1. Pretreat Your Fabrics
Fabric off the bolt is treated with sizing and stiffeners that can make it very difficult to get an accurate sense of its true shape and size. When you buy the fabric for a new project, you should always wash and dry it first, according to the care instructions provided. Some delicate fabrics should not be washed; some may be rinsed and air dried, while others may be lightly steamed to help the fibres find their true shape.
2. Measure Twice, Cut Once
Careful measuring is one of the real secrets of sewing. Not only do you need to be able to measure the person for whom you’re creating or altering a garment, but transferring those measurements to your pattern and your fabric are just as crucial. If you’re new to taking measurements for sewing, check out this simple guide. When it’s time to transfer them to your prepared fabric, it’s best to use a surface large enough to support all of your fabric, like a cutting table, or, lacking that, a clean floor.
3. Use the Right Tools for the Job
Trying to make do with the wrong tools is a recipe for frustration and mistakes. While it’s almost always fine to have basic equipment rather than fancy alternatives, sometimes a tiny tweak can be helpful, like having extra long, sharp pins for dressmaking, or ball-point sewing machine needles to use with knits. Know what equipment your project requires, and plan accordingly.
4. Stitch in One Direction
When stitching long seams, such as princess seams in a gown, or joining panels for curtains, there’s always a slight amount of pull in the fabric running in the direction you stitch. It’s not enough to be noticeable, typically, but it can become evident if parallel seams are stitched in opposite directions. To avoid this, start all parallel seams at the same end of the project, working from top to bottom.
5. Transfer Pattern Marks Carefully
The marks on your pattern provide a helpful roadmap for assembling your project. It’s important to transfer them accurately, since even a slight error can lead to poor fit and make adjustments tricky. Transfer your patterns using tailor’s chalk, marking pencil or pen, or, for sheer or net fabric, with thread tracing. Be sure to catch seam allowances, darts, notches, and other landmarks that will make assembly straightforward.
6. Test Settings on Scraps
Nothing’s worse than having to pick out a tangle nest of thread when your sewing machine settings go awry. Every time you change your thread or adjust your settings to start a new project, it’s a good idea to make a few test stitches on a scrap of fabric to prevent damage to your project.
7. Use Quality Materials
While there’s no need to break the bank for the costliest materials available, you’ll never achieve a high-end look with low-end fabrics. Often, natural fibres like cotton, linen, wool, and silk provide a superior finish, but blended fabrics that include a low to moderate ratio of synthetic fibres can look equally smart, and have the virtue of added durability and, often, fewer wrinkles. Take a look at high-end fashion to see the characteristics of the fabrics to help improve your eye for quality.
8. Learn Basic Pattern Adjustments
Whether it’s accommodating full hips, a small bust, or broad shoulders, getting the fit right is the key to finished projects that look professional. While some tweaks can be made once the garment has been stitched together, you can save yourself a lot of hassle by making some tweaks ahead of time. Check out this handy resource for determining what alterations your pattern needs and how to make them.
9. Finish Your Seam Allowances
For a real professional finish, make sure there are no loose ends in your project—literally! From serging to French seams, there are lots of ways to give your seam allowances a little extra polish. The right option for your garment will depend on what types of seams and fabric you’re using, how wide your seam allowances are, and what kind of look you want to achieve with your finished seam.
10. Don’t Be Afraid of Hand Sewing
Many sewists seem to think hand sewing is the mark of an amateur, but in truth, some of the most expensive clothes on the planet are stitched almost entirely by hand! For invisible finishes, decorative stitching, or a personal touch, don’t be afraid to thread a needle and work by hand.
11. Press Thoroughly
Pressing while you sew isn’t just a way to flatten the fabric. Pressing and steaming helps give your work its final shape, locking stitches into the fabric and providing added flexibility as it’s needed. Curved seams can be a challenge to press; tools like a tailor’s ham can help with these tricky areas.
12. Add the Finishing Touches
Nothing finishes off a project like a little something special. Whether it’s a tag with your brand name and logo printed proudly across it, or a simple “Made with Love” stitched into the binding of a baby blanket, think about the finishing touches that can make your project really stand out from the crowd.
13. Practise, Practise, Practise!
The best way to improve your sewing is to try lots of new things! Start small; if you want to practise getting the fit of princess seams just right, start with a sundress instead of a wedding gown! Play with new fabrics and techniques by creating small projects like bags, lap-quilts, and other quick and easy items. For garment making, use inexpensive muslin to create versions of your projects. These toiles, as they’re called, serve the dual purpose of acting as patterns once you’ve got the fit just right.