Sewing tips

Use the Right Needle

Different fabrics require different types of needles. Regular woven fabrics need a universal needle. Knit jerseys, sweater knits, and stretch fabrics require a ballpoint needle. Leather and suede call for a leather needle. Heavy fabrics, like denim and twill, need a jeans needle. Needle size is important, too. The higher the number, the bigger the needle. Bigger needles are intended for heavier fabrics. Here’s a fabric size cheat-sheet to help you out:

  • Lightweight: Voile, Batiste, Lawn, Chiffon, Organza, Tissue Knit Jersey #9
  • Light to Medium-Weight: Quilting Cotton, Broadcloth, Flannel, 21-Wale Corduroy #11 or #12
  • Heavyweight: Twill, Denim, Upholstery #14 or #16 Note: needles go dull faster than you’d think, so change your needle with every new project.

Measure Grainlines

Have you ever wondered about the arrows on your pattern pieces? They indicate which direction the pattern should face. The arrows should run parallel to the fabric’s grain. If you cut a pattern off-grain, it may hang oddly. Eyeballing isn’t good enough—take the time to measure from each end of the arrow to the fabric’s edge to make sure the pattern piece is straight. It’s especially important to pay attention to the direction of each pattern piece if you’re working with napped fabric. For this purpose, napped means any fabric that looks different from various angles, such as velvet, corduroy, satin, and shot (iridescent) fabrics. This also applies to stripes, plaids, and directional prints. If you cut some pieces with the arrow running parallel to the selvage and others perpendicular, you may end up with stripes running the wrong way on half of  your blouse!

Pre-Wash Fabric and Trims

Have you ever washed a hand-made garment only to discover that it shrunk? Or the seams mysteriously puckered? Or the fabric’s texture changed? Or the colors bled? These symptoms can be prevented by pre-washing your fabric. Many sewing notions need to be pre-washed, too. This includes lace, ribbon, decorative braid and trim, zippers, and interfacing, which should be hand-washed and drip-dried.

Get Quality Tools and Materials

Trying to sew without the correct tools is like sewing blindfolded, with one hand tied behind your back! There are tools for almost every sewing task, so find out what exists and give these sewing tools a try. Nancy’s Favorite 101 Notions is a great book for beginners. It’s important not to skimp on quality—always buy the best tools you can afford. What’s the difference between a $5 pair of shears and a $25 pair? Bargain scissors are harder to cut with, they’ll probably go dull quickly, they won’t always cut accurately, they could ruin your fabric, and they may give you blisters or sore fingers. Is it really worth saving a few dollars? Higher-quality sewing tools will last longer and work better, and most importantly—they’ll make sewing a pleasant experience. The same goes for fabric and sewing notions. It’s difficult to make a high-end garment if you’re using cheap fabric! If you’re ready to take things to the next level, start by upgrading your sewing tools.

Sewing Using Your Decorative Threads

Use two spools of thread, thread them through your machine and around your needle the same way you usually would, having both pieces of thread through the eye. Now when you sew with delicate metallic thread, the regular thread will help support it.

Taking Advantage of Your Stay Stitching

Stay stitching holds the shape of your material in place as you ease it around curves. Stay-stitch anything that isn’t cut on the grain or cross-grain to prevent it from becoming disfigured. To stay stitch, stitch within the seam allowance, try 3/8″ if your seam allowance is 5/8″, and follow the curve of the piece. Stitch symmetrically, start your line on the outside and work your way in on both sides, if working on a centerfold.

Sewing in Your Zippers

Sew up your seam as you normally would, place the zipper face down over the seam allowance and sew it in place. Cut open the seam with your seam ripper to reveal the zipper underneath. Note: Be sure to check out our easy step-by-step tutorial on How To Sew A Zipper in Two Ways

Sewing Over Lumpy Fabrics Using a Plastic

Next time you’re sewing over the lumpy fabric like terry cloth or fleece, use a plastic bag. Place it over the fabric you are sewing and watch that presser foot glide!

Getting the Thread Through the Needle – the Easy Way!

Until I discovered one genius sewing hack: hairspray! Spray the tip so it stays straight.

Use Wax to Strengthen Threads

Use this little gadget. It’s wax, and when you pull the thread through, it gets coated in wax. This makes the thread nice and strong while you hand-sew. It’s one of the best hand sewing hacks you’ll learn today.