Hand Sewing Basics
December 27, 2016
December 28, 2016

Our team at Colette has decades of sewing experience—including patternmaking, production sewing, sample making, fitting, theater costuming, and design. Every Tuesday we send helpful sewing tips straight to your inbox—for free!

Over the years, we have picked up tons of tips and tricks that make sewing fun and easy. Here are some of our favorite Snippets from 2016.


Measuring tapes are 5/8″ wide

Your measuring tape has been keeping a secret!

We use our flexible measuring tapes for all kinds of things in the sewing room, and now you’ve got one more reason to keep this guy draped around your neck.

Most measuring tapes are 5/8″ wide, which is very convenient considering it is also the most common seam allowance for commercial patterns. Next time you’re not sure if a seam is sewn at the right seam allowance, or when you’re adding seam allowance after alterations, just grab your measuring tape!


Use pins to prevent buttonhole mishaps

Have you ever accidentally sliced your fabric when trying to cut open a buttonhole with your seam ripper? If so, you know how disheartening this buttonhole blooper can be. Instead of buying a buttonhole cutter, try using pins!

Mark the beginning and end of your buttonhole with pins to stop your seam ripper from slicing through your fabric and stitches.


Sharpen your chalk with a potato peeler

Who doesn’t love using a fresh piece of tailor’s chalk? Keep your chalk collection at its sharpest with a common kitchen tool: a potato peeler.

Use the potato peeler to sharpen each edge of your chalk. The peeler allows you to create the chalk shape that works best for you and your project.

Tip: This will create dust, so sharpen your chalk over a trash can or sink, and be sure to wash your peeler with soap and water before using it again for potatoes!


A clever way to use oilcloth

If you want your favorite pattern pieces to last for years and look beautiful all at the same time, use oilcloth!

You can easily trace your pattern pieces on the back of oilcloth—including any pattern markings—and use the pieces over and over without any risk of tearing. Oilcloth stores well rolled or flat, and it will give you something pretty to look at as you cut out your fabric.


What do those numbers mean?

If you’ve ever looked closely at a needle package, you might have noticed there are a couple sets of numbers. But what do they mean?

The first set of numbers refers to the needle system, which simply means the type of machine the needles can be used in. Home sewing machines require a flat shank needle with a scarf and will be labeled as “130/705 H.”

The second set of numbers on the needle package indicates the size. The lighter the needle, the lower the number (75). The first number (100, 90, 80, and 75) is the European measurement. The second number listed, (16, 14, and 12) are US measurements. Some refer to machine needles as “90/14s” and others call them “14s,” both are correct!


3 ways to improvise a seam guide

If your machine’s seam guide is not visible while you’re sewing a project, improvise! You will likely have one of these three items somewhere in your home already:

  1. Use an old silicone wristband from a recent athletic event. If you still have an original Livestrong bracelet, give it a whole new life on your machine.
  2. Place a stack of sticky notes on your machine’s arm (they also come in handy for jotting down any brilliant ideas you have while sewing).

  3. Washi tape or masking tape make great removable markers.


Serge over thread tails to secure stitches

There are multiple ways to prevent serger tails from unraveling over time, and this technique is our favorite.

To start, stitch a few stitches, then with your needles down, lift the presser foot and bring your tail to the front of the machine. Make sure to place the tail to the right of the foot so that the knife catches it and cuts it off. All you need to do now is serge on!


Use a pin cushion to organize your needles

Do you have trouble keeping track of your machine needles between projects? Make a customized pin cushion!

Start with a classic tomato pin cushion. Use a sharpie to divide it into different sections to organize your needles between projects.

There are a few ways to customize your cushion:

• Label by needle size: 70, 80, 90, or as specific as you’d like
• Sort by project type: knits, wovens, leather
• Include hours used: further divide your tomato to keep track of how many hours the needle has been used and when it is time to replace the needle

Another great thing about this tomato is that it is portable. Now you can carry a variety of needles all in one place when you sew on the go!


Store Bobbins in Toe Separators

Here’s one of those quick-and-easy tips that will make your sewing experience much more enjoyable!

Toe separators happen to be the perfect size for bobbins. Bobbins slide right in and the tension of the toe separator keeps them in place. If you’ve got some extra thread still poking out, just rotate the bobbin until it’s neatly tucked away.


Perfectly Pressed Pattern Pieces

Why rack your brain trying to fold your pattern pieces perfectly back to the way they came?

Do your future-self a favor and press your pattern pieces after cutting your fabric. Tissue and printer paper can hold up to the heat of an iron, just make sure to turn off your steam. You can also bring organization to a whole new level by folding your pieces with the pattern name and information facing up.

No more digging through pattern envelopes for you!

Happy New Year from all of us at Colette Media. Thank you for your continued support and for helping us revive the art of sewing for another year! See you all in 2017!

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