Tag Archives: heirloom sewing tutorials

Tutorials: How to Sew French Seams

This is the last of the tutorials in honor of the 1910s blouse pattern.  In this tutorial we will learn how to do French seams.

French seams are a great seam finish and the technique is quite old-  most of the original lingerie blouses and dresses I have seen from the Edwardian period have this finish for their seams.  I’ve seen it on the inside of lovely sheer chiffon 1920s and 1930s garments, and it is still used today on fine fabrics and sheers where you want a nice clean finish on the inside but don’t want the fabrics to ravel and don’t want an overlock stitch visible through the sheer.

You will need:

  • A sharp machine sewing needle (especially if using delicate or lightweight fabrics)
  • scissors
  • Good quality thread
  • a sewing machine (a basic straight stitch will do)
  • And, of course, your fabric. I do suggest trying this out on scraps before starting a final garment to make sure you understand technique.  Using fabrics with a print are helpful when learning this technique, as it is done by alternating stitching on right and wrong side of the fabric.

Just to clarify, for those new to sewing, the “right side” of the fabric is the side with the print or the side which should be visible when worn.  The “wrong side” of the fabric is the side which will be next to your skin and invisible when worn.  This is also called the “outside” or the “inside”, especially in vintage instructions.

For this tutorial we are using 1/2″ total seam allowance, which is what I use in most of my patterns.  Since French seams are completed in two basic stitches, we will divide that number in half, and each seam will be 1/4″ from the edge of the garment. It will make more sense as you read below:

1-  On the RIGHT SIDE of the fabric (fabric layered wrong side to wrong side), stitch 1/4″ from the edge.  I use a special 1/4″ foot for my sewing machine when doing this step, as I can just line up the seam allowance with the edge of my foot.  Be sure to be accurate with your seam, as using a smaller or larger seam allowance will cause pieces not to line up correctly when finished.

2- Trim your seam allowance to approximately 1/8″.  I usually eye half of the width and trim it away.  This is an important step, as it will prevent any threads from being visible from the outside of the garment.

3- Open the garment, with the seam allowance still facing up, and press the seam to one side using an iron.

4- Fold your piece right sides together, wrong sides facing outward, sandwiching the seam allowance between them.  Your garment will now be right side to right side (as it is when you sew a basic seam).  The edge you just stitched should be butted right up to the fold, nice and crisp.  Press again to create a nice, crisp, folded edge.

5-  Stitch 1/4″ from the edge.  This stitch encases the seam allowance, and from the outside it looks just like a normal seam. Press your seam, then open your garment and press the seam to one side.  It’s a nice and small and tidy seam on the inside!

As a visual, these photos are re-posted from one of the close up posts of an original garment.  In the first photo you can see the outside of an original 1910s blouse, and on the inside you can see the seam finishes.  Two of the seams in the last image are French seams (not the curved seam, but the others).

Outside detail.  You can faintly see the French seam through the fabric.

Inside detail, with the seam finishes visible.

That’s it!  They’re pretty simple once you get the hang of them, and you’ll find they will probably become one of your favorite seam finishes for delicates or sheers.

I hope you have enjoyed these tutorials and hopefully they will be useful for your sewing creations!

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Tutorial: Attaching Laces to Each Other & Gathering Lace

We’re going over how to attach laces to each other in this post. In the previous post we learned how to do basic lace insertion by machine.  If you missed it, here is the link.

Attaching Laces to Each Other

When planning a garment you may decide you would like a wider insert- one composed of several pieces of laces attached one to the other. In this tutorial we will learn how to attach straight pieces of lace one to the other.  This can look lovely going down the front of a bodice or used to edge a sleeve, or to create a collar.

You will need:

  • A machine that does a zigzag stitch
  • Lace.  I recommend using one with a high cotton fibre content, and purchase extra, as I always have an tendency to run out of trims after inspiration strikes!
  • Good quality thread
  • A new sharp machine sewing needle

We are building upon techniques learned in the last post, so please read that post to help clarify steps if you’re new to these tutorials :)

1- Prepare your lace as you did in the last post, by carefully hand washing with mild soap, letting it air dry flat, and then using spray starch to give it body.  Figure out your design and, if needed, cut your lace pieces a little bit longer than the finished design (you can always cut it down later and you want to be sure the finished edge will be nice and crisp, not bunchy from where you start your stitching). When attaching laces of a similar design I find it looks best when the designs are lined up.  Here you can see I’m planning the flowers of the two lace strips to attach so that they line up.

2-  Zigzag the two laces together by machine.  The idea is to attach the headers together.  Use a similar zigzag stitch as used when attaching lace to fabric, using a width wide enough to create a sort of “bridge” over the header, encasing the two together, with the needle going down just on either side of the header.  It’s perfectly ok if the needle falls off of your lace edge- in fact, I personally try to make it go on either side of the header-  but be certain your lace pieces are starched and that your machine tension is correct so that they will not get “eaten” by your machine!

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Tutorials: Basic Lace Insertion by Machine

As promised, in honor of the new 1910s Blouse and Guimpe pattern, here is the basic lace insertion tutorial!

Lace insertion is a wonderful technique to have under your belt.  When I personally think of lace insertion, I think of the gorgeous Edwardian garments and undergarments that were literally festooned with lace and trimmings, yet still retained a simplicity and elegance.  This technique is not limited to that era alone, however, and you can see it on garments from many time periods.  It gained a resurgence of sorts in the late 1930s to early 1940s, as the “Gibson Girl” mode came back in style, and we saw it again on garments- especially blouses and evening gowns.  This continued to be in fashion off and on, and today it is mostly used for children’s wear, as shown often by the heirloom sewing aficionado, Martha Pullen, and her magazine Sew Beautiful (which, I might add, is fantastic as inspiration for adults as well.  Most images and projects are for babies and children but the techniques can move into adult wear easily, especially when used for historic or vintage dress.)

Heirloom sewing can be quite addictive, and after you master the basic techniques you may find yourself wondering what other projects you can add lace and embellishment to, and be on the hunt for trims to use.

I am sharing here the methods that I personally use for lace insertion by machine.  There are many different methods out there.  For me the most important factor is how well something will launder and how often I am going to launder it.

Basic Pointers and Tools Needed

You will need the following tools:

  • A method of marking which will come out of your finished garment.  I used a special pencil I bought at an heirloom sewing supply store, but you may find you want to use a special sewing pen or other mode of marking.  Test it on a scrap of your fabric first to make sure it will come out when laundered.
  • Fine pins.  I use silk pins.
  • Scissors
  • Insertion style lace (with two straight edges, called “headers”).  I find those with a high cotton content work best.  A standard for heirloom quality laces are 90% cotton, 10% nylon.  Many are imported from places like France or Switzerland.
  • Your fabric.  I am using Swiss batiste, but cotton lawn or handkerchief linen also work well.
  • Spray starch
  • Good quality thread (I use Gutermann)
  • Fine sewing machine needles. Use a new, sharp one to prevent snags in your fabrics or laces.
  • A sewing machine with a zig zag stitch.
  • A pattern you plan on using (of course, I recommend my new blouse pattern.  I specifically designed it to use used with heirloom sewing techniques! :) )

Before Sewing

  1. Test your marking method (as mentioned above) on a scrap fabric.
  2. Pre-wash your laces and fabrics on a gentle cycle and with a gentle soap to prevent future puckering or stretching when cleaning your finished garment.  Lay them flat and let them air dry.
  3. Spray starch your fabric and lace after it has dried.  This is an important step, as when these fine laces and fabrics are washed they loose body which is necessary to keep them smooth and not puckering while sewing.
  4. Test your tension on your sewing machine using your zigzag stitch.  Sewing machine tension plays a huge factor in successful heirloom sewing.  If your machine needs to be serviced or is due for a tune up, you may consider getting it before trying this, especially if using expensive laces and fabrics.
  5. Make a sample of your insertion and test it in your method you will wash the finished garment to be sure it will not fray and cause the lace to separate from the garment.  Always hand wash with a mild soap or dry clean heirloom garments.  They will not stand up to a normal machine washing and do not throw them in a dryer- make sure they air dry flat.  Doing a test sample also helps you learn techniques before you start your final garment so your final garment will be your best work.

How to Plan Your Design


Plan the design of your garment and draw your guides on your fabric.  Insertion lace is sort of like patchwork- you are building a design from the bottom up- if edges need to be finished take into account what needs to go first, second, etc, to make sure all edges are finished properly and will not fray. The example above is a close up of the work I did on one of the samples of the 1910s blouse pattern, which I based on an illustration from a period catalog.  You can see that I added the horizontal insertion pieces first, then added the vertical pieces which finished the edge of the horizontal piece.  The horizontal pieces had an extra “tail” which extended into where the vertical piece was placed.  I clipped off  the “tail” when I clipped away the backing of the vertical piece, in order to have a finished edge (no hole at the ending, as would happen if I cut it right where it was to end design-wise). This will make more sense as you keep reading the basic technique below.

How to Sew Insertion Lace by Machine

Since we’re doing basic technique, I’m going to assume we’re just doing a vertical insertion from either the shoulder to hem or from the center front to hem.  This tutorial only covers insertion lace that is straight- curved lace insertion requires an additional technique.  I find it usually is best to do insertion lace before constructing a garment, unless that garment is going to have lace which travels, say, around a neckline- and in that case I’ll do it after attaching the shoulder seams.

1- Draw your design lines using your water soluble marking and a clear ruler.  Keep in mind the grain of the fabric as it relates to your design.  I have drawn two lines here that are the width of my insertion lace.

2- Pin your lace to your design.  I’m kind of haphazardly pinned my lace here- use as many pins as you need to get your lace lined up on your fabric and be sure you don’t create tension between the lace and fabric as this will cause puckers.  They should lay smoothly together.

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