Tag Archives: tips

Top Tip: Pre-cut interfacing strips

If you make alot of waistbands or button plackets, you may like this! (That is if you’re not already doing it!)

You know those fiddly little tasks in sewing ? The ones that make you go “ugh” and slump your shoulders when you reach that point in  make? Well cutting long narrow strips out of floaty lightwieght interfacing is one of those for me. Specifically we’re talking waistbands and button plackets. Invariably my sheet of interfacing is an odd wonky shape from where I have cut out pieces for previous projects. And I’ll have oddments of interfacing that are too small to be of use but will come in handy “one day”. Which I find  quite  messy and a little bit wasteful (as I probably won’t end up using those pieces anyway), and makes it tricky to find the right spot to cut your piece of interfacing from.

It occurred to me when I was cutting some interfacing for  a waistband the other day….why not cut a whole lot of it in one go?
Sewing tip pre cut your interfacing stripsI generally cut the same width of waistband on every make as I have found a width that is comfy on me. So I always need the same width of interfacing. So I just cut a load extra and rolled it onto an empty masking tape roll to store for future use.

Easiest way to do it for me was to fold my interfacing several times and mark out my strips in the right width….then cut…and you have multiple strips ready for future projects…and no waste!Sewing tip pre cut your interfacing strips

Sewing tip pre cut your interfacing strips


Makes me wonder if there is a product like this already out there? Rolls of interfacing strips in various weights. Like wundaweb but only sticky on one side? In any case…I won’t have to be faffing with interfacing strips for a while 🙂Sewing tip pre cut your interfacing strips


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Perfect Pinning (+ a giveaway!!)

Pins. It’s just as simple as sticking them through the fabric right? Well, not quite. Firstly, there’s the type of pin you use. Right tools for the right job applies to pins as much as it applies to any other sewing tool. Some pins are longer/sharper/finer depending on the type of fabric and project you are undertaking. Some excellent info about pin types and their uses here, here, and here….pinning tips

Then there is the question of quality. As with many tools, not all pins are created equal. The best pins will slide smoothly through your fabric without snagging and without force; and they will last you many years without becoming blunt or rusting if used and stored correctly. My personal bug bear are cheap pins with plastic heads. Ack! I only ever use glass headed pins. They tend to be of better quality and most importantly, if you’re pressing around them, they don’t melt if you accidentally touch them with the iron! (I learnt that lesson early!)

But what about how to pin? It’s one of those things that, when I first started sewing, I assumed was a no brainer.  Stick it through the fabric. Job done. Right? Well no. There’re subtleties to pinning, as with any sewing technique. Little things. But things that collectively, can incrementally improve your sewing. So I thought I’d share a few of my “personal pinning protocols” (shameless opportunity for alliteration seized, ha!). Little things that I was taught when I first learnt to sew and stick to still…and the logic behind them…pinning tips

This is the way I pin the most. Always within the seam allowance. So if my pins do end up leaving holes (some fabrics render this likely) then they are not visible on the outside of the garment. It also means that I can leave my pins in place until the very last second as they pass to the side of the presser foot rather than the middle of it. So shifting of fabric is minimised. I will also always pin with the points facing towards the presser foot. It makes them easy to pull out as you go. (If they were facing the other way…well…cack handed!)

pinning tips

When sewing some seams, you’ll be required to stop at a given point and back stitch and/or switch to a different stitch length. (Think preparing a seam for zip insertion for instance). I always mark this point with a different coloured pin, pinned at right angles to my other pins. It just gives me a visual aid and a precise marker as to where I want that needle to stop.

pinning tips

When pattern matching is important I will pin at right angles to the seam that I am sewing. When sewing stripes for instance, I will pin stripe on top of stripe at regular and small intervals.  Pinning at right angles “locks” the fabric more effectively than pinning in a linear way. The difference on a plain and/or stable fabric is negligible. But even minimal shifting will be visually really obvious on stripes. I will also employ this method of pinning on more slippery fabrics. There is an argument for always pinning this way all the time. But I tend to employ it when I want to ramp up the accuracy and precision on seams where the slightest shift would be really obvious either visually or where accurate alignment is vital. (easing in collars, sleeves, necklines etc) If I can get away with just using a few pins, pinned vertically and spaced far apart then I will always default to that. Heck, I have been know to dispense with pins altogether. Some projects are more forgiving than others. But sometimes, when it absolutely has to be accurate, this is the method I go for.

pinning tips

Now I am right handed. And my pin dish sits to the right hand side of my machine. So actually the way that I have pinned in the previous photo is actually a bit illogical.  Because I end up pulling the pins out with my left hand, passing them across to my right hand (or worse, holding them in my mouth as I go!) so I can put them in the pin dish to the right hand side of me. It’s actually a tad cack handed for me. And I have no explanation for that. Used to bug my sewing teacher no end, lol! When pinning at right angles it would make more sense to have the heads facing to the right like this. Just saying. But the cack handed way in which I do it is now so ingrained in my muscle memory, it’s unlikely to change now!

How you pin isn’t just about the direction of pinning of course. It also has to do with how you hold the fabric when you pin. This is how I would automatically put my pins in when I first started sewing. I’d pick the fabric up and stick the pins in like so…pinning tips

That is until my sewing teacher walked up and slapped my hand! (Old school she was!) I will preface this next bit of advice by saying that, as with most rules, there are exceptions. There are times that you can get away with doing this and times you when it will affect the accuracy of your pinning. Depending on the fabric, as you pick it up like this, the layers can shift. On trickier, more slippery fabrics, the more you move them, the more they shift….

pinning tips

As a rule, if you can keep your fabric flat like so…

pinning tips

And pin on the flat, then there will be less chance of layers shifting and therefore, more accuracy across your project.

Talking of keeping things flat…pinning tips

Pins are not always the final step when you absolutely must have a completely flat and secure fabric sandwich before you pass it through the machine…zips are the most obvious example of a situation where it’s vital that everything lies flat and secure before you put a permanent line of stitching in there…

pinning tips

If you’ve ever questioned why you ought to baste a zip rather than just pin it…just look at the photo above and the effect that pinning can have on your seamline, compared to how flat the fabric edge is on the basted section! Now I’m not saying baste everything. Life (and sewing time) is too short for that! But when it absolutely has to be accurate, you’ll be pleased you added in the extra step. Promise!

So, if all of that has you wanting to up your pin game, then here’s a treat for you. The pins featured in this post (above and below) are Hiroshima pins. Japanese pins of superior quality. They come in the most gorgeous packaging (I’m such a sucker for packaging)…hiroshima pins
hiroshima pins


And they are like miniature works of art in their own right. In order below are tulip hiroshima glass headed patchwork pins, Akari pins and Shizuku pins…pinning tipshiroshima pinshiroshima pins

Aren’t they STUNNING! They are part of the newly expanded range of hiroshima pins now available at Beyond Measure. Grace has the most exquisite taste. And she is very generously offering one reader the chance to win 4 packs of luxury Hiroshima pins of their choice.

To be in with a chance of winning simply subscribe to Grace’s newsletter here. Additional entries for facebook and instagram follows. Then leave a comment here to let me know how many entries (ie what you’ve followed/subscribed to). Giveaway is open internationally and closes at midnight GMT on Sunday 26th February.

Good luck and happy pinning!!

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How To: Split Hem Finish

What seems like eons ago now, ( just before The Refashioners took over my blog!) I promised a “how to” on this split hem finish….SPLIT HEM FINISH - TUTORIAL

As is often the case with me it was a happy accident born of a bodge up! A solution to a too short top that I ended up quite liking!


So in this instance I’m making another Maya top. At this stage everything is finished, except the hem which I have overlocked to limit any fraying.  I cut long /wide strips from my leftover fabric, just a little bit wider than the top, laid flat. The bands folded in half RS together.

I measured from side seam to side seam on my top…SPLIT HEM FINISH - TUTORIAL

And marked this width on my fabric…


Using those marks as a guide I drew out my bands. A line perpendicular from the folded edge at either end (where I just marked the width of the top). In this instance about 6cm from the folded edge. Then those joined  up with one long line.


Cut 2 bands. One for the front. One for the back. (Measure both the front and back of the shirt as these can differ depending on style). I cut my back band a bit wider for an asymmetric look. I pinned along the long open edge to stop everything moving about and left my original markings in place as a stitching guide…SPLIT HEM FINISH - TUTORIAL

Just sewing the short edges at either end of the band (not the long edge) stitch directly on top of that pen line, press and trim the excess right down for turning…SPLIT HEM FINISH - TUTORIAL

Turn through, poke out corners and press thoroughly…SPLIT HEM FINISH - TUTORIAL

And you have your two bands 🙂

Now just attach them the the hem of your top. Line up the open edges of your bandwith the unfinished edge of the hem. Have the bands meet at the side seams. Pin in place at this point in particular and all along the edge…SPLIT HEM FINISH - TUTORIAL

Serge/Stitch in place. Flip down and press…SPLIT HEM FINISH - TUTORIAL





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Serger Series – Part 3: Nailing Tension

How to nail serger tension once and for all

Loopy stitching and puckered or curled fabric edges be gone! It’s time to nail the whole tension thing once and for all! The best way to diagnose a problem when it crops up is to understand the effect that the various tension settings have on the various threads that form your overlock stitch; and the best way to do THAT is to sew a sample swatch for each one.  Yes there are more fun things to be doing like actually making stuff! But this is a one time task which, once you’ve done it, will give you the means to diagnose problems, and put them right, quickly and easily without any of that “why the HELL is it doing that?!! kind of frustration. So that’s gotta be worth it, right?!! If nothing else it will save your loved ones from putting up with the “effiing & blinding/cussing” coming from your general direction (I KNOW that’s not just me!)

How to thread a serger at www.makery.uk

So. First things first. You’ll need to thread each needle and looper with a different colour thread. (If you can match it to the colours in your threading diagram even better! Threading guide here if you need it)  This will aid in identifying which thread is doing what, the effect it has on other threads and generally help to differentiate.

How to nail serger tension once and for all

This is what the aim of the game is. One swatch for each needle and looper with each swatch containing samples of the stitch at each tension setting. At the end of which you’ll be able to mark the optimum tension settings (and ratios) for each thread. I’ll explain further along how this is useful as you might well be thinking that working out your tension on calico is pointless when you’re sewing predominantly with knits & possibly a whole variety of fabrics…but bear with me. It does make sense I promise!

How to nail serger tension once and for all

So for the swatches I used simple calico. Just because it’s plain, medium weight, I had some, and I could draw on it easily and permanently. If you have other fabric that fits that criteria, fab. Use it. You’ll also need a ruler, biro/pen and fabric scissors…

How to nail serger tension once and for all

Cut 4 strips about 8″ wide (one for each tension dial) and long enough to accommodate a 1.5″ section for each of your tension settings plus a header. So basically, my serger has tension settings from 1-9. So I divided each strip into 10  x  1.5″ sections.

How to nail serger tension once and for all

Fold/press in half along the length. Then at the top of each one write the name of the thread/section you are swatching (so…left needle, right needle, upper looper, lower looper) and the colour of the thread that you have used for that section. (I also added the number that corresponds to that section on my threading diagram. But this isn’t that necessary. Call it thoroughness overkill on my part!) Then write the numbers 1-9 down the left hand side of each strip….

So the process is the same for each swatch. Start with all dials at a medium setting of say 3 or 4. Something that you know will give you a basic overlock stitch without being ridiculously loose or tight. Just set them all the same. Then “swatch” each tension dial in turn as follows. Left Needle, Right Needle, Upper Looper, Lower Looper. (So basically left to right on your tension dials).

Starting with the left needle, set the tension dial to 1…How to nail serger tension once and for all

…then serge down the right hand side or your swatch fabric until your needles hit the line. Stop.

Move the tension dial to 2…How to nail serger tension once and for all

Serge until your needles hit the next line…How to nail serger tension once and for all


How to nail serger tension once and for all

Set your tension dial to 3…

How to nail serger tension once and for all

Serge until your needles hit the next line and stop.

How to nail serger tension once and for all

I suspect you’re getting the gist now! Keep moving the tension dial up one increment at a time…

How to nail serger tension once and for all

…and sewing up to the next line…until you’ve swatched each tension setting on that dial. At that point, examine the stitch and mark the tension setting that gives you the best, most balanced stitch. (more detail on what constitutes a balanced stitch further down, so bear with. We’ll get to that part) Set the tension dial at that setting. Leave it there, and move on to the next tension dial and repeat the process for that one. once you’ve established the optimum setting for the second dial, set it to that, and move onto the third, then the fourth…

How to nail serger tension once and for all

So, by the time you’ve done all that you’ll end up with 4 of these! So, now what to do?

What these Swatches Tell You…

So how do swatches made on calico relate to sewing with knits? I might have gone to all this trouble to get a perfect stitch on a double thickness of calico, but the tensions will be completely different when I start sewing jersey, right? Welllll…yes…..and no! The numbers may be different but the basic concept of what these swatches tell me will be much the same, proportionately, whatever fabric I’m using. Firstly there’s the ratio/differential between each setting. From my swatches above you’ll see that  my “ratios” are 6-6- 4-3. (Don’t be surprised if this differs slightly from your manual’s recommended settings! Every machine is different.) So basically my needle tensions are the same as eachother, and my looper tensions are 2 and/or 3 notches lower than my needles. This rough relationship between the tension settings is my starting point with any other fabrics I now sew with. It’s a ratio that I now know, works. So when I sit down at my serger with a new piece of jersey, I might lower them all by half a notch, if my common sense tells me to do so, but generally my starting point is roughly the same.  It may be +/- half a notch or a notch, but in my experience (and I sew with mostly light or medium weight knits and wovens) there isn’t a dramatic deviation from those numbers or ratios even after I’ve done a test swatch on my fabric. Now, before I even start….I know I’m roughly in the right ball park!

The other thing these swatches tell you is why your overlock stitch or fabric is behaving in a particular way and allows you to identify where you might need to fine tune from your starting point. Take a look….

Left Needle  (Too Loose)

We’re looking at the BLUE thread here. (Ignore the rest) With the needle tension set really low, much as with a standard machine, the stitches will not sit flat on the surface of the fabric. You can see a little “daylight” between the stitches and the fabric here at the lowest setting. It’s not terrrrrrible but wait….How to nail serger tension once and for all

How to nail serger tension once and for allOn the reverse it’s waaaay more obvious that the tension on the blue thread is too low. See those little blue loops that gradually get smaller as you move from the left to the right of the image? IAs the tension increases the thread will sit more flush with the fabric. So if your left needle thread is looping at the back like that…increase the tension.

Left Needle  (Too Tight)

There’s alot more play and forgiveness in needle tension  than there is in looper tension in my experience. Especially at the upper/tighter end of the tension scale. The effect here isn’t quite as obvious on this calico as it might be on a fine tissue knit but at the highest tension setting (we’re still looking at the BLUE thread. Last segment. Left of the screen, numbered 9) you can see the fabric is starting to pucker ever so slightly…..How to nail serger tension once and for allHow to nail serger tension once and for all

Maybe more visible on the reverse….see that slight dimpling along the stitch line and the way the corner can’t lay flat? It’s all just a little bit “tense” isn’t it?! So any sign of puckering along the stitch line, lower your needle tension.

Right Needle  (Too Loose)

This time we’re looking at the CREAM thread and the right hand needle. As I said, both my needles are always set at the same tension and the effect that having the tension too low or too high is the same….How to nail serger tension once and for allHow to nail serger tension once and for all

Loopy means it’s too low. Increase the tension.

Right Needle (Too Tight)

This time, the blue thread has already been set to the right tension. We’re looking at the CREAM thread and on the highest setting it’s causing the same puckering that the blue thread did… look at the way the edge of the fabric on the far left is sliiiiightly wavy and not sitting flat….How to nail serger tension once and for all

How to nail serger tension once and for all

See the way the corner is lifting, the sliiight wave to the fabric edge and that slight dimpling along the stitch line again? Same as before….reduce the thread tension.

So to summarise…needle tensioning on a serger is pretty much the same as on a standard machine. Check the underside as well as the top. If it puckers it’s too tight. If it loops it’s too loose. adjust up or down accordingly. Simple!

The Loopers

The loopers is where the “balancing the stitch” part comes in. The upper and lower looper threads form loops that loop round eachother and cover the edge of the fabric. Hence the term loopers, I’m guessing! To get a “balanced stitch” you want the part where the upper and lower loopers link together, to sit right on the edge of the fabric. We’re almost at that part; but first lets look at the way incorrect tensioning affects the upper and lower loopers interact with eachother. They have a co-dependant relationship if you like! If one’s not quite right then the other can’t do it’s thang!

Upper Looper (too loose)

We’re looking at the GREY thread in this pic. Having the upper looper  tension too loose allows the loops to float over and under the edge of the fabric…How to nail serger tension once and for all

To put it another way, the loops of the upper looper (grey), should be exactly the same length as the loops of the lower looper (yellow) and meet eachother at the edge of the fabric. If your upper looper thread is passing over and under the edge of your fabric like this, but not causing it to curl….it’s too loose. Increase the tension on the upper looper.

Upper Looper (too tight)

At the other end of the scale if the upper looper tension thread is too tight, it will make the grey thread loops too short/tight and pull the lower looper thread (yellow) round from the other side and curl the edge of the fabric in the process….How to nail serger tension once and for allHow to nail serger tension once and for all

So if you have short loops on top pulling and curling the fabric around from underneath like this? Your upper looper tension is too tight.

Lower Looper (too loose)

We are looking at the YELLOW thread of my lower looper now. It’s the same interaction as before but the effect is reversed. If the lower looper tension is too loose, it allows the lower looper thread to float round to the top of the fabric rather than sit on the edge. You’ll notice this makes the grey upper looper threads too short in relation.How to nail serger tension once and for all

But there is no curl which means it’s a “looseness” problem rather than a “tightness” problem. Increase the lower looper tension.

Lower Looper (too tight)

With the lower looper tension set too tight the YELLOW thread (now no longer visible) is pulling the upper looper (grey) thread around and under and curling the fabric edge again, but this time it’s curling under….How to nail serger tension once and for all

Curling is sign that one oor other of your loopers is too tight. If it curls upwards it’s your upper looper. If it curls under, as it does here, it’s your lower looper. Lower the tension of the lower looper.

The “Perfectly” balanced stitch…

So this is what we’re aiming for. The holy grail of serging. The “perfectly” balanced stitch. Truthfully there’s no such thing as perfection, lol! But this is what to look for as you are deciding on the optimum setting for each swatch, and setting your tension for each new fabric.

Stitching lines (blue and cream thread) flat to fabric and not looping or causing puckers on either side. Upper Looper loops (grey thread) extend right to the edge of the fabric where they meet the Lower Looper loops (yellow thread) from the underside…How to nail serger tension once and for all

How to nail serger tension once and for all

The lower looper thread from the underside view. Neat little “Y” shapes with just the teeniest bit of the blue and cream needle threads visible from the other side. The yellow “Y”s (lower loops) extend right to the edge of the fabric where the meet the grey thread of the Upper Looper loops….

How to nail serger tension once and for all

….and finally that spot, right along the edge of the fabric (extremely tricky to photograph one handed!), but hopefully you can see both looper threads meeting and looping around eachother to enclose that raw edge. In essence, THAT is the perfectly balanced serger stitch.

The swatches give you a starting point at which you have a rough idea of the tension ratios of your machine. From there,  you can diagnose problems with any given fabric, by looking at how it (and the stitch) is behaving and comparing it to your swatches. He’s a few “rules of thumb” I’ve discovered since getting to know my serger this way.  In general if part of the stitch is loopy, then the tension is too loose.  Loopy = Loose. Get it?! The swatches will help you identify which part of the stitch you are looking at and adjust the relevant tension dial. If the fabric edge is curling then one of your loopers is too tight. If it curls upwards it’s your upper looper. If it curls downwards it’s your lower looper. If there’s puckering along the length, then needle tensions are likely too tight.

So, with serger swatches in hand, the next time you sit down at your machine, hopefully there will be less cussing, and more beautifully balanced stitches 🙂

Questions?? Feel free to leave them in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer!

Serger Series: Part 1. Anatomy

Serger Series: Part 2. Threading

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