3 February 2015

Tips for Accurate Sewing


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...

39 comments:

  1. Amazingly helpful! Thank you very much for sharing! :)

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  2. Great tips Tilly! I would also suggest never to be afraid of tacking tricky pieces together, particularly curvy bits. The time taken to do this could be the difference between getting it right first time, or having to unpick and restitch. Old fashioned I know but it can be time well spent and less frustration grrr I-need-to-unpick moments!

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    1. That's a great tip. I must admit I avoid tacking/basting when I can, but it can save time in the long run!

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  3. Great tips - how about don't be afraid to go slow? I got a new machine recently and its speed is taking a bit to get used to - and mistakes have happened. Taking it slower is quicker than having to unpick!

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  4. I nearly always tack. But then I am old and was taught pin tack sew :)

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  5. I second going slowly! So much of my 'sewing' time is actually spent cutting, interfacing, pinning, ironing, trimming seams, etc that I reckon speeding up my stitches per minute isn't going to make things much quicker, but it will impact on accuracy. (I might change my mind if I ever make curtains. those seams are loooong!)

    I also recommend not watching the needle - watching the sewing line next to/before the foot is much better. By hte time you see the needle going into the wrong place it's too late to correct it, but sometimes I can find it almost hypnotic watching the needle bob up and down, up and down, up and down...

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    1. That's a great point about not watching the needle - when you're starting out, it seems like the natural thing to do, but it can distract you from what the seam is actually looking like.

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  6. Great advice! Sometimes I find changing your foot can be helpful too; my Elna has a standard metal foot but it also came with a transparent plastic one, which is sometimes really helpful when you want to see what you're doing. Some machines have a zipper foot which is narrower than a standard on, which can be helpful for top-stitching too, as you can place your original seam at the edge of the zipper foot in order to ensure that the new line of stitching stays parallel.

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  7. Such good stuff! Sew long enough, and you think you have this stuff down cold.

    To this, I add: Test swatch for stitches and topstitching and marking and linings and interfacing. I am an oooooold sewist, I only learned this from knitting. I realized how much I save myself from poor finishing habits by making a little swatch of what's going to happen. Sometimes the topstitching looks better if it's the bobbin side. Maybe I need a different thread weight, or needle. Stuff that I would not think about (it's a woven, who needs to try out needle weights?) I give myself the chance to think about. And almost always, I make a better choice than my usual fallback ones.

    It is also a great convincer for a client who is still on the fence about a fabric/finish choice. Add a button and you're golden (that one I learned from a client poking around in the sewing cave. "Hey, this is cool!" And there went a new pair of pants!)

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    1. Ooh yes, test swatches can save time and fabric in the long run!

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  8. I love all of these! Especially the cute photos for inspiration. As a long time sewer who is often asked to teach those just getting started, it helps to see all these tips so clearly presented. I do them without thinking and forget to mention them when helping someone out learning to sew. Your book has been super for this too! xoxo

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    1. Thanks Sandee, I'm glad you find these points and my book helpful for teaching people to sew :)

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  9. All wonderful tips, Tilly! And as always, such gorgeous and colourful photos!

    http://thecraftypinupxo.blogspot.co.uk/

    xo

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  10. Wonderful tips!
    I’m definitely going to draw the stitching line on my fabric. I never know where to stop and turn.

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  11. I love that shift the needle tip...I have a simple tip for transferring pattern markings onto fabric,
    on my blog today!
    bestest Daisy

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  12. Great tips! I use all of these suggestions as well. I would also say if you're sewing a piece of leather on top of something, or any other fabric that you don't want to leave any nasty pinholes in, try using little pieces of sticky tape to hold it in place instead :)

    www.midgins.blogspot.com

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  13. #5 - I hardly do that but am doing so more often especially with extreme curves.

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  14. Number three is a good one, I take good note!
    Thank you for sharing...

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  15. Lots of helpful tips, Tilly! I also sew 3 rows of garhering stitches instead of 2 (you taught me that) and adjust the tension to no tension as well as setting the machine to the longest stitch length x

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  16. Great tips, and thanks for explaining the mysterious "needle to the left" setting - I've been wondering about that for 25 years.

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  17. In addition to pinning, you might want to remind newer sewers to remove the pins before stitching over them as this causes the needle to break.

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  18. Always pin at a right angle to the seam. That way you can pull out the pins more easily as you get to them or, if you accidentally sew over it, you're less likely to damage your machine as the needle should just bob over the pin.

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  19. The Shift the Needle tip is amazing - thank you!!
    One thing I've done to ensure more accurate sewing is move my sewing table in front of a window - but I then get distracted watching the birds :-)

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  20. Going to attempt to make a dress for myself soon so will be following these tips :)

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  21. Go slowly! I've been sewing five years now and I met up with my friend who's just started, and she was hammering the machine like there was no tomorrow - she was going faster than me! Completely took me by suprise that she actually managed to control the machine okay, although it did sound like it was going to blow up...

    http://tonisewsclothes.blogspot.co.uk/

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  22. Drawing on my fabric with an air drying pen is one of my latest fads. I sew lots but for darts and tricky things it is great. Thanks. Jo x

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  23. I wish I'd known this when I started sewing: when in doubt, if stitching skips or starts getting wonky in any way, rethread the machine and re-seat the bobbin. If *that* doesn't work, replace the needle. Fixes almost everything. And always use a new needle on any new project!

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  24. Thank you very much for sharing these tips with us! I always love to stop by and read your posts. For tip #5 it can be also very useful to use a magic marker, which simply disappears after a certain period of time.

    Cheers, Jana

    www.meandmyveritas.wordpress.com

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  25. I hadn't thought of drawing on the stitching line.

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  26. I'm lucky, my industrial straight stitcher stops with the needle down, every time! Takes a bit of a mental shift though when I swap to my 40 year old Elna, who wouldn't dream of doing such a thing.

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  27. I definitely want to work on my accuracy and get my sewing lines and hems a lot neater. I might be trying your tape tip! Thanks.

    http://surfjewels.tumblr.com/

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  28. Thanks for these wonderful tips, Tilly! They are useful for beginners as well as experienced sewers :)
    I put a link to your post on my blog, you can see it here.

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  29. I think you hit all the best tips! Also, clip curves liberally, and finger manipulation: hold end of seam of both layers together, while spreaing fingers of left hand between layers of fabric so you can adjust under-layer independently of upper layer. You can adjust as the edges meet going into the foot.PS: I wanted to vote for you but non-British residents aren't allowed. Too bad!

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  30. Another basic tip, keep a notebook and record the stitches that you used in a garment. Eg the number, the length, (width, if appropriate) and the distance from the edge if topstitching, so if you have to rip or go back to a seam later on it will be much easier to do. Also it is handy to check what worked for you in the past.

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    1. I heartily agree with keeping a notebook to record the stitches, length, width, etc. I do this in the manual that came with my machine and find those tips I've written down to be so helpful.

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  31. For marking sewing lines, I struggled with numerous chalk pens etc and the best thing of all, which lays down a narrow, accurate, brush-off line without pulling the fabric around, is a thing I got from Etsy called a Chakoner. I had to send off to America for it but it is absolutely incredible.

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  32. I hadn't thought about using the up/down button for sewing single stitches..So obvious when mentioned.thanks

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