Sewing Helpers: {Tips & Resources}

Here’s a page full of several basic but helpful tips and tutorials for beginner sewers (and some great resources for those more experienced too!). You’ll find zipper installation helpers, tips for making your own bias tape, hemming methods, how to make pockets and bound buttonholes plus a whole lot more. Enjoy!

Zipper Installation

*Published May 18, 2011 and moved to this page for better organization

Does sewing with zippers terrify you? Or do you only know one basic method and you’re ready to learn a few new tricks? Here’s a tip sheet that highlights several different techniques and tutorials for inserting them. I’ll be adding to this list over time as I find more goodies.

Learn How To Install A Zipper With These Handy Tutorials
Learn How To Install A Zipper With These Handy Tutorials
  1. Basic Installation: Recommends using a zipper foot, this type of install is one of the most common methods and is suitable for many types of projects. Tutorial by Sew4Home. You’ll also find this How-to by Curbly easy to follow and helpful.
  2. The Glue-Set Tutorial: Here’s a nifty trick that uses an iron & a glue stick first before sewing (the glue holds the zipper in place while sewing instead of fussing with pins). From Sew, Mama, Sew! Blog.
  3. Invisible: Step-by-step tutorial, this one’s done with a regular zipper foot. Nice amount of pictures showing you how it’s done. From Sew Serendipity. You’ll find another tutorial on this page by Feather’s Flights. If you want instructions for using an invisible zipper foot, here’s a nice tutorial by Colette Patterns. Here’s a tutorial showing you how to Insert Into A Side Seam by J. Stern Designs.
  4. Recessed: This tutorial walks you through the process of adding a sunken top zipper to a purse or bag. You determine how deep the recess should be (so this is customizable to your particular purse) and a tip is given to help prevent bulky ends. Lots of pictures provided. Tutorial by Arm Candy For You. Here’s another nicely done tutorial to check out.
  5. Vintage Style Lapped Side: Here’s how to install one in the side seam with a placket to cover (vintage-style). There’s also a tip for doing a center zipper with this method. From Gertie’s New Blog For Better Sewing.
  6. Easy Flat Fly Front: This is a video tutorial for installing in a pair of homemade pants. If you’re just looking for instructions to replace a zipper in a pair of jeans, you’ll find good instructions on this page. Both tutorials are from Threads Magazine.
  7. Hand Picked: An easy to learn technique for hand sewing zippers that includes an idea for embellishing with beads (sewn along the placket). From Threads Magazine.
  8. Installing In A Knitted Garment: I have two different tutorials for you: Easiest Knitted Sweater Install (neat method using blocking wires) from Split Yarn and this one by Purlbee that makes it all look so easy.
  9. Exposed How-To: Usually you would try your best to insert a zipper that’s neatly covered, but you might want to try this technique for something a little different design-wise. From Craft Stylish.

Tips & Tricks

  • Guide To Zippers: This is a great resource from Sew, Mama, Sew! that describes the various types you can work with (Coil, Invisible, Separating, Metal and Plastic Molded Zippers) along with tips for how to measure and care for them (washing & ironing).
  • Tips To Shorten: Tips for how to shorten a closed bottom or separating zipper and how to trim an invisible zipper. From Threads Magazine.

Bias Tape

*First published November 23, 2011 and moved to this page for better organization

You can buy bias tape in a wide assortment of colors, but sometimes you want to use something a little more special for a project. The good news is that it’s actually not that difficult to make your own! Here are a few different tutorials that will walk you through the process (some pretty nifty techniques too), along with instructions for attaching it to quilts, potholders and other projects.

Bonus: If you don’t have a bias tape maker, I included a couple tricks to try…one uses a printable to make your own (with cardstock) and the other is a pressing technique that uses two pins as a guide. Enjoy!
Turn One Fat Quarter Into 5 Yards: This method makes 5 yards of bias tape so there’s no waste, uses a fat quarter with the selvage removed.

How To Make Continuous Cross-Grain Binding: Includes the formula for determining how much you need to make for a particular quilt project and for attaching the binding to a quilt.
Tips For Attaching: More tips for making the binding and how to attach to a quilt.

With Curved Borders: Curved corners are a good option for those who aren’t confident mitering them.
Easy Method: How to make continuous bias binding with fabric which is folded, pinned, sewn then cut. Includes a reference for how much different fabric sizes will yield.

Bind An Edge With Sewing Machine: Quick tutorial showing how to use the walking foot and settings needed on your sewing machine to attach binding.
How To Achieve Quilt Edge Perfection: A free pdf download detailing steps for making and attaching binding.

Free Printable Bias Tape Maker: Print on cardstock, cut out with an exacto knife and press away! Can be used again and again. Free pdf download.
Pressing Tip: No bias tape maker? Here’s a tip using two pins as a pressing guide.

Attaching To Straight & Curved Edges: Good tutorial for making and attaching bias tape, includes lots of illustrations to walk you through it.

Here are a few more goodies to check out:

Hemming Stitches & Methods

*First published May 25, 2011 and moved to this page for better organization

Here’s a handy resource sheet that details a variety of stitches you can use for hemming (including sample images). This is from a vintage sewing book titled “Sew and Save, The Latest Sewing Secrets” and was published by The Spool Cotton Company (1941).

Note: To view larger image, click on the sample picture

Blind: A strong hem which is almost invisible on sheer fabrics. Slide the needle under the fold. Push it through and pick up one thread directly underneath, making a straight stitch.

Slip Stitching: An invisible hem. Not as strong as blind hemming, but much used for dresses and skirts. Insert your needle on the fold at the top of the hem, slip it along about 1/4 inch or more, and bring it through. Take up one to three threads of the fabric directly under point in fold where needle comes through, and draw thread through ready for the next slip stitch.

Blind Hemming
Blind Hemming
Slip Stitching
Slip Stitching

Catch Stitching: Used to finish the hem of skirts, facings, coat linings. It is generally used on heavy fabrics. Work from left to right, taking up 1/8 inch or less of the fabric and with the next stitch a similar amount in the hem, zig zagging as shown in image.

Shell: Used for a finish on fine lingerie. Turn the 1/8 inch hem as you work. Take two stitches to secure each shell and slide the thread under edge between the shells for about 1/4 inch. The distance between shells will depend on the fineness of your garment.

Catch Stitching
Catch Stitching
Shell Hem
Shell Hem

Damask: Used for hemming fine table linens. Crease the edge on a fabric thread. Allow a scant 1/4 inch for hem, turn and crease on fabric thread. Crease again at the top of the hem, folding back the fabric exactly at the hem line. Catch both creases with a small overhanding stitch.

Contrasting Hem: Used especially in double-faced fabrics. Clip seam a little below where hem will come. After clipping, rip the seam, turn, stitch, and press open. Turn hem allowance to right side, baste and stitch close to edge.

Damask Hem
Damask Hem
Contrasting Hem
Contrasting Hem

Embroidered at Edge: Used as a decorative finish.

As a Facing: The embroidered edge may be used as a facing. It is stitched to the garment with right sides together, the raw edge of the embroidery extending 3/4 inch beyond garment edge. Turn in raw edge and hem back flat to garment. Facing 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch when finished.

Applied with Tucks: Stitch embroidered edge to garment with right sides together. Then stitch two tucks so that one encases the seam as shown.

Finished with Bias Trim: Baste gathered ruffle to garment edge with right sides together. Stitch and finish with Bias Trim.

As A Facing
As A Facing
Applied With Tucks
Applied With Tucks
Finished With Bias Trim
Finished With Bias Trim

Also see Lettuce Hem How-To: Learn how to sew a lettuce hem using a regular sewing machine (also links to a reference for using a serger).


*First published November 6, 2009 and moved to this page for better organization

Pockets are useful as well as decorative on a garment. Many different kinds can be made if you know the basic rules. There are really four fundamental types: patch, bound, welt, and those with a flap.


Patch: For a good looking patch pocket, all edges must be true and even. To achieve this it is wise to cut a pattern, if there is none with the garment pattern. Cut two or three small notches on each rounded corner of pocket so the seam will lie flat (Fig. 1). Turn and press all edges and baste if necessary (Fig. 2). Or you can make a cardboard pattern of pocket, omitting seam allowances (Fig. 3). Place it on pocket pieces and press the seam allowances over cardboard edge. Finish the top of pocket with a plain hem or by adding seam binding to edge after it is turned–which finish you use depends on weight of fabric.

The pocket may be stitched close to the edge or back from it. If stitched close to edge, the top is attractive with several rows of machine stitching (Fig. 4). Pockets that are stitched back from edge (usually one-fourth inch), should be stitched equal distance back across top for added decoration.

To make a patch pocket with a flap, simply add the desired hem at top of pocket. Turn hem to the right side and stitch across each side (Fig. 5). Turn, baste and press edges so they are even. Hem by hand or machine stitch this flap before sewing pocket to garment. Be sure the stitching around pocket matches that on flap (Fig. 6). For interest these flaps can be of contrasting color.


Bound: If the material in the garment is light weight, it can be used for the binding and lining, but in heavy fabrics self fabric is used for binding and a lining material for pocket.

First mark the pocket opening on binding and on garment. Cut the binding at least one inch longer than the completed pocket and three to four inches wide (Fig. 7). Be sure to match the grain of material of binding and garment or if the pocket is made on an angle, the binding should be on the bias.

Place binding on the right side of material, matching where the cutting lines will fall. Pin and baste carefully. Stitch around the cutting line–the distance you stitch back from the cutting line depends upon the effect desired when finished. One-fourth inch from cutting line gives an attractive piped effect. In heavier materials you need to stitch at least one-half inch from the cutting line. Make square corners at the ends by leaving the machine needle down in fabric, lift presser foot, and turn fabric, making the same number of stitches across each end (Fig. 7).


Cut through center of cutting line to within one-fourth inch from each end. Now slash from center to each corner, being careful not to snip the stitches. Pull the binding piece through to the wrong side. Then continue to pull until the binding forms two even rows with perfect square on other side. Stitch across each end to hold binding together (Fig. 8). Then stitch around buttonhole in the seam edges so it will be flat.

Join pocket on wrong side (Fig. 8). If the binding piece is not large enough, add an additional pocket piece, opening the seam and pressing flat. Stitch and overcast the seam.

Source: The Workbasket (1952)

Bound Buttonholes

First published November 13, 2009 and moved to this page for better organization

Do you enjoy making bound buttonholes? Do you glory in their sharply pressed, square beauty? Oh! You’ve never dared to tackle them? Pick up your courage, and let’s go out for a practice run! It’s sheer fun and the result is a delight to the home dressmaker’s eye.

Making Bound Buttonholes
Making Bound Buttonholes

You have marked with basting thread or chalk the line where the buttonhole is to go; usually you will make more than one, so mark all at once.

Cut a strip of fabric about an inch and a half wider than the length the finished buttonhole is to be, thus allowing 3/4 inch at each end of this strip, which becomes the binding. This should be on straight of fabric or true bias for a trim. Mark it for buttonholes to correspond with the garment (Fig. 1)–patterns usually are perforated for this. If you prefer, you may cut separate pieces to bind each–but it is easier with a strip, which is later snipped and trimmed. Place the right side of binding over the right side of buttonhole, lining up the basting marks on each. With your machine, begin in center of buttonhole, run a line of fine stitches around the marking of buttonhole (usually the width of presser foot from center on each side, and straight across each end), turning nice, square corners at the ends (Fig. 2). This is accomplished by leaving the machine needle down in fabric, lift presser foot, turn garment and continue with other side or end–this makes a perfectly square corner. Count the number of stitches across each end. For a small buttonhole, run the stitching as close together as possible, so that, when the cut is made, the stitches will hold the fabric from raveling.

To make the cut, you may prefer to use buttonhole scissors; start at the center, between stitching, and cut to within 1/4 or 3/8 inch of each end (Fig. 3). At the ends, making diagonal cuts to the corners, cutting right up to the stitching line, but not through the thread (Fig. 4.) If you have used a binding strip, cut it about 3/4 inch from each edge (Fig. 4), and turn the binding through the buttonhole to the wrong side or back of the garment (Fig. 5). Draw all into shape, observing from the right side that the binding is turned back evenly and exactly the right distance to make a fine, straight finish (Fig. 6). Make sure that the ends of buttonholes are pulled out even. Make an inverted pleat at each end on the under side. Fasten triangular pieces at ends to binding with a few stitches (Fig. 7). Flatten with fingers, pin and baste, then press.

Cut facing through buttonhole, turn edges under and slip stitch or hem down to buttonhole, keeping corners square and edges of binding close together. Baste buttonhole together with easy diagonal stitches (Fig. 8), and finish pressing.

The same procedure goes for buttonholes that you desire to renovate, except that more care must be used to keep work flat and true. Keeping the binding uncut until stitching is completed will help. A finish stitching may be used on the right side, if desired; it should be made with very fine stitches.

Making Corded Buttonholes
Making Corded Buttonholes

Corded Buttonholes–Cut two corded pieces, stitching or basting to hold cord, one inch longer than buttonhole. Trim raw edge to about 1/8 inch before stitching. Stitch both strips to right side of material, having the raw edges meet in the center (Fig. 9). Do not stitch across ends. Cut between stitchings and diagonally to corner. Turn the corded strip through slash to wrong side. Stitch across the triangular ends to ends of cording (Fig. 10). Face and finish same as for bound buttonholes.

Source: The Workbasket (vintage)

Button Sewing Tips

First published November 7, 2007 and moved to this page for better organization

  • Tipnut.comIf you’re in the habit of sewing buttons on too tightly, try laying a pin across the top of the button before sewing it on. Once it has been secured and you’ve knotted and cut the thread, remove the pin from underneath the thread. Now the button has a little give to it.
  • Sew a button on once, secure with knots and cut thread. Then sew it on again. If one set of thread breaks, the other set will hold the button firmly. If it’s a 4-hole button, just sew through two holes. Knot off, cut thread, then sew the other two holes. Same principle applies: when one thread breaks, the other will still hold the button on the garment.
  • If a button experiences a lot of strain on a garment, reinforce it by folding a small piece of fabric into a square. Place this fabric square underneath the button and on top of the garment, then sew the button on the garment. The square of fabric should be small enough for the button to completely cover and hide it. This helps reinforce the button. You could also use a smaller button instead of a piece of fabric.
  • Once the button has been sewn on, seal the threads by painting some clear nail polish on the top threads of the button and the threads underneath (inside the garment). You could also use waterproof glue that will dry clear.
  • If you can’t find a button to match your garment as perfectly as you’d like, try painting an appropriately sized button with epoxy paint in the color you’d like.
  • Try dental floss, carpet thread, embroidery floss or fishing line as thread when sewing buttons on garments that are used and abused frequently (such as clothes for camping, hiking, yard work, labor jobs). These are a lot stronger than regular thread and will have a tougher time breaking.


Even Basic Sewing Skills Can Prove To Be Useful
Even Basic Sewing Skills Can Prove To Be Useful
  • Review Mary Roehr’s 30 Top Sewing Secrets which offers plenty of tips and advice for sewing. Using diagrams along with before and after pictures that cover things like fit and alterations, you can really see how much difference can be made by just the slightest things.
  • Pressing each freshly sewn seam as you are sewing a project truly does make a difference in the finished piece. If you have the proper pressing equipment, this can make the job so much easier! You can make your own items with the instructions found here: Make Your Own Pressing Equipment (pdf file download). It shows how to make a Tailor’s Ham, Seam Board & Point Presser, Pressing Board for Curves, a Seam Roll and Pressing Mitt. Nice resource!
  • Regularly oil your sewing machine (check the instruction manual) and keep the machine dust and lint free (a can of compressed air is nice to have on hand as well as a small brush). If your machine starts performing less than great, check out this Sewing Machine Troubleshooting Guide, it covers things like: Needle will not move; Upper thread breaks; Bobbin thread breaks; Skipped & Irregular stitches and more. The nice thing about this chart is that it provides reasons why the problem could be happening as well as methods to fix it.

40+ Tips For Sewing – A Collection Of Timeless Wisdom

First published July 25, 2008 and moved to this page for better organization

1940s -

These tips were collected from a variety of books and magazines from the 1940s and 1950s.

Most of these tidbits are still helpful today, a few were included because they are a charming reflection of the time these were written. Enjoy!

  1. All facings and hems should be neatly made, especially on transparent material.
  2. Adjust tension and length of stitch when changing from thin material to heavy. The stitching should lie perfectly flat and without puckers.
  3. The hem is the last thing to be finished on a dress.
  4. Be very careful and do not stretch bias fabric when handling. Running a basting along edge helps to prevent this.
  5. To make darts, tucks and other markings on a garment that is being cut out, slip a double piece of carbon paper between the pieces of cloth and mark as indicated on the tissue guide. The carbon paper can be used over and over and comes in many colors.
  6. For stitching down patch pockets, try holding them in place with cellophane tape instead of bastings or pins. Stitch right through the tape, then pull it off after sewing is finished.
  7. Tucks are the neatest method of handling the dress length problem for fast-growing little girls. Make the skirt long enough to include a series of small tucks just above the hem. As the child grows, let out one tuck at a time–no rehemming is necessary.
  8. When a seam is to be ripped, try fastening one end under the presser foot of your sewing machine. Then with a razor blade you can quickly cut the stitching.
  9. In lengthening a dress, oftentimes a ridge appears where the old hem used to be. This may be easily covered with a row of rick rack sewn over the line or ridge. This also makes an attractive trim.
  10. When making a rolled hem put a row of machine stitching along edge to be rolled. Then trim edge close to stitching. It really speeds up the hand work and prevents stretching.
  11. If you are cutting out a garment from material that frays easily, try marking around pattern before cutting or as soon as it is cut, on the edge of the material with a crayon the color of the material. The marking will not show when the seam is taken.
  12. In stitching a shirt, all patterns are made so that the seams must be stitched from the top down.
  13. Pink the hem on bottom of blouse to be worn in, it will look smoother.
  14. When doing applique work, especially with felt, if the patches are stitched into place by machine, a beautifully flat finish is given.
  15. Pattern perforations are important, study them carefully. They identify straight of goods, place darts and position of various pattern pieces. Be sure you know the meaning of each before you place pattern on material. Lay aside any extra pieces that you are not going to use. Be careful and do not turn a pattern piece upside down if your fabric has a nap or up and down print. After cutting, mark darts, buttonholes and any other necessary markings, including center back and front. Hang the partly completed garment on hanger to keep sewing from getting crushed.
  16. Three rows of rickrack braid sewed together on a strip of thin white cloth will make you pretty tie-backs for your curtains. These are not only attractive but bring out the color in your room.
  17. Save the old felt hats around the house. Cut them up and sew together with colored yarns for comfy house slippers. you can concoct your own embroidery designs for decoration. Also make inner soles.
  18. When tying comforters it is a good plan to tie them first in cheese cloth, then put on the top cover. The cover may then be removed for washing with little trouble.
  19. There is no need to baste rick rack or braid on the material, use scotch tape to hold it in place. Sew right through the tape and then pull off after stitching.
  20. When you are making new pillows, a small quantity of starch in the ticking will help to keep the features from sticking through.
  21. Did you ever try making a sewing scrap book? It is wonderful to have when you need a patch or a button and it will prove a favorite pastime for the children. It should contain a large piece of material and an extra button for every garment that you make.
  22. A small horse shoe magnet on a yard stick is an asset in the sewing room to pick up pins and needles.
  23. Use a mesh bag that fruit comes in to put leftover pieces of dress materials. You can see at a glance the piece you need for a patch.
  24. If you keep sewing machine oil in a bottle, you will always find it impossible to oil the machine properly. Replace the cap with one that has a medicine dropper attached; one from an empty bottle of nose drops is ideal to use.
  25. A good way to keep your patterns straight is to make a pattern bag. These are made in much the same way as a shoe bag only each pocket holds several patterns. Put them in the pockets according to sizes and type of pattern. Feed sacks are excellent to use for making these.
  26. Sew carpet rags on the bias to avoid having a bulky seam.
  27. Here’s a fashion flash that will appeal to all. Put an inner draw string of the same material as blouse or ribbon at the waist of blouse, run it through small loops which you make in the darts.
  28. For a convenient and handy pin cushion, wrap several thicknesses of felt, wool or flannel around the arm of the machine just back of the needle bar; blind stitch the edges together. When removing pins while sewing, just stick pins here and you will have them at your finger tips when needed.
  29. Is your youngest boy or girl going to wear a hand-me-down coat this winter? If that lining won’t stand another season’s wear, rip it out! Don’t stretch it. Then use the old lining as a pattern to cut a new one. The coat won’t draw if you put the new lining in loosely.
  30. An empty matchbook cover makes a neat little emergency repair kit to carry in your purse. Stick a few pins and needles in the torn match stubs and wind various shades of thread around the cover.
  31. Mark the place for each buttonhole with a thin coat of colorless nail polish. When dry, cut through the center and you have straight non-raveling edges to hold your stitches.
  32. Before making buttonholes in thin material, rub a small amount of library paste on the wrong side of material and allow to dry.
  33. Sew buttons on the children’s clothes with dental floss and you can be sure they will stay on for a long time.
  34. Buttons sewn on with crochet cotton will rarely come off.
  35. It is easier to work a buttonhole with embroidery thread than with most hard twists. It lies smoother and is stronger.
  36. Cut your thread on the bias (slant) and the needle will be much easier to thread.
  37. If you have trouble with your thread knotting when sewing try this. Always thread needle before breaking thread from spool and always tie knot in the end broken from spool last.
  38. To keep the thread from snarling when sewing with a double strand, put a separate knot at the end of each thread.
  39. Tack one end of the tape measure to an empty spool, then roll the tape onto the spool. This makes a neat, convenient holder.
  40. Use cellophane tape to fasten down thread ends on the spools in your sewing basket. It will stop tangles.
  41. For a rainy day occupation, empty the button box, sort out all of each kind, and mount by groups with basting thread on cardboards. When you can see what kinds and how many alike you have, you are much more likely to put them back into use.
  42. Empty aspirin boxes that shut tightly make excellent holders for pins, thumbtacks, small beats, buttons or snap fasteners. Use separate containers for the various items and label each box.
  43. To sharpen scissors while in the sewing room, take discarded needle and work it back and forth between the blades of the shears.
  44. Tweezers not only beautify the housewife but are useful too. They can pluck out threads which have been caught in the machine stitching.
  45. Embroidery floss has a number of uses. It is excellent for mending socks, sweaters and babies’ woolens. The colors are usually easy to match. Also try sewing buttons on a ready-made garment with it.

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    • sandra dennison

    Have you come across any instructions on how to alter an overlapping front on a t-shirt, blouse, or dress?

    • Viki

    If I use a pattern a lot I like iron the pattern to fusible interfacing.

      • suzie

      I have found that with small patterns it is always easier to transfer them onto acetate. It is strong yet flexible and pretty much indestructible..I have and am still using the patterns I transferred for teddies,and all manner of soft toys, Christmas tree decs,and the likes from nigh on 15 years ago! I photo copy the front of the original patterns envelope and its instruction sheet place them and the acetate pattern into a ring binder plastic pocket.which in turn gets snapped into a ring binder keeps everything neat and tidy and in one place! the original pattern is then boxed and kept for future reference should it be required.

        • adriana

        suzie… what a BRILLIANT idea !!!

        i’m going to start doing that with all the small patterns i have. i get a bit disheartened when i have to make the pattern again and again.

        however, with your incredible tip… i’ll never have to make them more than one more time :-)))


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