Over the years, I’ve noticed that newcomers to machine sewing need to have certain key skills. Here are three that you might already have from other areas of life, and how they can help you to grow in confidence whilst sewing.
This is the most efficient way to sew. If you’re accustomed to grouping up related errands or to-dos, you’ll be glad!
Many patterns follow an order of work that has clarity and follows a step-by-step path to completion. However, this usually involves a lot of back-and-forth between the sewing machine and the ironing board. You could end up feeling frustrated if you’re short on time or have limited space to set up both the iron and the machine.
Instead, follow an order of work or sew as much as you can until you can’t progress without pressing. This will involve hopping around the instructions to find areas to sew – so you may not be working on one garment piece, but several simultaneously. Then, you can take all the pieces to the ironing board and press everything at the same time.
If ironing is a regular thing for you, then incorporate your sewing projects into your routine. And if it’s not, you can be confident about having made the most of your time.
Delphine of Just Patterns exemplifies this approach beautifully. Her instruction booklets include detailed step-by-step instructions, but she also includes a more efficient order of work for time-savers and more experienced clothes makers. I recommend buying one or two of her patterns to see how she makes this work.
This one is for the dancers and gymnasts! This technique will help you if sewing in a straight line is challenging.
Spotting is a visual focusing technique that allows you to spin around without feeling dizzy or nauseous. You pick a spot to focus on – usually a small area of the wall or floor – as you’re rotating in the air, and keep your head as still as possible by whipping it around very quickly. This fast whipping action means your brain barely registers your movement and thinks you’ve been stationary.
A similar thing happens when you sew in a straight line. Many people watch the needle – which is constantly moving up and down – but this leads to wonky seams. If your eyes track movement, you’ll get movement in wobbly stitches – or seeing the world spinning above you as you’re collapsed on the floor!
Instead, as you sew, focus on something that is NOT moving. You need a fixed point or relationship that isn’t affected by the moving needle. Some practical examples are:
- The edge of the fabric against the seam allowance guide. The seam allowance is always consistent, so it’s reliable. You can also stick down some masking tape for extra visuals and texture, or use a magnet for a physical barrier.
- The distance between the presser foot and another area of stitching. When the seam guide or throat plate is covered, you can pick other spots such as another seam, a fold of fabric, or line of decorative stitching. Patterned fabrics can also be helpful.
Whatever you do, don’t watch the needle as you sew!
Manoeuvres like reverse parking, parallel parking, or a three-point turn are great for sewing because they’re all about curved lines in tight spaces. Areas like necklines, underarm seams, crutch seams and curved hems are prime examples of this.
Like driving, two things need to happen during these sewing manoeuvres: slow movement and deliberate steering.
The slow movement comes from gentle pressure on the foot pedal or accelerator. (If, like me, you learned to drive on a manual, be glad there’s no clutch pedal to think about!) You can ‘pulse’, or do a series of small incremental movements, or sustain a slow speed throughout.
At the same time, your hands are on the wheel, or fabric, directing things where you want them to go. Like the pedal, you can choose to steer very slowly and smoothly, or one stitch at a time as you pulse.
AND – you can do a combination of the two depending on your confidence, comfort, and the tightness of the curve. Try both, see what works for you, and take your time. Nobody’s going to steal your parking space!
Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this post or think it’d be helpful to other people also learning how to use the sewing machine, please share it 🙂
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I design size inclusive knitting patterns for clothes makers who want their garments to fit well. Clothes should serve you, not the other way around. You alter clothes to fit you, not alter yourself to fit the clothes. This is at the heart of everything I do.
I also teach other people how to design knitwear and am currently creating a comprehensive, year-long knitwear design course, covering everything from illustration to pattern grading.
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