Five Sewing Techniques to Master for Perfect Garments
Sewing has been a long, winding journey for me as I’m sure it has been for you. At age seven, my mom plopped me in front of a sewing machine and lovingly coached me through the construction of a lap quilt that would take me over six years to finish. Back then, the thought of sewing endless tiny pieces of fabric together to form a blanket didn’t click with me. In fact, it totally turned me off of sewing until my twenties.
I’m not sure what spurred my interest in sewing again during the summer of 2009. For one, I was totally broke, newly graduated from college without a job prospect to be found. I fondly remember referring to those times as my "funemployment." Living in Portland, Oregon, I would reluctantly submit one or two job applications per day and spend the rest of my days making reusable grocery bags and reupholstering vintage chairs. I had the naive mindset of a 22 year old in the greenest city on the planet. And I had just discovered thrift stores.
Over the next five years my sewing projects would evolve from simple tote bags and recovered cushions, to elastic waist skirts and zippered pouches. I tried my hardest to sew everything using repurposed materials. I looked, slightly, like a young bag lady. And I loved it.
After moving to Boulder in 2011 I started repurposing thrifted clothing. I had the confidence of a beginner sewist, and absolutely no knowledge of garment construction. But through hours and hours of seam ripping I soon began to understand how our clothing is assembled, and I felt totally empowered.
Now in 2014, I finally feel confident in what I would call my intermediate/advanced sewing skills. Except for sewing, I’ve never found any hobby or task that I’ve stuck with long enough to master. One thing I know is that garment sewing is my mojo. And I absolutely love making handmade clothing that looks just as good on the inside as it does on the outside.
So today, friends, I’m talking about my five favorite sewing techniques for perfect garments. I should clarify though, each of these techniques take a lot of practice to get just right. I’ve probably bound 100 armholes with bias tape and just recently do I feel proud to show you a blog post on the technique. Sewing is a practice-makes-perfect game, and if you repeat these techniques enough you’ll be able to take your beginner sewing skills to the next level and impress all of your friends along the way. So here we go…
1. Applying Bias Tape To Necklines and Armscyes
Yes, we wrote a blog post about it that we reference all..of...the...time. But it’s for good reason. Nearly every tank top pattern on the market calls for bias binding. Whether you make your own or use store bought, you will absolutely love the finished detail this adds to your garments (I especially love to finish shirt and dress hems with bias tape). In fact, you’ll wonder how you went so long without knowing how to use it. Are you brand new to garment sewing? This is where you should start.
Deby from So Sew Easy also has a great tutorial on using bias tape for garments that is slightly different from ours. Check it out!
It seems simple and it is. Topstitching provides a finished look to garments that we always underestimate until it’s applied. Use an edge-stitching foot if you have one to create perfectly straight topstitch lines. Opt for heavier weight topstitching thread to make a bigger visual impact. Whatever you do, make sure your machine tension is spot-on since this visible stitch will be the focal point of your handmade clothing. Expect a tutorial on topstitching soon!
Note: We've since shared our favorite Tips for Better Topstitching. Go check them out!
Ugh, zippers. Even as a seasoned sewist, zippers still give me anxiety. For no good reason, because once I sit down with a zipper and my unfinished item, it almost always goes in smoothly, but that’s usually after lots of online research to make sure I don’t waste a perfectly good zipper and a garment I’ve already spent hours sewing. Our tips? Use your zipper foot! Especially your invisible zipper foot if you have one. Without these handy tools, I find zippers much harder to sew in and the end result is often wavy seams and lots of seam ripping.
There are a million zipper tutorials out there. I suggest you read/watch as many as you can!
4. Sewing With Elastic
Sewing in elastic was one of the first sewing techniques I learned when I made a rectangular skirt with an elastic waist. Whether its encased or not, we recommend learning different methods to sew in elastic (we’ll be covering some soon!). Because at some point you’ll want to sew a pair of comfy pj pants or some boxers for a man in your life and you really don’t have time to let elastic hold you up. Trust us. Elastic will call your name.
I used Freshly Picked's tutorial (has been deleted) when learning to apply elastic to my skirt waists. Here's a similar one from Simple Simon & Co.
I’ve always struggled with gathering, both knits and wovens. Tutorials make it look so easy, attaching bodices to skirts with tiny, perfectly spaced gathers. Often, sewing your gathers in is the hardest part, as the gathers tend to shift and flatten out leaving your garment a lopsided gathered mess. Learn the basting stitch method and the (my favorite) floss method, and when you're at your wit’s end resort to the elastic method.
So you’ve mastered all of these techniques?
Consider yourself an intermediate sewist! Of course, there are many other techniques to round out your sewing skills, like hem variations, buttonholes, and plackets. But I am of the opinion that mastering the basic skills you currently know will give you the confidence to tackle the hard stuff later when your psyche can handle it.
Are there techniques that you’d love to learn more about? Please let us know! Give us your feedback about the tutorials you’d like to see on the Indiesew blog. To get all of our tutorials straight to your inbox sign up below!
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