The joys of tacking thread

I have rediscovered the joys of tacking thread and sewing with it.  I used to tack all clothes together when dressmaking, but I have become lazy. No, maybe I should write that I started taking short cuts to speed up production. Using pins and the sewing machine I could make a whole article in a very short time, which is/was very tempting. Once I discovered that I could skip the tacking stage, I also started using the machine where before I would have sewn by hand. Faster production, but poorer quality, as it turned out. Maybe some people are talented enough to pull off these short cuts, but unfortunately I’m not one of them.

I have no real excuse. I know enough about dressmaking to know the techniques and why I should use them. I know how to make the inside of the garment look as neat as the right side. I know the difference between a fitted garment and a fudged one. Yet, one by one I’ve let all these techniques slip. I even remember the moment when I used my trusty machine to sew the hem of the skirt instead of carefully hand sewing it. Who would notice and who would care?

Why the change now? (And what is tacking?) I’d best start from the beginning. Four years ago, my eldest was in her first year at school and it was the start of the summer term. In the UK, children, on the whole, wear uniforms to school. The style is dictated by the school governors, but left for the parents to source. For our school, there is an option for the girls to wear gingham dresses in the summer, widely available from supermarkets or other national outlets.

Four years ago, I was 7 months pregnant and all my hormone controlled emotions told me that I could not send my daughter to school wearing a school summer dress potentially made by another child who was working rather than going to school herself. Whether I was right or wrong, I firmly blame this dressmaking decision on my hormones!

The only cotton gingham fabric that I could find was a slightly bigger check (3/8th of an inch) than most, but the regulations did not specify the size, so I went ahead. I made two dresses. They fitted, and daughter was happy, but each day I took her in, I noticed the little mistakes in the way that I had put the dresses together. Maybe a non-dressmaker would not notice. I had taken care with the matching the lines, but I wish I had lined up the colours of the squares better, so that the pattern flowed from one section of the garment into the next. I knew the machine stitch tension on one of the shoulders was loose. I wish I had added a lining into the top to hide the seam finishes. Little things, but they niggled.

One day, I passed a friend as we dropped off our children at school. She asked if I had made the dress my daughter was wearing. It was a fleeting question, and we were both swept away in the general flow of dropping children off at different classes, so I had no chance to enquire what made her ask. (Hormones raging and I brooded over the question.)

Roll on four years. This school term, I cut out new versions of the dresses, as both girls have now outgrown those first dresses. Practicality rather than pregnancy hormones meant I had to make the dresses. I couldn’t find 100% cotton dresses in gingham and I really don’t like the straight dress design that can be bought in the supermarket. Try sitting cross legged, on the floor, in one of those without needing to wear a pair of shorts underneath to defend your modesty. Hmm. Another two dresses to make. The last two dresses are not good enough to pass on to someone else, as I’d be too embarrassed by the finish. There will be no niggles with these new dresses as I’m going to make them right. I guess the final test will be if I’m willing to pass them on afterwards.

As for the question from my friend. It turns out that I read too much into it. It was the larger than usual squared gingham and slightly paler green that she had noticed on the original dresses. Not the errors, but the appearance of the gingham check. Obvious really!

For the record, I am lining up the colours in the checks and the lines this time. Does it matter? Oh yes! To me it does and seeing as I’m the one looking at the dresses every day, I think it does matter. Almost forgot the tacking part. Basically temporary stitches that help to line it all up, enables the first fitting of garment and makes it possible for me to make a dress that I am happy with. If only I had used it four years ago.

Updated: for more sewing technique snip-its have a look at my handsewing and cutting posts

10 thoughts on “The joys of tacking thread

  • Friday 13 May, 2011 at 1:12 am

    I am staggered by your sewing skills and perfectionism!!! Impressed beyond all dreams… and we got your postcard!!! Thank you so much!!!

    • Friday 13 May, 2011 at 8:37 am

      I’m sure it’s in all of us in one form or another. I’m glad you got the postcard. That took a really long time to get to you. 😯

  • Friday 13 May, 2011 at 6:22 am

    I just wouldn’t have the patience… I remember making things in this way at school and it almost drove me mad! My Mum is a very good dressmaker (presses seams, tacking, all that) and if it needed to be perfect I’d ask her! Otherwise I’d just go for it myself. However, with knitting and crochet I have endless patience.

    • Friday 13 May, 2011 at 8:33 am

      For me, it is the things that really niggle me that make me a perfectionist. Whatever draws my eye at every opportunity. In so many areas of my life, I am not a perfectionist. I can walk passed a dusty surface for weeks (read months 😀 ) or ignore a tear in a favourite skirt, but a wonky seam, in something that I’ve made, shouts out at me!

  • Friday 13 May, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    Oh that first dress looks perfectly sweet to me! I took up sewing for the first time last year, and I was the type who took any shortcut I could – which was fine at first, because I was so thrilled to actually be producing something someone could wear all by myself that I didn’t care about the mistakes. But months later I’d go back and look at those productions and blush with embarrassment. So embarrassed that I gave up sewing altogether. At least for now, until I can take the time to do it right, as you are. Someday!

    Can’t get over how big your chickens are! Ours are puny compared.

    • Saturday 14 May, 2011 at 9:45 pm

      You must have another go. I am my own worst critic. I can always see my mistakes, but I’m hoping that I can improve on them next time. I hope you have another go. I’m sure what you made was beautiful. Two of the chickens in the photo are our Cream Legbars cockrels. They are big boys, but goofy!

  • Saturday 14 May, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Wow! I would love to be able to make my own clothes… I am especially intrigued that you do so much by hand – my greatest limitation is the lack of (the space for) a sewing machine. Therefore anything I do will have to be limited to handsewing.

    I am just about to embark on my first creative project (rather than mending tears, sewing on buttons etc) – a tablecloth. The theory being that no one will notice if it goes wrong, and it’s not exactly complicated…

    • Saturday 14 May, 2011 at 9:32 pm

      Hand sewing is really rewarding. No reason why you shouldn’t make a garment completely by hand. I hope you enjoy making the table cloth. Maybe you’ll catch the sewing bug!

  • Saturday 14 May, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    This was a very inspiring post. I do believe that things just come to us too easily these days, unless we use the patience and wisdom God gives us to slow down and do things right. Good for you!

    I absolutely LOVE the picture of your beautiful girls with chickens. Feminine in their (mama made?) dresses, with the chooks and posies… beautiful!

    Blessings, Debbie

    • Saturday 14 May, 2011 at 9:26 pm

      You are too kind. Life moves so fast, that the time between wanting and having can be brief. Its so easy to clutter our lives. I’m trying to slow down some areas of my life, so I can enjoy and savour it more. Not easy, but its a question of balance.

      The girls love those chickens. 🙂

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