Sometimes, a customer job request puts me in a position of having to do something that I have, until then, never had the occasion to do.
In over 30 years of sewing somehow I managed to never take the opportunity to try out elastic thread. One of my customers brought me a sun dress with an elastic-smocked bodice, to replicate. Who am I to turn down a chance to learn something new?
I wish I had been thinking about the potential of the project being inspiration for a blog post. I really should have taken photographs. Silly me! The dresses turned out fantastic.
When I first opened up the store, my thread supplier urged me to carry elastic thread. So I did. I never thought much about it until a customer came in and asked me how to use it. We googled it together and discovered that you use it on the bobbin. You hand wind it without stretching it. Use a regular thread on the top and away you sew. That was as far as I took it at the time. I have to be honest. When this recent job came up, I was a little concerned about whether using elastic thread would be frustrating or difficult.
It really wasn’t troublesome at all.
I did discover a few things that I would have been happy to know before I started. On the first dress (she wanted two dresses) I just dove in and after serging the raw edges I started sewing parallel lines of smocking. I realized after, it would have been much easier to create the channel for the 10mm elastic at the top edge before I started smocking. It was a nuisance to have to stretch the jersey against all those rows of elastic stitches and try to estimate where “neutral” was in regard to the fabric’s natural stretchiness, so everything would line up without getting a bunch of angled ripples in the channel. I managed fine, but it certainly wasn’t the easiest method. I did the channel first on the second dress and that went smoothly.
If you’re going to use jersey for the smocking (or any other knit… well actually, any kind of fabric at all), you’re going to want to take the oh-so-tedious-and-boring-as-anything time it takes to mark your parallel lines before you start sewing.
I get impatient. On the first dress I figured, “parallel lines? Pfff! I can do those in my sleep!” Yeah, in normal conditions: no problemo. However add in the jersey with its lovely stretch and the fact that with each additional row of gathering it takes more effort to ensure that the jersey is neutral (not being stretched as you work) so that your estimated distance from the previous row of smocking remains parallel.
Remember that parallel is a mathematical term. It refers to lines that are equidistant from each other… not wibbly-wobbly, kind-of, sort-of, going mostly in the same-ish direction. Not that my lines were all that bad. They were satisfactory. Not mathematically precise… but you definitely couldn’t tell in the finished product. The issue is that you work the gathering on the flat fabric and sew the centre back seam up when you are all done the smocking. So if your rows of gathering don’t line up at the centre back, it looks really sloppy. Also, we tend to notice when a series of stacked lines are grossly non-parallel. It definitely draws the eye.. You don’t want to have particularly uneven lines across your boobs. Also, you don’t want to have to start picking this stuff apart. So yeah… take the time to mark it, all the way across the width of the fabric. In the case of the jersey, that’s all 60″ (or 152.4 cm).
Trust me, when you sew it, these marked lines will make you happy.
It took me around an hour and a half per dress to do all the smocking and finishing. I made spaghetti straps and used a Prym bra fasteners kit for the rings and the slide buckles. This way the straps were adjustable.
Oh, and I also used a Prym turning kit. This was pretty cool. It comes with three sizes of turning tools. Each consists of a tube and a wooden stick. You sew your strap and close one end. Then, you slide the tube inside the strap all the way to the closed end. Take the stick and use it to push the fabric into the tube, all the while sliding the fabric along the outside of the tube as the stick pushes it through the centre of the tube. One end of the stick is pointed, the other is flat. I used the flat end so that the point wouldn’t stress the fabric as it was forced through the tube. If the edges on that end would have needed to be turned neatly I would have reinserted the stick with the pointed end first so that I could use that to get the corners all perfect. I liked it! The kit now sits in my “must be close on hand… but not so close it has to be in my tool belt” drawer.
Only trouble with all of this is that now I am looking at all my fabric thinking,
“could I use elastic thread on this?”
Oi veh! I need to get out more!