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    7 Rules for Sewing

    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!

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    18 Responses to 7 Rules for Sewing

    1. Emma Miner says:

      I agree with all of your rules. I’ve found that what works for me in trying something new is in the mystery quilt areas. When the project is done, I can’t believe that I could have (and did) make something that cool.

    2. Lynn says:

      thanks so much for these rules! Even long time sewers must be reminded of them. Don’t waste through haste.

    3. Joan says:

      Some really good advice to take note of. One thing I have found though, I was advised a long time ago that it is best to wash fabric before starting a patchwork and quilting project, which I did, as soon as I purchased fabric I would wash it before putting into my stash, however, When doing a workshop project where material is supplied, or buying the jelly rolls which is really pre cut fabric, this fabric is not washed before being used and I was also told not to mix pre washed and unwashed fabric. With this in mind I now tend to leave the fabric and not pre wash it. But i wonder what others think of this

    4. Shelley says:

      Emma, you sound like SUCH a good teacher. I am lucky that I have someone like you in Johannesburg, South Africa, to teach me the same way.

    5. Janice Thiele says:

      It’s good to be reminded about things were learnt ages ago and sometines forget.
      Love reading your articles.

    6. Anonymous says:

      “6. Slow Down..”

      This is my biggest mistake when sewing. I watched the pros in my family zipping through seams so i thought that how you sewed,but I was wrong,I’m not that good yet so slow and steady for me. Good Article

    7. Tangie says:

      Slowing Down is a big one for me. I thought I was supposed to go fast like the people on TV. I have ruined plenty of projects just speeding through. Good Article!

    8. Jerry says:

      Very good article and reminders of things we tend to forget in our very busy lives. When I got my new sewing machine, I didn’t understand why there was a “motor speed” button. Now I know, and I always slow it down. The tip on changing needles is something I also just learned when starting embroidery projects. I thought we just used them until they broke. Thanks for the tips.

    9. Jane in WI says:

      Great summary of sewing ‘rules’. We all need to be reminded of them. Thanks!

    10. Darlene Doctor says:

      Your rules are right on.
      I teach sewing, and those are all things I try to impart right away.
      The only thing I would add, is if you need to rip something out, do it right away… if you leave an error, even a small one, it will bother you everytime you look at that item.

    11. Julie says:

      oh I so agree with all that you are saying and I sometimes being in a hurry “put the pedal to the medal” and does it make the project go faster noooo cause then I usually make mistakes….and that takes time/stress to fix….Julie

    12. Linda King says:

      These are great tips, I am never sure which fabric to wash, I am always afraid that the raw edges will unravel some more and end up with a rats nest in the washer & dryer. I am still learning to sew and embroider, as I have forgotten a lot of what I learned years ago, I have only been sewing for 4 mos. after not sewing for 35 yrs, a lot has changed. Hope you will always have good tips to share.

    13. Susan McConachie says:

      I do have another rule – check your garments for pins afterwards – I made a friend (male) some shirts, and left a pin in the armpit, a pin in the crotch of my husbands trousers, and I made myself a velvet jumpsuit,and had to visit the ladies as soon as I got to the concert to remove a pin from the elbow. It got to be a such a joke that any clothes I made were thoroughly checked by the recipient before they would try them on.

    14. Peggy says:

      This is a wonderful article. My 17 year old granddaughter is just starting to learn to sew clothing and I will print this off and have her read it, especiallt the part about the pedal to the metal.

      Thank you

    15. Tara says:

      I f you don’t prewash your material becasue you are afraid of the raveling, just serge it quickly and then throw it in the wash. No raveling.

    16. Rhonda says:

      I have been sewing for 48 years, started on my mother’s singer treadle and have one myself that sews like a dream; have new machines also. I learned a long time ago, press, press, press, do not iron, this stretches quilt pieces. I love to spray starch pieces which helps keep them nice and even. I agree also, wash fabrics first, I come in my house through the laundry room and throw my new fabric in the washer right then. Love this site and appreciate the tips. Rhonda

    17. JoAnn says:

      Thank you so much for this article, it has served to back-up every thing I just told my 18 year old granddaughter who was making a “flapper dress” for a school senior project. I will print it out and give to her hoping she will heed to it.

    18. Jackie says:

      You have the seven rules that I have always use myself.

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