I'll soon be teaching a homeschooling friend and her sweet daughters the basics of sewing in a once a month class in my home and I'm really looking forward to it. In digging up some of my syllabus ideas for the beginning sewing classes I taught years ago, I found these tips that I've passed along to many novice sewers.
I realized that I hadn't ever included them on my blog,
so here they are!
1. Use good thread. Cheap thread is just frustrating and why waste time in frustration when you can be creating something pretty? Cheap thread 'gums' up the machine and breaks easily - avoid those cheap spools like the 'plague'. They are the ruination of so many beginning sewers! Let's just say they are enough to make the preacher's wife swear ... if she knew the words!
2. ALWAYS pre-wash washable fabrics. Always. As in, without fail! Honestly, you don't want to be working with unwashed fabrics. Think crazy shrinkage, nasty chemicals, running dyes, bugs, and the sanitation limitations of people who toil in textile mills all over the world. Wash and dry the fabric as you would the finished item. Be sure to iron it well before you cut it out. Don't skip this step. If it's 'dry clean only' and you plan to dry clean the finished garment get the fabric dry cleaned before you cut it out. That includes lining fabrics as well. Please don't ask me how I know that pre-dry cleaned wool coating (Melton Cloth) and non-dry cleaned Bemberg lining are a sad sad sad combination.
3. Use simple patterns and quality natural fiber fabrics to begin with. There is nothing wrong with simple patterns with good lines. You can tackle a designer Vogue dress with 67 pattern pieces later - simple is best to start. Classic designers do it all the time - simple patterns with luxurious fabrics and one or two eye-drawing details. Perfect!
4. If you are making clothing, make a 'muslin' or trial run garment with cheap fabric first. Try it on. Adjust the pattern. Adjust your 'muslin' until it fits. Use your 'good fabric' and cut it according to your changes - it should fit nicely the first time, and if you can't get the 'muslin' to flatter your figure get another pattern and try again - don't waste your time and nice 'expensive' fabric on a pattern that doesn't fit right. Once you have a pattern that fits and flatters make it again in different fabrics and add or remove details for a different look. Don't re-invent the wheel.
5. You iron is your BEST sewing friend. It's true! It is the difference between 'handmade' and 'homemade' - well pressed garments look well, so take the time to stop and press frequently and carefully. Use a press cloth for most fabrics - it prevents shine and scorching. Mine is just an old linen napkin - nothing fancy, but it works.
6. Take a class, read a good sewing book, watch some sewing DVD and buddy up with an experienced seamstress. Than just set aside uninterrupted time and SEW! Push yourself to gain a new skill with each project you tackle. For example, when I was 10 years old I made every project in the 'Bishop Method of Clothing Construction' sewing book that I inherited from my Grandma W. It took me a year but by the end I had made a lined tailored jacket and skirt for myself. With bound buttonholes and bias trim. My Mum did not and does not sew, so I was mostly on my own, but it was so fun. I made mistakes. The seam ripper is a tool meant to be used.
7. Learn to finish your seams professionally. If you have a serger, great - it's a huge time saver. If not, learn to French seam, flat fell seam or at the least employ those pinking shears! Not only does it look better inside the garment, it will extend the life of the garment as well. Take a look at how your favorite clothing is constructed and learn from their seam finishing techniques.
8. Change your sewing machine needle with each and every project and learn to use the right needle for the fabric you are working with. Have at least 2 'spares' of every size and type of needle on hand at all times. They tend to break in threes - I don't know why. Remember that the larger the number, the more heavy duty the needle is. Most woven fabrics do well with a 'sharps' or 'univsersal' size 10 or 12 but for fine or slippery fabrics a size 8 works better, and for something heavy like canvas or duck you'd need 14 or 16. Denim has it's own needles which are very heavy duty and durable, and knits require special needles as well. Make sure that the needle you buy are for your machine, and if you are not sure, compare the top or shank with the needle you have. Double needles are fantastic for top stitching nice details. Easy as pie - just fill an extra bobbin with your thread and draw both threads through the tension together until you get to the the needles, then thread them separately.
9. Keep trying on as you go - it will prevent a lot of ripping out! Even if you muslin was 'perfect', your 'good' fabric may have a different amount of stretch or ease, and may drape differently on your body. Make your adjustments before you do the finishing, like hemming or tip stitching - it will make your life easier. Always hang a skirt or dress on a hanger overnight before you hem it - especially skirts that are cut on the bias. They may sag or drape more in one direction or another and make for a crazy uneven hem - which is never attractive when it is unintended!
10. Vacuum out the dust and fluff and oil your machine regularly. It's working hard for you - so a little lube and tidy up is the very least you can do in return! Your owners manual will give you simple instructions for the regular maintenance, and you local sewing machine repair person should be able to give you some idea of how often professional cleaning is required.
Enjoy your sewing projects more - I know how frustrating it can be to try something new and not have it go smoothly - hopefully this will help you avoid some common pitfalls!