Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Thoughts on seams and seam allowances; wedding update

When I use commercial patterns, the seam allowances are usually 1.5 cm or ⅝”. The two are not absolutely equivalent. The big 4 are ⅝” and they tend to have all seam allowances this size and then get you to trim. I'm not very good at trimming. However, I do use their seam allowances if I'm making one of their patterns. It would probably be better to trim some of the allowances on the paper pattern before I start and that's my intention in the future.
1.5cm v 5/8"
I ran into an issue when sewing up a skirt with several panels, drafted with 1.5 cm seam allowances. My sewing machine is marked at 5/8" and I sewed up using this marking. However this is 1.6cm approx,  in fact. So each seam allowance was 1mm x 2 larger than it should have been. 5 seams mean that the skirt is 1cm tighter than it should have been. This doesn't seem much but was decidedly problematic. I'm going to mark the seam allowance on the machine which should make it easier to follow the correct straight line. I tried this but the tape I used isn't too easy to follow; I need to find a better method.

When I make my own patterns,  I tend to use metric.  I use 1 cm seams a lot. I find these good for princess seams, neck and armhole edges etc. This is the size we use most in class. There is no doubt that particular sizes are best for particular purposes, however.

Reading pattern making books which use imperial measurements,  they often recommend ¼” for collar edges, for example. Different sizes for different purposes.

For fitting, larger seam allowances are best. The big 4 amazing fit patterns suggest 1” as do many of the imperial pattern books. Our class tutor suggests 2cms.

I find in practice that I often use 1.5 cm,  approximately ⅝”, as that is so widely used (but see issue, above) 

1 cm for shoulder seams,  armholes, neckline, facings
1.5 cm for side seams and back seams if a zip is going to be included, 1 cm otherwise.
1.5 cm for waistline seams.

However, when I started making my own patterns,  before I started my college  course, I used Sure Fit Designs, SFD. This is in imperial, ⅝”.

When I started drafting patterns for my daughters, I used SFD - draping and using some of the other systems weren't really possible.

As I fit the toiles, I alter the seam allowances.

Why do I mention this?
I've already said in other posts that I'm not very organised.

I'm doing patterns for two pretty much identical bridesmaid dresses, each custom sized for my two older daughters. For the bodice of each, I started with SFD.
I was sewing up a further bodice toile before posting it off. 
The shoulder seams on one were 1.5 cm  and on the other 1 cm as I had adjusted one and not the other. Needless to say,  I sewed one at the wrong place! Just as well this wasn't the final fabric.
I'm regularly getting them wrong as I'm just not consistent.
This leads to slowness as I keep having to check with the pattern what size the seam should be.

Rory and Dan have agreed to sew up the bridesmaids dresses for me. So I reckon I'd better sort out those patterns! I'll do that after these two toiles are fitted, which will be done by post. ( edited to add - Joanne's is fine but Alison's needs taken in quite a bit,  so her pattern will have to be altered; I've asked her to get a local dressmaker to do this.)

Update Wednesday 27th April 
Quite a while has passed since I started writing this post. Helen's dress isn't going well. I posted her a toile this week as the last one was so bad - but there are still problems. Alison was going to get a local dressmaker to pin fit her toile on her but has been so busy with her open university course, work, life and motherhood and organising the hen-do for Helen that she hasn't managed; she just realised when I tired to chase her up that it was nearly the end of April. I've decided I do have to travel to meet the girls. I decided against attending the hen do, originally (it's a full weekend and Monday is a bank holiday, too). Firstly, I personally don't feel that this is for my generation(!) and secondly, my mother was due to be moving into sheltered accommodation this weekend and I was involved in moving her. However,that has been postponed slightly. So I'm visiting my mother Friday and Saturday to help out and then travelling home (car) then on Sunday/Monday will visit Cambridge and attend part of Helen's hen do on Sunday night. On Monday I should get a chance to fit both Helen (in the yet another new) toile I'm making at the moment to take with me - and Alison. I have a couple of things to check out with Joanne too. Wish me luck!! It's still more than a month to the wedding, but only just!


  1. I'm sorry to hear Helen's dress isn't going well. How is she coping? I hope this toile will be spot on and it's smooth sailing from now on. Regarding seam allowances, I've always been a fan of working with real seam lines. When I'm working with special fabrics I remove the seam allowances from the pattern pieces or cut the toile at the seam lines and use it as my pattern. I only use included seam allowances on simpler patterns. When curved lines are involved, like princess seams and armscyes, for me nothing beats working with a marked seam line. Not speedy, but very accurate! Best of luck with the wedding sewing!

    1. Thank you, Marianne. Things are looking a lot better now than two days ago! I followed Susan Khalje's Couture dress course on Craftsy with real seam lines and even tried it though not on this project. You're right, it must be my way forward. I feel confident that there will be a wedding dress and in time!

  2. I mark seam allowances - and always use 5/8 inch, or more if I am dubious about fit. And if I sew up a little differently, that's okay, because I do check fit the garment when it is sewn. Even with accurate stitching, there is going to be variations - also turn of cloth makes a difference as well. I always err on the side of caution. As for collars and facings - sometimes I alter these on the pattern to a narrower allowance, sometimes not - but I always not in big writing what the seam allowance is.

    1. Thank you , Sarah Liz. I still have a lot to learn. I think I'm getting somewhere and then realise I'm not!

  3. I absolutely detest patterns with seam allowances. If I'm using such a pattern I immediately remove all the seam allowances and work from a pattern with seam lines. That way I can add whatever seam allowances are appropriate. I usually use 1 cm on areas I know fit, collars, cuffs, etc, . 3 cm on side seams. Good luck on your wedding projects.

    1. Thank you. My current projects are self drafted patterns so the issue of commercial seam allowances doesn't apply as they were taken from blocks, which don't have seam allowances (though some of them did start from SFD which adds 5/8" but I didn't add this at the early stages before changing). My big problem is consistency. I added allowances to fit on the girls and just haven't been consistent. All my changes were done on a seamless block. However, I think the idea that seam allowances are "5/8" has seeped in somewhere, uninvited, and I struggle. I'm all centimetres in class which makes the issue worse, of course. I fitted all three girls today and feel a bit happier. I'm sure, however, that I would use a commercial pattern with existing seam allowances if it worked - I don't see me going down the couture line, though I aim towards good quality fabric, excellent construction and fit etc.


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