I don't consider myself the best in the world at sewing, however, I have been doing it for quite a few years now and have learned a few things over the years that I feel are worth sharing (Side note: I started sewing at around age 8 when my Grandma gave me an old sewing box of hers. Back then my sewing projects mainly consisted of cutting the legs off my jeans and then sewing up the bottom to make a ridiculously ugly denim purse. I thought I was awesome and those denim bags would be my claim to fame one day).
If you are like me and are self-taught at sewing then you know that it is a gradual process that includes stumbling upon random bits of information that, over time, improve your technique and skill level.
Here is a list of things I wish I would have known sooner and some Blog articles that have helped me along the way:
1) The importance of ironing and steaming your projects
This is quite embarrassing to admit and I'm not really sure why, but up until about a year ago I didn't even own an iron. When working on a sewing project from a tutorial I would just skip the ironing part, like it was just a recommendation. I don’t know if I thought my Fiancé would start asking me to iron all of his clothes if I owned an iron? What a mistake that was looking back…Irons are so cheap and it takes no time at all to iron a project. The benefit of how crisp, professional and polished my projects look after ironing and steaming throughout the process immensely outweighs any “fiancé clothes ironing” I may have to do as a result of now owning an iron. All of my seam lines are straighter because the fabric does not bunch up and items that have a fold in them (like a wallet that folds in half or a clutch with a flap that folds over) stay closed with ease. Since discovering the wonders of ironing I iron through out the entire project, sometimes more times than I can count. And then I use the steam function at the end to steam my whole project. Trust me, your projects will look so much more polished. You will never go back.
2) Interfacing...My new best friend
Another embarrassing fact is that up until just a few months ago I had never used interfacing. I really didn’t understand exactly what it was or which kind a tutorial was asking for (which is why if I ever put a tutorial up on here I will always mention the exact interfacing that I used). I found this article on Erin Erickson’s blog Dog Under My Desk (http://erinerickson.com/category/interfacing/). It is probably the best thing I have ever come across! It explains interfacing better than I ever could and talks about the many different types and the results that they give.
Interfacing is a fabric material that gives weight and stability to your projects. It comes in two different types: Fusible (which has little dots of glue on one side that, when ironed, fuse to the wrong side of your fabric) or Sew-In (that one is pretty self explanatory). Before I discovered fusible interfacing when a tutorial would ask for “Interfacing” in the material list I would just use fleece. Fleece will work...ok…I guess. But once you use a fusible interfacing you will never want to go back. I LOVE INTERFACING! It takes more time to fuse it to your fabric, is another thing to measure and cut, and is an added cost…but it is so amazing that even with the cons it is completely worth it. I have a huge rubber made box filled with different types of interfacing now. Erin Erickson mentions that her favorite type of interfacing is Pellon SF101 so that was the first type I purchased to get accustomed to interfacing, and I have to say it is also my favorite. It fuses quickly and I have not noticed that it wrinkles at all. If you have not used interfacing before I would recommend trying some Pellon SF101. My tip is I wait until Joann’s Fabric send me a 40% off fabric coupon in my e-mail and I buy a larger quantity of Pellon SF101 so I have some for backup. It runs about $4.99 a yard at my Joann’s Fabric and when I have the 40% fabric coupon I usually buy about 5 yards, so I end up spending about $15.
Here is an example of a non-interfaced zipper pouch and an interfaced zipper pouch:
This zipper pouch is not interfaced. See how it looks a little flat and flimsy? It makes it look a little “cheap” and unprofessional in my opinion. (This was made prior to my discovering the wonders of interfacing)
This zipper pouch is interfaced with a heavy weight fusible interfacing (I believe I used DecorBond). See how it looks firm, stable and the fabric appears tight and unwrinkled? I think the interfacing gives the project a much more professional and “complete” look compared to the non-interfaced pouch above.
3) Using straight pins
You will notice that most tutorials will say to “pin your project” at some point in the tutorial. I’ve learned over the years that if it says to pin, then you should pin. Back in the day I would skip the pinning and think that I would be able to hold my fabric steady enough while sewing that pinning wasn’t necessary. But with all the things going on while you are sewing (trying to maintain a steady speed on the pedal, making sure you are sewing in a straight line, ensuring the fabric is staying lined up, feeling like you are going to go cross-eyed watching the needle go up and down and up and down…) it will be too much going on and knowing that the pins are holding your fabric lined up will be one less thing to worry about.
[Side note: I purchased the straight pins below at Joann’s and while they are very cute with the little leaf on top the needle part is pretty thick and is very difficult going through the fabric. My tip: skip on the “cute” straight pins and get some that have nice thin, sharp needles]
4) Invest in a Rotary cutter, Self-Healing Mat and Clear Ruler
A rotary cutter, self-healing mat and clear ruler will make your life a million times easier when cutting up your fabric. Your lines will be straighter and you can cut through multiple layers of fabric at a time. A time saving tip that I do is if I need to cut multiple pieces of different fabric in the same size I will measure the first piece out perfectly. And then instead of measuring each piece I will iron my first piece well and then place it on top of the other fabric, lay my clear ruler on the edge and cut around the first piece of fabric. This saves time with measuring out each piece and if you ensure that the first piece of fabric is lined up perfectly and use the ruler to make sure you are cutting right on the edge it will yield the exact same results as if you measured each piece separately.
5) Making your own pattern pieces
If I find a particular tutorial that I fall in love with and know I am going to want to make again I will cut out the specified pattern pieces in cardboard to save time when I make the project again in the future. For example: In my Zipper Pouch Tutorial I said to cut out 4 pieces of fabric and 2 pieces of interfacing all 7”x4 ½”. To save time (because I know I am going to make this same Zipper Pouch many times) I first cut out a piece of cardboard 7”x4 ½” so every time I make this project all I have to do is lay the cardboard on top of the fabric or interfacing and then cut around it instead of re-measuring every time. I have a plastic box filled with cardboard pieces that I write the size and name of the project. Any time I buy a new pair of shoes I will save the box and use the cardboard from it to make pattern pieces.
6) Slow and Steady Wins the Race
When you are sewing on your machine, make sure that you keep the pressure on the pedal even and at a moderate pace. I can’t tell you how many times when I first started sewing and wasn’t used to the amount of pressure to put on the pedal I would step too hard or fast and the machine would go zooming through my fabric. This would scare me every time, which would in turn make me jump, move the fabric and create crooked, uneven lines. Make sure the needle is in the down position when you start sewing and ease down on the pedal. Once you have a moderate pace, take note of the pressure you are putting on the pedal and try to replicate it every time you sew. After a while it will just be muscle memory and you won’t even have to think about how hard you step on the pedal. It’s just like driving a car, once you get it you will never forget.
7) Don’t skimp on thread
Buying the cheapest thread you can find will only create more problems for you in the end. Cheap thread causes problems for your machine’s tension system, which can result in skipped stitches or the thread knotting together on the underside of your project (which happened to me for a while).
This is the thread I have been using and I love it:
What I normally do is buy the largest size of this type of thread in a neutral color (like off-white or light gray) and then use it on every project. This allows me to fill multiple bobbins ahead of time (because I hate filling bobbins) so they are ready incase I run out.
8) Clipping Corners and Excess
If you are sewing something that needs to be turned inside out at the end, make sure you clip the corners before you turn it right side out. This will make it easier to push the corners out because there won’t be so much excess fabric in the corners. Also, if you have a lot of excess fabric on the sides you may want to trim some of it off before you flip the fabric right side out as well.
See how the corners are clipped?
9) Boxing the bottom corners of a bag
I was so happy when I found out how to do this. It is a little hard to explain in words so for this I might need to show pictures.
Before you turn your bag right side out, squeeze the corners together so the seam on the bottom and the seam on the side are aligned.
Sew a line across the seam as in the picture above. Note: The farther in from the corner that you sew will result in a larger “box” effect on the bottom of the bag.
Clip off the excess corner.
Do you see how the bottom of the bag is flatter now?
10) The benefits of Topstitching
Have you ever attempted to sew something that needed to be flipped right side out at the end and are left with a couple inch wide hole in one side of your project that you need to close now (i.e. A purse, pillow, etc)? There are tutorials online showing you how to close that hole and do what is called an Invisible seam (Here is a good one from Fern and Freckle: http://fernandfreckle.com/tutorial-invisible-seams-the-hidden-stitch/). Personally, although I have tried many times, I cannot master a hidden stitch or invisible seam. My method to avoid that process is to topstitch my project whenever possible. Yes, it is more time consuming and maybe there are projects you wouldn’t want to topstitch but I have yet to complete a project that I didn’t think looked adorable with a topstitch around the perimeter (for the people who are still very new at sewing, a topstitch is when you sew a line on the outside (or right side) of your project).
For example, this iPhone pouch was topstitched around the sides and top.
However, for some things you are not going to be able to or do not want to topstitch. In a case like that I would check out the tutorial on Invisible Seams from Fern and Freckle listed above. This is a great example of why teaching yourself to sew is a gradual process, one that I am still working on myself. Invisible seams are an example of a sewing technique that I am still in the process of mastering and learning.
I hope this list of tips was helpful! If even one beginning sewer learns from a mistake that I have made myself then I am happy!
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments!
I’d be happy to help you in your sewing journey.