Sewing Tips

I found myself posting my tips on sewing boards so I decided to collect them here and just post links. That way, you can check out others if they happen to interest you. Happy sewing.

Why Sewing Machines require better thread than sergers.

I used to sell sewing machines and sergers and we (the staff) investigated the thread question for ourselves and here's what we found out:

The way a lock stitch sewing machine (i.e a machine with a bobbin) makes a stitch necessitates the thread moving back and forth in the eye of the needle an enormous number of times before it ends up in a stitch in your garment. ( Put a mark on some white thread with black permanent marker, sew very slowly, and watch what it does!!) All this thread abrasion means that many 'cheap' threads (short staple thread or thread made with weak fibres or thread that has thick and thin spots) will produce more lint in the sewing machine. A really bad thread will shred and break. You will notice that lint builds up faster when you use bad thread. Also, some cheap threads are stretchy under all this wear and tear and so produce puckering seams and ugly stitches.

That said, most machines that are in good "tune up" can handle quite a bit of lint before they complain. (Some machines are better than others in this regard.) When we demonstrated machines to sell, we only used top quality, 100% cotton thread because this thread produced the best looking stitch.

If you want a good stitch, you should clean out the bobbin area and under the needle plate fairly regularly anyway. (Aside: I was amazed how many folks paid to have machines serviced that they could have simply cleaned themselves but they had never bothered to remove the needle plate and the build up of fuzz finally did them in.)

Sergers do not create this back and forth motion of thread -- the thread simply passes through the needle(s) to be knitted into the looper threads. Sergers don't have the small bobbin clearances to deal with either so fuzz doesn't bother them -- good thing too lol!!

BTW this is why needles typically last much longer in a serger than in a sewing machine -- all that abrasion wears out the eye of the needle faster also.)

I find that some serger threads, lint notwithstanding, produce a decent looking stitch in my sewing machine and some do not. (I have four large cones of bargain promo serger thread that produces a horrid stitch in my sewing machine.) And I find that those cheap 3 for a dollar spools work just fine for many purposes.

If the customer was interested, we would tell them all of the above. If they were really particular and weren't interested in this kind of detail, we just told them to only use top quality thread.

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Tips for Professional Collars

The following is not as "professional" as I thought it was when I first posted it here, as far as the collar stand sewing order is concerned. If you want a more professional, or that is, industrial approach, take a look at the excellent description and illustrations by Carol Kimball, posted in the Fashion Incubator Forum. I have David Page Coffin's shirt making book on order and I may change my pointers after I have tried some of his ideas.

1. First of all, I find that blouse collars are easier to work with if the SA is only 1/4". Kwik Sew patterns generally have 1/4" SA. If you have a favourite blouse pattern, it is worth your time to create a pattern with the collar and neck edge SA's 1/4 inch.

2. If the collar has a stand, it is even more important to reduce the SA to 1/4 inch. For even easier sewing, make an interfacing pattern piece for your collar stand with NO SEAM ALLOWANCES. Cut two of these from your (light or medium weight) interfacing, fuse them to your fashion fabric and then cut out the fabric with 1/4 " SAs. When you sew the collar stand, stitch just to the outside of the interfacing pieces and you will find the stand shapes perfectly with only a touch of trimming, if any, at the rounded edge. (If you have to trim, pinking shears do a nice job here.) I often turn one neck edge 1/4" SA to the inside when I sew the stand. Then sew the free edge to the shirt neck and topstitch the folded edge down 1/8 in above the folded edge. I also topstitch the rest of the stand 1/8 in from the sewing line. (Use an edge stitch foot for accuracy.)

3. Now sew the collar piece together.

First of all, unless you are making a stand-up collar, the collar has to roll. Therefore the upper collar needs to be deeper than the under collar. For heavier fabrics, this difference is greater to allow for the turn of the cloth. How much greater? Instead of measuring, let the fabric tell you how much. Pin the collar right sides together at the neck edge. Then, upper collar up, gently fold the collar over your hand and pin the long edges that will be sewn. The undercollar will stick out a bit. Take your seam allowance from the under collar edge.

Then, first stitch the long side of the two collar pieces end to end, leaving the short ends unstitched. Press the seam toward the undercollar. I trim this seam to 1/4 " holding my scissors at an angle (if I remember) to grade the seam.

Then understitch the SA to the undercollar piece about 1/8 inch from the seam line. (Pretend that the undercollar is a facing.

Then, when you fold the collar to sew the short ends, the long seam will WRAP OVER. This means that when you turn the collar, you only have to worry about pushing one seam allowance into the corner -- the other one is already sewn in. This makes the collar easier to turn and also makes it easier to get the points to match. I trim these starting just under 1/4" at the point to 1/4" at the open edge. I usually use a point turner to turn the collar -- either the wooden one or the one with the scissor handles. If the corners are bumpy, I usually re-turn them before I try poking the corner out. If I have to poke out the corner, I use a bamboo BBQ skewer that I keep in my sewing tools bin.

Then I press the collar, favouring the right side at the ends. Because of the underatitching, the long side will automatically favour the right side.

Most of the time, I top-stitch my collars about 1/8" from the edge using an edge stitching foot for accuracy. If it is a casual style, I might add a second line of top stitching 1/4 inch in.

Of course, I cut the collar accurately and I am careful to use the correct seam allowance. But I think that it is my accurate top stitching that causes people to tell me that my clothes look "store bought" -- a comment I get often.

If I am making a shirt-style blouse, I will top-stitch the collar stand the same as the collar and the shirt front edges also. I really believe in accurate top stitching on casual styles. It really helps the items look crisp and well made.

Kathleen Fasanella commented that this is how it is done in quality RTW - I didn't know this lol!! She also suggests that if the collar points are bumpy, before re-turning, flatten the seam by pounding on it with a hard, plastic head hammer. She also says that she uses knitting needles to turn the points.

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The Fine Fabric Hem (aka as Baby Hem)

This is a good hem for sheer or very light weight fabrics. It is a particularly good hem for bias edge when the edge would stretch out of shape as it is handled and folded.

First, sew a line of stitching about 3/8" from the edge all around. Then turn up the hem at this line, stitching close to the fold line, trim this close to the stitching, turn up and stitch it again.

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Serger Three Thread Rolled Hem Settings and Tips

The three thread rolled hem is a very narrow folded hem that is covered with thread. If you have lost your instruction booklet, I hope that these emergency directions will help you out. I find that many people remember better when they know the why of things so I have explained why under each step.

1. Use only one needle.

The rolled hem begins with a narrow serged stitch using only one needle thread. On a 3/4 thread serger, you have to remove the "outside" (left) needle completely, not just remove the thread, or the upper looper stitch will be formed around the empty needle, leaving unsightly loops on your hem.

2. Change the stitch finger to a pin.

One of the reasons that serged stitches are so even is that the loopers form their stitch over a stitch finger that is a part of either the needle plate or the foot. With most modern sergers, there is a lever on the needle plate that pulls the wide stitch finger back out of the way leaving a narrow pin over which the stitch is formed. For example, this is how the Bernette 334 and 234 lines work. For some older or simpler sergers, you need to change either the foot or the needle plate in order to place the pin in position for forming the stitch. For example, the Janome 634 has you change the needle plate and the older Babylocks require that you change the foot.

3. Tighten the lower looper tension.

The lower looper it tightened so that the loops become barely visible on the under side of the stitching. (Aside: For those machines that can do a 2 thread rolled hem, the upper looper thread is removed. This discussion applies only to the 3 thread rolled hem.)

4. Shorten the stitch length.

Most of the time, the stitch length is shortened so that the upper looper thread covers the edge in a satin stitch. Using wooly nylon thread which has more coverage does not require as short a stitch. Sometimes you can run two threads through the upper looper for more thread coverage. Sometimes, on "troublesome" fabrics, the hem will fall off the edge if the stitch is too short. (I have used a long stitch for some applications. If you want to do this you need to fiddle with needle/looper tensions to remove puckering. It will definitely not work on all fabrics.

5. Use differential feed for puckering prevention.

Sometimes, because of the tight lower looper tension, the hem has a tendency to pucker. If this happens, lower the differential feed setting to stretch the edge slightly. If your serger is a model without differential feed, you can try stretching it by hand as you sew. Backing off the lower looper tension can reduce puckering.

Many fabrics produce a different rolled hem result on the cross grain than on the lengthwise grain. Sometimes, the warp threads are so stiff that the rolled hem "beards" and no matter how it is fine tuned, a nice rolled hem cannot be done. Softer fabrics seem to give good results no matter what the fabric grain is.

Serging a circular piece of fabric will show how the rolled hem changes with the grain. Also, when sewing on the bias, you may have to change the differential feed setting back to normal to prevent the stretched bias edge from rippling.

If you want a rippled "lettuce edge", use the shortest practical stitch length and stretch your fabric to the max as you sew.

If you want a flat edge and it is tending to stretch, lengthen the stitch and use the differential feed to pull the fabric in.

As with most serging, sewing samples before actually sewing your garment or project will allow for the fine tuning that gives better results.

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Easier Facings for Light and Medium Weight Fabrics

Here are some quick tips for easier facings. I will expand this topic in future. This tip also does not apply to very stiff or very heavy fabrics.

Stay stitching is not necessary if the fabric is a firm, stable weave. However, take care in handling the unsewn pieces so as not to stretch the neck or armscyes.

A favourite pattern will be quicker to sew if the neckline SA's are trimmed to 1/4 inch. Otherwise, trim the SA to 1/2 inch after sewing. For light or medium weight fabrics, I rarely clip as when the SA is this narrow it will usually stretch into place without clipping.

Understitch the facing. This is done by stitching through both SAs leaving the garment free. Stitch a scant 1/8 inch from the seam line. For light to medium weight fabrics, I don't press before I understitch. Aligning the seam line to a mark on the foot or using an edge stitch foot, gently but firmly pull the garment away from the seam line while understitching. Pressing after understitching is easy as the facing naturally rolls to the inside.

If you are facing a neck edge with a corner, then you can understitch as far as you can and then you have only the corner to press without understitching.