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My Top 5 Garment Sewing Secrets: Nancy Fiedler of Janome America

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In our quest to continue bringing you the information you’re searching for, we’ve been partnering with some of our pals in the sewing community to provide guest features on garment sewing. This is an area we don’t currently focus on at Sew4Home but for which we get a lot of inquiries. It’s not that we don’t love garment sewing; we just haven’t made the leap yet into full sets of sized patterns. Until we jump, our skilled friends are excellent resources and very kind to share their knowledge. In this article, we turn to master educator, Nancy Fiedler of Janome America. Nancy’s helped us with several techniques on S4H, such as grading seams, sewing a zipper in a circle, cornering with decorative stitches, and more. Our thanks to her for collecting her top five garment tips to share. 

1. Prewash fabric and fusible interfacing

Before cutting out pattern pieces, I pre-wash/pre-shrink all washable fabrics. This helps relax those stubborn creases that may have formed on the bolt, re-shapes cut ends and selvages that have stretched, and eliminates accidental or uneven shrinkage of the finished garment. If the fabric is not washable, I take the time to steam it for all the same reasons.

I then steam-shrink any fusible interfacing pieces just prior to application. To do this, hold the iron 2” - 3” above the interfacing piece, press the power-steam button for a few seconds, then continue steaming until the interfacing no longer shrinks. When done, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for fusing to the fabric. 

An extremely efficient way to fuse interfacing is the Elnapress. Simply use a spray bottle to add moisture, then lower the press. It will automatically exert 100 lbs of pressure evenly to the fabric so the interfacing is fully adhered and completely tight and smooth.

For more about pre-washing/pre-shrinking, check out Sew4Home’s full tutorial on the What, Why, When and How of this important step. 

2. Overcast all exposed seams

After cutting out my pattern pieces and applying the interfacing, I always use my serger to put a clean finish on any edges I know will be exposed when seamed. I serge a 3-thread overcast stitch on sides, hems, and facings. Just skim the edge of the piece so you retain the full seam allowance. You don’t need to overcast a seam that will be hidden with a facing, such as along a neckline.

Sometimes just for fun, I finish the edges with thread in a contrasting color.

And for an elegant look on jackets or cardigans, I use a decorative thread in the loopers of the serger. This is especially effective on medium and heavy-weight fabric. 

YLI produces several types of decorative threads that are ideal for overcasting exposed seam allowances. Their Wooly Nylon will result in an extremely soft edge, which is ideal for children’s clothes, taking away that, “it’s too scratchy” complaint. The YLI Designer 7 and Pearl Crown Rayon have a wonderfully decorative effect when used in the loopers.

If you don’t have a serger, use the Overcast/Overedge foot with an overcast stitch on your sewing machine to add a clean finished edge to the exposed seam allowances. In the photo below, you can see the serged edge along the left and the sewing machine overcast stitch being created along the right. 

3. Make use of the machine’s feed dogs

The feed dogs of your machine are the little rows of teeth directly under the needle. They are what “pull” the fabric under the presser foot and needle. The presser foot is usually stationary, so as the foot pushes against the fabric, it adds a slight amount of stretch. Knowing this will help you sew perfectly matched seams on pants, skirts, and sleeves. To fit the shape of a body, the seams on these pieces are not perfectly straight so there will always be a slight stretch because of a gentle bias in their shapes.

Always sew these seams from the bottom to the top. The feed dogs will gently pull the bottom layer so the seam lays flat and matches at the top and bottom edges.

Often you will come across a seam that will need to be “eased,” which means means accommodating the fullness of a curve when placed against a straight edge. Sleeve caps, skirt hems, and occasionally the elbow area of a sleeve are all examples. The trick is to have the machine help you ease the fuller area. Place the side of the fabric that needs to be eased against the feed dogs so they can pull the bottom layer. The presser foot will push the upper layer, and magically your seam will lay flat!

4. Try the Rolled Hem foot

One of my favorite fast ways to make a hem on lightweight fabrics is to use the Rolled Hem foot. I use rolled hems on ruffles, skirts, and even shirt tails. Since I have a choice of three sizes of Rolled Hem feet with my Janome, I can always create a narrow hem in the perfect width for every project.

Sew4Home has an excellent article on setting up for and executing precise and perfect rolled hems. 

5. Start with a new needle

I always start a new project with a new needle. It’s a recommendation you’ve likely heard before, but is so important. A new needle makes a clean penetration into your fabric – no snags and skipped stitches.

I did a nice guide to needles for the Janome blog you can refer to, and Sew4Home has a thorough article on Choosing the Right Sewing Machine Needle For Your Project. There are many options to choose from, and the one I use is determined by the type of fabric as well as the type of thread I’m working with on any given project. Always take the time to test the needles and thread on the project fabric to help you make your final decision. 

Our thanks again to Janome America Education Coordinator, Nancy Fiedler for sharing her favorite tips. To stay up-to-date on all the news from Janome, visit their website and/or follow the creativity on their blog, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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Comments (9)

MissTi said:
MissTi's picture

Sewing (plus machine embroidering) on many different types of fabrics makes for many needles, in various sizes, points, and degrees of use.  I found the Singer machine needle cushion to organize my needles.  It's handy, and you could easily make one from a classic tomato pincushion.  Just use a fine marker to write the needle size / type at the top of each section.  I even subdivided some sections. Now I know when I'm on my last of a needle so I can buy them on sale instead of running out when the store is closed, which is how it always seemed to work out before!

Question:  what are the best times for using the 'gently used' needles that aren't fresh anymore but are still serviceable?  

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@MissTi - Thanks for your tip! Regarding your needle question, you certainly know the rule of thumb about a new needle for every new project. So, we really can't suggest specific times when a used needle would be your choice. Perhaps when making a muslin or prototype, where you aren't really concerned about the stitch quality but more about the construction process? But really, if I consider a needle used, I dispose of it, considering it a "better safe than sorry" decision. 

Christina in FL said:
Christina in FL's picture

Love these tips!  I hadn't thought of using decorative threads in my looper! :)  Thanks so much!!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Christina - You're so welcome. It's always fun to get a  new tip!

texas thimble said:
texas thimble's picture

These are great tips. One of my favorite tips is to use my even feed foot for almost all my sewing. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@texas thimble -- Good one - that is such a great foot for so many situations. 

Christina in FL said:
Christina in FL's picture

Texas Thimble, I agree with youf 100%.  I recently forgot to take off my even feed foot and am loving using it a lot of the time. :)  

PineBaroness said:
PineBaroness's picture

Thanks for the tips. I especially like the one about finishing the edges before you sew the seam and using decorative  thread. I'm going to adopt that, seems so much easier :-)

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ PineBaroness - So glad this gave you an idea to take onboard!

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