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community home > Sewing > Beginning Sewing > Back to basics
Back to basics
2008 views   1 replies   Latest reply: December 17, 2009 at 3:27:44 PM

Member since:
Dec 13, 2009
Posts: 27
auroranova message #1
Back to basics
December 16, 2009 at 11:58:11 PM
Years ago when I worked in a print shop, there were two women who were school teachers for one of the local middle schools. They had developed a program to aid in teaching kids to sew, and they wanted the company I worked for to print the patterns for them.

First of all, it wasn't cheap. Offset printing means running huge pieces of equipment to print large pieces of paper. If you only needed twenty or so copies, it just wasn't cost-effective. However, these ladies worked on my bosses and made arrangements to print four patterns on the same large piece of paper, then have them cut apart, folded and sorted into sets. Naturally, we had overruns, and (naturally) I took some samples home.

I kept those patterns for years, but never used them. They made pillows in animal shapes, with pockets on the backs and buttons for eyes, with embroidery faces. Just your basic sewing techniques for those just learning. I was already an accomplished seamstress by this time, but I thought the patterns were cute.

Why the trip down memory lane? Well, it occurs to me that most people who try to sew for the first time, attempt to make something they can wear. But in order to understand pattern instructions, you need to go back to the basics and do something simple. For example, the pillow kits those two teachers put together. Each kit came with the pattern, fabric, button, embroidery floss and the instructions on how to put it together. The instructions were clear and simple, written in language the twelve- to thirteen-year-olds could understand, and often had little drawings to illustrate what needed to be done.

So if you want to learn to sew, you need to understand the basics. First of all, needles come in two basic types: hand-sewing needles, and machine-sewing needles. The type of needles your machine may require will be listed in its instruction manual (please tell me you kept that!). Certain brands of sewing machines only take one brand of needle (like Singer) and will not accept a generic machine needle. Machine needle also come in different sizes for use on different types of fabrics. The lower the number, the thinner and more delicate the fabric. A size 9 needle is good for silks, gauzes, satins and crepes. A size 16 needle is for heavy-duty fabrics such as poplin, denim and twill. (We'll get into the different kinds of fabrics a bit later.)

Hand-sewing needles are also sized for the type of sewing they will be doing. They may also be called "sharps" or "betweens" or "embroidery" needles. Sharps are a good all-purpose needle for hand-sewing, with a medium-sized eye and a shaft about two to three inches long. Betweens are used for quilting, and are smaller and thinner, with a smaller eye. Betweens are also good if you're working with thin, fine fabrics and don't want a trail of needle-holes behind your stitching.

The type of thread used also affects your finished product. Sturdy denims need a sturdy cotton thread. Machine embroidery will require thinner, silkier thread. For most beginning projects, a cotton-covered polyester thread works just fine. The polyester core gives the thread strength, and the cotton covering helps the thread to glide more easily through the layers of fabric without tangling. If you're hand-sewing, you can run your length of thread through a block of beeswax, especially if you're concerned about tangling, or are uncertain how old your thread is. Generally speaking, you shouldn't keep thread that's older than four or five years, as it will break and tangle more easily. But if you use beeswax, you can cheat Time a little and extend the life of the thread by strengthening it.

A needle-threader is invaluable if your eyes are as old as mine, especially if you're working with smaller hand-sewing needles, or your sewing machine is difficult to thread. Newer machines often have a self-threading feature, but older machines can be a real pain in the patoot!

If you'll be working with very fine fabrics, like silk, satin, tulle or lace, invest in some ball-point needles and pins. They won't catch and snag the delicate material, and are thinner than standard needles and pins, so they don't leave such big holes behind.

Wherever possible, pin your pieces together with the pins perpendicular to the direction of your stitching. In other words, if you're sewing by machine, and your fabric is moving straight away from you, place your pins in this manner:  -----<  Try to keep them inside your seam allowance, if you can; less pinholes in your finished product. ALWAYS REMOVE YOUR PINS BEFORE YOU COME TO THEM WITH YOUR SEWING MACHINE NEEDLE!!!  Never hit your pins with your needle. You will break one or both, you may snag your fabric, and you might end up damaging your machine.

Okay, so we've covered pins and needles this time. Next time I'll discuss reading pattern instructions. Bye for now.

Look at that smile! (Photo guaranteed unretouched)
Member since:
Jul 1, 2009
Posts: 4538
Stitchboard Admin message #2
Re: Back to basics
December 17, 2009 at 3:27:44 PM
Thank you so much for the excellent instructions!  I'm following this very closely, because I haven't sewn much in years and really want to know more.

I love your idea for starting with something very small and simple.  You're right...the inclination is to start with some big, complex item.  I really would like to start with AG-type doll clothes, but I think even those are far beyond my level!

Thank you again, and I'll be eagerly awaiting your future posts on this!  Smiley

Melanie  (cat slave and Official Feline Can Opener) =^.^=
I'm a beading, knitting and crochet addict.  If that means I'm admitting I have a problem, then I admit to nothing. Please refrain from helping me.

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