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 Betzina

Sewing your own garments lets you create a wardrobe that reflects your personal style. But those garments should not look homemade. Use these tips to ensure your wardrobe is both stylish and well made.

Wish List
At the end of every season, make a list of items you wish you'd owned at the beginning of the season, such as a white shirt, white or black linen pants, lightweight warm sweater and three-ply black silk pants. Post the list in your sewing room. When you want to sew but lack inspiration, start on the items from the list. 

This is a Test
Some patterns are simply "dogs": pieces don't fit together, the finished garment doesn't remotely resemble the pattern picture or the garment isn't flattering. Experienced sewers say that one out of two things they make are dogs. Pre-sew patterns in muslin to avoid wasting beautiful fabric.

A Stitch in Time
If your sewing time is limited, you actually save time by testing the pattern. Think about how much time you spend ripping out side seams because the high hip is too tight, taking out sleeves because the shoulders are too broad, or moving down darts because the placement is for 16-year-olds. Try my fast-and-dirty pretest technique; it takes 45 minutes tops. Fold up the hem allowance on the front, back and sleeve pattern pieces. From an old sheet or muslin, cut out only the main pattern pieces: two fronts, complete back and one sleeve. Don't cut out any facings, collars or pockets. Before removing the pattern from the fabric, use a fat felt-tip marker to mark the center front, buttonholes and pocket placements on the fabric right side. Mark any darts, pleats, dots and notches on the fabric wrong side. Mark front and back pieces with a giant F or B. Mark the dot on the sleeve upper edge and the underarm dot for a two-piece sleeve as well as the notches. Be bold with the markings, it makes it more fun. Sew the pretest garment together with contrasting basting thread. Try it on. Pin the garment together at the center front lines. Slip in shoulder pads if the pattern calls for them. Refine the fit. Check the button and pocket placements as well as garment and sleeve length. Adjust the pattern accordingly.

Pick & Choose
Don't try to make every garment in your wardrobe. For starters you don't have time and secondly, pairing a well-made jacket and pair of pants with a purchased sweater looks more off the rack than if you made all three pieces.

Long & Short of It
To maintain the integrity of a style, shorten or lengthen the pattern before you cut it out of fabric. This eliminates chopping off extra length from the hemline, which compromises the style. Look to your own wardrobe for flattering lengths for pants, skirts and jackets. Compare these lengths to the finished pattern length on the pattern envelope.

Clip It
Spend an extra five minutes clipping threads on the inside and outside of a newly sewn garment. You never see loose threads on ready-to-weat, so the garments you make shouldn't have them either.

Air Dry
Elasticized garments last longer if they're not machine dried. That being said, age also has an affect on elastic. Have you ever pulled out a pair of elastic waist pants that you wore to death last season only to find the elastic shot? If so, simply replace the elastic and wear the pants another season.

Good Habits
Get in the habit of always using a press cloth whenever you press on the right side of a garment during construction. For those of us who sew a lot but don't clean our irons often enough, a press cloth is a blessing.

Piping Prep
If you plan to machine wash the finished garment, preshrink piping before attaching it to the garment. The best way to do this is to cover the piping with fashin fabric, put it into a mesh bag and toss it in with you next load of laundry. The mesh bag prevents the piping from knotting. Purchased rayon piping isn't washable and therefore should only be used on clothes that will be dry cleaned.

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 andorder Sandra's patterns.
Buy More Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzinafor $24.95 at


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