#1 - Always, always, ALWAYS press your seams. ALWAYS! First I press my seams flat to "set" the threads into the fabric and then I press them open or to the side depending on what the pattern recommends. If you don't press your seams your pieces won't line up correctly and your work will look messy and unprofessional. And it's usually best to press your seams without steam. Steam can distort the shape of the fabric. And remember you are supposed to PRESS, not IRON. Don't slide the iron up and down along your seam like you would if you were ironing a shirt.....that could distort the fabric. Pick the iron up and MOVE IT to the next spot!
#2 - Measure twice, cut once. I guess this one is pretty self explanatory. We've all heard it a million times before and that's because it's great advice. You don't want to mess up and waste all that pretty fabric that you just bought, right? So cut it carefully!
#3 - Get good scissors and rotary cutters and don't use them for ANYTHING but cutting fabric and thread. Hide them from your family, put a threatening note on them or put an alarm system on them. Do whatever you have to do to protect them. Good scissors are worth the investment but will be easily damaged if they're abused. And please, please, PLEASE be very careful with your new sharp toys. This is what happened to me when I was in a hurry cutting with a dull rotary blade (My Very Unfortunate Rotary Cutter Accident).....
#5 - If the directions say to baste something, DO IT. I know it's boring but it's so important. If your pieces are slipping around, nothing is going to line up properly and you'll hate the end result.
#6 - Read through your pattern once before you start sewing. Again, I know this is kind of boring but I find it really helpful to read through the pattern and visualize the steps in my head before I start sewing. And if you mess it up in your head instead of on your fabric you don't have to get out the dreaded seam ripper!
#7 - We're not supposed to sew over pins. They can break and pieces of needle will come flying at your eyes. It can mess up the alignment and timing of your sewing machine needle. It can cause a "wiggle" in your seam. But I must confess I sew over my pins all the time. But I do it verrryyyyyy sloooowwwlllly. So, if you're going to sew over your pins please go SLOW.
#8 - Make sure that your sewing machine is threaded properly, the bobbin is installed properly and that the tension is correct. Most of the time when I want to swear at my machine for not behaving properly the "problem" is fixed if I just re-thread it or adjust the tension. User error is the most common cause of a malfunctioning sewing machine.
#9 - To Pre-Wash or Not To Pre-Wash: I Pre-wash fabric that's going to be used in a project that will be washed frequently after it's made such as clothes or baby blankets. Most quilting fabric is 100% cotton and we all know what happens to 100% cotton in the washing machine. I don't pre-wash fabric that's going to go in things that will not be washed on a regular basis (or ever) such as purses or applique quilts and most pieced quilts. I find it easier to work with fabric that hasn't been pre-washed because it seems to get a little "flimsy" after washing. And I NEVER pre-wash Charm Packs or Jelly Rolls or Layer Cakes. Your perfectly cut pack of pre-cut strips or squares will no longer be the same size or shape if you wash them.
#10 - Take Breaks! This one seems so simple but it's so important. I try to set an alarm to go off every 30 minutes and I get up and stretch and drink some water and just give my mind a little break. I find that I make the most mistakes if I'm in the middle of a marathon sewing session and don't take any breaks. And I also end up with a really stiff and sore neck if I don't move for hours on end!
So, there you have it. It only took me three decades to learn all of this through lots of trial and error. I'd love to hear if you have any tips to add to this list!