Threads Sewing Guide

Threads Sewing Guide

SKU# 071294

A complete reference from America's best-loved sewing magazine

From the editors of Threads


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Other Formats
  • Product # 071294
  • Type Hardcover
  • ISBN 978-1-60085-144-5
  • Published Date 2011
  • Dimensions 9 3/16 x 10 7/8
  • Pages 392
  • Photos 1010
  • Drawings 229

Readers who love to sew – especially those who know Threads magazine – will have to have this definitive sewing encyclopedia. An incomparable collection of the best sewing information available, this book promises to explain, with trademark thoroughness, the full range of garment sewing techniques. It covers all the bases for anyone who delights in sewing: tools (from sewing machines and sergers to pins and needles); materials (fabrics and threads of all kinds); basic sewing (from seams and seam finishes to hand-sewn stitches); garment construction (top to bottom, inside and out); tailoring techniques (for a professional look); even lingerie techniques, pressing tips, embellishments, and much, much more. Without a doubt, this is the complete sewing answer book.

About the Author
As a leading source for all things related to garment sewing, Threads magazine is committed to serving sewers of all skill levels and providing the right tools to create functional and fashionable clothing to last a lifetime. Must-have patterns, essential techniques, and expert advice are available at


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Table of Contents

Sewing Equipment
1. Sewing Machines & Sergers
2. Essential Tools & Supplies

1. Thread
2. Interfacing
3. Elastic
4. Closures
5. Trims & Embellishments
6. Adhesives

1. Fiber Selection
2. Fabric Structure
3. Choosing & Purchasing Fabric
4. Lining & Interior Fabrics
5. Fabric Care & Storage

Working with Patterns
1. Shopping for Patterns
2. Determining Your Pattern Size
3. Navigating the Pattern Tissue
4. Evaluating the Pattern Draft
5. Making Basic Fitting Adjustments

Layout, Cutting & Prep Work
1. Pattern Layout & Cutting
2. Marking the Fabric
3. Applying Interfacing
4. Basic Order of Construction

Shaping the Garment
1. Darts
2. Gathering & Shirring
3. Tucks
4. Pleats
5. Godets

Sewing Seams
1. The Perfect Seam
2. Pressing Techniques
3. Stitching for Control & Accuracy
4. Removing Stitches
5. Seam Finishes & Specialty Seams

Serger Sewing
1. Understanding the Serger
2. Serger Stitches  

Construction Techniques
1. Sleeves
2. Collars
3. Pockets
4. Waistline Finishes

Edge Finishes & Hems
1. Edge Finishes.
2. Hemming

1. Buttons & Buttonholes
2. Zippers
3. Other Fasteners

Inner Garment Construction
1. Tailoring
2. Shoulder Pads
3. Linings
4. Bust Support & Boning

Couture Techniques
1. Fundamentals of Couture Sewing
2. Special Couture Techniques

Sewing Specialty Fabrics
1. Knits
2. Sheers
3. Special Occasion Fabrics
4. Pile & Napped Fabrics
5. Stripes, Plaids, & Large Prints

Surface Embellishments
1. Decorative Machine Stitching
2. Appliqué
3. Trims & Embellishments

Garment Mending & Repair
1. Common Quick Fixes
2. Removing Stains



A good sewing machine is the key piece of equipment you need to pursue sewing as a hobby or career. As a new or returning sewer looking to tap into your creativity, you’re likely to have lots of questions about machines. Today’s sewing machines offer much more than a few basic stitches. From entry-level mechanical models to top-of-the-line computerized embroidery machines, there are plenty of options. Whatever your needs and budget, you can find a machine to suit.

Machine Types
Before buying a sewing machine, it’s important to assess your sewing needs. For garment construction and repair, crafts, quilting, and most home décor sewing, a relatively simple sewing machine with a straight stitch, a zigzag stitch, and a buttonhole function is sufficient. These machines are available at the lower end of the price range. If you’re interested in creating elaborate embroidery, prepare to spend considerably more on a computerized machine. A serger, or overlock machine, adds speed and efficiency to your sewing, but it doesn’t take the place of a basic machine. Your options for sewing machines include the following:

  • Mechanical machines are driven by a single motor and use cams, gears, and/or levers to move the needle shaft and feed dogs. Most mechanical machines include 10 to 20 stitches and a multistep buttonhole feature. Though very basic, mechanical machines can handle nearly every sewing project you undertake. These are the most affordable choices.
  • Electronic machines work like mechanical models, but incorporate electronic parts for labor-saving features, such as a speed adjustment switch, a needle position option, and a low-bobbin warning. They’re available in the low to middle price range.
  • Computerized machines use an entirely different drive system. Rather than one large motor, they contain a series of tiny motors controlled by a single microprocessor, which creates a smooth-running machine with dozens of decorative stitches. From automatic thread cutters, to alphabets for monogramming, to color touch-screen controls, computerized machines offer convenience and creativity. Some computerized machines contain programmable memory, enabling you to create and store your own stitch combinations. These machines include mid- to high-priced models.
  • Combination sewing/embroidery machines both sew, with many decorative stitch options, and stitch digitized embroidery motifs onto hooped fabric, using a special embroidery attachment. When a digitized embroidery design is loaded into the machine (via a special memory card, a flash drive, or direct connection with a computer), the unit moves its attached embroidery hoop under the needle to stitch out complex motifs. These top-of-the-line machines are typically the most expensive.
  • Embroidery-only machines  perform only digitized embroidery on hooped fabric driven by the embroidery unit. They aren’t designed to sew seams or straight lines of stitching, so an embroidery-only machine is best used as a complement to a regular sewing machine. Embroidery-only machines are available at medium to high prices for home models. Semi-professional models, with multiple needles and threads for fast, production-style embroidery, are more expensive.
  • Sergers are a boon in the sewing room, but aren’t a replacement for a regular sewing machine. A serger can’t sew a single line of straight stitching, make buttonholes, or stitch anywhere but along the edge of the fabric, so for many garment-construction tasks, the serger won’t do. On the other hand, the serger sews, trims, and overcasts seams quickly and in a single pass; creates seams that stretch; and makes fast work of finishing raw edges. It’s ideal for sewing knits and can speed up some home décor projects. Sergers are priced similarly to computerized sewing machines.

Selecting a Sewing Machine
All sewing machines, no matter the type, create a stitch by interlocking a top thread, threaded through the needle, with a lower thread, wound around a bobbin. The fabric is held beneath the needle by a presser foot and moved along by the feed dogs, a set of little teeth that protrude from the throat plate.

A straight stitch is the fundamental utility stitch offered in every machine, and you can sew nearly any project with it. Most machine models offer a variety of sewing features and a greater assortment of decorative and utility stitches, allowing for seemingly unlimited creativity.

When you start shopping for a new sewing machine, spend some time getting to know the main parts and features. Research various models and brands in your price range, using the websites of the machine manufacturers. When you find a few machines that meet your criteria, take the time to test-drive them. The first step is to lift the levers, turn the wheels, and listen to the machine purr. Also be sure that its speed works for you. Next, sew a variety of fabric swatches, from denim to silk. Look for smooth, regular stitches, even tension, and feed dogs that feed the fabric evenly.

Become familiar with the physical features shown in the photograph on pages 6–7 and the operational features listed in the chart on pages 8–9, and decide which are important to you. Two considerations worth investigating are the machine’s ability to easily make consistent buttonholes and its variety of built-in stitches.

Stitch Variety
Utility stitches, including the standard straight stitch and zigzag stitch, are used for hemming, finishing seams, sewing elastic and trims, and sewing novelty fabrics to prevent raveling, stretching, or “popping” seams. Utility stitches make sewing easier, faster, and more professional looking. And often they’re only visible on the inside of a project.

Decorative stitches, which are sometimes intricate, can be very appealing. Most sewing machines offer some decorative stitch patterns, which stitch out in a line on unhooped fabric. Depending on the type of sewing you plan to do, you may not need or want many of these fancy stitches.

Today, most machines feature an automatic buttonhole setting. Although this function is useful, the truth is that any machine that zigzags can produce a buttonhole. All it takes is two parallel rows of satin stitches and a bar tack at each end. Nonetheless, for convenience, most sewers consider an automatic buttonhole function a must-have feature.

Some machines offer a four-step automatic buttonhole, for which each of the four sides is sewn individually and in succession; you must manually switch the control to move through the steps. A one-step buttonhole is stitched on all four sides with just one command. Some machines feature a special foot that automatically sizes the buttonhole to fit your button.

Specialty Machines
As mentioned on page 5, embroidery machines and sergers can enhance your sewing efficiency and creativity. The neatly overlocked seams and edges a serger creates add a professional touch to garments, improve the longevity of your projects, and make fast work of long seams on large home décor projects. The more you work with a serger, the more uses you will discover. Many sewers consider a serger an indispensable addition to their sewing room.

An embroidery or a combination sewing/embroidery machine introduces nearly unlimited creative options in sewing. If you like embroidered embellishment on garments or soft furnishings, an embroidery machine is worth considering.
There’s a steeper learning curve with these machines: In addition to learning how to prepare and hoop fabric, install the embroidery unit, and get the stitching started, you need enough technological savvy to manage the digitized design files that tell the machine what to stitch. Once you become more comfortable with the machine, you can purchase separate software that enables you to design and digitize your own embroidery motifs for custom embellishment.

Machine Accessories
Presser feet, bobbins, and sewing machine needles are essential equipment. New machines usually contain a few of each in the package, but as you sew, you’ll need to replace or supplement your supplies. Purchasing the right items makes your sewing easier and neater, and protects your machine from potential damage.

Presser Feet
Almost every sewing machine comes with a zigzag (also called a general-purpose) presser foot, a zipper foot, and a buttonhole foot. These are the most-often-used presser feet in general sewing. Many machines include a few additional presser feet designed to make specific sewing tasks easier. You’re likely to find feet for blind hemming, roll hemming, overcasting, and darning. Consult your machine’s manual to identify the feet you have and their intended purpose.

Although all presser feet contain the same basic parts (see “A Guide to Commonly Used Presser Feet” at right), foot design can differ from brand to brand, so feet aren’t always interchangeable between machines. The most obvious difference is in the manner of installation. Some feet contain an integral shank, which snaps directly to the machine. Others must be attached to the machine with a screw; finally, some simply snap onto the machine. Review your machine’s operating manual for more details about the feet that come with the machine. You can purchase specialty feet from your machine dealer; in some cases, you can use generic feet, as long as they are designed to fit the shank setup of your machine.

Bobbins and Bobbin Cases
Not all bobbins, which hold the lower thread, work the same way. Some drop directly into an opening near the machine’s throat plate, and others are inserted into a removable bobbin case, which is then placed vertically into the front or side of the sewing machine. Use only bobbins that are recommended for your machine, and make sure they don’t have any dents or rough spots that could snag the thread and thus distort your stitch. Refer to your sewing machine owner’s manual for bobbin-winding and installation instructions.

Sewing Machine Needles
The correct machine needle is the key to making well-formed stitches, so choose the right one to cleanly pierce the fabric. The two factors to consider when selecting a needle are the fabric and the thread. Choose a needle type based on the fabric (“universal” is designed for most wovens, but special styles may be needed for other fabrics, like knits), then a needle size based on thread type and fabric weight. This ensures that the thread lies in the needle’s front groove without wiggling and fits through the eye with little friction. If the needle is too large for the thread, the stitch may be uneven. If the thread is too large for the eye of the needle, it can shred or break. But when the combination is just right, the stitches form beautifully.

Change the needle often. A dull or damaged needle can snag the fabric, affect stitch tension, break threads, and cause irregular or skipped stitches. It can also nick or damage the machine’s throat plate or bobbin. The average needle is good for a maximum of eight hours of sewing on average fabric. Some fabrics, including synthetics, dull needles faster. To keep sewing smoothly, change the needle after completing every other project, and dispose of used needles safely.

Anatomy of a Needle
If you think all sewing machine needles look the same, try peering at a few of them through a magnifying glass. You’ll be surprised at the different shapes and sizes of their main components.

  • Point – The tip that pierces the fabric; point style is the main difference among needle types.
  • Eye – The hole that the thread passes through.
  • Shank – The top part that’s inserted into the sewing machine; most needle shanks are flat on one side, so they can only be inserted into the machine facing the right way.
  • Shaft – The diameter of this center part determines the size of the hole created in the fabric.
  • Scarf – The back indentation where the stitch is formed; when the bobbin shuttle swings into this indentation, it catches the looped thread to make a stitch.
  • Front groove – This front indentation protects the thread from the friction of the needle piercing the fabric.

Types of Needles
Choosing the right needle type depends on the fabric you are using. The stan-dard needles in the chart above can handle most sewing needs and fabrics. For decorative stitching, specialty needles are helpful. Refer to the chart on the facing page for suggestions.

Needle Size
The thickness of the thread you are sewing with determines which size needle you use. Needle size is listed as two numbers. The first is the European system, the second the American system (for example, 60/8). The European sizing convention refers to the diameter of the needle shaft as represented by the percent of 1 mm that the shaft measures. The American number also relates to diameter, but is a gauge system, not an actual measurement. In both systems, the smaller the number, the finer the needle. As a general rule, use the smallest needle you can to accommodate the thickness of your thread.


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great book, updates of sewing techniques Review by Nancy

I have several older sewing guides but this one updates techniques. It's thorough and colorful! Great book. Loved it so much I bought another one for my sewing sister!

(Posted on 4/20/13)

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