19 May 2014

Three Coco Hacks from Thread Theory

Have you been following Sewing Indie Month on the blogosphere? I'm really enjoying seeing other independent sewing pattern designers collaborate, and now it's my turn to host. Today I'm absolutely thrilled to share with you a guest post from the gorgeous Morgan from Thread Theory. If you don't know Thread Theory, you need to check them out! They offer super stylish menswear sewing patterns, which are relatively hard to come by in the indie pattern world. If that's not enough to convince you, their website often features pictures of men in their smalls. Just promise you'll come back here afterwards for Morgan's fabulous tutorials...


Tilly Banner

"Hi! I’m Morgan, from Thread Theory Designs! If you haven’t heard of us, we are a menswear sewing pattern company run by my husband Matt, and myself. I’m thrilled to be paired with Tilly for Sewing Indie Month, as (you will soon find out) I am a BIG fan of her Coco sewing pattern!

I’ve really been enjoying sewing with knits of late as these projects are super quick, quite easy, and invariably result in a comfortable ‘staple’ garment in Matt and my wardrobes. Tilly’s Coco pattern is no exception to this, I have sewn three of them now and none of them have taken longer than a short evening of sewing! These three tops are already in heavy rotation in my closet and I am sure I will be making many more in the future.

Today, I’m sharing with you three mini-tutorials that I have created to go with Tilly’s Coco. They are meant to get your creative juices flowing and to help you jump the hurdle that a lot of people come across when they want to begin sewing knits: they can’t find inspiring fabric! While it may be difficult to find pretty knit prints and a rainbow of knit solids in your local fabric store, with a little bit of extra effort you can turn even the most boring knit into something unique and perfect for your next knit sewing project!

So, let's start...

1) How to Embellish with Wovens.

Close up-1

If you have a plain knit and a great base pattern, like Coco, it is easy to add some prints and texture by trimming your garment with wovens. For this garment, I added a keyhole at the back neckline with cotton ties. I also added lace to the hem. Coco is a perfect pattern to do this sort of embellishing with, especially along the hem, because the hem flares just enough that you don't need it to stretch to pull it over your head.

Embellish - staystitch keyhole

To make the keyhole opening, stay-stitch using a regular stitch length, in the shape that you would like your opening to be. If I were to try this technique again, I would probably make the keyhole wider at the top edge so that the finished cotton ties would 'cinch' the neck in when they are tied tied. The bow made from my ties takes up more room than the space that I created with the keyhole so the neck stretches out to become a touch wider than the pattern intends.

Embellish - cut out keyhole

Next, trim your fabric close to the stay stitching to create the hole. If you would like, you could leave a larger seam allowance so that the next step isn't quite so fiddly - anything between 1/4" - 5/8" will work, depending on the size of your keyhole.

Embellish - turn raw edges under

Now, fold and press the seam allowances to the wrong side of the garment (like little self facings). You can adjust the shape of your keyhole by varying the size of your seam allowances if you are trying to end up with a specific shape (that is what I did - note that the seam allowance at the bottom is very narrow because I wanted quite a sharp curve). Finish the edges by stitching. I used a large zig-zag stitch to catch the raw self facing edges and finish the keyhole all at once.

Now it is time to make the ties! I chose a really pretty floral cotton - I certainly wouldn't have been able to find a print like this in a knit at my local fabric store!

Embellish - cut 20cm rectangles

Cut two 20 cm rectangles. I made mine about 2" wide to result in a 1/2" wide tie (I used 1/2" seam allowances).

Embellish - sew to form tubes

Fold the fabric in half and sew along the longest length to create a two tubes. After sewing, trim your seam allowances to make it easier to turn the tubes right side out.

Embellish - turn right side out

I like to use a safety pin to help me turn things right side out. I attach it to one end and then send it through the entire tube by gripping it through the fabric and passing it from hand to hand while pushing it through the fabric. The above photo shows you how it will look when the safety pin has reached the other side and it is ready to pull on to turn the tube right side out.

Embellish - iron and finish ends

Iron the tubes flat and turn all four raw ends inside the tube. Top-stitch to close the ends and your ties are now ready to add to the knit garment!

Embellish - add ties to neckline

To add my ties, I simply pinned them to the neckline and sewed over them when I zig-zagged the neckline (as per Tilly's instructions). I started sewing at one side of the key-hole and ended my stitching at the other side. I chose to do a tight zig zag stitch as a decorative finish (you will see this in the photo below).

Embellish - zig zag the neckline

And now we're ready to embellish them hem! I had a crochet duvet that had been given to me by Matt's Grandma to use in my sewing projects. This was the perfect opportunity to use a length of the lace edge!

Embellish - cut lace for hem

To determine how much I needed, I simply lay out my garment and cut the lace to include seam allowance (you can see this on the left hand side). I only made one side seam because I wanted to break up the lace as little as possible. Next, I sewed up the unfinished edge to create a tube. My lace was quite finished along the top edge, but you might want to serge or zigzag this edge at this point to make sure it doesn't fray.

Embellish - pin lace to ironed hem

To attach the lace to the hem, I ironed the hem as per Tilly's directions and then pinned the lace so that the wrong side of the garment faced the right side of the lace. Then, I zig-zagged the hem, making sure to catch the lace!

Et, voila! A unique striped Coco that no other sewer could replicate exactly (and that you would certainly never find in the store!).

2) How to Paint with Bleach!

Close up-2

For my next Coco, I found a basic sweater knit in my favorite colour and sewed up the Coco exactly as Tilly directs. I loved how it looked with my leather belt as is (in fact, I wore it on a PBS Sew It All episode because I liked it so much! See photos here.). All the same, I thought an embellishment would make it a touch more interesting and help to differentiate it from the embarrassing amount of garments in the exact same shade of green that I already have in my closet!

For this Coco, I tried out bleach dying for the first time! Have you heard of this technique? You can find my inspiration post here. I liked this idea because it didn't involve buying any supplies (most people likely have bleach in their laundry room) and it looked so fast and effective.

Painting - what you'll need

For this project, you'll need finished garments or fabric to paint (I painted my Coco and our free men's Arrowsmith Tank pattern... also in my favourite green lol). You'll also need some chalk or other form of fabric marker, a small dish of fabric safe bleach, a paintbrush (not a good one just in case the bleach is hard on it!), and a piece of cardboard to insert between layers of fabric.

It is important to wear gloves and to avoid getting bleach on your skin because bleach is corrosive!

  Painting - draw design

Before painting, insert the cardboard between fabric layers and then draw your design (or at least some of the main lines) using chalk or a fabric marker. I marked out the basic lines to draw three trees on the Arrowsmith Tank. I decided to take a risk and just paint freestyle on the Coco :P.

Painting - paint design

Paint the design using bleach and your paintbrush. Since the bleach is a lot more fluid than paint, be careful not to let it drip on your fabric! Or... maybe just embrace the drips? Can you tell that is what I did?

Painting - let bleach dry

Let the bleach dry and in a matter of seconds you will begin to see the colour disappear! Depending on the type of fabric and the amount of bleach you applied, the design might appear slightly pink or orange (as it did with the Arrowsmith Tank) or it might turn white right away (as it did with the Coco).

Painting - whiten in the sun

To encourage the bleach to turn the fabric whiter, you can add multiple layers of bleach or you can let your garments sit in the sun for an hour or so. I hung mine up on the clothesline and the Arrowsmith Tank design turned much whiter over the span of an hour.

3) How to Dye Fabric:
Close up-3

For my third Coco, I, a dying novice, decided to delve into the most basic of fabric dying methods - I bought a pure white cotton knit and cold water dye. I have always been intrigued but also intimidated by the process of fabric dying. It seemed to me like a gateway towards endless possibilities. With dye, a sewist can become one step less inhibited by the consumer world and not only create their garments, but also create their textile designs! Armed with dye, I would no longer be limited by the same choices available to every other sewist at my community fabric store!

For this tutorial, I really just carefully followed the instructions on the back of the dye packet. Even though you could do just as I did, I know I would have liked some encouragement and pretty photos to lead the way for me. After all, the tiny text on the back of the packet wasn't exactly inspiring or friendly. I hope that this photo journal of the process will show you how mess-free and easy dying is and thus convince you to test it out for the first time!

Dyeing - what you will need

To dye a length of fabric large enough for a shirt, you will need:
  • One bucket, bowl or pot (don't use something that you prepare or serve food in)
  • Something to stir with
  • Some fabric containing mostly natural fibres. I used 100% cotton. Remember that the colour of your fabric will mix with the colour of your dye to create new colours (exciting!)
  • One packet of cold-water dye (I used the this dye from Dylon)
  • 500mL warm water to mix dye in (measured using the measuring cup)
  • Something to measure 6L of water (I used a 1L water bottle)
  • Scissors to open your dye packet
  • Gloves so as to avoid green hands
  • 250g (5 Tbsp) salt
Dyeing - add salt to water

Fill a container with 6L of cold tap water. Add 250g (5 Tbsp) of salt. (Note: I don't know if this is the case with most plastic buckets, but you might be interested to know that my bucket didn't become discoloured during the dying process).

Dyeing - soak your fabric

Make sure your fabric is damp before dying it so that it has a better chance of evenly accepting the dye. Also, you should pre-wash your fabric to rid it of any chemicals that might prevent it from accepting the dye. If you are washing your fabric right before dying, simply take it out of the washing machine so that it is wet and ready to go. If you have already washed and dried your fabric like I had, just soak it in your 6L of warm dying water and remove it before you add the dye.

Dyeing - dissolve the dye

Open the dye packet and pour the crystals into 500mL of warm water. Stir it thoroughly to make sure all the crystals dissolve. I thought that mine had done so but found out that half of them were a goopy mess at the bottom of the bowl when I went on to the next step. So when the packet tells you to stir thoroughly, it means thoroughly!

Dyeing - add dye to water

Add the dye mixture to the water and stir once again. The more evenly distributed the dye, the better your chances are that your fabric will be dyed evenly.

Dyeing - add fabric to dye
Add the fabric to the dye bath and stir continuously for 15 minutes. This may seem like a long time but it is important to keep the fabric moving so that the dye has a chance to reach all areas evenly rather then settling on some areas heavier than others. Leave the fabric in the dye for a further 45 minutes and stir it every once in a while.

Dyeing - rinse in cold water

Once all the pigment has been taken into the fabric (your water will look very transparent compared to when you started!), rinse the fabric in cold water. There shouldn't be too much dye leaving the fabric but it is a good idea to do this anyways to avoid a mess when you transfer the fabric to your washing machine. After your fabric is rinsed, wash and dry it just as you will for the finished garment. And...

Dyeing - you're ready to sew!

Thank you, Tilly, for the opportunity to sew your fabulous Coco and for featuring my tutorials on your blog! I'm excited to see what other great events and tutorials will be taking place this month. If you want to find more about Sewing Indie Month and to have a look at the calendar of scheduled events, head on over to the Sewing Indie Month headquarters!"


  1. The designs are so innovative and the Coco's look great. I would love to try bleach dyeing, I've never seen it before!

  2. Sometimes I come across sewing variations and I'm just gobsmacked by the interpretations! This is one of those times....I wouldn't have thought to do any of these and I salute your creativity -- each is unique and beautiful!!!!

    1. Thanks very much! I hope they inspire you to make some Coco variations of your own :). I must admit, I was very inspired for these by Tilly's wonderful pinterest page - there are so many creative versions of the Coco already sewn!

  3. RE BLEACH - it is VERY important to wash the garment properly after using bleach - rinse the garment in vinegar before washing - as this will neutralise the bleach. Otherwise the bleach can continue to "eat" the fabric. The colour change depends on the COLOUR of the dye and TYPE of dye used to dye the fabric. ....have fun!

    1. Thanks for the information! I haven't rinsed my garments in vinegar yet so I wonder if I should do that now? They have both been washed twice since bleaching.

  4. What great ideas! I love how enthusiastic Morgan is. : ) Thanks to you both for an inspiring post - I love all these Sewing Indie Month collaborations!

  5. I am such a big fan of no 1! I'm feeling very inspired...

    Faye | freckles-and-all.blogspot.co.uk

  6. Love the bleach idea. A much more refined technique compared to what I used to do with my jeans in my rebellious teenage years. :)

  7. Brilliant hacks, I love the idea of painting with bleach, I may have to get my artist husband to sketch some designs for me.


  8. I love the key hole ties on the stripey version. I've been thinking of experimenting with dyes. Thanks for the tutorial. The hand dye technique doesn't look too complicated.

  9. I love dyeing fabric, such transformations are possible! However note that using salt will only work for vegetable fibres like cotton. If you're dying a protein fibre like silk or wool, you'll need to use vinegar instead of salt, and Dylon may not work. Check out i-Dye, which will work for vegetable or protein fibres depending on whether you add salt or vinegar.

  10. Ahhh! You were wearing that bleached number in Denver at Fancy Tiger- it was so cute I wanted to ask which of your patterns it was, then learned that all your patterns were mens and failed to ask more. Glad to know it can be reproduced! I love seeing all the variations, and and now excited to make my own. =)

  11. I'm pretty sure you used way too little salt, or is there a typo somewhere? 250 grams does not equal 5 tbsp. When colouring cotton the salt fixates the dye to the fabric. Too little salt and the colour will not take as well. But fun to experiment with if you want a lighter shade.

  12. What a great tutorial - love the lace at the bottom of the tee, might try out the bleaching, looks like a lot of fun.
    the guys patterns are great too!


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