Let’s talk about bulk baby, and we aren’t talking about the kind of bulk purchased at Costco or the Mr.Bulky’s candy store- although shovels full of candy does sound nice!
This is a favorite topic/area of critique for Zede and she will frequently say, “Think about the bulk!” or “Are you adding bulk?” when talking about sewing projects. She isn’t talking about volume of fabric either. You don’t want to be cutting or trimming down all those ruffles and pleats you put in your garment on purpose.
Mal remembers learning this lesson on bulk all too well herself. She was making a jacket and wanted to have nicely finished seams on the inside for a polished look (as most of us do) so she serged both raw edges of the sleeve cap and armscye. This resulted in two bulky seam allowances at the top of her shoulder.
Zede recommends leaving these edges raw until the garment is sewn and then serging both seam allowances together, cutting down some of that seam allowance bulk and having one small flat and smooth finished seam for a very professional look. Unless you have already done what Mal did, then just reserge the two seams as one.
Trimming versus grading, that is the question!
Trimming is accomplished when the seam allowances are trimmed down close to the seam line and are cut the same length – like in the serger example previously mentioned.
Grading is done by cutting the seam allowances at gradually shorter lengths with the shortest length being the closest to facing side.
For example, say you are making a shirt with a faced neckline. Up at the neckline seam you will have a bodice layer a bodice seam allowance and also your facing and facing seam allowance – thats 4 layers of fabric together, once the garment is finished. Zede explains to have a nice flat, non-bulky seam here you need to grade those seam allowances.
Traditionally in garment sewing you will have a 5/8″ seam allowance. One seam allowance is trimmed to 1/4″ and the other a bit longer at 3/8″ causing the shorter one to lay nice and smooth on top of the longer one. So now you have two sets of nicely graded seam allowances that are either pressed apart or the facing will be under stitched to some of the seam allowances. Zede also notes that you will probably have some clipped and notched areas of the seam allowance too-also reducing bulk and making for a nicer curve!
Removing Bulk with a Serger
Aside from grading another alternative Zede likes to use is cutting down seam allowance bulk and encasing all those layers with her serger. She especially likes to use this technique when attaching a skirt to a bodice when making a dress. She will cut out her pattern, sew up the pattern pieces and attach the skirt to the bodice. After she checks the fit she will go back and serge all those waistline seam allowances together. This ensures you won’t have part of your seam allowances folding up and the other down, no extra flaps of fabric causing discomfort or weird bulges.
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Removing Bulk with a Serger (continued)
Zede also loves using her serger to finish off raw edges on pattern pieces. She will look at a pattern and take note of the seams that are instructed to be left raw. For example the side seams on a shirt. She prefers to finish these with a serger because the seam allowance will be trimmed down as opposed to leaving the large seam allowance behind. This also prevents fraying.
She always takes into consideration the stitch she will use to finish the raw edges, as well as how many threads and what kind of thread she’ll use.
Zede will time and time again use the 3 thread overlock narrow stitch on her serger. This stitch, since done on a serger cuts the seam allowance down and encases the raw edge of the fabric making a lovely finished edge.
She sets up the stitch with a longer length like a 3mm, 3.5mm, or heck 4mm- if the fabric allows- as opposed to a shorter length of 2 or 2.5mm. Less stitches equals less bulk too. She also will chose a very lightweight thread to make the stitch like a traditional serger thread or even embroidery thread.
3 Thread Overlock Narrow Stitch
So what is the 3 thread overlock narrow stitch? Mallory explains this as a 3 thread stitch on a serger that uses 1 needle (1 thread in this needle) placed in the right needle position-giving you the narrowest stitch width and then 2 looper threads.
So why else do Mal and Zede love and recommend the 3 thread overlock narrow stitch? Well, it can be very useful on activewear and other tight fitting outfits where the seam gets lots of stress and the fabric stretches a lot. This may seem counterintuitive since many people assume more threads (like in a 4 thread overlock) would equal more durability/stability for these seams but Zede says, “Wrong!”
In fact, she says a 4 thread stitch will make your seam too stable and will not allow this very stretchy fabric to stretch as it’s intended. You may also get popped stitches as a result.
Mallory points out this stitch (with it’s narrow width) is also very useful around tight curves, such as children’s clothing.
We encourage you to use the constructing/finishing method most comfortable for you but also think it’s good to break out of that comfort zone and try new things- like the 3 thread thread narrow stitch.
Other Ways to Reduce Bulk
Zede says be careful with interfacings. She personally does not like fusible interfacings because they are typically made of a cellulose non fabric material that has a tendency to come unfused and crumple over time.
But what do you use then? Zede recommends cotton organdy. But what if that isn’t stiff enough, she says use 2 layers. What about silk organdy? That works too!
Making a cotton button up shirt? Try using another layer of the same shirt fabric for interfacing.
Zede does admit to breaking away from pattern fabric recommendations from time to time. In which case sometimes she won’t use an interfacing if her new fabric allows. We know, she’s scandalous!
Mal is clearly cut from the same cloth as her mom (pun intended)! She divulges that she made a button up shirt intended to be constructed from cotton with a knit fabric and used denim for the collar and button placket. Guess what? She did not need to interface the collar or placket, since it was made from stiff denim.
We also suggest not interfacing sheer items with heavy fusible interfacing either, or you can kiss that sheer look goodbye. Instead use cotton organdy or another sheer fabric.
Thanks to social media and the internet Mallory has noticed a trend among many bag makers- bulky bags. A popular trend right now is to make bags by using quilting cotton that has been pieced together and sometimes quilted and combine that with lots of heavy batting maybe some interfacing and even more cotton to make a super bulky bag.
We say that’s not necessary. That type of construction can be hard to sew and result in distorted stitches and seam lines because there is simply too much bulk.
Zede and Mallory both love using home dec or a heavier weight fabric and no interfacing. If you use batting or a foam batting alternative you do not have to include that in your seam allowance – trim it shorter. This reduces bulk and makes it easier to sew. Mal and Zede use this technique to make purse straps, watch them in action below.
Another place you can reduce bulk is when making buttonholes. We suggest using a lightweight thread like embroidery thread and some tear way stabilizer (not interfacing!) to make a flat, smooth beautiful buttonhole. Have more questions about making perfect buttonholes, listen to the buttonhole podcast here!
Zede reminisces about how long ago it was common practice to make very large hems (like 2”) using hem tape at the bottom of your cotton dresses. She thought she reinvented the wheel by using lace to make a nicer, less bulky hem. She didn’t- but we give her props anyway!
Zede is however concerned with the “bridesmaid hem” that is plaguing the internet. She encourages everyone to join this millennium and stop putting in large hems at the bottom of satin bridesmaid dresses. Reduce the bulk! Instead serge or tiny hem the bottom and turn this under and give it a nice topstitch.
Did this podcast teach you some new tips or tricks on how to reduce bulk? Or do you have a tip or trick for us? Share in the comments, we love hearing from you.