It seems intuitive that sewing a perfectly straight seam would be easy—right? Just put the two pieces of fabric together and run it through your machine. Then, like magic, you have a perfectly straight seam. Maybe in the land of sewing fantasy this happens, but it does not happen for me without work. To get a perfectly straight 5/8 inch or scant 1/4 inch seam, a little prep work is in order.
Every project has a seam allowance. Most modern clothes patterns call for a 5/8 inch seam. Quilts usually use a scan 1/4 inch seam. Table linens, placemats and napkins usually use a rolled seam. The list goes on. Know your seam allowance before you begin to sew or cut the fabric.
The next step is to accurately mark the seams. On some projects you can eyeball it. I prefer to use a seam gauge like the one shown here on the left. You can pick one up at any sewing shop, or you can click on the picture to purchase it on Amazon.
I prefer to use glass head pins to hold the fabric pieces together. Clips are also acceptable, or if it is a short seam, you may not need anything at all. Glass pins have the advantage of being able to have an iron go over them without melting. In certain situations, this is helpful.
Ready to sew—right? Wrong. Head to your machine and set the sewing machine to the stitch you will be using. Pay attention to where the needle is. Most modern machines have the ability to set the needle to the right, left or center, depending on the stitch. With vintage machines, this is not an issue. The needle is always in the same place. Measure the seam allowance from the needle to the right side of the machine. Mark that measurement with tailor’s chalk or something else that will not permanently mark the machine. This mark is where the fabric needs to line up in order for the seam to be accurate. Take a couple of index cards or a piece of cardboard and tape it to the mark you made. The cardboard should run from the front of the machine to just past the needle. Use masking tape or painters tape so that you do not get glue all over the machine. You can buy a guide, but using cardboard or index cards is a lot less expensive. I have 3-4 of those purchased guides, I keep loosing them. Either they fall into the back of a sewing drawer or they get misplaced. I always can find cardboard.
Part two of this hack is to know where to focus your eyes. Do not look at the needle. The fabric will go in the direction you are looking. Instead of looking at the needle, focus on where the fabric first meets the cardboard. If you keep the fabric lined up to that edge, the seams will be straight because the fabric will feed into the needle in a straight line.
I recommend trying an easy pattern like Kwik Sew 2811, women’s pajamas. The goal is to sew perfect seams. Start with the pants or shorts. They are very forgiving.
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