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Sewing advice

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What beginner doesn’t need a little sewing encouragement? I know when I first started seriously sewing, I needed a whole lotta hand holding. I distinctly remember Diana Rupp and Sandra Betzina’s books and videos giving me the cheerleading that got me through so much frustration.

Here’s the deal: There’s a lot to know when it comes to sewing! And if you try and learn all at once, you’re bound to feel the burn of overwhelm and defeat.

I reached out to several pros in the wider sewing world and asked them one question: What sewing encouragement do you have for a beginner?

Because they’re awesome people, they kindly responded. I hope you find their words to be the push that gets you through that next bad zipper that gives you fits. Let’s dive into what they said!

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one woman teaching another woman to sew with a sewing machine

Meg Healy on embracing enthusiasm as a beginner

profile pic of Meg Healy

I think when you’re learning to sew you have a lot of “I just made fire!!!!!” kind of moments.

“Wait, I can make make my own clothes????!!!”

“I just made a pair of JEANS!!!!!!” etc.

That excitement can really push you through a lot of tough moments. Meg Healy reminds us of that:


If you love it that’s all that matters!

Meg Healy
Lead educator, Burdastyle
Co-host of Sew&Tell Podcast

When you love it and remember that you love it, you’ll keep pushing on for sure.

Sandra Betzina on fitting & ripping work out

Sandra Betzina profile pic

As I already said Sandra Betzina for me has been one of those teachers who cut through all the noise and kept me going. She’s one of the most intellectually generous people, and her warmth and humor have taught me so much. I’m not gonna lie, I had a legit fangirl moment when this gem popped up in my inbox:

Be  honest about your measurements and don’t freak out when you see the pattern size. These sizes have no relation to ready to wear.  Don’t get discouraged when you have to rip something out. This is part of the process. I have been sewing for years and I still rip things out. Have fun with sewing.  Your end result does not have to be perfect. Trust me no one will notice, unless you tell them, which you should not do.

Sandra Betzina
Author of many sewing books, Power Sewing DVDs, host of the Power Sewing web-tv show, Vogue Patterns designer under the Today’s Fit line

What sewing encouragement can we gain here?

  • When you sew, what you make is YOU-sized
  • You + your seam ripper =a regular thing
  • Having to rip something out isn’t a reflection on your skills, it just means you have to try again.

The Fold Line ladies on sewing satisfaction and starting small

Profile pic of Kate and Rachel of The Fold Line

Rachel and Kate of The Fold Line had a lot to say about the joy a sewing beginner realizes as well as some pointers for starting easy.


Sewing is a fantastic hobby and being able to make your own clothes is really satisfying. It enables you to create a unique and personal style with clothes that really fit. There is nothing better than when a friend asks you ‘where did you get that dress from?’ and you can proudly say ‘I made it!’ 

Starting any new hobby can be overwhelming though. We would always recommend choosing a simple sewing pattern for your first project and have out together a list of beginner friendly options here. Also the sewing community is full of friendly people who love to chat about sewing and go fabric shopping so make sure to join your local group.



Rachel & Kate
Owners of The Fold Line online sewing community

I love it! Find joy in the possibilities and the realization that you can make just what you want to wear. Find sewing buddies to help you along the way and give you advice when you get stuck.

And start small so that you can have success when you’re learning the ropes.

Melissa Mora on mistakes

profile pic of Melissa Mora

Melissa Mora of Melly Sews and Blank Slate Patterns had this to say about mistakes:


I’d say make lots of mistakes – they’re the best way to learn.


Melissa Mora
Owner of Melly Sews and designer behind Blank Slate Patterns

Failure is part of the process. The sooner you embrace that fact, and you can learn to move past your sewing failures, the faster you will learn.

True: Your first few garments will be terrible. But pay attention, and every single one will get a little bit less bad than the last.

Eryn Shields’ sewing encouragement on shooting for quality

Eryn Shields profile pic

Eryn Shields, the face behind Style Sew Me wants you to not get bogged down in how long your sewing process takes. Here’s what she has to say:


My advice to beginners to enjoy the process and don’t obsess over how fast you finish. When you take the time to learn the pieces and techniques that go into a project, practice, and take your time. The end result will be much better quality. Quality first, speed second.


Eryn Shields
Sewing blogger and pattern designer at Style Sew Me

If you’ve ever seen those memes about the hilarity of “1 hour sewing patterns”, you totally understand this!

So much of learning to sew is teaching your hands the feel of the fabric under the machine. It takes time and practice to develop the finer points of that.

Do the best with the skills that you have right this moment and keep on growing. One day that “1 hour pattern” will take you 30 minutes!

next page graphic with spool of thread

If I had a dollar for all the times that people ask me how I find time to sew, I’d have a lot of dollars. When you’re a Mom with 4 kids, it’s true that time is short and with a lot of moving parts.

I’ll admit to feeling resentful at times when the comment of “I don’t know how you get anything done…” gets thrown my way. But still, just because you’re busy doesn’t mean that you can’t find time to sew. Let’s bust that myth x15!

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Pinterest image reading "15 ways to make time to sew" showing small sewing machine, and kitchen timer

15 ways to make time to sew

1. Time block

What does your day look like? Are you working during certain hours? Do you have kid pick-ups at others? When do you need to do adulting things like cook dinner or fold laundry?

A lot of time management advice has you break down your day into small chunks of time from 30 minutes to an hour. For the more free spirits like me, I know that gets overwhelming fast. Instead, I like to take a piece of paper and draw rectangles on it representing my actual blocks of time. Once I have a general idea of WHERE my time is, I shuffle tasks around all day as I need to.

The order of my typical day goes like this:


Early morning work/make lunches/breakfast/workout

5 am-8

dropoff #1

8:15-8:45

morning work block

9-11:30

lunch

11:30-12pm

dropoff #2

12:15-12:45

naptime block

1-3:15

pickup

3:30-3:50

make dinner

4-4:30

general chores/family time/dinner

4:30-6

teach violin lesson

6-6:30
wrap up the day/family time/
hangout with husband

6:30-10

At first glance, it looks like I have a reasonable of time to work, but I have kids with me all the time except naptime and *maybe* early morning (see #12). You might be the same.

Your time will probably change on any given day, so be okay with being flexible. I know during soccer and baseball season, my day looks the Family Circus paths.

The big thing though: If you can i.d. what your day looks like, you will absolutely find a consistent chunk of time to sew.

2. Turn off distractions

For real, put down the Facebook and Instagram. I often put my phone in a totally different room when it’s time to sew. Sewing is for so many of us how we unwind a day, how we exercise our creativity, and how we can add some beauty to our world. You know what stops that flow–endless notifications.

If you’re the type to watch entertainment or listen to music or podcasts (me!) while you sew, fine. But bury your phone during sewing time!

3. Organize your space

Okay, this one is in the unsexy realm, but organizing your sewing space will really make you want to make time to sew.

Organize your fabric stash so you can see it all like I do in this video.

Make a place for all the different things you need for your craft. If you don’t have a dedicated space, or you share your space with family (all my dining room sew sisters!), having all of your supplies at arm’s length will take a lot of mental energy out of making time to sew.

4. Time hack your margins

You know the white space on old school notebook paper. You totally have that in your life too. It’s that’s area where you can squeeze in extra bits of time to work (or notes in the paper analogy) you didn’t think you had. It might be while dinner is in the oven, or that morning before everyone gets up.

to do list on a notepad with pen

One of my funniest margin times for sewing is the 5-20 minutes before my violin students come for a lesson. If I have everything ready for them, I will very often pop down to the sewing room to sew a couple seams, trace a pattern, or prep a hem for stitching. It’s almost become a game for me to see how much I can do in that time!

5. Pair low-focus tasks with low-focus times

There’s always sewing tasks that are simple but don’t require a lot of focus. Sometimes those things can become hated tasks simply because they’re boring.

And when you have little time to sew to begin with, what are the chances you’ll procrastinate on those things? Pretty good, right?

Instead, pair those tasks with the time of day when you’re not at your best.

person holding glasses focusing through lenses

Hate to cut interfacing? Grab a couple minutes to fuse your pieces and trim them for a project before you go to bed. You’re probably sleepy, and sitting down to sew now is probably going to lead to a whole lot of seam ripping.

The next day or whenever your next sewing block is going to be, that less fun task will be done. You’ll be able to sit down and sew away without that hanging over your head.

next page graphic with spool of thread

Can I get a hand for all the dread your sewing UFOs dredge up for you? I know we all have those secret corners of shame in our sewing spaces where all the unfinished objects live.

Maybe we find those projects years later and forget why it was that we abandoned them. Was there a tricky step where you got derailed? Did you need to buy buttons and forgot?

Whatever the case, I’m declaring war on you, sewing UFOs. We’re taking them head on and the time is now!

Pinterest image of unfinished sewing objects

Conquer your sewing UFOs in 5 steps

First, what on earth is a UFO?

If you’ve never heard of it before, sewing UFOs are those projects that you abandon somewhere in the process. No aliens here! They could be any kind of sewing project, and you might have stopped working on them for any number of reasons. Some are simple to fix and some are truly not worth your time. Let’s sort the wheat from the chaff, and I’m going to show you 5 easy steps to getting them out of your life.

unfinished dress with a post it note with a reminder to hem it
Time needed to finish a UFO: 15 minutes
Time it takes to GET to that 15 minutes: Who remembers? Long enough to collect Dust of Guilt
Getting it done?: Priceless

Step 1: Take an honest assessment of your sewing UFOs

First, gather up all of your sewing UFOs. You know where they’re hiding. And if you don’t, have a good old treasure hunt finding the little squirrel holes where your forgotten projects live.

It might be brutal, but take it all in, preferably with a healthy deep breath.

  • Ask yourself–do I even still like this?
  • Is it worth my time to finish this project?

If you answered yes to either question, move on to step 2. If you said no, or something stronger, set that project aside. You can decide later if you want to donate it, recycle the fabric, or simply toss it.

flowchart to help you decide how to tackle a sewing ufo (unfinished object)

Step 2: Set a goal for your remaining sewing UFOs.

Grab a piece of paper, a post-it note, whatever you have handy and let’s set some goals for each of your sewing UFOs.

List out:

  • Project: (what on earth is this?)
  • Who is this for?
  • Status: (I’m 0-99% done here.)
  • What’s missing?: (Did I miss a step, royally screw up, or simply run out of thread at a bad time?)
  • Time estimated to finish? (write a real number here, though you can exaggerate if it lights a fire under you. You know how you’re motivated best!)
  • Goal date: (a real calendar day–within the next month)
  • My reward: (How will you celebrate getting this project done?)
sewing project in a pile
I think my “Rainy day projects” always become UFOs!

Step 3: Organize your chosen sewing UFOs

I don’t about you, but it’s hard for me to enjoy my sewing when my sewing table is covered with projects to be done. A sewing UFO already carries a bit of guilt and dread. Having tons of them on my table as must do items is a major drag.

So before you get to the sewing, let’s do a 3 minute organization of the UFOs you have left.

sewing project in clear bag
  • Place each sewing UFO in its own container: Use a box, a plastic bag, one of the clear zipper bags you get when you buy a pillow–anything!
  • In the container, place your project sheet that you filled out in step 2.
  • If there are items you need to buy to finish a project, purchase those things and put them in the bag.
  • Any extra notions or fabric needed for a project go in the bag too.
  • Gather all of the projects and place them in a basket or stack and put them next to your sewing machine.

Step 4: Devote a day to sewing up your sewing UFOs

sewing ufos in an ordered pile from quickest to finish to most time needed to finish

You have your goals on your project sheets you filled out in step 2. Find a day when you can breeze through all the work that needs to be done for each sewing UFO.

If any or all of your projects are too complicated to get done in a day, organize the stack of projects from step 3 from top to bottom. Top projects are the quickest to get done. Place the more complicated ones towards the bottom. If you know it’s going to take more than 1 day to get through everything, schedule at least 2 projects in each day.

Set aside all distractions. Seriously place your phone in another room! Just sew!

Step 5: Celebrate!

Finally, remember how you would celebrate getting through your sewing UFOs in step 2. The time to do that thing is now! Enjoy the fact that your sewing room and your mental state is a little lighter now. What will you do? Go get a nice coffee, buy a new sewing gadget, or have some fun finding accessories for your freshly finished projects?

Whatever it is, make sure that you’re celebrating in a way that you’re excited about. You’ve made it to the end of the race, and now it’s time to get your prize!

via GIPHY

I know one time I had a bag that I designed that sat untouched for a good year and half. I had wanted it to be a bag to fit on the back of my stroller to just hold Mom stuff when we go on walks as a family. In the end, it took me maybe 90 minutes to finish up. There are some things I didn’t account for, and it wasn’t perfect, but dang it, I got it done. I promptly packed up the kids and my husband and I had a good time with them enjoying our mountain views on a long walk.

Keep sewing UFOs from taking over

I know we always have seasons in life that are more challenging than others. Those can definitely be the times that the sewing UFOs start to creep in. But the best way to keep your unfinished projects from taking over is to not have them in the first place.

sewing ufo basket to hold all sewing unfinished objects

I’ve started a rule in my sewing room that I only get 1 UFO. There’s a basket in my room and the UFO goes in there. When I have a day to tackle it, I go after it. And if there’s another project that’s threatening UFO status, the one in the basket must be dealt with first. Is this a little hardcore? Probably. But I know that I have to be that disciplined or I’ll have a pile of Tribbles on my hand before too long.

Just start

I hope you feel encouraged to move past your internal groans and smash your sewing UFO goals. To start, take an honest assessment of your UFOs. Next, define your goals, organize the projects, and take some time to sew them up. Finally, celebrate your victory, and you’ll be amazed at a couple things.

First, you won’t believe how fast you’ll finish this silly project you’ve had on a shelf for weeks, months, years… Second, you will feel so much mentally better after having finished up your project. It’ll be a huge weight off your mind, and it’ll get you ready for what you really want to do–make something creative with that fabric that’s been calling your name!

No shame now, how many UFOs do you have hanging out in your sewing room?

Sewing fails are coming for you. No matter how long you’ve been sewing, no matter how good the advice you follow, once in a while you’ll have a project completely and utterly fail. Every time it happens to me, it’s like a total surprise. Haven’t I learned anything? I thought I had moved past this?! Here’s what I’ve learned about my own sewing fails and how you can deal with your own when they come your way.

The worst of my sewing fails

Back in 2012 I was pregnant with my youngest son. I had just made it past my usual morning sickness and utter exhaustion I always felt in the first trimester. There was a piece of lightweight polyester willing me to make something pretty. It took a lot out of me, but I altered a Burda blouse for a full bust and my growing bump, but I didn’t get to cut it out for another couple weeks.

floral polyester satin that eventually was one of the worst sewing fails
Such pretty fabric. Who knew it was a disaster waiting to happen…

I forged ahead…eventually and made this loose top from this pretty floral. It had a half-placket that buttoned down the front and some shoulder pleats. I willed my way through the construction, and I was all too delighted with it.

It started with a little micro pull. A bit of tightness across the bust. I thought I heard a thread snap, but I didn’t worry too much. By the end of the morning that little thread snap turned into a 1/2″ tear. As I turned off the exit to my house, the blouse had shredded completely in my hands along the placket. I was so grateful I had worn a cami that day under the blouse or I would have been naked right there in my car.

How to deal with your sewing fails

Walk away

I’m not going to lie, I was devastated, humiliated in that moment. Why didn’t I double check the measurements? Why did I think that delicate poly could handle the stress of crazy pregnant boobs?

And while you might not end up half-naked in your car the next time you have a sewing fail, the odds are good that it’s going to get you down. It’s totally okay. Walk away.

Go do something else.

Ball it up and throw it across the room.

But whatever you do, just take a break.

Go for an easy win

While you’re walking away from your sewing fail, why not go for an easy win? Is there a quick favorite project that you can stitch up in an hour or so? Do that.

Ottobre floral knit top for toddler
Sometimes a quick and easy top is the best medicine for a sewing fail

One of my favorite things to do between projects are quick things for my kids. I think when you’re feeling down one of the most powerful things to do is just make something for someone else. This top came after I cut the wrong size of dress for my daughter.

Transform it, or fix it

Named Talvikki sweater a total sewing failure for me
Named Talvikki sweater–great for many, a total sewing failure for me

You know how you threw your project across the room in disgust a while back? Pick it up again. What went wrong? Can you fix a zipper that wasn’t happening or can you re-cut a top that ended up comically big?

Sometimes refashioning or fixing your sewing fails can be a way to redeem the whole process. Refashion from your own closet? You bet!

This Named Talvikki sweater REALLY got me down. There are patterns that just.don’t.work for you, and this was one of them. I felt pretty terrible about myself for a couple of days, and then I pulled out the scissors.

streamlined hoodie refashioned from oversized sewing fail
Scissors + creativity= sewing win from a sewing fail

The clownishly large sweater became a more streamlined hoodie. I even lined it, and you know what? I wear it now a couple times a week.

Those times that you can turn your sewing fails into something that you love, it’s almost worth the initial disappointment.

Chalk it up as a loss

You may not be able to right all your sewing fails. Sometimes fabric is just meant to do certain things, and you ignore your better judgment. There are days you pick bad quality fabric that lasts about 2 washes (the worst). And sometimes what seems like it’ll be a simple sewing project instead becomes a total fitting disaster.

wool shorts
Who makes summer shorts out of wool?! This girl, apparently.

In those moments, just chalk it up as a loss. Take note of what happened, and it’ll help you learn for the next time. Sewing is hard. There’s a lot of things to learn, and a lot of different disciplines under the sewing umbrella that you just have to practice. If it’s true that you have to crack a lot of eggs to make an omelet, there are just some days when your hands are covered in egg slime. Ew.

Embrace the wonkiness

Some sewing fails are BIG. But other times, there’s tiny little imperfections that you know about, but may not be obvious to others. Learn to live with them. I know a lot of sewists donate a lot of their garments that just didn’t work out. Believe me, a lot of my own projects have ended up at my local thrift store too, but I think we do a disservice to ourselves by removing all of our sewing fails from our lives.

navy smocked quilted jacket with giant snaps

My first real coat: backwards sewn-in pockets, crooked hem, a troubled collar, and I still wear it every chance I get

Those imperfect sewing fails are a living history of your learning process. It’s wonderful to be able to go back to an old project and see just how much you’ve learned.

This coat was I think the first jacket I made. There are so many sewing mistakes here, from the fitting to the crooked hem to the hilariously backwards-sewn pockets. (I have to flip them towards the front when I wear it!)

But I still wear this coat (who’s giving up these awesome snaps?), and it’s so good to see the jackets I make now. They’re no longer a hot mess, but I love remembering where I started. You should do the same, friend!

Accept that sewing fails are going to happen

Finally, I want you to accept that sewing fails are going to happen to you. It could be you had a bad day, you might have made a critical error at some point. Your sewing fails don’t define who you are. Chances are, after you’re done being upset about it, there’s a good story to be told from your failure.

So that’s how I’ve learned to deal with my own sewing fails. The next time your own sewing project blows up in your face, remember to walk away from it, go for an easy win project, consider transforming or fixing it. You can chalk it up as a loss, embrace the wonkiness. And ultimately, just accept that sewing fails are going to happen. As long as you keep learning and keep moving forward, those sewing fails do not have to get you down!

I’m turning it over to you: Which one of these things do you think will help you the next time you have a sewing fail?

So, what’s the best sewing advice you’ve ever heard? There’s tons of great sewing tips and tricks out there, but what are those helpful nuggets that have become part of your sewing credo?

I’ve read and heard lots of memorable tidbits from experts over the years, but today I’m talking about 7 of the very best pieces of sewing advice. Some of them took a while to accept and others stopped me dead in my tracks.

So what is this magical sewing advice and how can it help me? Read on, friend!

Pinterest image of 7 bits of sewing advice to rock your creativity

7 pieces of sewing advice that transformed my creativity

Use the best quality fabric you can

unknown
jenny dress
swanky-time silk cotton voile from the designer Milly

I wish I could remember where I heard this one. Probably it came from several different people.

But the idea of using the best quality fabric you can is a lesson I’ve learned the hard way.

When I first started sewing I bought a crap ton of cheap fabric. I was scared of messing up! Was this sewing “hobby” even going to stick?

And what happened with me + cheap fabric?

Predictably, I made a lot of bad clothes, but I made a lot of bad clothes I wasn’t proud of. I felt ashamed of not only my beginner lack of finesse but also there was some truly gross fabric.

Moderately priced stretch crepe for #thelittlereddressproject

Quality does not necessarily mean expensive

In a little time my seams started getting less tortured looking and my zippers actually weren’t crooked at the top. But the best part of advancing in my own sewing skills was being able to recognize quality.

I’m equal parts proud and horrified that now I can often spot the most expensive bolt in a fabric store by sight.

But, [and it’s a big but]: I’ve learned that quality fabric isn’t necessarily expensive. Quality is quality. Good quality fabric feels good, it lasts a long time, it doesn’t get those nasty balls of fuzz after 1 wash.

sequin jersey cardigan
Jeans from $22/yard denim that have lasted a whopping 7 years, so in the end a crazy value
+ this sequin cardi

You can easily find quality fabric to sew with hanging on a rack as a pair of $3 jeans at a thrift store as you can plunking down $80/yd for some luxury silk.

yarn covered coat by tree
Total score of a $3/yard sweater knit made ultra luxe with wool yarn and a whole lot of hours stitching

So learn to recognize quality fabric by look and feel. Then you can brag when you score a 100% linen for $3/yard!

“Those of us who can’t sew all day simply have to replace the experience with patience, care, and a profound willingness to rip out and re-stitch our not-quite-right seams”

David Page Coffin, Making Trousers

Thanks to David Page Coffin for the little boost of encouragement for the all of us amateur sewists.

I know I easily fall into the trap of looking down on myself because I don’t have a fashion degree. But he’s right.

We can’t expect our work to be finished as well or sewn as perfectly as someone who is sewing 8 hours a day for years on end.

Lord knows I have destroyed a whole lot of fabric trying to make a wearable garment. But in the end it’s just fabric.

Every new sewing project is a new opportunity to get a little better at x, y, or z. You do your best with the knowledge and skills you have at that moment. Eventually, you get better.

Keep practicing.

I’d love another crack at that white+salmon seam. It’s *almost* but not quite there

Keep going, and when all you seem to be making is sewing fails, well,

that is indeed what your seam ripper is for.

Copy what you like

Peggy Sagers

If you ever watch Peggy Sagers, you know she is always telling you to know what you like. Carry your tape measure everywhere.

If you have a garment that you absolutely love, measure it at key points so that you can transfer it to your next sewing project.

This piece of sewing wisdom took a while to sink in, then it hit me.

Every garment that you make and every garment that you own is a library of what works and what doesn’t. I think a lot of times as sewists we get in the habit of just making the next thing. Sometimes we don’t think how what we’ve already made can help us make the next thing.

“Copy what you like” in practice

If you have pants you love the length of, measure the inseam. From then on, that inseam is the length you use for a pattern. Why do double work on a pattern?

Plus, once you know what you like, you don’t have to go searching for the perfect pattern. Just apply what you like to a pattern that you have.

That’s what happened for me with these cropped pants. Finding the right length for a cropped style on me took a whole lot of adjusting on my part.

wearing cropped pants at Smithsonian
My favorite summer pants at the Air and Space Museum. Weird face in response to silly hubby.

Being short, cropped styles can be awkward high waters. But then I nailed the right length, and these are now my favorite summer pants. So when time came to cut some emerald green linen for some new summer pants, I double checked the inseam on my brocade pants. Off came 4″ from the pattern.

green linen pants, painted shoes, lilac top and green lace necklace

“Some patterns are dogs”

Sandra Betzina
Power Sewing Toolbox vol. 1

Isn’t it true though! There are some patterns that no matter what you do to them, they just don’t work. Maybe the pattern doesn’t work for you.

It might be just a bad pattern period. Pieces missing, things not drafted well–who knows.

Whatever the case, you get done and you feel like a total failure. Stop doing that.

via GIPHY

Some patterns are total lemons. It’s okay. Find another one and move on!

Pick your size based on where a garment hangs

Cynthia Guffey

I had the joy of taking a few classes with Cynthia Guffey before she passed away a few months ago, and this idea was revolutionary to me.

Cynthia’s argument was that most of us pick patterns based on our bust or high bust. That’s all well and good when it comes to your bust, but that’s not where a garment hangs.

In most cases, a garment hangs on your shoulders. Or in the case of pants from your hips. So….

Start with picking a pattern based on your shoulders.

Cynthia’s logic: you can always add fabric to the bust if you need to, but it requires a lot of extra fuss to fix a shoulder and neck that’s too big.

Turns out my shoulders are not so wide

Cynthia’s advice totally changed my sewing. She was absolutely right–When I heard this, I was a beginner, and I was picking things based on my full bust. And nothing fit properly. If it was right in the bust, it was falling off my shoulders.

“Drop-shoulder” is a euphemism here

Part of the reason I started sewing for myself was so that I could stop shirts from falling off my shoulders. I got to the point of being so uncomfortable in clothes because everything from knits to blouses fell off my shoulders.

Resized, refashioned, and NOT falling off my shoulders

That day Cynthia showed our class how to measure across your shoulders and how to find the right size in a pattern with that measurement. From then on, I always double check the shoulder size in a pattern. And because of that, my shoulders don’t fall off me, and all without a narrow shoulder adjustment.

“Only buy fabric you love”

Diana Rupp
S.E.W. Sew Everything Workshop

Diana Rupp’s book Sew Everything Workshop was my go-to when I was a beginner, and this quote was a standout. She’s right.

Just like you should buy quality fabric, you should only buy fabric you love.

Sewing takes time. It’s not a microwave kind of hobby. “Instant gratification” takes at least a couple hours in most cases.

salmon colored fabrics with olive jacket
Salmony peaches forever!

So, if you’re spending the time to make a garment for your own body, make it from a fabric that you truly love. Fabric that you’re looking forward to wearing, fabric whose colors make your heart sing.

Buy fabric that feels good, that has texture that’s visually interesting.

We’ve all bought fabric we’ve regretted. Then we make up things from that unfortunate fabric. Do we wear them? No, they get tossed, or donated.

All your hard work in the trash. [all the sad faces]

Buy fabric you love. Use it. Enjoy the process of making a beautiful garment with it!

“Make visual decisions visually”

Nancy Zieman

I couldn’t tell you what episode Nancy Zieman said this little gem in because when she said it, the world stopped in my mind. N
Of all the sewing advice that’s impacted me, this is #1.

Think about it: there are some decisions that can’t be made any other way but to make them with your own two eyes. Let’s brainstorm:

Visual decisions you make in sewing

  • Which buttons to use
  • What thread color to choose
  • How to colorblock a project
  • Where a hem should hit you
  • Fitting
  • The best placement for a pocket
  • How big that pocket should be in the first place

And the list goes on. Here’s the thing:

Rules are good and helpful. You can make a lot of nice sewing projects by following all the rules–and you should. But you get to a point and you have to step back and take a long hard look at your project. Use your eyes to tell you if you need to add something, take something away or change something all-together.

No chance of guessing at the placement here–strictly by eye

There was no roadmap when I wanted to add silk appliques to this eyelet dress. The dress has deep folds in the skirt where the appliques could easily get swallowed up. My only option was to take all my appliques and pin them on a dress form to see where they looked best.

So do some sketches, audition different sets of buttons. Even stand back 5 feet from a project to understand what you’re trying to accomplish. Whatever you do, always use your eyes to help you make your sewing better.

I hope after these 7 pieces of sewing advice from these wonderful trusted experts, you’re feeling encouraged. All of these things have helped my sewing so much in the areas of fitting, and fabric buying, the creative process, and just having the freedom to make mistakes.

So how about you? What’s the sewing advice that’s been your North Star?

What are those guiding principles that stick in your brain and forever change your outlook? Drop a comment below!

With so many helpful sewing tools out there, which are the best sewing tools out there?

As the daughter of an engineer, a good gadget wins a lot of appreciation for me.

And I’ll be the first to admit that I probably have too many sewing (and kitchen) tools.

But if a tool actually makes my life easier, I get practically evangelical about it.

Which sewing tools are of the deserted island variety?

This page contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). I only ever promote products that I use and love and I think you will love too. Thank you for your support!

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Sewing tools for cutting

There’s plenty of different types of helpful sewing tools, and cutting tools are some of my favorites. Fabric that’s cut well will give you a much nicer project in the end.

Gingher embroidery scissors on ribbon
An all-in-1 seam ripper + thread clipper

1. Small embroidery scissors

A lot of people would say “seam ripper” as their #1 sewing tool. And why not?. We all make mistakes and need that faithful friend to help fix them.

But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that small embroidery scissors are even more useful.

These Gingher Stork scissors are my absolute favorite. I hang these little embroidery scissors on a ribbon around my neck when I’m sewing.

They’re great for clipping threads and trimming small corners. And because they’re my necklace of choice, I’m never having to fish around for scissors when I’m sewing. When I’m going for lightning sewing efficiency, these are my BFF.

Also, they double as a seam ripper. The fine blades fit right inside a stitch, so you can pull out errant stitches really easily with about 0% chance of damaging your fabric.

If you’ve ever put a hole in your fabric with an eager seam ripper, give small embroidery scissors a chance.

2. Awesome scissors

Kai dressmaking scissors
Lightweight and wicked sharp

Rotary cutters are wonderful gadgets. But you need a cutting mat making them less portable.

You know what cutting tool will never let you down, and you can carry anywhere? An excellent pair of scissors.

The best sewing scissors are the ones that fit your hands and you keep wicked sharp. I love these serrated Kai 7250-SE Serrated Scissors.

They’re lightweight which is huge for my small hands.

True: I actually once took a pair of heavier Gingher shears back to JoAnn for a refund because they hurt my hands. The cashier thought I was bananas.

It’s hard for me not to sound like a commercial with these guys. But seriously, the first time you cut with them it’ll feel like every other pair of scissors you’ve owned up until this point might as well be rusty garden shears.

Sewing tools for the construction process

Let’s talk gizmos that can make your actual sewing process more fun.

3. Turn it all tubes

Helpful sewing tools: Turn it all tubes with fabric
Seriously entertaining to use!

I think one of the first projects I did as a kid was to make an elastic hair scrunchie. After sewing the whole thing, I used my fingers to try and turn the tube to the right side. I got there eventually, but I was frustrated and annoyed with the process.

Oh, but I wish I had these Turn it all tubes. They’re a lot like drinking straws, but they’re more sturdy. Basically the idea is that you take a tube you need to turn to the right side. Put your chosen diameter straw inside.

Then push the dowel or metal stick from the wrong side through the hole in the straw. The tube will go through the inside of the straw turned perfectly pretty much instantly.

If you make belts, spaghetti straps, or any kind of tie, these work unbelievably fast. They’re so speedy that they earn a well-deserved spot among the most helpful sewing tools.

See how this one works in action on the video below plus some of the other tools in this article.

4. Glass head pins

pin cushion and glass head pins
Evidence that I do in fact own a pincushion!

To be totally transparent, I don’t use that many pins. In fact, you can read here about why I think you should give sewing without pinsa good try.

That being said, people love them some pins. And they do have a place in a sewing arsenal.

If you do use pins, get some really fine glass head pins. They have a small diameter so they won’t poke big old holes in you or your fabric.

Plus, you can iron right over them. Plastic head pins, not so much.

I love using these for fitting and especially for holding pleats in place when they need to be pressed.

next page graphic with spool of thread

Sewing efficiently is a sport to me. Every Black Friday, my kids and I wake up at the crack of way too early and truck it over to JoAnn. They’re in it for the donuts afterwards. I’m in it for the bargain basement prices on flannel. It’s a little crazy, but afterwards, I spend some time cutting all that flannel into new pajamas. My sewing room overflows with pajama parts! But amazingly, every year, once everything is cut, 4 new pajama sets are just a few hours in the making.

It always shocks me a little how the systems I’m sharing here make the actual sewing process so quick. If you’re a Mom or just short on time, I crammed in all my best ideas to help you make the most of your sewing time!

This page contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). I only ever promote products that I use and love and I think you will love too. Thank you for your support!

The Ultimate Guide to Sewing Efficiently

Why do you want to sew efficiently?

I know for a lot of us, sewing is unwinding time. So why in the world would you want to add a snore-inducing word like “efficient” in there and muck up that happy escapist time?

  1. Many of these things will uncomplicate your sewing life. Less complication = more sewing. More complication = less sewing.
  2. Organization is a huge part of sewing efficiently. When you know where your stuff is, you unsurprisingly save time. Also, as you put some of these systems in place, you’ll find it’s actually easier to unwind in the sewing room.

All these tips for sewing efficiently are broken into 4 categories:

  • Workspace
  • Cutting
  • Pressing
  • Construction

There’s ideas here for every level of sewist. Use the table of contents to navigate around. Scan on through, find the ones that are hitting home and start saving time in your sewing right now.

Sewing efficiently doesn’t mean cutting corners

Big disclaimer here. You might think that saving time means that the quality of your work will suffer. It could, but it doesn’t have to.

You can sew faster AND sew neatly. Once you find your sewing style in how you work, you’ll be able to find the right balance between maximizing your sewing time with whatever time you have and making beautiful things you want to use and wear.

Enough with the blah blah–on to the sewing tips!

Set up your workspace for sewing efficiently

Your own little corner or room set aside for sewing is always going to be more efficient than a shared space. But even if you do sew in a shared space, shoot, especially if you do, organization in your space is going to free up so much time. So what can you do?

1. Have your sewing machines out and ready to go:

Plug your machine in and have it set up where you use it. Simple! If your living situation doesn’t allow this, store your machine where you’re going to use it. From there it’ll be a quick lift of a cover and a plug in before you’ll be sewing. Even this will beat rifling through a linen closet for your machine every time you want to sew.

2. Machines in a straight line (or not)

When your sewing machine family expands to include a serger or maybe a coverstitch too, it’s time to think about how you set them up. Set up all your machines in a straight line on a table. I like to roll on my chair between my serger and sewing machine. Since they’re next door to each other, it’s quick to shift between them.

L-shaped or U-shaped desks work really well for multiple machines. You can rotate yourself between machines really easily on your chair. Think about what’s comfortable to you and fits your sewing space.

3. Sort your thread

Keep your thread close to your machine and sorted by color. My thread is in a clear tackle box in paper boxes. The thread racks that you see in fabric stores are another great option. Mounted on the wall, you can easily grab the color you need or see which one you’re low on.

4. Keep machine needles behind your machine

Sewing efficiently starts with stocking up on things you use every single time you sew. Like machine needles. Buy them in bulk. I keep mine in a jar in their little plastic covers. You can have a more detailed system where you catalog all the numbers, but I find the jar is low fuss. I can quick grab the type I need and leave the rest in the jar for another time.

5. Have a list of your sewing machine feet

Some machine feet are weird looking. Make yourself a cheat sheet.

Have you ever forgot what a blind hem foot looks like? Make an index card to fit in the box where you store your sewing machine feet. I have a Janome machine, so all of the feet are coded with a letter. On the card, there’s the letter, the name of the foot, what it does, and any features it might have. You can draw or print out pictures of the really weird ones. I’m looking at you, pintucking foot.

This simple trick will help you find those feet faster later or keep you from using a zipper foot to zigzag. Don’t do that. You’ll totally bust a needle.

6. Use organizers for your tools

Have a place for all of the marking tools, loop turners, and other pens. I store mine in these fun zipper cans. Pens are migratory critters, so when they’re all in their approved location, you can always reach for one quickly.

7. The power of the pegboard

pegboard with sewing tools
So I covered it with paper to make it more girly.

Pegboards are organizing wonders. Have hook, hang just about anything. On my pegboard, you’ll find all my rulers and measuring tapes. There’s also weird things like a lint roller, and my blockprinting brayers and a circle rotary cutter. Without the pegboard, I constantly misplace them. Now when I need to sew fast, I know exactly where my tools are.

8. Buttons in jars

buttons in jars
Button storage also doubling as low cost maracas

You’ve probably seeing a theme now. If you want to sew efficiently, and maximize your sewing time, sort all of your stuff and keep it handy. The same goes for buttons. For a really long time, I struggled with all those fiddly button cards. They take up a lot of space, and it’s hard to see exactly what kinds of buttons you have on them. And a big button tin is a long slow hunt for the perfect button.

Instead, store your buttons in smaller jars. You can sort them by color (my solution!) or by type or by color and type. Whatever makes sense to you, do that and stick with it. Since I went to the jar system, finding buttons is so quick, and it helps me keep tabs on the buttons I’m running low on.

next page graphic with spool of thread

I’m telling you to sew without pins, and you’re already freaking out. There you are on the other side of the screen with all the dagger eyes.

I get it–pins make us feel safe as sewists. But pins are slowing you down and making your sewing not super accurate.

I’m going to show you what to do instead.

I’ve been practicing these techniques for years and taut sewing instead of pinning alone has saved more garments than I can count. Let’s do this.

This page contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). I only ever promote products that I use and love and I think you will love too. Thank you for your support!

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Why you need to sew without pins

When you start sewing, you pin everything. As a beginner, I used to put something like 18 pins in any given seam. But I quickly got frustrated with pins. Here’s some of the reasons why sewing with pins is something you need to give up.

More pins=[so much] more time

Don’t believe sewing with pins is slowing you down?

Let’s break it down:

For every pin you use, you have to:

  • Put the pin in the fabric
  • Stop sewing when you get close to the pin
  • Take the pin out
  • Put the pin in/on a pincushion

Each one of these steps is pretty quick, but multiply that out for every pin, in every pattern piece, for every seam, and we’re talking major time. Major.

Those 18 pins a seam once translated into a good 6 hours to make a simple pair of pajama pants. Even if you sewed with half the number of pins you use, you’d be saving massive time.

More pins = more blood

Pins are sharp. The more pins you use, the more chance you have of unintentionally stabbing yourself.

Did I mention that I used to use honking quilting pins when I was a beginner? Their jumbo points inflicted a whole lotta damage on my hands.

I don’t get it, but my hands are seriously pin magnets.

I later learned about finer glass head pins. They are definitely a lot better. They’re points are smaller and you can even iron over them. Still, whether through clumsiness or something else, my hands always find the doggone pins.

More pins = potential danger to you or your machine

Sewing over pins is a risky operation. A lot of people [myself included] will do it sometimes to help cut down on the time factor when sewing with pins.

Maybe you get away with it a few times. Maybe a lot of times. And then…

You hit a pin when you sew over it. Your needle gets broken. Tiny shards of needle go down somewhere in the nether regions of your machine. If you’re lucky, you can fish it out with a magnet. If you’re not lucky, you might mess up your machine’s timing. A pricey fix.

Worse–if you SERGE over a pin. You might think you can stop and take out every single pin. But some heavy fabrics it’s hard to see where your pins are. Combine that with the race car speeds that sergers move and you’re one step from:

via GIPHY

More pins = [possibly] Less accurate

If you’ve ever sewn a seam and ended up with one side mysteriously 1″ longer than the other, you know this problem.

When you use pins you can create little bubbles in the seam. Pins aren’t flat, and fabric may not be taut between pins. So when you put one in and take it out, the fabric can shift ever so slightly.

Those little shifts can travel right on down the seam. The same seam that was matching up at the top is now way off at the bottom. You can use even MORE pins (think about every inch) to help fix this.

chevron curtain made by sewing without pins
Not the best pic of my curtain, but I sure fought for that purty seam!

This made me about lose my mind one day matching chevrons for the curtains in my laundry area. Over the massive 7′ length of each seam, the pinned chevrons got further and further off from each other. After a couple of tries, I finally nailed each match with a combo of taut sewing and basting.

You can also fight against this by flipping the way you’re sewing the seam halfway through. In other words, halfway through a seam, turn over the seam so your bottom fabric is now the top. This will even out the pinning problem and the uneven sewing of the feed dogs.

Flipping and extra pinning does work really well, but keep reading, and I’ll show you how to get it right without either.

How to sew without pins

So how do you go about sewing without pins? What do you do instead of using pins. Here are the things that I’ve found to be most useful.

Taut sewing

one hand in front, one hand in back of sewing machine while sewing
Hand in front + hand behind =taut sewing

Taut sewing is my favorite strategy for going pinless. Taut sewing means that you’re holding the fabric taut with your hands as it goes through the machine.

To sew taut, you hold one hand at the back of your machine and one at the front. As the fabric goes under the presser foot, move your hands at the same rate towards the back.

Your goal is NOT to pull but to move your hands evenly.

This works great for long seams, especially straighter seams. For curved seams and more delicate fabrics, I like this next one:

Pinch hand, piano hand

Pinch hand/piano hand is similar to taut sewing. For this pinless sewing variation, you still have both hands on the fabric. You will still move both hands towards the back, but it’s a little different.

Pinch the fabric in your right hand and turn the pinched bit towards the presser foot.

curved hand on fabric to sew efficiently without pins
Just like chopping veg

Curve your fingertips and spread them wide on your left hand. Lightly place them on the left side of the fabric. If you’ve ever played piano, that’s what your left hand should look and feel like.

Confident but delicate touch.

As the fabric moves under the presser foot, use your right hand fingers to keep the edges even. Use your left hand fingers to press very gently towards the back.

The goal is still to move both hands at the same rate towards the back. This version is awesome for curved seams and more delicate fabrics. Your left hand fingers really can turn the fabric like a steering wheel. For any fabric that needs a little more finesse, this is your go-to.

Curved edges on the bottom

Sometimes you have to ease longer edges into shorter ones. If you measure a sleeve cap, it’s actually longer than the armhole. Why–because that longer bit makes room for the curve of your arm.

The same thing is true of a princess seam. Instead of using 18,000 pins to ease that curvy side front into the center front, sew with the curved edge on the bottom.

Match up the notches, put the curvy side against the feed dogs. Use pinch/piano hands and the feed dogs will do the work. No pins.

Longer edge + unintentional pleat = sad + unpicking

I sewed both of these princess seams with the curved side front on the bottom. Looking at it, the right side eased in nice and smooth.

Just so you could see the difference, I pinned the left side. There’s an unintentional pleat mid-seam and the bottom of the side front is almost 3/8″ longer than the center front piece. Not so hot.

1″ matched seams

basted seam intersection for sewing efficiently
Sewing a clean intersection never gets old

This is one of my favorite ways to sew without pins. You always have a little cross wherever 2 or more seams come together. Matching these intersections can sometimes be tricky. Cross pinning the intersection precisely can help, but in a lot of fabrics (especially bulky ones), pins can shift the fabric and your seam might not match.

I like to baste about 1″ instead. Here’s how to do it.

Line up the seams so that they match right at the seam line. I’m assuming that you’ve pressed the seams. Sometimes if you press one seam one way and the second seam the other way the intersection will sit a little better.

Pinch the layers together and carefully bring it under the presser foot. Sew 1/2″ before the intersection and 1/2″ after. You can use a longer basting stitch or not. Double check to see if the seam is right on.

basted seam intersection for quick sewing

If you miss it, just pull out the threads. Since you only sewed 1″, there’s no seam ripper required. Just try again.

This works great for matching seams but also when you need to match style lines across a zipper. There’s nothing worse than sewing a skirt and one side of a yoke ends up 1/2″ higher on a zipper!

Glue it

This one seems like cheating and it kind of is. But it works. There are some fabrics (leather and it’s faux cousin) that you really can’t pin because it will damage the fabric. Yes you can use wonder clips, but glue works really well. For leather there’s special glues that can hold projects together before you sew.

Other places to use glue: waistbands and shirt collars. Waistbands and collars with all their curviness are really tough to put enough pins in when you stitch in the ditch to finish off the inside of your project. But a good old glue stick will hold the pressed edge in place while you’re stitching it down.

I’ve never had a problem with glue sticks gumming up machine needles. Best of all, the glue washes right out after the fact.

Steam a Seam/Wonder Tape: like glue but better

Steam a seam 2 fusible tape for sewing without pins

Steam a Seam (*affiliate link*)is the one sewing notion you can pry out of my cold dead hands. It’s a double-sided fusible tape. There was a couple of years where The Warm Company stopped making it because they couldn’t get the right paper for the tape. I went generic then and it was rough.

Some things just work better as the real deal. Velveeta. Helmann’s Mayonnaise. Steam a Seam.

Fuse Steam a Seam wherever you want something to stay put or match it perfectly. I use it for patch pockets, welt pockets, zippers, sometimes tiny hems, collars, so many things. A zipper + Steam a Seam is about the easiest zipper to sew ever. I used it to perfectly position the stripes on the second side of this separating zip.

One thing to note: Steam a Seam is permanently a part of your project. It’s not a bad thing, but it can feel crunchy on some fabrics. Test it if you think you want to use it on a fabric.

If you need to keep something put without the crunch, Wonder Tape (*affiliate link*)will do the same thing. It washes out after you’ve used it for your sewing. I know Sandra Betzina loves it for matching plaids.

Pinless Sewist Society

So how about you? Are you a pinner or a pinless person?
What pinless technique catches your eye today?