Learn to sew

Sewing 101 – Handy Sewing Tricks

Both my Mother and two Grandmothers were extraordinary seamstresses.  They sewed new clothes with or without patterns, reconstructed all varieties of used clothing to fit like it was tailor made and mended holes and seams on favorite stuffed toys and hand-me-down clothes.  Sadly, all three of them are gone now and with them went a wealth of knowledge.  It happens for not just this, but in so many other areas of life.  I was lucky enough to be in the receiving position of some of this knowledge and as I was patching knee holes on about pair number 3 out of 5 pairs of pants this morning, it occurred to me that this is knowledge worth sharing.  What I’ve compiled below contains a lot of sewing basics that a new sewer may find useful but even if you’re a seasoned sewer, hopefully there is at least one tidbit that you’ll find helpful that goes past just basics.  All of these are machine sewing related and should apply whether the machine is electric or treadle.  I know we have at least a couple of sewers among the readers here so I hope you guys will chime in too and share your own tricks (hand or machine) in the comments.  Lets harness some of this fading knowledge for those that follow in our footsteps.  🙂

  1. A round patch holds up better to wear and tear than one with square corners.

How to sew a patch on jeans

2.  Put your presser foot down when threading your needle.  It will make it easier to reach the needle but also triggers the tension mechanism which will hold your spool of thread still while you work.sewing 101

3.  When loading the bobbin, feed the thread up through the bobbin hole by hand-turning the spinning wheel for a stitch or two with the presser foot up.  The top thread becomes intertwined with the bobbin thread so you can run your scissors under the presser foot to pull the thread up and to the back.

4.  When sewing stretchy fabric going WITH the stretch, use a zig-zag stitch so the thread can move with the fabric and not break.  The more stretchy the fabric, the wider the zig-zag stitch you’ll use. My machine is almost 65 years old, you can see she’s skipping a little.   I love her regardless. 🙂

5.  Put the needle in the fabric and lift the presser foot to make sewing around a sharp corner nice and tidy. 

6.  Lock your stiches by sewing a few forward then backward before sewing the rest of the garment.

7.  Make direct sewn elastic work by stretching the elastic out as you sew it to the fabric.  Use a zig-zag stitch just like you would with stretchy fabric so the stitches can expand as they need to without breaking the thread.

8.  Make your own ruffle by sewing a straight stitch down the middle of a piece of fabric or ribbon.  Then, holding the bottom thread only, gently slide the fabric up the stitches to make it gather.  Use a long stitch and make sure you lock your beginning stitches, but not the end ones.  The presser foot is a handy tool to hold one end so you can work the gathers with two hands.  Once it’s gathered, sew along the top to hold it in place.  (this works great for crepe paper decorations also!)


9.  Make a button hole without a button hole attachment by using a pen to mark two straight lines the length of your button and use them as a guide for the needle placement that will be the inside edge.  Use a tight zig zag stitch then snip down the middle between your two lines to make your hole.

How to make a buttonhole








10.  Don’t forget to use the lines on the foot plate to keep your stitches the same distance from the fabric edge.  That’s what they’re there for.  You can also use the side of the presser foot itself as a fabric edge guide if you need to get closer to the edge than your machine markings allow.

11.  If your seam will show, like on the side or back of a dress, turn the garmet inside out and press the folds of fabric open.  This will make it lay flat and the seam will have a finished appearance from the outside.

sewing techniques


12.  Snip out small triangles of the fabric to make round seams lay flat.

How to sew
What are some of your favorite sewing techniques?

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6 thoughts on “Sewing 101 – Handy Sewing Tricks

  1. Lynne Reichenbach

    Also watch your fingers. While using a sewing machine, I put the needle almost all the way through my right thumb.

  2. Dee Corbin

    I’ve been sewing for seemingly forever — I call it my “therapy”. One thing I’ve noticed when someone is trying to learn to sew they get frustrated with the thread getting tangled up at the beginning of a a seam — this is called a “bird’s nest”. To avoid this I use what I call a “bridge”. I cut a scrap piece of fabric about 1 inch by 2 1/2 to 3 inches so it is about the size of an old time piece of chewing gum. (Actually, cut two pieces this size as you should almost never try to sew on just one single layer of fabric.) Start sewing by sewing across the narrow portion of the bridge, then butt whatever you want to sew up to this and sew. When you get to the end of your seam cut the thread BETWEEN the bridge and your work, bring the bridge to the end where you stopped sewing and sew across it again. Now cut the thread BETWEEN the bridge and your work once again. This will avoid the “birds nest” and will also save thread.

  3. Deb

    I have not sewed in a while, well this Christmas I made kitchen curtains, but the bobbing Is not good, lose, I forgot to learn how to tighten it, got a nearly new sewing machine, but forgot nearly everything, LOL.. I used to make clothes when I was in High school.. by trial and error I will do it again…

  4. Oh, that is sooo frustrating, isn’t it? I can’t tell you how many things I’ve sewn and then realized the bobbin tension wasn’t quite right. Ugh! The good part is that it all comes back to you quickly. Yay for new sewing machines, too! 🙂

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