The Darwin Exception

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Sewing Tips

 DESIGN AND FITTING

Yeah, I know. It can be a very touchy subject for a lot of us. If you are short or short waisted then you may be trying to lengthen your body visually. To accomplish this, finish the top edge of your pants and skirts with facings rather than a waistband. The horizontal lines of a waistband cut your body in half.

Have you ever made yourself a top and the neck edge seems to be too close. It seems like your top is forever slipping to the back You are forever pulling down on the front of your blouse. This is because you need more fabric on your shoulder seams. Here is the remedy.
Take 3/8″ off of the front shoulder seams. Add 3/8″ to the seam line of your back shoulder seams. Stitch together as usual and see if this doesn’t feel much better.

Instead of buttonholes, make button loops out of elastic. Use elastic ponytail bands, they come in a riot of colors, you are bound to find just the one you need. Another tip would be to use one of each color that is in your child’s jacket. Sew them in uncut between the jacket front and the facing.
 

When hand hemming anything, do not pull your stitches tight. They should be loose so that no puckers appear. Another tip is to knot your thread every fourth or fifth stitch. If your hem comes down it will only be for a few stitches instead of the entire hem.

When trimming seam allowances of bulky fabrics, trim one seam allowance down by half and the other slightly more than half. This is called grading and makes for less bulk and a nicer, more professional finish.

Have you noticed how hems can curl, especially on denim skirts and jeans. Add a narrow strip of interfacing along the fabric edge before you fold and stitch. This will cure the “curlies”.

To eliminate some of that bulk, pound the seams flat with a mallet before sewing. I saw a lady in a tailoring shop doing this just the other day. A very small, very petite lady was hammering the heck out of the hem on a pair of jeans.

Have you used a seam stick?  A carpenter may be able to provide you with one of these. It is a narrow piece of wooden trim that is flat on one side and rounded on the other. These are the very best things to use when pressing pant leg seam allowances. Press your fabric on the curved edge. This will allow you to press just the seam allowances without leaving an imprint on the right side of your fabric.

If you have a jacket that is just a little too small cut off the sleeves, widen body at side seams and stitch foldover brain around outer edges. You just made yourself a very funky vest! You could stitch a strip of co-ordinating fabric at the side seams or use some from the sleeves. Either way, it’s fun to sew these “new” things.

It is so annoying to find you have been somewhere with the tag on your top flipped out for everyone to see. Fuse a small piece of Stitch Witchery or other fusible to the wrong side of the tag and the back of your blouse. This will keep everything in the proper place.

Put a small pleat in the bag part of your pockets. This is so when you put something in your pocket, it will expand rather than drag down the appearance of the garment.

Plackets and cuffs make a sleeve look very tailored. However, they are time consuming and sometimes clumsy to work on. Why not apply them before you sew the sleeve in. This gives you the freedom of a lot less fabric to work around.
 

To create an even hem Take a piece of string and run it over a piece of chalk. Tack the string at your desired hem height across a door frame. Make sure the string is level by measuring up from the floor on each side. Now, put
on your garment and twirl up against the string so that the chalk leaves a mark.

About pockets in outerwear. Why not use a fine fleece (microfleece) or flannel for pockets in outerwear. The soft texture of the fabric provides quick warmth for little hands, and big ones too!
 

Square necklines accentuate a square jaw and a V neck elongates the neck. V necks also make you look slimmer. Before you cut into fabric, cut a paper neckline and try it on in front of a mirror.

If you have sewn a buttonhole and it is in the wrong spot or didn't turn out right try this. Insert a needle under the row of satin stitches. Then run a razor blade over the stitches to cut the threads. The needle will help protect your fabric from the sharp blade.
 

When you embellish or embroider a garment. As we all know, this type of work shrinks up the fabric piece. Embellish first, then cut your pattern piece out. You won’t be disappointed with a snug or too small lapel or pocket.

Necklines and arm hole edges can stretch just looking at them. Take a one half inch strip of interfacing and baste or fuse to these edges before you begin the actual construction stage. No more ripples or stretching out of shape.

if you want a terrific shower gift for a new mom, stitch up some newborn diapers and embellish them with decorative stitches and cute sayings from your built in alphabets.

Before you add decorative stitching to a garment, use a good spray starch to stiffen your fabric. Let dry and re-apply one or two more times. Now your fabric will be very co-operative to stitching designs and your fabric will lay flat. No stabilizer to pick out or wash away.

When stitching pockets, be sure to fuse a strip of interfacing along the top of the pocket edge on the inside. This keeps the pocket close to your body and it will not bag or sag away from your garment.

If you would like to appear nice and slim, have your pocket openings vertical rather than horizontal. The vertical lines will help streamline you in the hip area. Such a simple thing. Patch pockets are NOT the way to go.

 Every once in a while you have intersecting seams that you would like to connect perfectly. I had some on the back of a jean jacket that I wanted to have meet perfectly. It sometimes takes a couple of tries but the effort is always worth the end result. Pin your two fabric pieces very accurately and begin stitching just before the matching occurs.
Continue on to the end of the seam. You can go back and stitch the rest of the seam once the matching is complete. Try this and see if you don’t agree.

When sewing skirts with a front opening –  Hem your skirt before you finish the facing steps. This way, your hem will not show at the opening vertical edges, the facing will. It gives you the option of perhaps having a alternative fabric to dress up your skirt opening. This may be an idea for that fancy outfit you want for the holiday get-togethers.

Sewing buttons on heavy winter coats – I have shank buttons with metal loops on the back. The metal will cut through almost anything and buttons fall off regularly. If you have this problem, try sewing with multiple strands of embroidery floss or perhaps  pin buttons on, the bent safety pins for quilting will work.
FABRICS

Today I have a tip about working with bias cut fabric. Do not serge seam allowances on a bias cut piece of fabric. It will cause ripples. I think bias cut seam allowances are best left alone, they will not fray.

Polyesters, silks and satins can be very hard to keep tame without a few tricks. Lay your fabric out on top of tissue paper and pin on selvages. Then, pat your fabric to be sure it is laying flat and straight. Now, lay your pattern pieces on top and pin within seam allowances. You may need many pins to keep your fabric well anchored. When it is time to cut, cut through all layers, tissue paper, fabric and pattern paper. 

While working with a very stretchy knit, I came upon a solution for hemming  that is very neat and eliminates waves or excess stretching. I cut 1″ strips  of water soluble stabilizer and sandwiched the hem between 4 strips (2 on  each side of the hem). Then I sewed the hem with a decorative stitch and  washed the stabilizer out. The hem was beautiful and there were no waves or  excess stretching!! I’ve used this technique on anything that is
extremely  stretchy (jersey, ribbed knit, spandex) and it works every time.
 

Rayon is a lovely light drapey fabric. Why not make yourself some full flowy pants for lounging on weekends. To hem these pants, machine stitch the hems with a deep hem of two inches and a double line of stitching.

With Halloween right around the corner, maybe some of you are making costumes with fur. Fingerpress your seam allowances open, the iron may melt your fur. Another tip is to push the fur away from the seam allowance while sewing. This way you won’t have a mess at the seam line. After sewing, use an old brush to brush the fur and hide the seams. 
 

Are you one of those people who love to look at and fondle sheer, exotic fabrics but think you would never actually wear it. Think again. A sheer blouse or shell looks very nice over a camisole or simple dress. They can turn an otherwise plain jane outfit into something quite pretty. We all see these lovely sheer fabrics in the stores and online. Now we should think about how lovely a sheer print can look in our wardrobe.

An example of a loosely woven fabric would be a boucle. When cutting out this type of fabric mark your notches with sticky dots (purchased from any office supply store) or safety pins. These are much more noticeable than clipping the fabric. Matching notches will be much easier.

Terrycloth can make the best robes and beach jackets. However, it is bulky. You should try to avoid facings whenever possible. Instead, bind your edges with bias strips or overlock your raw edges. Then, turn under and topstitch. It is also advisable to serge all your edges as soon as you can, terrycloth ravels with a vengeance.

When using interfacing on a garment, make note of what type you used. Then, after a few launderings, revisit your notes and decide if you made the right choice. Make note of your decision to help you with future garments.

If you have anything made from felt it can get rather grungy and worn looking. Clean felt by wiping it with a dry sponge. For a very thorough cleaning, hold the felt over steam and brush lightly with a dry sponge.

To make your own bias always cut your strips twice as wide as you need your finished strip.

Tencel is a great fabric that makes up nicely into tops and bottoms, depending on its weight. When you buy tencel, it looks so smooth. Beware. Once it is washed, it is more prone to wrinkles. Try to find tencel that has some polyester in it so you won’t spend more time ironing than wearing.
 

Cut your scraps into one inch wide strips. Sew the ends together. While watching TV you can crochet or knit the strips into potholders or throw rugs. They would also make nice mats to donate to the local animal shelter.

When purchasing knits make sure you stretch the fabric before you purchase. See if it stretches, then releases back to its original shape. If it doesn’t, don’t buy it. You will end up with a baggy, shapeless garment.

To check if your fabric is made of natural or synthetic fiber; Cut a sliver (1″ by 3″) of the fabric and using a set of tongs hold it to a candle flame. Do this in a disposable pie plate or in your sink so that running water is available if needed. If the remains are nothing but ash, the fiber is “natural”, i.e. wool, plant-based, rayon or silk. Small, hard balls indicate the fabric has some artificial component; polyester or nylon, for example. If the fabric curls tightly and becomes hard, it’s likely 100% manmade fiber. To take the test further, wool smells like burning hair; cotton, linen and rayon have a “woody” smell and silk has a unique, almost “burned bugs” scent all its own.

Slinky fabrics are popular. It has natural weight and drape, be sure not to have a too low neckline. Shorten the neckline edge a tad if it is low and interface with narrow strips of interfacing. This will help stabilize your neckline.

When stitching vinyl, lay a narrow strip of tissue paper over the stitching line for easy sewing.

If you sew with holiday fabrics such as velvets or anything that is embellished or beaded, press on the wrong side of your fabrics. Use a big, fluffy towel as a pressing surface. The pile of the fabric or the beads will be pushed down into the towel when pressed and not crushed.
 

When sewing with knits, use a vertical buttonhole if possible. The lengthwise grain is less stretchy and is less likely to pucker. Another nice touch you can use with knits is a satin loop instead of a buttonhole. It gives a nice contrast in texture and you don’t have to
worry about cutting buttonholes or stretching.

PATTERNS

Do NOT buy a pattern according to your size in ready made clothing. Measurements are what guide you to the proper size. If you are choosing a blouse or jacket pattern, compare your high bust measurement with the standard bust measurement on the pattern to get your best fit. Your high bust is the distance under your arms and across front and back. Do NOT measure around the fullest part of your bust.

Go buy some index cards. They are available almost everywhere. They come in so handy when making notes and changes to a pattern or incorporating a new method. Keep the added notes in with the pattern pieces for easy reference next time. This also works well for quilting methods and tips.

You know those clips sold in the grocery store for closing up bags of potato chips. Use one of these to keep all your pattern pieces together. Hang it up and they will be in plain sight and safe. No small pces. laying in a corner somewhere.

GENERAL MACHINE TRICKS AND TIPS

Rub a tiny dot of either one on the end of woolly nylon. Once it is dry, you can thread your looper very easily. Trim the stiff end off once you have it threaded.

Have you messed up designs and hate to throw them out. Why not cut them up and use the pieces on a crazy quilt project. All those lovely threads and all that time is not wasted.

I don’t know about you but getting some of those fabrics started on a serger machine can be a bear! Lift your presser foot and position your fabric directly in front of the knife. Now, lower your foot. This will give you an anchor of sorts and better control of that fabric. Serge as usual without all the fabric wrestling.

Turning corners with piping can be difficult.. Stitch to the corner, stop with your needle down, raise your presser foot and clip the piping with scissors to the seam allowance. Turn your fabric, lower your presser foot and continue on. This should give you a nice sharp corner.

Topstitching can really finish a garment off very nicely. One row of stitching placed just a needle width away from your finished edge gives your garment a very dressy look. Two rows gives a more casual appearance. I personally do not lengthen the stitches, I like the fine, small stitches much more.

You can sew up a knit top or skirt on the serger with four thread serging. This is strong and quick. The two needles give you a finish for your seam allowances as well as a securely stitched seam. Be sure to adjust your tension so the fabric can feed freely without being stitched. Take a scrap, sew a seam and hold it up vertically. If the seam hangs straight, your tension is perfect. If not, make some adjustments.

When you embroider or do any sort of applique work on your machine, be very sure to give everything a thorough cleaning after. Many fibers, lint and thread ends will collect up when doing this sort of work. You may be sorry when your next project doesn’t progress if you don’t

When sewing a satin stitch satin stitch use the smallest needle you can use for your fabric. Have some sort of stabilizer under your fabric and the satin stitches will look nice and smooth and even.
 

Before starting a big project, I wind matching thread onto an extra bobbin. If my first bobbin runs out, I don’t have to unthread my machine, this saves time and frustration. I can’t count how many times I have run out of thread with six inches of hem left to stitch.

Did you know that upholstery thread is slightly thinner than top stitching thread. It may work better in your machine. Why not try it next time you want something topstitched.

Rayon and silk thread is smooth as butter to stitch with, but if you are trying to fill a bobbin it can be hard to handle. Take a tiny piece of double faced tape and stick it to the bobbin shaft. The thread will cling to
the tape and no more slipping while trying to fill your bobbin.

As soon as you get a new serger, and  it is properly threaded and running fine take notes of everything you did that isn't mentioned in the manual. Also make notes of the diagrams that pertain to your particular needs. These little notes should be kept close by your machine for reference. If you have a digital camera that can pick up tiny details it would be a smart idea to maybe take some pictures of the critical threading paths so you can refer back to them.

Serger chain can be used as a marking tool. Use your leftover chains to mark for darts, notches, anything that has to be transferred to the fabric. Just pull about two - three inches through your fabric. It shows up very well, pulls out in a snap and never leaves a mark.

Always pull four to six inches of thread from the needle and bobbin. Then make sure the threads are underneath the presser foot. When you remove your sewing from the machine, always pull it from front to back, never forward! Threads will then be in the best position for your next seam.

Shorten your stitch length when going around curves. Also, reduce your speed a touch. This will make it easier to have a nice line of stitching.

You may have had problems before stitching through Velcro tape. Try using a leather needle instead. It works better than a denim needle and your skipped stitches will be gone forever.

Here is how you understitch. Open out your facings away from the garment. Make sure both seam allowances are folded towards the facing as well. Align your seam line with the inside edge of your foot. Stitch very close to the seam line, stitching through facing as well as seam allowances. Place your hands on either side of the presser foot and hold the layers apart. Understitching prevents the seamlines from showing and gives all your garments a lovely finish.

When making your own piping, don't stitch right up to the cord when you first enclose it. Leave a little space so that when you machine stitch it into your seam you can get really close and no stitches will be showing.

Another trick is to hand baste the piping on to your garment. If you machine baste, your seam will shorten and look distorted. After hand basting, place facing against piping and machine sew.

A dull needle can affect your stitch tension and cause bumpy stitches. This happened to me just the other day. I had forgotten I had stitched through clear plastic and fleece to make bean bags for my grandson. When I continued on stitching flannel robes it became quite apparent it was time for a needle change. Try to remember your needle lasts for about eight hours, then you should put a new one in. Always wrap your old needles tips in tape before discarding.

 

NEAT TIPS

If the recipient of a gift you are giving is a sewing buddy, and the gift is small, wrap it up with fabric they can use and close it up with double sided tape. Finish it off with some nice ribbon and you have two gifts in one.

When washing fabric before sewing it becomes twisted, knotted and hopelessly wrinkled. Safety pin your selvage edges together. This helps a great deal in being able to manage those big pieces. It also works great for tablecloths and  curtains. Try it next time, you won’t be sorry.

Try to keep the same brand in rulers as well as cutting mats. They will have the same quality and measurements. This will help you when accuracy is key.

If you are overwhelmed with unfinished projects, pick just one and work at it until it is absolutely finished. It may just be sewing on buttons or hemming. Whatever it is, finish it completely. Don’t even think about the other ones until you have done this.  Then, tackle the next one. For me, it’s best not to have too many on the go because that is overwhelming.

Every once in a while you have to try something new and different. Push yourself to learn a new technique or maybe try something different to solve a problem. These little creative moves help you grow as a seamstress.

We all have our favorite interfacing. Cut a strip of interfacing about one inch wide and another about one half inch wide. Roll them up like you would ribbon into a small circle. Keep these rolls in a little sandwich bag by your machine or pressing area. They are perfect for behind hems, plackets, buttonholes, vents, anywhere that you need a little bit of extra stability.

Did you know that thread moves back and forth through the needle and fabric 42 times before it actually forms a stitch. Remember this the next time you are thinking of buying a cheaper thread. With all this movement you need quality.

Buy craft ribbon and a spool of very fine wire. Use your blind hem foot to evenly satin stitch or zig zag over the edge - inserting the wire as you go. Its easy and saves a ton of money over purchased wire edge ribbon.

Silk organza makes an excellent press cloth. It can take the hottest temperatures and you can see through it. Buy a quarter yard of silk organza for this purpose. Serge your edges and you're ready to go. It will make your pressing easier.

Take a piece of wool about four inches square and roll into a small, tight tube. Stitch down the end. Dab this bit of wool in a small container of water and apply to the area you need to press. It gives you the control of where the moisture goes. Just little swabs will do the trick. You can use a press cloth after you dab.

Many of us have those chalk marking tools which need to be refilled every once in a while. If you have run out of chalk and need a marker, fill it with cornstarch. This works quite fine and comes out quite easily.

I made a pad for under my sewing machine that extends out on the right hand side and in the front. It is a great place to place pins you are removing from a sewing project, scissors on a ribbon with the ribbon safety pinned to the mat so they do not fall on the floor, also tweezers, etc. I also place a piece of batting and place snipped threads on batting to save them from the floor.

When hand sewing buttons use a double length of thread. Knot each length separately. This will help to stop the loss of the button and you will have a much more secure
attachment.

7 Responses to “Sewing Tips”

  1. Gina said

    Thank you for your comments. I really enjoyed reading all that you had to share!

    I am trying to develop as a “seamstress”, mostly out of necessity, but it did first start out as a fun hobby I enjoyed.

    I am capable of following a pattern,studying books, observing others, mentally working through a garment and visualizing aspects of how it could be sewn differently or better. (Some pattern directions tend to not look so nice when sewn the way they suggest).

    I have a special needs daughter that requires clothing to be made specifically for her needs. I don’t know how to make a good pattern, or even taking an existing pattern and totally remaking it or combining it with the elements of another pattern that needs to be altered, so as to create a workable pattern.

    Sometimes it will have too much fabric in one area, not enough in another, need widening in one area but not in the area opposite it. If I change one area, another looks worse. Sometimes I don’t even know where the problem is, just that there is one, or how in the world to fix it! I have gone to two different “full service” fabric stores in our area for a private lesson, but their “seamstresses” don’t really have good solid answers. Do you have any suggestions?

  2. Actually I think your best course of action may be to join our group at Yahoo – it’s called “new to sewing”, and I have to tell ya, they sure have helped me out a *lot*. No matter *what* you ask, there will be an expert there who will be able to help you. Our moderators are *very* experienced seamstresses who make their own patterns, have decades of years experience and are *always* willing to help.

    And we do fun things like have swaps, play games, have “tips of the day”, have weekend sew – a – longs, and we just chat about anything and everything.

    if you go here

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/newtosewing/

    you should be able to sign up.

    If you have any problems, just let me know.

    Kim

  3. KittyBaby said

    I liked your hints; a lot of good ones.

    Page 2 has more good… refresher tips on bias sewing:
    http://www.sewing.org/enthusiast/html/el_biasbasics.html

  4. Bev Wing said

    Hi guys. How do you put vents in the sides of t- shirts?

    How do you hem sleeves and bottoms of t- shirts. Mine are waving. I don’t stretch as I sew either. At least I don’t think so. Just guide it in the back.

    Thanks and have an awesome week!

  5. Bev Wing said

    Oh and how do you put in a jacket zipper. Lightweight one.
    Do you get right up close to the teeth? I’m affraid if I do I will break my needle in the teeth.

  6. Sandy said

    Bev,
    If no one answers your question, run a google search for “sewing Tshirts and zippers”. I tried this and there are a lot of how tos with pics.

  7. Sandy said

    Oh, I just read Kim’s suggestion for seams and hemming. Kim is always right, her info is 3rd paragraph under Fabric title.

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