Today, we have a very special guest post from local sewing legend, Sharon Blair. Sharon runs Portland Sewing, where she and her faculty teach a wide range of classes including industrial techniques. I had the pleasure of meeting Sharon recently and asked her to fill us in on some tips home sewers can take away from industry practices. -Sarai
I like to sew. I call it my “Zen.” It relaxes me. But like everyone, I like to get done quickly and create a garment that fits and looks professionally made.
That’s what sewing with an industrial machine can do for you. They can sew faster. Industrial machines sew up to 6500 stitches per minute. A home sewing machine sews 250 to 1000. A knee lift keeps your hands free to work the fabric. The needle makes a crisp stitch for a clean finished look.
But there are many other techniques from the industry you can use to improve your sewing and the look of your garments without buying the machine. Here are fifteen:
- Change your seam allowances. Reduce seam allowances on enclosed seams to 1⁄4”. The 5/8” seam allowances on home sewing patterns are too bulky for collars, cuffs, plackets, facing and waistbands. Reducing saves time trimming, grading, notching and clipping the seams after sewing. It makes for a smoother look for your seams.
- Use 1/8” nips to mark your notches. Don’t waste time cutting diamond shapes. Nips are more accurate and less likely to fray or weaken the seam.
- Cut cleanly. Find the largest table in your house. Claim it for your cutting table. Invest in a rotary cutter and a rotary mat to fit the table.
- Cut your pattern to the cutting line. Press it flat.
- Don’t pin the pattern to the fabric. Instead, hold the pattern down on the fabric with weights.
- Block your work. Fit and alter your pattern. Collect everything you’ll need to sew the garment: Zippers, thread, buttons. Put these notions in a bag.
- Cut and mark pieces all at once. Fuse a piece of fabric large enough for all your interfaced pieces then cut those. Tie all the pieces together in a bundle with the pattern and bag of notions.
- Sew continuously. Butt pieces end to end and stitch from one seam to another. Cut them apart when you get to the pressing station.
- Sew as many seams as possible before pressing. Stop sewing only when you have to cross another seam that should be pressed open first.
- Perform similar operations at the same time and sew flat. Sew the details first. Set these aside. Then start assembling the garment. Complete as much as you can before joining side seams. Sewing in a tube is more time consuming than sewing flat.
- Sew buttonholes first and use them to mark the location for buttons. Cut buttonholes open with a punch instead of a seam ripper.
- Don’t pin. Pins slow you down, distort your seams and damage your needle. Instead use both hands to sew. Match the corners at the beginning and end of your seams then keep your raw edges matched as you sew.
- Press. Press all your seams open on woven garments before any other pressing or stitching over them. Use a steam iron. Even better, use a clapper to push the steam into the seam for a clean, flat look. Use a press cloth on the garment’s right side.
- For the final press, press the details first — collars, cuffs, and waistbands — then sleeves then the body. Press buttons from the wrong side. Let pressed areas cool before moving on to the next section.
- Build yourself a pressing station from a hunk of plywood covered with wool and muslin, if you have space. This is wider than an ironing board and will keep your garment from hanging over the edges while pressing.
There are so many other fun and interesting techniques to use when making a professional garment. To learn more, including how to sew with an industrial machine, sign up for one of our classes. Fall classes begin the week of Sept. 17 on portlandsewing.com
Fashion entrepreneur, designer and writer Sharon Blair studied couture sewing in Paris. She has a bachelors and a masters and advanced studies in apparel. Her apparel life began more than 20 years ago in a custom clothing business. She now offers two lines of clothing: StudioSKB and SKPDX and oversees two others: A womenswear line called Wandering Muse and a menswear line called Chicago Harper.
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