Steam-shrinking a waistband, or, The sewing trick that CHANGED MY LIFE

Every now and then, you come across a new way of doing things that hits you like a ray of light from the heavens.

Today in class our teacher showed us a way to take in a pair of pants (or a skirt) without...well...taking them in. I mean, without taking off the waistband, taking in the side seams, shortening the waistband and then putting the whole mess back together again. No darts either. Nope. No stitch ripper to be seen here. How is this possible you ask?


Some of you may be nodding knowingly already. Maybe you are fondly remembering when you first discovered this trick. If not, dear fellow sewist, read on.

~ Stick with me...it's a long one but a GOOD one!~

As someone with a large waist/hip differential, I find myself laden with clothing items that fit my hips and are way too big at the waist. I hate wearing belts because they add bulk where I really don't need it. So what do I do? Well, up until now, I was just sad. But now! Now!!!

Here are the pants I was wearing today. Believe me, I'm not keen on showing any portion of my midriff on the internet, but for the cause I will suck it up (but not suck it in - much).

They're too big! They generally feel fine for an hour or so after they come out of the washer and dryer but by the end of the day are so big I barely need to undo them to take them off. All of my jeans are like this.

*Pssst!* They'll end up like this!

Shall I get to the point?

Ok, ok. So what I did was STEAM the waistband until it got smaller, and then held it in place with a couple of lengths of twill tape. EASY! Here's the whole process.

A caveat: This will likely only work on natural fibres that respond to steam shaping. If you want to do this with a synthetic, you could try skipping ahead to step 2, you just won't be able to get rid of as much excess. With washable fabrics, save yourself some time and effort and wash and dry them as you normally would before beginning.

Step 1: Shrink out the excess

Put the pants (or skirt) on and determine how much excess you have to get rid of. When I pinched my waistband as above, I figured I needed to shrink it down by about 3" total.

Take off the pants and measure the waistband. You'll check your progress against this number.
(If you've just taken them out of the washer/dryer, you may be able to skip all of this steaming business and go straight to step 2).

Half my waistband measured about 17 1/4".
So my goal is to shrink out 1 1/2" (1/2 of 3") to get that measure down to 15 3/4".
We'll see about that.

Start by pinning a section of the waistband to your ironing board. At school we have a fancy schmancy steam press like at the drycleaners with an amazing pinnable surface and a vacuum that sucks away the steam at the end and dries out your fabric quickly. Not so at home.

In order to keep the jeans in place on my not-so-pinnable ironing board, I stuck pins in from all directions. The idea is to hold them so there is a bump as above. We're going to try to steam that bump flat.

With the highest steam setting, tap down on the waistband with the iron. This is pressing, not ironing, so no back and forth action. Just up and down. If you have a button on your iron that gives you a shot of steam, all the better. Keep steaming until you've managed to get the waistband flat.

Like this! Cool, hey?

To keep the waistband from stretching back out again as soon as you pick it up, you have to make sure it is dry, and not still all full of steamy moisture. (This is a general pressing principle, by the way. All will be lost if you consider your pressing done when the item is still damp). If you can go back and forth between steam and dry iron settings, that can help. You can also use a clapper, or a piece of wood, or an ironing ham to get rid of the excess moisture.

Smack that steam out!

Now, work your way around the waistband in small sections, shrinking as you go. This, as it turns out, is easier said than done on a thick denim waistband. Our teacher did the demo on a thinner, cotton, cargo type fabric and it worked like a charm.

But with thick denim, I ended up with a lot of this bulky bumpy action.

I tried to smooth out the bumps, but I think I smoothed out the shrinking at the same time.

It took me a couple of rounds to get some good shrinkage, and along the way I found a good technique:

Hold onto a part of the jeans with the butt of your iron, then...
With your other hand, smoosh the upcoming waistband under your iron and steam away.

You may also find that a damp presscloth is helpful. Just don't forget to make sure the section is dry before moving on!

It can also help to work from both sides.

In the end, I managed to shrink out 3/4" of the folded waistband (1 1/2" total). Not bad, but I wanted to get rid of twice that!

It's ok, there's a whole other step.

Of course, the steam shrinking is not going to just stay like that forever. With wearing, the waist will stretch right back out. The solution is now to stitch on a length of twill tape or something that will not stretch to keep the shape we've just worked to hard to make.

Step 2: Keep it in place

Place the twill tape along the lower edge of the waistband. Your bobbin thread should match the colour of your jeans to blend in. You can start sewing just after the zipper in the front (i.e. 1 1/2" or so away from the edge of the waistband). Backstitch a few stitches to stabilize.

Now pull your twill tape taut (not too hard now, just taut), and sort of smoosh the jeans towards the presser foot. This will enable us to ease that extra 1 1/2" of waistband onto the non-stretchy twill tape. It's important not to force your fabric or your machine, you don't want to break a needle, so the pushing and pulling should be gentle.

(PS - do not substitute bias tape for twill tape. It will stretch and all will be for naught).

Now, my machine admittedly did not enjoy this process. She's an old refurbished Brother with a bit of a wheezy motor. So there were quite a few times I had to do the push/pull with one hand and move the fly wheel with the other. For goodness sake use a good heavy #14 needle and a fairly long stitch for this business.

You don't want to sew over your belt loops like I did. (Only one!)

Stop before the belt loops and backstitch. You'll know the belt loops on the backside by the bar tacks holding them on. Then just skip over the belt loop and start again on the other side, backstitching again.

Then you can just snip off the threads when you're done.

I put a length of twill tape at the top and bottom of the waistband to better hold it in place. You could even stitch on either edge of the twill tape - or use a narrower twill tape.

Now, I was so excited about putting these on that I neglected to do anything about the raw ends of the twill tape. I left about an inch or so unsewn that I plan to turn under and hand stitch in place. I may even hand stitch those parts where I skipped over the belt loops.

But look! Look!

Pants that fit!
Too big no more!


Help me internetz!

Hi there internetz,

I'm losing faith in my teachers. Well, just one of them really, but he's our primary teacher, so that makes it all the worse. After 5 months of boring old sewing drills, it seems like we're not being given enough time (or information!) to do the stuff that's really important. Like getting a good fit. We've moved on from pants to shirts, and I'm still not entirely satisfied with the results of my patterns.

So I thought I'd throw a couple of questions out there that are bugging me:

1. Pants:

We started with Vogue 1003, made up a muslin and proceeded with fittings and flat pattern adjustments. Vogue 1003 is a base for what seems to me a pair of trousers, with a sort of "L" shaped crotch curve. Few of us are used to wearing these types of pants, and I feel like we were all (including our teachers) approaching our alterations with more of a jeans fit in mind (with a closer fitting, more rounded crotch curve).

My question is, wouldn't it be better to start with a pattern closer to that type of fit in the first place? I'm not sure anyone in the class ended up with pants that fit the way they like. What sort of issues come into play when changing a trouser pattern to a jeans pattern?

2. Shirts:

We started with Burda 8153, a tailored blouse with set in sleeves. Me and my D-cups chose the pattern based on my high bust measurement (34 3/4", a 12, whereas my full bust, 38" would have demanded a 16) because I always have an excess of fabric above the bust.

I blended a couple of different approaches to the full bust adjustment. I figured I had about 3 1/4" to add to the bust. The first approach was the one they suggested in my course. This is to cut through the bust dart and waist dart then from the bust point up to a point on the shoulder. The pieces are then spread apart to add the required width and length to the front bodice. I suspected this would just add back the excess fabric above the bust. So I sought out another approach.

I have Pati Palmer's Fit for Real People, and they suggest when you have a large amount to add to the bust, that you should slash to the shoulder and the armhole, and spread the amount between the two. Now, I tried this, and I still had too much above the bust. So then I tried again with just a slash to the armhole. This fits better, but the armhole now has a rather extreme curve to it where I had to swing it up to give more bust room. That doesn't necessarily affect the fit too much, but I'm afraid it's just kind of wrong...

Sorry, this may be overly wordy and in need of images, but I figure, if you're reading this and have done a full bust adjustment, then you probably know what I'm explaining. Any thoughts?

Thanks internetz!


The greatest of virtues

In an effort NOT to celebrate a two-month-iversary (remember all those short-term high-school boyfriends?) of total blog neglect, a little update. I've also been spurred into blogging action through a mention on the most illuminating and fascinating space on the interwebz, Fashion Incubator (*blush*).

So what have I been up to you ask? Well, I've decided not to publish the lengthy post I had written about FAILURE, and instead discuss PATIENCE.

I am now in the sixth month of a fourteen month dressmaking program at a local trade school. It has taken a lot of the aforementioned patience to get through this far, slogging through learning how to thread a machine, sew a straight line on paper, practice a million sample pockets, collars and cuffs (ok, the collars and cuffs were handy practice) read a commercial pattern and many other things I already know how to do. But now, my friends, we are finally getting to the reason I signed up in the first place: FITTING.

You know, I've been a Threads reader for a long time, I've purchased Patti Palmer's books, and yet, I've still not been able to put all of these tidbits together to make myself something that fits in a satisfying way (a major topic in the discarded post about FAILURE). This has been a major stumbling block in my sewing life thus far, both personally and professionally. Last summer I worked as a costume designer at a festival in Nova Scotia, and our last show involved a silk dupioni jacket that was nothing but hell to fit. And I didn't know how to fix it. And my seamstress didn't know how to fix it. Well, we managed, but I tell you it was painful.

Which brings me back to my program. We're currently working with Vogue Pattern #1003 to make a basic pant pattern for ourselves. We are a class of 17 women and one man, and let me tell you how great it is to watch each one of those bodies stand up on a pedestel and get their pants fitted before your eyes (not to mention the humility of having to stand up there yourself). Talk about standards, there was only one person who fit the pattern perfectly (a tiny little size 6 at that). I have more adjustments than I'd care to mention (ok here goes: high small waist with love handles underneath, wide but remarkably un-rounded hips, one higher and larger than the other, and whatever it is that makes you need to pinch out the fabric horizontally under your bum). I'm not done yet, but boy I can't wait to have this pattern done and in my collection.

So I've decided to cool off on the home sewing projects until I have myself a good set of base patterns (although last night I did do a very satisfying quickie skirt out of an oversized T-shirt with tigers on it.) I hope that it will save me a few tears.

In the meantime, I have a bunch of half-written posts that I'll try and be better about finishing.
I promise.



Hemming is one of the most basic and frequent alterations. In the spirit of building from the ground up, I thought it would be an appropriate subject for my first roundup.

I checked out a few tutorials online, and the following are my favourites for different types of hems:


I love doing hems by hand. There's something nice about taking a little handsewing break, especially if you've been fighting with your machine (a frequent occurrence in my life).
The first two links show a similar stitch (I usually use the first method), and the third is a bit of a quickie. Make sure you take an extra stitch (or knot your thread) now and then, so that if part of your hem breaks, you don't have to repair the whole thing.

SewForDough: Hand Sew a Hem

The Sewing Divas: Hemming Stitch by Hand

Craftzine: Quicker Hand Blind Stitch

A blind hem can also be accomplished on a machine, but it's not nearly as good. It's more appropriate for pants or thicker fabrics. When you do a blind stitch by hand, you can really pick up only one thread, rendering your hem truly invisible. On a machine, a lot more is picked up and you end up with a small vertical stitch every inch or so. Still, if you're doing a huge panel of drapery or something, go with the machine stitch!

Threadbanger: Blind Hem by Machine

Normally when I hem jeans, I just fold over the edge twice and sew it with a nice heavy jeans thread. But I do mourn the loss of that special, unreproducible look of an original jean hem. Here's an interesting way to preserve the original hem. (Oh, apparently it is known as a "Euro Hem". How fancy.)

Sidenote: I love my Jean a ma jig. It's so simple yet brilliant. Keeps your machine from getting angry and skipping stitches when you go over the bulky seams in jeans.

Dacia Ray: Jeans Hem

A narrow hem is lovely in a fine fabric. Both of these techniques use guide stitches to help you fold such a small edge accurately. The second technique adds an extra step of stitching and trimming to achieve a super narrow hem, and is perfect for slippery, hard to control fabrics.

Chickpea: Narrow Hem

Marcy Tilton: Calvin Klein Hem

Rolled hems are even smaller and finer. They can be done by hand or by machine. I must admit, I have never had fun doing a rolled hem by machine. They're much easier with a stable fabric. Chiffon will make you crazy, and I would definitely pick a hand-rolled hem if faced with that prospect.

The Sewing Divas: Machine Rolled Hem

Colette Patterns: Hand Rolled Hem

If you have to hem a corner, a mitered finish is a really nice touch. It reduces bulk and just looks so tidy and professional

Burda Style: Mitered Hem (simple)

Craft Stylish: Mitered Hem (in depth)

Special cases require special measures! Sew For Dough has some great tutorials for doing tapered or flared pants, as well as hemming stretchy fabrics.

If you have any other links to share, please post them in the comments.

Happy Hemming!

Sewing Skewl Tip #1: Dominant seams

When constructing a sleeve, there are two common approaches:

1. Leaving the side seam of the bodice and underarm seam of the sleeve open, sew the sleeve cap to the armscye (right sides together). Then stitch the side seam and and underarm seam all in one go, lining up the armscye seam.

2. Assemble the side seam of the bodice and underarm seam of the sleeve. With bodice inside out, and sleeve right side out, place sleeve inside bodice and sew around the armscye, lining up the side seam with the underarm seam.

I always thought that it was just personal preference that would make you choose one method over the other, but there is actually a difference. Basically, the seam that you sew last ends up being the dominant seam and can subtly affect the way a garment falls. Choosing method #1 is appropriate in a work shirt or t-shirt (with a flatter sleeve cap) where a full range of motion is required. Method #2 is used for tailored jackets and closer fitting tops (with a higher cap height).

The same principle works for pants. When I first learned to sew, I would sew the crotch seams of the front and back first, then the outside seams and then the inseam in one line. We recently sewed shorts in school and the instructions were just the opposite. Here we sewed the outseam and inseam of each leg, then - like method #2 of the sleeve construction - we were directed to place one leg inside the other and sew the crotch seam from front to back, lining up the inseam along the way. This makes the pants "stand up straight" if you will.

Click on image above to view larger

The lovely and talented Kathleen from Fashion Incubator has illustrated this point rather dramatically when applied to linings and facings. I strongly suggest you check out her post here.


Recycled dress (and shrug)

The setup:
I found a huge duvet cover at the Salvation Army for $4 and figured it would make a pretty cute dress. I was figuring on a basic sleeveless style with an a-line skirt.

The pattern:

New Look (will update with the number)
Not that it matters, it ended up FAR from the pattern.

The fabric:

100% cotton recycled duvet cover

The issues:
Numerous. Mainly due to poor size/fabric selection for the pattern.

The process:
Now I've read many times that when you have more than a B cup, you should take the size that corresponds to your high bust measurement (above the fullest part of your bust) because it will better fit your shoulders and neck. Then you can do a full bust adjustment (FBA). According to this pattern, I think I was a 10 in the high bust/shoulders, a 12 in the waist and a 16 in the hips. So I chose the 12 in the top and blended to the 16 in the hips. As it turns out, I really should have picked the 10 in the top. Shoulders were way too big. Also, the FBA method was not quite right. I've since purchased a book on fitting that I hope will help for next time.

Here's what I did:
1. Made existing bust dart bigger through improvisational FBA
2. Added second side dart to get rid of excess waist weirdness
3. Added waist seam to get rid of the rest of the waist weirdness
4. Made strapless to deal with too-big shoulders.
5. Added straps to deal with fear of straplessness.
6. Used bias tape everywhere I could (hem, top, straps, waist)
7. Ended up with completely different dress from pattern.

As for the shrug, I followed this tutorial from Craft Stylish. Ruffles aren't really my thing though, so after I cut out the basic shape of the shrug, I serged the edges, turned them under and stitched with a regular straight stitch. DO NOT STRETCH the fabric, or you will end up with wobbly lettuce edges. These edges will not be subjected to stretch, so you really just want them to lay flat.

The result:
I guess I'm happy with the dress, but it took too much fussing about. Time to seriously get around to making a sloper so I can spend less time making silly adjustments.

On the other hand, the shrug was so simple and awesome. I love a shrug. I suspect I will soon have many more (and maybe a few less T-shirts).


On a mission

And so begins another attempt at frequent, productive and interesting blogging.

Perhaps a good old-fashioned definition of intentions will help it stick. Here goes:

The purpose of this blog is to:

Document stitchery-related items of interest both for personal reference and to participate in an active online community.

These may include, but are not limited to, the following:

a) Sewing projects undertaken by the author (including for contribution to other groups such as Wardrobe Refashion).

b) Sharing helpful tips learned in sewing school.

c) Compiling roundups of tutorials found online.

d) Researching and profiling ways to contribute to social development through craft/artisanship (through organizations and other projects).