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Making leather garments can be intimidating.  Leather skins are relatively expensive and there is no room for adjustments as stitching marks are permanent. I’ve discovered a few tips that make sewing leather look more professional.

Always, always make a test garment in medium weight muslin. Get the fit perfect before cutting anything in leather. The test garment can be taken apart and used as a pattern. I mark using chalk or a soft lead pencil. Ink pens tend to smear and the marks can be permanent. Even if used on the wrong side, pen marks can bleed through to the face.

I was surprised to learn that leather can be steam pressed. Many sources advise against pressing, but unless you use loads of heavy steam, it works just fine. Having a teflon shoe for your iron helps protect the leather. Teflon shoes are available from most tailoring supply sources and are specific to the iron. Here’s mine for the Naomoto gravity feed iron. Make sure you also get a steam diffuser, which is a piece of heavy felt lining the shoe. The diffuser spreads the steam more evenly and prevents marks from the steam jets. Both are available from Wawak and other sources.

Gentle steam pressing is effective at removing creases. Here’s a sample that I intentionally left folded for awhile and the result of steam pressing. Some sources advised using leather tape (also known as cold tape) to stabilize the seams. The tape can be difficult to source and is a PIA to stitch through as it gums up the needle. Narrow strips of lightweight fusible interfacing worked fine.

 

Darts can be difficult to press flat so I sew darts this way:

Cut away the dart. Spray a scrap of leather with temporary quilt basting spray. Carefully line up the sides of the dart and finger press gently to tack the dart closed. I position one side first; then align the second side. Doing this over a tailors ham helps get the proper contour.

 

I’m using a leather roller foot on my Bernina; the roller feet are are also available for industrial machines and probably other brands.

Here’s the settings for Bernina. I’ve positioned the needle left of center so it stitches very close to the roller. I’ve also threaded the machine with two strands of polyester thread and wound the bobbin with two strands. Topstitching thread was a little too thick and a single strand of thread didn’t seem enough. I was surprised that the machine sewed fine with two strands in the bobbin. No adjusting was needed. Be sure and use polyester thread. The chemicals used in tanning leather will degrade cotton thread over time.

I prefer the clean look of invisible zippers but they can be tricky to get right and you can’t remove misplaced stitch marks. Use a zipper at least 2 inches longer than the finished length. In this method you’ll need the extra length to pull the zipper slide out of the way for stitching.  I stabilize the seam with lightweight fusible interfacing. Press it on the wrong side using an iron fitted with a Teflon shoe. Stitch the seam closed up to the zipper. Lightly steam press (I also use a press cloth or brown paper when working on the right side) and pound the seam open. I use a soft face mallet and place the seam over a rounded wooden stick to prevent the seam allowance from making an impression on the right side.

Measure the width of the zipper tape. This one is 7/8 inch. Mark exactly 1/2 of this width (7/16) on the inside seam allowance of each side of the zipper opening. Pin the zipper along the marked line placing pins within seam allowance only. Machine baste along outer edge of zipper tape.

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To create this Gucci inspired silk crepe de chine shirt, I needed to find pleated ribbon trim. Where do you find such trim in the right color, width, etc.? It’s much easier to make a custom pleating board and make your own.

I started with a length of drapery heading. It’s a stiff buckram used to support pleats in drapes and worked great for this. Cut of a length about three times the length of your finished pleater board. You don’t need to make it more than about 4-5 inches long. I started with about 13 inches of buckram.

Mark parallel lines (I used a water soluble marker rather than a lead pencil. I might want to use this for white trim later and was afraid of pencil marks rubbing off). Mine are 3/8 inch apart. Score the lines with scissors to make folding easier. Line one folds up, line 2 folds down, line three is a placement line. Score and fold the length of buckram.

Press the pleats flat. Fuse a stiff interfacing to the wrong side of the pleater. The right side will have little louvers that ribbon or fabric can be tucked into. When you’ve inserted trim into all the louvers give it a press, let cool and remove. If a longer length of trim is needed, tuck the last pleat into the left side louver and continue.

Notice the pleats reverse direction. I did this at the center back collar so that the pleats would fold towards the front on both right and left sides of the finished collar.

Form enough pleats to reach from center front to center back of the collar. Then flip the ribbon over to the “wrong side”, line up your last pleat, and continue with the opposite side facing up. A box pleat will from at center back. I also made sure the pleats on the cuffs were facing towards the back of the garment.

I like to use a finer thread for the buttonholes; 60 weight cotton works well. Hopefully all goes well and the buttonhole foot holds the fabric securely. Sometimes disaster is lurking and the fabric slips.

Getting those tiny stitches out without damaging the now complete shirt is nerve-racking. I discovered a new use for my furriers knife.

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In the last post you got a sneak preview of the bride’s dress and I promised full details would follow. For her wedding, my sister-in-law wanted a knee length ivory dress that looked bridal but not over the top for the informal setting. After brainstorming ideas with her and some fabric scouting, I designed a dress which would compliment her figure and highlight a piece of lovely wool guipure lace.

After measuring her head to toe, I drafted a custom pattern block which was the basis for her dress. This draft is fitted from shoulders to low hip and becomes the master pattern for subsequent patterns. Red lines indicate fitting adjustments and proposed style lines. The initial pattern is cleaned up and a fresh copy used to begin the actual dress pattern.

 

We decided the approximate placement of the lace upper bodice and also lowered the waistline seam about one inch to give her a longer silhouette. The pattern is cut apart on red lines and darts closed. The dress cut in muslin and basted together.

We opted to move the lower portion of the front princess seams closer to the side seams. The corresponding darts in the skirt front were also moved to line up with the princess seams. The skirt was pegged 3/4 inch for a slimmer look. I wanted to eliminate the back bodice dart, so the dart takeup was transferred to the center back and side seams.

 

I set-in sleeve would have been easier but I wanted to avoid seaming the lace in such a prominent spot. I felt a sleeve which was cut in one section with the bodice would not interrupt the beautiful guipure design. The sleeve pattern is cut lengthwise from shoulder point to hem and attached to the bodice. There is some guesswork regarding the exact shoulder slope and underarm shape but that gets resolved in the next fitting. Here is the front; the back is drafted exactly the same.

We decided to raise the underarm (shown in green) for greater ease of movement. These are the pattern changes. Identical changes made to the back bodice and back lace pieces. The shoulder slope and finished sleeve length were also finalized.

 

For the body of the dress I selected a tissue weight wool crepe, cotton lawn underlining and silk crepe de chine lining. The wool guipure was backed with cotton bobbinette, aka cotton tulle. Bobbinette is characterized by a hexagon shaped mesh weave. It stabilized the open lace beautifully. Pics of the lace with and without the net backing.

 

The sharp inner corner is a point of stress and a square of silk organza beefs it up and prevents ripping.

   

This lace raveled badly so a traditional appliqued seam wouldn’t have worked. I used a plain seam across the top of the shoulder. The tulle camouflaged the seam allowances well.  I ended the seam at the large flower along the border and used applique technique along the lace borders to create an uninterrupted sleeve hem.

 

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For the backyard wedding, I wanted something easy, yet elegant. When you’re the resident dress designer/maker, showing up in something not of your own creation doesn’t work! I had my hands full with the bride, mother of bride, bridesmaids, etc. but managed to crank out a tunic style dress with Coco (and Karl) in mind.

My starting point was fabric from the Haute Couture section of Mendel Goldberg Fabrics. I chose a wonderful French boucle highlighted with tiny sequins woven into the fabric. With careful planning, the dress required only one yard of fabric; here is what was left over.

I used my basic pattern block and made the following adjustments. If you start with another tunic style pattern, and want to get this look, make sure your pattern has a high, jewel neckline. If your pattern has a lower neckline, the collar might be too large and will stand away from the neck.

 

Close the armhole and shoulder darts, combining them into the underarm dart. Angle the new underarm dart towards the lower edge.

I chose to eliminate the front fisheye darts and transfer some of the dart shaping to the side seam. The bib placket drops from just outside the neck edge to the bust line. I played with shaping the bib wider at the top and tapering slightly but that design created a problem with trim placement. Having the bib placket the same width from top to bottom allowed the trim rows to be evenly spaced. The back was used as is with fisheye darts. The shoulder dart will be eased. The skirt was pegged about 3/4 inch from low hip line to hem.

Next I drafted a collar and stand. Some drafting books suggest curving the collar stand about 1/2 inch but I find the stand will hug the back neck better if more shaping is used. I’ll increase the curvature of the stand by shaping with a steam iron.

   

All collar pieced are cut from cardboard which will help when pressing. I’ve also cut a collar lining pattern 1/8 inch smaller to keep the undercollar out of sight. The Curve Runner makes measuring curved edges easy; very helpful when drafting collars to fit the neck.

The cardboard helps when pressing seam allowances under and ensures the collar is perfectly symmetrical. Fell stitch the under collar to upper collar.

 

Pressing over cardboard also helps shape the collar stand. I used satin faced organza to line the collar, stand and as a base fabric for the bib. This organza is more opaque and stiffer than regular silk organza and is harder to shape into a smooth curve.

 

Designing trims for the placket was the most fun part. I used the same satin faced organza as a base fabric and applied multiple layers of ribbons and braids. Most were sewn on by hand to maintain a soft, couture feel.

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So much had happened since my last post; all of it good.  My son and daughter-in-law welcomed baby Milena. Her arrival coincided with my construction and installation of draperies in their new home. Needless to say, it was a very, very busy time.

After helping the new family get settled, it was time to head home and prepare for my dear sister-in law’s wedding, held in our backyard. When you’re the resident family dressmaker, weddings mean loads of sewing; all of it fun and leading up to a happy celebration.

The rehearsal dinner was an informal gathering and I chose to replicate a designer skirt I had seen.  This Oscar de la Renta skirt, from his “paint splatter” collection was white denim with applied sequins and priced at a mere $1900.

I had a length of white denim with a bit of lycra in the stash.  The skirt front was drafted by using a jeans pattern, lapping the right over left front, and tapering to a mid-calf length straight skirt. The back was slightly more complicated. My jeans pattern back wouldn’t cooperate and produce a well fitting rear.  Draping on my custom dress form solved the problem.

 

I placed style lines for the back yoke, waistband and side seam.  The waistband is slightly lowered at center front. I used flat felled seams and the only problem was my machine didn’t like the bulk of multiple fabric layers and the thicker thread I was using for topstitching.  I found that hammering (use a clean regular carpenters hammer) the seams, especially at points where seams intersected, made a huge difference. Hammering the fabric prior to sewing seems to soften and compress the fibers. A heavy duty jeans needle also helped. The long, sharp point pierced the denim much easier preventing skipped stitches and thread nests.

Now for the fun part. I gathered sequins, beads and started drawing. An air erasable marker lets you preview the placement and size of the “paint blobs.”
The large yellow sequins had holes in the center but I decided they would be better if the holes were closer to one edge. Joanns Fabric carries this punch in the leatherworking department. It’s pricey at about $40 (great time to use the discount coupon), but makes the tiniest holes and was perfect for the task.

Completed and on to the more wedding sewing.

 

Next post (and I promise it will be soon) will detail the design and construction of the bride’s dress, little girls’ dresses, mother-in-law’s dress and (as if I didn’t have enough going on) a Chanel style tunic constructed from a wonderful fabric from Mendel Goldberg. Here’s a few preview shots:

 

 

I also want to mention that my friend, Kate Davies, has published a book, Making Life More Beautiful, about sewing, crafting, knitting and life. I met Kate while on a trip to London and immensely enjoyed the time with her. She is doing a sew-along emulating the style of Frida Kahlo, so hop over to her site and check it out.

Also, I’ve written another article for

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This jacket was inspired from a Chanel couture collection.  For the jacket body I used a lovely open weave boucle from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics. The fabric is a very open weave and needed to be backed with another fabric for construction. I used a lightweight ivory wool crepe and quilted the two fabrics together along horizontal stitching lines. Thank goodness I used quite a bit of steam on the fabrics before quilting as the boucle tightened up with steam.

  Wide seam allowances prevent too skimpy seams and the walking foot kept the layers from shifting during the quilting process.

The fun part of this jacket was designing the sleeves. I used two layers of silk organza as a base for the trim.  Scouring NYC’s garment district turned up nothing for a ruffled trim. I had planned on using butterfly pleated organza ribbon but absolutely no one had any. One store offered placing a custom order but the minimum was 100 yards and 6-8 weeks time frame. No choice but to make it.

I decided polyester organza would actually work better than silk. Silk fabric creases and presses much better than polyester but I wanted the ruffles to hold their shape so the wiry nature of polyester was an advantage. I cut strips of organza along the lengthwise grain and finished the edges with a narrow ziz-zag stitch; stitch width of 1.8mm and length of 0.5mm on my machine worked well.  The strips were gathered down the center and drawn up to a 2:1 fullness.

A narrow beige ribbon layered with gold tubular yarn from Linton was sewn down the center with a serpentine ( width 5.0, length 1.25) stitch.

  

The garment district did yield several suitable trims, including a gorgeous sequin banding. The double organza sleeve was sewn along the back seam, leaving the less obvious front seam open. Seam and hem lines had been thread traced to ensure the trim fit the finished sleeve. Trim was arranged, keeping the sequined trim and ruffles out of the underarm area. The sequin banding was catch stitched on the wrong side to prevent sagging as the jacket was worn.

 

Excess sequins removed from the seam allowances and ends of the braids are steamed and flattened before sewing the seam.

The black jacket is also complete. Fringe from the selvages was paired with a soft, flexible braid. I opted for a custom made zipper from Botani.  They use Lampo (Italian) zippers and you can choose tooth color, tape color, pull and length. The small 3mm size works well for this.

 

Next project is a Chanel inspired summer tunic and playing with more trims. Thanks for reading.

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I’ve seen many French jackets lined with exquisite prints but finding the right print can be tough and I find myself sometimes preferring a solid.  This jewelry design depicting the famous Chanel camellia rose inspired a new technique for lining the jacket.

I played with options and settled on a variation of trapunto. Trapunto designs are usually filled with soft yarn or cording to give dimension to the design. I could have digitized an image but OESD has a trapunto quilting collection. The designs are available as a complete set or can be purchased individually. I used OC870067 and 870068 for one design; 870069 and 870070 for the other.

One stitch file is the pillow used to pad the stitches and the other file is the tack down and embroidery stitches.

After printing several copies of the designs, I arranged them on the lining sections making sure to keep the design within the seam allowances.  I tested several options for padding and found regular quilt batting too heavy; same with brushed flannel fabric. Thermore batting is designed for quilted garments and provided the right amount of puffiness yet was thin enough not to show on the right ride of the jacket.


First step was to hoop one layer of Thermore batting and stitch, using very fine 100 weight thread, as many “pillows” as would fit in the hoop. Cut around each pillow.

Hooping lightweight cotton lawn or silk organza was difficult.  The fabric was so thin that even tightening the hoop to the max wasn’t working. I decided to hoop heavy cotton twill, cut a window, and pin the lightweight backing to the twill. Problem solved. Just be sure and place the pins well away from the stitching area. Stitch the tack down outline, shown in the right pic. I’ve colored it to show better but use the white 100 weight thread on the lining sections.

  

Spray the pillow lightly with basting spray and place on the stitched line. Top with a lining section, placing the design according to your paper template. A test sample is shown here. Pin again (keep the pins out of stitching area!!!) Change to regular weight thread (I like Gutterman 50 weight cotton) and stitch out the trapunto design.

  

Remove all the pins and trim the excess backing fabric. I quilted each lining and jacket section in the usual way except I chose not to stitch through the designs.

The almost finished jacket and matching sheath dress. The dress is not quilted but is lined to the edge with the same Chanel pink silk charmeuse.

 

The dress neck, armholes and hem are finished with the selvedges from this length of Linton tweed. 

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Thank you all for the many comments and compliments about this jacket.  The finishing details are what sets French jackets apart and make this jacket unique.  In addition to the custom trim, French jackets feature hand worked buttonholes, sleeves are set by hand, countless tiny stitches secure the lining and a metal chain inside the jacket allow it to drape perfectly when worn.

I think the sleeves are actually easier to set by hand and would be almost impossible to do by machine due to the unique construction methods. Although it would be easier to sew the armseye seam through all layers, I find joining only the outer fabrics together before hand basting the lining in place gives a softer, more fluid feel.

Here’s an inside view of the armseye seam.  Probably one if the messiest times in jacket construction. Yes, I used Pro Sheer Elegance Couture interfacing which was fused the jacket sections. It’s extremely lightweight, flexible and doesn’t change the drape of the tweed.  Linton actually recommends doing this with their more loosely woven fabrics.  I’ve serged the edges of the tweed with a wide stitch but finished the seams of the lining with a narrow two thread stitch using fine thread. I like Gutermann Skala 360-U81, Invisafil by Wonderfil Threads, or 80 weight Maderia or Aurifil cotton.  I use two strands of regular sewing thread, waxed and pressed, to set the sleeve.  I sew the top part from the right side using tiny fell stitches and the underarm portion from the inside with a backstitch.

 

Notice at the point where the shoulder seam meets the sleeve seam, the seam allowances haven’t been caught but are allowed to float free.  This allows the seam to press more smoothly and feels less rigid.  I’ve not included the sleeve lining; I feel I get a better result by joining only two layers of fabric at one time.

I create a sleeve head from cotton batting. Cut about 2.5 inches wide and 7 inches long. Fold along a long side about 1.5 inches from the edge, pull along the folded edge while steam pressing to curve.  The folded edge is sewn along the armseye seam at the sleeve cap to provide additional shape and support.

 

Baste the sleeve lining just inside the armseye seam and trim away the excess fabric. I’ve struggled with getting the lining over the sleeve cap evenly if the jacket is lying flat. I’ve found it much easier to turn the jacket inside out and place on my dress form with a sleeve form attached. Now the jacket and sleeve are supported and it’s easier to manipulate the lining into position.

  

Pin along the seam and sew a line of tiny running stitches. Pull the gathering thread up to fit and tie a tailors knot at each end. Trim off the excess and the fabric will fold under easily along the gathering line. I set the sleeve cap first, baste, then remove the jacket from the form.  The lining at the underarm is brought up and around the seam allowances.

I had originally planned for front buttons, but decided I liked the look of trim without buttons, and considered a front zipper.  Botani Trimming in NYC makes custom zippers and does mail order. You select the zipper tooth size, length, color and pull. The zipper arrives in a few days and they even had chain for the hem.  Finding the right zipper in a local shop would have been impossible.  Just as an interesting side note, Botani sells Lampo zippers. They are made in Italy and the same brand that Chanel uses!

 

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As promised in my last post, I’ve been experimenting with more custom trims.  The fabric was ordered from Linton Tweeds last summer.  Finding suitable trim in the right colors and weight proved impossible, so the perfect solution was custom trim. Here’s a preview early in the construction process.

I cut the jacket sections following the straight grain and then shape to match the contours of the pattern.  The process is detailed in my last post.  I’ve found I prefer that look to an off-grain line along the front princess seam.

 

If you look closely, you’ll also notice that I cut one inch seam allowances and serged the edges.  Although some couture sources shudder at the use of a serger, this fabric was so loosely woven that it practically fell apart just touching it.  I certainly wouldn’t sew seams with a serger, but it did provide a nice stable and clean finish.  I also serged the lining seams (using a two thread stitch and extremely fine thread).  Every Chanel jacket I’ve been inside of uses these seam finishes.

While the loose weave was maddening to sew, it made the unweaving process much easier.  I ordered an extra 1/2 yard of fabric which provided plenty of yarns to work with.  In addition to fabrics, Linton also has a wonderful selection of yarns. They are inexpensive and I always look to see if there is something suitable for coordinating a trim.

 

The unweaving process is messy! Work over a waste bin and keep the vacuum handy.  I unwove for an inch or so, then trimmed the warp yarns and wound the weft yarns (keeping each type separate) on a card.

There is no set formula for the braided trim so some experimentation is necessary. I set up several test strands and make a few samples until I was happy with the combination.

The first tries produced a braid that was too stiff and thick but I kept revising the weaving technique and number of strands.  I settled on a ten strand flat braid using this combination of teal and silver yarns.  My goal was to produce a braid that matched the fabric yet had enough of the silver to contrast.  I’ve explained the braiding process more fully in my Create Custom Trim for your French Jacket.  The weighted bobbins and counterweight are essential in maintaining even tension and keeping the braid soft and flexible. I used 10 strands, 6 yards of each combination, to produce a generous 4 yards of completed trim.

 

The jacket closes with a custom zip and I’ve refined my techniques for hand-worked buttonholes, which I’ll show next time (coming soon, I promise!).

Before that, I wanted to show the previous jacket again. It was a birthday present for my dear mother-in-law who wore it to her recent 71st Anniversary Party.

 

How many couples are fortunate enough to have 71 years together?  They met shortly after WWII when my husband’s father returned from his service overseas as a B-24 pilot (not too many of those pilots are around either).  They enjoyed a wonderful family party including their four children, spouses, 6 grandsons and 7 great-grandchildren.

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This is an experiment in the art of trompe l’oeil as the French call it, or to deceive the eye.  I’ll explore how to alter the grain of fabric to create the illusion of a less bumpy and curvy shape.  I’ll also use my custom shoulder pads as explained in my last post and in my article for Threads Magazine to transform asymmetrical shoulders into an evenly shaped figure.

I’ve chosen a loosely woven patterned fabric and will create a Chanel style jacket for this figure.  The dress form has been marked with the standard balance lines. Notice the back view which clearly shows the right shoulder much more sloped than the left.  A note to those readers who have seen my posts about various types of dress forms. This is an adjustable foam style with dials. Not my favorite but after padding to match the figure it works fine. A professional model is nice but you can make anything work!

The style lines are added in purple tape. I’ve chosen to bring the princess line closer to the neck edge which creates a more vertical line makes it easier to shape the fabric in the next step.

In order to even out the shoulders I constructed shoulder pads using my pattern from the Threads Magazine article. I added additional layers to the right shoulder pad to make the shoulder height the same on both sides. Rather than try and alter a pattern, it was easier to drape the jacket directly on the form. Note that I carefully marked right and left sides. Although the garment sections look symmetrical on the form they are vastly different when laid flat.
  

The red stitches show final alterations to the shoulders. Height is added to accommodate the shoulder pads and I widened the shoulder line to balance the torso for a more flattering shape.

Rather than cut the side front and side back garment garment sections according to the pattern, I wanted to shape the fabric to follow the seam lines and minimize an off-grain cut at the shoulder line. For the side front I started with a rectangle of fabric. I pinned the toile to the fabric and rotated the fabric so that the straight grain lined up with the princess seam. As you can see, this caused excess fabric to bunch up along the front armhole.

Working slowly with a steam iron, start easing the fabric towards the armhole. The fibers will compress and you will be able to ease out much of the excess fabric.

Work carefully as you don’t want to press permanent creases into the fabric. Depending on how pliable your fabric is, you may be able to ease all of the extra out. If not just readjust the seam line to be slightly off grain but you should be able to work the seamline almost on the straight grain. Fabric choice is crucial here. Most loosly woven boucles will ease nicely. My fabric was a little tighter weave than most wool boucles and I was able to ease almost all of the excess fabric out. Trim the excess fabric at the armhole.

 

The fabric is now nicely shaped but very unstable and will want to return to its original shape. I cut a stay from lightweight cotton and basted it to the fabric. I’ve added two rows of machine stay stitching and eased the armhole to correspond to the toile. Stay tape keeps the shoulder seam from stretching out of shape. This fabric wanted to ravel badly. Although many couture sources frown on using a serger I use it to overlock the seams and prevent fraying. I use a very lightweight Guttermann thread (not regular sewing thread) so as not to add bulk to the seam. The lining is cut according to the pattern (not shaped as the boucle), basted and quilted as usual following the weave of the fabric. Your quilting lines will curve and a walking foot as well as diagonal basting will keep everything lined up without puckering.

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