07 May 2011

Sewing 101 with Rae...Speedy Sewing Tips

Sewing 101

This month's guest needs little introduction.  I'm excited to have Rae share her speedy sewing tips.  As a busy mom myself, I really appreciate this!  

Hello Pickup Some Creativity readers! Since most of the sewing I've done in the last couple years has been done while one or both of my children is sleeping, I've needed to sew as quickly as possible in short periods of time. While I think it's always good  to take your time if you can when sewing (this seems to reduce the amount of tearin' and swearin' in our house), if you know where to cut corners a little you can make things faster without sacrificing quality. And that last part is key: if you're sewing quickly but the seams pucker and the stitching veers and seams go unpressed, well then you're not really cutting corners in the right places, in my opinion. At least for me, part of the pride is in creating not only a handmade, but a quality handmade object. There's little joy for me in making something that looks shoddy, even if it's meant for the most practical purpose. So today I've compiled for you a list of my top Speedy Sewing Tips (some invented by me, some gathered from other places and people over the last couple years):

1. Skip pinning: I "finger pin" (hold pieces in place with my hands) for almost everything I sew, especially for straight edges or short seams, like the side seams on kids' pants or hems. Really unless a seam is long or curved (like a sleeve/armhole seam) or I'm attaching a gathered skirt to a dress, I don't use pins. For cutting out patterns I use a rotary cutter (see #5) so I don't pin when I cut my fabric either.

2. Pump up the stitch length: Did you ever think about the fact that your machine goes slower the smaller the stitches are? So unless I need a really strong seam, I often turn my stitch length on my machine from a 2.5 up to a 3 or 3.5 so that my machine gallops across that project lickety quick. I don't go much higher than that though because a 4 on my machine is getting near to basting stitch length and doesn't hold as well, even when backstitched at the beginning and end. If you try this and notice the seam is gathering a little bit, your stitch length is probably too long though, so don't overdo it.

3. Ten stitches forward, three stitches back: I use this technique for sewing seams on children's garments that really need to be strong, like the inseams on children's pants. What I do is sew ten stitches forward, then push in the reverse button for a few stitches, and then continue ten stitches forward, three back, ten forward, etc, until the seam is finished. How is this a time saver, you ask? The seams on my kids' pants seem to be the seams I repair more often than any others because they get strained by even normal wear. If I use this technique when I make them I can bet I won't have to put that garment under the sewing machine ever again. And there's pretty much nothing I hate more than mending; it just seems like such a waste of good sewing time.

4. Sew buttons on with embroidery floss: Instead of threading a needle with regular cotton thread, I use at least three strands (usually more) of embroidery floss for attaching my buttons. The extra-thick strand allows me to make just one or two passes through each hole in the button, instead of multiple times when I use regular thread. As long as the knot you tie is nice and strong (anyone remember the "square knot" from summer camp?), the thick thread will hold nicely even if you only threaded it through the button twice.

5. Rotary Cutter and Mat: This may seem obvious to some but I've been amazed by how many people think the rotary cutter/ruler/mat combination is just for quilters. I was taught to cut out garments by meticulously pinning tissue patterns to fabric and then cutting with scissors. Needless to say this takes a long time. Now not only have I dispensed with the pinning, I have now also dispensed with the scissors (I use my extra scissors and rulers as "pattern weights," placing them along the edges of the pattern). I use a rotary cutter to cut out almost everything. Not only is it handy for producing nice long straight edges, it makes cutting out curved edges on clothing nice and quick too!

6. Single-line gathering: It's traditionally taught that when an edge needs to be gathered, the best way to go about it is to sew two or more lines of basting (long) stitches next to eachother and pull the two threads on one side together to gather the edge up. While I do recommend this for gathering large things like the ruffle on a curtain or an adult skirt, I've found that for shorter edges or garments such as a gathered puff sleeve or a a baby's skirt that a single line of stitching works just fine. It's helpful to set the tension on your machine either very high or very low; that will produce a thread on one side of the fabric that is quite loose (pull on the tighter thread for an easy gather).

7. Skip the special feet: I find that for sewing zippers and piping, my regular presser foot works just fine. In fact, I find that a zipper foot gives me less control and therefore I usually end up with a crooked seam when I use it, so why use it when it takes extra time to dig it out and use it? For zippers, I put the needle in the left-most position (see picture above) and for piping I just center the needle over the stitching line on the piping (see picture below).

OK, so that's my little list of speedy tricks. Now here's a couple things I NEVER shortcut:

1. Pressing: Even the best-looking seam that spends a couple seconds under the iron looks 100% better afterward. I know it can be a pain to set up the ironing board or get up from your sewing table to walk over to the iron, but it makes such a huge difference!

2. Changing the needle: It's really important to do this often, probably more often than most of us think. A couple years ago I took a sewing class that came with the purchase of my sewing machine and the instructor said that her rule of thumb is to change your needle every 8 hours of sewing. I guess if I sewed all day every day that would be once a day, but for me in reality that's probably more like once every couple of weeks. And when I don't do it, my machine tells me it needs some attention in the form of thread loopiness and jams. Ick! It's worth it for me to avoid this headache, so I do!

So how about you guys? What are your tips and tricks?

Thanks, Rae!  I appreciate the changing needle tip...and just invested in a BUNCH of needles off of ebay.  Please be sure to visit Rae's blog if you haven't yet, and you live under a virtual rock.  The first thing I found on Rae's blog was her pleated pocket tutorial.  I knew she was uber cool when she made an awesome shirt for her husband.  She also has some lovely patterns for purchase; like the Big Butt Baby pants I wish she'd come up with one year earlier.   I keep reading for her witty words and eye for style.  Who wouldn't want to read a blog with a flickr pool called "Rae Made Me Do It"?

10 happy thoughts:

KJ@letsgoflyakite said...

So many great tips here that I am going to incorporate in my sewing. I think that seam strenghtening tip is brilliant - why didn't I think of that?!

tiffany said...

Thank u thank u thank u!!! I have never had a sewing class and have been teaching myself to sew with the WONDERFUL help of all of u in blog land. These tips r fantastic and I have already printed and placed in my sewing folder :)

Lyndee @ A Recovering Craft Hoarder said...

These tips were AWESOME. Thank you so much.

Unknown said...

Thanks Chris and Rae, some really great tips there. I've never used a rotary cutter for anything other than quilting but that's about to change. And I had no idea about changing the needle frequently. Wow. I think I've had the same needle for years. Oopsie. Great stuff!

Unknown said...

I appreciate this guest post from Rae! I learned a few little tips that will save me some time as I get ready to sew some things for my shop. Happy Mother's Day!!!


Lindsay said...

Wow, what a great guest post! Thank you for the tips!

Stephanie said...

I have never used a rotary cutter, might have to invest in one of those. And it also solves the problem of my family steeling my good fabric scissors and ruining them.

Gwen @ Gwenny Penny said...

This is great. I'm always looking for time savers so I can get more sewing done. I'm always afraid to skip pinning, but I think I need to trust myself more.

~Beth D. said...

Ok, I might be dumb, but I have to ask, "How do you use a rotary cutter for a curved edge?"

chris said...

@~Beth D.Instead of pushing against a ruler, you just follow the shape of your pattern. There is another great sewing 101 post on rotary cutters from Lynette here:
Rotary Cutter 101

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