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.
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