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How to Insert Zips

If you've never tried using zips in your sewing projects, don't be scared to give them a go - practice makes perfect in this case, and once you've got the knack of the zipper foot, you'll find you breeze through it in no time! Everyone has a different way of showing you how to do it, so here's our top tutorials from across the web on how to insert different types of zips in different ways.

How to Insert Zips

This comprehensive guide from Make It Love It shows you how to insert both regular and concealed zips - and uses tape to help hold everything in place with concealed zips!

 

We also love these tutorials from popular pattern designer, Sew Over It - the afficionado's at dressmaking! Lisa shows you how to insert zips on actual garments and offers loads of top tips along the way.

 

 

 

For those who want to try more advanced zip techniques, we also like this lapped zip tutorial from Coats:

 

 

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Best Videos for Crochet Beginners

So you've seen all the new cute crochet yarns and patterns on our website right? And you've looked at them wistfully, wishing you could create something as lovely as that... well guess what, you can! Although it can seem daunting, crochet is a great needlework to have a go at, and in some ways much simpler than things like knitting - so why not have a go? 

It's always hard to learn from written instructions, so we're here to show you the top youtube videos we've found for beginners crochet, to teach you all the tricks and techniques you need to know!

And once you feel like you can give it a go, take advantage of our fab offer - grab yourself a FREE pattern of your choice when you spend £15 on crochet yarn!

Top Videos for Crochet Beginners

How to Crochet a Granny Square for Beginners

First up, here's a great little video that clearly explains how to get you going on a few basic crochet techniques. It's quite a long video (about 25 minutes), but well worth the time as it takes you through step-by-step to create a sweet little granny square. Granny squares are one of the most popular projects for crochet beginners as they are fairly easy to complete and come together reasonably quickly.

 Learn to Crochet - Chain Stitch and Single Crochet Stitch

If you've got a little less time on your hands and just want to try out some basic techniques without a specific project in mind, this little 5 minute tutorial on chain stitch and single crochet stitch is great. It's supposed to end up being a crochet dishcloth project but you don't necessarily have to continue all the way to the end. It's handy for showing you how to crochet lines of stitches across and back, and for practising these two stitches. 

How to Crochet in a Round - Magic Ring and Chain Stitch

If you're looking to have a go at crocheting things like hats and mittens later down the line, one of the best methods to learn is how to crochet in a round - and this video is great for teaching you two techniques to do so. Once again, it's really only a technique tutorial so you won't get a project out of it but it's great for practising before you start on something new.

 How to Crochet a Rose for Beginners

 

One of the most popular crochet projects out there is how to make a crochet flower, and this tutorial is a fab walk through how to do a pretty little rose. You'll need a standard needle to sew it up a little at the end, but this is a great little crochet project for beginners to get started!

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Mother's Day Gifts for Mums Who Sew

Mother's Day is coming up, and I've been stuck for gift ideas for a while. A bit of research, however, has uncovered some great gifts for mums who stitch, and here's the pick of our products that we reckon mum might like if she's a bit crafty too!

Mother's Day Gifts for Mums Who Make

 

beginners quilting book

For a mum looking to explore different sewing techniques further, why not try out Elizabeth Bett's fantastic book, The Beginners Guide to Quilting? With tons of handy tips and tricks, as well as a comprehensive introduction to the basics of quilting, she'll help mum to build on her new skills project-by-project.

If mum wants to try something new, get her one of these fab needle felting kits! Each kit comes in a beautifully packaged box and includes everything you need to learn to felt your own creature. They're perfect for beginners, and needle felting is the latest trendy craft that everyone's keen to try.

Sewing boxes are the classic gift for any stitcher, but don't just get her a boring old plain one - pick up a beautifully designed box in a range of sizes from our range. Choose from glitter finish, embroidered, extra large, small and drawer-style boxes!

For the mum that already has a million sewing gadgets and boxes, it can be hard to find something that she won't already have. But we reckon these sewing machine bags are pretty neat, and not only look lovely, but are also great at protecting her prize possession from dust, moisture and damage!

Chic Boutique Cross Stitch Kit

For a mum who loves a different type of needlework, our cross stitch kits are an excellent idea! This pretty one is ideal for mum to put up in the kitchen or lounge once complete, but you'll also find a ton of other designs, including ones for kids bedrooms too.

love to sew printed grosgrain ribbon

There is no more classic gift for a sewer than an expression of their passion in any and all forms. So why not dress up their gift with some Love to Sew ribbon? Whether you get a few metres to give as a gift or tie it round the gift itself, this is one piece of haberdashery that is guaranteed to be loved and re-used!

One-Off Deluxe Fabric Box - Floral Romance

One-Off Deluxe Fabric Box - Kiss Me

One-Off Deluxe Fabric Box - Kimono

What self-respecting sewer can resist more fabric? Whether you get a couple of metres to really indulge her fabric addiction, or a fat quarter, she'll love seeing her stash increase! Our one-off fabric boxes are a great idea, including a selection of fabrics with co-ordinating habby for a beautiful gift to wow her.

Trimits Elephant Sewing Kit

If mum has only just started sewing, or wants to tackle her first project, pick up a sewing kit for beginners that she can get stuck into right away. We have a great selection of different projects that she'll love!

Ditsies Fat Quarter Bundle

And if one fabric alone isn't enough, what about a fat quarter bundle? These are especially great for quilters or those who enjoy having a variety of fabrics to hand for their next project (or to stroke while they sip their cup of tea, surrounded by 10 cats...)

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Crafting for Charity

With Red Nose Day (aka Comic Relief) coming up soon, we thought we'd give you some useful info on how to raise money using your own creative talent! From ideas to practical tips and tricks, read on to find out how you can do your bit to help raise money for such a worthwhile cause...

Crafting for Charity

 So, what do you need to think about if you want to get crafty for charity?

Projects

First of all, you need to decide what you're going to make to sell! If you're stuck for ideas, sites like Pinterest and Craftgawker are great for ideas, especially as they both have search functions and categories to help you narrow it down.

When choosing your products/projects to make, don't forget to think about the saleability of your items - although you may enjoy making them, you need to make sure that your 'customers' will want to buy them, so have them in mind when you choose your projects. One good way around this is to make a small range of different items, or the same item in different styles.

Price

This is perhaps the most important thing to consider! You'll need to factor in the cost of your materials, your time (if you don't want to donate it for free), and then how much profit you want to make. 

It's important to consider cost right from the start, when buying your materials and choosing your project. If you choose materials that are too expensive, your end product may not sell so well as you will have to price it higher. It really depends on the project you're making and the quality desired for the end product. The balance between quality and price is sometimes a difficult one to negotiate, but use your intuition - what is the most you would pay for a similar item if you saw it in a shop?

To work out your selling price, you need to do a quick equation using the above factors. It's something most regular sellers have to do all the time, to work out the correct price for their goods, and you should be doing it too, to help maximise your profit on each item! Even if you are willing to donate the materials and time out of your own pocket (so generous!), it is good to work this out so that you are getting a fair price for your work - after all, it just means that you'll raise even more money for charity in the end.

You need to add the cost of your materials and the cost of your time (dependant on what you might expect to be paid for your time - quite often this might be something like £5 an hour) to get your base cost. So if I made a bag that cost me £6 in materials and 1 hour to make, my base cost would be £11. From this, you can decide how much you want to add onto the price to create your profit, but also make it a saleable item that your customers can afford. In this case, I might charge £15 and only make £4 profit, because I think that my customers wouldn't want to pay more than about £15 for a bag. Of course, as long as you are covering your costs, it is up to you how much more or less you charge for your items!

Where to Sell

Once you've got your items made, it's time to get selling - but where? There are a number of options open to you. The easiest would probably be distributing the word amongst friends and family and selling from home - utilise the power of social media to get your items shared and bought online without needing a website.

If you're looking for more sales, you could see if there are any Comic Relief based events going on in your area, for example in local schools or community centres. You may have to pay a small fee to be there, so consider factoring that into your profit.

Alternatively, if you're feeling really ambitious, you could go along to a craft fair or event in your local area and have your own table. Bear in mind, however, that these are likely to be more expensive (from £20) and you may need Public Liability Insurance to be there. On the plus side, they tend to have good footfall of customers that enjoy your product, and if you advertise the fact that your proceeds are going to charity, you may find yourself sold out in one day!

If you're really stuck for ideas, or want to know more about crafting for charity, why not grab yourself a copy of The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon magazine, available in Sainsburys now! 

March 03, 2015 by Amy Gilbert

Why the Small Women of the Business World Matter Too

With today's announcement of the upward trend for female board members in FTSE 100 companies, I thought I'd explore the ideas behind the issue, and why women matter when it comes to management of a smaller scale business.

Why the Small Women of the Business World Matter Too 

ftse100 board infographic

 

As a quick summary, in case you haven't yet read about it, today's news features a story about the improvement of women's position on the boards of FTSE 100 companies. Whilst in 2010, some of the top 10 improvers in this category had as little as 0% women on their boards, in 4 years, many have improved their inclusion rate by over 20%. If you want to read the full article by the Department for Business, you can find it here. Whilst this is something to be celebrated, it's important to look further into this issue to see why women really matter in business, especially as business drivers, and how this filters down to smaller businesses across the country.

What is about women that is so important to include, equality for gender aside? We do actually bring definable benefits to a business. For one thing, we tend to be great multitaskers. As so many of us are mothers and/or carers for those around us, whether they be family or friends, we have learned to adapt to having many things to do and think about. This means we often prioritise well and can get things done efficiently, as well as being able to see the bigger picture - when you've got 2 screaming kids, a dirty house and paperwork to be done, you learn to deal with the immediate problems first (kids) and see that in the bigger picture, the housework can be delayed for a while until the paperwork can get done.

Homemaking aside, traditional qualities attributed to women have in the past been said to hold us back in the working environment. The fact that we are classed as "more emotional" creatures is supposedly placed against us, but this is in fact one of our greatest strengths. We are able to empathise well with our clients and customers, and often have good gut reactions. More than this, our passion is one emotion that is clearly a great driver for good businesses. But we are more than gender stereotypes.

Some of the best small businesses I have seen, have been ones run by women. Now, you may argue that they prove a point against women as business drivers, because these businesses are not  necessarily growing, but you would be naive to consider only this factor as a reason for their supposed stagnation. Lack of growth can be down to many factors outside our control, whether male or female. And sometimes, gender discrimination against us is a part of that. 

Small businesses owned by driven women, however, can be called successes in their very sustainability. Considering a lot of these small businesses are owned and run by mums and wives, working around their family life, the fact that they are managing to keep their business afloat as a one-woman band (most of the time) says a lot for their strength and tenacity in business. Many of these woman produce, price, sell, market and do the accounting for everything in their business, which might ordinarily be done by a team of at least 4 people in a larger business. They maintain an online presence, and communicate with their customers, offer a personable customer service and fantastic customer satisfaction time and again. 

More than being benefits to their own businesses, women as business drivers in these small businesses also help other businesses around them, something I have seen particularly prevalently in the handmade/craft industry. Women here inspire each other, support each other, and drive others forward, building good business bridges along the way. They collaborate and co-operate with those around them to bring around development and new avenues of business, still often only operating as a one-woman business. You only have to look on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to see this community of driven women working their magic. Having at least one woman at the head of businesses is, therefore, vital.

As I write this article focusing on the 'smaller' women of the business world, a TED talk I watched a few months ago comes to mind, called Women Entrepreneurs, Example Not Exception. In it, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon talks about women as entrepreneurs not being the exception but actually being essential to so many businesses, driving business on more than simply a micro level. It's a really great talk, I urge you to watch/listen to it. She explains that women are so often thought of at a micro level, whereas in actual fact, they are so much bigger than that. What keeps them micro are factors such as micro-funding and economic situations surrounding them rather than their own ideas and business ability.

 

 

She explains that women manage to set up and keep business running even through war zones, and that women have a strength and tenacity as entrepreneurs and small-business women that surmounts many problems standing in their way. What can often hold women back is the micro view of women, telling them that they can only have "micro hopes and micro dreams." She paints women as the face of resistance, using their own stories of survival to reach out to customers and grow their business. She describes women as an "emerging market", but a group who are often hard pressed to find an economic solution for their business, reasoning that women are often only offered micro loans, rather than larger loans because these larger loans are based on capital, often which women don't necessarily own.

One of the most powerful comments she makes is that when we say 'entrepreneur' we often automatically think 'male', not female, and that female entrepreneurs are the exception to the rule. She calls us to challenge this and celebrate female business owners and drivers as examples, not exceptions, of how businesses keep growing and sustaining despite the circumstances against them.

So I reckon it's time that we celebrate the 'smaller' women of the business world today, alongside all those women making it into the boards of the Top Dogs, because women really do matter in business. As a small business headed up by two women, and dreamed up by three enterprising women in one family, we know how tough it can be as women in business, both in the business world and in the social world. And to be a woman making business survive, and even grow in small ways, in what is still a predominantly man's world, means you're doing pretty damn well. So chin up, all small business women out there - and keep going! Like all those women we meet every day on social media, we want to support those women working to make things work, so we're always here if you want some advice or need some help on anything.

February 04, 2015 by Angela Gilbert

Sewing Tips and Tricks: How to Sew Tricky Fabrics

Even the best of us can feel beaten when it comes to attempting to sew certain fabrics - chiffons, silks, satins and suiting can all be tricky fabrics to work with, to name but a few. If you're struggling, don't give up - have a quick read below and get back on track!

Sewing Tips and Tricks: How to Sew Tricky Fabrics

How to sew slippery fabrics - fine chiffon, charmeuse, satins etc

These can be a total nightmare to sew straight lines in, as the fabric is usually so light and/or silky that it moves with hardly any encouragement. To help eliminate movement you can try a number of different techniques.

The easiest (or rather, most convenient) method is to do a hell of a lot of pinning. If you pin every couple of centimetres, it ensures minimum slippage, although it feels like a total pain to sew. Remember, it's not as bad as attempting to sew the same hem three times and unpicking all the stitching!

Another technique is to use basting stitches to hold it in place. Whilst this can be a good way of keeping it together, I would highlight that this is not great for all fabrics - some fabrics show marks where the basting stitches were, so check on a bit of scrap before you start basting and sewing, then realise you've ruined the fabric. 

Some people also find using tissue paper or the actual pattern paper is helpful. You can sew over it, eliminating some of the slippage, and then simply tear off the paper afterwards. Don't forget, however, that this means you may not be able to use the pattern afterwards if it tears apart too much! 

If you're willing to invest some money and a bit of risk, there are also temporary adhesive sprays now available which create a slightly tacky surface on the fabric and help keep everything in place. Some people swear by these as miracle products, but be warned that you will need to patch test them as they cannot guarantee it won't mark your fabric either.

Finally - make a cuppa, take a deep breath and gather your focus! Half the battle is having the patience and mental energy to concentrate hard and take it one step at a time without getting flustered and letting it affect your sewing. Using a new, sharp needle can be helpful too!

How to sew stretch fabrics - knits like jersey, lycra etc

Stretch fabrics have to be treated with extra care when you're sewing them as they're easily prone to being warped and stretched as you sew - one key rule to remember is not to over-encourage the fabric under the machine. Let the feeder move it naturally.

Make sure you are using the right stitch for the fabric. I wouldn't recommend using straight stitch on stretch fabrics as it has a tendency to overstretch and warp the fabric as you sew, as well as risking ripping when wearing the garment. Select a zigzag stitch on your machine, and choose a width and length setting that you think is firm enough and pretty enough - practice on some folded scrap pieces before you begin to get it right. Zigzag stitch allows for more movement when wearing the garment as well as being more accommodating under the needle.

Another top tip - make sure you're using the correct needle! If your fabric has quite a bit of stretch, then I'd suggest using a stretch needle as these are specifically designed for handling your fabric. You can, of course, use a stretch needle on all types and weights of stretch fabric. A ballpoint needle is okay for lighter stretch fabrics, as its slightly curved/rounded which means it can loop in-between the knots of the knit, rather than catching on them. 

One more thing you can get to help with sewing stretchy fabric is a different presser foot - a walking foot is particularly helpful. It allows the fabric to be fed under the needle with more grip, stopping the two layers from stretching against each other. Some machines come with a walking foot, others may have a dual feed foot - you can use either, but check your manual for what is best.

How to sew bulky fabrics - suiting, coat fabric, wools and tweeds

 Sewing bulky fabric like denim or coat fabrics can get pretty tricky, usually just due to the sheer amount of layers of thick fabric you're trying to get under the presser foot. Simple tricks include pressing seams open and trimming seam allowances to help reduce bulk and create a flatter surface, but sometimes it requires a bit more help than that!

One of the best solutions to this problem could be to invest in a walking foot, which like for stretch fabrics, keeps the layers feeding through evenly without one getting stuck. 

Make sure you're using an appropriate needle too - a denim needle is ideal, and prepared for use with tougher fabric, whereas standard machine needles might break under the pressure. You might find that increasing the stitch length also helps.

If you're still having trouble getting the fabric to feed under the presser foot effectively, using the wedge method is another good solution. Often, and especially when starting to stitch your layers of fabric, the presser foot is lifted up at an angle at the front. This prevents the fabric from moving through easily as the back sort of jars the feed. In order to put pressure onto the front of the presser foot and make it lay flatter, fold a bit of fabric to a similar thickness and use this as a "wedge" at the back of the footer. This should even out the pressure and get your fabric under the presser foot fully, to continue stitching.

How to sew plush fabric

So I think you're probably starting to see a theme here... 

Plush fabric is often hailed as one of the hardest fabrics to sew with, often putting beginners off from using it. But fear not - the difficulties are easy to resolve with a bit of extra TLC to the process!

Firstly, make sure you don't overstretch the fabric when cutting. A good idea is to pin the edges together to keep everything equal and in place. If you've cut it wonky to begin with, you're already fighting a harder battle than you need to be!

Next, pin like your life depends on it! Like stretch and slippery fabrics, plush fabric is prone to being stretched out of shape easily, so the closer you pin it the less likely this is to happen - I recommend every 2cm or so. It seems excessive, but gaps that are too bag allow the fabric to slip still, and although its a pain to keep stopping to take pins out, it means you'll only have to stitch it once!

As with the other fabrics, a walking foot is a good solution to problematic stitching here. As with the other fabrics, it helps feed both layers in at the same rate, limiting the amount of warping or overstretching. 

Another great tip for sewing with plush fabric is to ensure you're stitching with the nap of the fabric, rather than against it. This doesn't affect the straightness of your stitching, but sewing with the nap rather than against it ensures that it lays flatter, giving a neater and more professional finish. 

Any other helpful tips or advice to add? Comment below and let others learn from your sewing wisdom!

National Hobby Month: Sewing Machine Footers Explained

When you're new to machine sewing, footers can seem pretty confusing and daunting - no longer, with this fantastic guide to sewing machine footers! Covering the most common range of footers used, find out what's available and what you should be using for each type of sewing project or fabric. 

National Hobby Month: Sewing Machine Footers Explained

standard presser foot

Standard/universal machine foot

This type of presser foot usually comes with your machine when you buy it. It's a great all rounder for sewing light to medium weight non-stretch fabrics, using a range of straight and zigzag stitches. 

Zipper foot

Sometimes included in the accessory pack for your sewing machine, zipper foots are essential for inserting a zip using your machine. They let you stitch closer to the zipper teeth, and help achieve a neater finish. 

Buttonhole foot

Another life saver for sewing garments, which often comes with your machine as standard. You use them to set the width of your buttonhole, which makes sewing garments so much easier as they often need at least 3 buttonholes that are exactly the same size!

Blind Hem foot

This foot is great for when you're trying to create an invisible hem on your machine, something which is hard to achieve using a standard presser foot. 

Pintuck foot

These are used in conjunction with a double needle to create pin tucks on garments. They are used less and less nowadays but you might see them used in some older sewing projects. 

Edgestitch foot

The edge stitch foot is great for anyone who does a lot of topstitching, as it allows you to keep your top stitching beautifully straight. It's sort of similar to a blind hem presser foot. 

Invisible Zipper foot

Another life saver for dressmakers! Invisible zips are used quite a lot in women's dressmaking, especially on skirts and dresses, so this foot is invaluable. It allows you to sew closely and accurately to the zip teeth, achieving a much smoother and neater finish. 

Open Toe Embroidery foot

This is one of those jazzy feet for a bit of experimental embroidery! It's becoming quite popular again now as sewing techniques like free stitch style come into fashion. It allows you to move the fabric and needle around more freely, enabling you to trace shapes and outlines much better than a standard foot as you can actually see what you're doing. 

Jeans foot (for heavy fabric)

This foot is designed for sewing heavy fabrics, so is a great addition to your machine gadgetry if you sew a lot of jeans or thicker garments like coats. 

Patchwork foot

This footer is mainly designed for quilters, due to its width which is uniform for most patchwork and quilting projects. It's also great for stitching smaller items such as children's toys, however. 

Non-stick/oilcloth foot

If you ever sew with oilcloth, this is a definite must-have item! Worth its weight in gold (and sanity), this foot is coated with teflon which enables it to glide over the surface of the fabric without sticking. If you've ever tried sewing oilcloth, pvc or leather without this, you'll know how impossible and frustrating it is!

Rolled Hem foot

This is a great little presser foot which allows you to neatly turn the edge of the fabric under twice, resulting in a super neat hem! They're available for all different weights of fabric too, depending on what you're working on.

Binder foot

If you struggle with sewing bias binding, this is a good foot to have to hand (see what I did there?). It is usually used in conjunction with a binding attachment, and makes sewing the binding a hell of a lot easier and less fiddly!

 

January 21, 2015 by Amy Gilbert

10 Common Sewing Problems & How to Fix Them

Having some trouble with your latest project? Whether it's skipped stitches or funny sewing machine noises, take a look at our list of common sewing mistakes and how to get them fixed so you can get on with stitching your latest textile project! 

10 Common Sewing Problems and How to Fix Them

My machine won't turn on or sew

First of all, check that your power cable and foot pedal cable are plugged in all the way - you'd be amazed how many times I've done this (and forgotten to switch it on at the wall)!

If this doesn't work, check that your needle is inserted correctly and tightened enough, and your presser foot is correctly attached and down. This should sort out any non-technical issues with your machine that stop it from switching on or sewing.

The bobbin won't wind

The first couple of times I started using my machine, I did it wrong so many times. Make sure you follow your manual instructions for how to switch it to bobbin winding mode - I kept forgetting to switch my metal bobbin winder to the right to get the thread to start winding!

My thread keeps breaking when I sew or thread up my machine

This is usually a problem with your thread rather than with your machine. It's most likely that the quality of your thread is not high enough for the tension or type of sewing that you're doing. Most branded threads are of a higher quality than unbranded ones, but do cost more - we would recommend Gutermann for a high quality thread, and they're a pretty trusted brand worldwide so don't just take our word for it!

The thread keeps unthreading itself when I start sewing

Not an unusual problem, this could be that you have not threaded it properly - the issue is usually that you've not hooked it around the metal hook at the top of the machine properly or enough. Sometimes it might be that you've not got enough thread hanging out the back of the needle, so it's being pulled back through every time the needle starts moving. 

If that's not working, check that you've got the metal hook at the top up as high as it will go. You need to have the needle up when you begin sewing, so twist the wheel at the side towards you until you can see the metal hook at its highest point.

The thread is getting caught up and tangled underneath my fabric

This is usually to do with thread tension of the top (needle) thread, not the bobbin thread. Try adjusting the tension either way and go again. 

Another reason may be because you're getting the threads tangled up in the machine - quite commonly this happens when you start or end your stitching. Make sure you start a couple of millimetres in rather than right on the edge of the fabric, and then reverse stitch if necessary. If you start right at the edge of the fabric, you risk missing out the fabric and the needle and thread going right down into the bobbin thread chamber, tangling there and either getting caught up completely (sometimes dragging your fabric down with it) or stitching this knotty mess onto the back of your project.

I've got puckers in my fabric, around my stitching 

This usually means that you're feeding in the fabric too forcefully or misshaping the fabric in some way as it goes under the footer. This can tend to happen when you're new to sewing, as you learn how the feeder does its job. You only need to guide the fabric to keep it steady with your hand, not physically push it under the needle/footer. 

Puckers can also occur when you are stitching too fast without feeding your fabric through at a fast enough rate. Just remember not to get too hasty with your foot! If it feels like your machine is going too fast even with gentle pressure on the foot pedal, check that your stitching speed on your machine is set to low or medium.

I've got uneven or skipped stitches in my sewing

Uneven and skipped stitches are usually due once again to that bane of sewing, thread tension. Thread tension can be a tricky thing to work out, especially as a beginner, as it depends on the fabric you're using and sometimes can be affected by your thread as well. 

Tension is not the only factor that creates this stitching problem, however. The way you've threaded the bobbin affects how the threads are sewn in and brought together, so check that you've inserted your bobbin in the right way and that the end of the bobbin thread is not getting caught on anything. Make sure the bobbin is unwinding the correct way according to your instruction manual, and that it is properly hooked round the metal plate.

My fabric is moving about all over the place when I start stitching

Easy to forget, but simply make sure your presser foot is down! Use the lever that is to the side of the needle arm, at the back to lift and lower your presser foot. Without it, the fabric feeder doesn't do it's job properly so everything just goes everywhere and sewing in a straight line gets very tricky!

I'm trying to sew with oilcloth and it keeps sticking

Oilcloth is a horrible fabric to work with when you first start having a go, as it needs specialist equipment or techniques to be able to sew it effectively. If you've just slid it under your machine with nothing else changed, take it out! 

Because of the waxy nature of oilcloth, it's prone to getting stuck a lot, on every surface of your machine. There are generally two ways around this: first, the easier and quicker option, is to cover your fabric surface in greaseproof paper and sew over the greaseproof. This stops it sticking to your machine, and you simply have to tear off the greaseproof when you're done. 

The second option is to buy a special footer for sewing with oilcloth/pvc fabric, which helps stop the presser foot from sticking to the waxy surface of the fabric, therefore letting it go through the fabric feeder smoothly.

The sewing machine keeps jamming or not stopping properly when I lift my foot up

We've been having this problem recently, and sad to say, it probably means your machine needs a service. It might be that you're getting your threads tangled as you're sewing, in which case make sure that you start a couple of millimetres into your fabric and have the tension right.

Most of the time, though, it's a part of your machine that needs either repairing or just needs a bit of fine-tuning and TLC. Quite often, the spring in the foot pedal can begin to get stuck, especially if your machine is a bit old. Other times, it may be that a part of the motor is not working properly and needs replacing. Take it to a reputable sewing machine repairer - ask your local fabric/sewing shop if you need some help in finding one, as they can usually recommend someone in the area.

January 15, 2015 by Amy Gilbert

National Hobby Month: Setting Up Your Sewing Machine

Got a sewing machine for christmas or new year but too scared to tackle setting it up? Take a quick look at our guide on sewing machine basics and get your machine ready, we promise it's not too bad. (And once you've got the hang of it, you'll never stop stitching on it!)

National Hobby Month: Setting Up Your Sewing Machine

The Golden Rule: 

Read your instruction manual before you start! Although you may not understand all of it, they often have useful diagrams and ensure that you don't start trying to pull apart bits that aren't meant to pull apart...

As every machine is slightly different, it is best to refer to your manual alongside whatever guide you are using to find the correct part and action to take. For example, some machines disengage the needle by pulling out the wheel, others by just moving the bobbin winder - you don't want to be pulling out the wheel if it's not meant to come out!

What's What on your Machine

Reminder: your machine may not look exactly the same (unless you have the same make and model!) so the different parts may be located in slightly different places or look slightly different - refer to your manual for help in finding these parts if you get stuck.

How to Change the Presser Foot

For a lot of machines, presser feet are relatively easy to change as they just snap on, although some use screws to hold them in place. Remember to do this with your machine turned OFF - you don't want to accidentally start sewing over your hands!

To replace or change a snap-on foot, simple raise the footer using the footer lever to the right of it (usually black plastic). This should bring it up to give a little bit of space underneath to get your fingers under. 

There is usually a metal lever at the back of the footer bar that goes up and down. If you flick it up, it will release your current footer. 

To attach the new footer, raise this lever whilst you position the footer in place under the bar, then lower it to grab hold of the footer and "snap" on. This can be a bit tricky to position so just bear with it and do a bit of shuffling to get the footer into the right place. 

How to Insert a Needle

A lot of machines come with a needle already inserted nowadays, but this is useful to know as you may need to change the needle if it snaps or when you are sewing with fabrics that require a special needle.

Simply turn the black screw to the right of your needle a couple of times to the right, to loosen and allow you to pull out the needle. To insert the new one, ensure that it is facing the right way - rounded side facing towards you, flat side facing the back of the machine, on the top of the needle - and place it into the hole, then tighten the screw. 

How to Wind a Bobbin

Winding the bobbin is an important technique to know how to do, as you'll need to do it every time you change to different colour threads. As always, each machine is slightly different so refer to your instruction manual to begin with. 

To begin, place your spool of thread on the spool holder if you haven't already and attach the bit of plastic that holds it in place. Take the loose end of your thread and bring it over to the thread guide on the top of the machine - most newer machines have a little diagram showing you where exactly to put the thread for winding the bobbin. 

Most of the time, it sits under the lip of what looks like a screw. Draw your thread to hook around this and pull back over towards the right of your machine.

Next you will need to disengage the needle and engage the bobbin winder. Quite often this involves pushing the bobbin winder (metal pole thing on the top) to the right. As always, check in your manual for specifics as this is where machines tend to differ the most in method.

Now thread the end of your thread into your bobbin, from the middle out through one of the holes. Place your bobbin on top of the metal bobbin holder, keeping hold of the loose thread end which should be coming from the top of the bobbin.

To begin winding, switch your machine on and simply put your foot on the pedal. The thread should begin winding itself onto the bobbin at a reasonable pace. Keep going until you are sure you will have enough on the bobbin to complete the project - quite often I just wind them on for ages so I don't have to keep winding thread on for every project, although this means you may have to buy new bobbins for each colour. 

How to Insert a Bobbin

For most top loading bobbins, it's relatively easy - quite often instructions are printed on the bobbin cover in the form of a diagram. 

Remove your bobbin cover and place your bobbin in with the thread drawing to the right. Then hook the loose end of the thread back around the metal section highlighted on the bobbin cover, and back up towards the top of the bobbin tray. With the loose end sitting out the edge of the bobbin tray, replace the bobbin cover. The loose end should be trapped between the edge of the bobbin tray and the bobbin cover. 

How to Thread a Sewing Machine

This is often the part that most people find daunting when setting up their machine the first time - my word of advice, it only gets easier the more you do it! Begin by placing your spool of thread on the spool pin, and hold in place with the spool holder cover. 

Next, simply follow the numbered guide on your machine to help you with threading. Firstly, bring the loose end of your thread spool around the thread guide on the top of your machine, and down the gap. 

At the bottom of the gap, follow the arrow to pull it back up in the parallel gap to the left of the first one. At the top you will see a hook - pull the thread around this and back down the gap, making sure the thread is round the hook the furthest it can go in.

Now you need to thread the needle. Most machines come with a built-in needle threader, so you can either use this or thread it by hand. To use the needle threader, draw the thread to the left and then secure under the two hooks to the right whilst holding down the needle threader lever in place. 

Hold the end taught when you release the lever and the thread should be drawn through the needle. Simply untangle the end to let it sit freely over towards the back of your machine. 

Now you need to thread the bobbin in. Insert your bobbin according to the instructions above, or your own instruction manual (the process is different depending upon the type of bobbin loading your machine uses - front or top loading). With the needle in the raised position, draw the needle downwards by twisting the wheel on the side of your machine. Hold your spool thread (the one inserted through the needle) taught as you continue turning the wheel - this should draw up your bobbin thread through the metal plate on your machine. 

When you see it, grab hold of the end of the bobbin thread and untangle, placing it facing towards the back of your machine like your needle thread. It should look like this (with the bobbin cover on): 

Hope this helps and happy sewing everyone! If you have any questions, leave a comment or email us!

The Ultimate Fabric Guide

New to sewing, or just never really learnt what was what when it came to fabrics? Check out this handy guide to fabric types, which helps explain the most common types of fabric and their uses. A great post to have to hand when looking at new projects!

The Ultimate Fabric Guide

Fabric Fibres 

natural cotton fibresNatural Cotton - image source Ancient Arts Fibre Crafts

Cotton is one of the most widely occurring natural fibres in fabrics. It is comfortable against the skin with a breathable quality, and feels soft and smooth to the touch. 

Rayon is a semi-synthetic fibre made from cellulose. It behaves much like a natural fabric despite containing some synthetic elements, and often appears as a lustrous fabric akin to silk. 

Linen is one of the oldest types of fibres used in fabric, and is made from flax. It is very strong and durable, whilst remaining cool and breathable, making it ideal for items like trousers or summer suits. 

Silk has always been associated as a rich and luxury fabric for hundreds of years, mostly due to the intensive manufacturing methods involved in processing silkworm cocoons. Silk fabrics have a lustrous quality to them, and are extremely versatile - they keep you warm in winter and cool in summer, making it a super comfy fabric to wear. It usually comes in a range of fantastic shades as it is one of easiest fabric fibres to hold dye.

Wool tends to be used less often in fabrics nowadays, but was once a staple fibre in fabrics during the Middle Ages! It is made from the hair of sheared animals, spun and woven into strands and then fabric. It's greatest quality is its warmth, and it is also breathable. Wool can come in a variety of textures from a super soft, fine weave like cashmere to a more scratchy and coarse weave.

Synthetic Fibres are often also added in conjunction to these natural fibres to produce similar fabrics at a cheaper cost. One common example of this is polycotton, which is often used in place of 100% cotton fabric as a cheaper alternative that behaves in much the same way as pure cotton would. The most common synthetic fibres are nylon and polyester. 

Common Fabric Types

Quilting Cotton

is one of the most widely available and widely used fabrics. It is very versatile and can be used in a mix of dressmaking, quilting and craft projects. It comes in a wide variety of patterns, designs and colours and ranges in quality.

Chiffon

is a very light and transparent fabric that is often used for a fluid drape to a garment. It can be made from a range of fibres, including rayon, polyester or silk. It has a delicate and soft quality to it which is often desirable for evening or occasion wear. 

Organza

is another light and sheer fabric, but with more stiffness than chiffon. It is often used over lining fabrics for a beautiful sheen over the top, or can also be used as an interfacing or interlining for other light fabrics.

Jersey

is another commonly used fabric for dressmaking, due to its stretch. It is a knitted rather than woven fabric, making it stretch beautifully and accommodate shape well. It is often used for more casual garments or body con style garments. It's often a mix of cotton, wool, silk, rayon, nylon or polyester.

Crepe

is available in a variety of thicknesses, and possesses a wonderful drape, making it great for elegant dressmaking. It is slightly crinkly in texture and usually made from silk, polyester, rayon or wool.

Lawn

is a combed cotton, once again with a light quality. It has a good balance of stiffness and drape, but comes in different weights. Finer lawns can have a silky texture.

Georgette

is sometimes used in place of chiffon, for a heavier weight fabric. It is semi-sheer and often available in a good variety of colours and designs.

Habotai/China Silk

is one of the most beautiful lining fabrics ever! It is so light that it is not usually used to make garments alone, but sits so comfortably against the skin that it is perfect for lining. It is made wholly of silk.

Shirting

is a cotton fabric designed specifically for making shirts due to its medium weight - it is easy to tailor whilst being breathable and comfortable against the skin. It comes in a wide variety of patterns and colours, as well as a wide range of quality. 

Charmeuse

is a woven satin fabric that is crinkly textured on one side and shiny on the other. It flows and drapes well, making it ideal for making dresses. It is often made using silk, rayon or polyester.

Flannel

can be made from either cotton or wool. It is a brushed fabric with a soft surface texture. Lighter flannel is made from cotton and is used for garments like shirts, whereas heavier wool flannel is suitable for garments such as suits.

Taffeta

is a beautiful fabric that is often used for evening and occasion wear due to its luxurious semi-shiny texture. It is reasonably crisp and therefore able to hold some structure, making it ideal for things like party dresses. It can be made using a variety of fibres of varying quality, including silk, rayon, nylon and polyester.

Dupioni

is a fabric made of silk, that uses irregular threads in order to create "slubs" in the fabric texture. It is fairly stiff and crisp, but it tends to fray a bit.

Worsted Wool

is a sturdy fabric made from wool, that is ideal for suiting due to its reasonably stiff and strong qualities. 

Tweed

is quite well known for its recognisable patterns - often using multiple colours woven in to create a mottled or flecked effect with lots of texture. Made from wool, it is quite sturdy in nature, making it a popular choice for suiting and skirts.

Weaves & Knits

Plain weave is a simple weave in which the threads form a criss cross pattern. It is the most common form of weave for fabrics, including cotton, lawn, taffeta and more.

Twill is a woven fabric with a diagonal pattern, making each side of the fabric look different and therefore creating and right and wrong side. Fabrics such as denim use a twill weave.

Satin weave is used to create a sheen or shiny surface on the fabric. Common examples are duchess satin, sateen, and silk charmeuse.

Knits are made differently to weaves, using a knitting machine to create loops of fabric that interlock and create a stretchier fabric than traditional weaves. Because of this, sewing with knits can be harder and requires more concentration and greater skill, as they are more prone to warping during sewing. Sometimes it is necessary to use more specialist equipment such as different needles for your sewing machine, and special stitches for stretch fabric that can accommodate stretch without breaking. 

Weight

Fabrics come in a variety of weights or thicknesses, from light to heavy. Heavy fabrics are thicker and contain more weight, but can add bulk when used in dressmaking. Light fabrics such as cottons, tend to be thinner to the touch, and even to the eye with a sheerness about them. Consider the weight of the fabric not only in how it will sit or add bulk, but also how heavy it is to wear. Light weight fabrics are more suited to summer, whereas heavy fabrics tend to be more wintery. 

Drape

Drape is a very important factor to consider when purchasing fabrics for dressmaking. The weight of the fabric can affect its drape: for example, heavy fabrics tend to be a bit stiffer, leading to a more structured look. Drape is mostly affected by the stiffness of the fabric - the stiffer the fabric is, the more structured it will look. Lighter fabrics such as chiffon are much more fluid and give a softer drape and flowing feel.

Stretch

The amount of stretch in a fabric depends upon the way it is made and any elastic components in the fabric make-up. There is a certain amount of give or stretch in all fabrics, but often these can be limited in fabrics such as quilting cotton. The fabrics with the most stretch tend to be ones that are knitted rather than woven, and/or incorporate elastic elements such as lycra. 

Shop Dress Fabrics or Shop Cotton Fabrics

January 13, 2015 by Amy Gilbert