Thursday, 8 August 2013

How To: Tailor Tacks

Since I'll be recommending this method of marking construction points when I produce the Gennaker Trouser pattern, I thought I'd get ahead of myself and write a how-to on the subject of tailor tacks.

I've tried a few other methods of marking fabric (dressmakers' pencils, chalk, pins...) but really nothing compares to the slower tailor tacks, even though I'd rather be lazy.  This method uses threads to mark the fabric, so there is no chance of accidentally staining your fabric with pencils or pens, and the tacks don't rub or iron off like chalk.  I find they don't pull out either during normal construction handling, unless you're deliberately trying to remove them.

The time NOT to use tailor tacks is if you are sewing with a fabric that pin-marks easily, such as pvc, leather, oilcloth or some tightly woven silks and acetates.  In which case, don't use pins either!  Good luck, and have fun.

The only down side is that you do end up with small torn holes in your paper pattern.  I really couldn't care less about this, but if you are one of these people who likes to keep shop-bought patterns pristine, you'll have to make a copy to work with.

It's best to use thread in a contrasting colour to your fabric, and I like to use up the odds and ends on my machine bottom-bobbins.  You need to make the tacks after you have cut the fabric out, but BEFORE you take the pinned-on paper pattern pieces off the fabric.  I'm going to describe how you can tack two pieces of fabric at once, so this works even if you have cut out two pieces at once using folded fabric.

Enough chatter: I now bring you "Tailor Tacks: as my mother taught me".  Drumroll.

Firstly, thread a fine hand-needle with the contrast thread.  Give yourself a good long length and pull it right through so that the two ends of the thread are level with each other.  You'll be sewing with a double thickness this way.

Take a small stitch across the point your wish to mark.  In this example, we're marking the placement of the corner of a pocket (corner of the dotted lines).  Your stitch should go through the paper pattern piece and through both layers of fabric below.

Pull the thread mostly through, but leave the tails of the thread about 2-3" long.

Now take another stitch across the construction point, but this time perpendicular (at 90 degrees) to the first stitch.

Pull the thread through, but leave a loop about 1.5" deep.  Snip the threads so that you leave another tail of about 2-3" long where your needle came out.  You now have a loop and two longer tails (see below).

On the reverse, you can see a small neat cross marking your construction point.

Mark all your construction points on this pattern piece in this way, before going any further.

Once all stitches have been made, remove the pins and gently lift the paper pattern up off the fabric.  Grasp the threads underneath the paper.  The loop will form a tight stitch over the paper.

Gently tug the loop through the paper; it will make a small torn hole.  The free ends of the thread will just pull through easily.  Repeat this with each tack in turn, until you have freed the paper.

Finally you can remove the crunchy paper and you are left with the thread loops on your fabric.  If you were tacking just a single fabric layer then you're done.  If you have a double layer, keep reading...

Peel the two fabric layers apart gently so that the loop pulls tight on the top piece of fabric; the loop will form a stitch on the top piece of fabric.  This is where it's crucial that the tails were longer than the loop, otherwise you'll end up with tails that pull through the upper layer entirely (bad news).

This is what the top piece of fabric looks like now (see below): a stitch and some thread ends.

Snip the threads between the layers.  Snip in the middle of the threads, so that the thread ends are not too close to either fabric surface.  You wouldn't want them to pull out too easily.

Hoorah!  You have some finished hairy tailor tacks!  Keep going with the other tacks until the two fabric pieces are freed from each other.

Below is what the inner surfaces of the fabric pieces look like after tacking.  The construction points are at the centre of these star-like thready bits.  Obviously, the smaller and neater you make your initial stitches, the more accurate will be the placement.

To remove your tacks after sewing up the garment, just pull the thread ends!  If the construction stitching has split the thread and caught it fast, snipping one end of the tack close to the stitch line is normally enough to release it when you pull on the remaining end.

Happy tacking, my dears!  You know it's the best way... ;-)

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