Do you struggle with getting the perfect fit, even though you have a dress form in your size? You’re not alone. As if it weren’t bad enough that the fashion industry tries to stuff us all into 10 measly different sizes. We can’t even fit our own clothes on a dummy that’s shaped just right. Even adjustable models can’t always get a perfect fit without a little help.

There are a couple of solutions to this problem, the first being to make yourself a duct-tape dummy. I’ve written about why I don’t like this solution before. But I just came across an ingenious product that makes changing shape and size on any dress form a breeze–the Fabulous Fit Dress Form System.

As any seamstress knows, just because the size is right doesn’t mean the shape is right, especially for us curvy gals with generous bust and hips. So, we cut up foam and tape it on, trying to get just the right shape. It’s messy, and not great if we have to keep changing sizes to sew for clients. Well this handy little system makes getting a perfect fit really easy.

How it works:

The system comes with a variety of anatomically shaped pads and two stretchy covers to hold the pads in place. All you have to is slip the cover over your dress form and then slide the pads in place until you get the perfect silouette. That’s it! Piece of cake.

Although Fabulous Fit does sell their own dress dummies, the system works on any brand or model, including Dritz, Uniquely You, Singer, PGM and the rest.

Who should use this system?

Anyone who has  a hard time fitting themselves.

“I never thought that I could make my dress form look like me. My body is curvy and I wear a size 14-16., so I didn’t think it was going to be easy to create a duplicate of my body. I was wrong! I had to alter a few areas, but in the end it paid off. I was able to do this from my Dritz adjustable dress form. Easy to learn and use. Definitely worth it! “ Sabrina Soto, Brooklyn NY (source: Amazon)

Anyone who doesn’t want to do multiple fittings when sewing for others.

“I work on several sizes from 2 to 18 and there is no need for my clients to have more than one fitting. I highly recommend it. It will save you hours of fitting frustration.” –Aelicia (source: Amazon)

Anyone who changes sizes now and then.

“I have one, too and love it because I can change it when my body changes. I seem to be shifting weight lately for some reason–no weight gain or loss, and I know I can adjust my dress form to conform.” OP (source: patternreview.com)

Professionals who want to look like a genius to their clients.

“I sew for a living and wish I would have found this system twenty years ago!! It saves my customers the trouble of having to put up with a lot of fittings and it makes me look like a great dressmaker because the dress fits the first time.”–Lainee (source: Amazon)

Could you use a little extra help getting a perfect fit?

I know these little babies are going on a hook right next to my fitting area, so they’re always within reach. At $69, Amazon usually has the best price on these dress form pads. And I know for me, it’s a small price to pay for easy, happy fittings every time.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about comments people are making on Twitter and Facebook. It’s just amazing how many reasons people have for wanting to learn how to sew. Some people want to make curtains and cute home decor items. Some people want a creative outlet or something to do that doesn’t involve a computer or TV screen. Lots of people, it seems, are obsessed with learning to sew in order to make their own clothing.When I ask them why they want to do that, I get a few responses over and over.

I want to sew my own clothes because I don’t like the fashions in the stores.

This is a great reason to learn sewing. It’s tremendously satisfying to see an image of a dress or fancy jacket in your head and then be able to reproduce it. You don’t need grand schemes to be the next Donna Karan or YSL, for most people it’s enough to be able to make clothing for themselves and their loved ones. But just learning the basics of sewing isn’t going to get you where you want to go. You also need to understand how clothes are put together. How do you take a two-dimensional pattern piece and create a three-dimensional shape that fits with other shapes to make a whole garment? It’s not difficult, but it does take some study. You’ll want to learn draping (how to create pattern pieces using a real body or dress form.) Pattern drafting is a useful skill, too, but unnecessary unless you plan to reproduce your designs over and over.

I want to sew my own clothes because nothing in the stores fits me.

Another great reason to learn sewing. Mass manufactured clothing is designed to fit an “average” shape in average sizes. The funny thing is almost no-one fits the average. And we all have features we like to show off or hide. Unfortunately, this season’s styles in the stores may accentuate what you wanted to minimize. It’s so frustrating to finally find a blouse style that looks amazing on you, only to have it disappear from stores for the next 12 years. Again, studying draping and fitting techniques will serve you well once you’ve graduated beyond pillow cases and curtains.  Commercial patterns are a good start, but you’ll soon find that they, too, are made for “average” sizes. So, it’s important to know how to modify patterns to fit *your* body.

I want to sew to save money.

This is a toughie. Sewing your own clothes often ends up costing you more money than just purchasing a similar item in the stores. Fabric by the yard isn’t cheap, and if you make mistakes or buy too much fabric, that’s even more expensive. You also have to factor in thread, needles, interfacing, patterns and a host of other supplies. Manufacturers can sell garments cheaply partly because they purchase all their supplies in massive quantities, which reduces the overall cost.

This doesn’t mean you can’t save money by learning to sew. You just have to be smart about it.

1) Get the highest quality sewing machine you can afford. You want it to last a long time and have little or no issues that require repairs.

2) Recycle fabrics as much as possible. Yard sales, thrift stores and your friends’ closets are a great source of cheap (or free) fabric. You don’t have to start with fabric by the yard. You can easily cut up old clothes and use them to make brand new items. Some of my favorite garments came from old blue jeans that didn’t fit me anymore. Old bedspreads can turn into beautiful skirts. Even stained or worn-out items can become pillow stuffing or quilt filling. The next time you go out to buy fabric, especially when you’re just learning, try to think of a way to reuse some fabric that might be lying around.

3) Reuse notions like buttons, hooks and eyes and zippers. Before you recycle any fabric or throw away a worn-out garment, strip it of all useful pieces. Buttons, especially, really add up when you have to buy them new.

So what about you? Why do you want to sew your own clothes? And what tips do you have that might help a beginning seamstress? Give us a comment, won’t you?

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I hate throwing fabric away. There are lots of great uses for scraps. But I use so much fabric, my scrap pile can sometimes get out of control and threaten mutiny. Keep those little soldiers in line by making a conscious effort to use them up whenever possible. Or better yet, get rid of whole baskets full at a time. Clear out the old and make room for the new. Here are a few ways to use up your scraps in a big way. Remember, anything more than a half-yard isn’t a scrap. Cut off the small bits, fold it up and put it on your shelf. (Your yardage limit may vary. Especially if you’re a quilter or make small items.)

Make a true patchwork quilt.

None of this matchy-matchy, fancy patterned quilts. Just cut up your scraps and sew ’em together. If you’re not into finishing quilts, you can donate sewn quilt tops to a variety of charity quilt programs.

Use fabric scraps for stuffing.

Whenever I need to stuff a pillow, a toy, even a duct-tape dress form, I try to use up scraps of fabric that are really too small to do anything with. Snips and clips of leftovers can be stored in one bag, so you can just reach in and pull out the amount of stuffing you need.

Use fabric scraps instead of styrofoam when shipping packages.

This is a great one, especially around holiday time. When you have to ship something delicate, just pad around the object with your scrap fabric. Don’t use too much, though, or you’ll wind up paying a bundle for extra shipping.

Use natural fiber scraps as firestarter.

I live in northern New England, so I’m constantly starting fires in our wood stove five or six months out of the year. I take linen or cotton scraps and wind them into a tight roll. Dip them in melted wax (recycled from old candle stubs.) Let them dray and keep them by the wood pile. The wax helps the fabric burn a long time, so I need less kindling.

Donate your extras:

Here are a few places to drop off larger sized scraps. If these places say they don’t use fabric, offer to teach a class for them.

  • Theater costume departments
  • Schools–either to art classes, sewing classes or a theater department
  • Pre-schools or daycare centers
  • Retirement homes
  • Scouts or after-school programs
  • Sunday school programs

If you sew regularly and find you often have an unruly scrap pile, make it a habit to get rid of all of it at least once a year. Don’t feel guilty or sad, just do it. The new empty space in your sewing room will give you peace of mind. Besides, it’ll be full of new scraps in a month or two anyway.

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Choose the right thread for your project

We’ve discussed the need for high quality thread before.  It’s necessary to prevent your machine from acting up and causing you headaches. But how do you know if a thread is high quality? And what if you use *a lot* of thread for serging? Do you have to spend a fortune on expensive thread?

Choosing sewing thread shouldn’t be rocket science, but sometimes it feels that way. Just like with needles, there are different sizing systems in Europe and America, and the manufacturers usually put both types on a spool. So it can be really confusing. Here’s a rundown of the basic information you need to know:

You have five main types of thread to choose from: cotton, nylon, silk, polyester and cotton-wrapped polyester. And they fall in to three basic categories: general purpose, heavy duty and decorative.

For general sewing and serging you have the most choice.

Here are the basic recommendations for light to medium weight fabrics.

Cotton:

  • Size 50
  • Mercerized
  • Good for woven cottons, rayons and linens
  • Unsuitable for knits

Silk:

  • Size A
  • Good for sewing silks and wools
  • Also good for knits

Nylon:

  • Size A
  • Good for sewing synthetics-woven and knit

Polyester:

  • Size 50
  • Good for sewing all fabrics, any fibers, knits or wovens

Cotton-wrapped Polyester:

  • Size 50
  • All-purpose thread for sewing any type fabric

For heavy-duty sewing on things like canvas, vinyl, leather or upholstery fabrics you need a heavier weight thread. Size 40 is the most common for heavier sewing, and you can find it in all the fibers listed above.

How to tell if your thread is damaged.

Light will cause thread to deteriorate. And the cheaper the thread, the faster it goes bad. Hold a strand up to the light and look at the fibers. If the thread is smooth and strong, you’re good to go. If you see all sorts of fuzzy bits or the thread seems rough, throw it out. It’s no good to anyone, not even for hand sewing. Store your thread in a light-proof container to keep it in good condition.

Thread conditioner can help.

You can also use thread conditioner to smooth out questionable threads.  If you’re sewing by hand, just run the strand through some beeswax to lubricate. If you’re sewing by machine, especially industrial sewing, you can purchase special containers for silicone liquid thread conditioner. The container sits near your machine and the thread runs through it to be coated with the conditioner before winding its way through your machine.

Decorative threads need special care.

There are all sorts of specialty threads from sparkly metallics to shiny nylon and silk for embroidery machines. These can shred and cause all sorts of problems if you don’t pay close attention. Make sure your machine is designed to handle decorative threads. Usually, all you have to do is change to a special needle with a wider groove down the shaft. They make needles especially for metallic thread and embroidery thread. You may also need to use a stabilizer or embroidery hoop with your fabric when sewing with specialty threads.

Experiment to find your favorite threads.

Everyone has their favorite thread they buy all the time. Some people swear they never ever use cotton thread, and others do just fine with it. The truth is every sewing machine and ever fabric has a different tolerance for what type of thread it will take. So, experiment with different levels. Personally, I use a lot of thread because I do a ton of serging. After lots of experimenting, I’ve found my Viking Huskylock does just fine with the cones of thread I can buy at my local fabric store. It’s not the cheap “5 spools for a buck” thread, but it’s not the highest quality either. But my machine is happy with it, so I’m happy.

Remember that 90% of sewing machine problems happen because of the thread or needles. Before you get angry or frustrated at your machine, try a different thread. It might just save you time, money and headaches.

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Faux sequin fabric

Now that Halloween’s over, I’ve had a chance to talk with some people about their experiences with sewing costumes. Many of them used “glitter dot” fabric (that polyester stuff with the mylar dots glued on) and said they were so frustrated sewing with it. The needle gets stuck; the dots come off on your iron; they gum up your machine. One person even said “why do they even sell this stuff if you can’t use it?”

I’m right there with you. Sewing dance and skating costumes for so many years, I can’t help but sew with glitter dot now and then. The main reason people have a hard time sewing this stuff is that the heat and friction from the sewing process melt the glue and release the dots. Fortunately, there are a few tricks that help make the process easier.

1) Use a fresh sharp needle, even though the fabric itself is a knit. A ball-point needle won’t penetrate the dots, or at least not gracefully.

2) Lubricate the needle with a silicon liquid like Sewer’s Aid (available in the notions section of your local fabric store.) If you’re in a pinch, you can just rub candle wax on the needle.

3) Use a high quality thread (that hasn’t been sitting in the sun.)

4) Don’t press unless you have to, and then use low heat and only on the back side of the fabric (and use a pressing cloth.) Heat softens the glue and melts the dots. It’s a mess you really don’t want to deal with.

5) Try to sew most of your seams “right sides together” so the dots can’t escape onto your needle. If you have to topstitch, you might want to use some wash away stabilizer over the dots. Then just rinse it away when you’re done sewing.

6) Sew as slowly as you can, to avoid heating up the glue.

7) If the needle becomes gunky with glue build-up, you can use rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover to clean the needle (don’t forget to reapply the lubricant.)

When you’re finished with the project, discard your needle and give your machine a good cleaning out. You don’t want any stray dots or fuzz to stay inside the mechanical parts. Do you have any tricks for sewing with glitter dot? Share them with us in the comments.

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Book Review: 1,000 Clever Sewing Shortcuts & Tips

November 2, 2010

I’ve known about this book for a while now, and finally had a good look at it this week. What a treasure! It’s like having your own private sewing teacher on hand all the time. Hundreds of sewing teachers, actually, because the book is mostly written by regular visitors to PatternReview.com.  The book takes the […]

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What is a Walking Foot?

November 1, 2010

Sometimes when you sew multiple layers of fabric, like with quilting or upholstery work, you’ll notice the layers tend to go together unevenly. It’s incredibly frustrating as you sew and unsew seam after seam. Sometimes you can just add a ton of pins along the seam to stop this, but it’s much more efficient to […]

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Ergonomics for Pain Free Sewing

October 29, 2010

It shouldn’t hurt to sew. You probably know the feeling you get after a long stretch of sewing–the aches and pains in your back, the stiff joints, the eye-strain and headaches. Not unlike how I feel after too long at the computer, actually. Here are some reminders to help you stay healthy and pain free […]

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Lessons on Buying Fabric Online

October 28, 2010

Okay, so I learned the hard way. A few years ago, I ordered eight yards of the most gorgeous red heavy silkish fabric I’d ever seen. As I looked at it on my computer, I could see the very dress I was going to make with it. Maybe even a long jacket. Eagerly, I filled […]

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What in the World is a Wing Needle?

October 27, 2010

Most of the time you want to avoid making holes in your fabric as you sew. But occasionally holes can make a nice decorative touch. That’s what a wing needle is for. It’s a regular sewing machine needle on top, but down by the eye it has two protruding wings. The wings work like an […]

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