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Tutorial: Girls’ Shirt Dress from Daddy’s Dress Shirt

Fantastic tutorial from the always delightful Dana over at Made.

Turn a men’s dress shirt–one that’s worn out, or that you scored from a thrift shop or garage sale–into a delicious girl’s shirt dress for the summer!
Wouldn’t one of these look GREAT with some Heather Ross Far Far Away ruffles?  Don’t miss your chance to enter to win a bundle of FOUR fat quarters!

Continuous Bias Tape Tutorial

I’ve had some questions about how to create the continuous bias tape for the piping I mentioned in my last post. I’m re-posting a tutorial I put together last October for my other blog, Pretty Jane.

My students in the Intro Sewing class all make continuous bias tape. I make it right along with them each month, and give them a copy of printed instructions courtesy of the Dread Pirate Rogers, but have always wanted to have better photos to offer. While I was busy making the changing pad cover for New Baby, I went ahead and shot some photos of the CBT process with the gingham I used to wrap the piping.

Bias tape, very simply, is just a strip of fabric cut on the bias–the 45 degree angle across the grainline of the fabric. It has the most give you can get out of a particular cut of fabric, and allows you to bind curves and seams, wrap piping, or edge finish a project. It’s great stuff, I use it all the time, and knowing how to make and apply it will revolutionize your sewing–honest.

You can easily make bias stips just by slicing across that bias line. This is the technique I use when binding armholes or necklines, something relatively short. When I need longer pieces, though, I’d be forced to stitch each of those strips together into one longer strip, and that’s a huge pain in the behind, as far as I’m concerned. It’s much easier to make CBT–Continuous Bias Tape–by stitching a larger piece of fabric together on the bias and then cutting THAT into strips. You get piles and piles of bias tape this way, and you get the freedom to choose any fabric you want rather than being limited to the solid, poly-cotton blend available at the fabric stores. You can also manipulate the width of the bias tape better–I’ll elaborate on that at the end of the post.

So, how do we make CBT? Golly, I’m glad you asked.
Here we go:

Start with your fabric. The reason I prefer the Dread Pirate Rogers’ instructions is that, as opposed to lots of other methods (Martha’s included!), she starts with a rectangle of fabric rather than a square. Since a cut of fabric IS a rectangle, this makes more sense to me, and is more economical. Here I’ve rolled out some apple green gingham:

Cut off a length of your fabric. How much depends on how long you want your finished bias tape to be, but if you’ve never done this before, I’d start with about half a yard–that measurement seems to make a piece that’s easy to manipulate without being overwhelming:
Trim off the selvedges of your fabric. (Selvedge edges shrink at a different rate than the remainder of your fabric, and should always be removed–even if it feels like a huge waste of a straight edge!).
Fold one selvedge over to meet the top edge of your fabric, forming a 45 degree angle on one end, and a triangle on top of the main portion of your fabric:
Trim this triangle away by placing your blade along the folded edge and cutting:
You should end up with two pieces of fabric, like this:
Move the triangle to the OTHER end of the original piece of fabric, placing selvedge edge to selvedge edge. You’ll know you got it right if your shape is now a parallelogram rather than a rectangle:
Place the triangle and the original fabric right sides together, selvedges touching:
Stitch a seam along the selvedge edge. I use the edge of my presser foot as a seam allowance guide (most presser feet are approximately 1/4″ away from the needle, giving you a 1/4″ seam allowance), but you can use whatever seam allowance you choose–just remember what it was so you can give the next seam the same allowance:
Press your seams allowances open (and consider if it’s time for a new ironing board cover–oh my!):
You should now have a piece of fabric that looks more or less like this:
Starting at one angled edge on the WRONG SIDE of the fabric, begin drawing lines parallel to the bias angle and marching across the fabric. I use a quilting chalk for this, but whatever marking tool you prefer is fine. I space my lines with a quilting ruler, too, since it’s clear and acrylic and sticky on the bottom, making my marks more consistent–and consistency is the KEY with this step. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but the closer it is the easier the next steps will be:
How far apart you space the lines is dependent on how fat you want your bias strips to be. If you’ve not done this before, may I suggest that FATTER IS BETTER to begin with–you can always scale it down when you feel more confident with the technique. For this example (and to wrap the huge, fat piping in my project) I used the width of my ruler as a guide:
At the other end of your fabric, you may not have a full width left, like I had in this example. Cut that paltry little vestige off to make sure each of your strips is of equal size:
OK, here comes the confusing part, at least for most people. Our goal is to create a TUBE of fabric, then cut that tube apart to make a long strip. We DO NOT want to stitch a tube, then cut it apart into a series of donuts, so the edge that we stitch needs to be slightly offset. In order to achieve this, we’re going to number the lines we just drew, starting at the edge with number ZERO, and moving across each line sequentially (the first chalk line is ONE, the second is TWO, etc):
On the BOTTOM of the fabric, we number again, but this time, we start with number ONE at the edge, and the first chalk line is TWO and the second is THREE… The point here is that the TOP of one chalk line never has the same number as the BOTTOM of the same chalk line (the printed instructions have a good illustration of this):
Once all the lines have been numbered, bring the two straight edges (i.e. the top and bottom of your piece of fabric, NOT the bias edges) together, right sides together. We’re going to match the numbered lines to one another–line #1 meets line #1, line #2 meets line #2, etc. Pin these in place. This step feels AWKWARD, as it makes a twisted tube of fabric–that’s OK, since we WANT it to be offset:
Bear in mind that as you match these lines up, they’re at an angle, so they won’t match one another on either side of the fabric–they’ll actually cross one another. You’re going to put in a seam that will run through the point at which they cross. Just keep pinning and matching the best you can–it’s much more important that your seam lies flat than that your numbers and lines match flawlessly. You should end up with something hopeless that looks like this, and will almost certainly be thinking, “This lady is nuts, and this is never gonna work.” Hang in there!
Take your twisted tube to the machine, and stitch a seam with the SAME ALLOWANCE as the last seam you stitched, whatever that was. Remember to keep reaching beneath your work and making sure that there are no catches or random bits of fabric getting caught under the needle–you really don’t want to have to do this step over:
Press that awkward seam open. A sleeve board is great for this, but an ugly, stained ironing board will work, too (note to self: make new ironing board cover):
OK, this is where the magic happens. At each end of your tube, you have a little tail of fabric hanging off. You also now have a SINGLE line of chalk going around and around the fabric. Choose one end of the tube–doesn’t matter which one–and begin cutting the line next to that little tail:
KEEP CUTTING all the way around, through a single layer of fabric, and watch as the tape begins to take form:
When you come to one of your seams that you’ve pressed open, cut right across it and keep going:
Ta da! The finished product: yards and yards of bias tape from your favorite fabric. I make lots of this at one time when I have the time, then store the rest for the NEXT project. That way, I get the enjoyment of it and I use my time economically:
Hope the images helped, and that the length of the instructions doesn’t intimidate–the first time can be a rough road, especially if you’re teaching yourself, but after that it’s SUCH a quick, simple process that I know you’ll make it a regular part of your sewing skill set.
Happy sewing, everyone!

Previously posted on Pretty Jane, October 2008

Charm Pack Pattern Series, Pt 4: Anna Maria Sets the Table

Believe it or not, our house is done in pretty neutral colors. I think folks expect me to have a house covered in amazing fabric, but the truth is, I work with color all day every day, and the neutrals are a relief. They give my brain a little respite and some time to process all the ideas that are birthed from looking at color and pattern all day long. Plus, my husband is a little averse to bold color in the common areas–he embraces it fully in personal space, thank goodness, or I’m not sure we’d’ve made it all the way to the altar, but that’s a story for another time.

Given this predilection toward more serene decorating, I was a little concerned that this particular charm pack project wouldn’t appeal to me in its finished state. In fact, I was strongly tempted to make the whole thing with one colorway only, to tone down some of the boldness a bit. In the end, I wanted to use a single charm pack rather than two, and I chose to trust Anna Maria’s design sense to give me a finished result where the disparate colors and elements worked to create a harmonious whole.

Boy, did they ever. I freakin’ LOVE the result here, and am thrilled and get little butterflies every time I look at it.
The table runner is made with a single Good Folks charm pack, available in the Whipstitch Etsy shop.  Incredibly simple pattern:

  • select the charm pack you’d like to use–nothing says it has to all be from one collection, but I really, really love the results with this one.
  • determine the length of your finished table runner.  I knew I didn’t want to have the runner hanging over the ends of the table, so it’s intended to stop just short.
  • arrange your charm squares into a pleasing pattern.  I wanted to ensure that the Adriatic and Byzantine colorways of Anna Maria’s collection were more-or-less evenly spread out, so I opted to alternate the deeper blues and greys with the bright, bold pinks and golds throughout the runner.
  • stitch rows of charms along the SHORT edge of the runner.  In this case, I stitched 16 rows of 3 charm squares.
  • stitch the short rows together along one edge, paying attention to your pattern

I knew I didn’t want to quilt this table runner, but I also knew it needed some element to take it from humdrum to really special.  I opted for a piped edge, using the Small Gathering in citrus fabric to make continuous bias tape to wrap the piping.  I love that all the Small Gathering prints from this collection seem like a totally different fabric in various spots, and am super pleased with how this turned out as bias tape.
Piping made the corners look especially inviting, too.
The whole thing is backed by a length of Filigree in sun, meaning that in theory, the whole thing is reversible.
But really, why would I ever want to turn it over??
The babies love it, too.  Although, I did almost lose my mind when middle child used it as a tissue for her runny nose.  Oy!

Charming Table Runner 
  • one charm pack of at least 40 squares
  • 1/8″ piping cording
  • fat quarter of fabric to make bias tape to cover the piping
  • 1/2 yd of fabric for the backing
See steps above.

Charm Pack Pattern Series, Pt. 3: Charming Necklace

Today’s charm pack pattern comes from the ladies over at the Moda Bake Shop.  Moda, the fabric manufacturer who has pioneered the precuts available today, has set up their own Research Lab to develop patterns and ideas for charm packs, jelly rolls, and other precuts.  This necklace idea is similar to one shown on Martha Stewart’s show not too long ago, and is made using the Neptune charm packs available in the Whipstitch shop!  Cute, cute, cute.

See the step-by-step here.
Next time: Anna Maria decorates the table–with charm packs.

Just My Luck! Charm Pack Pattern Series, Pt. 1

Here I’ve been, quietly plotting a weeks-long series on Things To Do With A Fat Quarter, and Sew,Mama,Sew has beaten me to it! At times I fear I am much too much of a planner, and attempt to find perfection before going public, and then I miss the boat–you know, a visualizer when I should be an actualizer. I’m trying to get past that, except that I LIKE things being as close to perfect as I can get them… It’s a tough sell, let’s just put it that way.

As a part of this effort, though, I’ve decided to fast track my next series and get those started. That way, we’ll all have something to look forward to when we finish working on the projects Sew, Mama, Sew has inspired–I’ve only skimmed the titles of most of them, and I can already tell you there are one or two that made me think, “Oh, I wish I’d thought of that!”

After fat quarters, I’ve been working on patterns and projects for charm packs. I’ve become pretty obsessed lately with these puppies, really, these little 5″ x 5″ fabrics squares cut from complete fabric collections, one of each print. That yields 40ish squares, each of which is totally unique. Now, as a life-long non-quilter, that was pretty tough for me to wrap my brain around: what on earth, I wondered, could I do with 40 pieces of fabric that DON’T MATCH? As an apparel sewer, my first coherent thought was that they’d be great for applique, but in my heart I knew there was more.

I’m hoping to include some of my more complicated ideas as the series continues, but I wanted to start simply and build up as we go. Today’s project, and one I’ve been making dozens of needlessly, is a classic: Baby’s Soft Toy Blocks, each made from six charm squares.
Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy! Follow the steps below, and hope that I can figure out enough about PDF uploading to embed the pattern here. Otherwise, drop by the shop, where every charm pack comes with a FREE charm pack pattern from this series!

Soft Blocks for Baby

Requires: 6 charm squares (or 5″ x 5″ squares); poly fill

Step 1: Select 6 charm blocks of your preference. Since charm packs are all from the same fabric collection, odds are that any squares you select will work well together, but don’t limit yourself! Feel free to use some solids, some micro prints, or even (gasp!) combine prints from different collections.

Step 2: Think a little about layout. I like the reach-and-stitch method much of the time, but I also tend to think about not putting two large/loud/busy prints next to one another, preferring to have each on opposite sides of the block. But, y’know, whatever. Do what YOU like.

Step 3: Stitch 2 squares together. Stitch 2 other squares together. I like to do this one after another, without taking them off the machine, like this:

My mom uses this method, and so does Martha, so you know it’s kosher.

Step 4: Stitch those two pair to one another, so you now have a chain of 4 squares. Press open all seam allowances.
Step 5: Stitch the two ends of the chain together, making an open-ended box of four squares.

Step 6: Take the fifth square, and line up the edges right sides together with one open end of the box.  Corners should match.  Place one side under the needle and stitch along that edge.  I like to start on a straightaway, never on a corner–makes it easier to get a clean finish.

When you get to a corner seam, stop right on the seam line.
Leaving the needle in the fabric at the seamline, lift the presser foot, pivot, and lower the presser foot so you can stitch down the next side.  Repeat for all four sides.

Step 7:  Repeat step 6 for the other open end of the box, leaving a small opening along one side (backtack on either side of this opening–you’ll be stuffing through here later, and it helps to prevent stitches from slipping as you shove the fiberfil through the hole).  You’ll end up with a cube that looks more or less like this:
Step 8: Trim off the corners at a 45ish degree angle.  Turn right side out.  I use a wooden knitting needle to get a nice sharp point, but whatever.
Step 9:  Stuff with polyester fiberfill, or your choice of filling–could be kapok, or split peas, or scrap fabric, your ex’s favorite sweater, whatever’s on hand.
Step 10: Hand stitch opening closed.
And voila!!

I like the idea of placing a small bell or an empty film canister filled with beans in themiddle of one of these, but I haven’t tried it yet.  Lemme know if you do!


Poor Man’s Silk Screen

Over at craftgrrl, there’s a fantastic screen print tutorial. A step above the freezer paper stencil, a step below a full-scale screen printing shop in your basement, it’s a great technique for embellishing tees, for designing your own fabric, for working with images. Just a cool way to do stuff.

I threw together a kit for the shop including supplies and my own version of the instructions, complete with photos and two sample designs. I’d love to see what y’all can do with them! Personally, I want to tackle a project with multiple colors–a fat quarter of hand-screened fabric, maybe. Hmmm….

Tutorial: Rolled Hem Presser Foot

One of my favorite finds recently has been this:

My rolled hem presser foot. This bad boy is designed to put a perfect teeny tiny hem in the edge of your fabric, right at the machine–no more pressing, then turning and pressing again, just feed it through and press & stitch all at once! Miraculous, especially for delicate fabrics like chiffons and the like, but also dead useful for making trims and ruffles. Now, when I want to make the ruffle for an apron like this one:

I simply cut my fabric, stitch together into a single long piece, then feed it under my fancy presser foot to give the lower edge a perfect hem.

Here in Atlanta, these feet are available at the Hancock Fabrics on Miami Circle/Sidney Marcus–I realize I’m sending you into the lion’s den, but that’s the only place I’ve seen this display. Right at the end of the cutting table, near the thread and facing the window, is a cardboard display endcap with a whole selection of universal specialty presser feet. They work with any model–hence the “universal”–and come in two shank styles (upright and angled, depending on your manufacturer).

Check out the Sewing Divas for the full tutorial–theirs is so excellent that I didn’t think it was useful to make a whole new one here. I will say that I solidly endorse their suggestion to stop when going over bulky spots–like seams–and fold by hand, then reinsert into the hem foot. Makes the process much smoother.

Happy sewing!