I just discovered a new handy sewing tool! The 5-in-1 Sliding Gauge is a versatile tool that is several steps above the old standby hem/seam gauge, with the ability to lock in place at 1/8″ intervals. To see what I mean, watch this short video.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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″.
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.
Turn the pillowcase right side out; press. Insert pillow into the back opening and adjust. Stand back and admire your work!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
To all of you beginner sewers, or to those of you who have not found the money or inclination to buy a serger yet, I thought I would share my “mock serge” method. This is the way that I finished seams for years, before there was any such thing as a serger for home sewers.
Now, I do have to tell you that I absolutely love my Baby Lock serger! I would not want to go back to this method. But the point is, sergers are not cheap. Well, you can probably buy a cheap serger, but I actually would rather do this “mock serge” method than have anything besides a Baby Lock serger.
Sergers require three to four spools of thread to lock together to create a beautiful seam and finish all in one step. But because of all of the thread spools that have to travel through a maze to get to where they are going, threading a serger can make one want to use unladylike language. (Or ungentlmanlylike…is that a word?)
That’s where Baby Lock comes in, and that’s why they are worth every penny that you will spend. Baby Lock sergers have this magic way of using air to swoosh the thread through the complicated maze with the downward push of a lever. It makes me smile every time.
Maybe there is another company that uses magic to make threading easy; I don’t know. But if you are considering anything besides a Baby Lock when you take the serger plunge, be sure you sit down in the store and thread the machine yourself before you hand over your credit card. If not, you may be setting yourself up for frustration. Or, you may decide to never change your off-white thread, even if you are sewing a Little Black Dress. Those gigantic spools will last a long time. But when they run out, I won’t be surprised to hear your serger went flying out of your sewing room window. Accompanied by language that may ruin your reputation as a kind and gentle neighbor.
But let’s just say that you are not ready to buy a Baby Lock serger. And let’s just say that even though you are new, or relatively new, to sewing, you still want to produce work that looks handmade but not home made. Well, that requires finishing the seams of anything that is not lined. And that is where my mock serging technique comes in handy.
When you use a serger, you run the fabric through the machine at the seam line once, and you are done. The mock serge, however, requires three steps. But the results are pretty impressive when you take off your unlined jacket and your friends get a glimpse of your handiwork. (Better yet, don’t wait for a chance opportunity to show off your skills. Create an opportunity. Either “accidentally” wear it inside out, or just yell, “Hey everyone, look what I did!” as you point to your finished seams.)
Here are the steps for creating a mock serge seam and finish, and it should look something like the picture below.
Sew along your normal seam line.
Trim the seam to 1/4″ or 3/8″. Don’t trim any close than 1/4″.
Set your machine to its widest zig zag setting. Use a stitch length of about 15 stitches per inch. (You will, of course, need to practice to get the length just right. You don’t want a dense stitch length as this will create a ridge that will show and will be felt from the outside.) When the needle is in the left position of the zig zag, it should be on your fabric. When the needle swings to the right, it should be just off the edge of your fabric. Stitch the raw edge in this manner, and you should end up with a nice seam and finish.
Of course, you will need to practice this a little to get good results. Different weights of fabrics will require some stitch length adjustments, but always use the widest zig zag stitch your sewing machine allows.
Okay, so now it’s your turn! I’d love to hear how you do!