Category Archives: Techniques

And the matching plaid skirt

In no time at all, my plaid top has gained a matching skirt.


Maddie the Teenage Daughter has apparently never encountered matching separates. She thought I reworked my top into a dress.

And the back.


“Gene” and I have the same measurements, but somehow she has an hourglass figure. Show-off.

It was my HOPE to match the plaid at all four seams. Alas, my cutting strategy was off a bit, so the center front and back are matched:

Matched (well, pretty darn close, anyway)!

Matched at the front (well, pretty darn close, anyway)!

And at the sides, not so much:

The plaid is matched only at the horizontal lines. Oops.

The plaid is matched only at the horizontal lines. Oops.

This is how I tried to match the plaid:

I compared the front and back pattern pieces. They were identical except the front was a quarter-inch wider. So I used that piece to cut all four panels so they would be identical, knowing I could just ease in the excess fabric. Then I pinned the pattern once and marked a reference intersection of lines in the middle of the pattern piece and the horizontal lines along the sides. I cut single layer, two face up and two face down.

Aha, two face down was my downfall. The fabric is a woven plaid; there is no wrong or right side. If I had cut all four face up with the plaids lined up with my marks, I only had to flip two pieces to get mirror-image matching along all four seams. As it was, the plaid hit the seam lines slightly differently on each set. So, the centers match on each pair cut the same, but the sides match only on the horizontal lines.  This may be obvious to some, but it took approximately 36 hours of pondering for me to puzzle it out after the fact.

Live and learn.

But I did try a new-to-me technique to make sure the plaids matched when they were sewn. I folded the seam allowance to the wrong side of one piece for each seam then laid it on top of the other (unfolded) piece so the plaid matched at the seamline with the right sides facing up. Then I slip basted from the right side so the plaid would stay aligned. After that, I opened up the seam and stitched on the seam line. This took a lot of time, and it was a little tricky removing the basting stitches (which got caught by the real stitching here and there), but it kept my plaid from shifting around too much when I sewed. Good technique.

I also inserted the zipper by hand. I never really liked stitching them in by machine. It seems to be such a crapshoot: Sew and hope for the best. Hand stitching gives you much more control. Sadly, in my first time trying the technique, I stitched too close to the zipper teeth, leaving no room for the zipper pull to hide in the fabric folds. Lame!

Here it is from the right side:

Look how nicely the plaid matches!

Look how nicely the plaid matches!

But I do NOT like how it looks on the inside:

The seam finishes with the Hug Snug look so nice, but the zipper looks so unfinished.

The seam finishes with the Hug Snug look so nice, but the zipper looks so unfinished. Using a white zipper would have helped, but I had navy in my stash.

All in all, I consider the plaid skirt a success, even with the matching problems at the sides. Regardless, my pattern matching came out better than the example below from a higher-end national retail chain commonly found in malls:

Even my daughter asked how this stripe could match so well at the top but not at the bottom.

Even my daughter asked how this stripe could match so well at the top but not at the bottom. I’m not quite sure what happened here.

I’ve already worn my happy top and skirt combo. Perfect on a not-too-hot summer day. Throw on a cardigan (of which I have many, many, many), and the outfit can easily be worn during our nice warm Northern California fall.

Next up is a linen version of the skirt that will be three inches longer. Here’s the mood board:


A pretty embroidered linen from JoAnn’s. I hadn’t bought the zipper yet when I took this photo. It’s the same color as the linen.

I’m not sure what, if any, attempt at pattern matching I need to make with this fabric. I haven’t examined it that closely yet. But I think there was enough unembroidered fabric along the selvage to use for the waistband.

But it’s linen, and Labor Day is around the corner. I need to get on this quick!


Butterick/See & Sew 5737

Pros: An easy four-gore skirt with a straight waistband that goes together in a cinch. It’s got a decent sweep, but not nearly the sweep of a circle skirt.

Cons: No finished hem width information on the envelope. The pattern companies seem to be moving this kind of information either to the pattern instructions or, worse yet, to the pattern pieces themselves. For me, this is important information when deciding to purchase a pattern. Fair warning to the pattern companies: I don’t want to unfold a pattern in a store to see the finished dimensions, but I will if I have to!


Wide-leg denim trousers with zipper hidden in the pocket

I recently finished a modified version of Simplicity 3688.

Wide-leg denim trousers from Simplicity 3688.

Wide-leg denim trousers from Simplicity 3688.

This project had three new-to-me techniques:

  • Palmer/Pletsch’s fitting method.
  • Sandra Betzina’s zipper hidden in a pocket.
  • Faux flat-felled seams and the use of topstitching thread.

This is how it went:

Palmer/Pletsch’s fitting method

I used Palmer/Pletsch Pants for Real People as my guide. P/P fitting books recommend that you pin-fit the pattern tissue, then partially sew the garment and finish by fitting as you sew. Pin-fitting even reinforced pattern tissue seemed a little dicey to me, so I traced the pattern with Swedish tracing paper (which is really more like nonwoven interfacing than paper) and used the P/P fitting methods from there.

I was really  happy with the fit of the tracing paper version, but the fabric version somehow went awry. I think it’s because you fit only half the garment in tissue, and I didn’t end up with enough width by the time I cut it out in fabric and sewed the two halves together. P/P recommend 1-inch seam allowances, but I ignored that good advice. That would have saved the day. Instead, I sewed 3/8-inch seam allowances rather than the 5/8-inch allotted for a little more room. That improved the fit somewhat, and made all the faux flat-felled seams faster because there was no trimming necessary.

I also goofed up their excellent method for fitting a waistband. You cut and pin the waistband to fit you the way you like. No measuring involved! Then you attached the pants to it. Well, you’re supposed to fit the INTERFACED waistband to your waist. I missed that part, so I fit a stretch denim waistband to my waist. When I added the interfacing, it wasn’t so stretch anymore, so it ended up too tight. (At least it was too tight right at that moment. I’ve since lost 5 pounds, and the waistband fits a lot better.) But I did use their special waistband interfacing and the technique that goes with it. I love it! It will definitely be my go-to for straight waistbands in the future.

P/P have tips for fitting pretty much every figure variation you can think of. And it’s all illustrated in their book, showing real people and their real pants. But when I make — and fit — this pattern again (which I definitely will), I’ll make a muslin, then use their fitting methods from there. P/P are very successful with their pattern tissue fitting method, but I’m just more comfortable with fitting a sewn muslin.

I do like the overall shape of the pattern, so I think it will be fantastic once I fit it to me properly.

Sandra Betzina’s hidden zipper

I wanted to make wide-leg denim trousers, but I didn’t want a center front fly. Too much bulk in the wrong spot! A back zipper on denim trousers just seemed wrong. But I also wanted side pockets. I hate not having a pocket to slip my phone or keys into. So I scoured the Internet for a solution and found a reference to Sandra Betzina’s method for hiding a zipper opening within a side slash pocket. It sounded well worth the investment in a used copy of her book Power Sewing, where she illustrates the technique. Genius! I had to give it a go.

Well, what do you know? It worked. I’m not sure I love it, but it definitely worked. I bought both polyester and brass zippers because I couldn’t decide which to use. Once I was sewing, however, I knew I had to go with the brass for denim. It’s a little difficult to zip up pants inside a pocket, however. And with no back flap protecting my skin, I’ve nipped myself once or twice with those brass teeth. If the fit on the pants were better (say, looser), or I used a polyester zipper, it might be OK.

There's a zipper opening hidden in that pocket!

There’s a zipper opening hidden in that pocket! See the pulling at my tummy? All my pants do that. I do need to reduce the width into the waistband, but probably not where those darts are placed. Maybe just at the side seams.

See the zipper hiding in the pocket? Crazy, no?

See the zipper hiding in the pocket? Crazy, no?

Faux flat-fell seams

The construction was very straightforward, and I had some fun with the denim and topstitching.

I was very pleased at how the Fancy Damn Sewing Machine handled multiple layers of denim. It had to pause and collect itself twice when I pushed it a little too hard, but other than that, it sailed through the project without a hitch.

The faux flat-fell seam from the inside.

The faux flat-fell seam from the inside.

The faux flat-fell seam from the outside.

The faux flat-fell seam from the outside.


I have never done a flat-fell seam before, faux or otherwise. It’s a great technique for finishing denim seams. And I was really pleased with the how the topstitching went. I did opt mid-project to buy a proper topstitching needle. It has a bigger eye for the bigger thread, so it prevented the shredding of the thread I encountered a couple of times. I used the appropriate gold topstitching thread and love the way it looks. It wasn’t until I got to the hem that I remembered to increase the stitch length, so that area looks best.


The topstitched hem.

I had purchased  a nice brass button for the closure but wasn’t sure how well a buttonhole would sew through denim and the interfacing, so I chickened out and did a hook-and-eye closure. I really need to sew in another set for the underlap.

All in all, it’s a successful project that just doesn’t fit as well as it should. Or perhaps as well as it will, as I’m back in weight-loss mode. I’ve lost five pounds since I fit the waistband. Who knows? Another 10 and it may fit great.

It is a great wide-leg pattern, however. I look forward to solving the fitting issues and making it again in denim (lighter blue with red topstitching?) and dressier fabrics (the wool crepe in the stash). I may have to give more thought to the pocket and closure, however.

An invisible zipper that’s actually … well … invisible

I hummed along so quickly during my afternoon of sewing today that instead of stopping before the invisible zipper installation (the better to steel myself for the battle), I continued right on through it.

Previously, I’ve had little luck with invisible zippers:

Zipper outside

The not-so-invisible zipper of my polka dot skirt. Sad, no?

But today was a breakthrough:

Can you see a zipper in that seam? Neither can I — whoo-hoo!

The trick was the ironing of the zipper before application. The directions that come with the zipper show a timid iron tip just crossing from the zipper tape over the teeth. That has never worked for me, so I gave up on the ironing and ended up with a very visible invisible zipper.

This time, however, I aggressively ironed that zipper tape and attached coils. Mashed the heck out of those suckers with my iron, in fact (at the proper synthetic setting, of course). The zipper tape flattened right out. I was a little concerned by how incredibly flat it was, but proceeded to attach the zipper, which was held to the fabric with Clover Wonder Clips. So much easier than pins!

This is the spot where I usually run into trouble. I have an invisible zipper foot, but the stitches would catch the coils. No more! The stitches glided right alongside. I was a little apprehensive when I tried to close the zipper, but it zipped up like a dream!

Yay! My first successful invisible zipper. Now I wish I hadn’t chickened out of getting the blue zipper. The zipper pull looked snazzy in that color, but I settled for a cream color in case I screwed it up again.

My self-drafted pockets also worked, and the length and fullness at the hem are looking promising. Just a few more hours of work are left on this wearable muslin. I’m sensing a success. Oh no! Did I type that out loud?

Gemini note (because sewing isn’t everything): We finished up my second-grader’s baseball season with the team party today. Such a fun season! Nice coaches, nice kids, nice families. We had a blast, made some friends, and my baby played in the AA All-Star Game. Love the opportunities the ‘burbs provide for my kids.

Yes, I put silk in the washing machine … and the dryer, too!

Update on yesterday’s post regarding washing silk: I had read that you could prewash silk in a washing machine. So I did it. And although I did NOT read that you could put silk in the dryer, I did that, too. Silk in a dryer? That’s my version of living dangerously.

While it was in there, I decided to Google whether that was an OK idea. And the Magic 8 Ball that is the Internet came back with “Outlook not so good.” Yikes!

I ran to the dryer to pull out the silk, but it was already dry and about to enter the cool-down cycle. And it was intact. No visible heat damage or pulls or streaks of white as warned.

In fact, the silk was a lot softer than when it went in. It was a little stiff and crinkly and — dare I say it — polyester-ish when it went in. I don’t know if the improvement is due just to the washing, as some say, or the inappropriate application of heat as well.

Regardless, the silk has a nicer hand now.

Washing silk in the machine really should involve a lingerie bag and NO HEAT. I’ll stick to the rules next time, but this time I came out aces. And my blouse when it’s done can go in the washing machine, handwash cycle. Lucky me!

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