TERMS AND CONCEPTS
Welcome to my first-ever Sew Along Blog, where I sew it and screw it up, so you don’t have to!
I actually got this idea from the fantastic website Male Pattern Boldness, where the author would invite readers to sew a project along with him, providing pictures and his own flair for the instructions. I loved this idea, and got a lot out of it… the only issue I ran into was, I’m still such a novice sewer, I could have really used a way to see his instructions in action.
That’s where I came up with the idea of a video Sew-Along.
Without further ado, let me welcome you to the very first week of January’s Sew Along: Boxers!
I had a surprisingly hard time finding a pattern for male boxers (female lingerie is worse!) At this point in time, I’ve used the pattern brands Simplicity and See and Sew the most, and I wanted to stick with what I’m familiar with for now. With that in mind, I finally selected on Simplicity #9958. You can use any pattern you’d like, as the basic concepts should be the same. If you run into any difficulties or differences, let us know in the comments and hopefully I can try to help you out!
Once you’ve gotten your hands on a pattern, you’ll want to select your fabric. Selecting your fabric is VERY important; the pattern is the blueprint, and the fabric is the building materials. Just like you wouldn’t build a long-term beach front property out of sand, you don’t want to select an inappropriate fabric type. Occasionally, I’ve found gorgeous fabric that I just had to buy (darn you, regional warehouse with half-off silk sales!) without having a pattern in mind, and tried to just use one of the patterns I have on hand. It… did not go well, so I can tell you from personal experience to stick to the recommended fabrics!
Luckily, most patterns help you out by suggesting the type of fabric you should use. Flip your pattern envelope over, and look for a section called “Fabric.” On Simplicity patterns, this is near the top. For my pattern, it suggests cottons and cotton blends, laundered cottons, flannel, gingham and an assortment of others. As you can see, you don’t have to worry TOO much about being restricted by the type of fabric, as the patterns usually offer a wide selection of options!
Since I’m making boxers, I decided to go with something sensual, a cotton-silk blend I bought off of the custom-fabric website Spoonflower. There’s only one small problem; the fabric, while gorgeous and exactly the feel I like, is over $25 a yard! Not an obstacle for a nice set of boxers, but a major obstacle for a beginner sewer who doesn’t want to mess up her nice expensive material!
That is why while at the fabric store last week, pursuing their sales, I picked up 2 yards of cheap cotton fabric. This is what I will use for my muslin. Muslin is a mock-up of a pattern, used to get the fix of a garment correct. Usually it is made out of cheap muslin, thus the name; however, since my final project will be in cotton-blend, I’ve chosen a cotton to make my muslin out of, so I can make sure to drape of the fabric is generally the same. You can make your muslin out of anything you like (even muslin!), but try to match the fabric types as exactly as you can. Don’t make a muslin out of woven linen for a project that will be in knit cotton, for example.
(That’s because knits…. say it with me… stretch! Second verse, same as the first!)
Muslins are particularly useful in situations where you’re not sure about the sizing of the garment. Now that we’ve determined the type of fabric we’re grabbing, let’s discuss how to determine what size of fabric to get.
Take a look at the back of your pattern envelope again. On Simplicity patterns, the Body Measurement section will be below the fabric type. The Body Measurement table will tell you how much fabric you will need, depending on the size of the garment you’re making (and the size of the body you’re putting it on!)
In my experience, pattern sizing can be very wonky. Since I’m such good friends with everyone here on the Internet, I don’t mind telling you that my measurements are 36-32-37. According to most Simplicity patterns, this puts me in the size 10 range, even though in most stores I wear somewhere between a 4 and an 8. (Don’t worry, I plan on doing a whole blog on how to determine your measurements, and why pattern sizing and store sizing are so different!) Once I actually stick the pattern on my body though, I find that I’m a 10 in one place, but a 6 in another.
Finding out your body is different sizes in different places, or that your body doesn’t align with the Size on the pattern exactly, is a-okay. If you’re anything like me, part of the reason you got into sewing was to make clothes that actually fit to your body’s particular idiosyncratic. That is also the beauty of a muslin… the pattern will give you a general Size guide, and using the muslin you can correctly adjust where needed and make your very own custom-fit pattern!
Let’s go back to our pattern envelope. My model’s measurements are a chest width of 37″, waist 34″, and hips 38″. I’ll go ahead and ignore the chest, since I’m making bottoms, and focus on just the waist and hips. According to the Body Measurement chart, that puts my model in the range of a Medium for his waist, and a Small for his hips.
Knowing that the patterns tend to run a little big, I have decided to take a gamble and go with the Small pattern size. Once you have decided what size garment you will need, go down to the next table on the pattern envelope.
Look at the end of your bolt of fabric. Does it have a width of 45″, or 60″? Is it a consistent pattern (repeating both vertically and horizontally), or does it seem to have a direction to it? Nap is when a pattern only repeats in one direction, has a texture in only one direction, or is striped/plaid in an uneven way. Be careful about nap fabrics… they can be a royal pain to align in your pattern (so you don’t accidentally have flowers pointing up on one leg, and down on the other leg) and you will need more fabric to lay everything out correctly.
Once you have determined the width of your bolt of fabric, whether it had nap or not, and its size, you are ready to cut! The amount of fabric recommended to me is is 1 3/8 but I’ll hedge my bets a bit, and say 1 1/2 yards. That way, I also have some extra fabric left over to play with thread length and tension (even if you don’t try, you will have LOTS of left-over fabric scraps after 6 months.)
Before you leave the store, there’s one more thing you want to check about your fabric. Look at the bolt label again, and make note of the fabric care requirements. You will want to prepare (ie, wash and dry) your fabric exactly as if it was already a finished garment, before you sew and iron the thing.
Why is washing the fabric so important? Nearly all fabrics shrink when washed and dried. If the first time you wash your fabric is after you’ve already cut and sewn it, there’s a very good chance your stitches will break, and your pieces won’t fit together anymore. Unless you’re making something that is never going to be washed (I usually skip the washing step on things like wallets or purses), wash your fabric exactly as it says to do on the bolt label.
Sewing tools differ from person to person. Below I’ll outline the very basics that you’ll need.
- Good pair of sewing scissors. Don’t skimp here, and DON’T use the scissors on anything but fabric and thread. Nothing dulls scissors faster than cutting paper or other surfaces. A dull scissors means a frayed cut edge, which means a lot of headache for you down the road.
- A seam ripper. Man, do I wish I didn’t need this tool as often as I do, but it’s become an essential part of my kit.
- Pins and pin cushion. I use pins with a glass-head, so that I can accidentally iron over them without melting the head into my fabric. Not that I, ahem, do that a lot…
- Marking tool. You can use dressmaker’s chalk, wash-out pencil or marker, whatever. I use Crayola colored pencils, though I’m more and more tempted by sewing tape.
- Tape Measure. If you’re making a muslin, this tool is indispensable. It is your new mother-in-law; invaluable, utilized often, and bound to indefinitely whether you like it or not.
- Ironing board and iron. Sorry, you can’t escape using these. I iron almost as much as I sew. Learn to love ironing. (Sew-Along Part 2 will discuss proper ironing technique.)
- Thread for your machine. Here’s where you can get creative. I love sewing because of all the pretty colors, and I love matching the color thread to my fabric (I usually go just an inch lighter or darker than the overall color of the pattern.) If I’m top-stitching, sometimes I choose a vibrant contrasting color to draw interest to my oh-so-lovely stitching. Ah, so much fun. Dual Duty has done well for me so far.
- Sewing needles. You will want to match the needle to your sewing machine. I have a 1970’s Singer, and the Singer needles still fit it perfectly.
- Pay special attention to the size of the needle you get. Choose the size of the needle based on the weight of fabric. You’ll probably be sewing either lightweight or medium weight fabric, so choose either a 11/80 or 14/90 needle size. Unless you’re sewing a knit (knit boxers? Well, go on with you, you Individual), choose the Regular Point.
- Seam Gauge. I usually end up using my tape measure if I need to hem something. I’m sure a seam gauge is handy, I just haven’t figured out how yet.
- Rotary cuter and cutting mat. My quilting friends swear by these, but I don’t have a surface large enough in my house that I could use a decent-sized mat on. Hopes to use this in the future, though.
- Thimbles. I don’t use these when hand sewing, because I take the saying “put blood, sweat and tears into your sewing projects” literally. Especially the tears part.
The very last thing we’ll discuss is the Right/Wrong side of fabric. This is something we’ll be coming back to over and over again, so best cram this last term into your head before we turn our gaze to next week, when we’ll start laying out the pattern and cutting.
When looking at a piece of fabric, you’ll notice that it has a pretty side, and a less-vibrant side. The right side of the fabric is the side with the strongest colors, where the pattern is clearest. The wrong side is the duller side of the fabric.
Well I believe that about does it for this week! Next week we’ll start with the actual video. See you then, my fellow sewers!
Prep for Week 2: Buy your pattern and fabric, wash your fabric, and assemble your sewing tools.
Next Week: Ironing, Laying Out The Pattern, Pinning and Cutting