29 November 2012

Five Things I’ve Learnt About Professional Sewing

As a home stitcher, do you ever ponder how professional sewing techniques differ to those we are accustomed to? How someone sewing for a living will construct a garment in a different way to what patterns and books teach us?

I’ve just finished my Professional Sewing Techniques course at the London College of Fashion, a course I chose precisely because I was curious about the difference between home and industry practice. I once had a particularly mean-spirited comment on this blog along the lines of, “Us professionals laugh at you home sewists haha”. Now, while I certainly don’t want to give that commenter the satisfaction of thinking that their malicious words left their mark (because frankly it was just a bizarre thing to say for so many reasons), I must admit that it made me curious as to the differences in conventions between those who get paid to churn out clothing and home seamsters doing it for the love. Not that one is better than the other of course – they’re just different.

So what kinds of differences did I discover on my course?

1) Professionals rarely bother with pins
On a nine week course, I can count the number of times I used pins on one hand. Thinking about it, this isn’t surprising – professionals need to sew quickly, particularly if they’re making ready-to-wear clothing, and pinning creates an additional step. But I must admit it was a complete eye-opener.

Let’s take inserting a regular (non-invisible) zipper as an example. When I first started sewing, I was taught to pin the opening, baste the opening, pin the zipper, baste the zipper, stitch the zipper, unpick the zipper basting, and unpick the opening basting. Phew! On this course we simply stitched the zipper directly into the opening. No pinning, no basting – pure eye-balling. And guess what? It turned out fine.

The same cannot be said about my set-in sleeve, however. Pin, baste, stitch, then unpick the basting? Nope - we just sewed the sleeve straight in. I’m sure if I were working in a sweatshop I’d get much better at this. But I’m not working in a sweatshop! I’m sewing at home for pleasure. So I’ll stick to pinning and basting, thank you very much.

2) The steam iron is your friend
Your iron can help you with more than just pressing seams open. I knew that a hearty dose of steam can help shape darts and the like. What I didn’t realise before is that you can use just the steam – without touching the iron to the garment – to manipulate fabric. If you’re rolling the underside of a collar out of view, for example, if you hold your iron just above the piece and shoot out a cloud of steam it can help soften the fabric before coaxing it with your fingers.

3) Snip and knot only when absolutely necessary
When you finish sewing a seam, what do you do? Previously, I would cut the threads, either before or after hand knotting or back tacking (depending on what I was sewing). Waste of time, it turns out. Professionals will sew one seam, then put the next seam under the presser foot straight afterwards and keep on sewing, continuing like that until they really do need to stop – then snip all the threads in one go. If a line of stitching really needs securing, they’ll back tack it, but if they’re going to sew over the end of stitching anyway they won’t bother.

Okay, so admittedly this is only really going to save you a few seconds of sewing time. And if you’re sewing for pleasure, that’s not necessarily going to be a concern. But it looks so cool if you do it this way!! Check out this little video by Jen from Grainline. Doesn’t she look the coolest?!

4) A simple crease line can act as a valuable guide
A very simple trick that our teacher used a lot was to pinch or fold a quick crease into a piece of fabric to mark centre points, seam lines, end points of stitching… It may not work on all types of fabric, but is incredibly useful when it does work.

And the number one thing I learnt?

5) There is no single “correct” way of doing things
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll already know that I already knew this. I can’t abide overly dogmatic instructions or people telling me I’m doing something “wrong” – I’m a firm believer in innovating and doing what’s right for you, and as a trainer I know that this is how people learn. I was therefore a little apprehensive that a course entitled “Professional Sewing Techniques” would attempt to convince me of the “proper” way of doing things. Happily it did just the opposite. The teacher kept reiterating the point that we should always experiment with techniques, make our own decisions, and go with whatever way was easiest for us personally. Hooray!

How about you – have you ever been surprised by the differences between home and professional sewing techniques? Do you use any particularly "professional" techniques or do you prefer home sewing methods?

If you missed it first time, check out this other totally awesome thing I learnt on my course...

[Soundtrack: 'I Should be Proud' by Martha Reeves & the Vandellas]