Sewing Tips for Better and More Consistent Results

Achieve Professional, Consistent Results Tutorial, courtesy of SewNeau.comEasy-to-follow, Step-by-step Instructions

Avoid the “Homemade Look” when Sewing or Altering Clothes

Homemade clothing does not have to look homemade, yet so often, talented amateurs are disappointed with their results. The following tips and suggestions are intended to help even the beginner overcome the "Homemade" look.

Building on good habits and breaking bad habits are the key to better looking clothes that you made yourself. Here’s how...

Sewing Tips for Professional-looking & Consistent Results

The Basics You Will Need

  1. Work Area
  2. Sewing Machine
  3. Sewing Machine Needles
  4. Iron, Ironing Surface & Pressing
  5. Hand Tools & Accessories
  6. Pattern
  7. Fabric & Notions
  8. Attention to Detail, Patience

1. Work Area (adapted from:

Correct ergonomics - standingSize - Your work surface should be as large as the work area can reasonably accommodate. It should be sturdy enough to support: your machine; the project; other accessories; and the weight of you leaning against it, without easily moving.

Standing - The work surface should be at elbow height. The wrists should be kept straight. The edges of the work surface should be rounded, or padded for comfort.

Sitting  - The work surface should be approximately elbow height, permitting the wrists to be kept straight. The surface should be high enough to not confine your thighs, with sufficient room underneath to operate the sewing machine's pedal.

Chair - Your chair plays a critical role in establishing the proper sitting work height.

  • The chair itself should have adjustments for: 1. height, 2. seat tilt, and 3. backrest position. The back rest should be padded, with rounded edges, and be adjusted to support the lower back.

  • Correct ergonomics - sittingThe seat should be padded and gently sloped-down in the front, to prevent pressure in the back of your legs. The seat should be wide enough to allow your weight to be evenly supported and distributed. No wheels, or wheels that lock.

When sitting, the chair should be placed at a distance from the work so that you can keep your elbows at your sides (not away from the body). Your feet should rest flat on the floor. The back of your knees should be slightly higher than the seat of the chair.

Lighting - (adapted from: Use adjustable task lighting to make it easier to see project. General, overhead lighting should be even to eliminate shadows and glare. Artificial light affects color. Although natural, north light alone is usually not sufficient, having a work area with natural, north light available (to check color) is a real plus.

Safety - Never forget you are working with equipment and tools that can be dangerous. The potential for injury is not only to you, but others around you. Your work area should permit concentration on the task at hand. Keep distractions to a minimum.

2. Sewing Machine

A quality sewing machine is a major investment.Buying One - A sewing machine can be a long-term investment. Ask family, friends and neighbors, who sew, for recommendations. Try-out the floor models. Once you decide, then shop price. Don't forget the Internet!

  1. Quality (not quantity) should guide your purchase decision. Buy the best machine you can afford for your current needs. Do not be tempted to buy features (including all those fancy stitches) that you will probably never use.Portable sewing machines are the best choice

  2. Size matters. You are buying a machine, not a piece of furniture! The work surface on most built-in machines is simply too small. A portable machine, in combination with a work table (discussed above) makes the best use of both.

Always use an authorized repair service for your sewing machineMaintenance - A sewing machine (like your car) requires regular maintenance to keep it working correctly. The machine's manual will specify how often routine service should be performed. A well-maintained, quality sewing machine can last decades.

Most machine settings are pre-set at the factory. If your machine begins to miss stitches, or make unusual noises, something may be wrong with it. Don't attempt self-repair beyond what your manual suggests. Have the machine checked and serviced by an authorized, qualified service center.

3. Sewing Machine NeedlesThree considerations when buying sewing machine needles

The are three basic considerations when buying sewing machine needles:

  1. Machine Specific - Even if you don't buy the manufacturer's brand, purchase replacements that are specifically made for your machine model.
  2. Fabric & Task Specific - Not all needles work best for all fabric or tasks. The needle packages are labeled for their intended purpose. Use the correct one!
  3. Planning Ahead - Have an extra pack, on hand, of the needles used most often. Needles have a tendency to break at the worst times. Changing one in the middle of a project is bad enough. Having to make a trip to the store to buy them first is a real pain!

4. Iron an Ironing Surface & Pressing

Iron with steam and dry settingsTo get professional-looking results you will need an iron and ironing surface. Ironing is required throughout the garment-making process, not just at the end. A separate ironing board is not mandatory. A sleeve board is extremely helpful and worth the investment.Sleeve board with two different sized pressing surfaces

  1. The iron should have both steam and dry settings.

  2. The ironing surface should be padded and heat resistant.

Care - Regardless of the brand or type you choose keep both the iron and ironing surface clean, checking them regularly for mysterious "gooey-stuff" that can ruin your fabric and your entire day.

Before You Begin - Be aware of the fabric’s reaction to ironing. Always test press a scrap piece of material and adjust the settings accordingly before pressing your garment. Fabric bolts are usually labeled with care instructions, which may reference ironing. Using de-mineralized (distilled) water will extend the life of your iron and reduce the risk of staining your fabrics.


  1. During Assembly, unless directed otherwise by the pattern instructions, press all seams open and flat on the inside.
  2. After assembly, and final fitting and all adjustments, always press the entire garment, pressing on the inside.

5. Hand Tools & Other Accessories

The seamstress or tailor may not wear a tool belt, but they do use hand tools regularly. Here's the short list of what you need (and be glad you have) and some suggestions to make them work for you.The tape measure is the second most used tool.

  1. Soft Cloth or Vinyl Tape Measure - Next to your sewing machine, the tape measure is your most used tool. It must be flexible enough to measure around curves, yet strong enough to resist stretching.

    Periodically check your tape measure against a metal ruler or yardstick. You may be surprised how much constant use can stretch them to the point of inaccuracy. Replace as needed.

  2. 6" Ruler with Slide Guide - The perfect tool for transferring a repetitive measurement. Just set the guide at the correct dimension, then go!
  3. Safety pins may be better and saferthan straight pins for some trial fitting situationsStraight Pins & Safety Pins - Straight pins are used throughout the garment-making process to keep elements aligned.

    Although straight pins can also be used during the trial fitting process, safety pins won't fall out when the garment is removed. Also, they are much less likely to poke you! The best choice of pin often depends on where you are pinning.

  4. Scissors, Regular and Pinking - Different tasks require different scissors. Which ones to use is often determined by the fabric's tendency to fray and whether (or not) the edge being cut will be further finished.

  5. Tailor's Chalk or Fabric Marking Pencils - These are designed to be used on fabric. Having both a light and dark color for Always have a spare bulb handy for your sewing machinecontrasting fabric is helpful and much easier on your eyes. Whatever you buy, be sure it is not permanent!
  6. Extra Bulb for Sewing Machine - These specialty bulbs tend to burn-out at the worst times. Always have an extra one in your supply drawer.

6. The Pattern

Select a pattern that compliments you. We can't all be super models!Selection - Remember, you are not limited to what the fabric store is offering. The Internet is a wonderful source for vintage, out-of-print and specialty patterns. Browse the Pattern category (on this Website) under “Other Resources” to get an idea.

  1. Be aware the patterns depicting the finished garment with a fashion illustration (drawing) are less true-to-life than a photograph. If you have a choice, selecting the photographically depicted pattern can result in fewer disappointments and surprises.
  2. Visualize your version of the finished garment, utilizing your body type, shape and characteristics, as well as the fabric you will be using. Don‘t select patterns because of the fabric color, or unusual trim they depict unless they are the same as what you intend to use.
  3. Don't be influenced by the model’s hair color, style or accessories unless they are similar to yours. Be honest with yourself. We can't all be supermodels.
  4. Select a pattern that compliments you. Consider factors such as: age, disposition, body type, skin and hair color. Ask yourself: 'Is this design appropriate?" A great-looking outfit worn in the wrong setting, may not only look bad, it may make you feel uncomfortable, because it is inappropriate.

Check, re-check then triple-check your pattern before use.Checking, Reading & Understanding - This step cannot be stressed enough!

  1. Although rare, patterns will occasionally contain errors, confusing and/or missing information or instructions. For this reason alone it is vital you thoroughly read-through the pattern and understand it before proceeding.
  2. Account for all the pattern pieces and instructions before proceeding, especially if the pattern is used or borrowed.
  3. Be sure the numbers on the pattern pieces and instructions match the envelope’s pattern number. Even new patterns are occasionally mixed.


  1. Press all of the pattern pieces with an iron. Keep them flat until you are finished with them. Folds and wrinkles in the pattern paper will affect accurate layout.
  2. Confirm your measurments match those of the pattern.Measure the pattern pieces. Compare the pattern‘s measurements to your own and make a list of all the differences. Critical measurements include
    • Bust (chest) - Measured at the nipple line
    • Waist - Measured at the narrowest point
    • Hips - Measured at the broadest (largest) point
    • Length (neck to waist) - Measured down the spine
    • Length (waist to desired finished distance from floor) - Measured down the spine*
    • Inseam - Measured from the crotch to desired finished distance from floor*
    • Crotch Depth - Measured seated, on the side, from seat to waist

    Our measurement worksheet ( shows you how to take and record the above measurements for dressmaking and the alteration of women’s clothing.

  3. Adjust the pattern pieces to match your measurements. Rule of thumb:
    • Pattern measurement circumferences should measure approximately 2" greater than the corresponding body measurement.
    • If in doubt, adjust the pattern piece larger.
  4. Confirm all adjustment measurements from your notes and account for all the pattern adjustments and their adjacent pattern pieces.
    • Whenever possible, measure wearing the shoes that will be worn with the finished garment. Heel height affects the measurement.

7. Fabric, Notions & Planning Ahead

  1. Plan and shop ahead for your fabric and notions.Fabric- Most commercial patterns suggest suitable fabric types and styles. The novice should pay close attention to these. As your skills develop and confidence increases consider them as suggestions only. Experiment leads to discovery, so go ahead and try something different.
  2. Notions - Patterns also specify the notions required. Consider this a shopping list. You will need everything, unless you have pre-planned a modification or change. It is best to have everything at hand before you begin the project itself.
  3. Thread - Like needles, there are different threads for different fabrics and tasks. A color match is simply not enough. All newer threads are labeled accordingly, so there is no excuse for using the wrong one.

Planning Ahead - Before starting, fill  an extra bobbin each with the threads you will be using. When the bobbin runs-out in the middle of a long seam, you will be glad you did.

Attention to detail throughout the project is the mark of a professional.8. Attention to Detail & Patience


  1. Back-tack all stitch lines at their start and finish points to help prevent seams from opening. Back-tacking is a process of running the machine stitch in the reverse direction. A length of 1/8” to 1/4” is usually sufficient.
  2. Loose Threads - When stitches are complete (with scissors laying flat against the fabric) carefully cut-off all loose threads flush with the fabric. Be careful not to nick or cut the fabric itself. If you have back-tacked your stitches (above) the seams will not open.

Trial Fitting (Before Completion)

  1. Critical step! With the garment’s basic pieces assembled, try-on the garment. Make note of any adjustments that are required. Adjust the garment and any pattern pieces not yet assembled. DO NOT wait until the garment is complete to try it on!
  2. Lined Garments - In general, any adjustments made to the outer garment must also be made to the lining.
  3. One More Time... If adjustments are made to the basic garment assembly, try it on again before adding additional pieces.

Don't give up. The more you sew, the better you will become.Time Management - Whether you are sewing out of necessity or desire (or both) don’t rush your work. It will show in your finished garment. For your safety, improved concentration and ultimately better results, keep distractions to a minimum.

Have Fun - Sewing is an art almost anyone can master. The more you sew, the better you will become. With improvement comes greater satisfaction with your results. Start now building good habits and avoiding (or breaking) bad ones. Your projects will look more professional and you can take pride in saying: "I made this!"

Achieve Professional, Consistent Results Tutorial ©1999-2009 RBR, Inc.

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