Sewing Tips






Breastfeeding Links

Contact Us  

Converting RTW

Elizabeth Lee Designs

E-mail List

Fabric Sources


Kwik Sew Patterns

Pattern Sources

Pattern Updates

Sew Alongs

Sewing Links

Sewing Tips

Show and Tell

Swap Day


Moms nursing their babies NMSL Sewing Tips
There is a wealth of sewing information available. But we are all at different levels of ability when it comes to sewing. And some of us are more adventurous when it comes to trying something new. Here are some ideas that some of us have come across when sewing. These tips might make your sewing experience easier, or they might offer you a new way of doing a familiar technique.

Sewing in sleeves using the flat construction method
Sewing the overlay on from the inside
Edge binding knits
Make continuous bias binding
Edge binding wovens
Garment ease allowances
Yard to inches conversion
Stitch equivalents and uses

Sewing in sleeves using the flat construction method

This is a technique to put in sleeves without putting the ease in first. You build in the ease at the same time as you put in the sleeve. In this technique you essentially create differential feed. It is easy to do but rather hard to explain.

This technique is used only on the part of the sleeve where you would normally put the ease stitching--between notches. For the rest of the sleeve, you stitch as normal. It works best in things that you put in flat, but can be used on set-in sleeves if there is less than 1 inch of ease in the sleeve head. For the following instructions, I will assume you are putting the sleeve in flat.

With practice, you will be able to do this without any pins, but the first time, you might want to at least pin at the notches and the top of the sleeve head. (BTW, the top of the sleeve head doesn't always go to the shoulder seam, sometimes it is moved forward or back for either fit or design reasons. Pin wherever the sleeve head top needs to meet the garment.) Then lay the work under the needle with the sleeve next to the feed dogs. Begin stitching as normal, until you get to the first notch.

Once you get to the notch, grasp the work a couple of inches from the needle with your right hand, with fingers on top and thumb underneath. Then rotate your hand toward the machine, so that the thumb is on top and the fingers are underneath. The fabric will be folded in a U shape, with the rounded bottom of the U closest to you. Begin stitching, adjusting your hands and your work as it goes under the needle so that it stays in the U shape until you get to the notch on the other side. Once that notch gets to the needle, finish sewing with the work flat and normal.

I should say here that, in general, you want to sew with the most unstable seamline up, so that you have some control over it. But by doing it the other way, you are using the feed dogs to force the bigger piece to catch up to the smaller piece. You can use this same easing technique in so many other places--easing the inseam, easing the elbow, or any other place where you need to make a larger piece fit a smaller piece.

If you want to use this technique on a set-in sleeve, you put the garment inside the sleeve, instead of the other way around, and sew with the work on the bed of the machine, instead of using the free-arm (if your machine is so equipped). This way you still have the sleeve head next to the feed dogs. It is a little awkward if you have a machine that sits on top of a table instead of one that sits flush, so you might want to build up a little support around the machine bed--stacks of books will work fine, and you don't have to be exactly the same height, just close enough to support the work.

BTW the technique of sewing a closed circle up instead of down is so handy that it pays to learn it even if you don't intend to use it on sleeves. You'll be glad you know it if you ever find yourself in a position to sew on a machine without a free-arm. Commercial and industrial machines don't have free-arms. That is a convenience that home sewers asked for at a time when sewing know-how was on a decline. You're probably better off with a flat bed and a better technique than with a machine that has split personality. Of course, that is my hardly-ever-humble opinion. babalu!   --submitted by Rowena

Back to the top

Sewing the overlay on from the inside

First, following the pattern instructions, stitch the facing or lining to the overlay. If you desire, you can understitch, sew the seam allowance to the facing or lining, but don't topstitch at all.

After having turned the overlay right side out, position it over the bodice front again according to the instructions, and pin it to the bodice front. This pinning is to get the overlay properly placed and hold it there as you begin shifting it out of place in subsequent steps.

Note in your pinning where you will want the nursing openings to end at the top and bottom. You may want to do something like place two pins at these points, or you may have marked it on the seam allowance before you turned the overlay right-side out.

Carefully holding the overlay in the pinned position, transfer the pins from holding through all layers to holding through only the bottom layer. This will transfer the pins to the inside, between the layers of a lined overlay, or through only the facing of a faced overlay.

When you have all the pins transferred, stitch along the seamline, where the overlay is sewn to either the lining or facing, backstitching at the ends of the nursing opening.

Sometimes the pinning and/or sewing can be a little tricky, but the results are worth it IMO.

When the seam is sewn, straighten everything out. You should find that the overlay lies on the bodice front much the same as it did when you were pinning it to begin with, but there is no topstitching to be seen along the overlay line.   --submitted by Ruth Anna


After the overlay is pinned into place, you lift up the top layer and shift things so you can lay the seam inside the overlay flat and "stitch in the ditch". The top layer of the overlay will have to be bunched up a little bit and moved behind the needle/presser foot while you are sewing, but it shouldn't be a problem since you only have to sew in a few inches at the top and bottom. This is why it is important to have it pinned into place only on the under layers, and also pinned in place well, since there will be so much shifting of the fabric while sewing.   --submitted by Heidi


For those of us who wear nursing attire, it looks more normal and harder to recognize. We don't hear "Oh, isn't that a nursing dress?" That's why we like it! It looks like a regular seam. It's easier than matching top-stitching.   --submitted by Sheri

Back to the top

Edge binding knits

This can be done this a couple of different ways. One is to sew both shoulder seams, and the binding short ends, and then apply the binding in a circle. The other way is to leave one shoulder seam open, sew the binding on, and then sew the shoulder seam, including the binding edges. I switched to the second method after deciding that there seemed to be a lot of bulk at the short seamline of the binding. However, using this method, there is sometimes a bit of the shoulder seam that peeks out of the neckline. YMMV

It really will depend on the thickness of the knit, and the look you like. (Most of the striped fabric I use for my girls is heavy jersey, approaching the weight of interlock.) I personally like the finished width somewhere around 3/8" or 1/2" wide, multiply by 3, and then I add another 1/8" to allow for the bulk of folding. Next, I measure the raw edge of the neckline as it lays relaxed. The length of the binding really depends on the stretchability of your fabric. For an average interlock, cut the binding 2-3" shorter than the neckline measurement. For a stretchier or lighter weight knit, you'll cut it closer to 4" or maybe even 6" shorter. Sometimes it's just trial and error. And yes, I've done my share of second and third applications of binding to get it just right. I like the binding to "snug in" the fabric ever so slightly. I cut the binding with a rotary cutter, ruler, and a mat. This way I ensure that the edges are VERY straight, and that the width is exactly the same all the way across. And don't forget to cut the length of the binding on the crosswise grain.

I serge one long edge. This is the edge that will be on the inside of the neckline. I quarter the binding and the neckline like I would with ribbing. I sew the binding on with a (4.0-width) double needle (longest stitch length), which seems to let the fabric relax better than using a zigzag stitch. But once again, zigzag may be what works for you. If I want 3/8" finished, I sew on the binding, rights to rights, with 1/4" seam allowance. Because of the width of the double needle, the finished width ends up at 3/8". If you use a narrower double needle, use a wider seam allowance. Once I've sewn the binding all the way around, I fold the serged edge up and over, enclosing the raw edges. I match the serged edge to the bottom of the double needle stitching (on the inside), or the lower folded edge of the binding, if I can feel it through the fabric. I pin it down, to make sure I'm not pulling it at an angle when top-stitching, but I make sure to remove the pin before I sew over it. Sometimes a dimple will remain if you sew over the pin. Then I top-stitch close to the lower edge of the binding. There is no bulk from the binding on the inside neckline, and the outside looks like RTW.

I don't have a coverhem stitch on my serger, so I can't say if that might work better. I do the basic construction on my serger. But this method for the binding does work on a regular machine. This really isn't difficult, but my instructions might make it seem worse than it is. Don't hesitate to ask for clarification. Once you get it, I think you'll like the way it looks. I guess if you wanted to have it look more finished on the inside, you would multiply the finished width by 4, and apply it like true bias binding. But I thought that was too bulky, and I couldn't ever get a straight fold on the inside. YMMV again.   --submitted by Geri Jean


I do this a little differently and I get a finished inside as well. This is great for polarfleece sweatshirts. I also cut the binding a tad more than twice the desired finished binding width. Fold this in half and line up with the raw neck edge, WRONG SIDES TOGETHER. Sew (I serge) together. Flip the binding over the stitching line onto the right side of the fabric and topstitch the binding onto the right side. This encases all the raw edges and you get a nice bound edge.   --submitted by Jessica


OK, there are many ways to do this, I will describe one.

To determine the width of the binding strip, decide how wide you want it to be when finished. Cut your binding strips twice this width. Piece them together if you need to. For knits, cut the strip across the grain, not on the bias. Fold one short end in and press or pin to hold the fold.

Lay the binding with the folded edge wherever you plan to start stitching (I usually start someplace in back but not at center), raw edge even with the neck edge, right sides together. You can lay it flat or hold it a bit short if it seems very stretchy. Stitch in place, the depth equal to the depth you want for the binding.

When you get back to where you started the binding, overlap the binding onto the folded end, stitch for just about 1/2 inch more, then stop. Cut the rest of the binding off.

Fold the binding over, encasing the raw edge. Turn in the raw edge on the binding, and stitch in the ditch from the front. (Turning in the raw edge of the binding is not strictly necessary on knits, but it makes a neater finish.

If you don't want to bother, cut the binding extra wide, stitch it down on the second side then trim.) The folded end will cover the raw end and you won't need to bother about joining. (There is a way to make a flat join but it takes a few more steps, if you want to know about it just ask).

Alternately, you could apply the binding to the wrong side first, fold it over and double needle top stitch on the front.

There are other ways to do this, but this is the basic idea. You can also get a binding foot for your machine, but it is not simpler or neater, just quicker.   --submitted by Rowena

Back to the top

Making continuous bias binding
Gives instructions for making continuous bias tape, using a square of woven fabric.
Back to the top

Edge binding wovens

I always make my own bias. For a binding that will be turned to the inside and topstitched, I cut my bias 1 7/8", fold in half (I just pin it in half, I don't press it), and stitch it with a 5/8" seam. I don't pin the binding to the neckline, I just lay it down as I sew. Be very careful and do not stretch the folded side (the cut side should ease in nicely, as it is on the bias). Then trim and clip the neckline, turn inside, and topstitch (edge stitch too, if you like). i always put my binding on after I sew the shoulder seams, but before I sew up the side seams, it is easier to work "flat".

If you want a wider binding, the formula to figure out the width is: seam allowance + desired binding width X 2 + 1/8". For a thicker fabric (such as denim), you might want to try a bias tape maker. It is really easy and great to use. (I used it to make some bias tape out of chiffon, and it worked great.) This way, you could reduce the bulk in your seam allowance.

You can also do a bias binding that shows. To do that, trim your neckline to the desired opening, cut your bias 6X+ 1/8" your desired finished width (if you want a 1/4" binding, cut your bias 1 7/8"), fold in half, stitch at your desired finished width. But this time, you do not stretch the *cut* edge (your folded edge will curl up). Then bring the binding around the seam, and either stitch in the ditch or hand-sew to cover your previous stitching.

Click here to see some pictures.   --submitted by Linda

Back to the top

Garment ease allowances
Description Dresses/tops (bust) Jackets   (bust) Coats     (bust) Garment  (hip)
Close fitting 0-2 7/8 " 0 0 1 7/8 "
Fitted 3-4 " 3 3/4-4 1/4 " 5 1/4-6 3/4 " 2-3 "
Semi-fitted 4 1/8-5 " 4 3/8-5 " 6 7/8-8 " 3 1/8-4 "
Loose fitting 5 1/8-8 " 5 7/8-10 " 8 1/8-12 " 4 1/8-6 "

Very loose


more than 8"  more than 10" more than 12" more than 6"

--compiled by Mona

Back to the top

Yard to inches conversion
Fraction of a Yard Inches
1/16 2 1/4"
1/8 4 1/2"
1/4 9"
1/3 12"
3/8 13 1/2"
1/2 18"
5/8 22 1/2"
2/3 24"
3/4 27"
7/8 31 1/2"
1 36"

--compiled by Mona

Back to the top

Stitch Equivalents and Uses

Stitch Length Stitches per Inch Uses
0 0 Stitching in place
.25 100 Satin stitching
.5 50  
1 25  
1.25 20 Reinforcement stitching
1.5 16  
2 12 General purpose stitching
2.5 10  
3 8 Topstitching, ease stitching, gathering
4 6  
5 5  
6 4 Basting

--compiled by Mona

Back to the top

Please contact the Webmaster if there are any problems with this site.