Tidbits Column - Issue 2

Tidbits Column - Issue 2

Dear readers,

Welcome back for the second issue of Tidbits, my sewing advice column. You can read the first issue here, and don’t forget that you can use this form if you want to submit your own question. Today, I discuss alterations with our without seam allowances, seam finishes for curved seams, and selling (😮) your fabric stash. Grab your beverage of choice (mine is an expresso, no milk, no sugar), and let’s jump in!

Dear Delphine - Your last Tidbits Q&A made me realize I have been making pattern alteration without regard for the seam allowance. How much error have I created as a result, i.e. do I need to change my ways and remove the seam allowance before alteration then add the seam allowance to the altered pattern?

Nancy

Dear Nancy,

In my last column, I did mention that one reason stated by sewists who like patterns without seam allowances is the ease of making alterations to the pattern. I personally don’t find seam allowances an obstacle with doing alterations. For most classic alterations, if you remove the allowance, alter the pattern and re-add the allowance (and then true your seam allowances with the connecting pattern pieces), it would turn out the same.

If, for instance, you are doing a 3/8 (1cm) forward shoulder adjustment on a woven tank with a 5/8 (1.5cm) seam allowance, if you remove the seam allowances and re-add them or not will change nothing. The most important step in that alteration would be truing the neckline and armhole (folding the seam allowances under if you did not remove them) and then trueing the front and back seam allowances to match (that can mean modifying the angles in the corners.

An exception to this will be if you alter the pattern in percentages instead of absolute values. This is not very common in home-sewing, but it could be done when you know the fabric will shrink after sewing. If you expect a 10% shrinkage in length and 5% in width, you scale the pattern without seam allowances accordingly. It can also be used when making stretch garments like dancewear, swimwear, and fabrics with significantly different stretch factors. The pattern will need to be scaled up or down in width and/or in length, but of course, without seam allowances!

Dear Delphine, I’d like to have finished seams on the inside of my garment (“pretty guts”), but I read that French seams don’t work for curves. Which kind of seam or finish can I use for curved seams?

Chelsea

Dear Chelsea,

Thank you for this question. I absolutely love it! It allows me to debunk a sewing myth. So let me start by saying: French seams do work for curved seams. But of course, the answer has to be more nuanced. Let’s address first why people tend to avoid French seams on curved areas: 1/ they are deemed difficult, and 2/ they distort the seam.

The first one is a personal pet peeve of mine. I sometimes see sewing tutorials or indie patterns making blanket statements like “you can not use XX technique, it’s too difficult/it won’t work.” And I feel like complexity myths are sometimes perpetuated for marketing reasons (to sell online classes, “beginner-friendly” patterns, etc.). In practice, things are almost always more nuanced. Complexity is a subjective assessment (one of the reasons I do not indicate sewing “levels” on my patterns). It depends on the experience and skill level of the person making that assessment. One of the joys of sewing is that no matter how long you have been sewing, there are still things you can learn and new ways to do things, especially when we live in a world where everyday more information available! This is a long rant to say that French seams are not particularly difficult to do on curved seams. Like anything else in sewing, they require a little practice, but it’s not super challenging.

Now that we covered that, let’s look at the reasons why you wouldn’t want to use French seams, and I can think of two:

  • First is bulk which is a general characteristic of enclosed seams. In a French seam allowance, you have 4 layers of fabric folded. The thicker the weave of the fabric and the more fitted the garment is, the more this will be an issue. Other enclosed seams can work better on these occasions, like flat-felled seams (which is why you find them in jeans) or faux-French seams or mock french seams (I like this tutorial).

  • The second reason is distortion: for certain seams, the French seam's first pass will prevent the seam allowance from laying flat. This would be the case on seams where you would normally clip so that the seam allowance can spread and not create tension (I don’t clip, or very little, but that’s a debate for another time 🤣), for instance, armhole princess lines on bodices. On these occasions, flat-felled seams are also not a great option. For this kind of seams, you could do a mock-flat fell seam where you topstitch the seam allowances on one side, finished together with a hong-kong finish (or serger, but we are talking pretty guts here!).

In summary, I would say there are curved seams where you can use French seams, especially if they are narrow, and others where you would be better off using other seam finishes. But it always depends on the fabric and the garment:

  • Curved areas where you can generally use french seams: joining sleeves to bodices, skirt and trousers side seams, crotch seams, shoulder princess lines on loose garments. On all those seams, you can use flat-felled seams as an alternative.

  • Curved areas where you might not want to use French seams (or a flat-fell seam): armhole princess lines, shoulder princess lines on a fitted bodice, curved bodice side seams (like the ones you will find on boxy tops, dropped shoulders, dolman sleeves, and grown-on sleeves).

Dear Delphine, Should I sell my fabric stash? I am embarrassed to admit I have 100s of yards of fabric. All flavors and varieties. It is in my basement taking up an enormous amount of space and not being used very fast. I have both quilting cottons and garment fabrics including some very nice boucles, wools and specialty fabrics. I get in the mind to sell it then start thinking about the reason I bought it (see previous question, i.e. sewing fancy dresses, etc...) and how much money I have in to it and become paralyzed. I think it is dragging down my sewing mojo.

A Custom Clothier

Dear Custom Clothier,

I really empathize with you as I regularly go through similar thoughts. I estimate I have probably around 200 yards/meters of fabric, and I’m regularly tempted to get rid of it.

Before you do anything, ask yourself what your motivation is to get rid of your fabric? How different would your life be? There are excellent reasons for parting with an excessive amount of fabric (excessive being different for each person): if you need space in your home, if you no longer like the fabric, if it blocks your creativity, etc. In my case, I realized that if I suddenly had less fabric, I would be most likely to go out and buy new fabric, probably similar to what I currently own, but it would feel new! Basically, I feel guilty about buying more fabric, so I wish I did not own that much already... I decided that parting with fabric to buy more is not a good reason, so I keep my stash and try to work with it. I also regularly go through it and rearrange it in ways that make it feel newer. For instance, it used to be grouped by fabric types and length, but I recently reorganized it by color, and that led me to select a few pieces I hope to be sewing soon 😊.

If you decide that your reason is valid, I have a couple of tips. The most important one would forget about the money “invested” in the fabric. This is a sunk cost. Whether you keep it or not, that money is gone. I went through my Marie Kondo phase a few years ago, and that’s one of the main things I learned from that process. This will also help you decide if you want to donate your fabric or sell it. The prospect and logistics of selling large amounts of fabric can appear fun to some or completely overwhelming to others. If you decided to let go of a portion of your stash but selling sound like too much work, donate it. There are lots of organizations and sewists that would love to get it. Conversely, if you think that you will have fun connecting with others and playing shop while selling your fabric, then follow your heart!

That’s is all for today. If you enjoyed this round of Q&A! If you would like to participate, jump in the comments with your own sewing opinion or ask me a question by clicking on the button below!

About Tidbits

Tidbits is an advice column about in which I answer questions about sewing, construction, sewing patterns, and the business of publishing them! I do my best to answer them in writing, with short tutorials, finding resources around the internet, or asking my sewing friends who might be in a better position to answer. As a sewist of 20 years (and a French person 🤣), I have strong opinions about almost everything, but I do not consider them to be universal truths! You are welcome to disagree with me, and I would love to see a discussion in the comments. This column is meant to be light-hearted, friendly, and fun, but you can also vent because not everything is rosy in the world of sewing!

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