Tag Archives: sewing resource

bad sewing habits that are making your life harder

So much of successful sewing is muscle memory…experience and practice makes all the difference! So you can imagine how repeating bad habits can make your sewing more frustrating than it needs to be.

No matter how long you’ve been sewing, you can improve your work by breaking some bad habits. If you’re still new to the craft, now is the time to develop good habits, so make sure you don’t fall into these traps!

 

bad habit #1: you’re looking at the needle

 

keep your eye on the seam allowance line, not the needle

The absolute bedrock of sewing properly is learning to keep your seam allowances even. Without this skill (which is more than just sewing in a straight line!), whatever you’re making can end up the wrong size or the wrong shape.

If your stitch lines are wobbly, or your seam allowances are not uniform, you might be looking at the needle when you sew, rather than where your eyes should be: on the seam allowance line.

Looking at the needle gives you no information; how can you know what the edge of the fabric is doing, if you’re not looking at it? Your eye should be fixed on the edge of the fabric, right at the front of the presser foot, so you know your fabric is being fed into the needle properly, and at the correct seam allowance.

Use a bit of brightly colored tape to mark your seam allowance, and help your eye stay trained where it should be. Painter’s tape or electrical tape is great for this!

 

bad habit #2: you’re too grabby with your fabric

 

don't be grabby with your fabric!

 

No matter what fabric you’re using, or what you’re making, you should never be pushing the fabric into the needle, or pulling it from the behind the needle.

(Every stitch behind the needle is already done, you can’t change it! Worry about the fabric being fed into the needle.)

You should use the lightest possible touch on your fabric, and only touch it as much as you need to in order to keep everything under control.

Your hands don’t need to be any closer to the needle than shown above, and if you do have to nudge your fabric to the left or right to keep your seam allowance even, you should do so gently and slowly, while you’re still sewing (as in, don’t stop and re-position your fabric, correct while you stitch). In other words: no yanking, no pulling, no pushing, no being grabby with the fabric!

 

bad habit #3: you’re disrespecting the grain

don't disrespect the grain of the fabric

 

Understanding, respecting, and sometimes manipulating the grain of fabric can actually be a fairly complex discussion. Without getting too involved, I can say that at the very least you should be careful of the grain when cutting your fabric!

If you’re using a pattern, it likely has a grain line marked on it, in the form of an arrow. Sometimes these arrows are labeled “grain” or “straight grain,” and sometimes not.

Use this line to orient your pattern properly on your fabric, with the grain line parallel to the selvedge edge. Don’t just eyeball it, though! Get out your trusty clear ruler and make sure it really is straight: line up a line on the ruler with the selvedge, and make sure the grain line on the pattern also lines up with the ruler, and you’ll be good to go.

If you’re not using a pattern, think about what part of the thing you’re making would require the strongest part of the fabric. What part of it would require the fabric to give a little bit? That’s how you can decide what should be cut on the straight grain (parallel to the selvedge and most often the stiffest and strongest fibers), vs the cross-wise grain (perpendicular to the selvedge and often a bit stretchier than the straight grain).

Cutting on the bias (diagonally) produces the most stretch, which in many cases you want to avoid at all costs, but sometimes can actually produce a very cool effect!

If you aren’t paying attention to the grain, however, you can’t effectively control your fabric, and you might be (unpleasantly) surprised by how your fabric behaves, and what your finished product looks like!

 

bad habit #4: you’re being lazy about pressing

before finger-pressing

Nobody likes ironing…but ironing and pressing is critical for sewing success! Ironing your fabric before you start (and sometimes your pattern, too!), pressing seams open, and using heat to shape fabric are just some ways that your iron goes a long way in making your life easier, and your sewing more successful.

But one part of pressing you might not have thought much about is the idea of finger-pressing. It is exactly what it sounds like: using your fingers as if they are little tiny irons, and flattening out seams and such before you apply your hot iron. It makes a huge difference!

The little wallet above has been turned right side out, but I did not do any finger-pressing.  After spending a little time getting the seams open and flat with my fingers, it looks like this:

 

after finger pressing

Even before any heat gets anywhere near it, it’s much flatter already!

The reason finger-pressing is worth it and is in fact critical is that without it, you’ll be pressing in creases you don’t want. You’ll never have sharp corners or even edges without finger-pressing, and it makes your final project look nice, neat, and finished. It also makes sure it ends up the right size and shape.

It only takes a minute, don’t skip this step!

 

bad habit #5: you’re skipping the interfacing

with and without interfacing

 

Of course, not every sewing project ever requires interfacing. But so many do require it, and so many would really benefit from it!

Interfacing is what gives a tote bag it’s shape, keeps collars from looking floppy, keeps waistlines from twisting and stretching out of shape, and many other miracles. It stabilizes fabric and can make it stiffer, stronger, smoother, and easier to sew.

Choosing the right interfacing for your project depends on lots of factors, but the bottom line is to think about what your final product should look like. I chose a lightweight, woven, fusible interfacing for the inside of the little wallet shown above on the right (Pellon SF 101, my favorite), because I want it to be able to sit up by itself, and stand up to repeated use.

The one on the left is actually made with heavier weight fabric, but without interfacing…you see how it won’t stand up by itself, and how it doesn’t have crisp edges, even after pressing.

Skipping interfacing can change the look of your final product, and make the fabric wear out faster!

 

Any other bad habits you’ve formed over the years, or good habits you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

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5 sewing tools to upgrade ASAP

Like so many other hobbies, there’s lots of stuff associated with sewing. How do you know you have the right stuff? Is having the wrong stuff making your sewing life harder?

There are so many different tools and notions out there, and anyone who’s been sewing for a while will have plenty of opinions on what’s best, I’m sure. But I believe there is a very short list of stuff you absolutely need as a sewing beginner.

This list is about the five sewing tools I think you’ll need to upgrade right away, as in, as soon as you decide to buy a machine and go for it!

 

upgrade your scissors!

upgrade your sewing scissors!

First of all, whatever you currently use as sewing scissors, I hope you are treating them with reverence! You know you should never use your sewing scissors to cut anything but fabric, right???

Now that we’ve got that IRONCLAD RULE out of the way…your beginner sewing kit probably came with a pair of lightweight scissors that look kind of like the red-handled ones above, yes?

These are not good enough. Time to upgrade! Why? They will not keep a sharp edge well, they get nicks and scratches easily, and they are too lightweight to cut much of anything very well.

Pretty much any company that makes sewing notions will also make scissors, and they will probably be fine. Fiskars and Mundial are both brands I’ve used and loved. Treat them right (and get them sharpened when they need it), and you’ll be good!

(Don’t toss your cheap scissors, keep them around to cut paper and other stuff, and you’ll never be tempted to use your good scissors for something you shouldn’t!)

When you’re ready for another upgrade, you’re going to want to get a pair of Ginghers. What makes them the best? They hold a sharp edge like nothing I’ve ever used before (mine are four years old and have never been sharpened, and they are still sharp enough to cut my finger!), and they are heavy enough to slice through just about anything!

you will need a pair of tiny embroidery scissors or thread nippers, too!

You’re also going to want a pair of tiny embroidery scissors or thread nippers (yes, I have three pairs…don’t judge me). These are essential, not just for cutting thread ends, but for getting into tiny corners and other awkward spots. You will absolutely need a tiny pair of scissors for something like installing a welt zipper.

All sewing scissors come in a variety of styles and lengths, and what’s best is going to be whatever feels best in your hand. The most important thing is to get a good pair that will keep its edge, and then treat them with reverence!

 

upgrade your pins!

upgrade your pins!

Just like the scissors, your sewing kit probably came with a small set that seem perfectly fine. Or maybe you bought your sewing notions separately, not as part of a kit, and you went with the least expensive pins because why not? Aren’t they all the same? Nope.

The pins on the far left above are the cheap ones I started out with.  These are not good enough. Time to upgrade! Why? The cheap pins are too short, too large (they will put large holes in your fabric), and are not very sharp. You’re going to want to immediately upgrade to something with a longer, thinner shaft and a sharper point!

Quilting pins (the ones with bright yellow heads) are the ones I recommend to my students who are new to sewing. They are very long (1 5/8″), have a very strong shaft, and a nicely sharp point. The bright yellow heads mean that you are unlikely to lose them in your fabric or on your sewing table.

The pearlized pins are the ones I use the most, they are a great all-purpose pin! The pretty, shiny heads make them easy to spot, and they are nearly 1.5″ long. Perfect for most fabrics and most projects.

The last three types of pins above are all glass-head pins. The glass heads are heat resistant, so that means you can iron over them/close to them without fear of a meltdown! They are essential when I am making neckties and need to press all those folds in place.

my pin cushion with all my favorite pins

They are also thinner than my regular pins, so I use them on finer fabrics (the blue ones are extra-fine). The blue/white headed ones are the same length (just over 1.25″), and the orange ones are nearly 2″ long.

You can see the four types I regularly use in my pin cushion, above. The pearlized pins get the most use, I use the quilting pins for thick and heavy fabrics, and the glass head pins for thinner fabrics, and when I need to press over something.

You might also want ball-point pins if you work with knits, or silk pins (aka dressmaker pins…the ones without heads) if you use lots of silk or other very finely woven fabrics.

 

 

upgrade your marking tools!

upgrade to tailor's chalk!

 

Your sewing kit probably came with something called a fabric pencil or a fabric marker. Just toss them in the garbage right now, they are not good enough.

Time to upgrade! Why? The awful fabric pencils do not mark on all fabrics (or on anything very well), and they are practically impossible to sharpen without crumbling. The so-called “washable” or “disappearing” markers do not always wash out or fade away like they are supposed to! Also, the markers tend to bleed to the right side of the fabric…boo.

Like most sewing notions, there are seemingly a million options for marking tools. My favorite is the old-fashioned tailor’s chalk – it marks on anything, and it always washes out (or sometimes even brushes away).

The red and gray tools above are Clover brand chaco liners, which have powdered tailor’s chalk inside, and a little gear-like edge that make an incredibly sharp line. I love them.

The blue triangle is your traditional tailor’s chalk, and the white rectangle is wax tailor’s chalk. White wax chalk will easily iron away on most fabrics, so I use it when I want to mark on the right side of fabric (FYI colored wax does not usually iron away)!

 

erasable pen and regular pencil as sewing tools

 

Another great tool is the Pilot brand FriXion pens, which are erasable ink pens. They just so happen to disappear on fabric with a hot iron, so they are also great when you need to mark on the right side of fabric! I use them when I sketch out my favorite chevron wave pattern on fabric too light for the white wax chalk. Beware however, that if the ink sits too long (like overnight), it might not iron away.

Finally, don’t forget the humble graphite pencil. A regular old pencil works wonderfully on lots of different types of fabric, and you can get them incredibly sharp when you need to make very fine marks.

No matter what type of marking tool you use, remember to always mark on the wrong side of the fabric. If you must mark the right side, always test your marking tool on a scrap bit of fabric before you commit.

 

upgrade your measuring tools!

a collection of measuring tools for sewing

 

This is less of an upgrade and more of an addition.  The tape measure and seam gauge your sewing kit came with are essential tools you will use constantly throughout your sewing career.

But, you will find different types of tools make different measuring jobs easier. You might end up with a massive collection of different types of measuring tools, but right off the bat you’re going to need some type of clear ruler.

Drafting patterns, altering patterns, accurately pinning patterns to fabric, cutting fabric with a rotary cutter, and marking fabric are just some of the jobs that are easier with a clear ruler.

These come in a dizzying array of sizes and shapes, but the ones I use the most are the 3″ x 18″ and the 6″ x 24.” I like the Omnigrid brand, because they have the bright yellow markings and the diagonal lines, but there are plenty of options. What’s important is that you can see through the ruler, and that the measurements (at least to the 8th of an inch) are clearly marked.

 

 

upgrade your iron!

upgrade your iron!

Nobody likes to iron…but ironing and pressing is essential to sewing success. You might as well have an iron that makes the job easier!

You might have already owned an awesome iron before you started sewing, in which case you can skip this part! But if you only bought an iron and ironing board since you learned to sew, you might have been tempted to get a cheap one, not knowing why an iron could possibly cost $100, and what difference it could possibly make.

Here’s why the $15 irons aren’t good enough: they are too light weight, they don’t get hot enough, and they don’t get steamy enough. Time to upgrade!

This is why I love my shiny Black & Decker iron shown above. It is incredibly heavy, it gets blazing hot (like really hot), produces lots of steam, and it is less than $30 on Amazon!

The other brand I own and love is Rowenta, but even the nicest Rowenta I’ve ever had is nowhere near as heavy as the Black & Decker (yes I own and use multiple irons!).

The mini irons are not at all essential…but I like having the small one (the one in the middle), when I want to press inside one of my handbags. Mine is from Conair, and it obviously isn’t very heavy, but produces a good amount of steam, considering it’s small size!

(The tiny one doesn’t get that hot, and I honestly don’t use it much, but isn’t it so cute???)

 

I hope you’ve found this useful! Having the right tools makes doing just about anything easier, but especially sewing! Particularly if you are new to sewing, you want to do everything you can to make learning easier and success more likely.

Please share in the comments your favorite tools, or best upgrade to your sewing kit!

 

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