Kerry O'Brine Womens Wear

Behind the seams


Press Press Press

Ironing or pressing is key to a successful sewing project.


I have come to realise over the years just how important it is. When I was younger I read in my book about John Galliano (my most favourite designer at the time!) that he was an amazing presser when he helped back stage at the theatre. I didn’t realise the significance at the time of this skill.

Press at every stage during your sewing project:

  • Press your fabric before you lay it and cut out your pattern pieces. Otherwise your pieces could end up distorted and the edges wonky
  • Press each seam after you sew it. Either press the seam open or press it flat, whatever is appropriate to the seam and design
  • Sometimes pressing before you sew a seam helps with the accuracy of the sewing!

You’ll end up with crisper, sharper and more accurate seams. Matching the seams and edges will also be easier and look more professional.

With wool, it is heat, pressure and steam all together that mean you can manipulate the fabric and seams. You can flatten a bulky seam and work with ease in the seams. (there is a tailors method I will go through with you another time!)

If you are pressing or ironing at home you will need to let your garment cool down before you move it. Industrial pressing machines have a cool air facility. By cooling down the garment the area you have just painstakingly pressed into shape will hold the shape and not immediately crease.

At home without an industrial machine I have been known to use my regular ironing board, press a seam and then walk away to let it cool down before I move it. Whilst waiting for it to cool I am preparing and sewing the next piece.

Industrial Iron

Pressing with a home iron can be tricky due to their temperamental nature – don’t let them get clogged up with limescale; nothing worse than an iron spitting on your prized sewing project!

I find a cotton handkerchief works between the iron and the fabric to protect the fabric when pressing something delicate. If you are trying to be accurate and see what you are doing often a large cloth between the iron and fabric is too big.

A handkerchief is a good size: big enough for the whole iron plate not to touch the fabric and small enough to press accurately in small areas.


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Pin it Please!

pile of pins

I’ve met quite a few experienced seamstresses and when they are sewing a new and complicated garment they use pins. Don’t feel you shouldn’t use pins.

  • A lot of the time the professionals judge seam allowances by eye but when trying to match a tricky point they get the tape measure out and put a pin where the seam lines join. Often if your garment is complicated or you just can’t afford to make a mistake it’s better to measure where you have to sew too and pin it!!
  • Put the pins into the fabric at right angles to the seam/fabric edge ( You can sew over pins on a domestic machine if you have the pins at right angles to the fabric edge).
  • I like to have my pins visible on the top layer of fabric when I am sewing. If your raw seam/fabric edge is on your right hand side, you can measure the seam width using the ruler on your sewing machine as you sew (great to ensure consistent seam widths!). When you are pinning have the raw seam/fabric edge laying on the right hand side. Having the pins on top stops any pins getting caught in the machine underneath and you can always clearly see them to pull them out if necessary!
  • The pin head should be on the outer edge of the fabric – if you need to pull them out as you sew then it is easier to pull them out when positioned in this way.
  • When pinning your garment pieces together make sure you pin at key points first: at either end of the seam line and at the notches. The notches act as anchor points at key points of the design.
  • Another and sometimes overlooked area is the length and point of the pins. You can purchase various different types of pins. Nice fine, sharp and long pins are great for delicate fabrics. Blunt pins will either not go into a fabric like satin or will cause a catch and pull in the fabric – you don’t want this. Often the box of pins will tell you what they are for. Try your pins in a scrap of fabric before hand if you are unsure.

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Tinker Tailor Tacking Tips

  • Use tailor tacks as markers in the fabric – they are good because they show both sides of the fabric
  • Use proper basting cotton (you can get this from guttermans) – don’t use the cheap polyester stuff that you can buy for about 20p in bulk at haberdashers. This isn’t the same stuff!

Basting thread

  • Use a double thread
  • Use a long length of the thread
  • Don’t knot the end of the thread
  • Don’t lift up the fabric as this can cause distortion
  • Before tacking pin the edges of your fabric together
  • In couture, tacks are normally only used in wool fabrics
  • Use your tacks to mark pattern details in the middle of your fabric

Let me know if you need some pictures of tailor tacks to help

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Unmasking Interfacing

Interfacing can be a mystery. Why is it needed? what is the best fabric to use? etc…..

Interfacing is a fabric used inside (the wrong side) of the garment. It is placed between the facing and the main garment fabric. You use it to stabilize your main fabric and support or stiffen in particular areas.

Key areas that often require stablilsing or strengthening for durability are collars, cuffs, facings, pocket tops and fastening areas.

In some ways, because there aren’t any ‘rules’, it can make it tricky to know where to start.

  • Take into considoration the design and overall effect you want to achieve.
  • Think about the weight of your main fabric.
  • Think about where you might want to create structure and shape.

You then need to match your design requirements with the nature of the fabrics. For instance a stiff, crisp and light Organza fabric will work well in a hem, as will a cotton organdie or muslin, but both give a very different effect to your hem.

A hair canvas (made with horses hair) is a heavy weight canvas that is mainly used in tailoring jackets. You will need to use the horse hair around the body in a tailored jacket. The horse hair has an incredible strength and bounce and perhaps you could cut it the other way round to create great curves in your sculptural clothing. For unusual interfacing materials try MacCulloch and Wallis (london). The English Couture Company also stock online some useful interfacings.

A collar with a linen canvas (finished with a glue) can create a hard and stiff collar.

A couture jacket with a full interfacing gives the jacket a very structured look and keeps out the wrinkles. The interfacing is treated as one with the main fabric. Hard tailoring like this is more traditional than the women’s soft tailoring you see these days (the garment’s lines are softer and rounder).

Traditionally men’s jackets are interfaced with canvas in the front and hem area.

Iron-on interfacing is often used these days. One side is coated in a glue which you place on the wrong side of the fabric. Then press with your iron to fix the interfacing onto your fabric. Iron-on interfacing comes in a range of weights, from fine to heavy. You can also choose between woven and non-woven.

A heavyweight sew-in interfacing can be bulky so you are better off trimming the seam allowances and then hand stitching the interfacing on.

Lightweight sew in interfacing can work best attached directly onto the seam allowances of the main fabric. It is especially effective in key areas such as a collar.

Interfacing requires experimentation when you are working with a new design and a new main fabric. So take the time out to do some sampling because you’ll get the best results! As a consumer you shouldn’t be aware of the interfacing in a piece of clothing because the interfacing should work with the garment and not against it.

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How to Sew Corners

I was told to sew a corner by leaving the machine needle in the corner of the fabric and pivoting the fabric round. Then continue sewing along the next seam.

As per this diagram:

A nice man then showed me the error of these ways and I have been using his method ever since. To get a nice point it is much better to use the following method:

  • Sew down to the corner but stop before you get there.
  • Then sew two stitches across the corner at a diagonal. The two diagonal stitches allow room for the fabric when you turn the corner out the right way.
  • Continue sewing in a straight line along the next section.





Don’t forget to trim away the excess corner fabric as close to the stitching as you possibly can. In the case of a collar, trim the corner right down and then graduate the seam allowance from the point.

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How to match up seams

Matching seams

Obvious when you know how! When matching a straight edge to a straight edge (like a square cushion shape) it’s easy.  But if you are joining four points together or two different angles you need to remember that it is the seam allowance line that you are matching NOT the edge of the fabric.

I have drawn the seam allowance on the two pieces of fabric I am joining to demonstrate what I mean. When you are doing this yourself you can just measure and mark with a pin if necessary. I am working with 1cm seam allowance and a plain seam (match right sides of your pieces together as you would normally do).

Piece 1

Piece 2










The following picture is the incorrect way to lay piece 1 on piece 2. Although the fabric matches along the right hand side, if you sewed this the top right hand corner edge would not match up. Piece one would be shorter than piece 2 (underneath).

Incorrect seam allowance matching









The right way:

  • Place a pin at the point where the two seam allowance meet on your first piece of fabric (the top piece).

Pin at seam allowances meeting point








  • Next lay the first piece with the pin in it over piece 2. Match up the pin with the meeting point of the seam allowances on pieces 2 (i.e. where the seam lines cross)



  • This next picture is piece 1 on top of piece 2. The pin is going through the seam lines cross point on piece 1 and going through into piece 2 seam lines cross point.
  • The seam allowance line on piece 1 meets the farbic edge of piece 2 (underneath).
  • Pin your fabrics together in this positioin.








  • Sew the seam together. Start at the very top where the two fabric edges meet.
  • I have sewn the sample with black thread so you can see the stitching.
  • Now when you turn your piece out the right way you will see that the top edges of the two pieces line up perfectly.
  • Use this technique for beautifully matched up edges everytime!

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It could be a Jersey nightmare

Jersey fabric can be a great fabric to work with or an absolute bitch.


  • If you have access to an Overlocker I would highly recommend using one to sew jersey with. Prior to sewing your actual garment you will need to do a lot of test samples to make sure the Overlocker tension is correct for your jersey.
  • Domestic Overlockers have come a long way and if you want to add a great finish inside your woven garments and you stitch a lot of jersey then they are worth splashin the cash.
  • Coverstitch machines provide the finish that you will find on the bottom of your t-shirts and jersey dresses. For a home sewer or student this is perhaps a step too far money wise because like the Overlocker it only does one type of stitch (and you will use it less than an Overlocker.
  • To finish off your garments without a Coverstitch machine you could get creative with your regular sewing machine and zig zag the edge, turn up and use its stretch straight stitch to finish it off. Another idea could be to bind or cuff the edge with a strip of fabric.

Laying and Cutting

  • Use lay paper underneath the fabric to stop it slipping around. Use the right paper so your blade isn’t ruined when cutting.
  • Use a large table space to lay out the fabric. You don’t want to move the fabric or allow it to drape, pull or drag off of or across the table.
  • When laying the fabric make sure the fabric is not held taut (stretched). It needs to be relaxed but not rippled or bumpy.
  • Don’t pin the pattern – use weights (you could use anything as a weight; fill empty water bottles with sand, dumbbells or big cellotape holders).
  • To avoid disturbing the fabric cut with a rotary blade not scissors.
  • Do not cut patterns on the fold. Trace the pattern so you have the whole piece.
  • Lay your pattern so that the main stretch of the fabric goes across (round) your body (not down it).


  • Gently feed/direct the fabric with your left hand and use your right hand to keep seam allowances together.
  • Also use your right hand and the table top to  stop the fabric from dragging whilst your sewing.
  • Never pull or stretch the jersey fabric as you sew as this will cause your seam to rumple (not very attractive down the side of a dress).
  • If your fabric is particularly slippery tack some tricky or important parts together before hand.
  • You could try sewing with tear away paper in the seams if you are having particular problems with stretching out of shape.