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Friday, 6 January 2017
Quick and easy pattern weights.
Topic: Sewing FAQ's
Normally this would be Fun With Fabric Friday. But I don't have any new fabrics to show off. I do however have a link for a little sewing notion projects that I think EVERYONE who sews needs: farbric covered pattern weights.It's the answer to the common "what do I use when I can't use pins?" question.

If you go to enough sewing websites and read enough books you'll hear about pattern weights for fabrics than can be damaged by pin holes. Often they show larger heavy washers from the hardware stores. And as everyone who has tried this will tell you: The metal can and will flake off and stain your fabric.  If it's the underside of a heavy fake leather this isn't an issue -if your unpinnable fabric is a super fine cotton voile in white -the grey rings are a BIG problem. Good idea, doesn't work in reality.

Which is why this handy little tutorial is so great:  this tells you how to cover large heavy washers with fabric yoyo's.  Even though it shows sixteen steps all are quite easy and quickly accomplished. You can make them as large or as small as you wish. If you want to combine washers in a stack to make them heavier you can do that too. Use a bit of gorilla or super glue and those suckers will be stuck together forever.

My local hardware store also sell small metal nuts, bolts and washer in bulk and these can be sued as weights in little bean bag pattern weights. I hate wasting food -such as the recommended rice and beans -in them, and many places no longer sell small lead shot by the pound. Something about weaponizing them -so small nuts, bolts etc. makes a good substitute.

You can also buy pattern weights but they are quite expensive and many are simply larger heavy machinery washers dipped in a plastic coating. Again, you can get larger washers at the hardware store and many of these stores also sell plastic dip coating in the paint section. Save some money and do it yourself. All plastic coatings come with instructions for use so read the label and follow the instructions.

And there you have it! Pattern weights that look good, don't waste rice or beans and  are simple to make.

Posted by lincatz at 9:44 AM EST
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Friday, 22 April 2016
Facing a V-shaped neckline: what they don't want you to know.
Topic: Sewing FAQ's

I also considered calling the article: facing a V-Shaped Neckline: You are doing it wrong. But that seemed rude considering most people do it the way pattern instruictions tell them to do it and the way sewing teachers have been taching for decades. It's not your fault you are doing it wrong. The problem is no one told you how to do it right.And that's because no one taught the teachers how to do it right. many professionals do what I'm about to show you, yet they still teach the wrong method to beginners. It's almost like they want you to fail. 

A couple days ago someone asked why home sewn V necks look lumpy and ripply like on the left and why store purchased V necks hug the neckline and don't gap or ripple like on the right. It's because necks are faced by a different method in commercial production. The different starts right at the pattern cutting stage.Let's begin with a few diagrams of how facing patterns are made -both the wrong way and right way.

The pattern for a facing is almost always traced right off the bodice pattern and used as is with no adjusting. Above in figure 1 is a typical dress bodice pattern. Mine is hand drawn but it can be done by a software program and look about the same. The blue lines are seam lines, green lines are cutting  lines, the arrows are grain lines and the banana yellow line is the tracing line for the edge of the facing. The red lines are drafting guide lines -for the bodice this is also the center front. When hand drafting a facing you will trace the neck, shoulder to the dot, the yellow edge line and center front.

Figure 2 is the typical facing pattern as traced off or generated through software. The grain-lines are the same on the bodice and the facing and both are placed on the straight grain fold of the fabric. Unfortunately, this facing that has no reason to be well behaved and stay tucked under the bodice on the underside.  It's the same size and due to the way many people trace it can be slightly larger than the opening it is sewn into. Worse still, both edges are now on the unstable bias grain and can easily stretch and ripple while the fabric is being cut. And That's the crux of the problem. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong because the facing itself is all wrong. The traced- off facing is the wrong size and wrong grain placement right from the get-go. Even the perfectly-traced-exactly-on-the-lines facing is slightly too large and on the bias and the neck edge will always be unstable and prone to rippling.

Figure 3 is the correct facing.  Note that is slightly smaller than the neckline and that the neck edge has become the grain line. This places the neck edge of the facing on the straight grain and will stabilize the bias edge of the bodice's neckline so it will not ripple and bump. Please note that the center front now has a seam line. Press this seam flat before sewing into the neckline and sew as if it was cut on the fold. When sewing you will notice the the bodice neck is larger that the facing. Place the bodice down against the feed dogs while sewing and allow the natural feed action ease the bodice neck to the facing neck.  Grade and trim the facing and carefully under-stitch AFTER pressing. 

But, you ask, how do I shrink the facing? Do I lower it at the shoulder? Neckline? How do I ensure the shrinkage is even along the neckline? To understand the front adjustment let's do the back facing first. Back necks are usually a part-of-an-oval shape. It lies flat against the neck and keeps the dress/blouse/whatever from falling off the shoulder. It holds everything in place. The back facing should also be about a quarter inch smaller. It's easy to adjust by finding the center of the oval or circle, dividing the part-circle into thirds and making a tiny little fold on the one third lines. Make each fold no more than a sixteenth of an inch on each side of the fold. Figure five shows the imaginary center and the red lines are one-third guidelines. Figure 4 shows pinching in the tiny little tucks. Tape the folds in the paper down, true the neckline and use the pattern piece to cut the facing. Carefully clip the curve, press, trim the seam and under-stitch. Do not pull the round edge into a straight line at any point. sew all curves as curves. pulling a curved line straight might make sewing a tiny bit easier, but it can also stretch the neckline.

Figure 6 shows how to apply this one-third rule to the front neckline. Measure the edge of the facing at the neckline, divide by three, make the one third red guidelines and square the line from neckline. fold in tiny little tucks one-sixteenth per side for a one eight inch smaller neck.  This will make the neck no more than a quarter inch shorter and that's really all that's needed. The smaller facing will naturally pull itself to the underside.

And here's one more pattern-designer's tip to help the neckline lay even closer to the neck:

 This should be done before the facing is cut while drafting the bodice. Lower the shoulder seam at the neckline by 1/4 an inch for sizes up to 8, 3/8 of an inch for sizes up to 14 and 1/2 an inch for sizes above 16.  Draw a new shoulder seam ; the alteration should end just beyond the halfway point of the shoulder seam.  This flattens the shoulder slope and keeps the shoulder and neck closer to the body.

If the dress has sleeve or separate neck and armhole facings sew the shoulder seams of the bodice and then the shoulder seams of the facing and then sew the bodice neck to the facing. Once again, the bodice needs to be against the feed dogs and the facing on the top side under the presser foot. Let the feed dogs work their magic easing power to ease the extra fabric into the facing. This will make the facing lay flat with little bulk at the shoulder. Don't sew the facing to the front, the facing to the back and then sew the shoulder seam. That's how you get lumpy bulky seams at the shoulder.

If you have an all in one neck and armhole facing then follow the sewing directions in the pattern. There is an industrial/commercial method of sewing all in ones that requires no hand sewing and makes the facing turn auto-magically to the inside never to be seen again. It's very complicated and easy to mess up -the first time most beginner do it at least one seam ends up on the outside and at least one armhole is twisted.

Oh, you want to know? It's been puzzling you for ages how they do it in stores clothes without hand sewing little opening left for turning? Well, it will take time to write up, take pictures and draw drawings, but I guess I have nothing else to do this weekend.


Posted by lincatz at 11:08 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 29 April 2016 10:51 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 23 September 2015
How to trace and transfer embroidery patterns made ultra EE-ZEE
Topic: Sewing FAQ's
One of the features that drew me to the original blouse pattern was the embroidered front, designed to look like English white work embroidery. The blouse was nothing without the embroidery. The instructions had it worked in simple hand sewn satin stitches rather than machine sewn satin stitches. Hand embroidery looks a hundred times better and doing it as instructed would make the project take longer to complete, but the over-all finished look would be worth it.

The embroidery pattern was printed on the master pattern sheet as thin black lines that you traced the same way one traces the sewing pattern. However unlike the pattern you have to take extra steps to get the traced pattern onto the front of the blouse. And you have to trace it twice, once as a mirror image of the original. And then you need to get the traced design on the fabric so you can follow the lines.  How do you do all that?

Yes, How do you do all that quick and easy? It is a question I am asked quite often. Beginners get confused because everyone has a different method and some are quite complicated and require things like "pounce bags" and hours of poking holes with a pin into paper. Or they tell you to buy special  expensive papers and special pens and pencils and special tracing cloths and more -suddenly that one simple embroidery pattern costs 30$ and that doesn't include floss!

Most people prefer simple hot iron transfers. Place the transfer on the fabric, iron it on, and stitch over the lines hiding the transfer ink. Transfer ink doesn't brush off as easily as chalk pouncing and doesn't damage the base fabric like using a needle wheel and dressmaker's carbon paper. For delicate silks and fine cottons a needle wheel can't be used at all.

In reality tracing an embroidery pattern and turning it into a hot iron transfer is not difficult. It's quite easy. Easy Peasy. And Cheap. In fact. You don't need to spend a lot of money of special tools and the ONLY special tool is less than five dollars -the hot iron transfer pencil. It takes a bit of time but this method is almost fool proof. You need:
  1. Tracing paper. The same paper you use to trace the pattern is fine if it is see-through enough. Otherwise use real tracing paper from an art, office or dollar store. You don't need special paper to make transfers; the cheap paper works as well as the expensice "aunt martha" paper. 
  2. A sharp HB (no2) pencil. You lines must be fine but dark and easy to see
  3. A hot iron transfer pencil. These are available at fabric stores, craft stores, and sometimes art stores. I got mine at A Great Notion at the Creativ festival, but they also have it on their webstore. It has a special "lead" that transfers from thepaper to the fabric with the heat of your iron.  These do eventually wash out -but covver the lines with floss regardeless
  4. A bit of paitience.
 Lay the tracing paper over the embroidery pattern and trace using a sharp HB pencil -a number 2 from office stores is the same as the HB from the art store. Beside this write "this side up" in pencil. Flip the paper upside down. The pencil tracings should be clear and easy to see. Place the first tracing upside down on a clean flat surface.

Take another piece of tracing paper and place it over the first tracing. Write "This side up" on it first and then proceed to trace from the first tracing. You now have two tracing that are mirror image.

Next, take the first tracing and once again with it upside down trace over the pencil lines with the hot iron transfer pencil. The transfer pencil must be done of the side without the HB pencil tracing -the transfer pencil eventually washes away but if there's any pencil led mixed in with the transfer pencil the mark is almost impossible to remove. Do not trace the reversed "this side up"

Flip the second tracing upside down and trace over the lines on the second tracing with the transfer pencil.

You now have two mirror-image copies of the embroidery pattern ready to transfer to your fabric. Place the transfer on the fabric so the penciled "this side up" is up and the transfer pencil down. I often stick pins into the corners into the padding of the ironing board to help hold it in place. For this design I placed the main stem on the dart so satin stitches would cover the dart seam. I used the cotton setting and no steam, pressed for a few seconds. lifter a corner to ensure the design transferred and let tyhe piece cool down. After it was cool I did the other side.

Quite easy -and while a bit more time consuming in the tracing stage (everything is traced twice) -it is easier to keep track of which side is up and which is down and easier to ensure that you indeed have mirror images of the embroidery design.

Here's a basic hot iron pencil from A Great Notion:

No expensive "tracing veil fabric" no expensive papers or markers, just  tracing paper, a common pencil and one special transfer pencil. No powderd chalk or specail chalk bangs and no poking hundreds of pinholes in a picture (which I find much more time consuming than tracing twice or even tree times. 

And here are the tracings: one is the transfer side and one is the pencil side. And that's all there is. Doesn't matter if the pattern is a simple motif like this or a super detailled complex motif. It's done the same way. 

Now you can take any printed pattern and turn it into an iron on embroidery transfer.  And make a perfect mirror image copy, too.

Posted by lincatz at 10:54 AM EDT
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Thursday, 17 April 2014

Topic: Sewing FAQ's

Not really a sewing question, but a question I have seen in many places. I'm taking this from my most recent discussion from a message board about fashion, sewing and other similar topics.  The question came out-of-the-blue from a board newbie and It sort of proves that one can think too much.

Question: Okay....I'm almost 38 years old. I have a master's degree with an interest in historic costume, esp. clothing of the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the past, clothing was usually either practical, meant to indicate wealth or social class or meant to make people look better by emphasizing parts of the human anatomy (bottom, waist, bust, etc.)

I just don't understand the ultra-extreme fashions exhibited at "fashion shows." What is the purpose of these clothes?

Are these extreme fashions simply art? Many of them are not functional. No one could really wear some of them. Many of them aren't attractive and do nothing to make a person look better. Are they just the designers' way to get attention?  Some of them almost seem to indicate a hatred of women and their bodies. And the models and audience look so SERIOUS! What a RIOT!

I'm sorry, anyone can be weird to get attention. That takes very little skill or creativity. Lots of adolescents do it all time.

Please enlighten me.

This is my response -it's quite wordy but I think it's worth reading:

Haute couture is art for art's sake. Design is that odd combination of artistic skill/technical skill and haute couture is the ultimate expression of the art of fashion design and the ultimate exploration of the technical aspects of fashion. Whether these clothes are ever worn is irrelevant, they advance the art of fashion, they advance our perception of fashion and they advance the techniques of fashion. The word fashion was a verb meaning "to create with skilled handwork" far before it ever  became a noun meaning an article of clothing.

The show is meant to be viewed as one would approach an art gallery. Each collection is based on a theme, and everything must express this theme, from hair, make up, clothes, staging, etc. The show is fantasy and should be viewed as fantasy. No one expects anyone to look like the runway models. If they seem more and more bizarre, that's merely one-up-manship. Everyone is trying to outdo the other and trying to wow the jaded fashion press. As the press always says, don't look at the sizzle, look at the steak: in this case look at the individual fashion garments without the model.

Each garment is a work of many master artists and craftspeople, from tailors to embroiderers to painters. Each garment should be approached the way one would approach an artwork in a gallery. Each garment is hand made, none of these are mass produced in sweatshops, many never see even the simplest sewing machine. All take hundreds of hours to make. All are so exquisitely hand detailed and finished that you can wear the garment inside out and none would be able to tell.

Couture also expands the way we look at clothes and can change the way every woman dresses from the moment a couture garment is revealed. Paul Poiret's Scheherazade collection and his lampshade tunics, harem pants and raised waist chiffon dresses in 1909 freed women from their corsets and led directly to the invention of the modern bra. Coco Chanel's couture concept of sportswear separates as every-day clothing changed the way women approached wardrobe planning, and is still the standard for how women dress. In modern times, Armani and Versace introduced the world to soft tailoring, light as a feather interfacings and lighter fabrics for suits. Lagerfeld, when he was the designer for Chloe; came up with new ways to line jackets so that the lining no longer bunches or pulls.

The styles also trickle down to the mainstream. Galliano's graveyard victorian from a few years ago made skulls, bones, and tombstones fashionable and when that fad met the pirate fad, suddenly skulls and crossbones were everywhere. Gaulthier's haute couture sweaters trickle into the mainstream about two years after they appear on the runway. Many sweaters and knits in stores are based on Gaulthier's couture knits. Couture also suggest new colour combinations and new silhouettes.

So while the garments may seem odd, impractical, or unwearable; they do serve a purpose. You might never wear one of Galliano's Stained Glass gowns, but next fall you might pick up a colour blocked top. You won't ever own a hand made Chanel suit, but you might end up with braid trimmed jacket.

Aside from the world of true paris Couture, yes, there are designers with shocking runway shows. They have to do something to differentiate themselves in an extremely crowded marketplace. But many of these designers never ever put out a second show, nor do the lines ever sell once they make it to stores. Designer's first shows must be eye catching, and if the designers feel they aren't talented enough as clothing makers, then they dazzle the eye with style over substance. You get sizzle, but no steak. The true test of these outrageous designers comes in the second and third collection. If the lines doesn't make money or sell, then there often isn't a second or third collection. The market place usually decides the fates of these lines. And in spite of how they look from the outside, many of the oddest garments are exquisitely constructed. Taking a piece of two dimensional fabric and turning it into something three dimensional is not easy at the best of times. Making something three dimensional that can move with a human body is even more difficult. The fashion designer is also an artist and a sculptor who works in fabric and thread and the human body.

Perhaps with your history background you are taking it all far too seriously. Perhaps you should approach fashion as an art and a diversion and less as a deep sociological statement. Modern fashion is meant to be fun and expressive; even the weird and or ugly stuff. Many of the old " clothing defines one's place in social order" rules of history don't apply any longer.  You don't define a man's place in business based on the number of buttons on his jacket, nor do you define a woman's social standing by the presence or lack of gloves and a hat. We have middle class 14 year old school girls wearing Chanel and on the other side of the equation we have the billionaire former CEO of Microsoft buying his clothes at Walmart and the GAP. Times have changed. 

...and I have nothing to add!!

Posted by lincatz at 11:04 AM EDT
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Thursday, 23 May 2013
Border Print Fabrics: What Do I Make With Them?
Mood:  caffeinated
Topic: Sewing FAQ's

From Yahoo Answers -and a variant shows up every summer when the stores are full of these fabrics. Q:I have some fabric that has pictures along one side at the selvedge.  Most dresses I know are made with the fabric going up and down and not across. But I don't want to lose the pictures. So what can I make with this difficult fabric?

A:The fabric has a name.  It's called BORDER PRINT.  It's not difficult, it simply requires you to forget everything you have ever learned about straight versus cross grain and think completely outside the box and the grain lines.  It's like learning how to enjoy DubStep for the first time: forget everything you think you know about music, melody, tone, structure, chords, and sound and think outside of song structure, key signatures and time signatures. Border print fabrics are like the dubstep of the fabric world.  

Or not. Border print fabrics usually have a design along one selvedge that's detailed and decorative. It turns into a simple repeating print as it goes across the the other selvedge.  Some border prints repeat the print on both selvedges.  Many border prints are wide width and some are about 30 to 36 inches -skirt width. Meaning that  it's perfect for a knee length skirt.  These are almost "instant skirts" simply sew a seam, fold over a casing, add elastic and voila! A skirt with no hemming required. But that's not very original and it doesn't take advantage of a border print's many design opportunities. 

But -you are asking -isn't it wrong to use the across-grain of the fabric?  Doesn't that mean my skirt/top/dress won't drape and hang nicely, doesn't that make it sort of stiff? And that's a very valid question and something that once again requires you to unlearn that which you have learned. 

So use the print as it was meant to be used: turn it on its side and cut cross grain.  The fabric police won't arrest you. Border prints work best when turned on their side. If you attempt to use the straight grain as the straight grain you'll wind up with stiffness, lack of drape and other problems normally associated with cross grain cutting.   Why? fabrics with border prints are often woven to compensate for any issues associated with the cross grain. In many cases the fabric hangs better on the cross than it does on the straight -in a way selvedge to selvedge is the straight grain! I know -that kind of melted my brain the first time. Trust me!  Hold up that border print and drape it into a skirt on the regular straight grain. Yuck. Now drape it along the cross grain. Notice how much better it looks? 

The first design consideration with a border print is that you are designing for edge of the fabric.  Since the edge is where the visual  interest is you must design with the edges as the focal point.  Let's look at a few common edges on clothes.

The Tube Skirt Hem: this is almost a no-brainer.  Most border prints do end up as the hem of a skirt.  It best shows off the print and it's easy to make.  As a variation, why not use the print for a dress's skirt and the rest of the fabric for the bodice?  Or use some of the border for where the bodice attaches to the skirt.  

Or turn the print sideways and run it up the center front of the skirt. Or the dress. 


Or use the border edge on the side, like a caftan dress.  Or make a short caftan top, as in the above illustration.  The print could go along the center front seam or as shown. Or make a straight skirt and let the border flutter along the side seam.  In a very soft floaty fabric your skirt will not look bulky, it will look chic.


Or the lower hem of a blouse.  Or if you make a high waisted empire style top the border can end right under the bust and along the lower hem -like to one above which I have made a couple times.  And if you want sleeves it can be on the lower part of the sleeve, either short or long sleeves.  

If the fabric is quite wide use a length that's two times the bust measurement.  Add a bunch of rows of shirring elastic at the top and make a tube top dress. Easy peasy.

Or use the border upside down at the top edge or a strapless bodice and for the skirt use the print at the lower hem. 


Or make a peasant skirt with the border cut off and turned inot the ruffle at the bottom.  Or use the border on the main skirt part AND the ruffle.  I've made this skirt -it matches the top up there with the string under the bust.   Or turn it sideways and add a center front seam. 

You can take apart the print and re-sew it together in stripes, bias chevrons and more and turn that into something to wear.  Or use the border at the edge of each pattern piece, like above. The possibilities are really endless.  

Do make sure that your design isn't overly complicated with lots of seams and darts.  These can throw off the pattern and distort it in places that are focal points. Easing and gathering is better than darts it's softer and won't cut off features of the print.  If your print has faces a misplaced dart can decapitate someone.   Gathers and shirring work better -it compresses the design but there's less distortion that with complicated darts and seaming.

So let the border print itself do most of the design work and keep it simple -especially for your first project.  The basic elastic waist tube skirt is the perfect place to start -you get a high fashion skirt with very little work. Once you understand how to place border prints to best exploit the print, the grain line and marry the design to the print you can attempt more complicated designs.  The dresses below exploit the border print to its fullest, without the border the designs are still good, but a print makes them special.


And there you have it!  It's not difficult, but it does require you to think outside the pattern envelope and around standard pattern piece shapes.  Use your imagination when placing the print on a garment. The print is the focal point so use it so it best complements you, your body shape, your personal style and the fabric itself. 

Posted by lincatz at 10:31 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Sewing FAQ: What's the deal with sewing machine needle numbers?
Topic: Sewing FAQ's

From Yahoo Answers and and one of my more common questions: So what's the deal with the numbers on sewing machine needles? Can someone explain them to me? I know the average size is 90/14. Then, the higher the number, does that mean the thicker the needle? What the difference if, let's say, I used 100/16 or 80/12? What the best needle for thicker fabric, like denim?

Answer: Yes, the higher the number the thicker the needle. There are two numbers because there's an international scale and an American scale. I can never remember which is which so I use both.  And since it's not really important in the grand scheme of sewing I never bothered to learn the difference.  I do, however know which needle to use for which purpose and I have a poster sized needle chart mounted to the wall behind my sewing machines so I don't need to memorize needle numbers, I just look at the chart. Needle selection is of paramount importance to sewing success: the correct needle will make your sewing project a breeze while the wrong needle will make a sewing project a pain at best and an utter failure at worst. And it's something many beginners overlook. And for those experimental types it's one of those things that you don't know that you need to know -so you never master the science of needle selection. 

Why are needles so important? What difference could they possibly make? Let's leave the world of fabric and thread.  Let's look at nailing wood together: you wouldn't use small brad nails for attaching 2x10 support beams and you wouldn't use spikes for attaching fine trim to your cabinet doors. You use the smaller nails for thinner wood that doesn't need strength and you use big nails to keep your house from falling apart during hurricanes. By extension you wouldn't use a fine needle designed for sewing silks to sew denim. The needle isn't strong enough to penetrate the denim and you'll struggle to sew even a simple seam. And you wouldn't use a needle designed for tent canvas to sew a silk blouse. The needle would leave large holes and any stress will make the blouse rip at the holes.

Additionally there are needles designated as "microtex" for fine microfiber fabrics; metafil for metallic threads; "ballpoint" for knits, t-shirt fabrics and jersey; denim needles for denim; sharps for densely woven fabrics; knife point leather needles for leather; and all purpose needles for everything else. Using a leather needle to sew leather makes the job easy because the leather needle has a knife point that cuts through the leather. Using a microtex when sewing high tech microfibers makes them less prone to slipping and you get fewer skipped stitches. And the denim needle has a very sharp chisel point that sews through bulky layers of denim with ease, something an all purpose needle struggles with.

For sewing a pair of jeans or most denim clothes a 100/16 denim point needle works best. Some heavy 18+ ounce bull denims need a 110/18, but this thick needle can leave holes in lighter weight garment denim. When sewing denim it's important to keep bulk to a minimum so trimming away excess seam allowances when seams cross is important -no needle will help with bulky seams. Even an industrial machine with titanium knife point needles will gag on anything more than eight layers of denim (trust me -I have an industrial with titanium needles) -so reducing bulk is an essential step.

What happens if you use a 80/12 all purpose for denim? You'll get broken threads while sewing. You'll get knots on the underside of seams. The needle will break while sewing. The needle could do worse: it might bend and damage the bobbin shuttle race. It might seize up the machine, break before penetrating the fabric and screw up the needle bar. That's a big repair. A nick or gouge on the shuttle hook can snag threads and screw up ALL your sewing. That's another big repair. The proper needle is very important and you should have a selection of needles that reflect the fabrics and projects you normally sew. Needles do get dull so you need to change them after eight to ten hours of of use. That's eight hours when the machine is operating and the needle is doing things and sewing things -not eight hours according to the clock when you are in the sewing room.

So something as small as a needle impacts all aspects of a sewing project. Buying good needles that are suitable for the job you want them to do is a worthy investment. You will be rewarded with easier sewing, higher seam quality and a better looking finished project. It's another one of those tiny little "attention to details" things that makes a big difference.

Here are a few additional resources to help with selecting the correct needle for you sewing project. From Sewing.Org comes this very helpful PDF chart:  print it out and pin it to the wall behind your sewing machine you can select your needles at a glance.  For come this gallery of everything you need to know about needles:  from parts of the needle to types of needles.  The best needles are made by Schmetz and they have an extensive help center: including this page about needles:  and this illustrated print at home full color brochure:  

Almost all home machines made since the 1950's take the same needles -there are a few that use round shaft needles. If your machine takes round shaft needles it might be time to invest in a new machine: it's obsolete and there are no longer parts available for it.  All machines made since the 70's use the same domestic household needles. The needles that work in your pfaff will work in my Janome and the needles that work in my Janome will work in your sister's Singer. They really are "universal"   

If you are buying for a serger, overlock, coverlock, industrial, or blind hemmer then the basic principles apply: the correct size needle for the fabric is essential.  The advanced stuff -such as structure of the needle  -is different and each machine will need specific needles designed to work with the machine.  Be sure to buy the correct needle type for these specialty machines as the serger or the blind hemmer or the large industrial can't use the same domestic machine needles  that your home machine uses.  A sewing machine dealer or repair shop can get special needles for your machine in whatever size you need. 

And that's what you need to know about needles!  

Posted by lincatz at 10:09 AM EDT
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Thursday, 8 December 2011
Q: Is sewing polar fleece easy?
Topic: Sewing FAQ's

Time for the annual Q: Is it easy to sew polar Fleece? I'm a beginner and I've made a couple things. Do I need a serger?  What interfacing do I use? 

A: Very easy. Good for you, then you have more than enough experience for fleece!  Absolutely not!. None. 

Polar Fleece is made from recycled soda pop bottles, water bottles and juice bottles.  It's a polyester fiber that acts like a natural wool fiber.  It's warm, water resistant (It will stay dry in the snow and light rain but it will get wet in a downpour)  moderately windproof and it's light and less bulky than wool fleece. It's shrink-proof, washable and machine dryable on low.  The edges never fray or unravel so no seam finishes are needed, so a serger is not required.  You can't press it, but you can lightly steam it. You can't use interfacing so tailored styles with stiff collars and lapels are out of the question.  Fleece is beefy enough that cuffs and collars hold their shape without interfacing. Don't line fleece unless it's with more fleece.  Fleece is designed to trap a pocket of warm air around the body in the fine fleece fibers: a lining prevents the fibers from trapping body heat and the jacket will not be as warm as when it's unlined.  

That's sort of weird isn't it?  You'd think adding lining would make it warmer...but it doesn't.  That because fleece was designed so well for its purpose: lightweight warmth without excess bulk. A few "experts" suggested lining with cotton flannel, don't listen to these experts. napped fabric against fleece will bind, twist, and worse.  the two fabrics will battle it out against each other and this will make you very uncomfortable while wearing battling fabrics.  

Choose patterns that are designed for fleece, or patterns with few extra details such as inseam pockets, linings, etc.   Kwik Sew Patterns have fleece outdoor jackets for everyone in the family in all sizes, from toddlers to men.  Simplicity has several designed for beginners including a few that are bit more stylish that the classic outdoor jacket. Fleece also makes great accessories such as hats, mitts, scarves, bootliner socks, slippers, blankets and of course the "slanket" or "snuggie" A basic outdoor jacket is really the best beginner project, so I will assume you are making a jacket.

Here is the classic zip-front fleece outdoor jacket from Kwik Sew: Women's:  Men's,_Vests&QL=MenJacketsVest and Kid's:,_Shorts,_Tops,_Jackets&QL=GirlPantsShortsTopJacket  Here's Simplicity's Fleece accessories for all sizes including mitts scarves, hats and more:  

Fleece has two sides, one side is smoothly brushed and napped, the other is fleecier.  The smooth napped side traditionally goes on the outside and the fleecier side goes inside.  For some printed fleeces the print is clearer on the fleecy side and muted on the smoother side the print is fuzzier.  Use the side that you prefer when working with a print.  Always use a "with nap" layout, meaning all the pieces need to go the same way: with the tops all at the top and the bottoms at the bottom, no turning pieces topsy turvy to make them interlock together.  If you interlock to save fabric you get the naps running in different directions in solid colors and -even worse -you can have the print upside down. Most fleece is quite wide so you should be able to lay out the main body pieces across the fabric, with the back at the fold and the front near the selvedge.  This will make matching the print across the jacket super easy. use the notch of the side seam and the notch of the front armhole as match points for the print when cutting the sleeve. 

Cut using long sharp shears.  You will generate lots of fluff so keep a swiffer cloth or duster nearby. Swiffers are best when it comes to picking up the fine lint generated by fleece. When sewing use a 16 needle and long staple polyester thread such as gutterman or mettler.  The polyester has a bit of "give" it needs that for sewing the fleece.  Use a shade that's slightly darker than your fabric, it blends in better. Use a longer stitch length, a minimum of 3.5. The length is needed to handle the bulk of the fabric and to let the feed dogs push it along.  To short a length and your machine will stitch in one place and not move the fabric.  The foot shouldn't get caught in the nap of the fleece, it should slide over with no problems.  Some people use tissue paper between the foot and the fabric, I have never had any need to do so. 

Finger press seams, or use a wooden pr plastic press tool.  Do not let a hot iron make contact with the fleece, the iron will crush it and defeat the insulation qualities of the fleece. To make the jackets even warmer, finger press both allowances to one side and stitch them down.  There's no open seam for wind to leak into, making it warmer.

If collars of facing seem a little limp then add another layer of fleece inside.  You really don't need heavy interfacings at all, it may feel a little odd at first not having that stiffer interfaced facing, but trust me, the jacket will look better. 

To finish the hems simple fold up and top stitch with a zig zag o straight stitch. the zig zag gives a bit of stretch.  A hand sewn hem is technique overkill. There's no need for it to be invisible; fleece is a sporty and casual fabric and the garments only need sporty casual finishes. The top stitched hem will blend into the fibers of the fleece and be almost invisible. 

Sewing fleece really is this easy.  With no seam finishes and not needing interfacing or pressing it eliminates three things that beginners have trouble with. One you make a few simple things you can add patch pocket, flapped pockets, sleeve cuffs, and more to the basic jacket to give it even more style. 

And for all those who really want it here's a pattern for a fleece Snuggie or Slanket in Three Sizes! 

Fleece is a fun and easy fabric, so get yourself a couple yards of fleece, cut a few simple pattern pieces and in little time you'll have a nice warm jacket that can be worn on cool fall days or as an extra warm layer under your coat on the coldest winter days. 

Posted by lincatz at 10:33 AM EST
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Thursday, 25 August 2011
How to Make a Pattern for "Carrot Leg" Pants
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: Sewing FAQ's

Left sketch: Carrot pant worn lower on the waist, right sketch: carrot pant with high waist band.

The "carrot leg" pant is the big rage in Europe at the moment.  If you were around in the eighties the silhouette is very familiar: wide at the waist and hips, narrow at the ankles. There were variations of this silhouette including "paper bag waist" pants, pegged, and the classic Japanese extra-full pleated pants made famous by Yamamoto.These are an exaggeration of the alteration used to turn a basic pant into a pleated front Docker's style semi-dress pant. 

The pattern for these pants are derived from flat block pattern manipulation.  A basic pant block is slashed, sliced, and spread to make the new pattern.  There are a few adjustments that need to be made both before and after the main slash and spread to add extra needed wearing ease.  Intuitively it would seem like no extra ease would be needed, but because of the exaggerated cut of these pants extra length is needed to compensate for the extra width.  Without the added length the pants would be very wide at the hip yet ride uncomfortable up the butt crack. 


Begin with a basic relaxed fitting single dart dress pant block similar to the one above. You need a separate front and back.  There is a larger alteration on the front than the back. Some carrot pants have no alteration on the back, the pant is fitted in the seat and thigh. It shouldn't be a skinny-fit or easeless block, simply to save a few steps in the beginning.  Be sure the center crease line is marked and be sure that the pant leg is balanced on both sides of the center crease line. There will need to be guideline at the high hip,  crotch line, upper thigh and knee. You will also need a "low point" which is where the pivot point goes: at the intersection of this "low point" line the the center crease line.  These lines will help to ensure the pant is spread evenly and you aren't introducing twists or spirals into the altered pattern.

Next altering both the front and back crotch curve, adding an inch ease for sizes 4 to 8, an inch and half for 8-12 and an inch and three quarters for 14 and up.  This silhouette is not flattering for sizes over 18. Use method one from my August 12 blog entry. It's quick and simple. 

You will need a large sheet of paper for this pattern and we will work on the pant front first. Begin by drawing a line down the center of the paper.  This is the center line and the main guideline. Then draw cutting lines on the block pattern, beginning at the waist and angled to the pivot point.  I have lines at the center crease, the waist/crotch seam, waist/side seam and at the mid point between these. This allows the spread to be evenly distributed without throwing off the fit of the crotch or the side seam.  Cut the lines and stick the bottom of the pant to the paper, lining up the pivot point with the center crease line.

This diagram shows how to spread the pattern.  The blue shaded parts are the original pattern.  There's one inch on either side of the center crease line and one inch between the other lines. The knee, thigh and high hip lines should all form a neat, even arc when the lines are joined.  If any line is off register from the others then fix it!

Here's a close up of how the pivot point looks.  As you can see the paper pattern does overlap at the low point line.  The blue pen line shows how the new seam line is drawn smoothly over the jagged line that comes from the alteration.  This gives a the narrow tapered fit at the ankle.

I know what you are asking right now: Why can I make it easy and slash right down to the ankle?  You can, but in the carrot pant we want more fullness higher up and a closer narrower fit at the ankle.  Plus, this way makes the fabric drape a bit at the ankle.  Sometimes taking the slash and spread alteration right to the ankle makes the pants look more like bloomers and less like Carrots. 

Repeat this with the pants back, only don't make the alteration as wide, no more than 1/2 to 5/8 of an inch.  If the back is made as wide as the front it can look clown-like.  You can also leave the pants back as is, although these will tend to draw to the back and bunch up.

The top edge can be gathered, the spread lines can be turned into large pleats, you can make lots of small pleats, you can handle the fullness however you choose and whatever you feel looks best on you.  Just be sure to make these up in muslin or scrap fabric to test the fit. Be sure to sit down, stand up, squat, kneel, wherever you do in the course of your day.  If there's not enough fabric it can bind in the crotch or pull down near the waist. If this happens you will need to add a little more to the top edge as shown below:

One final fashion idea: You can add a yoke to the front and back of these pants, something seen on the one popular in Europe. You need to cut the yoke from the pant block before the slash and spread.  You can make a narrow yoke or a wide yoke. Tape the dart shut to contour the fit to the body and place the center seam on the straight grain.  This places much of the yoke on the bias where the stretch is needed. Here's the diagram, it's self explanatory:


I have two lines, one for a wide yoke and one for a narrow yoke.  Again, the different lines are obvious. 

This is how the pattern shapes are made to achieve the carrot leg silhouette. How you sew and style these high fashion pants is up to you.  Fabric choice is important for these pants to look their best. .  The fabric needs soft drape, a soft hand and it can't be thick or stiff. Too thick or Too stiff fabric will give you clown pants. Soft wool crepe, gabardine or soft wool flannel with give you very dressy pants.  Wool/polyester blends will work, so will viscose and viscose type fabrics like Tencel and Lanacet. Be wary of twills, denims and heavy tweeds: these can be stiff and stand away from the body. Silks, silkies, silky metallics, and rayon challis will also work well, making these pants more elegant and better for evening.  Sheer georgettes and chiffons will make very elegant evening pants but be sure to LINE THE PANTS unless you want the world to see your hoohaa or your the thong you made from recycled Wolverine underoos. 

And that's all I'm writing about big baggy pants! I have no idea if any of these high fashion avant garde styles will go from the runway to the mainstream.  If they do, we can be a ready for them and have them five minutes before everyone else.  And isn't that what fashion is about? 

Posted by lincatz at 12:06 PM EDT
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Monday, 27 June 2011
Sewing FAQ's More crotch gazing: Baggy Crotch Pants Part Two.
Topic: Sewing FAQ's
How to draft baggy crotch pants: part 2

These pants are a  more modern adaptation of the previous Africa style pants.  -first being seen in the 16th century.  These are most commonly worn in the middle east and parts of near Asia. These have less fabric bunching between the legs that the older Yoruba style pants.  These are also one of several traditional cuts for the Salwar part of the Salwar Kameez suits of Northern India -having being brought across by caravans.  The salwars also have a crotch gusset, which I have not illustrated here. (but I will in a future article. They can also be turned into woman's Harem pants by cutting a separate front yoke. I made the harem pants back in the '80's and the fit is quite comfortable.  They can be made in any fabric that's lightweight, from light bottom-weight cottons to sexy flowing silks, silky polyesters and flowing rayons. You can also make them from jersey knit for a super comfy lounge pant. 

There are two sizes, not just one.  Again, this is from a set of written instructions found in the back of an older pattern drafting book. They are easy to follow. Again, the cut of these pants offer an easier to fit shape in the crotch than modern pants. See my first article an the basics needed for drafting these basic patterns found by clicking these pretty colored letters!  You will need a sheet of paper about 50 inches long by about 30 inches wide.

The pattern above is in scale, one square = two inches.

Start with the zero point in the upper left corner of your paper,  Square a line down and across from this and mark the upper left corner with a zero or: Ø
Ø to A 46 inches for the side seam.  This is also he straight grain line
A-B 9 inches for ankle and hem.
Ø-C 16 inches for size medium or large fits hips up to 50 inches. waist line
Ø-D 20 inches for size extra large or XXLarge. fits hips up to 70 inches. Waist line Remember that these pants are meant to be very loose fitting.
C to  • 14 inches crotch depth.
• to E 3 inches crotch width.
D to • 14 inches crotch depth
• to F crotch width
B to E join with curved line as in illustration.
B to F join with curved line as in illustration.
C-E  or D-F join as illustrated with a curved line for crotch seam.

And that's the basic pattern.  Both front and back are the same.  To refine the fit of the pants back raise up point C or D, depending on which size you make by an inch and half for M/L and two inches for XL and join with a curved line as in the illustration. 

This pattern is in a different scale than above, in this diagram one square = one inch. 

To make a front yoke for woman's Harem pants: Ø to G-1 and 3/4 inch
C/D to H=5 inches. join G to H and cut off the pattern.  G to H become new seam line that joins to yoke. Trace this cut off part include all lines and letters. Continue on new paper for yoke pattern:
Ø to1 1 1/2 inches
G-2 21/2inches
C/D to 3=3 inches
H to 4=3 inches.
join 3 and 4 with straight line. Join 4 and 2 with a slightly curved line. join 1 and 2 with a slight curve join  1 and 3 with a slight curve for waist.

While a french curve will help to make the curves, it is only optional. Free-hand drawing a cure isn't difficult.   Some  patterns for pants similar to these have the crotch cut with a straight line and no curve.As i said, the easy fit means less precision is needed.

There are a couple waist options for the unyoked pants. The easiest is to extend the pattern at the waist and make a casing for an elastic.  Adding 2 inches to the top edge will give enough fabric to give turn under the raw edge, stitch it down and top stitch the upper edge. This will give a neat professional look the the waist band. For an extra crisp waist finish interface the wrong side of the casing. It will hold its shape and not crush. 

You can also cut a separate facing for the upper edge, making it about one and a quarter in width and the full waist length. Interface this facing with some lightweight fusible. The lower edge should be neatened, either with a bias binding, turned under and stitched, overcast with a zig zag or by serging and overlocking the raw edge.  Sew the facing to the pants t right sides together, press up toward the facing, under-stitch the facing close to the seamline.  Work a buttonhole on ether side of the center front seam on the pants or the facing, your choice. If worked in the facing the drawstring is invisible on the outside. Turn the facing to the inside of the pants. You can then stitch a scant 1/4 inch from the top edge, and then another line of top stitching about 3/4 of an inch from that.  Sew a second line a scant 1/4 inch below this line.  You can thread a drawstring through the buttonhole, draw through the waist, pull out the other buttonhole and then use that to tie up the pants.  To make a draw string cut a strip of fabric 2 inches wide by 2X your waist.  Sew he long edge with a 1/4 inch seam allowance, turn the tube and press.   

To make up the harem pants you will need to do a couple things first: Add a seam allowance the the pants where they attach to the yoke, and  then add an extesion to the waist for an elastic casing. Cut FOUR 4 yokes. Interface two yoke pices so the yoke it holds its shape. place a second layer of fabric over the interfaced yoke, the interfacing will now be covered and trea the two layers as one layer. On the pants sew a line of gathering stitches 12 inches long and start 2 inches from the center front.  Pull up the gathers so the pants fit the seam line of the yoke. Sew the fronts together at the center front.  Work a buttonhole in an inch from the center-front seam on the casing extension. Sew up the backs on the center back line. Sew the in seams together in one long line from ankle to ankle. Sew the out seams.  Turn to casing to the inside, stitch and insert an elastic. 

The method of sewing the inseams is different.  Usually you sew the pants as a pair of tubes then join at the crotch so the direction of the stitches enhance the close to the body fit.  For the harem pants sewing the inseams in a long line helps to give the saggy crotch definition through the direction of the stitches.   It's being done on purpose, in other words. 

Here's a PFD of the scale pattern diagram  on graph paper. scaled pants pattern.

Next is another African style of pants that comes from the Sahara and was worn in the caravans.  it was also a style worn by MC Hammer back in the day.  These have a funky angle cut waist and crotch that can be placed in various ways on striped fabric to achieve different decorative effects. After will be a modern adaptation that is sometimes also used for the more ornately cut and decorated modern Salwar pants  These are cut with the waist and crotch on the bias and occasionally have a separate crotch gusset, again when made of striped fabric interesting effects are achieved through careful placement of the gusset on the striped fabric. 

Finally, I will have some extra content, illustrations for adding an elastic casing extension, an inseam pocket pattern,  how to adjust the pattern to fit a full or round seat and how to make a separate waist facing. There's plenty more to come, so see you all later!

Posted by lincatz at 11:35 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 27 June 2011 11:36 AM EDT
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Friday, 17 June 2011
More crotch-gazing: The baggy saggy crotch of MC Hammer and how to get it for yourself: Part One
Topic: Sewing FAQ's

How to draft a pattern for African-style baggy crotch pants (similar to MC Hammer)

Hammer pants, Tripp pants, Yoruba trousers, zouave, sarouelles, harem pants...there are many words that describe loose fitting pants with baggy crotches. These pants have their origins in the near and middle east and Northern Africa.  They moved throughout Africa and across to India, Pakistan and South East Asia.  Most are variations of two different pattern cutting methods.  The original cut for these pants have fronts and backs that are the same.  That makes these pants surprisingly easy to cut and -when interpreted in modern fabrics -easy to make up.  The first pattern draft is for traditional yoruba/african trousers. These are very wide and bulky in the waist and between the legs.  They are the one most associated with MC Hammer. 

Traditional Yoruba pants are still made today and made the sme way as they have been throughout history. They are made of narrow strips of fabric woven on a small strap loom. This fabric is known as aso oke and is available on line in many wonderful color combinations.  The strips are woven and sewn together to make a larger piece of cloth. Alternately and more commonly done today: the strips are butted together and sewn selvedge to selvedge, again to make a wider piece of cloth.  African trousers would be sewn with the side seams left open above the hip line and the top edge would be tied around the waist. This gave the pants their characteristic stripe pattern and interesting drape and it makes them less bulky at the waist than the modern elasticated waist of the Hammer pants. In order to make authentic Yoruba trousers one would use the paper pattern as a template to cut the strips to the correct lengths and to sew them together. This way there's as little waste as possible to these exquisite hand woven strips of fabric.

This cut of trouser was used in other parts of Africa, without the extra step of sewing together woven strips. The pants were often gathered and sewn to a closer fitting cuff at the ankle to keep some of the volume under control.  This was essential when riding animals as the voluminous pant legs could get tangled in the ropes and harnesses.  Traditionally large tunics were always worn over these pants throughout africa and the east.  The upper tunic varied widely from location to location, looser in central and western Africa, closer fitting in the East. 

The pattern here is exactly as it was worked in pattern class. In many pattern books and pattern classes there's a part at the end with a few drafting instructions, small diagrams and generic instructions for traditional and ethnic type clothes.  they are listed as "pattern or a jerkin" "pattern for poncho" "pattern for baby's layette" The patterns are usually one size and there's no construction details: no waist bands, facings pockets or anything else. After drafting you have an outline and that's it.

For these pants the lack of detail isn't really an problem.  The pants are in one size fits most, and they can be worn by both men and women.  Because the crotch drapes over the body rather than fits close to the body there shouldn't be any complex fitting issues with the crotch line -meaning no camel toes, no 'frowns" "smiles" or wedgies.  They will feel different as there is more fabric between the legs than we modern jean wearers are accustomed to. 

For drafting you will need: large piece of paper.  For those who don't have access to pattern paper you can use rolls of gift wrap.  You can find large rolls at dollar stores that are quite cheap.  You don't need fancy metallic print paper, just the cheapest stuff you can find that's plain on one side. You will need a long yardstick, a tape measure, a T-square, pencils and a sharpie marker to make permanent lines when the drafting is finished.  You can use whatever you have for making patterns, a long board of wood can serve as a long yardstick, use in conjunction with a tape measure and you can make long straight lines with ease.  The one thing that you can't do without, however, is a good T-square. Patterns require perfectly squared perpendicular and parallel lines, without them the finished garment will be poorly fitting, skewed, and it will look terrible. 

Here's the basic draft on graph paper:

You will need a large sheet of paper about 40 inches wide by 50 inches long.
At the top left corner mark a large dot. this is starting point  0, or as I use the zero with the line through it: Ø Draw a straight line down the left side, from the Ø to point A is 46 inches.  This is your side seam. It runs parallel to the straight grain.
A to B=10 inches.  This is the Hem
Ø to C= 30 inches for waist line.  This line must be square with the side seam, the side seam and waist will form a 90° angle. The line may curve slightly closer to the crotch curve to fit the curves of the human body.  This waist line will be large enough for almost everyone: the finished waist is 4x30 inches, that's 120 inches.
Square a line down from C 14 inches and mark a dot.  Square across from this dot to point D.
join C and D with a slightly curved line-as shown in the diagram. This is the crotch seam
Join D and B with a light dashed line.  Find the halfway point between D and B and mark E. Square up from E along the dashed line4 inches and mark with an X
For the inseam join B, X and D with a curved line.  You don't need a french curve, free-hand the line as best you can.
Draw a solid line over the Side seam, waist line, crotch seam and inseam with your sharpie.

You basic pattern is complete but you will need to add one more thing to make a complete pattern for Hammer pants:  You will need to add a waist casing extension. Simply add an inch and half to the upper edge of the pattern.  This will give you enough for a 1 inch wide elastic and some extra to fold under and stitch down.  One inch from the center front and half and inch down from the waist mark a point for a small buttonhole.  This will be used to thread a drawstring through the casing. 

The elastic, needless to say, is not part of the traditional pants, however the draw string is.  These pants can also be left open on the sides, strings attached to the side at the waist and then tied around the waist.  There will be some front/back overlap and in striped fabrics, or traditional sewn strips, this gives the pants visual interest.

These pants can also be made even W--I--D--E--R by slashing and adding strips of paper to the pattern.

Here's an illustration of where to cut the pattern.  After slashing add strips of paper and glue or tape the pattern to the strips.  The strips can be as wide or narrow as you wish. Be aware that the pants will be very bulky between the legs and at the waist.  You can pleat the excess into a waist band, this will give you less bulk at the waist and look less bubbly. 

This illustration also shows how you can turn strips of fabric into a pant piece for yoruba inspired trousers.  Instead of cutting, take a strip of fabric as sew it together.  The strips should run up and down parallel to the side seam. 

For the modern MC Hammer pants: use a light weight drapable fabric that will not be bulky when gathers.  That's why parachute cloth works so well, it's lightweight and not bulky. Use an elastic and a draw string at the waist. 

Coming soon:

  1. Monday: Modern cut African and Middle East Inspired pants
  2. Tuesday: Traditional cut Pants of Turkey, India and Asia
  3. Wednesday: Modern cut Women's harem-style pants

Finally, Here's the full instruction sheet with the pattern in scale as a PDF:

 Baggy African Style Pants

 And that's all for today.

Posted by lincatz at 11:39 AM EDT
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