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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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sewing tools
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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.

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Easy fix for worn out denim jeans

A sick kiddo has kept me from blogging much this past week. Sunday was much better, so hopefully I’ll be back to my usual posting schedule. In the meantime, since last week’s post was on patching denim, I’m bringing back an older post on a different denim jeans fix I’ve used. This one doesn’t require an embroidery machine.

I have a pair of denim blue jeans that are still in good shape except for where my thighs touch. There they are really worn on one side and there is a hole on the other. Because of where the hole was located, I wasn’t comfortable even wearing them around the house, so I decided to try a simple fix.

Interfacing for support

First, I ironed lightweight fusible interfacing on the inside of the worn areas, making sure to completely cover all the worn out spots with the interfacing.

Reinforce with stitching

Once it fused and cooled down, I turned them right side out. Using a narrow zig-zag, I stitched back and forth over the hole and worn areas. This serves to secure the interfacing and add strength.

If you can, drop or cover the feed dogs on your sewing machine so you can move the jeans freely under the needle. The machine I used doesn’t have a way to drop them and I don’t have the special foot plate to cover them. Instead, I used a combination of repositioning and forward and reverse stitching to make it work.

Denim Jeans Fix

Depending on the location, you could use contrasting thread and decorative stitches to turn the repair into an embellishment.

Lengthening a slightly short pair of jeans

I also have a pair of jeans I love, but they needed a button sewn back on. They were also a little short, so I replaced the button and let out the hem while watching TV one evening. These heavy denim jeans are now ready for the coming colder months.

Buttons!

These have an obvious line where the hem was. They’re really cute so I don’t care.

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Easy denim jeans fix.
 

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T-Shirt Market Bag Tutorial

One of my lovely nieces is learning to sew with a sewing machine. To help, I thought I would do a series of beginning sewing project tutorials. Today’s tutorial turns an old t-shirt into a market bag. I’m keeping it simple today, but in the future I’ll do a post on how to make it with and enclosed bottom seam and how to box the bottom. It’s a great way to turn t-shirts that you no longer wear into something useful. If you don’t have a sewing machine, you could even sew it by hand.

Materials:

  • T-shirt
    • T-shirts with a high cotton content and no side seams work the best.
  • Thread in your choice of color.
  • Fabric scissors
  • Sewing machine set up with appropriate needle and bobbin threaded in your color choice.
    • Note: Ball point needles are generally the best for sewing with knits. This project does fine with an all-purpose needle, though, so use what you have.

Preparing the shirt:

Lay the shirt out flat and smooth out any wrinkles. Since this one is just to add to my Aldi bag stash, I didn’t worry too much about wrinkles.

T-shirt laid flat
T-shirt. I’m not sure where I got this one. Also, forgive the grainy photos. Lighting in my craft room wasn’t great that day.

Cut off the arms including the armhole seams.

Cut off the neck about 2-3 inches below the neckband. My shirt is pretty big, so I went three inches below the neckband. With smaller shirts you can do less.

Cutting off sleeves and neck.
I like to fold it in half before cutting to keep everything even. If your scissors aren’t sharp enough to go through all the layers, cut one side and then fold it in half to use as a template for the other side.

Cut straight across the bottom of the shirt to remove the hem. The hemline is often uneven on t-shirts, so focus on keeping the shoulder seams lined up, the shirt smooth and cutting a straight line that removes all of the hem.

Cut off the bottom hem.
Bottom hem removed.

At this point, you should basically have turned the t-shirt into a tank top. Now, decide if you want your bag to look like plastic grocery sacks that have the handles at the top sides (so, your tank top with the bottom sewn closed), or if you want the handles at the top middle, like a purse or market tote.

Looks like a tank top.
Looks like a tank top. For a grocery style bag, turn it inside out and lay it back flat in this position.

For the grocery sack-style, turn your shirt inside out and lay it flat, just like a tank top again. For the purse/market tote, turn it inside out and match the shoulder seams and armholes together, then lay it flat. I’m making a market style tote, so you can see it in the photos.

Laying flat for a purse/market tote.
For a purse/market tote turn it inside out and lay it flat with the shoulder seams at the top, as shown here. I find this style easier to carry on my shoulder.

Once everything is lined up, pin along the bottom to hold it in place.

Pinned hem.
Pinned hem.

Sewing the bag:

Many sewing machines have an assortment of stitches to use with knit fabric. They are useful for keeping the thread from breaking when the fabric stretches. On my machine, they are labeled “stretch” and shown in brown. Zig-zag stitches also work well on knits.

Stitch assortment on my Kenmore sewing machine.
Normal stitches are in red. Stretch stitches are in brown.

You could use a stretch or zig-zag stitch for the bottom of the bag. Since it really shouldn’t be stretching much, I usually stick with a regular straight stitch set to a long-ish length of 3.

Regardless of the type of stitch you choose, I recommend sewing across the bottom twice to make it nice and strong.

The seam allowance, or distance between the edge of the fabric and the stitches, doesn’t really matter that much as long as you keep it the same all the way across. For this bag, I used a 5/8 inch allowance, marked on the footplate of my machine. To keep a straight line, focus on keeping the fabric lined up with the guideline for the seam allowance rather than watching the needle.

Edge of fabric lined up on 5/8 mark.
Edge of fabric lined up on 5/8 mark.

At the start , sew about 2-3 stitches then backstitch to secure the stitching before continuing to sew to the end. At the end, backstitch another 2-3 stitches, then sew to the end and cut the threads. Repeat the seam as close to the original line of sewing as possible to make it nice and strong.

Turn the bag right side out. Since knit doesn’t unravel, you could stop there and be done. I like to sew around the arm and neck holes to reinforce the t-shirts original shoulder seams and give it a more finished look.

Finishing around the t-shirt arm and neck hole handles:

I usually use a serger for this, but it’s not necessary. On a sewing machine, I do like to use either a zig-zag or stretch stitch since there is going to be more stretch on the handles so a straight stitch might break.

Zig-zag setting on my Kenmore.
Zig-zag setting.

This time, I’m using a zig-zag stitch, keeping the stitch length set at 3 and using about a 1/2 inch seam allowance. If your sewing machine has a free-arm, it can make it easier to sew around the armholes if you use it. Sew around each arm hole and the neck hole separately.

Messy zig-zag backstitching.
Messy zig-zag backstitching.

To start and finish the zig-zag, I backstitched like normal. It looks a little messy that way. You could leave extra thread at the beginning and end, pull the threads to the back side and tie knots to secure them if you want a cleaner look.

Finished t-shirt bag.
Finished t-shirt bag.

That’s it. You now have a purse or reusable bag from what used to be an old t-shirt. Don’t throw the t-shirt scraps away. I’ll post some creative uses for them soon! To learn how to make this bag a little more polished, read my t-shirt bag upgrades post.

If you read through the tutorial and like the concept but don’t want to diy, I still have a few left in my shop on clearance here.

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Peppermint Coasters in the Hoop Tutorial

I love in the hoop embroidery projects. They, more than anything, are what make me wish my embroidery machine had a bigger stitch area than just 4 inches by 4 inches. Even with such a small hoop size, there’s still plenty of in the hoop projects available.

One of the easiest ITH (in the hoop) items to make are coasters. To make these peppermint coasters, all you need is fleece, one or two thread colors, stabilizer, the design file and, of course an embroidery machine. Once you see how they are made, you can easily swap out the design and colors to suit your needs. They are so simple to make, they are perfect for last minute gifts or as decor to match a party’s theme. You could also make a themed set for each month, season or holiday to decorate your home.

In the hoop peppermint coasters

Supplies to make one coaster

  • Two pieces of fleece cut to your machine’s hoop size
  • Red thread
  • White thread (optional)
  • Tear away stabilizer to fit your hoop size
  • Water soluble stabilizer (optional)
  • Peppermint Candy Design File

Prepare your hoop

  • Hoop the tear away stabilizer Hooped Stabilizer
  • Place one piece of fleece on top of the stabilizer in the hoop. For small projects I sometimes just carefully hold it smooth while my machine stitches. You can also use a glue stick outside the stitching area to glue the fabric to the stabilizer, or pin the fabric to the stabilizer at the top and bottom, outside of the stitching area. I made the mistake of having a pin at the side, and even though it was clear of the design, it caught on my machine’s presser foot. Luckily I caught it quickly, but I will probably use a glue stick whenever possible to prevent that from happening again.Fabric pinned to stabilizer
  • Decision Time: If you want the peppermint to show on both sides, place the other piece of the fabric under your hoop while placing it onto your machine. The bottom fabric usually stays in place on its own, but you could use a glue stick as I mentioned in the previous step. To only have the peppermint show on one side, skip to “Preparing your machine”.Backing fleece.

Preparing your machine

  • If you want the peppermint on both sides, make sure the top and bobbin thread match. For a single-sided design, red or white in the bobbin is fine.
  • Place your hoop in your machine.
  • Upload the design file according to your machine’s instructions. The following steps are based on the Brother SE 400, so they may differ depending on your machine.
  • Resize your design, as desired. I wanted the peppermint as big as possible, so I followed the instructions for my machine to maximize the size. Mine maxed out at 7, which resulted in an overall size of about 6.5 cm. If your machine has a bigger capacity, you’ll need to decide how big you want the design .
  • Because I used white fleece, I chose to skip the white stitching and only stitch it in red. Again, I followed the instructions to skip to color 2, labeled red. Whatever color you choose, if you’re only sewing one color, skip to color two, because it has the outline. If you want to stitch both colors, skip this step.
  • Optional: Since fleece has a high loft, placing water soluble stabilizer is recommended. I’ve tried this project both ways, and I don’t see a big difference. For this tutorial, you’ll see the water soluble stabilizer in most photos.

Stitching your in the hoop coaster

  • Begin stitching according to your machine’s instructions.
  • If you are stitching both colors and want the peppermint on both sides, be sure to change the bobbin thread to match the top thread after color 1, white, is complete.
  • Continue stitching until the peppermint design is complete.Ready for the border

Stitching the border.

  • I like the border to match on top and bottom, so for this step I put red in the bobbin and for the top thread.
  • If you’re making a single-sided coaster like I did for this tutorial, now is when you add the second piece of fleece. Place it under your hoop as in the last step of “Preparing your hoop”.
  • On your machine, navigate to frames and select a circle frame.
  • Select the stitch type. I chose an over edge, blanket-type stitch.
  • Adjust the frame size. The frame size will determine the final size of your coaster. Make sure it is bigger than your design. Mine maxed out at 9 cm.
  • Stitch the border. I like a thicker look to the border, so once the border is done, I stitch it again. As long as you haven’t moved the fabric in the hoop, it will stitch directly on top of the first frame.In the hoop peppermint coaster stitching the border

Finishing the coaster

  • Remove the project from the hoop.Out of the hoop
  • Carefully remove any pins.
  • Trim thread tails.
  • Tear away the tear away stabilizer.
  • If you used water soluble stabilizer, cut away excess.
  • Cut fleece as close to the outside edge of the frame stitching as possible without cutting the stitching.
  • To remove remaining water soluble stabilizer, gently dab with a damp cloth or, swish it in a bowl of lukewarm water until stabilizer is gone and allow coaster to air dry flat.
  • Done!

I know that looks like a lot, but it’s really simple. I tried to be as detailed as possible, but if anything is confusing, please don’t hesitate to ask for clarification in the comments or through email.

If you notice, in the photo of the finished coaster, there’s a flaw in the border stitching on the left. That is where a pin caught the presser foot. Luckily that was the only damage. In the future, if I use pins, I will only pin at the very top and the very bottom. I really do prefer using washable glue sticks and keeping the glue well outside any stitching. That way my needle and machine don’t get gunked up, and I don’t risk hitting pins.

Finished Peppermint Coaster
Finished Peppermint Coaster
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New Embroidery Design Files and Freebies

While I love my Brother SE400, it didn’t take long for me to get bored with the built in embroidery designs. I found many cute designs online to buy. That helped, but  even that was somewhat limiting as my machine only has a 4×4 hoop capability. Besides, I’m a diy, hands-on person. Of course, that all led to learning how to digitize designs myself.  

The digitizing process is fun but time consuming. When I spend that much time on something, I want to share it with others. So, I am offering my embroidery designs in my shop under Embroidery Files and Freebies.  Each design is scaled to fit in a 4×4 hoop and come with the .CSD, .DST, .EXP, .HUS .JEF, .PCS, .PES .SHV, .VIP, or .XXX file types to work on most embroidery machines. New designs are listed for free for a limited time. 

You can find all of the above designs in my shop under Embroidery Files and Freebies. I would love to see what you create with the embroidery designs. If you’d like, share them here in the comments or on our social media channels. I also appreciate any feedback, especially if you have a different machine.

Tomorrow I should have a tutorial posted for using my Peppermint Candy design to create cute, in the hoop coasters. They’re an easy beginner project and make great gifts. You could also use a similar technique to create Christmas ornaments, or swap out the design in the middle to make them less seasonal.

Peppermint Candy Coaster almost complete
Sneak Peak of a Peppermint Candy Coaster in progress

If you’re not familiar with the term “in the hoop” it refers to an item that is completely or almost completely made by the embroidery machine in the hoop. I like in the hoop designs for things I’m making in sets because it’s easy to get nearly identical results.