Saturday, April 16, 2011

Updated: Shirty

Quick mid-sew check-in peeps:

After hours of prep and 3 hours of sewing, I'm still not finished a simple crew neck. It's not exactly difficult but I'm being forced to learn so many things as I go along. A sample of what I've had to figure out so far:
  • How to set up my machine with the twin needle for faux cover stitching.
  • Practice faux cover stitching (which has led me to believe that a pre-serged edge produces a more professional result).
  • Threading stay tape of the correct width (mine needed to be narrowed first) through the serger foot.
  • Easing the neck band into the neck hole (I'm going to choose a different method next time.) This is a very precarious process using a serger.
My half-finished product is a freakin' dog's breakfast - but I have hope. I am gaining experience as I go.

Here's what I'll say about making Ts so far: You need to have expert knowledge of your machinery (serger for seams, regular machine for "faux cover stich"), a really steady hand (one false move and ooops!) and nerves of steel. Nothing like cutting your fabric as you sew to give you perspective on straight stitch machines.

If anyone else here has made T shirts - please share your experience. I could use any feedback at this point.

Now, back to the factory.

End of Day 1 Update

No question, I've learned a LOT today - not only about new technique and constructing traditional Ts, but also about the pattern I'm working with (Simplicity - Built By Wendy 2092 - available only in Sew U Home Stretch, by the looks of it).

About Technique:
  • I realized that I prefer clear elastic stabilizing tape for shoulders, rather than non-stretch stay tape. I want a bit of give in the shoulders so that they hang right. The non-stretch cotton made everything very structured.
  • I realized that you really shouldn't stretch as you faux cover stitch, no matter how tempting. The less you fiddle, the less likely you are to get "tunneling" i.e. a lumpy berm between the 2 rows of stitching.
  • Something I forgot to mention before: Be sure to use a STRETCH twin needle (I prefer a 2.5m span) on your jersey. It works much better (apparently - I have no comparative experience) than a twin that's made for woven fabrics.
  • I realized that the twin stitching is an excellent alternative to a cover stitch machine - at least in this fabric.
  • I realized that I'd never want a dual-function serger-cover stitch machine. Thank goodness I didn't buy one when I was looking at sergers. I want to go from machine to machine with no stops. This really streamlines the process.
About the Pattern:
  • I've had difficulty finding many reviews about this pattern - maybe because it's not sold independent of the book in which its instructions reside.
  • I first made the crew neck sloper, more or less as is (slight narrowing at waist, slight shortening at waist) and then cut a variation - the V neck with capped sleeves.
  • I can corroborate that the crew T sloper fits large and that it is basically shapeless. I won't be making it again. No mind, making it was an exercise in fit and establishment of technique.
  • The 6 inch V depth, from instructions on the V neck crew T sloper variation, is VERY deep. I mean, obscene. But I like the shape.
  • In a way I'm glad it didn't work because, right at the end (when serging the side seam) I somehow managed to cut a inch-deep tear in the sleeve. I tell you, the serger gives and she takes. You CANNOT lose focus, even for a second.
  • Tonight I traced and cut a third paper pattern - the second v variation (on the basic crew T sloper), which I'll make tomorrow morning. Its depth is 4.5 inches. I also modified the capped sleeve to make it something midway between a cap and a short sleeve. I want something a bit longer but not quite "regular short sleeve" length.
  • In version 3, I also narrowed the waist for the third time. I've curved off about .75 inch at each waist side seam at this point - like 3 inches over all. Really, the sloper is straight.
  • For all that, I'm happy with the sloper shoulder width (esp. now that I'm using stretchier stabilizing tape rather than twill). It fits very nicely in the sleeves.
Alas, I'm out of the fabric I've used on the first 2 tries - well, I have enough for a sleeveless, but I'm not interested in making that right now. So it's onto a different fabric - a jersey with good snap-back and v. easy to work with (according to the woman at FabricLand). It was on sale for 40% off and it still cost 13.00 for a smidge over a metre (the end of the bolt). I wonder if it's going to be a whole different world or if my learning today will translate well into the next variation in the new fabric. I hope it doesn't screw with fit. Note to reader: Yes, that does mean I went out yesterday to find stretch twin needles and ended up with some new fabric. That's why I have to stay out of fabric stores.

No question - unless you live in a place like NYC (where you can find good jersey for 2 bucks a yard on sale) - making T shirts is not necessarily much cheaper than buying them. I can get a fabulous Tencel T at the Gap on sale for $10.00. Sure, some T shirts run upwards of 80 bucks. But I don't generally buy at full price and I don't get pricey ones (they don't stand the test of time, after all).

I do like the idea that I will eventually draft a perfect sloper for my body, which I'll be able to recreate at will (or when the right fabric comes along). I bet, once I do this a few times, I'll be able to cut in 30 minutes, mark and set up in 30 minutes and sew the garment in about an hour. Of course, that's 2 hours longer than it takes to pick one up at the Gap. But at least I'll know the only person I've exploited is myself.


  1. Whoo, fun!

    I didn't have a functioning serger when I started sewing tees last summer, and it may have helped, at least in that the regular machine runs a lot slower and is easier to maneuver, I find, than the serger. I still do necklines pretty much exclusively on the regular machine, as I've got more control that way.

    I'm a big fan of clear elastic for staying necklines and things, although getting the degree of stretch just right can be tricky (I'm also not the most precise person in the world when it comes to this).

    A water-soluble stabilizer (the kind they use for machine embroidery) can be useful for the hems---cut into strips and fuse it (carefully) into the hem with a little steam. Other than that, practice, you'll figure it out, and if it comes out stretched out, throw it in the wash and dry before you wad it completely, it may pull back into shape.

    Also, just for giggles, every new knit is its own learning curve! Joy! :D

  2. I'm echoing Taran here... but what I've learned.

    Sew everything flat - don't try to set in the sleeves with a serger.

    I usually sew my neckband in with long stitches in the regular sewing machine first, then REsew with the serger. That way, I'm not trying to ease/stretch with the knife cruising along.

    For hems I like to finish the raw edges with a serger, then use steam a seam 2 lite - 1/4 inch to turn up the hem. It's meant to be like a permanent stitch witchery - but it it's slightly adhesive, so you stick it on, peel off the paper, turn up, make sure it all looks normal, then hit it with the iron to hold in place while until the twin needle stitching is done.

    Also - no matter WHAT I forget with every single T that the stupid twin needle stitching needs to be done from the right side. I like to topstitch from the back a lot. So I forget and have to resew!

  3. Ooh! I can't wait to hear more.

    Interesting that the pre-serged edge produces a more professional result!

  4. T: I am considering doing the neck on a regular machine - but I figure, the best way to develop my serging skills is to actually do it. I think this is probably the least painful way to do it. And I love the stretchy stabilizing tape. I love how it goes into the serger too! My regular machine doesn't love it so much.

    I have to look into the water soluble hem stabilizer.

    Patty: I sew the sleeves in flat i.e. the shirt is still open. Then I faux cover stitch them. The last thing I do is sew up the sides.

    I agree that it's much safer to deal with the neck by regular machine first. I have done that before and will likely return to it here, if I can't get it together with some consistency on the serger. I can see that hem stabilizer is the buzz word. I'm going to have to go looking for some.

    Susan: What doesn't the serger make more wonderful??! :-)

  5. I had a big response yeaterday and blogger ate it. Grrr!
    Re the neckband. Do the first pass on the regular machine with a shoulder open then do the serger around the band and stitch the open shoulder. If you go to the Threads mag site and find the vid by Sarah Veblen on applying a neckband even she uses a machine for the first pass.
    As commented above every knit is different. Learn to cut 1" sa's on the side seam and the sleeve for fitting. Machine baste at the regular seam and try on for fitting. Depending on the stretch factor that smidge of a difference can make or break whether a shirt will fit, especially if you like them close fitting. When I first started sewing knits I was bit in the butt too many times because I needed just a smidge extra and hadn't cut generous sa's.

  6. Debbie: Don't you hate it when Blogger does that?! Thank you for your suggestions - everyone is entirely in favour of flat sewing and working first with the machine. Of course, it's much more sensible than my method - which (in truth) was Wendy's method.

  7. I don't use stay tape or elastic in shoulder seams. I use fusible tricot interfacing scraps--those long skinny strips that you think about throwing away are perfect for this purpose as long as they are at least as wide as your chosen serger stitch (I usually go with half an inch--my 4 thread overlock is approximately 1/4 of an inch). They give structure and are able to stretch, but aren't fiddly to work with like the pieces of elastic. I also use it on the hems, though I haven't noticed that it helps with tunneling, it does help with the rolling that knits are kind of notorious for.

    Maybe I try to fiddle with pulling/pushing the fabric too much when I try to do a hem--I'll make myself pay attention and touch it as little as possible to see if that helps me next time. :-)

  8. That's too bad the crew neck sloper is shapeless :-(.

    The serger IS wonderful, but the "she takes" lessons are hard.

    I'm curious what you think of countrygirlcouture's idea of using fusible tricot interfacing instead of elastic tape for stabilizing shoulder seams.

    Ms. M at Department of Color says she prefer's Connie Long's Sewing with Knits over Sew U because it has more details needed to produce a more refined look. I'm too new to knits to have an opinion but will probably get the book.

  9. CGC: That's a great idea! Until I got the serger (until yesterday, really), I found working with the clear elastic SO difficult that I barely bothered. That's a great alternative.

    Susan: The she takes lessons are always looming in the background. So I have to be CONSTANTLY mindful. I can't find that Long book in print here. I'm going to have to order it used if I want to get it. And I'm sure I should...