Friday, December 9, 2011

Marked Improvements

(Part 9 of the series "The Island of Misfit Clothes")
Chapter 44

When last we left our giant's size three-piece suit, the suit jacket was well on its way to a size 38 from a barrel size 45. It was still wrapped around our tailor's form, de-sleeved, with the re-positioned rear seams marked with chalk and pinned in place. The next chore is to re-work those seams to the proper shape...But to do that, it's got to come off the form and into pieces again. The pins have to come out -- but the pins are what's marking the position of the seams! Something has to mark where the seams are to go while we're manipulating the fabric, and that something is a marking stitch. Ready?

The first thing to do is make sure the pins are only going through the shell layer of the jacket, and not picking up the lining, or any other layers that are underneath. Start at the side seam, and sweep your finger behind the fabric to see if the pin has picked up the lining. If it has, hold the shell fabric in place with one hand while you draw the pin half-way out, until it relinquishes its hold on the lining, and put it back in. Do this as far down as you can reach...

...then sweep your hand up from the bottom to release the pins down there, if necessary. Do this for both sides.

Then remove the pins holding the back in place down the center seam. The jacket should now be merely wrapped around the form, without being pinned down to it. Before we remove the jacket altogether, let's mark-stitch the placement of the shoulder seams. Tailor's chalk rubs off easily, as I'm sure you've noticed by now, and it's easy to accidentally "lose" your chalk marks while you are moving things around. Best to mark them in now so that they won't disappear before you want them to!

A marking stitch is the easiest stitch you will ever do, and the first stitch most people learn. It's nothing more than a simple, running in-and-out through one layer of fabric. Graphically, a cross-section of a simple running stitch looks like this.

And when the thread is snugged down, it looks like this.

So pull out enough thread to wrap around the shoulder seam with a bit left over on each side; don't be stingy. Pink thread, you ask? Sure; it's only a temporary marker that has to be seen in contrast against the fabric -- plus I don't have to worry about wasting it, since it'll never be used for anything else.

Start at the rear of the shoulder seam where it meets the side seam, and run right up the middle of the chalk line. Take long, loping stitches the length of the needle itself, and remember to only run it through the shell fabric!

Up and over the shoulder, right down to where the chalk line meets the original seam under the arm. Don't tie the thread off; just leave it hanging.

Brush off the chalk, and here you see the marking line; it'll stay in place until you need it now.

Now we can pull the pins holding the fronts of the jacket together, and un-pin the shirt sleeves...

...and take the jacket off of our form. Now, a running marking stitch is fine for a single layer of cloth...but the overlap of the side body and back panel is currently only marked with pins. Fortunately, there is a quick and easy way to simultaneously mark two layers in the same place: the tailor's tack stitch.

Here's how it works. Instead of a simple in-and-out like the running stitch, when the thread comes out, you run back in just behind it, run forward and out again, back in just behind it, and so on. You're left with long, continuous stitches on the backside of the fabric, and large loops on the front side. It's very important not to pull the stitches tight, but leave everything loose like this, because...

...the next step is to pull the two layers of fabric apart, like this. There are long threads connecting the two layers now.

Cut those threads! The two layers are now separated, and the thread-ends that remain mark the exact point of the seam, on each layer. If there are turned-under edges that are caught by the stitching, the top layer's edge can be carefully pulled free of the thread-ends with little fuss...

...and by cutting the long stitches under the bottom layer, that turn-under can be pulled free as well. Why do you want to release the turn-unders, you may ask? Good question. When we re-work the seams, the turn unders have to change location as well, and it's easier to get those seams flat first, and work from scratch.

Get a long, double-length of thread on your needle, like this. Pull out an arm's length; we're going to need a LOT. Why double the thread?


When you cut the stitches to leave those loose thread markers, you always run the risk of losing some. Double thread doubles your chances of success.

Lay out the jacket on your work surface, with the side seam facing you, the shoulder on your left. Professional tailors work sitting cross-legged on their work tables, sewing in their laps -- but this, although it's very comfortable, takes practice. Sitting in a comfy chair and working on an ironing board is a good substitute.

Start the stitch at the bottom end, right on the seam and going through both layers.

Run under the length of the needle, and pull back out.

Go back under, just behind where the thread emerged.

Run under the length of the needle again, and pull back out.

Pull the thread, tightening the loop slightly. Keeping a finger in the loop is good practice.

Run the needle under for the next stitch in the same way.

Continue along the seam, up to the waist point, where the chalk line starts diverting the seam away from the edge.

Run the series of tack-stitches up the chalk line in a smooth arc.

The finished tack-stitched seam.

The moment of truth! Hold your breath and pull the pins.

Now, pull the fabric apart, so that the threads stretch between the seams.

Cut the threads down the middle, just like you saw on the graphic.

The side body now shows the tack stitches. Unfold the turn-under, and the stitches will pull out of the fold but remain on the top side.

The other half of the tack stitches on the back panel.

And so we snip the long stitches on the underside of the back panel...

...and gently pull out the turn-under, so that the tack stitches remain in place.

Both sides now have identical tack-stitches in the correct place, with the seams laid out flat.
But we're not done yet! The tack-stitches are only a temporary measure; they can still pull out far too easily.

Now we run a marking stitch, like we did with the shoulder seam, up the back seam...

...and the side seam.

As the saying goes: "repeat for the other side."

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