Learning to Sew – Fabric

You’ve got your sewing machine and your basic tools.  What now?  It’s time to choose a fabric for a simple first project.  You will want to select something that appeals to you, of course.  But it also must be appropriate … Continue reading

Mock Serging


To all of you beginner sewers, or to those of you who have not found the money or inclination to buy a serger yet, I thought I would share my “mock serge” method.  This is the way that I finished seams for years, before there was any such thing as a serger for home sewers.

Now, I do have to tell you that I absolutely love my Baby Lock serger!  I would not want to go back to this method.  But the point is, sergers are not cheap.  Well, you can probably buy a cheap serger, but I actually would rather do this “mock serge” method than have anything besides a Baby Lock serger.

Sergers require three to four spools of thread to lock together to create a beautiful seam and finish all in one step.  But because of all of the thread spools that have to travel through a maze to get to where they are going, threading a serger can make one want to use unladylike language.  (Or ungentlmanlylike…is that a word?)

That’s where Baby Lock comes in, and that’s why they are worth every penny that you will spend.  Baby Lock sergers have this magic way of using air to swoosh the thread through the complicated maze with the downward push of a lever.  It makes me smile every time.

My Sweet Baby Lock

Maybe there is another company that uses magic to make threading easy; I don’t know.  But if you are considering anything besides a Baby Lock when you take the serger plunge, be sure you sit down in the store and thread the machine yourself before you hand over your credit card.  If not, you may be setting yourself up for frustration.  Or, you may decide to never change your off-white thread, even if you are sewing a Little Black Dress.  Those gigantic spools will last a long time.  But when they run out, I won’t be surprised to hear your serger went flying out of your sewing room window.  Accompanied by language that may ruin your reputation as a kind and gentle neighbor.

But let’s just say that you are not ready to buy a Baby Lock serger.  And let’s just say that even though you are new, or relatively new, to sewing, you still want to produce work that looks handmade but not home made.  Well, that requires finishing the seams of anything that is not lined.  And that is where my mock serging technique comes in handy.

This was serged by me and my Baby Lock

When you use a serger, you run the fabric through the machine at the seam line once, and you are done.  The mock serge, however, requires three steps.  But the results are pretty impressive when you take off your unlined jacket and your friends get a glimpse of your handiwork.  (Better yet, don’t wait for a chance opportunity to show off your skills.  Create an opportunity.  Either “accidentally” wear it inside out, or just yell, “Hey everyone, look what I did!” as you point to your finished seams.)

Here are the steps for creating a mock serge seam and finish, and it should look something like the picture below.

Step One:

Sew along your normal seam line.

Step Two:

Trim the seam to 1/4″ or 3/8″.  Don’t trim any close than 1/4″.

Step Three:

Set your machine to its widest zig zag setting.  Use a stitch length of about 15 stitches per inch.  (You will, of course, need to practice to get the length just right.  You don’t want a dense stitch length as this will create a ridge that will show and will be felt from the outside.)  When the needle is in the left position of the zig zag, it should be on your fabric.  When the needle swings to the right, it should be just off the edge of your fabric.  Stitch the raw edge in this manner, and you should end up with a nice seam and finish.

Of course, you will need to practice this a little to get good results.  Different weights of fabrics will require some stitch length adjustments, but always use the widest zig zag stitch your sewing machine allows.

The three-step "mock serge" seam and finish.

Okay, so now it’s your turn!  I’d love to hear how you do!

Key West Treasure

You know, we have to look for fabric stores while on vacation.  It’s just in our blood!  So on a recent trip to Key West, we did a Google search and found a cute little store a few blocks off of Duvall Street called “The Seam Shoppe.”  So, one afternoon we drug Karen’s mostly good-natured husband along with us to hike down Duvall and turn left, hunting for our treasure.  Actually, he was in a great mood since we had just left the Key West Hammock Shop where he placed an order for a double hammock swing for their back yard.

Before too long, we spotted the little store across the street.  It was a bright and cheery place, although Karen and I both agree that the saleslady could have been a bit friendlier.  Maybe she had just seen too many tourists that day, and we weren’t quite as special as we thought we were!

If you quilters ever make it down to Key West, you should visit this store.  Especially if you want to make a quilt or other crafty item as a memento of your trip.  They have a lot of tropical quilt-weight cottons!  And maybe you will get a different salesperson.

Since we aren’t quilters, and we don’t have grandchildren, we hunt for garment fabric.  And right at the front door was this double-sided stand of some of the prettiest rayon we had ever seen!  Bright tropical colors, great for summer projects!  We walked around the stand handling and admiring the fabric with visions of tops, dresses, and skirts frolicking about in our heads.

While we drooled over this display, my brother-in-law ducked out in search of something a little more manly.  We took our selections to the cutting table, which meant our saleslady had to move the project she was working on to help us.  She made a small effort not to be annoyed.  Emphasis on small.  But we got six cuts of fabric between us, and a couple of patterns, and giggled our way out the door.

When we found our escort, he had just tested his masculinity by drinking “the world’s strongest coffee ever,” by his report.  On the way back to Duvall, we had to practically run to keep up with him and his caffeine buzz!

We have been home about three weeks now, and I don’t think either one of us have even pre-washed anything yet; but we will.  Since returning, we have been quite busy getting ready for our sewing classes, which started this week.  We will tell you all about the great time we had in our first classes next time!

And if we ever get to open the cute little fabric store that we talk about all the time, we promise to be friendly when you come to see us!  In the meantime, if you want to see some of what this place offers, they have an online store at tropicalfabricsonline.

We would love to hear about places you have been and found a fabric treasure! That would be good information to have before we plan another trip…

The Big Book!

Fabric swatches and details in my "Big Book"

Fabric swatch pages in my “Big Book”

Copies of pattern envelopes

Copies of pattern envelopes in my “Big Book”

A while back, after buying yet another pattern I already had, I decided to get organized.  Now, I know there are all kinds of apps for my smart phone that will keep up with pattern information, but until they make an app that will let me post swatches of my fabric–swatches that I can actually touch–I am sticking with my old school “Big Book.”  So, just in case you are looking for a way to organize your patterns and fabric samples in one place, let me tell you how I did it.  Feel free to be a copycat.  Better yet, leave me a note if you have done something similar, and give all of us some pointers.

I bought a large, sturdy three ring binder, some divider pages with write-on tabs, and white copy paper pre-punched with three holes.  Then I hauled out all of my patterns–and I do mean ALL.  I decided that if it was worth holding on to, it was worth a place in my book.  I separated them into categories, such as “tops,” “jackets,” “pants and skirts,” “dresses.”  You get the idea.  I recorded these titles with a pen on the tab pages.  Then I copied the front and back of every pattern I owned. To save money and space in my book, I copied the front of the pattern in color, then flipped that same sheet over to print the back of the pattern in black ink.  Some of the envelopes were flat enough for my flat bed printer that I didn’t have to remove the contents, but some of them were too thick.  I was careful to not get in too big of a hurry, so that I could be sure to get the pattern pieces back into the right envelope.  This all took some time, but now when I go to the fabric store, I take my Big Book, which holds everything I need to know about what patterns I have and their fabric and notions requirements.

Behind the pattern sections, I put my fabric swatch pages.  I used my computer’s word processor to design a simple page that would hold four swatches and information on them.  I printed these on both sides of some light gray card stock that I already had on hand, and used a three-ring punch on them so they could go in my book.

I cut fabric swatches approximately 2 x 3 inches, and stapled them onto the card stock.  You can see this in the picture at the top of this post.  In the information blanks, I recorded how much of the swatch fabric I had, whether or not it had been pre-washed, the width and the content of the fabric, and the source and cost.  All of this was recorded in pencil, so that when I use a portion of the fabric or when I pre-wash something, I can change the information I recorded earlier.  If I use it all, I just strike through the information.  But I leave the swatch.  I figured that in a few years, it might be fun to see all of those swatches that (hopefully) became garments.

I have a basket in my sewing studio, just inside the entrance, that holds any newly acquired fabric or patterns until I have had the chance to record them in my book.

“The Book” is quite large and heavy, but it’s worth the effort of lugging it to the fabric store.  Even if I haven’t planned a trip to a fabric store, it usually stays in my car because I never know when I might need all of the vital information it holds!