Today I am going to share with you the most wisdom-y sewing wisdom I know. I am not a beginning sewer, but I am also no expert. Therefore, I remember the days when sewing was filled with frustration…confusion…math…
Okay, so it’s still filled with math–not my favorite thing–but I have learned some lessons here and there that either my mom taught me and I ignored or I painfully discovered on my own. More importantly, my sister just began sewing some serious projects and she doesn’t really know what she’s doing. This post is for her and anyone else who has punched their sewing machine.
Here are 5 tips that might make your next project a little less stressful. Keep these basics in mind as you progress from novice to tricked out seamstress!
1. Find the sewing machine manual
Totally obvious, but still worth mentioning. Dig out the instruction booklet that came with your machine, even if you think you remember how to thread your machine. Because you maybe…don’t remember at all. And theres a lot of helpful information about tension, stitch spacing, zig zagging…just get familiar will all those knobs and be-bobs. If your manual is long gone, Google your model number and you’ll probably find it online.
2. Take material prep seriously
When selecting material, try to fall in love with prints that are a little more forgiving and textures that are easy to work with. Maybe avoid stripes for now, and lean towards cotton. Then before you even start imagining your finished project, wash and press your material. Washing in warm water and then giving it a tumble dry preshrinks your fabric, which is important if you want to launder your fancy new dress or blanket. Just make sure you account for a little shrinkage when you get your material cut. Also, press the bejeezus out of your material. Cutting over a mess of wrinkles makes for funky shapes and inaccurate measurements!
3. Be precise when you measure but don’t flip out over human error
Sometimes you have a pattern to trace, but if you’re free handing something–like a rectangle– don’t fret if some things are a little off here and there. Like less than 1/16 of an inch off. That’s not too much. An 1/8 of an inch here and there? That adds up pretty fast, especially if your seam allowance is only 1/4 of an inch. If you’re cutting out strips for a quilt and your rectangles are 1/2 an inch wider and one end, you will definitely run into some problems later on. Take your time and double check your measurements!
4. Never try to cut more than 2 layers of material at a time
Shortcuts are not your friend right now. If you have 18 triangles to cut out, do not fold your material in half a bagillion times and expect all of your triangles to be the same. Your material will bunch and stretch and morph and you will not have 18 beautiful, congruent triangles afterwards. Instead, fold your material in half one time, draw 9 triangles, and go from there. Two at a time is about as quick as you can go.
5. Don’t underestimate the problems of over-pinning
My sister is an over-pinner. She was sewing together two squares for a pillow yesterday and had a straight pin every 1/2 inch. Ultimately, this creates a very cumbersome pin cushion to try and shove under your presser foot, not to mention changes the shape of your material a lot. And you can only sew, like, a centimeter before stopping. A few pins can go a long way.
And now for a bonus tip–know when to walk away. My mom is a nice lady and an expert seamstress and still runs into snafus that test her mettle. When you start to feel like lighting a match under your machine, just turn it off and go do something else. It is my personal belief that your frustration leaks out of your fingertips onto your machine and makes everything go wrong. Thread breaks, bobbins jam, the feed dog marathons your material through even though your foot is a mile away from the pedal…just stop. Fix yourself a stiff lemon water. Then resume when you feel excited about your project again!