I first dabbled in sewing as a child, mostly by hand, when I made simple clothes for my dolls while I watched my grandmother make beautiful clothes for herself. As a young adult I asked my mother to teach me how to use her sewing machine and made a couple of skirts for myself and a few baby dresses for friends, but it was when I was expecting my first child thirteen years ago that I started sewing regularly. During these years I have amassed a few tricks that I use regularly and that work for me every time. Maybe some of them will work for you too!
1. Foot Up for Good Tension
This one is pretty basic, but I can’t tell you how many times I have run to help a friend solve tension issues in their machine just to find that it was not properly threaded!
So here it is, the number one sewing tip: FOOT UP!
When you lift the foot the tension disks in the body of the machine open up, allowing the thread to fold into the right place. When you bring the foot down, they close on the thread, creating the necessary tension to sew.
2. Thumbs Up for Pinless Sewing
You need a lot less pins than you think. I learned many years ago how to hold the layers of fabric together so that they move under the foot at the same time and it has really simplified my sewing (admittedly, I was an utter overpinner).
To start, match the corners of your two pieces of fabric.
Lift the foot, position the fabric so that the corners are about a half inch behind the needle, and bring the needle down before bringing the foot back down.
Now that the beginning end is secure, match the rest of your fabric, if you are sewing a garment, match to the first notch.
Position the fingers of your right hand on the fabric at the edge of the table, and slide your thumb underneath.
Now, while holding the fabric, tilt your hand towards the machine so that your thumb is on top.
Repeat this process until you get close to the end.
This works well for curves too, it just requires a gentle touch so that you don’t distort the fabric and to twist your left hand as you guide it under the needle.
3. Use a Longer Zipper Than You Need
Instead of sewing around the pull of a zipper, which is a major pain, simply use a zipper a couple of inches longer than you need. Close it and secure it in place with the pull dangling off the top of the seam.
Sew it as you normally would, minus all the maneuvering around the pull.
If you are not installing another piece above your zipper, like a waistband; open the zipper so that the pull is below the end of the fabric and zig-zag or hand stitch the top closed before you cut it off.
4. Keep Invisible Thread in Your Travel Kit
Invisible thread resembles fishing line more than it does regular sewing thread, it can be made out of nylon (as is fishing line) or polyester. Polyester is more durable and flexible and I prefer it to nylon, which will yellow and become brittle with age.
It is meant for use on your sewing machine and it certainly has its applications, but I love to use it in my travel sewing kit because it will match any fabric I may need to repair on the go.
So throw away all those little bobbins of cheap, bad quality thread that you have laying around and make yourself a little bundle of this all purpose wonder; you will actually use it!
5. Use Any Color Invisible Zipper
They sound scary, but invisible zippers are actually very easy to install. However, according to Murphy’s Laws, you will never have the right color on hand. But fear not, since the zipper is actually, believe it or not, invisible, the only part you need to match is that tiny pull. And chances are you have a sharpie or nail polish in the right color on hand.
Make sure you do this before installing the zipper and give it time to dry, but it couldn’t be easier to do! If you want extra safety from any peek-a-boo, paint a line down the middle of the zipper.
6. Glue Your Way to a Rolled Hem
Narrow rolled hems are used mainly for thin, slippery fabrics, which are challenging to use even when just stitching a plain straight seam. Add a folded, super narrow hem, and even with a rolled hem foot, getting started smoothly with that tiny seam can seem almost impossible without ruining the first half inch.
Enter the humble glue stick. Just dab the corner and fold it once to the desired width of your hem. Repeat for a second fold.
Slide the fabric under the machine’s foot so that the edge of the fabric is just under the needle, and bring the needle down.
7. Moisten the Back of the Needle for Easy Threading
Forget about hair spray, rubbing and all those complicated tips for threading a stubborn needle. All you need to do is moisten the back of the eye for super easy threading.
8. Fold to Square Off
Contrary to popular belief, the selvedges of yardage fabric aren’t always square. In fact, they are very often distorted. Rather than fight your way to match the selvedges, fold the fabric to get them roughly matched, but focus on getting a smooth fold that happens naturally.
Use that fold as your square edge to cut off the uneven edges.
9. Scratch Your Way to Alignment
When matching seam edges before sewing, you can lay them on top of each other to get a rough match, and then use your fingernails as claws to gently push the top layer to line up with the bottom one.
10. Use the Guide from Your Walking Foot
Walking feet come with a quilting guide that you can also use with other feet. If you have Madam Sew’s 32 Presser Feet Set, you have a presser foot holder that you can attach the guide to.
But chances are that the presser foot holder that came with your machine will also work. Look for an opening in the back, usually with a rubber piece or a screw. Just slide the guide in the opening and place it at the width you need.
This guide is very useful for wide hems, installing pockets, etc.