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Vintage Map Toy Storage Boxes

map storage boxes tutorialThis is the story of a problem and a solution. And it all starts with house hunting.  Join me, if you will, on a (short-ish) journey all the way back to 2011.

When we very first were shopping for a new home and came across this house, I pored over the images in the listing online. I was really struggling, from the photos the realtor had posted, to put together the floor plan and figure out what was where in this place. There are so many houses out there, and it was just totally impractical for us to take four kids ranging from age 15 to just-over-1 and drag them to every open house and potential listing we cam across, so we did a ton of that on the web in advance, trying to narrow down the search to something more reasonable–it also helped prevent us from wasting time looking at the same listing twice, so that we could be as efficient as possible. I got pretty good, I’m not gonna lie, at fitting together images like a jigsaw and trying to get a feel for the overall floor plan of a house just from the (decidedly biased) photos that realtors tend to include. In this house, I knew before we ever set foot into it that there was a sunroom; and I hoped that it would be situated in a way that would make the perfect playroom for the children. Lo and behold:
playroom view 2
My mother gifted us a kindergarten table from a church rummage sale (from their Sunday School classrooms), along with some tiny chairs. We made that the centerpiece, right in the middle of the room for the children to do art projects and eat snacks and watch a Disney epic.  There’s a fabulous wicker reading chair with fluffy cushion that I scored for $20 on Craig’s List, along with an Ikea wicker foot stool, purchased originally to fit the slip cover from Stitch Savvy.  Art easel, play kitchen, even a giant play tent (found on a daily deal site for $20 last fall and gifted to the children “from Santa” at Christmas) all fit in here without it feeling too crowded.  The 100% wool rugs (there are actually two small ones pushed together to make a larger area rug) were house-warming gifts from my mom.  It’s a far, far cry from how it looked when the previous owner was living here:

sunroom before

The curtains were nearly always drawn, and there was a LOT more furniture, both in the den and in the sunroom.  The previous owner also kept an “office” out there, complete with a folding-table desk, a hole drilled in the tile floor (not joking) to drop down extension cords for power and a phone line for his fax (yes, indeedy), plus a fully-stocked beer fridge, right next to his desk chair.  Keeping it klassy, y’all.

sunroom before detail

There was also a sitting area and a television, but no blinds of any kind.  And based on our experience with this room, it gets sweltering hot in the spring and summer–these are south-western facing windows, y’all, and that afternoon sun beats on you like an anvil.  I can’t even imagine what it must have felt like out here in the summer, and can only assume he used it to entertain in the cooler months.  You know, when he couldn’t have guests over to party in his twelve-seat hot tub (you can see it on the deck just outside the window–jealous, much?).

Needless to say, this room feels night-and-day different now, and it should: the previous owner was an older gentleman with no small children.  Now, this house is filled with kids under 6 on a regular basis, and only recently hosted a birthday party with 15 seven-year-olds, PLUS a quilting bee day with no fewer than nine children ranging from 2 to 12.  We see a lot of playtime around here.

Play time means toy storage, which was one of my first concerns when we moved in and started making this house our own:

toy storage

This Ikea bookcase used to be in my studio, holding pattern drafts on card stock and baskets of stashed fabrics.  It went here–temporarily, of course–when we first moved in, because in my head, this room got wall-to-wall 30″ bookcases built in below the windows.  It didn’t take too long after we started living here before I realized that we didn’t actually have the floor or wall space to spare to make these built-ins–we just had more furniture and large pieces than I pictured in my head.  So the Ikea shelf is now permanent and houses all the children’s smaller toys, in baskets and on shelves.  Just after the new year, I was struggling with how messy it got, though, and was really, really (REALLY) frustrated with how the children had a tendency to shove toys willy-nilly into the shelves, leaving them tangled and un-playable.  Plus, Santa really went to town with the vintage Fisher-Price Little People toys at Christmas last year, and I wanted to keep those nice.  A solution was necessary.

toy storage view 2

These map boxes are the solution.  They’re actually just diaper boxes, leftover from when #4 was still getting her Huggies in bulk at the grocery store (we lasted with cloth diapers through all four kids, but this last one wore them for the shortest period, and we moved to all-disposables with her once she started school).  It turns out, these boxes are the perfect size for an Ikea bookcase, and they hold just enough stuff to allow us to “categorize” the toys–play phones and laptops in the “office” box, Potato Head parts in another–without them becoming junk piles.  We all love maps around here (find me someone who doesn’t!), and I had a 1995 atlas in the car that was just taking up space, so I Mod Podged the outsides to cover the cardboard and make these more beautiful.

map storage boxesThe map pieces are rough-torn rather than cut, making the edges nicely irregular and allowing me to mix up the lines a bit.  I did choose states that have some special meaning to us–Alabama on one, Hawaii on another–and gave them a good shellacking with the Mod Podge.

mod podge map storage boxes

After they dried, they’re not tacky at all and have a good stiffness to them that should hold up well to little sticky baby fingers (of all the things people warned me about before I had children, I wish someone had taken the time to tell me just how sticky they would be).

toy storage Ikea bookcase

The Mod Podging was pretty straight-forward, but the insides of the boxes still needed a little help.  Next up, a step-by-step tutorial leading you through how I measured and sewed liners for each box, to keep them pretty and prevent the edges of the map pages from coming un-glued!

What’s the best toy storage solution you’ve ever figured out?  We’re doing our best to keep things divided by categories, but our struggle is getting the kids to remember what’s what–especially the littlest ones who don’t read.  Should I be laminating pictures of what toys go in what basket and tagging the fronts to keep things picked up around here?  Anyone ever tried that?  Oooh!  Maybe Instagram your ideas!!  I’d love to pick your brains–one of these days, we will win the Toy Wars.  #momsunite

Continuous Bias Tape Tutorial–Now On Video!

For a while now, folks have been asking me to make a video version of my continuous bias tape tutorial from a few years ago.  I teach this technique both in my in-person classes and my online Essential Sewing class, and it’s even included in Stitch by Stitch, but I have been putting off and putting off making a video–which is a little weird, because I am completely obsessed with bias tape and use it every chance I get.  Dude, I would totally make this stuff for FUN, and have been known to winnow down my fat quarter drawer by cutting up chunks of fabric that are languishing into bias tape to be used in a pinch (you never know when you’ll need a gift for a baby shower that you forgot you were attending until your husband honks the horn in the driveway and you have to make a super-fast baby blanket with bias tape binding while he idles the engine–not that any of that ever happened to me).

In the Summer Dresses e-course right now, we’re making the Drawstring Shift, and using continuous bias tape  to finish off the armholes and neckline.  While I was preparing a video to guide them through applying their bias tape, I thought I’d shoot some video of the CBT–that’s Continuous Bias Tape–method I use and share that with all of you!  This is a longer video than I almost ever make, but I wanted to be sure to go into detail and really walk you through not just HOW to make it, but WHY it works and WHAT to look out for as you’re walking through the steps.  Hope you love it!

Vintage-Style Teddy Bear Pattern & Tutorial

teddy bear splash image

Hooray!!  FREE pattern today for the vintage-style teddy bear I made based on the bears my mother sewed for me when I was teensy tiny (turns out she made them when I was a baby in Germany just after I was born, which makes this gingham bear older than I generally talk about in polite company).  I drafted the pattern using the original as a guide, but of course they’re not identical–I’m sharing it with you because I love the bears so much, but please keep in mind that this pattern is for personal use and not to be duplicated, manufactured or sold in any way.

You can download the pattern as a PDF document to print.  It comes on two pages and requires NO taping or assembly; the pieces are each isolated to a single sheet, so it’s a quick little pattern to print out and get started with.  Pages look like this:

Screen shot 2013-04-26 at 2.58.37 PM

You’ll notice that the printed pattern includes notes and assembly instructions, but also directs you to find step-by-step photos here on the blog.  Wanna see them?  Here they go!

teddy bear layout

Begin by printing and cutting the pattern out–regular 8.5″ x 11″ or A4 paper will do the trick.  Print at 100% for the bear size seen above, or adjust the sizing to make smaller and larger bears–make your own bear family!  Working with a fat quarter of quilt-weight cotton, fold the fabric in half so that the folded piece measures approximately 18″ x 11″.  Lay the pieces as shown above, taking care to place the head on the fold once, cut, then move and cut again, also on the fold.

teddy bear step 1

Place the two front pieces right sides together and stitch the center front, along the belly line.  JUST the belly, now, not the arms and legs; we’ll get those later.  Then, repeat on the center back, but stop and start at the dots by backstitching so you can leave an opening to turn it right side out later.

teddy bear step 2

With the major body pieces sewn, turn your attention to the face!  I pulled a major space-out moment and totally neglected to add the sweet oval of solid white on the face that the original bear has–if you want to throw that in, knock yourself out.  It looks very sweet, and is a simple machine applique using a wide zigzag stitch.  For the facial features, trace on the mouth and eye shapes using an air-soluble pen or chalk–I did these free-hand, and since my ink was air-soluble (disappearing) ink, I just drew and re-drew until I was satisfied with the shape and placement.  On the mouth, use a backstitch to trace over the line you drew; on the eyes, use a satin stitch.  (Sublime Stitching has some great online tutorials for these stitches that make it super easy!)  Add a vintage button for a nose, or use the male part of a sew-on snap, like my mom did on the original bear.

teddy bear step 3

With the face sewn on, we can move ahead to the last major step: attaching the head pieces.  Make sure you sew the FACE to the FRONT of the body, and the remaining head piece to the BACK of the body!  Otherwise: awkward.

teddy bear step 4

Now you should have a bear front and a bear back, with the face sewn on and the head attached.  Place the front and back right sides together, making sure the neckline seams match, and lining up all the raw edges.  With only a 1/4″ seam allowance, you really do want to keep things as accurate as you can at this point.  Stitch the entire perimeter of the bear, all the way around, leaving no opening.  When the seam is sewn, go back and SNIP the seam allowances along all the curves to release the fabric and prevent puckering.  Snip up to the stitching but not through it.  At pivot points or corners, snip in at a diagonal.

teddy bear step 5Now we get to MOVE THAT BUS!  Turn the whole bear right side out and use a pokey stick to get all the edges nice and smooth.  Then, use polyfill to stuff him up!  A lot of folks like to use giant handfuls to stuff with polyfill, but the secret is using TINY handfuls.  That way, the stuffing is less likely to clump up over time.  For this little bear, we’re going to stitch seams to define the arms, legs and ears, so begin by stuffing ONLY the arms, and then we’ll sew that seam.  After that, we can move on and repeat the step with the legs and finally the ears.

teddy bear step 6

As each arm, leg and ear gets individually stuffed (a little more firmly than you might think necessary–I like them really plump), you’ll sew a seam through all the layers, catching the stuffing to one side, to make a “joint” that defines the appendage.  I do one at a time, and sew each seam after I stuff, then go back for more stuffing.  Make sure to backstitch at the end of every seam!

teddy bear step 7

Once all the stuffing is in place, you can hand-sew the back opening shut.  I like the whipstitch, obviously, but you can certainly use any number of hand stitches for this step.  If you’re accustomed to hand-sewing your quilt bindings on, for example, you can use a slipstitch here and that’ll do just fine.

And voila!  Magically delicious and super cute teddies all day long.

teddy bear besties

Add your finished teddy bear to the Whipstitch Flickr group so we can all get inspired by your variations on the theme!

Snack Bandolier Pattern for Cottage Makers

I have gotten emails on a regular basis for years, literally, from folks who would like to make the Snack Bandolier from my tutorial for sale at craft shows and street fairs, or through their online shop.  I’ve had notes from folks who are Occupational Therapists who say this design is great for their clients, learning to work with their hands and with smaller objects.  Moms love it for anything from snacks to collections.  Teachers love it for school trips and outings.  Geeks love it because it reminds them of their Chewbacca bandolier from their youth.  It has gotten so much great attention, and I’d love to see kids all over using it and enjoying it.  After getting so many requests from folks who have their own shop, I have wanted to put together some sort of license for them to use this design in a way that would benefit everyone who loves the Snack Bandolier.  After plenty of thinking and bouncing ideas around, I think I’ve found it!


It would have been simplest, of course, to grant blanket permission for anyone anywhere to make the Snack Bandolier and sell it.  Doing that prevents me from knowing WHO and WHERE they’re being made, though, and for every request I get from makers who would like to sew and sell the Bandolier, I get another from someone–often a magazine or online aggregator–who would like to purchase one ready-made or who would like to know if I manufacture them.  (I don’t.)  Granting an open permission to make the Snack Bandolier doesn’t allow me to keep a running record of who is doing the making, and where they’re being sold; I really believe in keeping small businesses in business by building community around them, and in keeping as much of our spending local as we’re able, so I’d vastly prefer to send someone to a nearby maker when I can.  Can’t do that if you don’t know who they are!


I could ask individuals to pay PER Snack Bandolier–but not only is it a giant headache to keep track of, it can also really cut into a small maker’s bottom line and subtract a chunk of their margin to charge per piece like that.  Having been in the small-scale manufacture game myself, I recognize the on-going tension between setting a price that the public will pay and setting a price that is reflective of the value of your time and the beauty of your work (I could go on and on about this particular topic, but I’ll insert right now that I think 85% of you are charging way too little for the things you’re selling).  Any single expense over and above the most basic necessities affects that margin and increases that maker/buyer tension, and I’d love to avoid adding to that.


So I’ve come up with a way that makes sense to me, to support small makers while at the same time allowing recognition for the work I did in developing the Snack Bandolier: I’ve developed a 10-page PDF pattern based on the original design I posted in 2011.  I’m making it available for $1 to anyone who would like to sell the Snack Bandolier as a cottage maker.  The pattern includes a limited agreement between the maker and Whipstitch enabling you to make as many Bandoliers as your little fingers will permit, in exchange for crediting me/Whipstitch Industries with the design.  By making this itty bitty purchase, I am able to track the buyers, which enables every maker to have their shop or brand listed on the blog here so that buyers can locate you and purchase from you.  I’m not looking to make money here–I’m looking to build a great resource for these makers and for the community.  All I ask from each maker who uses the pattern to make these to sell is a brief mention of where the idea was born so that buyers can find Whipstitch, and so that I can build here a list of folks heading to makers who have Snack Bandoliers in their shops.

I think most of the craft community really value one another’s ideas, and want to honor and recognize the time and effort and originality that go into the work that each person in the community contributes.  I think there is a sincere and valid desire amongst people to acknowledge the creations of others, while still looking to find a way that we can all benefit symbiotically and in collaboration with one another.  Most of us are really seeking to find ways that we can do business with integrity and without having to give up the camaraderie and mutual respect and support that are important to us, to find ways to compensate people within the craft community for their ideas and their time and their efforts.  By taking the content of the original tutorial, expanding it and creating a printable document that has added value to you as a maker, I’m hoping to experiment with ways as a community for us to share our ideas, work with one another, and all benefit from that relationship.


You can also purchase a copy if you’d just like to have a printed PDF on hand for your own use!  It includes all the original text and instructions, every step-by-step photo in full color, and most of the larger “beauty” shots from the original tutorial, along with some additional information not included in the initial design.  At the rock-bottom price of $1, it’s a nice way to have a permanent document for your own use, even if you’re not planning to manufacture, and the cost becomes simply a compensation for the hours I spent putting the PDF together.

Here’s a quick sample view of one page of the pattern as it appears in the new PDF document:

Screen shot 2013-03-14 at 11.00.15 AM

I hope you all love the idea and will make a zillion of these for the coming spring and summer craft fair season!


To purchase a copy of the Snack Bandolier pattern and the license that comes with it, simply click the button above. You’ll receive a PDF document in full color via email within 24 hours of your purchase; instant download is in progress, and when it’s available, this button will be replaced with one that permits instant download. Thanks so much for supporting independent design!

Making Notches

With all the garments I’ve been sewing in the past few weeks, I’ve had plenty of time to think about notches.  Those little doo-hickies on the pattern that exist to either confuse you or slow you down, a lot of the time.  And it seemed like a good time to snap a few pictures and talk about why I cut my notches the way I do.


Notches are a part of the pattern piece used to join two garment sections together.  They allow you to mark a particular spot along a seam on both sides of the seamline to ensure that as you’re sewing, the two bits line up just right for the garment’s assembly.  These photos, which are of a vintage pattern published around 1976, show that the notches are printed as a full diamond; you may find on newer patterns that they’re printed as a triangle, with a bold, black point to the inside of the cutting line and nothing outside of the cutting line.  In either case, you can cut the notch in one of three ways: you can mark it with a punch of some kind, you can snip into the seam allowance and leave a cut mark to indicate the match points, or you can cut around the notch to make a little “tag” that hangs out beyond the seam to match things up.

IMG_5521I make my notches the way my mom makes hers, which is logical, when you think about it.  We all do things the way we do because that’s how we learned to do them.  My mom cuts out from the seam line to make the notch, leaving a tag of extra fabric along the edge.  The advantage of this technique is that it leaves you plenty of margin for error and is very difficult to overlook as you’re matching up your pattern pieces.  The drawback is that it takes a bit of time when cutting out your pieces to be accurate and make sure your notches are where they’re supposed to be–a drawback that I think is very small when compared to the advantages.

IMG_5522Alternately, you could snip into the notch: when you’re cutting out your pattern, rather than cutting the notch OUT, you’d snip into the V-shape of the notch up to the point, making just a single cut.  Then, those cut lines meet up with one another, and you can match your pattern pieces.  Same idea applies to using a notching tool: just pop a little snip into the seam allowance, where you had some waste fabric anyway.  I never saw this until I was in college, and I know that a lot of fashion houses and design schools swear by this as THE CORRECT WAY to mark patterns.  But I have both read and observed that snipping into the seam allowance not only weakens the seam, and makes it possible to rip your fabric, but also leaves you a lot less margin for error.  If I made a cutting mistake, or if I need to let out a seam, I can’t do that if I’ve snipped into the seam allowance.  So I prefer to actually cut around the notches–it makes for a stronger seam, it’s more visible as you’re sewing, and it slows me down just enough as I’m cutting out that I can’t go on auto-pilot and make cutting mistakes that are easily avoided.

IMG_5525Of course, for every single notch, there’s a double notch.  I don’t cut these separately, although on newer patterns they’re often depicted as two independent Vs.  I cut mine the way they’re illustrated on older patterns: with a plateau across the points of these two mountains.

IMG_5528It’s not necessary to cut them separately since they’re being matched up to something that’s the same shape.  Generally, a double notch indicates the back of a garment while a single notch indicates the front of the garment.  For example, the pattern pieces in these photos are from an armhole: the single notch is the front curve of the armhole, and the double notch is the back curve.

IMG_5529By leaving the notches attached to one another, you make it super, super clear which is front and which is back, and avoid any chance that you might knock or snip off one of the points and confuse your front edge with your back edge.

IMG_5530And as if THAT wasn’t enough, you can use the placement of notches on the pattern to match up the design in your fabric across your seams.  Since we already know that the notches will meet one another along the seam line, it’s pretty simple to see that any design in the fabric will also meet along the same seam.  So if we want to make the design as continuous across the seam as possible, simply choose an element in the fabric, place the notch on that element on both pattern pieces, and pin and cut!  You’ll find that the design runs across the two garment sections and will match up when sewn.

IMG_5532This is the same technique I used to match the plaid on my Lisette jacket last year, and works for plaids, stripes, dots, and any other print with a repeat!  The catch: it’s a LOT easier to use when you cut your notches OUT rather than snipping IN.

Don’t underestimate or discount how much work the notch is doing for you on your pattern!  I totally get that there are schools of thought who prefer to snip in or use a tool, but I stand by my mother’s teaching: making the notches out is more visible, more secure and more long-lasting.  How did you all learn to make notches, and do you still do it the same way?  I’d love to know!

Toddler Top Sheet: Quick & Easy, with Fabric for Later!

We’re getting ready to transition our son from his toddler bed to a big boy bed, and our youngest from her crib to the toddler bed.  Well, OK, “getting ready” might be a bit strong: we’re waiting until the absolute last possible minute to take the baby out of the crib.  I know most of you have kids, and so there’s really no reason that I have to explain that last bit.  Our boy is probably ready for a bigger bed, though, and we can always store the toddler bed in the garage until we finally potty train the baby feel our youngest is ready for the responsibility.

Moving to a new size mattress, by definition, means getting new sheets.  I love, love making sheets for the children’s cribs and toddler beds–and one of the best parts is that once you’re done with the little sheets, you basically have yardage left over.  I wonder if some folks resist making crib sheets or toddler bed sheets because they feel as though they’ve spent time and money to sew something that will only be used for a couple of years, but what I’ve found over the past seven years of using really great fabrics to make these sheets is that they wear so well and last so long that once you’re done using them on the crib-sized mattress, you basically have yardage leftover!  I don’t feel even a little bit like I’ve wasted these fabrics–actually, I kinda feel like I stored it out in the open where I could look at it longer, and now that our boy won’t be using his as sheets anymore, I can recycle the yardage into something new.

That’s one of the reasons I love making both the fitted crib sheet (which fits the toddler bed mattress, too) and making a fitted top sheet.  I get to mix fabrics together, if I want, so that I can see multiple prints from a collection that I love, OR I can use the same fabric for both the top and the bottom sheet, and have plenty of yardage when the kids are done sleeping on them to use as a quilt backing or a garment or to break up into smaller sewing projects.  Two sheets is around four yards of fabric, and you can do a lot with four yards of fabric.

Of all the fitted crib sheet tutorials on the web, I really think the Michael Miller one is the best.  I’ve tried making them other ways: with a serged edge that’s stitched under, directly to the elastic; with elastic around the entire perimeter of the sheet; and with elastic just in the corners, but not along the sides.  Of all the styles, the ones that fit the best and have stayed put most consistently are the ones made using this tutorial (although I also really like Dana’s tutorial, I rarely find myself with enough elastic to go all the way around when I get the urge to make a set of these, late at night–so I have more of the Michael Miller version; should you have enough elastic, though, Dana makes a mean crib sheet!).

I haven’t, though, ever seen another tutorial for making a fitted TOP sheet.  Fitted top sheets are like flat sheets for a bigger bed, but they have elastic around the edge at the sheet bottom so that it works like a fitted sheet at the foot of the bed.  You can see them in all these photos, looking like a flat sheet that’s tucked in, but really it’s held in place by elastic!  I learned about these by accident: when we got the toddler bed in these photos, we bought it used from Craig’s List.  Perfectly good bed, hardly had any wear, came with the mattress, and she threw in a set of Pooh sheets with comforter to boot–because she didn’t have any more use for the icky polyester sheets, which really just proves my point that it’s better to make your own and re-use the fabric later.  But I digress.

The Pooh sheet set, as icky as they were, came with TWO sheets, which I hadn’t seen before in a set of crib or toddler sheets.  The top end looked just like your top sheet does on your Grown Up bed, but the bottom end was fitted with elastic, just like the bottom sheet.  And suddenly, it was as though a light bulb has exploded for me: this is genius!  Now the little ones can have a proper top sheet, and it never rides up or falls off or gets tangled around their little legs while they flop around in the night.  I made a tutorial for this ages ago (two and a half years!!), and you can see from reading it that I’ve had a change of heart about making the casing–the version in that tutorial has the serged edge turned under with elastic stitched directly to it, and over time, I’ve found that those didn’t stay put or have the recovery I wanted.  So I’ve gone back to the casing version, seen in both the Michael Miller tutorial and in Dana’s version.  My bad, lesson learned.

The great thing about making the top sheet, too, is that if you have crib sheets that are JUST crib sheets, with no matching top sheet, when your child moves from the crib to the toddler bed, you can convert the crib sheet INTO a fitted top sheet, and re-use it that way!  We have plenty of crib sheets that we liked, but don’t necessarily want to use as bottom sheets when the babies have moved into the bigger bed.  By adding in an inexpensive fitted bottom sheet in a solid color–we get ours at the thrift store for pennies–I can make a fitted crib sheet, which I’ve used for around two years in the crib, into a fitted-bottom top sheet and get another two-plus years of use out of the same fabric.  So if you’re not interested in making a sheet SET, you can totally get four or five years of use out of 2.5 yds of good-quality cotton, and STILL cut it up into something else and have it look brand-new when it’s done being a sheet.  How’s THAT for recycling?

I’ve done a number of different sets over the years, some of which are nearing retirement–I don’t really think our youngest girl wants to sleep on wrench and tire track sheets, and our boy still looooooves them, so they’re heading into “yardage” status–I’ll chop off the elastic at the corners and have 2-ish yards per sheet to work with.  Other sets are still going strong, and will be passed down to the next child before being converted into something new a few years from now.  And some were fitted sheets that will become top sheets: take off the elastic at the upper corners, turn the edge under and hem, and that’s it!  Fitted-bottom top sheet.

We have stacks of novelty sheet sets for the little beds at our house.  The kids plain LOVE the fabrics, and while I’d like to say that I always aim to shoot a little higher in terms of style for their rooms, the truth is that (1) I’m a sucker for a novelty print and (2) it really does make them happy to see these characters when they climb into bed.  And anything that gets them to bed–asleep, with the lights out, so Mommy can take a break–is a winner in my book.  These make easy and quick gifts, too, for those of you wanting to do a handmade holiday this year–about an hour and you can have a complete set of sheets for under $25, including a pillow case.  Tie it up in a ribbon and add a tag, and you’ve made a child super happy this winter! Oooh, flannel!  You could totally do flannel, too.

Follow the links below each fabric and use code LIQUID40 to take 40% off ANY fabric in the Whipstitch Etsy shop while they last! Use the drop-down menu to select a quantity of 4 to get two yards of each print, then off you go to sew awesome sheets!

Veggie Tales Big World and Scenic Stripe from the Veggie Tales How in the World collection

Richard Scarry Busytown A to Z and Busytown Stripe (these would be cute with a text pillowcase from the Busytown collection)

Clifford Dot in blue and Clifford Stripe, from the Be Big collection (our two girls and our boy looooove these fabrics, and have been known to hug the straight yardage, unsewn)

Thomas the Tank Engine All Aboard and Thomas stripe

Meet the Gang from Marisa of Creative Thursday (looks fabulous with a nice couture cotton fitted bottom sheet)

Or how about some Vintage Modern?  Try flannel!  It’s dreamy…

I’m looking forward to having some of the girlier prints we’ve made into sheets over the years re-appear as top sheets when the baby makes it to the toddler bed, and am already playing with some Pinterest ideas for how to take the little boy sheets our son loves and bring them into his big boy room–he already has a quilt, but totally needs a reading nook with a bean bag chair to hang out on.  Maybe it’ll even have tire tracks.

Happy bed making, y’all!

Sewing Machine Maintenance: Round Up of Sewing Machine Covers

If you’re going to take the time to clean your sewing machine and serger on a regular basis, it would be foolish to leave it exposed to the elements.  The dust and pollen and..other stuff…floating around in the air pretty much guarantee that any machine that doesn’t have a little jacket to wear will end up with bunnies living in the crevices.  While the odds are pretty good, if your machine was made after 1970 or so, that the motor and belt aren’t exposed, and so there’s less risk that the inner workings of your machine will get gummed up by lint, there is always the concern that any dust or fluff floating around will settle on parts of your machine that you can’t easily reach, leading to more work for you later and ultimately a shorter life-span for your machine.

The answer is super duper simple: a sewing machine cover.  Now, you can buy one in stores or online, either a hard case or a soft vinyl cover.  They work great, and they get the job done.  I prefer, though, a fabric cover that is out of fabric I love and that I can periodically launder to keep it looking spiffy.  My favorite sewing machine cover design is the one in my new book, but I can’t show that with you for a few more weeks (how’s that for a plug?), so I’ve rounded up some of the best sewing machine cover tutorials on the web for you to peruse!

I prefer a cover that has four sides, so while there are a number of lovely tutorials out there that drape a piece of fabric over the top of the machine and tie it sweetly at the sides, I don’t feel as though that style of cover will really get the job done.  For that reason, I’ve only shared tutorials here that cover all four sides of the machine.

Simple Simon has a darling cover that’s reminiscent in shape of the vinyl ones you can get at the store, but obviously way prettier.

Philadelphia’s Spool has a great pattern for a sewing machine cozy that’s clean and chic.

I love the exterior pockets (and Momo fabric!) on this cover from Notes from the Patch.

I’m not sure how much I love the ruffle on this cover from Sew 4 Home, but I know I like the handle on the top.

Bloom and Blossom has a cute and inexpensive pattern for a linen cover with piping and patchwork.

An interfaced cover from Made It has structure and support to help it stand up on its own.

Naturally, any and all of these cover designs can be adapted to be used on your serger, as well–I made a matching set of quilted, piped, reversible covers for my machine and serger using the project from my new book.  I know, I tease–pictures as soon as I get the go-ahead!

Sewing Machine Maintenance: A Sample Schedule

It’s lovely to know HOW to clean your machine(s), but it’s equally important to know WHEN to clean them, in order to make sure you get the most out of them and catch any issues before they become problems.  Today, a sample schedule for maintaining and servicing your sewing machine and serger.

Sewing Machine cleaning and service schedule

Every new project: replace needle

Every time you sew: dust outside and tidy up beneath the machine; keep machine covered when not in use to decrease dust settling

Once a month: clean the interior of the bobbin assembly and case, the tension disks, and under the throat plate; oil all necessary parts

Once every two years: take your machine to the dealership or service center for a standard check-up and maintenance (should run you around $55-$65, depending on where you live, and is totally worth it)

Serger/Overlock cleaning and service schedule

Every time you sew: clean beneath the machine, dust off any lint, and keep the serger covered between uses

Once every two weeks: clean the interior of the machine, removing all lint and particles

Once a month:  run a length of thread soaked in alcohol through the tension disks to collect any bits of fluff that your cleaning missed

Once every four months: take your machine to the dealership or service center for regular maintenance; replace cutting blades at this time, especially if you’re a heavy user

Obviously, this might not be the schedule you choose to regularly follow–I know folks who clean their machine(s) every single time they use them, either because they sew infrequently (and so the machine will be stored afterward and they want to store it in a clean and oiled state) or because they sew very often (and there is a greater accumulation of lint and dust).  Either way, taking the best care of your machine that you can will help it to last longer–and that’s true of less expensive models as much as it is of fancier machines.

Last tip: use the best thread you can afford.  Cheaper threads have bits of microscopic lint that come off them, which sheds all over your machine–both where you can see it and where you can’t.  I used to get tons of bits of thread on my throat plate, and assumed it was fluff from the cut edge of my fabric.  Turns out, it was from the thread rubbing against the thread guides, and bits of it were flying off–imagine what was inside my machine!  Better-quality threads have vastly less fluff and breakage, and will not only treat the interior of your machine better, but will last longer in your sewn projects, too.

*As always, this advice is a recommendation only, and you are strongly urged to consult your owner’s manual and your service provider to learn what service schedule and maintenance techniques will work best for your machine.

Sewing Machine Maintenance: Cleaning Your Serger

A serger, or overlock machine, can be a great addition to your sewing arsenal.  They’re not at all essential, obviously, but if you’re planning to open an Etsy shop manufacturing children’s clothing, for example, you’ll find that a serger will make your life super way easier.  Cleaning one out isn’t tough, but it does need to be done frequently–take a look at the filth in the video to see what happens when good sergers get dirty:

Sewing Machine Maintenance: Cleaning a Top-Load

If you’re following along, we’re having an exciting week of CLEANING!  I know how it sounds.  But really, it is exciting to clean your sewing machine–seeing it all shiny and happy is much more satisfying than 20-year-old me would have ever guessed.  Plus, it has the added benefit of making your sewing better and your machine last longer, so it’s totally worth the very few minutes that it takes to get the job done.

Today’s machine is a top-loading Brother, one that’s super common on the market and a great starter machine.  I will apologize in advance for not having found one that was filthier for all of you, so you could really see where the lint gets and how threads can get caught and abandoned–but I think you’ll get the idea.

Have fun, and keep it clean, y’all!

Sewing Machine Maintenance: Cleaning a Front-Load

Brief note: I announced on Thursday that we’d be hosting a Crafty Meet-Up at the Whipstitch shop in Atlanta on June 29.  Turns out that’s the Friday before July 4–who knew?  Lots of you let us know that you’ll be out of town that weekend and were bummed you wouldn’t be able to make it–so we’ve made the decision to COMBINE the Crafty Meet-Up with our Skirting the Issue Sew-In on July 14.  Which means the June 29 event has been re-scheduled.  Just FYI–plan something else for June 29 for yourself, then mark your calendar to join us at the shop July 14, instead, and watch the newsletter for more details.  Thanks, y’all!

I hate to break it to you, but I can very nearly guarantee that you aren’t taking care of your sewing machine the way you should.  I’m not picking on you–most of us aren’t, if we’re being honest.  The good news is that it’s super easy and not even time consuming to take really good care of your sewing machine, and it will make your machine last longer and sew better.  That’s right: simple maintenance will help your sewing machine do better work that you’re more satisfied with.  If that’s not instant gratification, I don’t know what is.

All this week, I’m posting about maintaining and cleaning our sewing machines, and I’ve got a little something for everyone: cleaning a machine with a bobbin case (commonly called a “front-load” machine); cleaning a machine with a top-loading bobbin; cleaning a serger; when and how to schedule professional maintenance on your sewing machine; and how to reduce those service visits with some simple tips.  I’m super excited, mostly because this motivated me to get some cleaning done and that’s never a bad thing.

Today, basic cleaning of a front-loading sewing machine, with a bobbin case.  You’ll want some simple supplies on hand: a stiff-bristled brush, sewing machine oil, perhaps a can of compressed air, a screw driver for removing any screws that attach your throat plate to your machine arm, and some scraps of clean, soft muslin.  Check out the video for step-by-step and plenty of patter.

Kindle Cover Tutorial

My sweet friend Mika liked my Kindle cover so much she asked for a tutorial.  Since I’ve always been a bit of a slacker in the gift-giving department, I wanted to make her something pretty, so it was with sincere and genuine pleasure that I put this together, mostly for her but also for you!  I have clutched my electronic reader in my hands and cried over it as I read, laughing and feeling with the characters, totally forgetting that this wasn’t print but was a screen with flashing LED behind it, all of which astonishes me, since I really love the book-ness of my books.  I honestly think having a soft fabric cover made a difference in the experience to me–and certainly made me more willing to toss it in my bag and take it with me to read on the go.

This was a fun project to think through and plan, and it really is super easy to construct.  It took me right around an hour and fifteen minutes to sew this one while taking photos and planning the tutorial, so I feel pretty confident that you could make it in about 45 minutes in real life, which makes it a great option for gift-giving.  (I’m already thinking about end-of-year teacher gifts, again because I am usually such a slacker that when someone puts out the hat I toss in a check even though what I’d really like is to make something personal and lovely.  Wouldn’t it be nice this year to take up a collection for a Kindle for your child’s teacher, and then sew a sassy cover?  Just an idea.) 

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Chain Stitching on Garments

Chain piecing is a simple technique that makes quilting vastly more efficient:


Very simply, chain piecing involves sewing a seam, then rather than cutting the thread and beginning a new seam, tucking the next piece of fabric beneath the presser foot and continuing to stitch.  It’s faster–you don’t spend all that time cutting thread, lifting and lowering the presser foot–and it’s tidier, since all your pieces are still attached to one another when you’re done.  I also think it encourages you to think differently about your sewing when you chain stitch: I am forced to think through my whole project, in a good way, in order to determine the most efficient use of my time in order to get steps completed with good precision but without dragging out the project.

I use this same technique when I make clothing, and it’s such a giant time-saver.  I started doing it when I was manufacturing children’s clothing, because I’d be making multiples of a particular style all at one time, so it made sense to stitch a side seam, then grab another shirt or dress and stitch the same side seam, over and over until I was making five shirts at a time, like an assembly line.  I don’t manufacture like that anymore–now I only sew for my own children rather than someone else’s–but I have adapted the same idea to make the construction of a single garment more streamlined.  And it’s so simple that it hardly bears mentioning, except that I do it so frequently I figured it might be useful to discuss!  I seriously love learning all the little secrets that other folks use to make their sewing something to be admired, and am always struck by how most of us have one or two tricks that we don’t even think about anymore but that have the potential to totally change the way someone else makes a project–I am sort of hoping this will be like that to you.

Start with a project that has many similar seams–in this case, I’m working on the lined bodice of a sleeveless dress. That means I have one bodice front, two bodice backs, one lining front and two lining backs.  They all get stitched at the shoulder seam, so four identical seams.  Right?  So I sew the first shoulder seam, but rather than cutting it and taking it off the machine, I tuck the next shoulder seam underneath the presser foot:

Here you see the right side of the bodice front, which is down on the feed dogs, and the wrong side of the bodice backs, which are right sides together with the bodice front.  I’ve stitched the one at the upper edge of the image, and now I’m beginning to stitch the one at the lower edge of the image.

When you chain stitch by machine, your needle doesn’t recognize that open space between the seams–it sews right over it as though it isn’t even there.  The first seam is sewn as usual–that is, you place the back edge of the fabric so that it just covers the hole into which the needle will disappear–and then once that near edge of that seam has gone under the needle, raise your foot off the foot pedal, tuck the next seam to be sewn under the front edge of the presser foot, and begin to sew again, as if it were a whole new seam.  Which it is, except it’s still attached to the previous seam.

You can keep doing this on and on and on, depending on how many seams you have to sew.  Here, I’ve done both the shoulder seams on the bodice, and I’m sewing the first of the two lining shoulder seams.  I’ll do all four before taking them off the machine to clip the threads between each one:

See?  Simple! The whole technique can be applied to making LOTS of one garment, assembly-line style; to making many similar garments, like sewing Easter outfits for your four children where each piece uses the same color thread (not naming any names here…ahem); or piecing a quilt where you have sixty bajillion teensy squares to match up.  It uses less thread, less time, and once you get the hang of it, is vastly more accurate with less repetitive stress.  It’s a win for everyone!

Tutorial: Manly Travel Power Cord Roll-Up

Took a little longer than I anticipated, but it turned out super cute!  I’m delighted to share with you:  The Manly Travel Power Cord Roll-Up, just in time for Valentine’s Crafting!

This tweedy little wrap has space for multiple laptop/phone/digital music accessories and cords, and bundles up nice and tidy to fit in a corner of a suitcase for travel.  Plus, it’s masculine enough to make husbands want to use it, but sweet enough to look good no matter what.  Woot!

I made my version from a pair of thrifted suit pants, but you could make it from a couple of fat quarters with no trouble (which means that if you like it enough, you can make a girly version for your lady friend, too).

Easy peasy steps and sewing!

You’ll need:

  • a piece of wool tweed measuring approximately 18″ x 22″ (or a fat quarter of fabric)
  • a cotton fabric for lining, same dimensions
  • thread
  • one 1/2″ button (I harvested mine from the same suit pants I cannibalized for the tweed)
  • (optional) piece of cotton batting measuring 18″ x 22″

Prep your fabric

Because I harvested my fabric from a pair of pants, I had to begin by prepping it–I chopped off both legs, thinking I’d need two, but settled on just using one.  I slit up the inseam and pressed and steamed as much as was reasonable.  I left the cuff intact–it’s an interesting detail and I wanted to utilize it in the new design.

Square up the fabric.  I began by guesstimating the dimensions of the pocket I wanted to make–by eyeball, but it’s right around 6″ deep.  I folded that up, then trimmed the sides even, followed by squaring off the top.

The obvious selections for a lining might have been white or black, but since both of us have both white and black power cords, I wanted to choose something that would contrast and make them easier to dig out–no point in making a cord tote that makes it tougher to locate your cords.  I chose a soft, masculine blue that reminds me of dress shirts.  This is a fat quarter of Kona cotton.

Open out the cuff of the pants, if you have one.  If not, sew the edge of the lining right side to wrong side with the opposite edge of the main fabric.  In this case, the lower edge of the tweed, which will become the upper edge of the pocket when this is assembled, is sewn to the upper edge of the lining.  Use any seam allowance you like–this is 3/8″.

Flip the lining over so that pieces are wrong sides together.  Press the seam nice and crisp–use plenty of steam.  You can see in this image that there’s a lip of tweed sticking out–that’s the cuff from the pants, which I’ll be using to make a folded edge on the pocket front.

Fold up the pressed edge to create your pocket.  (If you’ve looked at Stitch by Stitch at all, you’ll begin to recognize this as a distant cousin to the picnic placemat project–not deliberate, but I guess my mind tends to work through problems in similar ways!)  At each side, cut away a small chunk from the top down to about 3/4″ of an inch above the fold.  We’re going to create a self binding, and you’ll need to leave that little chunk behind for the mitered corner.

Press in that little corner with the tip of your finger until it forms a triangle.  Then fold the raw edge in 1/4″ and press.  Fold again another 1/4″ and press again.

As you press, pin the edge in place, heading up toward the top of the wrap.  Remember, you’re folding the edge OVER the pocket, so you’ll want to be certain that the pocket depth is right where you’ll want it later.  Repeat on the opposite side; once both right and left are done, you can do the upper edge.

At the upper edge, fold in the corner again, making a triangle like you did before.  Press in place.

Fold the side in, double folded, until it meets the triangle you’ve pressed.

Fold the upper edge the same way, catching the upper edge of the lining as you do.  Press in place–don’t worry that the tip of the triangle is poking out a bit, we’ll fix that in the next step.

Open the side and top back out, then trim off the tip of the triangle so that you’ve cut it below the creases left from pressing in the sides.

Re-fold the sides and upper edge and pin in place.  Repeat all this on the other upper corner.

Now that everything is pinned and ready, you can stitch!  Begin at one lower edge, backtacking securely, then sew up one side, pivot at the miter, sew across the upper edge, pivot again, and sew down the opposite side, backstitching when you get to the bottom.  Press, press, press.

You’re in the home stretch now!  Time to mark your pockets to sew the channel stitches that will form them.  The upper portion, where the lining is visible, will become a flap to cover the cords and keep them inside the roll-up, so we don’t need to stitch there, just on the pocket itself. I used my Clover chaco liner, because its sharp “teeth” allow it to place chalk on the nubby tweed without pilling it or dragging across it the way tailor’s chalk might.  Use a ruler to help you keep your lines good and square with the lower edge of the roll-up.

As you’re drawing your lines for your pockets, think about what’s going in them.  I made sure to have one that was at least 4.5″ wide, since both my husband and I take our Mac chargers with us when we travel.  Remember that you’ll need more than the width of the object, since these things are all three-dimensional, and will take up more space than just the measurement of their width.  I like having sections of varying sizes, so I mixed it up some.

Head to your machine, and simply straight stitch on top of your lines, backstitching at each end to secure the stitches.

And you’re done!  You can tuck in a cell phone charger, an iPod accessory cord, a large laptop charger, even ear buds.  The flap folds down to cover the whole thing and keep everything secure so it won’t slip out when the baggage guys snatch your bag from you while you’re trying to board the plane and toss it carelessly beneath into the luggage compartment.

I really like the menswear feel of this project, and how the lining genuinely reminds me of a shirt inside a man’s suit front.  Sexy businesswear!  For your cables and cords!

For a closure, I took the tab off the waistband of the pants and repurposed it as a button loop–I loved the feature on the pants, and wanted to find a way to include it in the design.  If yours don’t have one, or you’re working with straight fabric and not thrifted goods, you can make a tab, or you can use a hair elastic stitched through to make a small elastic loop to go around the button.  I filled and rolled up mine before marking the button placement, then hid the stitches inside one of the pockets so they’re not visible from either side of the roll.

It’s traveltastic!  We two are heading to the mountains this Valentine’s Day weekend for a couples’ retreat.  This will be his travel gift (despite the fact that we’ll get no reception up there–at least his cords and cables will have a nice place to rest while the two of us are reconnecting!).


Advent Calendar

Last year, I did an Advent calendar based on the one my mother hung up each December when I was little.

Some of the little houses that line the street up the center of the village were more successful than others, but on the whole, I am pleased with how it turned out.

This year, we didn’t hang it up on December 1, as I’d hoped–mostly because we’re putting all our things IN boxes to move, rather than taking them out.  But I’d love it if you’d skip over and look at the daily Advent calendar images from 2010 and consider making one of your own!  Some of my favorite comments were from folks who remembered their own childhood Advent calendar fondly–what did your family do each year on December 1?