The subtitle for this post should be “Learn from my mistakes”. Sewing is not as complicated as people pretend it is, but there’s a few bits and bobs to keep in mind to make sure your projects go smoothly. Bear in mind I don’t do complicated sewing – soft toys and the occasional skirt or handbag, but I do a fair bit of it and here are some things I wish people had told me back when I started out.
Yes, you need to press.
It’s tempting to look at your fabric and say “Eh, it’s pretty smooth” and just go ahead. Skipping the ironing stage can save you entire minutes, I get that, but they are minutes that are well invested. Crumpled or folded fabric, when cut to a pattern shape, may surprise you with unexpectedly wonky edges, and your finished piece won’t look as crisp or polished. Sometimes that’s the look you’re going for of course, but overall – pressing saves you a headache in cutting and sewing so it’s worth doing.
Cut on a clear surface
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been cheerfully cutting out a pattern and then felt the scissors chop through a thicker layer. Yep, the last piece I cut out was in the way and is now sporting a massive cut through it. I tend to cut out on a small table, so it’s easy to let it get crowded, but ideally you should move your cut pattern pieces, fabric left overs and other pattern bits to one side, giving you a clear surface where the only thing the scissors will strike is the fabric you want to be cutting. Personally I leave the ironing board set up after pressing as a home for the to be cut and has been cut fabrics.
Read the instructions. Twice.
It’s no good having a quick skim and then jumping in, make sure you’ve really read and understood what the instructions for your piece are – should this bit be cut on the fold? Do you need to do something fancy with this other bit? The difference between a great finished piece and a thing you don’t even want to admit you made is instructions.
Which is not to say the instructions are always clear, because they’re not. If you’re baffled by something or other, try a search for the project – other people were probably baffled too and might have some tips to offer you.
Also some people don’t bother to mention steps, or seam allowences or unsuitable fabrics. I’m just saying – sometimes patterns are a nightmare, and not understanding them doesn’t mean you’re not skilled enough to make the piece, it means the person who wrote the pattern wasn’t skilled enough to write a proper set of instructions.
Pin pin pin
This goes for cutting out, and for the actual sewing. Scrimping on the pinning is easier, but means your pattern pieces or fabric can shift around. Pin your heart out! Make sure everything is really secure before you start cutting or sewing, otherwise you might cut a wonky pattern shape which won’t sew nicely to the other bits, or you’ll find you’re sewing one piece of fabric but not the other.
It’s not a race
Try to avoid giving yourself a set time to have your sewing finished by. Sure, it’s nice to create something from scratch in an afternoon, but rushing yourself will lead to mistakes. Take your time, sew at a comfortable speed and if things start going wrong – that’s a sign you should take a break.
Cut your fabric carefully, make sure you’re cutting the right pieces and stop from time to time to take stock of where you are and what you still need to do.
As for using the machine – look, we’ve all seen people wizz a seam through in the blink of an eye, but if you feel like you can’t control the fabric you’re sewing faster than you should be. That insane speed (which my Grandmother had, she was a speed demon on the sewing machine) comes with practice and time, so if you’re plodding along slowly but surely then that’s perfectly alright. As you gain confidence and skill, you’ll speed up if that’s bothering you. I’m quite quick on straight seams now, but I take forever around curves and that’s all good. Losing control of the speed leads to a session with the unpicker, which is no fun at all.
Don’t scrimp on the cheap stuff
Thread, pins, marking chalks, needles – all these things are the absolute least expensive things about this hobby. Most of your budget will go on fabric and patterns and those are the things you should be careful and kind with.
Be ruthless, for example, with your pins. Pins go blunt over time, or bend, or develop catches and burrs. If your pin doesn’t go through the fabric smoothly then throw it away. Bent pins don’t hold fabric in place as well, so they can go too.
Sewing machine needles also go blunt. I don’t have any hard and fast rules about how much I sew with each needle (I know some people do), but throwing out a needle after you’ve done a large project makes sense. A blunt needle will pucker and pull at your fabric, so it’s just not worth saving the cents on those.
Watch your bobbin
When you’re machine sewing, keep a good eye on your bobbin thread. I’m telling you this as good advice because I always forget about the bobbin. Maybe modern machines have a warning or cut out system, I don’t know, but check it yourself. If there’s only a little bit left, play it safe and run a new bobbin. Yes, throw out the thread that was left, see above note about cheap stuff.
Your fabric scissors are for fabric
Invest in a quality pair of fabric scissors. Treat them nicely and they’ll last you forever. The fastest way to blunt your lovely fabric scissors is to use them on paper, or hair, or wire or… Keep your fabric scissors just for fabric and stock up on cheap general purpose scissors for around the house. Have them sharpened from time to time too, they’ll blunt slowly and you won’t notice until they’re nicely sharp again.
With the price of fabric getting ever higher, it can be hard to talk yourself into just having a play and sewing up some nonsense. Sewing up nonsenses is a great skill builder and confidence builder. Grab some fabric at an op shop (thrift store) – old bed sheets for example give you a ton of fabric to play with, and they’re usually cheap second hand. Or chop up your old clothes and make things. It’s perfectly fine to make things you don’t need, just for the fun of making them.