You may feel like there are a million things to remember when you're sewing. Fortunately, everything is based on one simple task: joining two pieces of fabric with a basic seam. Once you have that down, you're ready to do anything. You'll be chewing gum and sewing in no time.
Step One: Where is My Reverse Button?
Before we start anything, you're going to have to locate the reverse button. Depending on your machine, this button can take many forms. Computerized machines often have a reverse button marked with a something that looks like a U-turn arrow. Mechanical machines traditionally use a lever for reverse.
I know what you're thinking: "I want to sew forward, why do I need the reverse button?" You use the reverse button to create what's called a "back tack." This technique secures the ends of your seam so it doesn't unravel.
Step Two: Pinning and Seam Allowances
- 9.9 times out of ten, you sew your fabric with the right sides together. The "right side" is the front of the fabric.
- Line up the raw (cut) edges and pin the fabric together where the seam will be. Your pins should be at a right angle to the raw edge; that's perpendicular for you math majors.
- Know what seam allowance you want to use. The seam allowance is the distance between the edge of the fabric and the seam. Your project instructions should tell you what seam allowance is recommended. The most common seam allowance is 5/8", although many home decor patterns may call for a ¼" seam. On most machines, you'll find common seam allowance markings on the throat plate. Use these as a guide to maintain the seam allowance width and keep your seam straight.
Step Three: Stitch
- Place your fabric under the needle and lower the presser foot. On most machines, it's not a great idea to start at the very edge. There's not enough fabric for the machine to grab. My Janome is great at starting close to the edge, but some other brands can have a tough time. To be safe, start about ½" from the top edge.
- Turn the handwheel (that's the big knob thing on end of the machine) to lower the needle into the fabric. You don't HAVE to do this, but it's a good idea. The machine will start up more smoothly when the needle is down and it's a good way to make sure the needle is going exactly where you want it.
- Depress the foot pedal slowly, and sew just a few stitches.
- Now press the reverse button/lever. The fabric will begin sewing backward. Slowly stitch a few stitches backward, and then let go of the reverse button/lever.
- Sew straight again, until the end of the seam. (Remember to remove the pins as you sew. It's not good to sew over pins) Sew as slowly as you need, until you feel comfortable.
Note: You'll notice you don't have to push the fabric under the needle, but that the fabric seems to advance magically on its own. The machine contains something called "feed dogs", which are little grippers under the needle that advance the fabric, so it feeds through the machine evenly. I don't know why they're called "dogs" – but it's kinda cute, isn't it?
- When you're almost to the end of your seam, press the reverse button/lever again.
- Sew a few stitches backward, then let go of the button and sew straight off the fabric.
- Stop. Raise the needle. Lift the presser foot. Gently pull out your fabric, cutting the thread free. It's a good practice to take a minute to trim the leftover thread tails at the beginning and the end of the seam. It keeps your work tidy.
- Press your seam open so the seam allowances lie flat against the wrong side of the fabric.
Practice as much as you need until you feel comfortable.
Check your sewing machine manual or visit your dealer to find out more about special feet and tools available to help you maintain a straight seam, like seam guides and the ¼" foot.