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Sewing Misdemeanors: 20 Ghastly Things We All Do But Shouldn't

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In honor of Halloween, we'd like to remind you of some ghastly things we all try to get away with when we think no one is looking. The sewing police aren't going to haul you away for these minor infractions, but they are little tricks we try to pull for which we should get no treats! Kind of like convincing yourself chocolate is part of the dairy food group. If you want the very best results, kicking your bad habits to the curb is important. 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 postion 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 notions 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 tools. 

20. Not asking a question

This just 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. 

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Comments (14)

Margaret said:
Margaret 's picture

Question: There are so many precuts being used today for projects and they usually recommend NOT prewashing precuts. I don't like not doing that, so what do you recommend doing? Thanks so much for all of your wonderful articles and projects. Sew4Home is the absolute BEST site!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Margaret - thanks for such a lovely compliment. Regarding pre-cuts and pre-washing: It's true that most fabric manufacturer's recommend NOT pre-washing pre-cuts, however, this is usually a recommendation for the quilting world. Pre-washing means pressing and that takes a lot of the ease of use factor out of the pre-cuts, and you could also end up with a big tangle of thread ends. If you're not quilting with your pre-cuts, we tend to revert to the rule of thumb that you should treat your fabric in the same way the finished project will be treated. If you plan on tossing the finished piece in the laundry, it's a good idea to pre-launder all the fabric in the same manner. This is also important if mixing pre-cuts with other substrates. Putting pre-cuts into a mesh bag prior to tossing them in to wash can help cut down on the fraying and tangling. 

Piz16zolo said:
Piz16zolo's picture

And to this great list I would add "don't use scissors to push out corners." It's just a bad idea, so always have a chopstick or other suitable tool handy.  

Anonymous said:
Anonymous's picture

Thanks so much for this great article.  Some of them I do practice on a regular basis, others I haven't even thought of before.  I also have two friends that are pretty new to quilting so I thought this was a great article to share with them.  Again, thanks so much.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

You are so welcome -- and thanks for sharing with your friends.

Jane Coombs said:
Jane Coombs's picture

If you have ever been to a sewing event, such as a Quilt show, you can see why #11 is not heeded. There are many great quilters in really bad physical shape. On a daily basis, you should get up and down 35 times. Often it is said that in the 50s the population was in better shape. The invention of the remote control hindered movement. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Jane - We can ALL use the advice to get up and move 

Molly’s Mom said:
Molly’s Mom's picture

Wow!  Most I am guilty of and some I’ve never thought about so thanks for sharing this for not just the old but also the new to me. Most appreciated. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Molly's Mon - It's always good to review the basics... even the scary ones in honor of 
Halloween 

Rochelle @ eSheep Designs said:
Rochelle @ eSheep Designs's picture

I'm not going to give away my secrets and admit to any of these  but as someone who is occasionally on the receiving end of queries, the one that most annoys me - and probably annoys you too - is #12. While I encourage people to read the instructions twice, it's obvious that some people don't even read once... or thoroughly enough. The horror, indeed! 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Rochelle - Ha! Yep, that is an important one. Similar to when the kids ask you where something is. "Did you look for it?!" ..... dead air  

Alaskapsych said:
Alaskapsych's picture

I am so guilty of many of these!  But I did break myself of the 'pins in mouth' one after I heard about a sewist going to the ER after a mishap.  I have magnetic pin cushions and a wand and they are amazing!  Next I'm getting a wrist pin cushion, or maybe making one?  I could use something pretty and handmade on my wrist.

Thanks, guys, everyday checking your website is how I kick off my morning at work.  (Shh!  Don't tell anyone!)

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Alaskapsych -- hmmmm... might need to add "wrist pin cushion" to our You Asked 4 It list. Thanks for starting your day with us!