21 Sewing Myths Debunked
Get the latest including tips, techniques and special offers straight to your inbox.
I’m a pack rat, and I collect a variety of things: old sewing tools and notions, patterns, fabrics, even sewing myths. Through the years, I’ve seen many recommendations and sewing misconceptions that don’t work or are bad advice, so I’ve selected a few to discuss here.
Here are some of my favorites:
Myth 1: Lace doesn’t have a grain, so you can cut it in any direction.
Reality: This is true, but it requires careful planning to be successful since most laces have more stretch in one direction than the other. More importantly, many laces have a pattern with a directional design.
Myth 2: A Hong Kong binding is the best seam finish on couture designs.
Reality: Generally, the best finish is hand overcasting. It is flatter, less bulky, and drapes better; and it is less likely to show on the right side of the garment. The Hong Kong finish is more attractive on unlined jackets, but very few of these are couture.
Myth 3: When quilting a garment, it is OK to quilt some rows up and some down.
Reality: Your quilted garment will be more attractive when all rows are quilted in the same direction.
Myth 4: When cutting bias, fold a corner so the warp or lengthwise yarns are parallel to the weft or crosswise yarns.
Reality: To cut the bias more accurately, use a triangle with a right angle. Spread the fabric and straighten it on the table. Align one short edge of the triangle with the warp, and mark the bias along the long edge.
Myth 5: The underlining or backing should be smaller than the fashion fabric.
Reality: This depends on the fabric and underlining material. When the underlining is a crisp interfacing, such as hair canvas, it should be slightly smaller so it won’t buckle under the fashion fabric but will restrict the give or stretch of the garment. To mitigate this, Yves Saint Laurent frequently underlined wool jackets with hair canvas cut on the bias so it would move with the body and not restrict the give.
Myth 6: When underlining a garment, trace the stitching lines on the underlining material. Then use the underlining as a pattern for cutting the fashion fabric.
Reality: This works only if the underlining and fashion fabric have the same amount of give or stretch. For example, this technique works well when you are underlining a firmly woven fabric (such as dupioni), which has no give, with silk organza. When underlining wool fabrics, such as wool crepe, silk organza doesn’t have enough give and your wool design will fit like a silk garment. For wool crepe, consider easing an underlining with no give to the fashion fabric, cutting the underlining on the bias, or a backing material with spandex.
Myth 7: Always cut off the selvage.
Reality: Charles Frederick Worth, the father of haute couture, always left the selvages on so the customer could see the quality of the fabric. In fact, on many Worth gowns, the selvage is used as a trim on the face side of the garment. To avoid a problem, if the selvage will shrink, clip the edges so they will lie flat.
Myth 8: When setting sleeves, shrink out the ease only on the seam allowance.
Reality: In Valentino’s couture workrooms in Rome, I was surprised to see the staff shrink past the seamline about 1 inch onto the cap itself. Try it. You’ll be pleased with the results.
Myth 9: When adjusting a pattern that is too small in the bust, divide the amount needed by 4 and add that amount to each front and back section. For example, if the blouse is 2 inches too small, add 1/2 inch to each front and 1/2 inch to each back.
Reality: The back doesn’t need an added amount for a large bust. Add 1 inch to each front section. The reverse also works when you are adjusting for a broad back.
Myth 10: Always place a button at the bustline to prevent gaping.
Reality: The button locations should be determined by the number of buttons and the locations of the top and bottom buttons. If the garment gaps at the bustline, the front is too small.
Myth 11: If a coat’s edges swing toward the side seams, add a triangle to each front edge so the edges will hang parallel at center front.
Reality: The edges swing to the sides for two reasons: The coat isn’t large enough at the hips, or the front edges were not stabilized and have been stretched. When the front edges are taped, they should hang parallel to each other, even when the coat is not fastened.
Myth 12: Shape the waistband on skirts and pants so the upper edge is shorter than the lower edge.
Reality: This is a good idea when the top of the band sits at the waist. When the bottom of the band sits at the waist, it should be shorter than the top.
Myth 13: Your waistline is at the top of your skirt or pants.
Reality: Your waistline is where your body is smallest, or about 1 inch above your navel.
Myth 14: Never press over basting threads.
Reality: Basting threads are often used to hold the layers in place for pressing. To avoid pressing imprints, use lightweight silk thread or basting cotton, which is soft and has no finish.
Myth 15: When stitching basted seamlines, stitch next to the basting threads so they’ll be easy to pull out.
Reality: This works well on simple, straight seams. However, when basting intricate seamlines, always stitch on the basted lines for accuracy. The threads are difficult to remove, but the results are worth it.
Myth 16: If the basting threads are difficult to remove, it’s OK to leave them in.
Reality: When the bastings are left in, you cannot press as crisply as when they are removed.
Myth 17: Always machine-staystitch necklines to prevent stretching.
Reality: If you thread-traced the seamlines by hand, the thread tracing will serve as staystitching.
Myth 18: When making a plaid jacket, match the plaids on the fronts and backs at the shoulders.
Reality: This can be done if the back shoulder has no ease, but the garment won’t fit well and the placement of the plaids on the jacket back may be unattractive. For most plaids, begin planning the placement at center back. If the jacket has a collar, match the center back to the collar.
Myth 19: When cutting a sleeve from a plaid pattern, align the center of the dominant plaid with the shoulder point.
Reality: Before cutting, consider the relationship of the vertical color bars on the front and the sleeve. Then cut the sleeve so you have a pleasing relationship as the eye moves from the front to the sleeve. This will help avoid positioning two of the same color bars next to each other.
Myth 20: When sewing a zipper by hand, use pickstitches (short, nearly invisible backstitches).
Reality: In haute couture and expensive ready-to-wear garments, running stitches are used because they move with the body and don’t restrict the fabric, making them less likely to show.
Myth 21: When stitching a princess seam on a plaid or fabric with horizontal stripes, you can distort the seam to match the fabric pattern above the bust. Don’t worry about the excess fabric on the side front at the end of the seam.
Reality: When you force the horizontal stripes to match, you remove the ease in the side front, and the garment won’t fit properly.
Have any of the sewing myths listed here made the rounds in your sewing circle? What are some sewing myths that you’ve come across that were not listed?