Sunday, February 28, 2016

Tutorial: Buttonholes

Another old-but-new tutorial! This one focuses on creating buttonholes by hand, as not everyone has a sewing machine with a buttonhole attachment. Besides, hand sewn buttonholes have a unique charm that machined ones lack. How many times can I say 'buttonholes' in a paragraph? Buttonholes.


Buttonholes are an essential part of any garment, especially on men’s clothing. They can be found at the center front of a doublet, the sleeves’ wrists, and various forms of pants. During the Renaissance period, buttonholes sat perpendicular to whatever they were closing up. This means that your doublet’s buttonholes would sit horizontally, as well as those on a wrist closure. They are rather simple to do, once you get the hang of the stitch. Like most of what I do, these are the quick and dirty version. We could do them the prettier way, but this method is easy and only requires learning one new stitch. And my way has more character. Yeah, character.

What you’ll need:

Your garment
Thread (preferably buttonhole twist, though embroidery floss can do in a pinch)

Step 1: Decide just how large it needs to be. Generally, when you’re sewing a buttonhole, your stitches are going to close up the space a bit. Plus, you want a little bit of room to be able to button a garment with ease. The button I’m using is about ¾”, so I’m going to mark the hole at 1”.

Step 2: Carefully make your incision, ensuring that you have evenly cut through all layers of your garment.

Step 3: Starting from the backside of the garment, let your thread form a loop over the buttonhole. Pass the needle over the top of the loop, into the buttonhole, through the garment, and back over the thread. Pull your thread taut, and you have completed your first buttonhole stitch! Buttonholes look best when they’re sewn about 1/8” to 1/4” from the edge of the cut.

Step 4: Continue stitching your way around the hole in the same manner. Once you come back to where you started, tie off your thread.

Hey, look! A completed buttonhole! If you’ve followed my crap directions well, your buttonhole should have little knots around the edge, protecting the fabric from fraying with use. Do not be too concerned about having a messy buttonhole – there are plenty of extant garments with sloppy finish work. An imperfect buttonhole or eyelet is historically accurate!

Tutorial: Doppia, or Stiffened Hems

Let's talk about stiffened hems! For Renaissance Faire costuming, it's widely accepted that farthingales and/or bumrolls are the way to go when you want to keep your skirts from looking limp and lifeless. But what if there's a third option? Because there totally is. 

I'm not going to pretend I came up with this concept, because I definitely didn't. Fourish years ago, I was scavenging the furthest reaches of the internet because I was about to make my very own Italian working class costume. And I didn't have to go very far before I stumbled on Anea's article on stiffened hems. If you haven't seen her site, I highly recommend you take the time to look at it. Her articles are well-researched and packed with great information. I'm also not going to give you any references or examples of stiffened hems in artwork or extant clothing because, frankly, it would be a rehash of Anea's writings and why am I going to bother giving you evidentiary support when you can literally just click the link and have it all right there.

This is my quick and dirty method for creating the doppia with a machine, with no visible stitch lines. There are multiple methods for stiffening a hem; this tutorial is but one way to do so. Adding these extra layers really makes an enormous difference to your skirts! Your hems will have wonderful life and body, while still maintaining graceful folds that were particularly popular in 16th century Italian clothing. If you want to get extra fancy with your hems, you can add single-fold bias tape between the outer layer and the lining, and then go back once you are done and make little snips perpendicular to the hem. These little picadils really finish off a costume.

(Sorry for the bad pictures. Bad lighting, bad camera. But hopefully you get the idea.)

What You'll Need

Your skirt fabric
Your skirt lining
A 3” strip of felt equal in length to the circumference of your skirt
A 2” strip of felt equal in length to the circumference of your skirt

Step One: Stack your two different strips of felt on top of each other. Stitch them together down the length of the strips. You can run just one line of stitching, or you can do multiple lines – the choice is up to you. More lines of thread will make the felt slightly stiffer. Many lines will make your felt super stiff.

Step Two: Right sides together, sew your skirt fabric to your lining, using at least a ½” seam.

Step Three: With the wrong sides of your garment facing up, stack your felt strip on top of your lining fabric and butted up against the seam, making sure that your skirt’s seam allowance is laying underneath the felt. Stitch the felt to the lining, making sure to catch the seam allowance. I prefer to sew about ¼” away from the edge of the felt. Do the same thing to the other side of the felt strip.

 Step Four: You’re done with your hem! This is what the skirt will look like with the skirt fabric and lining laying open. The lining should have two lines of stitching running parallel to the hem. Now it is time to press your hem!

This is what your skirt hem will look like as you’re wearing it. (Pretend I actually bothered to press it) See how nice that is, with no stitches showing?

And this is what your hem should look like from the inside. Two tidy stitch lines that no one will ever see – especially if you use thread close in color to your lining fabric.

Et voila! Beautiful hems that stand away from your body with no visible machine stitching!

Tutorial: Blind Hem

Another in the old-but-newly-released-to-the-public tutorials: Blind hemming by hand. Again, poor image quality. Sorry about that. This particular set of instructions was to encourage new costumers to hand-hem their garments, rather than running them through the sewing machine and leaving that telltale line of stitching that is easily identifiable in close range. Sometimes you don't have a choice, but it's always nice to hide your machine stitching whenever possible. It's that whole "suspension of disbelief" thing.


If you are finishing an unlined garment, you may find that hemming by hand is the best option. This is one of multiple techniques for hand-finishing a hem. It is good for any edge of an unlined garment – especially in places where you don’t want machine stitching to show.

What You’ll Need:

Your garment

Step 1: With the wrong side facing you, turn the edge of the garment up at least ½”, and then fold it up again. Pieces like skirts and cloaks will generally look better with a deeper hem – say, about 3”. Pin your new folded edge in place. In a cross section, your garment will look like this.

Step 2: Hide the knot on your thread inside the hem, if you can. Push your needle up through the fold.

Step 3: Use your needle to pick up 2 or 3 threads from your skirt. Avoid picking up too many, or you will end up with an obvious stitch line in your clothes.

Step 4: Push your needle back down into the folded portion of the hem and back out again. Your stitch length should ideally be between ¼” and ½” apart. Do not attempt to make big running stitches - I did that on my first Faire skirt, back in high school, with mildly disastrous results. Long story short: You will end up with big gaps and tear out your hem the first day. And possibly attempt to fix the problem with duct tape, because you have to get back to making crepes and roast beef sandwiches, and regret your hasty decision the rest of the weekend. Or be forced to use a stapler the booth manager hands you, because it's all there is and those strawberries aren't going to cut themselves. Moving on...


Step 5: Keep stitching away until your hem is complete. When you’re done, the right side of your garment should look something like this (my example is bubbly because I didn’t bother to press it, but do press your hem). 

Tutorial: Hand Bound Eyelets

Hey, another released tutorial! If you've mastered spiral lacing and are looking for a really special detail that takes your garment from Costume to Clothing, this is it! Why use grommets when you can have beautiful eyelets that compliment your garment, instead of detracting from it? 

These are somewhat old tutorials with equally old photos taken from a cellphone camera. In other words, please pardon their quality (or lack thereof).


Eyelets are an integral part of any costume. They close up a bodice and cinch a corset, and allow men to tie their hose and sleeves into their doublets. Eyelets are also more forgiving than buttonholes, allowing the wearer to adjust for weight fluctuations. Best of all, they’re easy to do! Once you’re into the swing of things, an eyelet can take only a few minutes to make, and is easy enough that you can sew them while watching reruns.

What You’ll Need:

Your garment
Thread (regular thread will do, embroidery floss or button twist is better)

Step 1: After figuring out proper eyelet placement, carefully jam your awl into your garment. Shove it in there, wiggle it around a bit, whatever you need to get it in. The reason an awl is so essential is that while a pair of scissors cuts threads, the awl will simply spread them apart, which helps maintain the garment’s strength.

Step 2: Pass your threaded needle up through the backside of the garment and make a running stitch around the hole you made with your awl, about 1/8” away. You can take the awl out or leave it in, for this.

Step 3: If you haven’t already done so, remove the awl, now. Pass your needle up through the hole and down through the fabric, covering up the running stitch you made. The eyelet hole will want to close up, so feel free to ram the awl back through as much as you need. Keep stitching through the hole and back down into the fabric.

Step Four: Once you have completed sewing your eyelet, flip your garment over so that the underside is facing you and tie a knot.
Pro Tip: For extra strength and durability, you can even add a metal ring over the eyelet hole and sew over and it and the fabric! Split rings (for jewelry) and solid rings are best. Jump rings will eventually spread under pressure.

You should be left with something like this. Do not worry about how neat/symmetrical/perfect your eyelet is – there are plenty of extant garments with sloppy eyelets. Imperfection is historically accurate! Once you get used to it, you’ll be an eyelet-making machine!

Spiral Lacing - It's easier than it looks!

This is yet another old tutorial that I'm making available to the public, because sharing is caring, right? These were created specifically with the Renaissance Faire in mind, so they're meant to mimic the look of proper historical garments, with some easy cheats thrown in. Because, in this case, cheating is fun! And also because I freaking hate losing my laces every time garments come back from the cleaners. Happy lacing!


In this tutorial, we will cover a historically accurate method of lacing a garment shut: spiral lacing! New lacing techniques always seem a bit daunting, but the spiral lace is very easy, once you get the concept down. The standard "shoelace" method is fine, but spiral lacing is perfectly period and reduces the gap in the closure that shoe lacing creates. You also need half the length you would normally need to lace your clothing, assuming your usual method is the "shoe lace" technique. Add this to a garment with hand-bound eyelets, and you’re well on your way to wearing historically accurate clothing!

Eyelet Placement

Eyelet placement for spiral lacing is similar to normal placement, in that you want your eyelets spaced about 1” apart (keep in mind that spacing is really a personal preference sort of thing). However, on one side of your garment, you’ll want to place your second eyelet ½” from your first, then space the rest of the eyelets 1” away from each other. On the other side of your garment closure, you will want to have your last eyelet to be ½” away from the second to last. Check out the diagram to the left, for reference.

Your other option is to place your eyelets in the standard parallel pattern. The only thing to keep in mind is that if you go this route, your garment will sit slightly unevenly once you’re laced in. Of course, this look is absolutely period, too, so historically speaking, you’re good either way.

Lacing Your Garment

On to lacing your garment shut! Let’s start at the beginning. You have two options for beginning your spiral lacing adventure: If your lacing cord is thick enough, you can simply tie a knot and lace it through the first hole. Your other option is to sew your cord to the underside of your garment. This has the advantage of keeping your lace permanently attached to your clothing, and greatly reducing the risk of losing it, which you eventually will.

Assuming you set up your eyelets just like in the diagram, pull the cord first through Eyelet #1 and down into #2, then just keep following the numbers on the diagram. While lacing, remember that on the right side of the garment, the cord is always threaded out away from the body, and that on the left, the cord always goes in towards the body.  Out one side, in the other. Out, in, out, in. This will help keep you from getting confused, which can easily happen when you’re getting ready in the morning.

Once you reach the bottom, you can tie off your cord a couple of different ways: You can simply tie it in a knot that is big enough to keep the cord from slipping through the eyelet, or you can sew a short section of cord to the inside of your garment, giving you a nice firm anchor point to tie a bow. 

And that’s spiral lacing! 

Tutorial: Bias Binding

This is another old tutorial, to accompany the one on creating bias tape. Please pardon the craptastic photos - all of these tutorial images were taken on an old phone camera. Most of these tutorials were created to aid beginning costumers who didn't necessarily have every tool out there on the market. They were also intended to encourage hand sewing skills, as little details like hand stitching really are what make a costume look like clothing. I hope you find this, and the successive tutorials, useful!


Bias binding is commonly used to finish edges and add a bit of structure. It is extremely useful when you need to finish an edge that can’t have the seam allowance facing toward the inside of a garment. You can get really fancy and make your own bias binding, or you can go the easy route and get double fold cotton bias binding at Joann’s for about $2.50 a pack. There are multiple ways to do this (at FIDM, they taught us at least three different methods), so if you find another technique you like, feel free to use it.

What you’ll need:
Your garment
Double fold bias binding
Matching thread
Optional: A thimble (or a dime taped to your finger)

Step 1: Open up your binding and pin it to the backside of your garment, lining up the raw edge of the bias binding to the raw edge of your fabric.

Step 2: Sew along the crease in the binding. It’s faster if you do this step by machine, but hand sewing isn't bad, either – plus, you have more control if you’re sewing around sharp curves.

Step 3: Flip your garment over and fold the bias binding down, so that the raw edge of your garment lines up with the center crease of the binding.

Step Four: Stitch down your bias binding to the face of the fabric, using small stitches (about 1/8” to 1/4” apart).

Step Five: Tie off your thread, and you’re done! That wasn’t so hard, now, was it?

Tutorial: Bias Tape!

This is an older tutorial for making bias tape without a tape maker. If you have a bias tape maker, this gets so insanely easy to do! However, not everyone has every single tool there is out there, and bias binding is easy enough to do if you have a little patience. This tutorial, like a number of tutorials I plan to post, were made roughly three years ago, when I was the costumer for the Italian guild, San Lorenzo, at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in California. The idea, when I originally made these little instructionals, was to help people with all the little details that really bring a costume together. Most, if not all, of these how-tos are common knowledge, but it's nice to have them all together in a single place!


So, you want to make your own bias tape? Awesome! It’s easy! Bias tape is used to bind edges on items you can’t hem, or otherwise close up, like on bodies/corsets. It can also be used on the neckline of a lady’s camicia, to hold gathers or help add a little structure. When folded in half and not quarters, it can become piping, snipped picadils, trim... the possibilities really are almost limitless! And it’s easy to make! It is a bit more time-consuming than going out and buying the stuff, but you get the advantage of having bias tape that perfectly matches your garment.

What You’ll Need
Scissors/rotary cutter
Chalk/colored pencil/pencil/pen
Ironing board

Step 1: Cut your fabric. If you’re edging a corset or binding a gathered neckline, I’d recommend you make your binding 2” wide. This is where the chalk/whatever and ruler will come in handy.

Step 2: Fold and press your fabric strip in half.

Step 3: Open your strip back up, and fold the outer edges in to meet the center crease you just made. And, of course, press.

Step 4: Fold your tape in half, along the crease you made in Step 2, and press again.
 And you’re done! So easy, and so attractive!