Shortcut Sewing: Get Organized

Organize, organize, organize! This is the key to shortcut sewing and a professional finish.

Organize your sewing area before you start to sew so that you can sew anytime you have a few minutes free. Find a corner or closet where you can keep your sewing machine set up and ready to sew.

Assemble your sewing equipment, notions, and supplies and keep them near the sewing machine. Your small equipment can be kept in a drawer or box. A tackle box is ideal. It’s easy to store and opens so that each tray is visible and the contents are easy to see.

Everything is together ready to sew or go whenever you are.

Consider having duplicates of some tools to eliminate wasting precious minutes looking for the “one and only.”

Learn to use short periods for stitching a seam or two; have your hand-sewing supplies ready to sew so that you can utilize your time whenever you have to wait for others; press while you talk on the telephone. You’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish in your new “found” time.


There are literally hundreds of tools, gadgets, and notions to make sewing easier, but you don't need a lot of fancy or expensive equipment to sew well. You do need good tools, and —this is important— you must know how to make them work for you. Good tools properly used will save you hours of work and frustration. They may not be cheap, but they will last for years.

Cutting Tools

Shears and scissors. Good shears and scissors may be made of stainless or surgical steel, steel alloy, or solid steel which has been plated with nickel or chrome. Shears made of stainless steel or which have serrated edges enable you to cut knits and slippery fabrics quickly and accurately. The only difference between shears and scissors is the shape of the handles—the handles on shears are unequal in size.

You should have a pair of good-quality bent- handled dressmaker shears, seven or eight inches in length, to use for most of your cutting and trimming. They should cut through eight or more fabric thicknesses and all the way to the points. The bent handles permit you to cut without lifting the fabric from the cutting table.

You also need a pair of five-inch embroidery scissors for very close trimming.

If you have a lot of heavy-duty cutting chores, a pair of motor-driven or electric scissors will enable you to finish your work painlessly and quickly.

Cordless shears are easier to use than those with cords. If your electric pair does have a cord, cut the garment sections nearest the outlet first—this eliminates dragging the cord across uncut areas. If your cutting surface is below the dining room chandelier, drape the cord of your electric scissors over the lighting fixture to eliminate dragging the cord around.

Good-quality cutting equipment isn't cheap; but, with proper care, it will last a lifetime:

  • Brush the lint from the blades frequently. To day’s easy-care fabrics are more abrasive to your shears than paper.
  • Keep your shears sharp. Sharpen them regularly to keep them “like new.” Dull shears can be dam aged easily, and they can damage beautiful fabrics beyond repair.
  • Keep the shears dry to avoid corrosion.
  • Oil the pivot point regularly.
  • Use your sewing shears only for sewing.

Pinking shears. Pinking shears are a luxury, and you can sew very well without them. They are used for finishing and can be used for notching outward (con vex) curves, but they should never be used for cut ting out garments because a pinked edge is difficult to match and stitch accurately. Furthermore, the blades will quickly become dull, and pinking shears are expensive to have sharpened.

Rotary cutter. The rotary cutter is an innovative cut ting tool that looks more like a tracing wheel than a piece of cutting equipment. It will cut through thick or thin fabrics quickly and easily without leaving zigs and zags. It can be used in the right or left hand. It must be used with a cutting board to avoid damaging your table.

The tungsten steel blade is easy to replace to en sure precise cutting.

Seam ripper. A seam ripper should be razor sharp. Replace the seam ripper often. A dull seam ripper must be pushed and urged to cut. That push some times becomes a shove, and you cut the fabric.

Cutting table. The cutting table should have a smooth, hard surface and be about 36” (91.4 cm) high. Most of us do our cutting on a dining table, which is only 30” (76.2 cm) high, then we wonder why we have a backache.

Cutting board. A cardboard cutting board which can be folded and stored is an optional cutting aid. It can be used on the dining room table to protect it and provide a resilient surface for using a rotary cutter or tracing wheel. Vinyl or felt table pads can be used instead of a cutting board, except when using a rotary cutter.

Measuring Tools

Accurate measuring equipment is essential!

Tape measure. Select a tape measure made of synthetic material that won’t stretch and begins its numbering at both ends. Throw away any paper or cloth tape measures you still have—they are often inaccurate.

Flexible plastic ruler. A see-through ruler with a 1/8” (3.2 mm) grid printed on it's indispensable. Select a 2” x 12” (5.1 cm x 30.5 cm) or a 1” x 12” (2.5 cm x 30.5 cm) size for easy handling. Check the ruler to be sure the grid is printed evenly and accurately. If your local fabric shops don’t stock them, try an art supply or stationery store.

Yardstick. A yardstick is needed to extend grain- lines and measure hemlines.

Marking Tools

Dressmaker’s chalk. Use only white clay chalk or water-erasable blue chalk. Always test the chalk on a fabric scrap before using it on your garment, to be sure it won’t leave a stain.

Soap. A sliver of white soap, without oils or cold cream, is an excellent marking tool. The flat sliver makes a very thin line which vanishes when the garment is pressed. The edge of the soap can be sharpened easily with a nail file. Test to be sure it won’t leave a stain.

Water-erasable marking pen. Water-erasable marking pens are relatively new to the seamstress, but quilters have been using them for years. They call them “spit-pens.” The ink is water soluble and disappears with a drop of water (spit). Remove the mark from the fabric as soon as possible and don't press over it.

Test the pen on a scrap before using it on your fabric, to be sure the pen won’t leave a stain on the fabric, and water won’t leave a spot.

Tracing wheel. A needle-point or stiletto tracing wheel can be used to mark most fabrics, even delicate ones. The needle-point tracing wheel is a great tool for patternmaking and can be purchased from a tailoring supply house if your local fabric shop doesn’t stock them. If you don’t have a needle-point tracing wheel, use a serrated wheel.

Dual tracing wheel. The dual tracing wheel marks the cutting line when you trace the seamline. This adjustable wheel is a great timesaver for pattern making, adding seam allowances, and matching plaids or stripes.

Tracing carbon. Use only white tracing carbon; colored tracing carbon may leave a permanent mark. The new washable tracing carbon is fine if you don’t mind washing your new dress before you wear it.

Miscellaneous Tools and Supplies

Pins. Purchase stainless steel, silk dressmaker pins in large quantities—by the pound or half pound. Throw away all pins that have nicks, burrs, or blunt points. Discard every pin that has been stitched over. When you drop pins on t floor, sweep them out. Don’t take a chance on ruining a beautiful garment with a damaged pin worth less than a penny.

Use pins with glass or plastic heads when sewing on knitted or loosely woven fabrics. They are longer, easier to find in the garment and they don’t slip out of the fabric easily; but—they aren’t as fine, and they are expensive.

Wrist pincushion. You should have at least one wrist pincushion. Keep one for plain pins, one for “fat heads” and a couple of extras in case you mis place one. You’ll enjoy the convenience of having pins with you at the cutting table, pressing board, or sewing machine, and they won’t all tumble out when you drop them.

Thimble. A thimble is a necessity to hand sew with speed. Its performance depends on the depressions or knurls which should be sharply cut and deep. If the knurls are shallow, the end of the needle will slip when it’s pushed.

Select a thimble which fits your middle finger snugly. Learn to use it by pushing with the side of the finger instead of the end.

Needles. Select needles in small sizes (sizes 8 or 9) for most of your hand sewing. Use larger needles for heavyweight fabrics. Short embroidery or crewel needles are best for hemming and finishing and long darners or sharps for basting. Darners have a large eye, unlike the often-used sharps with small eyes. The large eye makes darners easier to thread.

Use a tapestry needle (size 18 or 20) for turning super-thin bias tubing and for cording bound button holes; and leather or glover’s needles when you sew on leather, vinyl, or pseudosuedes.

Calyx-eyed needles are advised if you have extreme difficulty threading needles. These needles have a slotted opening in the eye, making them easy to thread, but they should not be used when sewing fine fabrics.

Needle threader. A needle threader isn't only an aid to use when threading needles but is useful when pulling threads to the wrong side of the garment or repairing fabric snags.

Point turners. Point turners, which help to eliminate the telltale corners so many home sewers produce, are available in two different styles. One style is a plastic or bamboo tool that does an outstanding job on most corners. The other tool is a little gadget that works on the same-principle as those used in the fashion industry. It looks like ice tongs. This style will take care of the hard-to-reach corners in belts and can also be used as a tube turner.

If you sew a lot, you’ll want both styles. In addition, you should have an orangewood stick like those used for manicures to make turning collars with long points easy.

Mirror. A full-length mirror is an absolute necessity when you sew.

Crumbcloth. Use a clean, old sheet as a crumbcloth to cover the floor in your sewing area. It will protect light-colored fabrics from soil, make cleaning fast and easy at the end of the day, and protect the vacuum and carpet from hard-to-find pins.

Pressing Equipment

Iron. A steam iron is indispensable. If you are purchasing a new iron, select one with a “shot of steam.”

Portable steamer. A portable steamer has a non metal soleplate which allows you to press fabrics on the right side without scorching or slicking them. This soleplate doesn’t become hot when the steamer is steaming and it works when it’s held vertically as well as horizontally. My personal choice is the Osrow Steamtress.

Detachable soleplate. This laminated nonstick plate fits over the soleplate of the iron. It can be used when pressing the right side of fabrics, even naps, without scorching or sucking them; and fusibles won’t stick to it.

Adding a detachable plate is an inexpensive way to make an old iron with a “gucky” soleplate like new.

Press cloths. You should have several clean press cloths. See-through cloths are easy to use, but dish towels or old baby diapers are just as good. Use a woolen press cloth for pressing woolen fabrics and a heavy muslin or drill cloth for tailoring.

Ironing board or pressing stand. The ironing board should be well-padded and sturdy. If you sew a lot, you will also want a pressing stand which sits on a table. This stand allows you to press the garment with the garment resting on the table, instead of hanging off the ironing board where it might stretch.

Sleeve board. This narrow pressing board allows you to press sleeves and difficult-to-reach sections with out creasing them.

Point presser and clapper. The point presser is cut from a ¾” (19.1 mm) piece of wood and mounted on a heavy stand—the clapper. This narrow pressing board allows you to press seams open without leaving an imprint on the right side of the garment and to press the points of collars and cuffs open without wrinkling adjacent areas. If you don't have a point presser, use a wooden dowel or yardstick.

The clapper is used to pound the steam into resilient fabrics to make a sharp edge or flat seam. If you don’t have a clapper, use a fabric-wrapped brick.

Tailor’s ham. A tailor’s ham is an oblong-shaped cushion used for pressing curved or shaped areas.

Pressing mitt. A small pressing mitt that fits onto the hand or end of the sleeve board is easy to handle when pressing hard-to-reach and small areas.

Pressing pad. A pressing pad made of several layers of polyester fleece will ensure a well-padded surface for pressing matelassé, embroidered fabrics, lace, buttonholes, pockets, appliqués, and other raised surfaces. Cut the layers to the desired size and ma chine stitch them together at each edge.

Seam roll. This long roll-shaped cushion can be purchased, or you can make your own by wrapping a rolled magazine in a towel. The rounded surface of the seam roll allows you to press the seams open without leaving seam impressions on the right side of the garment.


Paper. Several kinds of paper are needed when you sew: Pattern paper, drafting, wrapping, butcher, or physician’s examining-table paper are all available in convenient-sized rolls to use for patternmaking and other jobs which quire large pieces.

Wax paper, a roll of adding machine tape, tissue paper, or typing paper are an aid in eliminating stitching problems.

Nonwoven pattern material. Nonwoven pattern pa per is used for tracing multi-sized patterns, making complete patterns, and preserving your favorite pat terns.

Tape. Transparent tape and drafting tape have many uses in the sewing room: Use tape for pattern adjustments and patternmaking. Use it to mark the right side of the fabric when the right and wrong sides look alike. Never press over the tape—it will melt and leave a spot. It shouldn’t be used on the right side of napped fabrics because it might pull the nap off. Test to be sure.

Doublestick tape. Basting tapes or regular double- stick tapes can be used to replace hand basting. Never stitch through these tapes or press over them.

Glue. Use a washable glue stick obtained from the notions or stationery department for glue basting. The glue will wash out if you get it on the right side of the fabric, and the fabric can be pulled apart with out difficulty if you need to reposition the sections of fabric. A glue stick is a great aid when positioning pockets, trims, zippers. interfacings, backings, waistbands, collars, cuffs, and hems. Allow the glue to set for several minutes after gluing before you stitch.

Use a permanent glue to apply underlinings, to position trims, and to hem garments. These glues usually dry colorless but they may leave a dark spot on some fabrics. I prefer Sobo.

Rubber cement is best for gluing leather, vinyls, and pseudo-suedes; Velcro adhesive adheres Velcro to fabrics.

Test all glues on a fabric scrap before using them on the garment sections.

Fray retardant. A colorless liquid which prevents raveling is applied to the cut edges and allowed to dry. Be sure to test for discoloration on a fabric scrap before using it on your garment. I prefer one called Fray Check.

Needle lubricant. A lubricant eliminates skipped stitches. Squeeze it onto the machine needle, thread, and between the tension discs as you work or squeeze several vertical lines onto the spool of thread before filling the bobbin and threading the machine.

Soft-tip pens. Soft-tip pens in a selection of permanent colors can be used to “dye” zippers, organza patches, and interfacing materials which might show on the finished garment.

Thread. For most of your sewing, select long-staple polyester thread in a shade to match your fabric. This thread is spun from fiber lengths 5½”—6½” (14 cm—16.5 cm) long. These long fibers leave fewer ends for a smoother appearance and less fuzziness than the 1½” and 2½” (3.8 cm and 6.4 cm) lengths of short-staple spun cotton on polyester-core threads. Long-staple threads knot and twist less in hand sewing and break less often in machine-stitching. Metrosene, Seralon, Wright’s, and Gutermann are just a few of the long-staple threads available.

Nylon threads in clear and dark translucent can be used on many fabrics if you don’t have thread to match the fabric. Nylon thread makes an almost in visible stitch and a flat seam. It will melt, however, if pressed with a very hot iron.

Metallic threads, embroidery floss and buttonhole twist in silk or polyester and regular polyester threads in the desired color can be used for top- stitching or decorative stitching.

Use special threads for special techniques such as basting, gathering, and tailor tacking. Always use white thread for these techniques—colors sometimes bleed or fade on the fabric.

Embroidery floss is a soft thread without a finish to be used when making tailor’s tacks. It won’t fall out of the fabric as easily as a thread with a finish.

Silk buttonhole twist is a strong thread which won’t break when gathering long strips or turning bias tubings. Its silky quality makes gathering easy.

Silk thread (size A) is a must for basting when it's necessary to press over the basted line, because it won’t leave an impression on the fabric.

Fusible bonding agents. There are fusible agents which melt between two layers of fabric when heat and moisture are applied. They are sold by the yard and in narrow widths, and can be used before or in stead of stitching.

Fusible Web, Jiffy Fuse, Magic Polyweb, Say a-Stitch, and Stitch Witchery® are the brand names of some of the best-known bonding materials.

Other Timesavers

Sewing log. Keep a record of each garment you make in a small notebook. Include a swatch of the fabric and the interfacing, the pattern number, any changes you made, the pattern size (especially when it's a multisized or child’s pattern), the fabric amount, any problems that arose during construction or after the first washing, and anything else that will be helpful when you use the pattern again.

Lamp. A clamp-on desk lamp with an adjustable arm is an invaluable aid. Attach the lamp to your sewing table or sewing-machine cabinet and adjust it to direct the light precisely.

Plastic card. Try using a small, flexible plastic card on top of bulky or fragile fabrics to slide the garment section under the presser foot or buttonhole attachment easily and without damaging the fabric.

If the feed dog on your machine can't be lowered easily, use another card under the garment section to protect it from the teeth of the feed dog.

Beeswax or a white candle. Eliminate twisting and strengthen the thread by waxing it when you sew by hand. Both of these waxes, however, leave grease stains on some fabrics. Make a test sample and press to check for staining before you use waxed thread on your garments.

White vinegar. Brush white vinegar on the garment with a one-inch paintbrush to save time when setting or removing creases, but test the fabric first for color fastness.

Fingernail polish remover (acetone). Use fingernail polish remover which contains acetone to test acetates. Many acetate fabrics look like polyesters, but they don’t have the same washability. Test to be sure. Acetone fingernail polish remover will dissolve acetate fabrics.

Rubbing alcohol or hair spray. Try one of these products to remove ballpoint ink. Test! Test! Test!

Denatured alcohol. Denatured alcohol can be used to remove fusible bonding agent from fashion fabrics. Sponge it onto the fabric sparingly, using a piece of cotton cloth. Denatured alcohol is available at pharmacies.

Laundry soap. Many new fabrics have offensive chemical odors. Wash the fabric with soap, not detergent, to remove some or all of the odor.

Aluminum foil. Cover a piece of cardboard with aluminum foil to use when pressing or fusing. The foil will reflect the heat and steam, enabling you to complete the job in less time.

Hot-iron cleaner. Use a hot-iron cleaner to clean the iron while it’s hot if you inadvertently fuse interfacing or fusible agent to the soleplate of the iron.

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Tuesday, 2009-10-06 6:24