Nancy Zieman's 50 Tips to Sew Smart & Sew Kind

There are reruns on TV—well, of course. So what about blogs? How about Encore Postings! My staff and I decided that an encore posting was extremely appropriate for this week since we’re in the thick of preparing for Nancy’s Notions Sewing Weekend Event. For those of you attending our big gala event, I look forward to seeing you Thursday, Friday, and/or Saturday. For others, we’ll post a Sewing Weekend in review on Saturday, May 5th. In the meantime, please enjoy a popular posting from last summer.

Encore Post from July 19, 2011

Last weekend while cleaning a closet, I found a copy of Life’s Little Instruction Book by H. Jackson Brown, Jr. (Published ’91). Needing a break from the cleaning task, I read the little book cover to cover. The helpful hints caused me to pause at one of my favorite tips, #368—Remember no one makes it alone. Have a grateful heart and be quick to acknowledge those who help you out.

Reading the book gave me the idea to create a list of tips for sewing and quilting enthusiasts.

50 Tips to Sew Smart & Sew Kind

  1. When you receive a compliment on something you’ve sewn, quilted, or embroidered, graciously say, “Thank you.” Please don’t point out the flaw that only you can find.
  2. Support your local sewing and quilting stores.
  3. Teach your kids or grandkids to sew on a button and fix a hem. Give them a small sewing kit when they leave for college. (If they can master texting, they can certainly sew on a button.)
  4. Tie a tag on your best sewing scissors that’s labeled “For fabric cutting only.” Or, keep it in a box in the freezer with the label, “Chicken Livers.” (This hint is attributed to Nancy Harp, Aurora, MN.)
  5. Store unfinished projects in clear, plastic bins that have snap-on covers. All pieces will stay together and you’ll not lose sight of what’s inside.
  6. Give a small sewing kit to a member of a bridal party: thread (white, black, and the color of the attendant’s dresses), needles, and scissors (or nail clippers) to cut threads.
  7. Keep a small sewing repair kit in the glove box of your car.
  8. Join a guild or sewing group. You’ll find inspiration and friendship.
  9. Make and give away something every year to someone you’ll never meet. The gift is in the giving. Use the best fabric that your budget affords. The project that you made may be the only made-with-love gift that person receives in his/her life. See for a listing of volunteer projects and/or organizations.
  10. Use a calendar to quickly keep track of what you’ve sewn or quilted in a year. Pin a swatch of fabric at the date completed along with a few notes. You might amaze yourself with what you accomplished in a year.
  11. Start a new sewing or quilting project by cleaning/oiling your machine and changing the needle. An ounce of prevention…
  12. Donate aged fabric to a charitable sewing group. If you haven’t used it in five or more years, it’s likely you never will. You’ll feel good about cleaning out your fabric stash and the recipients will appreciate the donation.
  13. Listen to books on tape (or CD) while sewing or quilting.
  14. Keep water-soluble stabilizer in a zip-type plastic bag to prevent it from drying out.
  15. Plug your sewing machine(s), iron and light into an electrical strip. When leaving your sewing area, you’ll just have one switch to turn off and you’ll never wonder if you left the iron turned on!
  16. A seam sealant like Fray Check is a must to seal all serger thread tails or edges. If squeezed directly to the fabric, you may get more than you bargained for. Apply the sealant to a Q-tip and then dab your fabric for greater control.
  17. To save time later, wind several bobbins of thread before starting a project.
  18. Don’t waste your money on buying cheap thread—you get what you pay for.
  19. Make it a habit to clip the corner of fabric that you’ve prewashed. This little demarcation will save you time and your sanity.
  20. Schedule a sewing escape each year, such as an evening class, a 3-day event, or a quilt show. It will get your creative juices flowing!
  21. Thank the person who taught you to sew or quilt.
  22. Cut elastic to the needed length after inserting it into a casing. It will be easier to handle and less elusive!
  23. Every time you sew or quilt look for some small way to improve the process.
  24. Write the pattern number or book reference of your project inside the hem or another inconspicuous area, using a permanent fabric-marking pen such as Pigma Pen. That reference might come in handy some day!
  25. Add a label to every sewn-with-love project given away. Besides writing or stitching your name, add the date, and occasion.
  26. If you’re not going to use your fabric purchase right away, write the yardage on an Avery label (or another type of sticker) and apply to the fabric. It will save time when you’re mulling through your fabric stash, determining if you have enough yardage for your next project.
  27. Keep several tubes of paper glue stick at hand. The glue works as a basting or tacking aid when positioning trim or “pinning” hems. Not to worry, the glue dries clear and will not gum-up your machine.
  28. Use tiny clothespins or paper clips as pin alternatives when working with thick fabrics or multilayers of fabric.
  29. Cans of tuna or caviar are excellent pattern weights.
  30. Start sewing for the holidays in September. Some recommend July, I just can’t get interested in Christmas gifts when it’s more enjoyable to be out-of-doors. September works for me.
  31. If you garden as well as sew or quilt, use leftover crosswise quilt strips to tie tomato vines to a supportive post. The soft fabric doesn’t damage the vine.
  32. Enjoy the sewing process. It’s therapeutic!
  33. Keep a small empty container that once housed, for example, vitamins in your sewing area. Use it to dispose of worn-out needles. Your garbage collector will thank you.
  34. Position your ironing board away from the sewing machine. Getting up, walking, and stretching will keep your back happy.
  35. Don’t hide your sewing machine in a closet. Assign a corner of a bedroom, great room, or office as your space. After all, we keep our computers at easy access!
  36. For an almost instant raised cutting table, cut (or have someone help you cut) four, 6–8″ lengths of PVC pipe. Slide the pipes over the legs of a heavy-duty folding table. Presto!
  37. Read the pattern or project instructions, start to finish, before beginning a project. (Sometimes I just “read” the illustrations and then read the instructions if the step looked confusing.) You’ll be able to head-off confusion if you have an idea of the entire process before you begin.
  38. To mark a point where you need to stop stitching, insert two pins close together. It works just like a stop sign for me.
  39. A bar of soap with the paper covering intact is a pleasant-smelling pincushion substitute.
  40. If the thread on your sewing machine breaks, here are two tips that solve the problem 90% of the time: 1) Totally rethread the machine. 2) If #1 doesn’t work, change to a larger size needle.
  41. Attention Embroiderers: Use strips of Blue Painter’s Tape to position a project to the hooped stabilizer.
  42. When combining fabrics, the inclination is to choose all medium shades. Combining light, medium, and dark fabrics will give your project more eye-appeal.
  43. Use Sticky Notes to mark frequently used cutting lines on your quilting rulers.  These visual markings will improve your accuracy.
  44. Use a flannel-backed vinyl tablecloth as a temporary design wall. Pin under a casing at one end of the tablecloth, thread a curtain rod through the casing, and hang the design wall with two small nails at each end of the rod.
  45. If you don’t have a lot of cupboard or drawer space, use a cutlery carrier to store frequently used sewing notions.
  46. For knot-free hand sewing, run a threaded needle through a dryer sheet a few times. The anticling solution will give you smooth hand sewing.
  47. Cut drinking straws in half and place over the spool pins of your thread rack to increase the capacity.
  48. Give a start-to-sew kit to a friend. Include scissors, tape measure, pins, pincushion, seam ripper, and a coupon for a personalized sewing lesson with you!
  49. Keep a roll of paper toweling near the ironing board. When fusing web or interfacing, place sheets of the toweling on the ironing board. If the fusible sticks to the paper towels, simply toss!
  50. Count your blessings. Thank God for the gift of creating with your hands.

So, what’s your favorite tip? I’m sure you can add to my list.

Bye for now,

Nancy Zieman The Blog

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