Teaching sewing classes… or, “wait–how do you put a zipper in again?”

Morning ducks! Last week I brazenly proclaimed the start of a new Snug Bug blog era  on my Facebook – more daily posts, even if there’s not much to post about. Alas, I spent most of yesterday working on my Lotus Blossom skirt (remember the funky welt pockets?) and then in the evening taught a class at the shop where I work. When I got home I determined it was too dark to take photos of any partial projects (really, I just wanted to  surf the internet and eat cookies!) and I skipped the blog post and headed to bed with a slight feeling of guilt over so quickly falling off the blog post band wagon.

I woke up this morning realizing that I did have a quick and dirty post to do – my class project! The class last night was Zip Button Snap. This is a beginner-level technique class. It’s only three hours long and at the end of the class, students head home with three cute little pouches, one that zippers, one that buttons and one that snaps. I sewed along with the students – here’s what I came home with (the thread’s there to give a sense of scale.)

I was agitated about teaching the class all day. I’ve never taught this one before, normally the owner of the shop teaches it but her kids are on spring break this week so she asked me to fill in for her. Since these are beginner classes I thought it’d be no problem, but eventually realized I really had no idea how to do the projects (the zipper pouch in particular is a bit confusing, what with having to turn things inside out a couple of times!) and even more to the point, my zip, button and snap techniques are, much like my unfinished bachelor’s of arts degree, sadly heavy on the ‘advanced’ techniques with no real solid base in the basics!

Zippers – apart from  putting in a fly, I can’t remember the last time I put one in by a machine. Working on the project last night, I remembered why. The pouches are made by sandwiching the zipper tape between the fabric, right sides together, sewing, then turning the fabric back and topstitching. Ugh. All that machine sewing on zipper tape is ripple city! I hate those ripples, and have a really hard time keeping the top piece of fabric from sliding all over the place when using the zipper foot (OK, perhaps using more than two pins would help!) And really, it doesn’t even take any longer to do it by hand! The other thing that threw me was that we have the students buy 9” zippers for 9” wide pouches. I normally buy the longest zipper possible and trim it – why bother trying to sew around that pesky zipper pull?

Holy cow – that pattern matching on the zippered pouch was completely unintentional!

After the first hour (OK, hour and some change, zipper pouches are hard!) we moved on to the button and snap pouches. You’ll see there is no snap pouch. My #1 bit of advice on snaps? Don’t use ‘em!! They seem like they’d be handy for baby diapers, but other than that, they’re difficult to line up, easy to mess up and aren’t really that cute. Except for mother of pearl snaps on your negroni shirt. That’s totally worth it.

Anyway – the button and snap pouches are a lot easier to make. While the zip pouches involved a lot of turning things inside out, the button pouch is a simple cut-two-pieces-of-fabric-and-one-piece-of-timtex-trace-out-a-point-sew-turn-fold-topstitch sort of pouch. This project had me rushing to the shop for a last-minute primer in how to use a buttonhole foot! At home, I have a 1-step buttonhole function, so my foot has a spot where you put in the button and the machine can tell how big to make the buttonhole. Here’s what my foot looks like (well, sort of… this is a different brand)

[image the sewing outlet]

At the shop we have Janome machines with a 4 step buttonhole process – you have to change the settings for each of the 4 sides of the buttonhole and determine the buttonhole size on your own. The feet at the shop look like this.

[image Janome]

Now, I have absolutely no problem with the 4 step buttonholes at the shop – in fact, sometimes I prefer doing my buttonholes on those machines. The 1 step is great, when it works. When it doesn’t work, and gets stuck somewhere half-buttonhole, it’s a giant headache. You can’t start over in that exact spot and usually you can’t start over in your same spot unless you pick out the half sewn buttonhole – scads of tiny, tightly packed zigzag stitches.

So I like the 4 step buttonholes, I just had never used that foot. As I thought about it all weekend I realized that I couldn’t envision at all how you were supposed to use it. When I make buttonholes at work, I just mark ‘em and sew them with the regular foot. I really wanted to teach the students the ‘right’ way, though – not my cheater-lazy way! Turns out the foot is no mystery. you just start in the position it’s set to in the photo (arrow at the top) and then use the markings on the foot rather than chalk markings on your project to determine how big to make your buttonhole.

In closing, I thought you’d all appreciate some sloppy topstitching. During the class we have the students topstitch around the edges of the pouch while it’s still flat. It makes the flap look nicer and it’s also how we close up the hole left over from turning everything inside out. Then we just fold into a pouch shape and topstitch again on the sides to secure. I’m not a huge fan of this method, as there’s no real way to topstitch in the same general area and line everything up – even if you manage to get the front to look good, the back will likely be out of alignment. Of course, it’s a zip, button, snap class, not a pouchmaking and topstitching class, so it works. Last night I was playing with the decorative stitches on the shop’s machines and used this heart-rate-monitor stitch to secure the fold. Nice, no?

The class ended up going fine and I’ll be happy and confident to teach it again! There were only a few students (we cap our classes at four or five students) and there was a charming young man there who made an adorable zipper pouch out of owl fabric for his girlfriend! I’ve brushed up on a few basic techniques, and while I’ll continue to insert zippers by hand, sew buttonholes with a regular presser foot and avoid snaps at all costs, I’m glad to have learned how to use a new foot! Tonight I’m heading back to the shop to teach another class – our Sewing Essentials class – one half sewing machine 101, one half sewing a pillowcase. I love teaching that class!

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3 Comments
  • Kat
    April 1, 2011

    Isn't it amazing how we can forget the basics once we have moved on to "bigger and better" techniques? I am teaching my daughter to sew and when it came to zippers, I have realized that I can put in an invisible zipper without batting an eyelash, but a regular zipper by machine? Not so much.

  • mary
    March 31, 2011

    I must admit I love using 1/4" wonder tape for basting when I put zips in! It holds the fabric without it slipping and it either washes out or you can peel it off (depending which type you get) once you have sewn the zipper in.

    Pretty fabric for the pouches!

  • tanitisis
    March 30, 2011

    Hmm, I think I would be in the exact same position as you. Though I haven't had quite so much trouble with snaps (except pearl ones, which I always manage to shatter).

    Well, at least you got some cute pouches out of it—and I love that fabric!

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