Questions & Answers: Fabric and Sewing

Here are some of our favorite fabric and general sewing questions that we've gotten over the years. Maybe a few of these will help you too!

I am going to be making satin dresses for my girls for Christmas - is there any way to make it less "slippery?" so it sews like other fabrics.

Well here's what I've done when having to deal with 'catch me if you can' fabrics': tissue paper. That's right, tissue paper. I put tissue paper on the WRONG side of the fabric, next to the feed dogs. When done, it' a snap to just tear away. The other thing I'd advise you do, I have as much table support as possible. When I made my wedding gown (the one with the ten foot train - what was I thinking?), my sewing room had only one opening for a long time, and that went to the sewing machine. Everything else has same-height table surfaces covered with clean sheets. The idea was for the fabric to rest on a surface even with the bed of the sewing machine, this meant I had to fight less with it and there was no drag.

I have made a top with a square neckline but the is far too wide, stands out, and shows almost my whole bra strap. Is there a clever way to resize it? I ran a basting stitch but it had that 'peasant' top look which totally destroys the classic look of the top.

The easiest way I can think of would be to as a band around the neckline/shoulder area. Either the same fabric or a nice contrasting one. Make sure it's wide enough to not only do the job, but if you're using a contrast/complimentary fabric, that people will see it as an accent.

I'm trying to do a roll hem with a serger on a bridal dress with a chiffon overlay. So far I've attempted to do the roll hem on the chiffon but it seems like it's to heavy and not neat looking.

From what you've said it could be several things, but my first thoughts are: 1. There's too much chiffon in the rolled hem. Make a narrower/smaller roll - less fabric in the roll. 2. The thread density it too high and/or the thread too heavy. 3. You can also try using a different type of thread - I personally like a single or double strand of rayon, or how about a wooly nylon.

I am trying to make a straight line on a dark fabric. I have tried a black marker and a white tracing pencil.

The easiest way I know is to make sure your fabric is laying flat and straight on a rotary cutting board with grid lines. Fabric weights will help. Take a long clear ruler and lay it along where your line should go. For example if you're marking a 1/2" seam, have the EDGE of your ruler lay at that point. Now, take a roll of quilting masking tape (sold in various width on rolls) and lay a nice long piece against your ruler edge. Remover the ruler and you have a perfectly straight edge to sew against. When you've finished sewing, just pull of the quilting tape. Because the tape is made for quilting, it won't leave a residue on your fabric.

When I try to start sewing a regular 1/4" seam on Hand Dyed Fabrics, the material is being drawn down into the needle plate and jamming up in the bobbin case. I have tried sewing with a leader strip and have changed needles and sizes to no avail. It still jams. Do you have any suggestions? I just looked at your needle chart and it doesn't mention hand dyed fabrics or a needle size to use with hand dyed materials. My machine is a Janome 6500 and I was told by my dealer that it's the fabrics fault because it's been handled multiple times during the dying process and therefore has a different thickness or surface that is pulling it into the needle plate.

Your dealer is handing you a line - I have NEVER heard that before. I hand dye fabrics - everything from 8mm silk to heavy raw silk. My first suggestion (since you said you're using fresh needles) is to 1. length the stitch length and 2. check your tension. You might also make sure the threading on the machine is secure. I have a Janome 3000 and sometime the take-up lever doesn't alway rest the thread all the way in and I have to fiddle with it.

The other thing to do is when you start out get a good grasp on the starting edge and hold the next 6 inches of so taut. START SEWING SLOWLY. But again, start out with longer stitches and checking your tension.

Oh what foot are you using? If you're using a special 1/4" quilting seam foot, that might be causing some of the problems. I can't get a consistent width using one. 99% of the time I use the standard foot - with a plastic or open area so I can see the stitches. I keep as much fabric as possible under that foot and simply adjust my needle to the correct seam width. The size of the needle has nothing to do with a hand dyed fabric. The needle size is based on the type of fabric and thread only.

I'm a beginning sewer, and would like to make a simple handbag (patternless). How do I mark the seam allowances so they are straight and accurate? I used a rotary cutter to cut fabric pieces but maybe I'm not cutting straight and this is why my lines seem crooked? I used a sewing gauge to make a 5/8" mark every 2" or so down the length of fabric on both sides & using a ruler to connect the dots so to speak! Any advise on fabric cutting and seam allowances. Thanks a bunch!

I don't know what fabric you're using - or if it's stabilized/batted etc. There are a bunch of reasons for this seam issue. If you're using a silky type fabric, the seam could be perfectly straight, but the fabric seams to shift, hence giving the illusion of a distorted seam. As long as you're using a rotary cutter and ruler, (along with the gridded mat) you should have nice straight seams. Are you cutting them on the grain line?

The other thing, use 1/2 inch, not 5/8 inch seams. It's much easier to mark/track/gauge a 1/2 inch seam. And 5/8 really is a waste! We traditionally only use 1/2 and 1/4 inch seams on most items (after pre-fitting clothing of course). You can also draw a seam line with a washout marker or chalk marker on your fabric at the exact sewing line - then just sew on that line! After a bit of sewing, it will become pretty automatic in gauging seam allowances and sewing lines. Practice is always the best teaching tool!

I would like to know the best way to finish edging for a chiffon veil. I have a thin rope style ribbon that I would like to attatch. This is for a wedding veil and again I would like to finish the edging so that it will not frey. P.S. I am a novice.

A nice rolled hem with a rayon thread would be wonderful. If not a serger, there are feet for your sewing machine that will also produce a rolled hem. It'll be slower going, but definitely do-able. It's just a simple rolled hem. I put a rolled hem on my 10 foot (don't ask) illusion netting veil years ago. No serger. I used a regular machine, rayon thread and thin crochet cording as a base to wrap around. The very thin cord helped form a good roll.

The hardest part will be the initial machine set up and getting use to the foot. You'll have to sew slow and just be very alert to feeding the fabric into the foot correctly - be sure you have fully wound bobbins too.

Can you tell me how I can sew stretch velvet panne fabric with a conventional sewing machine (not a serger or overlock machine)? I know it can be done - I just don't know what kind of needle, thread, tension, etc. to use.

Sure it can be sewn with a conventional machine, just slower. Let's see thread: polyester (synthetic) thread; 50 mercerized cotton, and silk all work. You needles should be a 14/90 - and Ball Point only. Use a longer stitch length, 3.0... and tension? Test, test, test, test, test, and test. Seriously. Every machine is different and you aren't going to know how your's reacts until you set up and do test pieces. Remember always test on 2 layers of fabric.

What else? Sew slow; don't pull the fabric; pin in the selvedge if you have to pin (yeah I'm real bad about not pinning things). Always press from the reverse side and you a pressing cloth. That stuff gets shiny quick if you don't. Be careful with the layout too - watch to be sure you're using a NAP layout and keep those piece going the say way.

Is there a way to join the ends of ruffles? This particular ruffle is to be used as the outer edge of a baby blanket?

The easiest way to do this is to secure the ends together, to make a circle BEFORE you start to gather and attach the ruffle to your project.

When sewing on an applique are you supposed to back stitch or do you just use the threads to tie a knot? I tried back stitching but it gets to thick and the threads get all caught up to.

You can change to a straight stitch and make your stitched very, very, very short. Stitch 3 or 4 of these to end. Or change to a straight stitch and hold your fabric in place - not letting it move - and stitch 3 or 4 stitches to lock the section off.

What kind of special care/treatment, seams, pressing treatments, and level of difficulty is it working with chambray?

There is absolutely nothing special about sewing on/with chambray. It's simply a tight woven fabric that even beginning sewers can handle without a problem. Just consider it a thin cotton and treat it the same way.

I'm working with silk and I had to rip out a seam. The stitch marks from the ripped out seam are visible. Is there any trick for getting rid of the stitch marks?

I'll assume you cut the stitches out, instead of ripping them as to not stress the fabric. Carefully take the fabric in hand and gently manipulate the areas that are still showing holes. I mean that quite literally. Move the threads around to get them back where they belong - then lightly press one more time. That's worked quite well for me in the past - it's slow, but the silk isn't ruined so it's worth my time to do.

How do I hem without having another person to help and get the legs even on a pair of shorts?

Well the easiest way is simply to determine the length you want, then lay the shorts flat and get that ruler out! Measure and mark - making sure both legs are the same by lining them up together. Pin, sew, press, wear!

I'm sewing with crepe for first time and have a New Home Janome. I have the correct needle, why does it seem to gather? I've changed needles for lighter fabric 1-4 stitches, 4 being basting, I'm using 3.

Tension, tension, tension. It's way too tight. Loosen it a bunch, sew slowly and don't pull the fabric. Crepe is a pain to sew - of course most of the light weight 'chase across the sewing machine' fabrics are. One you get the tension correct, then adjust the stitch length.

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