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Sharpen up your dressmaking skills

Tailor's dummy

If you're not sure whether a particular style will suit you, try on something similar (ready-made) before buying fabric. It will also give you an idea of which type of fabric to use.

● Measure yourself accurately before cutting out a pattern - don't assume your measurements never change. If you're between sizes, cut between the lines for the two relevant sizes.

● If you want to use both sides of a Prima pattern, why not order a second pattern? It saves tracing or photocopying one side.

● Before you buy fabric, check the finished length of the garment and adjust the pattern pieces if necessary. Cutting layouts are usually worked out for fabrics with nap or a one-way design. If your fabric is plain, or has no definite one-way design, you may be able to save fabric by dovetailing pattern pieces. Check before you shop.

● Cut out on a large table or use the floor if your table is not big enough. Follow the cutting layout and make sure grainlines are parallel with the fabric selvedges.

● To save time, hold the pattern pieces in place with weights instead of using pins - old-fashioned weights from kitchen scales are ideal.

● After cutting out, work a row of machining around all curved or bias edges to prevent them stretching during making up.

● Press after each stage of making up. Keep the iron and ironing board set up near your machine while you are working.

● Wherever possible, press on the wrong side. If using fabric with pile, such as velvet, place a leftover piece of the same fabric on the ironing board so the two layers of pile sink into one another rather than flattening.

● If you have difficulty threading a needle, re-cutting the end of the thread at an angle using sharp scissors should help.

● Always work in good light. You'll find it's easier to sew black fabrics in daylight.

● When you've finished a garment, wind leftover thread from the bobbin back onto the thread reel - this not only saves thread, but will ensure you always have an empty bobbin ready for your next project.

● Before you put the pattern away, make a note of any alterations you have made, in case you want to use it again.

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