Sewing advice request

I have a few sewing type questions that I thought I would put out there in the hopes of someone more experienced being able to give me (and maybe others too) advice on any of them.

– I want to start sewing myself and perhaps Dave some clothes. Do you make clothes? Do you find a serger/overlocker essential? I’m not sure I’d trust my seams without one but they are crazy expensive. (BTW if any kiwis know of a free or cheap one CALL ME). Not sure I could pull off zigzagging on my normal machine or french seams without making screw ups in the measurements.

– Same question for rotary cutters. They cost like $50 here for a good one and thats a lot of money for what is basically rolly scissors. Essential, useful, very time saving for cutting out fabric? Or just nice to have if you can? I’m planning (despite saying I would never ever EVER make a quilt) to make a quilt which will require a lot of cutting. It’s going to be big enough that the cat will not be able to steal all the bloody covers at night and leave us both open to a sudden breeze! And that is quite a big quilt indeed.

– What do you use for interfacing in bags? I know flannel is recommended by some people but I’ve only found it adds bulk and no stability at all. I hate iron on stuff, it tends to wrinkle the fabric and I don’t think you can wash it. I was thinking about sew in interfacing but can you wash it? Or maybe a thick plain canvas or cotton duck if I can find any. It’s like ice cream flavours – sometimes there’s too many options!

– Any good sewing blogs, books or patterns you can recommend? I have a sewing machine, I took sewing in high school but beyond toys/booties/bibs etc I’m not very confident and I want to change that. I feel silly having a $590 sewing machine and only using it to make little toys.


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14 responses to “Sewing advice request

  1. Well done in starting sewing clothes. You are in for an adventure.

    In my opinion (yes – a sewing teacher and dressmaker at times in my life)…
    You do not need a serger/overlocker to sew. All they really do is cut off the edge and neaten it (well for a beginner anyhow). You can use the zigzag over the edge of the seam quite effectively.

    Secondly – a good pair of dressmaking scissors – use for material ONLY- is all you need for cutting. A smaller sharp pair of scissors are handy for cutting threads, and trimming into tight places.

    On other matters – experiment, have fun, give it a go and learn as you go. Use thrifted sheets to make a sample garment if you like to try out a pattern first. You may be surprised how many of these you actually use then. I pick up a lot of material from garage sales and fairs – you can build up a stash (I think mine is a mountain stash) to sew with.

    Cheers and all the best

  2. I use a Brother 1034D serger which is very inexpensive. I find it essential for knits. I use it for clothing. So much faster. I can just zoom the seam through.
    I don’t think an expensive rotary cutter is needed. Just replace the blades or get a rotary blade sharpener.
    I love fusible fleece for lining and it is washable.
    I have never taken a class, and alot of times I will just type in (Blank) tutorial and find a free PDF or step by step, just fill in the blank with whatever you are making, circle skirt twirl skirt, boxers, men’s shirt…
    Sewing is fun if it is not on demand for me.

  3. Great questions! My daughter sews clothes and a serger seems to be essential. Rotary cutters are wonderful. A lot of what you need might be found used…is there a where you are? Sometimes sewing shops will clearance out models, or a sew & vac shop might have a fixed up serger for way less. Good luck! 🙂

  4. I am just getting into clothes sewing, and it would be so much easier with a serger, but it is not a definite necessity. I am looking into buying the Brother serger mentioned above as it is the least expensive, with the best reviews.

    I would recommend for getting started tips. I don’t think a rotary cutter is necessary.

    I also bought the two Built By Wendy Sew U books and they are really helpful with all of the sewing terminology, directions and tips.

  5. Melissa

    Hi there! Love your blog; it’s one of my favorites. I recently resumed sewing(hadn’t sewed since high school). I had a serger a few years back and loved it, but I don’t feel they’re essential unless you’re planning on doing alot of stretchy knits. Knits on a regular sewing machine can be tricky. As for the rotary cutter – I prefer it for cutting the fabrics for quilts as you’ll be needing to square up fabric ends and such. It’s also very helpful for cutting lots of strips. You’ll also need a rotary cutting mat to use with it. For handy advice and inspiration check out . Also for the quilting stuff check out; it’s a PBS program here in the States. Kaye has some great vid’s to get you started and if you can catch her show I know you’d find it informative. Best of luck!

  6. I’m not really a sewer of clothes and so far the thought of an overlocker scares me somewhat. but, i have quilted and i have to admit that i would be lost without my rotary cutter, mat and ruler. they are my very best friends. i went to a class to learn how to make my first quilt which was very, very, very helpful and if you could afford it i would highly recommend it. you only have to make one and then you are on your way. otherwise, try and find someone who knows what they are doing and who would be willing to help.
    goodluck 🙂

  7. Mpressive Threadz

    It’s great that you want to sew for yourself and your family. Remember to have fun and learn something from each project.

    A serger/overlock machine is not necessary. When I started sewing, home overlock machines did not exist. Use the zigzag stitch on your machine. Experiment on a scrap so the tension is not too tight. It’s important to stitch your seams first and then finish the edge with a zigzag stitch, and you won’t have to worry about screwing up the measurements.

    Rotary cutters make life easier in some instances; the cutting goes fast, but nothing replaces a VERY good pair of shears. I spent about $15 on a Fiskars 45mm rotary cutter and $35 on a rotary mat years ago and both served me well. Especially when quilting.

    Finding the right interfacing is an experiment. Check out care instructions because they can be helpful. Buy the smallest yardage possible and experiment. For bags, a stiff sew-in is probably the best place to start.

    To find good sewing blogs, check out Check out the blogs and you will find those that fit your need. Check out sewing books at your local library. Great way to preview them before buying them for your personal sewing library.

    Remember to have fun while you sew!

  8. I just wanted to say, I don’t have any advice, but thanks for asking this question! I’m appreciating what people have said in the comments. 🙂 I just got a sewing machine this week, so I’ll be learning to.

  9. bookwormbethie

    1. I’ve made sleep boxers and jammie bottoms so far. I do not have a serger nor do I have any plans to buy one in the near future. To “finish” my seams I have zig zagged on each side of the seam allowance and then used pinking scissors to trim off the excess fabric. The jammie bottoms and sleep boxers have been machine washed and dried several times and everything is holding up quite well so far! But as a side note, barncat1 told me she zig zags both seam allowances together and that is probably what I will do in the future too, which totally makes sense because on finished garments both seam allowances are finished together not separately.

    2. I am terrified of rotary cutters, they can be dangerous and injure you if not used properly. I just use my plain ol scissors, especially since cutting out patterns, they can be curvy, and I feel I have more control with scissors (fabric only scissors!). But I suppose for cutting quilt blocks and bias strips and such a rotary cutter would be a good investment and time saver.

    3. I use sew in interfacing all the time. That’s what I used in my zippered pouches that I sold and have also made as gifts. Ironically in the States there is a brand called Pellon and they make 2 types of sew in interfacing both label ‘featherweight.’ One is ridiculously sheer and thin and light but the other type is really nice. I used it when I made my sewing machine cozy and the cozy can stand up all by itself yet it’s still flexible.

    Sew in facing needs to be soaked in a sink of warm to hot water and let cool to room temp and hang to dry. I’ve also read in sewing machines that fusible/iron on facing needs to be presoaked too in warm to hot water, the water temperature is not hot enough to activate the glue so the facing won’t get damaged at all.

    4. Regarding sewing books, blogs, patterns, etc… Have you checked out I at least know if their ‘bag,purses, wallet’ section there is a huge list of tutes, some put together better than others. I also like Simplicity and McCalls patterns, they go on sale every once in a while in the States for $1 or $1.99 each which rocks and is the only way I could afford them since they usually retail for between $10-$20.

    Sew Mama Sew is a good blog and they usually have monthly themes.

    Sew What! Skirts (you mentioned in a previous post) is pretty good but it doesn’t explain exact dart placement nor really mention how much exact fabric you need for the designs. But it’s still a great book.

    I also have this fantastic book by DK (I think, I mentioned it on my blog at some point) Sewing which is wondeful. I need to buy it, right now it’s temporarily mine from the library. The book is fantastic, has some good beginner and intermediate stuff in there, and I love that ALL the photos are a nice size, very clear, and the photos are actual photos of garments and threads n stuff, not line drawings.

  10. Hi again. Typing with one hand – baby on lap… I’ve found out something which I didn’t realise about overlockers. You know when you look at things like t-shirts and they have that overlocky stitch that joins two pieces together on the outside and looks really professional? I’ve realised now that only top of the range expensive overlockers do that stitch. I think its called flatlocking? I actually can’t remember. I still use my overlocker alot, but just not quite as much as I thought I would because it can’t do that particular stitch. My ordinary sewing machine does a few stitches especially for knits & edges anyway.
    The overlocker repair place also told me that alot of people fix their overlockers at minimum $ to just get them working, but not working well, and then sell them. So be careful getting one secondhand, or see if you can get the person to give you a demo of it working on a few different settings before buying. I got one at a school gala for $20 but it cost me $150 to get it repaired, synched and working, and even then its not perfect. I guess my advice is, buy new if you can afford it.
    I’m not an expert sewer, but I don’t live far away, so if I can be of any help in your clothes sewing adventures, let me know.

  11. BB

    Hello, hope this reply is not too late! I have just started a bit of quilting and like you, was daunted by the cost of all the gear, but needed to get a rotary cutter and mat for the beginners class I enrolled for.

    I am in Auckland, so not sure if you have the equivalent in Welly, but initially I found a Sullivans brand rotary cutter at Ikes Emporium up here for about $18. It looks like the fancy Olfa ones. Replacement blades are about $8 (and I think you can use the Olfa ones with it, too).

    After I got that, I found at Spotlight a kit they do called “Quilter’s club” or something like that. Anyway, it is purple and for I think $44, it came with a cutting board, small rotary cutter (the smallest one, really best for only a couple of layers of fabric compared to the Sullivan’s one) and a 6×24″ inch ruler. You really need a good long ruler if you are going to start using a rotary cutter, not least to protect your hands. Anyway, I think Spotlight has 20% of all quilting supplies at present, so that might be an option to consider, as those things brought separately would be worth quite a lot more.

    Have to say, I am loving the rotary cutter. I’ve mainly used it for the quilting blocks we’ve done and can’t imagine doing those by scissors, not least cos I’m a lefty, and cutting straight lines with scissors has always been a challenge for me!!

    Good luck with it all!

  12. Very quick reply to your post:

    rotary cutters – definitely!! I bought a cheap one when I wanted to make a quilt and they have been worth every cent. You can of course use scissors but they make the job much quicker and accurate.

    I too am thinking about alternatives to standard interfacing because I’d really like to be able to make bags from all natural fabrics/products. Not done too much digging yet but will let you know if I find anything suitable and will keep an eye out here to see what you use.

    overlockers aren’t necessary you really can do everything without one. A previous reply was talking about the professional double stitch hem on clothes that you buy. This is called cover stitch and this requires a separate cover stitch machine – I saw one recently for $2000 – think we can do without it eh?! (so not necessary but if I let you into a little secret I’ve recently acquired one and they are brilliant!!!!!)

    Hope there’s some sense in there! xx PS Just given you a little bloggy award over on my blog ..

  13. Okay I didn’t read any of the responses so maybe all your questions have been answered already, but I thought I would give my 2 cents anyways 🙂

    – I have been sewing clothes since I started sewing (actually the first thing I made was a top) & I didn’t get a serger until less than a month ago. So it is totally possible to sew clothes without a serger. (Lots of people do.) Knits/stretch fabrics are a little trickier than cottons & non stretchy fabrics on a sewing machine, but both are possible.

    – Wow that is a crazy price for a rotary cutter. Could you buy one online from the states? I love my rotary cutter. It isn’t so helpful when making clothes, a scissors works better around corners & curves & such, but for quilting it is amazing. So much faster!

    – To be honest I usually use iron on interfacing in my bags. Maybe the interfacing I buy in the states is different? I don’t know, but it seems to work just fine in the wash. Especially since it gets sewed into the seams, so it stays in place. Canvas inside or even a layer of muslin can give it a bit more substance I find too. I think this is a tricky one, because everyone has a different opinion or preference 🙂

    -Books I love & have found helpful for sewing… If you want to do clothes sewing the book “New Complete Guide to Sewing” by Reader’s Digest is amazing! Other good clothes sewing books that prove you don’t need a serger are “Sew U” & “Sew U Home Stretch”. Also “Sewing for Dummies” has some good info in it & can be a good basic refresher. Another great way to learn clothing sewing or quilting is to take a class. I have honestly found that to be the most valuable tool in some ways. That way you get some tips that might be harder to explain in a book & the valuable experience of a teacher. I don’t know if you have a good fabric store nearby or sewing shop, but they should be able to direct you to a good class (and usually classes are not too expensive – at least the ones I have found).

    Hope that helps! Maybe it is more info than you wanted though 🙂

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