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Sewing: Basic Tips

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Sewing: Basic Tips

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Before we get to costuming-specific tips, let’s cover a few general sewing tips that will really, REALLY pay off on the long term.

Master the seam ripper

This little tool is not your enemy, it’s your friend. The poor thing always gets so much hate. Even the most advanced seamstresses will unsew pieces from time to time. It happens to me at least once per project, even if I’m being careful. So here are some tricks I’ve learned over time that will hopefully help you master this very useful little tool.

  • Use the sharp edge to unsew the first few stitches, then use the ballpoint to make the rest of the seam in one shot. By using the ballpoint, there are no risks of the sharp edge ripping the fabric at the wrong place and ruining your fabric.
  • When your fabric is fragile, pull gently on it and undo the stitches one by one. This is tedious, but if you don’t want to ruin your expensive silk or your fragile organza, this is the way to go. Same goes when you need to undo your stop stitches.
  • Be careful using this tool, don’t put your other hand too close! Go slowly to avoid cutting your hand and ripping your fabric!

Take time to learn how to hand stitch

This can be a bit tedious, but it’s necessary to learn, at the very least the basics, of hand stitching. You’ll need to sew buttons all the time. Preparing a curved hem by loosely hand stitching it and then ironing it will make it much more beautiful. Some details won’t be accessible by the sewing machine and will need to be done by hand (think small garments like gloves and other accessories). For example, most seams in hats are done by hand with a curved needle and the final stitches of a plush are invisible hand stitches. Therefore learning this skill properly will be most helpful on the long run, so I suggest that you take the time to go through several tutorials!

Careful cutting will save a lot of time and headaches

This applies to the pattern you will (most likely) use and the fabric itself. Cut everything with your scissors on a table by laying the fabric/paper flat (or on the floor, but I’d strongly suggest cleaning a table to cut your projects, unless the piece you want to cut is bigger than the table – like a circle skirt or a kimono). Your fabric is wrinkled? Don’t cut it like this, iron it before you cut it! You can even iron the pattern paper (on low heat) if it’s too wrinkled too! Try to avoid making “stairs” when you cut, and make smooth lines. If the fabric tends to move all by itself, use as any pins as necessary.

PAY ATTENTION TO THE GRAIN LINE!!! Pattern pieces will usually have an arrow on them, indicating the grain line. THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL. If you don’t want the leg of your pants to twist, or your cape to fall weirdly, or the printed pattern on your fabric to look crooked, follow the grain line. This is also very important when you sew stretch fabric, be aware of how it stretches: is it 2-way, 4-way, all way? Following the grain line, once again, will put the stretch where it needs to be.

Notch your curves and cut your corners

So, you’ve made this beautiful curve, but when you turn it on the right side, the fabric looks weird, like it’s stretching? Don’t worry, and just make a few notches in the curve. Making these little cuts in the allowance will greatly reduce the stress in the fabric, making it a lot prettier on the right side. Just make sure to only cut in the allowance fabric, and not on the stitches.

Same goes with corners! Cutting the excess fabric as much as possible will make it so much neater when you’ll turn it on the right side!

Check the seam allowance

I noticed that many hobbyists use patterns for the shapes while not paying enough attention to the instructions. Although the illustrations explain a lot, there are a few important things to check, of which the most important is the seam allowance. Some patterns use a 1cm allowance, others use a 1,5cm or even a 2cm allowance. It’s very important to sew at the right seam allowance, so that your piece will be at the right size.

If you are making your own pattern, please give serious thought to adding a seam allowance! Many beginners will use a piece of clothing they own (let’s say a t-shirt) and draw lines on the fabric at every seam. That’s simple and usually effective, but ADD A SEAM ALLOWANCE THERE OR IT WILL END UP BEING TOO SMALL. Just adding an extra centimeter all around the edges that you drew will save you from getting a painful sewing-induced headache.

Adjustments will be needed

So, you’ve made the base of your clothing piece, awesome! Now before you start the finishing touches, try it on. You may notice it being too large or not exactly to your liking in some areas. Even the best patterns will need some adjustments to fit you specifically, even if you had the exact numbers on the size chart. If you made your own pattern, it’ll probably need some fine tuning too. Adjustments are very normal, time to get used to it!

It’s best to have someone help you for this. The simplest way is to put on your garment upside down, so that the inside and all the seams and allowance will be on the outside. This way it will be easier to pin where it’s needed. Try to pin evenly on every side and darts.

Many beginners tend to just take off the excess from the sides, but it’s very important to take from the darts too, especially for the curviest of us. Back darts are also great to help follow the back curve. Many cosplayers don’t like having darts on their costume because it’s not in the original design, but they make tighter garments far more flattering and are usually not that much visible anyway. If a dart ends up being too large after the adjustments, you can cut the excess fabric.

After you’ve pinned everything, mark everything with chalk. Pinning can be uneven even when you try to make it perfect, so try to correct it as much as possible when you mark it. If you have a lining, don’t forget to adjust it too!

These are basic sewing tips that can be used for any type of sewing project, including costuming. It’s important to master the basics above everything else! Next article I’ll show how to change a neckline, and pattern a collar so you can easily modify your commercial patterns!

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About The Author

Roxanne Nelson

Cosplayer since 2005, Simakai has just been having so much fun and never wanted to stop. After a diploma in pattern-making and some time working in the industry, she started her own sewing business of geek apparel and cosplay commissions. From the simplest projects to the most intricate one, she's willing to help anyone who wants to learn.

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