Over the past two years, I’ve really increased the amount of sewing I do. Here are 10 things I do religiously that have made a HUGE difference in the quality of my finished projects.
I started cleaning my sewing machine regularly.I’ve always cleaned it after very large (or very fuzzy) projects, but when I do a lot of little-bit-at-a-time sewing I have a tendency to go too long between cleanings. I’ve started making a note on my calendar and now I clean it the first Saturday of every month. It takes 10 minutes, tops, and I’ve had far fewer issues with tension, thread snarls, and skipped stitches since I committed to maintaining my sewing machine. If you don’t know how to clean your sewing machine, this is a great tutorial.
Once it was being cleaned regularly and I knew how it sounds when it’s happy, I learned how my sewing machine sounds when something is wrong. My machine develops a distinct I’m-about-to-eat-your-project warning rattle when it needs attention. Usually it means 1) there’s lint built up under the bobbin casing, 2) the needle is dull, or 3) both. Again, if I stop as soon as I hear that rattle and give it some attention, I can avoid all kinds of sewing problems.
I invested in good tools. This is actually something I did several years ago that continues to pay off: I bought an 8″ pair of Gingher dressmaker’s shears and a 4″ pair of Gingher sewing scissors. They were were pricey. I hide them from my son and husband so no one accidentally cuts paper with them. They make cutting any kind of fabric so much easier and more accurate.
I don’t work with dull blades. This goes along with #2. I bite the bullet, pay the $12 per pair and send my scissors back to the manufacturer to be sharpened. It keeps my warranty intact and ensures those expensive scissors last a long, long time. Since it takes a couple weeks(!) to get them back, I waited until I had a really good coupon at Joann’s and bought a second pair of dressmaker’s shears so I still have one to work with while one is being sharpened. I also replace my rotary cutter and x-acto knife blades regularly. As soon as I notice I’m putting more pressure on my tools, I replace the blades. They’re cheap, and sharp blades mean nice, clean cuts.
I bought the right tools for the job. I don’t have a fancy sewing machine. I use a basic Sears Kenmore that’s meant for all-purpose sewing but didn’t come with a lot of accessories for quilting. After fighting my machine every step of the way through finishing the Minecraft Quilt, I invested in a walking foot. And since my machine doesn’t have a clearly marked 1/4″ seam allowance, I also bought a 1/4″ foot. Those two things have made quilting so much less stressful!
I don’t sew when I’m tired. This one is tough. I work full time, so my only opportunities for sewing and crafting are evenings after work or on the weekends. It’s tempting to work late just to get something done, but I’ve learned that leads to too many mistakes. As hard as it is, I’m better off to walk away when I start getting tired and leave the project for another day.
I trim threads as I go. It’s such a little thing, really. I keep a pair of snips next to my machine and clip off threads as soon as I finish a seam. No more stray red threads caught under a white block in my quilt. No more cleaning up million of thread ends at the end of a finished project.
I never sew over an unpressed seam. I used to skip this step all.the.time. This is probably the one good habit that has made the biggest difference in how my projects look. To make it easy, I made myself a little pressing table and keep it right next to my sewing machine. I can just swivel my chair, press a seam, and go right back to sewing.
I learned the difference between pressing and ironing. Ironing – where you slide the iron over the fabric – can stretch seams and warp your fabric, especially if you iron on the bias. Instead, I’ve learned to press seams. When you press, you pick up the iron and move it each time instead of sliding it. No more warped half-square triangles!
I pre-wash fabrics. Not all fabrics. My rule is, if the finished project is likely to be washed, the fabric gets pre-washed. It avoids shrinking and fading in the finished project. It also means I need to plan ahead. If I know I only have a few hours on a Saturday to sew, I need to wash, dry and iron the fabric ahead of time so it’s ready to go.
Okay, I know I said “10 things” but I’m on a roll, so here’s a bonus:
I learned to use my quilting ruler to square up seams.
This is probably a no-brainer to someone who’s been quilting a long time, but I’m mostly self taught and I only recently realized I could (and should) square up seams as I’m pin basting a quilt together. The first time I did this, I could literally SEE my project getting more polished after I’d squared up the first few rows. It was amazing, and it’s so much easier to quilt a straight line when you’re following straight seams.
What are your favorite tips for professional results?