All posts by Jen Skedd

Sewing bad habits you should avoid

Sewing Bad Habits you should avoid

Everyone has sewing bad habits.  Some of these I can smugly say that I never do. But there are a couple of these 12 sewing crimes that I commit frequently. How do you measure up with my ‘Dirty Dozen’? Are you guilty as charged?

1. Putting pins in your mouth

Sewing bad habits - a pincushion is better for holding pins than your mouth
Use a pincushion to store your pins – not your mouth.

I’ve put this top of the list as it’s my worst sewing bad habit. I openly admit that I commit this offence every day. Apart from this practice being thoroughly unhygienic, you’ll scratch your teeth. My dentist knows I do this and chastises me about the state of my enamel during every check-up. So if you won’t take a telling from me, then on behalf of dentists everywhere, don’t hold pins in your mouth!

2. Not checking the measurements on your pattern

There’s nothing more frustrating and down-heartening than spending lots of time and effort on a sewing project and the item not fitting well. Not to mention wasting £££’s on fabric. When all that was required was a few minutes spent taking accurate body measurements and checking these against the pattern. Remember that commercial paper patterns aren’t sized in the same way as ready-to-wear clothing bought from the high street. When sewing, you usually have to go up 2 or 3 sizes. So if you’re normally a size 12 in shop-bought, then you may have to use a size 16 or even a size 18 pattern. And if you’re not the same size all over, then alter the pattern accordingly. If in doubt, make a ‘toile’ from calico or some other cheap fabric first. It will be worth the extra effort.

3. Not washing your fabric before using it.

Fabrics bought straight off the bale have finishing treatments applied which make them firmer. This can lead to them getting creased and being difficult to handle. Also it’s more difficult to cut out when the fabric has folds that won’t smooth out so washing will remove these.
Also natural fabrics such as cotton, linen and especially wool can shrink when washed. Wouldn’t it be a shame if you invested a lot of time making a gorgeous new dress, then it was too tight after its first wash?

4. Having a cluttered workspace

There’s nothing so satisfying than being able to lay your hand on your scissors, tape measure, pins and chalk while you’re working. So keep only the essential items out on your sewing table that you’re likely to use for that project. Tuck away the suitcase-sized sewing box containing every sewing tool in the haberdashery shop, your entire lifetime collection of thread reels, a doll’s left arm, a small red plastic tractor (?), and the key that doesn’t fit any lock in your house. You know exactly what I’m talking about!

5. Not transferring pattern markings to your fabric

So you’re in a rush to finish your sewing project. You’ve cut out your skirt pieces so take off the pattern and put it away. First sewing stage; darts! You remember roughly where they’re meant to be – right? So you have a couple of attempts and the left one is almost the same length as the right. And who’s going to notice that it’s slanting a bit? You carry on and sew up the side seams, then try on the skirt. The darts look terrible! They’re all puckered and lumpy. So you unpick the darts, get out the pattern and lay it against the skirt, marking as best you can. Which isn’t very accurate as the garment is now 3-dimentional. All this takes an extra half-hour, and still isn’t looking great.
Not taking an extra few minutes to transfer the key pattern markings onto your fabric isn’t a short cut. It’s one of the worst Sewing bad habits. It makes any project more time-consuming and difficult and you’ll end up with an inferior result.

6. Not using a fresh needle for every project

Sewing bad habits - a selection of sewing machine needles -

Use a fresh needle every 8 hours of sewing

As the thread passes through the needle during the stitching process, it rubs against the metal of the eye. This creates microscopic grooves in the needle, which in turn wear the thread as it passes through. If your thread keeps shredding and breaking while you’re sewing, then it’s likely that the needle needs changed (or it’s poor quality thread – see point 9 below). As a rule of thumb, you should change the needle every 8 hours of sewing

7. Not pressing as you go

Sewing bad habits - have na iron near your sewing table
An iron is your next most- important tool after your sewing machine

This one of the Sewing bad habits that signals homemade’ rather than ‘handmade’.  When you’re sewing, you should iron every seam when you’ve sewn it, before you continue to the next stage. This helps the thread settle into the fabric, so you obtain a smooth ‘clean’ seam which will lie perfectly flat. If you can, have an iron and board in your sewing room, or set up next to your sewing table. If you have to go into another room to press every seam, or downstairs, then you’re going to skip the pressing, aren’t you? Professional seamstresses and tailors will press as much as they sew and if you adopt this good habit, you’ll see an immediate difference in the quality of the finish.

8. Not transferring alterations to the paper pattern

There’s nothing more off-putting and likely to dissuade you from starting a sewing project than the thought that you’re going to have to make a toile or alter a paper pattern. If you’ve got a style that you’ve made before and fitted it perfectly, then it’s so quick and easy to make it again in a new fabric. Once you’ve altered your garment and achieved a good fit, take notes of the alterations you’ve made and amend the pattern. That way you’ll have a perfectly-fitting pattern ready to whip out and whizz up that dress/skirt/shirt next time you’ve got a free evening. If you know you’re going to have to test the pattern and make alterations again, you’re much less likely to sew anything at all.

9. Using poor quality thread

Sewing bad habits. Using Poor quality thread. Image shows large range of colourful thread reels
Metrosene threads – good quality and available in a huge range of colours

I don’t advocate buying expensive thread if you can find a cheaper alternative. However don’t skimp on  thread quality. Good thread doesn’t always have to cost a lot and it’s not worth giving yourself the headache of try to sew with bad thread. How many times do you want to re-thread your needle before you give up completely? The way to tell if it’s likely to be poor quality is to hold a short length up to the light. Is it evenly spun, or uneven in thickness? Is it smooth with a sheen, or is it matt with a fluffy appearance? A poor-quality thread will be uneven in thickness (meaning it won’t ‘flow’ smoothly through the machine. It could cause tension problems and is more susceptible to breaking. If it looks ‘fluffy’ then it will shed more lint. You could also try the ‘snap’ test. Wrap a little around your index fingers and pull. If it breaks easily, then don’t buy it. Gütermann is a popular brand and is available is most haberdashery and craft retailers but at around £1.90 for 100m, it’s quite pricey if you’ve a large project. Mettler ‘metrosene’ is superb if you can find and is about the same price as Gütermann. Moon is another good-quality thread that I’ve used for years without any problems. It’s widely available in fabric shops or online and at around £1.30 for a 1000m reel, is much cheaper than Gütermann, although the range of colours is limited.

A thread that I’ve recently discovered is available in Lidl. They have a pack of 20 x 500m reels for £2.99. This works well in my sewing machines so I’ve been using it in the studio for around 2 years now. It has more sheen than most all-purpose polyester sewing threads so it’s also lovely for machine embroidery. And as the high speeds involved in Free-motion embroidery impose huge strain on thread, this is usually the best test of quality and it holds up extremely well for this purpose without breaking. For some reason however, it doesn’t perform well in my overlocker. But as Lidl also occasionally have 3000m cones for overlockers priced at £1.49 or 2 for £2, I snap them up when I can. Overlocker cones also run well on the sewing machine – just pop the cone into a mug and stand it behind your sewing machine.
For excellent quality threads for all sewing purposes at a reasonable price available online, try www.empressmills.co.uk.

10. Not cleaning your machine

Fabric and threads release tiny fibres as they’re being sewn, known as lint. This lint builds up around the working areas of your machine. Take a look at the needle area and around the bobbin – see all that fluff? If you don’t remove it regularly, that lint will become compacted and will affect the machine’s performance. It will eventually shorten your machine’s life. It can even cause your machine to seize up completely. It’s happened on several occasions in the studio during a class when someone’s brought along an older machine that’s been poorly maintained. Sewing machines have been known to catch fire too, because of the build-up of lint combined with oil. It’s a lethal combination to a sewing machine.

So, when you change your needle after 8 hours of sewing (see above), take that opportunity to run a clean soft brush around the machine and flick out the fluff. Check around and under the bobbin case too. And never blow, tempting though it may be. This only pushes the lint further into your machine and the moisture from your breath will condense on the machine’s working parts. Check your manual for instructions on oiling the machine too. A spot of oil every few weeks will keep it working away happily, extending the period between which you need to have the machine serviced, and ultimately extend its life by years.

11. Using your dressmaking shears on things other than fabric.

Sewing Bad Habits to avoid. Dressmaking shears with a padlock to stop them being used on substances other than fabric.
Lock up your shears

An experienced sewist will never do this. But if you’re new to sewing, you may be tempted to grab the first pair of scissors you can find to cut out your paper patterns, or even to cut open that newly-delivered parcel. Please resist this temptation! Other substances will blunt your shears and there’s nothing worse than trying to cut your fabric accurately with dull shears. You may as well chew out the pieces! And by the way, synthetic fabrics will also blunt your dressmaking shears. Fleece is the worst offender and as far as I’m concerned it’s the Devil’s cloth! So invest in a quality scissor sharpener, or take them to get sharpened regularly. And if you ever find your dressmaking shears in your Husband’s toolbox, insist that he buys you a new pair immediately, and this time lock them up out of harm’s way.

12. Sewing with poor posture

It may seem obvious but make sure you’re sitting in a comfortable position when you sew. Treat your sewing machine as if it’s a computer and you’re sitting at your work desk. Your feet should be planted on the floor, your lower spine firmly supported in the chair so you’re sitting upright and not slumped. Your shoulders should be relaxed and ‘soft’ – not tensed up to your ears. Hours spent sitting in a poor position will cause headaches, back and neck pain, whatever the activity. Long term, bad posture can cause permanent nerve damage. Sewing can sometimes be a pain in the neck – but it shouldn’t be literally.

Also make sure you’ve got good light. If the light on your machine isn’t bright enough, then use a desk lamp to light your working area. Sewing does cause strain on the eyes so take regular breaks (stretch out your back and shoulders at the same time). And if you normally wear specs for close-up functions such as reading, then you should probably wear them for sewing too.

Sewing jersey fabric. A dresssmkaing pattern for jersey stretch knit fabrics

Sewing jersey fabric

Sewing Jersey Fabric

Sewing jersey fabric can be fun and very satisfying.  You can make all types of clothes from T-shirts, leggings, dresses, tunics, pyjamas and more.  Jersey fabric is soft to wear, drapes well, and tends to crease less than wovens.

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Academy awards for sewing patterns

Academy Awards – for Sewing Patterns

Academy Awards for Sewing Patterns

The talking point of last night’s Academy Awards ceremony was undoubtedly the announcement of the wrong winner of Best Film.  But my attention as always was on the stunning gowns. So I thought I’d take a look at some of the sewing patterns around that are worthy of an Academy Award themselves.
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Beginners Sewing Patterns

Beginners Sewing Patterns

Beginners Sewing Patterns

Beginners sewing patterns may not be the most glamorous or fashion-forward designs. But when you’re just starting out on your sewing journey, it’s easy to get carried away with your ambitions and take on too much.  Perhaps you aspire to design Oscar-red-carpet worthy frocks for A-list celebs. Just take a look at the gorgeous outfits worn by Emma Stone on the Golden Globes La-La-Land tour.  But Prada and Gucci gowns such as these are highly-technical feats of textile engineering requiring the very best of precision cutting and sewing techniques. My advice is to take a Beginners Sewing Course to learn the correct techniques.  Concentrate on learning the basic sewing techniques and doing them well. Then building up your skills by making simple shaped garments in easy-to-handle fabrics. Gradually, you’ll increase your repertoire until you can take on the most advanced projects.

So you’ve had your first sewing lesson, and you now know your way around a sewing machine. Probably that sewing session included making a pin cushion or an envelope cushion. Great! That’ll have introduced you to cutting fabric and sewing a basic seam. However, you may already have realised that it’s often not as easy as it’s sometimes made out to be. Even measuring and cutting fabric evenly can take some practice. Whilst the catwalk awaits your stunning creations, perhaps then it’s best to start with something a bit simpler until you’ve honed your skills.

Beginners sewing patterns are based on  simple shapes with minimal pieces and no tricky features or fastenings. But even before you launch into your fashion-sewing career, why not try a couple of craft projects first?  They’ll give you more practice at cutting fabric and sewing straight, even seams to build your confidence. And you won’t have to worry about the added complications of  shaping that fabric to fit around your body.

Pattern brands such as Simplicity, New Look, Vogue, Butterick and McCalls all have specific pattern collections that are suitable. I’m quite impressed with Simplicity’s ‘Learn to Sew’ range so here’s my pick of patterns that will be quick and easy to do.  They’ll also build your repertoire of sewing skills, and be satisfying to use and to wear.

Simplicity 2164 – a range of  useful and stylish bags

Simplicity 2164

I love this easy bag pattern with four variations from large Tote shopper, to over-the-shoulder messenger bags with pockets. These are the type of items you could complete in an evening. Oh the sense of satisfaction gained when a single sewing session produces results.


Simplicity 2576. Girls’ pull on skirts

Simplicity 2576

This pattern’s ideal for the younger sewist; there’s no tricky dart shapings or waistband; just a simple gathered elastic casing. With a long straight version or shorter fuller style, there’s lots of opportunity to give these styles your own stamp. With suggestions for applying trims, this is a pattern that can be used over and over, with totally different looks every time.


Simplicity pattern no 1786. Girl’s pull-on skirt and gilet

Simplicity 1786
I just love this little gilet pattern introducing skills such as adding lining and using bias binding. Fur fabric is bulky and needs a particular cutting technique. The secret is to part the pile and cut only the base fabric and not through all the fur fibres themselves. Try making the gilet in a short pile fabric such as the sleek leopard-print shown before embarking on the bulkier version. And with the cute little pull-on skirt in the same envelope, this is great value and another pattern that’s suitable for keen junior sewists.


Simplicity Pattern no. 2314. 4-panel skirt in 3 lengths

Simplicity 2314

An A-line skirt is always a good option for an early sewing project and this 4-panel flare is ideal. There are no darts; the precision stitching required to achieve a smooth finish to a dart can be daunting. The style is semi-fitted too, so choose the waist size that’s the best match for you. The hip measurement is not quite so critical as it would be in a pencil skirt. The challenges posed by this style are the side zip and the straight waistband. Master these basic techniques and you can put another couple of ticks on your ‘to do’ list. This is a beginners sewing pattern that’s not just for beginners. This skirt is a great wardrobe staple for experience dressmakers too.  Suitable for light floaty cotton lawn for summer, or mid-weight wool or denim for winter, it’s so versatile. Why not make one for every season! The versatility continues when you consider this skirt can be a foundation office ‘uniform’ if made in suiting weight gabardine or flannel. Choose a lively tropical print for your weekend alter ego.

Simplicity Pattern no. 2290 – Pyjama pants for the whole family

Simplicity 2290

For some family-sewing, there’s nothing easier than pyjama pants. Simple loose shapes lessen the headache over exact fit. There’s minimum seams (only 1 pattern piece), an elastic casing and a hem. Pyjamas really are a perfect beginner’s project, yielding quick results. This pattern includes sizing for kids, teens and adults so make them for every member of your brood. Then everyone can settle down in comfort for some cosy sofa time! Don’t just leave them for the lounge either. Made in soft cotton/linen blend fabric, tie-waist trousers are great summer holiday staples under a floaty tunic – for ladies or men.

Simplicity Pattern 2147 – Misses Tunic and Dress

 

 

Simplicity 2147

Catching my eye for versatility again, is this tunic/dress pattern. Introducing style details such as yokes and pleats, it’s taking your sewing skills further. Trickiest bit I see would be the neck facing. But by utilising the technique of understitching, the facings lie flat on the inside and are less likely to roll round. It’s another loose fitting style thus minimising the headache of fit. Also there are no fiddly fastenings; it simply pops on over the head. With four style options, make them all and no-one would guess they’re from the same pattern.

Christmas Rag Wreath

How to Make a Christmas Rag Wreath

Making a Christmas Rag Wreath

Make a Christmas Rag Wreath to add a personal touch to your festive decorations.  It can be made from fabric leftovers – just whatever you’ve got lying around. Also, it’s really easy so it’s a great craft project for children.

1. You will need:

  • a polystyrene ring, about 25-30 cm in diameter
  • glue suitable for using with polystyrene
  • fabric scissors
  • blunt pencil or a thick knitting needle
  • fabrics (about 3-4 fat quarters or approximately 1 metre of craft cottons in at about 4 colours, patterns, and/or textures.   I’ve used a subtle palette of calico, linen, scrim and lace for texture. Some scandic-style red and cream fabric adds colour with some additional plum and olive green print fabrics, and hints of gold ribbon.

2. Cut the fabric into small squares approximately 5cm across (2″). Don’t worry about getting them exactly square; lots of mine were more like rectangules or triangles.  Divide the fabric pieces into 4 piles, having an even amount of each type of fabric in each pile. Use one pile of fabric  for each quarter of the ring to ensure the fabrics are evenly distributed.

 

3. Dab a dot of glue on the reverse side of a few of the fabric pieces. Then take one piece and push it into the polstyrene, using the pencil. Repeat with the other fabric pieces, placing them close to the previous one.

4. Continue to work around the ring. Glue no more than 12 pieces of fabric at once so the glue doesn’t dry before you’ve used the square. Keep the fabric pieces close to the previous one to fill up the area. Make sure to cover up to the inner and outer edges of the ring.

5. Once you have covered the base, check for any gaps and fill with more fabrics.  You could also add pieces of ribbon or lace for extra colour and texture.

6. Add a hanging loop from a length of ribbon or cord at the back and glue it.  You might need to pin in place until the glue dries.

7. Hang up your Christmas Rag Wreath for all your guests to admire!

Note:  Because this wreath is not weather-resistant,  it’s best that you only use it as an indoor decoration.

Variations

Use bright Christmas prints in red and green for a more traditional wreath, or pure white with pale blue and silver for a ‘Frosted’ look.  Polyester organza with a shimmer and sparkle would look great!

Add christmas baubles, a large ribbon, dried orange pieces, bundles of cinnamon sticks, pine cones, clusters of nuts or whatever you have available to create extra interest.

Don’t just save this idea for Christmas. Why not make one for Easter using bright, fresh Spring colours and tie on chocolate eggs and bunnies!

Singer Overlocker 14SH754

Singer Overlocker 14SH754 Review

Singer Overlocker 14SH754 Review

I’ve been an overlocker user for over 30 years, (25 of those have been using my faithful old Pfaff). Overlockers used to cost around £300  for the most basic models, with more advanced, robust machines costing £500-£2000. Therefore I was sceptical when I got a tip-off (thanks, Ann!) that Lidl would be selling the Singer Overlocker 14SH754 for £129. I immediately did as I usually do to check out gadgets and looked up prices and reviews online.

The same Singer Overlocker 14SH754 model is available through Amazon and other online retailers at almost double this money.  Then I read the reviews. Although generally favourable, there was a bit of doubt too.  However, in need of an overlocker for use in my studio (I wanted to introduce them to my students), I let my curiosity get the better of me and bought one yesterday.


An overlocker makes sewing jersey knit fabric easy.

 

The New Arrival

When I unpacked it, it doesn’t come with many accessories and no thread cones.  There is also no cover or carrying case (so there’s my first project).  It has been threaded but the ends have been cut off.  To re-thread an overlocker that is already threaded, do not remove the existing threads. Instead tie on the new cones just above the tension discs, then pull the new threads through.  I threaded up using 4 different colours corresponding to the colour-coded looper and needle functions i.e blue thread for the ‘blue’ needle, etc.  I consider this the best way of understanding what each part does and it’s easy to tell which thread tension needs adjusting. There’s a handy coloured diagram inside the front cover too. If you do have to re-thread the loopers at any time, it’s a handy ‘lay-in’ system.

Initial Trials

First off, I tried the 4-thread stretch safety stitch.  Some of the reviews said this machine is noisy and clunky. Well yes I have to agree it’s a little bit noisy but not as bad as I was expecting.  It stitched a beautiful, even seam with all 4 thread tensions perfectly balanced. So then a 3-thread overlock seam?  Using the screwdriver provided I removed one of the needles in seconds.  Then took out the upper looper thread, adjusted the lower looper tension and again, achieved a smooth even and strong seam.

Flatlock

Now to try the 3 thread flatlock stitch.  Flatlock is a great design feature to achieve a casual, sporty look, particularly when it’s done using bulky nylon thread.  I didn’t have any so stuck with the existing standard polyester thread combo already in.  The first couple of tries weren’t great. The needle thread was too tight to allow the fabric edges to open out completely and lie adjacent to one another. A notch or two less tension and I achieved a satisfactory effect.

Rolled Hems

I was also keen to check out the 2 thread rolled hem.  My existing overlocker needs a different foot and needleplate to do rolled hems, as well as major adjustment to the tension dials. So I sometimes make excuses not to do it!  Something that put me off buying this Singer overlocker initially was a comment in an Amazon review that it didn’t come with a rolled hem foot. This had to be purchased separately for an additional £25.  In actual fact, you don’t need an extra foot.  There’s a small ‘converter’ spring that has to be inserted into the upper looper; a bit tricky to do the first time but easy after that.  Then an ingenious little switch that just needs flicked and hey presto.  The metal ‘finger’ slides into place that allows the threads to wrap around creating the rolled edge.

Initially, the suggested tension on a lightweight cotton didn’t give quite the tightness of edge that I expected. I tweaked the tension a bit until I was satisfied.  The manual does state at every stage that these are ‘suggested’ tensions. I’d advise using these as a guide but a little experimentation will help.

By flicking further through the manual, I noticed instructions for a 3 thread rolled hem too. This option isn’t listed in the available functions at the beginning of the manual so this discovery was an unexpected treat. Again, by adding a third thread and with a little bit of fiddling with tension, I achieved a tiny, neat and even 3mm rolled edge. Much superior to the result I’d achieved for the 2-thread version. This would be perfect for fine chiffon scarves or an organza skirt hem.

 

Other features with 3 threads

Another ‘find’ from reading the manual was pin tucks using the 3 thread overlock stitch.  After a minute or two of readjustment which includes turning the knife to its non-operating position,  I gave it a try. My first attempt wasn’t good (too loose and ‘loopy’) so I tweaked the tension dials again. On the 3rd attempt, I achieved beautiful narrow and even pin tucks.  I’d also changed thread colour to match the fabric by this time too.  I hadn’t considered attempting pin tucks on an overlocker before so I can see miles of creative potential now!

All this playing took just an hour as I found threading and changing functions extremely easy.  With lots more functions to try, I’ve got hours of fun ahead of me.  My tip would be to keep the manual close and refer to it often as you’ll never remember all the individual settings.  As a quick guide the ‘Overview Chart’ on page 10 is useful so I’ll be photocopying that and sticking it to the machine!

The Downside…

One minor annoyance is that I found the plastic accessories case tricky to remove.  There’s a clip underneath that needs pressed while using the other hand to pull it off.  Fiddly! Also, I foolishly allowed the lower looper to become unthreaded. Note to self:  NEVER do this again!  It’s very tricky to re-thread as the looper is tucked away in the depths of the machine and is difficult to access.

Another adverse comment from an online review was that it didn’t cope with heavy fabrics such as denim. Unfortunately I ran out of time to test this but as with everything, you get what you pay for.  Even at the full recommended price of around £249, this is still a budget-level machine.  With professional-quality models starting at prices around £500 and up to £2000, don’t expect this machine to be their equal.  If you’re needing an overlocker for upholstery or multiple layers of denim, then you’ll have to spend a lot more to get a heavy-duty one.  You could consider Pfaff or Juki who are better known for making industrial overlockers but make some robust domestic ones too.

Singer Overlocker 14SH754 – Overall

For normal domestic use, I was pleasantly surprised by this machine and I’m absolutely delighted with it.  I can wholeheartedly recommend the Singer Overlocker 14SH754, whether it’s your first overlocker or you’ve previous experience using them.  I’m sure my students will have as much fun as I’ve had when I let them loose on it.

If you like dressmaking but have never used an overlocker,  I’d advise you to get one immediately.  Even if you only use it to neaten the seam allowances, it will greatly improve the appearance of your garments giving them a professional look.  However overlockers can seam the garment and finish off the edges in one operation. With sewing speeds of up to 1300 stitches per minute, you could make up whole garments in less than half the time you’d take using conventional sewing machine.  But their real value is in sewing stretch knits so if you want to make T-shirts, jersey dresses or leggings, then I’d say an overlocker is a must-have. Tell that to Santa!

I regularly run a short class called ‘Know Your Overlocker‘. This will teach you how to thread up your overlocker and understand the different effects you can achieve by changing the tension settings and thread set up.  It includes using your overlocker with 4, 3 or 2 threads to achieve a wide range of sewing functions and decorative effects.

Learning to Sew: Read these 5 Top Tips!

 Learning to Sew: Read these 5 Top Tips

If you’ve just started learning to sew, read these 5 top tips to help.  Sewing can seem daunting to a novice. There is just so much to know. Well, here are a few tips to make learning to sew easier:


Learning to sew. Get to know your sewing machine.

 

1. Get to know your sewing machine.

Practice winding bobbins and threading the machine until you can do it easily and quickly, without thinking. Check the manual to make sure you’ve got the bobbin in properly, and the machine is threaded correctly. Even small errors here can have a big impact on the quality of stitch, or even if the machine sews at all. Once you’ve got that mastered, then get some scrap fabric and practice sewing straight even rows. Line up the edge of the fabric using the markings on the needle plate. The presser foot edge is also a useful guide for getting straight rows of stitching.

Working your way through the manual, try out all the stitch options on your machine. Experiment to see what happens when you change the stitch length and/or width for each of the stitch type settings. Look at the stitcing. Does it lie flat and smooth or is the fabric wrinkled or puckered. It could be that you need to change the tension (the ‘tightness’ of the thread. Try all the presser feet and accessories supplied with your machine.  By ‘playing’ in this way, you’ll gain an understanding of the function of each control knob or dial, and discover what your machine is capable of. Once you’re confident about using your machine, then you’re ready to sew your first project.

2. Don’t be too ambitious too early!

You may aspire towards sewing a cocktail gown in bias-cut silk satin, but I don’t recommend it if you’re just learning to sew. Your starting project should probably not be a garment at all.  Why not try a tote bag, or an envelope cushion? Then there’s make-up/toiletry bags, jewellery organisers, table mats and a whole range of other small craft projects. These are quick and easy to do but will improve your cutting and sewing techniques and your understanding of how fabric behaves (the ‘handle’). You can concentrate on getting the sewing details right without worrying about the added complication of making it fit.

3. Choose fabric that’s easy to use.

It’s usually the exotic designer fabrics that tempt non-sewists into learning to sew in the first place but there are also lots of lovely printed craft cottons. These are available at reasonable cost and are much easier for novices to work with. Craft cotton stays where it’s put on your cutting table, doesn’t wrinkle or slip when you’re sewing it, and is easy to iron. It doesn’t require specialist threads or needles and is quite forgiving if you have to unpick. Avoid anything with a high polyester or viscose contact as they’re too slippy. Stretchy lycra or knitted jersey fabrics also need special techniques too, so leave them until you have more experience handling fabric.

4. How to choose your first dressmaking project

OK so you’ve made bags, cushions, draught excluders and aprons for everyone in your family and you’re desperate to make clothes. Then I recommend a straight or A-line skirt, pyjama bottoms or a simple top to start with. Most patterns are graded according to their level of difficulty so look for one that says ‘Easy’ or ‘Beginners’. There will likely be only 2 or 3 pattern pieces and the garment won’t need complicated seaming techniques to sew together. Pay attention to the recommended fabric types and follow the instructions for an enjoyable sewing experience and a successful result.

5. Don’t ever stop learning to sew!

Once you’ve got your first garment under your belt, keep going. Even if it wasn’t too successful, don’t be disheartened. Find out what went wrong and try again.

Read all you can to increase your sewing knowledge. Subscribe to a sewing magazine or blog, or treat yourself to a reference book or two that has clear drawings or photos. Better still, attend a sewing class if you can find one in your area.  Nothing is as good as getting 1:1 tuition or being part of a small group.  It’s much easier to try something when there’s an experienced tutor on the spot to demonstrate and give advice. Making a commitment to attend regular classes ensures that you sew regularly each week, helping to reinforce what you learned earlier so there’s no excuse for letting things slip. It gives you some ‘me-time’ and is also sociable and fun. See http://www.artisanstitch.co.uk/sewing-classes/ for my extensive range of sewing classes.

The more information you can learn about fabric types, techniques and equipment, the easier and more exciting you’ll find sewing, and the better will be your results. Remember, learning to sew is a lifetime’s occupation.

Good Luck!

A plee to all my Facebook page fans…

Hi Everyone.

Firstly, a heartfelt thank you for ‘liking’ my Facebook page ‘https://www.facebook.com/artisanstitch/’ and helping me through the first year of business. I’m assuming because you’ve liked my page that you’re interested in sewing and/or creative textiles and wish to be kept informed about Artisan Stitch classes, or anything else that I ramble on about? Read more