This month, Freebie Fridays have a common theme - all the tutorials and information will focus on basic sewing knowledge. This week I've shared some top tips with links to helpful articles sprinkled throughout. Designed to give you a refresher, help you to troubleshoot sewing problems, and aid the inexperienced, this week's tutorials are focused on needles and pins. Let's get straight to the point....
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My top needle tips:
1. Change your sewing machine needle for every 8 hours of sewing.
I usually change my sewing machine needle every time I begin a new doll design.
If your sewing machine is skipping stitches the first thing to do is change the needle. It might be that you have a bur in your needle that is causing the skipped stitches. Just the other day I was e-mailing one of my pattern testers, Romona King who is busy testing my Mystery Doll pattern for me (don't bother to pester Romona for clues - she's a vault!) and she said she was having problems at her sewing machine. Although she had just changed her needle she had accidentally hit a pin. Bam! That new needle was toast. It's kind of like putting on a brand new pair of pantyhose and putting your finger straight through the nylon. If that happens, you just have to break out a new needle (or a new pair of pantyhose, whichever the case may be).
2. Use the right kind of needle for the fabric you are sewing
Needles come in different thicknesses and with different points. Each size and type of needle is suited to a different kind of fabric. If your sewing machine is skipping stitches even after you've swapped in a new needle, then try a different kind of needle.
To figure out what type of needle to use, click the following link to see a sewing machine needle guide from Silver Sewing. It has a handy chart that details what type and size of needle you should use for different fabrics.
Manda from Tree Fall guest blogged at Sew Mama Sew and shared her thoughts on what type and size of needle to use. She includes several specialty needles in her article.
This illustrated sewing machine needle guide from Heather on her blog Feather's Flights has similar information to the Silver Sewing link above, but what I like about Heather's illustration is that she shows what each type of needle point actually looks like which I find helpful.
A Note for Art Doll Makers
In Heather's Feather Flights needle guide she states to use a size 12 needle on a cotton or quilting fabric. For cotton art dolls I recommend that you use a size 10 or 11 needle because art doll makers use cotton with a very high thread count. Using a larger needle on such densely woven cotton will give you larger holes in the fabric and make the seam weaker and more likely to shed stuffing from the seams.
If I were using a high stretch doll skin fabric like Dollskin, that Cyndi Mahlstadt uses in her cloth doll designs I would use a stretch needle.
For doe suede I've had success with a ball point needle.
3. Don't sew over pins
Many, many people pin with their pins at a 90 degree angle to the seam they are sewing. I too was taught that as a child. However, when I got to university to study costume and set design I was quickly broken of that habit. We sewed on industrial sewing machines which were so strong that they would sew right through needles, breaking them in the process, so we were always taught to pin parallel to the seam with the head of the pin facing us. We were taught that this method of pinning was more accurate and meant that we could pull pins out as the machine got closer to the pin.
Many home sewers who pin at a 90 degree angle to the seam will sew over the pins, leaving them in as they sew. Most of the time, a domestic machine will simply slide over the pin, but this technique can cause needles to break and fly off or can cause a bur in the needle that means you will need to replace it.
For my money, I'd rather not risk a broken needle flying in my face.
Susan Khalje of the Threads Magazine website details in this article when she pins with pins parallel to the seam and when she pins horizontally across the seam. I think I would get on with Susan's pattern making colleague Julien Cristofoli who reportedly says "Use your pin as a stitch". I couldn't agree more.
4. Save a sewing machine needle and learn to love basting
When I was younger I would do anything to avoid basting which I felt was too time consuming. Now that I'm older and wiser I realise that basting often saves time. If you have been sewing over your pins, try basting instead. Basting will hold everything in place much more accurately than pins and you won't risk breaking a needle.
I find basting particularly valuable when sewing tiny doll heads together. Pins get in the way at the sewing machine when sewing such tiny body parts. But basting means I rarely if ever, have to start over or rip out the seams in a doll head. Try it. You'll never look back.
Of course, if you are going to baste, you'll need to choose the right hands sewing needle. This article on Sew4Home details how the basic types of hand sewing needle and how to choose the right one.
A Note for Art Doll Makers
The Sew4Home article doesn't make note of a specialist hand sewing needle that, in my opinion, every doll maker should have - a John James Long Darner No. 7. This needle is long and thin and perfect for needle-sculpting as it won't leave huge holes in the fabric where you've stitched the face.
5. Remember there are different kinds of pins, like there are different kinds of needles
Choose the right kind of pin for the fabric you are using. There are silk pins, large quilting pins or more standard pins where the thickness of the pin and the type of point at the end will vary.
As well as different points, there are different types of heads on pins. You may also want to consider whether or not to use plastic headed pins or glass headed pins.
If for instance you are using pins along with a heat gun, like I did to form the Kunin felt hat on my Fathoms cloth doll (pictured), you will need glass headed pins or the plastic may melt and disfigure your fabric. That could be messy.
I hope these tips will sharpen up your sewing skills. Next week we'll be talking about thread.