All posts by Kate Dicey

Kate Dicey is as a regular commentator on various sewing forums and online groups. She has a wealth of experience in costume making, dressmaking and is a tailoress of many years standing.

Kate Dicey – Dressmaker, Costume Maker, Tailoress

I’ve been sewing now for 48 years. It doesn’t feel like that long, and yes, I started young! I started making dolls clothes, put my first zip in a skirt for myself when I was seven, using my mothers Singer 66K, and for many years I was a hobby sewist, fitting projects in round teaching, doing an MA, and having a baby. It got to the point when I would rather make a new frock than iron one I already owned. At that point I turned professional and started getting paid to sew for others. There are two big advantages to this: the being paid to sew, and the projects living somewhere else after they are done! For health reasons I work part time, which leaves plenty of time for research, experimenting, resting, and reading.

As a kid I experimented with making hats for dolls out of cartridge paper, wings out of cellophane and varnish, and shoes out of old leather purses… As a student I ended up making costumes for plays, experimenting with silkscreen printing and dying, making party frocks with zero budgets, and spray decks for sea going kayaks…

Now I make historical costumes for men and women, wedding gowns, street theatre costumes, hats, fairy wings, miniature hot air balloons, or whatever you want to pay me to make. To relax I make quilts. And research historical dress.

And I play with sewing machines. I didn’t start out to make a collection: it happened by accident. They arrived in dribs and drabs over the years, and now there are 24 in the house, ranging in age from an 1890’s Adria Saxonia treadle (an on-going restoration project) to my recently purchased Bernina 1150MDA overlocker. It started when I started teaching again after a break, and ended up teaching crafts and sewing in church halls and junior schools where there was no handy classroom stuffed with nice sewing machines. I ended up with a varied collection, every one of which has some sort of story attached. More of that some other time, perhaps.

As I don’t have the right kind of space for commercial or industrial machines, I do all my professional and personal sewing on domestic machines. I rarely come across a machine I seriously dislike (though the overlocker that danced off the table into my lap was certainly one!), and I like to explore the possibilities of any machine I come across. Alan has allowed me a fantastic opportunity to really use and assess a collection of machines over the next few months, and to be really honest about what I think they are like, what their good and bad qualities are, who they would suit, and whether or not they are a good buy. I am looking forward to exploring each one as I meet it. And I hope that what I discover helps you decide which is the best sewing machine for you.

You’ll get a peep in the door of my sewing space, see the machines at work and play, meet the cats, and pick up a few fun ideas to experiment with. Because I’ll have the machines at home rather than in a sewing shop classroom, I hope to be able to assess what they are like once you get them home and it’s just you, the manual, and your fabric!

See our Online Sewing Guides for tutorials and guides by Kate Dicey.

Taking Measurements

There is a proper way to take measurements to give the best fit when making a garment. You should keep an accurate record of all your measurements, and check them each time you start to prepare a new pattern. The following notes should help you to take an accurate set of measurements.

There are no secrets here! You will never be able to fool yourself or anyone else about your size again! Having said that, keep in mind that different manufacturer’s sizes are different. One high street retailer’s size 14 is another’s 16, and yet another’s 12.

The first trick starts with your underwear!

If you have never done so, or have lost or gained weight since the last time, or even had a baby, get yourself fitted for a bra professionally. Did you know that more than 75% of women are wearing the wrong size of bra? Quite apart from the health problems this can cause (such as painful shoulders, backache and breast pain), a well-fitted bra that gives the correct support looks far better under you clothes than one that is too tight, causing unsightly bulges, or leaves you sagging in places that require support! Unfortunately, the older we get, the less we can afford to ignore this important point.

Knickers that fit are equally important. There is nothing so nasty as a ‘Visible Panty Line’ pointing out that you have squeezed a size 18 bum into size 14 undies! If you feel better in supportive undies, again, it is well worth your while to find something that fits properly, asking for fitting help where needed.

Many of the better department stores offer this advice free to customers, and it is worth spending a little extra on good quality, properly fitted underwear. With the knowledge you are in the process of gaining, you will save far more making you own clothes than you will spend on the difference between cheap, badly fitting undies and those that fit well, are comfortable, and do their job without showing on the outside!

Having an accurate set of measurements to work to will mean that the clothes you make will fit you properly. Taking an accurate set of measurements is not difficult, but takes care. It is almost impossible to take your own measurements, so we will do this exercise in pairs.

Look at the diagram below. On it are marked all the measurements you will need for most garments. Patterns for garments that require more will tell you which extra measurements are needed. There is space to add these to your personal measurement chart when you need them.

Diagram for Taking Measurements


  1. BUST/CHEST round the fullest part of the bust/chest
  2. WAIST round the natural waistline: not tight
  3. HIP round the fullest part of the bottom
  4. HIGH HIP round the prominent hip bones
  5. FRONT from the hollow of the throat to the natural waistline at the front
  6. FRONT BALANCE from the shoulder over the point of the bust to the natural waist line
  7. FRONT WIDTH across the width of the chest above the bust
  8. NECK round the base of the neck: a comfortable fit
  9. INSIDE LEG from the crotch to the ankle bone, or to where you wish the trouser hem to fall
  10. RISE from the natural waistline to the crotch level: sit on the table and cross your legs; measure from the waistline to the table top on the side of the upper leg
  11. ARM: TO ELBOW from the point of the shoulder to the point of the elbow (with elbow bent)
  12. ARM: TO WRIST from the point of the shoulder, round the point of the elbow and down to the wrist bone (with elbow bent)
  13. BACK WAIST from the prominent bone at the back of the neck to the natural waistline
  14. BACK WIDTH across the width of the back from arm to arm
  15. BICEP round the thickest part of the upper arm
  16. WRIST round the wrist at the bone: give enough slack to make a comfortable cuff fitting
  17. BACK BALANCE from the top of the shoulder to the waistline at the back

Other useful measurements are:

  • CROTCH SEAM from the waistline at the front between the legs to the waistline at the back: a comfortable fit
  • SHOULDER WIDTH from the neck to the point of the shoulder along the top
  • FINISHED LENGTH from the nape of the neck to the hemline (or from the waist in the case of skirts)

You should take the measurements in a minimum of clothing for the sake of accuracy.

© 2010 Kate Dicey & Bamber Sewing Machines

Vintage Size Charts

Vintage Pattern Sizes

Size: Measurement 1940’s 1970’s 1990’s
12 bust 30″/76.5cm 34″/86.5cm 34″/86.5cm
12 waist 25″/63.5cm 25 1/2″/ 65cm 26 1/2″/67.5cm
12 hip 33″/84cm 36″/91.5cm 36″/91.5cm
14 bust 32″/81.5cm 36″/91.5cm 36″/91.5cm
14 waist 26″/66cm 27″/68.5cm 28″/71cm
14 hip 35″/89cm 38″/96.5cm 38″/96.5cm
16 bust 34″/86.5cm 38″/96.5cm 38″/96.5cm
16 waist 28″/71cm 29″/74cm 30″/76.5cm
16 hip 37″/94cm 40″/101.5cm 40″/101.5cm

This information was put together by Emily, and comes from Simplicity patterns of the different vintages. The metric conversions are mine. Buying patterns of whatever vintage should always be done by measurement rather than size: now you see why!

Body Measurements

The following table shows the standard body measurements and pattern sizes for Misses’ sizes:

Remember these are body measurements, not the size of the pattern pieces.

Ease Allowance





All patterns have wearing ease designed into them. The amount of ease will depend to some extent on the style and the designer, but the following table gives the standard ease allowances.








© 2010 Kate Dicey & Bamber Sewing Machines

Basic Seam Types

There are a number of different types of seams that have been developed over the years to do different jobs. While many have largely been superseded by the development of machine stitches that finish as you sew them, and by the development of the overlocker (or ‘serger’ in some parts of the world), it is useful to know some of the basic seams types and finishes. A lack of expensive machinery need not prevent you sewing the garments you want. Also, some of the older methods have never been bettered. Here I am concentrating on machine sewn seams using a standard straight stitch machine.

When you have chosen your fabric and pattern, you need to think about the most suitable way to sew the garment together. This will depend partly on the type of fabric, partly on the use the garment will get, and partly on the finish you want.

There are a few terms that you will need to know so that you can understand what the different parts of the seam are:

  • CUTTING LINE: the line on which the garment is cut out
  • STITCHING LINE/SEAM LINE: the line on which the seam is sewn
  • SEAM ALLOWANCE: the area of fabric between the stitching line and the cutting line. This is usually 5/8″ or 1.5cm. Some patterns allow more in some areas, and some allow less. Always check before making up a pattern.

Kate’s magic tip: a standard dressmaker’s tape measure is the standard seam allowance wide. Use it as a handy reference.

The following diagrams show some of the basic seams, and explain where they might be used.

Flat Seam

To sew this seam, place the fabric right sides together, and sew 5/8″/1.5cm from the cut edge, using a straight stitch. Press the seam allowance open.

This is the basic seam used as a basis for many of the others, and still the best option for a wide range of garments and fabric types. It is very good on fabrics that are fine but do not fray. It is also the standard seam for sewing any garment that is to be lined. For some seam finishes to use with the flat seam, look at the Seam Finishes page on my website.

French Seam

To sew this seam, start with the fabric wrong sides together. Sew the seam very close to the edge; about ¼”/ 4mm from the cut edge. Trim off any thready or uneven bits, and press closed. Turn the fabric right sides together and press again. Sew the seam again, this time about 3/8″/5mm from the edge, enclosing the cut edge, again using a straight stitch. Press to one side. This seam is useful on light fabrics, which can fray. It is also useful on semi-sheer fabrics. It can be used on blouses and shirts, and on some underwear.

Felled Seam

To sew this seam, place the fabric right sides together. Sew 5/8″/1.5cm from the cut edge. Press open, and trim one seam allowance to 1/3 of its original width. Press the full seam allowance in half, folding the cut edge towards the stitching. Fold over the narrower seam allowance, hiding the cut edges. Sew 1/8″/2mm from the fold. This seam is usually sewn with the fold towards the back of the garment.

For decorative seams, sew in exactly the same way but starting with the fabric wrong sides together. You can do the final line of stitching in a decorative thread. On very thick fabric you may need to cut a wider seam allowance: do a test seam first, before cutting out the garment.

This is a very strong seam, frequently used up the sides of jeans and trousers. It can also be used for its decorative effects on coats and jackets. On light fabrics, it gives a neat, flat finish and in the past was popular for making shirts, nightwear, underwear, and children’s clothes. Because all edges are enclosed, and it is very strong, it will withstand the frequent washing these clothes need.

All these seams can be sewn on a basic sewing machine.

© 2010 Kate Dicey & Bamber Sewing Machines

Dressmaking Equipment List

The following is a list of sewing equipment divided into two sections. The first will be difficult to do without, and the second part is stuff that is useful, but not essential.

Essential Dressmaking Equipment

  1. Sewing machine: This does not have to be full of the latest electronic gadgets! The ability to do zigzag stitching and automatic buttonholes will see you through most difficulties. A good second hand machine can be an excellent bargain. If you sew a lot, it is essential to have the machine serviced regularly. As a professional dress and costume maker, I tend to have my machines serviced every year to 18 months. For a home sewer, every two years should be sufficient, but check in the manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation.
  2. Dressmakers tape measure: These come in 60″, 100″, and 120″ lengths. A standard 60″ tape is fine to begin with, unless you are very tall!  The standard 60″ dressmaker’s tape is 5/8″ wide – the same width as a standard commercial pattern seam allowance!
  3. Dressmakers shears or scissors: For cutting out fabric only! A good quality pair is a good investment. Look after them, and they will last a lifetime! Never cut paper or thread with them!
  4. Paper scissors: For cutting out patterns. They need to be about the same size as the dressmaker’s scissors, but a cheap and cheerful pair will do fine.
  5. Small sharp scissors: For cutting buttonholes and threads
  6. Pins: Dressmakers pins come in several lengths and gauges: I find that Extra Long, Extra Fine ones work well on all but the thickest fabrics. Discard any that become blunt, rusty, bent, or otherwise damaged, as this will damage your fabric.
  7. Hand Sewing Needles: A mixed pack of hand sewing needles will be useful for most hand finishing techniques.
  8. Tailor’s chalk: For marking the fabric
  9. A ruler and a pencil: For pattern altering.
  10. Iron and ironing board: For pressing as you sew: essential for good results. If you are contemplating doing a lot of sewing, or need to buy a new iron, consider one with a stainless steel plate, as this is far easier to clean than any other sort, and accidents will happen!

Useful (but not essential) Dressmaking Equipment

  1. Tissue paper: For drawing out pattern pieces and making alterations
  2. Pritt stick: For gluing pattern pieces together. Unlike Sellotape, it will not shrink with age, and can be ironed without disastrous consequences for the iron! Neither can it spill all over the sewing equipment and fabric!
  3. Pressing cloth: One is good, two is better! A reasonable alternative for most things is a clean tea towel or two. They prevent iron-shine on the fabric when pressing, and prevent iron-on interfacing sticking to the iron and the ironing board. A damp pressing cloth and the right technique are far better tools than a steam iron when sewing. Steam irons are great for the family laundry, but sewing uses a different technique. Old-fashioned butter muslin is the best: wash it before the first use, to ensure that it is lint-free and will not leave bits all over the sewing.
  4. Point turner: For giving really sharp points to your corners without poking through the fabric. Do not use scissors!
  5. Meter rule: For altering patterns, drawing patterns, and measuring hems
  6. Thimble: To protect your fingers as you sew: I hate them, but others cannot sew without one!
  7. French or bendy curves: For altering and drawing curves on patterns and drawing patterns. You can buy special curved rulers for doing this later, if it is something you do a lot.
  8. A large hog bristle artist’s paintbrush: Far better than the ridiculous little nylon thing that even the best sewing machine manufacturers give you to dust the lint and fluff out of the machine! Size 10 is ideal. Nylon ones cause static and are to be avoided.
  9. A box: Something to keep all this stuff in! I use a large Carver toolbox, but all you need is something handy to bring things to class in.
  10. A bag: To carry unfinished garments and fabrics to and from class to keep them clean, dry, and together.

In addition to this, there are hundreds of fascinating gadgets out there for the home and professional sewer that make life more interesting, fill the sewing box, and are wonderful Christmas and birthday present list items! Some are a joy to use, a few will become life-long friends, and many are more a hindrance than a help. Which will fall into each category is an entirely personal thing. My button covering thingy is a well-used friend, but the standard needle-threader I find neither use nor ornament (except for the ones for threading the serger, but that’s a different story… ).  I used to hate ALL needle threaders, but I recently acquired a machine that threads the needle right to left (the Singer 15-88 elsewhere on the site), and try as I might, I cannot thread this beastie with my left hand, so I use a threading gadget!  I also have one for classes, to help kids thread hand sewing needles.

I have a huge and overflowing toolbox and too many bits to go with my sewing machines for the boxes and drawers  that fit onto the machines or come in the cabinet, because I am a dedicated gadget freak, and a completist, and cannot bear to let a gadget pass me by. Most are far from essential. Some I have bought for a particular job, and never used again, some were bought for me and some I have fallen heir to over the years.

If you have inherited an older machine with gadgets you are not sure about, and no instruction book, it is worth contacting the manufacturer, as they may well be able to help. Singer is particularly good at this with their older machines. You will need to tell them the model number of the machine you have, so have it to hand before you call them. There are a number of useful sites on the Internet, and sewing pattern magazines like Butterick and Vogue carry advertising for all the major manufacturers. If you buy a second-hand machine from a reputable dealer, they should replace a missing instruction book before you buy the machine. If they don’t, get one as soon as possible.  It will save you hours of frustration.

© 2010 Kate Dicey & Bamber Sewing Machines

Glossary of Sewing Terms

Arm Scye: The arm hole of a garment, where the sleeve is attached

Basting: Temporary stitches to keep the garment together for fitting. These are usually hand sewn lines of stitching, made with a running stitch about ½” or 1.5 cm in length.

Binding: This is a narrow strip of fabric or tape used to cover the raw edges of a garment. It can be on the inside where it won’t be seen, or on the outside to show as decoration. For many hidden uses, BIAS BINDING will be asked for.

Bias: If something is cut on the true bias, it is cut at 45 degrees to the selvage. Bias cut garments were very popular in the 1930’s. They drape beautifully, and cling to the figure more than straight cut garments.

Bias Binding: A binding strip cut on the bias. You can buy it ready cut, or cut it from the fabric you are using to make a ‘self’ bias binding.

Blind Hemming: Hemming stitches that cannot be seen from the outside of the garment.

Border Print: These patterns are printed with the pattern along one edge, and a narrow strip down the side for hems. Sari fabric frequently has a border print. They are often used for skirts.

Bust Point: The point on the pattern where the point of the bust should fall.

Calico: a closely woven cotton fabric that is used for many construction and craft things. It is a natural cream cotton colour, and frequently has cotton seed husk still in it. It comes in a variety of different weights. One common use is for covering upholstered furniture that will have loose covers. (Americans frequently refer to printed cotton fabrics as ‘calico’.)

Clean Finishing: Finished edges of the garment, rather than the raw edges formed by cutting the fabric. This can be done by binding the edges, or over sewing them by hand or machine.

Cross grain: Some thing is cut at right angles to the grain line, across the grain. Border prints are usually cut this way.

Ease: The difference between the body measurement and the pattern. Ease differs according to the type and style of garment. For standard ease allowances, please look at the Ease Allowance chart.

Edge Stitching: A decorative straight stitch along the edge of a garment. Also useful for keeping the edges of collars sharp. It is usually about 1/16″ or 1 mm from the edge of the garment.

Facing: The piece of fabric inside a garment opening (like a sleeve or neck opening) that encloses the raw edge of the fabric. It is frequently interfaced.

Face: The outside or ‘right’ side of a fabric, the side you see when the garment is finished.

Face Cloth: The outside or ‘fashion’ fabric, rather than the lining or interlining.

Grain Line: The warp direction of the fabric, up and down the length. If something is ‘off grain’ then it is not laid out with the grain line following that of the fabric.

Hair canvas: A light weight springy cloth used as an interfacing for traditional gents tailoring. It is sewn by hand to the face cloth.

Hem: The bit you turn up at the bottom of a garment to stop it fraying and getting tatty!

Hemming Tape: A narrow tape used to strengthen hems in tailored trousers. It is sewn on to the hem on the outside of the turned up hem inside the garment after the hem has been turned up.

Hip Point: The point on the pattern where the hip comes.

Horsehair Braid: A loosely woven braid mainly for stiffening hems. It comes in several weights, and used to be made of horde hair. Now more commonly made of nylon or polyester.

Interfacing: A special fabric sewn in between the layers of a garment to help it hold its structure. Interfacing comes in many different types, suitable for many different fabrics. For a fuller explanation of the different types and their uses, look at the Interfacing Chart. Interfacing comes in two sorts: sew in, which you sew into place, and fusible, which you iron on.

Interlining: A fabric that comes between the face cloth and the lining, usually used for warmth or to add substance to a light weight fabric. A good example is the insulating layer in a padded or quilted jacket.

Jumper: 1) In the UK this means a Jersey or pullover. In the US it means a pinafore dress.

2) A small plastic device for ‘jumping’ over lumpy seams with the sewing machine. Also known as a Hump Jumper or Jean-A-Ma-Jig. Something which does the same job may also be sold as a button reed. Very useful when sewing up the hems of your jeans!

Lining: This is a lighter weight fabric that goes inside a garment like a jacket or coat. It helps you to put the garment on easily as it is usually shinier than the top fabric. A lining may match or contrast with the garment, and can be made of almost anything. Linings can help to eliminate a see through effect on a light weight dress fabric too. The lining also helps a garment to last longer. Linings should be chosen to complement the fashion fabric.

Loom State: As the fabric comes off the loom, before it has undergon any finishing, dying or printing process. Loom state cloth will shrink, and will need treatment before use.

Muslin: 1) a light weight loose weave cotton fabric akin to cheese cloth. it is absorbent, and makes good pressing cloths.

2) the American term for a toile (see below)

Mounting: The process of using two fabrics as one: You cut out the face cloth and the mount as one and sew all processes with them together. It can give solidity to sheer fabrics and weight to light fabrics.

Notches: Diamond shaped marks that stick out beyond the edge of the pattern, to help you to line up all the pattern pieces when you sew the garment. They come in pairs to be matched up.

Pin: A small sharp thing for holding garments together temporarily, and for holding patterns to fabric for cutting out. If you are told to pin something together, then place the pins so that they go in and out of the face of the fabric, thus: 0- —

Pressing: The art of pressing is different from the art of ironing, Most importantly, one usually uses a dampened pressing cloth rather than steam, and the iron is picked up off the cloth and moved, rather than rubbed back and forth.

Raw Edge: The cut edge of a piece of garment. It may fray or unravel if left in this state.

Rise: The distance from hip to waist: sit on a table and cross one leg over the other. Measure from the waist down to the table on the upper leg side. This is your rise measurement.

Seam Allowance: The little bit of fabric between the cut edge of the garment and the seam line. Frequently this is 5/8″ or 1.5cm

Seam Line: The line on which to sew when putting a garment together. It is the seam line which must be matched when putting the garment together, not the raw edge.

Straight Grain: This is what the grain line follows: the warp threads.

Selvage: The woven edge of the fabric, where the weft threads bend round to go in the other direction.

Slash: A cut opening in the garment. It can be for a pocket, to insert something like a contrasting piping, or for an opening to allow you to put the garment on.

Shoulder pads: These are shaped pads of felt or foam, put in the shoulders of garments to give them shape. They are frequently used in tailored garments like jackets and coats. They come pre formed in many shapes and sizes, or you can make your own.

Stabilisers: These fabrics are a bit like interfacing, but are usually temporary, being largely removed after the process requiring them is complete. They are used to stabilize a fabric for such things as machine embroidery and buttonhole sewing. They prevent the fabric from stretching and distorting while the process is carried out. Modern stabilizers include polythene like sheets that dissolve away when dampened, very stiff self adhesive stuff that can be peeled away for embroidering areas too small for a hoop, and spray on stuff that vanishes when washed or steam ironed.

Stay Stitching: a line of stitching put in only just inside the seam line to prevent an area of the garment stretching or distorting before it can be assembled. Common round sleeve and arm holes, and at the apex of sharp corners and slashes.

Tacking: The same as basting: temporary stitches that are removed after sewing, or to hold something in place during construction. They are usually removed before the garment is worn, tough some may end up hidden inside the garment and may not need to be removed.

Tailor’s Tacks: Temporary thread marks for matching points or to mark where things are to be placed. They are removed after use.

Toile: This is a garment made from cheap fabric, used to ‘prove’ a pattern: you make this version up to ensure that the pattern fits: any alterations can be transferred to the pattern before cutting out the real version. it is usually only done with expensive garments and fabrics that would mark, like silk wedding dresses. The American term is ‘muslin’.

Top Stitching: A decorative stitch like edge stitching, but further from the edge of the garment. They can come in multiple rows and look very smart.

Under Stitching: A line of stitches round the inside of a garment that sews the seam allowances to the facing to prevent it rolling to the outside. Usually between 1/16″ and ¼” from the edge of the garment. It does not show on the outside. There is a lesson about this on the Understitching page.

Warp: The long threads that go on the loom, and follow the length of the fabric. They are usually stronger than the filler threads, which is why most garments are cut following them (i.e. on the grain).

Weft: These are the filler threads that are woven in and out of the warp threads to form the cloth. They are not usually quite as strong as warp threads

Woof: Another term for weft threads.

Blind Hemming Explained

At various points I have been asked to explain how the blind hem stitch on a machine works, what this particular symbol meant, and what you need to do to get a good blind hem out of an ordinary sewing machine. Well, here’s the final explanation in words and pictures!

On your sewing machine you may find one or both of these symbols*.  These are the blind hem stitch symbols.  (If you have an older machine, this may be on a disk you insert rather than built in: pop the disk in as you would any other)

a: this one is the straight stitch blind hem, used on woven fabrics.
b: this one is the stretch stitch blind hem: the zigzags allow the hem to stretch with the fabric, rather than popping a stitch and unraveling.  It can also be used on woven fabrics if this is the only one you have.

The first thing you need to do when making a machined blind hem is determine the hem length required on the garment. Having determined this, and the amount of hem the garment needs to hang correctly, you need to clean finish the trimmed edge and pin it at the right level.
Then fit the hemming foot to the machine. This one is adjustable, which gives greater accuracy. The foot is moved to the left or right by the little red adjuster wheel. (NOTE. There is a Blind-Hemming Foot available for every make & model of sewing machine).
Choose the correct hem stitch for the fabric you use. Here I have a loose weave polyester boucle crepe woven fabric, so the straight stitch blind hem stitch is the correct one to use.
This is how the stitches are supposed to line up with the folded edge of the hem. Adjust the stitch so that this is what happens. Doing a test hem on a bit of scrap fabric is a really good idea!
This is what the stretch version should be like!
Adjust the stitch length to suit the hem placement: cuffs of sleeves and trouser/pants hems will need a closer stitch, so a smaller stitch length.
Adjust the width to suit the fabric: you only want to catch one thread of finer weaves, and possibly two of thicker fabrics.
Fold and pin the hem so that there is a narrow edge on which to stitch, and the fold you want to catch is an even distance from the folded bottom edge of the garment. Pin or tack/baste in place. I usually just pin, but tacking/basting with thread is possibly easier for those new to the technique.
Line the foot up with the fabric fold so that the swing of the needle to the left just catches the one or two threads you want, and sew slowly and steadily. Allow the feed dogs to pull the fabric through under the foot.
Here you can see clearly that the left toe of the foot is higher underneath than the right, to fit over the thicker folds of fabric. It also helps to prevent those folded layers creeping under the right toe and the needle grabbing a bigger bite of hem than it needs to!
Here are the finished stitches, just catching the threads along the fold, securing the hem. Finish off the threads with a few small hand stitches in the hem. Be careful not to let them show on the outside!
And here is the outside! All our lovely stitches show on the inside, but are invisible from the right side of the garment, just as we want them to be! 🙂

© 2010 Kate Dicey & Bamber Sewing Machines

Facings & Understitching Lesson

Facings and understitching are quite easy when you get the hang of them. They just take a little care, as they are usually on curved openings like neck and arm holes.

Please note that copyright of all photographs, pictures and text are the property of CJ Dicey MA and may not be copied or used elsewhere without the permission of the owner.

Facings go on the inside and stop these openings fraying and getting in a mess. They follow the shape of the garment, so help it to keep its shape too. Even though they should not be seen from the outside, they still need to be sewn and finished as carefully as the garment they are to fit. They are frequently sewn or bonded to an interfacing to help them do the job properly.

If you cut the garment pieces accurately, and also cut the facing and interfacing carefully, they will fit together and the garment will look good. The first part of this is the preparation. Make sure that you follow the grain line carefully when laying out the pattern for both the garment piece and the facings. The next thing to do is cut out carefully, making sure that the notches are cut accurately, as these will help you to line up all the bits once they are sewn together. Follow the diagrams and the instructions in your pattern carefully. The following will help you:

Identify your garment pieces and make sure you have cut them out correctly: identify the glue side of iron on (fusible) interfacings before you cut them out.

Apply your interfacing to the facing in the way dictated by the instructions. ‘Iron-On’ implies a swift swipe over with an iron, but it takes more! It takes about 20 seconds for each iron sized section to fuse properly. There is a lesson on how to do this in the Pressing Problems page. Use a pressing cloth on the board, and a damp pressing cloth between the interfacing and the iron.

Stay stitch the curved seams to be faced, about 1/8″ (2mm) inside the seam line in the seam allowance.

Assemble the garment and facing pieces in the correct order, to the point where you need to apply the facings.

Press the seam allowances open on both facings and garment pieces, on a plain seam as in the illustrations. Press seams carefully when using other seam types. Facing seams are usually done as plain seams to avoid bulk.

Clean Finish the outside edges of the facings: look at the zigzag line in the illustration. Use whichever clean finish is appropriate to the fabric and the garments you are making.

Sew the facing to the garment, matching seams and notches. Your stitching line should be just outside the stay stitching line.

Clip into the seam allowances from the raw edge towards the seam line. Be careful NOT to cut the stitches! These little snips will help the facings and the seam allowances to lie flat once the garment has been completed.

Fold the facing to the inside, and press down carefully, rolling the seam line to the inside very slightly. This helps to hide the seam line round the edges and gives a neat finish to the garment.

Fold out the facing so that you can see the right sides of both the facing and the garment. The garment will not lie flat, so be careful! Fold the seam allowances towards the facings on the under side. You may find it easier to control if you tack the facings and seam allowances together. Stitch close to the seam line on the facing side, being careful to sew through all the seam allowances. This line of stitching is called Under Stitching.

Fold the facing back to the inside of the garment and give it a last pressing. Where the facing crosses the seams, catch it down with a few stitches over the seam allowances on the inside.

The illustrations here have been shown using what we call the Flat Construction Method. The final seam (in this case it would be the side seam) is done last.

The neck could be faced using exactly the same construction techniques, or, if it was a large enough opening, it could be done in one piece by sewing up both sides of the facing and the garment at the shoulder, so that both formed rings.

Remember these illustrations show only half the garment!

Scroll down to the final picture to see how it should look from the outside.

Understitching can be used as above for arm and neck openings, and also for skirts and trousers without waistbands. Below you can see photographs of understitching a facing on a real garment.

Here you can see where the stitching goes in through the facing and, under it where you can’t see it. all the layers of seam allowance. The facing is the plain blue fabric and the lace is the outside or fashion fabric.

Do be careful to make sure that all the seam allowances are lying flat and are facing towards the garment facing before you stitch. I find it easier if I clip the seam before understitching.

Here's a close up to show you how close to the fashion fabric you need to be - very close! 1/8th of an inch or 2 mm is about right!
Completed understitching - a neat row parallel to the seam, but not touching it at any point.
When you have clipped and understitched a seam, it will lie flat, with just a tiny amount of the fashion fabric showing on the inside.
And from the outside the neck of this dress lies flat without the row of stitching showing. This is one of a set of costumes for my Romeo and Juliet project.

How to Put a Lining in a Childs Frock

This page was written in response to a call for help from a member of The Sewing Forum, and some of this information will also be there.

The sample garment is a lined child’s frock with lined sleeves. The fabric is the pink print poly-cotton, and the lining is the plain polyester habotai. We start with the bodice…

liningup.JPG (102746 bytes) layout.JPG (123330 bytes) onfold.JPG (51675 bytes) cutout.JPG (129528 bytes)First you need to lay the fabric out. For this pattern, I folded both the fabric and the lining in half down the centre, and laid the lining on top, carefully lining up the folds. Both the lining and the fabric are very light, and laying them out together like this means that they are easier to handle, with the added bonus of being quicker as you cut both fabric and lining out in one.

Next you lay the pattern out, making sure that pieces marked ‘Place on fold’ are placed with that mark against the fold. In this case it was only the front that needed to go on the fold. Once all the pieces are laid out satisfactorily, along the straight grain of the fabric, you can pin them down. When pinning the pattern to the fabric, use as few pins as possible, as every pin causes a distortion of the fabric.

Cut all the pieces carefully, and as accurately as possible.

pinned1.JPG (95972 bytes) pinned2.JPG (123642 bytes) pinned3.JPG (63888 bytes)Next you need to pin the seams together. Place RIGHT sides (with the pattern printed on it in this example) together, so you are looking at the ‘wrong’ side of the fabric and lining (with most lining fabrics there is no right or wrong side, so be careful to ensure you make a right and left half of the garment rather than two lefts!).

Make sure that what you line up is the seam line, not the cut edge! Standard seam allowances are 5/8″ or 15mm. Most modern machines will have this marked on the machine bed close to the needle. Use this guide line to keep your seam allowances accurate. Sew the seams for shoulders and sides on both the lining and the fabric.

seampress1.JPG (112468 bytes) seampress2.JPG (90086 bytes) seampress3.JPG (86423 bytes)Once the seam is sewn, you’ll need to press it open. FIRST you press it closed! This ‘sets’ the stitching, and when the seam is pressed open, it lies much flatter.

Do the same with the lining. Also press out any other creases in either fabric at this point. You now have two versions of the bodice: one in fabric, and one in lining.

Now you need to put the two together.

seammatch1.JPG (110199 bytes) pinnededge.JPG (59086 bytes) seammatch2.JPG (33722 bytes) matchedseams.JPG (49389 bytes)With the right side out on the fabric, and the wrong side out on the lining, slip the lining over the top of the fabric, lining the seams up at the shoulder and side seams.

Pin carefully all round the neck edge. Check to make sure the seams stay lined up! Stitch carefully round the neck edge, leaving the back edges open for the zip later.

Check one last time that the seams have stayed lined up at the neck edge.

We do the neck first as it is the most important bit: it’s the bit everyone notices first!

presneck.JPG (92808 bytes) seamclip.JPG (135674 bytes) neckpress2.JPG (129423 bytes)Press the neck seam to set it, as you did the closed seams in the fabric and lining.

Clip the seams: snip from the raw cut edge towards but not through the seam stitching.

These snips help to ease out the seam allowance and allow it to lie flat when we turn the bodice the right way out.

pressedneckseam.JPG (90302 bytes) flipped.JPG (104983 bytes) DSCF0109.JPG (76403 bytes) flipped1.JPG (115684 bytes)Flip the lining into the indise, and smooth it down round the neck.

Press from the inside, pulling the lining down so that the fabric just shows all round, and the seam line is on the top side of the fold as you look at it.

Turn the bodice the right way out. Now the neck seam is hidden and the seam allowances all lie flat.

This is the main part of the bodice lining completed! Well done you!

Now we get to work putting the sleeves in. These are fully lined sleeves, and this is my easy-peasy way of lining a set in lined dress sleeve.

sleevepinned.JPG (97701 bytes) Start by lining up the fabric and the lining along the bottom edge of the sleeve. Pin id place, and sew the seam 5/8″ or 15mm from the bottom – a standard seam allowance. Press the closed seam as you did for the bodice seams above.

This is the hem seam.

sleevedpinned.JPG (135599 bytes) sleevepress2.JPG (84605 bytes)Open out each sleeve and press the lining and fabric seam allowances of the hem seam towards the patterned fabric half of the sleeve. Fold it in half lengthwise and pin, carefully matching the seams where they meet.

Sew the seam, and press closed as before. Then press the whole seam open.

rightsideout.JPG (101369 bytes) sleeveseammatch.JPG (103696 bytes) sleevehempressed.JPG (257536 bytes)Turn the whole sleeve the right way.

Fold the lining up inside the sleeve, checking that the sleeve seams line up nicely. Roll the seam just to the lining side, as you did with the neck edge seam. Make sure the lining and sleeve seam allowances and seams match. Press.

gatherstitching.JPG (222153 bytes) pinnedsleeveseam.JPG (98662 bytes) gatherspinned.JPG (157560 bytes) gathersstitched.JPG (123896 bytes) sleeveheadoutside.JPG (95545 bytes)Put the gathering stitches (if it’s a gathered sleeve) round the sleeve head.

Matching the sleeve seam with the side seam of the bodice fabric only, pin the sleeve into the armscye (arm hole), easing the gathers in round the sleeve cap. Starting at the under-arm, sew the sleeve and lining to the bodice fabric, leaving the lining free.

Check on the outside for any wrinkles or tucks: these will need to be corrected if you have any.

clippedsleeveseam.JPG (64715 bytes) clippedlining.JPG (103207 bytes)
On the inside, clip the sleeve head and armscye as you did the neckline above.

Do the same with the lining.

pinhead1.JPG (125564 bytes) pinmatc2.JPG (37003 bytes) underarm.JPG (76298 bytes) pinhead2.JPG (117121 bytes)Matching the lining seams to the bodice fabric seams, tuck the seam allowances in towards the bodice, and pin at the sleeve head seam line. Your shoulder seam and under-arm seam pins should come through to the outside on the seam line if you have matched them up properly. Pin all the way round, pinning the fold of the lining just over the stiching so it only just hides ir.

Don’t pull the lining tight! You may need to ease it in a bit, as it can stretch with handling. You could stay-stitch it, but this adds bulk I like to avoid on such a tiny garment.

littlestitches.JPG (212665 bytes)Slip-stitch the bodice lining to the sleeve lining with tiny stitches! I prefer to do as much hand sewing as possible with silk thread. This one is a good match!

linedbodiceinside.JPG (109401 bytes) linedbodiceoutside.JPG (114650 bytes)Once that is done, the bodice and sleeve linings are all in place! Turn it the right way out and make sure everything is as neat as possible.

I shall come back to this in the next few days and do the skirt lining and the zip.

Making seams in sheer fabrics

I’ve been making seams in sheer fabrics for a long time, but everywhere I look, the methods touted for doing this seem to be old fashioned and rather clumsy, as well as having little strength in use. Here are some ideas to make a success of durable seams in sheer fabrics. These seams are worked in sheer silk chiffon, using 1 120’s poly thread.

NOTE. Click any of Kate’s photos and they expand into stunning shots. Click the return arrow (top left of your screen) to return to the main body.

Rolled seam

My favoured method is with the serger or overlocker. For a seam in a garment that may be stressed, the three thread rolled seam is the biz!

I first set up the machine to make a 3 thread rolled hem:
3threads.JPG (95724 bytes) settings.JPG (43682 bytes) footpressure.JPG (27701 bytes)
The tension dials are set with a higher looper tension to pull the upper looper thread round to wrap the seam, and the stitch length is set to the upper end of the rolled hem mark. As this is such light fabric, I’ve also lessened the foot pressure. Different machines will need different tensions set, so be careful to test! Also, don’t forget to set your stitch lever to the rolled hem setting. On very fine sheer fabric like this I like to use a size 70 needle.

chiffonseam1.JPG (67319 bytes) chiffonseam2.JPG (42066 bytes) chiffonseam3.JPG (85900 bytes) chiffonseamA.JPG (66585 bytes) chiffonseamB.JPG (53235 bytes)

Here you can see me stitching the bias silk chiffon seam I’m using a dark thread so that it shows up well and you can see what happens. The seam is completed, and from the outside looks no thicker than a pencil line. Using matching thread makes this seam almost invisible. Sheer fabrics are one area where having a really good colour match can make a huge difference to the final look of the garment. You can see the way the seam vanishes in the last two pictures.

The next three pictures show the same seam worked with a shot silk organza.

organzaseam1.JPG (63557 bytes) organzaseam2.JPG (88441 bytes) organzaseam3.JPG (68117 bytes)

The silk organza is much stiffer than the chiffon, so tends to suffer from ‘pokeys’ – threads that poke out of the wrapped seam. These can be trimmed off. From the outside the seam is very fine.

An even finer seam can be worked in much the same way using two threads. This should only be used where there will be NO stress on the seam, for example in the overskirt of a ball or wedding dress.

If you don’t have an overlocker available, you can still sew sheer fabrics with success.

Set up your machine carefully to cope with the fine fabrics…

Lilyfoot.JPG (61321 bytes) Lilyfootpressure.JPG (64213 bytes) Lilysetting.JPG (67500 bytes) Lilytension.JPG (56029 bytes)

I’ve given my trusty Husqvarna Lily 550 a Teflon foot as this is gentler on the delicate fabric than the standard metal one. Fine fabric needs a fine needle, and this is a size 70. Foot pressure has been set to a light 2.5 rather than the normal 4. I’ve chosen a 2mm stitch length, and set the machine to a slow speed to start with: going too fast can chew up delicate fabrics like this. As this is fine fabric, I’m using a 120’s poly thread. Tension is set to a normal 4.

The first example is a felled seam

felledseam1.JPG (79779 bytes) felledseam2.JPG (99132 bytes) felledseam3.JPG (126495 bytes) felledseam4.JPG (107572 bytes) felled seam5.JPG (49995 bytes)

Sew the seam first with a normal seam allowance: Press the two seam allowances together and fold the seam allowance so the cut edge is along the seam line: press along the fold. I don’t cut down one of the seam allowances on such sheer and delicate fabric because, while that may give a finer felled seam, it detracts from the strength of the cloth, and if the seam is to be stressed as part of a garment, there is more to be gained than lost by keeping it. Sew carefully down the folded edge, through all layers, enclosing the raw edge of the fabric. The final two pictures are of the two sides of the seam: the inside, and then the outside.

This next sample is a zigzag seam

zzseam1.JPG (85774 bytes) zzseam2.JPG (55489 bytes) zzseam3.JPG (126564 bytes) zzseam4.JPG (91748 bytes) zzseam5.JPG (118486 bytes)

First sew your seam as above. Press the seam allowance together, and this time when you fold it, fold it so that 2/3 of the seam allowance is folded down and you have a narrower space between the stitching and the folded edge. Press. Turn the fabric over to you can see the line of stitching. Sew down the folded edge close to the stitching line. On this delicate fabric I used a three-step zigzag as this stops the fabric bunching and folding inside the stitching. While that may make the finished seam narrower, it also tends to make it stiffer! Trim the spare seam allowance off close to the stitching, and press so that the cut edge is underneath.

Here you can see some pictures of the sort of garments made using these seam methods. This is part way through construction, and the hems have yet to be completed. The gown is made of silk chiffon and the bolero of a shot silk organza.

frockfront.JPG (43661 bytes) frockback.JPG (60689 bytes) bolerofront.JPG (53375 bytes)