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Top sewing tips

Top sewing tips

You’ll find our round-up of the top sewing tips so useful as you sew – keep it handy so you can refer to it again and again!

We’ve got tips for General Sewing,  Machine Sewing,  Hand SewingFabricsPatterns and the Sewing Room

We’ll be adding to it – if you’ve got a top tip, please let us know and we can add it to the list for other sewers to benefit too!  

How to sew

General sewing tips

  • Sew with a small magnet next to you, then when you drop or lose a needle or pins, wave it around the area until it finds them. No more painful episodes with lost needles on the floor!

  • Keep your sewing scissors for fabric only as paper blunts scissors. To sharpen them, take a piece of silver foil, fold into strips as if making a fan and cut up the strips of the foil.

  • If you have unpicked stitches and the holes are very noticeable, use the tiny red dot on the unpicker in a circular motion over the hole and the fabric will repair itself by the fibres weaving back together.
  • When using iron-on interfacing, cut it to size and shape, then iron it onto the uncut fabric. It is easier to cut out the fabric and far less is wasted.

  • Tack! Don’t rely on pins for anything other than rough work – fabric can pucker and the pins can break sewing machine needles.

  • When sewing multiple layers, instead of using pins, use small bulldog clips (or Wonder Clips) – not only will they protect your fabric, they will not bend, are easy to apply and save your fingers too.

  • Measure twice, cut once!

  • The easiest and most consistent way of getting a perfect hem is only use one pin for the measurement. If you use too many and each pin ends up in a slightly different place, then which one do you use as your guide?

  • Use the best thread you can afford – it makes all the difference.

  • Always press seams as you are working through a project as seams will lie flat and look much better.

  • A tiny travel iron and sleeve board are useful for getting into those hard to reach places when pressing seams in middle of making up a project.

  • Use masking tape on Velcro while machine or hand sewing to prevent the thread from catching in the loops. Once stitched, the masking tape can be removed. 

  • For making blinds and cutting straight, try using a right angle that you would use in DIY – it works great.

  • Use lots of pins and position them so that you can pull them out just before they reach the foot. Don’t sew over them as it can make the fabric slip under the foot and make the line wonky. Fine Clover pins are longer and finer and so they distort the fabric far less.

  • Always check to see if a seam is to be pressed open and if so then overlock it before sewing it, rather than after sewing as it’s much easier. 

  • Make only what you love. Don’t be following what everyone else is doing…then you will love what you make and make more!
tips for using a sewing machine

Tips for Machine Sewing

  • Always make sure you have the right needle in your machine for the task in hand, or you end up breaking loads of needles, trashing the fabric or damaging your machine!

  • Change your machine needle every time you start a new project.

  • Don’t steady fabric from behind on the machine as it will make it go wonky. Carefully steer it from the front to keep the line straight.

  • Hold the threads to the right when starting to sew on a machine – this stops the bobbin thread from bunching or catching.

  • Keep your sewing machine manual (or any other reference book you use) near to where you sew.

  • Buy lots of spare bobbins and wind two at a time when you’re working on a large project to avoid breaking off sewing to wind another bobbin.

  • When trying to thread your needle on a sewing machine, place a piece of white paper under the sewing machine foot as this helps to see the eye of the needle more easily.

  • Sewing on ribbon with zigzag stitch is labour saving and looks pretty too, especially if you sew it in a contrasting or complementary colour.

  • When turning a corner on the machine, make sure you keep the needle down into the fabric to keep the corners tight.

  • Don’t buy cheap needles for your machine as they are finished poorly, have sharp edges and break your thread while you are sewing.

  • Always make sure you have plenty of spare machine needles. Nothing is worse the a needle breaking during a project and having to stop while you have to go and buy more.
tips for sewing by hand

Tips for sewing by hand

  • When English paper piecing, use paper clips instead of pins to hold the fabric to papers prior to tacking.

  • To prevent thread from tangling when hand sewing, run it through some beeswax first.

  • When sewing an item that needs finishing with a little hand sewing, leave your thread a little longer than normal when you have finished your machine sewing. You can then use the extra length to complete your item. 
Fabric handling tips

Fabric Handling Tips

  • Sewing oil cloth with paper underneath is like sewing cotton. Afterwards you literally tear away the paper.
  •  If using a patterned fabric, make sure you have matched the pattern up and pin in place.
  • Pre-wash fabric to avoid problems later from colours running, or shrinkage.

  • When sewing vinyl, covering it with tissue paper is fiddly and you cannot see the item you are trying to sew. So instead, stick a piece of masking tape over your presser foot for  a non-stick sew. See other tips for sewing with vinyl here.

  • If you are cutting chiffon, lay a piece of tracing paper inbetween to to stop the fabric shifting.

  • For sewing curves on chiffon or other delicate fabrics, cut a piece of tissue paper the same shape as your pattern piece and pin underneath your fabric when you sew. It holds the correct shape and tears away easily without distorting your finished shape, as other stabilisers might. Use the same technique to stay-stitch around a neck or other edges
Sewing pattern tips

Sewing Pattern Tips

  • If following a pattern, read the instructions through several times to get them clear in your head before you start. 
  • Don’t buy expensive paper for making patterns. Use greaseproof paper, or brown paper.
  • If you plan to use a tissue pattern more than once, iron freezer paper to the pieces before you cut them out around the lines and this will help preserve the pattern for longer. 
Sewing room tips
  • If you don’t have a big sewing table, buy a cheap piece of board from a DIY store to use as a cutting table. Save your knees by resting the board on a bed.
  • Time spent sorting and organising sewing tools, threads etc. is well spent – nothing is worse than in the middle of a project when you can’t find something you need.
  • Make sure you always have good light for sewing – if not daylight, then try daylight bulbs in your work lamp.
  • Use freezer bags to store all the bits for your project, i.e. fabric, notions, embellishments and pattern, so you don’t waste time hunting them down.
Some of these tips were sent in by readers of our site in a competition to win copies of the Haynes Sewing Manual. Others are our own tips.