Doing more than the pattern says?

While I was sewing my Eliza M Pussy Galore blouse I was thinking about the sewing knowledge I keep in my head that allows me to pick up many types of the more straight forward patterns and rarely look at the instructions. Generally there is a process for putting a blouse together or constructing a dress or skirt. In fact, when I do look at the instructions I like to find new ways to approach a certain construction technique, and I have found that Tasia’s patterns at Sewaholic often build in new takes on the traditional process. I think her Crescent skirt had some innovative approaches from what I read & I remember liking the Thurlow Trousers back seam approach for later alterations for fit (the waistband had a CB seam & this allowed for some nice late tweaking for fit). Another example of ingenuity that could perhaps go down in the annals of ‘techniques you have to try’ has to be the way the lining is attached for the Colette patterns Rooibos

I’m not saying I never look at instructions by any means, please don’t get me wrong! Give me trousers and more complex clothing and I’m glued to the supporting words, and I also sometimes get it wrong, charging ahead not reading the instructions when I should.
Now through this blog I may have given you the impression that I am a bit of a pragmatic sewster, not really going for lots of steps if I can get to the finish line quicker. I am not ‘belt and braces’, & do look for every opportunity to cut corners. Thankfully most of the time I do understand the corners not to be cut, and when basting will save me time in the long run. So it is always with surprise when I review pattern instructions and find that I’ve done more than the instructions require. Now I’m not talking specifically about the Eliza M blouse here, my review of that will come separately. I’m just talking generally.

One thing I always do, no matter if instructed to or not, is when inserting a sleeve I always sew a second line of stitching close to the seam in the seam allowance to reinforce it.

Inserting a sleeve

Clearly this strengthens the seam, an area of potential stress when being worn. I do the same for crotch ( eurgh really hate writing that!) seams in trousers and even PJs.

What else do I do automatically? I tend to stay stitch neck edges if not advised as well. There could be other things I do, that I haven’t thought of, but the joy of many blog posts is the richness of the comments. What do you do that is often extra to sewing pattern advice, or is an automatic ‘always do’ step when making different clothing? Any dazzling sewing techniques that you have picked up that should go in the ‘ techniques to try’ book?

I’m thinking we might really pick up some tips here 🙂

P.S. I am getting a longer zip.

36 thoughts on “Doing more than the pattern says?

  1. Anne

    Love these types of posts…I learn so much!
    Here are a few of my automatic ‘do’s’:
    – Reinforce shoulder seams in knit tops/dresses with clear plastic or twill tape
    – ‘Wrap’ raw edges on facings with fusible interfacing… sew interfacing ‘sticky’ side up to right side of facing piece. Trim seam to 1/8th, then turn pieces and carefully fuse interfacing to wrong side of facing piece. This leaves a nicely ‘wrapped’ edge.

    1. scruffybadgertime Post author

      Anne, I’ve SO got to try the wrapped facing – I’ve heard it mentioned before but now you’ve explained it so well it really does make sense! Can’t wait to try it. And yes, of course, shoulders & twill tape. Good point – I usually remember, but it’s often not a step included in a pattern’s details

  2. Sam

    I’m with you on not always having to read the instructions! I’ve made most of my NL6000 without them. In fact the only time I’ve referred to them is to check which side the back vent needed to be pressed to. (And having done this, I think I’m going to change the way the back split is finished so I can sew the lining down to it).

    I don’t really have a “always do”, but something I try to do whenever possible is to replace neck/armhole facings with bias tape. I have a hatred of facings, they always seem to flip up or stick out, so I try to omit them whenever I can.

    1. scruffybadgertime Post author

      I’m with you on the facings -> bias Sam. Armhole facings seem to be more reliably replaced with bias I’m discovering. Although I need to make some facings using Anne’s wrapped edges mentioned in the comments now!!
      Sounds like youre getting on well with your frock!!

  3. Tilly

    Great topic, Winnie. I’ve been thinking about the subject of following instructions vs. doing your own thing for a while (which is why the sewing pattern I released has got the choice of either brief points for those who like to do their own thing or really detailed step-by-step how tos with extra tips). I’m with you on the stay stitching, and sometimes reinforce seams but probably should do more often – I’ll follow your example. Better safe than sorry when it comes to trousers in particular!! It’s great to be able to add your own preferred methods to a garment rather than only doing what the instructions tell you to do. Really looking forward to seeing your blouse!

    1. scruffybadgertime Post author

      How interesting Tilly, I like the way that you have taken a dual approach- it gives people the best of both worlds rather than death by detail which is also a downside of instructions.

      Oh yes, trousers with scant reinforcing can cause a few red faces! It would also give a negative impression about the quality of our sewing, if the seams bust!!

  4. Rachel-Lou

    I go out of my way to put sleeves in flat, I *superhate* setting sleeves in the round. I don’t like facings either so whereever possible I will use bias tape to finish – in some cases I have gone as far to add a lining

    1. scruffybadgertime Post author

      Rachel-Lou, nice point. I must admit that it’s something I am trying more & more & it really does take the hassle out of sleeves.
      I like the way that you detest facings so much to even resort to linings!! That would make such a quality finish. Nice one!!

      1. LinB

        On some sleeves — particularly close-fitting ones, with a high armscye — it is worth taking the tiny bit of extra time to put in only the middle 3/4 of the sleeve in the flat (leave about two inches unsewn at each seam end). Then, sew up both the sleeve and side seams, finish the edges in your preferred way, and set the bottom of the sleeve into the underarm as if you were setting in the entire seam in-the-round. It is a subtle difference, but the feel of the seam against your body is better.

  5. Shelly

    I very rarely refer to the instructions. I really only do it when I can’t figure out what I should be doing. I definitely only do what is required and no more than is necessary to achieve the result I’m looking for.

  6. debbie

    I am an inveterate corner cutter and skipper of non essential pattern steps! I often skip tacking/basting out. I often save up pressing so I do lots of sewing, then lots of pressing, rather than sew, press, sew, press. It is almost as if I just HAVE to do something not according to the pattern due to sheer awkward mindedness. But recently I have read instructions thoropughly prior to sewing during time when I can’t sew due to baby but really am itching to get started on a new project. I also reinforce arm seams like you. I like to replace facings with bias binding, I struggle with wearing tops or dresses with facings unless securely stitched down! xx

  7. Velosewer

    1. I make wearable test patterns. I avoid calico test garments. i have enough notes to refer back to them.
    2. I reinforce shoulder seams on knits with ‘seams great’ tape.
    3. I adjust the patterns for roll shoulders and sway back as a first step.
    And I recheck my measurements before I cut out any new pattern. It fluctuates and I’m ok with that.

  8. ReadyThreadSew

    I never, ever do the second line of stitching because I see it as just a weakening line. Any line of stitching is putting a line of holes in the fabric and if the fabric is weak then a second line is just asking for trouble :). I only came to this conclusion after making a pair of PJ pants that basically shredded at every seam the first time I wore them.

    I have never in my life had a top split at the under-arm seam, or a pair of trousers split at the crotch (other than as mentioned above). Commercial sewing doesn’t reinforce those seams (because it would cost money and be completely pointless) so I don’t reinforce them either.

      1. LinB

        I’ve had sleeves come apart at the underarm seam when only one line of stitching was used. I’ve had crotch seams give way when only one line of stitching was used. These disasters have been true in both rtw and me-mades. Some of us are just harder on our clothing than are others! I agree with you, that in flimsy fabrics, the double stitching tears rather than reinforces. In closely-woven or knit fabrics, more stitching lines can even substitute for interfacing to stiffen collars, cuffs, and button plackets.

  9. Lizzy

    I usually do wrapped interfacing. Sometimes when I’m feeling lazy I fuse interfacing to the fabric and THEN cut the piece out. You lose a bit of fabric etc but if you are tired of cutting out it can be nice 🙂
    I keep each pattern in an A4 size heavy clear plastic envelope… so I don’t have to squish everything back into the pattern envelope – this is a big help as I trace everything!
    I set most of my sleeves in flat.
    Sometimes I’ll wind two bobbins before I start a project.
    I’m sure there is plenty more bit that’s it for tonight.

  10. Sølvi

    I always understitch facings – whether or not it says so. I am a big fan of basting and baste more than is told, it will save me time in the long run. Always! 🙂 And I do interface button plackets and zipper openings, and I am a big fan of clipping curved seams before sewing them (although I baste), it makes all the difference in the world too when trying to get the right fit.

    Interesting post! 🙂

  11. Claire (aka Seemane)

    Great post Winnie 🙂
    I have a few personal sewing-habits that I prefer to do that the pattern does not always tell me to do:
    (1) Cut my fabric single-layer (I dislike cutting on the fold), and I find I can save more fabric this way – by twiddling the pattern piece layout to my own liking.
    (2) Staying the neckline – but not cutting it out until the last minute. I feel it’s less likely to stretch out of shape if I do this, as the curved bias-edges of the neckline aren’t cut out until the last minute.
    (3) Hand-basting everything (instead of pinning and then stitching on the machine) is my friend, as I hate maneuvering pins out of the way of the presser-foot and all the stopping/starting of the machine. I prefer to pin, hand-baste, then stitch – as the stitching seems to whizz by nice ‘n’ fast ‘n’ accurately for me like this.
    (4) Grading seam allowances /trimming – not all patterns seem to ask you to grade/trim away excess fabric – I like the smoother bulk free finish.
    Claire 🙂

    1. scruffybadgertime Post author

      This is so interesting, this post and finding out good habits to get into. There’s a few here I haven’t heard of before ( eg cutting neckline) and i can certainly understand why you’d do it. I also always grade seams, and it’s not always stipulated in patterns, is it?

  12. LinB

    I often add slits to the bottom of blouse side seams (am of a shape that demands I wear my tops outside of waistbands) as the little bit of extra room is always welcome. No matter how slapdash the method I use to hem the garment, I take time to reinforce the top of the slit. Ditto for skirt, pant hem, and jacket vents, and for some sleeve opening applications. My favorite method is a figure-8 thread stay. Sometimes I make a little shaped patch and applique it in place — usually by machine. Sometimes I sew a little button at the top of the slit to reduce stress in that area. Garments I finish this way last longer in the manner I mean them to appear: the slit doesn’t tear out and force me to alter (shudder) or toss out (sob) a favorite blouse or skirt.

    1. scruffybadgertime Post author

      I’m going to give this a go too- my appliqué patches at the top of the split are usually added after the split has split more than intended! Ie after the horse has bolted. I like the idea of a button …

      1. Sheila in Brussels

        I love love understitching – I even understitch when using bias binding round necklines and armlholes. It makes the facing or bias remain perfectly out of sight without all the basting and rolling and pinning and pulling I used to have to do before I found out about it. It seems a little like magic every time!
        I rarely baste and fearlessly sew over pins.
        Hems I mark by stiching two lines guided by marks on the machine bed (e.g.1.5cm and 4cm from the presser foot) and turn up the fabric at these lines – saves a lot of measuring and pinning.Sometimes I remove the lines after the hemis sewn but mostly don’t!
        Some very good tips in the other posts – must try them!

        1. scruffybadgertime Post author

          Hi Sheila
          Like your tips too! I sometimes use the hem marking like you describe too – it’s such an easy way to get a consistent line, isn’t it? And understitching bias facings as well – sounds interesting! Must try it.
          Thank you for sharing your tips 🙂

  13. Ginger

    I allllllways staystitch necklines, too, and I always interface zipper openings and buttonholes. The results are just so much better– not sure why those steps are ever omitted!

    1. Sophie-Lee

      I forgot to stay stitch the neckline of a recent Prendrell blouse, on to which I then finished with bias binding (binding the whole thing so it was visible) – I will NEVER AGAIN FORGET, I’m still not sure if I can save the top after it stretched horribly

  14. MrsC (Maryanne)

    I have become a huge fan of flat felled seams and use them wherever I can. Although I own an overlocker I am OVER it, and so flat fells, french and pinking finishes rule. Of course this reflects my summer sewing of men’s shirts and maxi dresses. Not so much for a tailored coat!
    I also bag in my facings, it’s SO much easier and tidier.
    Another funny thing I’ve been doing is hand sewing collar stays to a shirt before top stitching it in place. I find it is the easiest way to deal with that trouble spot in the corners.

  15. anne jewell

    before i cut out, i measure the grainline arrow-to-selvage distance at two points on every major pattern piece. these numbers must be identical for perfect garment drape.


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