Why do we need to include Staystitching and Understitching in garment construction?

A short post this week.  However, I am covering two techniques vital to a high quality finish on garments.  Both these techniques are mentioned in pattern guidesheets but are often overlooked.

Staystitching is used to prevent outer seams (curves) stretching during construction and fitting.  It is a very important technique and should not be omitted from the construction process.

Done on a single layer of fabric, the stitching line should be made with small stitches (1.5-2.0) and lie within the seam allowance and no further than 3mm / 1/8” from the sewing line.  The stitches are positioned close to the seam line for maximum control of the seam.

Staystitching just inside the seam line.

Staystitching just inside the seam line.

They also protect the seam stitching when the seam allowance is clipped to allow it to spread inside the garment when the seam allowances flip to the wrong side.

Tip: Position the fabric to cater for the 15mm / 5/8” seam allowance and move the needle one to two positions to your right so that the stitching sits very close to the seam line but not on the seam line.

Staystitching needs to be done directionally with the grain of the curve or from widest to narrowest in straight areas (for example, shoulder seams):

 

Directional staystitching will preserve the grain

Directional staystitching will preserve the grain

Curved areas:

  • From shoulder to centre front
  • From shoulder to centre back

V necklines:

  • From centre front to shoulder

 

V necks are stitched from bottom of V towards shoulder. This will result in both sides of the V laying flat when the garment is complete.

V necks are stitched from bottom of V towards shoulder. This will result in both sides of the V laying flat when the garment is complete.

  • From centre back to shoulder

Waist edges:

  • From side seam to centre front

 

Waist staystitching - especially useful when applying a yoke.

Waist staystitching – especially useful when applying a yoke.

  • From side seam to centre back

Staystitching is also essential where it will be necessary to clip to a corner point during the construction.  Most pattern guideline sheets indicate staystitching up to the marked point and away from it at 90° followed by an instruction to clip up to the point.  This often results in staystitching remaining visible once the seam is sewn and can cause the clip to expand beyond the point while manipulating the fabric.

As an alternative, I usually staystitch to the point within the seam allowance, using a 30° angle, and leave the clip until it is necessary to move the fabric.  I find this results in a sharp, strong corner.

Staystitching in a narrow V instead of right angle still protects the point as it is cut and will not result in staystitching being visible in finished garment.

Staystitching in a narrow V instead of right angle still protects the point as it is cut and will not result in staystitching being visible in finished garment.

Understitching helps the facings to roll to the inside of the garment, giving a smooth outer edge and helping to keep the facing and/or lining from showing during garment wear.

It should always be used, even if the edge of the garment is to later be topstitched.

Once the facing seam allowance has been notched or clipped, lightly press it towards the facing/lining.   With the garment right side up, stitch through the facing and the seam allowances  at 2-3mm from the seam line and on the inside of the garment.

Understitching applied to the facing will hold the seam allowances in place and allow a soft roll on the outside of the garment and no facing showing.

Understitching applied to the facing will hold the seam allowances in place and allow a soft roll on the outside of the garment and no facing showing.

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Vogue 1303 Kay Unger Dress

I made this lovely Kay Unger dress in some beautiful stretch cotton sateen with a stylised floral print.  I purchased the fabric a few years ago from the Fabric Collection at Mount Ommaney and have been waiting for just the right occasion to use it.  The dress code for Tina’s wedding was “garden party” so, since the print reminds me of Monet’s style of painting flowers, I decided it would be perfect.

Kay Unger dress Vogue 1303

Kay Unger dress
Vogue 1303

Kay Unger dress Vogue 1303

Kay Unger dress
Vogue 1303

Line drawing Vogue 1303

Line drawing Vogue 1303

I have made this pattern before so any fit issues had been addressed.   Even though I am not a svelte shape, I believe a well fitting garment that skims rather than envelopes is quite flattering.  It is certainly a lovely dress to wear, especially lined with a silk and cotton mix which keeps me comfortable in the sticky heat of late summer (the weather did not know it was Autumn!). The fabric was lighter in weight than I had remembered and, since I decided to use couture methods of construction, I decided to add a sew-in interfacing around the neckline and armholes to keep the dress in shape and support the piping. The pleated drape across the front of the dress has been supported with a shaped backing made from firm soft cotton.  The seams of the bodice and skirt have been catch stitched in place so they would not move out of place during wear and laundering over the life of the garment.

Seam allowances stitched to mid section fabric.

Seam allowances stitched to mid section fabric.

I drafted a “facing shape” on the original bodice front and back and traced this off as a pattern for the lightweight Shapewell  sew-in interfacing.  The interfacing was tacked to the seam line around the neck and armholes which were then staystitched and clipped in both the dress and lining.

Sew in interfacing tacked in place to support neckline and armholes.

Sew in interfacing tacked in place to support neckline and armholes.

A strip of lightweight fusible interfacing was applied to the centre back seam to support the weight of the invisible zipper.  IMG_2951Once the zipper was installed, the tapes were attached to the interfacing at the top of the zipper – the stitch used is a catch stitch.

Seam allowance tacked to interfacing and tape folded back and stitched in place.

Seam allowance tacked to interfacing and tape folded back and stitched in place.

I made the piping from cotton cut into bias strips, wrapped around rat tail cord and machine stitched using a narrow piping foot. After pinning the piping around the neckline and armholes, I tacked it in place close to the cord and caught the flange to the seam allowance and interfacing (using a catch stitch).  I then fell stitched the folded edges of the lining just under the piping cord.  The ends of the cord were trimmed so they do not overlap at the underarm seams or centre back seam.

Piping was hand stitched to neckline and armholes and machine stitching removed from piping to give a softer finish.

Piping was hand stitched to neckline and armholes and machine stitching removed from piping to give a softer finish.

Lining fell stitched to neckline, armholes and along zipper tape.

Lining fell stitched to neckline, armholes and along zipper tape.

The silk and cotton lining has been hand stitched (using a fell stitch) to the zipper tape and the seam allowances between the bodice and backing fabric and mid section and skirt have been stitched together to avoid the possibility of the lining riding up.   Lace has been hand stitched in place to finish the lining hem.

Lining mid section hand stitched to garment seam allowance at top of skirt section.

Lining mid section hand stitched to garment seam allowance at top of skirt section.

Seam allowances of lining and garment between bodice and underlay stitched together

Seam allowances of lining and garment between bodice and underlay stitched together

Lightweight fusible interfacing has been applied in the hem allowance before the edge was finished with rayon seam binding (Hug Snug) and stitched by hand.  This keeps the hemline in shape with this lightweight fabric.IMG_3006

Lace added to hem of lining.

Lace added to hem of lining.

I thoroughly enjoyed wearing my “garden party” dress to Tina’s wedding.  It was comfortable all day and evening and I am sure I will wear it a lot more next summer.

Triangular Bound Buttonholes

Bound buttonholes can be made in any shape which will suit the overall garment design elements and button shape.  Because of the shape of the centre front panel of my Marcy Tilton jacket (Vogue pattern and unfortunately now discontinued) which is wide at the hem and narrows towards the collar, I decided that triangular buttonholes would work really well.

Front bands are wider at the hem and narrow towards the neckline.

Front bands are wider at the hem and narrow towards the neckline.

Button sits at the point of the buttonhole.

Button sits at the point of the buttonhole.

There are two methods which can be used and the chosen method will depend on the thickness of the fabric and the desired finish.

Measure the width and depth of the button and add 1/8” / 3mm when determining the length of the buttonhole opening.

Wrap thin ribbon around the button and mark the width.

Wrap thin ribbon around the button and mark the width.

Lay the ribbon flat and measure from the fold to the mark. Add 3mm/ 1/8" and this will be the required opening.

Lay the ribbon flat and measure from the fold to the mark. Add 3mm/ 1/8″ and this will be the required opening.

Interface the fabric under the buttonholes as well as the facing.  Make positioning marks on the wrong side of the garment and thread trace through to the right side of the garment.

Mark the triangular opening on the wrong side of the garment.

Mark the triangular opening on the wrong side of the garment.

Position the buttonhole either vertically or horizontally. Vertical buttonholes are centred on centre front line. Horizontal buttons are positioned as above.

Position the buttonhole either vertically or horizontally.
Vertical buttonholes are centred on centre front line.
Horizontal buttons are positioned as above.

  • The wrapped method gives the appearance of the buttonhole lips raised above the surface of the garment:
    • Cut a piece of fabric for the buttonhole lips approximately twice the width of the finished buttonhole plus at least 1” /25mm and the length of the finished buttonhole plus 2” /5cm. Mark the centre lengthwise as well as the position of either end of the buttonhole.
    • Position fabric with right side of buttonhole fabric to right side of garment.

      Position fabric with right side of buttonhole fabric to right side of garment.

      Position the patch against the right side of the fabric, aligning the centre line over the buttonhole placement line.

    • Starting on one long side, stitch around the buttonhole shape (SL 2.0). Do not backstitch but overlap the stitches for approximately ¼” / 6mm.
      Overlap the stitching to finish.

      Overlap the stitching to finish.

      Using small stitch length, start along one long side and stitch around the triangular shape.

      Using small stitch length, start along one long side and stitch around the triangular shape.

    • Using sharp scissors, make an small clip along the centre line and cut right into the point of the triangle. Then cut right into the corners at the base of the buttonhole.
Slash buttonhole fabric to point and on the same angles as the sides of the buttonhole.

Slash buttonhole fabric to point and on the same angles as the sides of the buttonhole.

Cut on angle of long sides and to point

Cut on angle of long sides and to point

  • On the outside of the triangle, carefully clip the fabric to the pointed end of the buttonhole.
  • Carefully turn the fabric to the wrong side being sure that the fold lies along the centre.
Turn buttonhole fabric to wrong side along base.

Turn buttonhole fabric to wrong side along base.

Turn one side.

Turn one side.

Turn second side.

Turn second side.

Pin in place and press.

Fold buttonhole fabric so that it meets in centre of the hole.

Fold buttonhole fabric so that it meets in centre of the hole.

Fold back the triangle at the base of the buttonhole and, following the previous stitching line, stitch through all layers to hold the buttonhole lips in place.

Press finished buttonhole from both sides.

Press finished buttonhole from both sides.

Fold back the base and machine stitch just inside the original stitching.

Fold back the base and machine stitch just inside the original stitching.

Faced method results in the buttonhole lips appearing to be recessed:

  • Cut a piece of silk organza approximately 3” x 2” / 8cm x 5cm and mark the centre lengthwise and across at either end of the opening. Position the patch against the right side of the fabric, aligning the centre line over the buttonhole placement line.
  • Place silk organza against right side of the facing and stitch around chosen opening.

    Place silk organza against right side of the facing and stitch around chosen opening.

    Starting on one long side, stitch around the buttonhole shape (SL 2.0). Do not backstitch but overlap the stitches for approximately ¼” / 6mm.

Tip:  If your fabric is inclined to fray or move, stitch around the shape twice.

  • Using sharp scissors, make an small clip along the centre line and cut right into the point of the triangle. Then cut right into the corners at the base of the buttonhole.
  • Carefully turn the organza to the wrong side and press in place.
  • Cut a 2 pieces of fabric for the buttonhole welts – 2” wider and longer than your opening. Place these pieces right sides together and mark the centre lengthwise.  Using a long machine stitch, join these two pieces along the centre line.
    To make lips for faced method, stitch fabric strips right sides together with long straight stitch.

    To make lips for faced method, stitch fabric strips right sides together with long straight stitch.

    Fold each side away from the centre and press in place.

    Fold fabric with right sides out and press.

    Fold fabric with right sides out and press.

    Position lips with join in centre of hole. Stitch across base.

    Position lips with join in centre of hole. Stitch across base.

    Position the buttonhole welts under the faced hole with the centre line running from the point to the centre of the base. Fold back the garment and stitch across the base.

Tip: Pinning the garment piece to the ironing board before slipping the buttonhole welts in place will make this easier

  • Fold back the garment along one long side of the triangular opening and stitch through the garment and into the welt. Repeat on the other side.
    Fold garment back and stitch just inside former stitching lines.

    Fold garment back and stitch just inside former stitching lines.

    Remove tacking stitches and trim the shape.

    Remove tacking stitches and trim the shape.

The faced method can then be used with either technique to finish the buttonhole openings in the facing of the garment.  The underside of the buttonhole can replicate the triangular shape or take the form of a rectangle over the opening.

Turn organza to wrong side of facing and press.

Turn organza to wrong side of facing and press.

Turn organza to wrong side of facing and press.

Turn organza to wrong side of facing and press.

IMG_3037

Both of these styles use the same construction method:

  • Apply the facing to the garment, trim, grade and understitch as needed
  • Press the facing in place
  • From the right side of the garment, place a pin through the corners of the buttonhole and into the facing
  • Place the organza patch over the pins and mark the stitching lines round all sides of the buttonhole
  • Stitch in place, clip and turn as detailed above – press in place and then handstitch to the wrong side of the buttonhole.
    Position faced hole in facing over the underside of the buttonhole and handstitch in place.

    Position faced hole in facing over the underside of the buttonhole and handstitch in place.

    IMG_3041

Triangular buttonholes are great fun and I hope you will give them a try.

And So To The Hem

Portions of this article were first seen in Dressmaking with Australian Stitches magazine – Volume 21 No 11.
Permission has been sought and granted for electronic use and the photos and text remain the property of Alison Wheeler – Sewing Lady.

When asked about how a garment is coming along, how many times have we said, “It all finished except for the hem!”  This is probably because the hem is usually noted in the guide sheet as the last piece of the construction puzzle and we are nearly there!  How often would we even think about how the garment is to be hemmed until we reach this step?

And yet, a poorly finished hem can mar an otherwise well constructed garment.

Things to consider: 

  • the design of the garment – is the hem a main feature or should it blend into the background?
  • the weight, drape and transparency of the fabric – which method is appropriate to achieve the look you want?
  • the fullness of the hem – is it straight or curved?
  • the number of colours in a print and which is the most dominant – which thread colour which will be the least noticeable? Will the show through of a print spoil the look of the finished hem?

Some basics: 

  • a hem should not be too wide or heavy for the garment and should not pull the fabric tight or make puckers
  • a hem should not be too narrow to provide support to the lower edge of the garment
  • unless it is meant to be a feature, the hem should just blend into the overall garment
  • as a general rule, the more curved the hem (for example in a circle skirt) the narrower it will be
  • using a press cloth, press the folded edge before stitching the hem in place and iron over the whole hem when completed.

Tip: Silk organza makes a wonderful see through press cloth.

Suggested Hem Widths:

Commercial patterns display the hem allowance included in the garment close to the hem finish on each appropriate pattern piece.  These are a guide only and can be increased or decreased depending on the fabric being used and the desired hem finish.

As a guide, the hem allowances I most often use are:

Dresses, skirts, pants, jackets               2 inches/5cm

Blouses and shirts                                   5/8” /15mm

Skirts with curved hemline                   5/8” /15mm

Jeans                                                         1/1/2″ /4cm

So, having thought about what you want to achieve, what are the options?  Will you stitch by hand or machine?

Machine Stitching Options:

Most sewing machines provide at least one blind hem stitch  which, when used with the appropriate presser foot, do quite a good job.

A selection of blind hem feet

A selection of blind hem feet

A selection of blind hem feet

A selection of blind hem feet

A selection of blind hem feet

However, any machine stitching will add a degree of stiffness to the fabric.  Machines with automatic tension adjustment will lower the tension for the blind hem stitches.  A machine blind hem is best suited to garments which are made of a more robust fabric will take more wear, for example children’s clothes and trouser hems.

Hems on these garments can also be stitched with a straight stitch along the top of the hem allowance. Again, loosening the tension slightly may be needed so the stitching will not pucker.  Stitching which shows on the right side of the garment needs to be stitched on that side. 

An interesting effect can also be achieved using multiple rows of straight stitch.  This technique is called channel stitching.

Channel stitching

Channel stitching

This method adds quite a lot of stiffness to the fabric and should only be used on stable fabrics such as linen, medium weight cotton or silk. 

Care needs to be taken when machine stitching a garment made with a stretch woven fabric (that is a fabric which contains 3-5% Spandex, Elastene, etc).  The hem is usually stitched along the crosswise grain which is the direction of greatest stretch in the fabric.  Unless the fabric has very good recovery, this can cause problems.  My advice when hemming these fabrics is to add a lightweight fusible interfacing with the most stable grain against the wrong side of the hem and/or to stitch the hem by hand.

When hemming a curved edge, a narrower depth of hem is preferable.  Simplyover lock the raw edge and using a long straight stitch with loosened tension (SL 3.5, Tension 2-3) stitch a guideline 5/8” /15mm from the finished edge (Photo 3).  Press up the hem with this guideline just inside the fold.  Stitch permanently from the right side of the garment at about 12mm from the folded edge.  Press the finished hem and remove the guideline stitching.

Narrow curved hem which has been machine stitched

Narrow curved hem which has been machine stitched

Hand Stitching Options:

To achieve a quality hem finish:

  • Hem edge finishes - Hong Kong finish, over locking, stitched and pinked - to neaten the cut edge and prevent fraying

    Hem edge finishes – Hong Kong finish, over locking, stitched and pinked – to neaten the cut edge and prevent fraying

    use an appropriate method to finish the raw edge (for example – stitch and pink, Hong Kong finish, overlock)

  • use a good quality thread with a single strand u and pull the thread out)
  • Run thread through wax and place between two sheets of paper towel; apply heat with iron and pull the thread through

    Run thread through wax and place between two sheets of paper towel; apply heat with iron and pull the thread through

    another option to help prevent the thread fraying and tangling is Thread Heaven – Thread Conditioner and Protectant.

IMG_3000

  • use the finest needle that will do the job and take just one thread from the fabric which can be seen when the garment is worn
  • keep some play in the stitches (do not pull them tight)
    Hem edge finishes - Hong Kong finish, over locking, stitched and pinked - to neaten the cut edge and prevent fraying

    Hem edge finishes – Hong Kong finish, over locking, stitched and pinked – to neaten the cut edge and prevent fraying

    Hem stitches between hem and garment and positioned just at the lower edge of overlocking.

    Hem stitches between hem and garment and positioned just at the lower edge of overlocking.

  • using whichever hand stitch you prefer (catch stitch/herringbone, slip stitch), place stitches on the underside of the hem, between the hem and the garment
  • if your fabric has definite blocks of solid colour, for example black and white, consider stitching the individual sections in their own matching colour.  

Narrow Hem Techniques:

When hemming fine fabrics, especially with a full skirt or sleeve, the narrow hemmer foot

Rolled hem foot

Rolled hem foot

which comes with most sewing machines these days can give a lovely finish.  It does take a little practice to learn to use it effectively but well worth the effort. If your fabric is difficult to handle, either too soft or slippery, lightly spray the fabric with Crisp™ spray starch and, using a press cloth, iron it dry.  If it needs The keys to success when using this foot are:

  • use only on a hem that is not too sharply curved and test on a sample first to perfect the technique
Underside of the rolled hem foot - the width of the hem needs to match the width of the indentation on the underside of the foot.

Underside of the rolled hem foot – the width of the hem needs to match the width of the indentation on the underside of the foot.

  • be sure the finished hem width matches the indent on the underside of the foot. These feet come in various sizes and the most common one provided with machines is 3mm
  • Pin the first couple of inches/centremetres in place and press the start of the hem.

    Pin the first couple of inches/centremetres in place and press the start of the hem.

    start at an open seam edge and double fold the hem edge to the width which matches the foot; pin in place

  • place the folded hem under the foot and stitch in place before leaving the needle in the fabric
  • Stitch the first section of the hem in place; leaving the needle in the hem, carefully roll the fabric into the curl of the foot - keeping the fabric pulled slightly to the right in the same direction as the marking on the foot.

    Stitch the first section of the hem in place; leaving the needle in the hem, carefully roll the fabric into the curl of the foot – keeping the fabric pulled slightly to the right in the same direction as the marking on the foot.

    fold the unfinished hem edge into the roll of the foot and hold the fabric off to the left, taking the angle of the groove at the front of the foot

  • place the point of a small bamboo skewer where the fold of the fabric will sit and stitch slowly allowing the foot to curl the fabric under to form the rolled hem.

If you do not have a hemmer foot or the hem is very curved the following technique which I learned from an article written by Kenneth D King in the 1994 publication Vogue & Butterick’s Designer Sewing Techniques (I believe this is no longer published but may be available second hand on line or at a Lifeline Bookfest or similar event).

It is most useful on lightweight and sheer fabrics.

Using a small straight stitch (length 2.0-2.5) with slightly lowered tension, stitch alonghem line (usually 5/8” /15mm from cut edge).

Stitch along the hem at 5/8"/15mm from the cut edge.

Stitch along the hem at 5/8″/15mm from the cut edge.

Fold fabric with hem allowance towards wrong side of garment and with stitched line just inside the fold.  Press carefully and stitch second row just inside the fold, on top of the first row.

Press up the hem while favouring the stitched line just to the underside.

Press up the hem while favouring the stitched line just to the underside.

Using small, sharp scissors (preferably with a rounded tip) or duckbill scissors, trim remaining hem allowance fabric back to stitching.ip: Allow the weight of the garment to rest on a flat surface (not your lap) and keep one hand under the fabric while cutting with the other.

Resting fabric across your hand, carefully cut fabric right next to the stitching.

Resting fabric across your hand, carefully cut fabric right next to the stitching.

Working on a small section at a time, roll the stitched edge towards the wrong side of the garment.  A very narrow hem will form.  Stitch this in place from the right side of the garment.

Roll the hem to the underside; pin in place

Roll the hem to the underside; pin in place

The latter technique can result in a very fine finished hem (on right); finer than the smallest hem (on left) which can be achieved using the hemmer foot .

Hem using manual method on the left; hem using rolled hem foot on the right.

Hem using manual method on the left; hem using rolled hem foot on the right.

Hand Rolled Hem:

For occasions when a very lightweight hem is needed, a hand rolled hem gives a beautifully light and fine finish.

Thread the finest needle that works with your fabric and use fine cotton (60/3 weight) or silk thread (#100 weight).  Wax the thread to minimise tangles and do not have your thread too long.p: If you have a long hem distance,

If you have allowed a 3/8” /9mm hem, fold over1/8” /3mm of fabric and take a tiny stitch in the fold.  Take the needle forward 1/8” /3mm from that stitch and take a tiny stitch in your fabric 1/8” / 3mm below the cut edge.  Take another stitch in the fold, directly above the previous stitch.  Slide the needle forward 1/8” /3mm inside the fold.  Continue for approximately 3” /10cm keeping the thread loose.  Gently pull the thread until the hem rolls to the wrong side.  Continue in this way to the end of the hem.

Roll under one third of hem width. Hand stitch in the fold and another third below the cut edge.

Roll under one third of hem width. Hand stitch in the fold and another third below the cut edge.

Carefully pull thread which will cause the hem to roll.

Carefully pull thread which will cause the hem to roll.

Do not press this hem or the roll will be lost.  Simply cover with a press cloth and use an ironing motion to finish.

 Hem Bands:

 This technique is useful in a number of different circumstances:

  • where design detail or contrast at the hem is desired
  • to add weight to the bottom of a hem
  • when a garment needs to be lengthened
  • when using crisp, sheer fabrics (eg silk organza) – often seen on vintage 1950’s garments

Measure the circumference of the finished hem and cut a piece of fabric twice the desired finished width plus 2 seam allowances by the circumference of the hem plus 2 seam allowances.

Fold the cut band in half lengthwise with wrong sides together.  Open out the band and, with right sides together, join to make a circle.  Stitch a line along the seam allowance on one edge of the band and use this stitching line as a guide to press the seam allowance towards the wrong side of the band.

Pin the right side of the band to the right side of the garment and stitch in place.  Bring the folded inside edge to just cover this stitching line and invisibly stitch the folded edge in place.

It is always important to make a sample of various techniques so you can assess the results and decide on what suits best.

I hope you will enjoy trying some of these methods to build a repertoire of sewing techniques which will serve you well in future projects.