You walk into a fabric or craft store to buy a new needle for your sewing machine and see a wall that looks like this:
Why are there so many?!?!!?! I'm going to let you in on a few secrets of reading those packages, and the small handful of needles that you need to know about to get you through most sewing projects.
First, there are many specialty needles. You don't need 3/4 of what is shown in the above picture unless you are sewing leather or making a couture wedding gown. Honest!
First lesson--the brand of needle does not matter. Schmetz and Singer are the ones most widely available, and I tend to pretty much use only Schmetz because I can get it anywhere.
Second--the word "Universal" refers to the needle fitting any brand of sewing machine. This does not mean it is good for any project/fabric type. Universal will fit Janome, Singer, Bernina, Brother, and everything in between. All sewing machines, even my grandmother's antique treadle machine take the same needles. Let me show you the anatomy of a needle.
There is a top and the bottom, the bottom being the pointy part that will come into contact with your fabric. The top shaft has a rounded front and a flat back (front shown on top, back on the bottom in the above photo). Check your machine's manual, but most needles load with the flat side facing back when looking at your machine.
Needles are sized differently, and this applies to how thick the metal of the needle. A thicker needle would be used for heavier fabrics like drapery or if you are making a pair of jeans. A thinner needle is good for finer silks and sheer fabrics. Somewhere in the middle you have the perfect size for quilting cottons, the majority of fabrics most home sewers tend to use. If you don't match the right needle to the fabric you are using, you can break the needle or poke holes in your fabric.
On that shaft, there are tiny etch marks that give you the size information (while this is extremely difficult to read, it comes in handy if you drop a multi-pack on the floor and you can no longer consult the package for what size needle you have in your hand. Not that I ever drop needles on the floor...ahem.)
Most needles come with a bit of paint that color codes the sizes, but this is not always universal from brand to brand. The numbers are universal, so I always go by those.
You know how we have standard and metric measuring systems for volume, length, etc?? The same applies for the gauge of a needle. Can you see "Schmetz 80/12" etched in the picture above? "Needle size: 90/14 refers to the diameter of the needle blade in hundredths of a millimeter measured above the scarf. 90 is the European measurement, 14 is the US reference number." (taken from The Sewing Machine Classroom by Charlene Phillips.) The higher the numbers, the larger the diameter of the needle. Generally, for a quilting cotton you want an 80/12 needle. Going up or down by one size is not the end of the world, just pay close attention to your seam as you work.
The above image is a multi-pack of needles, ranging from 70-90 (or 10-14, depending if you want to be American or British that particular day.) So what sizes do you need for what fabric? If you buy a multi-pack, it will tell you right on the back!
Some packages will tell you on the front.
So far we've covered the numbering system, that you need a heavy needle for denim or thick layers, that you need a thin sharp needle for fine fabrics, and how the needles are installed in your machine. There's one last needle type I want to mention that should cover most projects you sew. Ball point needles. These are needed for sewing with knits!
These have the same sizing scale, but the tips are slightly rounded, not super pointy. A knit fabric is different from a woven one, and it's important when sewing with knits that the needle not pierce the fibers, but pass through easily.
One other great tool for sewing with knits is the double or twin needle. That requires it's own separate post, but you can read about it from Katy at No Big Dill here. She explains it beautifully.
Have I addressed some mysteries surrounding the wall o' needles at the fabric store? If not, please leave me your questions in the comments!
This weekend, creative inspiration hit and I had the chance to take some time to follow it. If you get the chance, I strongly encourage you to do the same--it is so rewarding! A project in the latest issue of Stitch magazine caught my eye.
I have no need for a wall hanging, and wasn't interested in making something large (I have enough quilts in progress to last my family a few generations!). The bird's nest in this project struck me as a very clever use of fabric scraps. So I started playing.
The bird's nest cosmetic zippered pouch turned out so well, that I couldn't stop at one. The raw applique will fray slightly over time, lending to the charm of the feathers and nest.
I made a whole rainbow flock of birds! The flock can be found here. Sometimes a piece of something can inspire a whole new project. Much like a painting can inspire a quilt or a poem can inspire dance choreography, crafting and sewing magazines can give you much more than the specific patterns contained within their pages. What is your favorite creative magazine?
Whenever I give an introductory sewing lesson, I'm often asked what materials are best to have on hand. I may have many fancies that help with my speed of sewing, but there are really only a handful of items you should have to sew just about any project you encounter.
A variety of small scissors that can be used for thread snips. The orange snips are from a super cheap kit whose only redeeming quality was the scissors. 3-4" is a handy size for grabbing to cut thread at your machine. The silver thread snips have an added ergonomic benefit--you don't have to get fingers through the handle--just grab and snip.
With these basic tools, (or a complete kit that you can purchase from my shop here), you can handle most any sewing project.
What's your favorite sewing tool? I would love to hear about it in the comments.
Last week I got a pair of boots! I've been holding off for about 4 years to get a basic pair of brown leather boots. There was always something else that needed attention. I didn't need boots. But if I was buying boots, I was going to get a well-made real leather pair that would last at least 10 years (I hope!). That also meant a bit of saving on my part. Buying something you have been looking forward to, that you have saved for in advance, and that will be a wardrobe staple for years to come--what a satisfying purchase!
Last week I talked about composting your natural fiber scraps from sewing. What about the PUL? Nylon? Ribbon trimmings? If I can avoid throwing anything away, I will. Those bits and pieces that cannot be composted can still be recycled. Today I'm going to show you how to make boot inserts using other types of scraps.
Most boots look like this when you put them away at the end of the day:
I'm new to the leather boot party, but I'm going to take a wild guess that the leather will wear prematurely if you store your boots in this slumped-over position. If you do a quick search on Pinterest for "boot shapers", you get lots of people telling you to cut a foam pool noodle in half, plunk one into each boot. No thank you. You can probably guess that I'm not a fan of foam pool noodles. I'm not even going to show you any of those pictures, that's how much I like to avoid using plastic. There are some other ideas (wine bottle, coat hanger, water bottle, rolled up magazine, flexible cutting boards, Pringles canister...you get the idea). So I came up with another method that basically fills a fabric tube with scraps, making a firm support for your boots. Let's get started.
Start with two pieces of fabric, each 12" wide x 24" long. You can adjust the dimensions if your boots are very different from my size 9.5 (some calf designs are wider, some feet are too narrow for this diameter tube).
Fold the fabric in half lengthwise, right sides together, and sew a seam along the bottom and side openings with a 1/2" seam allowance. The red lines in the picture approximate the seams. (My pincushion in this photo is also filled with recycled scraps!)
Turn the tube right side out through the open end and stuff with sewing scraps.
Fill to within about 2" of the edge. Stuff firmly, but don't over-stuff. This kind of filling is dense and gets heavy quickly. You want the tube to have a firm shape.
Fold the raw edges in, creating a smooth edge without any frayed edges. Sew closed with a 1/4" seam allowance. If you overfill the tube, it will be difficult to wrestle through your sewing machine. It's better to have more room with which to work, you can redistribute the stuffing after the form is finished.
The finished boot supports may be a bit lumpy, but who cares?!?! You can smooth them out a bit by redistributing the filling. Plus, they are going to be inside a boot--no one will really even see them.
Recycling and maintaining a wardrobe investment at the same time. Now that's the sign of a good day! Cute bird fabric from Ikea is the icing on the cake.
Whenever I sew something, I try to use up every last bit of fabric. I've made all sorts of products to use the smallest bits of beautiful fabric--check out the patchwork pin cushion. Even after making something like the pincushion, there are tiny scraps leftover. How can you avoid throwing these bits away?
For 100% cotton and all other natural fibers (100% wool, linen, etc.), the small scraps can be composted. The fabric is biodegradable, and the small nature of these scraps mean they will break down relatively quickly in a compost pile.
You cannot compost synthetics. Any polyester fabric is not biodegradable, so it's not going to break down in a compost bin. This includes thread--most thread is 100% polyester. If you have scraps that have parts of seams sewn with poly thread, they cannot be composted.
From here on out, Dancing Threads RI will not buy printed fabric that is synthetic! The vast majority of my fabric is 100% cotton, but occasionally I work with indoor/outdoor fabric, a natural/synthetic blend or recycled felt (recycled from plastic water bottles, but since the scraps of felt are plastic, they are not biodegradable). I will use up what I currently have in stock, but I will not purchase any new synthetic printed fabric. For now, I will continue to use ripstop nylon and PUL for linings, and nylon mesh for produce bags. To be honest, I have not yet found a viable alternative. If you have suggestions, I would love to read them in the comments!
What about polyester thread snips? PUL and nylon scraps? I'm not throwing those into the trash anymore! I will share some ideas for using scraps as filling for other projects (instead of polyfill which is 100% polyester/plastic). For now, my scrappy sailboat ornaments/decorations are filled with these bits of leftovers. I have a tutorial lined up for something seasonal and quite useful that I think you will like. Check back here next week!
Walking into a fabric store can be intimidating. Let me help make it less scary. By the end of this post, you should feel comfortable handling a bolt of fabric!
Most fabric comes wrapped like this. The fabric is one long piece, usually 8-10 yards long, folded in half, then wrapped around a cardboard core. The bolt stands approx. 22" tall.
It's important to remember that this fabric is folded before being wrapped around the core. It remains folded when measured and cut by the sales associate. If you cut one yard (36"), the actual piece of fabric you go home with is 36" x 44". The same applies if you are ordering fabric online. Ordering 1 yard will give you 36" x 44" when it arrives at your door. Some online retailers are generous and will give you an extra inch (37" wide, kind of like a baker's dozen).
This holds true for all standard bolts of fabric. Sometimes bolts are larger and the fabric will actually be 60" wide. The bolt looks exactly the same, but it will be about 8" taller in the store. The fabric is still folded in half before wrapping around the cardboard center, so the bolt itself will stand approx. 30" tall.
If you order 1/4 yard of fabric, you will get a long skinny piece of fabric that is 9" wide by 44" long. If you've heard the term "fat quarter," it refers to a special cut (usually only available as a pre-cut length, not something you can choose to have cut from a bolt.) A fat quarter is when a full yard of fabric is cut, then divided into 4 equal rectangles. Those rectangles are 18" x 22", as opposed to a skinny quarter which is 9" x 44". Both are considered a "quarter yard of fabric." Big difference!
The end of the cardboard tube holds a lot of important information. This information is not printed on the fabric itself, and it also will not be printed on your receipt or cutting table paperwork. If you need specific info, it is very important to jot it down or snap a photo with your phone before leaving the store.
Price per yard. Look for sale or clearance stickers in this area as well.
Laundering instructions and fiber content. This is very important so that you know how to care for the item you plan to make when it's finished.
"Valentine Candy" is the name of the fabric. You may also see the designer's information here. Under that, it lists the colorway. Sometimes the same design will appear in different colors (this one does not, so it just says "Multi.") Under that, where the fabric was milled. This one came from China.
To the right of this info you can see "Size 44IN" which refers to the overall width of the fabric if you unfold it. Most fabric comes as 44", but you can see 54" in home decor types of fabric, and 60" as well. Sometimes there might even be a 90" width, common in cotton muslin and fabrics made to be a single piece for a quilt backing. Those are not as common in the fabric store. They also are not insanely tall bolts--most of the time that fabric will be folded two or three times before wrapping around the cardboard to make the bolt more manageable.
Lastly, you see "Yards 10" which refers to the total length of fabric on the bolt when it first arrives in the store.
If you found this information helpful or have questions, please let me know in the comments. Happy fabric shopping!
With more and more people raising backyard chickens each year, I bet that some of you out there have chicken feed bags leftover from your free-ranging egg machines. There is often some beautiful artwork on feed bags--no need to throw that plastic bag away! You can make a tote bag in a short period of time with a few simple sewing supplies.
Here is how I made this one for a friend.
First, cut the bottom off of your feed bag.
Cut two equal strips from the top of the feed bag. I cut 5" wide strips, but you can decide how thick your straps will be, as well as how much of the bag's graphics you want to sacrifice to the straps. Open up the 5" wide loop at one end so you have one long piece. I trimmed mine to a final strap length of 5" x 34" (I like to sling totes over my shoulder, and I find this length works well to do that).
Go back with a ruler and rotary cutter to even off the end, aligning with text or other graphics on the feed bag.
Fold the strip lengthwise in half, finger-pressing a crease in place.
Open up the piece, and fold the edges each in halfway, edges meeting at the center crease you just made.
Fold up the strap so that the raw edges of the long sides are now enclosed. DO NOT USE PINS. Clothespins or binder clips work really well to hold this material in place when you are ready to sew with it. Pins will leave irreparable holes.
Edge stitch both sides of the strap with a seam allowance between 1/8"--1/4". Repeat with the second strap. There is no need to finish the raw edges as it is plastic, and will not fray.
Sewing tip: you may need to gently tug on the material from the far side of your machine to get it to run smoothly. Pushing from the front doesn't seem as helpful, but maintaining even pressure (not too much!) from both sides will give you a smoother seam.
A machine needle used for garments or quilting cottons is not strong enough to handle this fabric. I recommend using a Denim needle, or a size of at least 16/100. The above photo is from a needle multi-pack--the needle shown is a heavy duty one, good for this project.
Turn the bag inside out. With a 1/2" seam allowance, sew the bottom closed. Then cut a 2.5" square notch from each of the two bottom corners to make a bottom box pleat (you may skip this step if you don't want a flat-bottom tote).
Open up the cut-away area and match the bottom seam with the side crease (not shown). Sew closed with a 1/2" seam allowance.
A finished box pleat.
Fold over the top edge of the bag by about 1/2" and sew a hem with a 1/4" seam allowance. You can make a bigger/smaller hem to preserve artwork on the front of your bag--it's completely up to you. No need for a double-roll hem because this is not going to fray.
Attach your handles wherever they are going to be most comfortable for you. I made a square that measures 1"x1" and went over it 2-3 times for durability. Placement of handles depends on the size of the bag. My finished tote is about 21" wide by 18" tall (32" tall with the handles), and I spaced my handles 4" in from the sides.
Congratulations! You saved a plastic bag from the trash, and have a handy new tote bag too. This is what I'm now calling Sustainable Sewing. Look for more sewing tutorials here soon. I would love to hear from you and see pictures if you make a feed bag tote using this tutorial!
There's nothing like turning the calendar page on a new year to step back and take stock of things. Reflecting on the past year makes goal setting for the new year a little easier. In addition to some personal goals I've set, such as knitting a hat and setting a work schedule for myself that includes breaks through the year, I have set quite a few new goals for Dancing Threads RI.
Looking back made me realize that the part of my business I enjoyed most was teaching others how to sew. Let's do more of that! Analyzing the business financials is always a frank picture of how the year went. What will I continue making in 2015? Knitting accessories, cosmetic bags, snack bags, produce bags, wet bags and various totes--the heart of my business philosophy aiming to have less disposable plastic in the world. What did not sell very well? Bunting and reusable gift bags. You will also see some new kinds of products in my shop in the coming weeks and months.
Another sizeable goal is to jump into online marketing feet-first. Up until now, I've been waiting for people to randomly find my wares online. Etsy and Google make changes fairly regularly, and if I want to succeed in the online world of handmade goods, I need to keep pace. That means exciting things on the horizon for you, my dear readers! Think free tutorials, more digital sewing patterns, links to sewing resources, and a focus on sustainable sewing. How cool does that sound? Make a tiny little footprint when you choose materials for your sewing projects. I have so many ideas to share with you! Notice any changes on the website? I am in the midst of an overhaul--what do you think so far?
With the focus shifting more towards teaching and pattern design, I will no longer be accepting custom orders. This area of the business is so very time consuming (VERY time consuming!), and with fabric availability in constant flux, I'm taking a take-it-or-leave-it approach to my products. If you love something in a particular fabric, buy it, because you may never see it again. Along the same lines, I will be using the many many yards of beautiful fabric that I already have in stock, not ordering anything new for the foreseeable future.
Overall, I want to work smarter, not harder. There is a finite number of things I can possibly sew in a given day. That number shrinks if I want to maintain my sanity and a reasonably orderly household. This is the year to define Dancing Threads RI more clearly.
I'm excited! What are some of your goals for 2015?
As co-owner of Stitchery in Portsmouth, RI, I teach sewing classes to children and adults. Welcome to my blog Dancing Threads RI.