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Jan 12, 2011

Needles and Thread and a Sew-Along Flickr Group!

Readers, I can't explain it but there's something about a snow forecast that sends me fabric shopping.  Yesterday we were expecting about a foot though I think we got considerably less, about 6-8" inches.  But I just had to go to the fabric store.

This was one of my stops, H&M Fabrics on West 35th St.  -- the diviest of the fabric dives -- which has been going out of business at least since I started sewing in June 2009. 

Are they closing their doors?  It's anybody's guess.  I also checked out their sister store on 39th St. (which shares a street address with both AK Fabrics and Beckensteins -- 257 West 39th).

I bought a solid gray cotton and a rather summery blue/gray/white plaid.  All $2/yd.

I'll use some combination to make this, when it arrives.

Meanwhile, I received my 1939 DuBarry shirt pattern yesterday and have begun prepping it.

This is one of those patterns with no printed markings, just perforations and various "V" cuts.  I've used these before and to the uninitiated they can be a little bewildering.  But they're precut, which saves time.

And like many of these old patterns, the instructions are dense: they assume you know what you're doing.

And now on to the Men's Shirt Sew-Along...

I have created a Flickr group called, predictably, MBP Men's Shirt Sew-Along.  This is a public group (anyone can view the photos) but participation is by invitation.  If you wish to join please send me an email (peterlappinnyc at gmail dot com) with your name and the email address where you wish to receive the invite (which will come via Flickr).  If you already have a Flickr account, you can contact me directly through Flickr.  Every member of the group can upload photos of their projects as well as participate in discussions. 

We won't be starting for a few weeks but if you wish to upload a photo of yourself (or your pet or favorite teen celebrity) that would be great!

And now a brief discussion of needles and thread.

I often read comments from people who say things like, My machine will only use Gutermann thread and I'm thinking, what kind of crazy machine is that?

Early on I realized that the cost of thread really adds up so I started buying my thread on big spools -- we're talking mainly serger quality thread -- and using that.  I have never had a problem with it, either in the way it looks, sews, or wears. 

Sometimes I buy thicker topstitching thread, but I'm more likely to do that for jeans or a jacket than a shirt.  Sometimes topstitching thread requires a bobbin case adjustment; I keep a separate one that's already adjusted for just this purpose.

Only when I was making a shirt for Michael out of Liberty of London fabric did I find that I needed something finer -- it was a lawn-like cotton -- so I bought a spool of Gutermann cotton thread, which was the finest I could find easily.

Gutermann cotton is on the right, Coats & Clark on the left.  See the difference?

Obviously you have to use what works for you.  If you're using a high-end fabric you may want to spring for the best.  I will buy something special if the fabric seems to warrant it or I want a special color.  (David Coffin purchases cotton embroidery thread.)  I will not buy off-brand or thrift store thread -- that's where I draw the line.

When I wind my bobbins I wind a few extra and use them for my top thread too.  You've probably seen photos of my machines that look like this:

One nice thing about feeding thread from a bobbin is that I have a sense by how much thread is left in the top bobbin approximately how much thread is left in the bottom bobbin.  Some of you using drop-in bobbins probably can see this more easily.

The only needles I have ever purchased are Organ brand -- I get mine at Steinlauf & Stoller -- and they are great.  These are 15x1 Flat Shank Home Sewing Needles.  I pretty much use only #9, #11, and #14.  Occasionally for very thick fabric I'll go for a #18.  For shirts I use #9 or #11.  I change my needle when I can't remember the last time I changed it or when I'm starting an important new project.

You can generally tell if the thread is too thick for a #9 or if a #18 needle is punching too big a hole in your fabric.

My final word of advice, guys: Please don't be afraid to experiment.  There are so many people out there saying Don't do this, or Well, I never do that.  Figure out what works for you.  Find out why something doesn't work.  That way you'll learn something you can share with others based on solid experience.

Everything I'm sharing with you is what works for me on the machines I use and on the projects I've undertaken.  If your experience is different and you wish to share it here, I encourage you to do so.  There's so much to know!

Later this week I'll be sharing the titles of some recommended books and videos, too.  It's always fun to hear from the professionals.  I'll also touch on the subject of interfacing.

Does anybody else have similar thread habits to mine?  Any nightmare thread or needle stories you wish to share?

Jump in!

Please don't forget to join the Flickr group -- email me!

Stay warm, everybody -- or cool, as the weather dictates.


  1. I'm a Coats & Clarks girl. I should know better since the alterations run only uses Gutermann. To me, if it sews my seams together it works. I've opted for Gutermann when Joann has their notions sale, which is when I stock up on threads, zippers, and buttons because they really add up in the long run, but that's only when I can't find a color in the Coats & Clark threads. I'm with you on the thrift store threads, I thought I got lucky once and purchased a box of unused spools, they looked perfect with none of that old grandma smell, but as soon as I sewed with them the threads would break every fourth stitch or so. Same goes with the rest of the threads in the box. Since then I've kept away from old thread no matter how pretty they look on that wooden spool.

  2. Oh dear, the old grandma's out there are not happy. But I hear you. LOL

  3. That H&M is one crazy store, isn't it? Sometimes I find some really great cottons in there. Other times, ick!

  4. And why is the floor covered with newspaper?

  5. P.S. This is the link for 'Flickr Mail's Inbox' to read messages.

  6. I covet the black/white/turquoise shirting. That's going to make a gorgeous shirt.

    Sarah, I agree about the old thread...I was helping to sort through my MIL's sewing stash for an estate sale and my in-laws were horrified that I suggested throwing out the dozens of spools of 60 year old thread. But you're right, it does break. Especially after storage in a moldy basement for decades.

    So looking forward to this sew-along!

  7. Oh Peter! I would love to join this Mens Shirt Sewalong but I don't have a man to sew for and don't see myself wearing the Negroni shirt. I have been wanting to try McCalls 6124 which seems to be mens wear inspired(I esp like the short sleeved version and the longer dress). I think Cathy would love it! Please tell me it's okay to join with this pattern!

    About old thread, been there, done that. My late Father-in-law could find a bargain anywhere, and has provided me with some dreamy sewing presents! My favorite was the $14 Juki serger, but I have also received boxes and boxes of old threads. The only thing to do with them is to discretely dispose of them.

  8. I used to use serger thread all the time, but I've noticed that the topstitching on the jeans I made last summer (which had topstitching thread on top and regular, in this case serger, thread on bottom) has given in a number of places. Pout. So I guess no more cheap thread for me...

    My (modern) machine is very finicky about topstitching thread. It can be done, and done well, but it takes some massive tension adjustments and workarounds. I'll post about them if anyone is planning on using "real" topstitching thread---though I think it's probably a bit heavy duty for most shirts.

    PS I sent a request to join the group through Flickr, hopefully that works! :)

  9. I wonder if the nasty/breaky old threads encountered in thrift stores is often pure cotton?

    I'm just thinking that as a natural plant-based fibre it would be susceptible to molds/damp and similar to the pages in antique books (which are made from wood pulp i.e., another plant fibre) would break-down over time and decompose/rot away?

    I'm also assuming that modern cotton threads are treated chemically to prevent this, and that polyester an artifical fibre(now common place in sewing everywhere) is thus unaffected/less affected?

    I wonder how silk (an animal protein-based fibre) of a similar antique age to a cotton thread would compare side-by-side in terms of useability?

  10. Heh...I think H&M Fabrics has been threatening to go out of business ever since I moved to NYC in 1986...

    I've signed up for the Flickr group; looking forward to getting started!

  11. I love that you found turquoise/black/white buffalo check in a fabric other than cotton flannel! I like buying cone thread for any colors I use a lot-black and white, and then using a thread stand, because I always feel the cones feed the thread more reliably than a spool will. In any case, they are economical, and I've never noticed any quality difference even in the cheaper cones from the textile outlet I frequent. I absolutely love the idea of winding 2 bobbins and using one for the top thread because that would also offer the smooth feed I believe I get with the thread stand...

  12. That DuBarry is exactly the sort of pattern I'm after! Where did you find it? I've trawled ebay endlessly looking for a dress/ work shirt pattern like that and can only ever find the convertible ones!

    Maybe the 'going out of business' thing is that they buy up the fabrics from others who have gone out of business?

  13. Most people buy milk and bread when it is going to snow.

  14. @Pikojiko, you can sew whatever you choose!

    @Nathalie, this is a convertible collar shirt; I found it on Etsy.

    @Couturearts, I'm strange that way!

  15. Don't throw out the wood spools, the thread is gone; but lots of people use the spools for crafting and such.

    I agree that it's probably that the cotton has gone bad over time. I too am curious if the old silk or linen threads might still be good. You can find people trying to sell vintage thread on ebay too, it always makes me wonder why some people think anythink vintage is better or more valuable somehow. I'm leary of vintage cloth too. Vintage beads and buttons, however, I tend to go a little crazy for...

  16. How timely. The forecast of snow also sent me to my friendly, neighborhood notions store to stock up on thread for projects. Gutterman this time but I also like Coats & Clark. I have also bought the super-cheap (I'm talking 50 cents cheap) as well as the serger cones but found myself constantly untangling and rethreading my machine.

    On a separate note, I worked next door to that fabric store in 2006-2007. It was going out of business then, too.

  17. @Treadle27 - kind of with you on the vintage fabric thing. I've been lucky and scored some great bargains, but also bought fabric that had heaps of tiny little holes appear after I washed it.

    I have a recent horror story - but I think it had more to do with the disco sequin fabric I was using (Dance costume peope! Nothing I would normally wear!) I ended up using a Schmetz System Overlocking needle to sew this stuff. It took many hours of non-stitching, changing needles, ripping out skipped stitching, swearing and yes nearly tears before I thought to try it. That needle has now been my go-to-needle for difficult fabric.

    I find that good quality needles can be very hard to track down - I can never seem to find a good range of brands. Maybe it is just me?

    I use overlocker thread quite a bit (Birch here in Australia) but wil quite happily buy Gutermann if I need to be colour specific.

  18. The DuBarry is a convertible collar? OK, I'm not altogether sure I know how convertible collars work then. I figured they were the one piece ones that come on top of a shirt with an inside facing in the same fabric, so you can wear it open or closed. Though this pattern seems to have a button down front placket (?). Wouldn't that mean there's be no big facing inside? I really do need to learn the basic terminology of clothing construction as I'm never too sure what some of the bit and pieces are called! Will you be doing a Glossary for Dummies as part of your Sew-Along?

  19. I stock up on sewing supplies every time I think I'm about to get flooded in. Makes me feel secure. I also stock up on needles when I see them because I hate the idea of running out in the middle of a project and here in the country nothing is easy to come by and now that Brisbane is underwater I can't even go there to get some! I am considering ditching my TNT mens shirt pattern for this sewalong and trying something vintage and different.

  20. In the South, when snow is predicted people will line up OUTSIDE the supermarket to wait for a SHOPPING CART. It is hilarious! And then they go to Walmart to buy up cartloads of Pop-tarts. So needing fabric to keep you amused during a snowstorm just doesn't seem odd to me.

  21. Nathalie, I think you're right. I thought you meant a collar that detaches (and is hence convertible to a banded neck collar).

    The collar you're describing is often called a camp collar (like the Negroni) I think.

    I could use a brush up on my terminology too! LOL

  22. Well, I have to admit that I do use vintage thread. I have had a problem only once with the thread breaking. However, if I am sewing with an expensive fabric I will opt for Gutermann, even if I cringe at paying that much for a spool of thread. By the way, that blue check fabric is marvelous!

  23. the floor covered with newspaper might be for moth control.

  24. I can't join the sew along as I have too much on my plate, but am looking forward to peeking over your shoulder and learning a few things. I do something similar to you with the bobbins. I use a lot of vintage thread and I put it on a bobbin to make sure it is in good shape and to keep an eye on it like you do. I love the old nylon thread and the pure mercerized cotton thread which is thinner and smoother than thread has been lately. The cotton covered poly thread is a nightmare on my sewing machines since I upgraded to new machines since 2002. On my old vintage New Home, it never gave me any problems. Now I use gutterman when I don't have a vintage color that is right and usually the poly thread to accommodate the newer machines.

  25. I admit to thread preferences (Gutermann for my s/m, Maxilock for my serger, and Sulky for my embr. machine), but my biggest thread preference is for 50% off sales. Whenever Joann's has one, I stock up! I will use other brands, but one of the main reasons I like Gutermann is the HUGE spools you can get of the more basic colors. It's a 30 minute drive to Joann's and I often sew late anyway, so I do not want to be running out of thread!

  26. I use Gutermann or Mettler, depending on color match. Mettler's Silk Finish Cotton is very nice for special items. I only use C&C's Fine thread since their new formats - smaller spool, more $$, and I can't match my old C&C spools to the new colors.

    Really old thread is terrible, even the poly thread snaps in the machine. It can be OK for hand-basting/tacking, temporary.

    I will say that if you are fortunate enough to use a fine English shirting cotton (Liberty of London comes to mind as I have YARDS of the stuff in my stash) and even the cotton lawns, these are extremely long staple cottons and very very tightly woven. Experiment with a Microtex/sharp needle and a universal point needle, size 10 or even 9, and throw it the heck out after one shirt. It will be dull dull dull.

  27. ""I often read comments from people who say things like, My machine will only use Gutermann thread and I'm thinking, what kind of crazy machine is that?""

    Omg, I think the same thing!! My machine will use ANY thread!! ANY!! it doesn't seem to know and keeps on chugging through anything. I tend to also buy larger spools, b/c I go thru them so quickly. I buy the same needles, too, b/c they're good quality and a great price. All of my machines (sergers and coverstitch, too) use regular sewing machine needles, thankfully!

    That fabric store looks great! I would love to check it out sometime.

    Good idea to stock up on fabric in event of an emergency. I would hate to be trapped in the house with nothing to sew!

  28. I live in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. We are not flooded, but 75% of Queensland is and our supply chain is !@#$%^. That's something like 1 million square miles underwater. Including our capitol city Brisbane and my favourite fabric store Gardam's. OMG I hope they got their Alexander McQueen knits to high ground- I resisted them when I was there in November- what was I thinking!! I've stocked up on food for people, cats and dogs, kitty litter, thread, elastic and zippers. I think I have enough fabric and patterns to see me through the Apocalypse.

  29. Note on punctuation in the above post: I did not stock up on cats and dogs in response to the flooding. That happened gradually over time, and more or less by accident.

  30. But it's such a nice picture, I can just see you at the animal shelter saying "Give me three of these tabbies, two black ones, and a tortishell, a terrier and three dachshunds..."

  31. And a couple of chihuahuas, please.

  32. This comment has been removed by the author.

  33. I miss Steinlauf & Stoller. I bought the dress form I used to make my wife's wedding gown from there (and lugged it home on the A train!).

    I read "I change my needle when I can't remember the last time I changed it" and thought I would share how I keep track of machine needles:

  34. Andy:

    Your method for keeping track of needles is not bad. I may try it the next time I break out a new needle.


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