There are lots of different types of sewing machines for stitching on the market. Many of these will sew a wide variety of stitches. However, for most everyday dressmaking you do not need all these fancy stitches – a basic machine that will do a straight stitch and a zigzag stitch, forwards and in reverse, are all you really need.
It is essential to read through the manual that accompanies your machine so that you fully understand how it works. You will need a sewing thread for the seams. A synthetic polyester/cotton thread is suitable for all types of fabric; it does not break easily, the color does not run, and it does not shrink when washed. Beware of a cheap thread. Choose the color to match your fabric. If you cannot get an exact match, select a darker shade, rather than a lighter one. This will be less noticeable on the finished garment. You will also need basting thread Oddments of thread used for other projects are ideal for this.
Things you need for a good stitching
Stitching needles will be needed, both for your machine and for hand sewing. Make sure you use the correct size and type of machine needle for the fabric you are sewing. The wrong one will lead to uneven stitching. A size 9 (or 11) needle will be ideal for lightweight fabrics. A size 11 (or 14) for medium-weight fabric. And a size 14 for heavy-weight fabric. A damaged machine needle will tear the fabric. And, as it is often difficult to see that a needle is slightly bent, it is a good idea always to use a new needle when you start a project. Remember also to change the needle if you accidentally hit a pin.
For most dressmaking projects two pairs of scissors are adequate. You will need a long-bladed pair of shears for cutting out and a small pair of needlework scissors for snipping threads. Pins are an essential part of any dressmaking box. Remember to discard any bent or damaged ones! A tape measure or ruler will be needed when cutting out and, possibly, while making the garment. Any other items of haberdashery (notions) that you need for an item will be specified with the pattern. So, let’s move on to stitching.
Stitching: Basic Seams
Most garments are made using a basic straight stitched seam. The pattern will tell you how much fabric should be taken into the seam – this is the seam allowance.
Stitching straight lines for seams is essential. Many sewing machines have a seam guide on the throat plate. Which is a useful aid to keeping your stitching the correct distance in from the edges?
Adjust the length of the stitches to match the weight of your fabric. Most new machines give the stitch length in millimeters, while older ones give you the stitch length as being a set number o stitches per inch For light-weight fabrics.
Use a stitching length of about 2mm (or 12-14 stitches per inch) Medium- and heavy-weight fabrics can be sewn with a stitch density of 2 5mm (or 10-12 stitches per inch). Test out the stitching on a scrap of fabric before you start the actual seaming to check that the chosen stitch length does not cause the seam to pucker.
Once you are more used to dressmaking, you will probably be able to just pin the sections together before stitching them, thereby reducing the time taken on each seam by omitting the basting, or tacking, stage. But if you are a complete beginner, do baste the seams first. A little time spent here will be more than repaid by the time you save not unpicking wobbly seams and by the finished look of the garment. If you do decide not to baste, sew over the pins very slowly so as not to damage the machine needle, or remove each pin as you come to it.
Stitching: Seam Patterns
Most seams are pressed open, but check your pattern, as some are pressed to one side. It is a good idea to have your iron and ironing board set up all the time while you are stitching. You will get a much better finish to your garment if you press each seam as it is sewn.
One golden rule of all dressmaking is that you should never put a bare iron on the right side of your garment! If you need to press from the right side, cover the fabric first with a pressing cloth. An old clean tea towel is ideal. Match the heat setting of your iron to the fiber content of your material.
As a general rule, the higher the synthetic content of a fabric, the cooler ironing it needs. Remember, too, that you should not use steam for synthetic materials – they may dry up or sag out of shape! Before you start, try out your iron on a scrap of the same fabric.
Stitching: Neatening seams
Most fabrics fray (ravel) and, if the cut edges are not secured, or ‘neatened’ this can mean the seam may eventually fray so much that it falls apart! It is. Therefore, very important to neaten the raw fabric edges. There are a variety of ways in which to neaten a seam, but the most effective and easiest way is to zigzag stitch over the raw edges once the stitching has been sewn.
Use the same stitch length as for the actual seam Match the width of the stitch to the weight of the fabric or how quickly it frays (ravels) – a narrow zigzag for a fine or firmly woven fabric, and a wider one for a dense material or one that frays easily.
Stitching: Making a Straight Seam
- Start by pinning together the two edges that are to be Place the pins at right angles to the edge and about 8cm (3in) apart. Take care to match any notches or dots along the edges.
- Using one strand of basting thread, baste the two edges together. Use a running stitch as shown, making each stitch about 8mm (5/16in) long. Place the stitches just inside the seam line, which will make it much easier to remove the threads later. Secure each end with a backstitch (one extra stitch worked exactly on top of the last one made). Now remove the pins.
- Sew the seam on your machine, stitching just next to the line of basting stitches, exactly on the seam-line. Take particular care to keep the line of stitching parallel to the fabric edges. To secure the threads it the beginning and end of the seam, sew a few stitches forward, and then a few in reverse. Cut off the ends of the threads.
- Press the seam open from the wrong side using the point of iron, gently easing the two layers apart as you move along the seam.
Zigzag Stitching Raw Edges
- After stitching the seam, but before pressing it, simply sew again along each raw edge using a zigzag machine stitch. If you can, try to have the right-hand swing of the needle just over the raw edge so that you completely enclose the cut edge in the stitching. Trim off any loose threads of fabric.
- Some machines have a two-step or three-step zigzag stitch, which is an even more secure way to neaten the edge. If the seam allowances of a lightweight fabric are both to be pressed to one side, the two raw edges can be neatened together.
Stitching: Machine-Stitch Hems
- A straight machine-stitched hem is a finish used on many casual garments as it is very secure and is quick and easy to work. Start by folding the required amount of hem allowance to the wrong side. Your pattern will tell you how much this should be. Pin in place. Now fold under 6mm (1/4in ) along the raw edge, so the raw edge is hidden, and baste the hem in place 4mm ( 3/16 in) from this second folded edge.
- Machine stitch the hem in place by sewing through all layers between the line of basting and the folded edge. If it is a circular hem, there is no need to secure the stitching at both ends with some reverse stitches; simply finish the stitching by overlapping the first stitches by about 1cm (3/8 in). Once the stitching is complete, remove the basting, and press from the wrong side.