Fiddly Fabrics & More – Meetup at Britex Fabrics

We had a great Bay Area Sewists meetup at Britex Fabrics last Saturday morning – the topic was Sewing Fiddly and Slippery Fabrics. Douglas, a dapper and knowledgeable staff member at Britex pulled out various bolts of fabric – silk charmeuse and silk jersey as well as this white silk chiffon and silver mesh (see photo below) for us to look at and touch.

silk chiffon and mesh fabric

We met on the first floor of Britex, where you’ll find all kinds of silk and wool fabrics, including many imported luxurious fabrics – from cashmere and English tweeds to French silks and Italian wool crepe. It’s hard to walk by without touching them! (oooooh so lovely …)

I stopped by the store a couple weeks before the meetup to see about getting some swatches for this meetup and Dina, the store manager, very helpfully pointed out that swatches wouldn’t be large enough to give people a sense of how the fabric draped. So she cut nearly 1/4-yard pieces for a couple of them. Thank you!

She cut the first three fabrics, from left to right: iridescent silk chiffon, silk jersey (silver), and the light blue silk charmeuse, and then I went upstairs to the fourth floor where a staff person cut this fun cobwebby stretch mesh.

4 fabrics from Britex Fabrics

At the meetup I brought these fabrics and we passed them around as we listened to Douglas offer his tips and observations about sewing fiddly and slippery fabrics.

He advocates cutting silk chiffon and charmeuse as well as the silver mesh fabric (top photo) together with tissue paper. (The kind of tissue paper stores wrap your clothing purchases in or that you can get at the drug store in the wrapping paper section.) So you cut through the fabric and the tissue paper together. And you sew each of these fabrics together with the tissue paper, using a small needle size and a short stitch length. When you’re done sewing, you just gently pull away the tissue paper.

For the silk jersey, he recommended using a small ball point needle.

A Bay Area Sewists member asked how do you finish your seams if you’re sewing silk chiffon because you can see the seams? Douglas says he would trim the seam allowance close to the seam and then use Fray Check to prevent it from unraveling. Fray Check is made by Dritz and you can get it any fabric store or online.

My experience with Fray Check is that you need to use it sparingly because it can dry rather hard and you don’t want a hard edge to your fabric. Always test your fabric before using it to see how quickly one drop spreads. You don’t want to have any discoloration appear on the right side of your fabric because you used too much. you probably want to use a brush so you’ll have more control, rather than the tip on the bottle. I’ve just used the tip if I’m using it on the edges of a ribbon.

You may want to check out June Tailor’s Fray Block, which is also available at most fabric stores or online, including website here.  The thing about using Fray Block is that you’re supposed to run it under hot water for a few minutes before you use it, which is a little annoying. But it is thinner than Fray Check and seems to be more flexible.

Douglas also showed us a few of the other fabrics on the floor, such as this lovely tweed and he mentioned that he only cleans his wool clothes about twice a year. He says when he wears something wool, he just brushes it off at the end of the day and hangs it up. One Bay Area Sewists member mentioned that wool is anti-bacterial so it doesn’t get very dirty.

tweed at Britex Fabrics - csews.com

Douglas also said that fabrics have a finish on them that irritate his skin so he wears gloves when handling fabric in the store. If he buys fabric, he soaks it in cool water to remove those chemicals. Someone asked him whether dry cleaning fabric before sewing would work and Douglas said that that would just add more chemicals. Good point.

Gee, I just got a few yards of wool jersey at Britex a couple weeks ago. I was thinking about dry cleaning it. (sigh) So I asked Douglas if he would soak wool jersey in water and he said yes, but then you’d have to block it afterwards. Shoot. So I asked him if I could just lay it flat to dry and he said yes. I think I’ll cut a small square, stick it in some cool water, let it dry and see what happens.

Then we went upstairs to to fourth floor where chairs were set out for us to sit and hold the rest of our meetup. We were in a space near the windows and in front of these tempting rolls of on-sale fabrics.

rolls of fabric at Britex Fabrics - csews.com

I was busy facilitating the meeting so I didn’t take very many photos – sorry!

A few people brought some things they made to show and discuss with the group. I bought a rayon jersey long-sleeved top I made during my anti-interfacing phase a couple years ago. Unfortunately, the yoke sags because I didn’t use interfacing. Edina suggested taking it apart at the yoke and serging clear elastic to it – a nice suggestion.

I also passed around some fusible stay tape that I like to use on knits to stabilize the shoulder seams and along the side seams when matching stripes – Design Plus super fine bias fusible stay tape, which you can find at a well-stocked fabric store or online.

Other members recommend using a walking foot or Steam-a Seam Lite.

Loran of Loran’s World, not only wore a lovely dress she made from a vintage pattern, she brought two garments she made – one was a shirt she made for a Sew Weekly project. But she used cheap fabric from Jo-ann’s and cheap fusible interfacing. She didn’t finish the seams because she didn’t expect to like the shirt as much as she did. She wore it a lot and after a few washings, the interfacing started falling apart and the fabric along the seam allowance near the front collar had frayed all the way to the seam leaving a gaping hole and no way to fix it.

Loran says she now uses woven sew-in interfacing. She doesn’t use fusible interfacing any more. Fro her years as a costumer, she observed that eventually the fusible interfacing would bubble so she won’t use it any more.

I also bought some quilting spray-on temporary adhesive that you use to stick pattern  pieces to fabric, asking people if anyone had ever had experience with it. It says that it doesn’t gum up needles, etc. I was thinking of using it to stick pattern paper to a slippery fabric. One member said not to use it because it does gum up on your needle and to use freezer paper instead – an excellent suggestion!

I’ve used freezer paper when I’ve done a little fabric painting. You just iron the freezer paper to the fabric (use a low setting). The paper sticks to the fabric and the paint won’t bleed through. Then you peel off the paper when you’re done.

Another member brought a sleeveless top she made from silk chiffon. She did a nice job sewing it but she wasn’t too thrilled with how it looked on her because she felt it would be more flattering on someone with slim hips.

We also briefly discussed scissor sharpening – where do you get your scissors sharpened? One member mentioned that the San Mateo farmer’s market has a knife sharpener. I also did a little search and found that this San Mateo-based company Perfect Edge travels to a variety of farmer’s markets in the Bay Area – maybe this is the company someone was referring to? You can find their schedule here. I have not used them so I can’t vouch for the quality of their sharpening but their prices for scissors ($12) and pinking scissors ($14) are on this page so they do offer that service – though their main business is knife sharpening. They also have many drop-off locations, which you can find on their website.

I was at Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics earlier this week and asked a sales person where to sharpen scissors and was told to check out Golden State Sharpening – another mobile sharpening business. You drop your knives/scissors off at various designated locations the day before and pick them up the day after ($10 for fabric scissors).  The schedule’s on their website. Gee, I don’t know about dropping off my scissors… If anyone has found a scissors sharpener they like in the Bay Area, please let me know!

I remember years ago when was visiting my parents on the East Coast, that Jo-Ann’s had some scissors sharpening day. My mom had written down on her calendar, which is why I remember that. I don’t recall seeing that at the Jo-Ann’s in the Bay Area.

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention – Britex gave each member a coupon for 20% off remnants and 10% off regularly priced fabrics (good for that day only). So we had fun browsing for fabric.

Bay Area Sewists browse at Britex Fabrics

Of course I had to browse the remnants on the fourth floor and found this red cotton lycra (2 1/8 yards, 50 ” wide) and this hounds tooth print (2 yards, 42″ wide). I love cotton lycra because it doesn’t wrinkle easily and I love this shade of red (more blue in it).

red cotton lycra fabric, houndstooth cotton fabric - csews.com

And when I got to the second floor as my inner voice was telling me “leave before you buy anything else!” I nearly made it downstairs to the register before I saw some wax prints – oh, my how interesting they were! I was told that the one I liked was a Dutch wax print, which was printed in Africa – a reminder that the Dutch empire had established a colony in Cape Town back in the 17th century.

I vaguely knew about African wax prints from the outfits I’d seen on Ginger of Ginger Makes who used a Vlisco wax print to make this Alder Dress and Oonaballoona who made a stunning skirt from a Dutch wax print. Both of these gals make me laugh because of the expressions on their faces in the photos on their blogs.

So I couldn’t resist buying this print – just $10/yard – clearly not a Vlisco, which is a pricey luxury brand. Admittedly, the color is not flattering to my skin (too close to my skin tone) but I think it could make a really cool skirt – maybe the Deer & Doe Chardon Skirt with inverted pleats. The fabric will far enough away from my face so it could work.

Dutch wax print - csews.com

If you want to find out more about wax prints, check out this interesting New York Times article “Africa’s Fabric Is Dutch,” on Vlisco, the Dutch company that produces wax prints in Holland. Vlisco fabric is very popular in African and has a certain cachet because it is so expensive. (Ginger says “I’d have to sell an organ to pay for this fabric!”) And read this post for more about wax prints, Vlisco and prints produced in Ghana,  “borrowed ideas: wax-print,” on African Lookbook.

I noticed that the selvedge of my fabric says “GUARANTEED REAL WAX ORIBA JLM HITARGET.” Well, according to the African Lookbook article, Hitarget is a Chinese company (!) that modifies Dutch designs, reprints them in new colors and sells them at low cost. And the post also stated that an “overwhelming majority (maybe as much as fifty percent) of the African prints sold in Ghana are Hitarget prints.” Sheesh. Well, I like the design – regardless of its origins!

Have you used any African/Dutch/Chinese wax print fabric in anything you’ve made?

Tips on sewing fiddly fabrics - silk cihiffon, silver mesh, stretch lace and more - a Bay Area Sewists meetup at Britex Fabrics

Choosing the Right Interfacing

V2984I’ve been thinking a lot about interfacing lately because I’ve been trying to figure out if I want to use what this Vogue pattern (V2984, now out of print) recommends (60″ nylon fusible knit interfacing) for this wool crepe jacket — or use something else. I’m not sure what that “something else” will be so I thought I’d take a moment and write about what I’ve learned about choosing the right interfacing.

The most important things to keep in mind is:

  • the hand of your fabric,
  • the weight of your interfacing,
  • and your pattern.

For example, if you’ve got lightweight fabric, such as cotton voile, and your pattern calls for interfacing for the collar, you don’t want to use a heavy-weight interfacing or you’ll have a really stiff and uncomfortable collar. Plus you’d change the hand of your fabric from something that’s light and flowing to something thick and stiff.

What does interfacing do? It provides additional support for your fabric; it’s most commonly used in areas that get a bit more wear and tear, such as a neck facing or a waistband.

Earlier this week I tweeted (as @csewsalot): “Do you use fusible interfacing? If so what are your faves? Any that you avoid?”

Erin Erickson (@yorkiemischief), who blogs at Dog Under My Desk, replied: “It depends on what you’re using it for. For quilting cotton in bags I use SF-101 (Pellon’s woven fusible) + sew-ins”

She followed that up with a couple more tweets: “I’m sure there are good applications for non-woven fusibles, maybe clothes, but definitely not on quilting cotton.”

and then: “This is what happens when you fuse non-wovens to quilting cotton”

interfacing2
(photo courtesy of Erin Erickson of Dog Under My Desk)

As you can see, selecting the right interfacing is really important. (Thanks to Erin for sending a bigger photo!)

I bought the above Vogue pattern in 2009 and I remember reading the back of the envelope and thinking — uh, what’s nylon fusible knit interfacing? I went to Britex Fabrics and looked at some but they didn’t have any that was 60″ wide. I wasn’t ready to make the jacket and hadn’t bought my fashion fabric yet so I put it away.

Not long after that, I was reading Anna Maria Horner‘s book Seams to Mewhich has many lovely projects and patterns, and she mentioned that she didn’t like interfacing. In fact, she recommended using flannel or some other fabric for some of the projects in her book. This made me rethink interfacing.

I went through a brief anti-interfacing moment. Here’s what I made during that time.

Knit top - no interfacing
The result of not using interfacing in the yoke of this knit top

I decided not to use any interfacing on this rayon knit top, which as you can see, was a mistake. Knit is very drapey and the yoke really needs additional support. I had made this top once before and used a medium-weight fusible interfacing that was too stiff so the yoke didn’t look quite right. When I made it again, I went in the opposite direction and so I got this saggy front. Though I can wear the top I need to pair it with a turtleneck, which gives it something to stick to, and I have to remember to sit up straight so it lays right. So I don’t wear it very much even though I really like the fabric.

White dress - flannel interfacing
Using flannel as interfacing on this dress

On this vintage dress pattern (a Vogue reissue of a 1953 pattern), I used white flannel as my interfacing. But I think it was a little too thick. The white cotton fabric was of a lighter weight and had a different hand than the flannel. However, I got the five yards of fashion fabric for about $10 at the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse in Oakland and  I was experimenting. It was sort of my muslin but I’ve worn the dress a couple times a year with a vintage black straw hat so I guess it worked out. It was a good learning experience!

Here’s the pattern:

Vogue 1953 Dress Pattern

And here’s my last example. On this vintage dress, I didn’t use any interfacing. The red cotton fabric has a crisp hand to it and it didn’t need any additional support.

Red dress - no interfacing
The bodice, front detail and reverse side (finished with seam tape)

I’ll be writing more about fusible interfacing but if you have any interfacing nightmares or successes, let me know. Or if you have any suggestions for interfacing alternatives to nylon knit fusible (organza perhaps) for wool crepe jacket, please comment below!

 

Pre-washing Fabric

Prewashed fabric

I usually pre-wash cotton woven fabric in cold water and tumble dry low before I cut it. Pre-washing fabric ensures that your fabric will not shrink after you wash the completed garment. It would be really awful to spend a lot of time cutting and sewing something only to have it shrink after your first wash. If you want your fabric to last longer, then don’t put it in the dryer. You’ll also be saving energy by line drying.

Sometimes I’d rather skip pre-washing because I just want to start sewing. But I tell myself it’s better to pre-wash.

You can even pre-wash silk, as I learned from Steph at her 3 Hours Past blog here.

The only exception I make is wool, which I don’t typically pre-wash. However, I might consider dry cleaning it before cutting. For example, I decided to dry clean some wool crepe fabric because I’ve read that it shrinks.

You can certainly throw wool fabric in the washer. Then it’ll be machine washable when you’ve completed the garment. I wouldn’t put it in the dryer though. My guess is that it would shrink more in the dryer than in the washer.

If you have a more delicate wool or an expensive wool, you might not want to put it in the wash because you’ll be putting more stress on the fabric and the fabric may get worn out more quickly.

When you pre-wash your fabric, be sure to finish the cut edges by either pinking the edges or just sewing a zigzag stitch close to the edge.

I pinked the cut edges before prewashing my fabric.
I pinked the cut edges before prewashing my fabric.

This will prevent any unraveling of the fabric as it goes through the wash cycle. If you don’t do that, you’ll end up with a mess of tangled strings.

If you are washing a piece of fabric that’s more than two yards long, it’s a good idea to sew then ends together in one big loop. Then the fabric won’t get all tangled up with the other fabric you’re pre-washing.

I forgot to do that when I did a load of pre-washing earlier this month. I had two longer pieces of fabric – one was about three yards and the other four yards –  that I was washing along with other cotton prints that were one or two yards each. So when I took the load out of the washer and the dryer, the longer yardage was all tangled up with the rest of the fabric (as you can see in the photo above).

If you are using fusible interfacing in a project that you intend to put in the wash after you’ve finished the garment , you may want to pre-wash it in the washer or soak it in hot tap water for 15 minutes and letting it air dry (as mentioned on Fabricland’s site here). I haven’t experienced interfacing shrinking but I have read about other people having problems, such as in this post here.

Do you pre-wash your fabric before you sew?

Tweed Jacket with “Divine Details”

A few months after I started sewing again, I wanted to make a lined jacket, which I had never done before. I found a great Vogue pattern for a suit called “Divine Details” (V8543). The jacket has princess seams in the back.

Then I found a great fabric – a herringbone tweed remnant for less than $40 at a Britex Fabrics sale in San Francisco. The fourth floor of this store is where you’ll find remnants organized by type – wools, silks, cottons, knits, and so on.

Though the remnants are discounted, many of them are still quite pricey, such as $75 or more for a piece of imported Italian silk. But a couple times a year, Britex has a remnant sale and you get an additional 30 percent or maybe even 50 percent off. A ton of people come to these one-day remnant sales so get there early. (Bay Area readers: Go to Britex’s website to sign up for the store’s newsletter and get notified of sales.)

Back detail

Vogue rated this pattern “average” for sewing difficulty which I thought I could handle. After all, I could sew a straight seam and follow directions, right? And didn’t “average” mean “average sewing ability”?

Well, I just looked up how Vogue defines an “average” sewing rating on its website:

“These patterns are perfect if you have more time to sew, and more experience sewing. Look for challenging designer techniques, tailoring, unique construction details. Expect more fitting and inner construction. Find more variety in fabrics from the stretchiest knits to synthetic leathers and suedes.”

Hmmm. I think if I had read that before I made it, I might have thought I couldn’t make it. However, the instructions were clear and I didn’t run into any problems except when I didn’t pay attention to the interfacing part. This pattern used nylon fusible knit interfacing – which was new to me. It’s been a while since I used any interfacing (for an explanation of interfacing, go here). Fusible knit interfacing is very lightweight.

When I cut out the interfacing for the collar, I immediately steam ironed them to the tweed wool pieces. It was only after I ironed that I noticed that I was supposed to trim the corners in a couple areas to reduce bulk. Whoops. I didn’t have any extra fabric so I had to deal with my mistake. With such lightweight interfacing you’d think it wouldn’t make much of a difference but it did. The collar didn’t quite lay down the way it should have. I ended up tacking down one collar point to (sort of) fix it.

I hate ironing but I ironed every time the directions said to iron. It makes a huge difference in the finished product. So don’t skip it!

Here are a few more photos – just click on an image for a larger view.

Sleeve detail

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sleeve detail
Back detail