* The Basics Tips

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Gathering Frustration?

If you need to gather a section for a sleeve or whatever, and you are frustrated with trying to pull a gathering thread, the easiest way is to zig zag stitch over a piece of yarn or crochet cotton. PUll up the gathers and secure. I have even seen elastic attached this way on little girls' dresses sleeves.

   

Quick hemming for Toddler's Pants

Instead of hemming the toddlers'pants, insert a narrow piece of elastic through the hem like a casing and pull it till the pants gather at the ankle like sweatpants, but not too tight. Secure. This saves time and keeps you from having to let out and rehem as he or she grows.

   

Sewing Tool Extraordinaire! The Lowly Diaper PIN

One tool I wouldnt do without in my sewing room or my knitting basket is a couple of old fashioned diaper pins. The best ones are the ones with a plain closure, instead of a duck or something, but any will do. These are perfect for threading elastic through a casing, holding pattern pieces in place, attaching sections before sewing, and wonderful for stitch holders for knitting or stitch markers. I also like to use them to pin up my husbands pants when he tries them on for me to hem.

   
What is a nap?

With or Without Nap

Layout instructions designate with or without nap. “With nap” instructions should be used for fabrics with pile (corduroy, velvet) and one-way designs. Fabrics with nap have pattern pieces facing the same direction, top to bottom. Layout for “without nap” can have pieces in both directions.

   
What is basting?

Basting

Basting can be done by hand or machine. When basting by machine, use the longest straight stitch length available and reduce your top thread tension. This stitch is used to hold seams or special applications, such as zippers, in place temporarily until the permanent stitching is done. Basting is removed after the final stitching is in place. Because the top thread tension was reduced, it's easier to pull the bobbin thread out.

   
How do I do a gathering stitch?

Gathering

Gathering uses long stitches. Make two rows of parallel stitching and pull the upper thread to gather. Two rows of stitches provide back-up if a thread breaks and makes it is easier to get smooth gathers. Make gathering easier by increasing the thread tension to throw the stitch out of balance.
If you're doing a long piece,another option is to do a zig zag stitch over a heavy thread or cord, being careful not to pierce the cord. Stitch it down in the center of the row to anchor the cord, and then gather from each end.
Another option is to use a gathering foot for your machine.

   
How do I keep the seam straight?

Sewing a Straight Seam

It is easier to keep the seam straight when you watch the edge of the fabric instead of the needle when sewing. Use your hands to keep the fabric flat and to guide it through the machine at a steady rate. Be careful to just guide and not pull the fabric, let the feed dogs move the fabric.

   
How do I cut out the pattern?

Cutting

Bent-handled shears allow you to cut without lifting the fabric off the table. If you are right-handed, cut with the fabric and pattern to the left of your scissors (opposite for left-handed), so you can see the cutting lines and can use your free hand to stabilize the fabric.

   
How do I make a top-stitched hem?

Top-stitched Hem

Press the edge of the fabric under 1/4 inch. Turn and press the hem to the desired length. Machine stitch close to the folded edge. A longer stitch length will give the appearance of commercial garments.

   
How do I preshrink my material?

Preshrink Fabric

Preshrink fabric by cleaning the fabric using the same method you will use for the finished item, for instance launder machine washable fabric and dry clean your wool. Another method for preshrinking dry cleanable fabrics, such as wool, is to steam the fabric and set aside to dry prior to cutting.

   
When should I cut on a single layer of fabric?

Cutting Single Layers

Fabric is cut in single layers when there is a pattern to match (such as plaids) or it is difficult to control (such as chiffon). Make sure to cut one piece with the pattern tissue right side up and one with the pattern wrong side up so you end up with one piece for each side of the garment.

   
How do I sew a smooth dart?

Darts

Sew the dart from large end to small pointed end. Take the first couple of stitches in place to secure the end. Slowly stitch the dart, gently tapering to the edge, until you are about ½ inch from the edge. Decrease stitch length and ease over until you run off the end. Sew off the edge to prevent bubbles.

   
What kind of patches should I use?

Making Patches

Store bought patches are usually thick and stiff. You can make a softer fusible patch with lining material and fusible webbing. Fuse one side of the webbing to large scrap of lining material and have it ready so all you have to do is cut out the correct size and iron it on.

   
How do I get curves seams to lay flat?

Clipping Curves

Clipping curves will make seams lay flat. To clip the curve, use pinking shears. Be careful not to cut into the seam stitching. Press seam allowances flat.

   
How do I straighten my fabric?

Straighten the Fabric

Tear fabric from one selvage edge to the other or pull a crosswise thread to create a cut line to straighten fabric. Straight fabric will lay smooth with edges together. If the fabric does not lay smooth, gently stretch the opposite corners diagonally in the direction that needs adjustment.

   
How do I get a smooth finished seam?

Sew a Test Seam

Getting a smooth seam is dependent upon getting the right machine tension, thread, and needle for a specific fabric. Use some of the fabric scraps to make practice seams with different types and sizes of needles and a variety of tension settings until you find the one that looks best.

   
How do I sew an invisible hem?

Invisible Machine Hem

Fold and bend the hem under the garment. The top edge of the hem should be sticking out beyond the garment's edge. Sew along the edge using a machine hem stitch. The zigzag portion of this stitch must barely catch the garment's edge; if it is too deep, the hem will show.

   
How do I hold the pattern in place?

Secure the Pattern

Layout all pattern pieces before you cut. Secure placement using pins or weights. Pins will anchor the pattern in place more securely for precise cutting. Weights are quicker but the pattern has a tendency to move. Only use magnets where precision is not as important.

   
How do I hem thick fabrics like denim?

Hemming Jeans

To make it easier to stitch over heavy seams, place a towel over the seam and pound it with a hammer. This breaks down the fibers, making sewing easier. Use a Size 16 or 18 needle. There are commercial gadgets that make it easier to sew over thick seams, such as a “jean-a-ma-jig” or a “hump jumper”.

   
How do I prepare my pattern before using it?

Prepare the Pattern

Make sure you have all the pieces listed on the pattern layout sheet. Press the pattern pieces with a dry iron at a low heat setting. Make any alterations necessary for fit. Patterns pieces usually have lines to indicate where to change the length. Make sure to alter all pieces that will be are affected.

   
How do I make an invisible hem?

Invisible Hand Hem

After pressing the hem in place, roll back the edge about 1/4 inch. Using horizontal stitches, work from right to left. Take a small stitch in the garment, move ahead about 1/3 inch and take a small stitch in the hem fabric. Continue this process until the hem is complete being careful to not pull too tight.

   
What are pattern notches?

Pattern Notches

Small triangles on the outer edge of the pattern cut line are notches for matching pattern pieces. Don't forget to cut out around notches. When there is more than one notch, cut around the outside edge of the whole set, not each individual triangle.

   
How do I lay out my fabric?

Fabric Layout

Most patterns are cut out with the fabric folded with selvage edges together. Keep the entire length of fabric on the table. Fabric hanging off the edge can distort the grain line. If you don't have a large enough table, work on a hard floor or use a purchased cardboard cutting mat on a carpeted floor.

   
How do I make buttonholes?

Buttonholes

Mark your buttonhole placement carefully, insuring that they are straight and evenly spaced. Read the directions in your sewing machine manual for buttonhole instructions. Practice using the same number of layers of fabric. Don't cut any open until all are sewn so you are sure of proper placement.

   
How do I layout the pattern pieces?

Positioning the Pattern

The grain line runs parallel to the selvage. Follow layout directions. Pattern piece grain lines are marked by a long line with an arrow on each end. Measure the distance from the line to the selvage at each end of the line to insure proper placement on the grain of the fabric.

   
Do I need to follow the steps on the pattern in order?

Follow the Directions

It is best to follow the instructions and do all the steps as described in the order given. There is usually a logical reason for the sequence. Read all the instructions before starting, but then do things in the proper sequence.

   
What is a seam allowance?

Seam Allowance

The standard seam allowance is 5/8 inches. Sew with the material to the left and the seam allowance to the right. There is usually a 5/8 inch mark on the throat plate of the machine. If not, you can make one with a piece of masking tape. Some machines have a screw-in seam guide or you can buy a magnetic one. (Check with your dealer before using a magnetic seam guide to be sure it's ok with your machine. Some machines with metric stitch plates also have an optional one that has inch markings.

   
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Patricia Walters-Fischer