sewing tips



There's no point in choosing a F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S style, then spending your precious time and skills making a great garment if you don't use a suitable fabric! This doesn't mean that you *must* stay with the fabrics recommended on your pattern envelope, but you *should* choose something that will work with your chosen style. For instance, if you are making a flowy, drapey skirt, the pattern envelope might say, use silk charmeuse or may want to use a single knit. As long as your chosen fabric has the a similar feel and drape to the suggested fabrics, you're pretty much good to go. BUT if you were to make up that same flowy, drapey skirt in something like a firm denim? You may still get a fabulous garment, but it won't look like the original design. And that's ok, just be aware that deviating from the suggested fabrics may *not* give you the look you want.


We're *huge* fans of laundering the living daylights out of almost all of our fabrics *before* we even think about cutting into it. You need to pre-treat your fabrics (which means wash & dry or dryclean) *exactly* as the finished garnment will be treated, and you need to do this at least 2 or 3 times with each piece of fabric.


Yes you do, and here's why:


a) you'll see if your fabric shrinks, and if so, by how much;
b) you'll see if the color bleeds, fades or otherwise changes;
c) you'll see if the grain or selvedge distorts;
d) you'll see if the texture, drape or weight of the fabric changes.


Pre-treating your fabrics means that you minimise the risks of having your beautiful new silk jersey top shrink in a hot dryer, or your lovely deep blue dress coming out of the laundry looking horribly faded, or your super-glam sequined vest return from the dry-cleaners in a melted mush. So it's a really good idea to decide exactly *how* you'll be caring for your finished garment at the planning stage; once you know how you plan to care for your garment, you'll need to clean a test piece: here's how we like to do it:


Cut a 12" or 30cm square from your fabric; this is your comparison piece.

Now cut another 12"/30cm square for every washing method you may use on this garment-so, for instance, you may cut two more squares, one to hand wash and air dry, the other to machine launder and tumble dry.

BEFORE you 'process' your test squares, run a line of machine stitching around all 4 edges of each square, about 3/8" or 1cm in from the cut edge-this will stop it fraying too much; don't use your serger or overlocker to trim these edges, as you may trim off a little too much from your squares, therefore giving a distored result.

Now you're ready to process your fabric! Put your first 'comparison' square to one side, then wash & dry your remaining square(s), or send them to the drycleaners if that's what you plan to do; in an ideal world you'd try to process them 3 times, because that gives a 'truer' reading than just 1 single cleaning process.


Et voila! Compare your laundered square(s) with the original comparison piece, and see any differences between the original square and the processed ones. Once you've done this, you need to ask yourself:


Q: Did my fabric change in any way?

A1: No, my fabric stayed exactly the same.
Well, off you go! Pre-treat your fabric using your chosen method, then you can go ahead and make your garment, and know that it will stay exactly as you made it...fabulous!


A2: Yes, my fabric changed in some way, but I like it! I think it will still be OK for my chosen style...
Great, pre-treat your fabric using your chosen cleaning method, then go make something gorgeous! You can go ahead and make your garment, and know that your fabric has done all its' shrinking/fading/crinkling already-so it will stay exactly as you made it...also, fabulous!


A3: Yes, my fabric changed in some way, and I don't like the end result!
Don't be sad, this happens more than you can can try processing another square using a different cleaning method, or you can use the fabric for a different, more suitable project.


What do we mean by the 'extras'? We mean things like trimmings, notions and interfacings. Using high-quality goods will make your garments look, wear, and wash so much better. For instance, a lower quality fusible interfacing will quickly distort your garment, causing ripples, bubbles and a horribly shoddy look; whereas a good quality interfacing will enhance the look and drape of your garment. We use interfacing from Fashion Sewing Supply, which is the best interfacing we've used in over 40 years of sewing. Highly recommended!


Lower grade zippers will disintegrate sooner-ask yourself, do you have the time and the inclination to be fitting new zippers to half of your wardrobe every few months? No, you don't. We recommend usig YKK zippers wherever possible; you can find these in most sewing and craft stores, and via many Etsy and Ebay sellers.

You can buy a useful YKK zipper color chart here.


High quality thread will glide through your fabric and machine needle, making sewing so much easier; it will also 'behave' well throughout the lifetime of your garment. We tend to default to Gutterman threads, usually available at sewing and craft stores. If you are offerred the option of adding matching thread to your fabric purchases, especially online fabric shopping, do it. You can by a nifty Gutterman thread color chart here.


Items like shoulder pads, snap fastenings, buttons, bra forms and buckles really do need to be the best quality you can find, and that your budget will allow; basically anything that gives body to, or finishes off your garment, needs to be able to handle anything and everything your daily schedule can throw at it!



This is crucial to your sewing experience and the quality of your end product. A rough guidleine is, the tighter the weave or knit of your fabric, the finer your needle should be.

If you're not too sure what needle to choose, here's a good way to decide: a regular sharp point needle is perfect for woven fabrics; it helps to give an even stitch with a minimum of fabric puckering. Don't be tempted to use this needle for knits, as the sharp point tends to "cut" yarns, and cause skipped stitches. Your regular sharp point needle comes in sizes 9 (finest, for lightweight and tightly woven fabrics) to size 18 (heaviest, for thicker and loosely woven fabrics). A ballpoint needle is specially designed for knits, stretch & elastic fabrics. You'll probably use this for sewing most faux fur fabrics too. Ballpoint needles have a rounded point, instead of a sharp point, so it pushes between the fabric yarns rather than slicing through them. Your ballpoint needle comes in sizes 9 (slightly rounded point, for finer or tightly knitted knits) to size 16 (very rounded point for heavier or loosely kinitted knits). A wedge point needle is what you need for suede, leather & vinyl. The needle's wedge shape is designed to sew easily through these fabrics, with each stitch making a hole that will close up on itself. this way, you avoid unattractive holes in your project, and these needles reduce the risk of your stitches tearing through your fabric. A wedge point needle comes in sizes 11 (the finest, for soft and lightweight leathers) to size 18 (for heavy leathers or for sewing through multiple layers).


So now you know what *type* of needle to choose, what about the right size?

Sheer, semi-sheer and delicate fabrics like silk and cotton chiffon, voile, fine lace and organza would need a fine size 9 needle.

Lightweight fabrics like synthetic sheers, batiste, taffeta, velvet, stretch fabric, tricot and plastic film would need a size 11 needle.

Mediumweight fabrics like poplin, linen, crepe, dupioni silk, satin, wool or blend suitings, gingham, muslin, chambray, flannel, knits, jersey, wool, chintz, stretch fabric and drapery fabrics would need a *size 14* needle...

...medium/heavyweight fabrics such as medium/heavy denim, twill, gabardine, heavy suiting, tweed and heavy drapery fabrics would need a size 16 needle.

Heavyweight fabrics like canvas, heavy denim, heavy coating and upholstery fabrics would need a *size 18* needle.


Finally-and this is really really really important-you should *always* replace a dull, bent or nicked needle. Also, if you are ever unlucky enough to sew over a pin, please change the needle straight away. A damaged needle, even if it's only *slightly* damaged, can cause skipped stitches, damaged fabric and frayed nerves!



It's crucial to choose the correct type of thread; the right thread has to be compatible with the structure and fiber content of your fabric, as well as being suitable for the project you are working on.


Threads are usually numbered, with each number denoting the thickness of the thread; just remember, the higher the number, the finer the thread, and for what it's worth, the *standard* size is 50. Sometimes, thread thickness is graded by letters; A is fine and D is heavy.


For general purpose sewing, we like these threads: cotton: a medium or size 50 cotton thread is usually available in a wide range of colors. use it for sewing light and medium weight cottons, rayons and linens. cotton thread is often mercerized, which is a process that makes it smooth, lustrous, and able to take dye better. Don't use cotton thread for sewing knits or other stretchy fabrics; cotton thread is stable and therefore doesn't have any stretch, so if you use this to sew knits, the stitches will tend to pop.

Silk: this is a size A, and it's a fine, strong thread, perfect for sewing on silk and wool. It's fineness makes it great for basting, as it doesn't leave holes from stitching or imprints after pressing. silk thread has a natural elasticity, which means that it is also great for sewing any type of knit. Silk thread is fabulous for tailoring because it can be molded, steamed and pressed along with your fabric.

Nylon: if you are sewing light to medium weight synthetics, especially nylon tricot choose this fine, strong size A thread for superior results.

Polyester: a standard weight or size 50 polyester thread is suitable for sewing on most fabrics, but especially suited to woven synthetics; it also works on knits and other stretch fabrics of any fiber. Most of the modern polyester threads have a wax or silicone finish to allow them to glide easily through the fabric.

Cotton-wrapped polyester: a standard weight or size 50 polyester designed for sewing on wovens or knits of natural or synthetic fibers or blends. You get a really good mix here, the thread has a polyester core which gives strength and elasticity, whilst the cotton wrapping gives it a hard wearing and heat resistant surface.


For heavy duty sewing, we like these threads: cotton; polyester; cotton-wrapped polyester: we like to use these coarse threads about a size 40-where we need extra strength, for instance, sewing heavy vinyl, coating or upholstery fabrics.


Whatever you are working on, using a good quality thread is crucial. You know those "5 spools of thread for a dollar" deals? Seems like a bargain, but they're not. Sub-par cheap thread will give you a cheap-looking result; with so-called 'bargain' thread, the fibers can split whilst you're sewing, the thread knots up and breaks, and you get a really nasty build-up of lint in yout machine's bobbin area and along the thread line from the spool to the needle...ick!

What about the color? Because the wrong color thread looks horrible. Well, when we are selecting a thread color, we either choose the *exact* match if that's available, or if not, we go one shade darker than the fabric.

If our fabric is a multi-color print, we select the color that is most dominant, which could be the background or one of the print colors...



If you want great looking garments, you'd better get to know & love your iron! Your garment needs to be pressed at various stages of construction; here's what we do: before we cut our garment out, we press the fabric completely flat-unless of course it's a crinkled-finish fabric, in which case we give it a light steam, just to get any unwanted wrinkles out. Obviously we press any interfaced pieces-collars, plackets, cuffs, facings-once the interfacing is applied, but we also press the actual piece when we, say, put a collar together, or prepare a cuff. We press all our seams: first we press them on one side, to sink the threads into the fabric. then we press the seam open, or to one side, or whatever we want to do for that particular project. We also press all our hems up; on skirts, dresses, pants, sleeves, and tops before we sew our hems, because that gives a really slick finish.

We always press on the wrong side of the fabric whenever possible; if that's not an option, we make sure we use a pressing cloth; we use pieces of undyed silk organza and cotton muslin for our pressing cloths.

Finally, we make sure that our 'final press' is as gentle and careful as possible; we like to hang the garment up, or drape it on a dressform and g-e-n-t-l-y steam it for the best results.



We have to be honest here, for years we really didn't see the point of basting (that's what happens when you are taught sewing by a really uninspiring teacher, *sigh*). But having tried it, we think it's a fabulous technique to have up your sleeve! Here's your basting basics.


Basting is simply a method of loosely stitching together a seam or part of a seam; we do this when for whatever reason, pins just won't do the job. Basting is also great when you really need to *see* how a seam lays when it's sewn, but you also want to be able to adjust & restitch the seam. We like to use a *slightly* contrasting thread which makes it easier to see the basting when you need to remove it.


We do our basting by hand *and* machine, it all depends on the project. You might decide to baste a collar into position along the neck edge of your garment, prior to applying the neck facing; this means that the collar stays in position whilst you ease the facing in place, which is *much* easier than trying to wrestle with a pinned-in collar, plus a facing.


Finally, our best tip for basting is this: make sure that your basting thread is color fast-you really don't want, say, a faint trail of red stitches wandering over the bodice of that wedding dress you're making, do you? Yes, we learned this one the hard way...