As you delve deeper into learning how to sew, the process can be just as much rewarding as it is frustrating. After all, it does take lots of time, patience, and a little bit of persistence to learn the ins and outs of making your own clothing. The good news is, if you get started the right way, building good habits as you learn, you will find sewing to be one of the most rewarding hobbies. Building a good foundation and developing the correct practices from the get-go will save you lots of time and frustration as you start experimenting with more complex sewing tasks in the future.
To help you get started on the right foot, here are 5 helpful habits to start developing now in the learning process:
Pinning seams correctly during sewing:
Ah, the pin mystery... Many beginners wonder if there really is a correct way to pin seams and layers of fabric together before machine stitching. Realistically, most beginners don't pay much attention to it and just go by what feels comfortable. However, learning how to pin in the correct direction from the beginning will save you time, add comfort to your sewing process, prevent you from making a pin mess all over your working space, and keep your fingers safe from pin pricks.
There are really two ways/directions you can pin seams together: perpendicular to the fabric's edge/seam, and parallel to the seam/fabric's edge. The perpendicular method is the one recommended for sewing most seams, especially regular straight seams normally consisting of two layers of fabric. Placing the pins perpendicular to the seam's edge allows you to easily and comfortably remove the pins in a horizontal orientation as you machine stitch.
If you are right-handed, place the pins so that the ball head of the pin is aligned on the right side, towards the fabric's edge. If you are left-handed, it might feel more comfortable to place the pins such that the ball-head is aligned left, away from the seam's edge.
A perpendicular (or horizontal) pin placement allows for more control and locks the vertical layers of the seam in place more efficiently than a parallel pin placement, especially in a straight seam. Additionally, it provides you a safety measure against accidentally pricking your fingers with the pin's needle- the sharpest edge is pointing away from your hands providing a means for comfortably removing the pins from the closed edge.
There are however instances when a vertical/parallel pin placement simply cannot be avoided. When you are sewing through very thick layers of fabric or very curved, folded edges, aligning the pins parallel in relation to the edge provides more control. Specific examples when a parallel pin placement is desired include: sewing along a double-folded curved hem, top stitching double-folded binding (especially along very curved areas of the armhole and neckline), and during certain decorative or functional applications that may benefit from a vertical pin placement.
If you are unsure and still not quite used to working with pins, try to get in the habit of placing all pins perpendicular to the edge. Switch to a parallel placement if you find that a perpendicular direction is not holding the layers of fabric properly, or the pins are difficult to insert through the fabric layers horizontally.
Note: Don't sew over the pins! Always remove each pin as the machine needle approaches it.
Ironing every seam as you sew it:
This is perhaps the number 1 rule in dressmaking: Always iron every seam and fold in the sewing process right after the stitch is applied. Not ironing every seam at the construction stage not only makes the garment a lot more difficult to handle and sew, it will be close to impossible to iron each seam when the clothing item is already completed. As a result, the garment will most likely not look clean/professional, giving the impression of puckering as if there are tension issues at the seams. This can also make the garment appear to have some major fit issues even if it truly does not-Fit issues are not caused by whether you iron the seams during sewing but rather by a combination of factors starting with your sewing patterns down to how you cut them and sew the seams.
It is also important to keep in mind that in many cases, seam allowance needs to point in a specific direction for the most correct results. Ironing each seam (usually done on the face side of the garment) allows you to set the correct seam allowance direction in place, thus facilitating the sewing process for optimal quality.
You'll find that if you iron every seam as you sew it, you'll save yourself some time and headache as you get through each step of putting a clothing item together. Aside from the fact that it constitutes the most important factor in sewing a good quality garment, there are some additional benefits to ironing every seam as you go. First, if your sewing machine has some slight tension issues, ironing the seam on a higher setting (fabric permitting) and adding steam can sometimes release some of the gathering/puckering caused by tension problems. In addition, you may want to use ironing to set and stabilize folds before they receive a final machine stitch.
Staystitching vulnerable curved edges:
Staystitching is quite often overlooked by sewing beginners. To give you some background, staystitching is the act of applying a straight stitch along vulnerable, curved edges along the seam allowance at a short distance above the seam line. It is done right after the fabric pieces are unpinned from the sewing patterns before any other sewing finish is applied. It is basically a security measure against stretching and pulling sensitive curved edges during the construction process.
Understandably, there are so many small and big rules required in the sewing process that staystitching is for some reason, the one that always gets overlooked. You may be able to get away with it in some situations, for instance when working with fabrics that don't stretch easily and have a very dense weave. Most of the time however, it is a good idea to develop the habit of staystitching at least along neckline and waistline edges in order to be on the safe side. This is especially true if your garment requires a facing, particularly at the neckline. By staystitching you can prevent the neckline curve of the garment from stretching and de-stabilizing so much that it's curve fails to match the curve of the facing properly.
Staystitching is a sewing application that will come with practice as you experiment with constructing a variety of different styles as well as work with different fabrics. Sewing beginners often learn the hard way that stay-stitching is a necessity in the sewing process. The good news is that learning the hard way when you are learning how to sew is actually a good thing! The downside with not applying a staystitch in a timely matter is that once those vulnerable round edges stretch it is unfortunately impossible to undo the damage. The worst part is that this issue often goes unnoticeable until the garment is finalized.
For good measure, always stay-stitch any curve you feel might stretch. If you get in the habit of doing so from the start, it will become quite automatic as you expand your sewing portfolio, not to mention save you some headache and frustration along the way.
Backstitching is another one of those necessary sewing applications that becomes quite automatic once you build a habit for it. Backstitching is usually done on the sewing machine to lock the beginning and/or end of a straight stitch preventing it from coming undone. A backstitch button or lever is included on every sewing machine no matter how very basic or complicated it is. An important benefit of backstiching offers the ability keep the edges of seams completely closed and locked in place for stability when they are ironed and further connected to other parts of the garment in the sewing process. It allows for a durable finish in the final product and makes the process of clean-finishing seam allowance raw edge more comfortable by keeping all the seams consistently closed.
Many sewing beginners underestimate the crucial step of backsticthing. As a result, the whole sewing experience can often become unnecessarily difficult and frustrating. Although it is important to backstitch each seam, it is not always necessary or desired that you backstitch on both the beginning and end of the seam.
Many experienced sewers learn exactly when backstitching is crucial from experience over time. However, if you are just starting out, it is a good habit to backstitch just at the beginning of the stitch and leave the other end as is. Next, iron the seam in the direction of the end that is not backstitched- this will release tension in the stitch making it quite beneficial for those beginners that do not yet understand the concept of machine tension. If you are convinced your machine has no tension issues by the fact that it sews a smooth stitch consistently through every fabric, then feel free to backstitch on both ends for added stability.
There are however some instances when backstitching should be avoided all together. Never backstitch on very fine fabrics like lightweight silks and fine chiffon. Unless you know your needle is sharp enough and your sewing machine does not cause tension issues, you may get away with backstitching some of these dainty fabrics. If you are unsure, stick to applying backstitch by hand when necessary. As a sewing beginner, try to also stay away from backstitching at the vanishing point of darts. Doing so may damage the fabric and create puckering on the face side of the garment. The best way to avoid this is to manually tie the loose threads of the dart stitch a few times to lock it in place.
Using a temporary basting stitch during sewing:
Temporary hand basting is used quite often during sewing to hold certain edges and layers of fabric stable prior to being permanently stitched. There are a few different types of basting stitches used for a variety of purposes you'll most likely learn as you become more advanced. However, the most commonly used one you should know as a sewing beginner is a temporary uneven hand baste which is removed after the final stitch has been applied.
If you are experimenting with zippers, double folded binding, waistbands and any sort of decorative or functional appliques, use hand basting to stabilize all the necessary layers in place before the final stitch is added. Doing so will save you the headache of having to undo certain stitches due to the fact that they have shifted or puckered during construction. It often takes some experience to know when hand basting during garment construction is truly necessary but it always goes hand-in-hand with your skill level. Most sewing beginners start with hand basting most seams until they feel comfortable with using just pins. However, even after years of experience, temporary basting continues to be a valuable tool in the construction process.
Lets face it, basting can sometimes feel like such a time consuming task. Most sewing beginners try to skip it and assume they can get away with using pins alone. However, it is in the learning process that hand basting during garment construction is most valuable. If you are a sewing beginner, avoid using pins alone to sew along very curved edges, zipper applications, or folded edges. Not only are pins difficult to manipulate along more challenging seams and applications, they do not hold the fabric flat and stable enough to be controlled and sewn efficiently. It is recommended that you do a quick, temporary hand baste before adding a machine stitch any time you feel that pins aren't enough to stabilize the fabric layers.
Learning how to sew is an ongoing process that takes time, patience and consistently learning from mistakes. If you're able to develop some good habits from the get-go, you will avoid many unnecessary pitfalls and save lots of time in the process.
As perhaps the most common of sewing alterations, converting a pair of jeans into a shiny new pair of shorts is actually quite simple to do. If you have a good pair of scissors and some means of taking precise measurements (like a ruler or measuring tape), you'll find the whole process fun and pretty rewarding. For many that have tried to do this simple alteration, the issue is always about using the proper measuring technique. As is true for any sewing alteration that requires trimming or cutting the garment, it is always a good idea to allow yourself enough room for error no matter how confident you feel. This is especially true when converting pants into shorts. Stay on the safe side by allowing yourself enough room for error.
The great thing about transforming a pair of pants into shorts is that you have control over the final design. Denim is quite fun to work with and withstands a variety of different decorative and finishing techniques. You may choose to simply cut the pant legs at your preferred length and leave them to fray a bit at the bottom for a more causal style. You can do that with denim due to the fabric's ability to lock the threads after a few rows of fraying thus stopping the edge from unraveling further. If you like the causal look of a raw denim edge but want to take the design a bit further, rolling the edge up and tacking it at the sides allows for a more "store-bought" look. On the other hand, if you like a clean-finished edge, you may use a variety if hemming techniques to finish the raw edge of fabric for a more elevated look. Converting pants into shorts allows you to experiment with a variety of decorative techniques like patching, distressing and adding lace and embroidery finishes. All of it is possible once you know how to measure and cut the pant legs to achieve the desired overall length, and an even length on both legs.
Cutting the pant legs:
Although it sounds easy, a single error when cutting the pant legs can put an end to the project all together. Any time you alter pants it is important to keep in mind that they fit and lay very differently on the back than they do on the front. Aligning the front waistline in relation to the back waistline will prove to be crucial in whether the shorts will fit and the hem of each leg will be evened out properly.
1. Lay the jeans flat on the table ensuring that the front waistline is aligned lower than the back waistline. Usually, that is how pants lay naturally at the waist. However, you should take extra precaution that you maintain this alignment throughout the cutting process.
Try the pants on and measure with a ruler or measuring tape the desired length for your shorts. It is best to measure along seams. The in-seam is the most appropriate to use as this will eventually ensure an even, correct cut.
2. Measure from the crotch seam down along the in-seam and use a fabric pencil to mark with a horizontal dash line at your chosen length. In this case, 3.5 inches.
3. Starting at the marked measurement from Step 2, position the ruler horizontally across the pant leg aligning the straight edge of the ruler with the side seam. This will ensure that the cutting line is straight and even in relationship to the side seam.
4. Use the fabric marking pencil to draw a straight line across.
5. Place a few pins horizontally through both layers of fabric to keep them stable during cutting. Cut across through both layers as shown.
6. Mark the same measurement on the other pant leg's in-seam with a fabric marking pencil. Use a horizontal dash line.
7. Flip the cut pant leg on top of the uncut portion as shown. Make sure the front and back waistlines maintain the same alignment as described above- the back waistline should lay higher than the front waistline.
Use the side pockets and waistband as an alignment guide, ensuring that each part overlaps right on top of one another.
8. Use the bottom already cut line as a guide to mark the cutting line on the remaining pant leg.
Be careful not to shift the pant legs out of alignment in the marking process.
9. Place a few pins horizontally along the second pant leg right above the marked line, and carefully cut through both layers of fabric as shown above.
Once cut, the shorts should be even on both sides and the back waistline should lay higher than the front as described.
Hemming the jean shorts:
Because you cut through the seams, you will have to reinforce each seam stitch at the hem area so that the stitches don't come undone during wear.
10. To do so, stitch from the hem up at about 1 inch and backstitch to reinforce.
You can manually unravel the edges for a more distressed, casual look. This however, will happen naturally during the first wash cycles. If a more distressed denim look is the style you are after, that is all that's necessary to start wearing your new shorts!
If you like the rolled up hem look, follow the steps bellow to learn an easy technique for achieving it:
11. Decide on how high you want the roll to be. If you are unsure, a good standard measurement to follow is 1". Keep in mind that you should leave enough excess at the bottom of each pant leg in the cutting process such as to allow for the raw edges of the hem to be rolled up accordingly.
12. Match all the seams so that they overlap as shown above. Place a pin through the rolled-up hem to keep the seams aligned properly and maintain the correct fold measurement at each seam.
Repeat Step 12 on every seam, rolling the hem up at the same distance throughout and placing a pin through every folded seam. Doing so will keep the rolled edge in place at key areas of the hem.
13. Starting from the bottom up, stitch through both layers of the rolled hem as close to the seam as possible.
14. Backstitch a few times to reinforce and repeat the process along every seam.
15. Iron the rolled hem in place to maintain the fold along each bottom edge.
After every wash, you may need to re-iron the cuffs. However, the side stitches will ensure that this is very easy to do without having to re-measure the rolled distance after every wash cycle.
Adding a machine stitched hem:
Ensure that before adding a machine stitched hem, you left enough excess hem allowance in the cutting process so that you don't compromise the desired length of the final shorts.
In this tutorial, our hem allowance is 1"
1. Fold the raw edge of the hem towards inside the garment at 1/2" and iron the fold in place. Fold the ironed edge one more time at 1/2" to completely enclose the raw edge. Iron the second fold as well.
3. Place a few pins perpendicular to the edge as shown above to keep this fold in place during stitching.
3. Machine stitch on the inside of the garment as close as you comfortably can to the fold line. It helps to use the line of the fold as a guide.
4. Iron the finished edges of the hem and don't forget to backstitch every stitch for durability.
No Sewing Machine? No Problem. 4 Hand Sewing Techniques And Stitches You Should Know As a Sewing Beginner.
Whether you own a sewing machine or not, learning some basic hand stitches will prove to be quite useful in the long haul. You can't physically take your sewing machine with you everywhere you go, so knowing how to do a few quick fixes by hand can sometimes be a life-saver. In the case you do not actually own a sewing machine, you can use hand stitching not only to fix rips but also sew smaller permanent seams. If you do own a sewing machine, taking it out just for a quick fix can be a hassle sometimes, so learning how to imitate a machine stitch by hand will prove to be quite handy.
Other instances when hand sewing is necessary in the sewing process is for stitching areas that are difficult to access with the machine needle, attaching patches, trims and other appliques manually, and completing blind finishes like a slip stitch and catch stitch. Another important hand stitch worth knowing is the blanket stitch which can be used to replace the zig zag stitch on a home sewing machine. It can be applied along raw edges of fabric to contain fraying as well commonly as used for decorative purposes. This is an important hand stitch to know often used in apparel and especially quilting.
If you find that you enjoy the therapeutic aspect of stitching by hand, there are also plenty of intricate hand embroidery stitches you can experiment with as you become more comfortable in the process.
For now, if you are a still in the beginning stages, we suggest you focus on just a few basic but necessary hand stitches applicable to almost any project. We'll introduce you to 4 such stitches below. If you were to use these 4 stitches together, you would actually be able to sew a clothing item from start to finish without the need for a sewing machine.
1. The Blanket Hand Stitch (Oversewn/Overcast)
This is a great stitch to use as a zig zag substitute when needed. Just as the name suggests, the blanket stitch (also commonly referred to as oversewing or overcasting) is often applied along the edges of blankets, certain towels and comforters in order to smooth and prevent them from rolling. It is also used quite often in quilting along the fabric's edge both for decoration purposes as well as to keep the edge from unraveling. Just as you would on a sewing machine, you can actually control the density and length/size of the blanket stitch while hand sewing it. A denser, shorter stitch works better for lighter fabrics that fray easier. On the other hand, a larger, less dense blanket stitch is applied along the edges of thicker fabrics with lower fraying.
1. Choose the desired length for your blanket stitch and insert the needle at that measurement down from the fabric's edge. In this tutorial, our blanket stitch is approximately 1/4". The length you choose depends on the fabric at hand. The thinner and lighter-weight the fabric, the shorter and denser the stitch should be.
2. Position the thread in a loop/circular shape and insert the needle again at the same distance down from the fabric's edge. Where you insert the second stitch will determine the density of the blanket stitch. The closer the bottom stitches are together, the denser the blanket stitch will be. It is always a good idea to practice a few different lengths and densities on different fabric types.
3. As you pull the needle out, position it so that it goes thorough the thread loop as shown. The thread loop should be at the bottom and the needle should go on top.
4. Pull the thread gently until the stitch aligns with the fabric's edge. Be careful not to pull so hard that the fabric wrinkles and creates tension along the edge.
5. Repeat the steps described above making sure to follow the same measurements throughout. The density and the length of the stitch should be distributed evenly along the edge.
As you continue stitching, be cautious not to pull on the thread too tightly or you risk creating tension issues along the edge.
As you apply the blanket stitch, you'll notice that the edge becomes contained within the thread loops thus preventing the fabric edge from unraveling or rolling. This allows the blanket stitch to be the perfect hand sewing substitute for a zig zag or serged machine finish.
2. The Hand Backstitch
A backstitch done by hand is perhaps the most durable straight stitch you can achieve by hand. You can actually substitute this for a regular machine straight stitch if needed. The reason it is so durable is because the process requires constant backstitching which doubles the stitching layers. Just like the straight stitch setting on your sewing machine, you can control the length and density of this hand stitch. Keep in mind that a shorter backstitch will create a stronger, more dense finish. This is a great hand stitch for sewing or fixing small seams. You can also use it to top-stitch by hand or stitch in areas that are difficult to reach with your sewing machine.
In the example below, we'll show you how to use a hand backstitch to sew a seam by hand.
1. As is customary for any time you prepare a seam for sewing, align the edges of the seam so that the face of both layers of fabric are touching.
2. Decide on the stitch length and insert the needle lengthwise through both layers of fabric at the chosen length. Make sure you position the stitch at the correct seam allowance from the fabric's edge.
In this tutorial the stitch length is approximately 1/4" thus the needle is inserted at a 1/4" interval.
3. Return to the point where the first stitch begins, and insert the needle forward at double the stitch distance as shown. The needle should go past where the last stitch ends.
4. Pull the thread gently. Ensure that you don't stitch too tightly as this can cause the final seam to pucker and create tension issues.
5. Repeat the process by inserting the needle back through where the last stitch ends at double the distance of the stitch again.
Maintain the stitches as even as you can ensuring that you follow the correct seam allowance throughout.
You will notice that a hand backstitch resembles a straight machine stitch very closely. However, if you look on the back side of the stitch, you'll find double stitched layers with a slightly different look. These stitch layers contribute to the seam's durability and long term wear.
If you do not have a sewing machine available, the hand backstitch works just as well for sewing permanent seams.
3. The Slip Stitch
A slip stitch is great hand stitch to master whether you own a sewing machine or not. It is often used in conjunction with other machine applications to sew difficult to reach areas or apply a blind finish. You can use a slip stitch to finish the inside of waistbands, collars and cuffs. Most commonly however, you will find it as a blind hemming method used on a variety of different garments. Slip stitching is also a great technique for fixing surface tears or connecting seams on the face side of the fabric. It is a hidden stitch that should not be noticeable on the face of the garment and difficult to see on the wrong side, if applied correctly.
Below, we'll walk you through the process of applying a slip stitch on a hem to create a blind finish.
1. Double fold and iron the fabric towards the wrong side to enclose the raw edge. You can also insert a few pins to hold this fold in place.
This folding method is the most common technique for finishing hems. Make sure the fold stays aligned properly and folded at an even distance throughout. Follow the hem allowance.
2. Insert the needle though the edge of the fold as shown above.
3. Next, catch 1 or 2 threads from the fabric surface right above the fold. Catching just a few threads will result in an invisible stitch on the face side of the garment, especially when applied with matching color thread.
4. Insert the needle back through the fold at approximately 1/4" in length. You can control how loose or closely together you want the stitches to be. A denser, smaller stitch will allow for a more durable, tight finish.
5. Repeat Step 3 again by catching a few threads from the surface of the fabric.
6. Repeat the stitching process described above until the fold is attached to the fabric throughout. You'll notice that the slip stitch resembles small "v" shapes aligned next to one another.
Only small points from the slip stitch are visible on the outside of the fabric. When the thread matches in color, these stitches blend in to look invisible on the face of the garment.
4. A Permanent Tack Stitch
A permanent tack stitch looks quite subtle and is easy to apply. It is used as a stabilizer to hold certain layers of fabric from shifting or to link separate garment sections together. A permanent tack stitch is localized and applied most commonly on the inside of facings and lining to stop them from shifting out of alignment or flipping to the face side of the garment. It is also a great way to keep rolled cuffs in place through wear and care. You might have already spotted this stitch on cuffed jean shorts and cuffed blouses. There are a few different styles of tack stitches both permanent and temporary that are used for various purposes. The most common are cross tacks, bar tacks (which we'll discuss below), heavy duty tacks and french tacks. The most commonly used are cross tacks and bar tacks thus it is a good idea to start with mastering one of the two.
Applying a simple bar tack:
1. Insert the needle through all layers of fabric that require a tack stitch. In this case, the edge of the fold is being attached to the surface of the fabric- a common technique for stabilizing rolled cuffs.
2. Leave some excess thread to use for completing the stitch with a knot at the end.
3. Stitch in place a few times forming overlapping loops until a tight, durable layered stitch is achieved.
4. When cutting the thread, make sure to leave enough excess so that you can tie the two loose threads together for a more durable, clean finish.
5. Tie the threads together 2-3 times and carefully trim close to the knot.
Buying the first sewing machine is perhaps the most intimidating purchase for sewing beginners. Knowing where to start and what to look for on the market can be a real challenge. If you are a beginner however, you should always start small. There is not need to invest in a sewing machine with a variety of complex stitches and features you might never need to use. Choosing the appropriate sewing machine means finding the right balance between quality, price and the necessary sewing capabilities. You'll find that you really don't need to spend a lot to get a good quality machine that will last you years. Many advanced dressmakers still use a simple home sewing machine for all their needs. There are a number of attachments and presser feet that work with almost all models which you may purchase additionally as you become more advanced.
For now, if you are doing some research on where to start with the initial purchase, here are some of the main things to consider in your search for your first sewing machine:
The Necessary Features
All sewing machines will have the necessary features to sew a garment from start to finish. The most essential elements include: a straight stitch capability for applying permanent stitches; a zig zag stitch to clean finish the raw edges and accommodate knit fabrics, and a reverse button for back-stitching. Of course, even the most basic sewing machines available on the market will offer a few more features than just these 3 basic ones. However, as a beginner, you should start your search with the most essential and work outwards. Although, all sewing machines will probably already have similar settings, it is good to make yourself a little checklist and be able to recognize what the different notations and buttons stand for.
The Straight Stitch
It should be adjustable in stitch length to create a range from very short to a basting stitch with the longest stitch length. Stitch length is usually measured by counting how many stitches are in a 1 inch increment. The shortest stitch length will have a higher count of stitches within an 1" while a basting stitch has a lower stitch count. The shorter stitches are denser and used for finer fabrics like silk and chiffon. They can minimize tension in some very lightweight fabrics and create a durable connection. Basting stitches can either be used temporarily or permanently depending on the project. Generally, longer stitches are used for stretchier fabrics because they allow for more flexibility. For most projects, you will most likely use a medium-length stitch which is somewhere in between. A medium stitch on most sewing machines falls between the 3-4 settings. The good news is, all sewing machines on the market offer a straight stitch with length adjustments.
Basic Presser Feet
There is probably no functional sewing machine out there (no matter how basic) that does not have a regular presser foot. You really don't have to check if a sewing machine has one, but it is a good idea to know what it looks like. The regular presser foot features a flat surface on both sides of the needle that keeps the fabric layers stable while being fed through the machine in the stitching process. Two rough surfaces at the bottom further aid this process. Its front is slightly curved up to additionally ease the movement of the fabric during stitching. Every sewing machine has a presser foot-lifting handle that allows you to lift and lower the presser foot as needed.
Most basic sewing machines also include a satin presser foot. It features a beveled bottom that facilitates dense zig zag stitches (which we will discuss more bellow). You can recognize a satin presser foot by the fact that it appears wider than a regular presser foot. It also features a wider slot opening for the needle. Its bottom surface is beveled so that it feeds the thread smoother during zig zag or satin stitch applications.
A Zipper Presser Foot
As opposed to a regular presser foot, a zipper presser foot is used for sewing various styles of zippers as well as stitching next to piping, cording and raised edges. A zipper presser foot is narrow and allows the needle to align and sew right next to raised sides that a regular presser foot normally cannot move past. If you look at the image above, you will notice that it features two open slots on each side- This is where the machine needle goes. Depending on the direction necessary for sewing, you can adjust the needle to either side accordingly. Just like almost all presser feet, the zipper foot has a curved, slightly raised front to aid the movement of fabric during sewing. As you move from beginner to intermediate, you will become quite dependent of this zipper foot to sew more detailed garments and complex zippers. If your sewing machine does not come pre-equipped with an invisible zipper foot (which many basic ones don't), you can use a regular zipper foot to easily attach an invisible zipper.
A Zig Zag Stitch
A zig zag stitch on a sewing machine is most commonly used to sew stretch knits and clean finish seam allowance raw edges. It is a necessary feature for any basic sewing machine. It is also important that the zig zag stitch have a size and density adjustment. The necessary stitch length and density usually depends on the fabric. Your goal when clean finishing fabric raw edges is to contain the fraying as much as possible, and create a finish that withstands wear and care over a long period of time. A denser zig zag stitch is recommended for thicker, bulkier woven fabrics that unravel (fray) easily. The more surface you cover and the larger the stitch is, the more efficiently the fabric raw edge will be enclosed. Although a denser zig zag stitch is always a good bet whether using light or heavy weight fabrics, a less dense zig zag stitch can be used to clean finish fabrics that do not fray as much. It is always a good idea to test the edge of the fabric to make sure you are using the appropriate setting.
Additionally, a zig zag stitch is often used for sewing stretchy knits. The zig zag structure allows the stretchy-ness of the knit fabric to bounce back after being pulled. When sewing knits with a regular straight stitch, the non-stretch thread can actually break when the knit garment is pulled during wear. A zig zag stitch eliminates this issue by allowing for movement and flexibility. As you gain more knowledge, you will most likely want to experiment with various knit fabrics so learning how to apply a zig zag stitch on your machine will prove to be good practice. A zig zag can also be used as 2-in-1 solution for sewing knit seams: It permanently connects the fabric layers while also clean finishing their edges. Once the zig zag is applied, the edges of the knit fabric are trimmed close to the stitch to complete the seam. Various styles of zig zag stitches can also be utilized on the surface of fabric to fix tears.
Just as is true for straight stitches, a zig zag stitch needs to be set at the correct tension when used on woven fabrics. Most sewing machines with offer a tension setting control. Sewing machine tension can be a little complicated to understand for a sewing beginner. What you should keep in mind however is how to recognize tension issues. For a zig zag and straight stitches specifically, if it is bunching or tightening the fabric and further disrupting the smoothness of the seam, then the tension is not adjusted properly on your sewing machine. Consult your manual on how to fix it as this can vary from machine to machine.
A Reverse Button
A reverse button, whether labeled as that or not, is added to every sewing machine from the most basic to the most intricate. A reverse stitch is used to lock a straight stitch in place thus preventing it from coming undone- This is called backstitching. This machine control is most commonly depicted by a lever or button that you hold down while pressing the foot control to reverse the stitch. You might not always have this lever marked with the word "reverse" but it is quite easy to identify by the fact that its symbol is marked by a curved arrow. It is usually depicted by a lever or single button and commonly located on sewing machine's front either in the lower hand side or right above the presser foot.
A Blind Stitch Setting
Although you'll most likely learn how to sew a blind stitch by hand first, learning how to apply it with a sewing machine will facilitate sewing and save you some time in the process. Most sewing machines come equipped with this unique stitch and include a special presser foot to accompany it. You might mistake the blind stitch for funky zig zag stitch: It features a few straight stitches (usually 2) interrupted by a "V" shaped stitch. Holding the hem in a specified folded position will allow the point of the "V" stitch to catch a few threads from the wrong side of the fabric thus creating an invisible look on the face side. Look for this stitch setting on your potential machine purchase as it will really come in handy later down the road. To facilitate the application process, most sewing machines come equipped with a special blind hem presser foot. It is easy to identify by the fact that it has vertical extension at the bottom which aligns to the folded edge of the garment during sewing. It is a good idea to play around with a machine blind stitch application when you begin to feel more comfortable with basic sewing techniques. For now however, make sure you are able to recognize the look of this stitch to ensure that you invest in a sewing machine that offers it (almost all do!).
Suggested Sewing Machine Features
Now that you've learned about the most necessary features any basic sewing machine should offer, lets explore some suggested machine settings that will benefit you in the long run. A sewing machine is a long term product and should accommodate you in your beginning stages but also be appropriate to use at the intermediate-more advanced level. At a more seasoned stage, you'll explore more complex sewing techniques like adding buttonholes, applying a blind stitch, and hemming directly with your sewing machine. The good news is, you don't have to buy a new sewing machine just to get these techniques accomplished. It is suggested that your first sewing machine have some additional suggested features we'll describe bellow that should hopefully eliminate the need to upgrade later down the road.
Specialized Presser Feet
A good, basic sewing machine will include additional presser feet with the initial purchase. However, if a certain presser foot style is not provided, you may always buy it individually. They are standardized and will work with almost any home sewing machine. When purchasing special presser feet, it is a good idea to search for the ones that work with the brand of sewing machine you own. To be on the safe side, always check that any additional attachment such as needles, presser feet and bobbins always fits your brand of sewing machine.
The common presser feet you will most likely be interested in as you become more advanced are: a rolled hem presser foot (pictured bellow), an invisible zipper foot, a blind stitch presser foot (if not provided), a single step button hole presser foot, and a presser foot with attachment for sewing double-folded binding in one step.
A Buttonhole Setting
Some basic sewing machines do not offer a buttonhole setting. It is not always necessary for a sewing beginner but it does prove useful as you become more knowledgeable and looking to experiment with adding functional buttons to a garment. You do not have to base your initial purchase on whether the machine has a buttonhole setting or not. However, if you have some room in your budget, we recommend that you purchase a machine that has this additional feature. A sewing machine with a buttonhole setting will usually come with additional presser feet attachments for achieving the correct application. Using them can sometimes be a little tricky but lots of practice with trial and error will get you there in no time.
You will notice that the buttonhole setting allows you to either sew it in one step, or in 4 separate steps applied manually. The single step setting will require a specialized presser foot equipped with a button insertion slot for size reference. For the single step process, the sewing machine should also be equipped with a lever that drops down towards the presser foot. Not all basic sewing machines are supplied with this single step presser foot so it may need to be purchased separately.
Almost all basic machines that offer a buttonhole setting however, will include a simple presser foot like the one pictured above which aligns to the buttonhole lines allowing you to sew it in 4 separate steps. It is highly recommended that you practice a number of times on scrap fabric before applying the final button hole on the garment. Doing this on a home sewing machine can take some getting used to which is why this is a setting for an intermediate-advanced dressmaker.
Stretch Fabric Setting
The stretch fabric setting is available on most basic sewing machines and is used on highly stretch fabrics like those in active wear or swimwear. The stretch setting applies the appropriate tension necessary to sew such highly stretch fabrics. It works hand-in-hand with zig zag stitches to achieve the correct balance of tension and stitch flexibility.
Additional special settings offered by various sewing machines are sort of like the cherry on top. You can certainly get the job done without them but they add convenience and facilitate the sewing process. Different sewing machines have different special features depending on the brand and type of sewing machine. Embroidery sewing machines will have special features that facilitate the embroidery process, while a basic home sewing machine features additional specialized settings to facilitate basic crafts and apparel construction.
Here are some examples:
A Built-in Ruler
A built-in ruler is not a necessity, but it does create convenience. You can use it to do some quick measuring in real time without the use of a separate ruler. Not all sewing machines will have this, but it does add a nice touch which will most likely not increase the price of the sewing machine itself.
Needle Position Selector
This setting allows you to move the needle left, right or center. Most straight stitches are set to the center needle position. In some cases, having the ability to shift the needle allows you to achieve specialized sewing techniques for embroidery, top-stitching, sewing a buttonhole and even sewing a button. Not all sewing machines include this capability, but when present, it works with other settings like the buttonhole setting, embroidery and some zig zag stitches.
Embroidery stitches will most likely increase the price of the sewing machine. Embroidery sewing machines are usually computerized and can be a bit too complex for a beginner. However, if you do plan on using some embroidery in your future projects and have some extra income to spend, look for a machine that offers a few embroidery stitches as a special feature. The issue with embroidery-focused machines is that they can prove to be too confusing and difficult to use for a sewing beginner. If you have never owned a sewing machine and you want to start from the ground up, we suggest you stick to a basic to mid-range regular model before investing in an embroidery machine. Nevertheless, if embroidery is your field of choice, it might be worth the initial investment.
What Are Darts
When it comes to sewing apparel, the first thing to remember is that you are sewing for the human body which is an organic form. In order to construct a garment that is comfortable and wearable, a woven fabric's flat surface needs to be molded into a 3-dimensional shape. Darts allow you to turn an otherwise flat, non-stretch surface into a semi organic shape. They are subtle and easy to sew, and just a few simple darts can help the garment mold perfectly to the shape of the human form.
Darts are triangular in-takes that when sewn, eliminate excess in the most curved areas of the body thus conforming to the organic shape of it. Darts have a vanishing point and two identical lines of the same length called dart legs. The dart is folded along a dart fold line so that the dart legs overlap. Once they are aligned to match up in length, they are sewn together up to the vanishing point. This takes in the excess necessary to achieve the desirable 3-dimensional shape. Although darts are mostly used in more fitted woven garments, some darts (like a bust dart) are inserted not only to achieve a form-fitting structure but also for comfort and fit purposes in less fitted styles. As you start to understand the necessity of darts and how to sew them, you will get a better grip on which types of darts to use for each specific clothing item.
Types of Darts
There are two main categories of darts you should know as a sewing beginner: Double pointed darts and single pointed darts. These darts come in different lengths and widths and you can find them on a variety of different non-stretch (and some stretch) woven fabric items.
Single pointed darts have a single vanishing point and two dart legs. They look a lot like the shape of an angle. Remember drawing an angle in math class? Well, it looks exactly like that! A single pointed dart is the most commonly used dart in sewing. It is found on a number of clothing items from separates like tops and bottoms to dresses, suiting and outerwear. Some examples of single pointed darts are: bust darts, shoulder darts, waist darts, and elbow darts.
Double pointed darts have two vanishing points and two dart legs that are angular in shape. Think of it this way: If you take two single pointed darts and match their open ends together it will form the shape of a double pointed dart. Sewing a double pointed dart is like sewing two single pointed darts simultaneously. Double pointed darts are used most commonly around the waist and hip area on both front and back of a garment. They are able shape the curves of the waist and hips together in a smooth line. Double pointed darts are mostly found in form-fitting woven dresses, suits, blazers, and outerwear. Thinner double pointed darts are added to jackets and outerwear garments to achieve a more pronounced waist but that is not necessarily a completely form-fitting structure.
How to Mark and Sew Single Pointed Darts
Transferring a single pointed dart from sewing pattern onto fabric:
As a first step, transfer the dart from your sewing pattern to the fabric.
At the end of each dart leg and dart fold line you'll find a notch in the seam allowance. These notches will either be marked with a "T" shape or a triangle depending on the sewing patterns you are using.
In order to make the dart sewing process easier, a dart fold line is added right in the middle of the dart between the two dart legs. When the dart fold line is folded lengthwise it allows the two dart legs to naturally overlap and align properly for sewing.
1. Snip the "T" shape up to the vertical line, or cut out the triangle notches in order to mark each dart leg's end and dart fold line in the middle.
Follow the images bellow as a guide for both notch styles.
Once your notches are transferred, the next steps are to mark the vanishing point and transfer the actual lines of the dart legs and dart fold line onto the fabric. The easiest way to do this as a sewing beginner is by using a pin and a fabric marking pencil.
2. Put a pin through both layers of the fabric and pattern at the dart point (vanishing point of the dart).
3. Turn your pattern over so that the fabric is facing you, and mark with a fabric pencil the point where the pin comes through on the fabric, thus transferring the dart vanishing point.
Note: All your markings should be made on the wrong side of the fabric.
4. Remove all the pins and using a straight ruler and your fabric marking pencil, draw straight lines directly on the fabric from vanishing dart point to each one of the seam allowance notches. These three straight lines will form the dart legs and fold line and will later guide you in the sewing process.
Keep in mind that darts should always be marked on the wrong side of the fabric as displayed below. This not only keeps the face of the fabric clean, but the darts will be easier to sew by following the pencil markings on the wrong side of the fabric.
Sewing a single pointed dart:
1. Working on the wrong side of the fabric, fold the dart along the dart fold line in the middle.
Folding the dart fold line will naturally overlap the dart legs properly and align the dart leg notches. It also helps to iron this fold in order to keep the dart stable for sewing.
2. Place a few pins along the dart leg through both layers of fabric as shown.
3. Check that both dart legs are matching and aligned right on top of each other. The pin should go through the dart leg lines on both sides as displayed above.
4. Starting from the notch area, begin sewing right on top of the dart leg moving towards the dart vanishing point.
Make sure to keep the dart legs matching and overlapping properly while stitching.
5. Get in the habit of backstitching at the beginning of the dart. However, be careful when backstitching at the vanishing point. When working with lightweight, fine fabrics stay away from backstitching at the dart vanishing point as this can damage the fabric and cause it to crease. For sturdy, thicker fabrics you may backstitch both at the dart notches and dart vanishing point. It will take some practice to know which fabrics can handle backstitching and which don't. For the fabrics that machine backstitching may prove to be too harsh, you should backstitch by hand or knot the loose threads to stabilize the machine stitch.
Iron the dart on the face side of the garment with the excess pointing down.
How to Mark and Sew Double Pointed Darts
Transferring a double pointed dart from sewing pattern onto fabric:
A double pointed dart has two dart vanishing points and two transitional points that will need to be transfered from pattern onto fabric.
Below, we'll use the pin and fabric pencil marking technique as this is the easiest and requires the least tools.
1. Place a pin through the sewing pattern and fabric at the top dart point as displayed above.
2. Insert a pin through both fabric and sewing patterns at the transitional areas of the dart. These are the two points where the dart changes direction. They are easy to recognize by the fact that they represent the outer most points of the double pointed dart on each side.
3. Finally, insert a pin through the sewing pattern and fabric at the bottom dart point.
4. Turn the sewing pattern over so that the wrong side of the fabric is facing you, and using a fabric marking pencil, transfer each pin marking on the fabric as shown above.
5. Remove the pins, and using a straight ruler and fabric pencil, connect all the markings with straight lines.
6. Add a straight line from top dart point to bottom dart point, splitting the double pointed dart in half. This will serve as the dart fold line and will help when finally folding and sewing the dart.
Make sure that all your pencil markings are on the wrong side of the fabric.
Sewing a double pointed dart:
1. Fold along the dart fold line as displayed above.
3. Make sure the dart legs are matched properly by inserting the pin through the pencil markings on each side simultaneously.
4. Start at one dart point and stitch down towards the second dart point at the bottom. It will take some practice to make a smooth transition at the outer most part of the dart. Keep practicing and you'll achieve a smooth stitch in no time!
In the case where backstitching may damage or crease the fabric at the vanishing point (fine, lightweight fabrics), knot the loose threads to lock the machine stitch in place at each dart vanishing point.
5. Once completed, iron the double pointed dart seam on the face of the garment with the excess pointing towards the center (center front or center back). It is not necessary that you trim the excess unless the dart excess is unusually wide and requires tension release.
A multi faceted clothing item is a goldmine in a woman's closet. The best return on investment is always a garment that can withstand wear in a range of styling combinations without compromising comfort. A well-balanced design that can effectively elevate or tone down an outfit is worth a lot of praise. The Alex Cardigan fits within the category of a versatile clothing item that easily transitions from work to play without jeopardizing comfort and aesthetics. At the office, it allows for maximum comfort while maintaining a professional, business appropriate look. After work, it pairs beautifully with a pair of jeans or even a little black dress. The beauty of the Alex Cardigan, and the reason it has become one of our favorites, is because it has the ability to effectively dress up a casual outfit and vise versa, dress down something that feels too formal.
So what exactly is so special about the Alex Cardigan? Here are a few features that are bound to make you fall in love with it.
An All Day Jacket-Cardigan Feel: A versatile styling option
Some of the most valuable items in a woman's closet are those that can be styled in variety of different ways and worn to a range of different occasions. The Alex Cardigan mixes casual with dressed up to bring forth a classic silhouette with dozens of styling options without compromising comfort. It is this comfort that allows for versatility in the first place. The Alex Cardigan makes our top list because it fits the bill to a T. Featuring sweater knit ribbed sleeves and a pair of waist-high side slits it allows for all day comfort without effecting the aesthetics of the style. It makes the perfect addition to any work outfit as a layering piece whether it is combined with a skirt, dress or pair of trousers. The black and white palette mixes well with any color, offering the classic black and white combination we've come to love so much. While the color combination is undeniably a classic, the unique linear design dresses up any outfit that needs a little kick without overwhelming it. Additionally, the function of versatility is to allow a clothing item to adapt to any circumstance or setting throughout the day. Specifically, its effortless ability to transition from day to night- wear it all day at work and throw it on with your evening outfit to either dress it up or down as desired.
A Tailored Look With An Everyday Cardigan Feel
The linear silhouette and a semi structured drape give the Alex Cardigan a tailored look yet still maintains its comfort throughout. Although it imitates a tailored spring jacket, it is not fully lined which allows it to feel more like an everyday cardigan further eliminating bulk and the hassle of dry cleaning. The Alex Cardigan features a structured, sturdy facing along its front opening emphasizing its tailored edge. The facing gives the cardigan's front opening an architectural style bringing forth its linear design. The cut of the silhouette itself mixes effortlessly with the black and white plaid print which is subtle yet still aesthetically unique. The acrylic boucle fabric eliminates the need for dry cleaning by offering easy care in a comfortable, wrinkle-free style. Since boucle is normally a suiting fabric, it adds additional tailoring flare to the style. The inclusion of the sweater knit sleeves however, brings forth the comfort and casual aspect of an everyday cardigan maintaining its linear design with a thick ribbed knit fabric. Additionally, the vertical black corded stripe going down the middle of each sleeve adds a flare of elegance to the more casual knit fabric balancing it with the rest of the black and white plaid print featured in the body of the Cardigan.
What Makes it Special?
The Ribbed Sweater Knit Sleeves
The secret of the Alex Cardigan's comfort and versatility lies in the sweater knit sleeves. They soften the more tailored aspect brought forth by the black and white boucle fabric used in the body of the cardigan. The comfortable addition of the knit sleeves eliminates fit issues around the arms offering a comfortable, wearable option without compromising the aesthetic aspect of the style. Perhaps what makes them truly unique is the addition of black cording positioned vertically along the center of each sleeve. From an aesthetic perspective, the accented black stripe creates a smooth transition between the sleeve and the linear black and white print in the body of the cardigan allowing for a well balanced design. On a functional level, it is flattering and slenderizing elevating the style to match the more structured body of the cardigan. The sleeves offer just just the right amount of thickness featuring a thick ribbed knit structure. Both the sweater knit sleeves and boucle fabric have a similar fabric weight and hand which further balances the wearability of the cardigan.
The Side Slits
Along with the sweater knit sleeves, two side slits further emphasize comfort and versatility. They start at the waist and extend into a high-low hem. Design wise, they add versatility and ease of movement while their structured aspect further contribute to the tailored nature of the style. Side slits make a huge difference in a garment by elevating its comfort during wear as well allowing it to be paired with a range of styles from casual to more dressed up. While the side slits in the Alex Cardigan bring forth a more casual feel to the design, they are finishes to still maintain a semi-tailored look. In addition, combining slits with a suiting fabric like boucle is unique and allows for a more modern feel.
The Linear High-Low Hem
The linear high-low hem goes hand-in-hand with the slits to create a structured, linear style at the bottom of the cardigan. The front hem is higher than the back extending just enough to create a tunic-like length but not so much that it feels boxy. The side slits described above allow the bottom of the cardigan to feature some movement further emphasizing the hem's front-to-back length difference. Naturally, the back hem is extended to be longer, stopping at about mid-thigh. A longer back hem contributes to the comfort of the cardigan and allows for a more flattering, wearable silhouette. Although the high-low hem transition is subtle, it makes a huge difference in the design aspect of the cardigan both aesthetically and functionally. From an aesthetic point of view, it ties in all the the linear aspects of the cardigan's print and structure to create a visually pleasing design. From a functional perspective, it allows the Alex Cardigan to be versatile and flattering increasing comfort during wear.
The Textured Black and White Print
Needles to say, you can never go wrong with a classic black and white color combination. The black and white plaid-like print featured in the Alex Cardigan is quite subtle and very different from what we know as a classic plaid print. The black lines are not bold but aligned such as to create a unique yet wearable print. The thin black intersecting lines have depth and texture further emphasized by the textured quality of the boucle weaving itself. As mentioned above, the additional beauty of the fabric is its easy wear and care and it ability to maintain a wrinkle-free structure. For that reason the Alex Cardigan travels well and will maintain it's structural elements over long periods of wear.
Jeans in any style or color.
Pair it with a little a Little Black Dress.
Work separates, from formal bottoms and tops to tailored work dresses.
Casual combination of separates- Elevates the style of shorts and casual skirts and a range of casual top combinations.
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