Sewing Blog

11 Sewing Hacks You Need to Know

Little tips can help your sewing be more accurate, faster and more organized. And often the tools to help you along the way are common household items that you might have never suspected would prove helpful in your sewing.

Read on for some of my favorite sewing hacks — they’re great tricks to have up your sleeve!

1. Clothespins and binder clips can step in for pins.

Clothespins and Binder Clip on Fabric

Sometimes thicker fabrics can be far too thick to be held together by straight pins. Or perhaps you’re sewing with something that you don’t want to puncture with a hole, like leather, vinyl or oil cloth. These situations are ideal for clips instead of pins.

Fancy clips are sold at sewing stores, but instead of buying another item for your studio, use a common household item to do the same job – like a binder clip or a clothespin! They work exactly the same and most people probably already have some lingering around the house.

2. Add a seam allowance with a double pencil tracing tool

Double Pencil Tracing Tool

Some patterns, especially those designed in Europe and Japan, do not come with seam allowances included so that you can add in the seam allowance of your choice when you trace the pattern in your size. Rulers certainly help you draw the seam allowance, but on curves especially, accurate marking can take a lot of time.

A really quick and easy way to solve this is by taping two pencils together, so when you trace along the line, a second line is drawn to the side. Keep in mind that you will want to measure what this distance is, and then use that as your seam allowance during the sewing process.

Two Pencils Taped Together

Tracing is far more accurate with a fine point pencil, so I recommend using a mechanical pencil, like the two pictured here, for a quick and accurate fine point line.

3. Mark your seam allowance on your machine.

If you need to use a seam allowance that’s not marked on your machine, or perhaps you just need help seeing the line on the foot place, here are three ways to make a new line that’s easy to put in place and easy to see.

Seam Allowance Measuring
  • First, as shown on the far left, you can use washi tape or painter’s tape to mark your line. These tapes are easy to remove and don’t leave sticky residue behind. Though decorative washi tapes are fun, pick a solid color for an easy-to-see edge.
  • Second, in the middle, you can use a large rubber band to mark your new seam allowance. Make sure it’s large enough to fit around your machine without great strain. You don’t want it to snap while you’re sewing!
  • And lastly, on the far right, you can simply place down a sticky note to mark on your machine.

4. Store buttons in a pill tray.

Buttons Stored in a Pill Tray

Years ago while cruising a Japanese dollar store, I stumbled upon these trays that are meant for pill organizing. Mine don’t look like what you can find the U.S., but this strategy works for the ones that you can pick up at a grocery or pharmacy near. Hardware stores also sell similar plastic storage trays with little slots that can be moved around to create larger or smaller compartments, which is really helpful if you have larger buttons in your collection.

5. Use your nearly-empty bobbins for basting.

At the start of any new project, I fill up a new bobbin with thread to match the fabric. When I’m done, there’s often some thread left on the bobbin. If it’s a color thread I use often, I simply set the spool and bobbin aside to be paired up again for the next use.

However, if this happens to you with a color you don’t plan to use, instead of unspooling the thread and tossing it, use it for unseen sewing.

Bobbin on Spool

Place the bobbin on your thread spool pin in place of your spool. For example, if you need to baste two pieces together, or sew baste stitches for hand gathering or setting a sleeve into a garment, this is a great time to swap out your main thread for a bobbin with thread that would otherwise get tossed. Baste stitches are almost always pulled out, making it a perfect opportunity to use up those random bobbins half full of colors you don’t use regularly.

6. Check your seam allowance with the width of a tape measure.

Width of Measuring Tape

The most common sewing seam allowance is 5/8″ (because it translates perfectly to 1½ cm for those who use the metric system). When you need to check your stitching or mark a spot with a 5/8″, you could use a seam gauge — but if that tool isn’t on hand, use this little-known secret: Nearly all newly manufactured tape measures happen to be 5/8″ or 1½ cm wide! Not only is your tape measure handy for measuring long distances, it’s also a great shortcut to confirming your 5/8″ seam allowance marking as well!

7. Leave notes with your fabric stash.

Simple Fabric Storage

Given that I sew for a living, people ask me all the time how I organize my fabric. To me my method is pretty straightforward, but I always get a reaction of surprise at one detail: I always mark if my fabric has been washed or not.

I roll my fabric stash as pictured here, with the yardage, width and “washed” or “unwashed” written on a scrap of paper, then bind it together with some baker’s twine. You can use any folding and wrapping method you like.

I love that I can see at a quick glance if the fabric is right for a project by knowing these three simple pieces of information. A tip though: Remember to re-measure you fabric after washing it, as the width and length will both likely have shrunk.

8. Store bobbins in toe separators.

I know I cannot be the only one who hates how their bobbins roll and scatter all over the place! A tip someone shared with me ages ago is the magical secret that bobbins fit perfectly into those little foam toe separators for polishing your toe nails!

It’s a wonderful way to keep your bobbins in place in a drawer, so the threads don’t get all tangled and messy. And, if you want to take it one step further, you can write the thread colors on the foam with a permanent market, making it easy to mate the bobbin with its spool. Since the ink is permanent, this is best done with thread colors you use often.

9. A pin makes sure you never cut through your buttonhole.

Seam Ripper

The most common way to cut open a buttonhole is using your seam ripper. But there’s always a fear of cutting beyond your sewn buttonhole, especially on thicker fabrics where you have to push quite hard into the fabric.

A great way to keep yourself from tearing through the threads is by placing a pin across the buttonhole near the end, so your seam ripper will simply run into the pin, instead of tearing through the stitch. Easy and oh so helpful!

10. Peel your chalk for a super sharp edge.

Peeler on Chalk

Chalk triangle wedges are great for making quick markings on fabric. Ideally that mark is a precise and clear line. But of course, the sharp edge can dull over time as you use it. I’ve often been told that sandpaper can file down the edge, but honestly I almost never have sandpaper on hand. Another sharpening tool I always have around is my kitchen peeler, which does a wonderful job of creating a crisp, sharp edge on the chalk. Give it a try next time your chalk gets dull!

11. Organize used needles on a cork board.

Sewing Machine Needles

Sewing machine needles need to be changed after about 8 to 10 hours of sewing — typically about two projects. If you’re moving on to a project that requires a different kind of needle before hitting that threshold, I don’t advise putting the used needle back into the case — you may forget which one was partly used.

I created a little chart on a sticky note, which I pinned that to a cork board in my studio. That way, when I remove the needle that still has some life in it, I can stick it into the cork board in the square for that needle type and size. Then next time I need to use that kind of needle, I can simply use it and then toss it afterward.

Pin this post to save it for later!

Do you know the easiest way to check your seam allowance? What about storing your needles? Find out these hacks (and more!) right here.

33 Comments

Barbara

The tackle or utility boxes are great for storing the small and easily misplaced items used in sewing. Sewing machine feet for multiple machines, needles and special use pins, closures and buttons, and sharp little pokey tools can get lost and mislaid very easily. But too many little boxes that look alike can be frustrating also. I labeled my collection of boxes on the upper right back side like files, then stacked them in a 3 section vertical file (clear acrylic) on my sewing table. I can see the box at a glance with the foot or tool I need to use or return, keep items dust free and I don’t waste as much time looking for things when I had rather be sewing.

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Judy

I loved learning about the width of measuring tapes!

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Peggy Gerardi

Hi All!! I use handibobs to store bobbins. They help keep the correct color bobbin with the thread that matches. And there is no need for storing all 400 of them in bobbin boxes!

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Jody

What is a handibob and where can I buy some?

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Melissa Parish

Excellent ideas. Thank you for sharing!

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Maria Hall

Another idea. Instead of using chalk. Use a bar of do appreciate with a sharpened edge. Work well, and does not break as easily.

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Jean Blake

These tips are amazing. I plan to implement each one as time allows. I sew as time allows and any help to make things organized is greatly appreciated. Thanks

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Cheryl

All great ideas! Some I’ve used for years, but some I never thought of. Love ‘peeling’ the chalk marker. Next time I’m at the dollar store I’m grabbing a cheap peeler! lol
Thanks!

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Babs Jenkins

I have been sewing for more than 50 years now, and never realised that my tape measure is 1.5 cm wide. This info will save me so much time in the future, no more adjusting gadgets to measure my 1.5 seams, no more holding tapes or rulers to draw in seam allowances. THANK YOU SO MUCH……………

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Loralye Winkes

great tips thanks

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Helen

These are great … will use some in my very easy quilting projects. Easy projects due to that is all I do. Thank you

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Roxanne

Especially love the used needle cork board idea!

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Carol Johnston

Thank you so much for passing along all your useful tips!!

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Linda Biron

I never thought of Number 10–duh! What a great idea!

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lynne allitt

great thank you, been sewing for 50 years but some of these hints I haven’t seen before, the pin in the button hole is fantastic ruined many outfits with shoddy buttonholes, which are usually the last sewing on an article. Never too old to learn.

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francesca

Brilliant post! The pencils tied together is an incredibly good idea – thanks so much!

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Happyscrapper

Love your tips! Thank you! This past year I finally came up with an idea for bobbins too. I cut small pieces of masking tape, and tape the end of the thread to the outside of the bobbin case. No more loose threads.

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M SPOTTEN

The thick tiny pony tail holders from the dollar store work really well to keep stored bobbins from tangling in a box or drawer – you can even match the color to the thread to make it easier to find what you need

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Katesewing

Nice ideas! Need to try a seam allowance-advice)

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Marty Askins

I use golf tees to keep bobbins with their matching thread.

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Renee

Similar to the corkboard, I have a “tomato” pincusion with each section dedicated to a certain kind of needle. My gently used needles are there.

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Joan

I have done this as well. I used a light colored pin cushion and sectioned it out with a permanent marker and labeled the sections. It has been very helpful since I change needles often.

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Brenda D Cottis

Thank you again Craftsy – will use your ideas, they certainly will make sewing even more enjoyable!!!

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Joan

Re your suggestion to mark “washed” fabrics – love it! To prevent raveling, I serge the edges of my fabrics before I wash them, so I know when I open my fabric that it has been washed. However, I like your idea better because I can tell without opening my folded fabric. Thanks for the great ideas.

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Benita

I have been using most of these tips in my experienced sewing life, but it is never too late to learn something new. I love the tip on tacking used machine needles on a cork board under their labeled names if they still have some life in them. I also love the tip of using your vegetable peeler to sharpen your triangler chalk. Thank you for passing along the great tips.

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Sue

When needing a seam line or that width adjustment for a skirt pattern – use that tape measure width to lay the length of the line needed.
Most of our fabrics are washed today. Using the last sliver of a soap bar to draw your ‘chalk line’ will guarantee the line disappears in the wash.
Plastic ice cube trays fit those multiple presser feet. Generally the plastic can easily be labeled with a pen so you can get the foot back in the proper bid. They also stack in the shallow drawers in many sewing cabinets.

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PsychicSewerKathleen

Thank you for this post – although I knew a few of them already there were at least 5 I never would have thought of – using a peeler to sharpen chalk is inspired I must say – using toe separators for bobbins is delightful – and taping 2 mechanical pencils together to draw in seam allowance is PERFECTION 🙂

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Craftsy User

I don’t think that using taped pencils is a very accurate way to add a seam allowance. It’s better to use a clear ruler and a curve.

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Beth Marie Bloodworth

On the number 5 one about using partially empty bobbins for basting, I would suggest also using them when one is making a muslin trial garment.

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Beth Marie

Something to add to #5 about partial bobbins, is to use them when making a muslin for trying out and making sure a pattern fits.

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Cindy

Bobbins are so unruly. I took a length of clear vinyl tubing that you can use for fish tanks. For each bobbin, I cut across the tubing in the width that fits inside your bobbin & around the thread. You end up with a ring, then cut through the side of the ring, so it looks like a C. This keeps your bobbin thread under control, and you can easily see what colour of thread you have. I call them Bobbin Tamers!

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DebbyG

These were super fantastic hacks!!!! Thank you!

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Diane Pennington

To keep my bobbins from unraveling I cut a piece of clear plastic tubing for refrigerator ice makers into rings and cut the rings open. They slip over the bobbins easily and stay put. I found the tubing at a hardware store for 50 cents per foot and was able to get a lot of bobbin covers for very little money!

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