You’d think I get my sewing students to do this for my own amusement sometimes if you came to one of my classes!! If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked this question…..
Now, my stock reply is this: wouldn’t you rather spend a bit of time tacking, than unpicking machine sewing that’s gone wrong? And isn’t tacking more enjoyable than unpicking machine sewing?!
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t tack everything, but honestly, there are some things that I will always tack, mainly set-in sleeves, zips, collars, cuffs, pleats and usually hems get tacked. I just don’t see how it would be possible to get the kind of results I expect without tacking. When it comes to my students, I get beginners to tack most things and my more confident and experienced students will only tack more fiddly things such as sleeves, zips and awkward shaped seams.
I think tacking can also take away a lot of stress for beginners; if seams are held securely in the right place with tacking, newbies can just focus on the machining and being accurate without needing to worry about also removing pins as they go and making sure they don’t sew over them. (That’s right – don’t ever sew over pins, even if they’re placed at right angles to your seam, your needle can still catch the pin and get a slight nick in the needle and I’ve even heard accounts of needles breaking and flying off when people have done this and that’s not a scare story!)
Here are some more uses for hand tacking, that I think can’t be beaten with any other methods:
- marking buttonhole positions so they’re visible on the right side of your garment and won’t permanently mark the fabric
- marking fly front topstitching for the same reasons
- accurate stripe and pattern matching – your machine will often push the layers out of alignment if the seam is just pinned.
I have recently become a convert to machine tacking in certain circumstances; a machine tacked seam is stronger than a hand tacked one and so can be useful when fitting and if you machine tack your seam closed before inserting a centred or slot zip you can get really neat results. To set your machine up to machine tack, choose the longest stitch length and a tension setting a bit lower than you would normally chose for the fabric.
At the end of the day, tacking is also a good exercise in reminding us what makers had to do before the days of sewing machines and then look at traditional bespoke tailoring; tacking and sewing is an integral part of how they create such beautiful garments. Come on, what’s good for Savile Row tailors has got to be good for us dressmakers too hasn’t it?!
This post is part of my Q&A column for Love Sewing magazine, issue number 26. Get your copy now to read the other questions I tackle this month on ease and when is the right time to start pattern cutting.