If you have worked through the straight line and corner exercises, this first bit is no longer any big secret, we become better at our sewing by - practice, practice, practice! Hopefully you will also now have seen the benefits of practicing on paper first and how this is helping you:
- learn how to control your machine with the pedal
- learn how to guide your 'fabric' in relation to your needle
- build your sewing confidence, you've nothing to lose - it's only paper!
I cannot stress enough the benefits of practicing on these paper printouts, do it for a couple of days at least until you see your accuracy improve, believe me, you will end up wasting less fabric and making fewer mistakes in your projects!
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Master Your Machine
Why is a Beautiful Curve Important in Sewing?
Like wonderfully straight lines and perfect corners, in sewing, beautiful curves are a skill to be mastered and will contribute to the wonderful finish of your projects. As straight lines and corners appear throughout garment construction, so do curves, notably at our necklines, hemlines and armscyes - where a sleeve joins the body of a garment. An imperfect curve will detract from the finish of your project and may also impact the fit of a garment - consider a wobbly neckline, too low for you to wear the garment or so high that it chokes you!
Once you have mastered sewing smooth curves, staying true to the line itself, your projects will automatically have a more professional look and feel to them. There are other benefits to accurate sewing, I promise you will reduce the number of times you have to unpick; you will complete projects with fewer errors and fewer frustrations and you will approach your sewing with a new confidence!
How to Sew a Beautifully Curved Line.
The final piece in your sewing practice triology - the curved line! Like your straight lines and corners, once mastered it lifts the quality of all of your projects and removes the need for unpicking and re-doing your work. Master it now before you start working with fabric, and your sewing journey will be all the better for it.
No longer a secret….practice on paper first!
Practicing without the stresses of thread or fabric by sewing on paper frees you up to concentrate on your line and the task at hand. As fashion students we would practice for days, perfecting our lines, understanding the ‘feel’ of our machines and building our confidence. No need to waste money on gadgets or magnetic seam guides, learn the craft!
The practice sheets grow in difficulty, it helps to master each in order, but tackle them however you like! The main thing is to practice, practice, practice!
Tips for success:
• Do NOT watch the needle! The needle movement initially can be distracting - look away!
• Watch the edge of your presser foot and use it to guide your paper. When sewing seams, you can watch the presser foot or the guidelines on the plate in relation to the edge and line you are sewing
• Note where the line is in relation to the edge of the foot to ensure your needle consistently stays on the line
• Place your hands lightly on the paper to guide it, the feed dogs on your machine will do the work of moving the paper forward, do NOT pull or push the paper. You can test this on a blank sheet, simply sew without touching the paper and you will see your machine move the paper forward, pulling or pushing can distort your stitching and should be avoided
• Turn the paper around for best fit on your machine, this is simply a paper exercise, make it as easy for yourself
• Start sewing slowly and as confidence grows, go back and try the same exercises at a higher speed
How to Accurately Stop & Start a Line of Stitches.
Each sewing line has a start and end point. Both are very important, and it is part of our dressmaking sewing skills to accurately place our needles at these start and end points to ensure every sewn line is correct in length and position.
We cheat a bit at this! Rather than trying to gauge where to start, it helps to ‘hand crank’ the needle into the start position. This is a great term, hailing from the pre-electricity days, not that long ago, when sewing machines were indeed powered by the dressmaker's hand. On modern machines, this technique is still valuable, and machines continue to have a ‘wheel’ on the side which enables you to manually lower the needle accurately into position.
For each of the sewing practice lessons in this guide:
Print a couple of copies of each sewing practice sheet – no printer, no worries! – use lined notebook paper or draw on plain paper, roughly copying each exercise sheet
Ensure your machine is not threaded – top or bottom
Set the stitch to straight and stitch length mid-way, around 3-4, depending on the machine
Raise your machine presser foot and place the practice sheet so that most of the paper is to the left – as you would with fabric
Lower the presser foot and hand crank – turn the wheel – the needle down into position at the start of the line. You can raise the foot and move the sheet as often as you need to get the correct position for your needle
Once the presser foot is down, start to sew! Go at whatever speed suits you, part of this practicing is to help you with the foot control of your pedal and the speed of your machine
At the end of each curve, practice slowing your machine and trying to stop with the needle in the paper precisely at the end point. To help with this initially stop 1-2cms before the end of the line and hand crank the needle to the end point but the aim here is to practice and build your accuracy so you can sew to the end, be brave, it’s only paper!
To finish, hand crank your needle out of the paper to the highest point, lift the presser foot, slide out your page and hold your paper up to the light to see your work. And repeat!
Practice Sheets 4 and 5 bring together all three lessons, straight lines, corners and curves! Even when you have mastered sewing, if you take a break, these are always great refresher exercises to keep up your skill level and keep you, literally, on track.
How to Sew a Smooth Curved Line
By now you should be more confident in starting and stopping a line of sewing and keeping your machine on track. Then curves come along! There are many types of curves in sewing, a smooth, long, gentle curve of a skirt over a hip, a shorter, tighter curve for fitting a sleeve. The tighter the curve the more tricky it can be to sew, as you are basically having to change direction every few stitches. When sewing curves you can apply a couple of different methods to ensure success.
Tips for curvy success:
Go slow! No prizes for speed, only for accuracy. It's not a race, the focus should be on accuracy and saying on the line
For a smooth, gentle, longer curve, sewing slowly and pivoting once or twice to ensure you stay on the line, is all that is needed
For a tighter curve, apply the pivot method every few stitches, stopping with the needle in the paper, lifting the foot, and ever so slightly twisting the paper so the needle stays on the curve itself, it may take time but will give you a glorious finish!
These exercises take you from a smooth, gentle curve to the trickiest curve - a circle. Take your time, work through the smooth curves a couple of times before attempting the circle. Approach each exercise in the same way you have for straight lines and pivots. You can do this!
What is a Sewing Sample Library?
At the Dressmaker’s Apprentice, we believe that making your own sewing sample library is the best way for you to both learn and improve your sewing techniques. As a fashion student way back in the ’90s, part of our degree course was weekly lessons where we worked purely on sewing processes and sewing our reference samples. From patch pockets to zip flies, piped seams to welt pockets, every technique you can imagine, we practiced and practiced, saving our attempts in our own personal sample reference libraries. I still have mine and still refer to it!
This approach is invaluable when it comes to dressmaking and design. You do not want your creativity or confidence to be limited by fear of a process. Too often I see creative people who would love to make a certain garment, stopped in their tracks because they are terrified by the thought of sewing a zip!
By learning and perfecting each process on its own, as you are doing here with your sewing, your dressmaking will have no limits! By practicing each technique, traditionally on calico, which we provide, the fear of destroying the beautiful fabric you have been saving, simply disappears. As your knowledge grows, you can apply the different techniques you have perfected to your dressmaking projects. The fear will disappear! You only need to work through a lesson, practicing each process several times, to then be able to apply it to all your future projects, what could be better than that?!
At the Dressmaker’s Apprentice we prefer to think and aspire to haute couture, beautifully finished garments based on years of sewing tradition, rather than fast fashion and factory machine finish. These are all sewing processes any home dressmaker can learn and perfect on a simple machine or by hand with a needle and thread. By learning a variety of sewing processes rather than relying on expensive machinery and gimmicks, you will be able to sew wonderful garments, elevating simple tops and dresses simply by their construction and finish. By practicing and building your own sewing reference library, you will lift your skills from self-taught home dressmaker to professional level and beyond.
What Are You Going to Learn Next?
There is a wonderful world of sewing tradition to learn from and dip into. What are you going to treat yourself to next! We have a range of exciting lessons for you to explore, such as:
- Seams: how many different seams do you know? Do you understand notches, or how to remove bulk in a seam?
- Enclosed Seams: would you like the inside of your projects to look as beautiful as the outside, would you like to use your seams as design details?
- Seam Finishes: fed up with raw edges, master a range of hand and machine finishes giving your sewing a wonderful, couture finish.
- Marking Fabric: try out a range of marking tools, have fun experimenting and find out what suits you best!
- Zips: Banish the fear! This lesson lets you practice, practice, practice, lots of zips and calico provided! You will be sewing beautiful zips in no time at all.
Visit us at www.thedressmakersapprentice.com to see our current and upcoming, lesson packs in sewing and pattern drafting.
Follow us on Instagram and Pinterest for lots of sewing and design inspiration.
Even better, share your sewing practices and your own sewing sample reference libraries on our Facebook page or at #thedressmakersaprentice.
We would love to see your work, from wobbly lines to straight lines and beautiful curves. This is just the start of your journey, excited to see where you finish!
How The Dressmaker’s Apprentice Works
We at the Dressmaker’s Apprentice want nothing more than to remove your sewing frustrations and to share our expertise and love of sewing with you. To achieve this, we have carefully crafted sewing and pattern drafting lessons with everything you need for success, delivered directly to your door.
Want to learn how to insert a zip, or how to finish a seam beautifully. Unsure of how to move a dart or the best ways to mark different fabric types. Simply select the sewing process you wish to learn and have a complete lesson sent to you. Want to learn it all? No problem, each lesson builds on the next, in the same way the traditions of sewing have been taught for years.
What makes us unique, is our approach in helping you to build your own sample library and as part of this we provide you with an already worked sample of each process in your lesson! No more trying to see what is going on in a YouTube video or trying to understand a drawing in a pattern instruction. You will have a sample in your hand which you can look at from every angle and see exactly what it is you are working towards.
It’s a sewing lesson, but not as you know it!