Top Sewing Tips

Sandra Betzina




from Sandra Betzina


Delightful Draping

Fabrics that don't drape need multiple seams or darts to fit them close to the body. When working with a stiff fabric, cut it on the bias so it will drape better. Any style that indicates fullness in tucks, gathers or pleated sections requires fabric that drapes. Wool crepe can drape while also holding its shape, so almost any garment style works in this luscious fabric. Rayon and Lycra knits drape beautifully.

Knit Knack

Great knits are often hard to find at local fabric stores. But always shop there first-so you can feel the hand and drape of the fabric and so you can help them stay in business. However, if you can't find great knits locally you may have to resort to mail order. My favorite mail-order source for knits is

How can you tell the right side from the wrong side of a knit? Pull the fabric on a cut crosswise edge and the fabric will roll to the right side. With that being said, use any side you want. Always use the greatest stretch of the knit around the body, which in some cases is on the lengthwise grain.

Wash & Wear

Interesting textures can result in the preshrinking process when the fabric content is a mixture of different fibers. All fibers shrink a different percentage, but polyester doesn't shrink at all. If you're reluctant to commit an entire piece of fabric to an experiment, cut off a 2"x10" crosswise strip of the fabric and throw it in a laundry load using hot water and a hot dryer.

Plump Pillows

To make nice plump pillows, measure for the pillow cover along the seams of the pillow form. Add 1" to both the length and width measurements to allow for 1/2" seam allowances. To prevent the pillow corners from looking too pointy, reduce the seam allowance to 1/4" at the corners. Make a smooth transition by gradually shifting from 1/2" to 1/4" seam allowances beginning 4" from each corner. Take three small stitches diagonally across each corner to give the fabric room to turn.


Sometimes a "so-so" top can look great with a bit of shirring at the sides to give it some interest. If the fabric is thin, use 1/4"-wide clear elastic. For heavier fabrics, use 1/4"-wide Stretch Rite elastic. To shirr up 10" of fabric, use a 5" piece of elastic. Divide the area to be shirred in half. Chalk-mark the beginning and ending of the area to be shirred and its center point in the garment seam allowance. Mark the center of the elastic. Align the elastic ends and the marked ends of the garment; stitch across the elastic ends to secure. Stitch the elastic center at the garment center mark. Stretch the elastic between the anchors, and then zigzag the elastic onto the seam allowances.

Update your look and subtract 10 years! End your love affair with the "matchy matchy" look. In today's fashion, shoes and purses don't match. One or the other makes the fashion statement, and often makes it in a bright color. Fabrics that relate in an outfit but don't match are more interesting. Introduce a shot of color into an outfit with a bright coat or jacket. Wear larger, statement-making jewelry or none at all.

In Stitches

Problems with skipped stitches? Check to see if your needle is compatible with the fabric. For example, a 75 HS works well on knits and a 70/10 HM works on fine wovens or microfiber. If you're still experiencing skipped stitches and you've checked the needle, purchase Needle Lube at the notions counter. Run a bead of this silicone liquid along the thread spool, and then rub a bit over the needle. Chances are the skipped stitches will disappear.

Where should you begin the stitching for a fly-front zipper? The opening at the fly-front lower edge should begin _" above the curve on the lower extension. To prevent wrinkles on the fly front, interface the fly-front extension with fusible interfacing cut lengthwise so that it won't stretch. Interface the entire extension from the seamline to the end of the extension. Press the interfacing on to the fabric wrong side so the interfacing won't be seen. When topstitching on the fabric right side, eliminate the bubble that can form at the fly-front lower edge by beginning the topstitching at the opening lower edge.

Sandra Betzina designs patterns for Vogue under the Today's Fit label, writes a fitting column for 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 nine instructional DVDs and conducts week-long sewing retreats in San Francisco. For more information, visit or call (415) 876-2434.

Sandra's pattern picks from her Vogue Today's Fit label.
Visit to view andorder Sandra's patterns.

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