I’ve Got a “Beef” about “Singer” Zipper Feet

Sorry I haven’t posted anything for awhile.  You see, I’ve been doing a lot of teaching, and that’s actually how this post developed.

My two teenage nieces wanted to have a sewing lesson with a couple of their friends over Spring break.  I’ve been working on some sewing kits with cute little dog and cat motifs and made up a pattern for a small tote bag.  They’ll be up on my Etsy store soon.

I needed another sewing machine for the 4 girls that were going to participate.  I already had a basic Singer “Tradition” machine that I had bought from the JoAnn store last year to travel with for classes.  Just your basic $100 machine.

Then, I found another Singer machine, “Brilliance” model on Craig’s List for $100 stating it had hardly been used.  It was a better model retailing for about $250.  Great.  With my old Kenmore machine and a machine of the girls’ grandmother we were set.  We had our tote bag class and everyone had fun making them. Here’s my sample.


Tote Bag Kit

So, back to zipper feet.  When I first got the Singer model “Tradition”, I went through what was included with it.  The sewing machine has a shank with feet that release and snap on.  That’s nice (I thought) because my old Sears Kenmore machine has the ones you have to unscrew the shank and change the whole thing.   That’s worked fine for 40 years with this old “workhorse” machine of mine.  Right now, I’m feeling really lucky that I ended up getting this right from the very beginning of my sewing career.   This is the right one.                        IMG_0296

Sorry about the dark pictures.  Here’s the zipper foot (below) from the Singer “Tradition” machine.  Do you see anything that doesn’t work?  This is a “design flaw” in my mind.  And, they didn’t correct it with the better machine, the “Brilliance” model (second picture below).  The screw’s a little bigger, but nothing else changed.




My biggest issue with these feet is that when you go to sew around the zipper tab, the foot has an edge that’s in the way of doing that.  So I thought I could buy a better zipper foot that would work with the Singer models.  Nope.  Here’s what I could find.


IMG_0299What the heck is a “vertical needle” zipper foot?  I’ve heard of a slanted shank.  Maybe that’s what they were comparing it to.  Anyway, this didn’t work either.  When I finally was able to screw it onto the shank, it wobbled all over and wouldn’t hold the fabric and zipper together.  The screw on the shank of the machine had to be unscrewed in order to attach this foot.  The screw is so small that getting it back into the right place was very difficult.  I must have dropped the screw 6 or 8 times before my fingers could hold it just right to screw back in.  The screw with my Kenmore machine at least has a large enough head on it to hold onto.  I’ve never had any problems changing the feet on the machine.  Here’s all four of the feet and their screws to show you.


IMG_0301   Let me show you the problem with the Singer model feet.  When you go to stitch around the tab, the edge of the foot is in the way.  When I went to JoAnn’s Fabric Store to look for a different foot (since they sell the Singer models), I asked the clerk there about the zipper foot not going around the zipper tab.  Her comment was, “well no, you have to pull the tab out of the way in order to stitch there.”  What?  Look at this.

IMG_0302  The back end of the Singer models’ foot is hitting the tab and unable to go around it.

IMG_0303  This Kenmore foot can be adjusted to sew on either side of the zipper and you don’t need to do anything about opening the zipper to do it.  I really feel badly about all the people that ended up with this situation, and probably unknowingly, have had difficulties learning how to install a zipper.  What a shame.  Sewing should be fun, not difficult for something as simple as this.  Singer people, get your act together!















A Narrow Hem for Delicate Fabrics

I bought this beautiful, hand-dyed silk chiffon in Kuala Lumpur 20 years ago but didn’t know what I would do with it till “it” found me in the closet.  Sometimes I think they just call my name to come get them out of there :-).  There’s a companion piece of crepe de chine as well.  Since I’m going on a trip soon, I thought the chiffon would make a nice shawl/scarf for a cool evening or too much air-conditioning somewhere.  chiffon fabric

The selvage edges look nice so I don’t think I will try to finish them in any way.  The cut edge needed to be trued up, so I pulled a thread to get it on grain so I could start the hemming of it.  I use strips of tissue paper to support the underside of the fabric while it’s being stitched.  This serves several purposes.  While supporting the underside, it also gives me something to hold onto while I’m stitching the edge.  I can pin the edge of the fabric right to the tissue to stabilize it also.  After getting the fabric on grain, put a strip of tissue under the presser foot to have it ready.  Place the fabric edge on top of the strip and stitch about 1/4 inch from the cut edge.  Hold the fabric taut while you stitch the entire edge.  When a strip of tissue runs out, set another piece in place overlapping the last piece.

pin edge to tissue to start stitching
follow grainline while stitching
add next strip of tissue

The tissue can be pulled away carefully when the stitching has been completed.  Pull away one of the sides towards the stitching to break the tissue.  Little bits will get stuck in the stitching line but should be removed easily when you pull away the other side.  Do this very carefully as the chiffon is so delicate you can actually pull out the stitching with too much force.

finished first st on tissue
pull off first part of tissue
pull out rest of tissue

With a steading hand and very sharp scissors, cut the edge of the fabric close to the stitching.  Now comes the fun part.  Carefully roll the stitching line over itself at one end and place a pin to hold it, going in and out of the fabric a few times.  You can pin this to the tissue paper again to get the stitching started for the hem.  Hold the fabric taut along with the tissue and start the hemming.  Use a small stitch length and check that the tension on the thread is loose enough so as not to pull up the fabric.  Stitch a few inches at a time, rolling the edge with your fingers.  Add more tissue strips as you need to.

trim off edge of fabric
pin beg stitching with tissue
beginning stitching
very beg of stitching
end of stitching with pin
stitched tissue on fin hem

Remove the tissue with the same process as the first stitching.  Do the other end and carefully press the finished edges.  Beautiful !  I’m going to enjoy wearing this a lot.  I’m not sure what I will use the companion piece for, though.  The chiffon looks prettier against a light background and the other silk is all dark blues.

tear tissue finished hem
chiffon other finished hem
chiffon finished hem
finished shawl

Attaching a sleeve facing where it ends at a dot under the arm. Vogue 9021

I’m always willing to help other seamstresses with their sewing problems.  So, I had a request to help someone understand this area of a sleeve facing where the bodice is seamed to the dot under the arm and so is the facing.  Then, you have to attach them together but both end at the same dot.  This isn’t easy to explain so I hope the pictures will help.

I cut a sample from a fabric that I think you might be able to see the right and wrong sides.  I just guessed at the shape going by the pattern pictures.  The most important thing is marking the “exact” dot under the arm and be very accurate stitching to the center of that dot on both the facing and bodice.

Stitch the front to back at the shoulders and underarm of both the bodice and facings.  Press those seams open.  Match the shoulder seams right sides together and pin.  Line up the dots under the arm and pin those together but only one side at a time.

IMG_0597 IMG_0598IMG_0600


Starting at one of the pins where the dots come together as in the third picture above, sew a few stitches and backstitch making sure you don’t go past the stitch where you started.  Sew all around the sleeve opening and when you get close to where you started, fold the piece that’s in your way forward so you can sew right up to the dots where you’ve pinned.  Stitch right to the pin only and backstitch a few stitches.


Grade your seams especially at the shoulder where you have the most layers on top of each other.  Press the facing to the inside.  Pin the edges for topstitching.  Stitch across the bottom edge, squaring the topstitching, pivot at the corner and stitch around the entire sleeve opening meeting the first stitch of your topstitching and squaring across the bottom again to secure the stitches.



After you press your stitching you should have a nice flat edge with no puckers.  I hope that helps.  Let me know if you have other problems and I’ll see what I can do to get you through them.

Where Did the Bust Dart Go? I Want It Back! And, the new Vogue American Designer!

I recently found this beautiful fabric at Colorado Fabrics.  It’s a Ralph Lauren lambswool coating with a unique texture.  I remembered I had this old Vogue pattern with a draped front similar to what’s currently in style.  It’s a John Anthony Vogue American Designer pattern #1387 from 1985 that I remembered that I had made for my mother-in-law back then.  Only, I know more at this point in my experience, and what I saw on the pattern really bothered me.  Similar to my last post about shoulder slopes, this one was worse.  And, I think I figured out why.  Who would have guessed the armhole problem would be from a bust dart?  The shoulder tip on the front was a full 1inch higher than the back shoulder tip.  It just didn’t look right so I started to manipulate the armhole to see if I was right about what the pattern maker did with the design from John Anthony.  Using my dress form, I pinched out a dart in the armhole to see if I could get a better fit on the front.  It didn’t take much to see how much better the pattern looked. Here are the first pictures to show you.


I will also have to raise the back shoulder tip again to give the armhole a better shape.  The pattern calls for a 1/2″ shoulder pad, but the design picture on the envelope sure looks like a big old 1″ one.  Pretty common back in the mid 80’s.  I also could have shortened the front armhole depth by taking a small tuck just below the shoulder line, but because I folded out the dart in the armhole I can now transfer it to the shoulder and create a new design with a princess seam from the shoulder.  I will also do the same in the back to give the jacket the continuity of seams front and back.


This design called for doing flat-felled seams on the entire jacket and I thought that would add some interest as well.  But, the texture of the fabric was so thick that I only did one row of stitching from the inside of the seams.  I used my serger to overcast the edges first because the extra strength added from the threads made it so much easier to turn the edges.  Without the serging the edges wanted to stretch.  I also used a small terrycloth towel on my ironing board to press the fabric pieces.  The nap is cushioned from the texture on the towel so it doesn’t get crushed.  Sometimes I’ve also use a scrap of the same fabric for the pressing, but not always does the nap get the support it needs.  Velvet needle boards are available to use as a pressing tool if you want, too.


Since I changed the armhole length I also had to change the sleeve so it would fit into the armhole again.  The original sleeve pattern looked just as weird as the front pattern piece.  The sleeve looked as if someone just flipped it over and changed the front notches to the back and the back notches to the front.  I reshaped the cap of the sleeve and measured the armhole length on both the jacket body and the sleeve so that I only ended up with about 1″ of ease.  The jacket on my dress form looks like I needed more cap height but actually the jacket has more of a dropped shoulder and the sleeve hangs well from the real body.


I love this jacket now and will probably make it again.IMG_0562

It feels like wearing a beautiful shawl.  Guess who the

new Vogue American Designer is?  Me!  And, you can

be, too, if you care to play around with your patterns.

Does Your pattern have the right Shoulder Slope?

This makes me crazy and I see it all the time in patterns.  When I saw it on this McCall’s pattern #6844 I decided to get some information out about it so others will know to look for it.  The knit used in this pattern has very little stretch according to the guide on the back of the pattern envelope.  Always check that out when buying your knits to know how much stretch it’s going to need.  It’s a little bar on the side of the yardage information and has an arrow to show how far a knit is supposed to stretch to suit that particular pattern.  This pattern is only calling for about a 1″ stretch on the fabric.  That’s a pretty stable knit.  The knit I wanted to use was very soft and I should have listened to my own advise because it wanted to fall right off of my shoulders.  So, I stabilized the stretch with a piece of stay tape sewn into the shoulder seam.

photo-2slope of shoulder unbalancednotched armhole curve

The middle picture shows how when you line up the underarm seams, the shoulder slope for the back and front are nearly the same.  If you understand the body, when going up and over the shoulder blade in the back you will need more length to get to the top of the shoulder.  If you don’t have the extra length, your garment is going to pull the seam toward the back and not be comfortable when the front pulls up to compensate.  The picture on the right shows how the armhole curve isn’t anywhere smooth because of the jog at the crossing of the shoulder seams.  Maybe the pattern makers decided it wouldn’t matter if all this is in a knit fabric.

raised sh tip 3:4%22raised shoulder slopesmoother armhole curve

The first picture above shows the 3/4″ that I added to the shoulder tip.  Can you see the extra height on that shoulder tip in the second picture to make the jacket sit right on the body?  When you align the new shoulder seams in the third picture, you can see how there is now a smooth curve to the armhole.  The sleeve will now fit into the seam much more smoothly.  The only thing you need to change now is the length of the sleeve seam to fit the new adjustment.  Since we added 3/4″ more to the length of the armhole, you will need to add that much more to the length of the sleeve seam.  I’m going to add that length at the top of the sleeve cap to give the proper drape to it.  I also have a forward shoulder rotation, which I have found in my dressmaker business to be on at least 95% of all my clients.  It’s where the shoulder rounds forward of its normal position.  Usually, I will have to move the shoulder tip seam toward the front by 1/2″ or more (depending on the slope of the original pattern).  What I add to the back, I will take off of the front shoulder tip.  This is very similar to the procedure above that just changed the slope.  Pati Palmer writes about this fitting issue in her book, “Fit for Real People”.  Look for “Forward Shoulder Rotation” in the index.

added extra sleeve capshoulder seam betterfinished knit jacket

The sleeve pattern above shows where I added the extra height on the sleeve cap, but there’s actually a little more on the front shoulder area where my shoulder rounding occurs.  The middle picture shows the new seam in a better position on the body.  And, the last picture is the finished jacket with the topstitching on the collar to hold the seam better at the edge.  This pattern had you interface the collar piece that turns outward.  I think I’ll be making this jacket again with a more stable knit.  I hope this helps you see this fitting issue on all your patterns.  Look for it!

11 Shades of Grey (Russian Shirts just like Tolstoy had, sort of!)

I’ve been sewing for my friend and priest, Father Justin for probably 14 years now.  Usually I make his clerical clothes including a Rassa, Podroznik, and knickers that go underneath.  In December, he asked if I could make him a couple of shirts that looked like what Tolstoy was wearing in a picture he had.  Father Justin is a retired Russian Orthodox priest and teaches Russian History and Film Studies at one of our local High Schools.  He’s quite a unique person.  So, of course I said I could make a few shirts.  Then he thought he needed maybe 5 shirts.  I shouldn’t have told him about one of our nicest fabric stores for quilt cottons.  He came with a bag of 7 pieces of fabric, all different solid colors.  What’s really funny is he is color blind.  So, everything is some sort of “shade of grey”.  But, he knows if I tell him the fabric is red or magenta he can tell the difference.

The first shirt was terrible to try to get right for him since he bought this Folkwear Pattern and had it shipped to me thinking it would be perfect.  All I had to do was make the Russian version and not the Ukrainian version.  It was way to boxy and no shape in the shoulders.  Father Justin is very particular about how all of his clothes look.  We’ve laughed that he was probably a Pope or a monarch of some kind in a former life.  So, now I needed another pattern to get the yokes on the shoulder better shaped, and I had this Simplicity pattern on hand.  The collar stand became the finished neck band of his new shirt (without the collar).

photo 1photo 2photo 1-2

I wish I had taken a picture of the first 2 shirts I did for him.  The first being a beautiful slate grey with black and silver buttons (we called them “fisheye” buttons).  The second one, red, had large gold buttons.  This cream one has the black “frog closures”.  The shirt has 2 added pockets, one for his keys to go down to his lobby and get the mail.  The other is a watch pocket for his beautiful gold watch with the chain loop near the underarm seam.  One thing I learned about the “frogs” was to not touch your iron to them or they will melt.  Fortunately, I only touched one of them to discover the problem.  As a note, these sleeves are about 5 inches too long so they will “blouse” nicely when buttoned at the wrist.  The shirt is also about 5 inches longer than the original pattern.  The asymmetrical opening was lengthened down to the hem so he wouldn’t have to pull it over his head as well.  The collar band is snug enough so that the Podroznik is worn over it and you see a small amount of the collar band underneath.  He will wear his rope sash (like Friar Tuck) or his 3″ wide leather belt around the waist to hold in all the gathers. Initially these were going to be casual shirts to wear around the apartment with his knickers.

Father Justin liked these 3 so well he went back to the fabric store and bought enough fabric to make 2 more in a pure white, and 2 more in a black sateen, even before the other 4 are made.  I’m going to be making shirts for awhile.  I’ve probably made him at least 30 Podrozniks over the years since each new one had something better than the one before, so he wanted more of those.  They all have to have a little “swing” to the hem so they swirl a bit when he walks.  They all came from a pattern I had to make from one of the original robes he had.  The high school kids he teaches think he’s really cool and he was Teacher of the Year for Colorado a few years back.  I hope you can see why.

Tolstoy, meet Father Justin!

photo 2-2

Make your own shoulder pads

Recently, I had one of my tailoring students ask if I knew of any resource material to make your own shoulder pads.  So, I started looking through my reference books and couldn’t find anything that would explain the process very well.  I decided I could make up some instructions to show the process.  Here’s my information.  I hope it’s helpful.

Making shoulder pads

Underlining a Silk Jacket

I’ve had this beautiful silk fabric for a very long time.  Since I’ve started teaching a tailoring class, I thought I’d work on this piece to make a jacket, Vogue 2174.  It is so light weight that I wanted to underline it to give it just a little more body and longevity.  I used a piece of very light weight, cotton batiste.  I liked the “hand” it gave me when I held it with the silk.  It’s not as crisp as silk organza would have been which is my usual choice for underlining.  I also could have used a lightweight fusible interfacing, but that usually changes the hand of the fabric too much.

“Truing up the Grainline”

To start, I had to true up the grainline on the batiste.  This is what tearing it caused.  Lots of pull lines extending a couple of inches into the edge.  Be careful of doing this on other light weight fabrics.  Many years ago, I had a mail order piece of mulberry plaid silk that lost 2 inches on one end, and another 2 inches on the other.  Almost a full eighth of a yard was unusable because they didn’t just cut the fabric on the grainline of the plaid instead of tearing it.

.truing the grainUnderlining plcmt

“Turn of the Cloth”

After cutting the batiste exactly like the silk pattern pieces, lay it on the wrong side of each piece and pin baste or thread baste through the body of the piece.  Here is where I have determined that the “turn of the cloth” is as important in doing this procedure as it is when constructing layered pieces such as collars and cuffs to prevent the underlining from bunching up on the inside of the jacket.  So, I will simulate the fold of the seam, and only then will the edges be basted together.  You could probably skip doing the “fold then baste” by cutting off about 1/8 inch all around the edge of the batiste, but there are areas such as around the armhole that don’t get turned in the seam and you would be removing fabric necessary to be there.  Therefore, just baste the edge around the armhole without folding in the seam.

Basting the underliningSimulating turned seamBaste underlining while folded overBaste all seamsGood excess of silk fabric to turn

I hope you can see in the picture at far right, on the right side of the fabric I have created a “little extra” fabric that will get absorbed when the seam is stitched and pressed open.  The underlining will lay nice and flat on the under side of the fabric.  I have done this on all the jacket pieces.

“Easing the Sleeve Cap”

I also wanted to show you the sleeves.  To ease the cap of the sleeves, I like to sew rows of ease stitching, with the right side of the fabric facing up on the machine so the bobbin thread is on the wrong side.  Using a long stitch and decreasing the upper thread tension, I sew the first row at 1/2 inch from the cut edge, the second 3/8 inch from the cut edge, and the third at 1/4 inch.  Pulling up on the 3 bobbin threads (which are easy to pull because we loosened the thread tension), ease the cap into a soft, rounded shape before you try to sew the sleeve in the jacket.  Working on the end of a sleeve board, you can then take just the tip of the iron and press the rest of the puckered edges of the sleeve cap so it can be sewn in quite easily.

Gather sleeve cap with 3 rowsHold edge of sl cap over sleeve bdPress sl cap with only tip of ironSleeve cap after pressing edge

Here’s the sleeve cap after being pressed. The fibers on the cut edge are now nice and smooth.  I will show the finished jacket in the next post.

5 Tips to Make your Zippers Look Better

  1. If possible, use a 1 inch seam allowance when cutting the seam allowance where the zipper is to go.  The extra width supports the zipper and the stitching underneath.
  2. Machine baste the seam closed where the zipper goes with a long stitch and loosened tension so you can easily remove the basting thread.
  3. Use 1/2 inch wide “Scotch” tape (cellophane tape) to mark the placement line of the stitching of the zipper.  Stitch along the tape for an easy guide.  Test the tape on a scrap of the fabric to make sure it won’t damage the fibers in any way.
  4. Use a smaller stitch length when topstitching the zipper in place.  I like to use 10-12 stitches per inch.
  5. The zipper pull (pull tab) requires more fabric to cover it, so stitch slightly around the pull instead of sewing a straight line next to the pull.  This is where the 1 inch seam allowance is helpful.  No one will see the slight variance in your stitching line and your zipper pull will be covered better instead of peeking out.

Many people think putting in a zipper is difficult and hard to get the stitching to look good, but try these tips and make your zippers look better.

Tips for Pressing

I recently was reading one of my Tailoring Books to prepare for an upcoming Tailoring Class that I’m teaching.  I found a short section of Pressing Tips that I thought would be nice to share.  The book is from the Singer Reference Library titled “Tailoring”.  Copyright date is 1988 (I have a lot of great resource books that old).  Here’s their tips for pressing:

  1. TEST iron setting and effects of steam on a sample seam and dart sewn in fabric scraps.
  2. PRESS, using lower-pause-lift motion.  Do not slide iron from place to place.
  3. PRESS each seam before crossing another seam.
  4. DO most pressing on wrong side of fabric.  Use correct press cloth when pressing from the right side.  The press cloth protects fabric from over pressing and from changes in fabric surface, hand, and appearance.
  5. DO NOT press over pins or basting unless the basting is stitched with silk thread.
  6. KEEP seam line perfectly straight when pressing straight seams, so seams hang correctly.  Press curved seams and darts on shaped pressing equipment to prevent distorted or stretched lines.
  7. ALLOW pressed areas to cool before moving.  If fabric must be moved, lift and support it with both hands to prevent the fabric from stretching out of shape.

Happy Sewing !