Safe Sewing and Getting Over the Fear of the Needle

Many new sewers are fearful of the machine, and it's understandable after we've been told to be careful and have read the stories of accidents to do with sewing machines (like my older sister when she was two nearly getting the needle in her finger). But in reality, these accidents are very rare. Quality sewing machines are made to be safe. They have to be or no-one would be allowed to buy one under eighteen.
Probably the most dangerous thing in your sewing kit it your scissors and as long as you keep your fingers out of the way of the closing blades, and don't drop them on your feet you will be fine.

One very important thing for having a safe sewing room is to keep it tidy. Have your pins in a box or a large pin cushion and put them back there when you take them out of your fabric. And of course to keep things out of reach of little children.

If you are teaching your children to sew, make sure they have child sized scissors. Dress-making scissors are too big for them to handle safely. When I was six I was at school making things for the teddy bears' picnic. I wanted to make some spectacles for my teddy and so I had to cut the holes out of the fabric. I don't know whose bright idea it was to let six-year-olds around dressmaking shears, but trying to cut the holes out, I ended up cutting my finger badly. I was brave and quietly told the teacher, but after leaving the classroom I don't remember much. Apparently I fainted. I still have the scar.

You can find the right sized pair of scissors for you by holding your hands out in front of you. Make two thumbs-up and then turn your hands so that your thumbs tips are touching. The length from one little finger knuckle to the other is the right length of dressmaking shears for you. I made up this rule but it seems to be right and make sense; the bigger your hands, the bigger your shears. I thought of it because my brother-in-law works on oil rigs as a safety inspector (I think) and he told me that if you do that it measures one foot; his hands are much bigger than mine so it doesn't measure a foot for me, more like nine and a half inches.

It is a good idea to have a drawer or a compartment in your sewing box just for scissors. Then you can put them away when you are not cutting, and you always know where to find them. Plus, no-one will use them for paper or opening packages.

Oh and by the way, you can get round-ended scissors for children. Left- and right- handed.

If you like to pin-fit your garment-in-the-making, and you don't want to prick yourself when you take it off to sew, you can use safety pins. These are also good for checking the fit on children's clothes, and for checking that the elastic is the right length on a waistband if you like that sort of thing.

SIDE NOTE: Needle threader and thread cutter
This is a good thing to have if you travel a lot and if you get one of good quality. It is especially handy for threading a needle with a doubled thread. I think you can also take them on aeroplanes, whereas you cannot take scissors, even little embroidery ones.

Clover has some neat antique-looking thread cutters - one is a pendant and the other is a ring! : D

If you are teaching children to sew, it is better to give them knitter's needles/bodkins, or tapestry needles because these are not as sharp as other needles so they won't prick themselves badly.

Sewing Machine Needles
Most instruction books tell you to switch your sewing machine off at the mains when you want to change the needle, but this is just to cover themselves. I don't bother. In fact, I leave the machine switched on while I change the needle. You're not touching any wires so where's the danger? I just hold the needle to stop it from falling into the machine, and turn the screw. Let's not get paranoid. : )

Getting over the Fear of the Needle
I have mentioned before the first time I used a sewing machine. I was a little nervous of the needle, imagining somehow that it would dash about over my fingers, then discovering that it pretty much stayed where it was and I could move my fingers quite safely. Also finding that the machine moved the fabric through without my having to push it or pull it.

The best thing to do to get over the fear of the needle is just to sew. First practice on some scrap fabric or an old vest or something, then sew seam samples. You'll soon get confidence. Almost instantly.

Oh and by the way, don't sew over pins. They can bend under the presser foot, the needle may strike them and bend or brake, and the stitch quality will be compromised. Either remove the pins as you come to them, or hand-baste your seams before sewing them on your sewing machine. That's the best way to do it. Really you should keep anything you're not sewing away from the needle.

A few other rather obvious safety rules
Use your quick-unpick pointing away from you. Of course you mustn't use cables that have wires showing. Don't try and sew metal or anything too hard for the needle to go through. Don't use a sewing machine when your hands or the fabric are wet. Don't use it outdoors or on anything unstable (like a wobbly table or a bed). Don't hit your sewing machine or throw it out the window. Don't practice karate on it... (You may have noticed the joking tone.) The best safety rule is to follow your common sense.

I hope none of that sounded patronizing. But you know, when other people's safety comes under one's attention or responsibility, every possible disaster flashes on the screen of one's mind, even if the odds are a thousand to one against it. If you have ever looked after young children, you'll know what I mean. : )

Until next time, happy sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner Haberdashery, Hornsea.

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