So you want to sew? Have the itch to stitch? Then I hope these tips are helpful!
Get yourself some good quality sewing scissors (I like to buy them from an actual shop so that I can check they’re comfortable), and use them only on fabric. Use other scissors to cut paper (including patterns) and other materials like plastics (such as nylon zips). This will prevent your sewing scissors becoming blunt or damaged. My scissors were around £25 and are a joy to use. A pair of pinking shears are also useful to prevent frayed edges; again, don’t use them on paper. You may like a rotary cutter too.
If “which scissors can I use on this?” is a constant refrain in your house, you’re getting it right.
Take photos of your pattern packets (front and back) on your phone. Then you’ll know how much fabric and trim you need if you and your credit card stumble accidentally into a fabric shop.
If in doubt, buy a little more fabric than you need.
Wash your fabric before you use it. If you wait until your garment is finished, it may come out a little distorted. I wash my fabric when I get it home, so I know that everything in my stash is pre-shrunk, ironed and ready to go the minute I want to use it. You know that feeling when you’re lying in bed on a Saturday morning and suddenly It’s Time To Make That Skirt? This is not the time to start tiddling around with washing fabric. No.
Use long pins, it’ll save you time. I like Prym’s 34mm. I’ve made pincushions and thread catchers to keep my pins sharp.
As you cut out your fabric, leave the pattern pieces pinned to them until you’re ready to sew. It will save you figuring out which is the back/front or remembering whether you’ve cut out a piece or not.
When you’re transferring dart markings onto your fabric, cut a little notch out of the fabric edge where the dart line ends. When you fold the fabric to make the dart, place one notch over the other to line it up.
Cardboard sheets and brown wrapping paper from the pound shop are great for making your own pattern pieces. Large cardboard can be stored upright in your wardrobe. Small pattern pieces can be cut from cereal boxes. You may even want to finish the cereal first, if you live with someone who lacks a sense of adventure.
This one sounds a bit obsessive, but it does make my prep less time consuming. I iron my pattern pieces (no steam, cool setting), cut them out and fold them with the number showing on top. In the case of patterns with a bazillion pieces, I put them in numerical order in the packet. If there are five variations of Piece No. 7, I paperclip those pieces together. If the packet is all tatty I iron that too. I told you it’s obsessive. But I haven’t lost any pattern pieces in a while and Hot Damn! they’re quick to find…and I can squash more in the pattern box of course 🙂
Measure twice, cut once.
Use the right sewing machine needle for the job (regular, denim, ballpoint, whatever). Store your broken/blunt needles and bent pins in an empty needle box to dispose of them safely. Same goes for rotary cutter blades – keep an old box and mark it as ‘Old blades’. Your project will look better without bloodstains.
Mark your place in the sewing instructions with a Post-It note, and don’t be afraid to make notes for next time. It’s your pattern!
Daisy chain your pieces: if you can, prepare more than one piece for sewing at a time. Then you can move from one piece to the next without wasting thread in between. It’s a small amount of thread for one project…but it’s miles over a lifetime of sewing.
Recognise the difference between pressing and ironing. Pressing means applying the iron to the fabric and then lifting it off. Ironing your project pieces (sliding the iron along) may distort the shape of them, making accurate construction more difficult. And if you try to apply iron-on interfacing by ironing it, rather than pressing it, you will end up with a sticky ruffle and an upset soleplate. How do I know this?
When you’ve sewn a seam, iron it as it is before you open it up to press it flat. Somehow this sets the stitches into the fibres and makes for a better finish.
Then place a damp cloth on your open seams to press them flat. I have an old tea towel that hangs on the end of the ironing board for this sole (geddit?) purpose. It’s thin, it’s lint free, it’s been in the family for thirty years. It is a treasure, though you wouldn’t know it to look at it.
Clean and oil your machine regularly and change the needle now and again! Seriously!
Read your sewing machine manual. Research your project. YouTube, Pinterest, blogs and forums are all there to help and inspire you. If you’re stuck on the sofa with a head cold, read that sewing book that’s sat on your shelf. If you’re not sure where to start, I think May Martin’s Sewing Bible is a masterpiece.
If you have cats, keep your reels and bobbins stored safely away. If they ingest your thread and it tangles up their insides, it can be fatal. Nobody wants that.
If you haven’t got a bobbin case, store your bobbins in foam toe separators. You know, like the ones you use when you’re painting your toenails (you too boys! We know you love it!). It will stop them dropping off the table, rolling all over the floor and unravelling. So annoying.
If you’re having trouble with tension, take a long bubble bath. Then read this article.
Lastly…my mother’s advice to me when I started out. “Learn to like unpicking.” She wasn’t slating my abilities. She was telling me that along the way, I would make mistakes as I improved. And that’s okay. Unpicking can be mindful and relaxing, it doesn’t have to be frustrating. Thanks, mum.
I hope there was something in there to help you or give you ideas! Let me know what you’re sewing!