Learning The Basics, Before Delving In With Both Feet!


Now that we are formally introduced, I am going to be talking about some pretty basic things this time. At least for those of you that have been around for a while,with not only ME, but sewing in general. The following is a list of sewing terms that may help clarify more easily for you both in ME and regular sewing, on a regular basis:

Basting Stitch> Is the longest stitch on the machine, and is used to hold the fabric in place, so you can sew out your design without everything shifting.

Bias> The diagonal of the weave or a line across the grain of the fabric, drawn at a 45-degree angle to the selvage edge; cloth cut on the bias will stretch, allowing for smoother fit around curves.

Selvage> the edge of a piece of fabric, finished by the manufacturer to prevent unraveling, and provide information as to the manufacturer, colors in the fabric and the direction of the design or pattern.

Tension> the balance between the bobbin and the needle threads on a sewing machine, correct tension ensures a perfect stitch.

Right Side> The patterned, printed, or figured side of a piece of fabric, the side that is intended to show.

The reason for this is to familiarize yourself with some basics of sewing principles. I am a firm believer that before we can apply too many shortcuts, we must first learn some of the basics. Why is this important? It is important to learn some of these techniques so when buying fabric, it gives more of an idea what to look for. When you start a project, you should know what you are going to need to complete the project from start to finish. It is also important to know what and how much/many materials you will need before going to shop for this project. This way you can do the complete project the most efficient and cost effective way for all of our budgets. Last but not least, you know how to cut the fabric to suit your needs for this particular project idea. As with any thing else with ME, or sewing, it does require some planning.


Now come the questions>>>How much am I going to need? 1 yard for a simple framed picture, or 3 yards for a wall hanging. Is this a very stretchy fabric? Like a t-shirt material, so you know what type of stabilizers to use, as well as needle choice. How wide is it? Fabric comes in various widths, so the wider, the more you will get out of it. What is the density (stitch count) of the design, and is it suitable for the chosen fabric? This is important to get the maximum effect, we need a fabric that can withstand the density of the design you have chosen. For instance, on a thin flour sack towel, I would choose a design like either a vintage or redwork, something that is light and airy. If you put something heavier than that on it, you are setting yourself up for disaster. For clothing I would use a design that is a bit light and airy, but that has more substance than a vintage design.

Very important as most of us (me included) want to put some of those high density, beautiful designs on something that just will not withstand it. Remember, you cannot change the makeup of the fabric that you are using, You can only stabilize it to hold the chosen design. In short, the fabric is what it is, you can't change that fact. I once had a very smart lady tell me that you can never over-stabilize a design! You can ,however under stabilize it.

What am I going to do with it? What project do you have in mind for this particular fabric, a wall hanging , or a quilt block? All these things are questions to ask yourself before sitting down at the machine. Most important question a lot of us ME folks who hoard fabric ask is, "when am I going to use this fabric"? The answer is, "Oh sometime in the future", and "Oh I know what the perfect thing is for this". With us that could take a while! These are all things we should ask ourselves when shopping for fabric. I like to get extra, so if I need 1 yard I get 4........See what I mean! Sound familiar?


The next is cutting. Why is that important? A mistake in cutting cannot be taken out like a poorly sewn seam. With an expensive fabric it can become costly in a hurry. a very wise person told me long ago, "Measure twice, Cut once!" Words to live by in my book! I keep a note pinned in my sewing room to remind myself of this every time I go to cut anything. OK, is it obvious that I have a lot of sticky notes everywhere in my sewing room?

A good measuring tool is the lip Edge Ruler. A lot of quilters use them, they are worth whatever you pay for them! I use mine for almost everything! The reason for that is that it will lay flat on your cutting mat and hold the fabric in place so you can take your rotary cutting tool and follow along the edge for a perfect cut every time. Again, planning is the key. There are many types of cutting tools, the most popular is the rotary, the cutting mat and the lip edge ruler. It is also likely the easiest to use.                                                          



Also with ME, I cannot stress enough how important it is to do a "Test Sew"! I have heard many excuses for not doing this. For me, it is a necessity! It tells you so much about not only the design, the weight of the combination of the design and the fabric, how they blend together, your stabilizer,h ow much and what type to use, colors, size of design, and yes even the needle type you should use! There are two mistakes that you can avoid, the first is Not making a sample, with your actual fabric, threads, and stabilizer you plan to use. Remember that everything shrinks at a different rate, and can leave your garment puckered and unwearable. The second is start ME'ing a design, only to realize too late that the design is not placed exactly where you wanted it. One way to predict how the embroidery will look and a way to place it on the garment; First, make your test sample, but don't remove it from the hoop, use chalk or rinseable marker, to draw a line around the inside wall of the hoop directly on the sample. Then remove the hoop, cut out the sample along the chalk line, and position it on the garment. Pin in place, mark along the edge of the sample directly on the garment (use only removable chalk or marker). When you remove the sample the remaining chalk circle is a perfect guide for placing the hoop to begin your embroidery, ensuring the design is exactly where you want it. I would rather lose a $5.00 piece of fabric rather than a $65.00 jacket. All it really costs me is some time and some thread, but I have guaranteed myself a beautiful, completely wearable garment!

Suzy's Tip Of The Week!: Keep an Excel sheet of all of your thread colors and manufacturers, along with all of your sewing and ME needs. When you start running out, you can simply go to your sheet on the computer and put a mark next to the things you need, including, stabilizers (you get from ATG of course!),needles (what type and size), ribbons, elastic and so on. Add anything you may need either from the fabric store or online store. Print it out and take it with you. It is a wonderful time saver. The most effort you will put into it is at the very beginning when first making your list. Any trip to either the fabric store or online store is a breeze as it is all right in front of you including upc codes, manufacturers and where you got it from!

Signing off until next time....................................................Happy Stitchin'!

Remember to K.I.S.S  someone you love today!


Judy/AKA Suzy !

Comments (24) -

Excellent Blog!  Judy is going to have all of us knowledgeable and our projects will be so professional!

Judy is so right about 'test sew outs.'  Just think of the designer who has to take into consideration so many things, threads, fabrics, techniques, formats, skill levels, and on and on.  With all those variables, the 'test sew out' is the best friend of any one who sews.

I love the Excel idea.  When I get to the store, my head swims with questions, do I have this?  Am I running short of that?  With gas and my time at a premium, I need an arsenal of weapons.  

If you do not have Microsofts (expensive) software, may I recommend "OpenOffice" which is FREE!  I highly recommend it because it is so much like Microsoft, it is hard to tell the difference.  Download the "Writer" (same as Word) and "Calc" (same as Excel).  http://openoffice.org-suite.com/index.asp">openoffice.org-suite.com/index.asp  


Excellent Judy!  I especially liked how you emphasized knowing the basics.  I firmly believe that in sewing and computers, you gotta do the "101" first.  I would also add that machine familiarization is a plus as well.  With the machines offering more than straight stitch and back stitch, manuals should be taken out and reviewed and should never be placed in the recycling pile.  I have a new serger that the manual is 4" thick.  Yikes!  

And you are correct, "Measure Twice, Cut Once" no longer stays in the garage not with everyday cotton fabric hitting $9.50 a yard; not to even mention designer fabrics and decorating fabrics.


jalcumbrack 8/16/2008 9:42:45 AM

Thanks Joan,

I so appreciate the input! I agree, no manuals should go unread! I have mine in a very accesible place in a plastic ziploc bag,and yes I still refer to them often. Sometimes an issue arises that you need to go back and reveiw something.

Without the basics, trying to do something can be frustrating to say the least! We have all been there! Actually I intend to do a blog about just the subject  of knowing your machine in the very near future, I couldn't agree more on that as well.That is the first thing everyone should do when they get a new machine, is sit down with the manual and go through it step by step,doing the things discribed as you go along. It is the best way to familarize yourself with the machine. To me it's like opening that great Christmas present,finding out all that the machine can do!

Measuring can be one of the most frustrating things in sewing,if not cut properly ,things can go south in a hurry.You are correct as well with the cost of fabric,it has gotten outrageous in the last couple of years, so I use everything I can use. I even save a few of the scraps to check machine tension on instead of cutting a piece to do that. I try not to waste any fabric if possible. Mom always said that I could make an expensive looking dress out of nothing!!(trust me I did do that more than a few times)( I made a prom dress out of left over stuff my Grandmother had).

Pat, thanks for the information on the on the excel sheet. What ever folks can use is fine. I know once I had the information all there,then it was a piece of cake going to the store. If I got a new color or something new that I really liked,I imediatly added it to the list. It has saved me so much time,instead of going through everything trying to figure out what I needed,or worse yet, getting to the store and doing some "impulse buying" thinking I may need it and didn't. It saves me time and trust me a lot of money. I one time went to get some thread colors,couldn't remember when I got there which ones I needed,and well it was on sale so I loaded up on it. Only to discover when I got home that I already had two of every color I had bought and not the ones I needed! Thats how the list got started. LOL.

Thanks to all, I love the input,if there is any particular subject you would like me to cover,feel free to ask, I will do my best to discuss it.

jalcumbrack 8/16/2008 9:47:10 AM


We must have bought the same serger! I have a manual about the same size,took me forever to get through it,but I am glad I did. Machines have changed so much over the years,for the better I might add!,but it also takes a bit longer to familarize yourself with it. Once done though, it can save you a lot of frustration later. I love my serger for a lot of things,yes I am going to do an article on them as well!

Judy/AKA Suzy!


What an informative blog...great job!! You have done through the basics and familiarized everyone w/ some basic terms and pictures of some necessary equipment/tools for sewing and embroidery.

You go girl!!!!

Hugs...Kath :o)

Judy-You know that this spreadsheet will save you money and here is another thing I recently read. . .

If you are trying to be more careful with your money, one thing to consider is "What was my last 'impulse' purchase AND how do I feel about it now."  

It is important that you consider most of your impulse buys.  They add up fast!   Certainly, you want to look at purchased that exceed $XX (fill in your figure there).  If you have some remorse about it, see if it can be returned.  We all have them.  Curbing impulse buying is a good way to hold on to your funds.  This spreadsheet will help you, no matter what your financial status.  


Hi Judy.  My first Serger was a Simplicity.  Did me well.  Great learning serger.  Recently, I wanted more.  Yeah, don't we all???!!  Wanted the one that swooshed the thread through the needle.  Could not afford it so checked out the latest Singer Quantum 5-4-3-2.  The name of the thing should have scared me off!  Actually, think the manual is more like 6" thick..have in a huge binder.  Okay, you are a better person than me.  Have not tackled any of it as yet except for printing out the manual and it is like 5 months now.  BUT, will have to acclimate myself in order to make some Christmas gifts that I have in mind.  Also, need to sell the Simplicity one...afraid to let go yet!  


peggytoomey 8/16/2008 4:21:23 PM

Hey, Judy,

Love your blog.  I needed the "back to basics".  It's always good to hear it again.

When I got back to sewing since my retirement, I went to JoAnn's for a "Know Your Serger" class.  When I bought mine several years ago, I never felt like the store gave me enough instructions on it.  "Know Your Serger" was worth twice the price I paid.

And I love the Excel spreadsheet idea.  I use Excel for everything else, can't imagine why I didn't think of this too!

Keep your info blogs coming...I love 'em.


Great blog Judy even those that have sewn a while find good tips and tricks to go back and remember how we use to stay on top of our projects. Many interesting facts and easy understandings.



jalcumbrack 8/16/2008 8:28:23 PM

Yes Joan, I guess that would have been a clue!!LOL You will learn it in your own time. Take your time and go through the manual,it won't take you long before you know it inside and out!

you better get crackin on it,Christmas is not far away now!

Peggy, My first experience with a serger was in 1972 while working in the auto factory,after using one the first day, I thought ,Wow I have got to have one of these! They have so many uses, and now with a lot of the clothing and purses showing off the serged seams,they are more in the spotlight than ever! I use mine a lot,even when I do an embroidered picture for framing,I serge around it before I embroider it. It really helps when you go to frame them,and they seem to hold the shape better.  Yes, I thought of the excel sheet after I made the foopah purchase of thread,now it never happens, and I no longer make those "impulse buys". I'm not saying I don't let my eyes wander in the store,but rarely buy now.

Thanks Kathlene for the wonderful comments, hope this means your computer is fixed!

Hi Norrie, Thank you,yes it is good sometimes to re-group and take a step back. It reminds us why we started all of this in the first place

Thank you all for your wonderful comments! I hope to see all of you again, and again. I will do my best to provide everyone with as much information as I can. If I get going too fast,some of you may have to remind me to take a step back. I get so excited when I talk about sewing and ME ,sometimes I feel like I am going to burst! I would really burst with that new Brother!! I can think already of everything I could do with that machine! I can hardly wait to see one in action ,for real, not just a video!! Woohoo!!


Great Blog! I'd never heard of the lip edge ruler (no surprise!) but I'm definitely going to have to get one!

I understand the reasons behind doing a sample ME 1st, but what if you can't? I have a nylon gym bag that I want to ME on & have nothing similar to use for sample stiching. It's nylon with a plastic backing. I planned on using a heavy stabilizer & taking my chances. The bag was free, so I figured I wasn't losing anything if it didn't work.

I used the Excel spreadsheet for my hand embroidery floss & have started to use it for ME as well. It also comes in handy when you have to do conversions from 1 brand to another. My shop carries Robison-Anton & the pattern listed Sulky thread. I used the free download from mythreadbox.com to find the conversion. The spreadsheet came in really handy for that! Speaking of thread conversion . . .  is there any other place to find conversions? My thread box only allows 20 conversions on its free download.

Keep the great blogs coming. I'm interested in hearing about sergers. I don't have one & would like to hear about its uses.


jalcumbrack 8/17/2008 7:30:14 AM

Hi Rosie!

First, you will love the lip edge ruler, I think I have used this for simply everything! I always grab it as opposed to any other measuring tool I have,(1) it is easy (2) it stays where you put it(3) it holds the fabric so you can get an accurate cut. Once you use one,you will never be without it!

Well, now that does present a problem doesn't it!? In this case of the nylon gym bag, I understand about only having one, so, since you have nothing similar to use, I would stitch out the design you plan on using onto something to (1) make sure the design sews properly (2) to check stitch density. (3) to see which stabilizer works well with this design.Nylon being,nylon and is usually sort of a slippery little devil,even though it has a plastic backing,it is still slippery. Remember that fabric makeup isn't going to change,so after you do a test sew on something,be it cotton or what ever,(hoping you can find something as close to the bag as you can) I think I would use as heavy a stabilizer as you can,you may even have to use more than one piece,if you have some adhesive spray, I would lighty spray it on the stabilizer so it adhere's to it a bit to keep it from any slipping. I would also use a sharp type needle to help keep it from causing any pulls in the fabric,then use a topping stabilizer or a piece of water soluble on top to also help protect it. It may be that by doing so,it will sew onto the bag better as well. Keep in mind that you can never over stabilize something,so if you are not sure ,slap another piece in there underneath. You may even want to try a piece of the mesh stabilizer( Ann's Mesh is wonderful) for the backing for the extra stability,again, I think I would likely use more than one.

Also Rosie keep in mind that there are no set "rules" of thumb for any one project, sometimes we have to think outside the box a bit to get our desired results,there are no sewing police either as LaRue says,so it's not like I am going to show up at your door if you can't do something! LOL.

As far as a conversion software, I really don't know of another free one,the one I have is almost as old as I am and you can no longer get it, I think I would google it and see what you can come up with or maybe some of our wonderful folks out there can help answer this for Rosie!

Thanks for your lovely comments Rosie, I am looking forward to seeing a lot of you here!! I certainly will provide you all with a serger article in the near future!

Thanks for the tip to all the readers on your thread conversion spread sheet as well, that is a wonderful idea,so your saying I can actually get rid of some of my sticky notes huh?!

Thanks everyone,you are all so very kind!

Judy?AKA Suzy

Judy/Suzy, Who are you?   ;o)

Wow!  You just set up my next blog.  You did a great job on this one.  In a way, I'm glad I had a busy weekend and couldn't get to ATG to read yours until Monday AM.  All the comments were really helpful too.

There was so much in it, I can't comment on very much, except that I really encourage everyone to read  it again to absorb what's there.

The sections on fabric, selvage, bias, how much fabric to buy are ever so important to quilting just as in ME and basic sewing.  One really important thing is always to buy more fabric than the pattern calls for.  None of us cut things out exactly the way the printed pattern says.  

One suggestion; how about keeping a running list of sewing terms at the bottom of your blogs so everyone can see them each time they go to your blog.  It sure would help me.



jalcumbrack 8/18/2008 12:03:26 PM

Thanks LaRue!

I will do that,it is a very good idea! You are right too when you say always buy a bit more than the pattern calls for,for that just in case moment that we all have! I always figure if I don't use it for what it was intended then it will become part of a quilt later on. I never throw away a piece of fabric,I can always find a use for it somehow! Looking forward to your next addition as well. I think all of these blogs are so useful and wonderful. I learn something new every day,when I stop doing that then I must be on my way off the planet!

travelbug1237 8/18/2008 5:14:11 PM

What a WEALTH of information!!! THANKS so much!!! This is so informative and a blog I can keep coming back to for information!!!

I HOPE you are safe and sound in Florida!!!!



P.S. You're gonna be a hit!!!!...Well, I take that back... you already are!!!!

jalcumbrack 8/18/2008 8:10:04 PM

Thanks Cathy!

How was the beach?

I hope you are all rested up now.So far all is well but it is the calm before the storm I am sure. We have the shutters on and everything that could be a missle is the garage,food,water and everything we need,so we are ready for Fay! Hubby's daughter and family are here from Michigan so is not a  very nice vacation for them but like we tell everyone,we don't guarantee the weather this time of year. Will stay online as long as we have power,but who knows how long that will be. Take care all! will see everyone when the storm has passed.

please comment on stabilizers  types and purpose and possabilites of uses.  also possabile conbinations of types of stabilizers  also has anyone found a way to identify which stabilizer is which once the label is gone.

i would enjoy learning about your ideas on velvet, satin,towels, quilts, and lace, different weights of cotton, deium

when to hoop your project and recomendations on how not to

this is the first day i found this blog.  i wish i had found you many years ago.....it would have saved me allot.  keep up the great job.  and thank you for what you do     dj

jalcumbrack 8/20/2008 6:46:09 PM

Hi TXNYr39;

Well I am so glad you found us! I sure hope you stick around,we have a lot of different types of blogs here to help you out and a very large number of folks who just love to help those who need it! Smile

Ok,you have several questions here ,so let me answer this part first. I have a wall unit that my Hubby made for me for stabilizers if you go here you can see it. http://www.annthegran.com/cs/media/p/2109.aspx">www.annthegran.com/.../2109.aspx

What I did is mark with permanent marker on the end of the roller what type goes on which peg. If you don't have something like this to store your stabilizers,what you can also do is roll the paper you take off the stabilizer and set it inside the hole on the end with a part of it sticking out,so you can tell the difference until you become familiar with each one as far as feel and weight. The obvious one of course are the water soluble ones and toppings. The soft one is also easy to detect as well as it even feels soft to the touch.The tacky backs are also fairly easy as they always have some sort of removable paper on them that you can actually write on as far as what they are,the iron on generally has a waxy feel to it. The medium and heavy weight will feel similar,the big difference of course is the weight. The heaviest one will feel quite stiff,while the medium will feel a little stiff but not as much as the heavy weight. The mesh ones generally even look different from the rest,they will have almost a detectable weave design on them.The hardest thing you have is whether it is a tear away or a cut away,this is why I would leave the shelf tag on it somewhere,or come up with a system that will work for you.

I will save your questions about all the fabrics as I will be having a new blog on them coming up real soon.

As far as hooping a project,that is a project by project thing. I don't hoop towels,(because of the weight,unless it is something like a flour sack towel(very light weight). Velvet, and like fabrics would also be a no hoop, as you can get hoop burn on the fabric that is impossible to get out. Some of the best quilts I have done have had embroidered squares in them,they are stunning to say the least. Lace,Oh My, I cannot say enough great things about lace. I have a love affair with the lace and cut work that can be created from these machines! I have never done a lace project,I haven't wanted to keep!

I will also be doing an up coming blog on fabrics and their different uses,as well as some more on hooping. So stay tuned DJ, and I will certainly do my best to answer all of your questions in the coming weeks(if i tell you everything now,I won't have anything to write about!) But all of your questions will be answered soon! If, in the mean time you have a specific question about a certain thing,please feel free to ask! I love answering them! I get so excited when discussing anything about ME or sewing,I could just explode!

Thankyou so much DJ for your wonderful comments, I hope I can continue to help out as much as possible.

Til next time.......

Judy/AKA Suzy!


You've just stumbled into a gold mine! This is the place for information. There have already been blogs posted on some of your questions. Try looking at these:



Copy & paste the URL into the address line on your computer or just go to the blogs & start looking at the titles. There's been one on stabalizers, hooping, needles. . . you name it!

A lot of us are beginners. Maybe you can help us out, too!


alssweetheart 8/22/2008 12:14:18 AM

Hey Suzy! You have so much to offer us from your vast experience, and we are so lucky to have you writing this blog!! "When all else fails read the directions" Yep~~it takes wasting time (and it is so valuable) to just pick up and read directions in our manuals. Most machine manufacturers offer downloadable and printable manuals at their website. So if anyone has misplaced theirs, check your machine's website.

I am really enjoying your blog!!! Keep up the fantastic blog!!! Carol

jalcumbrack 8/22/2008 8:39:32 AM

Thanks so much Carol, I am glad you are enjoying it and hope you continue to enjoy every one of them. I wil certainly try to write about things that ar of interest to all!

I cannot stress enough about reading your manuals. they in themselves are a wealth of informatiuon.

Again Carol Thankyou for your kind comments!


It takes me awhile to get to each blog... so if I am late sorry.

Thanks for the tip on the edge ruler. I have wanted something like this for a long time. My hubby has a drafting ruler which is basically the same thing, but the edge does not come off, and the edge is thicker. I have had to lay it on the edge of the table, but it is wonderful to hold the fabric and get a nice straight cut. Now I will have to look for the edge ruler.

I keep my manual for my machine as well as my manual for my digitizing program right at fingertip reach. I refer to them often. I also keep the phone number to the store that I purchased it from handy. they are the best at answering questions right on the spot if it is not possible to go in for a hands on lesson.

wonderful help and tips. Thanks and keep them coming. I love the input from everyone else also... what a GREAT community.


jalcumbrack 9/4/2008 3:06:01 PM

Thankyou CME,

I couldn't agree more,this is an absoluetly fantastic community! Not many places you can go and find so much information in one spot!

Thanks, I am so happy you like the blog,and I hope you get your lip edge ruler very soon! Did you check on this site for one? I know they had them when this was first posted?

You are right to keep the manual and their phone number right by your work area, it is helpful to be able to talk to someone sometimes just to clear up any questions that may arise! What a good idea to keep it close by your machine! You sound like you are very organized!!

If I can help with anything be sure to let me know, I will be happy to help!


Very thorough.  However, the Tension graphic is for the sewing machine where you want a balanced stitch.

For machine embroidery (ME) the goal is to have the top thread wrap slightly to the back/bottom of the design.  This is why machine embroidery bobbin thread is a lighter weight; 60 - 70 or even 90 weight.  What your particular EM is calibrated for will be in the manual.

The larger the weight number the thinner the thread.  

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