. . . . . . A place to contribute, exchange tips and ideas and find further info on the LDC group on Meetup.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Sewing tips - needles and pins

I bought a great book about clever sewing tips some time ago and promised myself that I would dip in and out - these are tips everyday people have come up with for making sewing easier, more accurate or better in some other kind of way. There's shortcuts and all kinds of tips in there: including stuff that I had never even considered before!

This is easier said than done because I misplaced the book. Ach, most annoying. Please let me know if anyone has borrowed it from me at one of the Dressmakers meetings!

We can come up with sewing tips ourselves, please add yours in the comments!  I am sure there are lots of useful things that I haven't listed. This blog post ne is all about pins and needles. Here goes, in no particular order:

To keep two layers together for sewing, put pins sideways (i.e. perpendicular) into your fabric: you won't distort the length of the two layers in relation to each other - pins that run parallel to the cut edge can bunch up the top fabric and shift the layers out of alignment.  NB: If you are left-handed you can try inserting the pins from the left for easier removal.

A great article on pinning for beginners here at How To Sew. And a very fabulous post by Threads Magazine here - who knew there could be so many tips on pins and pinning?

Removing pins
It is probably best to remove pins before you sew over them. Some people do as a matter of course - I find it just as easy to take them out as I sew along than do it later. One big thing: the machine needle usually slips past the pin and keeps on sewing but it is very possible for the needle to hit a pin and break. Small parts of a broken needle can get propelled incredibly fast and quite a distance and would be very bad news if they end up in your eye. It would do serious damage. I would therefore strongly recommend removing pins at all times. Even wearing glasses cannot completely protect your eyes and may provide a false sense of security.

Right side/wrong side
I like to put a pin with a glass head into the right side of all fabric pieces as soon as I cut them out. Some fabrics make it really tough to tell one side from the other, except when you've sewn everything up - then the one piece you got wrong may be glaringly obvious.  At some point I tried to use white glass pins for the front and darker ones for the back but found that too much faffing around.  Other people like to put a chalk X on the wrong side of the fabric instead.

Types of pins
Pins come in different lengths and thicknesses. If you want to take a look to compare them, places like John Lewis department store sell pins that are for all kinds of purposes (dressmaking pins, bridal & lace pins, appliqué pins, and many others) - I like to use the longer ones that are quite thin. These go into fabric more easily and also come back out without having to wrench them (not all fabrics work well with thin pins, others need different ones).  Try out several kinds, see what you like best.

Thread Magazine desribes an astonishing range of pins.

Pins to use with jersey (or stretch or knit) fabrics: pins are also available as ball point pins!  To be completely honest: I had no idea so you learn something new every day. (I also didn't know that there are even Glow-in-the-dark pins! Not kidding)

There are also other kinds of pins: U shaped fork pins, much longer with yellow glass heads or flat flower disks. The latter ones are for use in quilting and might come in useful for dressmaking too. There are also items that pin layers together without being pins: clips and similar that are often used in quilting. Use these on leather and other materials that should not be pierced - if you don't have these, try sellotape or pin only in the seam allowance.

Collecting spilled pins
Magnets are great for picking up spilled pins. Who wants to crawl around on the floor and get them stuck in your fingers. There is just one very important thing: please keep your magnet away from your laptop and computer. I have heard nightmare stories of people who have wiped their harddrive because their dressmaking magnet got too close. Better safe than sorry.

Machine sewing needles

Don't worry if you never paid attention to what kind of needle is sitting in your sewing machine. I sewed with the pre-installed needle for years before having to change it - but I don't think I was sewing very well.  Using the right kind of needle can make things a lot easier.

Universal or sharps needles are for woven fabrics. They come in different sizes, use a 70 or 75 for thinner fabrics, and a 80 or 90 for medium weight fabrics. If you sew with very heavy and dense fabrics then you may need a needle with a higher number but the 70-90 sizes are usually sufficient.

Ballpoint or stretch needles are for sewing knits, also known as jersey fabrics, Ponte, IDC, interlock or any other material that is not woven but made from interlocked columns of stitches similar to what you get when knitting. I find these ballpoint needles better even than universal needles that are supposed to be good for all materials - a ballpoint is just that bit better at slipping in between the fabric's threads rather than piercing them which is what the sharp needles do. In a fine jersey this can potentially cause holes and damage to the stretch fabric. Go with the right needle, it just makes sewing lots easier. I like to put a small dab of nail varnish on a part of the ballpoint needel that won't touch machine or fabric to tell them apart from sharp needles.

Sewing with different and specialised fabrics calls for different needles: there are all sort of special needles: leather, denim, metallic, to stitch, embroidery, gold embroidery, and a few others.

Here is a list of needles by Schmetz and a visual guide here.

There are also twin needles: a single shaft (for inserting into your machine just like an ordinary sewing needle) that carries two needles below. They are a distance of 2mm, 3mm or 4mm apart - depending on the effect you want to get. You use an ordinary bobbin with these. Make sure you use the exact same thread for all three stitchlines, I ran into huge problems using a different bobbin thread once (loop and loops and loooooooooooopppps of thread down below. It took me ages to rip it back out because it got entangled. I wouldn't recommend it)

Problems with stitching
Always make sure that your needle is inserted as high up as it'll go (check your machine manuel for the right position) and ensure the screw is tight. If your machine suddenly develops a problem with the tension, or it starts making a unusal sound, or any other issue - re-threading the machine (top and bottom) is your best bet. This sorts plenty of tension problems. But if that doesn't help then changing your needle is the next step: your needle might have got blunted, or bent too slightly to be noticeable, or just plain gone wrong somehow. A new needle can make a big difference. Make sure to get rid of the old needle (put in some paper and wrap with sellotape to avoid injuries) before you are tempted to use it again. I did run into the problem once that my sewing thread started to shred: it split into different strands and had bits of fluff hanging around. My needle's eye had gotten damaged and was splicing the thread. Get rid immediately.
I ordered some Millinery straw needles #10 (red box), they are incredibly thin

Hand sewing needles
I am still searching for the holy grail of thin but sturdy hand sewing needles that aren't too short for my poor short-ish fingers. Most hand sewing needles are not quite thin enough for me, I find them tough to get in and out of fabric. Also the needle eyes tend to be really tiny on the short, thin ones. I have heard of Japanese made needles that are supposed to be very good. If anyone knows these or can recommend something else, please let me know in the comments!

Threading your needle
Lots of people wet the sewing thread before threading a needle. There is a better way: leave the thread dry but instead put a little moisture at the back of the needle eye. Thread is attracted to moisture and will slip easier through the needle in order to get to the liquid. It sounds a bit mad but it does work.  If poking away at the needle doesn't work, do cut the thread again to get a blunt end (Please DO NOT use your dressmaking shears for cutting sewing thread, paper or tissue - this will damage and blunt them. Cutting thread will put a tiny nick into your dressmaking shears and you won't be able to cut thin fabrics like chiffon or satin without getting stuck).  If that doesn't work either: there are threaders you can try. Try online or at craft fairs. I have yet to figure out how they work, but amazingly they do!
If you can't get your auto threading device on your machine to work: once you wound the thread around the correct bits and hold it slightly tensed: make sure to release the leaver quite slowly. There is one moment just before the magic happens when you need to go extra slow. Try and avoid the leaver jumping upwards.

And last but not at all least: check your pins and needles for any that are bent or rusty. These just make your life more difficult and sewing somewhat annoying. Which would be a real shame. Let's all go with gadgets and processes that make sewing fun and easier!  Rusty pins can damage your fabric or even ruin it if your WIP is left for some time before you are able to go back to it.

These are the tips I was able to come up with. Can you think of anything else that's pin and needle related? Please add in the comments.


  1. One tip to add about threading needles is they have a front and back, so if your struggling to thread your needle just turn to the other side.

    1. That's a great tip, thank you very much!

      I've now become better at threading the very, very thin needles: pinch end between fingers until it almost disappears, then push needle ear over and the thread goes through.

  2. Glow-in-the-dark needles sound fun! What on earth are they for?

    1. I know!? I had never heard of them before. I don't think people do much sewing in the dark, perhaps it helps to find them if you drop them in a dark corner?


Please leave a comment for the LDC member who wrote the post to know that people are reading their posts. You should also be able to comment now if you are not a registered user.