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Sewing Chores: Tips to maximize sewing time

Even if you love sewing, there’s some parts that can be a chore. Ignoring those tasks or leaving them for later can result in wasted sewing time and money. Here’s a list of chores I try to tackle when I have a few minutes so that my real sewing time is spent actually sewing.

Bobbin winding

If you have a Side Winder, bobbin thread running out mid-project might not be a big hassle. If you rely on your machine to wind bobbins, though, running out means stopping your work, re-threading your machine to wind a bobbin and then setting it back up to sew. To prevent this headache, when you have a few spare moments, wind a few bobbins in your most commonly used colors. If you have a project in mind, wind a couple of bobbins in the needed colors. Keep extra bobbins on hand and wind at least one for every different thread color you have. 

Pre-winding extra bobbins makes this notice less annoying.

Clean your machine

Lint, threads and dust build up over time and can cause poor stitch quality or even damage your machine. It’s a good idea to make a habit of brushing the debris out at the end of each project, or during projects with linty fabrics.

If the inside of your machine looks like this, you should probably clean it more often.

Periodically you’ll want to vacuum out your machine to really clean it. Vacuum attachments made for cleaning computers work well for this. Some people use canned air, but that’s not recommended. It pushes some of the debris deeper into your machine.

Oil your machine

Once your machine is thoroughly clean, take a moment to oil it according to your manual. This will keep it running smoothly and reduce the need for costly repairs. If you don’t have the manual, you can usually find one online. 

After oiling, always sew a few rows on scrap fabric to soak up excess oil. That way, you won’t risk ruining a project with oil spots. 

Tidy up

The best practice is to put away tools and excess fabric as you go. It’s easy to get distracted and forget, though. Taking a moment here and there to run through your sewing area to tidy up when you aren’t working on a project can save sewing time later.

Keep a shopping list

Nothing is more annoying than having to stop work because you ran out of a necessary supply. Make note of supplies that are low or that have run out on a notepad to take on your next shopping trip.

Prewash fabric

Unless you know your final project will never be washed, you should always prewash your fabric. One way to make sure this happens is to wash it as soon as you bring it home from the store. You could also work it into your usual laundry schedule. Having a prewashing routine prevents delaying a project or worse, giving in to the temptation to make something and have your final product ruined in the wash.

Tip: Serging or zig-zag stitching the cut edges will prevent excess fraying in the wash.https://subearthancottage.com/random-sewing-tip-painless-prewash

These are the chores that, for me, are the biggest sewing time-wasters when neglected. Please share your dreaded sewing chores and tips to keep them from becoming time-wasters in the comments.

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Kenmore 385 Sewing Machine Hook Timing Part 2 with Video

I finally got my Kenmore 385 sewing machine’s hook timing adjusted and working properly again. This time, I figured out that there is a plate on the bottom of my machine that allows me to access the necessary set screw without taking the case off. I do think it’s a little more difficult to see what I’m doing that way, but it’s much less scary.

This time, once I got it adjusted, I decided to make a quick (awkward, one handed) video while I still had it open. Hopefully the video and my previous post will help others tackle this simple sewing machine repair.

Adjusting the Hook Timing on a Kenmore 385 Sewing Machine

Shop update: Freebies and a sale

Knowing that so many are stuck at home right now needing distractions, I’ve decided to make all of my machine embroidery design files free until April 30. That’s the day my area’s shelter in place order expires. If it is extended, I’ll extend the embroidery design freebies, too. If you make something with one of my designs, I would love to see it.

My full shop is still open, and will be as long as everyone in my household is healthy. I’m using extra care with handwashing and using hand sanitizer before coming into contact with products and packaging as well.

All of my handmade soaps are currently on sale for 20% off. You can find them here.

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Kenmore 385 Sewing Machine Hook Timing Part 2 with Video
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DIY Cloth Face Masks Thoughts and Information

DIY Cloth Face Masks

Several weeks ago, I got an email talking about DIY cloth face masks. It provided a link to a free pattern. Honestly, I thought it was kind of silly. From what I’d heard, N95 masks were the only masks able to do anything against COVID-19. 

A few days ago, I saw posts about people making masks and donating them to healthcare providers and nursing homes. Again, I was skeptical. If N95 masks were the only masks able to filter COVID-19, surely making cloth masks was just something that made people feel like they were doing something productive with little actual value. Still, I decided to look into it. As it turns out, cloth masks, while not as good as N95 masks, do offer some protection.

What protection can a DIY cloth face mask offer?

During my research, I frequently saw a Cambridge University study referenced. This page at smartairfilters.com gives a good overview of the study. In a nutshell, various household materials and fabrics offer protection ranging from 49%-86% against particles smaller than the coronavirus. At the top end are vacuum cleaner bags, but they are difficult to breathe through.

The more common types of materials used in DIY masks, such as cotton fabric, t-shirt blends and dish towels offer 57%-73% protection in a single layer. Using two or more layers increases the protection, but the increased protection varies by fabric.

Overall, it’s clearly not as much protection as an N95 mask, but a DIY cloth face mask does offer some protection. Any reduction in exposure will reduce your chances of getting sick, from COVID-19 or any other bugs out there. I’ve also heard that first responders and healthcare providers are using cloth masks over the N95 masks. This allows them to change the cloth mask and reuse the N95 masks longer. Different hospitals and healthcare providers have different needs and preferences, so if you decide to make some to donate, check first.

What I’m doing.

After debating and seeing interest among friends and family, I’ve decided to make a few to start. I’m using the more finished mask design from IThinkSew’s free patterns as my starting point. They also have a simplified pattern designed to be easy enough to sew by hand.

Cutting out fabric for DIY cloth face masks.

I am planning to swap the ear elastics for ties that go behind the head. I’m making that change based on seeing complaints that ear elastics are uncomfortable if used for long periods and can dislodge hearing aids. Cloth is also able to withstand higher heat than elastic, so swapping the elastic for ties allows the masks to be washed at higher temperatures. Elastic can also wear out quickly if it’s being put on, taken off and washed frequently, so cloth ties should prolong the usefulness of the mask.

The pattern I’m using has two layers and a filter pocket, making it three layers in total. Alone, it should offer some protection. For added protection, though, I’ve been looking at different filter materials. The one that seems most readily available to me is embroidery stabilizer. It has similar properties to other filter materials and is washable. There isn’t a ton of information on it as a filter substance, but I am seeing other people using it as well. It’s similar to but lighter than vacuum bags (if using cut away or tear away), and the content is the same or similar to what is used in surgical masks.

I’m not sure how many masks I’ll make. I plan to start with the people I know that have shown interest and go from there.

The IThinkSew mask patterns don’t have written instructions, but they do have fairly detailed videos for both mask designs. If you’re making masks using that pattern and having problems, please comment with your questions and I’ll try to help. I’ll try to help with other patterns, too, but I might be less helpful without my own hands-on experience.

Other sewing projects.

Knowing that so many are stuck at home right now needing distractions, I’ve decided to make all of my machine embroidery design files free until April 7. That’s the day my area’s shelter in place order expires. If it is extended, I’ll extend the embroidery design freebies, too. If you make something with one of my designs, I would love to see it.

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Tips for Buying Your First Sewing Machine

Whether you want to make your own clothes or home decor or just be able to mend and tailor the things you already have, a sewing machine makes it much easier. If you don’t have much experience with sewing on a machine, though, it can be daunting looking at all of the choices out there. While it really is up to personal preference, there are a few guidelines that will help you to find a solid sewing machine that meets your needs.

Determine your stitch needs

What are you planning to do with your sewing machine? For most sewing, you really don’t need a huge variety of stitches. Almost everything can be done with a machine that sews straight and zig-zag stitches, and has a button hole option. A blind hem stitch, an overedge stitch and a smocking stitch round it out nicely for garments and decor construction. If you plan to do decorative top stitching, then look for a sewing machine with decorative stitches you like.

Computerized sewing machine?

Honestly, I avoid computerized machines. A sewing and embroidery combo machine like my Brother SE400 (this is the updated version) is the exception. If you really want to do machine embroidery you will need a computerized embroidery machine. Otherwise, a purely mechanical machine is my recommendation. Even though my embroidery machine is also a regular sewing machine, I prefer to keep my embroidery machine for embroidery only and use another sewing machine for standard sewing. Computerized machines have more things that can go wrong, and I like to keep things simple.

Sewing and Embroidery Machine
This is my model of embroidery machine. It is computerized and scary, lol.

Presser feet

To me, having a variety of presser feet is more valuable than having a variety of stitches. While most things can be done with a standard zig-zag foot, a zipper foot makes sewing in zippers a lot easier. A rolled hem foot makes it easier to sew tiny narrow hems. Button hole and button feet round out the basic feet that make sewing garments easier and with more professional looking results. Those are many other presser feet available, and, while usually not required, they each make their specific task easier.

Most new sewing machines use a universal snap-on presser foot system, so it’s not hard to add more presser feet to your collection. Older machines use a thumb screw to attach the feet, but you can usually screw on a snap on adapter and use snap on feet on them, too. This page gives a good rundown on how to know if a presser foot works for your machine.

Vintage Sewing Machine knit foot
Vintage foot. I think it is a knit foot.

Construction

For a long-lasting machine, the less plastic the better. I prefer vintage machines for this reason. A good metal vintage machine will last forever if maintained properly, whereas machines with internal plastic gears and other mechanisms is more likely to break. If you buy a new machine, it’s more likely to have a lot of plastic components, but you can still look for quality. Check out the display model, if possible. Is there anything already broken just while on display? While the break may have just been a previous too-rough customer, it’s also likely a weak point. Do the knobs, levers and buttons operate smoothly and feel solid? How heavy is the machine? I personally would lean toward a heavier machine.

Used or vintage sewing machine

It’s not hard to find used sewing machines at thrift stores, garage sales or on sites like craigslist in the $20-$75 range. If shopping for a used machine, see if you can test it before buying. If not, gently turn the hand wheel to see if it moves smoothly. They usually turn towards the front. Don’t force it if it feels stiff or resistant. If it turns, are there any weird sounds like something hitting or rubbing that shouldn’t. Are the plug and visible wiring in good shape? Does it pass the construction tests previously mentioned?

With a used machine, you may not have the manual or attachments for the machine. Most manuals can be found online, but if you can, do a quick search for it before buying it. Things like presser feet and bobbins are easy to replace, unless it is a really old machine. Even then, there are still parts out there on ebay and similar sites, but try to check first.

It’s a good idea to get a used machine tuned up at a repair shop, especially if you’re not familiar with sewing machine maintenance. On average, a tune up runs $75-$100. If it turns out further repair is needed, then that will add to the cost. Depending on the purchase price and the solidness of the machine, though, even with the tune up cost, you may spend about the same as a lower end new model, but the machine will last a lot longer.

A word about Singer sewing machines

I personally haven’t owned a Singer. All of mine are either Signatures (Montgomery Ward brand), a Kenmore (Sears brand) or my new Brother embroidery machine. They all are low shank machines, so the feet are interchangeable, and, except for the Brother, the bobbins are the same. Older Singers have either a Singer-exclusive slant shank or, if I’m not mistaken, a high shank, which has deterred me from owning one. The older Singers are good, solid machines, though, so if you aren’t worried about being able to use the same feet on another machine, they are a good choice.

Newer Singers are another matter. I’ve had friends purchase a brand new Singer that had it break just after the warranty ran out. The cost of repair made it better to replace the machine. Looking online, the general consensus is that Singers aren’t made to last anymore. For low-cost, entry-level machines, Brother tends to have a better reputation. Again, I haven’t owned a Singer, but, from what I’ve heard, I would stick with vintage models and avoid the new ones.

Questions?

These are just a few basic guidelines. If you have any other questions relating to sewing machines, ask in the comments and I will answer them as best as I can. If you have your own guidelines to add, feel free to comment those as well.

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12 Must-Have Sewing Tools

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If you’re just starting to sew, it can be daunting to figure out which sewing tools are nice to have, which are absolutely necessary and which are just a fancy waste of money. Everyone’s preferences are different, but there’s a few tools that I use almost every time I break out my sewing machine. 

This list assumes you have the absolute basics of needles, thread and sewing machine. I plan to do an article next week on my sewing machine preferences, so if you’re still in the market for a sewing machine, stay tuned. Many of these items are handy for hand sewing, too, if that is your preference.

My Must-Have Sewing Tools

Cutting

  • Fabric Scissors. While you can get by with a good pair of craft scissors, fabric scissors cut much cleaner. I have two pairs. One is an all metal pair similar to these, although I’m not sure if mine are Gingher brand. My other pair are like these Singer brand scissors. Both of these have a bent handle that make it easier to cut fabric lying flat on a surface and have a minimum blade length of 8 inches. Remember, to keep them sharp, fabric scissors should only be used on fabric.
  • Embroidery Scissors. Clipping threads with bigger fabric scissors is tricky. It’s hard to trim threads as close as needed and it’s easier to accidentally snip the fabric. Embroidery scissors or similar scissors are a lifesaver when it comes to keeping threads neat and tidy. For these, the biggest things to look for is that they are small, sharp and have a sharp point. I currently have these Fiskars brand, which come with a handy place to store bobbins and pins. I would love to get a pair of stork embroidery scissors like these, but mainly because I think they are adorable.
  • Pinking Shears. Pinking shears cut in a zig-zag pattern that prevents fabric from fraying. It’s an easy way to finish raw seam allowances without a serger (overlock machine), zig-zag stitching or using a more time consuming method of finishing seams. My pinking shears are unmarked, so I’m not sure of the brand, but they are similar to these.
  • Rotary Cutter and Mat. These are more of a want than a need, but for cutting smooth, long, straight lines, a rotary cutter is extremely handy. To properly use a rotary cutter, you’ll also need a self healing cutting mat. These come in various sizes. Unless you’re only working on small projects, bigger is usually better. I use a Fiskars 45mm rotary cutter. This is an example of a cutting mat. Mine biggest one currently is 24 inches square, and I really wish it was bigger.
  • Seam Rippers. I find seam rippers much easier to use than scissors when ripping out stitches. They also work well for making button holes. I recommend having a couple on hand. I got a multi-pack like this because I’m always misplacing mine.

Measuring and marking

  • Measuring tape. A soft, flexible measuring tape like this one is a necessity for taking measurements for clothing. I recommend having more than one, because they seem to disappear, at least at my house.
  • Straight edge ruler or yardstick. These are especially useful for using as a guide for rotary cutters. Really, though, for measuring flat lengths, a rigid yardstick/meter stick is easier to use than a measuring tape. A smaller ruler is handy for measuring hems, seam allowances and quilt pieces. Neither has to be fancy. My yardstick came from a hardware store and my rulers are leftover school supplies. Grid-type rulers do come in handy sometimes, but I recommend starting simple to get an idea of the sizes you would use the most.
  • Tailor’s chalk. For marking, I’ve tried water and air soluble marking pens, but I always come back to simple tailor’s chalk. It’s inexpensive, it works well, and it lasts longer than markers.

Securing

  • Straight pins. I personally prefer long, thin quilting pins, but any straight pins will get the job done. You want to make sure the pins are sharp and smooth so they glide well through the fabric.
  • Clips. Sometimes you need to secure fabric that is either too thick or too delicate to pin. For those items, you’ll want some sort of clip. You could use something like these, use binder clips, or even clothespins, depending on the fabric.
  • Safety pins. Safety pins are great for securing a big quilt for basting, or securing a project that needs to be stored for a bit before you can finish it. They are also perfect to help threading drawstrings.
  • Pin storage. Pincushions are cute, available to purchase and easy to make. While I do have a couple I use regularly, I really prefer small containers that I can just drop the pins into. Altoid mint tins are my go-to, but any small container that is easy to reach in and grab a pin will work.

What are your must-haves?

Everyone has their own style, so something I use all the time might not get used at all by someone else. What sewing tools do you use all the time? Leave a comment letting me know what you like, what I missed or what I included that you never use.

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T-Shirt to Yoga Shorts Refashion

If you’re new to refashioning or sewing clothing in general, loungewear is a great place to start. It’s less intimidating because, since you’ll only be wearing it at home, it doesn’t have to be perfect. This refashion project is perfect for a beginner because you only need two t-shirts to make it, and it’s mostly straight lines or slight curves.

I originally shared this tutorial a few years ago, before Thaddeus. The weather is beginning to warm up , so it’s a great time to sew some shorts.


I went on a little Pinterest binge a couple days ago looking for ideas to help clear my refashion stash. Saturday night I decided to make a pair of yoga pants out of a t-shirt using this tutorial. I wear a size eight on average, and used an XL adult t-shirt.

Adaptations from the original refashion project

I did make a few changes to the design. First, instead of cutting the shirt down the middle, I cut it down the sides from the middle of the underarm to the hem. This also means you’ll have an inseam and no side seams. That keeps any design on the front or back intact and moves them to the hips.

For the waistband, I cut the underarm seam from the sleeves and squared them up to be two equal rectangles, leaving the hem intact. I sewed the short sides together making a big, short tube from the sleeves. I then put the tube inside the waist of the pants with the pants right side out and the right side of the tube facing the inside of the pants. The raw edge of the tube lines up with the raw edge of the pants. I serged the top together like that. This made it so when the tube is folded down to the outside, the seam is covered.

T-shirt yoga pants refashion
IMG_4452
IMG_4459
Sorry for the awkward pictures. No one was around to take the pictures and Doctor Who was about to start.

I sewed it all on my serger. The entire refashion project took less than ten minutes. I probably should have added two minutes and switched from white to black thread. Or not.

If you don’t have a serger, you can use a zig-zag stitch to prevent breakage. Many sewing machines have specialty stitches for sewing knits, too, so check your machine to see if that is an option. This DIY T-Shirt Bag Tutorial has more information on stitch selection for knits.

Final verdict

They are a little loose at the waist. If I were planning to actually do yoga or wear them in public I should probably add some elastic at the seam. Since they will probably be used mainly for watching Doctor Who while sitting on the sofa, I probably won’t bother.

I personally don’t mind the length, but you could easily make them shorter by cutting them off to the length you prefer. Knit doesn’t unravel, so you can leave the edges raw, or turn them under and hem.

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T-shirt to yoga pants refashion

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Scrap Busting: Organization for Zero Waste Sewing

If you sew, you have a stash of fabric scraps. No matter how carefully you plan and lay out your patterns, there is almost always going to be some little extra bit. With some creativity, even the smallest scraps are useful in other projects. In order for that to happen, though, you need to be able to know what you have and find what you need. Here’s some simple suggestions to make the most of your fabric scraps.

Decide what makes sense.

I sort my scrap stash primarily by color. Most of it consists of quilting cottons, so sorting by color makes sense. For other types of fabric, I sort by fabric type more than color. For example, all flannel scraps go together.

Think about how you craft or how you naturally group things to find what will work best for you. If you focus more on prints than color family, then try group by prints. If you use a large variety of fabric weights and textures, use that to determine your groupings.

Out of sight, out of mind.

For me, being able to see what I have is the most important. I have a clear plastic sorter bin, similar to what you’d find at a hardware store, that I keep near my cutting table. I put scraps that aren’t really big enough to fold practically into the bins, sorted by color family. The front of the bins are clear, so it’s easy for me to see colors and prints at a glance.

Plastic shoe bins or similar containers would also work. You could upcycle shoe boxes or shipping boxes, but you lose the visibility with something that isn’t clear. In that case I would clearly label the outside with the color family.

Scrap organization
This garage sale find keeps my scraps organized and visible.

Don’t forget the tiniest scraps.

Even the tiniest scraps can be used for stuffing, to strengthen handmade paper or in textile art. I keep a small bin next to my sewing machines and sergers to collect threads, clipped corners, trimmed seam allowances, etc.

Have a plan for other types of scraps.

Little bits of lace, trim and buttons from refashioned clothing get stored in glass jars. I find the variety of colors and shapes pretty, so I like having them sit on a shelf where I can see them. If I need a button or bit of embellishment I know what I have. In the meantime, it’s art.

Scrap jars

Stabilizer scraps go into a drawer under my embroidery machine. If I’m embroidering something that needs a little extra support in an area, I use a suitable scrap instead of a whole new piece. Stabilizer scraps can also be used to reinforce buttons and button holes.

I store most of my interfacing in a shoebox. Small scraps go back into the box to use similarly to how I use stabilizer scraps.

Don’t get overwhelmed.

If you find that your scrap stash is growing larger than what you can use, sort through and pull out anything you don’t love or just don’t see yourself using and donate them. Schools, libraries, scouting groups and similar organizations will often take fabric scraps and other craft materials to use for art projects. You can also list them for free on craigslist or Facebook. As a little girl, I used scraps from my grandma to fashion clothes for my Barbies and My Little Ponies. If you have know of anyone with children, they might like the scraps to play with, too. By donating them, they still get put to use and you’re better able to see and use what you still have.

Put those scraps to use!

Once you know what scraps you have, make it a goal to use them up. If you’re stuck for ideas, Pinterest is a great place to turn for ideas. I have a board dedicated to scrap busting projects that I add to frequently. You can find it here.

I’ll be posting creative ways to use fabric scraps soon. To make sure you don’t miss it, sign up for my newsletter here. When you sign up, be sure to check your spam folder for the confirmation if it doesn’t go straight to your inbox.