11 Sewing Hacks You Need to Know

Accuracy! Speed! Organization! It's what we all want for our sewing lives, right? And it doesn't take much to help the cause. Here are a few tips to make your sewing projects more — dare we say it? — seamless.

1. Clothespins and binder clips can step in for pins.

Sometimes thicker fabrics are just SO thick that they can't be held together by straight pins. Or maybe you're sewing with something that you don't want to ruin with a hole, like leather, vinyl or oil cloth.

Sure, sewing stores sell fancy clips for this purpose, but there's really no need to buy special tools here. If you have clothespins or binder clips at home, they'll do the exact same job.

2. Add a seam allowance with a double pencil tracing tool.

Some patterns don't come with seam allowances included. It's meant to be more customizable, but sometimes it's just a pain. You can draw it in using a ruler, but you'll be there for a while. Instead, just tape two pencils together. Bam! Two lines for the price of one. Just keep in mind that you'll want to measure the distance between them — that's your seam allowance during the sewing process.

Tracing is way more accurate with a fine point pencil, so use mechanical pencils for a quick and accurate fine point line.

3. Mark your seam allowance on your machine.

Maybe you want to use a seam allowance that's not shown on your machine, or you just need help seeing the line. Try these tips:

  • Use washi tape or painter’s tape to mark your line. These tapes come off clean and help you clearly see the edge.

  • You can also use a large rubber band to mark your new seam allowance. Just make sure it's large enough to fit around your machine without snapping.

  • Use a sticky note to mark your machine.

4. Store buttons in a pill tray.

Pill trays or plastic storage trays from the hardware store are great options for storing buttons. All the better if they have slots that can be moved around to create larger or smaller compartments for different sized buttons.

5. Use nearly-empty bobbins for basting.

When I'm done with a sewing project, there's usually still some thread left on the bobbin. If it's a color thread I know I'll use again soon, I'll set the spool and bobbin aside to be paired up again next time.

If it's a color you don't plan to work with again any time soon, use it for unseen sewing instead of unspooling and tossing. This is perfect for sewing baste stitches for hand gathering or setting a sleeve into a garment. Baste stitches are almost always pulled out anyway, so why waste your favorite thread?

6. Check your seam allowance with the width of a tape measure.

The most common sewing seam allowance is ⅝" (that's because it translates perfectly to 1.5 cm for our friends on the metric system). Here's a surprise: That's the exact same width as nearly all new tape measures! So if you need to check your stitching or mark a spot without a seam gauge on hand, just reach for the tape measure. Plus it's much easier to measure long distances this way.

7. Leave notes with your fabric stash.

For at-a-glance control over your fabric stash, leave yourself notes. I like to mark the yardage, width and whether the fabric is "washed" or "unwashed." Remember to re-measure after you wash your fabric, since it'll probably shrink a bit.

8. Store bobbins in toe separators.

Nobody wants their bobbins rolling around and unraveling all over the place. Keep them in place by storing in toe separators — they fit perfectly and work great in drawers. If you want to take it a step further, write the thread colors on the foam with a permanent marker so it's easy to mate the bobbin with its spool next time you pick up a project.

9. A pin makes sure you never cut through your buttonhole.

Buttonholes are usually cut open with seam rippers, but thicker fabrics can be a little tricky to navigate. Keep yourself from tearing through the threads by placing a pin across the buttonhole, near the end. That way your seam ripper will run into the pin instead of tearing through the stitch.

10. Peel your chalk for a super sharp edge.

Chalk triangle wedges are great for making quick markings on fabric, but keeping them sharp can be a real pain. If you don't have sandpaper handy, try sharpening with a kitchen peeler.

11. Organize used needles on a cork board.

Sewing machine needles are only good for about 8-10 hours of sewing. If you need to switch needles before yours is expired, it's important to flag that it's been used. I note the needle type and size on a chart so when it's time to use the same needle again, I know it doesn't have a full 8-10 hour lifespan. A simple sticky note on cork board is perfect for staying organized here.

February 11, 2018
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11 Sewing Hacks You Need to Know