I have started sewing again… regularly that is. For the past year our sewing situation has been a bit chaotic, so I haven’t really sat down at the machine to sew very much. However, we are now turning a spare room into a sewing and studio space- the sewing desk is on side of the room, and my art and work desks are on the other. The storage solutions are not finished yet, but the room is at a place where I can actually sit down and pull out a project, work on it and leave it there (without having to pack everything up, like when I was sewing in the living room or at the dining room table). Yes, of course, you can sew without a sewing room, but I enjoy it a lot more when there is a dedicated area for the creative mess. I will share a “studio tour” when it’s done, but in the meantime, while we’re on the topic of sewing, I realized that I have been sewing for over 20 years! I am definitely of the belief that sewing is a life skill; even if you don’t take it up as a hobby, it’s a great tool to have in your arsenal. As much as I have learned about sewing over the years there always seems to be more to learn and perfect… I guess it really is true that the more you learn, the less you know!
But today, here are some of my favourite sewing tools and techniques that I use all the time. These are the tips and tricks I have learned over the years: whether you’re new to sewing or not, maybe you’ll learn something new too!
Bamboo Point Turner
I honestly don’t know how I could live without one of these point turners. When I lived far away from my family years ago (and thus no longer had access to my mom’s sewing supplies!) I didn’t have one of these corner turners and I found it so difficult to get nice points on things. A chopstick just doesn’t work as well as this little smoothing tool does.
Tools for Marking Fabric & Patterns
I have tried many different methods of marking fabric and patterns: graphite pencils, fabric markers, felt markers and more. Here are the ones I use the most often:
- Tailor’s Chalk: Both the good and bad thing about chalk is that it rubs off- so I use this for lines that I will be stitching right away and don’t want to stay on the fabric permanently. I have chalk in yellow, blue and red for different colours of fabric. You do have to press slightly hard, so it works best for stiffer fabric in my opinion.
- Transfer Paper: My mom has a huge bundle of vintage transfer paper like this (I forgot to take a picture) and I use a wheel tool to mark lines from patterns onto the fabric- such as darts or measurement circles. I also use them to trace patterns and then true up my lines after with a different pencil.
- Crayola Pencil Crayons: I discovered that Crayola Twistable pencil crayons work really well for marking patterns. They are soft enough that you don’t have to press hard and wrinkle your pattern, but the markings stay put. Also, unlike pencils or felt markers, they don’t bleed or get graphite dust everywhere. I’ve also used them to mark fabric (you can also slightly erase the markings with a regular white eraser) but I wouldn’t use them anywhere you don’t want a permanent mark showing.
Paper for Pattern Making
Speaking of pattern making, I like to use Kraft Paper rather than tissue paper. I like that it has a little bit more durability than tissue pattern paper, for the patterns I am using all the time, but it’s not too stiff and so it flexes a bit with the fabric.
The patterns last well, it’s easy to write on, and because it’s on a roll, you don’t have to piece sheets together for long pattern pieces.
Magnetic Pin Cushion
This is one of the best sewing tools my mom ever bought and that I stole from her. (It’s actually a shared space, so I didn’t really steal it) It seems kind of silly to use a magnetic pin cushion instead of the dish the pins came in, or a regular stuffed cushion…but it really does make pinning so much easier. It’s quicker to grab a pin because you can’t spill the container, and if one does drop it just snaps back on the magnet. Also, if you have a pile of pins you didn’t put back on the magnet, (or if you drop some on the floor!) you can just hover the magnet and they all leap back on like magic! If I was starting out now, I don’t think I’d go for the plastic one (which has a compartment on the bottom we never use) but would rather get a magnetic parts tray from a hardware/automotive shop, or would take a pretty vintage saucer or coaster and put my own magnet on the bottom.
Not all pins are created equal. I have tried plastic head pins, quilting pins, tiny metal headed pins…but I prefer the round glass head pins the most. The white pins above are glass head, and the yellow ones are plastic. Unless I need a slightly stronger pin, in which case I will go for the yellow ones, I tend to use the glass head ones. I like them because you can pin things in place and then gently press over them with your iron (gently so as not to scratch your iron), which you can’t do with plastic pins. Well, you can, but then you end up with a mangled and melted pin head (not that I’ve ever done that…)
As for safety pins, I am new to this sewing tool. Of course I’ve always had safety pins around, but I’ve never used them for sewing, because I thought they were mainly for quilting. However, I recently discovered that if you’re doing any sewing that you want to transport without pins falling out, then safety pins are a much better choice than standard straight pins. This works great for hand sewing too, since I usually like to do large amounts of hand sewing, such as hems, in a comfortable spot rather than at the sewing desk.
I am new to using a twin needle, but this is one of the neatest little sewing inventions. You can use a twin needle on your standard sewing machine, running two top threads and one bobbin thread, resulting in two lovely, evenly spaced rows of stitching. For anywhere you want to topstitch details and especially if you are sewing knits, then a twin needle is definitely a good thing to use. I’ve only used it a few times, but every time I have I have been super impressed with how well those neat, little rows turn out!
This is my absolute favourite hand sewing technique, which I learned only a few years ago, but use constantly. I think it’s easier to learn how to do this simple stitch from a video, rather than a picture, so here’s a little tutorial I found on Youtube. I love this stitch because it’s nearly invisible and works so much better than a slipstitch for certain applications. I use this stitch to close up pillows, or to finish off the edges of a waistband. Sometimes trying to sew a small little seam with the machine is harder than just hand stitching it, and this technique works so well for a lot of those finishing touches.
Perhaps I should have saved this tip for the future sewing room tour, but thread organization is such a huge part of sewing; if you can’t easily find your materials, then your whole project is going to take longer and be much more frustrating. After years of struggling with spools of thread in boxes and drawers, I made this wall organizer out of a picture frame, a piece of plywood for the backing and a piece of fabric. I took 3″ nails and spray painted them white (so they’d look nicer). Then I cut the piece of plywood to fit inside the frame, covered it with fabric (because it was splintery) and glued it in place. I then marked out a grid and hammered the nails into the wood at an angle. The only thing I’d change is that I should have given some more space between each nail, because the thicker spools are hard to place as they bump into each other. However, despite that, this works so well for organizing all the thread and making it easy to grab the correct colour at a glance!
Another organization technique that I recently implemented, which really frees up space and makes things easier to find, is winding the majority of my ribbon and lace onto cards. I used to leave them all on the cardboard spools they come on, which took up a huge amount of drawer space. Also, for ribbon bought by the yard, I used to just wind them in a loop like a yarn skien, but they would inevitably end up in a tangled mess. Now, after wrapping them onto cards, I can see at a glance how much I have of each, and can unwind as much as I need. And as a bonus, the cards take up about 1/2 of the space the spools did, freeing up a huge area in my drawers and baskets.
Sewing Cabbage or Carbage
Simultaneously one of the downfalls and benefits of sewing is all of the scrap fabric you will end up with. (Or “cabbage” or “carbage” as it’s called.) What to do with all of these scraps? I like to sort them into different sections and purposes. I keep a basket on the top of my desk, and I place all scraps into this basket as I work on a project. Then as I have time later, I go through the basket and sort into these categories, for different purposes.
- Large scraps of 1/2 metre or more that I could potentially make another project out of, I fold up and place back on the shelf.
- Medium scraps of less than 1/2 a metre, that could be used as a facing, lining, patch for mending, or to make a small project like a pouch, I save in a large basket.
- Small cotton scraps of 3″ – 6″ that are large enough to be quilting squares, I save in a drawstring bag. I’ve been saving some of these pieces for years, and was finally able to use some of them in this purse.
- Tiny scraps of less than 3″, or small pieces of synthetic fabric that I wouldn’t use for a quilt, are cut up into tiny 1″ pieces and saved for stuffing. You can make floor cushions, dog beds, historical costuming hip/bum pads etc. with these tiny pieces. Of course, I don’t always need all of these scraps, so they do sometimes end up in the trash, unfortunately.
Well, there are my favourite sewing tools and techniques; at least all of the ones I can remember right now!
Do you sew? What techniques and tools do you use most often? Do you have any tips and tricks to add to this list?