Readers, we're not going to talk about ladies stockings today, though I haven't ruled out this riveting topic for the future, perhaps during "Fetish Week."
No, today, I want to discuss the tricks and tools we sewists use to keep our seams straight and seam allowances accurate. MPB reader "E" recently emailed me to ask how I manage to sew so evenly, and whether it was simply a question of practice.
It does take practice, certainly, but there are lots of tricks you can use to make sure you're sewing accurately from the very beginning.
Here are a few of the most popular ones:
First of all, most sewing machines come with a numbered throat plate (sometimes called a needle plate). The numbers on it refer to 8ths of an inch.
My vintage Kenmore 158.141 has markings on both sides of the presser foot (not just to the right). Isn't that fantastic?
Vintage Singer straight stitchers often did not come with numbered throat plates (don't ask me why). Here's my Featherweight.
Jenny at Sew-Classic.com sells numbered replacement plates for many vintage machines. I use one of the ones she sells for my Singer 15-91, which did not come with a numbered plate. It works fine.
Jenny also sells numbered peel-and-stick decals which you can adhere to a plain throat plate. They need to be trimmed first and lined up carefully, but they do work well, and they're cheap and replaceable. I use one of these on my Pfaff 30.
The most popular seam guide is the old screw-on kind. That's one of the things those little holes on the bed of most vintage sewing machines are for.
I don't own one but I do have a photo of how they work. Very straight forward. Of course, it helps to have a numbered throat plate so you know where to line the guide up. Otherwise you have to measure from the needle to the outer edge of your fabric, the width of your desired seam allowance.
Whether or not you have a numbered throat plate, here are a few more helpful tools.
I poo-pooed this magnetic seam guide recently, but other people like it and find it helpful. This is another tool that's easier to use if your throat plate is numbered. If it's not, you'll have to measure.
When I'm using a vintage straight stitch machine, I use the straight stitch foot as my guide for topstitching. The right edge is 1/8".
The left edge is 1/4".
(I have also discovered that the far edge of the throat plate screw is 3/8" and the inner edge of the large hole is 5/8". Sometimes those are the only guides I use, but I don't recommend this for beginners.)
My zigzag machines all have low shank adapters that use the same snap on/snap off feet. You can buy sets of these on eBay. (High shank adapters use the same feet, btw.) Two edge guide feet that are very useful for accurate topstitching are these:
I discuss them at length in my topstitching movie, which can be viewed here.
Friends, have I left out any useful methods of sewing straight seams and accurate seam allowances? I've heard of some people using tape to mark the measurements but don't all the different tapes get confusing -- and gummy?
Which is your preferred method?
(A master sewist I know marks all his seam allowances in chalk, eliminating the need for guides altogether.)
Please share your secrets with us today -- we won't tell!
I'm a native New Yorker and self-taught sewing fanatic! I've been sewing obsessively since 2009 and today make all my own clothes using mostly vintage patterns and vintage sewing machines. Welcome to the warm and whimsical world of Male Pattern Boldness, where the conversation is sewing, style, fashion, fabric, and more!