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.

The results are in: topstitching thread for silver fabric

Thanks everyone for all the advice about picking top stitching thread for bright silver fabric! I washed a bit of the fabric, and then did some samples of the best two thread colours so far. Lefthand fabric is unwashed; top row of stitching Gutermann topstitch 40, bottom row Gutermann topstitch 38. Righthand fabric is washed; top two rows are the Gutermann 40 and the bottom row the Gutermann 38.


Rather to my surprise, the lighter thread (Gutermann 38) looks slightly better on both. The fabric has held up fairly well to washing considering I put it in with a regular wash. I’d normally wash something like this on a gentle cycle. It’s darkened and picked up a few crease marks, which is about what I expected. Not like a previous silver fabric I had where I washed it once and it came out black…

Several people suggested trying out more unexpected colours than grey and I was really tempted, but I haven’t had any spare time to visit a bricks and mortar shop with a fabric sample. And I wanted to get on with sewing the actual garment, so in the end I went with the 38. Here’s what it looks like so far.

Top stitching on silver fabric

Not my greatest ever topstitching, but you can’t unpick on this fabric at all, and it’ll look fine from a normal distance. I find going round the pocket edges on jeans at an even width is surprisingly difficult, even when I chalk a line to follow. It’s very difficult to see the chalk on the reflective surface and I resorted to using black chalk, which has rubbed off on the topstitching thread and darkened it slightly so I might as well have used the Guterman 40 after all. Oh well. I think I have enough fabric left to make a little skirt, so I might yet experiment with a pink or a purple thread!

Top stitching thread colours

I have some very special fabric in the sewing queue right now. It’s a stretch denim with a shiny silver foil finish and is destined to become skinny jeans. I’ve made a few pairs of silver jeans before, but never from fabric quite this reflective. And the question is, what to do about top stitching? I’ve always used a black or a dark grey thread on silver before, but this fabric is so bright that those will be highly contrasting. I want top stitching with a bit of definition, so that the garment looks like jeans and not trousers, but the fabric should be the star and not the stitching.

Here’s a collection of top stitching threads against a swatch of the fabric.

Silver fabric sample with various top stitching threads

Left to right: Gutermann Topstitch 000 (ie black), Gutermann Topstitch 36, Gutermann Topstitch 701, Coats Duet Extra Strong 4009, Gutermann Topstitch 38.

It’s clear to me that two lightest shades are best, but the Coats seems too dark and the Gutermann too light. The pictures only give a vague idea because the fabric can look anything from white to almost black depending how the light catches it. Normally the rule with thread choice is to go with the darker shade if in doubt, but I’m not so sure here. I’ve looked for images of garments made in similar fabric and am none the wiser as to what shade the top stitching is because they are all taken from too far away.

I acquired an intemediate shade of Gutermann thread, and realised that I ought to be looking at one strand of thread against the fabric rather than the whole spool:

Various grey topstitching threads against silver foiled denim

Left to right: Gutermann Topstitch 000 (black), Gutermann Topstitch 36, Gutermann Topstitch 701, Coats Duet Extra Strong 4009, Gutermann Topstitch 40, Gutermann Topstitch 38.

The new one is the second right, and that still seems too dark and too blue in shade and the rightmost one too light.

Here are those two on their own.

Gutermann topstitch thread colours 40 and 38

Left: Gutermann Topstitch 40. Right: Gutermann Topstitch 38.

I still can’t decide. I think once I’ve cut the fabric I’ll have to do stitching samples on the scraps. Anyone else had this problem? Did you go darker or lighter, and were you happy with it?

More colour matching


The last grey fabric I tried to sew with proved impossible to colour match, so I wasn’t hopeful about finding top-stitching thread to go with my current project. The fabric’s a grey denim and I wanted top-stitching thread in the same shade for a subtle effect. I haven’t been able to make it to a physical sewing shop for a while so I crossed my fingers and ordered Gutermann Sew All and Top Stitch in shade 036 online; a colour variously described as “light black”, “dark grey”, “grey”, and “charcoal” by different vendors. And lo and behold it’s almost a perfect match. Funny how these things happen.

Cotton or polyester thread?

I’m trying to use up some of my thread stash. I used to be obsessive about matching thread colour to fabric, so every new project required taking a little fabric swatch into John Lewis and carefully selecting the most appropriate shade of Coats and Clark thread. I’ve just checked the Coats and Clark website and am faintly surprised to discover there are only 69 shades available. It seems like a lot more when you’re faced with them in the shop.

Obviously this behaviour resulted in my accumulating a large shoebox full of spools of thread. Then I tried sewing a large-scale black and white print. What thread to use? Clearly no match was possible, so a decision had to be made. I plumped for white. I now realise that black would probably have been better – always go darker rather than lighter if you can’t match – but the white worked fine. So now I’m working my way through the shoebox using whatever’s about the right colour for each project. I haven’t bought sewing machine thread other than black, white, or red for ages.

For the current project I need grey and found that the only grey thread I had left was 100% cotton. For some reason I used to think you should only sew cotton fabric with cotton thread and bought a lot of the stuff. But then I switched to polyester thread when I realised how much stronger it is. Now I’m paranoid about using up the cotton – it’s so weak! What if all my seams break? None of the dresses I sewed with the cotton thread actually came to pieces, but I still worry. The overlocker’s threaded in black (polyester) not grey, but hey. I’m going to overlock all those seams.

Anyone know where the ‘only sew cotton with cotton’ thing comes from? Or had a disaster sewing with polyester?

In search of buttonhole twist

I nearly fell at the final hurdle with Vogue 1073. The hem is finished in a really unusual way that calls for ‘buttonhole twist’ thread. I’ve heard of this stuff as fairly thick, shiny thread used to make hand-worked buttonholes but never seen it in a shop. A quick internet search didn’t turn it up in any online shops in the UK.

What you use the buttonhole twist for is attaching a plaited braid to hang from the bottom of the dress hem, using a hand-sewing stitch that resembles a series of french knots. The braid is made out of the same fabric as the dress. The stitches attaching the braid clearly show on the pattern envelope photo, although I don’t think they’re very visible in this electronic version.

I was thinking of buying some embroidery floss and trying to use a single strand of that, but then I remembered I had this DMC Special Dentelles 80 thread left over from when I used to do lacemaking. It’s thick and slightly glossy thread with very little elasticity. It seemed to work OK for attaching the braid, although I think it may be slightly thicker than whatever Vogue used.

Amazingly there are no bloodstains on the hem, despite my having rammed a needle into my finger while sewing the braid on. I am not good at hand sewing. This whole project has been pretty hard on the fingers.

You can see the funny little knots attaching the braid in this picture. The braid is definitely meant to be attached below the hem rather than on top of it according to Vogue’s diagrams.

So that’s the dress done at long last! I haven’t got pictures of it yet because the nights here are drawing in so fast there’s now no daylight left by the time I get home from work. Hopefully I’ll get some at the weekend.

It’s not a mistake, it’s keeping my hands warm

I’ve been making another version of the Burda September 2010 cover dress. This has been a fairly popular pattern in the sewing blogosphere – there have been quite a few reviews on Pattern Review. I’ve previously made the dress and the matching skirt in neoprene. However I wanted another long-sleeved dress and I had some mystery grey two-way-stretch knit in my stash, so I decided to make the Burda dress again and put long sleeves on it this time.

We’ll gloss over producing pattern pieces for the sleeves, as it took about a week of head-scratching and indecision. Suffice it to say that I eventually just used the sleeves from McCall’s 2401, a pattern which is approaching TNT status in my collection.

I didn’t fit as I went on this one because I’d already made the dress once and got the fit sorted. Unfortunately something strange appears to have happened when I added seam and hem allowances to the pattern for the knit (the neoprene doesn’t need them so I hadn’t put them on the first version of the pattern pieces). The front hem came out about 3cm longer than the back, and the sleeves ended well over my knuckles. Again.

I chopped the hem off until it was level, which wasn’t the end of the world – guess I added hem allowances to the front and not to the back. However I have permanently cold hands so I decided to keep the extra-long sleeves, but make a thumb hole in the sleeve seam so I don’t have to push them up to use my hands.

I just unpicked about 5cm of seam and sewed round it on the right side to hold the seam allowances in place. It’s not the neatest thing I’ve ever made, but I had such trouble with skipped stitches and thread breaking and mysterious bobbin tangles on this project that there’s no way I’m unpicking and trying again. I’m not sure the size 80 ballpoint needle I used was up to the job on this fabric. You can see the mess if you click to enlarge on this view.

I’d show you some photos of the whole dress, but my photographer is away and for some reason it looks terrible on my dressform, although it’s OK on me; probably time to go and check my measurements again and adjust the dressform! Hopefully we’ll get to take some next weekend.

Why I don’t like buttons

For some reason I’ve never much liked styles with lots and lots of buttons. Now I think I finally have found out why. Can anyone tell me the secret to sewing on buttons and making the things stay put?

A few months ago my other half got a great new coat from an Army surplus store. A proper coat, with buttons. Lots of buttons. Shortly after we got it, one of the buttons came off. I offered to sew it back on, only to discover that the problem was that the shank of the button had broken so I couldn’t just reattach it. The buttons are a distinctive style and the coat hadn’t come with any spares, so I replaced them all with a different set. This took quite a while but I figured it was worth it.

And then they started coming off again, one by one. I sewed them on with stronger thread. They fell off. I sewed them on in a slightly different position so there would be less strain on them. They fell off. I sewed them on again over a pencil rather than a matchstick, to make a longer gap between button and coat. They fell off. Even the ones that there should be no strain on at all are coming off now.

On Saturday I went to look for superstrong thread and beeswax in town, having heard that waxing the thread helps, but came back empty handed on both counts. So I’m completely stuck as to what to try next. Can anyone give me a hint?

In other news, my muslin of Vogue 1087 is coming on. I’m about halfway. Here it is pinned on my dressform. It’s actually starting to look like a dress now.

There are 38 steps in the instructions. I’m on about number 14, but as I am planning to miss out the zip it doesn’t feel like I’ve got much more to go!

Watching fabric dry

I dashed to John Lewis after work today and they had the perfect red cupro lining to go with my red wool fabric from Glasgow. So in theory I’m all set for the next stage of the long drawn out Vogue 8667 project, which is to make the lining using my altered pattern pieces to check the fit.

But I need to shrink the lining and the fashion fabric first. I’m doing the bin-liner/garbage bag and wet sheet method described here for the wool, and I’m putting the lining through the washing machine. Unfortunately it’s started raining and the forecast isn’t good for the rest of the week, so there’s going to be a lot of wet fabric hanging over the bannisters drying very slowly over the next couple of days. I did remember to measure the wool before stuffing it into the bin-liner (62″) so this time I’ll be able to tell if it really shrinks very much.

I also bought new thread. Buying thread was one of the things that really puzzled me when I started sew. How much thread do you need to buy for a project? I seem to get through nearly 300m for a lined dress (three reels in the size I can normally get) but a skirt might take less than 100m. Obviously it’s going to vary a lot depending on how the seams are finished. I zigzag mine using my machine’s overcasting foot and that eats up thread. I usually buy an extra reel or two just to make sure I’ll have enough to finish the seams, and so I have accumulated a shoebox full of reels.

Many people seem to feel a bit guilty over their fabric stashes, but I find the thread stash is the one I want to reduce. I will probably use everything in the fabric stash up at some point, even if only for muslins, but when will I ever use up six reels of pale green thread (two each of three subtly different shades)? I don’t know how I even came to have six reels of pale green thread in the first place. But for whatever reason I didn’t have any red thread (day-glo orange and dark rust don’t count) so another few reels have had to be added to the collection.

So I have new red thread, red zip, red lining, Vilene bias tape…just waiting for my fabric to dry!