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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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!

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.

Whats in a fabric’s name?

When making or designing with fabrics you need to be aware of what they are made of, what construction they are and how this impacts on the qualities of the fabric.

The basics (it is a bit more complex than this but you’ll get the jist):

  • The raw material could be from: an animal, a plant or manmade
  • Fibres are taken from the source i.e. from sheep we take wool and from the cotton plant we take cotton.
  • The fibres are then twisted into yarns (like long pieces of string)
  • The yarns are then constructed into a fabric: it could be woven, knitted or felted

The key point to remember is this, when you say ‘I want a cotton fabric’, you are describing what fibre you want the fabric to be made from.

I’m going to choose cotton fibre as an example.

A fibre such as cotton can be made into a variety of different fabrics. Below I have listed some fabrics that will commonly be made of the cotton fibre:

  • Canvas
  • Calico
  • Chambray
  • Cheesecloth
  • Chintz
  • Corduroy
  • Denim
  • Flannel
  • Gingham
  • Lawn
  • Muslin
  • Poplin
  • Ticking
  • Towelling
  • Wincyette

The cotton fibre has it’s own inherent qualities. Each of the fabrics I have listed above has it’s own qualities. The fabric’s qualities are due to a combination of different factors: the fibre chosen, the yarn, the construction and the finishing.

A Cotton Wincyette is soft and warm, due to the soft nature of the cotton and the brushed finish to the fabric. It has a plain weave construction.

In comparison a Cotton Denim is densly woven in a twill-weave construction which gives the fabric strength, durability and an easy to care for nature.

‘I want a canvas fabric’ but what type of fibre do you want it made from?

Canvas Construction: Tightly woven plain weave

Making it a heavy duty, hard wearing fabric construction

Two types of canvas: Duck and plain. Duck is more tightly woven

Uses: painting canvas, sails, tents, shoes and handbags

Cotton Canvas vs Hemp Canvas

Cotton Canvas
Hemp Canvas






Cotton fibres are long , fluffy, soft fibrous hairs that cover the cotton plant’s seed pods (like cotton wool balls!). They have an absorbant quality which makes them breathable and comfortable to wear. It’s natural softness is nice next to the skin. The fibres have a natural twist which makes them suitable for a strong yarn.

Hemp fibres come from the Cannibis Sativa Sativa plant. It is strong and coarse. Due to these natural qualities fabrics made from Hemp are long lasting. It naturally resists mould and UV light. The fibres hold their shape stopping garments from becoming out of shape.


100% Hemp canvas is suitable for industrial purposes due to it’s strength and durability whereas 100% cotton canvas is more suited to clothing due to it’s softer nature.

What about blending two fibres together? You will often see fabrics described like this for example:

‘80% Bamboo / 20% Polyester’ or ‘70% Bamboo / 30% Cotton’

By blending two fibres together you get the advantages of both of the fibres. So if we blend together Hemp and Cotton and make into a canvas fabric you will get a fabric that is:

Durable, strong, soft, absorbant, hard wearing and maintains it’s shape.

When mixing fibres it’s the balance of the % that determines which qualities you get more or less of from each fibre.

Pattern Cutting – Book Review

For the first read the book Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich is hard to get your head round. That link above is to the latest edition of the book and perhaps they have altered and improved it since I purchased this 2004 edition of the book.

I found Aldrich’s instructions to be too short and leaving gaps in the information. Aldrich takes you through creating blocks in a very specific way and then how to adapt them to create certain standard shapes and style lines.

In creating the blocks I often found the clarity of her instructions left me frustrated. Once I had worked with the book several times and started drawing out the blocks I began to develop an understanding of what she was saying.

I don’t think this is a book for a beginner but would be good for someone with a base knowledge or experience in pattern cutting. In Aldrich’s adaptation of the blocks to other designs she uses clear drawings but again for anyone not experienced there isn’t a lot of instruction.

The edition I have includes overgarment blocks and close fitting blocks. As well as blocks for knit and stretch fabrics. There is a small section on CAD at the back of the book that feels like a token and unnessary gesture.

Drafting blocks for individual figures is a useful part of the book but I have other books on alterations for fit which demonstrate in clear photos the problems and solutions better.

Although I don’t think it’s for beginners the design adaptations are not advanced and for more help with more complex designs you might find another book more helpful. If your looking for a pattern cutting book with instruction on creating new and interesting shapes and styles then look towards the Japanese pattern makers. For instance I purchased Pattern Magic by Tomoko Nakamichi which I’ve found to be inspiring.

Overall I feel the book has some great and useful information, I have created many starting blocks from the book. I feel that it would be even better if the book was more focused on just the blocks and block adaptations and expanded further in this area. The other areas Aldrich touches on would be very useful as seperate books and she could then extend the information.

I often go back to the book as a starting point and keep it nearby for reference.

Learning to grade your own patterns – book review

I decided today to write this post as I was chatting over lunch with a good friend who I haven’t seen in a while. She expressed an interest in the fact that I do my own grading and then said she was considoring purchising the book Grading for the Fashion Industry Theory and Practice by Martin M. Shoben and Patrick J.Taylor.

I warned her of my findings from using the book and that I wouldn’t purchase it again. I’m going to talk you through the book and how I found it to use. I think that although you can purchase it from several reputable retailers such as amazon and morplan you should borrow one first before parting with your money.

My first criticism is that it reads as though the author wrote the book and then never re-read it and neither did the copy editor! I purchased the Third Edition so you would have thought that any errors would have been picked up and changed by then.

It’s almost like no one has ever got past the first part of the book. I have been working on some designs and I thought I would have a look through the style reference section that takes you through different styles and how to grade them. I quickly stumbled across an error. On page 126 it says this:

‘A fuller discussion of track grading can be found see page ?.’

It then says ‘Back skirt as block (page ?)’ and again it happens on p135.

This book gives the impression of taking you from start to finish, from beginner and beyond. When I read this book I felt that there was crucial information missing. It jumps around from one bit to another. They grab a number from thin air and don’t explain where it has come from. The important information may well be there somewhere but you have to fight through the waffle to get to it.

It feels like a problem that I have found before, that an expert in their field writes a book but isn’t an expert in conveying their knowledge to others.

I was reading the instructions and having to constantly flick back and forth to diagrams that they reference but have strangely placed overleaf. Surely you place illustrations and diagrams next to the explanation?

When reading this book I was of the mindset of very much understanding the concept of grading yet wanting some clarification of how to go about it.

In the end I combined alot of information that I gathered from various sources together and worked it out. Since figuring out how to grade I have looked back at the book and some areas have made more sense.

There does seem to be a gap in the book market for a simple to understand book on the basic steps of grading. Once the reader can grasp those techniques you can show them the pitfalls and the different styles etc…

The books on the market are expensive and I (as others probably did) picked the book Grading for the Fashion Industry because it covers a variety of areas and also isn’t as expensive as the others. At £25.00 it is a snip compared to these others:

Concepts of Pattern Grading: Techniques for Manual and Computer Grading


Pattern Grading for Women’s Clothes: The Technology of Sizing


apparel pattern grading (2nd edition) [paperback]


But then in hindsight it might be worth paying the extra money! I am yet to look at those other books but I would be interested in knowing what they’re like.

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