I once had a principal who opened every faculty meeting with something she called Nuts and Bolts. This was the title of a set of random, yet important, pieces of information that helped our whole school operate more efficiently. Just like actual nuts and bolts are vital to the stability and longevity of a structure, so these bits of information held our school and faculty together. Every time I sew, I use my own set of Nuts and Bolts, which I have collected over the years. I hope the following are helpful to you as you continue your sewing journey. These are not listed in the order of their importance or in a type of Top Ten format. They are simply tips I hope will help you as much as they have helped me.
**Presser feet are used to hold the fabric against the feed teeth as the fabric goes through the machine. It is really important that your presser foot is using the correct amount of pressure to successfully send your fabric over the feed teeth evenly. Unless you sew the exact same fabric in the exact same way for all of your projects, knowing how to change your presser foot pressure is a must for the most professional look to your projects. If you don’t know how to change your presser foot pressure, check your owner’s manual. Depending upon your machine, it will be a knob or dial on the top or side of your machine near your needle bar that you turn or it will be an icon found in your Settings Menu.
**Needles are sized according to a standard set of numbers. Whether you use the European or American numbering system, really doesn’t make that much difference (for instance, a European size 75 needle is an American size 11). What is important to remember is that the heavier the needle, the larger the number. I own needles ranging in size from European size 60 to 120. (The size 60 needles are used for very thin materials such as chiffon. The size 120 is used for some of the upholstery fabrics I sew). Also important to remember: if you have a needle threader on your machine, it will work with needles down to a size 75/11. Trying to use the needle threader on needle sizes smaller than that may damage your needle threader since it is too large to go through the eye of a smaller needle. This can lead to a costly repair!
These size 120 needles are the largest needles I own. I use them for heavy fabrics such as upholstery fabric. You can probably easily see the size of the eye of the needle. These really pierce the fabric!
**Universal needles are general needles. They are kind of the jack-of-all-trades of needles. They are fine for general sewing on common materials, but if you are using something other than quilter’s cotton, you may need a specialty needle. For instance, if you are sewing on a stretch fabric, use a ball point/jersey/stretch needle (all three names are common). This needle type has a rounder tip and will push the fabric’s threads aside rather than a sharper needle, which will pierce the threads of the fabric and give you undesirable results on stretch fabrics, such as snags, runs, puckers, etc. depending upon your material. If you are sewing on leather or vinyl, choose a leather needle which acts more like a knife to cut the material rather than simply pierce it. When using embroidery or universal needles, I usually opt for titanium or chrome coated needles since they are better at shedding heat from the friction of going up and down through the fabric. They tend to last much longer than a non-coated needle.
**My last tip today concerns thread. Thread size is also expressed in numbers, just as needle sizes are, but thread numbers are the opposite of needle numbers. In thread numbers, the smaller the number, the thicker the thread and the higher the number, the thinner the thread. On a home sewing machine, the thickest thread that can be used is a size 12. This is most commonly used for top stitching, since it is very thick and is very pronounced on the fabric. The thinnest thread I have used is size 100. This is a very thin thread and works very well on thinner fabrics such as chiffon and organza. All-purpose thread is generally size 50, embroidery thread is usually size 40 unless your design is digitized for the thicker size 30 thread and quilters tend to like size 30 or 40 thread for their quilting, depending upon how much attention they want paid to the quilting itself. Keep in mind that pairing the correct needle with the correct thread weight is key. This may take some experimentation on your fabric, but test sewing is never a waste of time!
Happy National Sewing Month and Happy Sewing!