Have a read of a new post on my blog about how to organise your bobbins!
Read the full interview here.
You need slightly different pressing tools if you’re dressmaking rather than craft sewing and patchwork. And remember, pressing isn’t simply ironing! It requires more precision, often more heat and a lot more than just an iron and ironing board. Here’s the ideal pressing tool kit:
1 – IRONING BOARD – buy the best you can afford, ironing boards last for years! The 3 crucial qualities in an ironing board are: the size of the ironing surface – as big as possible (!), the height it can be adjusted to – more important if you’re taller than average, being hunched over a short ironing board isn’t pleasant and finally how sturdy it is – rickety ironing boards are dangerous. Here’s a great review of the best ironing boards by Good Housekeeping. My recommended brands: Brabantia
2 – IRON – your iron should not be too lightweight which might go against what you would instinctively look for (lightweight = easy, no aching arms!), but to press well, you need some weight, so a lightweight iron actually means more effort is required from you! Irons are now available with a whole range of high tech materials on the sole plate which can glide over your fabric and also be non-stick (handy when ironing on fusible interfacing), make sure the sole plate also has plenty of steam holes and has a nice long tapered point at the end to make it easier to iron in and around those fiddly bits of your sewing. Also look for a variable steam setting, a long cable and a large water tank. The irons that come with a separate steam generator (that look like they’re sitting on a tank) can be useful but obviously take up more space and the cords tend to be a bit shorter. If you live in an area of the country with hard water, always use ironing water to avoid your iron scaling up and leaving dirty marks when it steams. My recommended brands: TeFal, Rowenta, Morphy Richards.
3 – PRESSING CLOTH – a simple piece of unbleached or white cotton muslin will be the cheapest and most useful addition to your pressing tool kit. It allows you to protect delicate fabrics whilst ironing and will also protect your iron. Place it between your fabric and the iron and always use one when ironing on fusible interfacing. Some people use a tea towel for this job, but it won’t work as well because you need a fairly open weave fabric like muslin which allows the heat to pass through it, tea towels are too densely woven and will simply block most of the heat.
4 – SLEEVE BOARD – might look like a luxury, but once you have one I guarantee you will use it a lot! They’re not just for sleeves, they’re handy for any awkward to get at bits of pressing such as inside leg seams, pocket openings, cuffs…..see what I mean?! They’re a bit harder to get hold of than ironing boards, but not if you shop online – you can even find them on the John Lewis website. Sleeve rolls are a good alternative – these are long sausage shaped objects filled with sawdust to make them more sturdy. I’ve even heard of people using rolling pins wrapped in a towel! My recommended brands: Minky, Brabantia, Prym or look for a nice vintage wooden one.
5 – TAILOR’S HAM – so-called because of its ham-like shape, this is another tool that once you have, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without! Stuffed with sawdust to make it solid and compact, a tailor’s ham really is the best thing for pressing darts and any curved, awkward to get at areas of your garment while maintaining their shape. Choose one that is a reasonable size (get an idea of scale from my photo) and make sure one side is covered with a slightly hairy wool (usually checked) and the other in a smooth cotton for pressing different types of fabric. I don’t really have a preferred brand for these as there are so few making them, have a look at some of the shops listed at the end of this post, most of them stock tailor’s hams.
6 – IRONING BOARD COVER – a padded base on your ironing board covered with a reflective cover gives the best surface for pressing. A bit of padding supports your fabric and reflective covers have multiple benefits: they reflect the heat from the iron back into the fabric for a thorough press, won’t absorb spills and leaks of water from your iron and are easy to clean (things tend not to stick to them, unlike fabric covers). My recommended brands: Lakeland have a separate padded base, Brabantia for reflective covers.
Where to buy?
Here are some online shops (some that also have bricks and mortar shops) that I’ve found to be good sources for pressing tools and equipment:
Next in this series on tools and equipment a question that keeps cropping up from my students: Should I buy a mannequin?
1 – FABRIC SCISSORS – choose a specialist pair of dressmaking scissors that will have long blades and angled handles allowing the scissors to stay close to the table without lifting your fabric too much. DON’T USE THEM FOR ANYTHING BUT FABRIC!!! Recommended brands: Fiskars, Mundial, Kai
2 – PAPER SCISSORS – again, I prefer a pair with long blades and angled handles to make cutting patterns easier. You can relegate a pair of fabric scissors that have been abused for this job! No brands to recommend, although mine are Fiskars and are sharp and comfortable to use.
3 – SMALL SHARP POINTED SCISSORS – for cutting threads while working on your sewing machine, tidying thread ends on garments and the inevitable unpicking. They should have a very sharp point and like your fabric scissors SHOULD NOT BE USED FOR ANYTHING ELSE!!! Recommended brands: Fiskars, Kai, Hemline embroidery scissors.
4 – UNPICKER – handy, but I don’t always recommend them to students because it’s very easy to slip when using one and gouge a chunk out of your fabric (or your finger!). I prefer small scissors for unpicking and removing tacking stitches (see no. 3), but unpickers are useful for cutting open buttonholes. You will usually get one with your sewing machine or you can buy one from any sewing shop. Clover make quite nice fancy ones if you’re that way inclined…..!
5 – FORCEPS OR TWEEZERS – really useful for removing those stubborn tacking stitches (or any stitches for that matter) that just refuse to budge and fiddly awkward to get at bits of work on your sewing machine.
6 – SEAM & HEM GAUGE – gauges like this make quick and easy work of marking seam and hem allowances rather than wrestling with a tape measure. You can buy cm and inch versions of mine online here, others are available!
7 – TOE DIVIDERS (!) – no I haven’t gone mad, this was a fantastic idea I originally saw on Pinterest. Toe dividers are the perfect size and shape for keeping your bobbins neat and tidy!
8 – LOOP TURNER – when you’re making narrow fabric loops or strips, this is a useful gadget for turning those tubes of fabric back through to the right side. Available from all sewing shops.
9 – BLUNT KNITTING NEEDLE – great for poking out corners and so much better to use for this job than scissors, which I’m sure some of you will be guilty of!
10 – TAILOR’S CHALK – some people don’t like using the lumps of tailor’s chalk as they get blunt quickly. I find them good for some jobs and you can sharpen them – either buy a special chalk sharpener (yes they do exist – just search online for “tailors chalk sharpener”) or run scissors along either side of the edge (obviously not your fabric scissors!). Recommended brands: Hancocks, Prymm.
11 – CHALK PENCILS / PENS – for those who don’t like the lumps of chalk you can get various forms of chalk pencils. Some are just like ordinary pencils that you sharpen, but I often find these a bit too hard and can really drag some fabrics. I prefer these style of mechanical chalk pencils that you can buy refill leads for. Recommended brands: Hoechstmass, Sewline.
12 – CHACO LINERS – these are great for precision marking and for use on delicate fabrics that are easily dragged by chalk pencils, eg. silks, lightweight jerseys. The marks do rub off easily though as the marker uses chalk dust.
13 – HAND SEWING NEEDLES – have a pack of mixed sizes – “sharps” are the name of general purpose hand sewing needles. Avoid the cheap packs of generic needles as these can be blunt and have small snags on them which makes sewing with them extremely unpleasant. Recommended brands: Hemline, Clover, Prymm.
14 – PINS & MAGNETIC PIN CUSHION – pins can sound like an obvious one, but they’re one of my biggest bugbears – there’s nothing worse than pins that are too short / thick / old and rusty. I prefer to work with the longer length dressmaking pins and don’t recommend going shorter than 30mm or thicker than 0.6mm. I don’t need to say much about a magnetic pincushion – it does what it says on the tin. I’m a new convert and I don’t know how I ever managed without one! No more scrabbling around on the floor picking up dropped pins. Recommended brands: Prymm, Clover.
15 – THREAD – you can use any old thread for hand tacking, but choose a bright colour so you can see it easily to remove it. For your machine always choose branded threads, cheap threads can cause endless machine problems. For lots of detailed guidance on choosing the right thread for the right job, have a look at my previous blog post here.
Where to buy?
Here are some online shops (some that also have bricks and mortar shops) that I’ve found to be good sources for tools and equipment:
What about Sewing Machines?
So obviously the biggest, most important and most expensive bit of kit is your sewing machine! If you don’t have one yet and are feeling daunted by the choice and range of advice available, have a read of my no-nonsense, completely un-biased guide here.
Next in this series on Tools & Equipment, I’ll guide you through all the essential pressing kit you should have.
At last, my neon orange sewing and pattern cutting tools are now available online from my Etsy shop: www.etsy.com/shop/miycollection
The little sewing tool available in cm’s and inches is £10, the big pattern cutting ruler (in cm’s only) is £16, or you can buy a set for £23, all with free P&P in the UK! Go on, treat yourself (or that stitchy friend of yours).
Fancy winning a set of my new zingy orange sewing and pattern cutting tools?!
Enter my free competition over at MIY Collection here.
Many sewers both new and experienced are unnecessarily scared of sewing stretch knit fabrics.
Most knit-phobes believe these popular myths about sewing knits:
None of these statements are true! Let’s go through them again and tell you the truth:
So, hopefully I’ve made a start at converting you and you’re willing to have a try. The first thing I’ll show you is some stitches to use for seams. I’ll go through hems and finishing edges in separate posts.
The first thing you need for any machine is:
a pack of jersey or ballpoint needles. They’re a bit more blunt on the end than a regular sewing needle meaning that they won’t ladder the knitted structure of the fabric. You can see they also come in different sizes like regular sewing needles.
Here’s a guide for which size will best suit which fabric:
70 – very lightweight silk or viscose jersey
80 – light t-shirt weight cotton jersey
90 – interlock, ponte roma, some cut and sew knits.
MACHINE SETTINGS FOR SEAMS
The first and easiest stitch to use for seams is the stretch straight stitch:
A stitch we use a lot for sewing knit fabrics in my classes is the overlock stitch:
This stitch mimics an overlock stitch and can join the seam and neaten the edges in one go. You can trim off the excess seam allowance close to the stitching as shown in the second picture. The seam then has to be pressed flat to one side rather than open, so it’s not suitable for more bulky fabrics. It works well on most t-shirt weight jerseys.
The final stitch for seams is the narrow overlock stitch used with an overcasting or overlock foot. (See this blog post for more about what an overcasting foot is and how to use it).
This stitch again joins the seam and neatens the edge of the seam allowance in one go. By also using the overcasting foot it means you don’t need to then trim off the excess seam allowance after sewing. It also means though that you can only use it on narrow seam allowances (the overall width of the stitch). It’s another stitch that results in a seam that has to be pressed to one side and gives a nice neat finish to lightweight jersey fabrics. It’s not suited to heavier and thicker knits.
PRESSER FOOT PRESSURE
If your sewing machine has the ability to adjust the presser foot pressure, this can be helpful when sewing some knit fabrics to stop them being stretched by the machine as you sew. You can read more about how to adjust the presser foot pressure in this blog post.
As with all sewing, make sure the tension on your machine is set at the right level for the fabric you’re sewing. If your machine’s tension dial goes up to 9, 4 should be fine for joining two layers of most medium weight woven fabrics. A lower number means a looser stitch which you need for lighter weight fabric or fewer layers. A higher number means a tighter stitch which you need for thicker fabrics or more layers. You shouldn’t need to adjust the tension up or down by more than one number, meaning you will usually stay within the range of 3-5.
Most lighter weight knit fabrics eg. t-shirt jersey and lighter need a looser tension of around 3.
So there you are – how to sew seams in a range of knitted fabrics on your sewing machine. I hope you’re turning from a knit-phobe into a knit-fan! In my next article I’ll show you how to get nice hem finishes on knit fabrics using a sewing machine.