The Life of Jennifer Dawn: Sewing Tips and Tricks

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Sewing Tips and Tricks

"Put the thread in here and then pull it down through there." Momma first showed me how to thread a sewing machine when I was just a little girl. I'd watch as the foot of the machine pulsed rhythmically up and down stitching the fabric pieces together that she had carefully cut. She sewed a little bit of everything--clothes for my sister and me, costumes, patches on the knees of worn out jeans, buttons on daddy's shirts, rips along the seams of treasured stuffed animals...
It was years later before I had an interest in trying my hand at it. My sister actually picked up the craft first. When my own passion for sewing struck, it was momma who bought me my first machine. Now I'm turning pieces of fabric into creations for my kids and home just like momma used to do.
Lydia Grace is already showing an interest in wanting to learn. "Can I press the pedal, mommy?" I must have asked my momma that same question dozens of times when I was around her age. So under my watchful eye, I let her glide the fabric through the machine and try out the pedal. I've also been passing a few tips down to her. They are ones that I learned from my momma or have picked up from personal experience. And I'm delighted to share them with you too...
Sewing Tricks and Tips

1. Always wash and dry your fabrics and trims before sewing with them. This preshrinks everything which is especially important if you are sewing clothing from two or more different types of material. Various fabrics shrink different amounts. If you don’t preshrink your fabrics, it could cause puckering or other problems the first time the finished item is washed. If you are sewing an item that will only need to be spot cleaned like a pillow or place mat, this isn't as critical of a step. I personally wash all of my fabrics as soon as they enter my home. Just putting them in the rinse cycle is enough–no detergent necessary.
2. Iron your fabrics before beginning a project. This will ensure that your cuts are accurate when you lay the fabric down to cut out your pieces. It will also help keep the finished product from having wrinkles. I've found it best to use a steam iron. You'll want to iron the seams as you work through a project too.

3. Equip yourself with the right supplies. A basic collection will do.

4. If you need a rectangular or squared piece for a sewing project, tearing the fabric instead of cutting it is a quick, accurate option. I love the ripping sound it makes. Just measure, snip, and tear.
5. A quality, reliable machine can make all the difference. When you are just beginning, your instinct may be to purchase an inexpensive (cheap) machine until you see if you even enjoy the hobby. This could cause problems and frustrations that have nothing to do with your abilities as the seamstress and everything to do with the machine itself. Jams, bunched thread, skipped stitches, and difficulty sewing through heavier fabrics are just a few problems that can occur more frequently with a poor quality machine. If you aren’t ready to splurge on a good machine just yet, see if you can borrow a friend or a family member’s sewing machine. When you are ready to purchase, make sure to buy a good quality one. It's also important to routinely clean and maintain your machine.
6. Find the right fabric. Sewing clothes? The fabric sets the stage for the quality of the finished garment. Always buy quality fabrics! One of my favorite sources for designer fabric is Raspberry Creek Fabrics.

7. Take the time to complete all the necessary steps and stitches. Backstitch at the start and finish of each seam unless you are doing something like a gathering stitch to make a ruffle. Create clean hemlines–I typically use a double hem. Trim the loose threads. Topstitch when necessary. Clip corners. Finish your raw edges. Even if you don’t have a serger, you can zig zag stitch along the raw edges or trim them with your pinking shears to finish them off. These simple steps will give your project a more professional look.
8. Start by learning the basics. Confused by the terms backstitch, gathering stitch, topstitch, or even double hem. Find a class, friend, family member, book, or website that can teach you the basics.
9. Frequently change out your needle. I learned this lesson the hard way when a worn out needle shattered in the middle of a project and the pieces went flying. A bent, dull, or worn out needle can also cause problems with the stitches. Having a fresh needle can prevent issues with the machine and fabric as you sew. 
10. Make sure to use the correct needles, thread, elastic, and notions for each sewing project.
Needle tips:
  • There are two different numbers on a needle. One is the American size (ranging from 8 to 19) and the other is the European size (ranging from 60 to 120).
  • Needles with a larger number are intended for heavier fabrics. For lightweight fabrics, use a smaller needle like a 60/8. For medium weight (most apparel and cotton fabrics), use a 75/11 or 80/12.
  • Most fabrics will work well with a universal needle. Keep in mind that there are other types of needles like ballpoint needles which are great for heavy knits and denim needles which are perfect for sewing through the thickness of jean material.
Thread tips:
  • Use thread that is the same color or slightly darker than the fabric you are sewing with. This will help it to blend in better.
  • If you are sewing two different colored fabrics together, you can use one color for the bobbin and another color for the top spool to give your project a nicer look.
  • Don’t buy cheap thread.
  • Most projects do fine with an all-purpose thread. If you're sewing  heavier fabric like upholstery fabric or duck cloth, make sure to get a heavy duty thread.
  • You can troubleshoot a lot of sewing issues by simply rethreading your sewing machine.

Elastic tips:

  • Read the labels on the elastic to find the perfect one for your sewing needs.
  • Knit elastic works great with lightweight fabrics whereas woven elastic is better for heavyweight fabrics.

11. Hide your good pair of sewing scissors from the hubby and kids. I remember when I was growing up, my mom’s orange handled Fiskars always seemed so handy. She would fuss at us for using them on anything other than fabric though. At the time I didn’t get it. Now I do! My husband grabbed my sewing scissors once to cut paper with, and I launched into a lecture about dulling the blade and messing them up. He looked at me dumbfounded, but one rule in this house is that no on touches mom’s good sewing scissors. Thanks for the lesson, momma!

12. When you are first learning to sew, don’t shoot for the moon. Yes, I made this mistake myself. And that project still sits undone. I have always been someone who has had to learn things the hard way. Starting with something too complicated will only lead to feeling overwhelmed and perhaps even giving up on the craft altogether. Bottom line: Start with something simple!
13. Find your sewing style. My mom and sister always like to have a pattern. Me? I like to make it up as I go along and create my own patterns. Discover what works best for you.
14. Sew what you love! Some individuals may prefer to sew curtains, pillows, and other lovely items for their home. Others many love sewing things for their children. You may find that you dislike any project that requires sewing by hand or be like me and love to sew by hand. Bottom line: Discover what it is that you love about sewing and pursue that!
15. Use your creativity! Try new techniques. Pair unique fabrics together. Modify patterns. Above all, have fun and be creative!
Do you have a great tip to share? I'd love to hear it!
Happy sewing!
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A similar post was originally shared on Making the World Cuter.


  1. Love it! I agree with every single one of these tips!!!! I learned many of them the hard way. : )

  2. Great tips. I always wash and dry my fabric before I make any project. Irons are part f my sewing tools too. Love this post I hope you will share this week at the Thursday Favorite Things blog hop. Hugs!

    1. Thank you! Yes, both of those are great tips. My momma always says that if you don't like to iron then you don't like to sew. They go hand in hand. :)

  3. Pinning!! Maybe they will come in handy one day! :-)

  4. Great tips! I've been sewing for years now, but I never thought about snipping and tearing the fabric instead! I'm definitely going to have to try that out!

    1. Thank you! Yes! I love to just tear it if I need a straight piece.

  5. Great tips! Especially about the needle. I almost ruined a machine once because I shattered a needle and a large piece of it fell into the bobbin cavity and got stuck. Thank god for whoever invented tiny tweezers!

    1. Thank you! Yes, I learned the hard way too. A piece almost went into my eye. It scared me into changing them out more than is probably necessary.

  6. Hello cute lady! Awesome post. Pinned and tweeted. We appreciate you taking the time to stop by and party with us. It wouldn't be a party without you! I hope to see you tonight at 7 pm. Lou Lou Girls

  7. Great tips!!! I would love to get back into sewing this year and these are helpful reminders.


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