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Tips & Tricks
Tips & Tricks

Threads magazine is the premier resource for people who love to sew. It is filled with easy-to-follow how-to information and inspiring ideas that enhance your sewing experience—like these tips, which are adapted from its pages. We'll post new tips from time to time, so be sure to visit again.

Floss Threading

Floss Threading
Because I have macular degeneration, I have trouble threading needles, especially sewing machine needles. I have tried several products for this purpose, but I’ve found that Butler G-U-M Eez-Thru Floss Threaders (designed for use when flossing around crowns and under bridges) are better than any of them. They’re available for about a dollar in most drug store dental-care departments. They come in packs of 25 and are thin and flexible, yet rigid enough to push through the eye of a needle – even a machine or sewing needle with a relatively small eye! If the needle eye is particularly small, I cut the straight end of the floss threader at an angle to help ease it through. Once the straight end of the threader is through the eye, I simply place my thread end through the circular opening at the opposite end. I pull the threader all the way through the eye, along with the thread. When the floss threader is removed, the sewing thread is successfully placed in the needle. Threading needles is no longer a struggle!

—F. Lois Larson

Taken from “Tips” in Threads magazine, July 2009, issue No. 143, pg. 14; photos; Sloan Howard. ©2009 The Taunton Press, Inc.

  • Simple Iron Cleanup
    If you’ve ever touched interfacing or synthetic fabrics with a hot iron, you are familiar with the sticky, messy residue that forms instantly on your iron’s sole plate. I’ve found that rubbing the surface with a cloth or paper towel moistened with cooking oil will clean it very inexpensively. Rub the cooled iron plate until the surface is free of sticky residue. Then wipe it with a cloth moistened with dish detergent or liquid soap. Finish it with a wet cloth using water only. Before using the iron on good fabric, heat it up, and run it over an old cloth a few times. This technique works, and you won’t have to buy any special products.

    —Lesley Tucker

    Taken from “Tips” in Threads magazine, July 2008, issue No. 137, p. 84; ©2008 The Taunton Press, Inc.
  • Identical Body Double
    Adjustable dress forms have some modification limitations, and sometimes it isn’t possible to fine-tune them to produce an exact body double. I found a way to get around this problem by adding to my dial-a-body form to get an identical duplicate of my every curve. It was a three-part process.
    First, I adjusted my dress form to reflect my measurements as closely as possible, choosing a smaller setting if the form wasn’t exact. Second, with a friend’s help, I made a “cover” for my dress form that perfectly duplicated my every curve. I finished the task by stuffing the empty spaces between the cover and my form – areas where the dress form’s dialing mechanism wasn’t able to accurately duplicate my curves. Here’s the step-by-step process I followed.
    Using normal foundation garments, I wore an oversized t-shirt. My assistant cut away the excess fabric under the arms and at the sides, and cut the sleeves so that only small caps remained. Using strips of duct tape, she taped the t-shirt to me, overlapping the tape as she worked. She taped every square inch of my torso until the duct tape securely covered and molded my entire upper body, forming a body shell. The t-shirt underneath the duct tape protected my body from the tape, and ultimately made the shell easy to remove.
    Next she cut a slit up the back of the duct tape, cutting through the t-shirt as well. I carefully slipped out of the shell and placed it on my dress form. Using short pieces of duct tape, I reattached the cut back of the shell as if it had never been cut, ignoring areas where the shell was larger than the form. If the cut edges weren’t able to butt, I reduced the size of the dress form in that location to allow the edges to meet. Then I used old plastic grocery bags (although batting would also have worked) and slid them under the shell to pad the defined body shape where needed.
    Once the shell was completely stuffed where needed, I measured the standard areas of bust, waist, etc., again and adjusted the duct tape along the back seam as needed to tweak the measurements. The dress form is now a perfect representation of my body, and if I should gain or lose weight, I’ll just invite my assistant over for lunch and pad my dress form with the “new” me.

    —Anne K. Brenz

    Taken from “Tips” in Threads magazine, September 2009, issue No. 144, p. 16; ©2009 The Taunton Press, Inc.
  • Spiral Bobbin
    When my husband cleaned out some of his paperwork, a notebook with a plastic, spiral looking closure was unearthed. When I examined the closure more carefully, I realized it was not a spiral at all; each section of the binding was a separate plastic tab curled back around itself to hold the pages in place. The binding was easy to remove from the paperwork, and I found that I could use it to store my bobbins and hold their loose threads in place. Simply insert a filled bobbin into one of the tabs, and then wrap the binding around the bobbin. Turn the bobbin to secure the thread tail. There are up to 25 tabs on each binder strip, and they’re easy to store with my notions. I can leave the tabs connected and store my bobbins in one strip, or I can use scissors to cut the tabs apart. These binder combs can be purchased inexpensively at stationary supply stores. I’ve found that smaller diameter bindings (3/8 inch or 1/2 inch) are the best fit.

    —Elizabeth Martin

    Taken from “Tips” in Threads magazine, January 2009, issue No. 140, p. 25; photo: Sloan Howard. ©2009 The Taunton Press, Inc.
  • Tame Slippery Fabric
    When I work with slippery, hard-to-handle fabrics, I cover my sewing table with Rubbermaid rubber grip. It comes in rolls and is normally used to prevent plates and similar items from sliding around. It’s inexpensive and leaves no residue (unlike flannel, which leaves fuzz). In addition, it’s easy to store when not in use.

    —Carla Leinbach

    Taken from “Tips” in Threads magazine, March 2009, issue No. 141, p. 18; ©2009 The Taunton Press, Inc.
  • Trim and Elastic Storage
    I store shorter pieces of ribbon and trim on the empty thread spools I accumulate as a by-product of sewing. The filled spools fit on my spool rack in plain sight so I know what I have on hand, but they could be stored any place thread is stored. I mark the length directly on the spool top before wrapping the trim around it. That way I don’t have to unroll the piece to consider it for a project.

    —Emily McNamara

    Taken from “Tips” in Threads magazine, May 2009, issue no. 142, p. 16; ©2009 The Taunton Press, Inc.
  • Digital Design Record
    I use my digital camera to record and compare design ideas after I’ve completed the fitting muslin for a garment I’m making. Recently, I was designing a new collar for a camp shirt. I constructed the first collar idea, sewed it to my muslin, put the muslin on my dress form, and snapped a photo with my digital camera. Then I removed the collar muslin, constructed the second collar idea, attached it to the muslin, put the muslin on the dress form, and snapped another photo. This allows me to review the photos using the camera itself or print the photos so that I can compare them side by side. This method can be used to compare sleeve designs or pocket placement at the muslin stage and button choices as the final garment is being constructed. It’s almost as good as having two finished garments to work with!

    —Claudie Chan

    Taken from “Tips” in Threads magazine, July 2008, issue No. 137, p. 83; ©2008 The Taunton Press, Inc.
  • Prevent Disappearing Ink from Vanishing
    I was recently measuring and marking topstitching lines on a bag I was making using an air-soluble, disappearing purple-ink marking pen. Time got away from me, and I realized I had to leave my sewing room for an appointment. I didn’t want my marks to disappear while I was gone, so I applied a strip of Scotch Magic Tape over each mark, hoping the marks would remain. When I returned to my sewing room the next afternoon, I was thrilled to find every mark as bright as it had been the day before, and the tape pulled off without leaving any residue. It took me much less time to remove the tape than it would have to reconstruct the marks, and I was able to finish the bag in no time!

    —Norma Bucko

    Taken from “Tips” in Threads magazine, May 2009, issue No. 142, p. 18; ©2009 The Taunton Press, Inc.
  • Freezer Paper Strengthens Patterns
    After constructing several garments from the same pattern, the tissue pieces are often in tatters. In order to make them durable again, I iron each piece and seal the largest tears with tape. I then iron freezer paper to the back side of each piece, overlapping sheets for especially large pattern pieces. The freezer paper sticks to the tissue without adhesive and makes the flimsy tissue patterns nearly indestructible. They remain lightweight enough to fold and store, without the hassle of tracing each piece. Now, whenever I purchase a new pattern, I iron freezer paper to the back of the pattern sheet even before I cut out the pieces. It’s a quick and easy step that I know will keep my patterns in great shape for many years and many garments.

    —Wylie Beckert

    Taken from “Tips” in Threads magazine, May 2009, issue No. 142, p. 20; ©2009 The Taunton Press, Inc.
  • Straighten Your Fabric’s Grain
    I found that masking tape is helpful when I want to fold my fabric selvage to selvage and straighten the grain prior to cutting, particularly if I’m working with a slippery fabric. I start by placing a strip of masking tape on the fabric’s cross-grain at one cut end. Then I tape one selvage to the long side of my cutting table. I can fold the fabric in half lengthwise and align the opposite selvages without shifting. Once the fabric is folded, I can compare the cross-grain tape positions to determine how closely the fabric is on- or off- grain. If I need to make an adjustment by shifting the fabric, the tape is a helpful guide and makes it easy to straighten the grain.

    —Marjorie DeBenedictis

    Taken from “Tips” in Threads magazine, July 2009, issue No. 143, p. 14; ©2009 The Taunton Press, Inc.
  • Add Stretch to Fringe
    I wanted to add ready-made fringe to the bottom edge of a Latin ballroom dance dress I recently made. The dress was made of stretchy fabric, but the edge of the fringe had no stretch to it, and I didn’t want the fringe to affect the stretchiness of the hem. Despite my experiments, I was unable to tame the fly-away fringe well enough to neatly affix it, until I discovered that attaching masking tape on each side of the fringe prevented it from flopping around and made it easier to work with. Then to give the fringe stretch, I folded the raw hem edge over the finished woven (non-stretchy) fringe edge with the dress and fringe right sides together and the dress on top. I serged along the inside edge of the fringe biding using a three-thread serger seam. I made sure the cutter removed the woven edge of the fringe and the stitch length was set short enough to catch all the fringe threads for a new, stretchy fringe edge (a setting of 1.7 was perfect with my machine). When I opened out the fringe, it hung beautifully and the hem edge had plenty of stretch.

    —Ann Ehrlich

    Taken from “Tips” in Threads magazine, March 2007, issue No. 129, p. 16; © 2007 The Taunton Press, Inc.
  • Magnetic Bars keep notions in order
    I hung a magnetic bar I purchased at a home supply store on the wall behind my sewing machine. I put threaded needles there, a single edged razor blade (for rapid ripping), small scissors, etc. It makes these notions simple to store and easy to find.

    —Julienne Lambre
    Tips & Tricks

    Taken from “Tips” in Threads magazine, January 2007, issue No. 110, p. 16; photo: Sloan Howard. © 2006 The Taunton Press, Inc.
  • Pin Fit with Interfacing
    When I buy a new pattern, I cut out the pattern pieces and press lightly; then I affix lightweight interfacing to the pattern pieces with an iron that is just hot enough to adhere interfacing. Pin-fitting is easy with this method because the pattern pieces have body and bend without risk of ripping. I make seam adjustments directly on the pattern as I am fitting it by trimming the seam allowance or adding to it, whichever is appropriate. When I’ve finished I store the pattern in a large Ziploc bag so I can use it again. Despite folding the pattern pieces once or twice, they’re easy to smooth flat when I’m ready for the next project.

    —Retha Meneghini

    Taken from “Tips” in Threads magazine, July 2006, issue No. 125, p. 16. © 2006 The Taunton Press, Inc.
  • Quilt Ruler For Garment Sewing
    Here’s a better way to position pattern pieces quickly along grainlines. I put the pattern on the fabric and place my large clear quilter’s ruler on top of it, lining up one edge of the ruler with the selvage of the fabric. Then, all I have to do is wiggle the pattern until the grainline arrow matches or is parallel to one of the lines on the ruler - no measuring or re-pinning required.

    —Laura Sabban

    Taken from “Tips” in Threads magazine, September 2008, issue No. 138, p. 12; © 2008 The Taunton Press, Inc.
  • Tape Allows Foot to Glide
    When I tried to sew buttonholes on a piped vest, the buttonhole foot kept snagging on the piping as the machine stitched. To eliminate the problem, I covered the buttonhole area with transparent tape that extended to the edge over the piping. Then, I stitched right over the tape. It gave me a smooth surface with no hang-ups - and an unexpected bonus. I could mark the buttonhole placement on the tape and easily reposition it to ensure perfect buttonhole alignment. The needle stitched through the tape easily and the tape came off with no difficulty after the buttonholes were sewn.

    —Debbie Nacewicz

    Taken from “Tips” in Threads magazine, May 2008, issue No. 136, p. 17; © 2008 The Taunton Press, Inc.

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