Fashion

Flatlock Fun Run Tights

I recently decided to audit my workout gear. My activewear drawer had been packed full, but when I got rid of the things that didn’t fit, were damaged or just plain ugly, there wasn’t much left.  The worst category was bottoms that could be used in a gym workout.

I was off to a good start with my Girl Power Shorts, but I also wanted to put together a long tight with some compression and at least one pocket.  I landed on Greenstyle Creations’ Stride Athletic Tights PDF pattern.  The pattern offers options for high and medium rise waistbands, different lengths, with or without pockets, and with or without a crotch gusset.  For my first pair, I chose the long length, pockets (always!), medium rise, and gusset.

TIP: Use a gusset if you are planning on wearing your tights for yoga or activities that require a degree of contortion.  You can leave it out if you are just going to use them for walking or running.

Flatlock_testI had a piece of really nice medium weight black poly/lycra calling out from my stash. The deep solid black was the perfect base for decorative stitching.

Flatlocking is a seam technique where the fabric pieces are joined at the raw edges with a covering stitch. It’s particularly useful for thicker fabrics since there is no double thickness at the seams.  It’s also great for activewear because the inside of the garment is smoother, reducing the possibility of chafing.

When considering a flatlock technique, you need to think about how the seam lines will affect the appearance of the garment. You will be stitching a stripe between all of the fabric pieces where they are joined. You can downplay the stripes by choosing a matching, or slightly darker thread. I thought it would be fun to play with it though, keeping the fabric simple and making the seam stripes the focal point.

I tested various types of thread, seam widths and stitch lengths. I tried wooly nylon, rayon embroidery thread and polyester embroidery thread. I liked the shine of both of the embroidery threads and chose the poly just because I liked the color better. I preferred the narrower 4mm flatlock with the “Seaglass” polyester embroidery thread.*

*Note: This was not a great choice…  keep reading.

seam_plan
Seam Plan

My next step was to make a plan for which seams I wanted to highlight and which I wanted to disappear into the background. I wanted to hide the gusset, inside leg seams, pockets and hem. My regular black serger thread worked well for this purpose.

Sewing a flatlock seam is really easy.  You simply set up your serger for a 2 or 3 thread overlock with the knife down.  (For most of my seams, I chose to do a 3-thread version for durability). Thread the needle with the thread for the underside of the seam. Thread the lower looper with the thread you want to show on top. Adjust the spacing so that the overlock extends slightly past the cut edge of the fabric. Stitch the seam as usual, right sides together. When you have chained off and taken your piece out of the machine, gently pull the two pieces apart and flatten. If your tension is right, you will have a nice, flat seam joining the two.

The PDF pattern includes easy to follow instructions, so putting the tights together went smoothly.

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Since I was featuring flatlock seaming, I hemmed the pockets using black thread and a 2-thread decorative flatlock.  I’ve seen this in ready to wear, but never tried to do it. The process is not difficult. Press the hem in place as usual, then fold over once more. With the knife down, stitch a two-thread overlock over the outside (or top) edge of the fold. When it is done and smoothed flat, the front has a decorative flatlock stripe while the back’s ladder stitches hold the hem in place. Neat!

I like that Clear elastic is used inside the waistband to add a flexible, invisible bit of structure.

tights_pinning
Curved seams. Bleh.

I didn’t like pinning those curved seams!

I sewed my label inside the hidden pocket – no chafing!  Also – hey, hidden pocket!

I had intended to do a coverstitch hem, then I realized that it would be impossible to work with the small diameter opening on a machine with no free arm. I ended up zig-zagging the hem on my regular machine.

Full disclosure:  I messed up one of the decorative seams.  It was close to the bottom of one leg, and could not be fixed.  So I cut the ends off of the legs, saving as much as I could.  My tights are capri length instead of long.  Oh, well.  We’ll just keep that between us, okay?

tights_pocket_zoomSo, what was wrong with the thread? No stretch. The first time I put on the tights and tried stretching, the seams pulled right out in the tighter areas!  I was able to repair them, but there is no way that I will be using my tights for anything more athletic than housework.  I’m keeping the pattern, though.  With a few changes, this could still be a great staple piece.

Lessons learned for next time:

  • Modify the pattern for roomier thighs
  • Try the higher waistband
  • Use a fabric with more stretch
  • Use a thread with some stretch

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Fashion

Coordinating Swimwear: The Rash Guard

swim_design
Planning the layout

Rashguards used to be just for surfers, but they have earned a place as a required item in anyone’s complete activewear wardrobe. They are especially popular as children’s wear. Any parent can tell you that they protect delicate skin from the sun way better than sunscreen, which wears off before you know it. It’s easier to pull on a rashguard than to put on sunscreen and they are sporty and fun for men, women and kids.

Like everything else, fit matters!  Personally, I usually end up buying oversized, sloppy rashguards because the ones that are in standard sizes are both too tight and too loose at the same time. Sound familiar? Spandex stretches, so even if it doesn’t fit, you can usually pull one on anyway. But the results and comfort leave a lot to be desired.

ultra_stretch_test
Sample / test of seam finish

The solution? Sew your own, of course!

I had enough fabric left from my maillot to make front and back pieces for a color-blocked rashguard.  So not only could I make a rashguard that fits, I could coordinate it with my swimsuit.  Fancy!  I got a yard of solid plum lycra for the contrast. I chose a pattern from McCall’s with a raglan sleeve and sleeve length and overall length variations.  If you want to make Mommy and me looks, there is also a matching kids’ pattern available.

rg_inside
View of the inside, showing wooly nylon thread

Of course, you don’t have to do things exactly the way the pattern tells you to.  I cut the pieces for the long length, long-sleeve version. Instead of doing the blocking the pattern suggested, I made it solid plum overall with only a floral front and back panel.

The top went together quickly.  In some ways, sewing the stretchy spandex was simpler than doing the same type of shirt in jersey.  I’m not sure why, but it seemed to feed more evenly than cotton jersey and attaching the the neck band was more forgiving as well.  I continued to use a stretch needle and the walking foot for all regular machine work. But, most of the sewing was done on the serger set up for a 3-thread super-stretch overlock. I threaded the lower looper with wooly nylon and the needles with regular polyester thread. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I only needed to loosen the tension a little bit on the lower looper to make a nice even edge finish.  I love the softness of the wooly nylon against the skin.  I have read that wooly polyester is a better choice, because it stands up to machine mashing better.  I plan on getting some and seeing for myself, but for now, nylon it is!

threads_on_serger
Thread conserving spool setup

This was a great opportunity to finally use my new serger’s coverstitch function.  I only had one spool of plum-colored thread, so to make two lines of matching topstitching, I threaded one needle with the spool and the other one with the bobbin thread. I kept going with the purple wooly nylon on the inside.  I think it looks pretty nice, although I wish I had found a closer match for the wooly nylon.  I used the coverstitch for all of the hems and for a nice neckband finish. (Okay, they are a little wobbly, but it’s fine for a first effort).

I really like it. Now that I know how easy it is, I am going to make matching rashguards for all of my future swimwear.

Coming soon – working with plaids and a return to wovens.

coverstitch_examples
Coverstitch tests.  Upper sample shows flat result from decreased cover stitch tension

 

 

 

 

Fashion

One-piece Floral Swimsuit Part 2

As I write this, the temperature has climbed above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  Shorts and swimsuit weather is finally here so I couldn’t wait to finish my suit!

suitback_on
Maillot back – sweet and simple

The suit is a simple scoop neck one-piece, fully lined with sewn-in foam cups.  This project really exemplifies why to learn to sew for yourself.  If a suit that fit this well existed in the retail market (which it doesn’t – trust me), it would probably be in the $100-$200 price range. That is the going rate for a suit that has lining in the back and uses high quality materials.  After taking the craftsy class, I have a pattern that I can use again, and the skills to branch out into different styles.  When you think about how little fabric you need, you can really splurge on something great that’s exactly what you want and still come in a lot cheaper than $100.

suitside_on
Maillot side – everything fits!

Putting the pieces together was pretty fun.  I am so glad to have my duct-tape friend to help me with fitting.  It made putting in the bra cups so easy.  Using the class instructions, I pinned the foam bra cups directly to the mannequin.  Then I pulled the basted-together suit lining over it. After carefully pinning around the foam edges, I cut starbursts into the lycra over the cups until the fabric around the armholes lay flat against the body.  After carefully removing and unbasting the lining, I measured to make sure there was enough fabric around the cups to put in the elastic.  There wasn’t, so I shaved a bit off the upper edge of each cup.

Using my everyday sewing machine, a size 75 stretch needle, the walking foot, and regular polyester thread, I zigzagged the cups to the lining.  Once I cut the extra fabric away from the seams, I was pleased to see how professional it looked.

The next step was to cut the fashion fabric pieces and pin them to their lining counterparts. You could also put them together with a spray adhesive, but I didn’t want to deal with overspray mess.  I would seriously consider doing it that way if I was making a bunch at once though.

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Assembly was pretty straightforward until I got to the elastic casing.  This was my first time using “plastic elastic,” also known as clear elastic or Mobilon.  While it was very simple to zigzag into place, I did have some tension problems.  The underside is pretty messy.  Good thing it doesn’t show!

Although I really like my suit just as it is, I think it could be improved with a few more tweaks.  I wanted to raise the neckline a bit and smooth out the leg curve, so I re-re-modified the pattern pieces.  Then I made a good copy on Swedish pattern paper, so the next one should be super easy (with a lot fewer mistakes!).

Something tells me there will be a spandex stash in my sewing area’s future!

Missed Part 1?  Find it here.

 

Fashion

One-piece Floral Swimsuit Part 1

I recently signed up for Sewing Swimsuits: The Supportive One-Piece on Craftsy.  For those of you that are unfamiliar, craftsy.com offers interactive online courses for many subjects, including sewing, knitting, art, photography, and cooking.  I have taken a few of these in the past and always found them to be worth the time and expense.

Sewing Swimsuits is taught by Beverly Johnson, a Canadian lingerie and swimwear designer.  I love her.  Her teaching style strikes a nice balance between just-the-facts and friendly chat.  She also offers classes on sewing shapewear, bras, and panties.

I have been wearing two piece swimwear for at least 20 years.  One-pieces are always too short or too high-cut or too something.  Making my own one-piece has been on my sewing bucket-list for years.

Beverly’s class teaches how to make a simple maillot that fits.  The idea is that once you know how to do that, you will be able to apply your swimwear skills to other styles. Craftsy rates it appropriate for the intermediate student: “For those who are already comfortable with the sewing machine and have made at least a few projects successfully.”  I would say that’s about right.

Gathering the supplies took way longer than actually making the suit.  I ordered a variety of foam bra cups to find out which size and shape worked best.  I needed swimwear elastic, which is designed to withstand chlorinated water.  Of course, I needed lycra fabric that I liked, but also nylon swim lining.  The class does not include a pattern, so I had to get that also.

B4526_04
Art from B5426 pattern envelope, view B

I started with Butterick B4526 which contains a pattern for a simple, scoop-neck one-piece.  But after re-watching the class, I put it back in the envelope.  Why?  In the first lesson, Beverly advises against patterns with a back piece that is cut on a fold-line.  The reason is that you need to have a curved seam in the center back to accommodate the shape of the wearer’s lower back.  I already have to make adjustments there when I sew pants, so the two-piece back was a must-have. Aha. That’s one fit problem identified.

I hunted online, and other than the instructor’s own patterns, there are none currently in print that have a two piece back and a plain scoop neck. I didn’t want to use the instructor’s patterns just because there was no download option and I was too impatient to wait on the mail.

Sometimes being impatient leads to a lot more work.  I took my Butterick pattern and extra pattern paper and started marking it up.  I made modifications to the back pattern piece to make it look more or less like the shape of the one in the video.  Finally, I added seam allowance to the side that used to be placed on the foldline.

orange_muslin_leg
Spandex muslin marked with new leg curve

I had some plain orange lycra that faded like crazy when I washed it.  Since I no longer wanted to use it, it made good “muslin” for testing the pattern.  I cut out a set of pieces then basted it together and tried it on (with a bra, to simulate having foam cups).

Okay….  the bust darts were too low and the leg openings were way too low.  Seriously unflattering!  This kind of thing happens when I try on ready-to-wear suits, so it’s not surprising. No problems with the center back though, so the two-piece modification worked.  Standing in front of a mirror, I took a fabric marker and sketched in the changes I wanted to make.  I marked the true bust point so I could place the dart correctly.  I also drew lines (a little wobbly, but that’s okay) around my leg opening showing where I wanted the new leg opening to be.

duct_tape_swim_fitting_1
Lining test fit on duct-tape double. Much better!

With a little math, the marked-up muslin, and some rulers and markers, I made more changes to the pattern.  At this point, it doesn’t look very much like the original at all.

I was fairly confident in my pattern, so I cut muslin 2 from my good lining fabric. I basted it and tried it on for fit.

In Part 2, read about putting it all together.  Until then, happy sewing!