Oh the possibilities with elastic thread!

design, fashion, needlework, sewing

Our daughter Sophie has lived a lifetime around sewing projects but I’ve never heard her gasp with excitement about a sewing project until we started experimenting with elastic thread. If you’ve never sewn with it before, it’s the element that causes fabric to smock magically. For those of us who grew in the tube top era, never fear there are uses for elastic thread beyond the dreaded tube top. Although there are mass manufactured fabrics that have been pre-smocked with elastic thread, in general they are not beautifully printed or made with nice greige goods and are often made with juvenile prints. I like elastic thread smocking for pool cover-ups, casual summer skirts, sleeve and pocket details and kids’ clothing. Most of the time, you’ll find it with elastics in the store rather than thread.

It’s very simple to work with as long as you follow a few simple rules:

  1. When smocking, use regular thread for the top stitches. The elastic thread goes only in the bobbin.
  2. Handwind the bobbin without stretching the elastic thread at all. Don’t use the bobbin winding mechanism on your machine. This is critical.
  3. Use the longest stitch possible on your machine.
  4. If you have a walking foot, use it.
  5. Sew the rows of smocking about ¾” apart.
  6. Leave long tails when you start and stop rows and knot them together after each row is smocked.
  7. If you’re making a skirt or a dress with a smocked waist or bodice, make the width of the garment your largest dimension (bust, waist or hips) plus an additional 50% of that measurement. For example, if you would ordarily cut fabric 40” wide for a skirt, cut the fabric to be smocked 60” wide. I’ve seen patterns that say to double it but on our machine and with the Gutermann elastic thread we used, doubling was waaay too big. The amount of smocking is also greater in lighterweight fabrics it seems. For example, you might get less shrinkage in terrycloth than you would in lawn.
  8. Do a test strip of the length you plan to sew to see how much it shrinks with the thread.
  9. Elastic thread is most successful on lighterweight fabrics. Terrycloth is about as heavy as you can go. It’s not strong enough to smock leather or vinyl for example.

Any other tips on using elastic thread?


crazy love

design, family, fashion, sewing

“We are RIDICULOUS!” I muttered to Bill around 2am this morning as he was putting the zipper into these pants. “Positively ridiculous.”

It started off as many things do with us, and I’m guessing with many couples in different ways. Our daughter had outgrown her bathrobe and I had gotten a pattern to make a bathrobe for her out of some leftover flannel that we had in the studio as a Valentine’s Day surprise. Then at 8:45pm we had that sinking recollection that the flannel we were looking for had not made it out of the storage unit post-move and the other pieces we had weren’t going to be enough.

“Hey! What about the pants fabric I got in Houston at Market?” I suggested.

Now this is yet another example of our ridiculousness. In Houston last October when setting up our booth for Quilt Market, I realized that I needed some white fabric for cushions in the booth. I found on my GPS that there was a great fabric store nearby so I ran over there before I was supposed to be at a networking party. But of course once I got in said wonderful fabric shop I immediately started looking for fabric to make a pair of winter pants for Sophie (because as longtime Craft Nectar readers know, they don’t make many cold weather pants for girls). Anyway, there I was, having spent the day setting up a trade show booth alone, when I should have been getting dolled up for the networking event and YET I was standing in the fabric store on the cell phone asking my 10 yr old if she’d rather have pants made out of pink camo velveteen or floral corduroy. And then I couldn’t find a pattern for girls pants that weren’t skinny jeans, which our daughter hates, so I ended up getting a pattern for boys pants. “Aren’t you supposed to be in the shower by now?” the Voice of Responsible Business Owner kept saying. “Just gotta grab the zipper…OK, where are the 6″ zippers?” I answered. Sheesh.

Anyhoo, Bill and I convinced ourselves that “Sure. We can make a Burda pants pattern with inset pockets, a zipper and a rear yoke. And it’s no big deal if we’re not starting this until 8:45pm the day after we had 70 people at our house and 2 swim meets over the weekend.” Like I said, we’re ridiculous.

“At least I’ll get a post out of it,” I muttered around 1:30 as I was topstitching the pockets. We did all of the this not because we think that it’s going to make our daughter love us more. Not because we want her to have everything in life. We did it for the memory she’ll always have of the Valentine’s Day when she woke up and there was a pair of soft pants in her favorite colors right next to her alarm clock. We did it for that little gasp of excitement we can hear down the hall in the morning when she discovers that we made something fun for her.

Love’s like that. It can make you crazy.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

my costume/wardrobe chop shop

design, eco-craft, fashion, sewing

Our daughter is enrolled in a theater camp this summer and the parents were asked to volunteer for some tasks. Given that I think of myself as a somewhat competent seamstress I volunteered to do costume construction and alterations rather than sell tickets or plan the cast party. The camp is performing Jungle Book, Cinderella and Fame Jr. I was thinking that someone would give me a pattern and a pile of fabric and I’d be making something from scratch. Wrong.

They needed the most help with the Cinderella costumes. The woman in charge handed me a plus-size polyester blouse and a size 6 prom dress and asked me to put the sleeves from the blouse onto the prom dress. At first it seemed so weird because the size of the sleeves were so much bigger that the armholes of the prom dress, but then I remembered that it wasn’t a quilt. The seams didn’t have to be flat. What a concept. Poofy sleeves. Cinderella. Got it.

I did find my knowledge of insetting circles really paid off as I tried to figure out how to do this. My first step was to cut the sleeves off the blouse and mark with chalk the top of the sleeve when placed flat with the seam at the bottom and the fabric distributed evenly from the seam.

Next I used a basting stitch around the circumference of the sleeve and pulled the bobbin thread to gather the ends until they looked as though they were about the same size as the arm holes on the prom dress.

I then matched that chalked mark on the top of the sleeve to the seam on the top of the arm hole on the prom dress and distributed the extra fabric as evenly around the armhole as possible. I pinned like crazy.

Next I overlocked the sleeve to the armhole because I was worried about the polyester raveling over time. I also think that costumes and stuff kids wear should be constructed with the durability of a military uniform so my #2 Bernina overlocking foot is always nearby when I do this kind of sewing. The last step was to remove the basting. I think it turned out great and looks very appropriate for the costume for the queen.

I was also asked to hem up by 6″ a floor-length flared skirt without cutting it at all. And of course it was lined. I had to sew tucks into the hem but by following the seams straight up the skirt and by distributing the flare evenly across the skirt, it looked fine on the outside. Both were really good tutorials of sorts for me and I feel like every time I do a project like this, I learn something new.


One reader asked after my tunic post about whether I had a sewing background and what resources I might know of for tailoring clothing. I took Home Ec sewing in 7th grade and that is my sum total background for formal sewing education. What I have learned has been through the experience of following patterns when I make clothes for myself and trying to alter ready-made clothes. I don’t know of any good books for learning how to alter clothing. If any readers do, please share!

What I do know is that I’ve learned a lot by paying attention to the way that garments are constructed. I know that my curvy body looks best with princess seams or darts around the bust and a drape or cut that accommodates an hour-glass figure. I know that clothes that hang flat on the hanger look best on bodies that don’t have a lot of curves. I will never own a piece of clothing with spaghetti straps, a babydoll dress or a pair of Levi’s straight leg jeans with a waistline that goes straight up from the hips. Never gonna happen. Shapely bodies need shapely clothes. I will never buy a pair of pants with a zipper that is more than 4″ long because you just can’t fix a rise that is too long and waistlines at or above the navel are uncomfortable to me.

When I do need to alter clothes I try to figure out how to integrate the alterations into the garment so they look intentional. If a skirt is too long, I look at how it was originally hemmed. I try to ease waist darts in carefully so they look as though they were always there. If I’m adapting the neckline, I find a neckline I like on another garment I have and trace it over the garment I’m adapting.

Perhaps the best advice I can offer regarding alterations is that if you have to do too many, it may be better to try on something else. I guess I’d also say that trying to retrofit a Goodwill garment is a $3-5 experiment and you’re guaranteed to learn a lot. A few episodes of Project Runway should help you dive in. Happy sewing!