Sandra's Solutions

Sandra Betzina
Sandra's Solutions

Sewing expert Sandra Betzina has spent many years teaching and sewing with a passion. In this regular column, Sandra shares her tips for hassle-free sewing.

Sewing Solutions
from Sandra

Even the most skilled seamstress can benefit from a good tip or shortcut. From fitting a sleeve to scheduling sewing time, these tips will help make your sewing easier and more rewarding.

Sleeve Smarts
If your arms are large in proportion to the rest of your body, try this nifty trick for fitting the sleeve into a smaller armhole.

Cut the sleeve a size larger than the rest of the garment. Instead of running an easeline between the front and back notches, run the easeline around the sleeve from underarm to underarm. A fuller arm can use ease all around the sleeve, rather than just in the cap.

Mark the dots, which align with the shoulder seam, on the sleeve-cap upper edge. Also mark the dot at the underarm of the sleeve to indicate the side seam location. Use the front and back notches only to help identify the sleeve front and back.

Match the dot at the sleeve upper edge with the shoulder seam on the garment. Match the side seam on the garment with either the dot at the bottom of a two-piece sleeve or the underarm seam of the sleeve. There's no need to match the notches or little dots in the sleeve cap.

Pin the sleeve into the armhole. If the sleeve is still too big for the armhole, run another easeline around the sleeve, right on top of the first easeline or right next to it. Sew the sleeve again.

Reining in Rayon
Rayons, while very drapey and abundant in the market place, can be difficult to cut out after preshrinking because they can easily stretch off grain in the washing machine. A front-load washing machine is kinder to these fabrics than a top load, but either can be used if the fabric is preshrunk in a machine in warm water. To allow the seams to relax as the fabric relaxes, sew vertical seams with a narrow zigzag stitch (0.5 mm wide, 2.5 mm long). After the garment is constructed, hand wash and air dry it.

Take Cover
When covering foam cushions, place the foam cushion inside a plastic dry-cleaning bag before inserting it into the cushion cover. The plastic will glide against the fabric and counteract the foam's tendency to stick. Remove the plastic before sewing the cushion cover closed.

Chain Gang
If you look inside a Chanel jacket, you'll see G" brass chain attached between the lining hem and the jacket hem. Any long or short jacket in a mediumweight or heavier wool can be weighted. Weighting a swing coat helps it hang in soft folds. The weighted chain helps the jacket hang closer to the body and helps remove wrinkles after wearing. The chain cuts regular thread, so use dental floss or beading thread to attach the chain to the seamline of the lining and the hem, attaching the chain to the jacket at every other link.

Rain, Rain, Go Away
While you may think that vinyl will make an ideal raincoat, think twice if you easily get warm. Vinyl does work for a lot of projects, such as home dec, aprons, place mats, even a straight skirt. Try these tips for working with vinyl:

  • Use paperclips, clothespins or tape instead of pinning pieces together.
  • Lengthen the machine stitch to 3.5 mm.
  • Use a brand new 70/10 H needle and a Teflon presser foot.
  • To prevent vinyl from sticking to the bed of the machine, cut a 4" square from a Teflon press cloth. Cut a hole in the center just large enough for the feed dogs and bobbin thread to pop through. Tape the Teflon square to the bed of the machine.
  • Do hand sewing with a hand-sewing glover's needle, which is traditionally used for sewing leather.

Get In Shape
If you have difficulty getting collars, cuffs and pockets to have the same shape on both sides, use a pocket template. Trace the template shape with chalk on the sewing line around the rounded corners. For pointed corners, trace the 5/8" sewing line with chalk, intersecting at the corners. Once the fabric is under the presser foot, sew right on the chalk line and you won't have to guess where the 5/8" seam line is.

Stay Tape
While I'm a great fan of fusible stay tape to stabilize necklines, shoulders and armholes, I now prefer to use sew-in stay tape or the selvage from a lightweight fabric in the waistlines of garments and the crotch of pants. Fusible stay tape is simply not strong enough to support the weight of the garment around the waist or the stress of the seam at the crotch.

Steam Not Allowed
While I love to use leather and suede for garments, collars and piping, I often forget not to use steam on these fabrics so they don't pucker. Apply a press-on interfacing with a dry iron and a press cloth, but don't forget to turn off the steam or irreversible negative results will occur.

Tummy Tuck
If you pants and skirts fit at the waist but are too tight around the tummy, cut the waist area 3/8" wider at the side seams, tapering to the original cutting line 7" down on the hip. Run an easeline around the waist, pulling in 3/8" per quarter of the garment for a total of 1 1/2" total at the waist. Using a press-and-lift motion, flatten the ease and hold the ease in place by sewing on a 1/4" -wide strip of selvage from a lightweight fabric or sew-in stay tape.

Sandra Betzina designs patterns for Vogue under the Today's Fit label, writes a fitting column for the Vogue Pattern magazine, is the author of More Fabric Savvy, Fast Fit, Power Sewing Step By Step and Sandra Betzina Sews for the Home, has produced 9 instructional DVDs and conducts week long sewing retreats in San Francisco. For more information, visit or call (510) 524-2434.

Visit to view and order Sandra's patterns.
Buy More Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzinafor $24.95 at


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