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20 Ways to Improve Your Sewing

Improve your sewing by marking things that matter
Prioritize pattern size for a better fit
Learn the difference between topstitching and edgestitching
Improve your sewing by marking things that matter

Improve your sewing by marking things that matter

Work with your sewing machine

3. Work with, not against, your sewing machine
Police yourself for bad fabric-handling habits. Look for evidence. Do you have nicks across the top of your bobbin case? These can be caused by broken needles, sewing over pins, or the needle striking the bobbin case in a machine whose timing (the relationship between the needle's downward stroke and the rotation of the bobbin hook) needs adjusting. Breaking your needle on a pin at high speed can be enough to knock a machine's timing off.

Do you have scratches on your throat plate running out backward from the needle opening? This is caused when the needle is bent backward, usually by sewers who use their hands to overzealously "help" the fabric feed through the machine. This practice causes deadly wear and tear on machines.

Eliminate internal bulk

4. Eliminate internal bulk
Understand when to simply clip a seam allowance (when a curved seam needs to be straightened, or when turning an inside curve or corner) and when to actually remove fabric from the seam allowances with a notch (when turning an outside curve or corner). Grade seam allowances bravely; don't let your fear of fraying make your sewing lumpy. You can trim as close as 1/8 in. to the seamline without fear, so get a ruler and remind yourself what 1/8 in. looks like. Whenever possible, use a flat finish (for example, serging or zigzagging, then stitching in the ditch to finish a waistband) rather than folding under and slipstitching.

buy longer zippers

5. Buy longer zippers
A good choice is at least 1 in. longer than the pattern suggests. Stitch both waistbands and neck facings right across the top of the zipper tape (use nylon zippers), cutting off the excess at the top. This eliminates that annoying gap between the top of a zipper and the waistband (many fly-front pants deal with the problem this way, so why not skirts?), as well as the need to sew a hook and eye to the top of a dress zipper.

6. Give gadgets a chance
Keep up with new notions and accessory feet. A job you hate may turn out to be a snap with the right tool. Learn how to use a loop turner, a bias-tape maker, a narrow hemmer, and a flat-felling foot. But don't stop there; keep on learning.

Respect turn of cloth

7. Respect "turn of cloth"
Folded fabric layers take up room, so press completed collars before attaching them to a garment, carefully rolling the collar seam to the underside. Expect the undercollar to protrude slightly along the neck edge. Trim away this excess fabric and baste the collar's raw edges together. Also, to allow for fabric thickness when attaching buttons, make sure the shank (thread, plastic, or metal) is as long as the fabric layers are thick.

8. Use traditional pressing tools to supplement the performance of your iron
The iron is only part of the equation, and modern irons are indiscriminate and excessive steamers. Dab or spritz water on small or hard-to-press areas. Extend the capacity of your iron with a clapper and a point presser made from hardwood (don't use pine; it's too soft and resinous). Wood absorbs extra heat and moisture and returns it to the fabric so that you can press longer without scorching, plus it provides the hard surface you need to make sharp creases or open seams fully.

9. Consider an underlining
Adding an underlining can supplement or change the weight, hand, or drape of a garment fabric. Duplicate the pattern piece that needs help in a second fabric, and work with the fashion fabric and underlining as one. Underline, for example, to support a limp fabric with a firm fabric, or a loosely woven fabric with an opaque one. Always treat the underlining fabric as the secondary fabric; don't let it outweigh or dominate the primary fabric.

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Comments (5)

MurielM MurielM writes: About the diagram for #4, when it is turned, would not the outside curve then be an inside curve, and vice versa? Or am I just seeing it wrong?
Posted: 10:41 am on July 25th

user-3957048 user-3957048 writes: The diagram that shows when to clip a slit and when to clip a V is the wrong way around.

On an external curve, clipping a slit is correct. There is less fabric on the outer edge than on the seam, so the curve will spread these slits apart to allow the outer perimeter to be larger than the inner one. You don't need to clip a V.

On an internal curve, the perimeter at the outer edge is larger than at the seam. It needs to squash up into a smaller space so to you need to clip V notches to prevent the fabric from overlapping and being lumpy. The Vs will just look like slits around the curve once it's clipped.

You have Vs on the external and slits on the internal - please correct the diagram: 79-improve-your-sewing-04.jpg - move the V shaped bits above the internal curve.
Posted: 9:55 am on June 28th

sewingbeginner sewingbeginner writes: This helped alot with the placement and how to do the pockets in the seam of a ready made dress.
Posted: 12:24 pm on July 5th

katzber katzber writes:
As a sewer of 40+ years, I recognize good advice and there's a lot of it here.


Posted: 6:40 am on April 18th

rosb rosb writes: I thought this was well thought out & the last comment is so true so I recently donated all my bits to a migrant learn to sew group & its interesting to see my pieces of fabric walking around the streets all made up & someone has fallen in love with them. Some of these fabrics I have kept for many years carting them around the globe then thinking what made me buy that its not me
Posted: 6:48 pm on December 15th

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