1. Start Slow
Though good advice in general, this tip is especially geared toward getting started with a new sewing machine or serger. While you’re still getting used to the equipment, it’s best to operate it at a much slower speed and work your way up. It’s all too easy to get your fingers caught under the needle, or damage the machine or your project if it behaves unexpectedly. Starting slow, preferably on a piece of scrap fabric, also gives you time to make sure your machine is threaded correctly, the tension is right, and your stitch settings are perfect for the project at hand.
2. Keep Your Eyes on Your Work
It’s tempting to glance away from your work while you’re sewing or pressing. Just for a minute, to check the time, answer that text, or see that the kids are okay. Don’t do it. If you need to look away, set down the iron or take your foot off the pedal. Just as distracted driving has the potential for disaster, so to does distracted sewing! Not only can you catch your hand in your sewing machine or burn yourself on the iron, it’s also all too easy to ruin your project. Stay focused and stay safe!
3. Always Unplug Your Equipment
As sewists, we frequently need to make adjustments to our sewing machines–adding attachments, changing needles or presser feet, or even just general maintenance. Before doing any of that, always unplug the machine. It’s an easy step to forget, but if you accidentally put your foot on the pedal, you could be in for a serious injury. Even more important to unplug is the iron or steamer. Professional tailoring shops use irons attached to lights that don’t go out until the iron is safe to leave. You can make your own version using a power strip or surge protector with an on-off switch. Plug a lamp into the strip alongside your iron, and use the on-off switch to control the power. That way, not only will you have extra light on your workspace, but you’ll always know when the iron is still hot.
4. Use the Right Tool for the Job
Using the wrong type of needle for your material can be about as effective as using a spoon to eat a steak. If you’re not sure what type of needle you need, check out this handy guide. It’s also important to check that the settings on your machines are correct before starting. Otherwise, you can break needles, damage your equipment, ruin your project, or even hurt yourself.
5. Store Cutting Tools Properly
In the kitchen, knives are stored in knife blocks and handled with care. In the sewing room, we have just as many sharp edged tools–seam rippers and shears, thread nippers and rotary cutters–but we often forget to treat them with the same level of respect. Store your scissors closed and point-down in a heavy cup or jar. A small cushion at the bottom keeps the points of your scissors from being damaged. Always close your rotary cutters after use–even if you’re going to pick them up again in a few minutes. It’s too easy to knock them off your cutting table only to land on your foot. Ow!
6. If You’re Frustrated, Step Away
Sewing is supposed to be relaxing, not stressful. If the project you’re working on isn’t going to plan, step back and go for a walk, or do whatever you need to do to keep from getting frustrated with your work. If you try to keep going, chances are you’ll end up making the problem worse, and might even make a painful mistake in the process.
7. Caution: Hot!
Often when people think sewing safety, the sharp edges, pointy needles, and intimidating sewing machines are what comes to mind, but steamers and irons cause just as many injuries. Always use care when pressing, ironing, and steaming your work. Remember that ironing surfaces and just-pressed fabrics can be nearly as hot as the iron itself!
8. Keep Equipment in Good Repair
A broken sewing machine or dull pair of scissors is an accident waiting to happen. Do yourself, and your projects, a favour and keep your equipment working at peak efficiency.
9. Cut with Care
Proper care when cutting is especially important, whether you’re using scissors or a rotary cutter. Always cut away from yourself, and be sure to use a straight edge or curve guide when cutting with a rotary cutter instead of freehanding your work. This lessens the risk of your cutter veering off course and hitting your other hand.
10. Trim Your Nails
Long or rough nails can snag in fine fabrics, or get caught in your needle as you sew. It’s best to keep them trimmed short to avoid any unfortunate accidents.
11. Pins Go in Cushions!
No matter how convenient it may seem, avoid putting your pins in your mouth to hold them. We’ve all done it, but it’s a terrifically bad idea, and isn’t all that good for the pins, either. If you need a way to keep more pins on hand, use a wrist cushion on an elastic strap.
12. Supervise Children
Sewing can be a great hobby for kids, but it’s one they should learn by degrees. Start them off learning to sew by hand, and always keep an eye on them when they’re working so you can keep them from developing bad (or dangerous!) habits. Need some pointers? Check out these tips for helping children learn to sew.
13. Plan Your Sewing Space Carefully
If you’re going to be spending a lot of time sewing, make sure your space is a comfortable one to work in. Plenty of light helps you avoid eyestrain, and properly sized tables and chairs can prevent back and neck problems from sitting hunched over your work. Check out this post on creating a comfortable sewing space.
14. Take a Break
Not only does the occasional break keep you from getting frustrated with your work, it also gives you the opportunity to stretch, refocus, and get reinspired. Your body will thank you, and so will your creativity!