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
’tis the season to be busy. And the sewing room is no different.
I needed something festive on my front porch. To keep from looking like a Scrooge residence from the street. So I pugged in a pre-lit Christmas tree and plopped it in front of the window. Of course, only the lights on the top and bottom came on. Back to the attic I went to dig out strands of lights to add to my tired old tree. So if you come to my front porch, please don’t look too closely. It is better appreciated from a distance.
After the tree was sufficiently twinkling, I decided the porch needed a little something else. Pillows for the rocking chairs on either side of the tree.
This is our Zippered Throw Pillow from our Beinning Sewing 101 class; I added the appliquéd letters. And I did it the “old fashioned way.” No embroidery machine. Just my Pfaff sewing machine, which does a very nice satin stitch. But after P – E, I was really wishing I had one of those nice embroidery machines like Karen and Jill and Jenae and Penny and Millee have. I know I could have found “JOY” and “PEACE” patterns with holly vines or Christmas lights intertwined. Or angels or stars.
I wonder if it’s too late to sit on Santa’s knee?
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!
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
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.
I tend to save things. Special things, anyway. I’m not a hoarder, by any stretch. In fact, I am often accused of selling one too many things in a garage sale when my hubby can’t find something in his shop. I’m not admitting guilt when it comes to his misplaced items. But it is true that I don’t like clutter. It jumbles my brain to have random stuff stacked around doing nothing, and the last thing I need is a cluttered head. I have a hard enough time keeping my “thought files” in any kind of order as it is.
But there is a world of difference, in my estimation, between old clutter and treasures of the past. I have a few boxes of things saved from my children’s growing-up years. And I have a handful of things from my own childhood. I wish I had a few more.
My daughter was rambling through a box from my sewing room storage the other day. She left a couple of things out in the floor, and when I went to my sewing room to work on a project, I saw my old plastic Barbie box. Inside were some tiny treasures.
My mama just celebrated her 75th birthday this month. She doesn’t sew much anymore, but I remember watching her use her Kenmore sewing machine to make Karen and me school dresses when we were little. We don’t have any of those saved from childhood, but I do have a few tiny Barbie outfits that she sewed from scraps of our dresses.
Inside the box was a teeny tiny swing coat made from a thread-patterned pink cotton. I don’t know how she managed to make them, but there are two miniature buttonholes! I also found two gathered skirts with a waistband and snap enclosures. And there was a dress with a fitted bodice and round skirt made from a floral cotton. I think the coat was for one of our Barbie dolls. The dress was for my Skipper doll, which was (if memory serves) Barbie’s little sis. The two skirts fit both of them, I think.
I’m fairly certain she had a pattern for the coat and dress, but the skirts she made by just measuring the waist of the doll.
I have a memory of sewing pieces of fabric together with a needle and thread, sitting in the floor while she sat at her machine. I was intrigued with the process, as I watched my mom produce dresses and skirts and coats for me, my sister, and our dolls. She tells me now that she didn’t necessarily love sewing back then, but it was a way to save money. Buying fabric was a lot less expensive than buying ready-made clothes.
I have some other Barbie clothes that I saved that were store-bought. They are also pieces of my childhood, and I’m glad to have them. But there is really no comparison to those manufactured clothing items, and the ones my mama made. Not only are they made with more love, but they are made with more care for details and with better-quality fabrics. The bought ones cost more, but are not nearly as well-made.
Today, I sew because I love to sew. I don’t do it to save money. Frankly, with stores like T J Max and other discount stores, you can buy clothes cheaper than you can make them. Or at least as cheap.
But once you learn to fit a pattern to your body, you can sew clothes that fit better than those hanging in the stores, and you can make something no one else has. It’s a matter of artistic expression for me.
Looking at these tiny treasures, I’d say it was artistic expression for my mom as well, even though her reasons for sewing were more utilitarian than mine and Karen’s reasons are today.
And let me say that if my sister and I were not good at remembering to say thank you then for the time and effort that went into her sewing, I’m saying it now:
Thank you, Mama. From your daughters who love you.
I came up with this very simple pattern a few weeks back, and I have now used it to make myself four varieties of this flattering, easy-to-wear shirt. I also made my Mom one, and she says it has become her “go-to” shirt.
So, I thought I would share it with you in case you want to try it. It’s quick and easy, and I bet if you make one you’ll want to make another. This pattern is easily adapted to the fit you prefer, since the main fit comes from the tapered side seam, which is the last step.
You will need basic sewing skills to attempt this top. Although it is a simple pattern, it is not something I would recommend as an introduction to sewing. (If you live in our area, take our beginning sewing classes for a great skill foundation to build on!)
Take the dimensions shown on the pattern below and use pattern paper to draw a full-size pattern. Hancock’s or Joann’s should have tissue paper or a substitute. You could really use any paper available that you can pin through. Don’t attempt to just enlarge the pattern image, because it is not drawn to scale. Use a ruler to mark the dimensions on your pattern paper as shown. Seam allowances are included in these dimensions. Draw and cut two pattern pieces–one using the solid neck cutting line for the shirt back, and one using the dotted neck line for the shirt front.
The curved line that tapers out from under the arms to the bottom of the pattern is a seam that attaches the front to the back with wrong sides together; it forms the side seams and creates the armhole.
You will need 1 5/8 yards of fabric; any width is fine. (If you want the shirt longer than the dimensions shown, you may need more fabric. Buy twice the length you want plus three or four inches.) This pattern works best with soft fabrics that have a nice drape, such as rayon or a crinkle cotton or a soft silk. I have used a thin linen as well. A somewhat stiffer fabric will work, but the look will be different. Do not attempt this pattern with heavy fabrics such as denim or chintz.
Pre-wash your fabric. I serge the cut edges of my fabric, then wash and dry the fabric in the same manner that I plan to wash and dry my finished garment. The only adjustment I make is that I use a scant amount of detergent, since the fabric is not soiled.
It’s always a good idea to make a “muslin” of a new pattern. Use some inexpensive fabric that has similar weight and drape as you would like for your finished project for your first attempt, and make changes as needed before using a more expensive fabric. But this is such an easy-fit pattern that you will probably be able to wear your practice shirt proudly.
The finished measurements of this top are: neck opening – 26″; center back length -24″; bust – 43″; waist 43″; hips at bottom of top – 55″. The bust, waist, and hips are adjustable by moving the side seam in or out. The neck opening can be enlarged by lowering the front and/or the back. (A little adjustment goes a long way here!) The length can be changed by adding or subtracting at the bottom of the pattern, but be sure to redraw the tapered side seam so that the hip measurement is still what you want it to be. Extend the side of the pattern out if you enlarge the bust, waist, and hips very much, or if you want longer sleeves and wings.
If you know that you will only have to increase/decrease the bust, waist, and/or hip measurements two inches or less, you can do that after you have finished all of the steps of the top except the side seam, which is the last step. (See step #7 in the instructions below.)
Here are your step-by-step instructions:
1. After you have used the above dimensions to draw out your two pattern pieces, lay out fabric and place the pattern pieces on the fold at arrows. Pin, or use weights. Cut out the two pieces.
2. Mark the curved seam line on the shirt front. (You can also mark the shirt back, but it is not necessary.) I do this by placing a pin through the pattern and fabric at the beginning and end of the line, and three or four places in between. Then I remove the pattern and use chalk or a disappearing ink fabric marking pen to lightly mark the line with a dot in a few places along the pinned line directly onto the right side of the top. (Hint: Use small head pins and push the head all the way in to the pattern and fabric. Then lift the paper pattern off carefully. The pins will stay in place.)
3. With right sides together, serge the front and back together at the shoulder seams, using a 1/2″ seam. Press seam toward the back. (If you don’t have a serger, use a straight stitch, trim the seam to 3/8 ” or so, then finish the edges with a wide zig zag stitch to form an overcast seam, allowing the needle to go past the cut edge of your fabric on the right side of the zig zag. Or, use a French seam for a neat finish. A French seam works best with thinner fabrics such as Rayon or silk. Sew the shoulder seam with WRONG sides together, using a 1/4″ seam. Trim the seam carefully, so that it is a little less than 1/4″. Press the seam allowance to one side. Turn right sides together at the shoulder seams; press and pin. Stitch, using a 1/4″ seam. Press. Now the raw edge is enclosed.)
5. Roll the neck edge into a scant 1/4″ hem by folding the edge twice; pin. This can be tricky, so take your time. I use a lot of pins in this step. You will need to gently pull to manipulate the curved edges into this rolled hem. Stitch carefully, using a skinny zigzag stitch, which makes it easier to catch the turned fabric. A zigzag stitch will look better than a crooked seam that was supposed to be straight. Practice the stitch on a piece of scrap fabric to get the width and length you like. I use a stitch width of 2.5, and a stitch length of 3.5. Press the seam. (If you used a stiffer fabric, this step may be very frustrating. Alternatively, you can use bias tape to finish the edge. Pin and stitch single fold bias tape to neck edge with right sides together, then fold the tape to the wrong side; press, pin, and topstitch.)
6. Finish the sides and bottom of the shirt by turning the raw edge to the wrong side 3/8″; press. Turn again 3/8″, press again and pin. Sew the sides first, finishing to the edge with a backstitch. Then sew the hem of the front and back in the same manner. I prefer to topstitch with the garment’s right side to the machine, but you can do it either way. Just take your time so that your topstitched sides and hem are neat and straight. You can either miter the corners, or just turn and square the edges. It should not be very bulky on the corners if you are not using a thick fabric. (When I made the shirt pictured at the top, I actually made the bottom hem about 3/4″ deep but I kept the side seams at 3/8″. It’s up to you and the look you want to achieve.)
7. Now that all of your edges are finished, the only thing left to do is the side seam. This is the seam on the pattern that is a curved line that tapers out from under the arms to the bottom of the shirt. Lay the top down on a flat surface right sides together, aligning the front to the back at the sides and bottom; pin the front to the back along the seam line that you marked earlier on the front. Place the pins close together in a line along the seam line. Then carefully try on the shirt. Adjust the pins according the the fit you like. (If you don’t want to pull the top on and off with a bunch of pins in it, you could machine baste the line using the longest stitch your machine will allow.) When you have made any required adjustments, take the shirt off and make any necessary changes to the marked seam line. Pin for sewing. Stitch along the seam line. Be sure you neatly backstitch at the beginning and the end of this seam to keep it intact. (If you prefer, the side seam can be sewn much lower, creating a larger armhole opening. However, will need to wear a tank top under your shirt if you do this because the side opening will expose the side of your bra.)
Congratulations! Now wear it proudly, and enjoy the compliments! And be sure to send us a picture.
Now that you are familiar with the pattern, you can come up with all kinds of alternatives for variety. One variation I did was to cut the bottom with a rounded hem (see the blue print shirt below). When I made this pattern for the first time (pictured at the beginning of this article), I used a fabric that was really pretty on both sides. So I turned the bottom up to hem on the outside, which made the bottom match the inside of the wings on the side of the top. I also did one with a “collar” and split sleeves. You could insert elastic in the front and back between the side seams to form and empire waist, which is a very flattering look. You could use a drawstring to gather the top at the shoulders. You could use a sheer fabric and wear a tank top under it. For more ideas, look around your local mall. Variations of this top are everywhere!
We are busy gearing up for our first classes, and are so excited! The sewing machines arrived today, and we are unpacking them and setting them up.
We will be offering one morning class and one evening class, both beginning on June 19, and running for four weeks. Classes are limited, and we already have students enrolling, so email us today for more information.
In the very first course, you will learn all about the sewing machine and how it works, how to read a pattern and determine fabric and notion needs, how to choose the right fabrics for your projects, and many other practical tips. While making four different projects, you will learn to topstitch, make buttonholes, install zippers and elastic, and finish seams.
We are using Karen’s daughter Julie as our guinea pig, and she has enjoyed her first two projects. Her apron turned out so pretty, and so did her pillow shams. She plans to use both as wedding gifts. How special for the friends who will receive such a nice gift!
If you live in the middle Georgia area, and would like more information on our beginning sewing classes, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A couple of years ago, I bought some beautiful pieces of an old Japanese kimono from one of the vendors at the annual Original Sewing and Quilting Expo, an event held every spring in Atlanta that I try not to miss. This vendor has the most gorgeous vintage silk fabrics that she groups together. None of the pieces are big enough for an entire garment, but I knew I would eventually find something special to do with the pieces I purchased.
When my niece announced her engagement, and plans began to form for a spring Nashville wedding, I pulled my kimono silk out and started playing with it, draping it on my dress form to look at the kimono fabric with some black silk. My daughter would need something pretty to wear, and this would be the perfect starting point.
I bought Tracy Reese Vogue pattern #1190, because I liked the general silhouette of it. But I left off the front ruffle, and since my daughter wanted the back of the bodice to be “regular” rather than the style shown, I drafted a plainer version. I used the kimono fabric for the bodice front and back, and a soft washed silk charmeuse in black for the skirt. The tiny waist band was cut from a piece of kimono silk in a deep navy, one of the other pieces from the grouping I bought in Atlanta.
Because I wanted everything to be just right when I cut this vintage silk fabric, I made a muslin for the trial bodice to tweak the fit. When my daughter and I were both satisfied with it, I used that as my pattern to cut the kimono fabric. I then sized the skirt pieces to fit the bodice, and cut them out of the black charmeuse.
The dress went together like a dream! (I love sewing with good quality silk!)
I also made her a necklace and earrings to go with her dress. I bought the glass necklace focal component three or four years ago at an art gallery in Destin, Florida. The necklace and earrings are fashioned from Swarovski crystal beads. The wedding was beautiful, and so much fun, and my daughter was beautiful in her very special silk dress!
A while back, after buying yet another pattern I already had, I decided to get organized. Now, I know there are all kinds of apps for my smart phone that will keep up with pattern information, but until they make an app that will let me post swatches of my fabric–swatches that I can actually touch–I am sticking with my old school “Big Book.” So, just in case you are looking for a way to organize your patterns and fabric samples in one place, let me tell you how I did it. Feel free to be a copycat. Better yet, leave me a note if you have done something similar, and give all of us some pointers.
I bought a large, sturdy three ring binder, some divider pages with write-on tabs, and white copy paper pre-punched with three holes. Then I hauled out all of my patterns–and I do mean ALL. I decided that if it was worth holding on to, it was worth a place in my book. I separated them into categories, such as “tops,” “jackets,” “pants and skirts,” “dresses.” You get the idea. I recorded these titles with a pen on the tab pages. Then I copied the front and back of every pattern I owned. To save money and space in my book, I copied the front of the pattern in color, then flipped that same sheet over to print the back of the pattern in black ink. Some of the envelopes were flat enough for my flat bed printer that I didn’t have to remove the contents, but some of them were too thick. I was careful to not get in too big of a hurry, so that I could be sure to get the pattern pieces back into the right envelope. This all took some time, but now when I go to the fabric store, I take my Big Book, which holds everything I need to know about what patterns I have and their fabric and notions requirements.
Behind the pattern sections, I put my fabric swatch pages. I used my computer’s word processor to design a simple page that would hold four swatches and information on them. I printed these on both sides of some light gray card stock that I already had on hand, and used a three-ring punch on them so they could go in my book.
I cut fabric swatches approximately 2 x 3 inches, and stapled them onto the card stock. You can see this in the picture at the top of this post. In the information blanks, I recorded how much of the swatch fabric I had, whether or not it had been pre-washed, the width and the content of the fabric, and the source and cost. All of this was recorded in pencil, so that when I use a portion of the fabric or when I pre-wash something, I can change the information I recorded earlier. If I use it all, I just strike through the information. But I leave the swatch. I figured that in a few years, it might be fun to see all of those swatches that (hopefully) became garments.
I have a basket in my sewing studio, just inside the entrance, that holds any newly acquired fabric or patterns until I have had the chance to record them in my book.
“The Book” is quite large and heavy, but it’s worth the effort of lugging it to the fabric store. Even if I haven’t planned a trip to a fabric store, it usually stays in my car because I never know when I might need all of the vital information it holds!