It’s been a busy summer, but it is time I got back to writing about what is going on here at Golden Needles.  Our classes are going strong!  We are finishing up a Beginning Sewing 102, and will start Beginning Sewing 101 again on September 2.

If you live in the Middle Georgia area, we still have a few spots left for our morning and evening sessions.  We would love to have you!  Come have a great time while learning to sew.

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Here are some examples of the projects recent students have completed.

Kim's pretty apron

Kim did a great job on her apron!

Friends Wendy and Freida showing off their new skills!

Friends Wendy and Freida showing off their new skills!

Our Zippered Throw Pillow pattern becomes a beautiful home decor item when our students choose great fabrics!

Our Zippered Throw Pillow pattern becomes a beautiful home decor item when our students choose great fabrics!

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Miranda’s lined tote bag is even prettier with the lace detail she added at home!

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Isabel's duffle bag turned out beautiful!

Isabel’s duffle bag turned out beautiful!

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Isabel is really enjoying learning to sew!

Isabel is really enjoying learning to sew!

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Jill the (Relatively) Reluctant

I’m Karen Golden Smith, the other half of Golden Needles.  My sister Terri is the one usually doing the blogging since I work full time as a school counselor.  I’m counting the days to my retirement.  I love my job, … Continue reading

Learning to Sew – Travel Pillowcase #2

This travel-sized pillowcase has an overlapping back opening to insert the pillow

This travel-sized pillowcase has an overlapping back opening to insert the pillow

Gather Your Tools and Supplies

If you made the pillowcase from the last article, I hope you enjoyed the process while learning how to sew!  This pillowcase is the same size, and takes the same sized pillow insert.  But where the first one had a traditional side opening, this version has an overlapping back opening to insert the pillow.

For this project, you will need: 1/2 yard of cotton fabric, at least 44″ wide, thread to match, and a pillow insert.  You will also need paper or pattern transfer fabric to make your pattern.  Alternately, you can draw the dimensions directly onto the fabric.  For either of these options, you will need a marker or fabric marker, and a straight edge.

You will also need the following sewing tools:  sewing pins, dressmaking shears, pinking shears, a hem gauge, and a seam ripper for those inevitable mistakes.  Small snips or scissors are also handy for cutting threads and other small jobs.

Gather your supplies before you begin

Gather your supplies before you begin

Create Your Pattern and Cut the Fabric

To create the pattern, draw two rectangles onto thin paper or pattern transfer fabric. This special fabric should be located in the interfacing section of your nearest Hancock’s or other fabric store.  (If they don’t have it, a thin inexpensive interfacing would also work.)  One rectangle should be 12″ x 13″ (the pillowcase back), and the other 8.5″ x 13″ (the pillowcase front).  The front is placed on the fold of the fabric on one of the 13″ sides.  The back is placed straight on the grain of the fabric.  (See Learning to Sew – Fabric for details about grainline and straightening fabric)  Draw a horizontal line on the pillowcase back pattern piece parallel with the 13″ side of the rectangle.  Refer to the photo below for all pattern markings.

Mark rectangles as shown here to create a pattern for your pillowcase

Mark rectangles as shown here to create a pattern for your pillowcase

After you have pre-washed and dried your fabric, and straightened at least one end, lay it out flat on the cutting surface.  Lay the pattern pieces out on your fabric as shown below.  Make sure the straight-of-grain arrow on the pillowcase back is parallel to the selvage by measuring the distance between them.  Place the pillowcase front on  the fold where the arrows indicate.  Pin the pattern on the fabric; cut out with dressmaker shears.

Then move the tape measure to the other end of the arrow to make sure the arrow is the same distance at each end

Then move the tape measure to the other end of the arrow to make sure the arrow is the same distance at each end

Measure the distance between one end of the straight-of-grain arrow and the selvage

Measure the distance between one end of the straight-of-grain arrow and the selvage

Pin the pattern pieces on your fabric; cut out carefully with dressmaker shears

Pin the pattern pieces on your fabric; cut out carefully with dressmaker shears

An alternate method of cutting out the pieces of this pillowcase is to draw the rectangles directly onto the fabric.  Use a fabric marker and a straight edge to draw the measurements, taking your time to make sure of your accuracy.  Be sure to draw the 8.5″ by 13″ rectangle on the fold, as shown in the photo below.  Remember, cutting mistakes cannot be corrected like sewing mistakes can.  Place  pins just inside the marked lines to keep the fabric layers from shifting while you cut.  Cut with dressmaker shears.

If you wish, draw the squares directly onto the prepared fabric rather than making a pattern

If you wish, draw the squares directly onto the prepared fabric rather than making a pattern

If you have access to a rotary cutter and mat, you can use these handy tools to cut the pieces of the pillowcase out.  These tools make quick work of straight line cutting, and are very popular with quilters.  If you decide to use a rotary cutter, be sure to practice on some scraps to get the hang of keeping the cutter straight and the straight edge still.

Rotary cutters are very popular with quilters; because you are cutting straight lines, the rotary cutter can be used here as well.

Rotary cutters are very popular with quilters; because you are cutting straight lines, the rotary cutter can be used here as well.

Assemble Your Pillowcase

Now you are ready to assemble your pillowcase.  Remove pins and pattern from the fabric.

To finish the edges of the back opening, turn one 13″ side of the back 1/2″ toward the wrong side, using a hem gauge for accuracy; press.  Turn again, using the last turn as a guide.  My second turn measured 5/8″ in this sample.  Press this turn, then pin for sewing.  Repeat for second back piece.  Sew along the folded edge, taking care to keep your seam as straight as possible.  Be sure to backstitch at the beginning and end of your stitch line to secure the stitches.  Go easy on the foot pedal; this isn’t Nascar!

Turn and press twice; sew along turned edge.  This creates a polished finish for the back opening.

Turn and press twice; sew along turned edge. This creates a polished finish for the back opening.

Unfold the pillowcase front and lay it flat with the right side up.  With right sides together, place one of the backs along the left edge of the front, with the finished edge toward the middle.  Place the other back on the right side, using the same procedure.  The finished edges will overlap about 4.5″.

Place the first back piece as shown, with right sides together and the finished edge toward the middle

Place the first back piece as shown, with right sides together and the finished edge toward the middle

Place the second piece as shown here; pin all around the outside for sewing.

Place the second piece as shown here; pin all around the outside for sewing.

Using a 1/2″ seam allowance, sew all around the outside of the pillowcase. Start on one of the sides, and not on a corner. When you get to a corner you will need to pivot. To do this, stop your stitch when you are 1/2″ away from the corner. Use your hem gauge to be sure of where you should stop. With the needle still down in the fabric, lift the presser foot lever. Turn the fabric for stitching the next side, checking again to be sure you are at 1/2″ for the next seam. Repeat this process at each corner, and stitch until you reach the point where you started. Back stitch here to secure the stitches.  See the short video below for a visual of pivoting.

With pinking shears, trim the outside of the pillowcase.  Take care to only cut the outside raw edge, leaving most of the seam allowance.  Trim the corners diagonally, but do not cut too close to the stitches in the corner.

Cut just the outside edge with pinking shears to keep the raw edges from raveling

Trim the corners diagonally, being careful not to get too close to the stitching line

Trim the corners diagonally, being careful not to get too close to the stitching line

Turn the pillowcase right side out; press. Insert pillow into the back opening and adjust. Stand back and admire your work!

Insert the pillow into the back

Insert the pillow into the back

The back of the pillowcase should look like this when you get the pillow inserted and adjusted

The back of the pillowcase should look like this when you get the pillow inserted and adjusted

If you make this pillowcase, we would sure love to hear about your experience. We’d also love a photo or two, so we can admire your work as well.

Next time, we will tackle a project using a commercial sewing pattern.  Hope you will join us!

Learning to Sew – A Simple Travel Pillowcase

A Cute and Practical Travel Pillowcase

A Cute and Practical Travel Pillowcase

Now that you have made friends with your sewing machine and gathered a few must-have tools, let’s start sewing!  This travel pillowcase is a simple first sewing project that you will actually enjoy using.  And if you feel the urge to make more after your first one, these little pillowcases make great gifts.

This project is actually the first of two different styles of travel pillowcases.  The next “Beginning to Sew” post will be the second pillowcase.  I suggest that you make them both for a good introduction to using your sewing machine.  These would be great projects for a child learning to sew as well.

For this project, you will need 1/2 yard of cotton fabric, at least 44″ wide, and thread to match.  Pick a thread that will blend well as your stitches are likely not to be perfect; a thread just slightly darker than the fabric will blend well.  To test the thread color, pull a single strand across the fabric, in good natural light if possible, to see if it will blend well.

Besides your sewing machine, you will need these tools:  fabric shears, small scissors for snipping threads, pinking shears, straight pins, hem gauge, fabric marker, straight edge, and a seam ripper to correct any sewing mistakes.  You will also need paper or pattern tracing fabric if you want to make a pattern for this project, rather than marking the cutting dimensions directly onto the pillowcase fabric.  To use your new pillowcase, you will need to purchase a 12 x 16 travel pillow.

Prewash you fabric by wetting it and drying it in the dryer.  I use the rinse cycle on my washer, then toss it into the dryer.  Press any wrinkles out of the fabric, and then straighten at least one cut edge of the fabric.  See this previous article and video on how to straighten your fabric in preparation for cutting out your pattern.  Fold your fabric with the selvage edges (factory edges) together, and the straightened edge together, and lay on a flat surface.

If you wish to make a pattern, draw a 13″ x 21″ rectangle onto thin paper or pattern tracing fabric (available at most fabric stores in the interfacing area).  Refer to the picture below to see the notations you need to make on your pattern.  The two lines at the lower end are drawn two inches and four inches away from the edge.  Alternately, you can draw the rectangle directly onto the fabric using a pencil or a fabric marker and a straight edge.

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Pin the pattern onto the fabric, with one short edge along the fabric fold as shown.  If you have opted to draw the rectangle onto the fabric, make sure you use a straight edge, and that the dimensions are correct on all sides; place pins inside the rectangle to keep the layers from shifting.  Using dressmaker shears, cut along the pattern edge or drawn mark.  At the corners, cut past the edge enough to turn the shears smoothly to cut in the next direction.

Angled Dressmaker's Shears make cutting out pattern pieces easier and more accurate.  The bottom  blade should be resting on the cutting surface.  If you are using a dining table, be sure to cover the surface with a protective layer of thick paper or a plastic cutting mat.

Angled Dressmaker’s Shears make cutting out pattern pieces easier and more accurate. The bottom blade should be resting on the cutting surface. If you are using a piece of furniture such as a dining table, be sure to cover the surface with a protective layer of thick paper or a plastic cutting mat.

Take the pins out of the pattern and fabric, and fold the pillowcase right sides together.  (Hint:  if you fold your fabric with the wrong sides together before you pin the pattern on and cut it out, this step will already be done.)  Pin the long edges together for sewing.

Turn your pins as shown here, so they are easy to remove before getting to the machine's needle.

Turn your pins as shown here, so they are easy to remove before getting to the machine’s needle.

Using a 1/2 inch seam allowance, sew the long edges, backstitching at the beginning and end to secure.  Trim the raw edges with pinking shears.  (Do not trim the raw open edge of the pillowcase.)

Trim just the ends of the raw edges, leaving as much of the seam allowance as possible.

Trim just the ends of the raw edges, leaving as much of the seam allowance as possible.

Trim the raw edge with pinking shears to keep them from raveling.

Trim the raw edge with pinking shears to keep them from raveling.

Pinking Shears can be expensive.  Look for a coupon or buy on sale.

Pinking Shears can be expensive. Look for a coupon or buy on sale.

With wrong sides together, use a hem gauge to turn the bottom raw edge up two inches.  Pin in place; press.  Remove pins.  Turn the folded edge up two inches, using the first turn as a guide.  Pin in place; press.

Use a hem gauge to turn the edge two inches, with the wrong sides together and the right side up.

Use a hem gauge to turn the edge two inches, with the wrong sides together and the right side up.

If you have a free-arm style sewing machine, use that feature for this next step.  Topstitch along the lower edge of the pillowcase.  Take your time, and try to keep this stitch as straight as possible.  For a prettier topstitch, change your stitch length to 3, rather than 2.5.  Backstitch when you come all the way around to the starting point.  Then topstitch along the turned edge of the pillowcase, using the same procedure.

Most modern machines have a Free-Arm design.  My Pfaff has a removable bed.  This design makes sewing in a small circle much easier, such as a sleeve or in this small pillowcase.

Most modern machines have a Free-Arm design. My Pfaff has a removable bed. This feature makes sewing in a small circle much easier, such as a sleeve or in this small pillowcase.

Topstitch along the edge, taking your time to keep the stitch line as straight as you can.

Topstitch along the edge, taking your time to keep the stitch line as straight as you can.

Topstitch along the folded edge, using the same procedure as before.

Topstitch along the folded edge, using the same procedure as before.

Enjoy your new Travel Pillow!

Enjoy your new Travel Pillow!

Turn your pillow case right side out, and insert a 12 x 16 travel pillow.  Congratulations on finishing your sewing project!  Hopefully, this is the beginning of a fun new artistic expression!  Please send us a picture of your finished project, so we can brag on you!  Stay tuned for the next post on another style of travel pillowcase.

Learning to Sew – Fabric

You’ve got your sewing machine and your basic tools.  What now?  It’s time to choose a fabric for a simple first project.  You will want to select something that appeals to you, of course.  But it also must be appropriate … Continue reading

Learning to Sew – The Essential Tools

These are the tools we keep at every sewing machine for our students here at Golden Needles Studio.

These are the tools we keep at every sewing machine for our students here at Golden Needles Studio.

Here at Golden Needles Studio, we have a few items we consider essential for our sewing students.  In a plastic bin at each sewing station are the nine items shown here.

1)  Tape Measure, for taking body measurements, and for checking the grainline placement of patterns on fabric; 2)  Glass-head Pins and Magnetic Holder.  We like glass-head pins because they will not melt when using a steam iron to press things that are pinned;  3)  Fray Check for sealing the ends of serged seams, and several other handy applications;  4) Glue Stick for holding buttons and other things in place for sewing;  5) Fabric Shears, for cutting fabric only;  6) Small Scissors to use for clipping threads and other small jobs at the sewing machine;  7) Hem Gauge, or seam gauge, to accurately measure seam allowances and hems;  8) Seam Ripper, which is an unfortunate name.  It should be called a “seam picker,” because that is what you actually do with it.  If you use this tool to quickly rip a seam open, you are very likely to rip fabric and ruin your project.  Pick the threads of the seam out with this tool, no matter what you call it;  9) Chop Stick, which is just a handy little tool to have around.  We use them for gently turning out corners of pillows, and for holding things in place for pressing to keep fingers away from steam.

These tools are kept on a supply shelf for our students.

These tools are kept on a supply shelf for our students.

Some tools are not used quite as often, and are kept on a supply shelf here in the studio.  Shown above are:

1) Tracing Paper and Tracing Wheel, which are used to mark placement lines on the wrong side of fabric;  2) Marking Pens and Pencils, for placement markings that fall within the seam allowance.  Some disappear with time, and some require water for removal.  Marks from chalk pencils easily brush off;  3) Paper-cutting Scissors, for cutting out patterns.  We mark ours with a “P,” to keep them far away from the fabric shears;  4)  Large Safety Pin, for inserting elastic into a waist casing;  5) Loop Turner, for turning straps right side out.  The few times we’ve heard colorful language in class was mostly during this lesson.  Still, once you get the hang of it, it’s a handy tool.

If you are just beginning to learn how to sew, you will really need these essential tools.  There are many, many other tools that you will want to add as you need them, but these will get you a long way down the road of learning all the basics.  When shopping for sewing tools, keep your eye out for sales.  The fabric stores call these items “notions,”  which is not really correct.  A notion is anything that you actually sew into a project, like thread and zippers and buttons.  These are sewing TOOLS.  But if they are going to give you 40% off, that’s no time to argue semantics!  You can also use store coupons when you need a pricey tool that is not on sale.

Another nice addition to your sewing room (or corner) is a book such as the one shown below.  This one is easy to use, and has lots of photos and illustrations.  Of course you can google anything, but I still like to have a reference guide close by.  Old school, I know.

So, start gathering your tools!  Next time, we will talk about fabric qualities and why that matters.

A handy sewing reference guide is handy for looking of sewing terms and procedures.

A sewing reference guide is handy for looking of sewing terms and procedures.

Learning to Sew – The Sewing Machine

Today, we begin a new series of posts designed to help all of you who would like to learn to sew, or who have already begun taking small steps in that direction.  We will start with something very basic:  the sewing machine.

Maybe you are fortunate, and you have been given a sewing machine that someone no longer uses.  That’s wonderful!  Be sure to get the attachments and the operating manual.  And get the previous owner to show you how to thread it, make a bobbin, and make a stitch.

But if you need to purchase a sewing machine, you may feel a little overwhelmed when researching the variety of new machines available to the home sewer today.  And you may wonder if you will have to take out a second mortgage in order to buy a good sewing machine.  You can find new machines priced from $50 to $12,000!  The good news is that you can buy a good basic machine for not much money.

So here is our recommendation: the Brother LS-590.  Hancock Fabrics sells this nice little workhorse for $100, or a little less if you catch it on sale.  It’s a basic sewing machine with several built-in stitches, most of which you will never use.  But you will use the straight stitch, the zig zag stitch, the buttonhole setting, and a few others.

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This is the machine that our students use in our Beginning Sewing classes here at Golden Needles Studio.  We have used seven of these for over a year now, and given them quite a workout. These little beauties will sew a variety of fabric weights without any problem.  Spend about a hundred bucks, and learn to sew.  You can always upgrade to something with more bells and whistles down the road, after you know what kind of bells and whistles you want.

Back when we were setting up our classroom, we we were prepared to spend between $300 and $400 each on basic sewing machines for our studio.  That was when I ran into a friend of mine who spends a good bit of her time teaching Haitian orphans to sew in open-weather tropical conditions; when I asked her to recommend a good sewing machine for our studio, this was it.  The Brother LS-590 is what she uses in Haiti.  That sold us, and saved us a lot of money.

The size of this sewing machine is about as small as you would want to go.  I’ve seen some smaller machines at Hancock’s.  Singer was one of the brands, I think, and they were a little less expensive.  But I would not trust a smaller machine to do the work that this one will do.

Brother has a few other models that look like they are almost the same as this one: XL-36001, XL-2610, XL-3750, and XL-2600i are all similar models in the same price range.  I feel quite certain any of these would be perfect for the beginner.

Below, see a short instructional video, explaining a few of the features of the Brother LS-590, which would also apply to other machines.  The video also shows how to thread the machine and how to make a bobbin.

So take the plunge.  Buy yourself a sewing machine.  Then meet us back here next time when we will talk about the basic tools you need for sewing.