3 March 2014

Sewing Coco 1: Stabilise the Seams + Sew the Shoulders

Sewing Coco? Fabric cut out? Let's get sewing!

Coco is a super quick project that can be sewn together in just a couple of hours. For the purposes of clarity and manageability, I’ll break the steps into bitesize chunks and spread them out over the next five days. If you need to catch up with the sewalong, you can do so at any time as the posts will stay up on the Coco page.

In this post, we’re going to do some quick preparation to stabilise some key areas of the garment, then we’ll sew the shoulder seams together.

If you feel like brushing up on your basic sewing skills before we begin, have a look at Learn to Sew. And check out the previous post for my tips on sewing knit fabrics on a regular sewing machine.

I’m really excited to see what you make! Share your finished makes in the comments here or tweet me using the hashtag #SewingCoco so we can all see.

Stay stitch the neckline

We’re going to begin by stay stitching the neckline to stabilise it. What is stay stitching? Stay stitching is a row of stitches sewn on a single piece of fabric before it’s sewn to anything else to help it keep its original shape. Stay stitching is particularly important for curved edges like this neckline which could potentially stretch out.

All you need to do is sew a row of straight stitches along the neckline of the front and back bodice pieces, parallel to and about 10mm (3/8”) from the raw edge. Start at one shoulder and sew to the middle; then cut your threads, start from the other shoulder and sew to the middle – sewing towards the middle from either side will stop the fabric piece stretching out in just one direction as it goes through the sewing machine. There’s no need to back tack when stay stitching – the thread should stay in place as long as we need it to.

Stabilise the shoulders

We’re also going to stabilise the shoulder seams – you’re going to want to wear your Coco all the time, so it’s a good idea to add a strip of something to the shoulders that’s going to help them hold their shape and not stretch out from all that wear.

I like to use 6 – 8mm wide ribbon as a stabiliser, since it’s easy to find and looks pretty. There are various alternatives you could use instead, so see what you can find and what you like working with. Try stay tape, a strip of knit interfacing, twill tape, clear elastic, or even the selvedges from some medium weight woven fabric.

Cut two pieces of ribbon (or your chosen stabiliser) slightly longer than the shoulder seams. Position the strips on the wrong side (ie. the side of the fabric that will go on the inside of your garment) of each shoulder seam on the back bodice piece. The ribbon needs to be close enough to the stitching line (15mm / 5/8 in from the raw edge) to stop that area stretching out; but not directly on the stitching line or it will create a stiff and awkward seam.

If you’re using a stitch-in stabiliser, such as ribbon, pin the pieces in place, set your machine to the zigzag stitch – I’ve used a 2.5 width x 2.5 length zigzag stitch here – then sew along the middle of the ribbon to hold it in place. (All you’re doing is sewing a piece of ribbon to one piece of fabric, you’re not joining any fabric pieces together yet.) If you’re using a fusible stabiliser, such as interfacing, place a pressing cloth on top and use the heat from a hot dry iron to glue it in place.

Sew the shoulders together

The neckline and shoulders should now be nice and strong – so let’s start sewing this baby together.

Place the back bodice on top of the front bodice, with the right sides facing each other (ie. the sides that will show on the outside of the garment). See those little notches that you snipped into the shoulder seams? Use them to align the front and back bodice pieces at the two shoulder seams, and pin them together. For sewing seams together, I like to set the width of my zigzag stitch to 1.5 and the length to 2.2 – you can do the same, or use a different combo if you prefer. Zigzag stitch the front and back bodice pieces together at the two shoulder seams, back tacking at either end, and taking care not to stitch over the ribbon. For sewing all the seams, unless the steps say otherwise, sew using a 15mm (5/8 in) seam allowance.

Trim the ends of the ribbon, then trim down the seam allowances to about half their current width to neaten them.

Now get out your iron. Pressing is a vital step for neatening sewn seams and making your finished garment look extra gorgeous. Start by pressing directly on top of the stitching to “set” it into the fabric. Next, open out the seam allowances by pulling them apart and press them open, first on the wrong side and then on the right side of the garment. (Read more about pressing your sewing projects.)

First steps done! Any questions? In the next post, we’re going to sew the neckline…