Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Perfect Point-Turning Tool

My methods for turning out a clean, sharp, non-distorted collar or corner point have evolved very slowly over the decades.

This was not because I've ever been completely happy with the results my primitive, but apparently complete, little point-turning tool and skill set were providing; not at all!

I simply always thought I already had the best available info and tools available for helping out with this basic task and simply lacked the practice essential for ever getting good at it.

And getting the kind of practice needed—over-and-over-all-day-every-day, sewing-factory-type practice, that is—was simply not in my cards.

I'd had a couple of break-throughs, thanks to kindly professionals like Adriana Lucas, whose custom-shirt-workshop methods I described in my book on shirts (pages 105-106). From her I learned that keeping the seam allowances at the corner flat and carefully folded exactly along the stitching lines during every turning step was a far better plan than trimming them tiny and then poking at them with one of those pointy tools the notions rack wanted me to use. She even convinced me that tweaking out the last little bit of the point was better done from the outside with a needle or an awl, than from the inside with a pointy pusher. And I even had the temerity to think I'd refined on her methods and should write about my discoveries in Threads, not once but twice, in June 1994 and February 1996. I still stand by all I said in those pages. But I'd still felt like a struggling, if well-informed, beginner every time I had a point to turn.

I shall no doubt always be a beginning point-turner compared to the Adriana Lucases of the world. But now, at last, I do have a tool that almost completely makes up for my lack of mastery. It's become my favorite notions discovery of the last decade, and I don't hesitate to insist that every sewer on earth should get themselves one, at least, and not just for point turning. For this tool is truly a classic and perfect thing, little likely to ever be substantially improved upon, cheap enough for all to try, and guaranteed to expand the reach and precision of your fingers in ways that will become indispensable—so long as you remember to keep one close by.

I refer, friends, to the humble Hemostat.

The trick the hemostat offers, besides its strong and tiny tips and its scissors-like familiarity, is that it clamps shut, so you can let it go without it letting go. Perfect for holding on to your carefully folded and flattened corner seam allowances. And perfect for grabbing them precisely at the pivot point of your corner stitching.

Clamp them up, let go, and you can easily turn your collar over them without fear that they'll let go or slip.

And after turning, they're perfectly in place to push out the last bit of the point, either while still clamped or after releasing them.

The stills here are from one of the video clips on the DVD that comes with my book on making pants, which also has a demo of hemostats solving another nagging if less crucial sewing challenge: tying a knot with thread ends you've clipped too short. These two functions alone would secure the hemostat an honored and eternal place in my notions drawer. But it also excels in pushing or pulling stuck needles through tough layers and in any other situation in which tiny, fiercely strong, clamping fingers would be a boon. They are the vice-grips of the sewing room.

You can read about alternate approaches to using hemostats to turn collar points at Pam Erny's excellent blog, and the page on them in my pants book thanks to google books. And buy them from Pam, as well as lots of other places. 5- or 6-inch ones with straight, smooth or serrated tips are perfect for turning and general use.

Don't hesitate!


Peter said...

David, this is perfect timing given all my shirtmaking of late. Thanks for the tip -- I'm off to buy my hemostat now!

Pam ~Off The Cuff~ said...

Hi David...thanks for the mention. I first learned to use a clamp tool during my tailoring apprenticeship 28 years ago ;) My mentor would not allow me to go poking into corners. He would say, "Pamela my dear, you will learn to TURN corners, not poke at them!"

Fashion Sewing Supply

lorrwill said...

Hey David,

What are you using for shirt interfacing these days? Pam sells some that look like the ones you mention in you book.

(Also, what are you up to these days? No posts since January? You must be busy working on something.)

David Page Coffin said...

Hi, Lorrwill

What I'm up to these days is painting (plus work of course). No sewing at all I'm afraid, hence the no posts here. There's links in my profile to my painting blogs.

For shirt interfacing I always use all cotton sew-ins, mostly in the form of utility fabrics like bleached muslin; I double that up for dress-shirt collars. I hate the look of a fused collar, and I'm not a fan of fusibles in garments that will be machine washed and dried. No doubt many folks could prove that a misplaced caution these days but none of the most expensive classic shirts I've ever seen, and none of my own shirts have any fusible in them and neither seem to me to need improvement.

But by all means experiment and try other materials and approaches; this sewing stuff is nothing if not personal; customize to suit your self!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have been following through your Shirtmaking book (great book-thanks!), and am now on my 2nd shirt. On both shirts I have run into the same problem: when attaching the fronts to the yokes, I sew the front to the inside yoke, grade and press the seam edges, then when I go to topstitch the back yoke to the front, I have difficulty lining up the top yoke edge with the inside yoke edge--so the edge stitching on top looks good, but I don't always "catch" the inside yoke (sometimes the stitching runs off the inside yoke and just covers the front).

Is there some recommendation for getting perfect alignment between the outer yoke/front and the inner yoke/front stitching?


David Page Coffin said...

Hi, Mark
I've always opted for looks great on the outside over perfectly aligns on the inside, so when i do this step, I simply make sure the edge I press on the outer yoke front is certain to clear the seam underneath from the inner yoke joining the front, and more important to me, I make sure the top edge-stitching is perfect, which means that, when looking inside, the topstitching doesn't hit the inner yoke at all, but does come very close. And if I get that edge a little off from perfectly parallel to the inside seam, doesn't bother me. There's no functional reason to have the edge-stitching hit the inner yoke, but it would look bad if you could see the inner yoke edge through translucent fabric, so that's my logic. If you want more precision, you can take more time placing the crease to match the existing seam before you edge stitch. And if you want more strength (I've never had a shirt fail here, so I don't see the need), there's a tip I saw once about rolling up the whole front and arranging it inside the inside-out yoke layers so you can join all three with one seam, even after having done the back. (You pull the front out the still-open yoke end; fiddly bit of topology, but it apparently works!) But again, my priority is neat edge stitching and no visible inner yoke. HTH!

Anonymous said...

Hi, thank you, yes this is helpful.
A follow-on question if I may: On this same yoke/front seam, the inner yoke and front seam edges are graded, but the outer yoke is still a full 5/8" when you do the topstitch step, and with thin, striped fabric, those stripes show through, and are at a strange angle. Do you leave the top yoke seam at 5/8"? Do you have a recommendation to minimize this effect?

Thanks again,

David Page Coffin said...

My choices with striped materials that are showing through is to split the yoke and cut it with the stripe parallel to the front-edge fold, as shown on page 22 in the shirt book. This puts the angled show-through in the back only. If that disturbs, try slipping a small strip of white fabric inside to cover the offending allowance; could do that in front, too, of course. You can also trim the front upper seam allowance after pressing the fold that establishes it if there's a stripe on it that's showing. And you can cut the inner yoke from white or some other solid color as I did on the shirt on page 127 to eliminate inner yoke stripes. The inner yoke doesn't have to be split, btw.

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Anonymous said...

I have thoroughly enjoyed your shirt making book and dvd. I have a question on your method of assembly for trousers please. Side seams, inseams, crotch, what order do you sew trousers for best results?
Miss your posts and am now going to check out your painting blog!
Thanks Lexley (Brisbane AU)

David Page Coffin said...

Hi, Lexley

Trouser sequence depends on details chosen and personal preferences to an extent, so it can somewhat vary, based on how the front closure, side seams and waist treatments will interact.

Generally I do pockets first while the legs are easy to handle separately, then side seams, then zipper and waistbands if any (always separated at center-back so the crotch doesn't need to be done first) or waist finishing, then inseams and crotch.

If I'm using a button fly (usual for me), I usually prepare each fly side right after the pockets.

I generally like each project to be quite different from the last one in details, so I very much make it up as I go along, including careful thought about what will be the best sequence, based on the current selections, rather than trying to get it down to a system. If you're a systems type, the best way to develop one for a particular garment is to make a batch, say 5, at the same time. You'll quickly discover what makes the most sense and what's the most efficient and most awkward way to do each step, as well as the best sequence for a particular design.