101: Perfect miniature hems in a jiffy

I loath hemming. Hate it. And I’ll tell this to anyone who’s willing to listen. 

So when it dawned on me that in going ahead with my birthday dress (a copy-cat of this Eva Franco lovely) I’d just committed to sewing a full circle skirt, in a super slippery and lightweight fabric – well people, to use a well-loved euphemism – I practically choked on my weet-bix. 

Practise runs with scrap fabric left me with a wavy edge that pressing just couldn’t fix, time and time again. That curved skirt with its hem on some form of bias 99.9% of the time needed stabilising, pronto!! 

A quick internet search and I found this tip by a fellow Burdastyler. I don’t know if they ‘invented’ it per se, but hey, this is the internet – not a dissertation. I bought a strip of Belt Backing (not the fusible kind) from Clegs that is made of some kind of polymer, is quite stiff and if you look closely below – has a woven mesh/matrix configuration.

Fellow Melburnians – you can pick some of this up at Clegs, and it’s $2.85 for a meter. Frustratingly, I couldn’t get this in a longer length, so I was forced to sew in sections. I will be keeping a keen eye out for something similar that I can buy by the meter in future though!

The best thing is – its pretty easy to use and it makes hemming 6 meters of curved fabric a really quick thing to do. I’m using a scrap of fabric cut on the curve so you can see just how well this works.

1. Firstly I needed to chop off the edge where all the fibres are fused together so we can get to the good stuff:

2. Then I grabbed my quick-unpick and pulled off the bottom few fibres from the Belt Backing. How many you pull off (ie, the length of the exposed fronds) will determine the depth of your hem, from the stitch line to the fabric fold line you’ll see on the right side of the fabric. 

Once you’ve dislodged the ends of a few of those fibres, I found I could just pull them out. I ended up taking off about 5 of them, giving me just under 0.5cm to play with.

3. Line your Belt Backing up with the fabric’s edge, right side up. I’ve allowed the standard 1.5cm seam allowance here, and I want the first fibre parallel to the edge to be about 1cm away. Sew along as close to the mesh as you can – ensuring your machine’s needle doesn’t stray across into the unpicked area of the belt interfacing. It won’t be fun if you let that happen.

The little teeth you exposed by unpicking a few of the fibres are quite strong (they’re plastic) and even though I was using a micro needle (the kind for tightly woven fabrics) it never got stuck. 

3. Carefully, making sure you don’t dislodge the teeth from your fabric, trim the fabric up really close to the teeth. The benefit of having a curved edge here comes into play – I don’t really need to worry about it fraying!

4. Sewing back the way you just came, turn the belt backing over so all your fabric is on the left side (and the wrong side is facing up). The belt backing is providing support for your fabric so it doesn’t get sucked down into the fiery depths of feed-dog hell, and holding your hem fold in place, all at the same time. Sew down the middle of your exposed belt backing teeth.

5. This part is important – pulling willy nilly could potentially stretch out your bias and make it ruin all the work you’ve just done. I found that out the hard way. So gently, holding the fabric and belt backing with your hands parallel to one another, pull the belt interfacing out of your hem.

6. It may still look a slightly rippled in some places, but once you’ve pressed the hem flat, this disappears.

And now you have a perfectly smooth, unstretched, impossibly small hem. Woot.


101: Single Welt Pockets


I made a pair of shorts to take on holiday with me (check them out here!) – and they have cute single welt pockets on the back. The pattern’s instructions for these pockets were pretty easy to understand – but the result left me cold. I went searching through my books and online sources – and after a few different attempts using calico scraps, I came up with a result I was happy with.

This 101 is a bit long winded purely because I found from all of the examples I could get my hands on they glossed over parts I wished they’d had more information on! Here’s how I did it:

1. Apply your interfacing strip to the wrong side of your fabric, approximately centered over the location where your welt pocket will be.


2. Grab your welt, and draw the height and width of the welt pocket you want to end up with on both the interfacing and the welt on the ‘wrong’ side of the fabric. Mine in this case is 12cm long and 1.7cm wide. On the welt piece I’ve drawn the rectangle in approximately the upper third of the welt – I’ll show you why further on.


3. Pin the welt to the fabric, with the rights sides facing:


4. Sew along the upper and lower welt pocket lines in your shortest stitch – making sure your seam starts and stops exactly at the corner of the rectangle:

5. Take a sharp, pointy pair of scissors and cut a slit in the middle between the two seam lines just sewn:


Cutting through both layers of fabric (the garment and the welt piece), stop about 1.5-2cm short of each end to cut a fairly sizeable ‘Y’. Get as close to the corner and stitch line as you dare – the closer you get the better the end result:


6. Grab your iron and press the welt upwards on the lower seam:


and then down on the upper seam:


7. Push the welt pocket through the cut you made in step 5:


8. Turn over so the ‘wrong’ side is facing up, and press the welt top and sides (not the bottom) so that the seam line is just on the inside fold:


Then underneath the unpressed welt bottom seam – press open the seam here (it reduces bulk for the steps a bit further on):


9. Taking the larger portion of the welt that is underneath the lower seam – fold this up so that the fold meets the top of the welt pocket and press flat:


Drawing the welt’s rectangular outline in the top third of the welt piece allows us to make the welt out of a single piece of fabric, rather than making a window (similar to than in a bound button hole) and then using another fabric piece to make the welt. It will now look approximately like this from the front:


10. With the right side facing you like in the photo above, fold over the side to expose the welt pocket piece and the little interfaced triangle. Sew down and across the triangle – staying close to the original line you drew:


Then repeat on the other side.

11. Nearly there! Now we’ve finished the welt, it’s time to attach the pocket. This also helps to ‘stabilise’ the welt to minimise any sag. With the right side of the pocket facing down, line up the edge with the bottom of the welt. I’ve placed mine a bit higher so you can see the welt underneath:


Pin in place, making sure you include the bottom half of the pressed-open seam underneath. Then sew across all of this:


12. Iron the pocket bag back down:


13. I’ve cut my pocket bag long enough allowing me to fold it up so the other end aligns with the waist-band seam of the garment. This also helps to stabilise the welt and pocket bag.


14. Pin the pocket bag to the welt fabric, but not the garment fabric. Sew first to the top of the welt, making sure you include the trapezium-shaped interfaced fabric:


Then sew down the sides of the pocket bag:


When you sew on the waistband (or lining) the top of the pocket bag will be included in this seam, supporting both the pocket and the welt.

And we’re done!


101: Draft your own sleeve heads

Sleeve heads are designed to support the sleeve cap in coats and jackets (preventing dimpling!) and these days you can buy pre-made shaped ones, or square ones that come in a roll.

I like to make my own as I find the pre-made ones a little on the long side, and so that the shape of the sleeve head matches the shape of the sleeve pattern.  

So if you’re making a jacket or a coat, and you’d like to use sleeve heads, here’s how. 

1. Grab your sleeve pattern piece and trace it (I use a roll of non-waxed grease-proof paper for my tracing activities – inexpensive, easily found and plentiful!). Make sure you include the shoulder seam point and the grainline!

2. Draw in the lines of the sleeve head. Perhaps a little easier said than done? Basically it will be a little longer at the front of your jacket (the longer, sloping side of your sleeve pattern) and shorter at the back of your jacket). I make the sleeve head longer if I’m working with very heavy fabric, but for lightweight fabric like my wool, this should be adequate.

I’ve made this particular one 5cm wide, although I will probably cut it back a little depending on how it looks when inserted. It’s always easier to cut something back than try to increase it!

3. The sleeve head needs to be cut on the bias, allowing it to move around with you when you’re wearing the finished garment. To change the grain line I draw a 2x2cm square at the end, and the diagonal inside of this square is the new grain line. 

Of course if you own a set square, you can just align your ruler and draw in your 45 degree angled line.

4.  Cut out your sleeve heads – for garments that are dry clean only I use a cotton batting that I sometimes cover in lining fabric, otherwise mohair, fleece or flannel work just as well. You can layer them up if you’re working with a particularly crisp fabric that needs a bit of extra support.

5. To put your sleeve heads in, position your sleeve so you’re looking down into it (jacket turned inside out) and pin the head so that the shoulder seam points match:

For this step I’m using pictures from my Octopus’ Garden jacket because I realised that the current jacket I’m making (Vogue 8739)  will not be fully lined, meaning that I needed to be a bit creative with inserting my sleeve head. This is the normal way to insert them – the sleeve head will then be hidden by your lining.

6. Sew them in – with the sleeve head facing down towards the machine (shown in the slightly blurry photo below) so you can see the original shoulder seam. Sew as close to this (if not right on top of it) to attach the sleeve head. 

And that’s it! Sleeve heads will take your jacket from having dimples at the sleeve cap to being perfectly smooth. And it’s little details like this that make all the visual difference!

101: Fagotted Seams

Fagoting is the term used to describe the technique where two fabric panels are joined together with a ‘gap’ in between them, either using a sheer panel or displaying some fancy needlework (you can always add a backing of an opaque skin-coloured fabric if this isn’t for you!).

This technique was used a lot in vintage nightwear and lingerie. Alberta Ferreti’s Spring 2012 RTW (via style.com) collection had some shining examples of fagotting:

If your machine has some fancy stitches, then you can choose to do it the quick way. Have a look here for a useful resource on sewing a fagotted seam with your machine.

I’ve chosen to do it by hand – I’m travelling for work a lot a the moment so it’s nice to have something soothing like a bit of hand sewing to do in the evenings!

1. Firstly, you’ll need to secure the two bits of fabric you will be fagotting together equidistant apart. I’ve done this by drawing two lines (0.5cm apart) down a piece of paper, then sewing my fabric to the paper with the folded edges aligned with the drawn lines:

You sew these down right sides up – with your seam allowance underneath (this will need to be either sewn down mechanically or using a blind stitch to secure the seam allowance).

I’m planning to sew this detail in between some pleats, which is why you only see a small amount of fabric.

2. Down the middle of the gap, I’ve added in dots at 0.5cm apart – this will be used as the template to make sure I get the stitches the same distance apart. 

On one side the needle will line up with the dots, on the other side it will go between the dots. I found this easier than having dots for each side – which gets confusing if you’re dealing with a fairly compact threading pattern!

3. I’m using embroidery thread as it’s nice and thick, which I’ve split in half (3 strands instead of 6):

4. Thread and secure to your fabric. I’m using the same style of fagotting used in vintage pieces – it looks little complex but is really very simple.

If you’re doing something more geometric, just work your way on down the seam. The trickiest part is maintaining a regular tension to keep your pattern looking homogeneous.

4. To do the vintage stitch I’m using, insert your needle from the underside of the fabric, taking a little ‘bite’ of the fabric fold:

Before you pull it through, make sure the ‘tail’ of the thread is underneath the needle. When you pull through, the threads wrapped around each other will give you the fagotted pattern.

5. Do the same on the other side (like a mirror image):

You’ll need thread at least twice as long as the seam you’re sewing, unless you don’t mind securing off and starting again halfway through. 

This is a great little thing to do when you’re watching Downton Abbey… this stitch is ever-so reminiscent of this era! 

That could possibly be fagotting on the waistline of Livinia’s Dress…?

101: Flat Felled Seams

You’ll know these best by the seams you see down the sides of your favourite RTW jeans. I first learnt how to do these by joining in with Peter Lappin’s Male Pattern Boldness boxer short sewalong.

Flat Felled seams are a great finish, and good for strengthening your seams – much in the way pre-tensioned steel is great for increasing the tensile strength of concrete. But enough geek blabber. This seam finish allows everything to sit nice and flat, and can also be used to reduce seam bulk. Lets get started.

1. Sew your seam as per normal. So far, so good.

2. If you’re sewing with a heavy fabric like me, grab your scissors and trim back one of the seam allowances by just over half, like so:

Iron your seam to stabilise it:

And then flatten you seam with the smaller seam allowance on top and iron flat:

3. Keeping your iron on standby, fold the larger seam allowance so the raw edge meets the seam:

Iron the fold in place.

4. Then fold the seam over so the raw edge is enclosed:

Iron flat again then top-stitch!

But what happens when you need to use a flat felled seam on a curve with a fabric that doesn’t give? Carolyn has a fabulous answer – by using a row of gathering stitch to pull the fabric into line. Check out her post on this here.