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

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The sewing police aren't going to haul you away for these minor infractions, but they are the little things we all try to get away with when we think no one is looking. Kind of like convincing yourself chocolate is part of the dairy food group. But 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. And, 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 also 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 not just a new needle, but the right needle. Just as you wouldn't use a 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 outside 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. 

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 through 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 general tutorial on thread selection and plans for several additional thread stories in coming months thanks to our new association with Aurifil

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 so 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. Even if all we're doing 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 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 examples of 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. Or... keep your eyes open for one of our brand new Sewing Escape sewing retreats coming to a location near you. This will be your opportunity to hang with like-minded sewing enthusiasts to sew, learn, and simply enjoy two and a half days of creativity guided by master sewing instructors (whom you get ask whatever you want). These retreats are aimed at those newer to the world of sewing, but there will be something for everyone to learn. Check out the initial information and be watching for the full calendar coming soon. 


Comments (34)

ErinGbill said:
ErinGbill's picture

Guilty of sewing barefoot in a messy sewing room....found that needle with the ball of my foot...three months later I am still recovering from having it surgically removed...new rule: No shoes, no sewing! and all messes are imeadiately cleaned up! Still I am thankful it was me and not one of the dogs or my hisband that stepped on it...I never would have heard the end of that.

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

@ ErinGbill- Oh no! That sounds like a bad one! We like your slogan: No Shoes - No Sewing. 

Marnie M said:
Marnie M's picture

Just found you on Pinterest.  What a great site for sewing!  I've been looking for a new fabric source, too.  Definately have had the pin in the foot & been reluctant to clean up a project but after years of sewing, I tend to look at the illustrations on a pattern & not read directions.  Because we know it all, don't we?  I have learned having 10 pairs of reading/sewing glasses may not be enough.

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

@ Marnie - So glad to have you on board! Now that you've found us, we hope you'll come back often... and bring all our friends. 

gwammah said:
gwammah's picture

While I have never been poked by a pin in the foot,(and I only sew with stocking or bare footed) I have entered the Hall of Shame by sewing my finger! Well I was only an eight year old learning how to sew on a treadle machine!  Hmm...does that date me just a little? LOL

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

@ gwammah - we'll never tell ... 

Bettie L. said:
Bettie L. 's picture

I had the joy of passing the foundation of my knowledge on to my oldest granddaughter two years ago while teaching her to sew and I do recall conversations about each one of the rules above, sharing my own horror story about why it was important not to take short cuts.  Then I reminded her that even if you have been doing it for years, skipping these tips can bite you in the ankle and leave scars of regrets... including my own "Rule 21..."DO NOT KEEP GOING WHEN YOU START GETTING SLEEPY!!!  IT IS NOT WORTH THE RISK OF A RUINED GARMENT OR PROJECT.  I had to cut out new sleeves to her own mom's wedding dress because I broke the above "rule 21" and put the first sleeve on inside out (Sheer fabric and tired eyes do not mix).  When I told my own mom about it she smiled and said yes, she put a doll's leg on backward from ignoring rule 21.

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

@ Bettie - what a nice story - and yes, this is right up there with the general precaution to "slow down" -- don't keep going when you're too tired. Thanks!

njquiet1@comcast.net said:
njquiet1@comcast.net's picture

Oh, my....2, 4, 7, & 8 are definites!  I do try to remember to get up...but sometimes you just have to finish o n e  m o  r e  s e a m!  ;)

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

@ njquiet11 - It can indeed be sooooooo hard to stop sometimes, but your body will always thank you. 

Kristi Dennis said:
Kristi Dennis's picture

Yes on some of them.  Glad you posted this as it brought to mind to slow down and do things right.

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

@ Kristi - You're right - taking the time to think things through can make all the difference. 

Rosemary Bolton said:
Rosemary Bolton's picture

Well, I am guilty of committing all of the above, and learning the harsh lessons.

I enjoyed reading the comments here, knowing that I am not alone.

Learning from mistakes is a life long process.

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

@ Rosemary - Indeed! We are always learning.

TimelessKreations said:

14. Letting clean-up and organization slide 

still cleaning all the time, but get too excited and go to the next project... 

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

@TimelessKreations - That's a tough one for sure. As mentioned, one of my own failings. But I'm determined to be beter!

joymjoslin,,,,JOY JOSLIN said:
joymjoslin,,,,JOY JOSLIN's picture


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

@ Joy - Good for you for fessin' up - that's the first step to changing your ways, right  

Sewing in SC said:
Sewing in SC's picture

What a great list.  I would like to use them as part of a series in our ASG newsletter.  Where do I write to ask permission? 

Anna Fort said:
Anna Fort's picture

Wow... 7, 8, 11, 14... I need to work on these ones!

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

@ Anna - Only four... you are doing pretty dang good!

travelinglight said:
travelinglight's picture

When I teach others to sew it usually takes a while to stop them from sewing over pins! And I know a few people who do it because it's "not that big of a deal". It makes me cringe!  :)

Love the list and the website! Sew4Home is my go-to whenever I am looking for a great project!

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

@ travelinglight - Thanks so much! Here's to stopping our own bad habits and helping others stop theirs!

Betty Meyskens said:
Betty Meyskens's picture

Really great tips :) It is good to have a review on some of these items because you do tend to forget or you do what you have always done.

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

@ Betty - so true - we all need gentle reminders now and then -- or sometimes not so gentle 

Chris VanCleve said:
Chris VanCleve's picture

Great tips. I especially like the tips about checking fabric nap and design and knowing when to start over. I, too, have a blouse made from fabric with one way design that goes in different directions on the front and back. I would also add trying to be like the more experienced seamstresses and not using enough pins or basting tape. Guaranteed date with the seam ripper

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

@ Chris - Thanks! I know what you mean about pins. Sometimes in our instructions, we actually say, "don't be afraid to use a lot of pins." You don't get an award for least pins used, right?!

Jane Coombs said:
Jane Coombs's picture

Just from observing the bodies of some of the power sewists and quilters, I think that forgetting to move is a big issue and it has long range health implications.

it saddens me to see great quilts at our guild meetings being shown off by bodies that have sat for too long.

just sayin'

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

@ Jane - whether sewing or just sitting at a desk job at your computer all day... getting up and moving around and stretching is super important!

Anonymous said:
Anonymous's picture


Exercise before sewing!

Help preserve creative women............(I lost my sister because of this)

Move, then sew.

Thank you Jane! I've been telling people this for years in my area.

Jane Coombs said:
Jane Coombs's picture

My gf goes to quilt club in England. They are instructed to get up and walk to the pressing table. Also you can stand and sew.

thx for your comment.

smiledi said:
smiledi's picture

These are great! I have a wrist pincushion, which I loooooove :) That way it stays with me whether I'm at the machine or ironing board and I always have a place to put the pins back. It can get in the way when turning a project right side out or something, but most of the time it's a lifesaver. I would add that it's important to be careful how your pattern pieces are oriented. I sewed an entire dress with the the flowers pointing upside down once. :) Or sometimes a fabric has nap (I also have a gored skirt where one panel is upside down--thankfully it's not too noticeable, but it still bothers me!), or with knits that only stretch in one direction it's important to use that stretch appropriately. Great reminders, and thanks again!

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

@smiledi - Thanks for the tip on the wrist pin cushion - as well as for sharing your horror stories of "wrong way patterns." Upside down flowers - or my favorite: birds plunging to the earth - are always such a disappointment after all the hard work of construction. 

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