My Number 1 Sewing TipMonday, May 02, 2016
On my 29th birthday, back in 2009, I was given my very own sewing machine, and a passion was born. Since then I have been sewing, on and off, pretty much every week and, although I wouldn't call myself an expert and I have an awful lot more to learn, I have certainly picked up a few hints and tips over the past 7 years. But there is one tip above others that I would pass on to anyone who was thinking about starting sewing that I wish I had know when I started, and it's a very simple tip:
Use the best quality tools you can afford
Yep, that's it! But let's look at this a little more closely. Obviously if you are only starting out, you may not want to commit to all top end tools, just in case sewing turns out to not be for you (imagine!). So I think it is only prudent to perhaps buy the best you can afford, or feel happy spending money on, and then slowly over time replace and upgrade your various tools, which is how I have been approaching it. But which 'tools' are worth spending the money on?
Fabric Scissors or Shears
Oh my goodness, what a difference decent fabric scissors make! My first pair were a £5 pair from Ikea, and for a while they did the job. But very quickly they became blunt and I was left hacking my way through my fabric. I decided to upgrade to a pair of Fiscars Dressmaking Scissors, which set me back about £20. Wow - it was like a whole new world was opened up to me. These scissors glided through all different types of fabric with ease and I no longer struggled getting straight lines cut. I'm quite sure these shears will last me a lifetime and I will be happy, but I do have to admit that I have had my eyes on both the gorgeous red handled 10" shears from Merchant and Mills, and also the turquoise handled 8" shears from Ernest Wright and Son. At £53 and £40 respectively, they are quite a considered purchase, but I have only heard amazing things about them...and I have been dropping many unsubtle hints to my husband! What type of shears do you own and what do you think of them?
When I first started out sewing I wanted ALL THE THINGS and I wanted a big stash of all different bits and bobs to be able to 'shop' from whenever the inspiration for a new project hit me, rather than having to wait until I had time to go to a fabric shop and pick up everything I needed then. So my solution to this was to bulk buy thread in a multitude of colours. I found a bundle of about 20 spools on Ebay for very little (I can't remember exactly) and decided that would be perfect. I use this thread for many of my first projects and it worked ok. But as soon as I used a spool of 'decent' thread in my machine, I realised that my machine actually ran so much more smoothly, I had less thread 'nest' disasters (you know what I mean right?!) and hand sewing was far less stressful. It was a revelation, to say the least!
Sewing Machine Feet
Up until very recently I had always just used the feet that came with my sewing machine to tackle all my jobs - and that was primarily my regular foot and a regular zip foot. About a year ago I decided to invest (I say invest, but they aren't that expensive really!) in a walking foot as I was going to be doing some machine quilting. Since then I have rarely put my regular foot back on my machine as the walking foot is not only helpful with quilting, it is also just brilliant for assisting feeding all fabric through my machine. And my most recent 'upgrade' was an invisible zip foot - oh my goodness, what an eye opener! I have always just sewn my invisible zips with my regular zip foot and a lot of heat from the iron. I did a decent job, but it was always a bit of an effort. I have just used the invisible zip foot for the first time and it is brilliant! Really worth buying one if you haven't yet!
I bet you weren't expecting me to talk about something as basic as pins - surely they are all the same right? Well that's what I thought and for the first 5 or so years of sewing I was struggling (without realising it) with pinning my fabric with the cheap pins I owned. Turns out if you spend just a little bit more on your pins, you get far superior, sharper pins that glide through your fabric with ease. Basic pins usually have plastic heads, but if you spend a little bit more you can get glass headed pins and then you don't have to worry about your pins accidentally melting onto your fabric when you iron over them (I have done that far more times than I care to admit!). Another tip would be, if you can afford it, invest in pins specific for your fabric. You probably know that if you are going to sew with jersey you need to use a ball-point needle. Did you know that you can get ball point pins? I didn't, until I accidentally ordered some! Initially I was really annoyed that I had ordered the wrong type of pins, but I soon discovered how much better they actually are at pinning jersey fabric! Or, if you are going to be working with light, delicate fabric, such as silk, you could invest in a set of Entomology Pins from Merchant and Mills. I bought some to work on my Wedding reception dress and they are very sharp and were excellent for working with the silk and delicate lining I used.
This is a similar story to the thread - I decided to bulk buy cheap zips from Ebay so that I had a variety on hand. But more often than not, the zips would break, or just not open and close very easily. The bottom line is, if you are going to spend all that time and toil making a beautiful garment, do you really want to put a shoddy zip in it that might break? No. Just buy a decent zip as and when you need it!
Another Ikea story - when I started out sewing I discovered that buying fabric could be very pricey...and then I discovered the fabric section of Ikea and I thought I had found my solution. And I had - I made a number of lovely garments and project using Ikea fabric (this skirt, this bag, this skirt and this top). Ikea fabric is lovely and it makes great curtains, cushions and even bags, but it doesn't really lend itself very well to garment sewing. It creases terribly in the wash and its really hard work to iron - especially when you loathe ironing! This means I have only worn my Ikea fabric garments a couple of times each. I admit using this cheaper fabric was great for practising and honing my skills, but now that I am a bit more competent at sewing I am prepared to spend a bit more on my fabric and get a better quality garment at the end. And, although this is not always the case, quite often spending a bit more money on your fabric means you have a cloth that is actually easier to work with than a cheaper alternative - making your sewing experience more enjoyable. An extreme example of this is Liberty Tana Lawn - this stuff is pricey (£22 per meter!), but oh my goodness, it's like sewing through butter! There is certainly more affordable fabric out there that is still very good quality and easy to work with. In contrary to this, fabric is actually an area where you can save money if you are wanting to - how about up-cycling old clothes or sheets? That's a great way to get your hands on fabric of a decent quality for little money.
Now I was very lucky to be given my sewing machine for my birthday, as this is certainly a considered purchase! However, because of this, I can't really give you any nuggets of wisdom on sewing machines. What I can share is that starting off, you really just need a machine which can sew a straight line and a zigzag. My machine is probably just above the basic sewing machine and it has served me well over the years, however I do feel that I am now coming to the stage that I would really love to upgrade. But sewing machines are expensive, and I have a new house and childcare to pay for, so I think I will be waiting awhile for that upgrade!
So those are the main tools which I think you should spend what you can afford on. Of course there are many more tools out there that are brilliant and will make your sewing experience more enjoyable. Things that you don't necessarily need, but are great to have - for example a pressing ham (amazing for ironing curved seams), a dressmakers dummy or a tailors pressing clapper. But that's a whole other blog post!
What tools do you think are worth spending a bit more on? Have you had similar experiences as me with your tools? I'd love to hear your stories and any advice or tips you can share on the subject.