Stitch Tips

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  1. Determine what speed your machine runs the best at.  The slower mine goes, the less straight my seams are; the faster it goes, the easier it is to make big mistakes and stray from where I should be sewing.  For me, it’s best if I sew with the machine on the highest setting but not at it’s fastest speed.  It’s about half way between the medium and fast setting.
  2. Play around until you figure out what stitch length works the best for your specific needs.  When I’m sewing cotton fabrics together I use a slightly shorter stitch length — it’s actually the recommended stitch length for a straight stitch on my machine; but when I’m top-stitching I lengthen the stitch length 1-2 settings so it looks prettier and more professional.
  3. Figure out the best seam allowance (the distance a seam lies from the edge of the fabric) to keep it from being pulled down into the needle hole on the needle plate.  This is especially important when turning corners without much fabric between the feed dog and presser foot.  On my machine a 1/4″ seam allowance is the minimum I can use.
  4. Learn how the tension works, and how to adjust it, on your machine.  At first it can seem quite intimidating but after some practice you’ll be able to quickly spot thread tension issues and fix them immediately.  No more wonky stitches!
  5. Change the pressure on the presser foot.  Learn what settings work best for different fabrics, different thickness and even the different number of fabric layers.  You’ll need to increase the pressure when sewing through heavier fabrics such as corduroy, denim, leather and decrease it when sewing through lighter fabrics such as chiffon and tulle.  I’ve found that when I’m top-stitching over a thick side seam, it helps keep my stitch lengths consistent if I crank up the pressure just to get past the seam.
  6. Every time you sit down to sew and change anything — fabric, thread, stitch length, type of stitch, etc. — sew some test stitches on a scrap piece of the fabric(s) you’re using.  This will allow you to get your tension, stitch length and pressure right before you start on your actual piece.
  7. When sewing corners, doing appliques or any other project where you’ll be moving the fabric in anything but a straight line, keep your needle in the down position — meaning that when you stop sewing the needle is down in the fabric and not up at it’s highest point.  This will keep your stitches in line when you move the fabric.
  8. Change your needle often!  Yes, it’s another (minor) cost but it’s well worth the money.  I change my needle after 6-8 hours of sewing or sooner if I’m having trouble with skipped stitches.
  9. Keep your sewing machine clean.  Lint buildup can affect your feed dogs and cause extra wear and tear on your machine.  A can of compressed air helps to blow gunk out of places you can’t reach; the small screw driver that came with your machine will help you pull the needle plate off so you can clean around the feed dogs.
  10. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!  Sewing is just like any other skill — the more you do it, the better you’ll get and the more comfortable you’ll get with your sewing machine.  I’ve been sewing almost daily for just shy of two years and I still see improvements in the items I make.

Happy sewing!

Sewing Organization

One of the best ways to stay productive, is to make sure your sewing room/space stays organized.  When your stuff is easy to find you’ll spend less time looking for things and more time crafting!

Use storage containers with clear drawers to organize sewing notions.  The clear drawers allows you to see what’s inside them without having to rifle through everything.  The red unit is the type you buy at a hardware store; the white ones can be bought from your everyday, big-box store such as Target or Wal-Mart.

Keep all of your cutting and marking tools contained, yet close at hand.  This crock is perfect for holding scissors, pencils/pens, sewing gauges, turning tools, etc — it’s heavy enough that it won’t tip over and wide enough to fit a large amount of stuff.  It sits on the corner of my cutting table so my rotary cutters are always within reach.  My husband’s Aunt gave this to me years ago (it’s a piece she made), I love that I get to look at it almost every day!

Take advantage of unused space!  I used some of the removable 3M hooks to hang my rulers on the side of the bookshelf.  The bookshelf sits directly next to the cutting table so my rulers are within reach when I’m cutting (they’re also right next to my cutting tools).  I was continuously losing my rulers within stacks of fabrics so this has worked out fantastically!

Organize your fabric so it’s easy to see!  I put smaller pieces of cotton in these square cubbies, grouped (somewhat) by color.  Larger pieces are wrapped on fabric organizers and stored in laundry baskets or clear storage containers.  Just be careful of direct sunlight to avoid fading your fabrics.  You can always store them in closed cabinets, colored storage containers or fashion a curtain to keep them out of harm’s way.  With my sewing room being in the basement, the direct sunlight into the room is limited; my fabrics are stored directly under the window so they are shadowed by the sun coming through the window.

Happy sewing!

Sewing Staples

Did you get a sewing machine for Christmas and are overwhelmed at the thought of getting started?  Given one as a hand-me-down from a loved one when they upgraded to something newer and nicer?  Or have you had one sitting in the closet for years, collecting dust and fleeting thoughts about pulling it out of the box and turning it on?

Truthfully, my first machine sat largely untouched for the first couple of years I had it.  My dear husband bought one for me as a surprise gift just after we were married; he’d heard me mention about wanting to learn how to sew and thought it would be a great gesture.  It was a kind and thoughtful gesture but at such an early stage in our marriage (and when our budget was so incredibly tight) I didn’t take the gift to heart the way I should have.  After we moved West did I finally find myself wanting to pull it out and really spend time sewing.

One of the toughest aspects of starting a new hobby or craft is amassing all the items you need to be comfortable starting.  It can be expensive too!  And unfortunately, sewing isn’t really any different.  Here you’ve spent a fair chunk of money on a machine and now you need to buy a bunch of other “stuff” to go along with it.  Where do you even start?  Anyone who has glanced down the aisles at your local sewing store will tell you the choices, when looking for sewing gadgets, are numerous.

So to help make it a little easier to get started, I’ve put together a top-10 list of the most essential sewing notions for a beginner (besides fabric, thread and needles — I assume you’ve already figured out those 3 items).


Pins.  To start off with, basic dressmaker pins are fine.  They’ll go through most fabrics without bending and are cost effective.  A box of 350 pins will cost about $4.  Down the road you can up grade and buy ones with glass heads, or a smaller diameter to fit your sewing needs.

Seam Ripper.  The teeny tiny one that comes with your machine will continuously get lost under stuff on your desk/table.  Buy one that’s a little larger and easier to spot.  A simple one will cost about $3.  My biggest tip — don’t buy one that has a round handle.  They roll off flat surfaces.

Bobbin Storage.  I like the “bobbin saver” — it keeps bobbins from rolling around and unwinding all of their thread.  The threads don’t get all tangled up with each other and the base is non-skid so it won’t slide around your sewing table.  One of these costs about $7.

Sewing gauge.   An invaluable tool to have in your sewing kit!  It will help to measure buttonholes, mark hems and space pleats.  Usually costs about $2.

Marking pencil.  Use one to transfer markings directly onto your fabric.  The brush on the end will help to remove the marking after sewing.  They typically come in pink, blue and white and cost less than $2.  I recommend a white one for dark fabrics and then a brighter one for lighter fabrics.


Finger presser.  After sewing seams, you’ll want to press them open, or to one side, before sewing over them.  Having one of these will save you from using your iron every single time.  The plastic ones cost about $6.  Mine finally bit the dust after 10 years — I knocked it off the table and the end busted off.  I upgraded to a wood one and love it.


Small scissors.  Perfect for notching pattern pieces and ideal for cutting thread.  I like the 5″ size and highly recommend spending the money on a middle of the road pair.  The 5″ Fiskars craft scissors cost about $14.

These next three items are going to be the most expensive to buy, and by some, would be considered optional.  In my opinion though they make cutting fabric so much easier and more precise.  I rarely use scissors to cut fabric unless I need to cut intricate curves.

Rotary Cutter.  45mm is the standard size.  There is a learning curve with using one but after you get the hang of it, you’ll wonder why you ever tried cutting fabric with scissors.  The 45mm rotary cutter by Fiskars costs about $15.  Replacement blades will need to be purchased as they dull.

Self-Healing Cutting Mat.  This goes under your fabric when cutting with a rotary cutter.  It will take the wear and tear of a rotary cutter but will not get cuts, nicks or grooves on its surface.  A 18×24″ mat costs about $25; a 24×36″ costs about $50.  It’s a solid investment — when properly cared for, i.e. not allowed to warp, they will last indefinitely — I’m only on my 2nd one in 10+ years.  My first one was ruined by a professional moving company, not me.


Ruler.  You need a straight edge to cut with a rotary cutter.  A clear, sturdy plastic ruler works best.  I like one that is 4-6″ wide and has markings every 1/8″.  A decent one costs about $10.

Remember too, that places such as Joann’s often run great sales on their sewing items so watch their online ads or sign up on their mailing lists to get their local ads.  It’s not uncommon for sewing notions to be reduced 50%, especially the cutting tools.  You can also search online for coupons to use if items are not on sale.

Happy sewing!

How to Install a Zipper

I’ll admit that zippers scare me.  The thought of having to put them in an item I’m sewing makes me sweat a little and even contemplate changing the design to avoid it (I’ve done a handful or so, I just hate doing them).  There are a couple of projects I want to do for the kids for Christmas and I think I really need to just get over my fear and tackle it head on.

Ashley over at make it and love it posted a great tutorial last week about installing zippers.  Maybe using her method would help ease my fears.

Happy Sewing!

Elastic Thread: New Lessons Learned


After listing the girls petti ruffle rompers in the shop, the amount of sewing I’ve done with elastic thread has increased significantly.  I think I’ve used it on 10 out of 12 of my last orders and most of the clothing items I’ve made for my kids.   I’ve seen a marked improvement in my ability to work with it due to all this practice.


And I’ve learned a few important things:

  • Not all elastic thread is created equal. Different machines will have varied results among brands.
    • I have a Viking sewing machine and have found the stretch rite elastic thread to work the best in my machine.  It’s the kind that comes on the cardboard spool, not the plastic spool.  The Dritz brand (which comes on the plastic spool) does not gather as nicely for me.    These are the only 2 brands I have available to purchase locally.  Thankfully for me the stretch rite is half the cost; unfortunately it’s not always in stock so when it is, I usually clear the shelf of it.
  • Not all machines are created equal.
    • Typically you’ll want to set your stitch length as the longest possible setting and turn your tension setting way down.  In order to find the exact settings that work for you, you’ll have to sew some test strips.
  • Not all fabric will shir as equally well as others.
    • The lighter the weight of the fabric, the better it will shir.  My favorite fabrics to work with are 100% cotton broadcloths and the premade ruffle fabric.  They will both gather fabric down to about half of it’s original width when multiple rows are sewn in.
  • When shirring panels (like the front and back of a dress or romper) stop your shirring about 3/8-1/2″ away from the edge of the fabric before sewing the two panels together .
    • This will make it much easier to join the pieces together.  Especially when working with ruffle fabric that is more tedious to sew.  It keeps the edges of the fabric more straight, instead of pulling them into a zig-zag pattern.
  • Hem the top/bottom of your fabric before sewing in the elastic thread.
    • Once the fabric is gathered, it makes it increasingly more difficult to get nice straight hems.
  • Use your presser foot as a guide for sewing rows close together.
    • Instead of marking the fabric all up, I just use the edge of my presser foot to line up a new row.  If your needle moves position, you can widen/shorter this distance to your preference.  I typically leave the needle in the “0” position, giving me a 3/8″ distance between rows.
  • Iron in guide lines for sewing rows further apart.
    • Instead of marking the fabric up when sewing further apart than your presser foot can measure, fold your fabric at the designated sewing lines and press a quick crease into it.  These lines will disappear as you sew and won’t require washing the finished item to get chalk/fabric pencil marks off.
  • Use your iron to gather the fabric more when finished.
    • If  you don’t feel like your fabric has shirred enough after you’ve sewn all of the elastic thread in, use steam to help draw it in more.  Turn your iron on its highest steam setting and when hot, hold the iron just over the rows, blasting it without touching the fabric directly.  I can usually cause my fabrics to shrink down a little bit more by doing this.
  • Practice is key!
    • The more you work with elastic thread, the easier it will be to use.  I love working with it now; almost to the point where I prefer to shir something than to put a casing in for regular elastic.


Happy Sewing!


Choosing the Right Thread for a Project

You’ve found the perfect fabric and have decided on the perfect pattern to create.  Now it’s important that you use the appropriate thread for the project.  Thread that is too small or weak can result in a project that falls apart; thread too wide or coarse can split or tear the fabric.  There is a thread out there for every project, and fortunately, with a little experience or research, it can become easy to figure out what thread you will need for whatever you are sewing.


The main types of sewing threads include:

  • Cotton threads
  • Polyester threads
  • Nylon/rayon threads (including invisible thread)
  • Silk threads (and silk ribbons)
  • Wool threads
  • Metallic threads
  • Designer threads (mixed threads made by combining different types of threads, e.g., cottons with rayon with silk, etc.)


Cotton thread: The usual cotton thread found in most stores is ideal for basic sewing. It is best for light- to medium-weight natural fabrics like cotton and linen.  Most cotton threads are mercerized, a coating that lets the dye take more easily and results in a lustrous appearance. This cotton has limitations, however, as it has no “give” and can break if used on fluid fabrics, such as stretch knit fabric.

Polyester threads: These are strong threads that have excellent ” give” for sewing projects. They tend to come in an all-purpose weight and often have a wax or silicone finish to them.  This finish allows the thread to slip through fabric with little friction. Polythread is suitable for most machine and hand sewing projects. The appearance of this thread will be waxy or shiny, not matte like plain cotton.

Nylon threads: This is a strong thread that is suitable for using on light to medium weight synthetic fabrics.

Rayon threads: Rayon embroidery thread works well to create flat stitches where cotton embroidery thread might stand too high.

Silk threads: Silk is a fine thread that is ideal for a range of fabrics, although silk is often reserved for embroidery work. This strong thread is ideal for sewing on silk and wool, and for basting all fabrics. The benefit is that silk threads do not leave holes and it is very flexible. An excellent tailoring thread.

Wool threads: Wool threads tend to be used for embroidery projects and for blankets (using blanket stitch). Wool works best with heavy fabrics, such as wool, or canvas.

Metallic threads: Metallic threads are used for goldwork embroidery and for embellishment on items such as handbags.


Now that you’ve decided which type of thread to use, it’s time to move on to color.  When deciding what color of thread to use there are two different approaches.

You can color match and make the thread as hard to see as possible. Match the thread color but go one shade darker than your fabric and the thread will blend in much better. If you just can’t find the right color and shade, go to a neutral color slightly darker than your fabric but of the same value. You don’t want to see your stitches when seams are pressed open.


Use a contrasting color and take your seams from utility to decorative. Of course, if you are going to topstitch you need to make sure you are skilled enough on the sewing machine or with your hand stitching to produce a good-looking stitch. That’s easy enough to do with a little practice.


When sewing myself, I use a combination of polyester and cotton for most of my projects.  My serger is always threaded with 100% spun polyester to give the serged edges a little bit of give to them.  My sewing machine is typically threaded with dual duty plus — mercerized cotton wrapped on a polyester core.  It looks like cotton and stretches like polyester, making it a good choice for most types of fabrics because it has a combination of strength and stretch.


A STITCH TIP:  When sewing clothing items, choose a thread that is slightly weaker than the fabric you are using.  If stress is put on the clothing item (especially children’s apparel), the seam will break before the fabric will rip.  This makes repairing the item much easier.


Happy Sewing!

Licensing Lingo

Yesterday I tackled the weighty issue of copyrighting patterns.  Today let’s discuss licensing.


We’ve all seen taglines in variation of this:

Tutorials and patterns are for personal use only.  If you are interested in using any of the patterns or tutorials for resale, please contact The Owner at to discuss licensing agreements.


Here’s the nitty gritty of licensing.

Under copyright law, a license is a written permission from the copyright holder granting the licensee privileges that are normally reserved to the copyright holder. So yes, licensing is a way to restrict use of the material.


The key in the above statement is the copyright holder is granting permission.  But it was discussed yesterday that patterns themselves can not be copyrighted, nor can the items produced from such patterns.  So there is no copyright holder and in turn, no license and no need to grant permission to the end-user.  Yet again, in my opinion, it becomes just an issue of ethics.

A quick check of copyright records shows no clothing pattern copyrights held by Simplicity, Butterick or McCalls.  Simplicity holds copyrights on some of their pattern envelopes, but not the patterns themselves.  Of the more popular designers, Amy Butler was the only one I found to have registered copyrights for some of her patterns.  Her copyright material was mainly for non-clothing items, technical drawings within the pattern or needlepoint designs.  The other designers had some fabrics copyrighted but nothing else.


Which makes a person wonder why we see the technical wording we do.

  • Why do designers state their items are copyrighted when in fact most aren’t?
  • Why do they state a requirement of licensing agreements when no copyright for the item exists?
  • Why do they indicate they have a legal right to restrict the end use product of their patterns when in reality they don’t?

Is it because they think they do?  Or is it because they think we don’t know otherwise?

Copyright Confusion

Truth be told, I’m not a very good pattern maker.  Some of the items in my shop I’ve completely designed myself (the peasant dresses and eyelet sundresses for example) but it takes me days and days and days of tortuous struggling to figure out sizing adjustments, bodice widths, skirt lengths.  When I consider the time and headache involved it’s much easier for me to purchase patterns or adjust a free online pattern to my liking.

The drawback to this is that some pattern makers/designers –mainly independent ones such as Etsy sellers, not the big names such as Simplicity, Butterick, McCalls and Vogue– add a stipulation to their work stating any items made from their patterns are for personal use only and are not to be sold.  I’d say that 2/3’s of the patterns for sale on Etsy are this way and it makes it challenging for sewists such as myself.   So I look for patterns in which the seller encourages the sale of items from their pattern and then I go so far as to credit them fully in the resulting listings.  (Whimsy Couture is fabulous for this and is the first place I now shop for patterns!)

Legally though, the pattern designer has little control over what a seamstress does with the items made from their pattern or tutorial.

For starters, the pattern itself cannot be copyrighted as it is a template and templates are not copyrightable.  A pattern could also contain specific methods or procedure which are not copyrightable.  And all items considered “useful articles” (which we all agree that clothing certainly is!) are not copyrightable under sections 101 (definition of “useful article”) and 102 (subject matter of copyright) of the Copyright Act.  I suppose one could argue that both the pattern and the resulting articles of clothing are “useful articles”.

Even if the pattern *could* be copyrighted, how could the copyright extend to the items made from the pattern?  All of the pieces used to construct a garment — fabric, thread, zippers, buttons, ribbon, lace, velcro, etc.– would not be covered by the pattern copyright.  Logically, one could conclude that IF a pattern could be copyrighted the rights would extend only to the physical pattern purchased.

Carolyn V. Peters (a licensed attorney who specialized in Intellectual Property including copyrights, patents, and trademarks) states the following in regards to pattern copyrights:

Under the copyright laws, you are not allowed to make a copy of the pattern, except for your personal use. As the legal owner of the authorized copy of this pattern, you have purchased the right to make the article that is presented in the pattern, to sell or give away your authorized copy of the pattern that you purchased, and to sell or give away the article that you made from the pattern.

In my opinion it comes down to an ethical issue.  Legally they can not tell you items produced are for personal use only.  Legally you can do whatever you wish with the resulting items.

But if someone asks you not to do something, shouldn’t common courtesy come into play?

Hence why I try to only purchase patterns that allow items to be sold.  Even though the designer has limited legal rights regarding the items I make, it still makes me feel funny to go against their wishes.


If you want to read more, check out “Patterns and how they are affected by copyright law” and “Pattern Companies and Copyrights“.