Everyone wants to learn how to sew better; we all want to improve ourselves and our skills. Sew Better, Sew Faster: Garment Industry Secrets is a Craftsy class that aims to teach you.. well how to sew better and faster. Essentially we want to learn the “techniques that comes from the factory and are adapted for home sewing machines and use”.
As Janet discusses in Lesson 1, you won’t be using pins or basting to create beautiful garments including difficult areas such as cuffs and collars. Properly interfacing will make or break a garment, so you will learn when and where to use it. The same can be said for top-stitching.
So let’s see if the class teaches all that it claims:
Lesson 1 – Meet Janet Pray and Get Started
Try to do as much as possible at one work station before moving to the next; it reduces the number of steps. So basically try doing as much sewing as absolutely possible before moving to your iron to press. This is a great tip for me as currently the house hold iron is on a completely different floor to my sewing machine (and trust me, it’s a pain going back and forth).
Choosing a Fabric
In order of weight, the most light weight garment you should pick would be twill.
A fine corduroy feels soft, and keeps that slightly stiff shape that is ideal with outerwear.
A mid-weight material, like denim or mid-weight cotton, will drape perfectly. The photos of that red car printed jacket is made from a company called Echino that is a cotton linen blend. Don’t pick quilter’s cotton, as you need the fabric to have more body.
A heavier, eight ounce denim jacket would be the heaviest fabric that you should work with. Just be prepared that a fabric this heavy will be a lot more difficult than a lighter-weight fabric.
Using the same thread on a solid or patterned material will create very different looks. You should definitely play around with some scraps to determine just what will work best for you; test different weights and colors. Also note that if you are self-conscious about your top-stitching, consider using a thread color that matches your fabric; any mistakes or wobbly lines will be less noticeable.
If you’re using a very lightweight fabric, you should use two types of interfacing; a very firm and stiff one and a softer interfacing. You will put the firm interfacing on the outside layer of your garment (i.e. not visible but attached to the outer fashion fabric). It will give the garment that nice crisp and thicker look to it, whilst keeping it comfortably soft enough to wear.
If you are using a heavier weight fabric such as denim, you should only need lightweight interfacing. A heavier fabric will generally hold it’s shape, and most of the time won’t need the extra body that interfacing provides.
Interface your entire fabric piece, don’t pre-cut the seam allowances. However if you do see it overlapping from the right side of the fabric, trim it down so it’s not visible.
Tools and Tips
- Sewing machine, obviously.
- Cutting tools – rotary cutters or shears.
- Scissors to use at the cutting machine.
- Measuring tools – such as tailors tape measure or seam gauges.
- Marking tools – chalk or water-soluble pen for example. Also some pens disappear after several hours of time, or are heat-soluable! So cool!
- Top stitching needle (size 12 or higher) if using a heavy thread
- Pre-shrinked and treated fabric.
- Pressing tools: tailors ham, clapper, seam stick, and point presser.
Suggested by Janet:
- Flat surface to sew on; basically recess your sewing machine into a table or use an extension table.
- Knee lift to help free up your hands.
Lesson 2 – Preparing to Sew
You can either use the traditional scissors or shears, or the more modern way of the rotary cutter. When using the rotary cutter you should be using pattern weights; basically anything that you can place on top of your pattern to stop it from shifting: washers from the hardware store, pre made pattern weights, little bags made from scrap material filled with rice…
Just note that a rotary cutter requires a cutting mat, no exceptions.
Marking Pattern Pieces
In industry sewing, you won’t see those little triangle notches. Instead, you will see little slits that have been made with a Pattern Notcher; yes there’s a tool for that too!
Janet snips the pattern pieces at these notches, half the distance of the seam allowance. Some sewers don’t like to do this as it might stress the material, or cause it to fray. If you prefer you can use chalk or soluble pen.
Mark the centre of pieces on the fold even if the pattern doesn’t call for it. It will help you make sure that the garment is sewn directly in the centre as designed.
Always test your marking methods to make sure that the chalk or pen won’t remain once finished.
Cut as the pattern suggests. Janet does mention them in the video.
If you use a quality interfacing, it won’t shrink. The key is to get it to adhere properly; let it cool before you move your interfacing. Janet uses a commercial iron, however she points out that a home iron that produces a lot of steam and a little extra pressure will do about the same thing. Press the iron down, holding it there for a few sections. Don’t slide your iron, merely lift and place.
Wow! Janet shows you her favourite tool for pressing interfacing; it’s called a Press. The one in the example is actually a Elnapress 720. It looks like my sandwich press, only much bigger…
A 5/8″ seam allowance is almost never used in the professional industry; instead they use 1/4″ or 6mm. There’s just too much extra fabric, avoiding problems such as pin tucking. Janet uses either 1/4″ or 3/8″ (9mm) seam allowance; the latter is to utilize the thickness of that seam for two rows of top stitching.
If you don’t have any top-stitching thread specifically (it’s a heavier weight than normal sewing thread), you can use two spools of the same color to create a thicker thread when sewing. Don’t have two spools? Wind up an extra bobbin with the same color, then use one spool and one bobbin for top-stitching.
Lesson 3 – Beginning Construction
Janet mentions the ergonomics of sewing; it’s especially important if you plan to sew for any length of time. You can purchase a cabinet with a recessed cabinet section, or an extension table. It gives a nice flat and flush table at the same height of your needle, meaning that the fabric won’t weigh down and pull the material against you. You won’t your elbows at a 90 degree angle with the table, to make it more comfortable for you to use; lower or raise your table or your chair.
Sewing Without Pins
Have you ever taken two long pieces of fabric at the same length, and quickly sewn it without pins, to notice that one layer ends up shorter than the other? The feed dogs feed the top and bottom layer of material through at different rates.
Using 3″ x 36″ strips of fabric, you can practice feeding the material through properly without pins. Lower your needle before you put your foot down so that you can see exactly where your piercing the fabric. Don’t start stitching at the seam allowance, but a few stitches from the edge. That way you don’t put too much stress on that point when back stitching.
Hold the fabric with your thumb under and fingers on top. Then tilt the fabric towards the machine so your fingers are facing the machine). Use your left hand to keep the fabric edges flush together.
Again, do a back-stitch to start your sewing. Don’t straighten your curves when sewing; it distorts the material and will never recover. Just let the fabric flow, and turn the fabric with your left hand by applying a bit of pressure in a spinning motion.
Starting the Jacket
Mark your stopping and starting points wherever possible to keep accuracy. Line your fabric up at the seam allowance guide. Hold your fabric as taught above, and sew.
Do the same for your pocket flap. If you don’t know where the point is precisely for the pocket flap, feel free to mark it.
Going with idea of doing as much work at one workstation before moving on, you should stitch two pocket flaps, two collar pieces, front facing pieces to back hem facing, the three sleeve pieces together, the lower back pieces, and both lower front pieces.
Trimming and Clipping
Clip your curves, at roughly 1/4″ apart and only where its curved. Don’t take out notches either, this can create indentations when pressing. At any points, like the pocket flap, take a little v shape out so that when the fabric is turned right side out there isn’t a bunch of excess fabric.
On the collar, trim the curve really narrow; 1/8″. Just graduate between your trimmed curve and the normal seam allowance. Then clip any curves again.
Serging or ZigZagging
If you don’t have a serger, just use a nice zigzag stitch to close up the seams to keep them from fraying. I recommend a smaller stitch than standard, just to help close the seams a bit more.
For the Jacket Express pattern serge the lower back, the lower front, the sleeve seams, the pocket edges and the pocket edge facings. Basically all seams you created.
Press your seams towards centre, unless otherwise instructed.
When pressing your sleeve vent, turn fold in half and then over. It should measure 3/8″, which will be the same measurement as your seams. Finally press on the right side, pushing your seam nice and flat. This is especially important for seams that will have top-stitching.
The pieces to press are: the seams on front and back facing, the straight bit on the collar and the collar right side out, pocket flap seams, and more. The video again covers all the steps you will need to do.
Lesson 4 – Top-stitching
For accurate top stitching the right type of thread and the right needle will really help. Through some earlier testing you should know the appropriate stitch length for your fabric and thread. Also watch the thread for fraying whilst stitching, you don’t want it to snap half way through your project and need to be unpicked. .
An Optivisor, basically those goggles that dentists and doctors sometimes use, can help heaps when looking at the fine details. This works well when trying to stop stitch the very edge of the fabric. Take your time; as you get more practiced you will gain speed.
Since you don’t have a guide line for top-stitching (in most cases), then look for a little visual guide. You can either use a certain presser foot as a guide (as I suggest in my Really Helpful Sewing Tips and Tricks Tutorial), or know that you need a certain sized space between the edge of your presser foot and another stitching line.
Again use visual guides if you need to, making with chalk or pen or whatever means. Place some sticky tape at the right measurement so you know where it is.
Go ahead and top stitch your pocket flaps, collar, sleeves with reinforcement, lower fronts and the back.
If your turning your fabric over at 1/4″, use your machine foot to help you. Turn it over, and use the foot to hold the fabric down, then just guide the fabric through slightly turned under.
Lesson 5 – Pockets and Shoulder Seams
If you’re using a heavy weight material than you might want to trim your seam allowances on your pockets to reduce bulk. Janet will stitch the pockets on by sewing on the right side of the fabric, but wait that means you can’t see what you’re stitching… Create a template out of some paper that’s the exact measurements of your pocket. Trace this template onto the jacket, and then mark your actual stitching line as well. Tops twitch two lines around the pocket edges to attach the pocket to the outer fashion fabric.
Marking a Welt Pocket
You will need to precisely transfer from the pattern to your fabric the location of the welt Pocket placement.
Sewing the Welt
Line up your welt pocket as needed. Mark exactly where you want to stop sewing at the edge of your welt. Janet suggests a different back-stitch method to help avoid any wobbly stitches; since it’s a visible top stitch for sewing you want to make sure that the stitches overlap each other perfectly.
Attaching The Pocket Facing
Line up any notches In your welt and the pocket facing. Again use the same back-stitch method I mentioned above.
Make sure that you end your stitching points at exactly the same points, or lengths, so that when finished so that it doesn’t sit at an undesirable angle. The last thing you want is a jacket that looks like you cut corners.
Very carefully fold up your fabric on the welt and cut the fashion fabric to open up the welt. When you angle up to your fashion fabric you must make sure you cut right up to that last stitch, it will really square off the pocket and look like a professional finish.
Reinforcing The Welt Pocket
Secure down those cut corners on the other side of the fabric. You will want to “darn” along the point to ensure that it’s secured down.
Attaching The Welt Pocket Bag
Attach your pocket using the same stitching location that we used when attaching the welt.
Upper Pocket Flap and Yoke
When you are sewing your pocket flap, you want to make sure that your point lines up properly with the top stitching lines on the jacket. It lines up with the top stitching line, not in between the two.
Sewing The Shoulder Seams
Sew the shoulder fronts and backs together, as expected. The next step is the yoke facing, Janet teaches you a little trick that eliminates the need to hand-stitch. It’s a little hard to describe how to sew the yoke to the shoulder seams. You essentially want to twist your garment in on itself so that the right side of the yoke will be against the wrong side of the other yoke. See what I mean? Once sewn it will seem as if the facing and is the yoke were folded inside out. This technique can be done any garment that has a yoke with a facing, so it is really quite useful.
Lesson 6 – Completing Yokes and Sleeves
Single-Stitching the Welt
Push the pocket bag to the side so that its out-of-the-way, and stitch the three sides of the welt. You will then need to fold the pocket bag back, so that you can stitch the final side of the welt.
You will only need to do this if you used a heavy-weight fabric like denim. On the wrong side of the fabric you quite literally want to use a hammer to pound the bottoms of the seams. You want them as flat as possible.
Inserting Sleeves Without Pins
You can only do this with a flat-cap sleeve, as there isn’t a tremendous amount of ease. Anything that will have more ease in it will need to be placed against the feed dogs on the sewing machine. When you encounter the curve of the sleeve cap, where the most ease is, stick your hand under the top layer of fabric and very gently pull the fabric back so that the fabric edges align. It works perfectly!
Top-stitch the Side Seam
Stitch up the side of the jacket. When you reach the sleeve you will need to “walk” through the sewing. Your sleeve will be inside out, and as you sew you will need to bunch and manipulate the fabric around your sewing needle so that you can continue sewing up the seam on the right side. It will take a bit of fighting with the material, but just go slow and manipulate the fabric as you sew.
Lesson 7 – Cuffs, Collar and Facings
Most of this lesson should be pretty straight forward, except for the Burrito technique; just match your seams and notches, sew and then press.
Attaching the Cuff Facing
With the sleeve right side out, place the facing 1/4″ visibly overlapping the side, right sides together. We are going to sew on the inside of cuff, rather than the outside; the latter being the most common when sewing and is popularized by the “free arm” sewing machine feature.
Attach the cuff right side to right side of the facing. and sew once again. Stitch the cuff on the top with the facing (the more flexible lightweight material) against the feed dogs; it just helps the feed dogs to feed the fabric through evenly.
Janet shows you a great little technique for cleanly attaching cuff seams together in such a way that the material really plays nice. It’s called the Burrito technique.
Attaching the Collar
Line up your notches. You will sew from the shoulder to the notch on your collar as normal, at which stage you will fold up the seam allowance as we will sew that bit later…
Attaching the Jacket Facing
Line the jacket facing up with your shoulder seam notch and start sewing! Nothing hard there.
Clipping and Pressing
Clip the corners and grade the curves so that it folds to the right side nicely. Go ahead and press as needed.
Closing the Collar
Again, match your seams and notches. This time you will be top stitching your collar closed with all the seam allowances turned neatly underneath.
Lesson 8 – Finishing the Jacket
Nearly there. Take a breath, don’t rush that final bit; keep it perfect.
We still have to stitch the jacket cuff closed and the center front facing. There are also a few places that have to be double top-stitched such as cuff and collar pieces and the very outside edge of the jacket.
Buttons and Button Holes
Make sure your lines are marked really well, longer than you think you will probably need; you want to make sure that you can see all your marked lines behind the extra wide buttonhole presser feet.
I should note that Janet doesn’t actually take you through the steps of sewing buttons or button holes.
- Metric Conversion Chart, comes as standard with every Craftsy class.
- A supplies and resources document, that covers:
- Suggested supplies and tools,
- Important notes about fabric,
- Some extra reading and support resources,
- Descriptions and step-by-step instructions for the techniques taught in the class (such as the burrito technique).
- The Jacket Express pattern; just note that whilst the pattern is included in the class, you may still need to pay for shipping costs.
The last few days I have been feeling a bit down when it comes to sewing. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, it just sometimes feels like a bit of a chore rather than something fun. Having watched how fast and easily Janet makes everything look, I was really encouraged to go and sew. Now if only I had a pattern and suitable fabric…
I love teachers who admit their mistakes, and even points them out for you to learn from. In Lesson 4 Janet forgets to change her stitch length, and mentions that because she was talking she wasn’t focusing as much on the task as she normally would. She asks the audience to try to remember steps where you might change your stitch length.
Janet answers a question that a lot of us have probably thought; why aren’t we using a twin needle since we are doing double top-stitching? Basically the way that the machine threads the needle, the thread is pulled tightly between each stitch and can create the appearance of bubbles and gathers; essentially your fabric won’t lie nice and flat.
Take your time, don’t rush, especially when pressing! Don’t go and burn your fingers; you will get faster with more practice.
I didn’t really find anything to complain about Sew Better, Sew Faster: Garment Industry Secrets. Just don’t compare your speed at garment construction with that of a professional!
“Benefit of taking a class from someone who has done it many times over, they have some really good tips on what to do and what not to do”.
I highly recommend this class. I particularly enjoyed Sew Better, Sew Faster: Garment Industry Secrets, perhaps more than any other Craftsy class. I am finding myself regularly frustrated with the amount of time it takes to sew my garments, so maybe I was so happy since it solved one of my biggest gripes… Either way I found this class absolutely amazing.
I think that even beginners will benefit from watching this course. Whilst your skill set might not be quite readily available to do all the techniques in the class, it’s never too early to start practicing what you can when you can. For intermediate and advanced sewers, well this class will be perfect for improving your current skills and speeding up the garment sewing process to make beautiful garments.