Friday, 26 October 2018

Tutorial: How to make Half Square Triangles for quilting


Just posting a photo heavy tutorial as I'm currently making a patchwork gift basket for Christmas and it's very heavy on Half Square Triangles (HSTs). They are very commonly used in quilting, so once you've learnt to make some, you can do a lot of quilts!

To start with, chose the two fabrics you want and cut them to the size you need. Your instructions will tell you what size usually. If you're going your own way and making a quilt from scratch without a pattern then you can use online HST reference/cheat sheets or do the maths yourself to end up with the correct size.

**Pro tip! Spray starch your fabrics at this point. HSTs are cut and sewn on the bias which can make fabric stretch. To limit this, spray starch and iron them. The fabric will become much more rigid, easier to handle and less likely to stretch out of place, so you'll be more accurate and get a neater finish. The starch just washes out when you wash the item at the end.

If you're working with small pieces, you could draw them all out on one piece of fabric first, then spray starch the entire thing to make cutting easier too. Ironing lots of really small bits gets tiresome...

Turn the fabrics over, and draw a line going diagonally across the back. The back of your fabric is usually much paler (compare to the photo above). Sometimes fabrics are not that different from one side to the other. Have a good look and pick a side anyway. To make it easier on yourself, make a small mark within the seam allowance so you'll always be able to orientate yourself.

Once you have your chosen fabrics. Layer the two together, with the right sides together. Make sure the lines go in the same direction on both sides (i.e both go upwards from left to right). Either pin or clip the two together.

I've used wonder clips this time as it tends to keep the fabric flatter and saves time. [I bought 50 off eBay for £3.65.] If you're using pins you can pin so the pin sticks outwards (perpendicular) rather than going along the edges (parallel) to keep it flat.

Put your fabric square under your presser foot and line up to the left of the diagonal line.

I'm using a quilting 1/4 inch seam allowance foot, so you can see it's a bit different to a standard foot. The guide on the right hand side is 1/4 inch away from the needle, so that the seam allowance will always be accurate when the fabric is lined up with the guide. This is designed to have the fabric's cut edge against the foot, but I find it helpful for HSTs too.

Sew 1/4 inch to the left of the diagonal line. I usually use my preset straight stitch width of 0 and stitch length of 2.2mm, with the needle in the normal central position.

***Pro tip! Quilting HSTs lend themselves well to batch sewing. Once you've sewn a square, raise the needle and presser foot and move the square a little further from the needle to give yourself a small tail. Don't cut the threads. Just put the next square down, and sew that one. Repeat for each square.

These squares are all attached to each other still.

Now we need to turn them around and stitch along the diagonal line again - this time on the side you haven't yet sewn. When we're done, there will be two lines of stitching (1/2 inch apart) with your line drawn in between.

[Yep, I didn't check the lines were in the same direction on the top square. You can see the lines are quartering the square into 4 triangles instead of two. The fabric was dark enough the line didn't show through, otherwise I would have had to unpick.]

Once all of your squares have been sewn diagonally for the second time, it's time to cut them. Place them on a cutting mat, use a quilting ruler to line up with the line you have drawn and cut. Always push a rotary cutter away from you and put the safety back on each time you put the cutter down.

***Pro tip! If you use a 28 mm blade, you can cut sitting down. The larger 45 mm blades are much bigger and will require standing up in order to safely apply enough pressure to cut through the layers.

If you use scissors instead, use the longest blades possible and use the full length of the blades when possible. This will cut more fabric, reducing jagged edges from moving the scissors along the line. I won't lecture on using fabric scissors only on fabric.... :D

Cut out all of your squares in a batch. Or if you're short on time then do some in small groups when you can. Once you're all done, then it's time for pressing.

Open up the fabrics, to reveal your square made of two triangles! Half square triangles...

The way you fold open the triangles will make a big difference. Always fold to the dark side - remember Star Wars! On this example, you can see in the above photo that the seam allowance is folded to the right (the lighter fabric).

The seam allowance will almost always show up under the light fabric (which is more visible against light).

By folding the seam allowance to the dark side instead...

[Apologies for not keeping the square the same way around as in the above photo!]

Then the seam allowance is a lot less visible and will give a much neater result.

***Pro tip! Spray starched fabrics can usually be 'finger folded' quite easily. By folding the seam allowance over and pressing with your fingers, this can sometimes be enough and eliminate needing to iron the squares. However pressing is the best option.

Once all your seam allowances are folded to the dark side, give the squares a press under an iron. Another batch process! Check first on scrap fabric to make sure the temperature is suitable. If you fabric contains polyester, it will almost always shrink if the iron gets too hot for it. Experiment!

***Pro tip! If you're struggling with having two light or similar coloured fabrics, try it both ways and see which once you prefer.

Now it's time to true up your squares! You need a quilting ruler for this part.

Place your square back on your cutting mat. Quilting rulers will always have 30, 45 and 60 degree lines printed on them. We need to use the 45 degree line, as our HSTs are sewn along the 45 degree diagonal line.

Line up the 45 degree line with the seam between the two fabrics. Cut them down to the size stated in your pattern. This will make the edges nice and neat again (which really helps with overall finish).

To get the most accurate results, ensure your ruler is exactly on the edge of the fabric rather than 1mm in. I learnt the hard way that those 1mm's are enough to throw the entire thing off and stop your points from matching up by the time you finish your quilt!

I bought this clever 4-in-1 quilting board, from Hobbycraft. The grey left hand side is sandpaper, which fabrics stick to and is useful for drawing lines. The black side is a slightly stickier fabric which you can stick your fabric pieces to once cut out. Once flipped over, there is a cutting mat built so that you can cut directly onto the board.

To finish off, you can close or fully open out the board and lie it flat to press on!

Have fun with the HSTs, hope this made sense.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Butterick B5748 Wedding reception dress


This dress has a bit of back story. Good friends of ours were getting married in September and I'd been meaning to make my dress to wear. I also saw Craftypinup's beautiful dress last summer on Instagram, thought it was beautiful and exactly like what I wanted to buy or make so immediately bought the same fabric and pattern! I then sat on it for over a year without doing anything as I had plenty of time...

I'm getting more and more turned off buying clothes on the high street, especially the higher end shops that I would have shopped in to buy a lovely occasion dress. Sometimes the sewing isn't quite up to scratch, but more often than not it just won't fit properly. I'm a classic pear, who prefers short waist fits so that skirts skim over my hips even though I'm 'normal waisted', I have rounded shoulders and my clothes frequently gape across my high bust and neckline. That's a lot of adjustments that RTW shops wouldn't cater for. I have found a few shops that I know I can buy a certain size and the fit will be close enough I won't need to get it tailored, but when it's not quite right it really bugs me now. One of the pitfalls of learning to sew clothes!

 I worked a lot on this dress to get the fit right, and it's the best I've ever done to date. Woohoo! I did a lot of reading online, I read Fit for Real People (which I found confusing but also useful - I just wish it explained things at a slightly more basic level to make it easier to get into as a beginner). From reading other blogs, looking at their fitting photos and looking at my RTW clothes and how they sit I was pretty sure I have forward shoulders. I'm not sure if I have a rounded back or not, but the two adjustments seem to go together so I'm going to just assume I have for now. I don't have a 'dowager's hump' but have spotted that on others since - I'm definitely slowly assimilating it all in and learning!

The fabric I used was a gorgeous jardin stretch cotton sateen and I don't have any other stretch cottons. Instead, I bought an extra metre of it and toiled from that. Due to my putting it off all year, I think I was really lucky to get the extra metre as it's since sold out and is non re-orderable. I spent 3-4 weeks on this part - mainly because I kept getting discouraged from making an adjustment, trying it on, making changes, then unpicking it all again to redo. Apart from that, the fabric behaved beautifully. It responded to pressing really well, sewed easily and was nice to handle and cut out. It's one of the more expensive fabrics I have used to date, so that was a relief! I thought about attempting to pattern match but the print is so big I didn't bother and wouldn't have had enough fabric.

I only toiled once properly (shown above), which was probably a mistake. I did a lot of changes from the original pattern. I did my usual grading from bust to hips, but this graded down on the shoulders one size too. The fit was massive initially, so I had to drop down one size across the entire dress so ended up with 6 at the shoulders and bust, 8 at waist and 10 at hips. I increased the size of the back bodice darts by 1/2 inch overall to try and reduce the sway back I seem to get. I lowered the bust darts (never done that before), made a forward shoulder adjustment by taking length from the front shoulder and adding it to the back piece (had never done this before either). However the shoulder straps were still hanging off my shoulders and I had some neckline gape- so I'm pretty sure I also have narrow shoulders. The fit on a lot of RTW dresses and tops bears this out, so I should probably have realised sooner!

To fix the narrow shoulder issue I redrew the neckline curve to add half an inch to the neckline and removed that from the outer shoulder piece which brought the straps closer together and back to sitting properly on my shoulders. As I didn't think I had enough fabric to keep re-toiling, I just unpicked and restitched the same toile. All of this stitching and unpicking was not welcomed by my fabric, which doesn't hide marks particularly well after the second attempt at stitching! It was just as well I had the extra metre! I also stitched the shoulders slightly diagonally to take some excess fabric off the inside of the shoulder straps which removed a small amount of gape from the back straps (which I think means I have sloping shoulders too!?). Craig told me it was barely noticeable but it was bugging me...

In the end, I properly started sewing on Tuesday afternoon and needed it for a wedding on the Saturday. This should have been plenty of time, apart from making several mistakes which needed unpicking. I ended up taking length off the straps as well, but sadly didn't realise this until I had already constructed and lined the bodice so had a precarious 2 hours unpicking the understitching and straps enough to access the seams to fix this. I also missed the important fact that we were travelling up Friday mid afternoon which actually meant I had a whole day less than I'd realised. I had over a years notice... Why do I always do it?! I ended up visiting my local fabric shop on the Tuesday morning to buy overlocker thread, then went back on the Wednesday when I realised I didn't have a matching zip. Lots of time wasted unnecessarily if I'd planned ahead more. Definitely something to think about going forward.

Anyway, it was my second attempt at a Big Four pattern, as my first ever make was a vintage skirt pattern. I found the instructions were pretty good but at some points just failed me completely. The complication of it being fully lined threw me off at quite a few points. Thankfully I have a Craig who is logically minded and he helped me work things out at those points. It was a lot of stress though, which wouldn't have been an issue if i wasn't working to a deadline. (Sorry Craig.) I still haven't worked out how/when I was supposed to attach the lining of the bodice to the waist seam, so I need to handstitch that at some point.

I had one major mishap, my iron melted my lining fabric! I bought an ivory medium stretch lining, also from Minerva Crafts. It was a lot easier to sew with than my previous experience of more slippery, anti-static style linings, however I did find it would ladder quite easily if I wasn't careful when unpicking. I was impressed until I caught it somehow while moving my iron to a different part of the dress to iron. I hadn't changed my iron settings since I started making the dress, so I genuinely don't know why the iron heated up so much. Either way, there's a small patch less than an inch where the lining has melted, the rest of it is hidden in the seams. I also had a bad moment where it got completely chewed up in the machine and I had to get the screwdriver out!

Thankfully the zip went in neatly on the first attempt. I even shortened a zip for the first time as I couldn't find one the right length that I needed. Shortening it was so much easier than I thought it would be. I measured where I wanted it to end and marked that. I then sewed over the teeth after adjusting the stitch width to land on either side (don't want to snap a needle) and reducing the stitch length to almost 0. Put your foot down for a few seconds, job done! Cut off the remainder with some sharp scissors and sew it into your dress! (I used my fabric scissors and felt kinda bad afterwards, but my others weren't sharp enough).

I'm really pleased with the overall fit, there's no gaping but I can still move in it. I'm not sure how much of that is due to the stretch of the fabric so I think if I was to try this in a woven I would have to retoile and possibly add in some more ease as it's very fitted. I could also stand to remove some of the fabric from the skirt and make this from less fabric. The skirt is amazingly full, but I feel like it's a bit wasted without a petticoat (and I don't own one). It was lovely to dance and twirl in though!

Overall verdict: A stressful but successful make! There are so many beautiful versions of the B5748 dress, this is one I want to make again. More photos when I get a day off!