Six Tips for DIY Sewing
If you’re getting ready to dive into DIY sewing, you might be a little worried about being out of your depth. As with any new skill, learning to sew takes patience and practice, but with a little effort (and these tricks up your sleeve), you’ll be turning out beautiful pieces in no time.
- Work with good tools
You don’t need a lot in a basic sewing kit, especially if you’re starting with hand-sewing projects, but it will pay off in the long run to invest in some good tools. Dedicated fabric shears are a must; using your fabric scissors to cut paper or other materials will dull them quickly, and sharp scissors are crucial when you’re working with very heavy or very delicate fabrics. Other basics include an iron with adjustable heat settings, marking pencils or tailor’s chalk, a measuring tape, a selection of needles, and straight pins. I prefer dressmaker’s pins for general sewing because they’re longer than standard pins, but not as long as quilting pins. A pair of embroidery scissors is also handy. These short, sharp scissors are great for clipping curves, removing threads, and snipping stitches when necessary.
- Measure twice, cut once
This seems like common sense, but there are so many things to measure in sewing that it bears repeating. Start by measuring for your finished piece. If you’re making pillowcases or curtains, measure the size of the pillow or the windows. For garments, taking careful measurements of the wearer is critical. When laying out your pattern, don’t forget to add your chosen seam allowance, especially if the pattern doesn’t include them. A 5/8″ seam allowance is fairly standard, but it’s largely a matter of preference and practicality. Draping, smocking, or other gathering also requires extra fabric; remember to factor that in as well. Then, last but not least, measure your fabrics, especially if they stretch or if you are cutting your pattern pieces on the bias (that is, with the vertical and horizontal fibers of the weave running at an angle to the vertical axis of your finished piece). This can affect the sizing of your finished piece. Keep a piece of paper and a pencil handy to make notes on your measurements as you go. It might seem a hassle at the time, but in the end, you’ll be glad you did.
- Get to know your fabrics
Not all fabrics are created equal, and there are a lot of fabrics to choose from! The kind of fabric you’ll need depends on what you’re trying to make. Fashion fabrics often include synthetic fibers to make them budget-friendly and give them characteristics natural fibers can’t match. Upholstery and decorator fabrics are stiff and sturdy. Some even require industrial sewing machines to stitch well. The best way to learn what fabrics are right for you is to play with them. Make up the same pattern in a couple fabrics and see how it turns out. You may be pleasantly surprised.
- Stay stitching is your friend
Stay stitching is a line of stitching that runs around the edge of a cut-out piece, inside the seam allowance. This prevents the fabric from stretching out of shape, especially along curved edges such as necklines, armscyes (armholes), and princess seams. The stay stitching will be hidden inside the garment when it’s finished, but it will help your actual seams line up true and even.
- Don’t skip pressing
You’re on a roll, getting seam after seam completed, and it can be easy to just keep sewing rather than getting up to press those seams. Don’t give into temptation. Pressing seams helps set the fabric’s final shape, which is important to do before you keep building onto it. Keep your iron hot and ready to go, and it will only take a minute to keep your work neat and professional-looking.
- Ask for help!
Every burgeoning seamstress and tailor runs into a wall now and again. You’ve measured carefully, fitted everything just right, and your finished garment still isn’t up to snuff. Maybe it’s your fabric, or the interfacing you’re using. Maybe it’s not a great cut for the wearer. There are so many variables in sewing that sometimes you just need a fresh pair of eyes to look at your work and make suggestions. Classes and clubs can be a great place to meet fellow stitchers and gain some guidance for the frustrating moments.
Author: Annabelle Short