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Buttonholes!

Buttonholes!!! Buttonholes! Okay, my first reaction was a bit panicked. Deep breaths. Read again. Buttonholes. “Sew an article of clothing with the buttonhole(s) being the primary focus.” It would be very easy to allow other elements such as the buttons, or the button band to become the focus of this garment. I wanted the buttonhole to be the star of the show!

I started panicking again. I kept re-reading the blog post and this statement stuck in my mind. “One of the things we encourage in this contest, is to think outside the box and to overcome some fears and challenges, while still trying to remain true to your own aesthetic.” This is precisely why I participate in the Sewing Bee. What would be my personal buttonhole challenge? Buttonholes are usually a pretty straightforward part of a project. I have no fear of machine buttonholes. I am grateful for my machine and its ability to reliably get the job done. I have done many bound buttonholes, including 17 hand sewn bound buttonholes on a denim jacket in a previous sewing bee challenge. I decided to focus on machine embroidery! I discovered there are many buttonhole embroidery designs available for purchase, but I wanted to challenge myself to digitize my own design from scratch. The design would incorporate a buttonhole. Furthermore, I wanted my machine to cut the buttonhole slit for me, as part of the embroidery project using my cut works attachment. Having limited embroidery digitizing experience and even less experience with my cut work tool, I was feeling sufficiently challenged.

My steps to complete the project were as follows:

  1. Select a garment pattern to be the home to some awesome buttonholes:

I choose the Anthea Puffed Sleeve Blouse by Anna Allen Sewing Patterns. I had made one before and it is a favorite garment. The Anthea Puffed Sleeve Blouse pattern is designed to be a swing top. Having studied the finished measurements, I determined the pattern would accommodate my pear shaped figure, and eliminate the need to grade out from bust to waist. This blouse offers great arm coverage, a sweet curved hem and in the right fabric, a wonderful swish. I made a straight size 22, but had to redraft the front piece to accommodate a 2.25 inch increase in the cut on button placket. With a 3 inch button placket, the buttons would now be 1.5 inches in from edge. With such a light fabric, this required the addition of concealed inside buttons and buttonholes which were closer to the edges of the button plackets, to keep the front panels closed and to prevent sagging. Another excellent opportunity to showcase the importance of buttons and buttonholes!

The original pattern is great, but I decided to refine some of the finishes. The gathering on the top and bottom of sleeves were to be replaced with pleats. French seams were to be used on the shoulders, sleeves, and sides. The armscye was to be turned and finished by hand, to give a faux French seam look. The pattern recommended a light to medium woven. I chose a medium weight linen, which was strong enough to support the applique and embroidery but still had sufficient drape. For this reason, much more attention had to be given to grading. Finally the changes to the pattern and finishes, along with the machine applique required significant reordering of the assembly instructions.

  1. Choose a design:

My aesthetic is classic, relaxed, comfortable, and uncomplicated with a touch of quirky. My buttonhole design had to be simple. Nothing over the top or too fussy stuff allowed. The buttonholes had to be the main focus of this garment. One of my favorite symbols is the Yin-yang, which represents a dynamic balance of opposing but complementary and interconnected forces. The Yin-yang symbol is both classic and uncomplicated with a bit of quirk. Small white and black round buttons would complete the design.

  1. Create a design in embroidery software:

I used Bernina Embroidery Software – Designer Plus Version 9. To digitize a Yin-yang symbol, I created a digitizing template, by drawing a 2.5” circle with two 1.25” circles stacked inside to form an 8 inside. If you squint, you can see the outlines of the Yin-yang symbol. My original intent was to embroider the whole design. The problem was the garment I chose to make required a light to medium weight fabric with good drape. The embroidery design if too dense would interfere with the drape on such a fabric. I completed a beautiful all embroidery design of the Yin-yang but due to its stitch density it was not going to work with the current planned garment. It is destined for a denim shirt soon! Reducing the density resulted in a less visually pleasing design.

Discouraged but not defeated, I switched directions and created a machine applique design with buttonholes embroidered on top. The cut work tool would be used in part of the design to cut my buttonhole slits. This eliminates the nerve-wracking step of cutting open buttonholes by hand. Switching to applique presented several new challenges. About a year ago, I took a wonderful class from Teri Hall from 2 Many Lizards, but that was the only machine applique design experience I had. The software can generate a .SVG cut file from the applique design which then can be used on a cutting machine.

I struggled with an updated version of the design software. Offsets, underlays, outlines, overlaps, sequencing, and fills were some of the many considerations. Thomas Edison is quoted as saying, “I never once failed at making a light bulb. I just found out 99 ways not to make one.” This sums up my experience with creating my first applique design from scratch. I learned so much in the past week. In the end, I am so proud of my Yin-yang buttonhole machine applique design.

  1. Prepare the pieces to be appliqued:

Using linen for both the garment and the applique pieces allowed the drape to be maintained and would guarantee the linen garment would be compatible with the applique during future laundering. I had never cut linen using my cutting machine, and it is NOT the same as cutting quilting cottons. I had to experiment and finally settled on the same blade and settings as cotton except for the force setting which increased by 3. I have a Silhouette Cameo 4. To prepare for cutting, I heavily starch my fabric pieces. I then apply Steam a Seam 2, Lite on the back. I remove the paper backing. I then run this through my cutting machine. I needed one white and one black curved tear drop shape, per applique.

  1. Test sew the design:

This was the most time consuming step in the entire process. I needed to decide on the right combination of garment fabric, the stabilizer used during embroidery, and the thread. When inevitably something went wrong, such as catastrophic thread build ups, insufficient coverage on the edges, and base fabric distortions, I would go back to step 3, and refine my design. The stabilizing, sequencing, layering, and density, had to be taken into consideration. I settled on using OESD Ultra Clean and Tear stabilizer under heavily starched fabric. The stabilizer was easily removed and left very little residue, which will completely dissolve during future launderings. I used polyester embroidery threads Isacord 40 wt black, and Floriani PF730 off white. I slowed my machine down significantly while embroidering. After getting several successful test pieces, I knew I had a reliable and repeatable combination.

  1. Sew the design on to final fabric:

I always start by pre-washing and drying my fabric. With linen, I often repeat it twice. I cut out a piece of garment fabric large enough to accommodate the piece to be embroidered with 4 inches extra on all sides. In this case, I am embroidering along the center front of the wearer’s right front piece. I marked the center front, making sure it was on grain. I then marked the placket, and the tops of the embroidered pieces on the back of the fabric. I then basted the center front line and short perpendicular lines at the tops of the embroidery using my sewing machine, set on a very long stitch and with reduced tension. The basting allows me to easily align my design on the front of the fabric, while being easy to remove prior to embroidering, and leaving no visible markings on the front. I then heavily starched my fabric. I hoop the starched fabric with the stabilizer underneath, making sure the center front line is parallel in the hoop. I decided on embroidering 3 Yin-yangs, with the centered one flipped to add some movement to the overall design. After the machine is positioned to embroider in the correct position, I remove my machine basting. The embroidery process is a bit more involved with applique. The machine will first sew placement lines and then stop. I carefully remove the hoop from the machine keeping the fabric hooped, and place my applique pieces according to the placement lines. I lightly press them with a small iron to set them in place with the Steam and Seam 2, Lite. The hoop goes back on the machine, and continues to embroider the edges of applique with a satin stitch. It then stitches the buttonholes. When all embroidery is complete, the machine stops and requests the cut work tool be installed. Before proceeding, I apply fray check on my buttonholes, and wait for it to dry. The machine then precisely cuts the slits in the buttonholes. I remove the fabric from the hoop and carefully remove the stabilizer on the back. That is when I breathe a huge sigh of relief.

  1. Launder the embroidered final fabric:

After completing every embroidery or applique, I launder my piece, as I would the future garment. This insures the design will last. It is a bit scary, but no use rushing to make a garment that features a raveling sloppy design. Again, it may be necessary to go back to step 3, to make the design a bit more robust. Another tip is to always serge the edges of the fabric to reduce fraying before washing and drying it. When it comes out of the dryer, I steam press the design and inspect it to make sure it is still intact.

  1. Cut and Assemble the pattern pieces:

I cut out the pattern piece with embroidery on it first, and then I cut out all remaining pieces needed for the garment. As a safety measure I hand basted some organza scraps over my appliques to protect them during the sewing phase. The changes I made to the Anthea pattern, required changes to the order of assembly. I interfaced both sides of the inside button plackets, interfacing only the back of the folded placket, to preserve drape while adding some reinforcement for buttons and buttonholes. The plackets are then pressed into place. Using a pin, I marked the edge of the Yin-yang buttonholes on the folded interfaced placket which falls behind the embroidery. I considered sewing a welt button, as I learned from Kenneth King’s class, but I could not afford the bulk. Instead I cut the openings like that of a welt on a pocket, cutting along middle with two Y cuts into the four corners, and then hand stitching the edges. I topstitched the front plackets on both front pieces.

Using a French seam, I sew the shoulders WRONG sides together with a scant 1/4“ seam. I trim to 1/8”, and press the seam open. I then turn inside out and sew a ¼” seam, enclosing the shoulder seam. The Anthea blouse pattern calls for ½” seam allowance in most places.

At this point, I diverge from pattern and install the sleeves to the armscye. Choosing to pleat instead of gather. I marked and pinned pleats into the edge of the top of sleeve. Starting with front section, I folded and marked the unpinned front portion of sleeve cap to find the midpoint, and I pin a tiny pleat. I repeat this again to find the pleat in middle of the two sections. I continue placing tiny pleats in the half way points. This results in evenly placed pleats. I continue pleating, and test it against the front armscye. When it gets close I may adjust the depths of some pleats to fine tune the fit. I repeat the process for the back of the sleeve. My preference is to have the pleats facing down or away from the shoulder. I sew the armscye seam. I then turned the seam allowances in and hand stitched them together to form a faux French seam finish. I then use the same process to make the pleats on the bottom of the sleeve. I stitch the pleated sleeve to the sleeve cuff, leaving the last inch on both ends of the cuff, unsewn. The side and sleeve underarm seams are then French seamed. It takes a bit more time, but results in a lovely finish. I then sew the short ends of cuffs together, and complete sewing the cuff onto the bottom of the sleeve. The cuffs are completed as recommended in the original pattern.

  1. Machine sew on 8 machine buttonholes:

The wider placket forces the Yin-yang buttonholes to be 1.5” inches from the edge of the front of the blouse. To keep the blouse closed properly while not distracting from the design, I added 8 internal buttons and buttonholes. On the back placket, I marked 8 buttons, two sets on each side of the placket. There are buttons between the Yin-yang designs, and two more sets below the embroidery. I marked the buttonhole placement lines on the very inside of back placket, as this was most visible. The inside buttons were 14 mm shank buttons as they are easier to button. I placed them 5/8” in from the edge. My machine has a buttonhole function that allows programming the exact size of buttons. I always add .5 mm to the length and .2 mm to the width of the opening, to facilitate, hand cutting the buttonhole slits. I use a small sharp ½” chisel to cut the slits, under a lighted magnifying glass. It really sucks to get old, but I am finding ways to combat the aging process.

  1. Hand sew on 20 buttons:

At this point, I start marking my buttons. I actually loosely hand baste the front plackets together on one side and I start marking button placement using a pin and a Frixion pen. While sewing on the inside buttons to the back of the front placket, I must be careful not to penetrate through to the front of the garment. I am careful to catch only the back facing. The six Yin-yang buttons are sewn through the inside placket. To sew a button, I use double thread, sink a knot on top, make a few reinforcement stitches, stitch the button to the fabric 4 to 6 times, then wrap the thread around the button three times, and stitch through to the back, where I make a few short stitches perpendicular to the original button stitches. In the case of internal buttons which could not penetrate the fabric, I put three locking stitches in the wrapped threads. It results in a neat sturdy button.

  1. Finish the hem:

I button up the shirt and make any necessary adjustments to the center front hem, to guarantee a perfect alignment. I followed the original pattern’s instructions for completing the hem.

And just like that … you have a dreamy blouse to wear. The linen is so soft with beautiful drape. There are a total of 20 buttonholes. Six machine appliqued, embroidered, and cut buttonholes; 6 additional hand sewn buttonholes in the folded front placket facing; and 8 machine sewn buttonholes which were hand cut. This garment is almost as pretty inside as it is right side out. I am inspired to make a double breasted version of the blouse next. I am so proud of this garment, and of myself for creating a design from scratch and executing it from the beginning to the end of the garment making process. At almost 60, I am so very lucky to have the tools I do. But more importantly, I am proud of myself for diving in and learning to use these “new to me” tools and techniques. The Sewing Bee gave me the push I needed, and I am grateful. Thank you to the Sewing Bee committee, the judges, the moderator, and my fellow contestants who make me want to be a better sewist.

P.S. I am willing to share my embroidery design file. It is .ART format, or I could possibly save in other formats. The cut work tool is the last step to the embroidery process, so you can skip that step and hand cut if desired.

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Self Drafted Woven Hoodie

Looking to make a woven hoodie, I fell in love with the Jalie Pattern 2911 Shawl Collar and Pullover Hoodie pattern. There were just two problems. One, it did not accommodate my measurements, and two it was a pattern designed for knits. Undaunted, I studied the pattern pieces. I wanted a crossover front yoke, a soft generous sized lined hood with a draw string, large loose sleeves, and side vents with rounded faced hems.  I wanted a good fit which allowed it be be layered over and under other garments. I envisioned wearing this over a bathing suit on the beach, or over a tee shirt or a turtle neck on a cool night, or perhaps layering a vest over it. Here is the process I used to draft my hoodie. This approach assumes you have a good fitting body pattern to start. I remove all seam allowances from my pattern pieces if they are included.

Starting with my traditional block, which featured a bust dart that went into the armscye, I moved the dart down to the side seam, and then swung it even lower to my waist. I will not describe the dart swing, as plenty of tutorials already exist. I extended the lower leg of the dart to gently curve up and over to the center front. I then drew a second line along the center front seam to the top leg of the dart. This created a front top and front bottom pieces. When the curves of front top and front bottom were joined, they resulted in a lovely shaped front.

Front with drafting lines.

To tackle the hood , I studied the Jalie 2911 hood, which featured a lined hood from a piece cut on fold forming the hood and the crossover yoke. The hood requires cutting two of these pieces on the fold, with the folded edge forming the front edge of the hood and yoke. To start drafting the hood, I drew a line from 2″ in from the center along the front seam (C) to the top inside shoulder seam point (A). This resulted in a 4″ bottom on the yoke. The center front line formed the folded edge of hood/yoke. This was the starting shape of the bottom of yoke/hood piece. I traced the yoke shape onto new paper. To accommodate a crossover on the yoke piece, I added an inch and a half to the folded edge. This gives a generous 3″ overlap to front yokes. I drew a line out at an angle, making sure this was same length as half of back neck seam (A to B). I then completed the hood by drawing up and over to the folded line. Check the resulting shape of the hood and yoke to be sure you like the final lines. I made several muslins of the hood and yoke, testing the shape of the hood and the crossover on the yoke. I have included some drawings to help visualize the formation of the pattern pieces. Be sure to check seam lengths to be sure your pieces will fit together smoothly during construction. Also, do not forget to all in your seam allowances before cutting.

Pattern pieces are NOT to scale.

For years, I have struggled to draft sleeves for my sloper. My sleeves always appeared to be slightly tweaked, with subtle wrinkles that I could not get rid of. The sleeves were always a bit awkward to get on and off, and there was excess fabric pooling in my side chest area in front of the armscye. Although I have large biceps, my chest is average. I bought the Cashmerette’s Vernon Shirt pattern the moment I read “full bicep option”.

To address my need for a sleeve that accommodates my large biceps, I used the size 26, cup C armscye, and sleeve pattern, view A from Cashmerette’s Vernon shirt pattern. To do this I traced just the armscye from top front shoulder to under arm side seam point, being sure to include a grain line parallel with center front. This is just a partial trace. I then placed it on my sloper at top shoulder point, and keeping the grain lines parallel. I then marked the new armscye onto my sloper. I adjust the side seam to meet the new end of front armscye. Next, I repeat the process for the back. There is added complexity of the yoke. I pinned the back yoke, and back pattern pieces from Vernon shirt pattern together, before tracing the back armscye. The back of my sloper had a yoke, so I pinned my yoke and back piece together. I aligned the shoulder points, and kept the grain lines parallel. I drew the new armscye on my back sloper. I adjust the side seam to meet with back armscye. This may require cutting or adding pattern paper to your sloper pattern pieces. Always work with a copy, not your original sloper. Be sure to align the front and back side seams to make sure they are same length. It is important that this drafting is done without seam allowances. You must remove seam allowances from Vernon shirt pattern pieces, before tracing. Seam allowances must be added after all adjustments are made. It is work, but it resulted in a gorgeous looking and comfortable fitting sleeve. Once I completed this, I now have sleeves for my sloper that drape beautifully, fit comfortably, and can be the basis for many happy future hacks.

When drafting a pattern, you must also develop an assembly plan. Ordering the construction, finishing the internal seams, grading areas of bulk, and reinforcing any stress points are just a few things to keep in mind. I truly appreciate the many details that go into a well-developed pattern. While making muslin, I creating my assembly instructions.

For cutting, you cut two hoods on fold, two front side pieces, one front bottom piece on fold, one back bottom piece on fold, and two back yokes. I slid my back piece away from fold to allow for two 1 inch back pleats. From the Vernon Shirt pattern you cut two sleeves, two bias binding pieces for placket, and two cuffs.

The construction is straightforward. I pleat the back bottom, then sew both back yokes to back bottom. I sew the front side pieces to back yoke. Using burrito method I enclose the back yoke along the shoulder seams, and top stitch. The hood is two pieces on a fold. I unfold and sew the two hoods right sides together, along the back of neck to top of hood, and back to the opposite back of neck. I finished and graded the hood seam. I interfaced where the grommets to be placed for drawstring, and also at the point where the hood meets the shoulder seam. I then turned the hood, with wrong sides together resulting in a great lined hood with a crossover front yoke.

Hood/Yoke pieces prior to sewing the seam.

I installed a couple of 7 mm grommets, to allow for cinching the hood. I top stitched a channel for the drawstring along the folded edges of the hood. I sew one side of hood to the front side piece along the yoke, around the back neck, and on to opposite front side piece. The other layer of hood is pressed and sewn to enclose the yoke area, after seams are graded. I then attach the front bottom. At this point I follow the directions for the sleeve, View A from Cashmerette’s Vernon shirt to guide me through finishing and attaching the sleeve. The sleeves are sewn on first, then the sleeve seam and side seams are sewn and finished with a French seam. The narrow cuffs were then added according to Cashmerette’s Vernon instructions. I applied a sewn on hem facing for the bottom hem, which enhanced the drape. I did not include these instructions, but many tutorials exist for drafting a hem facing. I installed a size 14 fashion snap on each of the narrow cuffs, and an 8mm rivet above each side vent. I finished up by adding the drawstring using parachute cord and some pretty beads.

Beautiful and comfy Vernon Shirt Sleeves, view A from Cashmerette.

It was a very straight forward project after establishing the pattern and assembly instructions. Again, I must acknowledge Jalie Pattern 2911 Shawl Collar and Pullover Hoodie and Cashmerette’s Vernon shirt which inspired and aided me in developing the pattern for this garment. I could not help but smile while I was being photographed in this garment. I know it is one garment I will be wearing throughout spring, summer, and fall for years to come.

Loving my new hoodie!