These are some ideas that may help you if you are starting out sewing. A number of these topics will be covered in greater depth in later articles.
Make life easy for yourself: try and have everything you might need to hand before you begin. Have you got enough thread, elastic, buttons or whatever the project requires?
Try and sit up straight at the sewing machine. You may be there for quite a while. I’ve often found myself hunched over the machine and it’s quite a crunch to straighten my back and shoulders when I stand up.
Do you need a new needle on the sewing machine? The old one may look okay but they do grow blunt with usage. A new one will be sharper and make smaller holes in the fabric as it sews. It’s quite a good idea to make a note of when you change the needle to give you an idea of when it should next be replaced.
Threading the Needle
Threading the needle can be frustrating. I have a small square of white fabric that I hold behind the needle. This helps the eye of the needle to show up. I try to cut the thread slightly on the diagonal as this gives a bit of a point to allow the thread to guide into the needle. Even though this may sound obvious, make sure you are holding thread square to the eye of the needle – I have sometimes found that without realising it I am trying to thread the needle from a slight angle. It doesn’t work!
Most of the same tips apply to threading the sewing machine needle. Put your finger behind the eye to help the eye to show up. Put your sewing foot down so that you have more room to work. Many sewing machines these days have automatic needle threaders – find out how it works.
Most quilting and sewing can be achieved using just two basic stitches: slipstitching and basting. Slipstitching is a diagonal small stitch used for sewing a seam when you don’t want the stitching to show on the other side (otherwise you couldjust machine sew it). In general try to pick up only a few threads of the fabric with your needle and keep your stitches small.
Basting is a much larger, temporary stitch. It is used to hold two layers of fabric together until you have machine sewn the seam and if it shows is taken out when you have finished the machine sewing. Sometimes it doesn’t show – if it’s within the seam allowance – and can just be left in.
I always use the same thread in the top of the machine (the spool thread) and the bottom (the bobbin thread). This isn’t strictly necessary as you can use different threads provided you adjust the sewing machine tension. However then you must change the tension again when you change threads. It’s easier to stick to using the same thread until you are more experienced.
There is a bewildering variety of threads available in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours. I’ll be discussing these later in a full article.
Get To Know Your Sewing Machine
If you haven’t sewn before or haven’t sewn for quite a while, take some time to get to know your machine. Put two scraps of fabric together and sew a few lines to remind yourself of how the controls work and how much pressure you need to put on the foot pedal to sew at a gentle, steady rate.
And Look After It
Your machine will give you years of service if you treat it well. Clean it regularly (all that fluff from the fabric can build up) and have it serviced regularly. My mother’s Bernina was 40 years old before it stopped working.
To begin a seam, the ends of the thread need to be anchored to prevent them tangling up. Place one finger over the trailing ends for the first few stitches and backstitch one or two stitches to anchor the stitching.
What To Do With Your Hands
Guiding the fabric while you are sewing: the most commonproblem that I have noticed when I am showing anyone how to sew is that they want to pull the fabric through from behind the needle. This is not necessary – the grid under the needle does that for you. It’s known as the dog feed and keeps the fabric moving at a regular rate. Your job is to guide the fabric from the front, making sure that the fabric is flat and your seam is straight and the correct width. A seam in a quilt is always one quarter of an inch from the edge of the fabric to the stitching.
Tension – Of The Machine, Not You!
Check the tension on your machine ona small patch of fabric with the same number of layers as you are intending to sew. If the tension is correct thre two threads – bobbin and spool – should meet in the layers of fabric. If the bobbin thread shows right through to the front or the spool thread shows right through to the back then your tension needs adjusting.
Basting or Pinning
When you have two or more layers of fabric to sew together, they can slip against each other while you are sewing. At worst this can mean that you don’t catch all the layers in the stitching, or it might mean that you are not getting the correct seam allowance on one of the layers. Securing the layers together before you sew makes a lot of sense.
Pinning is quicker to do but you do have to keep stopping to take the pins out as you sew. Basting takes a little more time but you can have a straight run at sewing once you begin. I would always recommend basting if there are three or more layers in your seam.
When you are sewing together two strips of patchwork, for example in a quilt top, it is always worth placing pins at each place that the seams meet. Placing the pins at right angles to the direction you are sewing (pointing towards the edge of the fabric) gives a little more stability.
I know it’s a pain, but pressing at various stages of the project really does give you a better end result. The pieces of fabric lie more flat and fit together better if the seams have been pressed flat. in quilting the seams are usually pressed to one side rather than opened up as in dressmaking. Try to press the seam allowance towards the darker of the two fabrics.
It is not necessary to press at every single stage. Finger pressing – running your thumb along the line of the seam to press it flat works between some stages.
Whoever thought of this system deserves a medal. This applies more to quilting than general sewing. If you have to sew together a number of squares to make pairs as you build a quilt block, put a separate pile of each colour of square next to your machine.
Taking one square from each pile, sew them together. At the end of the seam have the next pair of squares ready.Without lifting the machine foot, sew contuously on to the next pair, leaving a small gap from the first pair to the second pair. Do the same again with the third pair and so on.
When you have finished you will have a chain of pairs of squares joined together by a twisted strand of thread. No backstitching or knot tying. Just snip the thread between the pairs of squares. Miraculous!
That’s the most important point of all. I find sewing and quilting really therapeutic and it is so satisfying to finish an item that you have made yourself. Don’t stress if you make a mistake: quilters don’t make mistakes – they just put in design features. Chances are that no one else will see your mistake anyway.
The above are just a few brief points that you may find helpful. Let me know if there are any points you would like clarified or any other points that you would like me to cover.