There are loads of fantastic guides out there instructing the budding seamstress on how to take on a new sewing project from start to finish. But 15 years of sewing experience have taught me that there is more to learning how to sew than following a recipe. Much of what I learnt was through trial and error (and there were a lot of errors let me tell you!). Here are some of my tips to help you get started…
So, you’ve got your first sewing machine, and that gorgeous cushion cover project you’ve got your eye on. But hold your horses! Lets take a look at your sewing station and see if you’ve got everything covered. Here we go:
Tip 1: Your iron is your friend
Get a good iron; it doesn’t have to be expensive. If your sewing machine is on, so should your iron be. You want to be pressing between seams as you go to create a crisp, professional finish to your work, so waiting around for the iron to get to the right temperature every five minutes just wont do!
Tip 2: Measure twice, cut once
Sewing newbies may not hear this oft-heard saying until its too late! If you are trying out a new sewing pattern or project, do not use that darling vintage fabric you’ve been saving- only to find you’ve cut it wrong. Use another fabric as a prototype or twill (pronounced ‘twarl’) before taking the plunge. You only have to cut all of your band t-shirts too short to realise that measuring correctly is key to getting the desired finished result- but the sacrifice is easily avoidable!
Tip 3: Pin and needles
Some say changing your sewing needle should be done after every sewing project. Some only do it when they absolutely have to – because it has snapped in the middle of a seam! I recommend changing your needles every few projects to maintain a sharpness to your work. Learning these good habits now will put you in good stead as your skills improve and you get that fabulous finish.
Tip 4: Love your machine and it will love you back
If you are a mechanical airhead like myself it may not occur to you to ask questions such as ‘Should I clean my machine?’ and ‘Did it always make that squeaky sound?’. Get some suitable oil and check your manual for instructions. Your machine will perform better and live longer with your tender care. Incredibly I managed to get through an entire art degree without anyone mentioning this!
Tip 5: Look sharp
Designate a pair of scissors specifically for fabric and only fabric. Make a label or deathly sign to keep others away if needs be. Using scissors for cutting paper and sticky tape will dull and dirty the blade, making them useless and damaging on your lovely fabric.
Tip 6: Pin up girl
When I first started sewing I was using hand-me-down rusty pins, which were so thick and grubby they were more like nails! These made marks and holes in my first few projects- not quite what I was going for! A few tins of new, non-rust pins are inexpensive and will last a good long while. Buy or make yourself a pin cushion which fixes to your wrist like a bracelet. This means it’ll always be to hand as you are working.
Tip 7: Get washing and avoid the tears
Many projects will recommend pre-laundering fabric before you get to work on it- and you should certainly heed their advice! Many fabrics will shrink on their first wash so this needs to be done before any measuring or cutting takes place. I always viewed this step as a bit of a chore, as I’m always eager to get started- but needs must. It would be heartbreaking to find that your gorgeous handmade garment has come out of the wash looking like a tea cosy!
Tip 8: Get thrifty
Experimentation is so important at this stage and often small crafty items from haberdashers can be expensive and too precious to be ruthless with. Head down to your local charity shop or bric-a-brac market and you will find a wealth of sewing odds and ends which you can play around with for very little cost. I still get many of my materials in this way- you never know what you are going to find!
Tip 9: Play time!
Before you can get started on your first project you still need to get to know your machine. I recommend spending time sewing without any expectations of producing some finished article. Instead experiment with lines, stitch size, tension, curves and pressed seams. Be playful with colour, composition and layers of fabrics. Learn to be in control of your machine with direction and speed. When you come to start that first cushion cover project you will already be better prepared and get better results.
Tip 10: Have fun!
Accidents and ‘mistakes’ are often what lead to innovative, original and exciting surprises. Abandoning a fixed idea of a finished product- and the fear of getting it ‘wrong’- will give you the freedom to encounter happy accidents.
And there you have it. I’m sure that no amount of warnings will prevent the obligatory iron burns, pinpricks or too-short skirts that come with a first year in sewing- and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But first enjoy making a mess and finding your own style. In amongst all that mess, I can assure you, there will be a wealth of lessons learnt and some real gems that you will be so proud of. Enjoy!
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I would love to see what you come up with on your latest sewing venture.
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