Thursday 6 August 2015

Sewing Tip 4: Puzzle Top How-To (4/5)

Fun to make, and used up a whole whack of useless stuff
The Puzzle Top consumed three riveting weeks of spare time and brain-power. Here are all the nerdy construction details.

Since I like the fit of the Garden Gnome Top, I started with a copy of that flat pattern - minus the sleeves - placed on the mannequin to get a good look. Snip, slash, spread, trim - after adjusting the length, width, neckline and armholes, the new pattern was trued, marked with grainline, and traced. Full front and back pieces were taped together at one side seam and placed on a padded table. The scraps were then arranged - held in place while working by loosely pinning into the padding. There were two rules:

No Cutting Allowed

Grainline Must be Maintained

What I envisioned as a 20-minute frolic of deftly flinging and rearranging scraps into place, took 3 painstaking days. There were plenty of cuttings to choose from, but most of them were the wrong shape, wrong colour (too much red!), or on the wrong grain.

Once the placement was finalized, I held my breath and removed the pins. A layer of lightweight, water-soluble Solvy was laid over the work, pinned, then diagonally basted with cotton thread to each scrap along each join.
Full back and front pattern pieces, abutted at one side seam, scraps placed, covered with Solvy and diagonal basted.
The red plaid, with narrow "bridge", is my favourite: such a useless snippet
Have you discovered Solvy yet? Solvy is a nifty, plastic film-like stabilizer commonly used for appliqué or machine embroidery. It comes in different degrees of stiffness, and in different manners of disappearing: by water, heat or tearing. I use it often, mostly to prevent distortion when sewing tricky fabrics or doing freehand machine embroidery. In this case, the Solvy held the puzzle pieces in their correct alignment during the machining - a triple zigzag along each join.

The stitching was mindless fun. I chose second-hand, silver, cotton thread from my stash, and had almost enough, with only a little cheating near the end with mismatched bobbin thread.

Next, the pattern was laid on top once again, and the edges were marked all around with a running stitch*. To form the flat puzzle into a 3D garment, the scraps at the remaining side and shoulder areas were overlapped exactly the right amount, and in the correct orientation, by matching these running stitches. The scrap-flaps were diagonally basted in place then checked on the mannequin before zigzagging.
*Super-Sewing-Geek note: a couture pattern has no seam allowances. When the pieces are laid on the fabric, the edge of each pattern piece (i.e. the seamline!) is marked on the fabric with a short-short-long running stitch, before it is cut - with seam allowances gauged by eye. In couture sewing the seamlines are matched, rather than the edges of the seam allowances.
Would-be shoulder seamline, marked with pink running stitch
Rick rack holds bust shaping in place after easing,
and delineates the neckline and armhole
From the inside: raw edges at the underarm: no cutting!
The plaid patch hides the button stabilizer behind the pocket
At this point the garment was rigid from all the Solvy, so it was sent through the washer and dryer to remove the stabilizer before the Moment of Truth: the first fitting.

Since the original, unaltered shape of the scraps dictate the curve of the neckline and armhole, I planned to leave the wonky, raw edges unfinished to celebrate this feat. However, once it was washed, I didn't care for the fit of the armhole at the bust. To fix this, a row of basting stitches was run along the baggy areas. With the garment on the mannequin, the thread was pulled up to ease the gaping, creating bust shaping, which was then held in place by some lovely, hand-me-down, cotton rick rack. The rick rack was turned under and topstitched, so only the points are seen. The uneven fabric edges no longer showed, but rule #2 decreed the urge to trim them must be resisted, so they were left to tell the tale.

Lastly: the pocket, made from a buttonhole test, was attached with the triple zigzag. The button was given a sturdy shank using silk buttonhole thread, anchored from the wrong side with a folded square of silk organza, so it can't pull through. This is hidden by another scrap, hand-sewn with herringbone stitch using the rest of the thread left in the needle after applying the button. The hand sewing wasn't entirely necessary; the thread was so smooth and lovely to sew with, I just didn't want to stop.

An ode to the importance of grain, I'm happy with how the Puzzle Top turned out. It reminds me of my grandmother and namesake, whom I remember in her rick rack-trimmed housedress, making heavenly bierock, cinnamon buns, and doughnuts. She grew fragrant sweet peas in her garden, and kept a vaseful on the table. This is my housedress, in memory of her.

Puzzle 1: Button Sewing Tutorial
Puzzle 2: Blatant Advertising
Puzzle 3: What and Why
Puzzle 5: Rick Rack Tutorial

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