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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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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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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. 

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Embroidery Machine Tips: Paw Patrol and Using My Brother SE-400

Thaddeus turns three next week! When asked what he wants for his birthday, he exclaims, “Paw Patrol stuuuuuufff!” He is also constantly asking me to sew basically the entire cast of Paw Patrol for him. I may be crafty, but that is a bit beyond my skill set. So, since I have a lovely embroidery machine that doesn’t get used nearly enough, I thought I’d purchase a Paw Patrol design set for my machine.

The set came from Etsy seller OhMyArtDesigns. It comes with all the main pups, Rider, Robo Dog, and the Paw Patrol Logo. They also come in a few different sizes and file types to accommodate different brands and machines. So far, I love the designs. The stitch density is great, and they have a lot of detail. The only problems I’ve had fall completely in the “user error” category.

Embroidery Color Charts Matter

My first mistake was using the thread colors displayed on the machine and my manual chart to choose my threads.

The thread colors and names used by different machine brands varies, so if a design is drafted using different colors than yours, the color suggestions can seem a bit off. I was in a hurry and didn’t pay attention to the color chart provided by the designer, so some of my color choices weren’t quite right.

Everest would be less blue if I had used the appropriate chart. Lesson learned. This also highlights the need to test run any new patterns before stitching them on your final product. Embroidery machine stitching is so dense that it’s almost impossible to remove without ruining the fabric.

Hoop Tightly

The other problem I encountered is also easily fixed. I just need to learn how to hoop my fabric properly. If you look closely, you can see the black outline on both Everest and Rider strays from the edge of the design on one side. I still have trouble getting the fabric and stabilizer drum-taut, so by the time the outline is stitched, the design stitches puckered the fabric in places. I have a magnetic hoop set on my wish list to see if that would help, but honestly it’s probably a case of needing more practice. Considering how many pups I have left to stitch, I may be an expert at hooping by the end of the week!

Rider in embroidery.

It is so fun to watch the designs being sewn. It’s like putting together a puzzle.

Embroidery. Everest after embroidering the first color.
Everest after stitching the first color.

Looking for new designs to try on your embroidery machine? Find my embroidery files and freebies here.

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Tips for successful machine embroidery.