SEWING NOTIONS: Ready To Wear Methods

by Jamie on May 28, 2015

Vintage-illustration-of-a-home-seamstress Illustration from: Complete Dressmaking in Pictures by Constance Howard. Circ 1950


From my time at fashion college I became aware that two types of sewing ideologies existed – those for domestic sewists and those for clothing industry professionals. I found this surprising at the time, but on reflection there was a reason for the two quite different approaches. Home dressmakers had passed down their traditional sewing methods over generations and these methods with their origins in couture dressmaking were only modified slightly when domestic straight sewing machines were introduced. In contrast, the fashion industry had to innovate and develop techniques to keep up with ready-to-wear (RTW) demands and expectations. Today, even high-end labels employ RTW sewing methods – they’re faster, generally harder-wearing and employ a cleaner finish…  All qualities needed from our own home sewing efforts.

Sewing techniques that are derived from couture dressmaking still have an important place in a sewist’s bag of tricks – especially when dealing with difficult fabrics, heirloom and special occasion sewing.  But when it comes to sewing garments intended for regular wash and wear, RTW sewing methods are really useful. Just like any other skill, those methods may require some practice and some getting used to, but the effort is well worth the trouble.

Below are some of the RTW sewing techniques that I find differ significantly from domestic sewing methods and help improve sewing results and sewing time:

1. Narrow seam allowances.

Home sewing patterns generally have wider seams than fashion industry patterns. The standard seam allowance on a Home sewing pattern is usually 5/8″ (1.7cm) whereas the use of  3/8″ (1cm) seams in RTW sewing is standard. Narrow seams reduce the difference between the outer-edge of the seam and seam line itself which leads to more accurate sewing – especially around curves. Narrower seams decrease the need to clip into curves and trim down bulky excess. This creates a more stable garment when it is finished and also decreases the potential risk of cutting into your garment by mistake – something I try to avoid.

2. Less pins.

Domestic sewing employs the use of pins quite liberally, whereas RTW sewing uses pins or basting methods sparingly to hold the fabric in place. Pinning tends to restrict the ability to maneuver the two pieces of fabric together and this creates more opportunities for puckering and wonkier sewing. Learning to sew without pins is a skill – but once you get used to not needing them, they tend to get in the way.

3. Minimal use of stay stitching.

Stay stitching in domestic sewing is used mostly around necklines and armholes to prevent the curved raw edge from distorting during the make process. this technique is rarely employed in RTW sewing for a few reasons. The first and most obvious is that it saves time. Another reason stay stitching is not often used is because the stitching along the raw edge can actually distort rather than stabilise the fabric. RTW sewing employs other ways to stop the distortion of a curved seam, including the use of facings, careful handling of the cut fabric piece and ensuring correct sewing machine presser foot tension as the seams are sewn together. Sometimes relaxation is accounted for in the pattern – this can be much preferable to holding a seam to a specific measurement which can actually cause puckering or bubbling.

4. Press to impress.

A sample machinist once told me that a good press can hide a multitude of sins. Don’t underestimate the value of the iron and its ability to shape and coerce fabric in the final stages. Stretched necklines can be shrunken, puckers can be sorted and tight armholes can be loosened – all with the help of a good steam and press. Of course this needs to be done with care and the better quality the fabric, the easier to transform with the iron.

The above suggestions give you a bit of an idea as to how your sewing time can be decreased and sewing results improved. This does not mean you throw out your domestic and couture techniques – in fact domestic and professional sewing both have their benefits and I use a combination of methods in any given sewing project.

Successful Sewing is where I hope to talk more about RTW methods and helpful sewing techniques, so stay tuned for more future posts in this series.


Sew Wear Love





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