How to Sew a Perfect Placket

A new year is almost here, and many of us are busy thinking about what goals we'd like to accomplish in 2014. For sewists, these resolutions often include trying our hand at learning new sewing techniques or perhaps mastering those we haven't quite perfected yet. The placket is one area of a garment that seems to cause trouble for novice and advanced sewists alike. In the following how-to, designer Debbie Glenn shares step-by-step instructions for her unique folded placket that eliminates all visible raw edges. This tutorial originally appeared in our January/February 2007 issue of Sew Beautiful.

NOTE: This placket may only be used on fabrics with no apparent wrong side. And, you'll need to add 2-1/2 inches to the back skirt width for a 1/2-inch-wide finished placket.

1. Pull a thread and cut along center back the desired depth of the finished placket (9 to 13 inches at neck, 4 to 6 inches for a skirt). At lower end of center back, cut clip perpendicularly 1/2 inch to the right and 1/2 inch to the left (Photo 1).

2. Press right cut edge under 1/2 inch (to wrong side), turn left edge up 1/2 inch (to right side), leaving a 1-inch opening at bottom of placket (Photo 2).

3. Fold left side up 1/2 inch again (encasing left raw edge), leaving a 1/2-inch opening at bottom of placket (Photo 3).

4. Pinch up fabric at base of placket so right single fold touches left double fold, leaving no opening at bottom of placket. Secure this little tuck with a pin (Photo 4). TIP: Make sure fold of this little tuck doesn't extend beyond far left edge of placket or it will be visible.       

5. Finally, fold right side under 1/2 inch again (encasing right raw edge), lapping right side over left. There will be a double pleat with a tiny tuck inside at end of opening, pressed to left (Photos 5 and 6).

6. Secure placket edges by hand or machine using a straight or pin stitch. To stitch by machine: Un-pin tiny tuck and flatten out this area, temporarily un-lapping right and left sides of placket; refer to Photo 7. TIP: For easier pin stitching, cut scant 1/2-inch strips of Sol-u-Web and use "water-soluble fusible mesh" to secure right and left folds. Stitch from right side from top edge down securing right fold, adjusting width of pin stitch so left swing of fingers catch fold underneath (L=2.0-2,5; W=1.5) (Photo 7).

7. At bottom, stop with needle down 1/8 inch below clip at end of straight stitch series, re-lap placket, pivot 45 degrees, stitch finger stitch in and out into same hole, pivot 45 degrees then stitch across bottom, stopping just beyond fold; refer to Photo 8. 

8. Pivot and continue stitching up left side being careful not to catch right placket edge in stitches (Photo 8).

9. There will be raw ends exposed between the layers at bottom of placket (Photo 9). To enclose these raw ends, press placket flat, then stitch just above raw ends to form a small rectangle (Photo 10).

Be sure to check out our Sew Beautiful collection CDs to learn more great techniques! Each CD includes digital versions of six complete issues of Sew Beautiful.

Sew On, Sew Well, Sew Beautiful,
Cyndi and Amelia

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How to Fashion Topstitched Pleats

Elizabeth's Red Dress
“Elizabeth’s Red Dress” – one of the patterns in Sewing for a Royal Baby – was inspired by a charming dress we purchased in an antiques store. After carefully picking out the seams on the hand-constructed vintage garment, I (Amelia) worked up the pattern. I used Martha Pullen's silk/cotton Elegance to recapture the soft drape of the original garment’s silk fabric. The real beauty of this design, however, is in fashioning the pleats!

I didn't stitch down the fold from the backside to secure reverse box pleats on the slippery fabric; I wanted to avoid tying off and backstitching the thread (which can pucker, especially on silky fabrics). Instead I secured the folds with glue and worked a narrow line of topstitching down my desired length, over and back up. I chose a matching red thread, but if you’re confident in your topstitching, you could choose to do this in a contrast thread color for added design interest and add a touch of color behind.

Topstitched Pleats

NOTE: The complete pattern, supply list and instructions for making “Elizabeth’s Red Dress” are in Sewing for a Royal Baby.

What you’ll need:
• “Elizabeth’s Red Dress” (available in girls sizes 3 and 4 with the book
• Silky fabric (red silk/cotton Elegance shown from Martha Pullen Company) 
• Aleene’s Original Tacky Glue glue stick
• Sewing thread to match or contrast fabric
• Edge/joining foot for sewing machine
• Pilot Fixion iron-away pen or air-soluble marker
• Optional: 1/4-inch-wide silk satin ribbon in contrast color

How to fashion the pleats:
Using an iron-away marking pen, mark all tuck lines on front and back skirt pieces. Seam allowances are 5/8 inch for this pattern. NOTE: Marking lines will disappear when ironed; use air-erase marker if you want marks to linger while working the remaining steps.

Figure 1

1. Starting from one side of front skirt piece, fold in pleats as indicated on pattern and press (fig. 1). Fold back pleats, and lightly glue-baste just under area where pleats come together for about 4 inches. Fold pleats back to meet and press to set glue. NOTE: Always test the heat of your iron on specialty fabric before pressing the actual project.

Figure 2

2. Using an edge/joining foot and a right needle position of 1.8 (approximately 1/16 inch from pleat fold, stitch down right pleat for 4 inches, pivot, stitch across two stitches and stitch back up the left pleat while guide blade rides in between pleats (fig. 2).

3. Repeat for all pleats on front skirt and back skirt. Stay-stitch across tops of skirt to secure pleats. 

It’s as simple as that. When the glue washes out, the pleats will slightly open along the edge, but this adds a design element.

Sewing for a Royal Baby is available to purchase from the Martha Pullen Store. The book features 22 elegant, royal-inspired designs and includes patterns, smocking plates, step-by-step instructions, technique tutorials and much more! Read more about the book below and from all of us here at Sew Beautiful, Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Sew On, Sew Well, Sew Beautiful,
Cyndi and Amelia

Mastering the Bullion Stitch

We love dressing up our designs with creative stitching. So often, it's those final decorative accents that really transform a garment into something special! We've shared tutorials for several hand stitches in past newsletters. We'd like to continue this week with a how-to for the bullion stitch, which is the basis for all bullion flowers and leaves. This tiny stitch can make a big impact on a design when stitched into beautiful bullion roses and other shapes. Get your needle and floss ready and follow the steps below:

NOTE: The distance from point A to point B and the number of wraps determine the length of the bullion stitch. Use a #8 or #9 straw or milliner needle and one strand of floss.

1. Bring needle to front at point A, re-enter at point B, and bring tip of needle to front again very close to point A; DO NOT pull needle through (fig. 1).

Figure 1
2. Place a finger over eye of needle and press it to fabric making tip rise up, away from fabric.

Figure 2

3. Wrap floss around needle several times (fig. 2). Slide wraps toward fabric keeping wraps smooth and close together (fig. 3).

Figure 3

4. Pinch coils between the thumb and finger of your left hand, and carefully pull needle through fabric (fig. 4).

Figure 4

5. With coil between one finger and thumb, tug on needle end of floss until bullion is the right shape and all slack is pulled out of floss core thread (fig. 5).

Figure 5

6. Take floss to back at end where it leaves coil; tie off (fig. 6).

Figure 6

To Knot or Not to Knot?
Most of the time it is best not to knot the thread behind your embroidery. Tying on with a running stitch behind your embroidery or a split backstitch eliminates the added "bump" that a knot would create. 

A waist knot is another method for tying on embroidery. To use the waist knot method, tie a knot in the end of your floss and enter the fabric from front to back about 3 to 4 inches away from your template line. Enter from the wrong side to the right side to begin stitching. If using floss, take a couple of tiny backstitches where they will be hidden to secure the thread. 

When the stitching is complete, cut the waist knot and pull the floss to the back of the fabric. Thread the cut end into the needle and weave the thread tail beneath the stitches of the embroidery. Use one of these methods for tying on and tying off on your bullion stitch.

Now that you have the basic bullion stitch down pat, discover how to create bullion art with our new DVD with Kari Mecca, Secrets to Stitching Bullion Whimsies. You will learn everything you need to know about stitching bullions as Kari shows you how to stitch bullions of any size or novelty shape. Included with the DVD is a bonus PDF file that features 50 step-by-step bullion designs - butterflies, hearts, rosebuds, bows, doves, cupcakes, balloons, cherries and more! 

Sew On, Sew Well, Sew Beautiful,
Cyndi and Amelia

Vintage Inspiration: A Capitol Silk Coat

Winter Rose Smocked Coat
Many of the designs we feature in Sew Beautiful are inspired by beautiful heirlooms from generations past, and the Winter Rose Smocked Coat from designer Laurie Anderson is no exception. This design, which serves as the free pattern in our December / January issue, was adapted from a piece straight out of Martha Pullen's antique collection.

The authentic vintage lines really stand out on this children's garment, and Laurie worked a geometric smocking design in ecru with pink cast-on roses below the round yoke and embroidered a chevron blanket stitch around the collar and cuffs to recreate the jacket for today's little one. 

Below, peek inside Martha's Attic and read what she has to say about the original coat as we take a closer look at this timeless design:

Babette: A Capitol Silk Coat
This Babette Coat was custom made or sold presumably by Capitol sometime, I believe, around 1920. How do I know this? It still retains the labels inside, "Babette A Capitol Silk Coat, size 2." It's always such a rewarding experience to find an antique garment that comes with its own information. I found this piece in Lebanon, Ohio on one of my teaching trips to Columbus. Although I have been unable to verify that "Capitol" refers to Columbus, that city is the Capitol of Ohio, so it is a relatively safe bet that the coat originated or was sold there. The hand embroidery, smocking and crochet elements suggest it was custom made to sell in a clothing shop.

The little jewel is not in the best condition; the silk is stained in several areas, and the smocking is starting to come out. However, hand smocked pieces are very hard to come by, so I overlooked its flaws. The style is a round yoke; the yoke is self-piped. Just under the corded yoke are three rows of cables smocked completely around the coat very loosely, as the coat is not particularly full. Every 2-3/4 inches, between the first and third rows of smocking, is a three-step wave, leaving a little space into which a small lazy daisy flower has been stitched. This creates a little "puffiness" in the smocked section, which is very pretty.

Martha discovered this coat during a teaching trip in Lebanon, Ohio.
The collar fronts are embellished with touches of embroidery - lazy daisies, French knots and stem stitches - worked in the same peachy/pink shade as the coat. The collar edge is trimmed in slightly gathered hand crochet lace, which is also found on the 2-inch sleeve cuffs. Snaps, sewn on by hand, secure the coat in front and are topped with five decorative buttons. The lining appears to be a silk broadcloth; combined with a flannel interlining, it turns a very delicate-looking coat into a much warmer option.

Click here to read more about the designs featured in our December / January issue!

Sew On, Sew Well, Sew Beautiful,
Cyndi and Amelia

How to Tie a Perfect Sash Bow

The holiday season is in full swing, and many of us will soon dress our little girls up in pretty stitched party dresses as we celebrate Christmas. Nothing finishes a party dress better than an expertly tied sash bow, of course, but tying a sash bow is harder than it looks. When not tied correctly, a bow may droop and hang vertically rather than stand up horizontally. Follow these steps from Perfect Party Dresses to ensure the bow sits perfectly against the back of the dress with beautifully formed loops and a bow knot.

1. Holding a sash in each hand, cross the left sash over the right.

2. Bring the left sash under the right at the center. Pull the left sash through and leave aside.

3. Make a loop with the right sash.

4. Turn the loop to the right.

5. Pick up the unlooped sash and place it over the looped sash.

6. Bring the left sash under the looped sash and through the gap underneath.

7. Pull on the looped ends to form the bow.

8. Adjust the size of the loops and arrange the sashes as required.

For more party dress inspiration, check out Perfect Party Dresses. With 12 smocked dresses and three petticoats, this book has everything you need to make your little girl's party dress dreams come true this year.

Sew On, Sew Well, Sew Beautiful,
Cyndi and Amelia

Tips for Planning a Smocked Bishop Design

The bishop is one of the most versatile designs in children's clothing. A voile bishop with lacy sleeves is perfect for a formal event, while a romper or playsuit with a bishop neckline is both cute and functional. Before constructing a bishop design, you need to decide what kind you'd like to make and select your pattern, fabric and smocking plate. To help you, we'd like to share the following hints from designer Maggie Bunch. These tips and more can be found in our special issue Favorite Heirloom Sewing Designs.

Patterns - Chances are you have more than one bishop pattern. In addition to independent designer patterns, check smocking magazines and books. Not all bishops are created equal! Take time to compare patterns. Lay the front section of one pattern on top of the front of another. Note the differences in the arm curve at the top and side. Compare the width of each piece. Check the length. You may find what works for one look does not work for all the bishops you have in mind.

Fabric - Each pattern is designed for a specific weight of fabric. Many bishop pattern instruction sheets recommend using lightweight fabrics such as batiste. You may use the pattern as it is for the recommended fabric. However, if your pattern is designed for batiste, but you wish to use a heavier fabric, use a pattern that has reduced fullness or make adjustments to your pattern.

The following pictures show three bishops cut from the same pattern. The fabrics are Imperial batiste, Concord cotton calico and Spechler-Vogel corduroy. Each bias neckband is cut to the identical length. Note the batiste pleats are nicely spaced (photo 1A). The calico pleats are tightly packed, but still fit the neckband (photo 1B). However, the corduroy bishop does not fit the neckband at all (photo 1C). 

Pleat a sample of questionable fabric to see how much bulk needs to be eliminated. To remove fabric from the bishop, take equal proportions out of each section: front, backs and sleeves. Fold the center of each pattern piece to maintain the correct neck and hemline curves.

Fibers - Fabric sometimes has a different appearance when it is pleated. Choosing fibers and colors after pleating is more efficient. Working a few stitches will help you make the final decision. Remember, three strands of embroidery floss are not the only option for smocking. Try two strands for a delicate look; try four strands for smocking a novelty print. Branch out! Try new fibers such as floche and stranded silk.

Smocking Plate - Bishop design plates are slightly different than straight yoke plates. For a bishop, look for a smocking design that uses stitches with less give at the top (neck) such as cable, stem and outline stitches. Stitches become progressively more open toward the lower rows of the design (shoulder). Lower rows are usually trellis stitches, possibly trellis/cable combinations. Straight yoke plates tend to have less giving stitches for the top and bottom rows. 

The pattern dictates the number of rows of smocking. Look at the arm curve on the pattern. There is a straight portion from the top down, then it begins to curve. The portion you will smock is the straight section. Measure this straight section against your brand of pleater to determine the number of rows you can pleat on that size (photo 2). Remember to include holding rows. Not all bishop plates are suited for every size bishop. Most commercial plates for bishops are easily adjusted. 

Change the number of rows on larger or smaller bishops by adding or eliminating a repeat of a row at the top or bottom of the design. When adjusting designs, take out the row least likely to affect the flair of the bishop at the shoulders.

Learn how to sew a beautiful bishop dress on the Ready-to-Smock - Smocked Bishop Construction DVD with Connie Palmer. You'll also discover valuable tricks as Connie reviews perfect neckbands, plackets, a variety of sleeve finishes and much more!

Sew On, Sew Well, Sew Beautiful,
Cyndi and Amelia