Hints and Tips and Nifty Tricks - Sewing

So I’ve seen a few comments about sewing mainly from those who are new to the art. So I thought it might be useful to have somewhere to have all this experience together. I will also highlight some of my failings and life lessons.

Pins, Pins, Pins and more Pins.

I’ve used literally thousands of pins over the years and frankly there are good ones and bad ones. You can buy boxes of 1000 cheaply for around a £1! Sounds like a bargain right? Well yes to some it would be, however lets look at the real issues here. Have you ever picked up a 1000 pins out of a carpet? I have on more than one occasion it’s really no fun. No Seriously it’s not! These cheap pins have barely a head so there is nothing to grab onto. On the other hand your hand can become a great pin cushion in one easy step :grin:. Back on point… see what I did there? With such a small head they also have this fantastic ability to slip right through the fabric and out the other side. AMAZING I know right? While pinning, which I must state is something I hate and I suck at, however when pinning on the floor make sure you have something between the fabric and that carpet! Because otherwise you may find you have more than you bargained for :rofl: So what should you use, personally I only now use Hemline Glass Pin heads, they are awesome and only a couple of £1 for a 100 coupled with an A1 cutting mat.


I’m sure you do not need me to tell you there are good and bad ones, however keeping it short and simple here, ideally you should have 3 sets, 1 for cutting patterns, 1 for fabric, 1 for cutting thread. However you can get away with just 2 pairs. Guard these with you life!!! If you think they are secure? They are not! I have a sewing cabinet with a lock! And still I’ve seen people trying to get in there, guess what they wanted? Yes that’s right, their parcel turned up and now they want some scissors. For an IC reference imagine someone is going to assassinate them, because trust me someone is eyeing them up!


An odd subject you might think? Well let me tell you the tale. There I am pattern all laid out on the table, I’m ready with scissors in hand (don’t worry they have a ball and chain attached) I’m about to make my first cut and then BAM!!! All hell has broken loose, I’m left in a state of confusion. Someone opened the front door, the cat came in jumped up onto the table, skidded on the pattern, sending both pattern and cat flying, the cat tried to cling on, dinging those claws in! What am I left with? A ripped and shredded pattern. Morale of the story? Barricade yourself in!


Sewing is a very space heavy art, ensure you have enough room for the task at hand.

Attention Span

I’m an experienced sewer however only yesterday my mind was elsewhere while I was sewing, I ended up with the Interfacing (a piece of material that adds thickness and sturdiness to fabric) on top of my fabric, needless to say that was 20 minutes of pinning (badly I might add) then sewing away to realise it all needed to be redone. So PAY ATTENTION!


Patterns are complicated, I’ve used many some good, some terrible and some are a bit of both. Most patterns fall into the latter, generally the patterns themselves are fine, however the same can’t be said for their instructions! I had one pattern recently which frankly lacked common sense. To cut a long story short (I know I’m terrible) patterned said to cut a total of 4 of the same piece, I cut them, it then only says to sew 2 of them together, so what do I do with the spare two? No prizes for what it was meant to say! So my advice is make a test garment, I usually make two, one to learn the pattern, one to alter it to my frame and then onto the real deal. Nothing worse spending £20-30 per meter on fabric to find you have to hack away at it.

My last bit of advice tonight is this, never give up! It’s never going to be perfect first time around, especially when your starting out. Most people can’t sew and as a result most people have admiration for those that can. I’m a very open about sewing and while some might think it odd, when they need their hem taking up suddenly I’m Mr Popular. So start simple and work your way up a simple tunic or cape is a great place to start.

I will be adding more as I remember them. And hopefully others will also post their experiences too :sunglasses:


An iron is your friend. Press your patterns, press your fabric. Press your seams.
It shouldn’t be called sewing, it should be called pressing…

Plastic headed pins melt if you iron them, glass heads do not. You can sew over pins if they are at right angles to your seam as long as you go slowly.

You can do almost everything with a machine that does a straight stitch and a zigzag.

Finishing seams is a pain but will increase the lifespan of a garment. Zigzagging is a finishing stitch, overlocking is awesome but zig zag will do.

Charity shop curtains are a great source of fabric. Failing that, Ikea’s Bomul fabric is a fab base layer fabric that can be dyed.

Wash your fabric before you use it so if it shrinks it does so before you have cut out your pattern pieces.

YouTube sewing terms you aren’t sure about. There are loads of complicated ways of saying easy things.

Preparation (washing, ironing, tracing, cutting, pinning, finishing) takes much longer than the sewing part. Take your time with it, decent preparation makes for much easier sewing.

Practice makes perfect. Your first tunic will never be perfect, but you will get better, I promise.

P.S. If anyone has tips for insetting sleeves please let me know, I have cheated and made T tunics instead for ever now and should really try to overcome that hurdle… :wink:


Hi Laura,

Great point about ironing, i actually have one specifically for sewing use. As for sleeves what technique are you using?

Abstinence?? (Yes, I have managed to make kit that is either t-tunic based or sleeveless for my entire LRPing life).

I suppose my proper answer is ‘whatever it would say on the pattern’. The phrase ‘ease in fullness’ fills me with dread (see also: hemming properly).

So I found a cool Tumblr a while ago, that has massively improved my sewing. I’ll pop a couple of links in that I’ve found most useful.
French seams are made of awesome and win. I hate hate hate zig zagging to do my seams but can avoid it entirely and add extra strength this way. This post explains why better
And I find this one Craftsy.com | Express Your Creativity! | Engage your passion with Craftsy and learn to make something beautiful! better for explaining how to do it.
Neck facings are also great and something I wish I had known how to do aaages ago! I tend to stick it inside but have flipped it outside and larger for a nice decorative one.

Ilsa Makes Things — Tutorial: Sew a Keyhole Neckline with a Facing


I’m assuming your not using a lining? As they can cause all sorts of problems. There are a couple of options, you could use raglan sleeves, which form the shoulder as well as the sleeve, these are pretty easy to fit. It’s possible with some practice to adjust patterns to make them raglan sleeves. In terms of normal sleeves, I’m assuming you are using the free arm on the sewing machine which is a GOD given gift! Personally when I started sleeves I used to hand sewn them in first as I found it just made life easier for me. I also use both pins and fabric clips, it’s more time consuming as you have twice the amount of work and twice the amount to remove. But these ensures nothing moves. If you can turn your speed down to the lowest setting and reduce the pressure load on the presser foot this will allow you to have greater control over the machine and gives you more time to ensure it feeds through correctly. But the other option which is suitable for LARP is finish your seams off, make the sleeves and then use an eyelet and cord option so they are removable. This would work for most styles of costumes in the LARP world. Might give you a few more options to play with. Also great for all year wear.

Hemming is so hard on the bottom. I always seem to end up with wrinkles! It’s so confusing. I also find if I draft my own patterns despite measuring properly my sleeves end up about 10cm too long?! Not quite sure why. Anyone have ideas?

Thanks @Phoenix, that’s some really helpful advice in there.

And I love French seams too, @Kargur. :smiley:

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It’s hard to answer this as I would need to know specifics and ideally pictures then I can advice you, but I’m sure we can solve this problem for you though :wink:

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I will do what I can tomorrow :slight_smile: thank you for the offer! The same thing also happened when I made a tunic for a friend. Its bizzare

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Fabric Clips

I mentioned them briefly in a reply to @LauraH these are little plastic clips with a metal spring them, work a bit like a clothes peg. They are a great nifty little things as they hold fabric together much like pins, however they are much quicker to apply, also safer as you do not end up stabbing yourself. However please note they do not replace pins as pins are needed for certain tasks specifically cutting fabric.


Organisation is key for sewing, if like myself you find you only have spare bit of time here and there to sew, the last thing you want to do end up doing is spending half that time routing around trying to gather all your supplies and equipment. A sewing box is great here, it does not need to be fancy, a simple shoe box would be sufficient. All my sewing tools and notions are kept in a box in my sewing cabinet and all my threads in another one, admittedly these are designed for this cabinet however they work great on their own. I also have 2 large plastic boxes which sit on top when the cabinet is folded down, one is a projects box and stores the current work load. The other stores other fabrics, projects that have been shelved and a selection of tools which are too big for the too box. I can be fully set up in a matter of minutes and this time saved allows me to put maximum amount of time and effort into sewing. Prior to my sewing cabinet I would of spent ages looking around the house for things like quick unpicks and tape measures. Be organised and keep it all together.


Lighting is key to sewing it is surprising how much light you need and how much of a difference it makes, even in daylight I still have a light on, it’s very easy to find yourself working in shadows otherwise. Good lighting also ensures you are putting less strain on your eyes, threading needles is a painful task as the best of time, so don’t forget to turn on that light!


This will be very simple, ensure you have the right needle for the right task, try using a standard needle for leather or denim and you will if lucky break the needle at worst break the machine.


Just like needles there are fabrics for certain jobs, ensure you have the right fabric for the requirement. Ensure that you always buy more than you think you will need, it’s good to have spare to practice on, I always like to test material to see if I need to adjust my machine particularly the overlocker. It’s also important to know of any special requirements of the material some require washing first, others require priming, if your unsure contact the supplier and ask for advice.

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