Friday, March 21, 2014

Pattern Reading Tutorial- New Pajama Pants for a Kitty-boy (Part 1)

I rarely use patterns for my sewing. I buy them, sure, especially the beautiful period costumes that tend to come out around Halloween. Then I put them in my pattern drawer and ogle them occasionally.

When I do use a pattern, I tend to use it the same way I use a recipe- I make sure I have the amounts roughly right and get an idea of the shapes of the fabric I need, then improvise. I know how to follow a pattern. I just usually don't. But when Kai recently asked for a new pair of pants with kitties on them, I decided to follow a pattern and take pictures of the process so I could blog about it. This tutorial is very detailed, intended for the person who has never used a pattern before. It's detailed enough that I'm splitting it into two parts because my fingers are starting to hurt from typing.

The pattern I am using is McCall's 6237. I chose it because it is pretty simple, the pants have pockets ( a must for Kai), and most of all because I already have it. It's actually meant for daytime pants, but I am using it for pajamas.

Before purchasing the fabric for a pattern, start by measuring the intended wearer. Patterns have their own sizing system that doesn't match up well with standard pre-made garment sizes. I looked at a pattern I'd purchased for myself, and I would need to make it in a size 12- in clothing I wear a 4. The opposite happened with Kai. When I measured him (and he stood surprisingly still for it!) I came up with a size 2 on the pattern, where he normally wears size 3 or 4 pants. However, I decided to make the pants in a size 4 anyway, on the theory that kids grow. They do- I've seen it. 

Side note- I measured Kai using a measuring tape which, like many of my sewing supplies, came from Guy's late grandmother. I didn't realize how old it was until Guy pointed out that it had been made in West Germany!

So- now that I know what size I'm making, I can look at the pattern package and see that for a pair of pants in size 4, I will need one yard of 45 inch wide fabric. Since I'm making pajama pants, I'm using flannel, which happened to be on sale that day at Joann. Yay! Kai chose two different flannels, one with cats and one with paw prints. I'm making two pairs of pants for him, one with each print.

I always buy more fabric than I think I will need for a project. That way I'm prepared for mistakes, and I can make little extras to go with the final product. For this one, I might use some of the extra to make a patch on a tee-shirt so Kai has a full set of pajamas. 

So, on to the cutting, right? Not so fast. Fabric needs to be washed and ironed before it is ready to cut out. (My mama would be so proud of me.) Fabric shrinks, as we all know, and it shrinks more or less in certain directions. If you get all that shrinking out of the way before you sew, you don't have to worry about weird puckers and wrinkles from different parts of the garment shrinking unevenly. And ironing the fabric before you cut out the pattern pieces gives you much neater, more accurate pieces to work with.

Here is what I will be using for this project, including washed and ironed fabric but not including the velcro (more on that later).

If you've never worked with a standard professional pattern before, there are a few things to watch out for. The pattern comes printed on super thin tissue paper, folded tightly together. If you're not careful spreading it out, you can end up tearing it. Find someplace large and flat where you can unfold the whole paper at once- I used the guest bed, though I have often used the floor. Look at the instructions first- there will be a page that tells you which pieces you need for each garment you can make with that pattern. It's hard to see in my image, but for these pants I need the pieces numbered 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16. Sometimes you have to search though several sheets to find what you need, because they're placed for the most efficient use of space, not logic.
Oh, here's a tip I totally didn't follow. Read through all the instructions before you start. Just like a recipe, this will give you a better idea what you're in for. Unlike a recipe, if you have to go back to the store to get fusible interfacing it isn't going to ruin your pants- but it will slow you down. I'm not speaking from personal experience or anything. 

It tells you on the pattern that you need two of this piece, but doesn't tell you they need to be mirrored. If you follow the cutting instructions, though, it will happen naturally.
The lines around the pattern piece are numbered- cut along the one that matches the size you want. Some people like to trace pattern pieces onto heavier paper or muslin so they can use them multiple times, but I've never used a pattern enough to warrant that. However, if you want to make the same pattern in multiple sizes you would need to do something of the sort. You don't need to cut out the little notches yet- they come in later.

You now need to find the page of the pattern instructions which shows how to lay the pieces out for cutting. Here is how the instructions are given and how it looks when you've laid them out on real fabric. (Sorry for the busyness of these pictures, by the way. I didn't think until afterward what the stripey bedsheet would add to the photos.) Note that the fabric is folded in half, so every pair of pieces will be mirror images.

Sometimes, you can rearrange the pieces to save a little fabric, but usually the layout they give you is the best option.
Pin your pattern to the fabric, or weigh it down. Some like to use weights, which reduces damage to the pattern. I don't bother for the same reason I don't trace my patterns onto more durable materials- I'm unlikely to use it again. Part of the fun for me is the novelty. 

Cut out the fabric carefully, paying attention to any special instructions. Piece 16 says to cut four, so after cutting it, I'll move the pattern piece and cut two more.

Now, for those little triangular markings-

These are how you fit the pieces together once you start sewing. You want to make a small but noticeable cut in your fabric, so you can find it easily. These will all be inside the seams, so no one will ever see them once you're finished. If there's one triangle, cut one notch. If there are two triangles, cut two notches. (Obvious, maybe, but I really am trying to cover all the bases here.)
Now that you've cut out all the pieces of fabric, you're ready to start sewing. I like to leave the pattern pinned to the fabric until I'm ready to use it- that way I don't forget which is which. The sewing instructions will use this key a lot, so read through it first. Pay close attention to the "right" side and "wrong" side colors- I don't want to talk about how many stitches I've had to undo because I sewed the wrong sides together...

The first step in the instructions is to sew the outer seams on the pants legs. So, we need one front piece and one back piece. Lay the pieces out one on top of the other, so that the right side of the fabric, the side that will be seen when the garment is worn, is in the middle of the sandwich. Make sure that the notches you cut earlier line up. Pin the two pieces together, using as many pins as you need to feel confident. Flannel sticks together like felt, so I didn't use very many pins- maybe every six inches or so.

The key says all seams are 5/8ths of an inch. I usually just eyeball this. (I'm hearing myself say a lot of things that basically translate to "I'm sloppy." But it works for me.) However, most sewing machines have seam guides to help you be a little more accurate- those lines on the edge next to my fabric there. Sew a straight seam using the basic stitch which is probably the default on your machine. At the beginning and end of all of your seams, back up a few stitches. It's pretty much tying a knot at the ends of your thread. It's also a nightmare to pick back out if you make a mistake, so only back-stitch two or three stitches.

Also, take out the pins before you sew over them. It doesn't happen often, but you can break your needle sewing a pin.

Wherever I can, I try to flatten the seams and finish them off. For this one I ironed it open and sewed a zigzag stitch down the rough edge. This step isn't necessary but I like the effect and I feel like it makes the product more durable.

A little blurry, but you get the idea.
Do this for both legs. And now it's time for the pockets.

Okay, I don't even want to talk about how many times I got the pockets on these pants wrong. I blame the instructions. No, really, it wasn't very clearly written out and the pictures weren't helpful. 


So, you take the pocket piece, fold the top over 1/4 inch and iron-

Then fold it back outward and iron it down. There's a line marked on the pattern piece which shows you where to fold to.Then you sew down the edges and trim off some. The pattern doesn't say how much- I went for about 1/4 inch.

Then you turn that little pocket you sewed inside out, press it, and press in seams on the rest of the pocket to match. 

Scissors make a great tool to push out the corners of whatever you're turning.

All the pockets for two pairs of pants.
"But Muriah, you didn't show us your mistakes!" Well, I'm not writing a 'how to mess up a pattern' tutorial! 

Next step- attaching the pockets to the pants pieces. You'll need to lay your pants legs out flat and get out the pattern pieces for them. The pattern has markings to show where to place the pocket. This is the back pocket- the red arrow is pointing to one of the markings. I laid the pattern over the fabric piece and then kind of slid the pocket underneath until it matched up- you can see it under there.

The side pocket has an additional step before you attach it- since this pocket will have a flap, we'll be attaching the velcro now.  I didn't read through the pattern in advance, and totally didn't realize I needed velcro, but I have plenty hanging around. 

Velcro courtesy Guy's Nana. It's probably thirty years old, but works fine!
There is a placement marker on the pattern piece showing where to put the velcro. This is the fuzzy side- the hook side will be on the flap. My velcro has adhesive on the back, so I didn't pin. I sewed around the edge with a zigzag stitch.
For placing the side pocket on the pants leg you need both leg pattern pieces- 

The arrow is pointing to the placement markers. They're hard to see, but there's one for each size. My pockets turned out a little small, so I just lined them up as well as I could.

You line it up with the circles on each piece- for this one I placed the pocket and then slid the pattern out from underneath it. Both pockets are sewn on the same way. Pin them down first, then sew around the sides and bottom 1/4 inch from the edge. Repeat very close to the edge. If you were a pro, you'd use a double needle for this and it would look very sharp, but this method is just as sturdy and looks homemade. Which is good, in my book.

And that's all I have for today. Next week I'll post the rest- putting the pants together, the waistband, final fittings, and cute pictures of the model. I hope this was helpful to someone!

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