Category Archives: Tips

Lazy sewist tips: what’s worth the effort – and what isn’t

lazy sewing tips

Reading Janene’s brilliant 40 top tips for sewists today reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to do for a while, albeit with a slightly different angle. You see, I’m a lazy sewist – or more accurately, a time-short sewist. While getting great results is definitely important to me and I love the actual sewing process a lot, I do like to cut corners and miss out as many of the boring steps as possible. Sewing time is precious and I don’t want to waste it completing steps that aren’t necessary.

Over the course of the last few months I’ve been realising which steps and techniques really are worth spending time on to get a good finish, and which you can quietly skip and not really notice the difference. Plus some of the ‘worth it’ things actually save you time in the long run! Here’s what I came up with – see if you agree…

Worth it

Deer & Doe Centaurée

Lining

I used to think, why on earth would anyone spend their time making a whole other garment just to sit inside the real one? But I’ve definitely seen the error of my ways on this one. Lining a garment means you can enclose all your raw seams so you don’t need to worry about finishing seam allowances too neatly. You can also cleanly finish necklines and sleeves with a simple understitch or topstitch, saving the need to hem or bind edges. I try to burrito dresses and tops wherever possible – it’s incredibly fast and makes a lovely clean finish inside. I also love to line wovens in stretch mesh as you can usually skip darts and pleats and get a nice snug lining in fewer pieces.

Understitching

I always used to skip this, thinking it was a waste of time. But nope, understitching your lining or facings is completely worth it as it really does help them stay tucked inside the garment and often saves the need for extra topstitching.

Changing needles

DO change you needle regularly, and match the right one for your project (jeans, ballpoint, fine etc). I can now immediately tell if my needle is old or not right for the fabric. For the record, I like Schmetz needles the best as they have colour-coded bands so I know what I have in the machine at any time.

Hand-sewing

I love a bit of hand-sewing, not least because it’s secretly lazy: one of the few tasks you can do in an armchair in front of the TV. I’ve started hand-picking all my zips and do a fair bit of invisible slip-stitching for facings and inner waistbands.

Pressing

Yeah, it’s really tedious but massively helps make garments look more polished. I sew the most amount of seams I can without intersecting them and press all at once. Also, tiresome as it is, pressing fabric before cutting and the pieces again after cutting helps with accuracy.

Not worth it

Pinning

I hardly ever pin anything. I guess that’s just down to preference and practice, but I find I get on fine working by hand and eye to match pieces together. At the most I’ll pin at the quarter and centre points when setting something in in the round. For knits I use Wonder Clips and for hems and bindings I secure with Aqua Glue. For cutting out I use weights (I like these grippy ones) and a rotary cutter and mat for maximum speed/accuracy.

Polka dot skinny jeans

Interfacing

Over the course of making lot of pairs of trousers and shorts, I’ve found that the correlation between interfaced waistbands and well-fitting, non-bagging waistbands is close to zero. It also makes it much harder to sew the inner and outer bands together accurately with one of them stiffly interfaced. My preferred method now is to cut the inner band (or interline) with a rigid fabric like twill and skip the interfacing completely – my favourite handmade jeans use this and they are performing best in terms of keeping their shape and not creasing. I still begrudgingly use interfacing where it really is needed like for facings, but don’t really like facings anyway so try to avoid them.

Backtacking

I rarely backtack at the start of a line of stitching, here’s why: nearly every raw edge will be covered by another seam or hem later on, so it really isn’t worth it for secure-ing reasons. Plus on delicate or loose-weave fabrics (and knits) it can leave an ugly bump or chew up the edge of the fabric: a plain stitch is much easier to press open and stitch over. I find that on the stitch length I use (about 2.5mm) unravelling while I work is never a problem. I also don’t backtack at the start of sewing a hem or seam in the round as then you’d have six layers of stitching over the stop-and-start point.

Following instructions

It’s incredibly rare that I follow a pattern’s instructions these days, unless it’s particularly complex or new to me. Instead I have a stock list now of ways I prefer to make things which can usually be adapted to most patterns – pants construction order, zip insertion, attaching linings and so on. Find ones that work for you and see if you can re-use them on new projects.

Do you agree with me on any points? Or have I massively revealed myself as a corner-cutting sewing fraud?! Any other time-saving tips to add?

Operation knit-stashbust, and overlocker tips

I’m on a bit of a fabric-busting mission at the moment: matching up all my stashed-away fabrics to appropriate patterns and getting them sewn up. I get a bit antsy when there’s too much stuff accumulating in my house, and my fabric pile(s) are getting slightly out of control. I now have a Google spreadsheet so I know exactly what I have and how I want to use it, and I promise I won’t buy any more until it’s significantly reduced. Apart from that Goldhawk Road visit with the Spoolettes last weekend, ahem.

The main things in my stash are printed jerseys (thanks to a few binges at Rolls & Rems, Girl Charlee and Fabulace), and awkward sub-1m pieces left from other projects. Naturally jersey is easier to think of projects for and is also a large component of what I wear day to day, so I’ve been whizzing my way through this pile. I don’t have all that much to say about them though, so I thought I’d dump them all together here. I also thought I’d jot down a few tips for working with knits/an overlocker, in case anyone find it helpful.

Franken-Anna dress

First, a simple elastic-waist frock in a rayon knit from Fabulace. The skirt part is Simplicity 1800 again, like my favourite feather dress, and the bodice is By Hand’s Anna with minor alterations. In retrospect the large geometric print wasn’t the best choice for Anna as it gets chopped up by the waist pleats and you can’t really see the ‘blossoming bust’ detail, but I really just wanted to see if it worked in a knit.

Franken-Anna dress

I had to take a large dart out of the centre back to compensate for the stretchy fabric. Next time I’d do this before actually cutting the piece out, I had to kind of fudge it afterwards. To be honest, this was one of those ‘it’s 9pm on a school night but I really feel like making something NOW’ kind of projects, so it’s a bit rushed and wonky in places, but I still like it a lot. How nice is the green with the black and white? I need more green makes, I think.

Burda 07/11 pants

Next, another pair of Burda 07/2011’s (see more here and here), made in another rayon jersey from Fabulace. Jazzy prints are apparently my Achille’s heel.

Burda 07/11 pants

This time I made a waistband with encased elastic rather than the folded-over ribbing band the pattern recommends. These are basically a copy of a pair of RTW trousers that I wear all the darn time for work-at-home days, and they’re just about outside-acceptable too. Right?!

Hemlock tee

A Grainline Hemlock using some slubby grey knit from Minerva and a scrap of a darker grey. Lovely pattern, takes like an hour, will sew again and again.

Peplum tee

Here’s a peek at what’s been my little project since the new year: a totally self-drafted peplum tee, which I’m going to make available as a free PDF download very soon. I’ve made several during the process of drafting the pattern and think this plain black one is my favourite, even though it was an earlier version and the bust still isn’t quite right. Watch out next week for the pattern release if you like it.

Overlocker tips

Now, here are some of my top tips for working with jerseys, as I know a few people got overlockers for Christmas so might find these useful.

Cutting

Overlocker tips

I use my pleasingly matchy-matchy weights and rotary cutter to cut. I find using scissors and pins can cause distortion and a ‘hacky’ uneven edge, and you want to be as accurate as possible to make life easier when sewing. I only have a small cutting mat, so I have to move it around under the pieces as I cut.

Setting up

Overlocking tips

Buy the big cones of thread in packs of 3 or 4 depending on how many your machine takes (my machine can take 4 but I usually sew with 3). eBay and Jaycotts are good sources, they can be tricky to find in shops. I’ve only ever needed black, white and a medium grey, which seem to blend into nearly everything I’ve made (telling, huh?!), and they last forever – over a year and counting for mine and still nowhere near finished. Rotate the spools often, because the lower loopers use more thread than the upper needles.

Once your machine’s threaded up, you never need rethread it, even when changing colour. Simply snip the threads at the top, tie on the new colour and knot securely. Snip the loose ends short then run the machine in short bursts to pull the threads through, stopping when they get to a tension dial and manually helping them through. You’ll find the lower loopers feed through first as they use up more thread, so I usually run the machine until they are done then pull through the top needle thread manually and rethread the needle (or both needles, if using four threads). This takes under 90 seconds when you’ve done it a few times. Andrea has done a photo tutorial of basically the same technique I use. I can make a video on my process if anyone would find it helpful?!

Sewing

Overlocking kit

If you’re a bit scared of the overlocker, there’s no harm in basting your seams first with a regular sewing machine. Either stitch close to the edge so the stitches are covered by the overlocking, or further in so you can easily pull them out later.

Always do a quick test run on a scrap of fabric before starting each project. Tension can vary quite a bit between different jersey weights.

Sometimes I remove the knife from my overlocker, trim down the seam allowances if necessary (but leaving an allowance the width of the overlocked stitch, in my case about 5mm), and stitch my seams without using the blade to cut off any excess. This can be handy when going around tight corners so you don’t accidentally slice a bit off, and can also create a more stable seam at shoulders as the fabric bunches a little into the stitches. It also means you can unpick and re-sew if you make a mistake!

Unpicking overlocked seams is quite easy – quicker than regular stitching, I think. Here’s a tutorial.

I use Clover wonder clips instead of pins, as I’m terrified of what would happen if I accidentally ran a pin through my overlocker blade *shudders*

A walking foot is a great investment for sewing with knits on your regular machine. Mine is a cheap unbranded snap-on one and does the job fine.

Overlock tips

To finish an edge where an overlocked end is left loose (as opposed to being covered by another seam), I thread the tail ends onto a large darning needle and weave it back into the overlocked seam, cutting after an inch or so and securing with a drop of Fray Check or a small bar tack.

Hemming

Feather dress

My usual technique is to finish the raw edge with the overlocker, fold up once anywhere from 1/2″ (on a sleeve) to 2″ (on a dress hem), press, and stitch directly over the overlocking using a walking foot and zigzag or twin needle stitch. A double-folded up edge can look bulky on some jerseys and affect the drape. You want to catch the very edge, or even tip over, the finished overlocked edge so your seam won’t flip unattractively to the outside. I also love to do a machine blind hem on jersey dresses as it won’t ever flip outside, looks nearly invisible, and doesn’t affect the hang or drape. Press well after stitching.

Neck and cuff bands

Feather dress

I sometimes use this Megan Nielsen technique, which has you stitch the neckband to the inside (wrong side) of the garment, then press to the outside and topstitch. This has the benefit of giving a bit of stability, but can look a bit poor in lighter or loopy knits as the topstitches will just sink in. Or you can sew a band straight to the right side and press upwards, like this tutorial.

Simple Smock Frock

Smock dress

I’m planning to finish up my coat this weekend (!!) but here’s a quick little frock in the meantime, bashed out in an afternoon.

I was inspired by the Female mag space-print frock on the far-right here, but the pattern wasn’t included on the printed sheets. So I got my Frankenpattern hat on, and used the basic bodice and sleeves from Simplicity 1651 with a gathered rectangle skirt to get the same kind of silhouette.

Smock dress
Smock dress

I shortened the bodice a little to get the empire line and cut the sleeves straight without tapering, gathering them at elbow length with a little band. They could have probably have done with being gathered a bit more as they’re quite loose, but I guess they work with the easy nature of this shape. I added basic side seam pockets too.

Smock dress

The fabric is a snuggly soft vintage cotton from The Shop on Cheshire Street, perfect for an autumnal frock.

skirtgather

Here’s a small tip I use for gathered rectangle skirts to avoid frumpiness from too much fabric bunched around the waist. I find it more flattering to leave a few inches at each side seam ungathered, so it doesn’t poof out with excess fabric all around. I sewed some elastic into the seam too to keep it from stretching out over time. I didn’t do this technique on my other Female dress and I feel it’s a bit dumpy around the waist as a result so I may redo it.

Smock dress

Worn today with a brown cardi, tights and boots, and I’m sure will be in regular autumn rotation.