Top Sewing Tips

Sandra Betzina

How To
Sandra's Solutions

from Sandra Betzina


Long & Short of It
For trousers, the pant leg should fall to the floor at the back of the heel when you're standing without shoes. A narrower pant that's cut the same length will bunch up too much at the ankle. So for a shorter pant, hem the pants to just under the anklebone or 2" to 3" above the floor. A good length for a cropped pant is 7" to 9" above the floor; if you're petite, 5" to 6" inches above the floor is a more flattering length because it lengthens the leg.

Same Place, Same Time
When altering pattern pieces that join, make the alteration in the same place on each pattern piece. For example, if you're upsizing a detailed yoked skirt pattern for a total of 3": Split the skirt front between the darts and add I", and then split the front yoke in the same area and add I". Split the skirt back between the darts and add I", and then split the back yoke in the same area and add I". Downsize a skirt in the same manner.

If the altered curve on the yoke and the skirt upper edge causes a slight jog, smooth out the jogs. If you added to one side of a pattern piece, take out the same amount you added from the piece that joins it so the end result is the same as the original.

Life Line
Extend the life of fusible notions, such as fusible tape, fusible web and fusible thread, by storing them in sealed plastic bags. Two-gallon plastic zip-top bags rate top marks for storing patterns.

You've Got a Friend
If you have a friend who sews, set up regular sewing times to get together and sew. You'll accomplish a lot more and get to know each other better. And two heads are better than one for solving sewing and/or fitting problems.

Stock Up
Every sewer needs a good needle stash to avoid puckered seams. Stock your stash with the following:

  • 70/10 HM for microfibers
  • 70/10 HJ for silks and buttonholes
  • 75/11 HS for all knits
  • 70/10 SUK for bathing suit fabrics
  • 90/14 HJ for denim and upholstery fabrics
  • 90/14 N for topstitching with heavy thread to avoid thread shredding
  • Stretch twin needles for knits to avoid skipped stitches
  • Regular twin needles for wovens
  • 70/10 HE when sewing with metallic threads

This is a Test
If most of your fitting problems occur in the tummy and high-hip areas, test skirt and pant patterns by cutting the upper 10" of the pattern from scrap fabric. Apply stabilizing tape (such as Stay-Tape) to the waist so it won't stretch during the fitting. Machine baste the pieces together. The gap at center front or center back indicates how much to add when cutting out the pattern from the fashion fabric.

Cut It Out
When cutting, use your left hand to hold the pattern and fabric flat against the cutting surface. Cut with your right hand using long smooth cuts; be careful not to lift the fabric off the cutting surface higher than the blade of the shears. (For lefties, reverse the hand position.) A cutting table that allows you to get around all sides is ideal, but one with at least three open sides is the next best thing. A good height for a cutting table is 30" to 32".

Mad for Plaid
When cutting out a pattern from plaid fabric, never cut through two fabric layers. No matter how careful you are, one fabric layer always seems to shift. Instead, cut out one piece at a time. Cut out the first piece with the pattern right side up; leave the fabric pinned to the pattern piece. Position the pattern piece right side down against the fabric. Move the pattern piece around so the plaids match, and cut out the second piece.

To hold pattern pieces for sewing, place G"-wide double-sided adhesive tape (such as Wonder Tape) just in the seam allowance, not on the seam. The tape prevents the fabric from shifting and moving. Since you don't sew over the tape, it's easy to remove after stitching the seam.

Im-press-ive Results
For beautifully pressed seams without show through, press seams closed as sewn. On the wrong side, run a slight bead of water in the well of the seam allowance. Press open the seam, never putting more than the weight of the iron on the fabric wrong side. Turn over the fabric and cover the area with a press cloth, such as a scrap of silk organza, before pressing. This time use a little more pressure on the iron.

Stay-Put Straps
When making a tank top, create strap holders to keep bra straps in place.

Cut two 4"-long strips of fusible tape (such as Stay-Tape). Fold each strip in half widthwise so the fusible sides are facing and the strip is 2" long. Press; the fusible glue holds the two sides together.

Turn the tank top wrong side out. At the shoulder seam at the neckline, lift up the seam allowance of the neck-finishing strip; machine stitch the folded strip raw ends in place.

On the tape folded end, sew a snap on the side that faces the shoulder seam. Sew the snap mate onto the shoulder seam.

Repeat to stitch the second tape strip on the other shoulder seam.


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 (510) 524-2434.

Sandra's pattern picks from her Vogue Today's Fit label.

Visit to view andorder Sandra's patterns.



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