How To: Y Back Racer Tank Top

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I've developed a technique I like to use for the binding that I think you'll enjoy.  I'm not laying claim that it's the proper or "right" way it should be done I'm just saying that it's the way I've discovered I like to do it.  I've been using the coverstitch machine however you can get by just fine utilizing a standard zigzag machine as well.
The step by step instructions are on this hour long video:

a revolutionary cut above....

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EC Cutter $100
I'd like to introduce you to a very special tool.  This isn't "just" a new sewing tool or notion, it's actually my new best friend.  We spend lots of time together and I don't think they've ever let me down.  I know, there are a lot of notions you've bought that never get used, I've done the same.  This is totally different.  Soon you'll be reaching for these for almost any cutting task including trimming threads...    Lazy right?  You'll see...
Totally worthless junk

These are the new breed of electric scissors.  I say new because I had electric scissors when I was a kid, and they had a cord and were totally stupid.
Black and Decker $20
I had no idea what the point was because they wouldn't cut much besides paper.  Today you have better options and the versions from Black & Decker and EC Cutter are the best.
At work the rotary cutting was starting to really hurt my wrist.  When I don't have an assistant I often cut projects for 60+ kids a week and it was literally wearing me out.  These electric scissors were exactly what I needed to fill the space between home style rotary cutters and industrial fabric saws.  As I explain in the video the B&Ds are much better suited for occasional use as I wore out the blades at work in a matter of weeks.  The EC has a carbide insert that allows the blade to keep it's edge what seems like forever and they still cut like they day they were new.  I go over the specifics of each in the video and I encourage you to watch and find out which tool will suite your needs.  I will say that I still only have the B&Ds at home and they're totally sufficient for most of my home cutting needs.  However when I want to cut 8 silk knit t-shirts out at one time I'll bring home the EC heavy hitters...

Cutting fabric (or anything for that matter) with electric scissors is like passing a hot knife through butter.  I personally guarantee you will wonder how you lived without cordless electric scissors in your sewing room.  The trick is to practice with them as they're so "sharp" that any wrist wiggle or extra movement is instantly transferred to your cut line.  That being said they're perfectly safe for use around kids as it's next to impossible to get your finger into the actual cutting area where the blades come together.  When you're the one using them they're so much fun you might be completely oblivious to the buzzing noise but it can be a little irritating to others in the vicinity.  Learn to cut without resting the bottom blade on the table and they're quite a bit quieter.

There are two related videos, the first is more or less a review of both tools.  The second video is one I shot a few weeks ago as I was cutting out my last most recent pair of jeans.  The audio was screwy on that so I dumped the original audio and give a pretty verbose voice over.  Lucky you!



And the cutting video:



why not Y back......

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I've been in desperate need of some new tank tops for a few years now.  If I was a girl all I'd have to do is ride down to my local Target and I'm sure I could pick up a few cute items super cheap.  Truth be told two of the last tanks in my closet were picked up in the juniors department of the Nordstrom Rack back in Sacramento, yeah, like I said it's time.  For guys  the options (cute ones anyway) are few are far between.  Usually I end up settling for the big pack of "wife beaters" we all love to hate.  Yeah they serve a purpose but really they're meant to be underwear...  They have other brands by 2xist and such but they're all a little too.... well, anyway.  Plus there's nothing unique about them and they're still not on the cheap by any means.

So I thought (ding ding)  Ebay!  Well the search turned up some very awesome looks from a company called SqueezeDog that seems to retail exclusively on ebay.  If you like those and don't mind even more steam in your milk take a look at their other selections.  I'm honestly not one for the fancy man panties but like my friend says, there's a chair for every seat (well he says ass).

Moving on....

The looks that intrigued me most were the Y back tanks.  I've always liked certain versions of this look and it's not that common in men's clothing outside the gym.  A quick google image search turns up lots of this type but you know that's just not what I'm out for!  However SqueezeDog puts out some very cute versions, the only downside is that they run in the $40s with international shipping.  What to do.....   what....  to.....  do?


 Well obviously I'm going to attempt to make my own!  I'll admit right now the part that scared me most was all the binding, jeez it looks like a lot of work right?  Actually it turned out to be pretty simple once I figured out a technique that worked for me. 
 I even pulled out the banished coverstitch!  This coverstitch machine I've discovered is actually a fine unit but requires a knowledge of tensions and sewing I simply have not possessed until just recently.  It was purchased off ebay a few years back and super cheap (for good reason).

It has no markings whatsoever for tension and one must do a LOT of trial and error to get everything just so.  God help me if I ever find anyone diddling with the knobs....

The other issue is the ridiculously minuscule clearance under the foot, what the hell is this all about?  We're talking a few layers of knits and that's it folks....   Maybe that's all that's necessary.....   so far it's always been just enough to squeak by.













The machine does a fine job where it counts and if it's skipping stitches it's always my fault somehow.  You can see here that I'm getting pretty good at catching the raw edge on the underside and keeping my stitching straight even on the top of the bindings.  I think I'll do a little video on how I achieve this later today.




Anyway, I drafted the pattern using Wild Ginger (as always these days) which admittedly has become extremely addictive.  Often I'll dream about pattern modifications and first thing out of bed in the morning I'm in the software moving lines and trying out new ideas.

Here's what I came up with for the tank top using the top photos for inspiration.  I started with my T-shirt pattern but modified it so heavily at this point nothing really remains except for possibly parts of the center back and front seam.


It took 9 tries to get it exactly the way I wanted it, considering they only take 45 minutes or so to sew up that's not so bad.  In the video it's hard to see the changes between each version mostly because I got it so close to being right on the first try.  Trust me, each of the nine is totally different and now that I have my final draft the other eight are seeming less and less wearable.

Here's video where you can see me try on and talk (possibly ramble) about each version and what I learned when making them.  I finally figured out how to get full quality out of my webcam, the downside is a HUGE file that's taking a few hours to upload.  By the way, this is my 80th! public video on YouTube, now I can't say they're all great but wow, that's a lot!

(part two of this posting is here) 

a better pocket bag....

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As I've been tweaking my jeans pattern (which is almost done btw) I've also been working on other seemingly unimportant jeans details.  One of those is the front pocket bag.  Really?  Yeah, really!  My first attempts quite some time ago were to simply make the bag smaller/larger/deeper/etc but not change the actual shape.  With those experiments I learned that nothing is more irritating than too deep a pocket because having to reach your entire arm down your pant leg to fish out some change or keys is ridiculous....  Too shallow a pocket means you can't put more than your fingers in and feels a bit like lady like.  I also hate having my finger tips jammed against the bottom of the bag.

I finally got really thinking about pocket bag design when I read David Page Coffin's pants book a while back which I do highly recommend.  He makes note of how some pants have poorly designed pocket bags in that when you sit down everything falls out of your pockets (for me that's usually in the car).

I had never thought about it before.....

Coffin comes up with a solution for slacks that I ended up expanding on and applying to jeans.

Ready for it?

Amazing isn't it!  No really, it is amazing....   to me this has turned out to be revolutionary.  Let me show you why.  The photo on the left is the actual pocket bag, on the right is the outline of it from the outside of the jeans.  These jeans have a 3/4 seam allowance which is not yet sewn there in the right side of the photos.


So far I have two requirements:

  • The bag must not be too deep nor shallow.  When the hand is inserted to the wrist point no part of the side or bottom seam shall touch the fingers.
  • Change must not fall from pockets when sitting.
Some additional notes:  I don't like to carry things in my pants pockets.  Because I wear fitted jeans any additional items in pockets change the fit and often press against my legs uncomfortably.  One exception to this is change and that I will put in my front pockets however.....    I do not like that when I have change in my pockets I tend to fiddle with it, fingers/change/lint, it's all right there in the same spot with most pockets. Money is rather filthy and I have a habit of chewing my fingernails (as evidence in the photos above).  You get the point.

The above design accomplishes everything in the most elegant way.  Items are funneled down to the bottom corner near the side seam and fall to the side of the leg instead of right in front.  When sitting items have no way of falling out since they would have to go up over the hump to get free.  They instead want to fall back away from the top of the thigh towards the rear.  When the hand is in the pocket items like change are out of the way since the hand goes forward and items go back.  Items are easily accessed by simply rotating hand back.  It's not comfortable to hang out with your hands rotated back so the fiddling with change issue is reduced or eliminated.

I'd like to say this was a very scientific process but like most things it was a lot of trial and error.  Here's to a better bag!





shed some (inexpensive) light...

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Oh yes, the "new" fabric cutter has produced a LOT of interest!  Well I still need to do the video and gather resources but I promise it's worth the wait.  Until then I was just at IKEA and found some amazing lights that I think you're going to love.


I'm a big proponent of good lighting while sewing and let's face it, as our eyes age they need more light, I've certainly noticed..  If possible I insist my machines are always set up in front of the windows for as much light as possible.  If you've been online in the sewing world I'm sure you're aware of the options for add on LED sewing lights.


I'm sure these are all great products however since I'm always looking for a deal (half Scottish remember) and versatility I'm not into these "expensive" (to me) stick on lights.  I use multiple machines and want to be able to easily move my lighting source around quickly and easily.  Sometimes I also want to use my lights for other applications like macro photography and even (gasp) reading....  This new light I found is just the ticket and at a ridiculously new inexpensive price of $9.99 at IKEA (used to be 39.99!) coming in a variety of colors (including pink) I don't think you can go wrong.  Please take notice how long the flexible goose neck is, no need to get in the way of your work or hands.  Place the light exactly where it's needed and keep the base well out of the way.  The LED is extremely bright!

The advantages of LED lighting is that it's cool, no hand burning if you bump it, it's low wattage, and it's durable.  I used to use halogen spot lights and let me tell you they will not survive being knocked over plus they're hot and use lots of watts!  This awesome little lamp will provide a lifetime of light for very little money.  Get one, you won't be disappointed!


As a side note, they have a wall mounted version for $29 which doesn't make any sense to me, the higher price that is.  I could easily see having a few of the wall mount versions over the ironing table but not at that price.  I use the KVART double at right over my ironing table which is also $9.99 and uses compact florescent instead of LED, it's also a great buy and may work better for ironing with it's less focused yet bright light.






 Gosh my work space is always a bit messy isn't it?  I don't even want to show you the ironing table....  Talk about a catch all!  Will get to work on that cutting tool video ASAP!





built for buttonholes.....

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The Kenmore 1410 sewing machine was literally built for making buttonholes.


It's an all metal machine with a metal cam stack.  Having used Kenmore machine built a few years earlier and a few years after this line I'm willing to say these could be the best (vintage) machine to carry the Kenmore brand.
A healthy 1.2 amp  motor and cogged belt make this machine sew with a purpose that easily feels like it could handle most anything you might throw at it.  Standard and reliable class 15 bobbin means you'll have to ability to pick up replacements cheap and easily just about anywhere.  It does all the stitches you need and none of the fluff you may never use.  Instead of cast iron and extremely heavy this machine is made from aluminum and only regular heavy.  I can lift it with one hand and not feel like my arm is being pulled from it's socket.


Someone left a comment on a post I did a while back on buttonholer attachments mentioning that she had a machine that activated the attachment from under the bed instead of using the needle bar like most attachments do.  The problem with the needle bar activating the buttonholer mechanism is that the thickness of the fabric plays a roll in how far the needle bar will move the attachment.  Doing buttonholes in the unevenly thick waistband of a pair of jeans causes all sorts of problems.  I can't even tell you how many waistband buttonholes I've mangled.  Anyway...  her comment jogged my memory and I remembered that we happen to have not one but two of these machines at the school in the closet sitting unused after we switched to computerized machines.  Great!  I'll grab one of those and see how it works!  


You can see the lever on the right side of this photo, this moves back and forth activating the underside of the special bobbin cover plate.  On top of that plate is a gear that turns inside the buttonhole template.  The machine is capable of five sizes of the standard buttonhole.  Simply turn the dial to select which size you're looking for.  The beauty of this setup is that the mechanism works the same no matter the thickness of fabric.  No slipping or binding, just absolutely reliable movement.  The disadvantages are the limited buttonhole styles (no keyhole or eyelets), no ability to make the hole wider in the middle, and no control over stitch length.  The only thing you can control the width of the sides using the machines zigzag control and that's it.












Here's a very short demo of the attachment at work:


I also did a longer more in depth video showing a regular zigzag type attachment with a demo of this attachment after.  It's hard to tell the difference between attachments by comparing the finished stitches.  I don't mind keeping a machine just to do buttonholes.  The Pfaff 2030 does a pretty nice job on two layers of denim such as you'd find in the button fly opening but it creates a total mess of the waistband.  Often times I'll end up just doing them manually with a zigzag stitch.  Yeah, I have other machines I can pull out of storage to do buttonholes with the attachments but it comes down to being too lazy to set them up.

Speaking of having additional machines set up for specific tasks I ran across some videos of a guy who's pretty serious about making jeans.  His brand is Roy Denim and from what I understand he's only been doing it for a short time.  What's remarkable to me about these videos is how many specialized machines he puts into use to make one pair of jeans.  It makes it clear why sewing a pair of authentic jeans at home even with three or four "regular" machines to use still takes upwards of 8 hours.  I'm not sure if he mentions how long the process from start to finish takes him.  It seems really quick.

Roy's Jeans - Video by Self Edge from Self Edge on Vimeo.


Roy jeans sell for $275 but seem to be all sold out (except for really small sizes).  I wonder if the reality of running one's own sweat shop has lost a bit of it's magic.  The truth is that you just can't compete with overseas labor and when you do find success it could very well turn out to be your own private hell.  Do you really want to be sewing 6 pairs of jeans a day?  Granted 6 @ $137 (assuming he's selling wholesale to the retailer) is $825.  Times five days a week is $4125 for a monthly take of $16,500.  Even sewing half that at three pairs a day is pretty darn good business.  If he sold direct he could pocket the same with half the sales.  I suppose my point is that he's able to be productive because of all his specialized equipment.  Notice also that none of which is new.  Industrial equipment will last for a very long time and there are amazing deals to be had on the used market.  If you like the idea of a better way to cut out your fabric stay tuned, I've got a great  tool I'll be introducing soon.  I hardly ever pick up my rotary cutter these days and I don't miss it one bit!

Anyway, here's the longer Kenmore 1410 video bringing me one step closer to my own private sweat shop...


a pressing matter.....

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I have a habit of checking craigslist a few times a day.  Mostly between classes, morning and evening.  Soothing somehow I suppose I use it as a quick break from my day.  I do multiple searches: sewing, pfaff, bernina, necchi, elna, and serger.  Every so often I might throw in embroidery but usually not.  Craigslist will automatically expand your search area if there are only a few results and I've picked up some good stuff from outside my regular search area.
In my search for Elna I came across a listing for an elnapress for only $25!  I've wanted one of these since Nancy2001 in Alabama got one.  She used it for fusing interfacing and I was always very impressed and envious knowing I could find tons of uses for an ironing press as well.  I'm especially looking forward to using it to press flat fell seams in jeans.  In my quick tests I have discovered that it sounds a very alarming buzzer and automatically shuts off if you leave it closed for too long.  I have yet to discover if this is based on temperature or just a simple timing circuit.  I also appreciate that it's vintage enough to simply have synthetics listed as Nylon.  I'll report more as I learn it's limitations and abilities.  If anyone has any great used for a clamshell press like this please do email me or leave a comment!

Another purchase (from over six months ago) I've been very tight lipped about publicly is my Pfaff 2030.  I feel a little embarrassed about this purchase although I know that's ridiculous.  I've been a vintage machine advocate since the beginning and to suddenly switch to computerized machines, well, I just don't want anyone to feel let down.  Anyway, when I saw the Pfaff 2030 I knew immediately I had to own it.  It's so masculine and cold looking, strictly functional and beautiful, for plastic that is.  Other Pfaff models like the 2027 use some lady like colors that I find very unpleasing.

The machine is from 2002 and still made in Germany.  The seller had used it a bit but not much and ended up getting a Janome shortly after she said she liked better.  I paid $375 which was a good price although 4 times more than any other machine I've ever owned.  It has IDT or duel feed which is nice to have but still no substitute for proper seaming techniques and often I find it gets in the way and I have to deactivate it.
The machine uses the same M class bobbin my industrial Pfaff 138 uses which is very handy.  I have a few issues with the machine:  I wish it sewed faster, buttonholes are problematic on thick fabric, and it doesn't remember your stitch settings when switching from one stitch back to another.  As a side note the cheap ($110) computerized Brother machines we use at the school have a more sophisticated computer than this Pfaff.  The Pfaff will most certainly outlive the Brother machines but it's interesting to see how technology has become so much cheaper than just 10 years ago.  It's using the computerized machines at the school that changed my opinion.  Vintage machines are really awesome and strong, but there is something to be said for easily changing from stitch to stitch with ease.  Having the needle stop up or down, multiple needle positions that are easy to duplicate, and the same needle punching power no matter what sewing speed is awesome.  I wouldn't sew jeans on this machine, it's just not cut out for that type of work, but what it does do it does very well.

So there you have it!  I'm now searching for a computerized Bernina and Elna.  I wouldn't mind trying a Babylock serger as well but I highly doubt I'd spend the money those can fetch.  I'm most interested in high end computerized machines that have already depreciated at the first owner's expense.  Any suggestions?




a narrow fall.....

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The other day while cruising for ideas I came across these pants on ETSY...

 Produced by TheHouseofCanney they have a historical flair without wandering too far into the reenactment side of fashion.  What caught my eye is the front "fall" or "fell" depending on what reference you're reading.  I like this detail quite a lot and have seen it years ago in designer jeans although it's difficult to find much reference to it online.  This similar idea is decidedly not what I'm looking for....
I quite appreciate the outside details on this pictured sample.  The front pockets, buttons, and rivets are really nice with the green corduroy.  Something I'm not super fond of is the serged seam finishing....  While I've been using my serger more these days it's mostly for constructing muslins or finishing off seams that will be completely hidden.  I have really grown to detest serged finishes in my clothing...  Of course now that I've said that I'll likely start using the serger for finishing all my seams just to spite myself.
I like how the back pockets are built into what could be a yoke but I'm not sure?  The adjustments on the back waist are a nice detail but I doubt I'd want them on my pants.

So how does one go about making a pair of narrow fall pants?  The ETSY listing was for "drop front" pants which makes more sense to a modern buyer but does not accurately describe this style if one is to search for a pattern.  It wasn't until I found this reference that things finally started moving.  The author mentions using a commercial pattern but doesn't say which one.  However armed with the proper name for this style I was easily able to locate this pattern from Rocking Horse Farm.

My thought was I'd apply the fall to my regular jeans sloper and use the instructions with the pattern to help me with construction.  This way changes would be much easier to apply after making a series of test muslins.

The pattern I came up with uses a much narrower fall than what the pattern calls for.  As a side note, there is also a "Wide Fall" style of pants in which the fall extends all the way to the side seams.  This wider style has certain advantages I'll go into later.  I chose to included a yoke and greatly reduced the height of the waistband.  At this point, seven muslins later, I'm on my final draft and have cut out what could be a wearable pair of pants.  The Rocking Horse Pattern includes no pockets so I'll be figuring out what I'd like to do when I get working on a final draft.

There are a number of things I've learned that I'll give some insight on as soon as I get a wearable garment.


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