Friday, October 16, 2015

"Sewing School" #1- Fairy Costumes

This costume is inexpensive. We spent maybe $3. Doesn't it look sweet?

It's also the final product in our first sewing school project for the girls. Yes, my 7 year old made it herself! This year, the Halloween costumes were a chance for the girls to learn a new skill. After all, sewing is a great outlet for creativity and one of those rare skills few people seem to have anymore.

So, I created a beginner sewing project for visual learners who want to design their own fairy costume!

The pattern is simple enough that it's great for a first time using a sewing machine. Adults who want to learn how to modify or create their own patterns can also start with this!  

Because I will explain how you can make up your OWN design and create the pattern according to what YOU want, you can make it to fit any size person (or doll) and use your own creativity and design to create unique looks.

Why is this pattern a good one to start learning sewing? Because it has a basic skill repetition that all comes together to create a detailed look.

So, what will a sewing student learn? (Not necessarily in this order.)
  • Sewing machine safety and getting used to operating it.
  • How to cut out two layers of fabric with a pattern.
  • How to pin right sides together.
  • Proper pin direction and removal while sewing.
  • How to sew consistent straight and curved stitches with the machine
  • The right way to thread the machine and load a bobbin
  • Perseverance, diligence and stick-to-it-iveness. A sewing project like this can take a few days to a week working around an hour a day.
  • Creativity with costume designing and colors and shapes
  • measuring and how to translate that into a pattern
Creativity is a muscle, and a project like this gives you plenty of opportunities to flex your creativity muscles. Choosing colors, choosing petal length, choosing the petal shape -- it's all up to you! The pattern is that flexible. Also, necessity is the mother of invention. Work with what you have (or can afford) and you may surprise yourself! 

Note when using this to teach a child; I would encourage them to choose their own colors, shapes, and placement of the petals, and not give much of my own input or design ideas.  This should be a project that they can own themselves.  It's not about getting the final product to a standard that we think is "perfect"- it's all about the creative process and practicing basic skills.

Supplies! What do you need?
  • A top and a skirt (or leggings) that you already have or ones that you buy specifically for this.  We went with the cheap side and used what we had!
  • Wings from the dollar store. (Or make your own with paper!)
  • About 2 yards of fabric. (We used scraps that we already had!) For beginners, choose a fabric that isn't slippery or stretchy. However, my 7 year old sewed this slippery fabric and did just fine.  You *can* use see-through fabric, but I wouldn't recommend it.
  • Your color choice of ribbon that's 1.5 to 2 inches wide. You'll wrap it around your waist once (or twice) and make sure it's long enough that you can then tie it in a bow.
Of course, along with your supplies, you'll need the usual sewing tools: straight pins, fabric scissors, thread, measuring tape, safety pins and a cutting board or hard floor or table. You'll also need paper to create your pattern.

Here's what the finished product looks like when it's flat!
And the video above shows you what the costume looks like in motion with my 7 year old talking about it as well and some of the design elements. 
If you are using fabric scraps as we did, you can choose to make the under side of the petals a different color than the top, which is very fun!
 My 9-year-old wanted to be an icy fairy, so her colors are white and blue. And the picture above is just the shirt and skirt and wings on their own.

Very boring without the fancy layers in this pattern!  Since these pictures were taken she's added paper snowflakes hanging from the sash with silver thread so she ice AND snowflakes.  It's getting epic.  ;)

Where do I start to design my own pattern? - Visualize.
What do you want?
There's a few ways to get your design figured out.
  1. Start with a drawing (doesn't need to be fancy!) or cut out pictures.  I personally just like the quick (terrible looking) sketch of a stick figure with the colors I want in the outfit.  Kids who want to design their own costume will appreciate drawing pictures even if this isn't always useful in the end.
  2. Look at what you already have.  If you have a top and skirt you can already use then take those with you to look for fabric so you can match colors and SEE what it might look like.
  3. If you are great at visualizing and don't need a drawing of any kind or doing the whole "holding up fabrics to see what might look good together thing" then that's okay too!  Some people like the drawing as a reminder, but you can also just write out what you want it to look like. 
If you aren't sure what design choices to think about--
  • What colors do you want to use in your costume?
  • Is each layer going to be the same color or different colors?
  • how many layers of petals or icicles do you want?
  • What shape is each petal?  Rounded, pointed, or squared, thinner or wider?
  • Are they all going to be the same basic shape or are they going to be different shapes?
 Look at flower pictures to get ideas of shape and colors to help you think through possibilities.

Making the pattern for real. - Practical.

Decide where your ribbon is going to tie around your waist and use a ribbon or string to see how it would feel and look.  There are three basic places to position a waist- "Empire" (right under bust line) "Natural waist" or around hips.  You can just call these "high, medium, and low" as well.  The point here is simply to realize that the person designing this gets to decide!

Now take your measuring tape and measure on the person from the chosen position of the ribbon down to where the longest petal should fall.

Note: an adult can do this on themselves if they are making this for themselves, but if they are teaching a child how to sew they will need to do this measuring process on the child while asking the child questions about how they would like it -"Higher or lower" and so on.

Whatever your measurement comes to (ours was around 20 inches or so) ADD TWO INCHES!
Seam allowance is always forgotten so I must stress this point.  As you make your measurements always add an inch to all the sides.  You can always take more fabric away, but you can't add as easily once it's been cut.

Use your measurement (with the added inches!) and your idea how the shape of one petal and measure and cut your shape on a large piece of paper (or two pieces taped together)

Cut out a petal shape for each length that you are designing.

Do NOT skip this next step.
Before cutting your fabric with your new pattern - Hold your pattern up to the person who will be wearing this costume and make sure it's the right size and length (remember it is two inches wider and longer before it's sewn so take that into account!)  This is when you will change your pattern to make it more like you've designed or keep it the same.  

Prepare your fabric for cutting out.
If you just bought this fabric it will need to be washed and dried and ironed (Unless you don't care about it being pre-shrunk) -- If it was jammed in a box like ours you might just need to iron it to prepare the fabric.

Make sure you chant "Right sides together"
As this is a very big deal!
There are TWO layers of fabric for each petal.  Pin the pattern onto the top of the two layers and cut around it.  This is also a good time to teach how to conserve the fabric.  Don't just cut out right in the middle!  Put the pattern near the edge and make room for more places to cut the petals out.

Cut the number of petal sets that you decided on in your design (two pieces of fabric per petal.)

Then pin them with right sides together so that you will be ready to sew.  Only pin where you are going to sew and you will NOT sew the flat part at the top (YET) so don't pin that part.
Hopefully this will make sense!  Direction of the pins is important because of the direction one sews.
 The picture below shows that the raw edge is to the right of the "foot" and the pins are easier to pull out as you go if they are facing toward the oncoming stitches.  On small sewing projects this isn't AS vital, but once you get into doing larger things (I used to work in a bridal shop and altered wedding dresses!)  There is NO way that a bunch of fabric will fit into that right side of the sewing machine!

How to Sew with a Machine - in 12 Steps
The sewing machine is intimidating. I get it.  But the person doing the sewing needs to be reminded that they are in control of it.  Learning how to control it is why I'm going to break this down so thoroughly.  If you've sewn before, you probably figured this stuff out on your own, but it can be helpful to have all the steps written out so that when you are teaching a child you can tell them each step they need to do.
And yes, they might forget to put the foot down before starting to sew!  This happens, and it's normal, and it's okay!  Just have them stop and start over.
The person learning to sew will start with some fabric that's pinned - right sides together, and then follow these steps.
  1. Both threads moved to the back 
  2. Position fabric under the "foot" (the metal flat thing under the needle) so the needle will come down in the right place.
  3. Flip the sewing foot down to hold the fabric firmly in place.
  4. Hold strings in the back as you slowly sew about a half inch.
  5. Stop to re-position hands (pinch right hand in front and left hand pinches fabric behind the foot) 
  6. Sew to next pin and stop.
  7. Remove pin and put it IN the pin cushion and NOT on the table!
  8. Re-pinch positions and sew till next pin and stop. Repeat until you're done.
  9. Learn to reverse stitch at ends
  10. Lift foot and gently pull out sewn fabric
  11. Turn the needle wheel so that the needle is up and releases the fabric (if it doesn't pull out smoothly) 
  12. Snip all loose threads along the stitching line.
Then you have one finished seam. Good job!

To fix this gathered seem we had to smooth it all out and usually she had to sew a bit more at the start or end as her stitches would pull out once we smoothed out the slack.  Not a very big deal and easily taken in stride.
If your sewn seam is bunched up in a gathered way like how my daughters kept turning out, it means that you aren't keeping enough tension between your two pinched fingers.  While the sewing machine does move the fabric on it's own you need to be in control of this at the same time.  When you sew through something thick for instance, you will need to tug more on the back to help get it through.  If your fabric is slippery or thin as this fabric was you'll need to keep a firm pinch in front and back so it doesn't slide or bunch up on itself.

For adults and older kids who are learning to sew, you can practice ironing seams.  My girls are too young for this yet, but I'll explain my ironing process as well as Ironing is vital to sewing!

No, you can't skip ironing.  You can probably justify skipping ironing something every time AFTER this, but when you are creating a seam you NEED to iron it because it doesn't know what to do yet and you are going to tell it what shape to take.

 I use a very hot iron, so that I only have to hold it in one place for a few seconds to get a nice crease. I prefer a spray bottle of water over using steam as well.  
 Flip your petal "right side out" and iron it flat.  After the sewn seams are ironed you can iron the raw edge inside itself as well like I'm showing in the picture below.

IF you cut out, pinned, and sewed your petals perfectly they would look exactly the same.  Yes, this is possible, and yes, that is the goal, BUT the beauty of this pattern is that they can each have their own quirks (as the picture shows above) and still totally work in the costume.  This means that your sewing student can practice and create and find success even before mastering all the skills.  These skills will be mastered over time and through more projects!
After all your petals are sewn and ironed, you are ready to pin them onto the ribbon--

Note- right now you are pinning them JUST to see where they should go and what they will look like.  It's always better to hold something up and SEE what it will look like before you rush ahead and sew it!  Also, this is really encouraging to children who have been working on these steps for several days.  They want to see what the end product will look like before they do the home stretch.

This is also a good time to use a couple pins to mark on the ribbon where they meet in the back so that you can lay your petals in the right amount of space on the ribbon.  The petals can over lap or be farther apart and this is a good time to see if you need to cut out and sew another petal or decide if you have enough for the look you are going for.
Try it on, but be careful with the pins!  Or plan ahead and use safety pins!

Lay it out the way you want it to look!
 Now that you know HOW you want it to look you can more easily pin it for the real sewing process.  I taught them to sew one layer of petals at a time.
 Lay the ribbon "right side down" and lay the row of outer most petals right side down on that.  Be aware that we are looking at the back side of this.  The picture above shows the second row of petals pinned and ready to be sewn.  Notice that the first row is lower than the second? That's so that she didn't have to sew through a too thick layer of fabric.

 Sewing the same way as the 12 steps I wrote above.  Add to that the awareness about the layers and keeping them from folding up under the line of sewing.  The only time we had to pick out a seam was when a stray petal folded itself up under the ribbon and accidentally was sewn a bit into that seam.
Sew right up to the pin before pulling the pin out to help keep the sewn seams as accurate as they were pinned.  While my 7 year old did all of the sewing I did help her with some of the pinning.  If the pinning is smooth and as close to how you want it sewn as possible then sewing those seams will be exceedingly easier than if it's pinned poorly.
And there you have it!  They can use this pattern idea and "how-to" on a doll as well to keep practicing or create it again with different colors or petal shapes!  Lots of great practice with sewing skills AND designing!

------------------------------------ BONUS!---------------------------------------------

What to do when you have a little one that wants to sew like the "big kids" or if you just need some ideas in teaching hand sewing for the very young.
Use very large gauge cross-stitch fabric and an embroidery needle and thread so that your child can practice going up and down!  My 4 year old thought that the actual cross-stitch stitch wasn't for her, but she loved stitching lines.  She went up and down again and again in a straight line for around an hour straight!  I was impressed!  She said she was being diligent just like I was teaching her big sister to be with sewing.
I love that focused face.  ;)    In the middle of this I wrote her name and if she doesn't want to sew her name herself then I'll do it and we'll hang it up on her wall. 
 Also, if a little one doesn't want to do perfect straight lines or if they aren't all the same stitches, don't stress it!  The goal at this point is to encourage them to keep relatively short stitches (as in, not one here and another WAY over there or letting the thread wrap around the raw edge.)  And also enjoy it and persevering!  My other goal with this one was to make sure she knew NOT to leave the needle on the floor when she cut the thread! 

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