Friday, August 19, 2011

Basic Sewing Tips

Basic Sewing Tips
If you’re new to sewing, you’ll need to know a few basic tips before you start your first project. Following is a list of tips that I recommend to each of my students.
1. First of all, don’t spend a lot of money on your first sewing machine. There are lots of nice sewing machines priced under $100. You can buy a more expensive machine after you master the basic techniques.
2. Buy at least one case of metal bobbins, a seam ripper, a package of straight pins, scissors, and a pack of size 12 sewing machine needles when you buy your sewing machine. Why?
   a. Metal bobbins remain properly seated in the bobbin housing when the thread becomes low
       – unlike the lightweight plastic bobbins. I recommend getting an entire case so that you can
       wind several when you are working on a large project. Even if your first few projects are
       small, you will eventually have that first big project. Having several bobbins wound for that
       project will save you time as you change out empty bobbins.
    b. Size 12 needles accommodate most normal sewing projects using cotton fabric.
    c. No matter how many years you sew, you’ll need a seam ripper from time to time – and
        more often than not when you first start sewing.
    d. Pins are necessary for holding pieces together until your project is sewn.
    e. Scissors do not need an explanation. Ü
3. Read the sewing machine manual before you use your machine. Always refer to it when in doubt about a sewing project (such as what type of needle to use with certain fabrics). If you purchase a used machine without a manual, it’s likely that you’ll find one online to order or download.
4. Practice makes perfect. You don’t have to dive right into a sewing project. Buy inexpensive cotton fabric to practice sewing straight lines and to improve speed and accuracy. This also allows you to get familiar with your machine and its features.
5. When you’re ready for your first project, test your stitches on the exact layers of sample pieces you’ll be using. For example, if you’ll be using batting between two layers of fabric, layer them exactly as you’ll layer your project and sew a row of stitches to see if the tension is correct. Each front and back stitch should measure between 1/16” to 1/8” long. The tension wheel is on the front or top of your machine and has numbers on it. Adjust if necessary and sew more sample stitches. Repeat until the tension is set properly. All battings and fabrics are not created equally. Each has its own thickness and should be dealt with before you begin each project. If not, you may wind up with puckered or loose stitches. Save this stitch sample as you may need it to test stitches again if number 6 should happen.
6. Given that you have already set your tension properly, and you suddenly notice that you have funny loops in your stitches (usually the back stitches), you likely have one of the following problems: a dull needle, the thread is hung up somewhere leading from either the bobbin or the spool, or you have too much dust build-up in your machine. Turn off and unplug your machine to troubleshoot!
       a. Change your needle first as that is the most likely cause. Then use your sample fabric/batting that you used to set your tension to test-stitch to see if the loops are gone. If the loops still appear, then go to step b.
        b. Remove the spool and bobbin (and all thread) completely from the machine. Re-fit everything appropriately and test again. If these test stitches result in loops, then go to step c.
        c. Carefully clean the dust from inside the machine according to the manual and test again.
If none of these correct the problem, your internal tension may be messed up and will have to be checked by a professional. However, in my 10 plus years of sewing, one of the first three problems has always been the cause of those loops for me.
7. Most sewing machines have a diagram on the machine to show you how to thread your machine from the spool and how to load your bobbins correctly. This information will also be in the sewing machine manual. If done improperly you will get funky stitches.
8. Cotton is the easiest fabric to sew. But no matter what fabric you purchase, buy more than what a pattern calls for. This will allow you extra to correct errors in most cases and allow for edges to be straightened. Straightening the edges sometimes requires removing 4 or more inches from the length which may result in not having enough fabric to finish your project if you purchased only what the pattern calls for.
9. I always recommend that you NOT use lined, checkered or plaid fabrics in your first few projects. These are what I refer to as directional fabrics and can be tedious even for the seasoned sewer. Select fabrics with multi-directional designs like circles, paisley and other similar fabrics.
10. Use solid fabrics as little as possible. These are….well….boring and should be used sparingly.
11.  You’ll find most of your coordinating fabrics are grouped together in fabric stores. That’s helpful for beginners. But don’t be afraid to walk around the store and compare your selection to other fabrics. There are dots along the fabric edge (a.k.a. selvage) that recommend colors that can be used with that fabric.
12.  Woven fabrics like homespun and ticking are nice because both sides are the same. If you select prints, you have to be aware of the “right side” and “wrong side”. The right side is the print side and the wrong side is the opposite side.
13. Pay attention to the thread that you’re purchasing. Machine Quilting and All Purpose threads can be used with domestic sewing machines. Hand Quilting and other thick threads are too thick for a sewing machine needle to pull through fabric. 
14. Most of all be patient. You don’t have to finish a project in a day. As a matter of fact your finished product will likely look better if you stop when you’re tired and come back to it another day. It may take several days to finish a project depending on the size. I find that two or three hours of sewing a day is sufficient when working on projects. I make fewer mistakes and I don’t get bored or worn out with my projects that way.

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