Stupid sewing mistakes and how to avoid them

I’m going to front up. I make a LOT of silly mistakes when I’m sewing. Here are just a selection I’ve made in the last six months, and some tips on how to avoid making the same ones yourself.

(If you’re creative enough to invent your own stupid mistakes, you’re on your own. But please do share them to help the rest of us!)

  1. The time when I sewed the darts on the outside of the shirt
Close-up of a back dart in a blue shirt
They’re nice darts, granted. But most people prefer them on the inside.

This happened just this week. I’m attempting to make a shirt (my first one, so that’s the first red flag) and sewing a hopefully wearable toile from some blue polycotton. The right and wrong sides look exactly the same, and I was too lazy to mark them up with chalk (cutting corners – second warning sign). Somehow the darts have ended up on the outside of the shirt rather than the inside, and I have to painstakingly unpick all those tiny stitches.

2. The time when I sliced through the actual garment with my overlocker, rather than just trimming the seam

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 16.35.42

This is actually the second time I’ve done this. Again, I was trying to do something I’ve never done before – sewing up a seam containing a ribbed cuff, and I was too lazy to baste it first, because that would have meant unpacking my sewing machine as well as my overlocker… you can see where this is going, can’t you? The overlocker chewed up the ribbing and sliced through the leg of the pyjamas. Fixable, but they are on the small side.

3. The time I sewed all the seams with the wrong seam allowance

This T-shirt is languishing in my alterations pile

Or, why you should stick to one project at a time. Flitting between two similarly coloured jersey projects on my overlocker, I foolishly applied the Ottobre seam allowance of 7mm to my self-drafted T-shirt pattern (seam allowance 10mm). Sounds trivial, but the shoulders look downright weird, and because I stitched all the seams before I noticed, I can’t face unpicking all the overlocking to fix it.

You can never eliminate all the mistakes from your sewing. But from my howlers I’d say:

  • Don’t multi-task; no one’s as good at two things as they are at one
  • Don’t buy fabric that looks the same on both sides unless you’re prepared to mark it up
  • If it says tack/baste, just do it
  • If all else fails, read the instructions!

Have you had any sewing mishaps lately, or is there one that’s haunted you down the years?


A sea-green Sallie jumpsuit

P1120963I’ve been feeling the need for both more glamour and more comfort in my wardrobe lately, so my latest make should provide a bit of both.

I’ve succumbed to the jumpsuit trend (despite swearing I wouldn’t two summers ago) and I’ll admit that all the things other people have said about them are true. Secret pyjamas? Check. Potential for dressing up? Check. Lazy afternoon in the park? Check.

P1120960The pattern

After deciding I needed a jumpsuit in my life, there was only one indie pattern in the running: Sallie by Closet Case Patterns. (For a Big 4 version, V9116 also looks promising.) I love the wide-legged trousers, and the way this style combines slouchy Sunday afternoon insouciance with the potential for 1970s-style Saturday night glamour. Can it be worn during the week, do you think?

There was some initial headscratching during the cutting out process. The front and back pattern pieces for the kimono tee top are identical, and I couldn’t work out if this would leave enough room up front so I made a top-half toile. It turns out there was enough room for me, but it’ll depend on your FBA size and the stretch percentage of your fabric.

I love the look, and the shape. And there are some tempting hack opportunities. If I were being picky, I’d request a few more notches, and some more detail in parts of the instructions would have made construction easier for me.

P1120952The fabric

It’s a beautiful deep sea green midweight cotton jersey with some spandex content from Fabrics Galore, bought back in the spring at an NEC sewing event. With just enough stretch, it has the structure I wanted through the bottom half, and it wasn’t too much of a pain to cut out.

P1120965The fit

I started with a size 14 on top and graded out to a 16 below the waist. The identical front and back pieces mean it does have to stretch at the front so there’s some spare fabric at the back and if I were making another one, I’d probably do a small sway back adjustment.

I lengthened the bodice by 1″ and the crotch length by 2″ to ensure that the waist seam ended up on the waist.

If you have a waist, I think you have to get this spot on, or at least very close for it to be wearable. If you’re not sure whether you’ve got enough length, add plenty of length in both these places, and tack/baste both the stitching for the casing and the waist seam to begin with so you can remove any extra length after a try-on. Remember that the weight of the trousers will pull on the top,  stretching it downwards.

P1120955The process

Although this is a fairly straightforward project, and could be attempted by anyone who’s made one knit garment before, there are one or two places where things get tricky, and I made a few mistakes along the way.

I’d really recommend labelling your front, back, front lining and back lining pieces clearly, especially if it’s hard to tell the right and wrong sides of your fabric apart.

If you’re making the kimono tee version, use your regular machine rather than your overlocker to stitch the side seams on the top. You have to stop/start exactly at the circle mark to get the underarm seams neat.

And if you’re a pear-shape grading up a size on the bottom, remember that you’ll have to get the neck opening over your hips to get in and out, so it’s best not to narrow the shoulders too much – the neck tie will stop it falling off your shoulders.

P1120959In the end

This is a project that’s divided the Wardrobe household. I love it. But Mr Wardrobe hates it. He looked distinctly worried when I said I might wear it for our next night out together.

So where do you stand on jumpsuits? Throwback, fad, or comfy chic?

And apart from wedges, what shoes would you pair with this for a more casual look?

Update: I’ve joined Allie J’s social sew for August, and included this as my ‘hot, hot heat’ make. The social sew is open until the end of the month, so if you’re sewing some warm weather gear, join us.


T-shirt fail

I was hoping not to add to the Sewing Blunders category this year but this one definitely qualifies. A real-life case of pride coming before a fall. Or a fail, in this case.

I was so pleased with my self-drafted boat-neck breton top that I’d thought I’d quickly sew myself another T-shirt from the same pattern. This time I used the scoop-neck variation and some substantial beige cotton/spandex jersey I bought from the Fabrics Galore stand at Sewing for Pleasure.

But as you can see, it’s looking a bit sorry for itself.

Here are the mistakes I made:

  1. I forgot to trace the scoop-neck cutting line from the fabric onto the pattern so I did it after I’d started sewing, but obviously not very well as it came out lopsided.
  2. I didn’t take a large enough seam allowance when I attached the sleeve pieces with my overlocker, so the shoulders came out too wide, and don’t even match each other.
  3. I serged the raw edge of the neck opening before adding the neckband – accidentally taking too much off, meaning that I definitely can’t bend forwards in this top.
  4. My attempts to use up some cheap thread I had lurking in my stash rather than make another trip to the shops (I know, I know… ) backfired spectacularly when my twin needle chewed up and spat out the hem.

t-shirt fail

I tried to fix all these mistakes by giving the top a really good press, but it actually made things worse because I accidentally turned on the self-clean function and the iron spat dirty water that stained the back neck.

Unlike previous blunders, these mistakes are down to carelessness and rushing rather than ignorance, so I suppose you could say I’m learning. Onwards and upwards, hopefully.

Have you had any disasters recently?

Overlocker tips

My Husqvarna Viking Huskylock s15 definitely rules the roost in my sewing space

If you own an overlocker (also known as a serger), then you probably love how quickly it sews and finishes your seams. You probably also find yourself swearing at it at other times. Here are some tips I use to help you get your overlocker purring along rather than juddering to a halt.

Thread the loopers first

When you have no option but to start threading from scratch, I always begin with the upper looper, then the lower looper, then the right and left needles. I find this works more often than doing it any other way. It does says this in the manual for my machine, but it took me over a year to notice that and heed the advice.

Pass each thread between the presser foot and the blade

After you’ve threaded it up, pass each thread between the presser foot and the blade (as you take the thread to the back of the stitch plate before you make your stitch chain). Layla, the tutor on the overlocker workshop I took at Guthrie & Ghani, gave the class this tip – and I’ve no idea why it works but it does!

Don’t bother lifting the presser foot when you sew

To put the fabric under the machine, I usually just lift the toe of the presser foot with my finger, rather than groping for the lever all the time. And because you stitch off the end of the fabric most of the time, you won’t need to lift it to take the fabric out either. In fact, the only time I do lift the presser foot with the lever is to get the threads in between the tension discs.

Sadly you do need to clean and oil it sometimes

Because overlockers work so quickly, and get covered in fibres all the time you will need to clean it out regularly (a vacuum cleaner will do the job), change the needles now and then (no, they’re not supposed to be level) and potentially even replace the stationary cutter blade if the fabric isn’t cutting cleanly any more.

So you might as well keep your manual handy and set a reminder to show it some love after every three projects. I’ve discovered mine makes a hideous shuddering noise that shakes the whole house if I forget to oil it…

The hilariously cheesy cover photo on the manual for my overlocker. This lady looks so pleased to be cuddling this machine…

When the sewing gets tough

If all your efforts fail, you can always take it for a service at your local repair centre (or even better, track down a repairer who’ll come and visit you). I’m booking mine in for a service next month – after three years of hard use I think it’s time for a check-up.

Have you got a great tip for bending your overlocker to your will?


Hemming T-shirts

Coverstitch? Twin needles? Zigzag?

What’s the best way to hem a knit garment like a T-shirt or a jersey dress? From what I’ve learnt so far your options are:


If you’re lucky enough to have a coverstitch machine this seems to be the way to go. You press up your hem, and then the coverstitch finishes the raw edge and stitches the hem in one go. It gives that RTW twin needle finish on the outside and because of the differential feed you can get it lovely and stretchy so you won’t split your stitches taking the garment on and off. If only I could justify buying one…

Overlock plus twin needle

There’s just a hint of that tunnelling effect on this hem, but the printed fabric hides it well.

This is the one I’ve used the most. It gives a slightly stretchy finish because the bobbin thread zigs and zags between the two top threads, but it probably won’t stretch as much as the original fabric. First you overlock the raw edge and press up your hem. You can also stabilise the hem allowance to avoid a twisted, puckered or ridged finish.

Then fit a ballpoint twin needle in your ordinary sewing machine, use your walking foot, a straight stitch setting, and topstitch the hem in place from the right side.

(If you have a really old sewing machine, like my Singer 201K, that only has a straight stitch, then you may not have a footplate that will take a twin needle, but any machine that has a built-in a zigzag function should be fine. I used my mother-in-law’s 1960s Singer to hem my Moneta dress. If there’s no second spool, then put your two top threads onto bobbins and then you can stack them on top of each other on your spool pin.)

If you’re getting a ridge between the two lines of stitching, then a stabiliser should help, and you can also try playing around with the tension. Lots of people recommend stretchy woolly nylon for the bobbin thread, but I haven’t tried this yet.

If you don’t have an overlocker

You don’t have to overlock the edge before you press it up, you can still do a twin needle hem without this step, but in this case I would definitely use a stabiliser right up to the raw edge – and pick one that won’t wash out. A permanent stabiliser may limit the stretch a little, but that’s better than the raw edge curling back over the hemming stitch and creating a lump there. You might also choose to use an overedge or zigzag stitch to finish the raw edge for neatness.

If you don’t want to buy a ballpoint twin needle…

…because it’s an awful moment when you break one and have to part with another £4, then you can also topstitch the hem with a zigzag stitch, or a stretch stitch. This will stretch a little, but like the twin needle finish, not a lot. Some people are sniffy about how this finish looks, but I quite like the variation. I tried this for my latest T-shirt (which I’ll hopefully post later this week when the weather brightens enough to take pictures).

Unsolved mysteries

Can you help me with any of my unsolved questions?

  1. Is a coverstitch machine so amazing that I should blow the budget and get one? Or are they quite fiddly and hard to use?
  2. What’s the best stabiliser to use for knit hems? Spray-in starch, wash-away, knit interfacing or something else?
  3. I’ve read that you can also use a rolled hem. Has anyone tried this? What sort of fabric would this work best on?
  4. Where can you get woolly nylon thread in the UK?

How should I finish my seams?

This was the question I was pondering as I walked my dog yesterday morning. I’ve jotted down my thought process, and photographed the samples I made for my Thurlow trousers so you can see the options.

Do I have to bother finishing my seams?

If you’re working with a fabric that doesn’t fray, and where the raw edges of the fabric won’t be seen, then no, you don’t have to bother. So if I were making a cushion cover from a knit fabric, for example, I wouldn’t bother to finish the raw edges. Most people will be making the Thurlow trousers in a woven fabric, as the pattern suggests, and most of those fabrics will fray.

Here’s what happens if you don’t finish the seams.

This also shows why it's never such a great idea to try to make an outfit to an immovable deadline...
This also shows why it’s never such a great idea to try to make an outfit to an immovable deadline…

I’ve chosen a navy blue medium-weight polyester/cotton twill. (I agree, it doesn’t sound great, but I think it’ll work out well.)

What are my options, then?

Here’s a rundown on the options I considered. You’ll probably want to test out at least a couple for each garment you make and see what suits your fabric best.

Top: unfinished edge Bottom: pinked edge
Top: unfinished edge
Bottom: pinked edge
Top: zigzag v1 Bottom: zigzag v2
Top: zigzag v1
Bottom: zigzag v2
Top: Overcast using an ordinary sewing machine Bottom: Overlocked (served) using a 3-thread narrow overlock stitch
Top: Overcast using an ordinary sewing machine
Bottom: Overlocked (serged)

As you can see, left to itself the fabric unravels, and pinking doesn’t help much. So I ruled out these. Zigzagging would prevent the edge unravelling beyond the zigzag stitch but it puckered and it still looks a bit messy for my liking – given that these trousers won’t be lined.

I seriously considered the overcasting stitch on my sewing machine – this is what I used for the toile I made in a linen mix. It did work well, and it saves switching between machines, but it’s very slow. This has its perks – you’re less likely to make a mistake, and – unlike the overlocker – you won’t accidentally trim off too much and leave yourself nothing to work with if you need to let a seam out.

But in the end the overlocker option won out, mainly on speed. And I already have matching overlocker thread, so that sealed the deal. It’ll make it slightly harder to get all the edges and notches matched up because the overlocker will cut off some of each piece, but hopefully I can work that out without a problem.

Isn’t this a huge pain – can’t I just get on with the sewing?

I won’t lie – this wasn’t how I wanted to spend my time yesterday evening. But I’ll grudgingly admit it was worth doing to get all the needles, tensions, settings, threading and decisions sorted up-front. It took around an hour altogether – including re-threading the overlord twice and that should speed up the rest of the project, too. Heck, I even cleaned the overlocker!

Have you made trousers without an overlocker? If so, how did you finish your seams?

Overlocker workshop at Guthrie & Ghani

I had a really lovely day yesterday at a sewing workshop at Guthrie & Ghani in Birmingham. I’ve been wrestling with my overlord overlocker for a while now, and despite my best intentions of sitting down and sewing samples of each stitch, I’ve really only used it for finishing seams so far.

Given that my sewing machine only has a straight stitch – no zig-zag (until I can get my zigzagger attachment working, grrr) – it has been useful. But I’ve been keen to find out how to use it for stitching as well as finishing.

Because I can put off my own goals forever without some sort of deadline, I signed up for a workshop to make sure I’d do it. I’ve also been hankering after a reason to visit Guthrie & Ghani since it opened! The workshop was led by Layla Totah, and the project was a Colette pattern (another first for me there). Everyone chose between the Moneta dress, and the Mabel skirt. I opted for the Moneta – pencil skirts are NOT for me, and took along 3m of spot-print cotton jersey I bought online from Tissu fabrics.

Mine doesn't look like this. It's spotty, not stripy, for one thing.
Mine doesn’t look like this. It’s spotty, not stripy, for one thing.

I really enjoyed it. Six hours wasn’t a lot of time, so we scurried through the project to try to finish on time. I’ll confess I didn’t quite make it through the hem, so I’ll save up a full report on my Moneta for another post when it’s done. Layla was very knowledgable – showing us not just how to grapple with an overlocker, but also how to handle knit fabrics, and some tips for speed sewing, too.

If I were being super-critical, I’d say that Moneta start-to-finish is probably a bit too much to cover in the time, and that it might be easier to start with a simpler pattern (and one that uses less fabric to make more space in the classroom), but I think the smart folks at G&G may be already on to this, because the overlocker class currently advertised on their site uses a T-shirt as the example project.

There was eight students altogether, each with some experience in garment-making. They were so friendly, and everyone shared tips and ideas. I don’t usually get to meet other sewists IRL, so it was a really fun to spend the day with people who understand exactly what you mean when you say you must work through your stash, or that you’re scared to try Ginger jeans…

G&G is a lovely place to sew – upstairs is a beautiful room, light and airy, and equipped with so much kit. And the temptations of the shop downstairs are pretty strong too. Now I just need another excuse to go back!