Selecting fabrics for Gemma

Orange Gemma Tank

Gemma tanks are a great summer staple, and we at MBR have been been putting ours into heavy rotation now that the weather’s warming up. Jess has easily made more Gemmas than I have, and I dare say has become a bit of an expert at selecting good fabrics for this pattern, to the point that I might even be a wee bit envious of hers (all I’m saying is she’s lucky she’s a size smaller than me otherwise they might start to disappear).

Orange Gemma Tank

Jess is general manager here at Made By Rae (she is in charge of wholesale, coordinates pattern testing, serves as project manager, and answers a ton of email), and she does a lot of sewing both for work and for fun. Jess made this particular Gemma tank with Robert Kaufman Manchester cotton in Poppy, a looser weave medium-weight cotton that has turned out to be a really comfortable Gemma.

The other day we were discussing this tank, and that led to a discussion about our favorite fabrics for Gemma, because ultimately the ones made with fabrics that are more comfortable will get worn, and the ones that aren’t, won’t. That seemed like a great topic to share on the blog, as I know many of you are also sewing Gemma tanks of your own (check out #gemmatank for some great examples).

Orange Gemma Tank

Fabric choice is one of the most important factors if you want to end up with a comfortable garment, especially when you are working with woven fabrics (knits are, by their nature, usually more comfortable to wear, but Gemma is designed for wovens). Here are a few things to consider when selecting fabric for Gemma:

  • a fabric with a looser weave tends to be more comfortable than tighter weave.
  • a fabric with a lighter weight tends to be more comfortable than heavier weight
  • a fabric with more drape tends to be more comfortable than fabric with less.

Every fabric has some degree of each of these characteristics (weave, weight, drape), as well as other characteristics that have less impact on comfort, but in general, I find these useful when choosing fabrics for Gemma.

Orange Gemma Tank

Here are some more fabrics to consider making your next Gemma out of:

double gauze – while it’s not super drapey, it’s fairly lightweight and has a very loose weave, to the point that you might even need to go down a size. Double gauze frays quite easily (so seam finishing is a must!), but the darts are easy to get to lay smoothly and it’s actually quite manageable to sew with, due to the stabilizing effect of the two layers. Manufacturers include Kokka, Andover, Monaluna, Cloud9, and Cotton and Steel.

shot cotton – also lightweight and with a looser weave but very little drape, this is a nice option if you can find it (as far as I know, Kaffe Fassett is the only one who designs shot cottons). I love the depth of solids due to the different colors in the warp and weft threads. Manufactured by Free Spirit.

cotton lawn / voile – lawn has the advantage of being widely available in many different prints due to an increased number of manufacturers producing it in recent years, and it is light weight. Be careful when using lawn for Gemma, however, as some of the lawns (looking at you, Cotton and Steel) are very tightly woven and less lightweight than others, and even have a bit of a silky sheen to them, making it less comfortable to wear and a more difficult to sew the dart smoothly without a noticeable pucker at the end. Manufacturers include Windham, Andover, Robert Kaufman, Liberty of London, Free Spirit (under “voile”), Cloud9, Monaluna, and Cotton and Steel.

chambray – most chambray is medium-weight, fairly tightly woven, and has very little drape, so in general I would avoid it for Gemma. However, the fabrics under the category “union chambray” produced by Robert Kaufman have become popular in recent years because they are lighter, drapier, and even have a bit of stretch to them. Manufactured by Robert Kaufman

rayon / rayon challis – a synthetic fiber that drapes beautifully, the quality will determine how easy it is to sew with, but one thing to consider (and one that I need to do more research on, frankly) is that rayon production can be pretty horrid for the environment; rayon tencel is the most eco-friendly rayon. Manufacturers include Free Spirit and Cotton and Steel.

batiste – in the past year Cloud9 (the organic fabric company that produces my fabric designs), has begun producing a fabric on a new “batiste” substrate for them; it’s loose-weave and light, so it’s almost a single gauze, but it’s less sheer than gauze. The prints they’ve released so far on batiste are quite lovely; however, it’s best to choose prints with darker backgrounds if you use this fabric for Gemma as they are still pretty sheer.  Manufactured by Cloud9.

Orange Gemma Tank

And now, a note about quilting cotton (dum dum DUMMMMMM): It’s not a great fabric for Gemma (or garments in general, really). I know…there are so many awesome prints, but it’s not going to be as comfortable to wear as the fabrics listed above. Even the quilting cottons that are lighter weight (like the one I made with Alison Glass’ Handcrafted fabric) end up looking great on the hanger but not so great to wear. I’d recommend QC for making a wearable muslin, but that’s pretty much it. Sorry.

Orange Gemma Tank

Do you have a favorite fabric for Gemma? Let us know in comments! You might also want to check out this post: My top five fabrics for clothing.

The Gemma Sewing Pattern is available as a PDF in my shop.

Posted in gemma
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How to crop the Gemma tank

How to make a cropped Gemma Tank / made by rae sewing patterns

As promised, and just in time for some fun weekend sewing, here’s a tutorial to show you how to turn your Gemma tank into a cropped tank, as seen in Jess’ fantastically popular Cleo / Gemma outfit in this post. I’ve included an original Gemma tank in the pic above at right so you can see the difference between the original tank and the cropped version. If you need the pattern, you can buy it in my shop.

The best way to figure out how much to crop off the bottom of the pattern is to make an original Gemma (or at the very least, a muslin) first, so you can make sure you have the right size and bust size. Gemma comes with both an A/B and C/D front bodice piece for each of its nine women’s sizes. Once you’re happy you have the right size, you can use your pattern tracings to make new modified pattern pieces (Not sure how to trace a pattern? Check out this great tutorial where we show you how to trace a pattern!) . Try your Gemma on and determine how long you would like the cropped version to be.

You will need:

  • The Gemma tank sewing pattern, traced in your size
  • Straight edge and pencil (clear quilter’s ruler is helpful)
  • Additional Swedish tracing paper (see this post for sourcing STP)

How to crop the Gemma pattern

Step 1. Decide how long you want your cropped version to be
Try your Gemma (or Gemma muslin) on and determine how long you would like the cropped version to be. Measure down the side seam from the armpit to where you’d like your cropped hem to land. You may find it helpful to fold under the hem of your Gemma to visualize what it would look like cropped, mark this distance at the side seam with chalk, and then measure the distance.

Step 2. Draw the new hemline on your pattern
Measure this distance from the armpit along the side seam of the BACK BODICE pattern piece and make a mark. Then use your straight edge to draw a line perpendicular to the fold line (“finished hem,” shown in red). We measured down 7 1/2″ inches from the armpit for this version. This is quite short, so you may want to start with 8-1o inches instead just to be on the safe side, especially if you have a long torso. Remember that you can always trim it shorter, but you can’t add length once you’ve cut it.

Step 3. Add a hem allowance
Draw a cutting line parallel to the finished hem and label it “cut here.” The distance between your two lines will be your hem allowance. In this case, I added 2 1/2″ so that I could fold the bottom edge up 1/2″ first, and then another 2″ for a nice wide hem. A wider hem allowance also gives you a little more flexibility to try it on and get the length just right!  This will be where you cut your fabric when cutting your cropped tank (see tank in photo, left).

Step 4. Straighten the side seam along the hem allowance
Draw a vertical line between your two horizontal lines at the side seam. Cutting your fabric along this line will straighten the side seam and make it easier to fold up the hem allowance when you’re hemming the tank. Bonus points if you can get your line to mirror the angle above the hemline.

How to make a cropped Gemma

Note that both of your horizontal lines should hit the center of the pattern at 90 degrees; it helps to use a clear quilter’s ruler when drawing them to insure that this is the case.

How to make a cropped Gemma

Step 5. Transfer hem and cutting lines to front bodice
Now put your front and back bodice together, matching them up at the bottom and sides (not at the top! the front bodice has a dart that adds extra length to the side seam above the lines you drew), and transfer your lines to the front bodice just as you did for the back bodice.

How to make a cropped Gemma

And again, make sure they intersect center front at a 90 degree angle:

How to make a cropped Gemma

Step 6. Cut out your tank 
Now you’re ready to use your pattern pieces to cut out a front and a back from your fabric as shown in the instructions. I find it works well the first time to fold under the pattern piece at the “cut here” lines to try them out. Once you are happy that you’ve gotten the right cropped length, make a new tracing of the pattern with crop lines so that you can use that one for your cropped versions moving forward.

Step 7. Sew it together
You’ll sew the tank together as instructed in the pattern, but note that to hem this version of Gemma, you’ll fold and press 1/2″ and then another 2″ (or whatever hem allowance you chose) toward the wrong side along the bottom of the tank, and then stitch along the first fold.

I can’t wait to see your cropped Gemma tanks! Please use the #gemmatank and #raemademedoit tags on social media to share your creations. Happy sewing, everyone!

Bird’s Eye View Gemma + Cleo

Bird's Eye View Gemma + Cleo

I’ve always thought the Cleo skirt would look awesome in a border print, so when Jess and I first laid eyes on the “Viewfinder” print from Sarah Watson’s recent collection, Bird’s Eye View for Cloud9 Fabrics, we knew it would be perfect for Cleo. We asked Cloud 9 for a couple of yards which they graciously sent over (thank you, Cloud 9!) and Jess sewed up this awesome cropped Gemma and Cleo skirt combo for herself. My jaw dropped to the floor when I saw these together. It’s just perfect, so chic, and I love the way that Jess cut these so that the Gemma has the larger-scale portion of the print, and the Cleo has the smaller-scale portion with the cactus.

Bird's Eye View Gemma + Cleo

Jess looks ridiculously adorable in this outfit. I’m pretty jealous, not gonna lie.

Bird's Eye View Gemma + Cleo

Bird's Eye View Gemma + Cleo

Bird's Eye View Gemma + Cleo

Sewing details

  • Both skirt and top were cut on the cross grain (that is, the pattern pieces were laid out on the fabric such that the grainline arrows were perpendicular to the selvage rather than parallel as is standard).
  • The solid orange waistband and back detail are made from Cloud9’s Cirrus Solids in the colorway Clementine
  • The armhole and neckline binding was applied using the french method (I wrote a tutorial for that method) without seam allowance added, resulting in a narrower shoulder.

Bird's Eye view Cleo + Gemma

We’ll post a quick how-to showing how to make a cropped Gemma soon — it’s a super fun and easy mod that I think you’ll love!

Posted in Cleo, gemma
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Lace Easter Dress

Lace Easter Dress

It’s not unusual for me to get really excited about sewing something, do most of the work, hit a hurdle of some sort, and then quit the project altogether. That almost happened with this dress which I started at the end of last summer. I started with my Gemma pattern, which I lengthened and cut in two layers (lace and white jersey knit) and managed to sew together at the neckline, armholes, and side seams. Then I decided it needed a waistband and that’s where the project stalled.

Lace Easter Dress

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago, when I picked it up again, added the waistband — when you have two layers this is as simple as sewing two lines of stitches and threading elastic between them — and hemmed it. I make that sound quicker than it actually was; it took me a few tries to get the waistband location right, but now I have a lovely dress for spring! Whyeeeeee did I wait so long to finish it?!? Sometimes I scratch my head at my own self. But at least it’s finished, and damn if it felt good to cross this project off the WIP list.

Lace Easter Dress

I find most of my lace here in Michigan at Field’s fabrics, which is a West Michigan chain that carries both quilting and apparel fabric. I think I bought at least three other laces, so look for more handmade lace clothing in my future.

Lace Easter Dress

Gingham Gemma

It’s almost December and therefore sweater weather, so it may seem strange to post about a Gemma Tank, but this top is something I find myself wearing quite a bit these days, under cardigans of course. I find I prefer sleeveless tops to sleeved tops when I’m wearing a sweater, because I don’t like that bunchy feeling you get when you try to stuff a shirt sleeve into a sweater sleeve; it makes me really twitchy and uncomfortable. Much like Clementine when she’s putting on her socks in the morning and doesn’t like how the sock seams feel in her shoes and then throws a fit and is late for school. What was I talking about?

Gemma tank

Here is is, sans cardi:

Gemma Tank

If this fabric looks familiar, it might be because this is the third (and final, I’m now out of yardage) garment I managed to squeeze out of this navy gingham  I picked up at Purl Soho. The other two things I made were this cute little Charlie top for Hugo and a Pearl shift for me. I like how the bias around the neckline pops out because of the gingham.

Gingham Gemma Tank

To be completely truthful this tank isn’t exactly the same as the Gemma pattern, because the pattern changed a bit as I worked on it and this was one of the earlier versions I made. The shoulders are a bit wider on this one than they are on the final pattern — I felt like the broader shoulders were a bit frumpy, so I narrowed them — and I eventually settled on two necklines for the final pattern, one a bit higher than this one, and one a bit lower.

Gemma is available in my pattern shop, comes in both A/B and C/D cup sizes, and looks great under winter cardigans!!!

Posted in gemma
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Staystitching is Important

staystitching

Attention, everyone, this is a sewing PSA. Staystitching is a garment-sewing technique that is really important. I am sharing this with you because when I started sewing, many years ago, I did not know what staystitching was, but even if I had, I probably would have skipped it. Now that I am older and wiser, I want to share this nugget of wisdom with you.

If you’ve ever sewn one of my women’s patterns (specifically for woven fabrics, such as Ruby, Beatrix, or Gemma), you may have noticed a step that instructs you to staystitch, followed by the words “IMPORTANT: DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.” I’m guessing most people ignore this, mostly because if I didn’t know better, I probably would.

I’ve mentioned before that my mom taught me how to sew, but knowing how stubborn and headstrong I was as a child,* I doubt once she communicated the fundamentals to me that I spent much time listening to any further details. Details like: be careful about skipping steps that might initially seem unnecessary, because you may regret it.

In addition, my younger sister Elli took a 4-H sewing class from a very strict and anal retentive seamstress, and her experience left a strong impression on me. I remember the jumper she was working on taking her the better part of a year to complete, which seemed like utter torture to me. It made sewing seem so un-fun. As a result, I took an alternate approach with a more carefree sewing attitude: skip all but the most essential steps, and see what happens. In some cases, I discovered it didn’t really matter that much (three rows of gathering stitches vs. two or even in some cases — GASP — ONE.), but in other cases, I’ve discovered that taking a little extra time to add a seam finish or in this case, staystitch, can make a big difference.

*I can picture my mom thinking, “Just as a child…?” as she reads this.

So…what IS staystitching?
Staystitching is a line of stitching added to the edge of a piece of fabric (often along a curved edge such as a neckline or an armhole, but not always) that stabilizes the fabric so that it won’t stretch out while it’s being sewn. Additionally, if you’re making a piece of clothing, staystitching prevents the edges from stretching out if you try it on to check fit. The staystitching lines in the photo below are around the armholes and neckline of my chambray Gemma tank.

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How and when do you staystitch?
To staystitch an edge, sew along the edge of the fabric, about 1/8″ away from the edge, using a normal straight stitch. Earlier patterns of mine said “using a regular length or slightly shorter than normal length stitch,” but I’ve since decided that a shorter stitch actually stretches out the fabric too much, so I now recommend a regular length stitch such as 2.5-3 mm.

As for when to staystitch, I think there are two schools of thought. The stricter approach is to staystitch edges after you cut out your fabric pieces, but before you do any sewing. I feel this is only necessary when sewing with a really unstable or slippery fabric. The other approach, which I prefer, is to staystitch any curved edges such as necklines or armholes after shoulder or side seams are sewn, but before facings or bindings or sleeves are attached. I take this more moderate/less strict approach because in most cases, woven fabrics are stable enough to sew some of the seams before staystitching without stretching out the garment significantly. Additionally, staystitching goes much faster when you can do a whole armhole in one go, instead of, say, having to staystitch the front armhole separately from the back armhole due to the shoulder seams having not yet been sewn.

That said, I can appreciate that some sewists would disagree and say that it’s better to be safe than sorry. I almost always favor the quick and easy sew, as long as it doesn’t sacrifice good construction technique.

I’ve probably utterly confused some of you, and if that’s the case, my recommendation would be just to try staystitching the next time you sew a piece of clothing. It definitely make more sense if you’ve got the garment in front of you, to be sure.

So, what say ye? Are you a Die-hard Staystitch-er? Or do you play it fast and loose and skip it? Have I convinced anyone to change your short-cutting ways?

Bias Binding Tutorials

bias binding tutorials

There are lots of ways to sew a bias binding to finish a garment, so I’ve put together a series of tutorials to walk you through three of my favorite options! You’ll see these demonstrated on my Gemma sewing pattern, but you can use these techniques for any necklines, armholes, or hems that you please! Click on the photos below for each tutorial.

bias binding traditional

bias binding topstitch

bias binding tutorial, french method - Made by Rae blog

And here’s a bonus if you need some hints for making your own bias binding:

how to make bias binding

http://www.made-by-rae.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/bias-binding-tutorials-made-by-rae.png
bias binding tutorials | made by rae blog

Gemma…as a DRESS!

Gemma Dress!

I’m pretty excited about this one! I love to hack patterns, and the simplest hacks are sometimes the best hacks. Since releasing the Gemma sewing pattern last month, I’ve wanted to try making it into a dress (the basic pattern is a tank). My pattern hacks don’t always work, so I was happy that this one worked out nicely!

Gemma Dress

Gemma Dress!

Gemma Dress!

I chose this light blue Anna Maria Horner voile that has been sitting in my stash for years and years. It’s a bit sheer on its own, so I wear a short slip underneath. I think it also looks great with a belt and this purse that I got for my birthday!

Gemma Dress!

There is more than one way to extend a bodice pattern so that it is longer. In this case, I wanted to keep the “S” shape at the hem, but exaggerate it more so that it had a better proportion relative to the dress and didn’t just look like an accidental uneven hem. I started by tracing the basic Gemma pattern, front and back. Then I extended the side seams from the hip by 11,” extended the Center Front by 13,” and connected them with an “S.” Since I also wear a larger size on my lower half than my top half, I ended up having to bump the hip out by 2″ to accommodate my large-ish derrière (my bodice size is medium). You can see all of this in the photo below, which is the front pattern piece, but of course I also did the same to the back.

how to turn the Gemma Tank into a dress

I wore it out for sushi with Mr Rae and Elliot and Clementine for my birthday dinner a couple of weeks ago when the weather was still seriously hot. For fall, I’ll just add leggings and/or skinny jeans and a sweater.

Gemma Dress!

What do you think? Do you like Gemma as a dress? I’d love to know if you give it a try!

Jess’ Rayon Gemma Top

jess's tomato rayon gemma

Look!! Jess made this awesome flowy Gemma tank out of Field Study rayon which I would steal but it’s not my size. I am also coveting her hair. Moving on. She used the french binding method (tutorial at that link!) to finish the neckline and armholes without adding an extra seam allowance (more details on that in the tutorial). You can see here how the straps come out narrower as a result.

jess's tomato rayon gemma

This is Jess doing her “Rae” impression, below. Har har.

jess's tomato rayon gemma

I love this view of the back here:

jess's tomato rayon gemma

If this fabric looks familiar, I made a Bianca and a Washi maxi dress out of the same print. Do we love it or what? It really is great, and so comfortable.

Rayon is one of my favorite fabrics for sewing garments because it is super comfortable to wear, and if you buy higher quality rayon (Free Spirit and Cotton and Steel are two manufacturers I like) it’s actually quite easy to cut and sew. The same is not true for cheap rayon though…no fun!!

jess's tomato rayon gemma

The Gemma Tank sewing pattern is available in my pattern shop, and you can access all three binding tutorials from the Gemma Page if you need them for future reference!

Posted in gemma
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