Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Absolute Basics of Sewing: Seams and Hems

So I'm home sick today... Drinking a tea made from some stuff that I bought from WholeFoods that we call witch's brew. It tastes like you're drinking nature... and not in a good way.

Whilst I've got some bed-ridden time on my hands, I may as well post this tutorial that I made a couple of days ago, but didn't have time to write.

So here you go!

How to sew...


Seams are when you sew two pieces of fabric together or connect the edges of one piece of fabric.

Start by threading your machine. If you can't remember how, follow these directions.

Now that your machine is threaded and ready to go, let's sew some seams!

Take the two pieces of fabric and figure out which is the front side and which is the back side.

Some fabrics it's really obvious which side is which.
Some fabrics it doesn't matter which side you use.

Now put your fabric with both front sides facing together and line up the edges.

Pin your fabric together to keep it from slipping or moving around.

I like to have my pins about an inch apart on smaller pieces and about four inches apart on larger pieces.

Now, on your machine under your needle you'll see the needle plate. Conveniently, most needle plates have some handy-dandy measurements to help you measure your seams.

These measurements are in eighths of an inch incrementally and measure the distance from the needle when it is in the centre position. 

If you are using a sewing pattern, it will let you know what seam allowances to use. If you're not using a pre-made pattern, a quarter of an inch is what I usually use. 

Now take your fabric and line its pinned edge up with whatever measurement you plan to use for your seam.

Here I'm using 3/8ths. For a quarter inch, I usually just line my fabric up with the edge of my sewing foot.

Now, keeping your fabric in place, put your foot down (like I showed you in this tutorial). This will hold your fabric down, and put pressure on it to help the feed dogs pull it away from you.

Just like you learned in the Simple Stitches tutorial, we will first do a straight stitch.

Because this is stretch fabric, I chose a size 3 straight stitch.

Next, sew a few straight stitches. Stop. To keep the edges of your fabric from coming apart, it is a good idea to do a few reverse stitches before continuing on down your piece.
To do reverse stitches, press down on the reverse lever (pictured below) and sew a few stitches back. Do not go off of the fabric, just a couple of stitches will do.

Now, making sure to keep the edge of your fabric lined up with your measurement, continue sewing your straight line all of the way to the end. Also make sure to take out the pins as you go. If you sew over a pin, your needle could hit it and snap off and go flying and hit you in the eye and blind you FOREVER!!!

So take your pins out.

When you get to the end, again, add a couple of reverse stitches.

Now you will have two pieces of fabric that you can open up and you won't have any stitches visible on the other side. Like a pro!

To keep your fabric from fraying, let's add a zig-zag stitch along the edge of the fabric.

I have again chosen a size 3, but switched the stitch type to a zig-zag.

This time I line my fabric up with the edge of the foot so that the zig-zag stitch won't go over my straight stitch.

Just like sewing the straight stitch, sew along the edge all of the way to the end of the fabric.

Congratulations! You've sewn a seam that is strong, won't come apart at the ends and won't fray along the edge!

Now it's time to learn how to sew...


Hems are when you roll over the end of a piece of fabric to finish it nicely; like the bottom of a skirt or the end of a pant leg.

To begin, I like to put a zig-zag stitch along the entire edge of the hem. This keeps the fabric from fraying and makes it so that I don't have to roll the hem twice.

So let's start with that. When you're sewing an actual garment, start your zig-zag stitch from one of the seams. If you're just practising, sew from one edge of the fabric to the other.

I again used a 3 stitch and kept the fabric on the edge of the foot, this usually keeps the zig-zag close to the edge of the fabric, which is what you want when it is intended to stop the fabric from fraying.

Sew all of the way along the edge of the fabric.

When you're done, roll the back edges of the fabric together so that mostly the back side of the fabric is facing you, with about a half inch of the front side of the fabric folded over. I don't measure my hems when I am making a garment from scratch- I just go with a half inch-ish, but if you are using a pattern, it will tell you how long your hem should be. 

Now pin your measured hem roll into place.

Switch your sewing machine back to a straight stitch. 

I like to line up my stitch either with the right edge of my zig-zag stitch, or right down the middle. This time I went right down the middle.

Sew a straight line, following along the edge of your hem and making sure that your stitches are nice and straight.

When you turn over your fabric, you'll have a nice, tidy, straight hem. If you'd like, you can press this hem flat.

And that's it! With these basic skills, you should be able to make yourself clothes, curtains, cushion covers and more!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Nana's Antique Singer

So in the next week or so I will be returning the sewing machine that I've been borrowing for the last year or so to my friend Ash, who very graciously lent it to me while she wasn't using it.
Normally I would have been freaking out thinking "I can't afford to go and buy another sewing machine! How am I ever going to be able to make my clothes??"
Thankfully, however, since we moved into our new and much bigger (600 sq ft vs our last apartment at 312 sq ft) apartment I've been able to get my antiques and furniture back out of storage. In amongst those antiques is a beautiful Singer sewing machine that my Nana once owned and that my mum actually learned to sew on (and made her prom dress on.)

I haven't sewn on it yet, but yesterday I did open it up and plug it in to make sure that everything works on it.

It's built into this beautiful table and folds out of the top.
I'm totally terrified by it, even though I know that it's survived a heck-of-a long time and that the odds of me breaking it are pretty slim.

I wanted to learn more about the actual machine, so I Googled and came across this website. You can search for the serial number imprinted on the machine and it will tell you what year it was made in.

Did my little search and learned that this machine was made in 1952. So this classy lady is in her 60's and looking great- this machine is older than my mum is!

Then it was time to see if the fairly primitive looking plug still functioned...

Low and behold, I pushed the thigh pedal and the ol' girl sprung into life!

So thanks to Nana and some pretty great mid-century craftsmanship, I still have a sewing machine! It'll require a little TLC to make sure that she keeps running smoothly, but I feel like a little WD40 and a bit of dusting is worth it.
Unfortunately, though, it doesn't have a zig-zag stitch function, so I'll quickly have to whip up a tutorial on that before I give Ash back her machine, and then I'll have to go and buy a twin needle for doing my edging- which will, of course, have a tutorial to match.

The Absolute Basics of Sewing: Simple Stitches

So now that you're a pro at threading your sewing machine, I guess it's probably time to show you how to actually use it.

Most sewing machines have lots of different stitch options, but you are really only ever going to use a few different variations on two.

You will find the different options for stitch types and lengths on one or two dials on the front of your sewing machine.

The higher the number, the longer the stitch.

1,2&3- Straight Stitch.

The Straight Stitch:

You will use this stitch for basically everything. Choosing the length really depends upon what kind of fabric you are sewing with.

With quilting cottons or other fabrics without stretch, you will use a smaller stitch- probably a 2.

With stretch fabrics you will use a 3 to 4 to allow for stretch room.

I have never used a 1, but if you have a non-stretch fabric that needs to have really strong seems (like if you were making a very overstuffed teddy bear or something) this is what you would use.

Straight stitches are what holds everything together. You will use them on every part of your sewing project- including hems.

The Zig Zag Stitch:

I use this stitch on high-stretch fabrics like lycra to give me a lot of stretch space. I also use it in lieu of serging by running a zig zag stitch along the edges of my fabric beside my straight stitches. Serging is what you will find on the insides of t-shirts, it keeps fabrics from fraying.

To start you stitches, put your fabric with the far end at the beginning of your feed dogs (the two spikey parts under your needle). Then choose what size and kind of stitch you want to do. I suggest playing around with your settings to see what they produce.

Then you're just going to have to put your foot down.

The little lever at the back will put your sewing foot down.
Now to begin your stitch, use the balance wheel to turn your needle down into your fabric. Don't forget to make sure that your machine is on. Put gentle pressure with your fingers on either side of the foot just to guide the fabric- the feed dogs will pull the fabric away from you, but only properly if the foot is down. Now put steady, slow pressure on the pedal, and watch your machine go! As you get more comfortable with your machine, you'll be able to go faster, but in the beginning, just take it slow- just like driving. You'll have far fewer seams to rip and re-sew if you just take it easy and watch what you're doing carefully.

Now just keep practising those. Try sewing two pieces of fabric together. Use different kinds of fabric with differing amounts of stretch, thickness, slipperiness, etc.

Practice makes perfect, and there's no perfect formula for sewing. The more you get to know how stitches behave in different kinds of fabric and how different kinds of fabric work together, the better you'll be at making garments that last.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Absolute Basics of Sewing: Threading a Sewing Machine

No better place to start than the very beginning.
To those of you that are pro's at sewing, I apologize. To those of you that have only ever seen a sewing machine from a distance, this is what you'll need to know before you start making couture gowns (or circle skirts, for that matter.)

First: Meet your machine.

Sewing machines are a bit like cars; they're all different, but they basically all function in the same way. Once you've gotten used to using one machine, you should be able to figure out how to use just about any sewing machine.

Set your sewing machine up. Plug it in. Read the directions.

Second: Thread your machine.

In this (hopefully) easy-to-follow step-by-step guide, I'll show you how to thread your machine.
Again, the machine that I'm showing you on may be slightly different to your own, but fear not, all of the doohickies look pretty much the same, so you should be able to find the applicable doohickey and follow along without much difficulty.

So grab some thread, and here we go!

Step 1: Pull Up Your Spool Pin.

I didn't realize this one when I was first learning and couldn't figure out why my thread kept flying all over the place when I tried to sew.
Now pop your thread onto your thread holder, and let's continue.

Step 2: Winding a Bobbin.

The bobbin is a small spindle of thread that sews on the bottom of your fabric. Without it, your machine won't sew, so don't skip this step.

This is a plastic bobbin and his buddy the bobbin case.

Bobbins can be metal or plastic, these days they're usually plastic, but in the future you will see me working with metal bobbins as I'm going to start using my Nana's antique sewing machine... but more on that later.

Keeping your thread spool on its spool pin, pull the loose end of the thread out and pull it around the bobbin winder tension disk from the far side to the side closest to you.

When you look closely, you'll find a little hole in your bobbin.
Thread the bobbin through the small hole by going through the inside of the bobbin so that the thread pops out the top.

Put the bobbin on the bobbin winder, making sure that you hold on to the thread so that it doesn't come out.

Push the bobbin winder over to switch your machine into bobbin-winding mode.

Press gently, slowly and consistently on your foot pedal and the bobbin will begin to wind.

Once you feel that you have enough thread on your bobbin (making sure not to over-fill it) stop and cut the thread.

Congratulations! You now have a wound bobbin! If you feel the need to reward yourself with a sticker or cupcake, please do so now.

Step 3: Threading Your Machine.

Once again, pull the loose end of your thread from the spool. Pull it through the thread guide.

Then you follow the arrows (most basic sewing machines have these friendly, idiot-proof helpers to guide you through threading.)

Now you'll need to thread the thread take-up. He might be hiding like the cheeky little bugger that he is... in which case, turn the balance wheel until the thread take-up rears his oddly-shaped head.

Then bring the end of the thread down to the needle.

Now for the part that is going to annoy you for the rest of your life, just as it has mine! 
Threading the needle. 
Now get the thread moist- yep. spit.-, then try and put it through the needle hole. And when it doesn't work the first four times, swear loudly and then proceed to try threading it again until you can finally pinch it from the other side and pull it through.

Take a breath. 
You've threaded your machine. Almost. You can take a swig of whatever relaxing elixir you're able to procure for yourself and take a break before moving on.

Step 4: Threading the Bobbin

Hopefully you haven't dropped your bobbin and had the whole thing unwind itself into a big, knotted mess, and can continue with the bobbin you wound at the beginning of this tutorial.

Remember Bobbin Case, Bobbin's cuddle buddy? Find him.

Now, take your bobbin and pop it into to bobbin case so that when it is facing you it makes a 'q' shape.

On the side of the bobbin case you'll find a tightly fitted flap. 

Pull the thread around that flap so that it pops out the hole of the bobbin case.

Now open the bobbin compartment. This may be on the side of the sewing machine or the front, but inside it will look the same.

Pop little mister bobbin case into the hole, making sure that the arm of the bobbin case fits in its slot.

Go back up to your top thread and hold on to its end.

While keeping hold of the top thread, turn the balance wheel so that the needle comes down. This will bring the top thread around the bobbin casing. Continue turning until the needle comes back out.

Now pull firmly on the top thread and the bobbin thread will have looped around it and will pull out the top.

Now you can close up your bobbin housing and...


You've threaded a sewing machine! 

BOOYAH. You are the master of machines. You are the commander of crafts. You win at life.