crafts · Sewing

Breaking the rules: sewing

Rules, Break Them

I used to be utterly terrified of breaking sewing rules.  As I’ve gotten more experienced, I’ve noticed that there are some I regularly break – and it doesn’t bother me a bit!  I thought it might be fun to list the sewing rules that I don’t follow.

1. Directional Sewing – I’ve read a few books that recommend stitching seams in a certain direction.  I did this for awhile, but then I forgot, and I don’t notice any difference.  To be fair, I do sew with a walking foot on 90% of the time, so that might have an effect on my results!

2. Interfacing – I don’t always interface when a pattern says I should – it all depends on the weight of my fabric and how I feel it will handle.  I almost never interface knits, even with a knit interfacing, because I just don’t like the results (I left off the interfacing on the wrap dress I just finished, and it’s fine!)  When I do interface, I never use fusibles, which I know makes me super old-fashioned.  I don’t even usually use fabric sold as interfacing – I usually go for lawn, muslin, or silk organza.  I can’t buy nice fusibles locally, and it wasn’t worth it to me to buy them online when I’m so happy with the results of sew-ins.

3. Always cutting knits in a single layer – only if I’m matching patterns, or the knit is horribly slippery (usually lightweight rayons and bamboo knits.)  I use a rotary cutter for cutting them, and I haven’t noticed anything being off grain since I stopped crawling around on the floor cutting (and my knees thank me!)

4.  Obsessing about grainlines – I mean, I try to get things on grain when I cut them.  If it’s possible I will snip and then rip one end.  I iron carefully, and I make sure there aren’t any ripples in the fold (a sure sign of being off grain.)  But I used to make myself crazy about everything lining up, which isn’t always possible or even accurate (selvedges can stretch.)  Also… never try to rip the edge on a twill weave.  I spent hours once trying to true up a cotton twill, which was never going to happen since twill can’t be ripped to find the grain!

5.  Easing in sleeves – I usually remove the ease in a sleevecap.  I just hate easing them in, and I haven’t noticed any issues with removing the ease – so that’s what I’m doing!

6.  Following the order of operations in your pattern – I have an older sewing book that talks about the factory method vs the home sewing (and, in the book’s opinion, better) method.  Apparently the factory method was to set the sleeves in flat, and construct the entire front and back of the garment separately, then seam from the hem to the tip of the sleeve in one pass.  The book didn’t convince me, since I thought “Wow, that sounds like a good idea” and started sewing everything that way.  I find it easier to make adjustments to the side seams when I don’t have an intersecting waist seam to deal with.  I always baste up the sides for fitting purposes before sewing that seam, and that is working really well for me.  Sometimes I do set the sleeves in the round – it depends on the fabric.  Knit sleeves are totally fine flat.

7. Zippers – I don’t use regular zippers – I always replace then with invisible ones.  They are so much easier to install, and prettier to look at!  I never use a zipper in a knit, though patterns often call for them.

8. Grading seam allowances – I almost never do – only on the bulkiest of seams, and only if I notice it looking bad.  I do trim all the seams, but even with the tiniest scissors I have constant accidents trying to grade them.  I finish most of my seams by serging (or trimming for knits.)

9. Paying attention to recommended sizes – I almost never make the size a pattern tells me to make, based on my measurements.  I like less ease in my clothes, so I measure the pieces and then make a decision.

On the other hand, there are some rules that I never break:

1. Ironing – I am obsessed with ironing seams.  I have both a tailor’s ham and seam roll, and use them all the time.  Each seam gets three to four presses – flat, open on the wrong side, open on the right side, and then to one side (if called for.)  I think ironing makes a greater difference to your sewing than almost anything – there is just no way to get to those seams once you’ve crossed them with another!

2. Prewashing fabric – I was everything at least once, sometimes twice, before I cut.  My rule is this: I treat it worse than I will ever treat the finished garment, so I won’t have any surprises later.  That means all cotton fabrics get washed and dried on hot.  Rayons and polys get warm (though none of these garments will see more than cold in real life – I only wash clothes in cold water.)  I sometimes prewash more than one fabric at a time in order to save water, but to avoid running colors I throw in one of those Shout Color Catcher sheets – those things are miraculous!  I mean, I wouldn’t try that with red fabrics or with denim, but for most fabrics it works quite well.  I have a front-loading washer, so YMMV – I find the front loader is, in general, much easier on clothes than my old machine.

3.  Don’t backstitch on darts – I used to hate sewing darts, because I learned to tie them by hand, but then I saw this video from Threads magazine.  I do all my darts that way now, and it’s wonderful – so quick and easy!

4. Don’t sew over pins – I threw the timing all out of whack on my old machine that way – and it’s still not fixed because I decided it was time for a new machine.  So I guess that’s more one I don’t do anymore.

So there’s my list!  I’ve never been good with rules (good thing I work for myself, yes?)  so it’s not surprising that I’ve loosened up.  Does anyone else break these rules? Do you have any suggestions for more rules I could break?  Because I am always up for that!




37 thoughts on “Breaking the rules: sewing

  1. Great post! Very helpful! I’m trying so hard to get myself motivated to get back into sewing…I love to sew but just never seem to have the time. Love your blog!

    All the best,

  2. I spent hours once trying to true up a cotton twill, which was never going to happen since twill can’t be ripped to find the grain

    I learned this the hard way too!

    Great list, I found it really interesting. I’ve come to the conclusion I need to purchase a good quality sewing book.

  3. What an interesting post. I agree with most of those, but I do use fusibles, and I find I can’t get away without grading seam allowances as facings don’t lie flat for me without grading and loads of pressing. I’m always worried about cutting something I shouldn’t.

    My ‘must-do’ is obsessively cleaning my machine between projects.

    1. Yeah, I have cut a hole in dresses twice now trying to grade my facings, so I am afraid to do it anymore – instead I just understitch everything, which seams to work so far!

  4. this was a great list! I’ll probably go and do all these rules when I first start, but it’s good to know that not all the rules are hard and fast.

    And the idea of cleaning my machine is a new one (a REAL newbie here!) that catherinedaze mentioned. Is there a video somewhere on how I would do that?

    I still need to get around to buying that first good sewing book… it’s just there’s all so intimidating!

    1. How much you clean your machine depends on the machine – some of them have more accessible parts than others! On my machine I take out the (front loading) bobbin case and dust out in there every other project or so. I use a little travel eyeshadow brush to get in all the cracks. My machine has a little light that tells you to oil it after so many stitches (just like a car!) and it only has one place that it gets oil, so it’s pretty easy! Your manual should tell you (and if you don’t have one, the internet can probably provide you with a manual if you search.) My serger though… I have to clean it every time, it gets so linty!

  5. My list is identical! I have only recently gone back to sew-in interfacings, but I am so happy that I did! I often just use self-fabric to interface. It works particularly well on linen, and it’s much quicker. When you sew a collar or stand, for example, you can just cut three pieces instead of two, lay them together and stitch! No fussing over a hot iron, checking that the glue has melted properly, leaving it to cool, etc. No having to trim the interfacing before you fuse, no extra lumpiness in your seams…. I am asking myself now why I ever started using iron-in! And i agree very strongly about the pressing. You need to use the iron as much as the sewing machine or more to get a good result (just not for interfacing!).

  6. That video is amazing! I always have trouble lining up darts when I haven’t bothered marking them (that’s one of the main rules I break; I am really lazy about marking stitching lines and tend to just mark points and connect them by eye..) But I agree with all your points, especially regarding sleeve ease; it’s a revelation you realise that sleeves can actually be fun rather than frustrating!

  7. I agree with all of the rules you don’t break. As for rules you do break, I have not needed to remove ease from a sleeve cap, and I avoid zippers so much that I can’t remember installing one (I have, it’s just been a long time). That dart video shows how I do it, too, but I don’t remember how I learned that method.

  8. Great post! I just started using an additional layer of regular fabric for interfacing sometimes– still experimenting with this.

    I never use invisible zippers, but would love to try. No one has shown me how to easily install one. And the instructions I’ve seen always call for an invisible zipper foot which isn’t manufactured for my machine–frustrating. Anyone want to do a clear tutorial without needing a special zipper foot?

  9. Great post – especially for a relative beginner like me, who feels the need to follow the rules religiously…

    Oh, and reminded me to stop being so lazy and prewash my fabrics!


  10. What a great list of advice! I wouldn’t have thought to sew the sleeves in that way but I will definitely have to try. I also didn’t know a machine could be harmed by sewing over pins. I haven’t done that for a while just to avoid little kinks in my stitches, but now it’s good to have a better reason.

  11. For sure, if you’re using a walking foot the directional sewing thing will not be an issue. I don’t have a walking foot, and I find that directional sewing is key to make sure tricky seams line up correctly.

    I still sew over pins sometimes – one of the movies showing the Chanel couture house’s work showed that they did it too, so it’s good enough for me. 😉 I am religious about prewashing and pretty good about ironing seams, but I do prefer regular zippers over invisible, which I find impossible to put in actually invisibly.

    1. So that explains it – I thought it might! I love that walking foot, nothing shifts around on you. I had a pretty long learning curve with invisible zippers, but I was always so terrible with the regular ones that I struggled through!

  12. I would say my list would be similar, except for the sewing over pins–I still do this (though I don’t use pins very often). I’ve noticed that as long as you aren’t sewing 100 mph over them, they shift out of the way. And I’m thrilled to know that I’m not the only one who doesn’t obsess over grainlines. My mom used to say that eyeballing it was “close enough”, and I’ve never had anything hang wonky from being off grain, so I’d say she was right. I didn’t know that cutting knits in a single layer was recommended….unless I’m matching a pattern, I always just cut them doubled up with the rotary cutter. 🙂

    1. I actually know lots of people who sew over pins – I think I just got unlucky (I had one manage to break and then lodge itself in the machine, and how often does that happen?)

      1. I totally sew over pins. I had something like that happen, but it was once, out of years and years and the machine was near the end of its life anyway.

  13. What a great list. Reading it, I realize I regularly break sewing rules, too. I set my sleeves the same way you do and I love the ease of zipping one long seam up the side.

  14. Haha that was really interesting to read, because I break many of the same rules as you do! Although, I usually backstitch on darts (it’s okay with some fabrics if done super-carefully) and almost never pre-wash fabric. I’ve never had fabric shrink on me, but it’s going to some day and I know I’ll regret it!

    I’ve never heard of directional stitching before. Do many people do that?

  15. Oh sew interesting (intended play on words, there!)!! I find that I disregard many of the same rules. Especially the obsessing over grain lines, dart, and prewashing. In 30+years of sewing, I’ve only had one situation where I had problems with a garment hanging wonky because of grain. I still hate darts, but find that when I shorten my stitching at the point, I don’t hate them as much. Rarely do I pre wash, unless it’s silk. Even cotton. Never have a problem with shrinkage. Good to know I’m not alone in making up my own rules! BTW – Trisha – I use a regular zipper foot in insertingm y invisible zippers. Takes a little practice, but I’ll never use a special foot for them again!

  16. Your list is very good sense. As a rule I observe the straight grain lines esp on tailored pants or they may not hang perfect. If you end stitching on the sewing allowance of the dart, won’t that not make the “point” that tiny tiny bit more bulky? H’ever that is an excellent tip i would use in future. Thanks.

    1. I always sew the securing stitches far enough away that it doesn’t affect the dart tip. I wouldn’t do it on sheer fabrics, but it’s invisible on anything else!

  17. This is so funny, because we are so different. I don’t do directional sewing often, but I am OCD about interfacings (and boning, where called for) although I don’t like fusibles because I don’t think they breathe well. I don’t ease in sleeves–I gather the sleevecap. I like puff in my sleeves and shape in my garments and I definitely want ease in my sleeves. I am also OCD about grain because I like constructed garments and historical/historically inspired pieces. I trim seam allowances because I don’t like the bulk they add and I totally sew over pins.

    I try to be religious about prewashing and ironing but the facts are that I live in an apartment in a small building with no washer/dryer access so I have to schlep it to a laundromat and pay $2.50 plus drying costs to do that. At least there is Shout Color Catcher now.

    But I am totally with you on sizing. I think the sizes on patterns are insane, probably because they allow for ridiculous amounts of ease in case you need to tailor your garments. In those charts I wear some ridiculously huge size but IRL I am usually somewhere between 16 and 20 and that’s what I make and it’s fine.

    Half the time though I don’t really follow the pattern at all because I’m making something slightly different or using two patterns or my own pattern to create something new.

  18. I really liked your tips, and I am doing a few of the same things as well… one question, how do you remove the ease in a capsleeve? I hate to set in sleeves, I would like to sew all of them in the flat, but then I would have to remove the ease, right? Thanks a lot for your help!

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