Tips While Learning To Sew

When I was a kid my mom had this awesome book.  I can remember flipping through it and looking at the pictures.  From the moment it passed from her hands to mine it became my sewing bible.  Anything – and I mean anything I could ever want to know about sewing is answered in this book.  I give to you: Reader’s Digest Complete Guide To Sewing.


I know that there are many many editions of this fabulous book out there, and mine happens to be the coveted 1980’s edition.  I say coveted because I’ve read in many places that not many were printed with the projects in the back that mine has.  It has patterns for all kinds of useful household things that can (and have been) easily converted into modern day pieces.  It also has many projects for you, friends or family.  Everyone needs a Kangaroo catchall!

Printed in 1980 means there is a slight gap in…well… in aesthetic.  While I love all the 70’s had to offer, some of their clothes & design need to stay right there… in the 70’s … as part of history.  But every single method, technique and form are all still valuable for today’s seamstress.  Check out the edition from your local library and I can promise you, if you’re serious about learning how to sew, you’ll do yourself a HUGE favor and go out and purchase it.

In this book are tips from the Professionals.  For some reason, I had overlooked this little block of information until just recently.  I read the tips and sadly, I had learned most of them the hard way.  So here are my tips to share with you as you are learning to sew.

  • Give yourself plenty of room for fabric cutting: flat surface and try to make it accessible by three sides.  This means you can pin all your pattern pieces and have the maneuverability to cut around them.  Otherwise you’ll look like a contortionist – what fun is that?
  • If you have slippery material that is running away from you while you’re trying to pin it down, then grab an old sheet.  Fold it in half and lay out your material on it.  The sheet will help grab the slippery culprit.  Use serrated scissors to cut  if you have them as it grabs a hold of the fabric.
  • Along the lines of slippery or thin fabric shifting: pin it to tissue paper.  This same tissue paper you will want to leave on it while sewing.  Slippery fabric will not play nice with your feed dog and will need the tissue between the fabric and feed dog to play referee.
  • If you’re working with fabric that you don’t want to pin because of the holes it will leave or the fabric is too thick for a pin, simply use some sort of weight to hold it in place such as a heavy rock or mug.  You may also want to use masking tape if you don’t have a suitable weight available.
  • After you’ve cut your pattern pieces out, don’t toss all the scraps.  Take a few pieces with you to your machine to test stitch with.
  • Take care of your scissors!  Don’t cut anything but fabric with them!  If they turn slightly dull, you can sharpen them by cutting through a fine grain sandpaper.  If they are totally dull, contact your local fabric shop and have them professionally sharpened.
  • To gain an estimate on how much fabric you’ll need for a project (and you’re not using a nifty pattern that tells you exactly what you’ll need) then fold a sheet to the fabric width*, place your pattern pieces on the sheet being mindful of how you wish your pieces to lay with/against the grain.  Measure how many yards of the sheet you used and go buy it. *Fabric width would be selvage to selvage.

Here are some terms that are mandatory to know in the sewing world:

  • Selvage: the seam formed along each lengthwise edge of fabric.  When you purchase a yard of fabric – notice the seams on each end that keep it from unraveling?  That’s the selvage.
  • Lengthwise grain: parallels the selvage.  When you have your fabric laid out, this grain runs along with the selvage.
  • Crosswise grain: perpendicular to the selvage. When you have your fabric laid out, this grain goes from selvage to selvage.
  • Bias: the diagonal that intersects the grain.
  • Interfacing: this material supports other fabric.  It comes in many forms.  There is fusible, sew-in, light, heavy, etc.  Be sure to check with your pattern to know what kind to use.  If you’ve made your own pattern and find the need for support somewhere with your fabric, you’ll need to test the waters.  Interfacing is super cheap for the most part and Pellon is my go-to brand.  Buy a few different kinds and use those scraps to test it out.  One more thing – if you go with a fusible interfacing, keep in mind that this stuff is adhesive (activated by the heat of your iron) – so it may change the character of your fabric.

Ok that’s all I have for now.  Please leave any comments or questions you may have for me below.  You can always email me directly as well:  Jam On!