On Saturday, September 23, Vogue pattern designer and sewist extraordinaire Sandra Betzina graced our Artistry in Fashion event by giving a dynamic presentation to students, faculty and visitors. Many were already familiar with Sandra from her well-known newspaper column, popular books and blog—as well as her innovative patterns. But all were treated to her top 10 list of sewing tips based on mistakes we all tend to make. The following tips could save you hours of time and spare you a lot of frustration:

  1. Choosing the Wrong Fabric—Make sure you choose a fabric that isn’t just pretty but is also suitable for the project you plan to work on. Does it have enough body? If not, you may need to underline it. Does it drape the way it will need to? If not, save it for another project. When working with a pattern that calls for a knit, Sandra recommends rayon over polyester. For more on this topic, check out Sandra’s book Fabric Savvy, which has sold over 150,000 copies to date.
  2. Using the Wrong Needle—Much grief is caused by using the wrong needle, especially when working with knits. Sandra recommends a 75/11 HS as your default. Also if you’re not sure if a needle is sharp enough, take a piece of hosiery and poke the needle through it. If the hosiery snags, you need to toss it and move on to a new one.
  3. Using the Wrong Stitch—Oftentimes seams don’t look right because a straight stitch has been used inappropriately. Use a zig-zag stitch with any fabric (not just knits) that tend to lengthen or “relax.”
  4. Using the Wrong Stitch Length—Shorten or lengthen your stitch depending on what you’re working on and with what type of textile. When working with faux leather or vinyl, for example, you’d better use a 3 or longer or you will perforate the fabric, causing it to fall apart.
  5. Not Marking Notches & Dots—It seems like such a nuisance to mark every little dot and notch when you’re preparing your fabric pieces for assembly. But not doing so can cause a great deal of pain and suffering in the long run. Sandra said it’s not unusual for people to put sleeves in upside-down as a result, which is not fun to take apart and re-do.
  6. Cheap Scissors—Sandra admitted having made this mistake herself. A friend and fellow pattern designer gave her some scissors that “changed her life” and her perspective on scissors forever. Invest in better scissors and you’ll be rewarded with easier, cleaner cutting and sewing.
  7. Anger & Frustration—It happens to the best of us. A project causes us to pull our hair out for one reason or another. When this happens, take a break and come back to it later. Pushing on when you’re feeling irritated and defeated will only make it worse.
  8. Lousy Buttonholes—The quality of a buttonhole can make all the difference on a blouse or any project, for that matter. Take the time and expense to change your needle before beginning a round of buttonholes. Sandra says you’ll be amazed by what a difference it makes. Another tip: Set your machine to sew the buttonhole and then “Don’t touch it!” Tugging, guiding, stopping and starting will leave gaps and cause other issues. Today’s machines are smart enough that you can just let them do their thing.
  9. Crummy Hems—Sewing hems on a knit garment the way you would a woven can cause an unintentional lettuce-type hem and other wonkiness. Instead, stabilize your knit with Steam-a-Seam or a similar product before hemming. Also use a needle with a red band.
  10. Improperly Finished Necklines—Staystitching is another step we like to skip, but doing so will cause headaches and disappointment. Always staystitch your neckline hole prior to assembly. Sandra also recommends reducing the length of your neckline binding by about an inch to pull it in a little. The resulting shape will conform better to your body and lie flatter.

For more tips from Sandra, check out her website: powersewing.com