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Sewing Techniques - Garment Details

Creating the Broomstick Look

You may want your skirt to have a broomstick crinkled look – after your garment is finished, choose any of the methods listed below to get this effect. Because all fabrics do not crinkle well, test a scrap of your fabric before trying this with your finished garment. broomstick look 

Broomstick Method

  1. Wet the garment and wring out excess water thoroughly.
  2. Place damp garment over a broomstick and tie with garment fabric straps approximately every 2" (5cm) or so.
  3. Leave garment tied to broomstick until dry. When dry untie fabric scraps, and it's ready to wear!

Rubber Band Method

  1. Wet the garment and wring out excess water thoroughly.
  2. Twist damp garment tightly, secure with rubber bands approximately every 2" (5cm) or so.
  3. Leave garment twisted and banded until dry. When dry, remove rubber bands, untwist and wear!


Easy Machine Hems

Machine hems are quick and easy alternatives to hand sewn hems. Here are two of our favorite techniques.

Wide Topstitched Hem Use it for: All fabrics and styles, except for very curved hems. For the most attractive proportions, the hem allowance should be 1¼" to 2¼" (3.8cm to 5.7cm) wide. 

How to do it:

  1. Stitch 1/2" (13mm) from the raw edge of the hem allowance. Fold under along the stitching, rolling the stitches just slightly to the inside of the garment; press. (Note: If the hem is slightly curved, gently pull up on this row of stitches to ease in the fullness.) If you are working with a knit, you can skip this step.
  2. Press the hem up along the hemline.
  3. Working on the wrong side, stitch close to the hem allowance edge, through all of the layers; press.
  4. Stitch again, ¼" (6mm) away from the first row of stitching, within the hem allowance.

TIP: If you are working with a knit, you can skip Step #1. 

 wide topstitched hem

Narrow Machine Hem Use it for: Sheers, lightweight silk and synthetic fabrics and for hemming ruffles. Note: To do this hem, you must have at least a 5/8" (1.5cm) hem allowance. 

How to do it: 

  1. Mark the hemline 1/8" (3mm) longer than desired.
  2. Fold the garment up along this hemline, and then stitch as close as you can to, but not more than 1/8" (3mm) from, the fold. Do not press before you stitch. If the hemline is not on straight of grain, pressing at this step will distort the hem.
  3. Using small scissors, carefully trim away the hem allowance above the stitching.
  4. Fold the hem allowance up along the stitching line, rolling the stitching line just slightly to the inside of the garment; press.
  5. Stitch again, close to the inner fold; press.
 narrow machine hem

Handling Bias Seems

Bias seams are found in hundreds of styles, from V-neck and asymetrical tops to A-line and flared skirts & dresses to jacket lapels and more. Achieving a smooth, pucker-free bias seam is To join two bias edges, such as the side seam of a bias-cut skirt, hold the fabric in front and in back of the presser foot and stretch gently as you stitch. Although this allows the seam to "give" as you stitch, it will relax into a smooth seam when you are finished.


Making a Bound Buttonhole

Bound buttonholes give a polished look to coats and jackets that quietly proclaims tailoring expertise. To insure perfect results, make a trial buttonhole on the same number of fabric layers as your garment for practice.

Step 1:

Mark buttonhole position and length on WRONG (interfaced) side of fabric. Thread-trace buttonhole position, extending the thread tracing beyond end markings. The thread-traced markings should resemble a ladder.

step 1 

Step 2:

Cut a self fabric strip for patch on straight grain, measuring 2" (5cm) wide and 1" (2.5cm) longer than the measurement of the buttonhole. Mark a center line along the length of the strip. With RIGHT sides together, baste center of strip along buttonhole marking, extending ends 1/2" (1.3cm) beyond end markings.
 step 2

Step 3:

Cut a self fabric strip for patch on straight grain, measuring 2" (5cm) wide and 1" (2.5cm) longer than the measurement of the buttonhole. Mark a center line along the length of the strip. With RIGHT sides together, baste center of strip along buttonhole marking, extending ends 1/2" (1.3cm) beyond end markings.
 step 3

Step 4:

Cut a self fabric strip for patch on straight grain, measuring 2" (5cm) wide and 1" (2.5cm) longer than the measurement of the buttonhole. Mark a center line along the length of the strip. With RIGHT sides together, baste center of strip along buttonhole marking, extending ends 1/2" (1.3cm) beyond end markings.
 step 4

Step 5:

Snip between the two stitching lines and clip diagonally to corners, as shown. Be careful not to clip through machine stitching. Add a dot of seam sealant (such as Fray CheckTM) to corners, and allow to dry.
 step 5

Step 6:

Pull patch through opening to WRONG side of front. This opening should form a perfect rectangle. Roll edges of opening between your fingers until each seam is at the edge of the opening. Press so that none of the patch shows on the OUTSIDE.
 step 6

Step 7:

To form buttonhole lips, fold each long side of the patch over the opening, so that the folds meet exactly at the center.
 step 7

Step 8:

On OUTSIDE, whip-stitch buttonhole lips together along fold lines and press in place. Whip-stitches should remain in place until garment is completed.
 step 8

Step 9:

To secure buttonhole lips and keep them from shifting, with front RIGHT side up, fold it back out of the way until you can sew the end of the patch and the triangle (formed by clipping corners in step 5) together. Using small machine stitches, stitch across the base of the triangle, catching patch. Trim end to 1/4" (6mm). Repeat on other end.
 step 9

Step 10:

Stitch horizontal seam allowance of buttonhole and patch together, just inside the original stitching. Trim patch to 1/4" (6mm). Repeat on other seam.
 step 10

Finishing your Bound Buttonhole

Step 11:

Transfer buttonhole markings to the WRONG (interfaced) side of front facing, and thread-trace markings, same as for bound buttonhole (see step 1). Cut a bias patch of silk organza or lightweight matching fabric 2" (5cm) wide and 1" (2.5cm) longer than the measurement of the buttonhole. Mark a center line horizontally along the patch. With RIGHT sides together, place patch on facing, over thread-traced markings and baste (see step 2).

Step 12:

Using small stitches, start stitching at the middle of one side, stitching a scant 1/8" (3mm) from center basting and tapering stitching at ends. Take one stitch across the end, pivot and continue along remaining side. Overlap stitches at starting point. Remove basting.
step 12 

Step 13:

Slash between stitching lines, being careful to not clip stitching at ends. Add a drop of seam sealant (such as Fray CheckTM) to ends of opening, and allow to dry.
 step 13

Step 14:

SPull patch through to WRONG side. Gently "snap" along the bias of patch to create a smooth slit opening. Press. If you prefer, trim edges of patch to within 1/4" (6mm) of opening.
 step 14

What is "Seam-Allowance"?

What is a seam allowance?
A seam allowance is the distance between the seam line (where you stitch to join two or more pieces of fabric) and the cut edge of the fabric. 

How much seam allowance is there in a garment?
Simplicity's standard seam allowance is 5/8" (1.5cm). When the seam allowance is more or less than 5/8" (1.5cm), the amount is specified both on the pattern piece and in the sewing instructions. 

Why is 5/8" (1.5cm) the standard seam allowance?
A 5/8"(1.5cm) seam allowance provides enough "extra" between the seam line and the cut edge of the fabric to make sure that you will safely "catch" the pieces that you are joining together. This is particularly important when working with fabrics that ravel easily. A 5/8" (1.5cm) seam allowance is also easier to work with when pressing a seam open or topstitching it for a finishing touch. Finally, it also provides you with a small amount of "letting out" space if you should need to make your garment just a little bit looser. 

When is the seam allowance not 5/8" (1.5cm)?
To make your sewing easier on very small items such as doll clothes, on small detail pieces such as belt carriers and in larger areas where you would need to trim away the excess seam allowance, we typically reduce the seam allowance to 3/8" or 1/4"(1.3cm or 6mm). But, as we said before, when the seam allowance is other than 5/8" (1.5cm), the amount is specified both on the pattern piece and in the sewing instructions. 

What if I need to make a smaller seam allowance?
On most fabrics, if we have indicated a 5/8"(1.5cm) seam allowance, you can stitch as much as 1/4"(6mm) closer to the cut edge and still have an adequate seam allowance. By doing this, you will make your garment a little bit bigger, either in circumference or length, depending on where the seams fall. CAUTION: If you are working on a fabric that ravels easily, it may not be wise to adjust to a smaller seam allowance, especially if the seam is in an area of high stress such as an armhole or fitted bodice side seam. 

Remember that if you change the seam allowance in one place on the garment, you will have to do it on the corresponding sections. For example, if you change the side seam allowance at the underarm on a bodice, you will also have to change the underarm seam allowance on the sleeve or armhole facing. 

Is the seam allowance ever more than 5/8" (1.5cm)?
Occasionally there will be a specific reason for using a larger seam allowance, such as 3/4" (2cm) or 1" (2.5cm). One example is on a garment with a very fitted bodice where, because of its close-to-the-body fit, special adjustments may be necessary. We will always tell you when we have done this on a pattern. 

Do I have to follow the seam line exactly?
Yes! If you want a professional look to your garment, it is important that your stitches be straight, not wobbly or wavy. If your seam lines are uneven, your garment won't hang properly and it probably won't fit well, either. If you have trouble keeping your stitching straight, use the guidelines on your presser foot or throat plate to help you. (If you're not familiar with this feature, check your sewing machine's manual.) You might even want to practice sewing on scraps of fabric or on a piece of typing paper. (For the latter, you don't even need to thread your machine. The needles holes in the paper will tell you how well you are doing!) 

What is "Stay-Stitching"?

What is staystitching?
Staystitching is a line of straight stitches that prevents curved or bias edges, such as necklines, shoulders and waistlines, from stretching out of shape as they are handled during sewing and pressing. The pattern instructions will tell you where to staystitch and the illustrations on the pattern's instruction sheet will you show which way to stitch. Staystitching is always done from the outer or wider edge in towards the center or narrower edge. The only exception is a "V" neck, where the stay-stitching goes from the point of the "V" up to the shoulder edge. 

Where should I do it?
Staystitch 1/8" (3mm) inside of the seam allowance, between the seam line and the cut edge. On a standard 5/8" (1.5cm) seam allowance, this distance is ½" (1.3cm) from the cut edge. 

Can I omit it?
It's not a good idea! We recommend it for areas that are prone to stretching. Staystitching takes only a few minutes to do. The rewards are a lifetime of stretch-free wear and a garment that will look more professional. Once you have transferred your pattern markings and removed the tissue, do all of your staystitching. don't have to staystitch every seam—just where it is indicated. 

Do I have to remove the staystitches after I sew the seam?
No. Staystitching remains in the garment as a permanent aid to prevent stretching and buckling. Because it is in the seam allowance between the seam line and the cut edge, it will be invisible on the finished garment. 

Sewing Pleats

Pleats are a popular garment detail, lending visual interest and controlling the fullness in a garment. These fabric folds add motion and fun to a skirt, whether they run its entire length, or decorate only the lower hemline edge. Pleats can be soft or crisp, pressed or unpressed. Basic formations include the knife pleat, the box pleat and the inverted pleat . While pleats aren't difficult to sew, professional results require accuracy in cutting, marking and stitching. The effect is created by the use of multiple folds, so remember that if any of these important steps is "off" by even 1/8" on each fold of an 8-pleat skirt, the distortion is also multiplied and the result is a waistline that is a full inch too small or too large at the waistline. 

Pleat detailing is prominent in current skirt styles, and is sure to continue through the summer and into autumn fashions. These easy tips will help you to create pleats you'll be proud of: 


  • Use your scissors to snip-mark the pleat lines within the seam allowance.
  • Use straight pins to mark the remainder of each pleat line. By using two different types of pins (or pins with two different colored heads), mark solid lines with one pin type and mark the broken lines with the other.
  • Crease fabric along the solid line, press lightly and remove the pin. Bring the pressed edge to meet the broken line and pin the pleat in place.
  • Form all pleats in the same fashion. Machine baste across the top of the pleats.


  • Careful pressing is the key to great-looking pleats. Once they are formed and basted into place, always use a press cloth or a scrap of your fashion fabric.
  • Cut a strip of brown paper bag, inserting it between the garment and the unbasted fold of each pleat as you press.
  • For soft pleats: Cover pleats with a dry press cloth. Hold the iron 2" to 3" above the fabric and apply a bit of steam only, without resting the iron on the fabric.
  • For crisp pleats: Cover pleats with a dry press cloth. Use ample steam and the full pressure of the iron. Since the garment is not yet hemmed, press lightly to within 8" of the hemline. After hemming, press this lower area thoroughly as well. Let garment dry completely before handling to allow the pleats to set.

Topstitching and Edgestitching:

top stitch and edging

  • Topstitching and edgestitching are used to hold pleats in place and to accentuate the pleat detailing. On a skirt, topstitching usually begins at the waist and extends down to the hip area, through all layers.
  • For fabrics that do not crease well, edgestitching is recommended below the hip, catching in only the fold of the pleat in your stitching. Use edgestitching on garments that will be machine laundered rather than dry-cleaned; this makes the re-pressing of the pleats much easier.
  • To give topstitching and edgestitching the look of one continuous line, do the edgestitching first, stitching below the hipline to within 8" of the hemline. Then, beginning stitching at the waistline, topstitch to the hip area, carefully overlapping the start of the previous stitching. After the garment is hemmed, complete edgestitching.


If a seam falls at the inside fold of a pleat, follow these steps for a smooth, flat finish:

  • Clip the seam allowance to the line of stitching at the top of the hem allowance.
  • Press the seams open below the clip and trim them to ¼".
  • Finish the raw edge of the hem allowance. Hem the garment.
  • Working on the inside of the garment, edgestitch the pleat folds within the hem allowance to keep it flat. Once the garment is hemmed, re-press the lower edges of the pleats.

Although it is usually easier to work with the purchased versions of these tapes, you can make your own bias tape. For information on how to do this, see pages 117-118 of the revised edition of Simplicity's Simply the Best Sewing Book.