Sewing Room Tips and Tricks

My latest projects lack hems and buttonholes, so I have no finished items to share with you. Nevertheless, I feel like I’m getting a lot more accomplished these days, so I thought I’d share my personal tips for getting the most out of your sewing workspace. These are tried-and-true, in that I didn’t do any of these things when I first started sewing, and then I learned that there’s a reason for doing them. I used to cut corners all the time! (I’m talking recently… I just threw away a piece I made no more than a year or two ago, no finishing inside the seams, facings not understitched or tacked down, seams straining from bad fit… the piece was a wadder, but it shouldn’t have been. If I’d taken the time not to be sloppy, it would have been great.)

  1. Stock up on needles. You’re supposed to change your sewing machine needles every 3-4 hours, or every project or so. How many of us actually do that? I used to skimp on changing needles because I didn’t want to go buy any, or the shop was closed by then, etc. But making sure your needles are sharp will prevent skipped stitches and needle jams, which can really throw off your groove! I generally try to pick up a new pack of needles every time I go shopping. They sell nice multi-packs of Universal needles in different sizes at my Joanns, which are always handy; if I’m running low on ballpoint/stretch needles or Sharps, I’ll pick up those instead. If you never have a shortage, it’ll be easier to change needles since you won’t have to worry about running out. Another useful thing: if you use Schmetz needles, here’s a printable guide to the color bands they use to differentiate between needle types and sizes.
  2. Stock up on bobbins. Wind a few ahead of time in your most commonly used colors. That way you don’t have to interrupt your sewing time quite as much when you run out of bobbin thread, or worse, have to unwind an old one to even start winding a new color. Bobbins tend to be pretty inexpensive, and they’re good to have on hand.
  3. Toss your stash every so often. I don’t mean go throw it out! Toss your stash like you toss a salad (I stole this term from the Yarn Harlot, by the way. She is fabulous.) Go through all of your fabrics, reorganize them if necessary, or if you’re me, straighten the piles they’ve gotten stacked in. (I like to see what I’ve purchased! This means things usually don’t get put away very well.) Check things over for damage—moth holes, sun bleaching, the cats got into it, that kind of thing. This is great to do because it will remind you what you have—if you have a “deep” stash, it can be like going shopping, except since you already own it, it’s all free! You may want to go through your patterns and notions during the stash toss, as well. You can make sure they’re organized and, again, remind yourself of what you have. If there’s stuff you don’t want to have, now’s the time to get rid of it!
  4. Set some good background sound. Now, I realize not everyone gets a great choice of background noise—some people are sewing in the living room and keeping an eye on the kids, some people are in a cramped dorm room, everyone’s making the best with what they have. But if you can, set yourself some good grooves. (I don’t like headphones since I’m running back and forth from machine to ironing board and wielding hefty scissors; if you do use headphones, be careful to keep them out of the way!) Music can be great—if you tend to get stressed at the machine, pick something calming; if you tend to get bored, pick a playlist that lights you up. I also love listening to podcasts and audiobooks; it keeps my hands busy and my mind entertained during long stretches of sewing. You may have to tweak the volume to hear over your machine, or pause your audiobook when you get to a puzzling set of instructions, though; trying to focus on two things at once is a recipe for disaster.
  5. Sample, sample, sample. It’s the golden rule, really. If you get to any point when you’re not sure about the instructions, or the technique, or the fabric, etc. take the time to test it. Trust me, this will really save your bacon in the long run! Sampling can mean testing on a scrap of your intended fabric, like you should do with buttonholes. It can mean testing the technique on whatever fabric comes to mind—this is a good idea when you’re learning how to do plackets, or bound buttonholes, or welt pockets, anything like that. It can mean testing your needle/fabric/machine settings/interfacing combination, which you should do with exactly the combination you intend to use, otherwise your results won’t be accurate. Or it can mean simply basting your next seam instead of stitching it, if you’re not sure it’ll turn out right; that way it’s much easier to rip back if it’s wrong. Yes, sampling feels like it can slow you down, but in the long run—and I mean the long, lonely minutes with the seam ripper in hand and swear words on your lips—it will really pay off.
  6. If you’re trying to improve your sewing skills, not just make whatever garment is in your hands—or if that garment itself is proving obnoxious and difficult!—and you find yourself overwhelmed or frustrated, just take it bit by bit. I used to have a really low frustration threshold when I sewed, which is why I took so many shortcuts. As soon as I’d hit something hard—if I had to rip back, or I didn’t entirely understand the instructions, that sort of thing—I’d give up, and try to come back later with new energy. This is a pretty slow and frustrating way of doing things! Bit-by-bit is the way to conquer this. I learned to tell myself, “yes, I’m annoyed now; let me just do one more seam, and then I’ll quit.” It helped. Usually I found myself doing more than one seam; even if I didn’t, I hadn’t left myself at the hard part, and I’d conquered whatever had frustrated me. This is a great way to build confidence! Or, if I was trying to do “proper” sewing techniques and not take whatever shortcut occurred to me, I’d just try one less lazy technique. “This time, I don’t have to take time for a muslin, or try the fancy new topstitching technique I saw, but I will do flat-felled seams the whole way through.” It’s a good way to ease into better habits, and the sight of those awesome-looking flat-felled seams will encourage you to set higher standards for yourself.
  7. A caveat to the above: never sew when you’re so mad you want to throw things out the window. Nothing good can come of that. Nor should you sew when you’re exhausted or drunk. Trust me, scissors and needles and sewing machine motors will not be kind to you in that state. If you find yourself frustrated a lot, it can be helpful to push just a little bit past that, to improve your confidence; but when you’re really fed up and mad, go do something else. Even if you’re on a deadline. Trust me, long hours with a seam ripper are not going to help you with that deadline.
  8. And lastly: get good helpers!IMG_5411



Well, they think they’re helping, anyway. ;)


Sewaholic Granville: Second Verse, Same as the First

Well, this may look a little familiar! I’m really fond of button-down shirts in general, so naturally, once I completed a successful first run of Sewaholic’s Granville shirt, I pulled my next fabric and did it again. I was pretty satisfied with the first one, but I love this one. small-20150315-015 The fabric is some gorgeous Andover chambray from, although it seems as though they’ve discontinued this particular color. I only had 2 yards of it and it’s 45″ wide, which is a full yard less than the recommended fabric amount. Fortunately I managed to pull it off, although I admit it was tight, and I wouldn’t have managed it if I’d needed to place patterns or prints. The fabric, though, is absolutely my perfect color and was wonderful to handle, unlike the mystery fabric from hell on the white shirt. small-20150315-041 I only made a few modifications on this version. I added back in the 3/8″ I took out the first time. The collar was a little tight last time, and I wanted the additional width on the neckline; also my yoke and back section (with the three back pieces princess-seamed together) weren’t quite matching up in length, but adding in the 3/8″ fixed that up. small-20150315-021 I also added 1/2″ to the height of both the collar stand and the collars. I always feel as though standard collars are too small, especially if I’m wearing a tie; I get very self-conscious if my tie peeks out from under the collar in the back. I really like the proportions on this collar, and probably will continue using it. I remembered to add the 3/8″ length back onto the collar stand, but I forgot to do it on the collar, and just stitched slightly narrower seam allowances on the short edges to compensate. small-20150315-028 All the seams are flat-felled except for the armscye seam. I did flat-fell it on the white shirt, but I decided it was just too much trouble for not enough effect. Instead I serged the seam allowances and topstitched them down. Much easier. I love how neat it looks on the inside. small-20150315-035 I also changed the plackets slightly by extending them 1″ at the bottom and shortening the top pointy bit by 3/8″ to make it more square. You can’t really see it here, but I topstitched them with the classic X-in-a-box pattern you see on plackets a lot. The interfacing I used on this shirt is Fashion Sewing Supply‘s Light-Crisp Fusible. Their interfacing is always high-quality and this particular variety is perfect for this sort of shirt—it adds the necessary stiffness for crisp collars and cuffs, but it’s not excessively stiff like the normal Shirt-Crisp, which can look very starched. The mother-of-pearl buttons are also from Fashion Sewing Supply. small-20150315-007-1 As a finishing touch, I appliquéd a heart onto the inner yoke. It’s not visible from the outside, but it’s a cute little label that I’ll see every time I put it on. Sort of a maker’s mark. I used a quilting cotton I bought in Hawai’i years ago with sea turtles on it, although there aren’t any on that particular scrap. I love the idea of doing fun subtle touches on things that I make; I’ll probably play around with putting things on inner yokes or collars or cuffs in the future. small-20150315-013 I really gotta hand it to the ladies at Sewaholic, they can put a pattern together! This was a great second round with Granville, but it definitely won’t be my last. Expect to see several more of them in the future, each with their own particular charm. :) small-20150315-002-1 (The pups helped me with my photoshoot. That’s Brutus on the left, my SIL’s dog Jane Austen in the middle, and Teddy on the right. They were very enthusiastic helpers. Jane’s unfortunately on the injured reserve list and will be taking a break from helping; she’s torn a ligament and needs surgery, poor pup.)

Sewaholic Granville: Based on a True Story

Hello again everyone! It’s taken me a little while to get to my next post, I’ve just been so busy. Last weekend was my first horse show of the year, and those really wipe me out for the entire weekend. (This one, not least because I lost my car key and had to wait five hours for my mom and sister to bring me my spare; I didn’t get home from the show until 11pm!) Also, this project took a fair amount of time, since it’s got a bunch of little details to pay attention to, and the fabric was none too cooperative. But now that it’s finished, I am happy to present my first run of the Sewaholic Granville button-down shirt.


As soon as I saw the pattern, I knew I had to make it. I love button-down shirts but most of the ones I own have some problem or other that makes them annoying. Usually it’s the sleeve length. For some reason it’s nearly impossible for me to buy a button-down with long enough sleeves. And my Archer is fabulous (although the lawn has not been weather-appropriate yet) but definitely boxy. I was really drawn to the fitted silhouette of the Granville shirt and love the details of the princess seaming in the back.


(I have spots in my hair. You can see the biggest one here. For some reason it never faded dark and now it’s a spot. For the longest time, I didn’t even know about it until my hairdresser chuckled at it and then had to explain.)

Now, one reason that my purchased button-downs annoy me is probably that I’m quite picky when it comes to shirts. The same applied to Granville. I made a lot of small tweaks to the pattern (which is why this is “based on a true story”—it’s a lot like the original pattern, but I don’t think a single piece went unchanged! Maybe the plackets.) For one thing, I like to be able to wear ties with my button-downs, and Granville is drafted for a more relaxed-fit collar. You can’t wear a tie with a very loose collar, you just can’t. So I shortened the collar quite a bit (the correct way would have been to raise the neckline, but ultimately I just ended up shortening it because I needed to pinch out 5/8″ from each shoulder and 3/4″ from the center back.)

I compared the cuff to a shirt which fits me very well and ended up shortening that. I shortened the sleeve and made it a bit narrower, and lowered the sleeve cap. After doing that, the sleeve was about 5/8” wider than the cuff, so I pleated the sleeve into the cuff.

I took a little out of the side-back and side seams, and reduced the flare. And I had to move the bust dart up, because it looked a little funky where it was originally.


If I do say so myself, that cuff and placket look good.


The fabric gave me a whole other bundle of trouble. A friend sent me, essentially, some mystery fabric. Supposedly it’s 90% tencel 10% linen, but to be honest I have no idea. What it really is, is some extremely tightly woven nonsense. It looks like ordinary shirting but it’s hell on needles. I ended up using a Microtex sharp needle and being very, very careful over multiple layers. Even then, I broke two needles doing the collar and collar stand. It just doesn’t want to be pierced by the needle, and it put up a hell of a fight. I used self-fabric to interface the button band because I was lazy, and that was a mistake. I had to go back and trim the layers quite a bit just to get the topstitching done. It pressed okay, but not as crisply or as easily as cotton.

The other tragedy was my chalk marker. It turns out the Chaco pens, while wonderful, do not work well with this fabric from hell. The fabric refused to give up the chalk, which means even after several washes, my buttonholes have little tints of blue. *sigh*


Despite these struggles, I finished the shirt and I love it! It fits me really well, and the details are just right. The collar ended up a little too tight, but it’s still wearable and I can wear a tie with it just fine. All of the seams are flat-felled (even the armscye seam… that was not fun) so it looks good on the inside, too. Compared to my only other white button-down in my closet (a Ralph Lauren shirt), this is way better. The Ralph Lauren shirt is too short in the body and boxy. The construction quality is similar, but when I need a nice white crisp shirt, this is the one I’m going to go to.



And on a separate note, I have a couple of fluffies pictures to share. This is from the show last weekend. It was taken in the warm up ring before I went in for my jump round (I disqualified my first round and finished, but didn’t place, in the second. It was an “interesting” day.)


The weather has been beautiful lately; we hardly got a winter at all, and now we’re well into spring.

After the show, I was a bit discouraged because I hadn’t done better. Fortunately, I had my usual lesson on Monday, and everything worked out really well. My trainer helped me figure out what had gone wrong on Saturday and we worked on addressing that thoroughly. Peter and I were working really well together and it felt great, and definitely restored my confidence. (The color variation, for those who don’t know, is from Peter’s haircut. Working horses often get clipped during the winter, so the areas where they sweat the most can dry off more quickly.)


And, finally, I have to share this picture of my little dog, Brutus. Yesterday was his 10th birthday, the Ides of March (hence why he’s called Brutus, even though he’s a sweet, clingy lapdog.) He’s my baby, and I hope he stays around for several more years.