondly, it probably needs to come in from the side seams and the side back seams anyway. Or, if it’s four to six inches, it might make sense to purchase the garment in a smaller size. If I were building the garment from scratch, I’d want to recut it if possible.

Stress fractures & signs you are doing it wrong

I don’t know if other people notice this but when I see a dress with side seams that swing backward instead of hanging straight, I think that someone who didn’t really know what they were doing did that alteration. Costume Designers don’t necessarily need to know all the nuances of fit and balance but they should know enough to trust a good tailor when they have one.

Sadly, it normally doesn’t do any good to try and explain yourself to a designer who tends toward over fitting. They’ll just assume you don’t know what you’re talking about.

When I find myself in a situation with a center-back-wad-pulling designer, I just nod and pin it, then alter it in the way I think is best.

Because, as any tailor who’s been in the television and film business for awhile knows, “alter as pinned” is simply a suggestion (and a way to appease an over zealous fitting designer).

The Dos and Don’ts of Sewing: Cinderella Style

The Dos and Don’ts of Sewing: Cinderella Style

One of the most classic Disney movies is Cinderella, the 1950’s cartoon version of the popular fairy tale. In this story, we see Cinderella go from being a young girl who loses her mother and has to live with an unloving step-family to a woman who’s optimistic enough to take a chance by going to a fancy ball and catching the prince’s eye.

Every detail about this story line isn’t perfect—if she’s Prince Charming’s love, why can’t he recognize her without this shoe business?—but it’s still a staple for a lot of people in regard to movies they adored as children.

For a person who grows to appreciate sewing, the film can have another level of intrigue because sewing is a part of the story. Before the Fairy Godmother comes by to provide Cinderella her glittering, beautiful gown, she goes through the process of planning her own dress, which will be constructed from tools and materials within her home. The actual dressmaking happens at the hands of a team of friendly rodents once they realize Cinderella is too busy to finish the project herself, and the musical scene connected to their sewing is one of the most recognizable ones from Disney.Disney4

Beyond those aspects of familiarity and youth, there’s unique sewing advice happening within that dressmaking scene that you could apply to sewing endeavors. All it takes is a little consideration and a bit of imagination to find those gems of guidance within the lighthearted scenes of sewing.

For instance, these mice have applicable tools at their disposal to see this dress come to life. There’s no machine in sight, but you do see other sewing essentials, like needle, thread, scissors, and chalk, all of which can at least be representations of things that are useful for sewing. The chalk, as an example, can be replaced by soluble pencils to trace your cutting lines, and like the bulky chalk the mice are using, you can wash out the remnants later. With that strategy, you’re making sure you’re sewing in a more precise way without forever damaging the fabric. Good strategy, mice!Disney5

As the dress is being assembled through pulley systems and such, the mice have a dress form setup to keep the fabric in its most natural wearing position. This detail cannot be overstated if you’re going to sew clothing like Cinderella’s dress because it makes you able to see the dress as it should be rather than bunching it up or expanding it unnaturally on a flat surface. You can tell how the dress will look, and you could prevent a time or two of accidentally sewing your dress sides together in the wrong places. Like the mice, make sure you have that form for these purposes!Disney3

Unfortunately, though, the mice didn’t quite get everything right, and it makes sense to note those things as well. For example, you probably want to use a better method of organizing your supplies than a simple wicker basket that you can dive into. Even if you’re just tossing all of your supplies into a container like this and reaching in to gather what you need, if your organization is lacking, you could end up getting a sewing needle or straight pin in your hand. For the mice, this is particularly bad since the needle is about as tall as they are, but even for human-sized sewing fans, a straight pin in the hand can hurt!Disney2

For this reason, you should consider organizing your sewing utensils better than our Cinderella mice friends! Use different containers for different items, have shelves to display them, use chest drawers to keep them stored… Whatever your strategy, do yourself the favor of not piling everything into one area that’s dooming you to minor injury!

One more detail the mice get wrong is how simple they make assembling this dress seem. Sure, they employ pulleys that you probably won’t work with, but let’s be honest. Cinderella simply points out a picture in a book that she wants her dress to look like and gives very basic instructions about what needs to be done, and the mice infer all of the in-between information even though there are no measurements listed at all in the book.Disney

Fortunately for the mice, the foundation of this dress is already assembled since Cinderella is intending to alter something that she already has—another good tip from the mice: use what’s around you!—but if you take this at face value, the process is too simple. Without having measurements, at least, you could be setting yourself up to fail.Disney6

So rather than just picking a picture, use a pattern or at least take the measurements of the person who’s supposed to wear the finished product. Remember, after all, that the dress Cinderella intends to alter is her mother’s—not hers. There could’ve easily needed to be some redefining done to make it fit Cinderella just right, and the mice take a risk by not being more specific. On this, don’t be like the mice! Be measure-specific!

In the end, while the mice got some things very right and some things pretty wrong, it’s a catchy scene with an upbeat song that embraces sewing in a youthful manner. So, embrace the mice’s optimism, apply their useful techniques, and learn from what they did wrong.


Reference for all photos
Disney, W. (Producer), & Geronimi, C., Jackson, W., & Luske, H. (Directors). (1950). Cinderella [Motion Picture]. United States: Walt Disney Company.
hero image - french seams

How to Sew a French Seam

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French seams are a way to finish a seam so there are no raw or exposed edges of fabric on the seam. They work great for thin or delicate fabric, or any project where you want both the outward showing and inward showing seams to look good.

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Some people balk at trying them and I think it’s because it feels like you are sewing in reverse. To start a French seam you have to sew a seam on the right side of the fabric, and that just feels wrong. I get it, I do. But if you trust the process, you’ll love how it all turns out.

Here is an example on two pre-cut fabric squares. I’m going to join these together with no exposed seams by using the French seam method. First, place the fabric WRONG sides together.

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Now sew your seam. Your seam allowance will depend on the fabric you are using and the type of project. For ease of explanation I did a ½” seam.

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Next, cut down the excess fabric a bit and then head to your ironing board. Do NOT skip ironing when sewing French seams. As with most sewing projects, ironing can make all the difference.

Iron the seam to one side. Flip the fabric over and iron the seam on the reverse as well.

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Now fold the fabric on the seam you’ve created. I like to iron this too. For good measure, you can pin the fabric in place so it doesn’t move when you sew again.

Take the fabric over to your machine and sew another seam, this time on the wrong side of the fabric. You want to sew a seam that is wide enough to fully enclose the raw seam on the inside portion. I sewed ½” again (remember I had trimmed down my previous raw edge to about ¼”.)

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Voilà! Now your seams are completely encased. Très bien.

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The last and important step is to press once again. Open up your seam and press on the front AND back of your fabric.

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You’ve done it! THAT is a French seam. The applications are endless, just trust the process and don’t worry about starting a seam on the right side of fabric. Happy sewing!

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Charlotte Kaufman is a writer and sewist in Mammoth Lakes, California. She specializes in marine and home interiors and continues to fall more and more in love with quilting. You can follow her at charlottekaufman.com.

When Alterations Go Wrong

When Alterations Go Wrong

Things don’t always go as expected. Sometimes you do something and it fails to turn out like you imagined it would. Or it just doesn’t look as good as you wanted. Sometimes you unintentionally execute a crappy alteration.

There’s no reason to panic or get upset when this happens. You simply fix whatever it is. A problem only arises when you don’t see that something has gone awry or you try and convince someone that nothing is wrong; the garment just needs a good press.

twisting sleeves

twisting sleeves

Ironing and a healthy dose of steam can right all kinds of wrongs but neither of those things can make a bad alteration, good.

The old distraction trick

This past week, a Costume Designer friend of mine, Lauren, called to ask if I could look at a suit jacket for a friend of hers. He’s getting married in a few weeks and had purchased a Brooks Brothers suit. Brooks Brothers had recommended a tailor for him to go to for alterations.

The suit didn’t need all that much, just a little taking in on the sides to slim it a bit. When my friend’s friend – I’ll call him Dan – went to pick up his suit and tried on the jacket, he noticed some strange twisting in the sleeve. His fiancé (I’ll call her Kate), was with him.

They both pointed out the twisting to the tailor, but the man kept insisting that all they needed to do was send the suit out to be pressed and they should take a look at the back because it was smooth. You know, the old distraction trick.

Well, Dan and Kate weren’t really buying it, but they paid the man and took the suit to the dry cleaners to be pressed professionally. As they suspected, when they picked up the suit, nothing had changed. The sleeves were still hanging in a sort of corkscrew way. That’s when they asked Lauren if she knew someone who could help and they ended up calling me.

Its much easier to fix your own alteration snafus than it is to remedy the ones of others, mainly because you know what you did to get to where you are. When you’re not the one that started the whole thing, you have to use a bit of detective work.

Before I told Kate and Dan that I could fix the twisting sleeves, I opened the lining of the jacket to see what I could see. Men’s suit jacket sleeve linings are stitched in by hand at the armseye so that’s where to open them up.

I took out the sleeve lining from the back notch to the front notch, then unattached the lining body from the jacket body at the armseye.

Suit jackets are constructed fairly standardly when it comes to seam allowances. I could see that the side back seam of the jacket had been taken in, but just in the back, as well as the side front seam above the pocket. All of that had been done quite nicely, and the shoulder part of the sleeve was smooth and lovely. The problem was with how the bottom portion of the sleeve had been put back in.

Fitted Armholes

Men’s suit jackets, as a rule, have pretty fitted and constricting armholes. When you take in the side back and side front seams, you make the armhole smaller. If you don’t take in the seams equally front and back, you change where the bottom of the sleeve is (where a side seam would be if men’s suit jackets had side seams). You have to compensate for this in some way or your sleeve will be off balance and hang in a weird way.

Which is what happened in this instance. There are a couple ways the original tailor could have prevented this.

He could have taken in the sleeve itself the same amount he took in the body of the jacket. I don’t normally do this, though, unless the entire sleeve really does need to be slimmed. A better, more accurate way, to solve the twisting sleeve problem (in my opinion, at least) is to drop the armseye, starting from the back notch and ending at the front notch. What this does is make the armhole bigger and, essentially, the same size it was before you took in those jacket seams.

Oh boy…

In this particular jacket, not only did the tailor neglect to lower the armhole, but, when he eased the too big sleeve into the smaller jacket armseye, he rotated the whole bottom part of the sleeve too far forward.

Once I dropped the armseye, the sleeve, once again, fit perfectly and I was able to line up the bottom of the jacket body with the bottom of the sleeve. No more twisting!

Dan and Kate are happy now – though they’re asking the first tailor for some money back. I don’t think the man is necessarily a bad tailor because his alteration didn’t turn out so well (everyone does a wonky alteration every now and again) but, I do think he maybe doesn’t know what he’s doing because he didn’t see that something was wrong when Dan tried the jacket on.

It’s ok to make mistakes and have to do something over. It’s not ok to tell someone that nothing is wrong and not offer to fix it. Even if you think they’re wrong. And especially if it’s a suit they’re going to wear at their wedding.

hero image1 - pencil case post

DIY Embroidered Pencil Case

Recently I saw this set at Costco that includes 50 colored pencils, a pencil sharpener and a plain zippered pouch. I nabbed two but I think I’ll go back and grab some more because I turned them into something cool and I want to do it again.

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Here’s what I did. I printed out two words, one for each case, and then used them as patterns to draw the words onto fabric. The font is a free font I downloaded from dafont.com called Painted Paradise.

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Empower printed out in three sections and I was able to place them on a charm square from my fabric stash. Create printed out as one word so I used a layer cake precut for it.

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I used a freshly sharpened pencil and held the paper down as I traced.

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For this fabric, it was easier to flip the words upside down and draw on the backside of the fabric (I eventually chose a pink fabric instead of the purple you see above).

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Use some sharp scissors, and patience, and cut out the words.

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I ironed and starched the words to get them very crisp.

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Next up: taking out the seams of the pencil case. This actually went pretty fast as I ran my seam ripper along the serged seams and then opened the fabric and pulled out the inner seams.

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I did this to both cases and then took a moment to pull out as many of the remaining threads as possible to create a clean working space on the fabric (and my table).

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This is my handy quilt basting spray. I placed the words wrong sides up on a piece of paper and then sprayed fabric glue on them. Then I positioned the words on each pencil case where I wanted them.

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My plan was to basically embroider the words onto one side of the pencil cases. I learned a great embroidery stitch, called a satin stitch, on my machine. You create this look by selecting a zig zag stitch and then reducing the stitch length to almost zero. You can play with the numbers/look to find what you like.

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I practiced on some scrap fabric and then got to work.

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Here’s what it looked like from the back when I was done. It even looks cool inside out!

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After I finished embroidering each case, I pinned each one closed and resewed the cases back up. Then I turned the cases right side out, pressed them, and look at these beauties!

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The Create case is for me. It’s rare I make something for myself and I’ve been in a really creative mood lately so I thought it appropriate. The Empower case is for my friend, Kate, who empowers other women. I definitely think I’ll be making more of these personalized cases in the future.

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Charlotte Kaufman is a writer and sewist in Mammoth Lakes, California. She specializes in marine and home interiors and continues to fall more and more in love with quilting. You can follow her at charlottekaufman.com.