Saturday, December 8, 2012

Learning to Sew

This year, Sweetie and I decided to handmake as many gifts as possible. In past years, my contribution was that of money to buy the materials needed because I lacked the skills to assist in making the gifts. This year I told Sweetie that if she was patient enough to explain what needed done, then I was willing to help, even if all I ended up being able to help with was cutting and ironing. I didn't want to feel useless.

Among the projects I am not likely to screw up too badly, and therefore can learn on, are the chef's hat for our niece, a tool belt for our youngest nephew, and a cape for the same nephew. There are a few other projects that Sweetie is doing on her own because they require someone with more skill.

I started on the chef's hat on November 30th. First, Sweetie showed me how to determine which part of the pattern to cut away from the rest. I had never seen this step while watching my mother sew when I was a child. Apparently she had always already had the tissue pieces cut out by the time we were watching. I was surprised at the massive map-style tissue paper! The entirely unfolded pattern map took up the dining room table. And that was only one of the two maps provided. I cut out the two pieces required for the hat then folded it back as well as I could and put the poofy bundle back into the packet.

Sweetie suggested not pinning the tissue to the fabric but instead weighing it down with household objects. She said the fabric tends to stretch and move funky with pins. So I laid some books down and got to cutting. This is when I found out I don't do well at cutting along the lines when cutting double layers.

Pins came later in the project but good
example of my uneven cuts

Next time, I'll cut the pattern exactly around the lines and then draw with chalk onto the fabric. I think I'll do better with that method.

That was all I accomplished on the 30th. About an hour or so and all I had done was iron and cut out fabric pieces. This was going to be a long journey.

Some evening during the next week I took it up again. That evening I stitched about 3 inches of an opening. I became very familiar with the seam ripper and the term "Put the foot down!" This familiarity came, of course, once I discovered that the tool I was using was not - in fact - a seam ripper. Sweetie got quite a chuckle out of that.

FYI: this is NOT a seam ripper
THIS is a seam ripper

My first mistake was pulling the fabric through the machine. This caused the thread to stretch and not stitch properly. I ripped the seams and started over.
My second mistake was forgetting to put the foot down after rotating the fabric. I don't even know how to explain what happened there. But I had to rip the seams and start over again.
About an hour later, I had the opening stitched and was done for the night. Whew! Sewing is a LOT more difficult than it looked when Sweetie was doing it!

On December 7th, I made more progress. The folds I had created from stitching earlier in the week needed pressed. Then Sweetie patiently explained how to create the pleat. I had misunderstood one of the instructions in the pattern so the pleat wasn't making sense for awhile.
Then it was time to baste along the edge of the entire circle piece (which apparently just means a "really loose and long stitch" ... sigh). I became very frustrated because I thought I wasn't supposed to hold the fabric but I couldn't get it to stay on the 5/8" line without holding it. Sweetie caught on to my misunderstanding just in time - the tears were forming in my throat but hadn't traveled to the eyes yet.
I got the basting done along the outside of the circle (not perfect but I was told it was okay because it was for gathering). Then Sweetie showed me how to gather.
So in about two hours, I had pressed, pleated, basted in a circle and gathered. I was pretty impressed with my progress!

I started again the next day. Next up on the list was pinning the band of the hat:

Beautiful. That was an easy step. After sewing 3 of the edges, flipping it right-side-out, and pressing it with the iron to get good crisp edges, it was time to line the marks on the band to the marks on the hat. It got a bit tricky at this point. Some of the marks on the hat and band had faded since I drew them with the erasable fabric marker almost a week prior (or as Sweetie called it: magic disappearing ink ... I thought she was kidding). As I reached the other end of the hat crown's circle, I noticed the thread was missing from the hem and the gathers were not gathered. Ummmmm....

After a bit of squinty-eyed confusion faces, we realized what had happened. While I was learning to baste the day prior, there was a problem. In the process of fixing it, Sweetie had cut out the knot I'd been instructed to make on one end but forgot to tie it back. Me, not knowing any better, didn't know to watch for it. So since there was no knot on one end, the gather pulled the thread out. I had to rip the entire perimeter of the crown and re-do the basting. Practice makes perfect, right?

Actually, the second time around the circle was much easier and faster. So apparently yes, practice DOES make for improvement anyway. Part of what I think made it easier was that I had the fabric to the left of the foot instead of the right. Everything went smoother once I figured that out.

Once that was done, I stitched a line around the crown with the band in place. Then I stitched another line around to secure the gathers. I didn't know to keep the gathers "flat" as they were passing under the foot so I ended up with a few unintended pleats that Sweetie had to help get out and then I re-stitched in those spots.

The hat looked like a hat! I was impressed! Oh, but I wasn't done ... I still had to add velcro strips.

So I learned how to use fusible tape (familiar to me by the name of "Stitch Witch"), then I stitched a square around each piece.

My lines are getting straighter!
 And viola! The finished chef's hat for our niece!
Hoping that bongo drum is about the
size of a child's head, LOL

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