10 Better Sewing Habits
Your sewing habits can often make or break a project. Good habits enhance your results, while bad habits-which may at first seem rewarding-stymie success. In this article from Threads #164 (December ’12/January ’13), we asked our authors to share what they considered to be good habits for a better sewing experience.
It’s easy to believe that developing good habits requires herculean efforts. But to replace one behavior with another, you simply need to be aware of how you sew, rather than sewing on auto-pilot. Take small steps; change one behavior for each new project. Then, continue sewing with the new habit for every subsequent project. Repetition is the key. If you can’t identify your bad habits easily, below are some that Threads authors have observed, along with their suggestions for better habits that will improve your sewing.
Balance Tension Through the Feed Dogs You Go
Sewers sometimes drag a garment through the needle and feed dogs in an attempt to get a smooth, pucker-free seam or to move delicate fabric through the machine without snagging. But it can have the opposite effect and create other problems. Overriding the feed dogs this way can bend or break needles, damage your sewing machine’s timing, and stretch the seam-causing a different kind of puckering.
To eliminate puckers the correct way, adjust your machine’s tension setting, and use the correct needle and the correct size thread. Sometimes you do need to taut-sew, but do it the right way: Exert equal pressure on the fabric in both directions (forward and backward), so that the tension against the needle is neutral and so that the feed dogs can still do their job. – Judith Neukam
Fit as You Go
Waiting until a garment is complete to check the fit often results in extra work, especially if you have to rip out finished seams to correct the fit.
It’s very important to try on your garment at certain points during construction to check the fit and refine it. Pin-fitting along the way is easy to do and can save a lot of time in the end. -Mary Ray
Increase Stitch Length
Many sewers automatically choose a short stitch length for construction seams, but a 2.5-mm-long stitch is too short for garment sewing. When tension is placed on a garment’s cloth, the thread should break; but with a 2.5-mm stitch length, the cloth will tear around the stitches. It takes longer to sew a seam with short stitches, and they’re also hard to remove.
I recommend a 3.5-mm stitch length for basic construction seams. But increase your stitch length to 3.0 mm first. Once you become comfortable sewing garments with longer stitches, lengthen it again to 3.5 mm. -Peggy Sagers
Choose Fabrics Appropriate to the Garment Design
A project can fail from the outset if you don’t consider the characteristics of the fabric you intend to use when selecting a pattern. And the chances of project failure are increased if you choose a challenging design when you’re working with an unfamiliar or difficult fabric.
Start on the right foot: Select a fabric that is recommended for the pattern, and select an easy design if you’ve chosen a challenging fabric. -Claire Shaeffer
Get Comfortable with Hand Sewing
Many sewers avoid hand sewing at all costs. But hand sewing helps in constructing a garment every step of the way, and can often give a superior finish to any machine-stitched seam. For example, zippers can be frustrating to install by machine, but they’re comparatively easy to install by hand.
Hand-basted seams hold garment sections together better than pins. Your garment fitting will be more successful, and when it’s time to machine-stitch the seam, your stitches will be more accurate, and you won’t have to pause to remove pins. Also, hand-picked zippers are so easy to install, and they look beautiful. -Susan Khalje
Use the right scissors for the task–and keep them sharp!
Economizing on good cutting tools will show in your work. Purchase quality scissors, and have them sharpened frequently. I own several pairs of my favorite scissors, and when one gets dull I send the dull ones for sharpening and pull out a fresh pair. Buy rotary cutter blades in bulk, and change them at the first sign of dullness. Keep an extra rotary cutter handle, and mount dulled blades on it for paper cutting. -Kenneth D. King
I teach a lot, and I’m always amazed at the lousy scissors people use. Not only are bad scissors tiring to use, they’ll shred your fabric, and that diminishes your results. It’s not a huge investment, and I recommend only three pairs: a very sharp 4-inch embroidery scissor with large finger holes; 5-inch tailor’s points (they go through just about anything); and 8-inch micro-serrated shears (they really grip fabric as you cut). Appliqué scissors are a nice addition; they’re very useful for cutting close to edges without cutting into the surrounding area. -Susan Khalje
Use More Pins
Many sewers pin patterns to fabric incorrectly, usually by pinning sparsely and in random spots. Or they temporarily secure patterns with too few weights and move them to cut another pattern section. With nothing holding the cut fabric to the pattern, the fabric can stretch out of shape.
To pin patterns to fabric, always set the pins parallel to the raw edge of the pattern, and pin within the seam allowance. This prevents the pins from marring the fashion fabric. Place pins in every corner of the pattern shape and space them every 4 inches along straight seams. Set pins closer together within tight curves. Leave the pins and pattern pieces in place until the garment pieces are ready to be sewn. -Louise Cutting
Leave Your Marks
Sewers often remove pattern pieces from cut fabric before transferring the pattern markings, intending to transfer the markings at a later time. This just makes the task more difficult when you return to the project; garment pieces may shift and warp, and aligning edges and markings with their proper positions can be nearly impossible.
It is essential to mark all garment pieces before removing them from the cutting table and unpinning the patterns. Get it out of the way so you don’t have to fuss with it later. -Linda Lee
Warm Up for Better Performance
You would never run a road race without first stretching and warming up your muscles, nor would you sign an important document before scribbling the pen on a scrap of paper. The same goes for sewing. You need to loosen up physically to get the best results, especially with hand sewing.
If you are going to hand-sew, loosen up your fingers by practicing the stitches on a sample, or in a place on the garment where they won’t show. Sample all the stitches you plan to use before sewing them on the garment. Practice makes perfect! It will eliminate the fear of mistakes, you’ll hone your technique, and you’ll get better results. -Anna Mazur
Invest in Quality
Economizing on sewing tools and materials may seem like a good idea, but it can degrade the quality of the garments you sew. Dull, damaged, or incorrect needles will ruin a good piece of fabric and wear on your sewing machine. Purchasing cheap thread is another example of false economy.
Remember that different needles are designed to work best on specific fabrics, and that thread holds your entire project together. Spend money on thread and needles. Buy the correct needles for each fabric you use, and use a fresh needle for every project. Purchase quality thread; it holds your garments together better, runs through your machine more smoothly, and doesn’t leave residue in the tension mechanism. -Kenneth D. King
What tips do you have for breaking bad sewing habits? Please share them below!