crafts · Sewing · tutorials

Tutorial: removing sleevecap ease

After much prodding, here is my tutorial for dealing with sleevecap ease!

Before we begin, a question: What is sleevecap ease, and why should I remove it?

Sleevecap ease is the difference in seamline length between your sleevecap and armhole.  Most sewing patterns have a cap that is at least 2″ larger than the armhole.  Most (but not all) garments that you purchase do not.  Not only does the ease make sleeves difficult to set in neatly, it also (for me at least) causes the sleeve to bind under the arms.

I decided pretty early on that sleeve cap ease was not working for me, and it was confirmed when I read this post from Fashion Incubator.  I set about trying to come up with a method of removing the ease that wouldn’t make the sleeve hang wonky.  Here is what I came up with (note: I am not a scientist or a mathematician!)

Here is the pattern I’m going to make.  Vogue 8815 is the popular peplum top pattern that everyone seems to have made!  I’m making mine in a leopard print double knit.  Since I’m using a knit for a woven pattern, I will be removing the center back seam and zipper.   No matter what you think about wovens, knits most definitely do not need sleeve cap ease!  Here is how I set about removing it.


Seam gauge or flexible ruler
Clear acrylic quilting rule
French curve (optional)

A note about materials: You can make due with a seam gauge, and that’s what I’ve used here, since I figure everyone has one.  However, you will make your life much easier if you purchase a flexible ruler – it can stand on end and be shaped to the seamline, making measuring the armhole a breeze!  If you’re going to do this often, you will also want a set of french curves (they’re good to have anyway – I use mine all the time!)

Begin by cutting and pressing your pattern pieces.  You need the sleeve and whatever body pieces comprise the armhole (usually a front and back, but occasionally it also includes a yoke or some such piece.)

Using your seam gauge, make a line on your sleeve piece at the 5/8″ seamline on either end.  You will not include this in your measurements.  Do the same for the front/back pieces.

Now you will measure your pieces, beginning with the sleeve. Place the 1″ mark on the seamline you just marked.   Remember that you are measuring seamlines, not the edges of the piece – you want to measure 5/8″ in from the edge all the way across.  Your seam gauge is 5/8″ and will work.  If I use the seam gauge I like to mark every inch – that way I know I’m being accurate (though it will never be as accurate as the flexible ruler, it’s close enough for most things.)  My marks are shown in pink below:

Count the number of inch markings from seamline to seamline.  This number is the length of your sleevecap.  Write it down, and do the same measurement for the front and back armhole pieces.

Now you will add the front and back measurements together and subtract them from the sleeve measurement  (Sleeve length – armhole length = ease).  I ended up with 1.75 inches of ease in my sleeve.  It may not seem like a lot, but removing it will make my life a lot easier (and give a nicer fit!)

In order to remove the ease you will draw 2 lines on the pattern.

You want to create a line that is perpendicular to the grainline, going between the notches on the piece.  Line the top of your ruler up with the notches (I usually aim between the 2 back notches.)  Now make sure that your grain marking lines up with one of the straight lines on the rules.  Draw a straight line on your piece between the notches.

Now you will need to fold out the excess.  Since we are making a double fold, you need a mark that represents half of the total ease:

I need a mark .875 inches above my original line (making it above preserves the notches for setting in the sleeve.)  I will round that number up and mark:

You can see that my original line is at the 7/8″ mark, marked in pink above.  I’m also continuing to line up with the grain marking, ensuring a line that is parallel to the first.  Draw your second line.  (Not shown above – ignore the mark above, it’s a mistake!)

Now your will fold a crease on the top line:

and then you will crease on the bottom line, folding the top line over the bottom:

You have now folded out the sleevecap ease.  The fold will only appear to be 1/2 of your ease measurement, but as it’s doubled over the entire amount is folded out.  Pin the fold in place and prepare for cutting.  In order to cut you will need to recreate the sleevecap curve.  Here is where your french seam will be handy!

Pin the piece to your fabric and trace around the new curve with chalk.  Now you can cut, being careful to follow the chalk lines.  This bit is optional – if I’m being honest I often just eyeball the new curve and it turns out fine, but the french curve is useful when you are new (or if you want consistency!)

Now you can sew your sleeve to your bodice.  I generally sew in sleeves after sewing the shoulder seams, but before closing the bodice side seams.  This allows me to fit my garment at the end, and I find sewing in sleeves flat to be much faster!  The only exception is for a tailored garment (jacket etc.)  For knits and casual garments I think sewing flat is just fine.  You should be able to match your notches and center sleeve dot to your pattern as usual.  The only difference is that you will not need to run a line of basting stitches – it should line up!  If you measure wrong and wind up with a bit extra you can adjust this in sewing – just allow the top of the cap to extend over the armhole and sew on the armhole’s 5/8″ seamline.

I hope this tutorial is helpful!  I know it looks like a lot of steps, but after doing this repeatedly I can now manage it in five minutes – worth it to avoid the headache later on!

Sewing · tutorials

Tutorial: Making your own storyboards

As requested, I’ve put together a tutorial that leads you through the basic process of creating a storyboard for your projects.  This storyboard includes the ability to fill line drawings with images of your selected fabric.  I find storyboards to be very helpful and inspiring – it’s so neat to get an idea of what your project will look like, and to pull together the various inspirations for your project.  This tutorial uses Adobe Photoshop.  If you have Photoshop Elements, it will mostly work, but you will not have a pen tool – I know there are workarounds for that, but I don’t have Elements so I can’t test them!  If you need a program, I’d recommend downloading Gimp. Gimp is a free, open source image editor that allows for the use of layers – you must use layers for this tutorial!  I tested most of the tutorial in that program, and it works, although some of the tools have different names.

I haven’t assumed any prior Photoshop experience, so this is a detailed tutorial.  I am not a Photoshop expert by any means, but I hope my explanations make sense! I really enjoy writing tutorials – it’s so satisfying to my OCD tendencies to list steps!

You can click on the images to make them bigger.  Menu commands are in parenthesis.

Begin by starting a new document (FILE–>NEW)

Name it whatever you like – I use the pattern number.  Choose the width and height of your blank canvas.  I usually go with 640 pixels for the width, as this displays nicely on my blog,  and a long length that I will cut off later.  Press ok, and you get a screen that looks like this:

It’s awfully small!  Click on the zoom tool (bottom arrow) and then on “Actual pixels” (top arrow) to get a true representation of the size of your canvas.  You can also right click on the canvas to select actual pixels.  Now you will need to open the images you will be using in this storyboard.

I am using the pattern illustration, the line drawings, and my selected fabric.  For McCalls, Butterick, and Vogue, you can get the large images off their website, even the line drawings.  I’ve had to look around for Simplicity patterns, since their website has the zoom feature, making saving images difficult.  A google image search usually works.   You can, of course, scan your envelopes, but my scanner is currently broken!  You will want to photograph a fairly large part of your fabric – if the fabric has a large scale, it should look large on the drawing, and small scales should be small.  It doesn’t help to have the scale all wrong!  You can also scan fabric, but I don’t find that to be a large enough swatch (and, as I said, broken scanner.)  I like to give my fabric images rounded edges.  You can do it in photoshop, using the rounded rectangle tool and some layers, and I sometimes do, but I find it quicker to use Picnik – it’s free, and I can do a whole batch at once.

I’m going to use the drawing of the back of the dress for my storyboard, because the tie is my favorite part.  Use the quick selection tool (where the arrow in my drawing is pointing) to drag and select the entire area you want to cut.  If you accidentally select too much, it’s easy to erase part of the selection by clicking the image of the wand with a minus sign in the toolbar above the image, and then left clicking and dragged to deselect the area.  Once you have your image selected, check the selection by clicking the “refine edge” button on the top toolbar.

Oops – I forgot to select her head!  Go back and fix the selection by hitting cancel.  When you are satisfied with your selection, adjust the sliders on the “refine edge” dialog to capture as much as you want.  Since I’m putting an image on a white background onto another white background, I will drag the contract/expand slider to the right.  If your image is colored, you may need to drag it to the left, or zoom in and delete colored edges around your image.  Click ok, and then press CTRL-C to copy the image.  Click on the tab that contains your blank canvas, and select paste from the edit menu.

Your first image is now in your storyboard.  Notice (by looking at the layer box, to the right) that you have created a new layer, called “layer 1”  This layer will only contain this image.  If your layer box isn’t open, go to (WINDOWS–>LAYERS) to open the menu.  You can use the move tool (the top tool in the toolbar to the left, it looks like a pointer) to move the image where you want it to be.

Now we are going to do the fancy bit – coloring in the line drawing with the fabric!  First, adjust the size of your fabric image (IMAGE–>IMAGE SIZE) to the size you want – you should try to get the scale of your print (if any) to be close to the scale it will be on your dress.  In my case, the scale is slightly too large, but not much.  I decide it is close enough, and rotate the image to stand on its head (IMAGE–>IMAGE ROTATION.)  Click on the tab that has your fabric image, and drag it out, so that it floats on top.  Open your line drawing underneath.

Using the move tool (red arrow in the photo below) drag your fabric image onto your line drawing.

It will create a copy of the image in a new layer.  Use the move tool to drag your fabric directly over the line drawing that you wish to color in.

Click the picture of an eye next to “layer 1” in the layer menu – this will hide the layer, and the image will seem to disappear.  Make sure that Layer one is still selected.

You are now going to select the pen tool (red arrow above.)  This is the tool that Photoshop elements does not have.  This tool is called “Paths” in Gimp.  The pen tool allows you to select the edges of a region, and creates very smooth curves without any weird jagged edges.  Start by clicking on a corner of your line drawing, perhaps the edge of one of the shoulders.  This creates an anchor point.  Now continue to click around the outline of the dress.  Finish by clicking on your starting point again, closing the region.  Click the eye next to layer 1 in the layer menu again, to make the fabric image visible.  You will see the outline of the dress visible.  Right click within the outline, and select “make selection.”

Click ok in the dialog box that appears.  You have now selected the region within the dress outline.  Now we are going to reverse the selection, and cut it out!  Press (CTRL–>SHIFT–>I) all at the same time to reverse the selection.  Press the delete key to delete the area around the dress – and you will see that the dress shape has been cut from the fabric image!

With layer 1 still selected, click the drop down menu at the top of the layer menu (right now it says “normal.”) Select multiply.  This will allow the line drawing underneath to show through the fabric (a little hard to see in mine, I know!)  You can adjust the opacity of the layer next to the drop down menu, to allow more of the lower layer through if you like.  We are done changing the dress color, so go to (LAYER–>FLATTEN IMAGE.)  This basically squashes all the layers down on top of each other.  Now cut out the colored in dress, using the same steps we used for the first image.  Paste the image into your storyboard, and place it where you like using the move tool.

At this point, filling in the rest of your storyboard is up to you!  I decided to use my fabric image (I just used the move tool to drag it onto the canvas) and add some text, using the text tool in the left toolbar (bottom arrow below.)

Remember, each element is on a separate layer – be sure to select the one your want to work with!  When you are happy with your storyboard, you can cut off the bottom of the canvas using the rectangular marquee tool (top arrow above) and (IMAGE–>CROP.)  You will now need to flatten the image – use (LAYER–>FLATTEN IMAGE.)  Now that your image is flattened, it is ready to save!  You can save it using the file menu.  I recommend jpeg format.  If you want to use your storyboard online, you may wish to reduce the size of the image.  Go to (FILE–>SAVE FOR WEB & DEVICES.)

Adjust the image size and compression (I usually use a jpeg, but this screenshot is set to save a GIF.)  Save under a different name – don’t replace your original.

And that’s all there is to it!  It seems like a lot of steps, but I have tried to include everything.  It only takes about 10 minutes to make one of these after the first few tries.  And of course, there are lots of creative possibilities for fun storyboards – this is just a basic model.  I hope this tutorial helps with your inspiration and project planning!



crafts · Sewing · tutorials

Tutorial: Hemming a full skirt (with the help of your serger)

Ah, the full skirt – so beautiful, but so annoying to hem!  Whether you are having to ease in the fullness with a deeper hem, or trimming and burning your fingers with a baby hem, I wasn’t sure there was a good solution.  I read a tip somewhere to use a serger to make the turning easier, and I developed this method.  It’s so quick and easy in comparison! The finish on this method is pretty much the same as a baby hem.  A serger is required for this method.  Any serger will do!  Mine is a Brother 1034D, a model which is often under $200 (I bought mine off craigslist for $80.)  I cannot recommend owning a serger enough, because there are so many little shortcuts like this one!

You should leave about a 3/4″ hem allowance for this method, though that is customizable by trimming more with the serger.    You do not have to trim while serging, but I find that I get a more even row of stitching that way.  Set your serger for a 3 thread overlock stitch, and make sure to test some swatches – the row of serging will be the depth of your hem, and you should aim for between 1/8″ and 1/4″.  After you’ve set your serger, I like to begin taking a snip in my hem 1/4″ up.  I will be trimming 1/4″ off my hem while serging, and I find it easier to get started this way, if the skirt is joined in a circle.

Take your skirt to the serger, and serge off 1/4 inch all the way around the hem.

Press your serging flat to set the stitches.

Now we are going to fold the hem.  Place your skirt on the ironing board, with the right side facing up.  You are going to turn the serged edge under and press it in place.  It should fold very easily along the serging.  Make sure you have the fabric RS up – it’s much harder to do this WS up, because it doesn’t stay in place as well.

After you have pressed under the entire hem, turn your skirt inside out.  Now you are going to press in the second fold, with the WS facing up.  Turn up the fabric, making sure to tuck the edge all the way into the fold – otherwise, you might miss a layer when sewing the hem.  

Don’t use any pins, which can cause bumps.  Instead, use your fingers to make sure the hem is still tucked under as you feed it through the machine, wrong side up.  I’m sewing about 1/8″ from the edge. (If your fabric won’t hold a crease, you will have to pin.  Just be sure to remove the pins before they get close to the foot!)  This is a good time to use your straight stitch plate, if you have one (I don’t have one on this machine, so I’m using a regular zigzag foot and plate.)

Press and admire your pretty hem!

I find that hems sewn this way have a nice amount of stiffness, due to the extra thread, and hold their shape nicely without a crinoline. Please let me know if you have any questions, or if anything seems unclear!



Sewing · tutorials

How to recover from a buttonhole tragedy

Buttonholes seem to be a source of consternation for many sewers.  And it’s no wonder – by the time you get to making them, it would be pretty upsetting to ruin your new dress!  My Bernina makes ok buttonholes, when it decides to work.  No amount of futzing with the tension produces the even buttonholes of my dreams (unless I use embroidery floss, which I refuse to buy for every project.)  It will not make a buttonhole anywhere near a seam, leading to more than one garment that has a lone manual buttonhole (if you have a Bernina, one of these helps with that problem… but I don’t have one yet, as I’ve just been shoving fabric under there to make everything even.)  Sometimes it randomly loses its programming and sews a 3 inch long buttonhole.  In short – it’s not any fun.  But even worse than that is the cutting of the buttonhole – how I hold my breath that nothing extra gets cut!  I use a wood chisel backed by a wooden cutting board to open the holes now, and I have far fewer mishaps than with the seam rippers.  But even so… today this happened to my lovely new dress.

See where the threads on the sides have been clipped by the chisel?  That’s my fault, for paying more attention to the Ultralounge cd that was playing than to my chisel (Oh how I love to sew to cheesy lounge music!)   But – if this happens to you, don’t worry – it can be fixed!

Grab some stabilizer.  I’m using Solvy, but tearaway stabilizer or  possibly even tissue paper would work too.   This is to prevent your buttonhole from getting sucked down into the machine (my Bernina is terrible to do that for any edges.)  If my fabric were stretchy or super lightweight I would have put stabilizer down to sew all the buttonholes… that’s why I own this product.

Pin the stabilizer behind the buttonhole.

Now you need to figure out what setting on your machine will blend in the best with your buttonhole.

Luckily, I had the piece I had made sample buttonholes on, so I was able to compare and then sew over one leg.

These are the settings that worked for me, though of course every machine is different.  I’m not using the buttonhole stitch because it doesn’t give me enough control, plus if the fabric isn’t completely level and even my buttonhole foot won’t work.  A really tight zigzag works great!

Now place the buttonhole in the machine, using a plain zigzag foot.  Line up the needle with the top edge of the side you will be sewing.  Sew down to the bottom (be sure to secure your stitching.)

It’s a good match, and I haven’t accidentally sewn the buttonhole together again, since I knew what width I needed.  It’s not quite as pretty as the original buttonhole, but in my experience it will hold.

Now you can carefully tear away your stabilizer, and meet your new best friend.

Some people put fray check on every buttonhole, but since I started using the chisel I don’t find that they fray very much.  You will want to apply this with something other than the bottle, or you will get way too much (and a stiff buttonhole.)  I usually sacrifice a bent pin.  Be sure that you don’t have any markings where you are putting the fraycheck, or they will never come out (ask me how I know!)   Doesn’t the buttonhole look better?  The repair isn’t noticeable on the dress (and even if it were, it’s in the back where I can’t see it!)

And (for the curious) here are the back buttons.

I really love them – they’re from the new line Dritz is putting out, Belle buttons I think it is called.  They’re cobalt blue with clear centers.   Obviously they aren’t sewn on here.  The only disadvantage to a clear center is that you can see where I made shanks for the buttons, but oh well.

These are the buttons for the front straps.  I wanted something larger for these two, since they’re right in the front.  I’m probably going to just sew them on permanently – the dress comes off without unbuttoning the straps, and I already know that my machine is going to object to the concept of buttonholes on this piece.  Perhaps I should give up and buy the fabric feed aid, but I’m on a “no machine accessories” diet right now.

I hope this post was of some use – I know the first time this happened to me I was horrified, and convinced there was no coming back!  There are a lot of little tricks to buttonholes, like the chisel and the stabilizer.  I no longer fear them, but sometimes they do seem more trouble than they are worth!

Sewing · tutorials

Tutorial: lining a sleeveless dress

We are in the throes of a southern summer here, with temperatures in the humid 90s and no relief in sight.  I’ve been avoiding my sewing room because the central a/c couldn’t keep up, but finally yesterday I broke down and bought a window unit air conditioner to supplement on the 3rd floor.  Last night I went to attach the lining to my current project, and realized that I hated the instructions.  You’ve seen them – the sort of lining instructions that call for handsewing part of the lining to the dress.  I don’t think it looks very professional to sew part by hand, part by machine, so I used this technique, which I first learned for my Rooibos dress.  It’s like a magic trick – it doesn’t seem like it would work, but it does!  I hope this helps someone out  – lining a sleeveless dress is super easy this way (and it works with facings too!)

Begin with only the shoulder seams sewn in both the fashion and lining fabric.   With right sides together, pin the layers together, and sew together at the neckline.  For this pattern I made sure to pivot at each of the 4 corners.   Trim and grade the seam, clipping all the way to the stitching (but not through it!) for a v-neckline.  I use pinking shears here, since the seam will be hidden inside the dress.

Understitch (ie stitch the seam allowance to the lining) as far as you can.   Turn seam rightside out, so that the WS are together, and press your seam.

Now comes the magic part!

Lay the bodice down flat, with the wrong sides together (the way it is sewn.)  Starting at one side, begin to roll the fabric towards the opposite armhole.  Now, reach underneath, and flip the fashion fabric out (towards the right in my photo.)  Lay the lining fabric over the rolled fabric (again to the right.)  You will now have right sides together, and the rolled up fabric will be sandwiched in the middle of the layers.  Pin the armhole for sewing.

Notice that I have actually pinned the rolled fabric back at the top of the shoulder, since it’s a pretty tight fit there!  Now sew your seam, being careful not to catch the rolled fabric in the needle.

Now would be a good time to trim this seam – you won’t get another chance!  I actually only trimmed mine around the curves, as I wanted the extra fabric in the shoulders.  Now the fun part – grab hold of the end of the rolled fabric, and pull it out through the shoulder.

Keep pulling until everything has been turned rightside out –  you will now have a perfectly finished armhole!  Repeat the same action for the other side.  Pull gently – this design has really narrow armholes and I managed, so it will work!

Now, press, and admire your lovely lining.  You’re ready to sew the skirt to your dress!

I hope this tutorial helps out a few people – I have seen a few others, but I thought I would write one for those who (like me) need photos!