Sewing, Fast, Faster, Fastest

I couldn’t resist the name of this class, Sew Better, Sew Faster, (affiliate link) as it speaks directly to me and my apparent need to do more, better and with greater efficiency! The word “faster” is indeed a relative term.

Jacket Express pattern, jacket front, welt pocket and upper flap pocket

Jacket Express pattern, jacket front, welt pocket and upper flap pocket

The project pattern, which is included, for this class is a variation on a classic denim jacket, ironically named “Jacket Express”. Coming in at 19 pieces, not including the extra pieces of interfacing and a considerable amount of top stitched details, this was a complex project. Especially for an unlined garment. But I was fully committed, as I had heard of Janet Pray and her company Islander Sewing systems, and wanted to learn the industry based techniques that she is known for teaching. The class did not disappoint.

Welt pockets and not a seam line without topstitching. Merino wool rib turtleneck sewn using Burda pattern 6990.

Welt pockets and not a seam line without topstitching. Merino wool rib turtleneck sewn using Burda pattern 6990.

First decisions were choosing fabric and thread for topstitching. I didn’t want to use the obvious choice of denim, as I intend to make a classic denim jacket at some point and the Jacket Express pattern design is really a variation on that classic jacket. Close but not quite it. And anyway, who needs two denim jackets? Instead, I pulled out this super soft and plush DeBall corduroy that had been aging in my fabric stash and thought it was perfect. I sampled several topstitching threads and decided on this light mauve-y pink shade of Coats and Clark Heavy weight thread. It coordinated well with the fabric and my machine liked it. I used regular thread that matched my fabric in the bobbin. My stitched samples looked great and stitching along actual edges of the garment was easy. All of the interior topstitching became the challenge. The fabric was an exceptionally drape-y corduroy with plush wales and a nice rich (dark, hard to see) color). And I realized it’s not the wisest choice for great topstitching. Seam lines were easily obscured which made it virtually impossible to follow along them for anything. Using a lot of tailor’s chalk to mark where to stitch helped, but it was still really difficult to be precise. And precision is the most important part of topstitching. There were many ripped out threads, moans of frustration and a few “just get up and walk away” moments as well. I don’t think I’ve ever ripped out so many stitches on a single garment project in my life. But eventually I got the hang of it and focused on getting it done, trying to not let perfection get in the way of good. And done.

Upper pocket flaps inserted into upper front yoke.

Upper pocket flaps inserted into upper front yoke.

I used my regular sewing machine and serger/overlock for the construction and interior finishing. And because I am the fortunate inheritor of several vintage machines I was able to set up an extra machine for the topstitching and buttonholes. Even though Janet’s system and order of construction of the jacket bundles the topstitching together as much as possible, on a project like this, it’s super handy to have a second machine dedicated for it. I highly recommend it, as it definitely helps in the “sew faster” part of the process since you won’t have to un-thread and re-thread your machine constantly. Lucky for me, my lovely and dear friend Lyn recently gave me her mother’s Singer 301 sewing machine. And along with it a great table made especially for it. I did not know much about this machine when she gave it to me, but she said that her mother used it a lot, making everything from clothing for her to home furnishings like drapes and cushions. I now know why as it’s a very powerful machine; really smooth, fast and undaunted by many layers of thick or heavy fabrics.

“A Singer 301 or 301A is a lightweight (16 pound) aluminum sewing machine sold generally during the 1950’s.  It is coveted by sewing machine enthusiasts and quilters for its lightweight portability, combined with smooth gear drive, powerful motor, and “slant-needle” design (provides better visibility of work area).  Additionally, the feed dogs may be lowered for free-motion or darning work.  It was designed to be both a cabinet (or table) and portable machine in one, and is easily converted, especially with the flip-up carrying handle.” (source) Here's another article giving some more details about the Singer 301a, which is a gem of a vintage machine.

Meanwhile the class instructor, Janet Pray of Islander Sewing Systems, goes through all of the (many, many steps) of the project, in detail and with great clarity. Early on she discusses the ergonomics of your sewing machine setup and the how and why to use her no-pins sewing method. Learning and mastering her no-pins sewing technique alone is worth the price of admission. A project that is complex, like this jacket, is made so much more efficient by not needing to pin and unpin every seam. Her technique is also perfect on a difficult fabric like my corduroy, where the layers like to creep while stitching. She clarifies why narrower and varied seam allowances are more efficient in sewing and why her patterns include them. The included jacket pattern was well drafted and did go together easily. Be sure to pay attention to the instructions, either on the pattern or from the class as you are sewing, some allowances are 3/8” and others are 1/4”.

Upper back yoke and three back panels, shaped for design and fit.

Upper back yoke and three back panels, shaped for design and fit.

She shows how to interface properly and how to use pressing tools like a clapper and a tailor’s point, which help you achieve a professional finish in your project. And of course, she covers topstitching techniques and how to sew curves correctly without distortion. Stitching, turning, pressing and topstitching everything with ease and precision, she makes it all understandable and achievable. Janet also breaks down the technique for a fully enclosed and finished back yoke so that it is very easy to visualize and manage on your own. And her welt pocket technique was fool-proof. I have read and watched countless tutorials for welt pockets. Many are so complicated that my eyes glaze over and I start to fall asleep, unable to fathom the complexity added to a rather simple concept. Why make something harder than it needs to be? Welts don’t need to be complicated, but you do need to be precise in marking and stitching. She gives you straightforward, no nonsense methods for precise cutting, marking, sewing and finishing of the welt pockets. I was really pleased with the results on mine, topstitching included, and will certainly follow this method again.

As the focus of this class is on sewing efficiency and professional techniques, fitting and adjusting the jacket is not covered. That said, Janet covers so many sewing techniques, both general and specific, that even advanced sewers will learn many new things just as I did. I think adventurous beginners and intermediate level seamsters will as well.

Finished jacket.

Finished jacket.