On your throat plate, at the very front (closest to you and directly in front of your needle) should a 5/8″ marking. This is great, as when you are needing to pivot at a corner you know exactly when to pivot; just sew until the edge of your material reaches this point, and then pivot – it will be exactly 5/8″ from the edge!
There is also a 1″ guide mark – this is really helpful if you are sewing muslin test fit garments where you need a slightly bigger seam allowance, or you need a stitch line at 1″ such as quilting.
Did you know that the metal tip of your fabric tape measure is 5/8″? It makes it so much easier and quicker to measure out the standard stitching line for seam allowances by just using that little end.
Sewing & Pinning
Wobbly or uneven top stitching?
You should be using a presser foot that has a guide bar. A great example is the Adjustable Blind Hem Foot (G), which has a small bar that drops lower than the bottom of the foot (sorry none of my photos work out to show you). This little bar can be used as a physical guide, allowing you to butt the edge of your material against it and sew right on the very edge in a perfectly straight line.
Don’t stress if you haven’t got a presser foot with a physical guide bar. You can use other feet as a visual guide, you might just have to sew a bit slower. My Zipper Foot (E) and Applique Foot (F) both have edges that could be used as a visual guide by aligning the edge of the fabric.
Did you buy that tomato pin cushion that everyone seems to have? That the little strawberry shaped bit attached to it is actually filled with a fine metal mesh, and when you poke it a couple of times with your pins they will sharpen.
If that isn’t helping, definitely consider investing in good quality pins. Blunt and poor quality pins won’t spear through the fabric, but instead will catch threads and pull them, leaving marks and even potential for ripped threads. A good quality pin shouldn’t lose its head if you pull it out of fabric (a couple times pinning my mannequin a pin will go too deep and get a bit stuck for example). Nor should the color on head peel or fall off; the entire head should be made of colored glass rather than coated in paint.
Stick a manilla folder between the fabric and the raw seams when pressing. That way you won’t risk pressing the marks of the raw edges into the fabric.
Teflon Iron Shoe
Too much heat and water can cause irreparable damage to fabric, especially if it can only be dry cleaned. A teflon iron shoe will help protect your material from direct contact with too much heat; you will also be able to apply more steam through the heated iron. Since teflon can be slippery, the iron will glide more smoothly over material without risking catching ripples.
Most professionals will recommend a pressing cloth. Like a teflon iron shoe, a pressing cloth can help provide a layer of protection between your fabric and the heat and steam from an iron. Realistically any type of material can be used, however the most popular is silk organza as it is semi-transparent so that you can see what you are pressing.
If you are new to sewing, or aren’t confident in your top stitching skills, then consider using textured fabric; it can be much more forgiving than smooth fabric. Topstitching and uneven stitches will sink into the wells of the textured fabric, and won’t be as noticeable. Also, if you need to unpick stitches, you won’t see visible marks.
Beeswax, Wax and Soap
To make thread smoother for hand sewing, many people will lightly coat it with wax or soap; this will allow it to slide through the fabric far more easily and is less likely to knot up unintentionally. If you can’t afford – or don’t want – to buy a specific tool for this task then use some old soap slivers or candle stubs.
A cheap way to finish your stitching and prevent fraying, such as on buttons and buttonholes, add a drop of clear nail polish. When it hardens it will secure and strengthen the threads.