Saturday, March 19, 2016

What to include in a sewing tutorial

I am an avid consumer of free online sewing tutorials.  I have over a thousand of them pinned, and I have sewed well over a hundred of them (at least in my estimation).  These tutorials basically taught me to sew, and the tips and tricks included in them helped me hone my craft.  I adore how bloggers are so generous with their time and creativity as to publish these tutorials for free, and that certainly inspired me when I created my own tutorials to share.

Some tutorials, however, are written better than others.  Those tutorials include certain pertinent pieces of information without which any sewing project can fail.  It feels slightly creepy to criticize other bloggers' hard work -- especially work done without any expectation of remuneration or critique -- and I certainly don't mean to indicate that anyone has written a "bad" tutorial by not including the following information.  That being said, here is what I have found to be extremely helpful in a sewing tutorial.

1.  FINISHED DIMENSIONS, or at the very least a photo of the finished project with another identifiable object next to it for scale.  For every tutorial that neglects to include this information, there is always someone commenting on the post requesting the dimensions.

  • FABRIC -- the more specific, the better.  It doesn't help to just write "fabric".  That's obvious.  Virtually all sewing projects need a certain type of fabric, though.  You're not going to make a zipper pouch using tulle, and you're not going to sew a blouse using duck cloth.  If bulk is an issue in the project, recommend a lighter weight quilting cotton so the reader doesn't get 3/4 of the way through the tutorial only to find that denim isn't going to work.  If you truly believe that the weight and type of fabric doesn't matter, then say that too.  
  • NOTIONS -- listing something like "sewing machine" is probably not necessary, but being detailed in the exact size of grommet or size of D-ring will help when a reader is trying out a tutorial for the first time.  Not everyone needs to know the exact brand of elastic being used, but it helps to know the width, type, etc.  If it is a specialty notion, including a link to a place to buy it or showing a photo of the packaging helps a reader find it in the store (or online).  
3.  SEAM ALLOWANCE.  Whether it is a notation at the top stating "use 1/2" seam allowance throughout" or an indication within the directions of what seam allowance is needed at a particular step, this is a crucial piece of information.  It does make a huge difference whether you use a 1/4" or a 1/2" seam allowance.  Even if the finished product isn't a garment with fit issues, different seam allowances can cause very varying results in terms of finished dimensions, and the pieces may not fit together correctly.  Sometimes I am searching to make a bag or pouch in an exact size to hold a particular item.  If my finished product isn't big enough because I had to guess at the seam allowance, it's going to be a huge bummer.  I can usually guess that if the tutorial came from a blogger who likes to quilt, she will likely mean that a 1/4" seam allowance is necessary.  For non-quilting bloggers, seam allowances can sometimes be as wide as 5/8" (which just seems ridiculous, but I guess this is common with garments?).

4.  INTERFACING.  It is NOT helpful to simply indicate that "interfacing" is necessary.  There is quite a wide range of weights and types of interfacing.  There is a huge difference between featherweight and ultra heavyweight interfacing.  Give at least a weight designation -- lightweight, medium weight, ultra heavyweight, etc.  Better yet, give the brand and number designation for the interfacing (i.e., Pellon 70).  What Pellon calls heavyweight interfacing might be different from what you consider to be "heavyweight", so it's not a bad idea to get as specific as possible.  The awesome thing about blogs is that they are accessible to and read by people all over the world.  Differences in terminology can happen across cultures and languages, and it's easier to try and find the equivalent of what the tutorial author calls "lightweight" if I also know the brand and number designation for the type of interfacing used.  

5.  ORIENTATION OF PRINT.  Sometimes the original tutorial uses fabric without a directional print.  That's totally cool.  However, if I want to use a directional print for the project I need to know which way it should be facing on each piece cut for the pattern.  It's extremely frustrating (and wasteful) to later find I have to recut the fabric with a different orientation so the print won't be upside down or sideways in the finished product. 

6.  PHOTOS.  Virtually all online tutorials include photos, but I can't make a list of the necessary aspects of a tutorial without adding this to the list.  I especially appreciate the sewing tutorials that have photos at critical stages in the process so I can compare my real life project to the author's project at the same stage of development.  This helps with troubleshooting and gives me a strong sense of security.  I never could have taught myself to sew using only written directions!

All that being said, it is fun to see the different styles people have when drafting tutorials -- what information he/she deems pertinent and just how many assumptions are made about sewing knowledge.  I probably explain too much in some of my tutorials, but I'm always imagining my audience to be like me -- bumbling my way through learning to sew, one tutorial at a time.  To be honest, a lot of the reason I write my tutorials is to record for myself how I made an item, but most of the reason is to give back to the sewing community that taught me so much!


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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Piped Zipper Pouch -- Sewing Tutorial

The structure of this pouch is a little different from your typical "stitch some rectangles together and box out the corners" zipper pouch.  I'm a total sucker for piping, so I can foresee making a lot of these as gifts in the future.  It would be great to stuff with some fun lip glosses, some chocolate, and a great smelling bottle of hand lotion.  Instant perfect teacher gift!

Piped Zipper Pouch -- Sewing Tutorial

Materials Needed:

Quilting cotton or lightweight home decor fabric:

  • Exterior -- about one fat quarter
  • Lining -- about one fat quarter

Fusible fleece -- scrap about the size of a fat quarter
Piping -- at least 27 inches
Zipper -- at least 9"long (mine was 12")
D-ring -- 3/4" or 1" (mine was 3/4")
Swivel clasp
Thread to match the piping, lining, and exterior
Small glass or bowl -- 3" in diameter
Zipper foot and piping foot (if desired)

Finished dimensions: 7" wide, 4 1/2" tall, 2 1/2" deep.
All seam allowances 1/4" unless otherwise specified.

STEP ONE: Drawing the pattern and cutting the fabric

On a piece of paper, draw a rectangle 7 1/2" high by 5 1/2" wide.  Take the 3" diameter glass and trace around it to round off the top two corners.  Mark the bottom (the side with the sharp corners) to indicate the edge of the pattern that should be placed against the fold.

Take your exterior fabric and fold it.  Place the pattern piece with the straight edge against the fold and cut around it.  Repeat with the lining fabric and the fusible fleece.  These are your main body pieces.

In addition to those main body pieces, make the following cuts:

From the EXTERIOR fabric:
  • two rectangles 9" wide by 1 1/2" tall (for the top)
  • two rectangles 3" wide by 4" tall (for the side gussets)
  • one rectangle 3" wide by 13" long (for the handle)
  • one rectangle 2" wide by 3" tall (for the tab/loop to hold the d-ring)
From the LINING fabric:
  • two rectangles 9" wide by 1 1/2" tall
  • two rectangles 3" wide by 4" tall

  • two rectangles 9" by 1 1/2"
  • two rectangles 3" by 4"
  • one rectangle 5/8" by 12"
(In the photo below, I had forgotten to include the two long strips of fusible fleece.  You might also notice that the fusible fleece for the main body piece is in two pieces -- I was trying to use up scraps.)

Fuse the fusible fleece to the wrong side of the exterior main body piece, the two 9" by 1 1/2" pieces, and the two 3" by 4" pieces.  Don't worry about the long, skinny strip just yet.

Then, take your 3" diameter glass and use it to round off one end of each of the 3" by 4" pieces.  Do the same thing to the 3" by 4" lining pieces as well.

Gotta love the souvenir Kentucky Derby mint julep glass from 2005 that I used for rounding my corners.  Too bad it rolled off the table and shattered just a few minutes later.  R.I.P.

STEP TWO: Preparing the exterior main body piece

Make sure the thread in your machine matches your piping.  I can't stress this enough.  Because you will essentially be sewing the piping on twice (sewing it to one piece, then sandwiching it between both pieces and stitching again), any slight variance in the stitching can be visible on the outside if the color of the thread is contrasting.  It's better if the stitching just disappears into the piping.

Grab your piping and stitch it all the way around the main body piece (with the raw edge of the piping matched up to the edge of the fabric).  Start near the middle of one of the long sides, and leave an inch or two at the beginning unstitched for joining to the end when you get all the way back around.  I used my piping foot, but using a zipper foot works well too.  I have found that piping works best if you make sure it is nice and taut -- don't stretch it or anything, but give it the gentlest of a pull toward you while stitching to make sure it isn't bunchy on the curves.

Where the ends meet, you can either cross them over or use the technique I love to integrate one end into the other end.  For instructions on how to do that, see my tutorial for the Floating Inset Pocket with Piping.

Back to this project.  Once you have your piping on, it should look like this.  Yes, the corners curve up.

To combat this, make 5 or 6 little snips (close to, but not through, the stitching) around each corner.  This will help it lie flat.

Set this piece aside.

STEP THREE: Creating the gusset

Take your zipper and place it face up on your workspace.  Take one of the 9" by 1 1/2" exterior rectangles, and place it right side down onto the zipper.  Align the top edge of the fabric with the top edge of the zipper.  Pin it in place if you want to.

Make sure your machine now has thread in it that matches your fabric or zipper.  Stitch them together with a 1/4" seam.  Fold back the fabric layer and press it away from the zipper.

Then, grab your other 9" by 1 1/2" exterior piece.  Lay it right side down on top of the zipper, aligning the edge of the fabric with the edge of the zipper (on the side not already sewn to fabric).  Make sure the fabric pieces are lined up together on the sides.  Stitch this piece on with a 1/4" seam as well.

Unfold the second piece away from the zipper and press.  Topstitch close to the edges of the seams.  I was lazy and didn't replace my zipper foot with my regular foot before I did it, which resulted in some wobbly top stitching.  Don't follow my horrible example!

Take a 3" by 4" exterior piece and lay it face down on the side of the zipper away from the zipper pull.  Line the flat side up with the edge of the strips of fabric.  The end of the zipper will stick out.

Stitch them together with a 1/4" seam allowance.

Before you stitch the other side, grab your 2" by 3" square of exterior fabric and fold it in half with the 3" sides meeting and wrong sides facing.  Press.  Open it up and fold the edges in to the middle and press again -- basically like you're making bias tape.

If you unfold it, you should see this:

Refold it and press.  It should now look like this (2" long by 3/4" wide).

Top stitch down both sides (with about a 1/8" seam allowance) and down the center.

Take your d-ring and thread the fabric through.  Fold the fabric tab in half around the d-ring.

Next, make sure the zipper pull is back between the fabric strips you sewed on earlier.

Take the tab with the d-ring and lay it down at the edge, right over the zipper, with the raw edges of the tab extended slightly past the raw edge of the fabric strips on either side of the zipper.  I completely missed taking a photo of this step, so I drew it in with all of my amazing artistic skill for you.  (Yes, my sewing is better than my drawing.)

Keeping the zipper together (as if the zipper was zipped), baste the tab into place with a 1/8" seam allowance.  Then lay the other 3" by 4" exterior piece right side down on top of that, aligning the straight edge with the edge of the fabric strips.  Pin into place.

Stitch with a 1/4" seam.  Snip off the ends of the zipper sticking out on both ends.

Fold both ends of the fabric back and press.  Topstitch each close to the seam.

STEP FOUR: Attaching the gusset to the main body piece

Use pins (or a fabric pen) to mark the center spot on each side of the main body piece and the gusset.  Be sure to do three things now: (1) switch the thread in your machine to match the piping, (2) put your piping foot or zipper foot back on, and (3) unzip the zipper all the way.    (Pretend the tab with the d-ring is in the photo -- I had forgotten it until after this step and had to go back to rip things apart and insert it later.  I don't recommend doing that!)

Pin the tips of the ends of the gusset to the center points of the long sides of the main body piece, right sides together.  (Now you can see that my zipper was completely unzipped.)

Then match the center points of the long sides of the gusset with the center points of the short sides of the main body piece.  Pin into place.

Pin the rest of it together at all the spots in between.  Take special care to secure the curves.

With the main exterior piece facing up, stitch all the way around the main body piece right on top of the line of stitching that secured the piping in the first step.

Flip it right side out, and admire your work!  If you didn't care about raw edges inside, the main body would be done.  But you do, so we should probably get to work on a lining.

STEP FIVE: Assembling the lining

This part goes really fast -- no piping or zipper to mess with.  Switch the thread in your machine to one that matches your lining, if you want.  It's not really as vital since these inside seams won't be very visible.

Grab your two 9" by 1 1/2" strips and press down 1/4" toward the wrong side along the long edge of one side of each strip.

Lay the strips on top of the two rounded 3" by 4" pieces with right sides facing.  The folded edges of the strips should face in toward each other, and face the rounded edges of the 3" by 4" pieces toward each other.  Pin into place.

Here is another photo of the reverse side to explain it a little clearer.

Stitch down both ends with a 1/4" seam allowance.

Unfold the rounded ends away from the strips and press into place (so the seams allowances are toward the outside).  It should look like this from underneath.

It should look like this from above.

Just like you did in the last step, mark the center points on all sides of the main lining piece as well as the lining gusset.  Match those center points as before, pin it all together, and stitch it with a 1/4" seam allowance.  Don't worry about flipping it right side out though -- it will stay like this.  I trimmed the seam edges with pinking shears, but that might have been overkill.

STEP SIX: Attaching the lining to the exterior.

First, change the thread in your machine to that the top thread matches your exterior.  Your bobbin thread should stay the same as your lining.

Slip the lining inside the exterior with the wrong sides matching.  Pin into place, starting at the ends of the zipper.  The lining should cover the underside of the exterior's topstitching lines by a scant 1/8" of an inch.   I also added some pins at the main part of the body to make sure the lining stayed in place.

Stitch all the way around the zipper right on top of the existing topstitching lines.  Go slowly and don't swear too much.  See -- from the inside, the thread matches the lining.

And from the outside, the stitching matches the exterior fabric.  Fancy, huh?

STEP SEVEN: Making the wrist strap

Find the 3" by 13" strip of exterior fabric, the 5/8" by 12" strip of interfacing, and the swivel clasp.  Switch your thread in the machine so both the top thread and the bobbin thread match the exterior fabric.

As with the tab piece in step three, press the strip of exterior fabric in half lengthwise with wrong sides facing.  Open it up and press the sides in again toward the middle fold.

Open up fabric and place the thin strip of interfacing inside (with the gluey side up or down -- it doesn't matter).  The fabric strip is 1" longer than the interfacing so the seams won't be too bulky, especially when you sew the strap flat at the end.  The interfacing should nestle in neatly between one set of creases so you can fold it all back together again.

Fold it all back together (so the fabric is 13" long and 3/4" wide) and press to adhere the fusible fleece and sharpen the creases.

Thread the swivel clasp onto the strip of fabric and push it all the way to the middle.  Then open up the fabric on both ends and pin the ends together with the right sides facing (matching up the crease marks).  Stitch with a 1/4" seam allowance.

Turn it all right side out again and press the folds at the (now joined) ends back into place.  Now you should have a continuous circle of fabric with the swivel clasp on it.

As you did with the tab, top stitch along both sides and down the middle, all the way around the circle.  Just keep moving the swivel clasp out of the way as you sew.

When the top stitching is done, pull the swivel clasp around close to the part with the seam that joined the circle.  Fold the strap in half with the swivel clasp at the end and stitch across right on top of the existing seam, about 1/2" inch away from the edge of the fabric.

Now the strap should look like this:

Clip the strap onto the d-ring, and you're done!  If the pouch is a bit wrinkly, stuff it full of wash cloths and press with plenty of steam.

And you're done!

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