Which Fabric To Use To Practice Your Sewing Skills
When it comes to determining which fabric to use when practicing sewing, reach for cotton. Cotton is great for beginning sewing crafters for a number of reasons.
Price and Availability
Big box retailers like Walmart are a convenient store in which to buy fabric. They also keep the price down. Even if you can’t find fabric yardage at your area Walmart, they probably do carry fat quarters or jelly rolls. You can buy cotton fabric to practice sewing on for about $2.
Fabric stores have more variety, including bolts of cotton fabric from which you can buy by the yard. (Unless specifically stated otherwise, the price you see advertised with each bolt is per yard, not per bolt.) You may pay a little more for the variety, but the larger selection means you may find a great sale, too.
Nothing is cheaper than free, so shop for cotton fabrics to practice sewing from your own closet. Old shirts, pants, or skirts are a great source of practice fabric.
Quilting fabrics are the easiest of the cotton fabrics for beginning stitches because they generally run between 60 to 75 thread count. This will feel a little rough to the touch. To put things into perspective, inexpensive sheets usually have a thread count of 200 to 300, so quilting cotton will feel a little more textured than that. Thread count measures the number of threads running both through the length and width in one inch of fabric.
If you look closely at the quilting fabrics, you can see the lines that run length and width-wise. They are tighter than cross stitch aida cloth, but the thread lines are still easily visible. This is great for beginning stitchers because they can follow the thread line as a stitch guide. This is especially easy to do if you are sewing by hand, but it can also be helpful when sewing by machine, too, because you can line up a particular strand within the fabric with the guide on your presser foot.
The thread count of the quilting cotton also makes stitch removal easier and causes less damage to the fabric. In the quilting cotton thread count that has fewer threads per inch, you can visualize the points at which these threads meet and plan your stitches to go through those tiny junctions. Plus, less damage is caused when stitches have to be removed and redone since they slip nicely between the threads.
Batiks, also popular in quilting due to their vibrant colors, usually run around 200 thread count. Why the big difference between quilting cotton and batiks? Batik fabric is made up of finer threads, which mean more can squeeze into that inch. The extra threads are required for developing rich colors from the batik dying process.
The batiks, with the closer threads, mean the needle (whether by hand or by machine) can leave behind holes of their entry and exit points. Since they are usually more expensive than quilting cottons, most beginning crafters prefer to save batiks for when they are a little more comfortable with the needle and thread.
Quilting cottons are great for sewing practice because they are good for a wide variety of sewing skills. They are good to practice sewing apparel pieces, craft projects, embroidery, and applique.
As far as apparel goes, quilting cottons are easier to handle in machine sewing because batiks and synthetic fabrics tend to slip a little. The sturdiness of quilting cottons is also good for practicing serging seams for a more finished look for your clothing items.
In terms of craft projects, most of them use quilting cottons anyway because they are inexpensive. Some craft patterns require a variety of stitches, such as a zig-zag or a button-hole. You can also experiment with your presser foot position and play with the stitch adjustments to make them longer, shorter, closer, or farther apart.
Quilting cottons are also great for embroidery practice. They hold nicely in hand or machine embroidery hoops while you practice your stitches. Another plus to quilting cotton is that you can simply double it and save your stabilizer when you are not practicing your embroidery stitches. To practice crewel embroidery, which uses larger needles and flosses, use a fabric with a wider weave, like linen, wool, or jute.
Applique practice lends itself well to quilting cottons, too. Cotton is great because appliques can be adhered first with iron-on fusible webbing, then the edges can be finished with an open zig-zag stitch. If practicing finishing applique by hand, try a blanket stitch around the edges of your design.
Tips for Practicing Your Sewing Skills
Prepare The Fabric
Launder and iron your quilting cottons before you practice sewing. Starting with a piece of fabric that is in its best condition will give the best results.
Use The Right Light
Practice in a well-lit area so you can focus on your stitches. Natural light is best, but if using a lamp, place it so it does not cast shadows on your hands or fabric.
Pick One Skill and Master It
Master a skill before moving on to a new stitch. Your first concern for sewing should be stitching a straight, even line. Practice adjusting the stitch lengths and the space between stitches, especially if you are nervous about machine sewing.
Once you get to know your machine, it will seem less scary. I had my embroidery machine for three months before I ever worked up the courage to plug it in and try it because I was afraid I would break it. One thing that helped me get over that fear was taking a free lesson at the sewing machine supply store where I actually bought it.
Move On To Other Types of Fabric
After you feel comfortable sewing on quilting cottons, move on to a batik, then move into the synthetics and slinkier fabrics if desired. Devote time to practicing on each type of fabric you will be using in your sewing endeavors.
Don’t be afraid to mess up. Keep a seam ripper handy, or toss your mistake aside and try, try again.