One of our favorite hobbies at Dutch Label Shop is curating a collection of sewing tips, tricks, and techniques for a range of skill levels. (That is when we're not doing the sewing, crafting, and needlework itself.) From beginner sewists to the pros, we all know sewing can be tricky at the best of times, so have a read through our top tips for getting the best out of this challenging yet endlessly rewarding skill.
Sewing Tip #1: Join an online sewing community!
Instagram is a great tool for finding sewing and crafting communities where you can be inspired by those around you and hopefully even make a new friend or two. Find like-minded makers by following and checking hashtags of indie pattern labels and any small creatives you love. Don't be afraid to comment on posts or send a quick message to them if you have questions about what they are making or just want to show your appreciation! Many in this community are extremely passionate about what they are doing and are happy to know you might feel the same!
Sewing Tip #2: Start Fresh
Even before turning your sewing machine on, begin by dusting it off and cleaning it up. Use a small brush to dust the top of your machine, under the feed plate (you might need a small screwdriver) and where the bobbin goes. Use tweezers to remove any loose threads and bits of fabric that accumulate under there, and if needed, re-oil your machine as per manufacturer's instructions (you can often find pdf versions of most sewing machine manuals online). Most domestic machines come with small brushes but you can easily use a clean make-up brush or even a pipe cleaner if you have misplaced yours. Maintaining your machine makes a huge difference in how it runs, so keep a brush handy while sewing, especially with natural fibers such as linen and cotton. You will be surprised by the amount of dust that gets trapped after just a couple of hours sewing!
Sewing Tip #3: Shop for Fabric Online.
Online fabric stores are a really great option for those who don't live close to a fabric store, or just want more diverse options. It may seem scary at first, but take advantage of their swatch services and order swatches of any fabrics you are unfamiliar with first. Many have super quick postage options so you will be sewing in no time!
Sewing Tip #4: Prewash Everything
Don't forget to pre-wash all of your fabrics and trims before sewing. There are three main reasons for this easy but often "forgotten" step that will save you so many regrets! Firstly, fabrics and trims will often shrink one way more than another, so to avoid both overall shrinkage and warped, wobbly seams after washing your handmade piece for the first time, make sure you prewash. Secondly, many textiles bleed excess dye out during their first wash. This makes it super important if you are using multiple fabrics and contrasting colors in one project, as once sewn up and washed altogether you definitely don't want one color to bleed onto the rest and ruin your masterpiece. And if those two reasons haven't already convinced you, often fabrics come pre-treated with different chemicals which are used while producing and storing fabrics, so washing them will help to remove this layer and be much better for your skin!
Sewing Tip #5: Discover Indie Designs with PDF Patterns
PDF patterns are a super-easy way to broaden your pattern collection from the comfort of your computer. The huge rise in indie pattern designers means there is no shortage of both on-trend and great basic patterns coming out all the time. The patterns are delivered to your inbox in PDF format for you to easily print at home and stick together, and if you find that too time-consuming some even come with large copy shop sizes to avoid having to tape each piece together. Another big plus is that you can feel great supporting small independent business!
Sewing Tip #6: Use High-Quality Threads.
If you find you are having any frustrating tension problems, threads snapping, or bunching at the needle while sewing, first always try a new thread with a fresh needle and chances are this will solve it. Even though cheap, bargain bin threads may look the same at a glance they are often made with lower quality, shorter fibers which are not smooth so will easily catch while passing through your sewing machine, leaving you with a weaker, stressed thread that is prone to snapping. If you do manage to get your project sewn up with it, there is almost nothing worse than wearing your new handmade piece and having a seam (or worse, a zip!) come undone as the thread has snapped for seemingly no reason. This includes clearing away any questionably old threads you have had lying around, as just like anything they deteriorate and become much weaker with time. Sorry to grandmas handed down thread stash but now is the time to declutter!
Sewing Tip #7: Know Your Needles.
The numbers on your sewing machine needle packet correspond to both European (70/80/90 etc) and American (10/12/14 etc) needle sizes and the higher the number the thicker the needle. For lightweight fabrics use a thin needle such as 70/10, and for mid-weight fabrics such as jersey, cotton lawn, and linen use around an 80/12 needle. A thicker needle such as 90/14 or 100/16 can be used for denim, canvas, and lightweight leather. Once you have selected the gauge, make sure to check the point of the needle is the correct one for your material type. The most common types of needles are either a Universal needle which is fine for most woven fabrics or Ball Point which works best with knit fabrics.
Sewing Tip # 8: Be easy on yourself!
Before diving into a project take note of your energy levels and how you feel. Sewing while tired, stressed, or distracted is a recipe for disaster and will inevitably leave you feeling worse if something doesn't quite go to plan. There are ALWAYS hiccups while sewing so if you aren't in the mental space to troubleshoot problems that come your way don't feel bad about putting something aside and coming back to it when you are feeling refreshed and ready to take on the challenge.
Sewing Tip #9: Follow The Grain.
Sticking to the correct grainline makes the world of difference to your finished garment. Whether it is a straight or bias grainline, take the time to properly measure your patterns grainline against the selvage of the fabric to ensure it is sitting straight. Even just a 1/4 inch off-grain can change the way your finished garment hangs, and you can easily end up with twisted seams after the first wash. As the saying goes - measure twice, cut once!
Sewing Tip #10: Get Creative!
Binder clips are an easy way to secure heavyweight and non-woven fabrics such as leather, vinyl, or canvas together while sewing. Perfect for fabrics that are too thick for pins or will be damaged with pinholes.
Sewing Tip #11: Hand Basting.
Everyone loves to hate it but hand basting saves lives. Use a quick running stitch with a single (knotted at one end) thread to secure the placement of darts, zippers, set-in sleeves, and just about anything else. It doesn't need to be perfect and you can use up those old brightly colored threads sitting at the bottom of your sewing kit (as per a previous tip!). A quick hand baste might seem a bit unnecessary, but is so much quicker than having to undo a sewn seam or uneven zip that didn't quite work out, which can also easily damage the more delicate fabrics. You will only regret not doing one.
Sewing Tip #12: Notch Your Patterns.
A PSA to anyone about to cut out their next project- don't forget to add the notches while cutting your pattern out! Maybe they seem like an optional, even unnecessary extra step when cutting (they aren't!) but... do it anyway, it's so much easier than trying to add them back on to a half sewn piece!
Sewing Tip #13: Press as you go.
Pressing while sewing gives your garment a high quality, store-bought finish, and even helps to set the stitches you have just made. First, press the seam in exactly the same way you were just sewing to flatten the stitches so they sit flush with the fabric. Next, open the seam allowance up and press flat, first from the wrong side, and then the right side of your creation in order to flatten the seam and smooth out any puckering. Finally, refer back to your pattern instructions for the next step or finish the seam to your preference.
Sewing Tip # 14: Reduce Bulky Seams For A Professional Finish.
If you have any seams that meet together or are using a heavyweight fabric such as denim or canvas, a very easy and professional way to ensure they sit smoothly is to clip each end corner of your seam allowance on a diagonal to remove some of the bulk at the meeting point. Just make sure to do this before finishing (surging, zigzagging, etc) your raw edge.
Sewing Tip #15: Want Perfectly Straight Topstitching?
You can lightly position a strip of masking tape directly on to your fabric to use as a sewing guide. Position your needle just to the side of the tape, go slow, carefully remove the tape once finished, and voila! As an add on to this, you can also easily create removable guides using tape directly on to your sewing machine bed. Just measure the distance from the point of your needle and place a length of tape on your machine bed matching the width your edges need to line up at. This works well when you are just starting out, as well as for seam widths that are different from the guides that might already be on your machine.
Sewing Tip #16: Practice Your Hand Sewing.
If you are struggling with getting your hand sewing evenly spaced at each stitch try drawing two marks on your thumb you use to hold the fabric in place, spaced at the distance you want each stitch. Then all you need to do is line up the bottom mark with the stitch you just completed and the mark above will guide you to where your next stitch should go!
Sewing Tip #17: Keep Your Darts Straight.
The key to a perfect dart is sewing it as straight as possible to prevent any bubbling. If you aren't feeling confident in sewing a dead straight line, draw a line on to the wrong side of your fabric using tailor's chalk and a ruler to a point just a few stitches below where your dart needs to end. On your last few stitches before the end of your line go slowly to make sure the needle stops just shy of the folded edge, then lift the foot a bit while the needle is down so you can rotate your fabric a small amount. Finish your last couple of stitches on less of an angle so that they slowly peter off the folded edge, right at the point your dart should finish. Make sure to leave a long tail when cutting so you can tie a knot as you want no extra bulk here, which means no back-stitching.
Sewing Tip #18: Directional Sewing.
If you find you are having trouble with your fabric losing its shape or one side becoming longer as you are sewing it try out a technique called Directional sewing. It involves intentionally sewing your pieces together following the grain of the fabric to prevent stretching. The key steps to this technique are to always sew from the widest point of the garment to the narrowest, and from the highest point of the neckline to the lowest, as well as making sure to sew each side of your garment in exactly the same way. This may sound a bit more time consuming, but it really does help.
Sewing Tip #19: Do you have a Teflon sewing foot yet?
A Teflon presser foot is a must-have for any hard to sew fabrics that might stick to a regular sewing machine foot. It helps slippery fabrics such as silk satin and shiny lycra as well as leather, vinyl, and coated fabrics slide easily through the sewing machine meaning you will have less skipped stitches and broken threads, making these normally hard to sew fabrics much more achievable.
Sewing Tip #20: Add Your Own Creative Touch.
Making your own embroidered cap, or tee is not as hard as it looks! Use a printable, water-soluble fabric stabilizer to print a design directly from your computer and simply stick onto a plain, pre-purchased hat or garment, making a perfect template for you to embroider over. If you have never embroidered before just make sure to start small and find a quick tutorial online to practice with first, in no time you will be able to have your own customized pieces. They make a great personal gift too!
Sewing Tip #21: Attaching Buttons The Right Way.
Sewing on a button might seem straightforward, however, make sure you are doing it the correct way to prevent them from popping right back off. When sewing a button by hand you will want to make sure there is space between the button and fabric for the buttonhole side to sit comfortably when done up, so it isn't straining against the button. The best way to create this "shank" under the button depends on the thickness of the fabric you are attaching it to, but you can either use a couple of pins or a toothpick (for thicker coat weight fabrics) placed between the fabric and button to create a spacer. Stitch your button as normal, just making sure not to pull the thread too tightly each time, then when almost done take your spacer out and wrap the thread around your stitches between the button and fabric before tying off.
Sewing Tip #22: Always Finish Your Seams.
Keep the inside of your garment looking beautiful by making sure you are using the right seam finish for your garment. Whether you have a serger or not, there are plenty of simple options to finish your straight seams to prevent the fabric fraying and prolong the life of your garment. A simple clean-edge finish is an easy one if you don't have access to a serger and suitable for most light to mid-weight fabrics, however, it may not be best for anything too bulky as it involves turning the raw edge underneath itself and sewing another line to each side of your seam allowance. Other options that might sound intimidating but are super straightforward once you get the hang of them are french-seaming, flat-felled seams, and bound seams. The last two are perfect for medium to heavy-weight fabrics and all 3 have a very professional result that you can easily do using your domestic sewing machine.
Sewing Tip #23: It's All In The Details.
Bar tacks are functional finishing touches that make your handmade item look oh-so professional. They aren't difficult to achieve at home using either a sewing machine with zig-zag stitch or by hand using a whip stitch. If you go down the machine route, set it to a very small, tight zig-zag stitch and sew a short row (around 3/8”-1/2” long) then set it back to straight stitch and sew over this zig-zag row a couple of times. Use these bar tacks on high-stress points such as pocket openings and belt loops.
Sewing Tip #24: Make It Personal
Don’t be afraid to add your own personal flair to your sewing projects. That can mean going off script with a pattern to make it more to your taste, adding embroidery details to give your designs an extra pop, or finishing your project off with a custom sewing label or a label for handmade items. From notions to labels to stitches, you can make your finished project something that is uniquely you, whether it’s created from a design, a tutorial, or an original design.
Sewing Tip #25: Enjoy Yourself!
Maybe it sounds cheesy, but make sure to take a moment to enjoy the time you've set aside for sewing. Whether you put on some music, a podcast you love, or you prefer to work in a more peaceful silence, use this time to unwind from your daily schedule and get your creative juices flowing.