By Annabelle Short on
16 Surprising Sewing Shortcuts and Hacks
Whether you sew as a hobby or for a business, everyone wants to make the tedious tasks faster and easier, with better results. Though it doesn't pay to cut corners—except when you're clipping them for easier turning!—these tips and tricks might be just what you need to step up your sewing game.
1. Corral pins with magnets
Keep a magnetic wand in your sewing kit to snag pins that escape before you find them with your foot. This is especially handy if your sewing room floor is carpeted, making those little escapees particularly tough to spot. You can also glue magnets to the underside of a saucer or other dish to hold spare pins while you work— this works great for catching the pins you remove as you sew a seam, as you may not want to take the time to stick them back into a pincushion.
2. Use a knife strip to keep tools close at hand
You've probably seen them in cooking shows, and maybe you've even got one in your own kitchen! A metal strip filled with heavy-duty magnets that keeps your knives from rattling around in drawers is also the perfect solution for maintaining all your sewing scissors, rotary cutters, and other metal tools. Mount it to the wall beside your sewing table to keep everything organized and in easy reach.
3. Plug a lamp into the same power strip as your iron
Ever walk away from a sewing project only to wonder if you've left the iron on? It can be a serious fire hazard, so it's not something you ever want to wonder about, especially if you sew regularly and leave your ironing station set up. If you don't want to have to remember, take a leaf out of the professionals' book. In most sewing studios and costume shops, the irons, steamers, and other hot tools that need to be shut off are connected to lights. You have to flip a switch to turn on the power to the tools, which also turns on a light. If the light's still on, your tools are still hot. You can create this effect for yourself by plugging a lamp into the same power strip as your iron and steamer, and using the switch on the power strip to turn everything on and off. Plus you get some extra task lighting on your work!
4. Make a spare ironing board cover
When's the last time you washed your ironing board cover? If you can't remember (or suspect the answer is "never"), this tip is for you! Regularly washing this cover can help prevent transfer of stains, dyes, adhesives, or any of the other substances you don't want moving from one project to the next (ever worked with glittery fabric, for instance?). Having a spare cover means you never have to wait on the laundry to keep working. Here's a tutorial on how to make your own!
5. Try alternatives to pins
Sometimes, pins aren't the best option. Fabrics that are stiff and heavy can be hard to pin through, and those that are light and delicate often allow pins to slide right out. There are lots of alternatives to regular straight pins, though, including binder clips (yes, the kind you get at an office supply store!), clothespins, double-stick tape, basting stitches, pattern weights, safety pins, and even adhesives like basting spray. They're not always the best alternative to pins, but when they are, they can save you a lot of time and hassle!
6. Use a rotary cutter and mat
If you're still cutting all your pieces with scissors, this one will be an absolute game changer for you. A sharp rotary cutter and self-healing cutting mat makes cutting pieces so much faster you won't even believe it, and since the fabric isn't flexing as you lift it for the scissors, it's more accurate too! Use a clear ruler to help with cutting straight lines quickly, and, if you prefer, leave the detailed bits for a quick snip with the scissors. Make sure your cutting blade is sharp, and use pattern weights to keep your pattern and fabric from sliding while you work.
7. Always prep your fabrics
This might seem like a time-saver that just adds more work, but in the end, it's more than worth it. Sizing, stiffeners, shrinking, and excess dye can all cause problems for you when you wash your finished project for the first time, so spare yourself the ruined projects and always wash and dry your fabrics—according to the proper instructions!—before you start sewing.
8. Zig-zag for adjustable gathers
There are lots of tips and tricks for creating gathers, from using special sewing machine feet to adjusting your tension to cause puckers, but sometimes you want the flexibility to shift the fullness of the gathers a little bit—for example, maybe you want your skirt to have a little more fullness in the back and a little through the front and hips. This trick is perfect for that! Lay a line of string (dental floss also works quite well) in the seam allowance of the area you want to gather, and use a wide, long zig-zag stitch to sew over it. To gather, just pull on the ends of the floss! You can also shift fullness and adjust the gathers to be just where you want them. A few lines of straight stitching will secure them in place.
9. Lean on the right tools
Nothing is worse than trying to make it work with equipment that's not up to the task. Sometimes, those simple tools or features, like a walking foot, automatic buttonhole feature, or blind hem stitch, can save you lots of time and trouble, which makes them very much worth the investment. When buying equipment, try to plan for what you'll want in the months and years to come, and if you find you don't have something that would save you lots of time, stop trying to make do and take the plunge. You'll be glad you did.
10. Use a matchstick for the perfect button shank
Sewing on a button should be simple, but there's still a right way to do it. Stitching the button flat to the fabric means it's tricky to get it through the buttonhole. The trick is to create a shank of threads that leave space for it to move a little. To get the perfect height, slide a matchstick under your button as you sew the first few stitches. Then remove the matchstick and wrap the thread around those extra-long stitches to form a solid shank. Tie off your thread, and there you have it: a perfectly sewn button!
11. Brace buttonholes with a pin before cutting
Machine-made buttonholes are a serious timesaver, but one slip of the seam ripper and they can also be a nightmare. Since machined buttonholes need to be slit open with a seam ripper once they've been sewn, it's crucial to avoid cutting into the bar of stitches that anchors either end, or you've ruined your hard work and will have to repair the buttonhole by hand. Avoid the headache by sliding a pin through your buttonhole just ahead of the bar. It will act as a stop for your seam ripper and leave your stitches intact.
12. Always add a spare button
Lost a button? Better hope you have a match on hand! Or, better yet, prepare for this moment by stitching a spare right to the garment. Tucked inside the placket at the bottom, or in the cuff of a sleeve, there are plenty of places to unobtrusively hide a spare button, and you'll thank your foresight later!
13. Use a pincushion cuff for fittings
A mouthful of pins may be a stereotypical look for a seamstress, but it's neither safe, nor sanitary. Instead, whip up a pincushion you can wear on your wrist! Whether you're pinning up a hem, taking in a shirt, or just assembling your pieces, it makes the task so much easier. Here's a quick how-to guide for making your own.
14. Always pin perpendicular to the seam
Tempting as it is to pin a seam just as you would sew it—pins running along the length like stitches—there's a better way. When you pin perpendicular to the seam, with the points of your pins to the left as you sew, it's quick and easy to remove the pins with your right hand as you run the piece through your sewing machine, plus if you do accidentally miss one and run it over with your machine, it's less likely to cause damage. Try to avoid it, though—sewing over pins can really wreak havoc on both your machine and your project.
15. Don't cut stripes on the fold
If lining up stripes is a pain, avoid folding your fabric when you cut out your pattern pieces. Instead, line up points on your pattern, like the top of the neckline or the cuff of a sleeve, to give you clear reference points when you flip the pattern piece over to cut the other side. This keeps the stripes perfectly symmetrical.
16. Keep drawstrings in place
Tired of uneven drawstrings? Line it up perfectly, then run a quick line of stitching down the center back, stitching the drawstring into the channel. They'll never be uneven again!