Monday, 18 April 2011

Secrets of Good Sewing

I have been machine sewing for nearly 5 years and even in that time you can learn a lot. There are bits of knowledge that can prevent your projects looking home-made. So here are some of my tips:-

1) Press as you go. Ask any sewing expert or professional sewer and they will tell you that this is paramount. It makes your seams and hems look much better. It also makes it easier to pin, baste and sew accurately.

2) Pin, Baste, Sew difficult sections and places where you need to be accurate, and use fine basting stitches on things like pockets. When basting plaid or stripes, baste from the RS with the seam allowances WS together, matching points on the pattern, and making two rows of basting stitches to keep the fabric from moving when you sew.
         When you sew fabric that frays readily, allow an extra eighth of an inch (3mm) seam allowance.
         When you are preparing to sew loose pleats, cross-stitch baste them rather than machine-basting. This keeps them in place whereas machine-basting will move the fabric out of position.

3) Take your time and enjoy it. Rushing sewing is the surest way to take the fun out of it and ruin your work. Sewing is a hobby not a race, so go at it at your own speed. If you rush your sewing, you will look at your finished projects and wish you had done them properly the first time round.

4) Use Quality Thread. You can tell good thread compared to cheap thread by looking at them. Poor thread is fuzzy and leaves fluff in your machine. It is also more liable to snap and it's is difficult to get the right tension for it. Good thread (I use Gutermann Sew-all) is smooth and goes through your machine like a dream. It is also much better for free motion embroidery as it doesn't snap easily.

5) Interfacing is not compulsory. When my Mum made her own clothes as a teenager she never used interfacing. She wasn't told to by her sewing teacher, and besides, it was an extra expense. Her clothes looked good. You only need interfacing if you want to strengthen some part of the garment, or you want to stiffen it. Too much interfacing ruins the drape of your garment and makes it look home-made. In the dress I am currently making of linen, I'm not using interfacing; the fabric is already stiff enough and holds itself in place.

6) Use the right order of work. The pattern instructions will not always give you the best way of doing things. And if you are using a book with very few pictures, it may not be very clear what you are supposed to do. It is an excellent idea to have a really good book on sewing. Probably the world's favourite is Reader's Digest New Complete Guide to Sewing. If you don't own a copy, you will never regret getting one.
          Here are some quick and general rules for order of work:
                 i) Flats First. First sew the darts. Make whole fronts, whole backs, (and possibly whole sides) first. This means if for example you skirt has a hip yoke, join the front hip yoke to the front skirt section, repeat for the backs. Then sew the side seams. Join the side seams of the yoke facing (basting the side that will have a zip). Insert the zip into the skirt. Attach the yoke facing. Hem the skirt.
                ii) When making trousers or jeans, apply the fly front (see previous post) or insert the zip wherever you want it to go. Sew the darts or add the back yoke. Sew the inside leg seams (inseams), then the side seams (outseams), then the crotch seam. ("Inseam, outseam, crotch seam".) Then apply the waistband and hem the trousers or jeans.
                iii) When making a blouse/shirt: sew the darts or princess seams. Join front to back at the shoulder seams. If you are inserting sleeves using flat method, do so now, and then sew the side seam and sleeve seam in one go, starting at the bottom of the blouse. If you are going to set the sleeves, sew the side seam of the blouse first. Sew the sleeve seam. Ease the sleeve cap and set the sleeve. Repeat for the other side. Make the collar and apply it at the same time as the front (and possibly back neck) facing. Hem the blouse and add buttons and buttonholes.

You may sometimes see a better way of doing things and you should use that way. That means you are getting better at sewing.

7) Have good scissors that cut straight and are comfortable for you.

8) When making buttonholes on delicate or loosely woven fabric, stabilise them for good results. It may not that be your 4-step buttonhole needs adjusting, it may just be that your fabric needs to be kept in place. I use sew-in interfacing, but stitch-and-tear may be better and easier to remove afterwards (I haven't tried it yet).

9) Get an adjustable zip foot. I'm getting one for my birthday so we'll see how it works out. I'm hoping it will let me make narrower lapped zips but we shall have to wait and see in a future post.

10) Mark dots and centre front and back, use notches and follow the grain. You paid for them when you bought your pattern. When making my first made-by-me dress nearly five years ago, I didn't know what dots where for, so when the pattern instructions told me to match the dots, I had to get the pattern piece out and mark the fabric with a pin, then match the pins. I learned my lesson. : )
             If you don't follow the grain, the garment will twist and not hang right when you wear it.

11) Staystitch and understitch. Staystitching is a line of stitching on angled or curved edges. It stops them from stretching out of shape as you handle the fabric. If you are sewing hip pockets, I suggest you stitch the seam with narrow cotton tape on top of it as well, to stop them from gaping.
               Understitching is when you sew the seam allowance to the facing after you have sewn the seam. It helps prevent the facing peaking round the edge and keeps it where it should be -- out of sight!

12) Trim seams before you neaten them with a zigzag or overlock stitch. Neatening then trimming often means you will snip the zigzag stitches and have to do them again. You don't always need an overcasting foot for ordinary fabric (as opposed to fine fabrics, loosely-woven fabrics, and knits); you can just use part of the sole plate on your sewing machine as your guide. On some machines this is difficult. My Brother XR6600 makes zigzags down the centre of the sewing area so I can't use the sole plate an overcasting guide. It's just as well that that machine came with an overcasting foot. Maybe this is because the Toyota is a 'mechanical' sewing machine, and the Brother is a computerised one.

When zigzagging fabric that frays readily, use a three step zigzag for better results.

So there are 12 tips for good sewing. I have more, but they may take a post each. Still I hope you have found a lot to help you this post.

Do you have any tips to share? If you do, please comment below.

Happy sewing!

Sabrina : )