I’m adding tips as they occur to me, or as I come across them, so its not a comprehensive list. Thanks to so many others who sew where I have linked to their pages, and where I haven’t because I forgot where I got the idea.
Things given a new, sewing related, use
Flexible Cutting Boards (sold for chopping veg) make a great temporary surface to slide under or between layers when you are pinning or hand tacking something. They’re also good for making strong templates for pockets, pocket flaps, appliqué shapes.
Blue Tack stuck onto the front of your machine will hold the needle box for the special needle you just put in.
Masking Tape applied in the seam allowance before you lift cut pieces from the table will stop it from stretching. If you use narrow enough tape often you can leave it in place until your seam is stitched. Particularly handy for bias cuts and V necks.
Masking Tape or Scotch/Sellotape makes a great marking aid for step buttonholes.
A Clothes Peg to hold pattern pieces together with the envelope as you take them off the garment sections will stop them migrating to odd corners of the room.
Orange Sticks for help turning out corners, chopsticks too.
Cocktail sticks for guiding work under the machine close to the needle
Nomex oven gloves for pressing over your finger (no steam!) in narrow tubes or tight corners. Silicon oven gloves for holding work close to the iron when using steam (they don’t protect against heat as well as the Nomex).
Post it notes taped to the machine bed as a seam guide
Sticky tape to remove thread ends Scotch or something similar will lift out those lines of small threads you’re sometimes left with after unpicking. Press a strip firmly onto the seam and rip it back.
Enamel paint to colour the zip pull to match the garment
Old dry soap bar marks fabric (instead of tailor’s chalk)
A ‘jogging’ torch on the head to handsew while others are watching tv.
Screwed up nylon tights may remove tailor’s chalk.
Supermarket bills can support fine fabric as well as tissue paper while stitching seams.
Sticky dots from the stationers are useful to mark the wrong side of fabric pieces when the two faces are similar.
Kitchen foil to sharpen scissors (sometimes works for blades too). Cut through a wodge of it a few times.
If you find you need to add some waist darts to an already constructed dress, go narrower first. Its easy to stitch a wider dart over it, but slow to rip out a too wide one.
Shape darts to your body, stitching a curve rather than angles.
Finish darts with stitches right on the fold line. To avoid bubbles, press the dart over a curved surface such as a pressing ham or balled up cloth, shaping the fabric.
To fasten threads at the tips of darts, try reducing the stitch length to almost the zero mark.
To sew a dart in a transparent fabric which isn’t mounted on an opaque backing, try french seaming them. Stitch the dart WS together, a quarter of an inch or 5mm narrower than its finished stitching line. Turn and press it, trim the folded dart so it looks like a narrow seam, and restitch it RS together, on the final fitting line.
One thread dart tutorial . I have never got this to work nicely, but others say they like it.
Large darts can have the wide end cut open after stitching, and pressed flat and finished like a seam.
Instead of one huge dart, two or three smaller ones.
Press waist darts to the centre and bust darts upwards.
Quick transfer of dart marking from pattern to fabric – running from the fabric edge mark the start of the legs with a small snip into the seam allowance, and mark interior points by piercing a pin through the pattern into the fabric, then put crossing pins at that point on each layer of fabric.
Blood on the tracks. Well, not exactly on the tracks, but on the pale satin you’re hand hemming when you prick a finger. Saliva, rapidly applied, gets the mark out. Yes, suck it, (or wet a scrap of cotton with saliva and dab at the stain for a more ladylike option.)
Bungled buttonholes Threads article offers suggestions to save the day
for sharp points in hard to get to places, (think leaf shapes, animal ears) stitch down one side from the piece you’re leaving as a turning opening, using a short stitch length, stopping one stitch past the point. Pull it off the machine leaving a long thread trail. Open the piece and with the aid of a pin hook the trailing threads through to the RS of the fabric inside your work. Lay the thread trail across the inside of the piece, up to the turning opening. Then restart your stitching by putting the needle in to the stitching a few stitches back from the point, stitch to the point, swivel needle down, and stitch the other side. After trimming off the excess seam allowance you can turn the point through easily, without getting a pokey bit, by gently tugging on the threads you trailed to the opening. You can use this technique in quite a few places where there’s a point to turn out after facing.
for turning collar points without clipping, this one often works. Instead of cutting across the corner, fold the seam allowances over the point at right angles, that is into the body of the piece, and grasp them between index finger and thumb, thumb inside the inside out collar. Turn the collar over, using the bulk of the turnings to push the collar point out.
To get a good point on collars and revers, don’t stitch and swivel, take one stitch across the corner at an angle. Sounds wrong but works.
Finishing the edge of a facing Tip/tutorial here for making a neat edge the interfacing.
Secure facings at the shoulders and underarms by stitching in the ditch along the seams catching the facings.
Bulky denim seams
A sewing friend on The Sewing Forum wrote this one. “If you don’t have a Hump Jumper or Jean-a-ma-jig, you can make one. Cut a scrap of the denim (6″ long X 8″ wide) fold in half, lengthwise (6″), press with a steam iron; fold the two outer edges to the pressed center; press again with steam. Fold each side in half again (to the center), so you have a total of eight layers of denim. Stitch a straight line down the 6″ length. This will give you a very good indication whether or not your machine can handle that much denim. To use: As soon as you see the front edge of your presser foot start to tilt up, stop with the needle in the fabric, raise the presser foot, place the folded denim behind, and under the presser foot. Stitch until the presser foot is level. Stop with the needle in the fabric, lift the foot, and remove the strip.”
You can also use a stack of post its, but the fabric one is less slippy.
You can hammer down seams to make them more machine friendly.
Fine fabric hems tutorial
Shirring, a good tutorial
Bias Tape DIY method of getting the tape you cut to fold in my post of 11 April 2012 “Bolero jacket rerun”. Also, to cut strips of fabric quickly, measure the first couple of inches and cut, then flip the cut piece on to the body to guide the width of the next couple of inches. Repeat, folding over the cut piece and using it as a guide until you have the length you need. The guide doubles each time so it is very quick.
Setting pleats Vinegar, diluted, in the pressing cloth helps to give them more permanence. Use the white vinegar obviously!
Making trousers with a front crease? Put the crease in first, before sewing up. Don’t press hard on the last couple of inches, because when hemmed, the crease will fold in the opposite direction.
When you have an inner and outer waistband, separate pieces, consider moving the seam at the end about two inches along, so that the outer band folds at the end instead. You have less bulk where the buttonhole typically falls.
Threading a double needle on many machines you need to leave one of the threads outside the last thread guide – the one just above the needles. If you’re getting bird’s nests try this.
Fold over Elastic tutorial
Elastic threading through a channel? have all the seam allowances on the crossing seams stitched flat before closing the channel
Cutting floaty fabrics If your chiffon ends up wonky on the seams and hems, you can cut roughly, then use the overlocker without threads in to get a neat edge and measure seam allowance at the same time.
Mitred binding videos for one method
Shirt yoke Tutorial
Top Stitch have two different colours on different spools blending to get a good colour
Small appliqué shapes can be bagged out with organza or a similar light fabric to neaten the edges before applying
Flat seat adjustment here
Knecklines Vee neckline, turn with one stitch across the point, not needle down and swivel. To prevent stretching the long bias of deep Vee necklines try one of these – use narrow masking tape in seam allowance before lifting the fabric, mark the neckline but don’t cut it until you’re ready to face, stitch the facing immediately, stopping just short of where the shoulder seam will be so this can be worked.
Seams. Jump squares, scraps of fabric stitched before feeding in the seam, can help prevent fine fabrics from being sucked under the feed or other snarl ups. Speedier sewing, run all the long seams under the machine one after another without cutting off threads in between. Double stitch crotch seams. Stretch the back inseam on trousers slightly above the knee. Concave to convex seams match at the stitching line only, use pins at right angles to the seam to control the shapes. For very tight curves you may need to snip into the seam allowance on the concave piece. If the fabric is a frayer, stitch a line just inside the seam allowance first. To press the seam open the concave edge is snipped and triangles of fabric snipped out of the seam allowance on the convex curve. To match crossing seams, stage stitch, work from the critical point to the seam end, restart just before the cross, putting the needle into the previous stitches, and stitch to the other end.
Tracing Magazine Patterns without going cross eyed, tape sheets of carbon together and sandwich them between your magazine and the paper. Work from the top, using a propelling pencil without lead, or to add seam allowances at the same time, a double tracing wheel.
Hems. Make the hem of dressier trousers slightly higher in front. To get a deep flared hem to sit nicely, cut a cardboard pressing template. In a fabric which will shrink, gather the top edge to fit where it will be hemmed and shrink away the excess. In a fabric which won’t work with this technique, try one of these – parallel rows of gathering to hold the hem flat, small darts to remove the extra length, facing the hemline. Bias cut garments need to hang before hemming. Its often useful to interface hems, take the interfacing slightly beyond the hemline and above the depth of the hem.
Speedier Fusing. Kitchen foil under the piece speeds things up.
Patch pockets – it’s easier to get a neat finish if the pocket piece is lined first.
Handsewing, to get stitches evenly spaced you can mark the thumb on the hand that’s holding the fabric with the spacing you want. Waxing the thread can help to avoid tangles. If you sew tricky fabrics, sooner or later you will probably decide that hand tacking a piece will save time in the end. You might not know this simple way to tack a straight line between two points without marking the whole distance (some fabrics don’t take kindly to marking tools!). After the first stitch, lay the length of the thread to the end point, or if it’s a long seam, to a point marked part way. Hold the thread taught and take stitches along the line it makes, re-adjusting the thread as you go. It’s quite a time saver over continually measuring, once you get the hang of it. Essentially the thread line acts as your guide to get a straight line.
Machine Buttonholes. A strip of masking tape along the length of the CF with the spacing of each buttonhole on it is useful. You can position the tape so it lines up with the foot edge. A slightly tighter bottom thread tension can be achieved by threading the bobbin thread through the finger on the bobbin holder (some machines). Two threads through the needle can give a better appearance in some fabrics.
Kick Pleats. To help preventing them sagging, the pleat depth can be run up to the waistband, but if this is inconvenient a triangle of fabric between the seam allowance and the pleat top can be added, either as a grown on piece or a separate piece – for example cut in lining.
Velvet. If you haven’t got needle board, pressing face down onto a scrap of velvet face up usually works. Bad creases need to be steamed out, with the piece held vertical (or try hanging it up in shower room). Many velvets slip – hand tacking is often the quickest solution.
Grain. To straighten the grain on wovens, with an assistant pull the piece diagonally. This only works for minor distortions. To find straight grain, pull a thread. Weft should generally run vertically (marked straight grain on the pattern). Close woven even fabrics with a strong warp can often be used with the grainline running horizontally if this helps. It’s usually best to avoid cutting trousers and jeans like this. Bias grain , 45 degrees to the warp, stretches and follows the curves of the body. When cutting bias garments the pieces often need to have the bias in the same direction.
Patterns. Measure pieces at key points and compare with body measurements. To get extra room at bust level shape the front side seam out in a slight curve and ease this into the back. This can be done in addition to an FBA or on its own. When making a pattern from an existing garment, first find the straight grain on each piece and run a line of pins along it.
Time savers. Thread a few hand needles before starting, so they are to hand if you need to tack a difficult section. Wind enough bobbins. (Some use wound bobbins in the top threading in order to anticipate the bottom thread running out. ) If working from a commercial pattern and instructions, lay out the pieces in numerical order, and keep the pattern pieces pegged together in case you need to refer to them. Complete the small pieces early as far as possible (pocket flaps, cuffs, collars)