Category Archives: sewing

Learned how to replace a zipper

One of W-‘s winter jackets had a zipper that started to separate at the bottom. In retrospect, I should’ve tried squeezing the slider with pliers to see if that simple fix would take care of it. Then again, W- had probably already tried that before checking out zipper replacement tutorials on Youtube. Besides, replacing the zipper would also let us swap out the coil zipper for a plastic molded zipper (or what YKK calls Vislon zippers), which W- wanted.

There’s a tailor near us that charges $1/inch for replacing zippers, but I figured I’d give it a shot first. Free opportunity to learn a potentially useful skill, after all. I used a seam ripper to open the zipper-related seams. One of the sides came apart pretty quickly, but the other side required reaching through the lining of the jacket in order to loosen a few stitches before I could cut the rest of the threads.

Since I had the lining open anyway, I figured it was a good time to unpick the over-zipper flap’s hook-and-loop tape segments so that I could replace them with snaps. (Velcro is not a good idea when you have three cats.)

Yesterday I went on a long walk downtown to pick up supplies, since the fabric warehouse near us didn’t have the zippers or snaps I was looking for. I wasn’t sure what length to get and I forgot to bring the old zipper along, so I bought a 24″ zipper and a 26″ zipper from Fabricland – both one-way separating locking plastic moulded zippers. I bought rust-resistant snaps from a small store on Queen Street near Spadina.

I spent most of today learning how to replace the zipper. I took the time to baste both sides, which worked out well. I was a little concerned about the holes for the bottom snaps letting in wind and water, so I hand-sewed some polyurethane film behind the bottom snaps to catch some of that. My machine-stitching was a little wobbly because of the thickness, and there were parts I still needed to hand-stitch with the help of a thimble. Maybe next time I might hand-stitch the whole thing so that I can line things up better. The underside of my machine-stitched zipper wandered a bit. Still, I’m sure W- won’t mind!

Sewing the zipper and installing the snaps took me about five hours, but I’m sure that will get faster with practice. It was good to see things take shape, and the time passed quickly enough with Youtube videos in the background. I might take future zippers to the tailor if I’m pressed for time. Today, though, it was good to cross off another unexpected addition to my bucket list. =)

Pattern-making: Generating SVGs for sewing with Python and tmtp

I like sewing simple clothes, and I’d like to be able to continue doing that even as measurements change without having to rely on commercial patterns that would need to be manually adjusted anyway. I also want to experiment with computer-assisted cutting, like the way the laser cutter at made it super-easy to precisely cut the same top in different fabrics.

In sewing, there’s the idea of drafting a pattern based on a set of measurements and a few calculations. You could do this with a large roll of paper, a ruler, and some way to draw a smooth curve (French curves, hip curves, or even tracing around the edge of a plate). There are software programs to do this as well, but the commercial ones tend to cost a lot if you want one that automatically drafts the rest of the pattern based on your measurements. Still, you can translate the manual instructions to digital form by drawing the appropriate lines and curves in a vector drawing program such as Inkscape or Adobe Illustrator.

While researching open source options for pattern-making, I came across Tau Meta Tau Physica (tmtp). At its core, it’s a Python script that produces an SVG based on a programmed pattern and a set of measurements. With a little fiddling (downgraded pySVG, fixed some case sensitivity issues), I got it working on my system.

Both documentation and actual code samples were pretty sparse, but I figured out the basics by reading the library code and the test patterns. I spent the day working on translating some of the basic patterns from Cal Patch’s book Design-It-Yourself Clothes: Pattern Making Simplified. So far, I’ve put together plausible-looking replicas of the A-line skirt and the basic shirt.

One of the nifty things about writing programs to draft patterns is that I can use the library functions to calculate the lengths of the cubic Bezier curves I’m using for necklines and armholes. This is handy when calculating collar length or adjusting sleeve caps. In particular, it’s neat to be able to use a loop to adjust the sleeve cap by offsetting the bicep point, although I’ll probably tweak the algorithm because it might be good to balance that with other ways to adjust that sleeve cap length.

I still haven’t tested the patterns, though, and I’m not even sure I’m collecting all these measurements correctly. At some point, I’ll print them out and sew a muslin yet. It would be good to test the sleeve cap. But the patterns look reasonable, so that’s a start.

Here are some screenshots based on my current measurements, and some links to the patterns on Github:

A-line skirt: My default measurements have this skirt sitting at my natural waist, although I’ll probably drop the waistline a bit lower before sewing it.

2015-09-29 20_57_39-foo.svg

Basic shirt: Totally untested. Would be interesting to see if this sleeve actually works, or what needs tweaking.

2015-09-29 20_59_55-_foo.svg - Inkscape

I’ll work on encoding the Burda bodice block, and then I can use that to sanity-check the shirt. Then there’s figuring out poster printing, taping up the pattern, and trying it out. Looks promising, though! I’m still boggled that the math I did for squaring lines seems to actually work. Now if only I can figure out proper seam allowance calculations instead of leaving that as a post-processing step in Inkscape or on paper…

My Github fork of tmtp

Laser-cutting bias tape in off-cut regions

I have a few more tops to do. As an experiment, I cut my bias strips from the offcuts surrounding the peach top I was working on. That took a bit more work than cutting a 10″ square and following the continuous bias tape tutorial from Colette, but it was satisfying to use the oddly-shaped offcuts for something useful.

To make this easier in the future, I modified my basic top laser-cutting template to include bias strips (and a few other circles and 2″ rectangles) in the off-cuts. I’ll be able to use it for the Kaufman cotton lawn that I haven’t started working on yet, and I’m looking forward to giving this tweaked pattern a try.

This is what it looks like in Inkscape:

2015-05-08 22_40_17-2015-05-08-top.svg - Inkscape.png 2015-05-08 22_40_17-2015-05-08-top.svg - Inkscape

The perpendicular seams waste a little more fabric and are a little bulkier compared to 45-degree seams, like this:

2015-05-08 22_03_29-2015-05-07-top.svg - Inkscape.png2015-05-08 22_03_29-2015-05-07-top.svg - Inkscape

but I find perpendicular seams easier to sew, since I don’t have to worry about the pointy ends getting misaligned.

How to draw the diagonal lines:

  1. Use the pen tool to draw a long diagonal line, using the Ctrl key to constrain it to a 45-degree angle.
  2. Use Ctrl-D to duplicate it many times.
  3. Select all the duplicates.
  4. Use Object > Arrange to arrange the lines in one row (uncheck the checkbox for equal width and height). For 1″ bias strips, set the X offset to 1.414 – the diagonal line’s width. This will be a negative number. Set the Y offset to 0. Arrange the items.
  5. Combine the arranged lines and move them into position.
  6. Duplicate your main pattern with Ctrl-D.
  7. Select that and the combined diagonal lines. Use Path > Cut Path to cut the diagonal lines where they intersect with your main pattern.
  8. Delete the lines you don’t need.

Here’s one way to draw the horizontal or perpendicular lines in Inkscape:

  1. Use the pen tool to draw a line at the desired degree, using the Ctrl key to constrain the angle.
  2. Change the width (and height, for diagonal ones) in the toolbar to make it exactly fit between the lines.
  3. Select the seam line, then select a diagonal line. Use the alignment tools to align it to the top of the diagonal line and align the right edge to the left edge of the diagonal line. (Play around with the alignment tools until you figure out what works.)

2015-05-08 22_47_36-2015-05-08-top.svg - Inkscape2015-05-08 22_47_36-2015-05-08-top.svg - Inkscape.png

Now I just have to figure out what to do with these bias tape bits that are piling up. This patchwork string tutorial looks promising. In addition to using the bias tape for binding, I can use them for straps, strings, and ribbons. Hmm…

Here’s the file:

Quantified Self: The numbers on sewing

Some people love shopping. That’s why “retail therapy” is a thing. Other people hate shopping, and try to do it as little as possible. It’s hard to find anything I like, even after I talk myself into being okay with buying things at full retail price, and even after adjusting my price range higher and higher.

I tried desensitizing myself by going out shopping without a particular goal in mind, just familiarizing myself with the colours and styles, and being open to buying something if it appealed to me. Several weekends of this turned up a few pairs of pants and T-shirts, but no epiphanies.

I started looking into alternatives. It seems wardrobe stylists work on commission, so you should plan to spend a good chunk of money – maybe $500 or $1000, which was more than I wanted to do at that moment. The custom dressmakers I asked quoted me rates around $250 for a single garment (although I didn’t ask if they’d reduce it for a super-simple pattern). Online tailors had very mixed reviews.

I figured it would be worth giving sewing a try. I didn’t need anything fancy, after all. I spent a few hours looking around for the simplest free pattern for a top, and I settled on the Colette Sorbetto pattern. I sewed a few, and then simplified the pattern further by removing the pleat. I sewed a few more. When I learned how to use the laser cutter, I used the laser to quickly and accurately cut even more pieces for sewing.

Let’s talk numbers.

The typical shirts I like cost between $40 and $120 at the store, but take hours and hours to shop for. It’s also a tiring and frustrating experience.

Broadcloth costs $2 a yard. Quilting fabric and cotton shirting tend to be around $12 to $14 a yard. The fanciest cotton I can get (in terms of fabric, not just design) seems to be Liberty cotton lawn, at $24 a yard. I wasn’t sure if it would be worth it, but it is nicely breathable, so maybe. I typically buy 1.5 yards per top, although this leaves me with lots of excess fabric. I could probably fit a top in 1 yard.

I’ve spent about $130 for the 16 tops I’ve made so far, or an average of $8 per top. I expect future tops to cost between $15 to $40, depending on fabric quality and whether the design is one-way.

The bulk of the cost is really time. Since I started in February, I’ve spent 105 hours sewing: picking out fabric, cutting, sewing, thinking about patterns and plans. This is an average of 7 hours per top, which feels a bit on the high side. I think most of it is indecisiveness about fabric. =) Prepping and cutting the fabric on the laser takes maybe 20 minutes total, and once that’s done, I can sew a top in about 2 hours.

You can analyze time trade-offs by assigning an arbitrary value to them. You might use minimum wage, or the replacement cost of hiring someone to take on some of your lower-value activities for you. For example, you might use $15/hour as a replacement cost, since that seems to be the going rate for a housekeeper in Toronto. If so, then my tops have cost an average of $110 or so. I expect future tops to use nicer fabric but require less time, so the estimated cost will likely be $75-100 per top.

Alternatively, you could use a higher rate – say, my consulting rate – since I could theoretically be working instead of sewing. But I don’t particularly feel like working more. If I did, there would be other activities I would cut back on first, like playing video games, or reading fiction.

Where did the time come from? It’s hard to say, since I was changing some of my other routines too. Anyway, I analyzed a weekly summary of my time records, correlating different categories with the time I tracked under sewing.

Category Correlational coefficient
Business – Build – Learn -0.94
Business – Build – Quantified Awesome -0.92
Discretionary – Productive – Japanese -0.82
Business – Build – Drawing -0.64
Discretionary – Play – Read – Fiction -0.61

I shifted away from learning, coding, and Japanese review, and I reduced my drawing and reading time. They’re all discretionary activities, so it’s not like I was working less or sleeping less in order to sew. (I actually worked a little more than I did before.)

I’ve come to think of sewing as fun, so I might consider the time as “free.” In fact, it might even have a positive effect. Making things myself helps me develop skills and enables imagination, so it’s like education. Cost-wise, it feels like spending on fabric and time is a definite win compared to, say, buying fast fashion tops that may or may not be ethically sourced.

What did I learn?

I learned that it takes surprisingly little time and money to develop a comfortable level of skill when repeating the same sewing pattern. I started sewing on Feb 11. On Feb 23, after about six hours total, I wore my first top. Here you can see DIY taking over the clothes I wear:

Week starting Sat Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri
Feb 7 x x x x x x x
Feb 14 x x x x x x x
Feb 21 x x mine x x mine x
Feb 28 x x x mine x x x
Mar 7 x x x mine mine mine mine
Mar 14 mine x mine mine mine mine mine
Mar 21 mine mine mine mine mine mine mine
Mar 28 x mine mine mine x mine mine
Apr 4 x x mine mine x mine mine
Apr 11 x mine mine mine mine mine mine
Apr 18 mine mine mine mine mine mine mine
Apr 25 mine mine mine mine mine mine mine
May 2 x x mine mine mine mine mine

I learned that I really enjoy the things you can’t buy with money. There’s this feeling of freedom that comes with knowing that I don’t have to rely on manufacturers and retailers to make things I like. I might even be able to come up with things that I wouldn’t be able to find in stores. If things wear out, I can repair or replace them.

I have two more tops on the go, so that should bring me to a total of eleven cotton/polyester tops and seven 100% cotton ones. I think I’ll hold off on sewing more tops after that. Maybe I’ll sew containers and bags to use up my scraps, and then I’ll think about sewing other things I wear. I’m not interested in sewing things for anyone else (aside from family, maybe), so don’t bother asking me. <laugh>

Anyway, it was a pleasant surprise to find out that it was easy to reduce the high-stress, low-value activity of shopping with something I enjoy much more. =)

Planning the next things I want to sew

I spent an hour at Designer Fabrics thinking about patterns and what I might want to sew next. I didn’t see anything I particularly wanted there, but I did pick up a yard and a half of Kaufman London Calling Lawn Abstract Stripe (like this) from The Workroom just so that I have something to work on. =)

2015-05-05a What kinds of patterns do I want to play with -- index card #sewing #patterns

2015-05-05a What kinds of patterns do I want to play with – index card #sewing #patterns

Anyway, top-wise, it might be interesting to break out of my comfort zone: not just florals, but also more black-and-white patterns and more geometric prints.

2015-05-04b Thoughts on fabric for summer -- index card #sewing #fabric

2015-05-04b Thoughts on fabric for summer – index card #sewing #fabric

The cotton lawn feels nice, but I think the shirting cottons are okay too, and the quilting cotton is actually pretty okay once you wash the sizing out of it.

2015-04-23d Imagining my sewing, a year from now -- index card #sewing #future #imagining

2015-04-23d Imagining my sewing, a year from now – index card #sewing #future #imagining

I might actually have sewn enough tops now, though, especially after I finish the four I have in progress. That’s enough to spend a week in 100% cotton, which will be better than the cotton/poly broadcloth blends I started with, and maybe 2-3 weeks in between delicate laundry batches.

So, time to figure out: what next? There’s a little temptation to complete things I’m tempted to try to take on more types of garments. (Get to the point, perhaps, where every stitch I wear is mine? Shoes might be tough, though. Moccasins?) On the other hand, when I started this sewing thing again this year, I said I’d pace myself by trying to replace only one category of things per year. That way, I could reduce the risk of burnout.

2015-04-30e Sewing plans -- index card #sewing

2015-04-30e Sewing plans – index card #sewing

2015-05-05b Rethinking next steps for sewing -- index card #sewing

2015-05-05b Rethinking next steps for sewing – index card #sewing

I considered upgrading the broadcloth tops to the nicest cottons I can find – probably Liberty fabric, or some of the other cotton lawns. On the other hand, that might be well in the neighbourhood of diminishing returns, so maybe it’s better to wait.

I looked into sewing with stretch knits too, making a pair of leggings. I might make yoga pants at some point, but I don’t feel a pressing need for them, so I might wait too.

Stash-clearing, then. Ideally, making various containers and household things. Maybe I can make a patchwork garment bag to use up some of my scraps and protect my winter coats. Maybe I can make bags and zippered pouches. Maybe I can make things neater and more organized.

2015-05-02b Lined pouch -- index card #sewing

2015-05-02b Lined pouch – index card #sewing

I made a lined pouch with some of my scraps: the Marvel fabric on the outside, a yellow broadcloth inside, and a red zipper. It was fun. I haven’t figured out what to put into it, though. I’m sure something will come up.

2015-05-02c Containers -- index card #sewing

2015-05-02c Containers – index card #sewing

There are all sorts of containers I can learn how to make, and so many things that I can contain within them.

2015-05-02d Rough edges I could smooth -- index card #sewing

2015-05-02d Rough edges I could smooth – index card #sewing

2015-05-05c Containers and organizers - pain points -- index card #sewing

2015-05-05c Containers and organizers – pain points – index card #sewing

It might be good to start with the things that annoy me the most, like my disorganized sewing drawer. Mmm. Yes. Skills that improve themselves.

2015-04-28e Scrap ideas -- index card #sewing #scraps #repurposing

2015-04-28e Scrap ideas – index card #sewing #scraps #repurposing

Besides, it would be nice to get through more of those scraps. The boot shaper I made took a surprising volume of scraps for stuffing, so I’m looking forward to collecting more and making the one for the other boot. Then more little projects…

Assorted sewing-related sketches and thoughts

I’ve settled into a routine of wearing something home-made every day. I’m looking forward to gradually adding higher-end fabric, and learning how to sew new pieces. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way.

2015-03-22b Decision review - Sewing -- index card #review #sewing #decision

2015-03-22b Decision review – Sewing – index card #review #sewing #decision

Sewing adds a new layer of satisfaction to my everyday life. I enjoy having a background reminder that I can learn how to make things.

2015-03-22c What was different about sewing this time -- index card #delta #sewing #review

2015-03-22c What was different about sewing this time – index card #delta #sewing #review

What was different about sewing this time? I set myself up for happiness and success by picking a super-simple pattern. It turns out that I like the bias binding technique much more than I like the facing technique, since I haven’t figured out how to stop facings from flapping around, and it’s actually pretty fun to use the bias tape maker. New pins made a surprising difference, too – it’s so much easier and less frustrating when your pins just glide through the fabric.

2015-03-13c Improving my sewing experience -- index card #sewing

2015-03-13c Improving my sewing experience – index card #sewing

The sewing machine and the serger are now on the desk full-time, instead of tucked in a closet. My sewing things are in a drawer. I still haven’t set up a system for listening to music or podcasts while I sew, since I use it as quiet time for thinking.

2015-03-13e What would managing my stash well look like -- index card #sewing

2015-03-13e What would managing my stash well look like – index card #sewing

2015-03-13d What are a few useful things I can do with my fabric stash -- index card #sewing

2015-03-13d What are a few useful things I can do with my fabric stash – index card #sewing

I found some stash-busting projects I like. They’re great ways to use up scraps while creating practical things, like little wrappers and liners. I’ve also pieced together larger scraps to create prototypes, which is nice. Maybe I’ll get into quilting or patchwork later on.

2015-03-12c Sewing pre-mortem -- index card #sewing #premortem

2015-03-12c Sewing pre-mortem – index card #sewing #premortem

None of the pre-mortem factors I planned for have kicked in yet. That’s because I’ve been learning deliberately slowly instead of trying to rush my way through things. =) I might spend a little more time getting used to the laser cutter and all that it can do for me; there’s so much to explore.

2015-02-25b What's next for sewing -- index card #sewing

2015-02-25b What’s next for sewing – index card #sewing

I have a bamboo stretch knit just waiting to be turned into loungewear, so I’m looking forward to learning how to self-draft a pattern for that. Extra points if I can do it digitally and then laser-cut the cloth, even if that means figuring out how to register long knits. =)

2015-02-24d Improving my sewing experience -- index card #sewing

2015-02-24d Improving my sewing experience – index card #sewing

Actually, the pipeline probably goes like this:

  • Tuesday at Hacklab:
    • Buy fabric for the next project
    • Cut washed fabric for the current project
  • Wednesday at home, possibly Friday or Saturday as well:
    • Sew and press the current project
  • Sunday at home:
    • Wash fabric for the next project
    • Plan the next next project

I think it would be good to have two (and exactly two) projects on the go at any given time. That way, I don’t end up stashing lots of fabric, and I can make the most of the resources available to me.

2015-02-24a New pattern, or several of one -- index card #sewing

2015-02-24a New pattern, or several of one – index card #sewing

Making many instances of the same pattern has been lots of fun. I still don’t feel an urge to learn about closures or sleeves, so the basic top is fine. I can gradually add more colours and fabrics, though. As for new patterns, I might look into making a few pairs of comfortable pants.

Yep, I think this skill might make its way into my identity… Neat!