I love gadgets and gizmos that make life easier. When it comes to pattern cutting, or sewing, I want to have every tool on hand, and I want ones that work.
Over the 15+ years that I’ve been sewing, there’s an ever growing list of supplies that I can’t do without. So today, let me introduce you to a few of my favourite things*:
*I've included links so you can quickly obtain more information about each product. I do not necessarily endorse any of these retailers.
Clover Seam Ripper
This seam ripper is sharp! I’ve purchased a few of these over my lifetime and I’m not sure if I’ve ever broken or replaced one as I still have a few in my stash. The handle is comfortable to hold and overall works incredibly well.
Gutermann Mara 120 Polyester Thread (1,000m)
Sewing with quality thread will make your life much easier, and improve the look of your garment. The Mara thread is industrial quality and has superior strength and is extremely lint free reducing the amount of lint and fluff that will build up in your machine. Be careful not to overbuy your thread. As thread ages it can become dry and brittle and become prone to breaking.
Self-Healing Cutting Mat (Various Sizes)
It’s best to have a look at mats before ordering one online. They come in a variety of sizes, and you’ll want to make sure that you get the size suitable for your needs. I’m a bit of a hoarder and have a variety of sizes depending on the workspace I have available, and the project that I’m working on. Prices range wildly, so again, shop around online and at the local hobby store with prices ranging based on size, and likely quality.
Clover Chaco Liner & Refills
If you’re ever doing fittings or alterations to garments – I can’t recommend these chaco liners from Clover enough. They create a fine line of chalk on the garment and washes clean. They also come in a variety of colours – white, blue, yellow and pink. They do hold up quite well over time, and are great because they’re refillable. Look for the round ones, as the chalk refills are round in shape. I have a few older ones that are flat and just a bit trickier to refill.
Olfa Rotary Cutter
Hands down, this is the item that I just can’t live without. My rotary cutter.
The precision for cutting both paper and fabric just can’t be beat for home sewing purposes. I have three sizes – an 18mm, 28mm and 45mm.
In all fairness, I hardly ever use my 18mm. It just seems too small for most of the projects I do.
The 28mm size is perfect for all things lingerie and most fashion and the one which I use the most.
The 45mm is nice when I’m cutting really bulky or heavy fashion fabrics, like denim.
Using a rotary blade isn’t scary – but they are sharp and they absolutely must be used on a cutting mat, and should always be closed or covered for safety when not in use.
Dafa Replacement Blades
The Dafa blades are a cheaper alternative to the Olfa blades. By cutting both my paper and fabric patterns with the same blade – I do find that I have to replace these fairly often.
Clover Silk Pins
Ahhhh! Sewing lingerie with dodgy pins is no fun! These fantastically sharp silk pins have a glass head so that they will not melt when pressed, and work so well with the delicate and lightweight fabrics that I often use.
I can’t say that I have many projects where I need an awl – mostly corsetry projects, but I do find it comes in handy to poke a variety of things. I will use it to line up paper patterns, or to puncture a hole in a paper pattern, and whatever else might need a sharp poke!
Since moving to the UK, tape has been a sticky issue. I’ve tried a few different cheap and cheerful brands of tape, and there’s nothing better than Scotch Tape. I’m constantly taping bits and pieces together, especially pattern pieces that are oversized – fitting on more than one sheet of paper. It’s an absolute must in my sewing kit.
These flexible plastic rulers are very handy when taking measurements of garments. Due to the flexible nature you can easily measure around an underwire, or a leg or arm opening with precision.
Many other students and lecturers have commented on my cute little pink pattern weights. I love them! They’re great for keeping patterns in place while I’m cutting fabric, or even keeping hold of fabric on the cutting surface.
Schmetz 75 Stretch Needles
These are the needles that I pretty much use for all of my lingerie sewing; it’s my version of a ‘universal’ needle. If I’m sewing something extremely delicate, I’ll switch to a Microtex in a smaller gauge, but the stretch 75’s are my daily-use needles based on the types of things I sew. I try to also buy my needles in larger quantities for better pricing, as they're an item you're always going to need and won't take up too much space.
It's a bit of a long list - but I hope that it gives you a sneak peek of some of the best tools of the trade. What's in your kit that you can't live without?
When I used to do bra alterations at the lingerie boutique where I worked at back in Edmonton – this was our most popular alteration - tightening up the backs of bras.
When you purchase your bra, you want to be able to wear it on the loosest set of hooks so that you can tighten it up as it loosens over time with wear. So what do you do when you find a bra you love, fits well and it’s just a bit loose? Well, you can tighten it!
This can also work if you need to tighten up the band due to weight loss, or it stretching out over time, or if you’ve bought a bra that is simply just too large in the band.
Pictures are worth a thousand words – so I’ve put together a chart to help you determine which method may work best for you depending on the style of the bra, and the amount that you want to tighten the back.
This is the simplest way to tighten the back, it’s quick and easy – but doesn’t work if you want to take a lot out of the back. I suggest this method if you just want to tighten up the band to be equivalent to the tightest hook.
*Note: On a V Back style bra this method may not be best. The old adage to measure twice and cut once is always appropriate as it may bring the straps in too close in the back like the photo below.
First, you'll want to measure the distance between the columns of hooks, as this is how much we're going to remove from each side of the bra. Then you can unstitch the hook & eye pieces from the back, mark with chalk and cut.
You can now zig zag stitch the hook & eye pieces back on the bra. When you sew the hooks on, you'll need to have the hooks facing upwards to put through the machine. On my Bernina, I can move the needle position all the way to the right so that the zig zag stitches are catching the hook piece. Remember - when you're wearing the bra, the eyes are sewn on the left, and the hooks are sewn on the right.
This method requires a bit more bravery for the novice sewer, because now it's time to take things apart. Once you've determined how much you want to take out of your band, measure, mark with chalk, and then double and triple check it. You'll then want to unstitch the hook & eye pieces from the back of the bra, as well as the strip of elastic that runs along the top edge of the back of the bra, up to the shoulder straps BEFORE cutting anything. You only want to cut the band of the bra, leave the upper piece of elastic as is.
Once you've cut the back to the length that you desire, it's time to lay out all of your pieces o determine how it will all fit back together. You want to make sure that you get the centre back just the right width to sew the hooks & eyes back on, and that the shoulder strap ends up in the right location. You can measure against a good fitting bra, or 'wing' it. You'll then attach the elastic back to the upper part of the wing, leaving a bit for the strap to connect back to.
Note: You may have a bra style with this type of back and the strap adjusts in the front, just continue as normal in positioning the elastic back in place.
Once you have everything lined up, and the top elastic zig zag sewn into place, you can trim the extra bits off, zig zag on the hooks and the eyes and then sew the shoulder straps back on, ensuring they are not twisted.
This method is a lot simpler than method two, and is perhaps a bit of a cheat. If you're nervous to actually take the bra apart, you can try this instead. Essentially all we're doing is just sewing a tiny dart into the back of the fabric so that you can narrow the back to fit the hook and eye pieces back on. On this particular bra, I've only had to unpick the stitches on one part of the shoulder strap in order to fold the fabric to stitch the dart. You can also use this method on the other two bra styles, but it works really well on the style with a square back as there aren't typically thick elastic pieces to worry about.
This method is much like method two where you can unstitch the elastic on the top of the back band, but we will not remove it.
On a bra with a square back, the straps can be sewn on in a variety of ways. It is likely that you will need to unstitch the shoulder straps, just make notes so that you can reattach them the same.
This is the simplest method because you don't need to take anything apart. What you can do for this alteration is fold the excess out of the side. This works well on styles like the V Back where you can't take a lot out of the back or it'll affect the straps and you can't easily take the elastic off the top of the band to rebuild.
If the bra has a side seam, that's the location where you'll want to take the fabric out by just folding and doing a straight stitch. You'll want to fold the fabric to the outside layer to reduce the bulk against the body. If the bra doesn't have a side seam, you'll have to fold the fabric at the side under the arm wherever seems suitable.
I hope you found these photos helpful in your bra alteration adventures!
There are many ways to develop a pattern for a garment. Depending on your skill level, some methods will be more straightforward than others. Here are some of the methods that I’ve used to better understand a garment and its pattern pieces, or to develop a pattern. I often refer to my skills as 'hacking' a pattern since I'm usually cloning something I love to learn how it's made.
1. Take it to Pieces
Skill Level: Novice
Special Equipment Required: A good seam ripper, pair of scissors or snips
If you have a favourite garment that is perhaps wearing out or is damaged and you want to replicate it, or see how it's made – here’s a good enough reason to take it apart. Of course, you can always find things specifically to take apart!
It’s important to first document the garment with perhaps a quick sketch or some photographs, so you can make notes of any special construction methods and seam allowances, or to piece together the order of how you will sew the new garment together, and then you’ll know which pieces go where. That’s the challenge of making your own patterns, they don’t come with instructions! If it’s at all possible – only take HALF of the garment apart. So, in my situation, I’m normally looking at bras. Literally cut it in half down the centre front and only take one side apart. That way you’ll still have half of the original to refer back to.
Once you have your garment in pieces, you can press the pieces and then trace around them onto paper so that you will have your new pattern. This mens brief is made from a thin lightweight cotton. To better get a pattern from the pieces, I'd likely try pinning it to a sheet of Foamcore or cardboard to stabilize it. The next method, Pin Copying, will give you more details.
2. Pin Copying
Skill Level: Novice
Special Equipment Required: Sturdy corrugated cardboard or Foamcore, pins, paper, tape and a pencil
This is a quick and easy way to copy a garment without taking it to pieces. Perfect if you are not wanting to part with that special garment.
Again, it’s important to thoroughly review the garment and make any notes about special construction methods and measure any seam allowances. The bonus is you’ll still have the entire garment intact and will be able to refer back to it.
You’ll need a sheet of sturdy corrugated cardboard, or sheet of Foamcore, along with some paper, tape and pins. If you’re working on a delicate work surface, like your boyfriend's lovely wooden dining room table, I would also suggest placing a cutting mat underneath your work surface to protect from the pins.
First, you’ll need to tape a sheet of paper to your cardboard or Foamcore board that is large enough to accommodate your largest pattern piece. Smooth out just one of the pattern pieces of your garment, grab your pins, and start pinning around the edges of the garment piece, keeping the fabric flat along the paper. If you’re pinning a bra that has elasticated edges, you’ll want to pin the garment stretched a bit in order to get the pre-elasticated pattern piece. When you have finished and have removed all of the pins – you’ll now have a record of the pattern shape on the paper. Just play ‘connect the dots’ with a pencil and you’ll have your pattern piece – likely without the seam allowances. Don’t forget to add these!
3. Garment Measurements
Skill Level: Intermediate
Special Equipment Required: Multiple measuring devices, pencil and block patterns help!
If you’re a bit more skilled with drafting patterns, or have a a few basic blocks in your pattern ‘library’ – drafting a pattern by measurements is a great way to develop a pattern.
You won’t damage your garment in any way, and still have the original at your fingertips for reference. This method can take a bit longer than the pin copying method, but remains simple.
I like to start out with a good solid technical sketch, either by hand, or on the computer, so I have somewhere to make my measurement notes.
I have a few different measurement tools at my disposal when using this method. I’ll often have my fabric tape measure for the basic measurements, a flexible ruler for curves, as well has my hem gauge for really small seams and measuring the width of elastics.
You’ll need to measure each seam of your garment, and make notes on your tech drawing of precise measurements, as well as any ‘landmarks’ such as the highest and lowest points of curves, which will make your life much easier when drafting your pattern, whether on paper or on the screen.
I find this method works really well if you’re drafting your measurements over a basic block pattern that can be related to the pattern that you are drafting. It makes it easier to see things like the shapes of underarm curves, or the shapes of leg openings. I draft my patterns on the computer this way using Adobe Illustrator.
4. Modelling on the Stand/Draping
This is a great method if you have no idea where to start, or you’re not confident with your flat pattern drafting skills.
I’ve never given this process a fair chance as when I began to learn how to draft and cut patterns, I was always taught how to do them flat on paper, based on measurements. This process works well for experimentation with fabrics and shapes, so don’t let my own personal fears of this method scare you away!
You’ll need a mannequin in the size you wish to create your pattern in. There are lots of options here in shapes, sizes, styles and types. At De Montfort University, we use a covered plastic mannequin, and she’s an industry standard 34B for lingerie designs. Our basic blocks fit her quite well.
It’s up to you and your working style on what type of mannequin or dress form you would like to use. Foam styles can be easier to work with as you can pin into them – although taping design lines onto a plastic mannequin can work too. You’ll also need some fabric to work with – something with similar properties to what your final fabric will be, along with pins, and scissors. It's also helpful to have something to mark your design lines like a marker, thin sticky tape, or even a narrow ribbon to pin in place.
You can start off by marking landmarks on your mannequin such as the waist, hip and bust. From there, you can position the fabric on your mannequin as you desire. There are some basic guidelines that you can follow in regard to draping. I personally have no formal training in this method, but have tested a fantastic book for you, Draping by Karolyn Kiisel and would highly recommend it as it contains numerous step-by-step exercises for a variety of garments, and includes an instructional DVD.
5. Modifying Block Patterns
Skill Level: Novice through Expert
Special Equipment Required: Block patterns, pencil, ruler, French curves, paper, scissors, tape or glue, including possibly a sewing machine and threads
This is a great method if you have a ‘library’ of well-fitted patterns to manipulate, and is an easy way to test new bra cup shapes.
What you’ll need is a copy of your block pattern (never cut up your originals!) and you can manipulate the shape in either paper or fabric. I find the paper method to be a bit quicker, as you can just quickly tape or glue the pieces together. Also, you can easily 'squish' or cut the pattern piece to get the volume out so that it can lay flat.
To get started, build your sample garment in either fabric or paper using a copy of your block pattern. You can now add new style lines and begin to cut up the sample to determine the shape of the new pattern piece. This is where a bit more technical skill comes into effect as you’ll need to round off these straight edges to get the volume and fit correct.
If you have a good understanding of flat patterns, you can just go ahead and manipulate your block flat on paper, or the computer, without constructing anything.
I really hope you found these methods interesting. I'd love to know which ones you've tried, or which ones you prefer. Are there any methods that you use that I haven't covered? Happy pattern cutting!
When I bought my first ‘proper’ bra, an expensive French brand at a high-end boutique, I was stunned to learn that the store recommended me to MACHINE WASH my bra.
At first, I thought it was a ploy to get me to ruin my bra and replace it quicker…but after a few more bra purchases, and working in that very shop, I accepted the truth…YOU CAN MACHINE WASH YOUR BRA*!
*Caveat: You MUST follow these tips in the video below…and this works for most bras – not all!
As well, now that I’m a highly experienced bra-fitter on two continents, and have heard and seen it all. I thought it’d be a good idea to include a number of my tips to make sure that your bra remains comfortable and supportive once it has been fitted and that it lasts you as long as possible!
I hope you enjoyed my very first 'bra tutorial' videos!
Educating women on the benefits of proper fitting bras is important to Kim. Designing lingerie that complements the fuller figure, and is comfortable, on-trend and beautifully constructed is her mission.
We are in charge of our bodies, and we make the decisions that are right for us, with no judgement. Kimtimates supports those who make their own choices about their own bodies. #yourbodyyourchoice #mybodymychoice