Oh, Pants.

I have a friend, a British friend, who makes me laugh non-stop.  Mostly when she doesn’t intend to make me laugh.  She falls down a lot, loses things constantly, once found $450 in cash in the pockets of her dirty laundry.  And when she does these awesome, ridiculous things, she’ll say, “Pants.”  Like, a kind of British swear-that’s-not-a-swear.  The first few times she did it, I wasn’t really sure what was happening, and kept looking to see if she’d sat in something.  What she really meant was, “Something has gone mildly wrong and I feel irritated by the result.”  I love that term.  Pants.

As life would have it, I myself am having some PANTS moments.  I’m working on a lot of pants right now.  And hoping for the best.  These are in a viciously lovely wool tweed–also very British, but in a 30s kind of way, with a wide leg and a zip fly.  I’m videotaping the construction of these for my current e-course–step-by-step never looked so good.

These fabrics are waiting their turn. The top is a Shetland wool herringbone I’d thought I would save for a suh-weet jacket one day, but have decided would make the most fabulous fully-lined pants.  The corduroys are slightly stretchy, and will be perfect for this fall.  And let’s not discount some velveteen–I know I’m going on a limb here, but I think a nice velveteen, in a smooth-waisted pant with a straight leg?  I am feeling it.

If you’re wondering about the Lisette pants–the answer is, I didn’t get around to making them.  Maybe I will, since it will still be roastingly hot through at least Halloween (can I get a witness?  hello, Southerners!) and I could fully rock that sailor look well after Labor Day.  Hmmm…  And the mattress stripe IS red and white, what with football season coming.  Oh, pants.


Don’t forget: still time to register for the Essential Sewing e-course starting in a couple weeks!  Get your core skills mastered through video, audio, photos and personalized instruction.  All content from this e-course will remain live and available to participants through the end of 2011–nearly four months!  Find all the details on the e-course page, and take advantage of the early bird discount!


This is only one of SIX (or maybe more) giant piles of fabric I’ve begun amassing for my next book.  I have some really (REALLY) amazing apparel fabrics on order, and not a few more in my virtual cart(s).  I might be on a binge.  So far, just a lot of folding and re-folding, but plenty of pattern testing and sample-making is on the horizon!  I love this part: where I get to make all the different variations on a design that really should exist out there in the world.  YES, it should come in corduroy!  YES, it should have piping!  YES, you can use a zipper or buttons!  YES, it can be five feet tall!  YES, YES, YES!

Don’t forget: still time to register for the Essential Sewing e-course starting in a couple weeks!  Get your core skills mastered well before this new book hits stores.  All content from this e-course will remain live and available to participants through the end of 2011–nearly four months!  Find all the details on the e-course page, and take advantage of the early bird discount!

Major Deadline

I am up against a major deadline today, and feel very much like this:

Cross your fingers and say a prayer for me, people.  I’m going in.

On Sewing with Plaid Fabrics

I will head over to TJ Maxx or Ross later today–our oldest has her very first high school pep rally on Friday, and she needs a shirt in team colors.  Since it’s her first year at a new school, we don’t own a single thing in this entire house that is the exact right shade, so I’ll be hunting through the options on the discount rack at my favorite discount retailers (because that’s SO totally how I roll) to find something that’s (1) the right color and (2) not slutty.  For a junior in high school, that’s a tough combination.  Her after-school practices are already running so late that there isn’t time between now and then for a mother-daughter shopping date, so Mommy’s going to take one for the team–literally.

Wondering what all that has to do with sewing plaid fabrics?  Give it a minute–I’m getting there.  While I’m shopping my off-brand retail stores, I’m sure to see some fabulous in-season garments by big(gish)-name designers that don’t seem to have any business being marked down 70% (even in this economic climate).  And I would wonder, “Hmmm.  What’s wrong with it, I wonder?”  That’s how I like to wonder, mostly: as obviously as possible.  And preferably aloud.

A large proportion of the time, those garments have some small construction error that means they didn’t meet inspection standards for the brand.  Like, know how you’ll find that tag that reads, “Inspected by #8″?  These didn’t get her stamp of approval.  (For my favorite version of this ever, check out the Monk episode “Mr. Monk Goes to a Fashion Show.”, which I will now totally be watching in the background while I type this.)  Many of those garments have tags on them that read “Irregular.”  That’s frequently for little mistakes, like that the plaids don’t match at the seams.  (See how we came back around there?)

Alice + Olivia pants

Matching plaid fabrics takes a little more yardage, in order to ensure that there is enough room to manipulate the pattern pieces so they fall on the fabric’s repeat just right.  The mark of higher-end garments has always been that the plaids match well, and the mark of knock-offs is frequently that their plaids don’t match at the seamlines.  If you’re making your own clothing, do you really want to put in all that time and effort cutting and pinning and sewing and fitting just to have it look like a cheap knock-off when you’re done?  No, dear.  No, you don’t.  Trust me.

Cutting Your Pattern Pieces to Match Plaids Across a Garment

As you’re constructing a garment, taking the time to line up the repeat in the print or weave of the fabric makes a massive impact on the finished product–even if you can’t always tell how big a deal it’s going to be.  For example, on the (in-progress Lisette) jacket above, were the elements of the plaid–the whiter stripes with the red checks that run horizontally and vertically–to fall so they don’t create a continuous pattern across the garment, it breaks up the lines of the jacket and makes it look…off.  Sometimes you won’t even be able to put your finger on just what’s wrong, but you’ll know something is.  And it’s pretty easy to fix in advance, if you’re paying attention.

The important part to point out is that this all takes place at the CUTTING stage–if you don’t cut well, all the manipulating at the sewing machine and ripping out seams later won’t make a difference at all.  The secret weapon is the notches.  See them, up there?  And you thought they were just for matching pattern pieces to one another when you’re assembling the garment!  Oh, innocent seamstress!  Yes, that’s true, they are–but they’re also for matching up pattern designs and repeats as you cut.  The image above shows the side seam of the jacket front and back where they will meet–by placing the notches on the same element of the pattern repeat (in this case, the lower band of blackish-navy in the horizontal stripe), I’m able to ensure that as I sew, the design of the fabric will fall along the same repeated element across the entire jacket.


That way, once the seam is stitched, it all lines up nice and clean–creating the illusion that the fabric flows across the shape and lines of the garment, but allowing me to put in seams to shape the fabric to my body.  Take a look at the pocket welt, for example.  See how it doesn’t match the overall flow of the plaid?  That’s deliberate, because by interrupting the design at that seam, I call attention to the element of the welt at the pocket–but I don’t want that same kind of visual disruption on a seam line, where I’m working to create smoothness and flow.

This doesn’t just work on side seams.  It can be used for sleeves, as well, where it create a more subtle but even more high-end effect.  See the notches on the side front and the front of the sleeve, and how they match the fabric’s repeat?

And now see how once the sleeve is inserted into the jacket, the pattern will flow across not just the body of the jacket, but each sleeve, as well?  It creates a much more unified look, and while the average person on the street won’t realize that what they’re seeing is a neatly engineered repeated design across your garment, you’ll see a 183% increase in compliments on your work, and a 251% increase in gasps of, “Did you make that??”*

It’s a result that’s pretty easy to achieve: just locate the element you want to focus on as you cut, and place one notch on the first pattern piece in a spot that’s easy to duplicate–like the lower dark line here, or even centering the point of the notch on the red stripe, which is super specific.  Then, as you cut subsequent pattern pieces from your fabric, lay the correlating notches (the ones that will line up with one another as you assemble the garment later) on the same repeated element–it will be elsewhere on the fabric, but since it’s a repeat, you ought to be able to locate another spot that’s the same as the first spot, and….you see how this works.  (Incidentally, this can be applied not just to plaids but to larger-scale graphic or floral repeats, too.)  You’ll notice that I cut my notches OUT, rather than in–this makes it easier to pinpoint those bits of repeat and make certain I’m being accurate.  If, as you assemble the garment, you find your notches are off by a hair (less than 1/4″), like the image above, I think it’s OK to cheat a bit to preserve the overall integrity of the garment.  Just BTW.

Sewing Plaids with Fewer Mistakes

In the end, you ought to get a seam where the plaid simply continues across seams as though they aren’t there.  If you’re struggling with the fabric shifting as you sew–and many do, which is infuriating when you’ve spent all that time cutting super accurately–think about switching to your walking foot.  This was a revolution for me when I was first sewing plaid: by using the walking foot, you feed the fabric from both above and below, which helps keep the pattern repeat very nicely in line on both pieces of fabric.

No walking foot?  Try LOTS of pins–placing one every repeated element in the edge to be stitched, but no more than 1″ apart (really).  This will help stabilize the seam and prevent the puckering and shifting you’ll often see when sewing with plaids.

I’m off to finish my super-cute jacket–hooray for plaid!


Registration OPEN for the Essential Sewing e-course!

Registration is now OPEN for the Essential Sewing online e-course!  I originally taught this class in January, and hadn’t expected to offer it again this calendar year, but have had so many emails and tweets and inquiries that I’m going ahead and teaching the class once more, now that school is back in session and many of us have our schedules a little bit better under control.  Class begins September 12 and runs for six weeks online–you join in as your schedule allows, and go from zero to stitch in a flash!

The class is oodles of serious amounts of fun–check out all the details and register early!  I’m capping enrollment this time to ensure that I am able to really give everyone the one-on-one attention that will help you be the most successful.  I would love, love, love to have you join us!

1001 Peeps Summer Camp: Magical Story Puppet Pouch

When we took our trip to Boston this summer, I didn’t bother to make the baby a backpack–people who don’t walk don’t need backpacks.  But I had an idea that I wanted to make her something.  I have been processing this idea ever since, and was really more than a little thrilled to learn that it worked!

Tiny soft puppets in a bag, but anchored with ribbons so they don’t get lost, like an itty puppet theater that travels with you.

Plus, a storage section below for snacks or treats or treasure!  With all the mystery and intrigue of the Arabian Nights, it seems only fitting that there be a Magical Story-Telling Pouch to go with them!

Magical Story-Telling Pouch Tutorial

Requires just TWO fat quarters of 1001 Peeps fabric (although you can totally get away with scraps if you’re doing the Diamond Mountain Quilt Along–these pieces are pretty smallish), one yard of ribbon, and some interfacing.  Sweet!  Download the PDF.

Cut two pieces for the upper and lower pouch measuring 16″ x 6″.  Interface one to use as the lower pouch.  Insert a zipper between them–any non-invisible zipper will do.

Sew a seam up the side of the zipper panel to make a tube.  Cut a circle for the base measuring 5.75″ in diameter, interface it, and insert it into the base of the tube.  Stitch with a 1/4″ seam allowance.

Turn right side out, and press if you like.

Cut another 16″ x 6″ panel for the base pouch lining and interface it.  Press one long edge under 1/2″, then stitch a seam up the short edges to make another tube.  Cut a base piece measuring 5.75″ in diameter, apply interfacing, and stitch as above.

Slip the lining inside the base pouch, wrong sides together.

Hand-stitch the lining to the zipper tape.

Cut out some Peeps, along with a piece of backing for each.  Place one end of a ribbon between the two pieces, right sides together, and stitch around the Peep, leaving an opening to turn.  Turn right side out, then stuff and hand stitch the opening closed.

Cut two half-circles using the template.  With right sides together, sew a 1/2″ seam, catching the ends of the Peeps’ ribbons between the straight sides of the half circles.  Press seam allowances open.

Cut a strip for the upper pouch lining measuring 16″ x 6″.  Sew the short ends together to make a tube.  Insert the Peep panel into the base of the tube and stitch all the way around, using a 1/4″ seam allowance.

With the Peep pouch right side out, and the outer bag inside out, place the two bags right sides together.  Sew all the way around the upper edge.  Reach into the opening you left in the side panel and pull the whole shaboozle right side out.  Top

Top stitch around the very upper edge.  Top stitch again just above the opening you left, and once more an inch below that opening.  Hand stitch the remainder of the opening closed, and thread a length of ribbon through the casing you’ve made.

Download the PDF for this project, and share yours on the Whipstitch Flickr group!

Quick & Simple Reversible Quilted Placemat Tutorial

Today was the first full day of school for the three oldest children.  Yippee!!  Getting ready for the first day, especially for preschoolers, involves packing spare clothing, nap time bedding, and in our case, placemats and napkins for lunchtime.  So the other night, I stayed up late making some cute little boy placemats for our almost-three-year-old who is at full-day school for the first time this year.  They were crazy cute and easy, so I made a set for the family!  Woot!

These are simple to make, batted and quilted, and reversible.  If you’ve known me for any length of time, you might have noticed that my motto tends to be, “Why bother making it at all if it isn’t going to be reversible?”  So.

To make your own Reversible Quilted Placemats:

Cut two pieces of cotton fabric 18″ x 13″ in coordinating prints

Cut one piece of quilt batting or fusible fleece 17.5″ x 12.5″

To make SIX placemats, you’ll need one yard each of two fabrics; to make THREE, you’ll need a half yard.

Begin by placing your two printed cotton fabrics right sides together, then layering the fusible fleece or quilt batting on the wrong side of one.  I like fusible fleece because it stays put super well, but quilt batting works fine if that’s what you have on hand (like I did today).

Sew a seam around all four sides, leaving an opening to turn, and using a 1/4″ seam allowance.  Consider using Nancy Zieman’s cool intersecting seams trick to make super sharp points at the corners!

Once you’ve stitched all four sides, clip corners (if you’ve pivoted rather than doing Nancy’s trick).  Be sure you’ve backtacked at the beginning and end of the opening you left in one side to turn!

Flip right side out and press, press, press all the way around.  When you get to the opening, tuck the seam allowances in, wrapping them around the batting as you do.  Work to keep the seam allowances even with the stitched sides of the placemat.


Topstitch super close to the edge of the placemat, catching the opening closed as you do.  Woot!

I like quilting these on the diagonal, just because it’s unexpected and a little fun.  Whether you’re using a walking foot or not (more on that below), mark a 45-degree diagonal through the center of the placemat to determine your first line of quilting.

See how I’ve lined the 45-degree angle line on the ruler with the edge of the placemat?  That ensures a nice angle across the work as you quilt.  Cool, huh?

Once you’ve set your line, mark it with chalk or disappearing ink.  I like the skinny, skinny point of the disappearing ink pens, myself.

Use your walking foot to stitch along the first line.  Because this piece is already seamed on all four sides, we can’t mask our stops and starts at the edges, so be sure to secure the stitching at the beginning and end of each quilting line–do this by reducing the stitch length to ZERO and taking 3-4 stitches in place, then returning your stitch length to normal and running a row.  The walking foot will help prevent “drag” lines on the back of the work, but if you don’t have one, no sweat; just use your regular foot and check frequently to ensure you’re not catching the fabric ickily (it’s a word) as you sew.

Once the first line of quilting is done, use the guide bar on your walking foot to evenly space all the other lines across the placemat.  I’ve set mine pretty arbitrarily–I think it’s around 2″ or 2.25″, something like that, but choose a measurement that looks pretty to you and let the presser foot do the rest.  (If you don’t have a walking foot, simply use your ruler to mark each line you’ll be quilting with your pen or chalk, then stitch directly on top of each line, just as you did the first one.)

Voila!  It’s that easy!

And reversible!

I mixed mine up a bit and did one in concentric rectangles, following the edge of the placemat for the first, then using my walking foot guide bar to make progressively smaller loops as I got closer to the center.  I even played around with free-motion quilting some.  We have six in our family, so I whipped up two placemats in each style of quilting, just for kicks.  All it took was two yards of stash fabric, and some batting I had on hand!

Happy family meal time, y’all!

Nancy Zieman Sewing A to Z Blog Tour

This past May, I headed to Salt Lake City for Quilt Market, including a Schoolhouse presentation for Stitch by Stitch.  I was excited and nervous (in part because I had to track down all the samples from the book and was in the middle of moving, so figuring out where everything actually was turned out to be a little stressful), and then I learned that I’d be presenting immediately following Nancy Zieman.  Which is a lot like finding out that you’re a mid-season replacement sitcom that will be airing immediately after “Friends,” circa 1997.  Which is to say, it’s awesome if you’re good, but it kinda kicks you in the gut if you’re not.  But, you know, no pressure.

Nancy Zieman, if you’re not familiar with her work (and if you fall in that category, odds are you think her name sounds pretty familiar but you can’t quite place it, because I bet twenty bucks you’ve heard of her even if you don’t think you have) has been hosting and producing Sewing with Nancy on PBS for over 25 years.  She’s a powerhouse, and not only hosts her own television program but also founded Nancy’s Notions, is the author of dozens of sewing books, and is one of the most inspirational and influential members of our little sewing community.  If you can sew it, Nancy has done it, and that ain’t just whistling Dixie.

So there I am, with my roller bag of samples in tow, my editor at the back of the room*, waiting my turn.  I had arrived in time to see all of Nancy’s A to Z presentation, and lemme tell you: I took notes.  I was so impressed by this book and what it represents, I couldn’t help but nod vigorously as Nancy made each point in her talk.

Sewing A to Z isn’t a project book.  It’s a techniques book.  It’s entirely designed and intended as a reference, one that organizes basic and advanced skills in a way that you can look up something to refresh yourself on how to accomplish a sewing task, or read it through in order to get some ideas for techniques you might find unfamiliar.  Nancy’s signature is clear illustration (did you know she’s worked with the same illustrator for over 20 years, on each of her books?) and “Notes from Nancy” in the margins that give you tips for applying each of the skills she mentions.

Two of them made me want to jump up and shake her hand right there in the convention center–I had never seen them before, but had to work hard to get back on track with what Nancy had to say after, because I was so busy processing what she’d said and how the technique worked to listen with both ears.

First: twin-needle topstitching.  So, I’ve done my share of twin-needle sewing, and I love the results that you can get.  Here’s the kick: I have frequently run into trouble with the threads from the two spools getting tangled with one another, and it can be really (REALLY) irritating.  Nancy pops up with her advice: “So, you just put your two spools of thread on the spool holders so they unwind in opposite directions, and the thread won’t tangle.”  Say whaaaat?  Yes, Virginia, it really is that simple.

Image: me geeking out on how simply I can solve an issue I assumed was simply the twin needle’s cross to bear.

Second: making perfectly (PERFECTLY) squared corners on intersecting seams, like pillowcases or the points of collars.  I’m telling you, I nodded me head so hard when she walked through this technique that I thought my noggin would pop off.  Never would have thought of this EVER, but it’s such an elegant approach.  And what makes it even better is even Nancy admits she didn’t invent it–she learned it from looking inside factory-made pillowcases and copied the technique.  Sigh.

Here it is in action–because I could describe it all day, and I don’t think you’d believe me when I say how quick and simple and cool it is, or how dramatic the results are:

Both these techniques are in Nancy’s new book, Sewing A to Z, which is available now.  It is a seriously spectacular resource of techniques and tips, things that you will actually use in a format where you can access the information and remember it’s there for later.  Great, clear illustrations and clean, simple instructions.  No fluff, no excess, just the meat.  I have full-on added it to my sewing library, right where I can reach and find it easily and often.

After Nancy’s presentation, I went to the front of the room to prepare my samples.  I think I was trying to be cool (which I most decidedly am not) and nonchalant.  I smiled, nodded, and finally scrounged up the chutzpah to say, “I really enjoyed your presentation.”  Nancy was lovely, asked my name, complimented my samples, and was on her busy way.  She’s every bit as nice as you’d hope, and doggone if she doesn’t have the sewing chops to back it up.  I am now officially one degree away from Nancy Zieman, y’all.  Best watch out!

Interested in winning a copy of Nancy Zieman’s Sewing A to Z and a WHOLE bunch of other really amazing prizesLeave a comment here, and follow along on the rest of the blog tour!  Lots of stops, lots of interviews with Nancy, and plenty of chances to win.  Winner will be selected on September 10, 2011.

Sewing A to Z blog tour (featuring some of my very most favorite blogs!):

15-Aug          Nancy Zieman’s blog

16-Aug          Whipstitch

17-Aug          Sew Mama Sew

18-Aug          Diary of a Quilter

20-Aug          Amy’s Creative Side

22-Aug          Quiltville

23-Aug          Crap I’ve Made

24-Aug          Eileen Roche’s blog

25-Aug          I’m Just a Guy Who Quilts

26-Aug          The Free Motion Quilting Project

27-Aug          Sew Serendipity

29-Aug          Lazy Girls Designs

30-Aug          Pat Sloan Blog

31-Aug          Tallgrass Prairie Studio

1-Sep          True Up

2-Sep          Sew News

6-Sep          Off the Cuff Sewing Style

7-Sep          V and Co.

8-Sep          The Cottage Home

9-Sep          Colette Patterns 

 *Full disclosure: Sewing A to Z is published by the same imprint that published Stitch by Stitch.

Oh, Alice Cooper. You Were So Wrong.

School’s not out forever!  It’s BACK!!

Still my favorite back-to-school video ever, from the now (sadly) retired Looky, Daddy:

The First Day of Preschool from Brian Sargent on Vimeo.

For those of us who are sending our kids off to school today, may I salute you?  Nothing like a few, brief hours of quiet to remind you to miss them.  For those of you who won’t send them off to school until after Labor Day, remember that they won’t be home forever, and maybe put the spatula down, OK?  I sure do love me those babies–especially when I’ve had  couple of hours to tidy up and catch my breath.

Have a great week, y’all!

Hard-Won Tip of the Day: When to Install Buttons and Buttonholes

This is one of those tips that comes from me making myself NUTS over and over until I figured out the easier way.  Perhaps you’ve had the same experience?

When assembling a bodice for a dress where the upper portion of the dress has buttons and the lower portion does not–which is to say, any situation where there are buttons above the waistline seam but not below–install the buttonholes and buttons BEFORE sewing the waistline seam.  That way, the bodice parts will lie flat while you’re putting in those buttonholes, and you won’t have to struggle to access the opening, swear while the buttonholes go in crooked, rip out stitch after stitch, or break a needle and nearly lose an eye (all those happened to me at one point or another while I was figuring this out).

The skirt on the dress above, for example, is a little gathered dirndl, which is sewn together and fitted over the bodice lower edge to be stitched in place.  If the buttons and buttonholes aren’t installed first, getting to that back edge is a nightmare of logistics–and sometimes, can’t be done at all.  Additionally, I like the lower button to be spaced just right in relation to the seam allowance at the waistline seam; putting in the buttonholes before that seam is sewn makes it easier for me to be sure my placement is correct.  Not every dress goes together this way, but for those that do, knowing when to put in the buttonholes–not always as the last step–is invaluable.

Hope that’s helpful, and that you’re heading into what looks to be a lovely weekend!