Top Sewing Tips

Sandra Betzina
Sew It Seams
If you’re sewing a garment that has many seams, make the seam styling stand out by inserting piping without filler between each seam. This treatment is preferable over regular piping in curved princess seams since it lies flat.

Cut 2”-wide strips the length of the seam from contrasting or coordinating fabric. Cut on the bias for curvy seams and either on the bias or crossgrain for straight seams. Press the long strip in half lengthwise with wrong sides together.

Position the strip on the fabric right side with the strip raw edges even with the cut edge of one seam allowance. Place the opposite side of the seam over the first with right sides facing and sandwiching the strip. Keep all raw edges aligned; pin in place.

Sew a 5⁄8” seam. A G” contrasting strip will appear between the seam on the fabric right side.

Washing Up
To keep your jeans and T-shirts looking new, always turn the garments inside out when you put them in the washing machine and dryer.

When preshrinking a knit, prevent it from stretching out of shape by basting together the selvages.

Keep black garments looking black by never putting them in the dryer. Let them hang to dry instead.

Knitty Gritty
Become familiar with different weights and drapes in knits. A double knit works best in pants and close-fitting skirts since it won’t stretch out of shape. But the same double knit will be too heavy for a top. A thin drapey knit works well for a top or a wrap dress, but is too wimpy for pants and will make them look like pajamas.

No Fear

Don’t be afraid to sew with genuine leather and suede on your sewing machine.
  • Use a 90/14 NTW needle for mediumweight skins and a 70/10 HJ needle for lightweight skins.
  • Use a Teflon presser foot to prevent the skins from stretching as you sew.
  • Use 100% polyester thread. Any other thread will rot from the tannins in the leather.
  • Pins will merely bend if you try to pin leather or suede pieces, so hold seams together with paper clips.
  • Lengthen the stitch to 3.0 mm.
  • You can use fusible interfacing, but never press using steam. Use a dry iron and a brown paper bag as a presscloth.

Done With Ease

When cutting fitted garments on the crossgrain or from fabric with no give, add extra ease to the back.

Cut apart the back pattern piece from shoulder to hemline (not into the neckline). Split the pattern apart and add H” all the way from the shoulder to the hemline.

Since the back shoulder is now H” wider than the front, run an easeline on the back when working with soft fabrics.

Add a 1⁄2” dart when working with firmer fabrics. Position the dart in the middle of the shoulder and make it 3H” long.

Tooling Around

Why use a rotary cutter? It’s more accurate, especially when cutting through tissue paper on slippery or unstable fabrics. The blades may dull, but that’s a small price to pay for accuracy without hassle. One piece of advice: Purchase the biggest cutting mat you can find that’ll fit on your cutting table.

What a Girl Wants
When people ask what you want for Christmas, your birthday or Mother’s Day, tell them you want these four things:
  • Speciality presser feet for your sewing machine. My favorites include an invisible zipper foot, Teflon foot, edge-joining foot and topstitching foot. Make sure you ask for the foot that fits your specific machine.
  • A serger capable of coverstitching. This machine makes hemming knits a breeze.
  • A new pair of cutting shears. My favorites are Gingher serrated blade shears.
  • A week with me sewing in San Francisco. Visit to see a video clip of the experience. Or call (415) 876-2434 to get a free brochure.
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.

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