By SUSAN KHALJE
Although I don't see her often, Mary Roehr is one of my favorite sewing personalities. She's long been a fixture on the sewing-show circuit, and is an expert on alterations, an ardent and realistic supporter of home-based sewers and the author of a number of sewing books.
She e-mailed the other day with a list of her 30 top sewing secrets, in honor of her 30 years in the sewing business. I'd like to share some of them with you.
Mary starts by recognizing what we all know -- that the biggest challenge facing sewers is fit. She suggests purchasing the basic fitting patterns that are sold by most pattern companies. If you make them up in gingham, you'll have no problem keeping track of grain lines. I'd suggest working with a sewing friend, unless you've got a dress form that mimics your body perfectly. Mary also advises you to learn to recognize your own fitting problems -- and adjust all your patterns accordingly.
I loved Mary's advice about cutting and sewing accurately. One of the first things I learned when I was working at a couture salon in New York, years ago, was the importance of the smallest of measurements. They really do matter, and they really do add up. For example, a discrepancy of 1/8 inch on each seam on a princess-seamed dress makes, when all is said and done, a collective difference of over an inch and a half (that's 1/8 inch per side of seven seams -- that's fourteen eighths).
She also suggests developing a wardrobe plan. I couldn't agree more. I'm always puzzled by people who have rooms full of clothes they never wear. I buy and sew relatively little, but I go for quality, garments that travel well, classic designs and clothes that coordinate. I'm ruthless when it comes to cleaning out my closet: If I have the slightest negative feeling toward something, out it goes. Someone else can put it to better use than I can.
I'm not the biggest user of fusible interfacing, but I loved Mary's tips for working with it. Here's her three-part solution: First, pre-shrink it with steam from your iron instead of soaking it (which partially dissolves the adhesive); then fuse an area, and carefully lift your iron to move to the next area. Finally, and most importantly, let the fabric that you've just fused become cool and dry before you move it.
I'm hemming a skirt at the moment, so I loved Mary's idea about making skirt hems slightly longer in the back than in the front. I do the same with jackets -- it's a subtle yet graceful touch, and it's really very flattering.
You can read all 30 yourself by going to her Web site, www.MaryRoehr.com.