Monday, March 18, 2019

Random Threads # 35: pattern names, backstitching and the search for novelty

Time for another Random Threads post as I have a number of things written down in my notebook, and this time I can read them all. I was careful when jotting things down and tried to make my notes legible to myself, mostly succeeding.

Are you ready for spring sewing? I thought that I could fit in another winter item (truth be told a Burda Easy coat that I've been wanting to make for ages, and I actually have wool coating remnants that are just enough to make a nice color blocked version). But the forecast is sun for the next week or so and spring is just about here, so I will have to put the coat idea away until next fall. That means when there is the first hint of frost I will have a project ready and waiting.

Which means I'm ready to sew for spring and summer. Which despite my love of making coats and jackets summer clothes are by far my favorite to wear. Bring on the warm weather, I ordered two pairs of sandals this morning!

New and Novel: I'm always looking for a new detail in sewing patterns. What do you look for in sewing patterns? My main focus for choosing to make a new sewing pattern is whether or not it has a new-to-me detail. Or some interesting combination of features. Sometimes it's the way the pattern pieces go together, like this jacket. Or a silhouette with an interesting funnel collar detail like this coat. Occasionally I force myself to try a new shape or style with wearable results. I think this is the reason I decided to subscribe to Burda Magazine, as I noticed in each issue along with plenty of repeats they had a good amount of really interesting items, and so far I've found something in each issue that was unique and made me want to trace it out. Granted that I have been sewing a long time and consequently crave something challenging, so complex patterns keep my interest and sew-jo going. Here's a look at a Burda jacket I'm currently making, I had to really puzzle to figure out the pocket construction and that was fun - with a little bit of frustration.

Burda jacket pocket

I can't wait to get the Burda April issue as I saw a dress in there that will be jumping to the top of my spring to-do list. I love the combo of ruffle and the twist at the waist. This one will have to be all about the fabric selection as I've made some wrong choices on things with ruffles in the past.

Burda April pattern

The flip side of this is boredom with a lot of pattern releases that I see around. It kind of amazes me how many knit t-shirt patterns get released by new pattern designers. Like any other product category where there are many of the same product but hundreds of brands, starting with a basic item is a way to develop a relationship with the customer and get them comfortable with your product. But how can you attract customers if your item is the same as so many that already exist? It baffles me. (don't get me started on woven tops. every week there is a new pattern that seems indistinguishable from the previous ones). In any event, I think there are lots of pattern designers that target people who are relatively new to sewing. I will give a shout out to Vogue designer patterns, they often have interesting details or else they include my other favorite feature which is more than one item in a pattern, such as a skirt and top, or dress, top and jacket etc. Pattern Value!

Backstitching  - do you do it?

When I'm teaching sewing classes at Hello Stitch we typically have people who are fairly new to sewing. Which means that in addition to learning about garment construction techniques, fabric and fit, they are also getting familiar with using a sewing machine. The machines at the studio are Janome and they default to a 2.4 stitch length, which is quite short and painful to unpick if necessary. Which is most always necessary when you are a beginner, right? So at the beginning of each class I tell them to bump that stitch length up to 2.8 or 3 and no backstitching. And then I prepare myself for the outcry "what?? no backstitching at the beginning and end?"  Nope. Not necessary in my opinion.

Backstitch example

Here are my reasons.
1) on modern machines with the zig-zag throat plate, that opening where the needle goes down is wider and it is so easy to have the fabric edge pulled in just enough to make a knotty mess or get stuck. It takes a while to get the feel of where to place the fabric edge to be able to backstitch without that happening. I think it is probably second nature for an experienced sewer but it takes a bit of practice and it is really frustrating for new sewers.
2) If you make a mistake (inevitable - we all do) then the backstitching at the beginning - especially if done enthusiastically is a nightmare to unpick. And sometimes shreds the fabric and causes all kinds of delay and frustration.
3) Most seams are crossed by another seam, which in effect locks down the stitching. And often the seam allowances where the backstitching took place is trimmed away. So to my mind it really is not needed. If you are reasonable gentle with the pieces you have sewn, as opposed to wildly tossing them around your sewing space, they will remain stitched together ready for the next step. Plus it makes your sewing just that little bit faster which is always rewarding.

Caveat on the whole backstitching issue - YES there are times when I do it. Certain seams on certain fabrics really do need it, I'm thinking on a lot of denim items, hard wearing fabrics, or things like shorts and pants. Bottoms of zippers, center seams with an opening, etc, all those spots definitely need some reinforcement. So it's useful but not needed on every seam.

Pattern names are perfect for the Instagram age: I mean pattern with a name as opposed to a pattern number. I think the combination of using a name which is hash-tag-able works perfectly in the Instagram age, it does make searching and sharing so easy. For example V9357 or Burda 12-2019-107 don't exactly have the same ring as Dawn Jeans (Megan Nielsen) or Magnolia dress (Deer and Doe). I noticed this especially as I'm always looking now for examples of items sewn from the recent issues of Burda, and rarely does anyone mention on IG what the exact pattern is. They might use the hashtag #Burdastyle but often don't mention the month/year. Which I realize is a minor problem in the scheme of things but it is annoying. In fact I see in comments people have asked what is the pattern. So hey there, sewists who post about their Burda items - mention the magazine issue!
Yeah, this is a futile request. And conversely have you found a pattern appealing except for the name? The word might have an association that does not attract you? Certainly naming of products is a whole field of study in marketing, I just read an article about paint colors and how the name can change the sales numbers if pitched at just the right customer segment (or deter sales if not considered interesting). I'm a pragmatist on this issue, pattern numbers are fine with me and pattern names sometimes are a bit annoying. Maybe that's why I drive a car that has a model number but not a name? Nah, I just chose it in the showroom because I loved the color! (don't get me started on car colors - why are they so drab? so...many...silver and grey...

Ties that show the wrong side of the fabric: I find this bothersome - do you have an opinion? And now I can't recall which pattern I saw recently that had this feature but it looks so unfinished. Some patterns have that warning in the find print "Wrong side will show" and I tend to avoid that as it just never looks quite right. This example below doesn't have that, the tie pattern piece is two pieces sewn together so the wrong side of the fabric doesn't show. I wish I could recall....


Measuring suits:  Yes, KS_Sews, it was the Zozo suit that I was thinking of when I wrote "measuring suits" in my notebook. And she has a post where she used the suit to get her measurements. It seems like a lot of work in order to get measurements that you could get with just your measuring tape - and I wonder how accurate they really are, or how they compare to having another person measure you. Here's a really interesting article on the Economist website, the writer tried the Zozosuit and ordered clothes, which were a bit of a letdown. By the way he brings up the issue of all those photos of people in their zozosuits floating around and all the data you've provided to the company. Very interesting.

What's next on the calendar at Hello Stitch?  This upcoming weekend is my Sew a Wrap Dress class, a couple of spots still available in that. In April we have plenty on the schedule, including the Learn to Sew Level II which is a three Saturdays dressmaking class that includes a module on fitting a bodice. Still a few spots in that one but I'm sure it will fill up so if you are interested register soon. And we have a Lander pants class, a Bondi dress class (with new option for the Tesutti Coni dress that has sleeves) and many more.  All classes can be found here on the Garment Sewing page of the Hello Stitch website. All the classes have been filling up so if you are interested please register while there is still space available. By the way, we're doing the Ash jeans class again, starting June 1. I'm so impressed with that pattern.  I think I'll start a summer pair in the wide leg crop version.

What have I been working on? I'm actually making a Tamarack jacket for my mom, as she liked the sample I sewed for a recent class. That was fun and so much different than things I usually make. The  ones people made in the class were so cute! I just made a muslin for a blouse for Heather, to sew up in one of the silks we bought at Britex last fall. Here's a peek at the muslin, which I made in some mystery fabric I bought at a rummage sale which test sewing in mind. (grey Tamarack hiding in the photo). I added a bust dart which is a feature I taught the other day in my Adjust the Bust class - even if the pattern fits a bust dart is so useful on a full bust as it add the additional 3-dimensionality that is needed so that the front doesn't ride up. This pattern has shoulder gathers which are pretty but they are hiding a bust dart that is probably insufficient for anyone who is more full busted. I will show details when I blog about this blouse - which may be in the next month or so :)

Test version vogue shirtV1412 Vogue blouse pattern env

Next blog post will be my green ultra suede skirt and a wool challis shirt I made that coincided with St. Patrick's day. Good thing as I have now worn this outfit a few times but it will be put away until next fall - getting way too warm here for that.

Happy Spring sewing - bring it on!

Today's garden photo, these little grape hyacinths. I put the bulbs in years ago and they come up every year. But they are so tiny as to be hardly noticeable. But cute and such a pretty color.



  1. Nice post, Beth! I have the same thoughts on backstitching :) ...and the zozo suit, well I ordered one because I was curious and first I could not believe the results, I did measure and I realized I "grew "a bit in the last months :))) in some parts but on other parts it was way off , so I am not convinced . I keep thinking now about the ties that are not double and I am pretty sure I saw a garment like that now so long ago and thinking the same...but can`t remember I need to remember :)))

  2. Another member of the "no backstitching" club. (Well, ok, VERY little backstitching.) In addition to all the reasons you cite, I would add that (unless trimmed away, and then why do it, right?) it often creates a lump in the seam allowance.

    Also stepping away from what I was taught in 7th grade Home Ec, I notice that Heather's blouse muslin shows the dart extending almost all the way to the bust apex. Is this how the blouse is fitted, or just the angle of of the photo. I ask because I have found in fitting myself and others who are both busty and deep in the torso, that bust darts invariably end up looking like this (not the traditional "back off the point to 2 inches from the apex). I'd appreciate your take on this. Thanks!

    1. Hi - re: the green test blouse shown, I put in the dart to take up the length I added on the blouse front, however I won't know if it's in the right place (vertically) until she comes by to try on. Also then I will see if it's too long. Sometimes I even change the angle of the dart, just for esthetic reasons. I will write about the adjustments when I get it finished.

  3. As a longtime user of pattern magazines I'm all in favour of using numbers over names. However, some codes work better than others, especially on Instagram. V1415 is fine, but the Burda code with hyphens can't be used as tag. Knipmode tried changing from pattern numbers to names last year, I suspect for that reason, but with 25 patterns per month names were running out fast. And more importantly, that name didn't give any clue about the issue the pattern came from. The experiment was abandoned and I'm still struggling with adding a correct tag to Knipmode or Burda patterns on IG!

  4. I'll join your growing "no backstitch" club. My reasoning is the same as your point three; most seams are crossed by another so the backstitching isn't needed.
    That Burda dress you showed is lovely. Hopefully they will have the pattern available for download as I have never purchased a Burda magazine. In fact, I don't have a clue where to get one other than online. I'm not one for trying to figure out their overlapping pattern lines either, so a download it is for me!

  5. I agree with you on pattern names! Easier to hashtag and search for, for sure. When I make a Burda I try to hashtag it "Burda1201103" or something like that because unfortunately the hyphens don't work. So it is more difficult. That said, there are some patterns I will just never buy because I don't like the name ie: the new Wattle skirt by Megan Nielsen. Nice pattern. I just can't take the name.

  6. Loved this post!!! I'm also a bit of a pattern snob, though I'm open to basic patterns that look distinct. I have my eye on the Ogden Cami (True Bias) if I can get the printed version. Every Ogden I've seen looks like an Ogden, even though it's just a v-neck tank top. I like that.

    I don't backstitch, and when I taught my first sewing classes this year I taught my students that they don't need to backstitch seams that cross. I think I read that crossed seams lock each other and so don't need to be backstitched? At any rate, it was a game changer for me; somehow that small change made my seams and garments neater and seemingly faster & easier to sew.

    As for pattern names...I'm neutral, I don't care what a pattern is called if it looks good to sew. But if the name is weird or ridiculous, I do tend to skip it. The Wattle Skirt looks great, but...Wattle???? I'd sooner sew a Waddle Skirt, which is still a pretty awkward name. :-p

    And ditto on the Zozo suit - I think it's pretty easy to measure all those points on the body with a measuring tape.

    But more than anything, I love the photos from your garden! When I first started reading blogs, yours stood out because of your lovely flower photos. It's so nice you continue to share your knack for cultivating and appreciating natural beauty.

  7. Great post, you've convinced me to backstich less now.

    I also have to defend the name wattle! It's the name of an Australian native tree with beautiful yellow flowers. Several of MN's patterns have aussie names.

  8. Always love your Random Threads posts! Looking forward to your post on Heather's blouse.