Friday, 1 July 2011

Learn your tools

One of the lessons I have learnt whilst setting up my business is to ensure you have the correct tools and learn how to use them correctly. When I used to sew just for myself I used to get by with whatever I had to hand. That was fine then but now I have learnt to use the best and use it properly.

I thought I would share my top ten tools:

  1. The best sewing machine you can afford. As this is something you will be using for the majority of the time then you need to buy the best that you can afford but also the best for the job. There is no point in spending money on an embroidery machine if you are never going to embroider. If possible visit a showroom where you can try out a variety of machines to find the best one for you. once you have purchased your machine read the manual. I also ensure the manual is close at hand so whenever I am sewing so if I get a problem then I can look it up. Practice and get used to your machine before embarking on any major projects.
  2. A decent iron. You need to constantly have your iron on as pressing seams is an important part of construction. I also found that the heavier the iron the better but you don't need to have an all singing all dancing iron as long as it can produce steam. Learn the difference between how the iron acts with different fabrics, on different temperatures, with and without steam, with and without moisture (water). Also invest in a decent press cloth (or make one) as these are the best thing when pressing sewing projects.
  3. Great scissors. I have a variety of scissors, a pair for different thicknesses of fabric - one for delicate (satin, chiffon, etc), one for tougher (denim, cotton, etc), one for cutting paper patterns, pinking shears, thread snips. It isn't really necessary to have all these but make sure you have separate pairs for cutting fabric and paper - never use the same pair for both as the paper blunts the blades and they can then end up tearing the fabric. Also make sure that the fabric scissors are kept as sharp as possible and above all never let anyone else near them!!!
  4. A good cutting area. When you are cutting you need to be able to spread the fabric and pattern out. If you have to keep moving the fabric around chances are the pattern will slip and you will end up with inaccurately cut pieces which will make fitting difficult (if not impossible). Learn what surface is best for the majority of fabrics you will cut. If you cut mainly lightweight fabrics then you may require a non slip surface, if cutting heavyweight fabrics you will require a surface that can support the bulk of the fabric. If you have too small an area to cut and have to hang fabric off the cutting surface this can distort the grain of the fabric and this in turn will affect the cut and finish of the garment.
  5. Good quality thread. When sewing you need to use the best thread that is available. You might think that buying cheaply in bulk is greater value for your business but in the long run this isn't true as the thread will break, seams will start to undo. The thread will also not be able to hold up to the wear and tear a garment goes through especially on areas where there is a lot of stress, like on closures or any seam where there is a lot of movement (crouch seams on trousers, etc) However when deciding on your thread you need to learn what thread suits what fabric. There are plenty of websites to help with this - just google sewing thread types.
  6. Marking tools. When it come to sewing you need to mark all types of things on fabric - seam lines, dart, etc but also fitting lines if you need to make adjustments. When marking darts I normally use tailors tacks but sometimes a semi permanent mark is required. I use many marking tools - pencil, vanishing fabric pen, dressmakers chalk. However be very careful what you use and where you use it. Always check on a scrap piece of you fabric 1st to ensure the mark will disappear as there is nothing worse than spending ages making something to find at the end that the marks are visible. Assemble a variety of marking tools and test them on different types of fabric, keep this in a scrapbook or something similar so you will always have future reference.
  7. Needles. Both hand needles and machine needles need to be sharp and smooth. Sometimes a needle can get a little nick and then this will catch on the fabric causing snags. The same applies to blunt needles, they will not pierce the fabric freely and this will cause unsightly holes and marks. Also make sure you are using the correct needle for the fabric and project. It is no good trying to use a tapestry needle to embroider satin. Again just google sewing needle guides for charts explaining the different types and there uses.
  8. Pins. When pinning fabrics together think of the type of pins required. Use glass headed pins on delicate fabrics, anything with a large head that will show on thick fabrics (tweed.etc) bright coloured pins on dark fabrics and vice versa on coloured fabrics ( never use the same colour as the fabric unless you want to become a colander) When you have finished sewing always double check your garment is pin free, you can double check this by running a magnet over your garment, any pins left will pull the garment section towards the magnet.
  9. Seam ripper. I have found this to be one of my best friends while sewing. Not only used as a seam ripper but also for cutting buttonholes. A seam ripper has many uses just be careful as they are sharp.
  10. Tape measure. I have several of these and also a metre stick. I use them for measuring everything related to my sewing but you need to make sure you stick to the same unit for each garment. Do Not start measuring in inches but then half way through a sewing project change to Cm's as this will just through everything out of proportion. The same applies to you metre stick - don't try to use this to measure curves or corners.
Listed below are a few more tools I have in my kit.
Lint brush/cloth. I use this for ensure my work area is clean and for giving the sewing machine needle/plate are a dusting down to get rid of any loose fibres.
Screw driver set - used for changing needles, light bulbs, etc.
Tailors ham, sleeve roll- not strictly necessart but come in reallt useful and give professional finishes.

Above all have fun with sewing learning what is right and what is wrong. However what is right or wrong for one person is not for another.