You can use the best materials and equipment available and still have your sewing projects turn out a bit wonky. It can be incredibly frustrating, but some simple changes can help you build better sewing habits. Mastering these basics will give you a solid foundation for every project, from the simplest to the most detailed. Here are ten top areas to focus on.
- Prepare your fabrics properly
Fabric, whether it's coming from the craft store or a specialty fabric shop, is treated to make sure it looks and behaves well on a bolt. This is exactly what you don't want in your finished sewing project. Before you start marking out patterns or cutting into your fabric, make sure to wash and dry it according to the care instructions. This will remove any starch or sizing, remove excess dye, and pre-shrink all those shrinkable fibers.
Read your entire pattern
No one likes to be caught off guard, especially when you're in the middle of a sewing project. Before you start in on a new project, make sure to familiarize yourself with the whole process of cutting and assembling the project. This includes looking over your pattern pieces so you understand how everything fits together and any alterations you may need to make.
Take careful measurements
For sewists who work with wearables, this is probably number one on every list of tips and tricks you've ever read. But it's just as important for sewists who work with other projects as well! Imagine designing a new clutch purse, only to realize it's too small to hold a cell phone, or stitching new drapes which hang just a little too short. No matter what kind of project you're planning, make sure it's just the right size.
Sometimes, you just want to crank through your sewing and get the project done. Of course, sometimes deadlines don't let you work at a leisurely pace, but whenever you can, remember that slow and steady wins the race—if by race, you mean creating perfectly finished sewing projects!
- Practice your projects
This tip is especially important if you're working on a new design or using techniques you haven't before. Save your pricey fashion fabrics or beautiful quilting prints for the finished version, and use inexpensive or scrap fabric as a stand in to practice your techniques. Make sure to use a stand in that closely matches the important features of your actual material, though. No use practicing with cotton muslin if your finished garment is going to be made with a knit material.
Keep your equipment in good shape
Get in the habit of regularly cleaning and tuning up your sewing machine. A few minutes every few weeks can save you lots of time and trouble later on. Go through your pins and needles and (safely!) discard anything that's bent or showing rust. Get your serger tuned up by a technician to keep everything running smoothly, and take your scissors in to be professionally sharpened. Even the very basics shouldn't be neglected, like washing the cover of your ironing board.
- Work on one project at a time
Keeping all your pattern pieces, equipment, and techniques straight can get tricky. If you have to work on more than one project at a time—like if you're stocking up for a craft show, for example—, try to make it the same kind of project. In fact, if you're planning to make lots of things from the same pattern, it's a good idea to work on them one after another rather than switching between project types.
- Don't multitask
Sewing while multitasking is a bit like texting and driving. It's ill-advised, and for very good reasons. Never operate a sewing machine while distracted. It's not a car, but it can still cause pretty severe injuries. Of course, lots of people do enjoy working on hand sewing while doing something else, like watching a movie, listening to music, or enjoying an audiobook. This is fine for tasks you're very familiar with, but if you're trying something new, even something basic like learning a new embroidery stitch, take the time to focus and concentrate to make sure you're doing everything correctly.
- Mark down everything
Think you'll remember exactly where that notch is? How much were you supposed to gather again? All those little pattern marks are more than helpful suggestions. It's easy to skip over them, but your projects will suffer for it. Make sure to include any adjustments and alterations, and always mark both your stitch lines and seam allowances— lining up the edges of your fabric won't always give you the desired result.
- Remember to take breaks
It's easy to get so absorbed in your work that you completely forget how much time has passed. Until, that is, you make a mistake. Now you've got even more work undoing the errors, or repairing or replacing damaged pieces. Save yourself a lot of time and trouble. Set aside your project at regular intervals to stand up, stretch, and refocus. If you have a hard time remembering to do this, set a timer. It may seem a bit counter-intuitive, but stepping away can actually help you work faster and better overall.