5 Sewing Shortcuts For The Lazy Sewist

sewing shortcuts

I wrote a draft post last summer about some bad sewing habits I use as shortcuts. Looking back at it now, I’m horrified by most of them (not finishing my seams?! What was I thinking?), but I thought I’d write about some sewing shortcuts I still employ that I think will make your life easier. There are many ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways to sew and the hobby sewist can feel like they have to follow every rule in the book or the sewing gods will smite them down. Well, I want to give you an alternative. If sewing is your profession, or you enjoy doing everything perfectly then by all means follow the rules, but if you want to get the maximum fun out of your hobby without worrying about the rules then read on.

Hopefully I won’t be quite so horrified by them this time next year…


  1. Buy a select number of thread colours in bulk that will go with anything

There’s nothing worse than spending all night planning your next project and getting really excited about it, only to realise that you don’t have any matching thread. Honestly though, if your thread colour is a bit off, no-one is going to notice! My thread colours are navy, cream and red. I do basically all of my sewing in one of those colours. I don’t often sew with a pure black or white fabric and I find that black and white thread are too harsh against other colours. Navy and cream are a lot more mellow and look fine with most colours in my fabric stash except red. Take a look at your fabric stash and work out which colours will work for you to get maximum colour coverage.

  1. Save up your thread cutting and trimming

You have to be careful with this one, as the extra thread can get caught up and cause a nightmare of a bird’s nest, but if you carefully pull the excess thread to the back of the sewing machine and out of the way of the needle this can save a lot of time pulling the fabric out from under the foot and trimming individual threads. I especially employ this when I’m doing a series of buttonholes.

  1. Don’t make a muslin

Ok, hear me out with this one. I am totally on board with muslins, they help you understand your fitting needs and they mean you only ever make perfect stuff from your precious fabric stash. But you know what? I’m really impatient. Endless worries about it fitting absolutely perfectly only stop me from doing the bit I actually enjoy. Once I’ve made something I’ll analyse the fitting issues I’m having with it and refine in my next make, but I still get the fun of making/having a new garment to wear. That said, I do sometimes bother with a muslin, but I never want to feel like I HAVE to because that’s how it’s done. If you’re a sewist who likes to do everything by the book then by all means make a muslin every time, you’ll probably make a wonderfully tailored garment every time. But if you’re impatient and impulsive with your sewing like me, you might be better off without.

  1. Only change the bobbin thread when sewing basting/gathering stitches

Changing the bobbin is so much quicker than re-threading your whole machine. It means you can just cut the contrasting bobbin threads when removing the thread from your garment – it will be really obvious then which thread on the other side to pull. Be careful with this one, but I haven’t made a mistake with it yet (fingers crossed!).

  1. Don’t make a lining

You may have gathered by now that I’m quite lazy. I just want to wear that garment as soon as it comes out from under the machine foot, a cursory sweep of the iron and I’m good to go. However, sometimes you leave the lining out and then you put on your shiny new garment and it sticks to your tights like glue. We’ve all been through it. But there is a way to save these garments and it’s called an anti-static shift. Maybe I’m the last person in the world to have discovered this, but I thought slips were firmly for old ladies until Lisa at Sew Over It started going on about them on her vlog (which you should definitely binge-watch btw). So far I’ve only got a skirt slip (from Marks & Spencer), but I’m definitely in the market for a full length one because it will save me a lot of disappointing static issues in the future. And will stop me feeling guilty when I neglected to line something.

So there you go, those are mine, what are your sewing shortcuts? Do you think shortcuts are a bad habit, or a clever way to get the job done and keep yourself engaged?


A Cautionary Tale: Why You Should Always Finish Your Seams

Mimi Blouse Frayed Sleeve

So the other day I put on my beloved Mimi blouse straight out of the wash. I was happily going about my morning ablutions when Ben asked “Erm, what’s wrong with your sleeves?”. I looked down and to my horror the end of the sleeves were all frayed! Noooo! :(

Mimi Frayed Sleeve

Ben then proceeded to tell me this was a good thing.

Me: How is this good?? It’s all ruined :( What a disaster.

Ben: You can write about it on your blog!

Me: But…I can’t write about this! This was me being an idiot

Ben: So write about it? Make sure other people don’t make the same mistake?

I pouted and stomped off to find something new to wear, but here I am, writing about it. Don’t tell Ben.

The error I made was to assume that because a seam is going to be encased in fabric and therefore not visible, that it would be fine to omit the seam finishing step. This might be fine for a nice stable cotton, but the fabric I used for Mimi was drapey and easily frayed. It looked absolutely fine before I washed it and seemed stable enough, but clearly the washing machine was too much for it and it all starting sprouting out.

The step in question was the addition of the sleeve facing to the end of the sleeve. The facing has interfacing ironed onto it and is therefore nice and stable, but the sleeve hem doesn’t! When I sewed these two together I really should have zig-zagged over the edges like I do for all my visible seams. It would also have been a good idea not to have trimmed the seam allowances so much, perhaps that would have saved it without the seam finishing.

So, now that I have this problem, how did I fix it? Yes, I think I have fixed it, don’t worry! There will be a fairytale ending. I unpicked the hand-stitching that was holding down the sleeve facing and turned it out so that the offending seam was revealed.  I then sewed the seam again, with a fair amount of seam allowance, and then I finished the seam with zig-zag stitch before hand stitching the sleeve facing again (after a bit of a tug to see if the fabric was holding). The sleeve is a little snug now, but definitely preferable to the frayed horror it was before. Fingers crossed it will survive the wash this time!

Lesson learnt, always finish your seams guys!

4 Tips For Pattern Drafting with a Compass

Pattern Drafting with a Compass

Today I want to talk about using a compass. I don’t mean the magnetic thing that helps you point north, I mean the pointy one you used to carve your name into the desk during maths class (or someone else’s name if you’re smart). Pretty sure mine hasn’t seen the light of day since I left school, but this weekend it was just the thing I wanted while I was pattern drafting. Compass1

I don’t have one of those big fancy rulers with the squares on and I needed to get  perpendicular lines, which a compass does perfectly. For those of you who weren’t paying attention at school, I’m going to outline some of the useful things that you can do with a compass that I found came in really handy for pattern drafting.

Perpendicular lines

To get a perfectly perpendicular line, first draw a little mark on your original line where you want your new line to cross. Place the point of your compass on the mark and open the compass up – it doesn’t matter how much, but somewhere in the middle is easier than a very small or large distance, which are likely to cause the pen to slip. Draw an arc through your line on one side. Compass2Now, keeping the compass open exactly the same amount, pivot around the point and draw an arc on the other side of the line. I like to then go back and check the compass is still the length of the first arc. You could also just draw a circle, this is my way of keeping the guidelines minimal. Compass3Now take the compass off the paper and open it a little more. Again, it doesn’t matter how much as long as you keep it consistent. Put the point of the compass at the point where one of your arcs crossed the blue line and draw another arc above your mark. Compass4

Repeat this with the other side, making sure the compass stays open the same amount. This line should cross through the one you just marked.Compass5The point where the lines cross will be perfectly perpendicular to your original line at the point you marked, so draw a line between the cross and the mark and admire your right angle!Compass6

45 Degree Angle

Now we can do exactly the same thing to get a 45 degree angle, which I’ve shown in green. First, set the compass to an arbitrary length , put the point at the centre where the blue lines cross and draw an arc that intersects both the horizontal and vertical lines.Compass7Now, place the compass point at one of the points where the green line meets the blue and draw an arc between the two blue lines. This time it doesn’t matter if you open it up more, it will work fine staying at the same length. Compass8Repeat this step with the other green-blue intersection, keeping the compass open the same amount and you should have made a cross. Compass9Draw a line between the green cross and the crossing point of the blue lines and you have a perfect 45 degree angle. The camera angle I’ve used makes this look a bit off unfortunately, but it did look pretty perfect, I promise!Compass15For a longer perpendicular (or 45 degree line) I would sometimes do 2 crosses different lengths away from the line to give me another guide. Because it doesn’t matter which distance the compass is set at you can do this as much as you like and every cross will be perpendicular as long as you use the same length for the left and right arcs of each cross.

Specific Distance Between a Point and a Line

Sometimes a pattern drafting step will require you to measure a certain distance from a point to a line. This can be done by moving a ruler around until you’ve got the right distance, but a compass does it so much more quickly and accurately! Just set your compass at the desired length on a ruler…Compass11

…then place the compass point on your point and draw an arc that intersects your line. The point where they meet is the point you’re looking for. Eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that it could intersect at two points, but in most cases it will be obvious which one you need. Compass12

Adding Seam Allowances

One last thing I found a compass really handy for is adding seam allowances once you’ve finished pattern drafting. Set your compass to the desired seam allowance – here I’ve used the standard 1.5 cm – and move along the pattern piece marking small arcs all the way along the pattern piece. Once you’ve gone all the way round, join them all up and you have a perfectly added seam allowance. Woo!

Compass13At the corners you’ll need to extend your lines a bit to meet at a point because the compass would give a curved corner, which isn’t what you want. Compass14

So there you go! Do I have some compass converts? For the drafting itself I found that using a soft pencil for the lines and a harder pencil in the compass for the guidelines worked well, making the guidelines fainter and the main pattern lines more prominent.