A slight miscalculation

I’m making an 80s jacket right now which requires serious shoulder pads. The pattern says to use one inch pads, or make your own with Vogue 8817. One inch thick pads are not something that’s readily available on eBay these days (or maybe I’m just not looking in the right place). In the past I made do with using two pairs of purchased pads for a similar project, but the shape wasn’t quite right. And then a copy of Vogue 8817 came up on eBay and I decided to have a crack at making my own.

The pattern calls for cotton batting to make the one inch jacket pads. I’m not a quilter and don’t have cotton batting on hand, but I do have the remains of the polyester batting I used for my quilted coat a couple of years ago so I pulled that out.

The way it works is you cut out a set of templates of gradually decreasing size from the pattern, then cut out several copies of each in batting, and layer them up.

There are five sizes of template.

The pattern doesn’t say in so many words how many of each size to cut out, but the cutting layout shows no less than five copies of the smallest one, four copies of the second and third smallest, two of the next, and one of the biggest. And that’s laid on a double layer of batting, so you’re cutting ten of the smallest piece, five for each shoulder. My batting seemed pretty lofty so I started off with just two each side of each of the smaller layers. Here it is stacked up.

That’s three inches high.

I reduced the layers to one of each size.

Two inches. These are meant to be one inch pads. Now obviously the pad will squash a bit when the jacket is hanging off it. I estimated the degree of squash by the highly scientific method of pulling out the pile of cut fabric pieces for another project and sitting them on top of my stack of batting shapes. That reduced the height to about one inch, but I’m not hugely convinced this is going to be accurate. Maybe I’d better get hold of actual cotton batting.

Belt loops and waistbands

Here’s the waistband on a pair of trousers I have just made. They are 7oz denim, which isn’t super thick, but as usual I really struggled to sew the belt loops on. The one at centre back was completely impossible so I used a pair with one each side instead.

I long ago gave up on trying to use bar tacks and now just sew them down with a short straight stitch. I even support the back of the presser foot with a bit of folded scrap fabric but still end up with a wobbly result. My machine is otherwise pretty good on thick fabrics so I can only assume it’s operator error.

So after the latest failure I dug out a few pairs of trousers to see if there’s a better way.

The belt loops on my trousers above are made by folding both edges of a long fabric strip in to the centre, and then folding it in half and top stitching down both sides. They end up as four layers of fabric which makes them very thick. It gives a nice finish though. On some other projects I’ve made them with a narrower strip with one long edge overlocked and folded it in three before top stitching. This gives a flatter loop but the overlocked edge sometimes peeks out, or doesn’t get caught in the topstitching.

Ready to wear trousers of my husband’s use an even narrower strip with the edges folded in once to the centre and then coverstitched. That gives only two layers, but I don’t have a coverstitch machine so that’s not an option. And I don’t think my twin needle would cope with denim.

As well as reducing the thickness there are several different methods of attachment. I normally sew the top end of my loops into the top waistband seam and then after the waistband is finished I fold the bottom end under and topstitch it down to the trousers – if my machine would bar tack them I’d do a bar tack instead. But there are other ways.

The picture below are cargo trousers from a Burda pattern which called for sewing the bottom of the belt loops into the waistband/trouser seam and then catching down the top end instead. It’s not any easier that way around in my experience but it’s an option.

The pair of jeans below is Vogue 1573 which uses a method I’ve never seen anywhere else. Both ends of the belt loops are sewn into the waistband seams. The bottom end is sewn in first when attaching the waistband to the trousers. That whole seam is then topstitched. Next the belt loops are pressed down and stitched down to the trouser leg on the inside of the loop, which is easier than top stitching as it won’t be seen and it only goes through one thickness of the belt loop. Then the waistband facing is added, catching the top end of the belt loops in that seam. The top of the waistband is then topstitched right over the belt loops. It’s easier to get the position right this way, but my machine hated topstitching over waistband and belt loops together, and I was then left with the problem of how to secure the bottom of the facing on the inside. The pattern says to hand stitch, but I stitched in the ditch leaving gaps where the belt loops were in the way. Overall it’s not bad, and probably gives a better result, but it’s a lot of faff.

Ready to wear varies. Trousers seem to be mostly done the same way as the Burda jeans, only with bar tacks to catch the tops down instead of topstitching.

Jeans seem to not catch either end in a seam and just use bar tacks.

But then in RTW they have thinner loops so fewer layers to contend with, and more powerful machines too.

I think the answer for home sewing might be to keep the belt loop as flat as possible so constructing the loops using the three layer method rather than the four layer, at least when dealing with denim. I’ve heard hammering the loop after folding the end under can help too. My current project is denim again and has yet more belt loops so I’ll have a chance to try it out soon.

If you have any top tips for good belt loops I am all ears.

The refining process

Recently I made up a pattern three times in the same fabric. I’ve made multiples of a few patterns but never with exactly the same fabric before. I can recommend it: the third dress is a definite improvement on the first. Repeating the project meant I could experiment with techniques to see what really worked. It helps that Burda 116-08-2011 is a seriously quick sew.

The fabric is stretch cotton poplin from Tissu Fabrics. I had it in grey, navy blue, and a very bright red.

The grey dress came first. It has no interfacing anywhere. The high collar at the back is a little saggy as a result.

Burda 116-08-2011

I added interfacing to the inside collar on the next two versions. As the inside of the collar is cut in one with the dress it wasn’t entirely obvious where to stop interfacing. I tried two different ways. The best one was where I interfaced just up to the point where the shoulder seam joins the collar. (yeah, that’s some impressive poufiness over my stomach there. But that space is good, it means plenty of room for lunch and stuffing things into pockets.)
Burda 116-08-2011

As it’s a Burda magazine pattern there was little to no detail about finishing in the instructions. I ended up with a lot of overlocked edges showing on the inside on the first dress. Here’s the collar and the edge of the cowl.

Grey dress collar inside edges
Grey dress overlocked cowl edge

I’m not someone who is bothered by messy edges inside a dress if they are a lot of effort to avoid – who’s going to see them anyway? But I realised that finishing the collar more nicely isn’t any extra work. So for the next two versions I pressed the seam allowance on the inner collar underneath and stitched in the ditch from the outside to hold it down. Easy to do and it looks a lot nicer.

Red dress collar finish

I bound the inside edge of the cowl with bias binding on the blue and red dresses. This isn’t much more work than overlocking the edge because my machine’s binding foot is completely foolproof. I say this as someone who still struggles with the rolled hem foot and has given up on the automatic buttonhole foot. Looks a lot neater.

Bound cowl edge

The other thing I changed was the pockets. I can’t blame Burda because I didn’t follow their instructions in the first place, but the pockets on the grey dress are bit sad-looking. No interfacing at all; just a bit of top-stitching to try to keep the edge crisp. This one’s been washed a couple of times which makes things worse.

Grey dress pocket

Here’s the red version, with interfacing on the front pocket edge. Both sides of the pocket bag are understitched. I skipped the top-stitching because it’s not needed. I haven’t washed it yet, but I’m pretty sure it will hold up better.
Red dress pocket

I like all three dresses and have worn them quite a bit over the last couple of weeks, but the red one is definitely a cut above the other two. I doubt I’m likely to make anything three times on a regular basis but I’ve certainly learnt a few things about using interfacing from this process. Anyone else ever do this? Was it useful?