Saturday, March 15, 2008

McCall's 5576 Step-by-Step: Tracing and Getting the Fabric Ready

I'm a half-and-half tracer - half the time I do it, the other half I just use the pattern directly.  So why trace at all, especially when you can get patterns at $1.99 on sale?  Lots of reasons but I do it for the fit and durability.  I trace onto the cheapest interfacing I can get at Joann's and because it's fabric-like I can sew it up, pin it, and generally assemble the pieces as though they're fabric to check for fit.  You'll see below how I did that with this pattern.  It's also great for doing modifications - I can draw all over with my colored pencils taking in some here or adding something there and it won't tear like the cheap tissue pattern.  Also it means if I need a different size then I can get it, even if the pattern's out of print.  This is the big one.  So there's a bit of an apologetic for tracing.  With that done, let's get onto the dress!

Tracing the Pattern
(1) Gather the Materials
- Pattern
- Something to trace onto (I used non-fusible interfacing, 99c a yard)
- Dark colored pencils
- Ruler

(2) Unfold pattern, find each piece needed, and trace over your size with a bright pencil.  It'll make the next step far easier.

(3) Lay the tracing material over the first pattern piece, pin the two layers together or use a heavy object to keep them together (I use the ruler) and trace the pattern.  Make sure to include cutting lines, notches, and all triangles and circles.  Label with pattern piece, pattern number, and the size you cut out.  Repeat for all other pieces needed.

(4) Pinfit.  Pin the pattern pieces together as they'll go in the final product.  Don't bother with facings or hems unless they're vital.  You're just trying to get an idea of how the fit is on you.  Put it on and see how it fits - is anything too tight?  Too loose?  How's the fit in the shoulder area?  Yes, it's hard to do this with only half a pattern but soon you'll be a pro.

Getting the Fabric Ready
(1) Look at the pattern layout carefully.  Look again.  It's not the ONLY way to cut out the pattern but it's a really good place to start.  Unfortunately this dress's layout for sizes 8-14 is HORRIBLE for a new seamstress.  Instead of an easy fold in half like the other sizes it has you fold in one side just enough to fit on the front and back pieces.  That's hard and it takes a lot longer than is fun.  So if you're reading this prior to buying fabric - BUY ACCORDING TO THE 18-22 LAYOUT.  It's just half a yard more (2 5/8 rather than 2 1/8) and worth every inch.  Unfortunately I bought according to the smaller amount so that's what you'll see.

(1b) If you haven't yet, wash the fabric.  Cotton especially has a tendency to shrink in the wash and you want this to happen BEFORE you've spent hours cutting and sewing.  Wash it on the hottest setting it'll take and, if your cotton is strongly colored, don't put lighter colored stuff in with it.  Dye always bleeds the worse the first couple washes.  

(2) Prep the fabric for laying out.  "True" the grain by taking a snip half an inch down from one edge, cutting far enough in to get past the tightly woven selvage.  Now rip along that cut.  Yes, you read right.  Cottons rip wonderfully along their grain line and it's kinda fun.  Now the top edge should be perfectly perpendicular to the selvages.  Lay it out along a grid to make sure.  If not tug the fabric into shape.

(3) Fold the fabric according to layout instructions
(3a) If you're following the 18-22 layout then fold the fabric in half length wise.  Pin along the selvage ever 6 or so inches to keep it all together, especially if you're cutting on a table smaller than the fabric length
(3b) I bought according to the 8-16 layout so I had to do this the hard way.  First I measured the widest part of the front and back pieces.  This plus half an inch (just in case) is how much I need to fold over from one edge.  The magic number for my size (12 tapering to 14 at the hips) was 11.5 inches.  I folded then measured at three different spots to make sure it was all folded evenly.  Of course it wasn't.  Fold and measure again.  And again.  This is why that extra 1/2 yard would have been a great investment.

(4) If your cutting surface is shorter than your fabric (and mine usually is) then there's a danger of the fabric getting stretched off grain as it hangs off the edge of the table.  This is a slight to moderate risk for firmly woven cottons and a guarantee for looser wovens like chiffon and some satins.  I just take the bit that would hang over the edge and fold it up to sit on the end of my table.  True, it makes my small cutting area even smaller but it's better than dealing with a skewed grain.  Trust me on that one.

Now you're ready to pin the pattern pieces on!  You're doing great!

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