Monday, January 31, 2011

Understanding fabric (Man-Made Fibers)

Yes, I know, more fabric boloney. We will get to the fun stuff soon enough. There is just soo much to understand! "That's too much KNOWLEDGE!" -William Shatner-

I'll skip the poetic introduction from the Natural Fibers section and cut to the chase:

Oh and before I begin, I will not be covering all man-made fibers, because there are too many for you to want to remember at this point.

I know everyone has heard of it, made popular back in the disco-era I assume, although since I wasn't alive back then, it's just a guess. Designed to mimic silk, and makes a great alternative in some cases, but in others it is not suited so well. Its strengths; jacket liners, curtains, and when mixed with other fibers (like cotton) can assume greater roles. Its weaknesses; shirting (doesn't breathe well), pants (see shirts=sticky) and extend caution when using it for dresses as it's drape is not as elegant as silk and 'could' come off cheesy and hom-made looking, THE WORST! Take care when heat pressing as it can melt.

Originally a natural product derived from trees, became more widespread as a chemical derivative. Usually a stiff and coarse material which lends itself well for structural items like dresses with volume and such. It typically wrinkles very well, which is taken advantage of in final garments.

I feel pretty confident most people have a good idea what this stuff is, also goes by the name Lycra or Dorlastan, depending on who is manufacturing it. It stretches, it is strong, non-absorbant, and fairly lightweight. Great for swimsuits and other base-layer articles. Use care when ironing as it also has a quick tendency to melt.

You should know what this fiber is mainly used for, but because of its strength, heat retention, and resistance to wrinkling, it is often combined with other materials to create new fabrics. Can be found in hosiery, lingerie, satin and fake furs.

I hope you understand a bit more about the materials you are using so you can get a better end result.

Any questions about fabric?


Fabric Basics: Natural Fibers

"What's with all the fabric hoopla? Get me to the sewing, yo!"
I get it, you are an anxious man with a sewing machine, happens to all of us I'm sure, but beginning with what you want to make; understanding the tools needed to assemble it properly will really help out in the long run.

So today I will go over natural fibers, there are only 4, but vastly different and can be spun, literally, into very different end products.

The most commonly used material in garments. It is cheap to manufacture and has great properties that make it very suitable for clothing. Cotton is used in everything from lightweight quilter's cotton to thick durable duck cloth and denim. I will say this right now DO NOT use quilter's cotton for apparel, or bags for that matter. It is very lightweight, not durable, and the colors will fade quickly. I know, it's pretty and comes in hundreds of colors and usually takes up most of the space in a fabric store, but it's for quilting and named appropriately. Cotton will take a dye very well, so keep that in mind if you have intentions of changing it colors, and like most natural fibers, it holds a press really well, meaning it can give crisp edges and clean lines. 
Also, like I went over yesterday, decide if you need a knitted cotton with stretch (like a t-shirt, usually called jersey), or a woven cotton (like shirting or duck cloth)

A wonderful fabric that is most notable for its draping ability (how it hangs). The fabric can be woven fine and airy like a chiffon or crisp and structural like a Brocade or Dupioni. A very versatile fabric that has been used from parachutes to socks to fine dresses. It is very absorbant and makes a great underlayer of clothing. Silk, regardless of how it is woven will have a slight stretch, due to the natural properties of the strands. which makes it a quite comfortable fabric for evening wear and other fitted clothes because it moves with the body. Expensive silks may require the use of silk thread when stitched to match the materials properties.

A stellar fabric with its own faults, wool is inherently weak, which is why it typically comes as a thicker material, but holds in heat well and is simultaneously absorbant. Suits are generally made from wool due to the fact that creases just fall out of the fabric reducing the need for frequent ironing or pressing. It does have the tendency to shrink and this sometimes make cleaning it difficult.

Typically recognized by its 'coarse' texture, which lends itself to the garment and achieving a specific aesthetic to the finished piece. Weaves can be very light (think summer shirts) or thick depending on its needs. Linen naturally creases very easily and this lends itself to the appeal of the fabric.

Well fellas, ya that was a lot of reading, but understanding the principles of the materials will help in choosing the right one for your project at hand.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fabric Basics: the weave

If you are short on attention, like myself, at least take from this post; the difference between a woven or knitted fabric. Woven's don't stretch, Knit's do.

Knowing a little about the fabrics will ultimately lead to a better finished product and get you to a better desired effect. The weave is the basic part of the fabric, how it is put together, how simple strands and chunks of material get transformed into sheets.

And for a little more info:
The Plain Weave: kinda like it sounds, a plain woven structure (over, under, repeat) cheap, simple to make.
Knit: created by interlooped yarns, the looping allows it to stretch and expand
Satin: yes it's a weave, and the way it is accomplished creates the smooth finish
Jacquard: uses the thread of different colors to be woven into intricate details and designs; as opposed to printing the design on the fabric. More complex and expensive, but yields longer lasting designs that won't fade drastically over time. used for brocades, tapestries or wall hangings

That will cover the basics and 92% of what you will encounter for garment construction.

If you want some more bathroom reading material, check this site out.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

MEN! Don't be afraid of the BUTTON

Yeah, that Measly 'ol thing.
It popped off your shirt...or your pants, or wherever; maybe even a ladies shirt, eh?!

so grab some thread, stick with that universal I went over earlier, or if time is of the essence (and it usually is) and it is for something other than a shirt, like pants or jackets, then feel free to grab some heavy-duty thread. It can save you a bit of time by not having to go around so many times.

Ok, dudes (or ladies)
lay the clothing out flat, and find the exact point where the button should go. Sometimes there will be clues from the old stitching, a frayed or worn spot in the fabric.
use a piece of thread about 3 or 4 feet long, thread the needle and tie the two ends together with a large knot (lots of little ones?).
insert the needle from the backside of the fabric and through a button hole.
go down through the hole across from it, and loop the thread through these two holes 6 or 7 times (4 if using thicker thread)
from underneath, switch to start looping the other two holes in the button and repeat, looping 6 or 7 times
from underneath, push the needle under the looped thread and tie a knot to keep it from unwinding


now proudly wear your repaired shirt, or stoically return the ladies blouse.

Mission accomplished my friend. good job.

No more hand stitching from here on out.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Something you want to make?

I just realized people out there don't even know if I can do what I allude to. (Although who knows what is real on the internet anyway???

But I want to put up two of my most recent projects, so you can start to get a feel for where I will be leaning towards in terms of aesthetic finished pieces.

Jacket and pants

We will get started at working towards bags (awesome bags!) and continuously move towards more complicated and detailed items.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Get that needle right

Got the sewing machine,
Got the thread,
Now the needle.

I hope this all isn't getting too complicated for you. That would be a DISASTER! I just want to educate you on some basic key principles that lead to professional results and not destroy the home, machine, or your enthusiasm.

The standard needle, I asume your machine included with a few, comes in a few thicknesses depending on fabric types. Sizes range from 8 (small) to 20 (large), but for most fabrics an 11 or 14 will be more than adequate. This will be the needle on your machine 82% of the time.

If you are sewing a knit fabric (I will be going over fabrics later, but for now,anything that stretches), a Ball-Point needle is typically recommended. It is sized the same as the standard needle but has a rounder (ball-point, duh) tip.

A denim, or fine-point needle is used accordingly; for denim or other heavyweight fabrics like canvas. Unless you are sewing through multiple layers, a standard needle can usually get you through denim anyway, but if you are doing a lot, get the sharper needle.

And lastly, there are specialty needles. I won't be able to go over them a ton here, but the one I use on a regular basis is the Double needle. It helps enhance the look of a topstitch by placing two parallel lines together. You only need another spool of thread and that your machine is capable of a zig-zag stitch (just because the bottom thread has to move back and fourth).

I think for now that's about it. If you want more detailed info, click this way.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Picking out a Thread?!

What!? I have to pick a THREAD!

Well kinda, turns out most threads these days are fairly universal. What you need to know is when tackling a specific project, to match the thread for the material.

What do I mean by universal:
Polyester, well suited for most fabrics and applications. All-purpose weight (something like 50)

When do you need a special type thread.....

when sewing expensive SILK:
Use silk thread, it will help match the natural give and stretch of the fabric.

when sewing heavy-duty fabris:
Use a Heavy-Duty Polyester, simple.

Most, if not all, of the projects I will be presenting and demonstrating in this blog will be done with the universal polyester, in a myriad of colors of course.

Need more to read on the ever exciting field of thread selection, then click this way!

Ok, ok, my machine

I feel like this topic could be heated and opinionated or what have you.

I currently use an Elna 7000, amazing machine so so versatile. I got a great deal off craigslist for it, and couldn't say no.
The only reason I have it now is that my Necchi kinda melted... it was also a wonderful machine, old, metal, fast. It helped me through almost 15 jackets, more pants, and countless others.

If you are new, not sure if you will even like the concept of sewing or maybe tackle a project once every-other-month; go with a cheap Brother.
DO NOT get any newer model of Singer machine. total crap in my opinion. Yes they did make great old beautiful workhorses, but it is atrocious to think that their current models in some way represent where they have been as a company.

Just my $.02
what machine do you use, any horror stories?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tools of the trade

Well folks, not that crazy to understand, but all this magic just can't happen without a few tools.

One big one of course is the machine, but we will get into that later; it can be quite the topic.

Scissors, number one on the list of essentials. My pair o' choice is a pretty reliable Gingher 8 incher. And it might be a wives tale, but I refuse to use my sharp pair, the former mentioned, for anything but fabric, especially not for paper. Keep that baby sharp. Having an expensive pair of scissors ain't no big deal, but you might start to notice if silks or denims and leather are on the menu.

A ruler or tailors tape measure are pretty much an essential as well, and i think the tape version can be pretty cheap.

Paper is good to have on hand, either for making or editing patterns, and sketching or note taking. I use pins from time to time, but aren't super necessary (goes back to that lack of patience thing).

Also on the list of very important things is an iron; having one and using it effectively, are what help separate, in my opinion, the weekend warrior and an exceptional product.

A few other things rolling around my studio that come into play once in a while: machine oil, a chalk wedge for marking fabric, an ironing board, and a dress form I borrow from a friend (expensive).

Anything I missed?
What can you not live without in the sewing room?


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Man in question

You want a little backstory, fine, don't blame ya' really.

Grew up in Montana, where outgoing clothes usually referred to 'hunter orange,' and plaid only came in one texture, flannel.

Fortunately for me, I had an eager and passionate grandmother who helped me out when I wanted crazy pants and shorts. She showed me that expression is key to survival and that if something doesn't exist, you make it yourself.

In college I studied graphic design, apparel design, and a little bit of business. I've also had the chance to work in all three areas.
Check out this lady:, a place I had the opportunity to work and gather more knowledge than from anything I have ever done.

Currently I work as a designer, and spend most of my evenings/weekends/birthdays sewing and creating and I'd like to share it all here.


What's this place all about anyway?!

Great question!
And it's pretty simple to answer, I am Man. I sew.


This website will be a log of my projects, some advice, and even step by step tutorials ranging from zippers to full pieces.

Since I'm a man, I like to make men's clothes, ya' know, so I can wear them and stuff, but I do like the ladies and making their clothes, so no matter your gender, there is much to be learned.

The site will be fairly sequential, starting with the basics, i.e. learning about your machine and needle/thread type, and growing through pattern making, and eventually full garment construction.

Please include opinions questions, and things you'd like to learn to make!