Sew, What's New?

Curating sewing and quilting talent, techniques, and tutorials, since 1997.

Are You Sure You Know Where You Are Stitching When You Sew?

By Marian Lewis Are you really sewing 5/8" seams or is it slightly more or less? If you are following the markings on your sewing machine throat plate, I hate to tell you, but they aren't 5/8", etc. The toes of your regular presser foot are not a good guide for 1/4" seams either. Check them out and you will see that they are generally more than 1/4". There is one exception to this that I know of and that is the "little foot" that was made especially for quilters to do 1/4" wide straight stitching only. Machines don't usually come with this foot. It is a special order narrow toed foot. The markings on sewing machines are in centimeters. Why is your machine marked in centimeters? Because they are not manufactured in the United States. They are made overseas and they use the metric system. Our sewing patterns and instructions are in inches. To have sewing success, we must stitch accurately. We need help to identify where the stitches should be. We cannot "eyeball" it and we shouldn't use the centimeter markings if you are stitching in inches. I know that a lot of you believe you are stitching correctly But, I would like you to double check to make sure. Here is a simple way to do that. Drop your needle down and measure out to the markings on your sewing machine with an accurate tape measure. Close is not the answer.
Exact is. I highly recommend that you mark your machines so that you have a clear guide to stitch accurately. I don't particularly like the metal bar type stitching guides as I feel they are too bulky. And, they are'nt really where I need them. I much prefer a flat piece of tape. I always have a tape stitching guide on my machine. You can use any kind of tape you like for this. Some tapes already have ruled markings on them. Or, you can mark your own. I cut a piece of tape about 2-1/2" long. The width of the tape I use is about 3/4" wide.
I place the top end of the tape straight out from the needle with the long edge of the tape 1/2" away from the needle. The tape extends down about 2" in front of the presser foot but still 1/2" from the needle. Yes, I have to lift up the end of the tape to get into my bobbin, but that's OK. I would rather stitch accurately and save myself a lot of headaches later when things won't line up. Then, I mark the tape at 5/8" for my seams. I make a mark at 1" also since I use that often. Sometimes, I use a different color pen for each marking to distinguish one from the other. The tape guide should be 2" in front of the presser foot so that you can start guiding your fabric along your stitching mark long before a stitch is made by the needle. By the time the fabric gets to the needle, it is too late. You need to be guiding the fabric accurately long before it reaches the needle. Watch the tape guide, not the needle! With a tape stitching guide, you will see a great improvement in the accuracy of your stitching.
Other Helpful Tips Usually, I use the "little foot" for 1/4" seams. When I need to sew 3/8" seams, I place tape or mark 3/8" directly on my machine to stitch necklines and curved areas. Of course, I have previously trimmed the pattern to have only a 3/8"' seam there. You will have much more control on curves if you use short stitches and a 3/8" seam allowance at your neckline edges. Remember to prepare your patterns by trimming off 1/4" and leaving 3/8" before you cut out your garment. Make a note to yourself until you get into the habit of stitching necklines at 3/8" instead of 5/8". I use the edge of the tape placed at 1/2" from the needle for staystitching. If I'm making a 3" or 4" hem in something, I will mark the bed of my machine to help me keep it straight. Do whatever it takes to help you. Don't be afraid to use tape stitching guides on your machine to help you stitch accurately.
©2009 Marian Lewis - All Rights Reserved 1st Step To Sewing Success Marian Lewis is a sewing instructor and the creator of an amazing new fitting method for hard-to-fit sewing folks. In her ebook, Common Sense Fitting Method For Hard-To-Fit Sewing Folks, find out step-by-step WHAT you really need and HOW to apply that to a commercial sewing pattern. It just makes sense! Finally, you can sew great fitting pants and end your fitting frustration. Marian is also the author of other eBooks related to sewing including, "Sew A Tee Pee And Accessories For Your Tribe Of Kids" and "Classy Designer Straight Skirt" where she teaches basic and advanced sewing techniques.

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Comment by handwashcold on June 1, 2012 at 8:13pm

Just measured the throat plate markings on my Pfaff Select 4.0 and they are EXACT, both metric & US.

Curious, do patterns in the states not come with both measurements on them?  Here in Canada they do...the only patterns I've ever seen that were only in inches were vintage ones, from back before we switched to the metric system.

Also...don't be afraid to try cm & mm!  They're much more precise than fractions of inches, and you probably already use them anyway because these are the measurements that all machine stitch length is measured in, regardless of where the machine is made.

Comment by Erika M. Yuille on June 22, 2009 at 8:45am
Generally, I use the markings on my Industrial Juki for 1/2" seam allowances. If I use a commercial pattern, I prepare each pattern piece by serging the width of the serger blade (1/8"), now I have 1/2" seam allowances which my instructor at Baltimore City Community College, Sally DiMarco, said are standard for the industry. The 1/2" seam allowance eases in much better...what a difference 1/8" makes!

Should I have variant seam allowances, I actually use masking tape on the bed of the machine, easy to reposition and/or remove. Once you have sewn for as long as I have, eyeballing comes into play the majority of the time!

Always have different widths of masking tape in your supplies for cutting light weight fabrics for bias trim. Sally imparted this trick used in the industry! I do a lot of bias trim and hong kong interior finishes.
Comment by Jeanette on June 21, 2009 at 11:14am
I've got into the habit of tracing seamlines on my fabric and following them, esp when I do very fitted formal wear, saves a lot of hassles.

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