Tips for Sewing Leather

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.

Teflon Shoe Teflon shoe on iron

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.

Wrinkled Leather Pressed Leather  Stabilize seams

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.

Cut open dart  Dart underlay Dart Tacked Stitch dart

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.

Roller foot setup Double Thread

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.

Zipper Seam Pound seams

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.

Measure zipper tape Measure half tape width Pin Tape Baste

Repeat for the other side of the zipper. The zipper is now basted in place but since the basting stitches are on the outer edges there is enough room to reach in with narrow nose pliers or a clamp and pull the slide below where the zipper will stop. Mark where the zipper will stop. Using a regular zipper foot (an invisible zipper foot won’t work as it doesn’t allow you to end exactly where the seam begins), roll the coil out of the way and stitch close to the zipper coil. Stop exactly at the mark. I pull threads through and tie rather than back-stitching which would weaken the seam in leather. Now pull the slide to the zipper top using pliers if necessary.

Pull slide through Stitch along coil Coils stitched Pull slide closed

The stitching should look like this. Notice that the seam line stitches and zipper coil stitches don’t line up exactly. The zipper coil stitches are slightly further into the seam allowance. If the stitching lines weren’t offset just this small amount, you would get the dreaded pucker at the bottom of the zipper. Here’s the completed zipper installation totally smooth and no tell-tale sign of where the zipper stops.

 

Offset seams Completed

Sewing hooks and eyes on the waistband for a closure won’t work too well. I use a hook and bar with prongs and a backing plate. The waistband has been sewn on from the right side. I’ve interfaced it with Petersham ribbon and added a rectangle of Ban-Rol (a rigid interfacing which resists tearing) to support the fasteners and prevent them ripping through the leather. I’ve used an awl to create small holes for the prongs. The hardest part is determining the exact location before punching holes.

Prepped waistband Hooks Hooks back Bars back

Once the bars and hooks are in place, fold the waistband over and stitch close to the previous stitching. Trim on the underside.

Stitch waistband Trim wrong side

Finished skirt:

Skirt Front Skirt back

 

 

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Filed under Cloning Designer Garments, couture sewing, Uncategorized

Create Your Own Custom Pleated Trim

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.

Pink Shirt Front closeup

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.

Pleating lines Pleating folds Pleating folds 2

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.

Pleater interfacing Compleated pleater Insert ribbon

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.

Remove ribbon Stitch pleats

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.

Complete back 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.

Buttonholes Bad stitching

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

furrier knifeisolate stitches iso;ate stitches 2

This little baby is SHARP and does a wonderful job of precision cutting. I used a fine gauge machine needle to isolate a few stitches, then carefully cut the threads using the machine needle as a buffer to protect the fabric. This works better if you work in sections. This knife is also my new tool for cutting buttonholes. The blade is super thin and makes cutting a narrow slit easy.

threads removed

After the stitches have been removed and fabric pressed there’s almost no sign of the mishap. Work a new buttonhole and the disaster is averted. I also found that increasing pressure on the buttonhole foot helped avoid this happening in the first place.

A couple of my blogging friends have explored the world of pleating. Jacqueline of Words to Stitch By mentioned this book: Complete Pleats by Paul Jackson. There is a chapter detailing his method for making pleating molds and steam setting pleats in fabric. Doing yardage is probably best left to the pros, but I’m excited to try a few of the ideas on smaller sections of fabric.

Poppykettle just wrote about her visit to the pleating shop in Melbourne. Melanie posted some wonderful photos of the process. I’ve used International Pleating in NYC for large projects like the skirt for my mother-of-the groom dress a couple of years ago. The pleats have stayed perfect even after being covered with dust and sand and a douse in the sink to clean. Use synthetic fabrics only if you want to try a pleated project. Natural fibers will pleat but the pleats won’t last through the cleaning process.

Pleating Front Pleating side

 

 

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Bride’s Dress for a Backyard Wedding

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.

First Moulage Pattern 1

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.

Pattern 2 Fitting 1

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.

Pattern 3 Fitting 2

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.

Pattern 4

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.

Pattern 6 Final lace pattern

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.

Lace without Tulle lace with Tulle

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

Reinforced Seam   Lace Seam 1

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.

Lace Seam 2 Complete Lace Seam

Dress fittting

Almost done. The side seams need a little more nipping in; seams get cleaned up; excess tulle trimmed; lining inserted.

The bride!!!

bride-entrance.jpg

I also managed a dress for the mother of the bride. She chose a metallic chantilly lace from Solstiss. The trumpet skirt was cut so that each motif was centered on the panel. This was a wide border lace, so the border pattern was used for the skirt and the allover design section used for the jacket and top.

Lila Dress Lila Skirt

Syma and Lila 2

Where are the newlyweds off to on their “honeymoon.”

syma-and-bob.jpg

To an exotic destination for sure, but not for a relaxing pleasure trip. Every year they travel with a medical team to Columbia where the living conditions are anything but luxury. The team works to repair cleft lip/palates and perform other reconstructive procedures in areas of South America which don’t have access to and can’t afford this kind of medical care. Affected children are treated as outcasts of society; they and their families are eternally grateful for the gift of a new face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under couture sewing, Drafting Patterns, Lace, Uncategorized, Wedding Gowns

The Chanel Style Tunic

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.

Boucle scraps

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.

Basic Sloper combine darts

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

Final Pattern

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.

Collar patterns Stand pattern Collar offset curve-runner.jpg

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.

collar-cardboard.jpg under-collar-cardboard.jpg

collar-pinned.jpg

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.

Collar band

Collar 1 Collar 2

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.

Designing front placket Front trim

I had some leftover tweed from Linton. I save my scraps of tweeds and boucles as there is often wonderful trim hiding in the fabric. Linton fabrics are woven with continuous strands so un-weaving produces a long continuous length of trim. I also used the fringed selvedges from the French boucle.  Also found great buttons!!!

Linton tweed Front buttonholes

Hem trim Hem 1

I had just enough scraps to cut bias strips for a hem fringe. Two layers of cotton batting padded the center. A blunt tapestry needle helps to un-weave the edges.

Finished tunic

Finished! Here’s a glimpse of the inside. Silk crepe de chine fell stitched to armseyes and placket. Side zip makes it easy to get into.

Inside view Side zip

Chanel Tunic full length

Next post will detail the design and construction of the bride’s outfit.

 

 

 

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Filed under Cloning Designer Garments, couture sewing, creating designer trim, Drafting Patterns, Fabric Shopping, Uncategorized

A Designer Skirt and Family Wedding

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.

Milena

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.

Inspiration Skirt

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.

Skirt Drape 1 Skirt Drape 2

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.

TopstitchingSequin Closeup

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.

Hole Punch

Completed and on to the more wedding sewing.

Close-up Finished skirt

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:

Casey Mia

Sage Chanel Dress Preview

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.

Kate book

Also, I’ve written another article for Threads Magazine detailing the draft and construction of a designer skirt.  The skirt was based an Yves St. Laurent style straight skirt and I’ve explained many of the details that take an ordinary style into the designer realm.  There is also a web extra explaining a few adaptations which are helpful when using a heavier fabric, such as a designer boucle.

Threads Cover

Thanks for reading!!!

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Filed under Cloning Designer Garments, couture sewing, Drafting Patterns, Draping, Dress Forms, Uncategorized

Embellished Sleeve Jacket

Jacket Front

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.

Steamed boucle  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.

Make organza trim Place Ribbon Linton Yarn

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.

Trim Placement Sleeve Underside

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

Finished sleeve trim

 

Jacket Sleeve

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.

Black Jacket Black jacket closeup

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

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Filed under Cloning Designer Garments, couture sewing, Fabric Shopping, French jacket trim, French Jackets, Uncategorized

Another French Jacket with Chanel Camellia Rose Inspired Lining

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.

Camilla Rose

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.

Trapunto DesignOne 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.

Paper Template
Thermore batting

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.

Hoop Window Sheer Fabric Tack down Stitch

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.

Place Pillow Place Lining Lining Closeup

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.

Lining

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.

Black jacket Black Sheath

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

Black Trim Dress Lining

Jacket trim and buttons need to be added. I loved the custom zipper front closure from the teal jacket and may opt for the same on this one. Will be scouring the garment district in NYC next week for the final touches.

 

 

 

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Filed under Cloning Designer Garments, couture sewing, French jacket trim, French Jackets, Uncategorized