In honor of the new year and the new decade, we’ve put together our list of the top twenty sewing misdemeanors we all try to get away with when we think no one is looking. But this year, we’re resolving to kick these bad habits to the curb. True, the sewing police aren’t going to haul us away for these minor infractions, but they are the little no-nos and uh-ohs that should go the way of last year’s fake dirty jeans (really… you’d pay for that?!) Which of these are you guilty of? What other ones would you add?
1. Measuring once
Measuring haphazardly is the number one reason there is crying in sewing. The old adage is: “Measure Twice, Cut Once.” We prefer to measure three or four times just to be sure we’re thinking things through. Was that cut up from the bottom or down from the top? Did I already cut an inch off this side… or the other side? Be the turtle, not the rabbit. Take your time and carefully measure, and then measure again. And, because there are more people than you might think who aren’t familiar with all those little marks on a tape measure (it’s okay, really, you are not alone), we have three handy downloadable charts to print and keep by your machine. Accurate sizing leads to more professional results.
2. Passing over the pre-washing/preshrinking question
Lower-end garment manufacturers often cut corners by skipping the preshrinking step in their construction process. This is why you can buy something, wear it once, wash it, and find it’s two sizes too small when you go to wear it again. Don’t make the same mistake. The traditional wisdom is to treat your fabric based on how you plan to use it. For example, if the item is going to be washed regularly then preshrink the fabric; if it won’t be washed, then you probably don’t need to prewash. Wonky and twisting seams are a common result of improper preshrinking of one or more fabrics. Even though you are super anxious to get started on your project, think through this question. Protect your project and your fabric investment. For more details, methods, and some popular products to try, check out our What, Why, When, and How Preshrinking tutorial.
3. Letting someone else use the good scissors
Remember when your mom yelled at you for using her “good scissors?” Now you understand. Sharp, precise cutting tools are very important. Once you have your favorites, don’t use them to cut anything but fabric! Even paper cutting will quickly dull good sewing scissors. Hide them and impose severe penalties for anyone caught doing unauthorized cutting!
4. Ignoring when it’s time for a new cutting mat
If you use a rotary cutter, you most likely have a self-healing mat. But there is a limit to this healing capability. Grooves can develop, especially if you cut a lot in the same area of the mat. These weakened areas become like little snagging magnets for your fabric. If you can’t get a whole new mat, at least vary your cutting position to keep things smooth for as long as possible.
5. Skipping pressing steps along the way
Going back and forth to your ironing board can seem like a pain when you’re on a roll and want to just keep sewing and going. But, improperly pressed seams or edges will end up as bubbles and uneven lines that will haunt you forever on the finished project. Get a good iron! We use Oliso irons in the Sew4Home studios and love their auto shut-off and auto-lift. These unique features actually help cancel out the twin bad habits of leaving your iron on and/or unattended.
6. Putting pins in the wrong place
Even Cinderella put pins in her mouth, but we know that’s a chance you shouldn’t take. One wrong hiccup and you’re on the way to the ER. If you drop a pin or needle, stop and locate it before moving on so children and pets (or your own bare feet) don’t find it later. A pin wand or magnet is a handy clean-up tool. This bad habit category also covers not sewing over pins. We all cheat on that one, right? But in order to prevent damage, your machine and its needle would really prefer you not do that. Hitting a pin with your needle can result in the needle snapping and flying up to hit you in the face! Take a look at our full article on Sewing Room Safety Tips.
7. Forgetting about machine care
What’s the number one thing you can do to keep your sewing machine running smoothly? Clean out the lint. It’s an unavoidable by-product of sewing. The more you sew, the more lint sifts into the guts of your machine. A little regular cleaning will keep your machine running smoothly. And, don’t forget to let your dealer do a tune up on a regular basis to make sure everything is sewing in sync. To start, we have the top DIY steps to keep your machine running well.
8. Rarely changing your sewing machine needle
Start each new project with a new needle. That’s the traditional wisdom we all tend to ignore. Granted, sewing machine needles aren’t free, but they are an inexpensive investment in your project. And, it’s not just a new needle, but the right needle. Just as you wouldn’t use an oyster fork to whip up eggs for an omelette, different fabrics and situations require different needle types. We have a handy article on choosing the right needle for your project.
9. Neglecting to finish seams
We call it looking good from the inside out. But in reality, taking the time to finish your seams can also save you from having holes open up because a seam allowance frayed a fraction of an inch more than you thought it would. We have a great four-part series on machine-sewn seam finishes. Some of them are actually fun to do, and they can also be used to add a cool look on the right side of a project, such as flat felled seam. Check out the whole series.
10. Assuming printed fabric is always straight and true
We’d like to think fabrics are 100% perfect all the time: straight and true from top to bottom and side to side. But… that’s not the case. Your fabric grain can be off a little bit and it won’t affect your project. But if it’s off by too much, your designs won’t line up when you’re trying to match panels and your seams can bunch or stretch because they’re actually being sewn too close to the bias. Take the time to check the grain and try to fix it if it’s off before you cut. Our Fabric Grain tutorial shows you the easiest ways to do this. The inconsistencies in fabric grain is one of the main reasons we always suggest buying a bit more yardage than you need to give yourself some extra fabric to work with for any needed fixing.
11. Forgetting to stand and move
There’s a lot of sitting in sewing, and we can all forget how important it is to get up and stretch every so often. Your head, neck, and shoulders are the losers when you slump over your machine for too long, so concentrate on good posture. Having your machine at a comfortable level (your elbows should be at 90˚ as you reach toward your machine) means paying attention to both your table and your chair. Spending a bit of time and money to create an ergonomic sewing area is worth it! Then, get up at least every hour to give yourself a break. And yes, running to the ironing board and cutting table does count. Check out our article on 10 Easy Exercises for Sewers to Stay Fit While You Sit.
12. Skimming over directions
How many times have you missed an important step as you quickly glanced through a set of instructions then forged blindly ahead. At Sew4Home, we often include notes and hints throughout our steps, and they make much more sense if you read all the way through first. We call it, “making it in your head.” Not having a thorough understanding of construction is a recipe for disaster – or at the very least, for a mistake. The time it takes to rip out a seam and start over would probably be better spent reading everything up-front.
13. Using the wrong thread
The little things make all the difference. Thread holds the pieces of your beautiful project together. Yet we rarely give it a second thought, simply grabbing whatever spool is nearby. Thread weight and type makes a difference not only in the finished look of your project but also in how easily it moves through your machine and forms the stitches. One thing that is always true: cheap thread is never cheap. If thread tangles and breaks or shreds, you’re wasting valuable time and possibly ruining your fabric – neither of which is saving you any money in the long run. We have a good general tutorial on thread selection.
14. Letting clean-up and organization slide
I’ll own up to this one. Once a project is finished and you’re so excited and proud of your results, the last thing you feel like doing is cleaning up the mess. But taking a little time to tidy up right away will keep the process from becoming overwhelming. If you sort and label your supplies and scraps, they’ll be easier to locate (and to use in a great Sew4Home ScrapBusters project down the road). Plus, you’ll be less likely to buy more of something because you can’t find what you already have.
15. Trying a new technique on your expensive fabric
Practice makes perfect. Those are true words of wisdom. In sewing, the wisest of all do their practicing on scraps. Fabric is the most expensive element in a project! Don’t risk ruining it and having to buy more by leaping into a brand new technique without practicing first on fabric you’re willing to toss. Every time we start a new project (with a new needle), we thread up the machine, pick the settings, and then test our stitching on scraps. We try to do this even if all we’re making is a simple seam. For particularly complicated processes, such as working in three-dimensions for a basket or box, it can help to take the testing process to the next level and make a prototype from inexpensive muslin or similar. Once you go through all the steps of a project, the lightbulb comes on, and making the real item is a breeze.
16. Rushing towards the finish line
Slow down; you move too fast. A project finished in a rush is a sloppy project. When we say something is fast and easy on Sew4Home, it doesn’t mean you should hurry through it. Of course we’ve all waited until the last minute to make something and found ourselves staring at a deadline with no time to spare. But… that’s a pre-planning and procrastination issue, isn’t it? Give yourself ample time to complete a project. Then, if something doesn’t go as planned, there’s still time to redo and get it right. Remember, rushing makes easy things hard, and hard things even harder. Slow down, smell the roses, enjoy what you’re doing.
17. Refusing to start over
Mistakes happen to the best of us. Anyone who sews understands that some seams just weren’t meant to be. The good news: ripping out a seam and starting over is something we all do. With a little care and patience, it’s an easy fix and no one but you is ever likely to know it happened. It’s better to start over if your first attempt fails. You’ll always be happier in the end. We have lots of helpful step-by-step tutorials on sewing basics, including How to Rip Out a Seam.
18. Being afraid to try something new
Ahhhh, the learning curve. We all fear it a little bit. If you have a way you’ve always done something or a work-around that gets you close to your goal, it can be tempting to just keep on keepin’ on. But, the real thrill is in finding a new way to accomplish a task or a new product to help you succeed. “Because I’ve always done it that way” is definitely the path of least resistance, but pushing beyond your comfort level is when the real accomplishments happen.
19. Making do: not using the right tool for the job
We’ve touched on this in a few of the bad habits listed above, but it’s important enough to have its own position in the list. All of us can be guilty of “making do.” We try to get by with what we have handy rather than taking the time to find or buy the right tool to perform a certain task. A seam ripper does have a nice point on it, but that doesn’t mean you can use it to push out a corner… unless you want a hole. You could use that felt pen at your elbow to make a quick mark… as long as you promise not to cry when it won’t come out of the finished project. You get the idea. There are SO many great products available that are expressly designed to do a job right the first time. Take a look at the Dritz® Video Tutorial Library for dozens of helpful how-to videos on their popular notions and tools.
20. Not asking a question
This may be the worst of the all bad habits! Thinking you have a stupid question and being too embarrassed to ask someone about it is something we all do now and then. It probably dates back to grade school when we didn’t know the capital of Norway and were afraid Mrs. Peterson would call on us! Here’s the secret: no one is born knowing all the answers. We all have to research, learn, and most importantly, ask! Leave us a comment here at Sew4Home, ask a friend who’s more experienced than you, look for a local class that can polish your skills.