by Julie Mueller
Even as I write “7 Rules for Sewing” I know that there are no hard and fast rules for sewing or for life. If anything, life teaches us that there are no hard and fast rules for anything. So let’s just think of these as seven ‘suggestions’ to improve the quality of your sewing projects.
1. Press frequently. That seems pretty basic but I’m always surprised how many people skip this step in classes I’ve taught. Pressing is an up and down motion with your iron, not the same as running the iron over the surface. You need to press seams either open or to one side for the garment or project to look right. You can use lots of pressing tools as well: consider pressing with a hand towel on top so the fabric or embroidery isn’t mashed down. Use a needle board for working on velvet. Then there are all those fun tools; puff irons, padded sticks, and pressing hams that help when pressing curves. For most fabrics, use a lot of steam to set the seam and make your embroidery glow but remember that some threads shrink with too much heat.
2. Cut and sew accurately. Again, it seems basic but accurate cutting and sewing is key to fitting garments and having seams line up. Surprisingly, even a small 1/8” cutting error coupled with a too generous seam allowance around a skirt could result in as much as a 2” difference in the finished project. Tote bag straps that aren’t the same size look amateurish (and such a mistake is so avoidable).
3. Don’t force or pull your fabric when sewing. A machine in good running order should advance the fabric on its own. Our job is to guide the fabric into the machine accurately with hands held lightly in front of the throatplate, not behind the needle pulling. Also, there is no need to watch the needle go up and down; the needle will go up and down on its own. Our job is to watch that the edge of the fabric is on the seam guide.
4. Change the needle frequently. Don’t just change the needle when it breaks! A sharp needle improves the accuracy of your project and makes your embroidery better too. When you hear a thunk thunk thunk when sewing, it’s time to change. And don’t forget to match the size of your needle to the weight of the fabric. That’s true of embroidery as well. Can’t bear to waste the needle? Try my solution: I use my old needles on my bulletin board.
5. Wash and dry fabric first. Washing fabric rids it of all the chemicals and excess dyes used in processing; believe it or not, there is a lot of formaldehyde in fabrics (note: some fabrics such as wool, velvet and polished cottons should be dry cleaned only). If you wash the fabric before cutting it out, you never have to worry about how to wash it in the future. Just throw it in the machine; it won’t shrink or twist out of shape at all and silk blouses come out of the dryer in beautiful condition.
6. Slow down. I see mistakes happen all the time because the machine is on the fastest speed or the “pedal is to the metal” so to speak. Good sewing is slow and careful. Take time to measure, pin and check your work. Newer machines offer much higher speeds, thus it’s easy to make a mistake. If there is a lot of thread breakage try again with a new needle and a slower speed.
7. Try something new! Every once in a while try a new technique such as heirloom sewing or quilting. Try a new pattern or try making your own equipment. Try the variegated or solar thread. Try a double or wing needle on your project. If you don’t like the results, move on to something else because if there’s one thing life does teachs us, there’s not a lot of time to sew!