Bar tacks – denim v machine

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After – one good, one a bit messy

You might have noticed I haven’t finished my Ginger jeans yet. As well as the epic (and still ongoing) fitting process, I’ve been struggling with the bar tacks. So in case sewists of the future are also battling bar tacks, I thought I’d jot down what I’ve learnt.

Back up a minute – what’s a bar tack?

It’s a really dense stitch that you use to reinforce areas that undergo a lot of stress when you wear the garment. For example, you might use them to secure the edges of your pockets, or in the case of the Ginger Jeans, to strengthen the fly front.

Nothing to do with the Dior Bar Jacket, or this rather stylish eatery in Amsterdam (which is pretty much all you’ll find if you search Instagram for #bartack).

How do you do a bar tack?

It’s a lot like a buttonhole stitch – a short, narrow zigzag stitch. For jeans, it’s usually done with the same topstitching thread as the other decorative stitching.

This Seamwork feature shows you how and when you might use a bar tack, and some more decorative variations.

The Closet Case fly front zipper post in the sewalong for the Ginger jeans has tips on achieving the perfect bar tack on stretch denim.

Sadly, my machine didn’t want to follow the instructions.

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This was my machine’s initial reaction to be asked to sew a bar tack

My Janome DKS30 even has a specific bar tack stitch, but each time I tried a test tack, it jammed up and almost broke the needle. I fiddled with the tension, the presser foot pressure and tried four different presser feet but nothing was working.

After a cry for help on Instagram, some helpful suggestions came back. (Thank you @liwarlin, @heatherarnatt and @penguinandpear.)

I switched back to a regular zigzag stitch, swapped my denim needle for a topstitching needle and things improved a little. I swapped the bobbin thread for a slightly thicker sew-all thread (still nowhere near as thick as topstitching thread), and opted for the buttonhole foot with the stabiliser plate. Lastly, I lowered the needle using the wheel rather than the button, and when it began to look like the whole thing was going to jam up again, I used the handwheel to finish the stitch instead of the pedal.

They’re not the neatest, but at least I didn’t ruin the whole front of the jeans. Thinking I might go for rivets elsewhere though…

I’m still not sure my machine is supposed to behave like this, so I’d be interested to know if you’ve had similar problems – and whether you’ve solved them.

 

 

Project Ginger Jeans – the fitting

Update: Since I first published this post on 21 January, I’ve made two sets of adjustments to the original fit. I’ve added pictures and info from the second and third fittings to this post, to keep all the fitting info together.

Earlier this week, I finally got around to cutting out my first ever pair of handmade jeans. I ended up crawling around on the floor underneath our dining table because I had to cut in a single layer, and that’s the only place I could lay the whole thing out. My knees haven’t forgiven me yet.

Then I almost ran out of fabric because I’ve already made a few flat alterations to the pattern. I used the tutorial in the Closet Case Files E-book on sewing jeans to convert the original skinny/stovepipe leg pattern into a flared version. (You can now buy the flared version as a pattern expansion, but I opted to save  $7+printing+sticking hassle and do it myself – it wasn’t tricky.)

I graded from a 16 at the hip to a 14 at the waist, and added 1″ to the crotch depth. Lastly, I enlarged the inseam and side seam allowances by a further 3/8″ to give me a full 1″ of wiggle room for adjusting everything.

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You can see here I’ve blended two sizes to use the larger one at the hip and the smaller one at the waist.

The fabric is a stretch denim I bought in Guthrie & Ghani last May. It’s a medium weight with roughly 2% spandex, as recommended for this pattern.

I cut everything out and basted the basic pieces together using a really long stitch length (5.0 on my Janome). Special thanks to Alex, who reminded me to staystitch first. This is mentioned in the pattern, but not in the part about basting/fitting, so I would definitely have forgotten otherwise.

First fitting

So, onto fitting. Jeez, this might turn out to be a long haul. (Front, side and back views in the picture right at the top – please excuse the poor lighting, it’s been so gloomy in Worcestershire recently!) I figured I might as well share the fitting process in all its gory detail.

Problem number one is that they’re too narrow through the thigh, so the crotch of the jeans can’t currently sit in the right place. In the back view you can see the horizontal wrinkles across the back of my thigh and knee area, showing it’s too tight here, so I’m going to let the inseams out from just below the knee up to the crotch seam. And from the side, you can see the side seam is pulling towards the front at mid-thigh level, which I *think* means I should let out the front thigh a little more than the back.

After this first fitting, I let out the front and back inseams by 1/8″ each. That wasn’t quite enough so I also let out the side seams by the same amount – just from crotch level down to the hem.

That gave me a better fit on the legs. However, the crotch seam still wasn’t sitting quite high enough and after some wriggling around I determined that the thing dragging it down was my bottom!

To fix that without liposuction, I lowered the back crotch only by 1/4″. This also increases the overall length of the back crotch seam so it’s sitting better all the way up to top hip level now. At the front there were some weird horizontal lines appearing, and there seemed to be too much room in the lower front crotch area, so I also straightened the front crotch seam – making it shorter in the process. (In one fitting guide, this is labelled a ‘receded pubis adjustment’ – which sounds like a really painful operation but it’s actually pretty easy to do if you left enough seam allowance.)

Second fitting

Here they are after those adjustments. Looking better, I hope you’ll agree.

I’m fairly happy with the fit through the crotch and the thighs now, although I’m debating whether to take the adjustments from the first fitting a teensy bit further to try to improve the fit even more.

What needs looking at now is the top hip and waistband area. The front crotch depth is still a smidgen too long, so I’m going to lop a little off the centre front at the top. To fix the gaping at the back, I need to take a wedge out of the yoke piece, maybe a little out of the side seams above the crotch, and then re-draft the waistband so it fits my contours better. Phew!

Third fitting

So since the second fitting I’ve lowered the back crotch by a further 1/4″, let out the back inseam by another 1/8″ and added darts in the back yoke and the waistband to fix the gaping at the back. I’ve taken 1/2″ off the centre of the front crotch depth and a smile-shaped horizontal wedge out across the back – effectively a flat seat adjustment. I also remembered to put shoes on for this fitting to see how they’ll really look.

The fit across the back waist is much better, it’s not gaping or standing away from my top hip area now. The bubble in the front crotch has gone, but it’s been replaced by some diagonal lines that I thought I’d got rid of after the first fitting indicating that the front crotch is too short. The back thigh actually looks tighter than it did at the last fitting, even though I’ve let it out so that needs to come out a bit more again (which might also fix the front diagonal wrinkes, too). And the back view now also reveals a problem I haven’t talked about until now, which is that my right hip is around 1″ lower than my left due to some differences in my leg length and pelvis size. I think I can correct this with a small adjustment to the outseam and the waistband height at the final fitting.

So, armed with the knowledge on what I need to do, and running out of seam allowance to make many more adjustments, I think it’s on to the actual sewing. The pockets, pocket stay and fly will take some of the room out of the front crotch, and I can tweak the leg seams a little along the way. So my plan is to sew them up very gradually, checking the fit several more times as I go. Wish me luck!

Sewing thick fabrics

On Saturday night, I spent the evening at home – wrestling with a monster seam. IMG_1202 (1)

This is the toughest seam I’ve ever sewn, and I thought I’d share some tips for dealing with these, without breaking too many needles.

When you make a coat, there’s usually a point when you ‘bag’ the lining. You start by assembling the outer coat and the lining separately. Then you stitch them together along three sides, turn the whole thing inside out through the fourth side and hey presto, you (almost) have yourself a beautiful lined coat.

In this seam, because there was also a lined hood, I had six layers altogether: two layers of polyester coating, two of cotton jersey lining, plus two of fluffy Thinsulate interlining. And when I got to the point where the shoulder and hood seams aligned, it was briefly doubled to 12 layers.

So, how can you get all this under the needles smoothly?

Use the right kit

Being realistic, a portable lightweight machine is probably going to curl up and die if you ask it to sew a seam like this. So if you’re lucky enough to have more than one machine, thread up the stronger of the two. My new Janome DKS30 and my old Singer 201k have both sewn this seam successfully – although only the 201k actually enjoyed it.

Pick the right needle and thread. If you’re making a coat, you’re probably using a size 100/16 needle. If you can’t remember what needle you put in, or you changed it to sew the lining, now is the moment to double-check. A strong sew-all polyester thread, or potentially even a topstitching or buttonhole thread is a good idea too.

If you’ve been using your walking foot for your coat so far, you might need to change back to your ordinary foot just to get the fabric under the needle. But if you can stick with your walking foot, that will give you a better result when seaming all these different fabrics together.

You could also try a Jean-a-ma-jig (also called a ‘hump jumper’) to help you over the seam allowances. It helps the presser foot lift and stay level over the hump when the fabric suddenly gets thicker.

Extra tips and tricks

Fish out your sewing machine manual again and look for any advice on sewing thick fabrics. I found that mine has an extra lever position that lifts the presser foot even higher to help you get all the layers into position.

Set your presser foot pressure and needle thread tension according to the advice in the manual. (On my Janome DKS30 I set the presser foot pressure at 6 and the needle thread tension at 3.)

If your fabric stops moving through the machine you might have to help it along the way. You can try gently pulling and pushing it through with one hand on each side. Or you can switch to using the hand wheel instead of the motor – sometimes a few stitches done like that will get you through the hardest part.

A cup of tea or a stiff G&T can also make all the difference…

If it does go a bit wonky, try not to panic. Unless you’ve dropped a layer or created a pucker you probably don’t need to unpick. And because this seam will never lie flat on the body, if it’s not 100% perfect you mightn’t even notice.