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Conversational Threads

Need Your Best Sewing Tips

MissTeriRiter | Posted in General Discussion on

I am a mystery writer (thus the screen name). I was referred to this forum because I need your help. I’m working on a brand new mystery series with Berkley Prime Crime due out some time next year. I’m looking for your best tried-and-true sewing tips to be considered for inclusion. These could be  tips that have been passed down from generation to generation, something you’ve learned the hard way, or any helpful tip you can think of. I would appreciate any help you can provide me in this area.


  1. damascusannie | | #1

    Put your little thread snipping scissors on a lanyard and wear it aroud your neck when sewing so you can always find it.

    1. Susan -homedecsewing | | #31

      Oh that was one of my biggest no no's. One of the girls in my shop did this and almost lost an eye when her scissors whipped around and stuck in her face, just under her eye! Its very dangerous having a pointed scissors hanging around your neck. Please re-think this habit.  With kind regards , Susan

      1. damascusannie | | #32

        Really? I've never had any trouble, but I never just drop my scissors either--I always consciously lower them back into position.

        1. Susan -homedecsewing | | #33

          yes really, it happened as she was getting up from her machine and turning to walk away. They must have hit something and went swinging up. I had also liked the idea and was wearing my scissors around my neck on a ribbon, but after going thru that , never again.Take care. Susan

  2. Josefly | | #2

    Spend twice as much time at the pressing table as at the sewing table.

  3. User avater
    ThreadKoe | | #3

    OHHH, I love mystery book series! You will come clean and let us know what novels to look for when they come out, won't you? There are lots of tips and tricks already written if you read through the archives as well.
    Use good thread. Do not cut paper with you fabric scissors. Oil your sewing machine regularily. Change the needle often. Keep sharp tools to the right side of your sewing machine, so you do not snag the fabric. Keep a set of small oil free tools (hidden from your husband) in your sewing room. Stack your pattern pieces in order of use, after they have been cut out. Do not put a hot light directly over your sewing machine, as it can cause the grease and oil to dry out and freeze up the machine! Hope you find something helpful. Good Luck. Cathy

  4. Ralphetta | | #4

    This has been a topic of discussion several times. If you SEARCH you will find a multitude of good suggestions.

  5. charm | | #5

    tips, never rush sewing any projects. or else you'll have to do it all over again if something goes wrong with it.

  6. woodywoodpecker598 | | #6

    My best sewing tip is for thick seams that your sewing machine just will not do, like re-doing hems on jeans. I don't have a jean-a-ma-jig, but I do have have a hammer and a bread board. I lay the jean seams on the bread board on the floor and give it a few good smacks with my hammer. Works great! sometimes a few more good smacks helps with any frustrations you have been having with your sewing project. I can't take credit for this tip as I read about it along time ago. Who ever thought of this should get an award!

  7. MissTeriRiter | | #7

    Thanks for all of your tips. Keep them coming! I am keeping a list of all of them with a note of who submitted each one. If your tip is selected for use in one of the books, you will be contacted and will receive a signed advance reader copy of the book before it is released. (The first one is due out next August.)

    1. jjgg | | #8

      Hand baste all your seams before sewing them.

    2. starzoe | | #9

      Is your heroine part of the sewing fraternity?

    3. Ralphetta | | #10

      Don't bite the thread off, use scissors. It seems to me that actors and characters in books are always biting off the thread to make it look "authentic." That worked years ago, but polyester thread will eventually wear a groove in your tooth and a piece will break off. (I learned that the hard way and felt like a dummy.)

  8. sewelegant | | #11

    Wear a wrist pin-cushion and you will always have those pins where you can reach them when you need them (or a place to put them when you take pins out).  Mine wore out and I have not replaced it and now I am forever leaving my pin cushion behind when I go from the cutting table to the sewing machine to the ironing surface, etc. and am always searching for it, it seems.

  9. MissTeriRiter | | #12

    Starzoe, I can tell you that the heroine does sew.


    Ralphetta, I've seen actors do the thread biting thing. I didn't know that the polyester thread could cause tooth damage. I will certainly keep that in mind.


    Excellent responses! Thank you so much. Keep those tips coming.

    1. Ralphetta | | #13

      For years I yanked the material out from under the sewing machine and bit off the thread. I realized much later that I always held a garment at the same angle as I did it so it was always the same tooth. Gradually it cut a groove and 1/3 of my tooth snapped off. Polyester is strong!

  10. woodywoodpecker598 | | #14

    When you are using a rotary cutter, keep your fingers far as possible away from the blade, and PAY ATTENTION. I was in a hurry, thought I would just make one last cut,before I had to start making supper, and cut the side of my finger off. Had to get it stitched back on (and on my birthday as well) and couldn't sew to well for awhile. Happy Birthday to me!

  11. junctioncats | | #15

    Measure twice, cut once. And always keep three items handy - your steam iron, your fabric shears, and your seam ripper. Oh, and everything, but everything depends upon the details.

  12. Teaf5 | | #16

    Your query gives me a break from stitching a flannel nightgown on a 90-degree day.... thanks!  While you can find all kinds of sewing tips on this forum using the "advanced search" feature and the terms "sewing tips," you might also like to know what kinds of literary references to sewing sound completely false to those of us who sew and read.

    Whenever an author refers to a character sitting peacefully by a fire, working on an heirloom garment while carrying on a conversation, I cannot accept the scene unless it's an historical piece--and even then, I wonder how realistic that depiction is!

    Nowadays, sewing is rarely a relaxing or social activity; many of us must frantically try to finish a project between the demands of outside work, family obligations, cooking dinner, answering homework questions, neighbors or friends dropping by, etc. 

    Most of my sewing nowadays is repairing or altering ready-to-wear to fit better, wear longer and work better, rather than sewing garments for myself.  Instead of an heirloom, I'm likely to be replacing a backpack zipper, adding an internal pocket to a skirt for work, taking in a bridesmaid's dress, or quickly hemming up a prom gown that is suddenly too long for the new pair of shoes.

    It's difficult to sew in the evenings, when one is tired, or in front of a softly glowing fire--even when I had young, excellent eyes, I couldn't see colors truly at night and needed intense light to sew accurately with a machine or by hand.  Sewing rarely calms me down; it's far more likely that I'm stressed by a deadline and distractions, yelling and cursing as I make mistakes or rip out seams.  On the other hand, I can be calm and serene as I sew a bride into her dress (using my pocket sewing kit) or stitch my boss'es blazer button back on just before her big presentation or repair a tear in the tent's rainfly at midnight during a thunderstorm.

    Someone who sews is usually creative, intrepid, and practical; he/she usually has the confidence to fix all kinds of things, even those not using fabric or thread.  Someone who sews probably also knows how to tie a good knot, attach a fishing lure, read directions, and assemble a bike or desk or a 1,200-piece Lego castle.

    Thus, I think that someone who sews would make a dandy heroine of a mystery novel; be sure to tell us when it's published!

    1. User avater
      ThreadKoe | | #17

      Hee Hee, Teaf, I agree whole heartedly with you! Cathy

    2. MissTeriRiter | | #18

      Wow! Thanks for that advice! I will certainly keep those things in mind.

      1. KathleenSews | | #19

        Today's home sewer is likely to be making home dec items: pillows, curtains, tablecloths, etc. as those can be made for less than they can be purchased. Making creative jackets from sweatshirts is another popular sewing project. As is restyling and embellishing t-shirts to duplicate high-end boutique tops.My sewing tip: When you have your garment cut out, sections pinned and ready to sew, sometimes you don't want to sew two pieces together all the way from cut edge to cut edge. You need to leave part of the seam unsewn to insert a zipper, placket or such. To remember to stop sewing at that point, place 2 pins next to each other. This is a favorite tip of Nancy Zieman ("Sewing With Nancy" PBS show). I sent it to her back when she had a syndicated newspaper sewing column, before her PBS show, more years ago than either of us want to remember.

        1. PASDENOM | | #20

          Anticipate how many bobbins you'll need for a project and wind them in advance. It's annoying to have to rethread the machine and stop in the middle of a seam when your bobbin runs out.

    3. Josefly | | #23

      I enjoyed reading your description of what sewing is NOT. It reminded me of how tense I am when I sew, even when I'm doing the hand-sewing parts. My shoulders get extremely tight and I have to stop and do some stretching and force myself to relax. And the comments about sewing in dim light - I simply can't do some things at all at night, even with bright artificial light, it's just not enough. And carry on a conversation while sewing? Uh-uh. That was a very thoughtful reply to the question.

      1. Teaf5 | | #30

        Participating in the Threads forum is a great way to take a break from the stresses of sewing; it's much cooler today, and I've nearly finished the flannel nightgown that was giving me fits when I stopped to check in!

    4. MaryinColorado | | #54

      Here here!  Very well said.  Mary

  13. User avater
    ThreadKoe | | #21

    put all the notions, thread, trims and pre wound bobbins in a ziplock bag for each project so you do not have to stop and search for them. Cathy

  14. marymary | | #22

    I organize my sewing projects by using plastic baskets.  Each basket contains all the parts to the project.  I started doing this because my cats loved to play with buttons, thread spools, and anything else they could maneuver over the edge of the cutting table.  This, in turn, created another problem.  The cats loved the baskets that were filled with soft fabric.  So, now I have two dedicated baskets each with a layer of fleece that are just for the cats.  They know these baskets are for them and leave the others alone.  We are all happy and spend many hours together sewing.  One of the cats will even run to the sewing room when I say, "Let's go sew".

    1. MaryinColorado | | #55

      That's one I haven't heard, a real sewing kitty!  Thanks for making me smile this morning!  Mary

    2. User avater
      ThreadKoe | | #58

      How did you get kitties to go in the baskets? I have tried putting out a kitty cushion and extra chairs with fuzzy blankets to keep mine off of my chair and table, but it is not working! As soon as I start sewing, I have 2 lapmates that insist on seeing what I am doing! I swear they think they are protecting me from the machine. Cathy

      1. marymary | | #59

        Kathy, I put fleece in one of the baskets and an old chair cushion in the other.  One cat always liked to sit on the chair with the cushion and the other always wanted to climb into the basket holding fabric.  She seemed to like fleece best, so that is what I gave her.  I bought a new cushion for the chair.  I also spent a lot of time, at first, picking them up and putting them in the baskets.  One cat thinks she is a pattern weight.

        I talk to them a lot and when one or both interupt me while I am trying to sew, I stop and pay attention to him/her for a while and then put him/her back into the basket.  The baskets sit on my cutting table.  They have become so accustomed to the baskets that when I need to clear the table to use the entire surface, they get a little upset.

        I have covers for all my machines because my female cat loves to eat thread.  I caught her the other day with her head under one of the covers.  It is a pain to have to cover and uncover all the time, but not as much pain as having to take her in to the vet to get thread removed from her insides.

        1. User avater
          ThreadKoe | | #60

          I see, like a small child, it is a matter of insisting! The 3rd cat that lives here part time likes to sleep inside the serger cover and actually unfolds it to climb inside to curl up. I hope she never figures out how to take it off! Thanks for the advice! Cathy

      2. MaryinColorado | | #61

        ha ha ha  "protecting you from the machine" , that's so funny!  Thanks for the giggle this a.m. Mary

  15. moira | | #24

    I can't see this one featuring in a murder mystery, but anyway, one of my handiest accessories is a little jam jar with a glued-on lid which has a pin-head sized hole in the middle. Any time I find myself using a blunt pin, into the jar it goes, and a broken or blunt machine needle hits the same fate. I always used to be concerned about putting such items in the bin just in case one escaped in emptying, or in case anyone would try to compress the waste bag by hand. I wonder if our heroine would like one of these beside her machine!

    1. boofsmom | | #25

      This isn't a tip, but a saying I found not too long ago that your sewer, and some of the others on this site, might use and appreciate!

      Suo ergo maledico (I sew, therefore I swear)

      Good luck with your book-please let us know what it's called and when it's released so we can look for it-I love to read, maybe even more than I love to sew!  (well, maybe not)




      1. twreeder | | #28

        Loved your saying about sewing and swearing. 


      2. Teaf5 | | #29

        I think I need to embroider "Suo ergo maledico" on a wallhanging for my sister to hang above her "swearing machine," as it is called in her house.

    2. katina | | #37

      Great tip! thanks for this

  16. Brine | | #26

    One thing I have learned the hard way is to write down all the alterations and note anything else that is relevant right on the pattern. Then if I decide to use the pattern again at a later date I don't have to rely on my sometimes faulty memory.

  17. starzoe | | #27

    I keep a large looseleaf binder to track my sewing. For each item I write down all the information about the garment: pattern used, size used, any alterations, any special information, sometimes price of fabric, how much I used, where I got it and of course a snip of the fabric. This has been going on for decades and I do refer to it often.

  18. MissTeriRiter | | #34

    Thanks to everyone for all of your responses. I am keeping track of all of them.

    However, I only have screen names for most of you.

    If you feel comfortable doing so, I would like to be able to record your FIRST names and a location/city/state with the tips.  It looks like there's a "reply via e-mail" option that you could use instead of posting in the forum. Thank you in advance.

    ETA: I am sincerely sorry if I have made anyone feel uncomfortable by asking for this information.  

    Edited 9/24/2008 1:38 pm ET by MissTeriRiter

    Edited 9/24/2008 1:42 pm ET by MissTeriRiter

    1. starzoe | | #36

      No thanks, there is a reason, you know, for only identifying ourselves with a screen-name.

      1. victoria0001 | | #38

        Excellent advice.  Hope everyone takes it!!

        1. starzoe | | #39

          One thing I have learned about forums is that some people readily give out all their personal information and take risks without knowing what the repercussions could be.

          1. victoria0001 | | #40

            I agree and I felt very uncomfortable at the explanation of the "writer" who began this thread.  It just didn't register 'right' with me!!

          2. sewslow67 | | #41

            I agree with you too, Starzoe ...and also with Victoria.  In this day ...with all the risks out there for everyone, regardless of age, one can never be too careful.  It was good of you to point that out to an earlier poster too, who gave all of her personal information on the open forum. 

            PS:  Are you sewing anything that you are thrilled with recently?  I'm not doing much these days other than babysitting the pups; busy time, but great fun, too.

          3. MissTeriRiter | | #42

            Yes, I completely understand your concerns regarding identifying yourself with any information, that is why I thought some of you might be willing to contact me via private message. I have a deadline at the end of the month and I was just hoping to provide a simple credit for featured tips to my publisher. For example: Mary Sue, Peoria, Illinois or Lynne, Wisconsin - much like you'd see in a magazine.

          4. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #43

            I understand you need to provide credits, however, since this is a public forum, you could just use our info as gathered, and reference it back to Gatherings Forum. You did ask for the info, and can provide the pertinent links. If you really need to contact certain people, then just PM them for permission individually. Then it is up to them, rather than a phishing expidition. Cathy

          5. MissTeriRiter | | #44

            I am sorry if my query was perceived as a "phishing expedition". I do understand where you are coming from there. I was trying to save the time required to send individual messages and didn't think about how my question for credit could appear intrusive. Usually, my information sources are personal friends, aquaintances, or local resources. This is the first time I've collected tips or information in a forum setting. I just wanted to be able to give credit, not to make anyone feel uncomfortable. Please accept my apologies.

          6. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #45

            I understand you have time constraints, however, safety is the foremost concern for our fellow gatherers here. It is a sometimes sad society we live in. Apology accepted. Cathy

          7. starzoe | | #46

            "you might be willing to contact me by private message" (your quote).We don't know who you are - and even if contacted by "private message", a person with devious intent would have information enough to pass on or to use themselves. I thought you were writing a mystery novel, not an article where you want to give credits for hints. It all sounds too phishy to me, and my apologies if you are not in that category, but you are pretty naive about the internet.

          8. PASDENOM | | #47

            The poster sent me email through the site, an easy way to get email if you reply directly. I read mysteries all the time and can't imagine how or why there would be references to who provided a tip. A character doing some sewing might use some of the ideas but it would take space and be distracting to credit individuals with each idea.Giving the benefit of the doubt that this is well intentioned, but I still don't want to give my email or name and location.

          9. MissTeriRiter | | #48

            I am not writing an article.  I was collecting the tips as a little "extra" after the mystery novel part of the book for readers who not only enjoy reading, but also sewing. Plans are also to include directions on how to make one of the projects that one of the characters sews in the story.

            You are correct about the internet being a place for those with "devious intentions" to take advantage of trusting individuals. As someone with good intentions, I overlooked the fact that I am essentially a "stranger" to you.  It was an honest mistake, and I feel very badly about having made that error.

            I've seen several people include their first names in their post as well as a city or state in their profiles. I figured that was generic enough for someone to provide (via e-mail ) for proper credit. I meant no harm, and I sincerely apologize to anyone whom I have offended.


          10. User avater
            artfulenterprises | | #52

            Hello again Starzoe,I've just discovered the second page of this thread and wanted to say thanks for being a good steward of this forum!Having spent a number of years working in the fashion industry I learned there is a cad in every workroom willing to steal your ideas, take credit for your skill and sabotage your efforts. While that may or may not be the case here, it pays to be cautious while not suppressing your natural urge to be generous.Frankly, I think MissTeriWriter could actually get all the background info she could possibly want simply by cruising the forum.Best to you and all the ladies here of generous spirit...

          11. starzoe | | #53

            You are right by saying that TeriWriter could gather all the information she could ever want by surfing this (and any) forum. Several years ago there was a young woman who posted the pics of her three very cute and young daughters on another forum, her profile sent you to her other interests where she named her children, gave her home city, her email, where her husband worked, where they holidayed, what vehicle they drove, the girls' school, etc. etc.I have a background in security investigations and it is so easy to gain information which came in handy one time when I had some china on consignment with an antique dealer, he skipped out and in two days I found him and recovered my goods (and then reported him to the police).

          12. MaryinColorado | | #57

            Thanks for this very significant info, I am going to be more careful in the future!  Mary

    2. MaryinColorado | | #56

      I look forward to reading your book!  I keep an empty pill bottle by each machine to put "dirty needles" in.  (I am a nurse so that term stuck with me). 

      I pilfered several tools from hubby's workshop.  When cutting large pieces of fabric, I use his drywall square, it's about 48" long and has a sideways edge (would make a good weapon),  I sometimes use his carbon paper (for his scroll saw designs) to copy patterns, plastic templates can be made in to "shop" too, when I can't find my "stilletto" I've used his awl to hold lace or fabric more precisely under the presserfoot when doing precise heirloom sewing, I've used his T square so often that he went and bought a new one, couldn't live without his "painters blue tape, extension cords, ocassionally have used his tiny screw drivers for stuffing dolls, etc.  Oh, he ties fishing flies so I've confiscated his lamp with the magnifying glass too.  The hardware store can be a great resource for many sewing bins and tools too.

      Chop sticks are great for stuffing tools too.  I once used washers and nuts for doll and soft animal joints. 

      I keep an egg timer in the studio so I don't sit too long in one position.  It encourages me to move around the room as I multi task and take breaks. 

      PBS has a sewing show on each week day here, most of them have tips at the end of the show.  Martha's Sewing Room  (http://www.marthapullen.com) and Sewing With Nancy (http://www.nancysnotions.com) with Nancy Zeiman would be good resources.  Nancy Zeiman has free videos you can watch online.  Mary

      Oh, and those of us with embroidery machines usually have computers and special software for editing/creating our own designs and printing out templates.  Then there's many fabric art things to do with the printer like printable fabric, etc. 


  19. thehat | | #35


  20. SewFancy | | #49

    Just getting back to sewing after many years, but I can still hear my mom saying never sew after 10 PM (!!!!), and don't pick a complicated item for your first project back (oh, and keep those seam rippers handy). Seriously, take your time in the cutting and pressing.

    Good luck!


    1. boofsmom | | #50

      If I didn't sew after 10pm, I'd never get anything done!  That's my most productive time!  lol

  21. User avater
    artfulenterprises | | #51

    My best tip is: NEVER sew when you are too tired! That is the perfect recipe for disaster and takes all the joy out of the project.My most frequent admonition is: "Use the right tool for the job!" Invest in the best tools you can afford and learn to use them well.Also: keep your tools and workspace clean and well organized to eliminate unnecessary frustration.The Key to Success: Always make a muslin (or two or three) to fit and test a new pattern before cutting into expensive fashion fabrics.With all that "back wheel" stuff out of the way, you can relax and get creative!

  22. MarieCurie | | #62

    The most important piece of advice is that sewing WELL is hard.  You can slap something together, and that's how it will look.  If you want to do something well, like anything else, it takes practice.  Read lots of sewing books. Make the muslin, even if you don't want to.  Practice practice practice.  Try something different and harder next time.  Don't skimp on cheap equipment, ESPECIALLY fabric and scissors.  Be willing to rip out the seam and sew it correctly, even if you are the only one who will know.  And don't sell yourself short.  Sewing is not rocket science.  I know.  I've done rocket science, and this isn't it.

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