Top Sewing Tips

On my travels I meet lots of sewers and hear lots of tips from people who have been sewing for years, or who have just joined the party but have picked up some goodies already. So I thought I would gather some of my favourites here for your delectation!

Special thank you to Barbara Taylor for collating many of these tips :)

10 Sewing Machine Tips

  1. Use those little bits of thread left on your bobbin as tacking cotton (especially if you hand baste your English Paper Piecing) - don't let it go to waste!
  2. When using your automatic needle threader, ensure that your needle is in the uppermost point of it's arc. Many needle threaders will not engage if the eye is not in the correct place to avoid damage to your machine.
  3. Change the needle on the sewing machine every few projects. This is the most common cause of skipped stitches - so just keep it sharp.
  4. Use a blob of nail varnish to identify needles for different fabrics. Obviously write down somewhere what these colours mean :)
  5. Keep empty needle packs for storing needles you have temporarily removed from your machine (because you are stitching a different fabric). 
  6. Clean your sewing machine often - you will be surprised how much the dust builds up. You can use pipe cleaners to get into those awkward places. Do not blow into your machine as this introduces moisture into the mechanics.
  7. When your sewing machine is not in use, place a small fabric piece under the foot, wind the needle down into fabric and drop the foot. 
  8. When you need to maintain an accurate seam allowance stick a strip of masking tape on your machine to guide the edge of the fabric.
  9. Read your sewing machine manual. It doesn't just tell you the basics of how your machine works, it can offer useful guidance to which stitches and feet to use for your projects. 
  10. Use the correct foot for the job. Having the right tools not only makes the job easier, it makes for more professional look results.

10 Hand Sewing Tips

  1. If threading a needle is difficult place a piece of white card or paper behind eye of the needle. It's easier to see the eye for threading. This can also help if your sewing machine doesn't have an automatic needle threader. 
  2. Cutting your thread at 45 degrees which will assist threading the needle.
  3. A quick dab of clear nail varnish on the end of frayed thread will stiffen it and allow you to thread your needle.
  4. To avoid knots in thread when hand sewing, thread needle straight from bobbin then cut to the length required.
  5. When hand sewing buy self threading needles.
  6. Wax thread with beeswax when sewing on buttons.
  7. Wrap leftover bit of thread around a piece of card. You never know when you may need just a tiny piece of that colour! It also stops your threads balling up and knotting together.
  8. Invest in a needle holder - it is easy to lose a needle when you leave it lying around, and they can be painful if you accidentally "find it" with a hand or a knee!
  9. When embroidering, use a frame to stop your work distorting.
  10. On fine fabrics consider using a removable stabiliser to prevent your fabric from stretching. 

Tool Tips

  1. Press, press and press is the first rule of sewing for a professional finish.
  2. Fill a home made pin cushion with steel/wire wool. This will keep the pins and needles sharp and free from rust. 
  3. Throw away rusty pins! They can mark your fabrics and rust can be hard to remove. 
  4. For fine fabric use fine pins. 
  5. Use wonder clips instead of pins for working with zips or holding your binding in places when you sew.  They are easier to remove and don't distort thick fabrics like pins can.
    These Wonderclips were free with Issue 60 of Quilt Now Magazine
  6. Pin within the seam allowance to prevent holes showing on finished garment. 
  7. A burst of steam from an iron can sometimes close the holes made by pins, but this may not work on delicate fabrics, and the steam can stain silk.
  8. Invest in a good stitch ripper/unpicker. You will use it a lot! Also, replace a blunt ripper as they can damage your fabric if you force it.
  9. If you have unpicked stitches and the holes are very noticeable, use the tiny red dot on the unpicker in a circular motion over the hole and the fabric will repair itself by encouraging the the fibres to weave back together.
  10. Treat yourself to the best fabric scissors that you can afford. They are worth every penny.
  11. Keep fabric scissors for cutting fabric only. Using them for cutting paper will blunt them. Tie a piece of ribbon to the handle of your fabric scissors so you can easily identify them.
  12. Cut sandpaper or tin foil to sharpen scissors.
  13. Try cutting out using a rotary cutter on a cutting board for accurate results.
  14. Change your rotary cutter blade when it gets blunt or after you have accidentally run it over a pin. A sharp blade is much safer than a blunt one.
  15. Store your rotary cutter upside down in your bag so you don't accidentally catch the edge of your blade when you put your hand in to find something else.
  16. Use special marking pens or pencils to transfer marks from patterns.These will fade away or can be washed out. Do not iron over marks made with pen as this may seal the ink permanently.
  17. Always check your marker pens on your fabric before you start marking because they can behave differently based on different fabrics.
  18. Pinking shears are really useful for preventing the edges of your fabrics fraying. 
  19. Use pattern weights to hold a paper pattern in place. Pins may rip the delicate tissue pattern and the weights make cutting out more precise. Patter weights can be made with scraps of fabric and filled with rice, or you can use anything heavy you have to hand! 
  20. Use freezer bags or plastic zip lock to store all the bits for your project, i.e. fabric, notions, embellishments and pattern, so you don't waste time hunting them down.

 5 Fabric Tips

  1. When working with black or dark fabric cut it out during daylight. Artificial light can distort the colour. 
  2. Check the right and wrong side of fabric and mark a big X with tailor’s chalk on the wrong side. This means you won't have to keep checking every time you go to stitch your fabric.
  3. Use a lint roller to remove hairs, dust, random threads etc. or use sellotape wrapped around hand with sticky side out. This is especially important when you have cats who adore lying on your nice new fabrics!
  4. Learn about the grain of your fabric. Fabric stretches a differing amount depending on which direction it is being tugged! 
  5. Keep fabric glue or clear nail varnish in your work box. This is useful when snipping into v-necklines or tight corners. A small drop will stop the fabric from fraying.

Cotton Thread Tips

  1. Do not use your Grandmother’s thread, no matter how pretty it looks! It has a shelf life and will rot.
  2. Don't buy cheap thread. It's cheap for a reason. Invest in the best you can afford!
  3. Choose the correct thread and quality fabric to produce a quality product
  4. Grey thread will be almost invisible against many colours. Use light grey for light tones, and dark grey for dark tones.


  1. Sarah I have a question. I've seen you on Create and Craft with the Brother FS130 sewing machine. Can this machine be used with rulers and ruler feet. I have tried it (with feed dogs down)but the material won't move freely.

    1. Yes you can, assuming you are using the correct feet. Some ruler feet need to be adjusted to make them bounce correctly. I am a big fan of Pars rulers and their short shank foot works like a dream on my FA130QC.


Feel free to let me know what you think!