“I don’t have time for that.” “No one will notice.” “I’ll fix it later.” A million excuses usually lead to a million regrets. We all make mistakes, and sometimes stuff just happens beyond our control. But some mistakes can be avoided with proper planning, attention to detail, and the wisdom to slow down. It’s no surprise that one of the most famous adages about time management comes from the world of sewing: “A stitch in time, saves nine!” Recently, a stark distinction has developed between handmade and homemade. Handmade carries the stamp of artisan craftsmanship – pride in a job well done. Homemade has the connotation of something slapdash and cheap – just good enough to get by. To us … if it’s created with your own two hands, you deserve to be proud of the results, so we prefer to think of it as professional or unprofessional. Read on for the ten most common mistakes to avoid to make sure you go pro!
We organized our “Ten Mistakes to Avoid” in project order. From start to finish, take the time to consider the best practices that will provide the best results.
Mistake #1: Not reading instructions
Instructions are your road map. If you avoid them, like Bugs Bunny, you’re likely to take “a wrong turn at Albuquerque.” We spend hours on instructions here at Sew4Home because we know how important it is to go through each and every step, and we try to never assume a reader has previous knowledge about a technique. Whether it’s one of our projects or an off-the-shelf pattern, take the time to read all the way through instructions prior to starting. We call this, “making it in your head.” With this approach, you can stop and re-read any tricky parts. You can even take the time to make a mini prototype or do a test stitch to make sure you really understand the process prior to running headlong into construction, possibly ruining expensive fabric because you’ve misunderstood the steps.
Mistake #2: Using fabric that is not suitable for the project
One of the most common questions we receive is, “Can I make this project in….?” Our standard answer is usually a rather elusive “Maybe.” There are so many variables when it comes to fabric selection: weight, stretch, drape, texture, stabilization requirements … the list is long. Without having constructed a specific design in a particular fabric, you can never be 100% sure of the end result. Nine times out of ten, if an item is shown made from a heavy canvas, creating it out of a quilting cotton is going to be a challenge. In sewing, you can never say never, and seasoned professionals know the tricks to get various substrates to perform in unusual situations. But for the rest of us, if you want the best result, stick with the recommended fabric.
Mistake #3: Skipping fabric preparation
It’s exciting to get started on a project. So much so, it can be torture to stop and prepare your pretty new fabric. The general rule of thumb is to treat your fabric based on how you plan to use it: if the item is going to be laundered regularly then preshrink the fabric in the same manner; if it won’t be washed, then don’t prewash. We have a great tutorial on the basics of pre-shrinking steps and products that you can review for more details. Even when working on a project that we know will only be spot-cleaned when done, such as a duffle or messenger bag, we still take the time for some fabric preparation, making sure edges are squared and the fabric is pressed flat prior to cutting.
Mistake #4: Cutting with wild abandon
If you’re a Sew4Home regular, you know we love our fussy cutting. Whether it’s isolating a dramatic motif, matching a pocket to a panel or planning a patchwork design, how you cut is one of the most important parts of a project. The carpenter’s rule is our number one rule as well: measure twice, cut once. Although, we’ve been known to measure three and four times… fabric is expensive and a too-short or crooked cut can ruin your whole day. We use both a rotary cutter and standard scissors. The quick, clean slice of a rotary cutter is excellent when you’re making straight-edged panels, but the precision of scissors is necessary when following an intricate curve, trimming an appliqué or slicing through the backing of faux fur substrates. We have a full tutorial on our favorite cutting tools and other sewing toolbox basics.
Mistake #5: Forgetting to transfer pattern markings
“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get,” said the White Rabbit to Alice. It’s true; racing to the finish rarely yields a positive result. This is especially true when it comes to pattern markings. Those dots and dashes on the pattern pieces are there for a reason. Transferring these marks during the laying out and cutting process is always easier and more accurate than scrambling to find the right piece later on and trying to wiggle it into position to guess where that dart or grommet or seam joint or fold was really supposed to go. If you are using a marking pen or pencil and working on the right side of your fabric, don’t forget to make sure sure it is a mark that will easily wipe away or vanish with exposure to the air or the heat of an iron.
Mistake #6: Ignoring or skimping on interfacing requirements
If you’re following a pattern, you should remember the designer went to a lot of trouble to determine the best stabilizing options for the project’s recommended fabric (see Mistake #2 above). Ignoring these recommendations or trying to “get by” with scraps you have on hand is simply: a very bad idea. What’s happening on the inside of the project may not be glamorous, but it’s the structure that gives your project a clean, smooth, neat finish. Yes, there are a lot of options out there, but that’s why it’s so awesome that designers have gone to the trouble to sort through them all and pick out the very best for the situation. If you want to avoid the ripples, folds, and general droopiness that screams “homemade,” always use interfacing as recommended.
Mistake #7: Never changing your presser foot or stitch settings
Okay… you’re ready to start stitching. Almost. Now is the time to make sure you’re using the best foot, stitch settings, speed, etc. Today’s sewing machines are amazing; their specialty feet and stitch options can seem endless. Sew4Home is an exclusive Janome studio, and so we’re working with the best! Yes, it takes a second to change out to a new foot, but the difference between a final topstitching seam done with a standard presser foot versus an Edge Guide foot can be night and day. You wouldn’t carve your Thanksgiving turkey with a butter knife now would you?! And the benefit is not just the finished look, working with the right presser foot makes the job easier. Hand in hand with the right presser foot is making sure you set and test your stitch settings. For example, slightly lengthening the stitch creates a straighter and more even seam through thick layers. Shortening the stitch helps keep curves smooth. Test on scraps of the actual fabric with which you’re working. If you’re a Janome fan like we are, make sure you visit your dealer to take a look at their awesome new Presser Foot Workbook series.
Mistake #8: Leaving bulky seams untouched
You can spot a lumpy seam a mile away. It always, always detracts from the professional finish of your project. Sometimes there are a lot of layers coming together with seams – especially in corners or other tight spaces. Don’t ignore it! Unlike the extra bulk a few too many cookies can pack on, reducing bulk in sewing is easy to correct. Take the time along the way to grade seams, cut corners, and clip curves. Click on these three links to jump to our full, step-by-step tutorials on each of these important seam allowance techniques. Once you reduce the bulk, it’s easier to turn a piece right side out. You can then gently smooth the seam even further with a long blunt tool, such as a point turner, knitting needle or even one of our favorites: a common chopstick.
Mistake #9: Never finishing seam allowances
We going to stay with seam allowances to talk about the importance of insuring your project looks good from the inside out. The technical reason to finish a seam allowance is to prevent it from raveling. If you are working with a fabric that has a tendency to fray, frequent laundering or even just frequent use can wear away the edges of the seam allowance and could cause a hole to open up in the seam. So, there’s that, but there’s also the joy of looking inside a garment or bag to find a bound or otherwise beautifully finished seam. It’s the mark of top quality. We have a four-part series on some of the most popular machine sewn finishes, from the simple overcast stitch to French seams and even a Hong Kong finish. Click here to find links to all the articles.
Mistake #10: Not pressing as you go
True story. As a young girl, a neighbor hired me to do her ironing. This lady was someone who made many of her own clothes. It was one of my first experiences of homemade versus handmade. Try as I might, I could never, ever, ever get those garments to iron out flat and smooth. The culprit was probably a combination of the mistakes above, but the main problem was not pressing along the way. Pressing has a huge impact on the finished look of your project, and if you aren’t conscientious about pressing as you go, all that hard work you put into construction will be for nothing as the finished item will simply never lay right. Keeping a small ironing pad and iron close to your machine can be a good way to avoid the excuse of not wanting to to get up and walk across the room to the ironing board. But… ya know – there are a few reasons you should be getting up and moving while you sew.