No matter how good a sewist you are, occasionally you’re going to make mistakes. Sometimes, the only way to fix them is to start again—there’s way around using a fabric that’s not quite the right colour, or a pattern in the wrong style. But a lot of mistakes can be, if not repaired, then at least hidden, or even turned into design features! We’ve got some tips for both avoiding and repairing some common sewing mistakes.
Pin and needle marks
This common mistake happens when pins or needles damage the material you’re working on, leaving noticeable marks on your finished product. It happens most frequently when you’re altering a garment, or not sure where your stitch line needs to be, and end up having to rip out and move your stitching.
How to avoid it
Avoid this kind of damage by using pattern weights instead of pins when you’re cutting out your pattern pieces. When pinning pieces together, be sure to keep your pins in the seam allowance. Mark all your seam lines carefully—if you’re making a garment, try to do this marking after a fitting, so you know you’re in the right spot. If in doubt, err on the side of caution, and make the garment a little bigger than you know it needs to be. That way, any pin or needle marks left after taking the garment in will hidden inside the new seams.
How to fix it
If the pin and needle marks have only pulled the fibres of the fabric out of alignment, sometimes washing and drying the material according to the manufacturer’s instructions will minimize their appearance, or get rid of them all together. Don’t try this technique on particularly delicate or dry-clean only materials, however! That can only make the damage worse. If threads in your fabric have broken due to needle damage, you may want to reinforce the seam to prevent fraying. A row of decorative top-stitching that anchors the fabric to the seam allowance can disguise the needle marks, reinforce your project, and serve as a design feature! Another option for disguising needle marks is embellishment. Appliques, beading, or even an overlay of a sheer fabric will all hide a multitude of mistakes.
Hems are too short
This is especially common with beginning sewists, who may forget that hemming and seam allowances will shorten the length of skirts or trouser legs, leaving the finished project awkwardly short. Thankfully this one has an easy fix!
How to avoid it
Avoid this problem by making sure to take careful measurements. Double check the type of hem you plan to use, and leave extra fabric to account for it. Remember to also include the height of any high-heeled shoes, if the garment is supposed to brush the ground. Another thing to consider is the “springiness” of your fabric. If you’re using material such as lace and trim it to be even with an underlayer, the lace will likely spring up as the extra weight is removed, so be sure to leave some extra as you cut.
How to fix it
You can lengthen your hems by adding a decorative panel to make up the length. Make it a design feature rather than a mistake—this is a great opportunity to add a bit of colour, or a splash of print. For a more understated approach, try using the same colour, but a different texture, such as a satin band against a matte woven skirt, or vice versa. If you’re working with lace, the best option is to add a piece of lace trim as a decorative feature. This tutorial shows how to move the scalloped selvedges of a block of lace to create a new hemline. You can use the same technique with extensions of lace to make your hemline longer.
Your project shrinks when washed
This one can get even the most experienced sewists, especially if a projects sneaks into the wrong load of wash by mistake. There are some things you can do to fix it, but this one is tricky, and best avoided in you possibly can!
How to avoid it
The best option for avoiding this error is to make sure your fabrics are prepped before you start sewing. That means washing and drying them according to the care instructions to make sure you get rid of excess dyes, sizing, and take care of that pesky pre-shrinking issue. If your fabrics are dry-clean only, you shouldn’t have issues with shrinking due to that process; don’t try to prepare your materials by washing them at home! Don’t forget about your thread, either. Try to use a thread of the same or similar fibre type as your fabric. That will keep the thread from shrinking more than your material and causing uneven seams. When washing finished products, take care to follow the instructions. If you’re a sewist who makes products to sell, you’ll need to include a care label. Check out this resource for more information on what it should say.
How to fix it
Some shrinkage can’t be undone. Woollens, especially if they’ve been washed in warm water and tumble dried, will likely have felted, a process that can’t be reversed. However, some other materials can be stretched to regain a bit of their original size and shape. Try soaking the shrunken item in lukewarm water. Some people recommend adding a bit of baby shampoo, or hair conditioner to help relax the fibres. Leave your item to soak for up to an hour, then let it drip until it’s damp, but not soaking wet. Don’t wring out the water, as this can cause fibres to stretch unevenly. Lay the damp garment out on a towel, and begin to carefully stretch it. Work symetrically to help keep the garment’s shape. Once you’ve stretched it fully, allow it to dry, then wash it in a gentle cycle with cool water and allow to drip-dry. For a full tutorial and more tips and tricks, check out this resource.
Though sewing mistakes can feel disastrous in the moment, all is not lost! There are plenty of ways to repair or hide your mistakes. Before starting in on the fix, though, take a minute to step away and get rid of your frustration. It’s easy to make more mistakes when you’re flustered. Once you’re head is clear, come back to your work and try again.