Lately I’ve been fielding questions from folks who are breaking out their old sewing machines after a long hiatus – a quarantine will do that, you know. I’ve also been brushing up on new sewing hacks from fellow sewing and costuming friends as we dive into sewing cloth face masks for our family and friends. I figure it is my turn to share what I know to help you make your sewing projects go a little easier, a little quicker, or allow you to make that one little unexpected tweak that takes your sewing project from OK to Wow!
20 Sewing Hacks That Will Make Your Life Easier!1. If your sewing machine is starting to sew with loose top or bottom stitches or the bobbin is leaving a birds nest of thread on the bottom of your project (they call this nesting,) the first thing you should do is completely unthread and rethread the thread spool and bobbin. Sometimes while sewing the machine will jostle the thread out of place. If that doesn’t solve the problem, change the needle. Sometimes something as small as a mirco curve in the needle (from say, sewing over pins) that you can see with the naked eye will cause a world of trouble when you are sewing that is easily fixed with a new needle.
2. Find a sewing machine repair person and take your machine in for an annual cleaning and tune up to catch small (and less expensive) alignment, part, and timing problems before they become big and expensive major overhaul and multiple parts replacement problems. The best place to start looking for a sewing machine repair person is to ask a store that sells sewing machines or gives sewing and quilting lessons where they take their sewing machines for repair. My 1976 Kenmore is my workhorse sewing machine and even though they don’t make them anymore, I’ve never had a sewing machine repair person refuse to work on it even if the shop sells different brands of machines that what I take in.
3. To make sewing a group of the same pattern/project easier, batch sew each part of the project assembly line - according to piece and thread color. For example, when I sew pajama pants as Christmas gifts I use different fabric for each person’s project. I cut the pattern pieces out for all of the projects and safety pin them together with the persons’ name and sort them into piles in my sewing room according to the color of thread that will coordinate/match each project. I thread my sewing machine, let’s say with red thread, and sew the first seam of each pair of pants in the pile of fabric that will use red thread. Then I sew the Step 2 of the pattern for all of the pairs, etc. This way, it takes roughly two evenings to sew a group of pajama pants (one to batch cut and one to sew) instead of up to three or more evenings to cut and sew one pair of pants at a time. I’m doing the same thing when making cloth face masks.
4. You can make the job of making bias tape a lot less painful by using a bias tape maker. After cutting your fabric to the desired width of your bias tape, you feed it into the bias tape maker (which can be a little tricky which is why I recommend buying a bias tape maker kit like this one that includes an awl to help you move the fabric through the bias tape maker) and the bias tape tool folds it as you move it along the fabric strip with one hand and press the folds into place with an iron in your other hand. This miracle tool has been a blessing when making fabric ties for cloth face masks! (Disclosure: I am including affiliate links in this post for your convenience.)
This is what a bias tape maker looks like. You can buy them separately or in sets like this one.
5. Use a sewing gage to turn under even seams. You can find several styles of sewing gages here (or if you want to know what it looks like.) I used my metal sewing gage so often I wore the paint off of it.
6. To help you keep from loosing your sewing gage in the flotsam and jetsam of your sewing area (which is a much more polite way to say the hurricane of supplies covering more space than you though possible) consider wearing one on your wrist like this exact ruler bracelet I have here . My bestie and fellow costumer gave me this bracelet for my birthday and she was right I’d be lost without it in my sewing room! To be honest, I wear it all of the time as a regular bracelet because I like it (as she predicted.)
In between the rulers it says Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts, aw...
7. Keep all of your pins in one place with a magnetic pin cushion. I have several pincushions but the one I use most often is the magnetic one because it holds the most straight pins. My first magnetic pin cushion was a Grabbit magnetic pin cushion (it looks like this) and it still spilled pins all over the floor when I knocked it off my sewing table by accident – which is what I wanted to avoid in the first place. It happened so often my mechanic’s magnet (it looks like this and it is fantastic at finding and sweeping up spilled pins and needles hidden in carpeting and rugs) started living in my sewing desk instead of my garage workbench. I finally switched to using a small magnetic mechanic’s parts tray like this one as a no spill pin cushion (thanks to working an antique metal table) as a pin cushion and wondered by I hadn’t done it sooner.
8. You can save money on sewing thread by buying the all purpose thread colors you use most often (for me that is neutral color thread like black and white) in bulk by the serger cone. Some sewing machines have adapters or adapters you can buy that will allow you to put a large serger cone of thread on a standard sewing machine. My sewing machines are too fickle for that so I wind the the thread onto a bobbin or empty small spool of thread.
9. To keep from completely unthreading your sewing machine in the middle of a project just to wind a new bobbin consider using a portable bobbin winder (you can find several types of portable bobbin winders here.) My Sidewinder was a complete game changer in my sewing room, especially when I have to wind my serger cone thread onto a new spool or bobbin. Love. Love. Love it!
Also, it is hot pink!
10. To keep pins from ripping and poking Swiss cheese holes into your paper sewing patterns, use pattern weights like these to attach your fabric to your pattern when you are cutting the fabric. You can go as simple or fancy with pattern weights as you like. My first set of pattern weights are round craft magnets like these glued to the inside of a bunch of bottle caps that stick to the antique enamel table I use in my sewing room. I recently added these glass pattern weights after using them at a friend's because I like that I can see all of the patterns and markings as I cut the pattern and fabric. You can also go simple - and cheap! - by using large metal washers like these as pattern weights if you aren't sure about using them (it does take a bit of getting used to) or very fancy like this large 4 pound metal cloth and pattern weight if you work with very heavy fabrics.
|Washers work as pattern weights although you may have to stack them so they'll hold|
|This beauty has been on my wish list for a long time to help me cut out long historical skirts|
|These weights are large enough that you don't need a ton to get the job done|
11. Use the marks on the sewing machine needle plate as a guide to sew even seams of an even width. Some people put tape on them as guide but you really don’t have to since they are already there.
I should also add the tip to periodically brush the lint from your sewing machine during a project. Oops! So messy!
12. If you sew a lot of thick layers or fabrics and have problems pinning them together consider replacing your straight pins with Multipurpose Sewing Clips like these.
I tried using small wood clothes pins I already had but they didn’t work well because they aren’t narrow at the part that clips to the fabric and didn't fit close to my sewing machine presser foot. I had to remove the clothes pin too early and it was more of a problem than it solved. In other words, I'm buying clips.
13. Wear your scissors on a lanyard so you don’t lose them. The neck scissors idea is from my costumer bestie which I think is genius! Even better she gifted me my very own pair of Neck Scissors which at the time matched my purple hair.
Basically if I don't have my sewing tools attached to my body I will lose them under fabric in my sewing room.
15. To make sure your corner seams are square when you turn them right side out, clip the seam diagonally across the corner instead of at the corner.
When you turn the clipped corner right side out it will have a nice point instead of fabric bunched in the corners.
17. You can sharpen dull fabric scissors and rotary cutters by using them to cut folded aluminum foil and keep them sharper long by only cutting fabric with your fabric scissors and nothing else.
18. Wrap a dollar store hair band around bobbins and thread spools to keep them from unwinding while in storage.
I think the fuzzy hair bands are easier to put on and take off the spools and bobbins than the elastic kind.
19. While working on a sewing project periodically run a lint roller over your fabric to clean stray thread from your project, floor, and work area. Why is it that no matter how well I think I remove stray threads from a seam after using a seam ripper there are always a bunch left? That’s when I started using a lint roller.
20. For more professional and crisp seams in your finish project, press your seams open with an iron as you are sewing the project. It doesn't have to be a fancy set up. Instead of dragging the big ironing board upstairs to my small sewing room, I press my seams open on an old folded towel on a metal table with a low iron. Works great.
Looking for more creative sewing tools and ideas? check out the following options – and more! – below!