When I teach new people to sew, there are a few tips and tricks I share to help them feel more confident and in control of their stitching. I thought I’d post them on the blog today – depending on how long you've been sewing, these tips might induce an "oh wow!" or a "duh, obvs!", but even if you are an experienced stitcher there may be one or two useful reminders here for when you need to sew something with an extra dose of precision. I’m generally pretty chillaxed about sewing personally, but sometimes it’s good to take a bit of extra time and care!
1) Use the hand wheel or the needle up/down button
If you want to start or end your stitching line at a particular point – for example, because you want to turn a corner, or avoid catching another seam under the thread – forego the foot pedal in favour of the hand wheel. Turning the hand wheel towards you will make your machine sew individual stitches reeeeally slowwwly. If your machine has one, use the needle up/down button (often marked with two arrows) instead. Press it once and a needle in the up position will move down; press it a second time and the needle moves back up - allowing you to sew stitches one by one. Handy!
2) Highlight the seam allowance guide
As you probably know, the seam allowance guide lines on the needle plate tell you how far you're stitching from the edge of the fabric - keep the edge of the fabric lined up with these guides to sew with a consistent seam allowance. If you find these lines difficult to see - or if you are using an old machine that doesn't have them at all - highlight your most used line (usually 15mm / 5/8in) with a strip of tape or a coloured label. Looks pretty too!
3) Shift your needle
Sometimes you won't be able to use the seam allowance guides to help you sew accurately. If you are understitching a facing to the seam allowance, for example, you want to sew a line a couple of mm away from - and parallel to - a seam line. In this case, you can use the seam line itself as a guide. Many sewing machines have a stitch setting which shifts the needle 2-3mm to the left (it’s often the second stitch option after the regular straight stitch); other machines allow you to shift the needle either left or right by various increments. With your needle shifted to one side, line up the seam line with the central groove of your presser foot. Keep it aligned like this as you sew, and you should end up with a nice, accurate stitching line exactly parallel to the seam line. Lovely stuff!
4) Use pins wisely
If you're sewing slippery fabric, or if you're sewing together two or more pieces of fabric that don't lie flat on top of one another - for example, if you're sewing a gathered piece to a non-gathered piece - then using lots of pins will help you get a neat result. Sometimes, however, lots of pins can have the opposite effect - use too many pins, and they will stop the pieces lying flat against each other. So for basic assembly, keep the number of pins to the minimum you need to hold the pieces in place. A related tip is to pin perpendicular to the edge with the pin heads sticking out so they don't distort the fabric.
5) Draw the stitching line onto your fabric
This might sound like cheating, but if you are preparing to sew a corner, or perhaps an even more complex shape such as scallops, try drawing the stitching line onto the wrong side of the fabric (or interfacing) to help you see where exactly you need to pivot or turn your stitching. On the collar piece in the photo above, I've drawn the stitching line of the corner on the point where need to pivot, 15mm (5/8in) from each edge. Remember to use a chalk pencil or washable pen so the marking comes out afterwards!
Do you have any tips of your own to share for accurate stitching? Let us know in the comments...