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Valuable Tips for the Non-Seamstress

by Jo Sorensen*

(These tips assume you are above the level of a Non-Sewer and can now sew straight lines, placing you solidly within the category of Non-Seamstress.)

1. When buying cloth, there are several good rules to follow:

a. Ask for "fabric;" salespersons tend to look at you blankly if you ask where the cloth department is.

b. Buy at least twice the amount you think you need. This is because:

1) You might very well have measured wrong.

2) You probably can't fit patterns onto the fabric as tightly as Mother used to.

3) If you come back to this shop two years later, finding you finally are inclined to finish the project and are short of material, you'll find the shop no longer carries that particular item. In fact, there's probably not even anything close enough to fudge a bit.

c. Check to see if there's a noticeable pattern. If there is, forget it and find fabric without such a pattern.

d. You might as well get matching thread. None of the 100 partial spools you have at home will work, or if they do you'll run out of thread halfway through the project and have to buy more.

2. When you get home, leave the fabric out in plain sight, preferably where it gets in your way. If you put it in a drawer or closet, you'll forget the project or feel that it can always wait until you feel like sewing. Feel like sewing? Yeah, right.

3. Guidelines for cutting out your pattern include:

a. Make sure all of your pieces are from the same pattern. Projects end up looking very weird of you mix and match patterns and sizes.

b. If you want to get the cutting done faster, you can just cut off those little outgoing V's and VV's that are scattered everywhere. A note of warning, though: you may at times find you've attached the wrong pieces (e.g., front p.j. crotch to back side of leg) or have extra material at the end of the seam--in which case cutting off the V's and VV's doesn't save time.

c. If making microwavable flax-warming-doohinkies with fuzzy fleece (like Loey made for us), be sure to pull the material both ways to see which way it stretches. You want it to stretch the long direction of the finished product. Otherwise you have to undo ALL the sewing, pour out the flax seed, sweep up the seed that scattered everywhere, re-pin and re-sew the doohinkie.

4. When sewing your project, there are several things to keep in mind:

a. Threading the machine is a major reason many non-seamstresses delay working on projects. If you don't remember how to thread your machine and have lost the instructions with the threading diagram, then the only answer is trial-and-error. Good luck. A good way to prevent this problem is to learn how to thread a sewing machine and then stay with that machine forever. Works well for me. Caution: be sure to fill your bobbin BEFORE threading your machine; otherwise you have to slowly run the thread through the needle to the bobbin or you'll have to thread the machine twice.

b. When you begin a sewing project, you'll find that either the top and bottom stitches look okay or they don't. If they're okay, you can proceed with your project. If not, you'll need to fiddle with either the vertical knob with numbers (mine is right above the needle area) or the horizontal knob on the top left of the machine---or both. One tightens/loosens the top thread, one affects the bottom thread-I'm not sure which. (Some folks refer to this procedure as "adjusting the tension.") Keep doing this until your threads look okay. You can then proceed.

c. It helps to have two bobbins. Although it is workable to layer many colors of thread on top of each other on one bobbin, there are times when you may be doing two projects at the same time. Although bobbin thread runs out quickly when sewing only one project, it somehow multiplies when working on two projects, requiring you to pull and pull and pull to get the first thread off until you reach the second color. Then you'll need to refill with the first color when you go back to that project.

d. When tempted to sew two pieces of material together without pinning them first, resist this temptation. Otherwise you'll end up spending more time by having to undo/redo seams. Basting before sewing, on the other hand, is a time-consuming step that often suspends the completion of a project. You may skip that step. Usually.

e. When sewing flimsy fabric, you must proceed cautiously. First, those knobs for adjusting the top/bottom threads will invariably need fiddling with. It helps to make the stitches very long so you can undo the seam if you end up with one side a lot shorter than the other. Also, it seems to help if you make the stitches a little zigzaggy---at least I've found it helps; not sure why. Come to think of it, it's easiest to just avoid flimsy fabric.

5. If your sewing project is a garment and needs to fit, this adds a new level of difficulty. If upon completion of the project you find that the garment does not fit, the best thing to do is to take it to the nearest Goodwill Center and leave it there (anonymously, if possible) and go buy this item at the shopping mall. Redoing the garment will only jeopardize your mental health and that of anyone living near you.

6. One final note. If you are a Non-Seamstress and you have siblings who are Seamstresses, it's best to avoid giving them gifts that require sewing. They somehow don't fully appreciate that creativity is a delightful part of any sewing effort.


*Certified completer of 1 dish towel and 1 pair of almost-fitting pajamas during 1 semester of High School Home Economics.