Sewing Super Power: Stereoscopic Vision

Sewing Super Power: Stereoscopic Vision

Are you one of those people who knows what an inch looks like without measuring?

I am. I also know what a ½ inch looks like and two inches and, well, honestly, most units of measurement from an 1/8 of an inch to about eight or ten feet.

I can also look at a photo of someone and determine how many inches shorter (or longer) his or her pant, shirt, jacket, or dress hem needs to be. And I can take a picture or drawing of a garment and recreate it with only that image as a reference.

I bet a lot of people reading this blog can do these things too.

I never thought too much about the why. It was just something I was always good at.

3D vision – no Oculus Rift needed

3D vision - no Oculus Rift needed

3D vision – no Oculus Rift needed

Well, this past week, a new scientific study was published at the University of California at Berkeley about how dressmakers were found to have “needle sharp” 3D vision.

3D vision is also referred to as stereoscopic vision, which is the ability of the brain to take 2D information and translate it into 3D. Depth perception is part of this equation, meaning stereoscopic vision is what allows us to thread needles, catch balls, and park cars (among a myriad of other things.)

It also means that some of us, those with especially keen stereoscopic vision abilities, are able to look at the distance between things and immediately calculate a correct (and often freakishly accurate) measurement.

There have been countless occasions when I’ve looked at a fitting photo of an actor with a hem pinned up and said, “Oh, I need to shorten that an inch and ½,” (or whatever) and someone else has said, “Let’s measure to make sure.”

And so we do. And I’m always exactly right.

In the same way, I can often walk into a fitting room – or even just watch someone wander by – and say, “That needs to be lengthened ¾” and the waist taken in an inch.”

And then I do the alterations without pinning and its correct.

Batman’s got nothing on me

Batman's got nothing on me.

Batman’s got nothing on me.

I’ve always just thought of it as one of my super powers. I believe everyone has a couple or three superpowers. The trick, sometimes, though, is figuring out what they are.

Adrien Chopin, the neuroscience researcher who conducted the 3D vision study, says that they’re still trying to figure out if tailoring and sewing sharpens stereoscopic vision or, if tailors and the like are drawn to the profession because of their enhanced “stereo-acuity”.

I’m definitely not a scientific researcher but I think it’s both of these things. My brain has always been adept at moving between the 2 dimensional and 3 dimensional worlds. I just never knew it had a specific name. And because I use this ability many times a day, I’ve become better and better at it to the point where my accuracy percentage is probably 99.9999999%.

Or something like that

I can also go from 3D to 2D quite easily, meaning I can look at a 3 dimensional object, like a garment (on or off a person) and know what shape it would be as a flat 2 dimensional pattern.

Chopin’s study goes on to say that people like surgeons and dentists have normally been assumed to have superior stereovision but that dressmakers and tailors in general had even more precise 3D vision abilities that those in the medical fields.

Kind of crazy, huh?

Take care to use your powers for good.

Take care to use your powers for good.

Chopin intends to study more extensively the stereoscopic superpowers of dressmakers. He says that a better understanding of the ability will help in efforts to train those with visual impairments like “lazy eye” to strengthen their 3D vision. He also believes that improved stereoscopic vision could be tantamount in training people in occupations that require precise hand-eye coordination like military fighters or athletes.

On the other end of the spectrum, some vision scientists think that painters often have poorer stereovision which is what gives them an advantage when working in a 2 dimensional world. Rembrandt, the 17th century Dutch painter, is thought to have suffered from stereo blindness.

I find all this quite fascinating. If you do to and want to read more in depth information about the study, you can see the whole report here.

And don’t forget to spend some time celebrating your own super powers, which, if you’re a tailor or seamstress, very likely include stereoscopic vision. Yay us!

Sew It Straight and Square

Sew It Straight and Square

I wanted to take an opportunity to tell you about something I learned very early in my sewing experience. Hopefully, it will help when you have to square off fabric for blocks or other things.

When I resumed by sewing hobby after being away for several years, I found many things have changed. Well, me for one, because I started out thinking I would make a few things, have a sewing machine available for mending, and leave it at that. I wanted to make a shirt or two.

But, never, in my wildest dreams, I thought I would have an interest in quilting. Being able to buy many different fabrics, mix them up, find harmony between them, and create an awesome piece of art was exciting!

So my first fabric obsession started with “fat quarters”. You know, they are bundles of one designer’s collection, or curated by someone else mostly sold in online fabric stores offering 10, 15, 20 or more pieces that have the same colors or coordinating fabrics! Oh… shopping online!! A whole other obsession!! Sorry. I got distracted!

But, I knew right off, I couldn’t cut them with fabric shears or pinking shears. It would take years off my life.

So, today I want to share how I learned to share how to cut “ fat quarters” for multiple precise pieces all at once.

Three tools necessary for straight and square pieces:

  1. Rotary cutter
  2. Acrylic ruler – my favorite 24 x 6 inches, but I also love 14 x 8 inches. Another handy one is 12 x 6 inches. I use them all.
  3. A self-healing cutting mat, measured in centimeters and inches. One with measurements is the KEY here.

Most Important!

RULE #1 – Never Cut Toward Yourself or Sideways with a Rotary Cutter – Always Away from Your Body

RULE #2 – Measure Twice and Cut Once

  1. Open 21 x 18 inch piece. Press with iron flattening fold creases. It makes a difference, you will see!
  2. Cut away selvage edge. You will have the longest part on the mat. Do not double the fabric and trim as close to the edge of the selvage as possible.
  3. Refold the length piece in half by taking the left side and match the edges on the right side where the selvage was.
  4. Square right hand edge with ruler and mat. Take off just a little sliver. Then trim the opposite side for threads. Not much to do there if it is square.
    • Now, the left has a fold, the top is folded two times giving you 4 layers of fabric. The top folded pieces have to be shaved too and the left side so you will still have exactly 9 inches on those two sides if you are careful.
    • Are you still here? Almost done!
  5. Line up the longer piece with the ruler, and trim off the small 2 inch piece to have 4 perfectly squared 9 x 9 pieces. The best part is you only lose about 1 ½” of the fabric by cutting it this way.

However, if you are feeling bold… and you put:

Beautiful 8 x 8 inch napkins ready for your next meal or party.

Beautiful 8 x 8 inch napkins ready for your next meal or party.

Right sides together, sew up the sides at ¼ inch leaving an inch or two (somewhere close to the end but not the corner) to turn them to their right sides, press seams, pin opening closed and top-stitch around all sides.

Then you have:

Beautiful 8 x 8 inch napkins ready for your next meal or party.

I would love to hear your comments or questions. Stop by and see me again soon!

DIY - Bias Tape with a Bias Tape Maker Tool

10 Steps to Making & Sewing Bias Tape

Gardening Apron, pattern from “Sewing for All Seasons” by Susan Beal.

Gardening Apron, pattern from “Sewing for All Seasons” by Susan Beal.

You might appreciate a well-stocked sewing shop, but don’t you get bored with the limited choices for bias and binding tape? The standard spectrum of hues leaves little room for imaginative and interesting ideas.

If you’re sure the best binding for your project isn’t on the notions shelf, consider making it yourself. Although it’s possible to create tape with only an iron and your fingers, the process will go more smoothly and be more fun with a special tool called a bias tape maker. These little aluminum color-coded gadgets are sold at most sewing shops, including They come in widths ranging from two inches all the way down to one-quarter inch and can be purchased individually or as a set. Save the instructions that come with the tool—you’ll need its measurement guide when cutting strips.

With a small tool that costs under $10, you can conquer the bias tape bores.

My curiosity about homemade tape led me to Susan Beal’s book “Sewing for All Seasons,” where I found a pattern for a canvas gardening apron made with DIY binding tape. My tape edging was folded from a poplin just slighter lighter than the canvas used for the apron body. I used a three-quarter-inch bias tape maker by Clover, and I even have some tape left over for a matching hat.

When making your own projects with DIY tape,
follow these 10 steps:

  1. Select similar fabrics. Cut swatches from your stash and consider how each would work as either the tape or the body fabric. As a general rule, your tape should be the same weight or just slightly lighter than the body fabric. Avoid using silky fabrics because you’ll have trouble keeping the tape in place when sewing. Also avoid transparent or translucent material that will show seams and frayed edges.
  2. Determine measurements. Refer to your pattern’s specifications – what size bias or binding is required? Use the guide that comes with your tool to determine how wide your strips should be in order to achieve the proper finished size. For example, if you need three-quarter-inch binding, your strip width (for medium weight fabric) would be one and three-eights. Make sure you have the right size bias-making tool for the size you need.
  3. Measure and cut your strips. If your tape will be sewn around curved edges, such as with a circle-shaped potholder or Christmas tree skirt, your strips should be cut on the bias (at a 45-degree angle against the fabric grain). If your project is made of only straight lines like the gardening apron in the photos, you can cut strips horizontally from selvage to selvage.
  4. Prepare the strips. If your pattern requires many yards of tape, you can sew long strips together with a three-quarter-inch seam allowance. Open and gently press the seam before using the tool.

    Run the strips through the tool to create perfectly folded tape.

    Run the strips through the tool to create perfectly folded tape.

  5. Press perfectly. Use an iron at the appropriate setting for your fabric to flatten the tape as you pull it though the tool. Take your time and use your fingers to hold the tape in position before applying steam. Store the finished tape so it doesn’t lose shape when you’re working on other aspects of the project.
  6. Check your machine’s needle and thread. You’ll be sewing through many layers, so make sure your needle is up to the challenge. Likewise, consider your thread color. A thread that looks good with the body fabric might not look as good when sewn into your bias tape.
  7. Pin the tape into position. Use plenty of pins with the head accessible in the direction you plan to sew. Use small pins that won’t distort the shape of your project. The flatter, the better. In some cases, you might want to baste the tape into place.

    Create a folded angle at corners.

    Create a folded angle at corners.

  8. Be careful at corners. Fold the tape at an angle, making sure it doesn’t slip. When sewing on the machine, sew one half of the corner and stop to pivot the project to the other direction before beginning again. Do not rush—take your time and concentrate on keeping the tape in place.
  9. Cut with caution. If your pattern asks you to cut the tape at particular points, don’t cut exactly flush to the body fabric. Leave a millimeter or two in case the next part of the process pulls your tape more taut than expected.
  10. Press gently. Resist the temptation to vigorously iron the tape after it’s sewn on. Give the project some time to settle into its seams, then use light steam to gently coax out lumps and wrinkles.

With a small tool that costs under $10, you can conquer the bias tape bores. New doors open with tape made from abstract prints, solids, florals, and plaids. A fancy or patterned bias edge against a plain fabric is a fun and interesting take on cosmetic bags, T-shirts, placemats, table runners or blanket edges. Make your own tape and take your project from OK to extraordinary.


Quitling is Not Baking

Quilting Is Not Baking

My mom was the type of cook who didn’t accurately measure ingredients, and to this day, if you ask her how much of an ingredient to put in food, she might say something like, “Until it looks like enough.”

Be exact. The “it’s good enough” mentality I might’ve had for baking doesn’t spill over so well into the world of sewing.I don’t always accurately measure things in the kitchen either. I might use a coffee cup when the recipe calls for a cup, but even then, I’ve been known to eye-ball the food and decide it needs more. I put baked goods in still pre-heating ovens, guesstimate about time, and haven’t owned a measuring cup or spoon in my adult life that I can recall.

This is how I bake, and I’ve come up with some tasty sweets.

This is, to some extent, how I’ve tried quilting, and the results are evidence of the title of this post.

Quilting is not baking…

I’m a bit of an amateur in the quilting/sewing department. I’m working on my second quilt (third if you count that one atrocity I never finished), and my overall products have been somewhat lacking.

Even with missing the mark on projects though, I still learned. As it turns out, a number of things I’ve learned for quilting are in opposition to habits that worked fine in my baking. See? It’s not baking!

My first quilt.

My first quilt.

1) Less can be more. I’m not saying smaller quilts are better than bigger quilts, but — let’s connect this food-thing again — “portions” can be too big, and ruin the effect. For baking, if I put in too many ingredients, I might just get more cookies. Who doesn’t love more cookies? For quilting, if the sizing is too big, the best I can do is something that looks amateurish. Like my first quilt:

I hesitate to definitively label this a quilt because it’s so simplistic. The design made sense here, since the animal print was from a fabric I cut up, but imagine how much better this quilt could’ve looked if the panels on that fabric had been smaller. It still might’ve been lacking — hey, it was my first finished one! — but that smaller size of each block could’ve made the overall appearance more refined.

My latest quilt.

My latest quilt.

2) Be exact. The “it’s good enough” mentality I might’ve had for baking doesn’t spill over so well into the world of sewing. Want to see an example? Here’s part of what I have so far with my latest quilt:

These shapes were not all cut in the same sizes. Instead, my system was more general—like “it’s good enough” with baking. Spotting places where this work has issues isn’t too hard. Blocks are different sizes, and I’m not entirely sure the middle rows aren’t smaller than the ends. A reason these problems could’ve happened is because I wasn’t exact with my measurements. Here’s another example of the same flaw:

Crooked corners, but a great learning experience!

Crooked corners, but a great learning experience!

See how the corners don’t line up? Oops! Not good! More accurate measuring could’ve kept this from happening.

3) Have the right tools. I might not have measuring cups and spoons. I might not even use an oven mitt. And my baking could still turn out okay. But what I’ve discovered is that tools might be a key in quilting, especially for an early quilter/sewer like me, and I should look into equipping myself with utensils for the job. Currently, I want a rotary cutter and ruler. With those, getting the right measurements could be easier, which could in turn make my final products look more refined.

4) Have a plan. Going into the kitchen and deciding I’m going to experiment with ingredients might be fine. I’ve done that. And I got some pretty tasty banana cake out of the deal. But if I go into a quilt project without a plan, things could go wrong. For my latest quilt, I changed my technique for sewing after I’d started, which caused some let-downs. My quilt is smaller than I intended, holes showed up in my fabric, and my final row of material might’ve been decided by the fact that I didn’t have enough pieces of certain materials to continue my pattern (which I slightly messed up anyway). Basically, with quilting, I should potentially map out my strategy from start to finish. Otherwise, tasty banana cake might not be the end result.

Hopefully, I’ll learn from my mistakes though, and maybe someone else can, too! Like with just about anything, practice can lead to improvement.