The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

From Beginner to Beyond – Cutting, Sewing and Pressing

Wow – these seem like such important parts why put them in one post.  Actually you’ve already done so much of the work, that this is the pleasure part.  That’s what good prep work will do for you.


Cutting -Do yourself a favor and make some good space to cut, and use good cutting equipment.  You’re not an amateur anymore, so that means you can upgrade your equipment.  Cutting can be a really efficient process or it can be a mess (especially if you’re working on a difficult fabric).  Using a rotary cutter with a good self-healing mat can make all the difference in the world.  Rotary cutting is much more exact and changing the blades is much easier than constantly resharpening scissors.

If you’re really attached to the scissors, then make sure that they are a good pair and keep them sharp.

Some basics are worth reviewing here with some whys:

  • Cut on the straight.  Why?  Because the fabric bolt is usually woven in 25-30 yard lengths.  That means that lengthwise yarn is strong to hold together during the weaving process.  This means that the garment won’t sag, fall or otherwise reshape during the lifetime of the garment.  Pay attention closely to the straight of the grain.
  • Cut going the same direction.  Why?  Even if you can’t see it, there is a slight nap or direction to the fabric.  If you have to “turn” the lining that’s OK, but never the fashion fabric.  If there’s a design or print to the fabric, this will really make the end garment confusing.  Often you won’t see the nap or direction of the fabric till after it’s made and wearing it, and of course then it’s too late.  Better be safe, and no turning.
  • You know if you can get better layout on the fabric, following the grain and no turning – go for it!  Often the directions are for the largest size, and if that isn’t you, you can save some space.  Economize all you can when you cut.  You never know when you might need a little extra, even if it’s just to make a bit of a bias strip.
  • Use your measurements and ease measurements.  It’s better to make the garment a little wider, than what you think you might need and fit later in assembly (it’s easier to pinch out, than to release and then pinch out).  And I’m not talking about pinching out inches…just a little here and there.
  • Watch out for seam allowances mostly on European patterns.
  • Mark a lot – and no need to cut out the “v’s” on the pattern.  I just nip about 1/4″ into the seam allowance – 1 for a single mark, and two for a double mark.  For a dot or other, I do a straight nip, and then cut an angle in…realizing that it’s the straight that is the exact mark where the dot or other marking is.  For dart points or other points that are beyond nip-marking, use pins;  where the pin goes in, is the marked point.  These are absolute musts in marking:
    +  Center Front
    +  Center Back
    +  Shoulder (at neck & armhole)
    +  Waist (good patterns will have this on them)
    +  Side (and underarm on sleeve)
    +  Hip at widest point (this is nice, but not a necessity)
  • Cut so that the scissors or cutter are on the right side of the pattern, not left side (if your left-handed, on the left side of fabric).  Why?  Your eye has a better view of the pattern cutting line.  You can’t cut around the whole piece, so cut as much as you can and then turn or walk around the table if you can to cut the rest. (I use right and left handed rotary cutters, and when I can’t cut anymore on the right side, put the left-handed cutter in my left hand and finish the rest of the garment).  Try this, and you’ll be amazed how much easier it is to cut.
  • Don’t worry about cutting pattern paper.  That’s an old wive’s tale that cutting paper will dull your scissors.  It doesn’t.  Silk is worse on your scissors than paper, and heavy wool is worse than paper, especially tissue that most patterns are made on.  If you can, it’s easier to use rotary cutters, if the pattern piece is cut out before cutting the fabric.  But you can cut both if you like – I find if you cut both, the pattern ripples and there are problems with it buckling.

OK – I know you all know this stuff, but it’s good to review it, and remember that there’s really good reasoning behind these old rules.


Sewing – at last!

Your pattern should contain all the information you need.  You shouldn’t need the instructions.  As a matter of fact I find most instruction are confusing, so most of the time, I open to see how many pieces to cut out, and fold them up and put them away after that.  Grain lines, markings, placement lines, fold lines, roll lines are all marked on good patterns (even BurdaStyle).  Start with piece number 1, attach number 2, then work with 3, 4, etc.  The assembly of the garment is done in chronological order.

I won’t talk about specific techniques or methods here in assembly, just some general guidelines.

  • Allow yourself enough time to enjoy this process – the sewing and assembly is the most fun.
  • Fit often and well.  This should only be tweaking.  You should have done most of your measurement alterations to the pattern already, not do them during the sewing.  The sewing part will only be tweaking – 1/4″ here 1/3″ there.  If you have a mannequin – use it.  It’s a lifesaver when you’re fitting your back or other areas you can’t reach.
  • If you start making successive mistakes, take a break.  I break every 3 hrs or so for about 10 minutes, and  if it’s late at night, even on a deadline, I’ll stop and a good night’s sleep will make problems disappear as if you had you’re own fair godmother erasing all the hard parts.  Be gentle with yourself while you’re being creative.
  • If you’re not sure or you just feel uncomfortable with a new technique or a strange one (or one you haven’t done in a while – like a welt pocket or bound buttonholes), practice a few before you do them on your fashion garment.  There’s nothing wrong with this.  I do this all the time as I am often sewing one sort of sewing (usually formal wear) and then I may switch and make a suit when I haven’t done tailoring in 6 or 8 months – and I’m rusty, so I like to realize that it takes a little time to get back into the swing of tailoring.
  • Do I need to tell you to have your sewing machine and iron in good working order?….huh?….good!!!!
  • Have good posture and make sure that your sewing chair is at a good height for your work area.
  • Enjoy yourself.  I’ll put a great movie on, or an audio book or your favorite music and enjoy the process.  You can pause it when you have to concentrate really hard, but enjoy this.  It’s so much fun.



Hopefully you have a good iron. If you don’t get one.  It’s worth its weight in gold.  I have a Reliable i300, but a gravity feed is also good.  But from a reputable firm (it can be online, as long as it’s reputable).  Remember if you spend $400 on an iron and it last for 15 years…well, I don’t have to do the math for you – it’s a bargain, and per year, you would gladly pay $27 for an iron.

Keep the sole clean (I use Dritz Iron Off), The sole of the iron is a hard and harsh contact for your clothes – be careful with it.  Almost all dark fabrics no matter how hard the finish will shine.  This means that the metal sole will break and squash the fibers down making the dark fabric shine or look like a shine.  This is most noticeable on the seams.  A simple press cloth will prevent most shining and that which it won’t has to be ironed on the wrong side.

All pile fabrics like corduroy and no-wale corduroy must be ironed on the wrong side, and velvet must been ironed with an needle board or velvet board.  Actually I use velvet on a needle board and only use a velvet board for velveteen and corduroy, but not for velvet.

Test your fabric before you smoosh the iron down on them, just to see the effect it will have.  Sometimes there won’t be anything to worry about, but sometimes it will be disastrous and nice to know ahead of time.  My rule of thumb is always a press cloth on dark fabrics, no matter how hard and tight the finish and weave is.

Some helpful tools to use when ironing are:

  • the press cloth
  • ham
  • clapper
  • sleeve press
  • roll press
  • a stiff small suede shoe brush (this is fabulous for lifting up fibers that may need it.

Remember you’re a semi-professional now, and this equipment is not only going to come in handy, it will be instrumental in giving your garment that professional look.  Professional tools give you professional results.





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