Dressmaking Supplies: Dritz Ergo Tracing Wheels

Smooth (left) and serrated (right) edged tracing wheels by Dritz. The ergonomically designed handle makes handling the tracing wheel very easy.

The toiles for my next project are nearing completion. During the cutting and marking my old tracing wheel broke mainly because I pressed heavily upon it. It was one of those tools that seems like it has always been in the cookie tin I use as a sewing box.

Not having any fabric or craft stores near my home I went to Amazon to check out what they had. I decided that while I was shopping for a textile reference book I could always add a few sewing supplies to the order, too.

When I read the reviews for the Dritz Tracing wheels with ergonomically designed handles I was sure I had found what I was looking for. Customers said that it was very easy to handle and did a good job of transferring the markings to the fabric.

Close-up o the serrated edge tracing wheel.

After they arrived I was not disappointed. The curved handle makes moving the wheel along the fabric much smoother and I don’t need to exert as much pressure to get the tracing paper to transfer the markings to the fabric. The serrated edge is also gentle enough not to leave a deep impression on the fabric.

Close up of smooth edge tracing wheel.

The smooth edge tracing wheel also works very well.

One thing I learned while working on the toiles for this new project is that it is best not to keep reusing an old sheet of dressmakers tracing paper, especially if it has been lying around awhile. After switching to a clean, new sheet I found I did not have to press hard upon the tracing wheel at all. Lesson learned. From now on I will cut and use strips of fresh tracing paper for each garment or toile I mark.

Note: I am not affiliated with any vendor or manufacturer.


The Dirndl Dress–Successfully Completed!

It has taken me a bit longer than expected but at last I am pleased with something I have made. It’s been a long journey this past year to get back my sewing, patternmaking and draping skills. This basic, simple style was just what I needed to bring back the enjoyment and coordination needed to successfully complete any sewing/design project.

The finished version of the Dirndl Dress is much different that the toile due to my selection of fabric. The quilting cotton I used made the dress much fuller and more weighty than I envisioned. The choice of fabric was based solely on the cute pattern. At the time I had no knowledge of what a dress made out of quilting cotton would be like. Although I like the results I would have preferred more movement and drape in the fabric. I think this is why I will choose not to use quilting cotton in future projects.

I found a lovely faux pearl necklace that had a slightly pinkinsh tint in a local 99 cents store. I think it is the perfect touch to the dress.

The positive side to using the quilting cotton was that it had the right amount of body to hold the French darts nicely ensuring that the bodice had a flattering fit.

The highlight of this project for me was learning how to apply a slot zipper by hand using tiny running stitches. This technique comes from Claire Shaeffer’s book “Couture Sewing Techniques”. From a distance the slot application is barely discernible. It is a bit time consuming but I think well worth the effort. I plan to detail the process when I make a skirt as part of my next project.

If you like the way the dirndl skirt portion of this dress looks please check out my previous postings where I present an overview of how a flat pattern for a pencil skirt can be turned into a dirndl skirt that will have just the right amount of of gathers for your size. In another posting I provide a diagram and instructions for creating the dirndl skirt used as part of this dress. The instructions are for a Misses Size 4. Anyone may use this pattern in whatever manner they choose.

Belt Making, Part 2: Covering the buckle and finishing the belt

Rather than detail the entire process of my belt making experience, I’ll focus on the parts that were the most challenging for a beginner. At the end of this posting I’ve provided links to the tutorials that inspired me to give this a try. They are each complete in themselves and do an excellent job of presenting the entire beltmaking process for different styles of self covered belts and buckles.

Covering the buckle.

The Maxant Belt and Buckle kit comes with a large paper pattern that is sticky on both sides once the brown paper covering is peeled away. You have to peel one side off and lay it flat on the wrong side of the fabric you want to cover the buckle with.

Close-up of the buckle pattern after applying one side to the fabric.

Although the pattern acts as a stiffener and a backing for the fabric I’d recommend using a very, very lightweight fusible interfacing on the fabric to prevent the metal of the buckle form changing the appearance of the fabric. Next time I will definitely use a fusible interfacing plus the fabric.

A small, sharp pair of scissors is also needed to cut away the center part of the buckle covering.

After cutting out the fabric.

After cutting out the fabric, I then cut around the center of the pattern. This is where the belt bar will be. I wasn’t quite sure about The rest of what should be cut. So, I just cut along the sideways pointing “v” shapes.

Covering the buckle.

Covering the buckle was the tricky part since the fabric had to curve smoothly around the oval buckle. I found that I needed to moisten my fingertips just a little to make the fabric move along the buckle.

Buckle and bar from the inside after fabric covers the outside.

I finally figured out what else had to be slit and moved around the buckle to cover it. Here you can see how the buckle looks from the wrong side after all the fabric is manipulated into place. To prevent fraying I used some Tacky Glue on the inside edges of the fabric (inside the buckle). Fray Check would probably be a good choice, too.

Buckle backing after being snapped into place.

The buckle backing is then snapped into place. Mine got dented slightly when I used the small pliers to press down.

Front of buckle, pliers and prong.

The small pliers are then used to slightly crimp the middle of the belt’s bar. Then the prong is applied and the pliers used to secure it in place.

Back view of finished buckle.

The buckle backing covers all those loose ends neatly. The prong will be held in place by the belting after it has been inserted and stiched on the wrong side of the belt.

Finishing the belt.

My sewing machine was unable to stitch smoothly along the edge of the belt. I wouldn’t do anything to risk breaking the machine so I opted for running a small pick stitch along the outside edges of the belt. I used a double strand of poly/cotton thread and it worked out well.

Finished belt and buckle.

The finished belt worked out very well in terms of length and height. I also added a belt stay to keep the belt in place.

Thread loops as belt carriers.

To ensure that the belt stays along the waistline of the dress, I made two belt carriers from thread loops at each side seam. For a 3/4″ high belt I allowed 7/8″ for the carrier. It worked out well, Thread loops are delicate so extra care is needed when running the belt through them.

The tutorials that helped me in my belt making are:

Coletterie’s Beltmaking Tutorial

Elegant Musing’s Beltmaking Tutorial

A Fashionable Stitch’s Beltmaking Tutorial

Maxant Miracle Products Beltmaking Supplies

Belt Making Part 1: The Tools and Supplies

My fabric covered belt and buckle was a success. Having the right tools and supplies makes all the difference so I will post about those first. I hope these close-up photos and accompanying details help others.

Belt and Buckle Kit from Maxant.

I consider the Belt and Buckle Kit from Maxant a good way for a beginner to start out. Everything needed is included: belting, buckle, buckle backing, five eyelets and pattern for cutting the fabric to cover the belt.

Instructions for the Maxant Belt and Buckle Kit.

The Maxant Belt and Buckle Kit comes complete with easy-to-follow instructions. I’m still glad, however, that I was able to locate several online tutorials with photos to broaden my knowledge of what needed to be done.

Small pliers with spring action used to set the buckle prong.

A small, lightweight pair of pliers used to crimp the buckle bar and set the prong can be found at a hardware store. Be sure to tell the clerk that you want a plier with spring action.

This strange looking thing is called a Crop-A-Dile. It made my beltmaking experience simple and easy.

The Crop-A-Dile is, I think, a wonderful took that makes beltmaking much easier. It looks very unwieldy and heavy but isn’t so once you get used to using it. I recommend saving whatever belting remains after you cut the length you need. This leftover belting will prove useful when practicing how to use the Crop-A-Dile.

3/16″ hole puncher on the Crop-A-Dile.

The 3/16″ hole puncher is used to punch a hole that is sized to hold an eyelet. The depth at which the hole is punched is determined by the little black sliding bar.

1/8″ hole puncher on the Crop-A-Dile.

The 1/8″ hole puncher creates a hole the perfect size for the belt prong to slip through.

The hole punchers make a neat, round hole in the fabric covered belting. I think using an awl would require more work. I recommend using a little Fray Check after the hole is punched. (Test on a fabric scrap before using Fray Check.)

Eyelet and washer setting is done on the head of the Crop-A-Dile.

The head of the Crop-A-Dile is used to set eylets and washers. There is a little cube at the top that rotates for the correct size and combination of eyelets and washers. An eyelet can also be set without a washer. I found that while a washer is not necessary, the reverse side of the belt looked and felt a little rough after the eyelets had been set. I plan to use washers with eyelets the next time.

I found setting the eyelets required just one strong pressing down on the Crop-A-Dile. Some of the tutorials I read described using a small tubular tool plus a hammer to set in the eyelets.

Now that I have the right tools and a successful belt making experience to share, I don’t understand why I was ever so hesitant to give it a try!

1934 Basic Fitting Shell Guidebook with some pattern transformations

I have located another free, downloadable booklet for sewists and dressmakers interested in vintage styles.

A Guide Pattern for Home Sewing
Oregon State Agricultural College, Extension Service
Extension Bulletin 473, August 1934, Home Economics Series

To access and download the booklet proceed as follows:

1. Navigate to http://jubilee101.com/subscription/free-sewing-books/
2. Click on the third link for “A Guide Pattern for Home Sewing-30 pages.”
3. After the PDF file opens you can use your Browser save feature.

The “Guide Pattern” described in this booklet is what we call a fitting shell today. There are clear diagrams of different bodice, sleeve and skirt patterns with their alterations for common fitting problems.

The modern reader will need a little time to orient themselves to the illustrations of the pattern pieces. Today we use the left side of the pattern. In this 1934 booklet all pattern pieces were drafted for the right side.

I am looking forward to reading through this guidebook because there are several pattern transformations for sleeves and necklines that are distinctly 1930s in feeling. I hope you will find it of use, too.

Easy Guide to Sewing Skirts–A free, downloadable PDF booklet

My next project will be a 1950s inspired skirt and blouse. I plan weekly (if possible) postings covering the pattern and construction details of each part of the process.

While researching vintage circle skirt styles, I came across a 38 page booklet on how to sew skirts. The booklet uses current techniques. It is not a vintage sewing guide. However, I think it is a helpful resource for sewists, whether they draft their own patterns or use commercial patterns. It contains clear photos of different styles of skirts and includes:

1. How to obtain the correct measurements for your skirt pattern.
2. How to do a pin fitting of your skirt pattern.
3. Alterations for some common fitting problems.
4. A brief guide to suitable fabrics for skirts.

The booklet is entitled, “Easty Guide to Sewing Skirts”.
To access and download the booklet proceed as follows:

1. Navigate to http://jubilee101.com/subscription/free-sewing-books/
2. Click on the fifth link for “Easy Guide to Sewing Skirts-39 pages.”
3. After the PDF file opens you can use your Browser save feature.

I hope my blog friends and readers will consider adding this booklet to their reference library. And the wonderful thing is that it’s free of charge!

You will need Adobe Acrobat to view the PDF file.

The Dressmaker’s Library: “Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing”

The subtitle of this book states that it is “A Modern Guide to Couture-Style Sewing Using Basic Vintage Techniques”. I decided to buy Gertie’s book because I was eager to see how she had updated the beautiful styles from the 1952 “Vogue’s New Book for Better Sewing”. Now that I have both books I think I can present a good overview of how Gertie achieved her goals of presenting the old school dressmaking techniques.

Clear photos and descriptions of the vintage tehcniques used to construct the wardrobe presented in the second part of the book enable a beginner to quickly grasp important construction details.

I do not consider the bulk of Gertie’s sewing techniques pure couture. In fact many of the finishings and construction details she provides were common knowledge for sewists in the 1950s and early 1960s. So I will not say they are couture techniques but are very definitely the dressmaker techniques used in the 1940s through 1960s. These techniques were within anyone’s reach if they took a few sewing classes as part of Home Economics coursework in Junior High and High School. When Home Ec classes declined in the 1970s sewing and cooking were no longer taught in high schools. These techniques were not always available to a home sewist if the sewist did not invest in a good library of reference books or take a class to advance their sewing skills.

“Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing” has a spiral binding that makes it easy to lay the book flat on a worktable for use during work on a project. The illustrations by Sun Young Park accurately convey a retro feeling to the book.

I first began using commercial patterns in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By then most dresses had a center back slot zipper application. I didn’t even know about side zipper and side placket applications until I began to buy 1930s patterns in 1973. Anything I learned about vintage sewing techniques came from buying old clothes at thrift shops or having booksellers search for old sewing books for me. The days before the Internet really made finding sources of information about vintage sewing techniques something of a treasure hunt.

“Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing” does a good job of introducing a newbie to the basic techniques, fabrics and supplies needed to create the more structured silhouettes that are typical of vintage styles. This is all done in a conversational style that draws the reader in. There have been some reviewers at Amazon who say that the style of the book is too conversational. However, “Vogue’s New Book For Better Sewing” also has a very conversational tone as well. I think both books do this so that the reader is encouraged to continue to come back to the book again and again. A dry, academic style would be quick to bore anyone as would a pedantic tone making every stitch and every step seem as if such perfection is required that it is hopelessly out of reach for none but those with years and years of sewing experience.

A big plus in this book is that the fashions are shown from the outside and the inside. By seeing the way the inside of the garment is constructed the beginner through intermediate level sewist learns the importance of finishings.

The illustrations by Sun Young Park are delightful and add to the late 1950s-early 1960s feeling the overall presentation of the book has.

The styles are all designed to flatter a variety of figure types. They can be made dressy or more everyday depending on the kind of fabric used. My favorite is The Shirtwaist Dress. Gertie’s version is very adaptable and easy to sew up in comparison to the one in “Vogue’s New Book for Better Sewing”. The 1952 Vogue Shirtwaist dress had a complicated set in sleeve that included what appears to be a built in gusset at the underarm seam.

I did notice, though, that some of the garments looked a little tight in some of the photos. For example, The Sultry Sheath dress appears to pull under the bust and the arm. Other garments like the Strapless Party Dress look perfect. I think that the wardrobe mistress assigned for the photo shoots should have seen to it that every garment had a professional cleaning and pressing. That may have been what was needed to correct some of the issues I found with wrinkling in the bodices and less than flat hemlines.

There has been much criticism of the fact that the bodice darts and skirt darts of Gertie’s Sultry Sheath Dress do not align with each other. I have checked out The Late-Day-Short Sheath Dress in “Vogue’s New Book For Better Sewing” and discovered that their sheath dress also did not have the bodice and skirt darts completely aligned with each other either. I plan to post scans of this in the near future. I think it would be good for the editors to put a special note explaining this to the readers whenever “Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing” is reprinted.

“Vogue’s New Book For Better Sewing” taught the reader how to incorporate high quality dressmaking techniques into the construction of 14 garments. Gertie takes this one better by including 10 patterns with her book. In 1952 the reader of “Vogue’s New Book For Better Sewing” had to purchase each pattern separately on their own.

I bought a used copy of “Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing” for $23.99 at Amazon. It came complete with the patterns.

Sewists well versed in vintage sewing techniques or with intermediate to slightly advanced sewing skills will not need to buy this book. But for those who want a quick reference book with many old school sewing techniques in one, easy to access format then “Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing” will fulfill a need. It will also be helpful to the beginner.