Friday, January 27, 2012

Sliding Into First Baste.

(Part 10 of the series "The Island of Misfit Clothes")
Chapter 51
Welcome back to the cutting board, students! We return at long last to the Misfit Clothes series this week. Lest you've forgotten, we were in the midst of cutting down a three-piece suit with a capacious 45 inch chest measure, to a perfectly-fitting 38 (or whatever your measure happens to be.)

When we left off many weeks ago, we had gotten as far as our side and shoulder seams disassembled and mark-stitched. This week, we're going to trim out the edges of the side seams and baste them together with a basting stitch; a long tailor's stitch that will hold the seam firmly in place until we do the final seam stitching.

Firstly, find where you've stashed your suit over the Christmas holidays! It's been over a month, what with one thing and another, and I wouldn't be surprised if you've lost track of where you were. Make sure you have all of the suit parts, and the needle and thread you used last time. You'll need scissors, tailor's chalk, a steam iron and an ironing board this week, and have a damp washcloth on hand as well.

The first thing to do is lay out the back panel of the jacket on the ironing board, with the "wrong side" facing up.

Turn the edges out and warm up the iron. It should just be hot enough to produce steam; not too hot, or you   run the risk of scorching or "shining" the fabric.

Run the iron lightly over the unfolded crease until it lays flat. By "lightly," I mean start with the iron ⅛" above the fabric at first, and let the steam do the work. The steam will "relax" the fibers quite a bit without any direct contact. Gradually decrease the distance until the iron barely skims over the surface of the fabric. Sweep the iron up and out, in short overlapping arcs as shown. Don't try to press out all traces of the crease; just work until the fabric lays flat on its own.

When the fabric is cool again, use tailor's chalk and mark a line ½" out from the mark-stitched seam. 

Then cut right on top of the chalk line with scissors.

Fold the new edge over at the mark stitching.

With the iron, press down the edge tight. Now is the time to use plenty of pressure, and a fair amount of steam, but still keep the temperature down just to the steaming point. Go slow, and fold and press up the seam inch by inch, using the point and leading edge of the iron, as shown.

When the entire seam is pressed, hold it flat to the table. The middle of the curve probably won't lay flat no matter how much it's ironed. The reason is simple: the edge of the fabric has to stretch around that curve when it's folded over. The steam and pressure will stretch the fabric to a certain extent, but there's a limit. In the old days of tailoring with thick wool, you'd shrink the fabric at the middle of the curve, which would draw the cloth in to where the stretched edge would lay flat. That would also help the back sit in naturally to the waist, and give a nice three-dimensional curve to the back panel. High-end bespoke coats sometimes still use this sort of stretching and shrinking for the waist, but most modern fabrics are too thin to manipulate like this. So what do we do?

Here is the solution: make three or four tiny nips at the center of the curve, about an inch apart and ¼" deep. This will impart a little extra "give" to the edge in that area.

Press down the seam again until it lays quite flat and stays there. This finishes this part of the side seam; now do the same for the other side.

With the back part done, turn your attention to the underarm part of the side seam. Open the seam and press it down, just like we'd done previously.

Then mark in the chalk line and cut along it, the same as before. But now you see we have the opposite problem as before: the seam curves out instead of in, so the turn-under is too long, and ripples and buckles are a result. "Ah," you might say, "all we have to do is stretch the outside of the seam until it lies flat. Right?" Close...but no. To stretch the fabric straight along the seam here would result in the bit under the arm having a sag when all is sewn up. Instead, we'll stretch the entire panel across so that the curved seam becomes straight. Then the turn-under will present no problems, and even better, the two halves of the seam will line up. 

Stretching an edge straight sounds more complex than it is. Simply hold at the outer point, and tug the inner point. The fabric will handle a fair amount of force, so don't worry there. Use the iron to get the fabric good and steamy to relax the fibers. A damp cloth can be used here to "sponge" the fabric as well, which is the old-fashioned way to do the same thing.

After tugging the panel into shape by hand, use the iron to set it by holding the iron down with one hand as you tug the fabric with the other.

And here's what it looks like in action. The yellow line is the original position of the fabric, the arrows are the direction of motion, and the red line is the final position.

When the edges are turned under and sponged, stretched, and ironed in place, this is the result. Notice that the edges now follow the same curve. This small but important detail -- stretch the seams to match the curves -- makes all the difference in making neat, flat seams.

The first step in making those neat, flat seams is running a basting stitch. It's a series of small horizontal stitches that just nip both sides of the seam, separated by an inch or so...

...and when the thread is pulled taut, the seam is drawn firmly together.

The seam can be basted with the jacket laid flat, but it's a little easier to do with the jacket in place on the tailor's form, so back on it goes.

Start the stitch at the bottom edge, and work your way up.

This shows the process of stitching. The catch-stitches draw across from right to left, with the connecting stitches showing on the top side in long slashing diagonals.

The finished basted seam.

Repeat for the other side.

The wonderful thing about basting stitches -- indeed, the very reason they exist -- is their ease in ripping them out and re-doing them if the seam isn't exactly what you want. This is a good seam, tight, smooth, and even, with no puckers or wrinkles. If your seam doesn't look like this, keep trying until it is. There's plenty of time to play with position, then the final backstitching will lock it in place. And that's what we'll do next time.

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