Sewing with Knits: A Better Patch Pocket


Recently I made a wearable muslin for the Blackwood Cardigan and learned that I really love this pattern.  The sweater is long and has cuffs for warmth and style, has pockets and is very easy to sew.  The lower band addresses the hemming dilemna that sometimes occurs with hand-sewn sweaters.  What’s not to love.  I’m eager to make another out of a different fabric.

The Muslin:

I used a wool, poly and bamboo knit that’s cozy warm but which has poor recovery and pilled after a single washing, making it the perfect fabric for a muslin.

As for the pattern, I made a few changes:

  1.  The front band is 2″ wide and hangs nicely down the front however it doesn’t overlap, which is a personal preference.  So I removed the band and thankfully had enough fabric to cut a new band, doubling the width to 4″.  For the next try I’ll go with a 3″ band.
  2. The patch pocket is topstitched, which isn’t my favorite method on this type of knit.  Even after using iron-on tape, the top-stitching looked wavy and uneven.  And that’s the point of this blog post.  Here’s my try at topstitching the pocket (sorry about the poor color but you get the point).


The Solution:

In a creative moment, I decided to try attaching the pocket using a very narrow zig-zag stitch (after using iron-on fusible tape to keep the pocket in place).  Here’s the result, which I really like:


To do this, I used matching thread and a stitch width of 1 (out of 4) and a length of 3 (out of 4), just catching the edge of the pocket with the needle. For the navy band I switched to navy thread.IMG_1030  After it was sewn, I gave the pocket a little tug to make the stitches disappear into the fabric.  The pocket has of a 3-D look and appears more like ready-to-wear.

I’ll give this pattern another try soon and will see if this method works with different fabric.

Bad Irons: It’s my Turn

For those of us who sew and bear our souls about the sewing experience, bad irons are a common topic.  Many of my fellow bloggers have taken their turn at complaining about the quality of steam irons and the need for frequent replacement.  Even my husband knows of this problem – right after telling me that tennis shoes were $2.00 when he was a kid, he tells me that his mother only owned one iron in her whole life while I need to purchase a new one every year.

Oops, I had the iron on this fabric for a nano-second.

A Smoking Iron?

Last week, when I was pressing some garments I sewed for a woman, my one year old $80 steam iron (brand name rhymes with mark) nearly burned the house down.   While ironing it started to sizzle very loudly.  Confused by what was occurring, I thought I’d test it on a scrap of cotton and in a second it burned the scrap as well as the ironing board cover.  Then more sizzling followed by smoke coming out of the seams of the iron.  At that moment I unplugged it and opened the windows to relieve the room of smoke.  Can I tell you how grateful I was that the burned item was a fabric scrap and not a garment I’d just finished sewing?

Of course, the warranty had expired, although the company offered to repair it for $42 plus shipping.  Having now “burned” through 2 irons in the past year, I  searched for other options.  Thanks to fellow bloggers and sewists, it became clear that I needed to make the jump to a gravity feed iron.  At under $100, the Hot Steam SGB-600 seemed to be a good option.

Before the new gravity-feed iron arrived I borrowed a 25 year-old made in Germany Rowenta from my mother who used it when she was a quilter.  As you can see by the following photo, it must have been dropped a few times so the steam doesn’t work but the iron is great.  Even without steam, it pressed better than the [rhymes with mark].


The New Arrival – Hot Steam SGB-600

When the package arrived, it was a little daunting.  Would I ever stop unpacking?  Many of the components were obvious but what about all of the pieces that aren’t pictured in the manual?


After reading the manual the cobwebs in my head cleared, though there remained a few plastic adaptors not described or pictured in the manual.  It seemed a little weird to think about a huge bottle hanging in my sewing room.  Maybe I needed to get my own IV pole?

SGB-600 all set up


Steam:  Although I’ve only used it for a short time, this iron is amazing.  The burst of steam is generous and at a setting of “3” every item has been incredibly well pressed, usually with a single swipe of the iron.  Some reviews have said this setting works for nearly every type of fabric.  I’ve used it on wool, cotton, cotton-poly and polyester and it worked well.  The iron is definitely heavy and it’s unusual to not set it on it’s heel – just a matter of learning a new behavior after years of doing it another way.  Also, the water valve on the tank needs to be turned off after every use.  Hope I don’t come home to a flooded sewing room some day.  Heats to the desired temperature in several minutes.

Silicone mat:  The mat is very thick and the heat doesn’t radiate to the bottom of the mat.  Some have recommended placing a tile below the silicone mat, however at this time I don’t see the need.  Some sellers do not include the mat with purchase however Wawak includes this and the sole plate with the iron.

Cord: The cord is very heavy and the length sufficient.  It is important to keep the water tubing connected to the electrical cord.  Four connectors come with the unit – some of the parts not described. Because the iron is so heavy, the weight of the cord moves freely with the iron.

Hanging method:  Mine is hung from a ceiling hook and the type of chain that is used for hanging lamps.

Auto shut-off:  There is no auto shut-off, which will be another behavior change and it might be a tough one.

This whole setup wouldn’t work well if you have a temporary sewing space however in my sewing room it is great.  At this point I’m pretty high on this iron.

Sewing a Draped Front Cardigan

Still stylish this year is the draped front cardigan, which is so easy to sew, even if you don’t have a pattern.  One of my sewing friends asked me how to alter a cardigan pattern to make a draped front, so I thought I’d share the information with you too – with apologies for the poor photos.

Literally smiling at the camera, I was wearing a very lightweight wool knit sweater I sewed. (because of the fabric weight, it doesn’t drape as well as heavier fabrics).  Because of the striped design, it is easy to see how the sweater pattern was altered.


This was Jalie’s pleated sweater pattern 2919 with the pleats removed and without a collar.  In the next photo, you will see that 14-16″ of fabric was added to each side of the center front in order to achieve the draped look.  The neckline was curved slightly as well.


In the following photo you can see that when widening the front, I kept the edge on the grain of the fabric.  To finish the neckline, I cut a 2-1/2 or 3″ band of fabric (cut on the grain, using the lace pattern in the fabric) and sewed it along the entire neckline. The neckline band was not stretched; it was simply used as an edge finish.  The vertical edge was stitched with a 1″ hem to add weight.  For a heavier fabric, folding over a 1/2 or 5/8″ hem would have worked.


Using this same technique, here’s one with more draped sweater.  To achieve this, I extended the front center another 2-4″, or so that when pulled out straight, the center front edge was beyond the armpit on the opposite side.

IMG_0941.JPG - Version 2

Hope this helps you to make this stylish sweater without buying yet one more pattern.

Fashion Designers in the Making

My DGD both love sewing American Girl doll clothes.  Doesn’t every American Girl doll need a fine-looking wardrobe?  Besides, with a fabric stash at hand, Mira and Cate don’t need to save their hard-earned dollars only to have them evaporate with a single purchase of doll clothing.

Sewing Together
Sewing Together

Writing this reminds me of my incentive to sew when I was a teen, my parents paid for fabric to make clothes however if I wanted ready-to-wear, I bought it with my hard-earned money.

Back to the story.

Cate’s Creation

Recently, both Mira (age 10) and Caitlin (age 7) had dreams of a “beautiful” American Girl doll dress.  My conversation with Cate went something like this:

Cate:  Grandma, I want to make a REALLY beautiful dress for Kit and McKenna.

Me:  What type of REALLY beautiful dress?

Cate:  One that’s REALLY beautiful and made from your fabric, not from Mira’s and my box of fabric.

Me:  Well, let’s see what we can find.

We made a trip to my sewing room and dug through the bin of “silk and pretties” (Cate knew exactly where that bin was located) and she quickly selected an Asian print, followed by a quick rummage through my lace drawer to make her trim selections.  Most important of all, I asked her to draw a picture of what she wanted.  I wanted Cate to be successful but secretly feared that she wished for something very complex).  Here is “Cate’s Creation”:

Cate’s Creation

I found the simplest possible 18″ doll dress pattern and soon we were cutting and sewing.  With an amazing command of the sewing machine, Cate zig-zagged all of the edges, sewed the seams, ran the gathering stitches and gathered the skirt.  Here is the REALLY beautiful result:

So Pretty in Pink
Proud Cate with McKenna
Proud Cate with McKenna

Mira’s Couture

Mira has loved creating fashion for both Kit and McKenna, though she is not the owner of either doll.  This however was the most elaborate to date.  Prior to designing this dress she made an adorable white top hat with black trim for Kit (maybe I can get a photo and add later) and then envisioned the black and white dress to be worn with the top hat.   More experienced with a drawing pencil, Mira provided sufficient detail to challenge both of us.  What a gorgeous design but where would I find this pattern?


In a box of scrap fabric, we found some white poly crepe and black velvet, and she selected a small embroidery design.  Mira cut out the dress and sewed most of the it except the sleeves and cuff – much of it was independent sewing.  She selected the appropriate sized snaps (no velcro here) and we shared sewing them onto the dress back and cuffs.

Kit’s Black and White gown
Mira and Kit - so lovely
Mira and Kit – so lovely

Tutorial: American Girl Twirly Dress

Kit’s new dress

The last post was a tutorial on how to make this dress for a big girl.  Here are a few tips on how to make this  Twirly Dress for a doll.  The steps are the same as described here with the following changes and tips.

1.  Use an 18″ doll pattern for a top or T-shirt.

2.  Instead of cutting the top back on the fold, add 3/4″ for an overlap.

3.  Finished length for the side seams on the top – 5-1/2″

4.  Skirt tiers – cut 3 strips 1-1/2″ by the width of the fabric.

5.  When assembling the top, sew both side seams but not the back seam as the back needs to be  at least partially open in order to get the dress onto the doll.

6.  Kit’s dress is a little too twirly.  Gathering ratio should be less than for a girl’s dress.  I would recommend no more than a 1.5:1 ratio.

7.  After tiers are ruffled and sewed onto the dress, sew up the back seam, stopping at the point where the skirt meets the top.

8.  Add closures, using velcro or snaps.


Not sure why, but here is Kit in a “time-out”

Tutorial: Girl’s Twirly Velveteen Dress

Sewing For Children

For Christmas, every girl deserves a pretty new dress. This year, Catie’s dress was a Twirl Dress – a T-shirt dress with a ruffled skirt and of course a matching dress for Kit, her American Girl doll.  Made from stretch velveteen, this twirly dress is a favorite style for girls and in fact, it’s the third in this style that I’ve sewed for Cate.  Most of all, mom’s love it because it looks dressy, is washable and the color doesn’t fade.

Christmas dress for Cate and Kit

The steps to make this adorable dress are so simple that it’s hard to believe it all starts with a T-shirt pattern.  In this case, I used a boy’s T-shirt pattern (minus the neck binding) I’ve modified a number of times.


Supplies:  1-1/2  to 2 yards of knit velveteen fabric (depends on the fabric width), matching thread, embroidered design.  Wider fabric

Steps for Dress Top:

1. Select a T-shirt pattern of the desired size, or one size larger if you wish to have growing room.  For the length, use the full length of the T-shirt.  (Cate’s is a size 6x-7 with a finished shirt side seam is 12″)

2. Cut T-shirt from the fabric, taking care to have all pieces cut in the same direction.

Tip:  In order to get the richness of the velvet color, when cutting velvet the nap should go upward.  In other words, when you brush your hand upward on the fabric, it feels smooth.  

3. Calculate how many strips you will need for the twirly skirt.     

  • Tier 1 – at least twice the circumference of the top  (52″ for Cate – fabric was 60″ wide)
  • Tier 2: One-and-a-half to twice the circumference of Tier 1 (requires sewing 2 strips together)
  • Tier 3 – One-and-a-half to twice the circumference of Tier 2 (will also require sewing several strips together)

Note:  If you are using a ruffling foot, do not cut the strips to the desired length as ruffling is not an exact process.  You can cut off any extra fabric after the tier is attached to the previous layer.

4.  For the top front, I made the final cut after the embroidery.  For the skirt, cut the number of strips you will need, cutting across the grain.  For a smaller size, these strips are 3″ , 3-1/2″ or 4″ wide.  For Cate’s dress I cut 4-1/2″ strips, which allows for 4″ tiers minus 1/4″ for each seam allowance. 

Cut pieces. Top front was embroidered before the final cutting.

5.  Embroider or place your desired design on the shirt front.

Close up of embroidery and neckline finish

6.  Assemble the T-shirt but do not sew the bottom 5 or 6″ of one side seam.  Finish the sleeve and neckline but do not hem the shirt.  (For the neckline I turned over 1/2″ and sewed with a coverstitch however  using a double needle method on a standard sewing machine would work as well).

Now Assemble/add the Skirt:

There are several ways to make the ruffles.

  1. Gather the top of the cut strip and attach to the dress top (i.e. t-shirt) at a 1.5:1 or 2:1 gathering ratio.  For subsequent ruffles, add the gathered portion to the bottom of the previous ruffle.  Test to see how you want it to look.
  2. Use a ruffling foot on your sewing machine or serger, set to a 1.5:1 or 2:1 ratio.  For this method, it is important to do a test or two to get the result you want.  My preferred method is to use the serger ruffling foot.
Method 2: Sewing the first tier onto the dress top.  Clear strip is water-soluble stabilizer. Bottom layer is being gathered.

Steps if using a Ruffling Foot:

1.  Place the piece to be ruffled on the bottom, with right sides together.

Note:  Because this fabric is stretchy, holding a narrow strip of water-soluble stabilizer over the top fabric (piece that’s not being gathered) will reduce the amount of undesired stretch.

2.  When you get to the end, you will likely have some left over ruffle.  Cut off.

3.  Sew the next two tiers in the same manner.

4. Sew the open side seam.

5.  Hem by turning under 1/4″.  Sew on a standard sewing machine.

6.  Steam dress from the back side, using a generous amount of steam over the ruffled seams.  If the top layer stretched, the steaming will help the latex in the fabric to shrink back into shape.

After steaming the ruffles.
After steaming the ruffles.
From the back
From the back
Cate, Mira and dolls

Full Bust Adjustment (FBA): Adding a Horizontal Dart

In my last post I showed you the Edwardian dress I sewed for my SIL.  Despite using reference books and websites with directions on FBA, I wasn’t able to put my finger on the  directions for adding a horizontal dart while narrowing the shoulder.  Since I’m not sure I can describe what I did for the narrow shoulder adjustment, I can show you how I made the full bust adjustment (FBA).

This Past Patterns #903 pattern was the starting point.   Given that the bodice only has vertical darts, my options were to slash the pattern, eliminate the darts and make it into a princess line dress or to add a horizontal dart.  While I chose the latter, I now wonder if it would have been easier to convert one of the vertical darts into a princess line and forget the second dart, especially because of the narrow shoulder adjustment.  Maybe the next time?


1.  Copy the pattern piece onto a separate piece of pattern paper, leaving several inches around all of the edges so you have space to make adjustments.  Out of the envelope, the front pattern piece looked like this.

Original pattern piece – front bodice

2. Start by adding width to the side of the bodice front (and back if needed), making sure that the dress pattern is equal to the wearer’s full bust measurement plus wearing ease.  I did this by adding to the side of the front and back of the dress top.  On the photo below, if you look to the right side (arrow #1), you can see that my pattern is much wider than the largest size of the printed pattern.  Note: By taking this step you have accommodated for the wearer’s circumference, however in order to avoid having the dress pull up in front, you will also need to add length to the dress front.  That’s where we’re going now.

3. Slash the pattern horizontally at the wearer’s bustline.  Note:  If you slash the pattern at the full bust line, the dart should fall in the correct position.

4.  Physically separate the top and bottom pieces of the pattern and add an amount that is consistent with the wearer’s fullness.  For me is was guesswork to start and then I made further adjustments with each muslin.  There’s probably a formula to calculate this but I couldn’t find it.  In the final muslin I added nearly 4″ to the bodice front.

5. Fill the slashed area with a piece of pattern paper and tape in place (not visible on my photo).

6.  Draw a dart at the center of the area you added to the pattern. (Arrow #3).  Note the bottom of the pattern – the revised pattern is much longer than the original.  (Arrow #4)

While this will likely not be your final alteration, it’s a great place to start, and you can make changes based on how the muslin fits.  In the end you should end up with something like this:

Narrow Shoulder Adjustment:

Unfortunately I don’t feel that I mastered this technique or could even offer advice on what I did to narrow the shoulders while adding several inches to the side seam.  Essentially this was so the armhole wasn’t oversized for the sleeve.   All I can say is that I followed Nancy Ziemen’s Pivot and Slide technique .

Readers, if you have suggestions on how to make this alteration differently, please leave a comment.

Long Distance Sewing: Margie’s Edwardian Dress

So lovely in her new dress

This dress took sooo much longer to make than I anticipated, mostly because it’s really difficult to fit a dress when you’re not in the same state (excuse #1, I know).  Interestingly, when we got to the point of having a good muslin, it only took a week or two to sew the dress.

Nearly a year ago, my SIL Margie asked if I would sew a replica of a historic dress for her.  For their volunteer work at a 1900’s historic home in their community, my BIL John and SIL Margie needed a dress from that era.  Delighted by the request however unfamiliar with sewing historical garments, I searched for patterns online and thankfully found  Specifically, their 1890’s Day Dress pattern was the pattern of choice.

Here’s a chronicle of the events leading up to the dress completion:

Summer, 2011 – request to sew the dress

Aug/Sept 2011 – Once again, Jomar’s in Philadelphia rose to the occasion.  We planned for our long distance fabric selection and one evening I spent an hour or two digging through the fabric options at Jomar.  After photographing candidate fabrics, I emailed the photo to Margie and John from my iPhone.  “Yes, I like that one; I don’t care for that color; no that’s too blue; that green is nice”  They settled on a lovely light green cotton brocade.

November 2011 – In my possession was a pattern and some fabric but we hadn’t been together so I could take measurements.  Margie and I (with others) traveled to Spain together, so like a diligent sewist, I had my tape measure in my backpack.  This preliminary set of measurements allowed me to alter the pattern and make a muslin.  

Christmas 2011 – Margie and I saw each other for only an hour but had enough time to fit muslin #1.

January 2012 – Muslin #2 completed and mailed to her as then we lived a thousand miles from each other (now ~60 miles).  John kindly took photos of the muslin and pinned some of the areas requiring alteration and returned the muslin to Philadelphia.  His eye for detail was crucial for me to make the needed changes.

February – March – Now things really slowed down as the project was packed away in a moving box while I secretly hoped Margie wouldn’t need the dress.

April – Finally we had an in-person fitting of muslin #3.  I was ready to cut the fashion fabric and start sewing the dress. 

May – Margie stopped by our house for a fitting.  I made a few sizing tweaks and pinned the hem.  A week later my niece picked up the dress and delivered it.  Whew!

All of my sewing friends know that the above outlined events were underscored by showing photos of Margie in the muslin followed by requests for fitting assistance. Thank you to my sewing colleagues who helped me along the journey.  

I was so excited to be finished with the dress that I failed to take inside or construction photos however I can share a few details with you:

Fabric – cotton brocade was pre-washed twice to assure that it wouldn’t shrink in the future.

Lining – lightweight cotton-linen blend for the top only.  The lining and fashion fabric were sewn as one.  This was also pre-washed.

Seam finish – Hong Kong finish with silk organza to reduce bulk.

Buttons – vintage shank buttons purchased on Ebay.  They even smelled vintage, or musty.  The smell passed quickly.  The 22 buttons forced me to learn an easy 2-minute buttonhole technique.

Pattern alterations – added a horizontal dart for bodice fitting.  More about that on another post.

Details – a watch pocket on one of the side front seams.  Margie has since purchased a pocket watch and chain.


This was a great project as it really stretched my skills at fitting.  Margie said she got lots of compliments on her first wearing and I am very pleased with the outcome.


Sewing Jeans: A Riveting Experience

Several months ago I sewed my first ever pair of jeans from the very popular Jalie 2908 pattern.  Made from a remnant of Ralph Lauren stretch denim from London Textiles, this was my first foray into the world of jeans.  Surprisingly the project took only a week – for the sewing part, that is.  The rivets were another story.

The thrill was in getting a pair of jeans that didn’t bag at the back of the leg as well as being perfectly rounded for my perfectly round belly.  They were not too big, not too tight, but just right.  Most gratifying was the look of the pockets.  A huge thank you to Quixotic Pixels for the design idea.  It worked beautifully.

Melt-away stabilizer was used for embroidering the pocket

For top-stitching and pocket embroidery using several of the few design stitches on my sewing machine, I used upholstery thread which is available in many more colors than “jeans” thread.

Cut away the excess stabilizer and then soaked in water for a few minutes

Ever since I saw this “Mom Jeans” post, I’ve hoped that I got the pockets in the right place so I’m not the butt of anyone’s “Mom Jeans” joke.

As for the Rivets

As I wrote above, I finished sewing the jeans in about a week.  The rivets were far more complicated than constructing the jeans.  Naively I purchased 12 rivets (Pacific Trims in NYC), which would give me 2 to spare if setting them didn’t go well.  Let me tell you, setting the rivets didn’t go well at all.  Out of the first dozen, 2 looked pretty good, 2 fell out on the first wearing and the remainder looked something like this.

Despite the partially riveted jeans I proudly wore them during the holiday season and got lots of compliments.  My family and friends were kind enough to not mention that I only had one front and one back pocket rivet.

Since Kevin and I had a NYC trip planned, I returned to Pacific Trims and purchased more rivets only to get the same result.  It was time for a new plan so I purchased the minimum order of 100 similar rivets from an unnamed mail order source.  They lost my order for a few weeks.  Meanwhile I proudly wore my jeans, which now had 4 or 5 rivets.  Still, no one seemed to notice or if they did, kindness prevailed and there was no mention of the incomplete jeans.

I tried……

  • Reading the “Brian Sews” blog and watching  his YouTube video on applying rivets
  • Using a rivet die I purchased from an Ebay seller – the result was marginal.
  • A heavy hammer, a medium weight hammer and a lightweight hammer, none of which made no difference
  • Using both a wood block and the basement cement floor as a hard surface
  • Adding extra fabric to adjust for the shank length.
Rivet setter - a metal die with a concave surface at one end

This worked…..

  • Using a hammer and nail to put the hole in the fabric as opposed to punching a hole with an awl.
  • Buying a lot more rivets than required for a single pair of jeans

Finally with the mail order rivets which are similar but not identical to the original Pacific Trim rivets, I used the Ebay acquired rivet setter and was able to set the remaining rivets.  Only then did I realize that I didn’t center several of the rivets and that in one case, I placed the hole right over the topstitching, thus loosening the top-stitching.

Not too loose, not too tight - just right

In the end I had a great pair of jeans with 10 rivets in  2 different styles, several of which are not in the correct position on the pocket corner.  Despite the rivets, I love these custom-made jeans because they fit well.  As for the rivets, I think this was a matter of not having the right tool for the job however I still don’t know what that tool is.

In the future I’ll give it another try, will try to find the right tool and will then let you know if I learn anything more about how to place these necessary adornments on jeans.

If you’re experienced, please share your knowledge on how to make this easier.