Like many mothers of active children, I spend a fair amount of time shuttling people to activities and then waiting. Reading at these activities doesn't work right now because I miss out on watching all the fun. Hand sewing is the perfect way to keep my hands busy, stay out of trouble, not stare at a screen, and still be able to watch the latest flying front kick or back stroke.
Until recently, I've brought my sewing to events in a drawstring project bag, which works quite well. The biggest pet peeve of mine has been thread snips. What to do with them? They either end up all over my lap or tangled at the bottom of the bag. An exterior pocket was in order. While I was at it, I prefer zip top bags, and I had been saving some selvedges that had especially interesting graphics, or meant something to me like the sheep and crabs.
The portable sewing kit was the end result.
The thread snip pocket. No more lap full of threads making me look like the crazy sewing lady! I still look crazy embroidering everywhere I go around Aquidneck Island, but the people who know me understand it's for fun and work. Those who don't? If they ask I'll gladly tell them. If they don't, well then have fun with your Candy Crush.
Some of my favorite selvedges. It's such a shame that people usually just throw these away!
Inside pockets to corral various thread skeins, marking pens, scissors, lip balm, and even my phone and keys if I'm keeping things simple.
You can see by the current contents that it holds quite a lot. This is intentional, as I am usually either stitching multiples of something and like to churn through as many as I can in one waiting period, or I have a few different projects so I don't get bored.
Portable sewing means more than just sewing while my children are doing their thing. I can take the kit almost anywhere including outside in beautiful weather, a friend's house, to the park, on vacation...you name it. TSA may not like all the sharp pointy things, so I haven't tried flying with it yet, but it goes most everywhere with me lately. How else am I going to make sure everyone has the chance to buy their own Lil Rhody bag?? See the crab mug above? I'm working on a Maryland version of the bag too!
How do you sew, knit, crochet, etc. on the go??
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.
When you have finished sewing your latest handmade masterpiece, there are a few simple things you can do to make it look more professional. Using a lint brush, chopstick and a steam iron will give it a polished finish. Here are some before and after photos to show you what I mean.
A plain old chopstick (unused) leftover from takeout will help make the wonky corners look like crisp 90 degree angles. Your children will use them as Harry Potter wands, light sabers, to conduct an orchestra, as a drumstick...so if yours is missing--check the kids' rooms.
Gently use the pointier end of the chopstick to push out the bunched up fabric at the corners. The chopstick is just pointy enough to make crisp corners, but not too pointy to damage or poke holes in the fabric. Be cautious until you have done this a few times.
Now use a steam iron to make the bag look even crisper. A steam iron is your best friend when sewing. I spend more hours with my iron than my sewing machine. It is well worth the effort!
Another handy tool when sewing is a lint roller brush. It's up to you which style you prefer. When we had a cat, the type with sheets of masking tape was a must. Now, I use it to pick up stray threads that are everywhere in my studio.
Lastly, paying attention to the little details adds another level of professionalism to your work. If you are making something to give as a gift, it shows the recipient that you took extra effort on top of creating them something handmade.
Taking a few extra minutes to polish your handmade item makes it look like it belongs in a Newport boutique! Your gift recipient will better appreciate the time and effort you spent making their gift, never thinking that you threw something together at the last minute. Happy gift-making!
When you bring home shiny new fabric from the fabric store or an online shop, the fabric can quite literally be "shiny." The bolts of fabric are often treated with various chemicals to make the print seem brighter and shinier under the store's fluorescent lights. Think about grocery stores waxing the apples so they appear shinier (and fresher??). Doesn't a crisp yard of cotton look so lovely you just want to dive in and start your project as soon as you get home?
It is worth every bit of patience you have to pre-wash that fabric before you ever cut into it.
The residues on the fabric can dull your sewing machine needle prematurely. Unless you are working with organic fabric, there will be some level of treatment. (Note: if you are working with a specialty fabric like silk or leather--you can possibly skip this step, though I do recommend pre-cleaning the fabric the same way you intend to clean the finished product.)
The most important reason to pre-wash your fabric is to pre-shrink it. Wash it exactly as you intend to wash the item you are making. Follow the care instructions on the end of the bolt (write them down before you leave the store since that information doesn't appear on a fabric ticket or receipt). If you're making pajamas, wash and dry the yardage as you would the finished jammies. I tend to wash everything in cold water (hot can cause some colors to bleed, but I have a product recommendation for that on another day), and then throw it in a hot dryer. Fabric can shrink significantly! Let me show you.
A crisp one yard cut of cotton before washing. This should measure 44" wide by 36" long (the online store I ordered this rainbow polka dot from always cuts 37" for each yard ordered).
After washing--41" wide.
After washing--36" long.
This yard has lost 3 inches in one direction, and 1 inch in another!! Think if you had made a fitted blouse for yourself without pre-washing. After all the hard work you pour into sewing a fabulous addition to your wardrobe, it shrinks in the wash and then you can't wear it!
Some quilters believe strongly that if you use quality fabrics, you do not need to pre-wash. There is less shrinkage with high quality fabrics, that is true, and much more from say, a Calico from the wall at Joann Fabrics. Many quilting experts feel the slight shrinkage adds to the desired stippled effect that happens when you first wash a quilt. I don't have a lot of quilting experience, but I disagree. If I want a 90" wide quilt, I want a 90" wide quilt! When you talk about garments, pre-washing is an absolute must.
Save yourself some heartache. Wash, dry, and then iron your fabric before you ever cut into it for a project. I do this with all of the products in my shop, all the home decor and clothing items I make for my family, all my handbags, my toys...whether someone intends to machine wash them or not. It's worth the effort!
I've seen so many people get discouraged because their very first attempt at sewing wasn't "perfect." My friends, there's no such thing as perfect! I'm going to say that again: there is NO such thing as perfect. I make mistakes all the time. Those mistakes do not end up in my booth for sale, but they prove that I'm constantly learning and that a mistake is not the end of the world.
One of the most beautiful things about sewing is that you can redo almost anything. How many hobbies let you do that? Once you glue a photo on a scrapbook page, that's it, sister. You're ripping things to redo it. When you've used orange instead of blue for the sky on a painting--that's a tough one to work around. But, when you make a crooked seam? Attach something upside down? Read the directions wrong? Get distracted? Rip it out and start again! Lovely!
The seam ripper is one of my favorite tools. I'm going to show you some uses today which you may not have considered before.
The green one on the bottom is my favorite. It's a more comfortable shape and size for my hands, plus the light green is a rubber-like grip material that helps me control my movements better. The top one is what you are likely to find in any pre-packaged sewing kit. The upgrade is worth it, take my word. There are also some that light up. For seam repair during a blackout?? Go with the green one if you don't already have one.
The most obvious way to use a seam ripper is to, well, rip out seams. You know that already. Sometimes it's called "unpicking" which you may see in books or online tutorials. It's pretty straightforward: carefully "unsew" a seam that you want to "re-sew" by pulling out each individual stitch, one at a time.
Having the long tip on the top and the red knob pointed down helps me to pull out only the stitches I want pulled out. There is a very sharp blade in the "U" of the seam ripper that will not just cut your threads. It will also cut any fabric or threads of your fabric that it meets. I find if I point that bit down while working on a seam, there is little to no chance that I will accidentally cut something. If I want to snip a thread, flip it around and cut instead of pulling out bulkier thread snips or scissors.
Another really handy way to use a seam ripper is to open up buttonholes once you've sewn them in place. The buttonhole function on your sewing machine basically stitches an enclosed but really narrow rectangle of zig zags.
You need to cut the fabric open to create the hole part of a button hole. Fabric scissors are so big and clunky that it's difficult to create the opening without causing collateral damage. Thread snips or an exacto knife work pretty well, but I've found a seam ripper's point and that handy sharp U-shaped blade work as if they were designed solely for this pupose.
You can carefully use the tip of a seam ripper to make turned out corners of a project crisp. Be careful not to poke holes when trying this! Very very gently tug on the corner you are trying to make sharp.
The last trick that I'm going to show you requires a bit of caution because of that sharp U-shaped part of the seam ripper. Once you get the hang of it, it's pretty handy.
I use my seam ripper instead of pinning when I'm topstitching certain things.
Gently, I insert the very tip of the seam ripper into the seam and tug. Just a bit. This makes the seam crisp as I sew the topstitch, making for a very nice neat finish. While you need to stop every so often to reposition the seam ripper, I find this a much quicker method of getting a crisp seam than to pin everything and stop to remove all those pins, one by one, as I get to them with the sewing machine.
There you have it--how I use my seam ripper for much more than just ripping out seams. Happy stitching!
Lately, I've been fielding questions for sewing advice, so I thought I would start compiling some of my tips and handy sewing tools here on the blog as a reference. Each type of post like this will highlight one tool I find extremely useful, or it will share a simple technique/tip that will help your work go faster and/or look more professional.
Today I want to say a few words about fabric marking tools. Traditionally, dressmakers have used a special type of chalk, or even chalk paper and a marking rotary tool to draw lines on the fabric that are later erasable. This is handy when you are transferring darts on a garment pattern, but marking tools have come a long way in the years that I have been sewing!
This "Mark-B-Gone" erasable pen is something widely available (all craft and fabric stores, even Walmart will carry this type of pen). I used it successfully for several years, and even can say I used-up 3 or 4. They work pretty well. You mark your fabric, and then when finished and want the line to disappear, you spray it with some water. Sometimes this requires so much water that the fabric is completely saturated and you need to wait for it to dry before moving onto the next step.
One other serious drawback is that the tip is felt. It's just like a magic marker. Which means that after a short period of time and use, the tip will dull. It will still mark and erase perfectly well, but your lines will no longer be as precise.
Enter my current favorite tool: The FriXion Erasable Gel Pen from Pilot.
You won't find these at a fabric store. Mine came from Staples, but maybe other office supply stores also carry them. They are not intended for fabric, and I'm not quite sure who the first person was who tried this in desperation during a sewing project, but I'm forever grateful. You don't even need water to erase the ink--a warm iron makes the marks disappear! No joking. The tip will never dull. I put together a little demo in pictures to show you how I use the pen. Bonus that they come in different colors so the color of your fabric isn't an obstacle.
Use the pens for marking measurements as I have done for the crochet hook roll shown in these photos. Mark dart lines. Transfer other pattern marks to your fabric. Mark where a button or label is to be placed. Mark the insertion point of a magnetic snap. Draw lines to ensure really straight seams, especially if you are just starting out and getting comfortable with sewing. You can even draw your seam allowance right on the fabric, making your work look much more polished with straight seams in the end. No one will know because the marks erase with a quick sweep of the iron! The possibilities are endless.
I hope this has been helpful. If there are other tricks you would like to see, let me know. I have quite a few of these posts in mind in the coming weeks and months.
As co-owner of Stitchery in Portsmouth, RI, I teach sewing classes to children and adults. Welcome to my blog Dancing Threads RI.