Inseam pockets

Pockets are essential for me these days. Inseam pockets are the kind I use the most but it’s always bothered me how most patterns instruct you to sew them. Generally it goes: sew a pocket piece right sides together to each of the body front and back pieces, press them outwards, lay the front on the back and sew up the side seam of the garment making a detour around the edges of the pocket bag. It’s simple to construct but I’ve always found it a pain in the neck to finish the seam edges neatly afterwards. And if I finish the pocket edges before sewing the pocket I have to overlock around all four pocket pieces individually and that’s really tedious. If you look at inseam pockets in RTW they aren’t constructed like that.

Recently I’ve been using a method I came across in Burda instead. It’s harder to explain but I think it gives a nicer finish and it also means you can put a zip alongside the pocket or make French seams fairly easily. I keep forgetting the steps so I took some photos and am writing it all down here so I can refer to it later.

Sew the front pocket piece right sides together with the front dress piece. Start sewing at the raw edges of the fabric level with one end of the pocket opening. Sew inwards at right angles to the raw edge until you get to the side seam seam line. Pivot, sew along the seam line, and at the end of the opening pivot again and sew out to the raw edge. The stitching should look like three sides of a rectangle with the fabric edge being the fourth side. Clip into the corners of the rectangle.

Close up shot of a clipped into corner.

Turn the pocket to the inside and press. Here’s what it looks like from the wrong side of the dress.

And here’s the right side.

Finish the seam that was just sewn. In this picture the little triangular flaps you get from clipping into the corners are just about visible at the two ends of the seam. I’ll come back to those in a minute. This picture also shows a strip of interfacing. I always fuse a bit along the pocket opening edge on the dress front piece.

Understitch the seam.

Now place the back pocket piece over the front one, right sides together. The wrong side of the back pocket piece will be facing up. Sew just the pocket pieces together around their edges. At the two ends catch in the folded back triangles from the clipped corners.

Finish the edges of the pockets. This can be done by whizzing them through an overlocker.

From the right side it now looks like this.

Baste the pocket bag to the dress seam allowance above and below the opening.

Now the side seams can be constructed as normal, in theory as if the pocket wasn’t there, and finished however one likes.

In practice it’s possible to accidentally sew the pocket shut if you don’t sew very accurately. I find it helps to rub a piece of chalk over the back of the pocket opening on the wrong side of the dress front before sewing. It gives a very clear outline of the pocket edges so I know where to aim.

After I made the samples above I sewed a Vogue designer pattern which has yet another method for doing the inseam pockets, where the pocket bag ends up French seamed and the side seam is bound. I didn’t love the method but it’s a useful variant to add to the toolbox. I’d be interested to know about other methods too.

French seamed single welt pocket

Here’s how the french seamed welt pockets on my current project are constructed, with bonus paper models of the process. I suspect it will be easier to see what’s going on with the paper than with fabric samples. I’ve used origami paper which has one white side and one coloured side. The coloured side represents the right side of the fabric, and the white side the wrong side.

This picture represents the right side of the jacket front with the opening for the pocket marked. When doing these in fabric I like to make the markings on the wrong side and line things up by poking pins through to the right side, but I know some people prefer to mark the right side of the fabric with something that can be removed without a trace, like basting in a contrasting thread.

Square of paper representing jacket front marked with welt pocket lines and grainline

Step one is to sew the welt on. It goes on the lower marking with the opening edge pointing down. The side of the welt that will be visible goes against the jacket front.

Blue paper representing jacket with a piece of brown paper representing a welt laid across the lower welt pocket mark

Then the front pocket bag gets placed over the top, right sides together, with the marks for the opening in the pocket bag aligned with the marks on the jacket front. The pocket grainline marking isn’t right on my model, just ignore that.

Blue paper representing jacket with white paper representing pocket laid over

Then slash the pocket opening through both the pocket bag and jacket front, cutting diagonally into the corners. The right side of my paper pocket piece is brown, which is why brown bits are visible around the edge of the opening. The raw edge of the welt is making the slash in the jacket front difficult to see but it is there.

Blue paper representing jacket with pocket laid over and slashed

Turn the pocket bag to the inside through the opening and press as normal. It should look like this from the front, with the welt covering the opening.

Blue paper presenting jacket with welt pocket opening slashed and turned, The brown welt is visible, covering the opening

And now the clever bit: turn the pocket and welt back to their original positions and place the back pocket bag (red paper) on top, with wrong sides of the pocket bag pieces together.

Blue paper representing jacket with white and red paper representing pocketnlaid over

Sew around the edges, trim the seam allowances close to the seam, and turn the whole pocket back through the hole. The welt points up again and covers the opening. Then sew around the pocket bag again with right sides together, completing the french seam.

Finish as normal: sew the pairs of fabric triangles at each end of the opening together, sew the ends of the welt to the jacket front, and sew the pocket bag as close as possible to the top edge of the opening, sewing through both layers of the bag and the fabric flap from where the opening was slashed, but not the jacket front.

One thing I love about sewing is seeing how things like this get put together. It reminds me of when I was at university and learning to really think in three dimensions.

Bits and pieces

This blog waxes and wanes, but of late I’ve been managing to post consistently every week. I can’t say I’ve made a lot of progress on my jacket project since my last post though. I’ve made the welt pockets…which is basically step one of the pattern. Not a single construction seam has been sewn. I haven’t even made the darts.

The pockets are nice, though. Admittedly from the outside they aren’t the greatest welt pockets I have ever made. Slightly uneven welt, and the ends are a bit squashed.

Single welt pocket in black boiled wool

But the insides are gorgeous. The pattern instructions (Vogue 1466, an out of print Donna Karan design) include a new-to-me technique that makes the pocket bag end up french seamed. Not an untidy or even overlocked edge in sight. I’m not normally one to care about beautifying the inside of a garment, but this jacket is unlined so the pocket bags are going to be seen. I’ll have to go through with the Hong Kong finish the pattern recommends on all the other seams now, simply in order not to let the pocket bags down.

French seamed pocket bag

Anyway I imagine anyone who’s still reading has heard more than enough about welt pockets by now. I also wanted to share a couple of links to blogs I’ve enjoyed reading lately.

Some Use Some Wear is a blog about the evolution of a wardrobe. It’s not a sewing blog, but I enjoy it because the author talks about the stories behind her clothes.

The other one isn’t a single blog – it’s a whole series of blogs about creating incredibly screen-accurate Doctor Who cosplays. They aren’t being updated any more but there’s a huge amount of reading material in the archives. Even if you’re not into Doctor Who, the process the author goes through to source authentic fabrics and develop accurate patterns is fascinating. He covers several of the classic and new series Doctors. My favourite is his Fourth Doctor costume blog and all the others are linked from there.

Pocket samples

Welt pockets are high stakes sewing. Cutting a hole right through the middle of a pattern piece can’t be undone if it goes wrong.

The jacket I’m making has double welt pockets with very narrow welts, and my fabric is a very thick and elastic boiled wool. From the outset this seemed unlikely to be a successful combination, but I had nothing in my fabric stash that’s a suitable alternative fabric for the welts. So I tried making a sample following the method in the pattern (OOP Vogue 1465). I measured really carefully and hand basted every step. But it’s…not good. The back pocket bag isn’t sewn onto this sample – it would have been a complete waste of fabric.

Jetted pocket sample in black boiled wool

I’ve made welt pockets successfully lots of times in the past, even in boiled wool. But the combination of a particularly thick and unstable fabric and very narrow welts just isn’t working. Another complication is that for some reason the pattern includes a facing of the boiled wool which is applied to the pocket bag that attaches to the garment front, which means that there’s an extra layer of fabric to negotiate when cutting through the front.

I could make the whole thing bigger, but I think the double welts look a bit odd in the wool anyway and a single one would be better. I tried making a single welt to the same width as the pair of double ones, skipping the pocket bag facing too. Again no back pocket bag on the sample. I also haven’t hand sewn the ends of the welt down, which I’d do if this was the real thing.

Single welt pocket sample in black boiled wool

Not perfect, but a great deal better. I think the welt is a touch too narrow. I’m not making a third sample though – this is two evenings of sewing time gone already. I’ve cut my real welts a little wider and I’m going ahead with my actual jacket pieces. Wish me luck.

Quilting my coat

The next step on my Burda 114 11/2019 coat is quilting the batting to the shell fabric. I was a bit dubious about doing it without a layer of something underneath the batting to help it feed through the machine, so I took my calico toile to pieces and used that. It worked really well; no problems feeding at all and very little shifting of the layers.

The problem was deciding what thread to use. Burda’s instructions don’t recommend anything different to the usual sewing thread. I thought I might use top-stitching thread to make the lines stand out a bit more. I tried a few sample lines of Gutermann top-stitching thread on scraps and it looked very heavy. I then tried regular Gutermann sew-all thread and it looked too light.

I’d read on Fiona’s blog that she prefers to top stitch with extra-strong rather than top-stitching thread because it’s a little bit finer, so I got my hands on a spool of that. It makes a nice medium line, but after comparing all my tests I went back to the original plan of using the heavy top-stitching thread to make a really bold contrast. Here are my samples.

Once I’d decided on the thread the quilting itself went smoothly – or at least as smoothly as possible given the bulk and size of the pieces. Quilting blanket-sized pieces must be a real challenge! I can see why quilters need those long arm sewing machines.

I marked the sewing lines with an HB pencil because it gives a sharp line that shows up against the fabric but is close though to the base fabric colour not to be very obvious. I then pinned the layers together along the lines with a lot of extra long pins rather than hand basting, and added a few more pins around the edges. The pinholes press out easily on this fabric once the pins are removed.

And finally I sewed along the lines, rolling up the section of the piece on the right side of the line so that I could fit it under the machine. Quilting the whole coat took me a couple of hours. That includes marking, stacking, and pinning the pieces but not cutting them out.

Now all I have to do is sew the pieces together. Watch this space.

Slow sewing ahead

I am at the ‘what on earth possessed me to pick this pattern’ stage with Burda 110 08/2017. OK I know what it was: the glamorous model photos, as seen below, and the promise of a smart but comfortable dress that can cope with being slung in the washing machine.

All that gathering requires a lightweight knit with lycra. Those things are a pain in the neck: they curl up at the edges and wriggle all over the place. I was impressed I managed to get it cut out with vaguely even edges.

Then I spent a whole sewing session just putting pockets into the skirt front (pockets are not part of the original pattern) and pleating and gathering the front, and then basting that to my underlining (also not part of the pattern). So far I haven’t sewn a single construction seam.

I always forget how difficult I find it to sew gathers. It’s a lot of fuss to get them even and then as soon as the gathered edge goes under the machine they move about again. This time I have a secret weapon in the underlining layer. I am fixing the gathered layer to it with the assistance of rather a lot of pins and then stitching them together. It’s working fairly well although it’s still not perfect.

Who knows, I might sew some pieces together soon.

Victory is mine

I set the sleeves in on this shirt perfectly in one go. Normally with set in sleeves I find I have to go back and restitch little bits where I’ve got a pucker.

The pattern is Style Arc‘s Juliet shirt. I am liking Style Arc patterns more and more: their small seam allowances are so much easier to sew than standard 1.5cm ones. They use 1cm in most places and 6mm for things like necklines where there’s a tight curve and the seam allowance doesn’t need to be finished afterwards. 6mm sounds tiny, but it works. The collar on this went on very easily with no stay stitching and clipping required, just a few pins.

The only downside is that I find it tricky to finish the smaller seam allowances where they have to be pressed open. I now overlock those edges before I sew the seam which works better for me.

The picture was taken before I made the buttonholes but it’s all done now. Hopefully I’ll have modelled photos soon.

Vogue 1548 sleeves

I’m currently working on Vogue 1548, a recent Guy Laroche design. It has everything I love in Vogue designer patterns: a really unusual style with loads of interesting detail. Quite how wearable the end result is remains to be seen…I have to finish it first and it’s very slow going. So far I have a bodice (without a lining or a zip) and two sleeves (not attached to bodice).

Vogue 1548 line art

And what sleeves they are. There’s a weird pointy bit near the elbow, two very curved insets (one inside the other) decorated with self-fabric binding, and gathered cuffs. I don’t usually bother with construction pictures but these sleeves deserve to be commemorated. Below is the small inset just having been sewn into the larger one. The pattern pieces are just behind them. They’re sewn wrong sides together and then the seam allowance is trimmed, encased in binding, and stitched down on the right side of the fabric.

Vogue 1548 inset seam

The binding is supposed to be self-fabric bias binding. Normally I’d just use ready-made rather than faffing about making my own, but for this pattern I think the binding needs to match the sleeve fabric perfectly or it’ll look odd. Vogue’s instructions blithely say to do this by constructing a long bias strip about 25mm wide and then pressing over 6mm on each edge, giving approximately 12mm finished width. No further details about how to achieve this impressive feat are given, but then it is a ‘plus difficile’ pattern so I guess you’re supposed to know what you’re doing. I don’t know about you but pressing under exactly 6mm by hand on a wriggly bias edge is completely beyond my sewing skills and any attempt would certainly lead to burnt fingers and much cursing. Good thing there are bias tape folding gadgets to be had. Slow but effective.

Making bias binding

Here’s a picture of the bound edges basted down before being sewn. That was another massively fiddly job. In the very unlikely event I make this pattern again I would just sew the insets right sides together and top-stitch them. And I haven’t even got to the cuffs yet.

Vogue 1548 sleeve binding basted

Brainteaser: Vogue 1400

Making this dress was a learning experience. It looked straightforward on the pattern envelope: a cotton shirt dress with very little shaping, rated Easy. But look a little more closely. The chest pockets are not simple patch pockets; they have tiny little gussets. There’s a slightly fiddly shoulder cut-out feature, which you probably can’t see on the first couple of pictures. And to get the prescribed clean internal finish on the neckline facing involves turning under and stitching smoothly around some extremely curved edges. Getting a good outcome on this one doesn’t call for a lot of fitting expertise, but it requires great precision at all stages of cutting and sewing. I found it a moderately challenging project; more of an “Average” than an “Easy”.

Vogue 1400

Here’s the original envelope picture. I kind of wish I’d made mine in white too, although I know that in reality I wouldn’t wear it much if I had. A lot of the detail is lost in a darker fabric, particularly that beautifully shaped neckline facing. I top-stitched mine on the machine (the original is hand top-stitched with a running stitch) and it blends in a bit too much. I also considerably shortened the front and back slits to make my version bra-friendly. Sizing is consistent with other Vogue patterns: as usual I made one size down from the one the size chart suggested and added 5cm length.

Vogue 1400 envelope photo

The shoulders are surprising. The small cutout gives a very square shouldered effect, especially from the back, despite the actual shoulder seam being dropped. If I made this again I think I might pinch out a bit on the back shoulder to soften the line. On the other hand, it’s certainly a dramatic effect. And it’s a version of the current cold shoulder trend that I actually like, which is unusual.

Vogue 1400

Choosing interfacing for this was tricky. The shell fabric is a black cotton poplin shirting from Croft Mill. I interfaced with Vilene G700, a lightweight woven fusible, and I think even that is a touch too heavy. But on the other hand you need some structure around the cutouts and the splits. Self fabric interfacing might work well.

Getting a clean edge on the facing is a nightmare. I block fused it, which was probably my first mistake. The pattern has you turn and press a tiny little hem, trim it down even further, and then edgestitch it. I stitched a guideline along the foldline first which was a great help but it was still tricky to do on the interfaced fabric and I burnt my fingers a few times. I am wondering if the facing would be better made of two layers of shell fabric stitched together and then turned out. Or perhaps even the technique where you sew a layer of fusible interfacing to the facing with the non-glued side of the fusible to the right side of the fabric, turn out, and then fuse the two layers together.

The instructions for facing the cutout edge along the top of the sleeve were similarly fiddly, although there I’m not sure I can come up with any improvement other than binding the whole armscye seam, which is also a faff and means making bias binding from the shell fabric. However there was an awful lot of ‘sew a 1.5cm seam and now trim this edge down’ in the directions where it would have been simpler to just cut pieces out the right size to start with and instruct the maker to use a smaller seam allowance.

Vogue 1400

I sound pretty grumpy here but in fact this pattern was a good workout for the brain and I have worn the end result. It needs a wide contrasting belt to look good, which is faff, but I like all the pockets! I’m kind of tempted to try making it again just to try out my construction thoughts…if only I had the time.

Overlocker weirdism

So one thing about overlockers is that most of them come with a feature called differential feed. This lets you vary the ratio between the rate at which fabric is fed in and out of the area under the presser foot and needles. It is supposed to be a magical fix for tricky fabrics where seams won’t lie flat. If the seam is stretching out you make the inward feed faster than the outward feed, and if it gathers or puckers you make it slower.

This sounds great in theory and you can find loads of blog posts explaining it. It’s also what my machine’s manual suggests to do to correct stretched or gathered seams. But it never really works for me. I can see a small difference when I adjust the feed, but I often find I get gathered edges on lightweight fabric even with the differential feed down at the minimum. This sample is a case in point: three thread overlock seam finish on a lightweight fabric with the differential feed at 0.7 and everything else at the default settings. Awful.

Puckered overlocker edge

The problem seems to come from the needle thread; the loopers look fine. Reduce the needle thread tension, and suddenly all is well.

Flat overlocker edge

Does this happen to anyone else or is it just that my machine has overenthusiastic tension?