Sewing Frequently Asked Questions
For answers to general questions (placing orders, returns and exchanges, discounts and wholesale, etc.) see our General FAQs page! Here, find answers to questions about using the products we sell. I'm adding questions and answers to this page as they come in, so please send me your questions or be patient as I add them little by little. :)
TAILORING - CANVAS INTERLININGS
What is the difference between horsehair canvas, hair canvas, hair cloth, hymo canvas, and linen canvas?
A lot of people come to us looking for "horsehair canvas" when what they're really looking for is hymo. Hymo is the main fabric used to make a floating front canvas for a jacket or coat. Hymo canvas can contain a small amount of hair (either goat or horse) but many beautiful hymos do not contain any hair content. They also vary in composition in other ways: some have a wool base and some a cotton base. Many hymos have other fibers mixed in too, such as rayon, viscose, polyester or nylon. Some tailors prefer a wool-based hymo, and many cotton-based hymos are lovely too.
Horsehair canvas is synonymous with hair canvas and hair cloth, and most importantly, *hair canvas is never the right fabric to use in the body of a floating front canvas*. Hair canvas has a very high hair content (usually between 40% and 48%) and this hair is woven only in the weft (the crosswise fibers), so the fabric behaves completely differently along the grain as across the grain. It's difficult to fold the hairs onto themselves, but it has no opposition to being folded between hairs. Wimpy in one direction and strong in another. But these properties make it exactly the right fabric to use in the upper chest section of a floating front canvas! To smooth out the place where an arm joins a torso and moves into the neck area, tailors often use a small piece of hair canvas in the upper chest area of a floating front canvas. And, since the hairs are quite pokey on the edges of the fabric, a soft batting-like fabric called domette is used to cover all the edges of the horsehair, often with a second layer of hymo in there too.
Linen canvas is a fabric similar in feel to hymo canvas, but made either primarily or completely with a linen fiber. It can be used as substitute for regular hymo canvas for such reasons as historical accuracy in period garments and religious observance among Orthodox Jews.
I'm making a garment with a floating front canvas. How to choose which interlining to use?
The answer to this question is not easy, though it starts out easy: when choosing which hymo canvas to use, we recommend first identifying which price point works best for this particular project. Do you need to stay inexpensive, or will the garment be worn for many years so you want to use something lovely?
If on a tight budget then you may want to choose TC-200 or TC-212, which are both good, solid hymos at a low price point.
If bespoke, then we highly recommend our premium Italian hymos, since they are made with better quality fibers, and with more attention to detail. Some of them are also balanced, and some washed and dried under the Italian sun!
But since we have a lot of premium hymos, how to choose just one?
...I guess we have favorites. (Savile, Remo, and Giove are perhaps our top favorites, if you made us choose. But we use all our canvases at different times.) As tailors, we generally match the weight of the garment's fabric to the weight of the hymo. And I mean 'generally' in a couple of ways! On internet forums, the discussion of fabric weights can get technical very quickly. But for most tailors, deciding which hymo canvas to use in a garment is all about the feel, and not at all about the actual weight in numbers. We feel the swatches between our fingers and choose one with a similar weight/feel to the fabric we're using.
If you don't have our swatch book, however, or for additional help in choosing, you can see the grams per square meter number for each canvas in the Technical Specs tab on the page (and on the swatches in the book), and we've also made a list of our hymos on our Hymo Canvas Comparison Chart showing our suggestions for which of our hymos we believe pair best within the general categories of lightweight to heavyweight tailoring fabrics. The chart isn't strictly "by the numbers", though it usually matches up fairly well, with the heavier choices showing higher grams per square meter, and lighter choices showing lower gsm. (Find the chart as a tab on every hymo product page, and on the Resources & Tips page.)
But how to know the general weight of your outer fabric in terms of light to heavy weight?
Sometimes, knowing the fiber can help, but not always. Some common ones:
- Most linens are best with medium light weight or medium weight hymos.
- Wool can be anywhere from light to heavy weight. Some lovely wools tell you their weight in ounces (by which they probably mean ounces per square yard), which can be helpful if converted to gsm, or when you buy it you may ask for a light weight fabric for warmer weather, or a heavier weight fabric for cold weather.
- A silk and wool blend is likely to pair well with medium weight hymos. (And oh how lovely it looks!)
- Velvet is not a fiber it's a weave, so what fiber is your velvet made of? Cotton velvet is the best for suiting, and can work well with medium to medium heavy weight hymos. Silk velvet can be a challenge to work with (though it can look amazing if done well!) and may be good with medium weight hymos.
- Cotton twill and denim are generally pretty heavy, but nowadays some denims can be closer to medium weight.
- Cotton (and blended) corduroy can be medium to heavy weight, depending somewhat on the wale width.
What is a "balanced" hymo canvas?
Balanced means that when it is woven, all the cross-wise fibers are laid in a single direction, instead of shuttling back and forth. Most fabrics will curl up when subjected to heat and pressure, but because of the unusual and time-intensive weaving process of Balancing, this one will remain in it's desired shape even under extreme stress. Coat fronts made with balanced hymo (such as our Remo, Savile and Cleo) will stay beautiful for years and years.
Are your hymo canvases pre-shrunk?
The cautious answer is that every time (any) fabric gets wet, it changes a bit -- and usually in the shrinking direction -- regardless of what it's been through before. Each time it's washed it shrinks less and less, so from one time to the next, there may not be a noticeable difference, but if measured over many washing times it may be noticeable.
That said, we haven't had a problem with any of our canvases. (This is partly why we like them!) We press and steam them before use, but don't usually get them totally wet. And the ones that are Washed and Dried in the sun - Savile and Remo - are even more ahead of the game, since the first time a fabric is washed it shrinks more than any other time.
What are the parts of a chest front?
The primary fabric needed to make a floating front canvas (otherwise known as a chest front) is hymo. Hymo is often also called "hair canvas" ("hair" here refers to horse hair or goat hair), but we don't prefer the term hair canvas, since many lovely hymos include no hair content. (Hair makes no difference to how nicely it makes up.)
For a very lightweight garment, such as a vest (British term: waistcoat) or a linen or lightweight jacket (British term: coat), you may want to only use hymo. Perhaps you'll use just a single layer (on a vest for sure!), or pad-stitch an extra piece of hymo into the upper chest area.
Most floating front canvases use hymo plus two other fabrics: horsehair canvas (also known as "haircloth"), and domette. The horsehair fabric goes into the upper chest, to help create a smooth line. It's a little pokey on the edges, though, so it gets completely enclosed between the hymo and a piece of soft white fabric called domette.
Where is interlining used in a jacket?
To construct a jacket in the traditional way, a floating front canvas (otherwise known as a chest front, see the fabrics needed in the question above) is sewn by hand into the front of the jacket from shoulder to hem. For the fitting, it gets basted to the front of the coat using temporary stitches. After the fitting, it gets permanently caught along the front edge and hem (it's cut flush with the finished edge of the jacket and then held in place with edge tape that's hand sewn on, or fusible tape that connects the front canvas to the seam allowance of the jacket fabric, so that the hymo doesn't create bulk in the seam itself). It also goes into the front of the armscye, and is loosely and permanently basted to the shoulder seam and to the seam allowance on the parts of the pockets that it touches. There's also interlining along the hems and vents of the sleeves and body, and that's either hand-sewn strips of bias canvas (2" to 3" wide, sometimes called wigan), or strips of fusible interlining in a weight and type that works with your fabric.
How much of each fabric do I need to make a chest front?
Jackets uses a variable amount of hymo, mostly depending on the length of the jacket and the width of the hymo. For 27" wide hymo, if making a single breasted jacket that's around a 40" chest or smaller, and you nest the pieces one upside down and one right side up, then it's pretty safe to buy 1.5 yards. If making a double breasted breasted jacket, then you'll probably need about 2 yards. If using wider canvas (57" to 63"), you may be able to get 2 jackets out of 1 to 1.5 yards, depending on the garment's size. For horsehair and domette, 1 yard of fabric is enough for a several jackets.
Most vests use 1 yard of hymo, but if it's 27" wide hymo, you may need 1.5 yards.
TAILORING - LINING
How many yards of lining do I need for a 2 or 3 piece suit?
For most linings (around 59" wide), and most sizes of suits, it's safe to buy 2 yards lining for the body of the jacket and 1 yard for the sleeves. For a vest, you generally need 1 yard of lining.
What is the "best" lining?
The best linings are the ones that "breathe" the most, allowing sweat to exit instead of staying trapped against your skin and garments. Here's the order of common lining fibers, from most breathable to least:
1. Cupro Bemberg (and Silk)
The other important and sometimes overlooked consideration for longevity in fabrics is dry cleaning! When perspiration or stains are left in garments, it breaks the fibers down, so whether garments are worn often or sit for months between wearings, be sure that sweat isn't left in fabric!
Do you have a recommendation for a destruction-resistant lining?
There's no such thing as destruction-resistant fabric, but there are a couple of factors that make it *much* better or worse. A dense weave can help, so when comparing fabrics, if you can't physically touch them to feel how dense the weave is, choose one with a high number of grams per square meter (gsm or g/sm). However, when lining a pair of pants or a skirt, we recommend a low gsm since keeping the lining thin and lightweight is more important there than durability.
Sweat is the biggest destroyer of fabric, so choosing a breathable fiber is very important. The most breathable and durable fiber common for linings is cupro (sometimes known as bemberg). Silk is also breathable, but silk linings often feel pretty flimsy - which is comfortable but definitely not durable.
What is Cupro made of? And what is Bemberg?
Cupro, otherwise known as cuprammoniom rayon, is a regenerated cellulose fiber derived from cotton. It's a man-made fiber that contains only natural materials. It's very durable and the best lining for sweat-wicking, so garments made with it will breathe better and last longer (with proper care!) than those any other lining fiber.
Cupro starts with cotton linter, which is a pre-consumer waste product, and then uses science and technology to surpasses teh comfort and look of cotton. The word 'Cupro' is the name of the fiber (after being refined, dissolved and regenerated), and the word 'Bemberg' is the brand that invented cupro, and one of them that still makes it today.
Cupro was first developed in Germany around the turn of the last century, for a German rayon manufacturer named J.P. Bemberg. In the 1930s, the technology was purchased by a Japanese firm, and began to be produced in Japan. Today, this company is the only one producing cupro yarn. The company makes fabrics under the Bemberg brand name, and also sells to other manufacturers to weave fabrics made from cupro and cupro blends.
Say more about the composition of Rayon, Viscose, Acetate, and Polyester?
Rayon is the generic family name for all fibers made from regenerated cellulose, including cuprammonium (cupro), viscose, and acetate. It was originally developed in the late 1800s as an alternative to silk, and was known as artificial silk.
Viscose is a semi-synthetic cellulose fiber that's structurally similar to cotton, but may be made from bamboo, soy, or other plants. It's pretty strong and fairly good at sweat-wicking.
Acetate is also a semi-synthetic cellulose fiber, but not as robust a fiber. It reacts poorly to water and heat (unless permanent pleats are resired -- it's great for that!) and ripping more easily than others. Linings made with acetate are usually blended with viscose or polyester for durability.
Polyester is a plastic-based synthetic fiber. As a plastic, it has the lowest breathability of all lining fabrics, and also the lowest cost.
TAILORING - BUTTONS
What are the most common size and quantity of buttons for suits?
32 or 30 Line buttons are best for single breasted jacket/coat fronts.
36 Line buttons are ideal for double breasted jacket/coat fronts.
24 Line buttons (or sometimes 22-23 Line) are best for jacket/coat sleeves, vests, and pants. We sometimes get asked about the number of buttons that should go on a sleeve: 3-4 buttons per sleeve is most common.
40 or 44 Line buttons are perfect for men's overcoat fronts. Women's overcoat button sizing is not so standardized, and sometimes very large buttons may be used.
For more sizing info, including metric and imperial dimensions of these Line sizes, click on any button listing on our website, and then click on the "Button Sizing Info" tab.
What are the "best" buttons for suits?
Buffalo horn buttons are often thought of as the 'best', though corozo is gaining ground since it is plant-based, not animal-based. Buffalo horn is mostly black or dark brown, but some other colors are possible too: lighter browns, and occasionally a hint of blue or gray. (And sometimes the blue or graycan be highlighted by the finish.) This material is never dyed, so if you need buttons in a color that horn does not come in, you'll need to look to other materials. Buffalo horn buttons also tend to have more natural variation in color and striation patterns (little white lines, or whorls) than other kinds of buttons.
Corozo buttons are made from the nut of the tagua plant, native to South America, and very strong. The natural color is an ivory color and they can be dyed to achieve a rainbow of colors. The nut has a beautiful natural marbling pattern which can appear subtle or strong.
Plastic buttons can sometimes look fairly similar to horn buttons, can be dyed to any color, and there are so many compounds that plastic buttons can be made from, that the range of possibilities is endless.
TAILORING - WAISTBANDING
I'm making a waistband for a tailored pair of pants. What do you recommend to use for it?
Our favorite material for making waistbands from scratch is Scala linen collar canvas, which we cut along the grain to whatever width we want. (We use Scala for lots of other things too, such as collars, cuffs, and military uniform plastrons. For some of these uses, we use a double layer of Scala adhered together with fusible bonding web.) Sometimes we also make waistbands from one-side fusible ban-roll, which comes in widths from 1" to 2", and is sold by the yard as well as by the roll. There's also ready-made waistband for tailored pants, and Troilo cotton waistbanding fabric, which is used similarly to Scala. For a waistband with rows of rubber that help keep shirts tucked in, you may want to try our wide stiff petersham with gripping rubber, and for a very strong women's skirt waistband, we recommend stiff petersham with stripes or without. (The stripes in the material are a traditional look for petersham, but have no function.)
CHALK AND PENCILS
What chalk/pencils do you recommend for which purposes?
We're picky about our marking tools. We've tried a lot of different ones over the many years we've been tailors and have developed distinct preferences, and then made sure to sell the ones we like best! So we don't have a ton of different chalks, but the ones that we have cover all our needs.
Our all-time favorite chalk for marking patterns onto the inside (wrong side) of the fabric is the Green Box tailor chalk. It's soft enough to work well on many fabrics, but not so soft that it gets used up quickly. The marks stay well for a very long time, so there's no risk of wondering where the correct mark is even if you don't sew it up very quickly. We mostly use the white chalk, since colored chalk can stain some fabrics.*
Our new favorite chalk is the SSS chalk in white. It's pretty brittle, so do your best not to drop it, but gosh darn it works beautifully. On all fabrics. We especially love SSS white chalk for marking on white and light-colored garments - the lines show up so well! (Many white chalks don't show up well on white fabric, but SSS does, and we adore it for that.) We also use this chalk in fittings, since it's possible to mark on the right side of the fabric and then brush the marks off completely later. And *because* it's possible to brush off the marks from this chalk completely, we still generally use the Green Box tailor chalk for making marks on the wrong side of the fabric.
We use disappearing (vaporizable) chalk a lot too, especially after a fitting when we're correcting the garments and are going to hand-sew basting threads and tailor tacks over the new lines right away. Our favorite chalk in this group, by far, is Rabbit. It marks crisp sewing lines on fabric that naturally fade away within 2 to 7 days (depending on the force applied while drawing), and will disappear immediately upon contact with a hot steam iron. But as with all vaporizable chalks, it's better not to touch the chalk directly. The powder sticks to fingers, and doesn't feel very nice. Some manufacturers of other brands of vaporizable chalk put a plastic sleeve around the chalk so that only two edges of the chalk are available for use, but we've found that these kinds of chalk become dull and unusable very quickly. Rabbit chalk stays sharper for longer, and we solve the problem of powdery fingers by wrapping a piece of scotch tape from the center of the chalk (over the rabbit logo), around the thicker edge and then finishing it over the center on the other side. That way, what you're touching is the tape, not the chalk itself. It's a clean and easy solution.
For marking button and closure placement, we like this pencil above all others.
*We never recommend using colorful chalks on light colored garments -- regardless of the type of chalk! Occasionally a yellow, red or blue chalk will come in handy, but in general, white chalk is the safest choice for all colors and types of fabric.
How to sew invisible separating zippers?
- Completely separate the zipper so that you have two unconnected parts.
- Sew the side without the slider and box, staying about 1mm width away from the teeth, especially near the bottom. (If you're too close to the teeth at the bottom, it will be very hard to open the zipper.)
- On the other side of the zipper, move the slider and box upward to around the middle of the zipper. Sew about half of the zipper, and then lift the sewing foot up and move the slider and box back down into the part of the zipper already sewn. Continue stitching all the way to the end.
- Put the pin into the slider and box and join the zipper and check your work. It is done!
You mention that it's easy to shorten zippers. How to do it?
There are two ways to shorten them: from the top or from the bottom.
For invisible zippers, the teeth are so discreet that you don't need any extra parts. To shorten invisible zippers from the top, it's possible to just sew over each side, enclosing the excess zipper into your garment. This is what will need to happen with open-end zippers, since there's important hardware at the bottom that can't be messed with. But if using a closed-end zipper, it's often easier to shorten them from the bottom. I prefer leaving them long until after I've finished stitching them in, since the extra length allows me to keep the puller out of the way while I stitch. Then I can go in and hand stitch around the new bottom of the zipper several times, and cut off the excess. (I'm primarily a tailor though, and we don't use invisible zippers regularly, so if you have another way to recommend, I'd be happy to hear it!)
For metal zippers, it's best to use a new, separate top or bottom stop, and to get the right zipper size before sewing it in. The easiest way is to shorten them from the botton, by just putting a new bottom stop over the teeth where you want the new end to be, cutting off the excess, and then stitching over it as usual. (It's best to take off the teeth below the new stop. It takes a little bit of time to pull the teeth out one by one, but it takes away the unnecessary bulk of the extra teeth.) For the top stops, you'll definitely have to remove the teeth down to the point where you crimp on the new top stop with a pair of pliers.
Where to buy top and bottom stops?
There are places where you can buy them now. And also we have them, but we just haven't listed them yet...!
How to use woven or knit fusible fabric?
To use fusible fabric, cut the fusible to your desired size (making sure that anywhere the fusible goes to the edge of your main fabric it's cut just a little bit smaller so as not to attach itself to your pressing table) and lay it glue side down on top of the wrong side of your main fabric. Lay a press cloth (such as a piece of muslin) on top of the two layers of fabric, and apply a very hot iron to the press cloth to melt the glue between the fabrics. Hold for about 10 seconds in each place before moving on to the next place. (This is an average. The time may be less if your iron is very hot, or more if it is not. Check how strongly the fabrics have adhered at the beginning of the process in order to get the proper ratio of time to heat for your iron.) You may want to hit the steam button for a second or so at the beginning of pressing each section, as this can quicken the process, but for the end of each section, dry heat is best since moisture can help to unfuse any fusible fabric. It’s best if you lift and set the iron straight down instead of pushing it along the fabric, in order to not pull or distort the fabric.
How to choose which fusible fabric to use?
Woven fusible is best for woven fabrics without stretch. Knit fusible is good for fabrics with a bit of stretch.
Fusible bonding web is two-sided fusible that works to adhere two non-fusible fabrics together.
Moisture (from sweat, heat, or cleaning processes) can cause the glue in fusible fabrics to unstick, so for a long-lasting bond, be sure to include sewing as part of the construction process.
How to use two-sided (not paper-backed) fusible?
To use non-paper backed two-sided fusible, place the fusible between the two fabrics you want to fuse. If using a press cloth, such as a piece of muslin fabric, lay that on top of your three layers of fabrics. (It’s generally recommended to use a press cloth anytime you’re working with fusibles.) Apply a very hot iron to the top fabric or press cloth to melt the glue between the fabrics. Hold for about 10 seconds in each place before moving on to the next place. (This is an average. The time may be less if your iron is very hot, or more if it is not. Check how strongly the fabrics have adhered at the beginning of the process in order to get the proper ratio of time to heat for your iron.) You may want to hit the steam button for a second or so at the beginning of pressing each section, as this can quicken the process, but for the end of each section, dry heat is best since moisture can help to unfuse any fusible fabric. It’s best if you lift and set the iron straight down instead of pushing it along the fabric, in order to not pull or distort the fabric.
How to use two-sided paper-backed fusible?
To use paper-backed fusible, place the fusible paper-side up on top of one of the fabrics you want to fuse. (Be sure that the side with glue is between the paper and the fabric, not the paper and the iron.) Place a hot iron on top of the paper and press for about 10 seconds. Remove the paper, and lay the second fabric on top of the now-sticky fusible and give it another good press. Also note that it's always wise to use a press cloth when working with fusibles.
Can you wash items that are made with fusibles?
It's not recommended. Since fusible fabrics are made with a glue that's activated by heat/steam, it's best to use only on articles that are dry-clean only, or where it's fine if they come unstuck. Fusibles are much, much better nowadays than a decade ago, but the properties of heat-activation remain the same. Sweat, heat, and steam, can all cause changes to the glue.
What kind of boning to use?
We sell a few different kinds of boning and each has unique properties.
- Spring steel boning (the white-painted one) is heavy but strong and can bend front to back, but not side to side. It's too heavy to be used for most gravity-defying looks, or with very lightweight fabrics, but it's perfect for straight seams on corsets and bodices, such as at the center front and center back. (We have 1/4" and 1/2", in pre-cut lengths and on a roll.)
- Spiral steel boning is heavy but strong and takes curves very well, in all directions. It's not good for gravity-defying looks, or with very lightweight fabrics, but it's perfect for curvy seams on corsets and bodices! (We have 1/4" in pre-cut lengths, and on a roll in stainless steel and carbon steel.)
- Rigilene is a lightweight polyester boning that can be sewn-through. It's made of thin plastic rods woven tightly with thread so that it becomes fabric-covered. (What is fabric after all but thread woven or knit in a repeating pattern!) Rigilene doesn't have a shape on it's own -- except rolled up like it comes -- so it needs to be controlled by the fabric around it. If your fabric is too lightweight, it won't force the Rigilene into the shape that you want, and instead the Rigilene will roll up and over-ride your fabric shape. Rigilene is popular as light stiffening in bodices and gowns, and we've used it in gravity-defying collars. (We have 1/4" and 1/2".)
- Copper Fabric-Covered Wire doesn't hold a shape, but can be bent into different shapes again and again. It can be used for gravity-defying looks, but just remember that it can crease, and can always be reshaped.