December 11, 2010

Need a Sewing Machine? I Have Good News.

Posted in Sewing 101 tagged , , , , , at 3:20 pm by kdthreads

Buy Me

Just in time for Christmas, I have glad tidings for anyone wishing for a new sewing machine.  Until now, it was impossible for me to recommend a sewing machine less than $600.  Why?  They are all rickety pieces of junk that will hold back anyone’s skills and production.  As much as I loved my little Kenmore ($120 in 1996,) it did not stop sewing when I lifted my foot off of the pedal.  It boasted 21 stitches and variable widths, lengths and a line of accessory feet, but these things are useless when the machine is flimsy and mechanically poor.  It is a common misconception that multiple stitches is an indicator for quality on a sewing machine.  A seamstress needs very few stitches and the essential ones: straight stitch and zig-zag are on any machine.

So what is this blessed, new machine?  I am shocked to say, it is a Singer.  Even though Singer started the machine-sewing world, in recent years their machines have been everything I described above, and worse.  Just when I had written this brand off completely, they released the Singer Talent 3323S.  On Amazon, it sells for $182 and has free shipping.  At Joann Fabrics, I believe it is $190 in sale.

In case you did not know, my mother is a sewing machine dealer/instructor for Husqvarna Viking.  She used to work in an independent store, but since Viking partnered with Joann’s, she is in a Viking Sewing Center inside a Joann’s location.  Even though it is a Viking store, they handle all of the machines that Joann’s sells.  So mixed in with the HuskyStars and Diamonds are Brother, Singer and White machines and sergers.  My mom and her colleagues have expressed frustration over the last ten years about the lack of good quality, basic, budget-friendly machines.  It seemed with the advent of Machine Embroidery and machines using software and USB ports, the machines that will “just sew” were forgotten.  Even Viking’s lower-priced models (which used to be amazing) began coming from China instead of Europe and no one in good conscience could push to sell one.  I guess Singer smelled an opportunity, because I can’t say enough good things about the Talent.

Not only is the Talent cute as a button with periwinkle dots and paisley decals, Singer added features that make it an incredible deal.

It includes:

  • A needle threader that works!
  • A one-step buttonhole function and appropriate foot.
  • A drop-in bobbin instead of front-loading (this is better.)
  • A thread cutter on the presser foot (why didn’t someone think of that years ago?)
  • Snap on, snap off presser feet that require no screwdriver to change.
  • A plate to cover feed dogs if you are doing bar tacks, etc.
  • A dual-feed/walking foot (a second set of feed dogs located in the presser foot giving you more control and the ability to sew thick fabrics with ease or machine quilt beautifully.)
  • Knobs to change stitch width and length in increments of half-millimeters, not just millimeters for a customized stitch.
  • A port for using a metal quilting guide (also included.)
  • A Gathering Foot is included making ruffles and eased seams less frustrating
  • A Darning/Embroidery foot allowing you motion control of dense stitching.
  • A Button foot that makes sewing flat buttons a one-minute affair.
  • An auxiliary thread spool.
  • Basic machine tools, needles, screwdriver, etc.
  • The manual is user-friendly.
  • And if you are interested…23 stitches.

In addition to the great design, Singer’s accessory line is cheap.  There are many other feet available for various tasks and they each run around $1.00.  With the top-loading bobbin, you can enjoy the lazy luxury of buying pre-wound bobbins if you do a lot of sewing.  This machine has a nice solid feel and does not rattle when you are operating.  The sensitivity of the pedal is proportionate to the motor speed allowing even beginner seamstresses maximum control.  In case you are wondering, my mom bought one of these machines for my 10 year-old niece and has full confidence that this will be a machine to not only hone her skills, but last her into adulthood.

If anyone has other questions about machines or is interested in purchasing a Singer Talent, please comment or email me.  I am happy to help.  Merry Christmas and happy sewing!

Included Accessories

August 28, 2010

Polly’s Diaper Bag: Crunching Numbers

Posted in Don't Buy It!, Katie's Gallery, Polls, Contests and Giveaways! tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 11:42 pm by kdthreads

Bitty Baby - $45

(See post from August 26 for original article on this project.)

Here is the breakdown of the materials cost for this project:

Green Print, 1/2 yard @ $3.99/yd. = $2.00

Pink Plaid, 1/3 yard @ 2.99/yd. = $1.00

Cotton Batting, 20″ x 24″ = $1.88

Ric- Rac, 20″ = $.32

I couldn’t tell you the exact cost for threads and two buttons, but we will add this amount = $.20

Grand Total for Materials: $5.40

Baby accessories from Dollar Tree: $3.18 (incl. tax.)

Bitty Baby's Diaper Bag - $36

(Keep in mind, the need for quantity in the materials for this bag are small, I chose to buy new fabric, but I  could have made this without any of these costs.)

It did take me a few hours to turn this out, but I had fun, it is unique and Polly is happily mothering with her own special essentials.  Now, I am not the first person to think of this, am I?  Christmas is coming, with good planning, you can spend $8.58 instead of $36 (with shipping.)    How do you plan your projects so that you aren’t up all night on Christmas Eve or stressed out on Thanksgiving?  Share your experiences in the Comments section below!

August 26, 2010

For Little Mommies: A “play” Diaper Bag with all the Essentials

Posted in Katie's Gallery, Videos and Step-by-Step Tutorials tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 11:30 am by kdthreads

Baby Dear by Eloise Wilkin

When my nieces are blessed with a new sibling, I always try to make them a diaper bag with all the essentials for the “little mommy” to emulate the “big mommy.”  I do this for a number of reasons:

  • it softens the blow of being displaced by a newer, younger sibling.
  • it gives little ones something to do while mama is busy with the new arrival.
  • nurturing play is good play, and even my niece who never enjoyed dolls loved her diaper bag.
  • I grew up reading Baby Dear by Eloise Wilkin.
  • I love sewing for my nieces, and they love receiving!
  • The tote bag can be used for years to come, with or without the diapers.

Well, I am several months late on getting this bag to Polly.  She has been a big sister for eight months, and I even missed her birthday in July.  On the other hand, I am glad I got to be there when Polly received her diaper bag.  She actually didn’t look inside right away.  The bag went from my hands and over her shoulder where it stayed until her parents convinced her to let them help her look inside.  Oh the glee of a three year-old girl who receives a packet of real wipes for her own baby!  Like the supplies for the notefolios, I purchased the accessories for the diaper bag at the Dollar Tree.  They sell 2-packs of baby wipes that are half the size of regular wipes making them the PERFECT size for little mamas.  I also included 2 pink “piggy” food storage jars with matching spoon, and a bottle that has the disappearing  juice!  After I get measurements for “Baby Susu” she will get her own cloth diapers and covers and bibs.  (Baby Susu was accidentally left behind in Columbus!)  We did manage to find a stuffed dog to serve as baby doll, and Polly knew exactly what to do with her bag.  She giggled endlessly while she wiped the dog’s bottom and spooned food into his mouth.

Polly's diaper bag

I chose fabrics for her bag on the same shopping trip for the “notefolios.” (If you haven’t read that post yet, you may want to.)  I used batting to give the bag body, and I quilted the bag exterior.  I embroidered Polly’s name on the outside pocket and I appliqued a design from the main print onto the pocket as well.  Two buttons on the applique add charm., and ric-rac embellishes the seam joining the main fabric print to the accent plaid.  The plaid fabric I purchased was printed so that it would look as though it were on the bias, but it is faux!  Thus the bag holds its shape with all fabric on the grain, but the style of bias plaid.  (Read the post on Bias Tape if you do not know what I mean.)

The bag is lined in contrasting stripes, and I installed pockets on the inside for organizing supplies.  I did not install any closures, it is “open top.”  To assemble the bag, I used the same method I always use for totes.  The first few times I did this, I had to ask my mom to remind me as it is counter-intuitive, but I think that it is the easiest way to make a tote bag yielding polished results.  This is a fantastic for beginners and advanced sewers alike.  Beginners can make this as complicated as they want to learn new skills, and advanced sewers can learn the assembly method (if they don’t know it already) and enjoy the endless opportunity to install notions and other embellishments that are allowed on children’s items.

In addition to sewing and pressing basic seams, some of the techniques used in this project are:

  • quilting
  • rotary cutting
  • tote straps/handles
  • tote bag assembly
  • lining installation
  • pocket creation and installation (interior and exterior.)
  • machine applique
  • boxing corners
  • pivoting to turn corners on machine.
  • topstitching
  • french seams
  • sewing on buttons the right way!

Polly age 3 in aunt Katie's shoes with The Sak purse.

Now is a great time to begin this project and have it ready for Christmas morning.  I love when I am making a diaper bag that matches a sling, cradle bedding or doll clothes that make an exciting homemade gift.  If you or your husband are good with tools, think about making a cradle or crib and sewing a layette to go with it.  You can create pretend-play toys that your daughter will adore and you didn’t even need to pay the “Bitty Baby” price tag.  I still have the cradle set and bag my mom made for me when I was little, and since the things you sew yourself can always be repaired, these items become treasured heirlooms lovingly made by you.

Want the steps and videos for this project?  I will publish all the details for you to make this yourself after we reach our goal of 10 comments and 5 e-mail subscriptions.  (No cheating please.  One comment per reader.)

Katie’s Gifts for Little Girls

Posted in Katie's Gallery, Videos and Step-by-Step Tutorials tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 9:54 am by kdthreads

This one is my favorite

As a new blogger, I am learning the hard way how much time it actually takes to have and maintain a good blog.  Even though this is something I enjoy immensely, you all know that my last post was on August 4!  This is unacceptable, and for all of you who faithfully visit and have seen nothing but bias tape, I apologize.  The reason?  A grand invasion of all siblings, nieces and nephews on the Dickinson side!  That is 10 kids and 6 adults plus grandparents and our own family of 5.  In the future, I am going to need to plan ahead (what a concept) and write my posts ahead of time and set them up to auto-publish.

Now for the good news.  Between birthdays and “just because,” I did a lot of sewing.  While I was sewing, I took pictures and noted of all of my steps so I can pass them along to you!  But first things first: the inspiration behind the projects.

Lucy 8, Eleanor 7 and Mary 6 are my husband’s brother’s girls.  They live in Plano, Texas and this is the first we’ve seen them in two years.  They have a wonderful mom, Jenny, who is an architect (although now, full-time mama.)  Jenny has trained the girls write thankyou notes for everything they receive, and like all little girls, they love writing little notes and keeping their pens and notecards in their places.  When I decided to sew something for the girls to give them during their visit, I started out planning to sew pretty crayon or marker “roll-ups” and filling them with new supplies.  Then I went to the craft store to pick up said supplies, and saw the price tag.  My boys have received all recent crayon and marker boxes as gifts, so it has been a while since I purchased these.  Perhaps some of you know what I am talking about when I say that one box of Crayola Crayons times 3 is ridiculous (and I have never found generic crayons that aren’t junk.)

Plan B: tablet covers.  Tablets are cheap.  They should be $1 each or less.  Suddenly a vision of a little notebook cover with pen slots, velcro closure and quilted exterior jumped into my brain.  This would take a lot more time, but would cost less, and I think be more exciting than a glorified pencil-case. Thus, the “notefolio” was born.

The exterior of these organizers is quilted in a “diamond” pattern.  This is created by stitching lines running at 45 degree angles and spaced evenly.  The stitching lines run “corner-to-corner” and cross over each other.  Did all of that go over your head?  Never fear, the steps and videos are coming to save you. I used a layer of batting to give the quilting body, and Peltex interfacing is what makes the cover sturdy, but still washable.  (More on Peltex later.)

I only purchased 2 coordinating fabrics for each cover, and made my own bias binding for the edges.  I purchased clearance ribbon for the trim/closure, and all other embellishments, accent fabrics and the velcro came from my “stash.”  I would normally love to buy a yard, or at least a half-yard of fabric to have substantial leftovers to keep, but I had a budget, and just bought 1/3 yard of each print.  I went with Quilters’ Calico for this project.  Why?  It was on sale.  Otherwise I may have gone with home dec, bottomweight, twill, corduroy or whatever.  I would have used fabric I already owned, but I was having a bad day, and treated myself to a trip to the fabric store.  I didn’t need to put names or buttons or ric-rac on these, but I got carried away. 

I went to the Dollar Tree after I bought the fabric, and was shocked to find sets of pens that matched each color scheme perfectly.  I happened to have coordinating paper clips, glue sticks and homemade notecards to match, and these turned into sweet little correspondence kits the girls loved receiving, and I am looking forward to receiving all their little notes.

Lucy and Eleanor opening gifts from Aunt Katie

All told, each notefolio cost totaled: $4 plus odds and ends from my desk.  How long did they take?  The first one took over 4 hours as I was planning as I went along.  The last two took less than 2 hours sewing both using assembly line organization for the steps (quilt both, pockets on both, etc.)  These could be done in less time, but I really wanted to over-do the details (you can on kids’ projects,) and these girls take excellent care of all their things, so putting time into the quality is not in vain.

Want the steps for this project?  I am going to publish them for free, but there is a catch!  I will only post them after I have 10 comments on this post.  (No cheating please.  One comment per reader.)

August 4, 2010

Updated Pages!

Posted in Assemble Your Sewing Notebook, Sewing 101 tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 3:06 pm by kdthreads

Check out the “Meet Me” and “Online Printables” pages for new information, photos and files for your sewing notebook!

August 3, 2010

Sewing Vocabulary:Bias Tape or Bias Binding

Posted in Q & A from You!, Sewing 101 tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 10:39 pm by kdthreads

Simplicity Creative Group

For everyone who read the last post and either emailed me or thought about emailing me to ask: “What on earth is bias tape and what do you mean by quilting?”  I am here with answers!

Q: What is bias tape?

A: To understand the concept of “bias” we need to back up and establish how fabric is created.  The method used to transform the threads into material is just as important for a seamstress to know as the source of the fibers themselves.  Almost all fabric is created in one of two ways: woven or knit*.  There can be endless variations of weaving and knitting giving us things like: twill, terry cloth loop, loose weave, double-knit, cable knit, stretch knit and the list goes on.  When we are talking about bias, we are working with woven fabric, not knit.

Woven fabric is made on looms.  Small, hand operated looms are generally made of wood and each project is unique.  The size of the loom limits the size of the creation.  This is why most commercial fabrics we purchase are made in factories on mechanical looms that are wide enough to accommodate 45″-60″ inches of width (or more) and endless yardage.  The first threads on the loom are referred to as the warp.  These are the foundation threads that run vertically.  The horizontal threads that interlock with the warp are called weft. Sewers (in the US) generally refer to the warp as the grain and the weft the cross-grain. The grain(warp) generally has little or no “give” or stretch.  This means if you attempt to stretch the warp threads they won’t.  The weft is the opposite, it does have some “give” to it.

So what is the bias?  Bias refers to the diagonal direction of the weave.  I am not implying there is a third set of threads that run corner-to-corner in the warp and weft (though there can be, but that is a different issue!) If you have a square piece of woven fabric and you take opposite corners and pull, your fabric will suddenly stretch and curl around the tension.

Photo Credit

Q: So how is the bias used?

Understanding weave, grain and bias are essential to manipulating fabrics and for garment construction.  Commercial patterns will include an arrow on every piece indicating how to orient this piece onto the weave before cutting.  (Generally, the arrow is meant to run parallel with the grain.) Perfecting lining up your pattern cuts with the grain takes patience, but it is the difference between your work looking sloppy and “home sewn” instead of thoughtful and polished.  A video tutorial explaining how to do this is in the making.

Stretching fabric on the bias creates fluidity and the garment (or other item)  is enhanced by movement and will follow  curves with less need for adjusting.  The art of cutting dress pieces using the bias instead of grain for the center-front became popular in the 1930’s.  All of those slinky satin dresses worn by Hollywood starlet’s began the acceptance of bias-cut in the fashion world.  Using pieces in

photo credit

which raw edges are on the bias require extra steps to prevent loss of shape due to the stress on the warp and weft. When piecing quilt blocks incorporating triangles, inevitably, a raw edge cut on the bias is involved.  Consult a quilting book, website or blog to find out which seams can be made with bias edges, and which seams MUST be grain.  a quilt with bias cut raw edges (particularly along the quilt or block perimeter) will result in an uneven, wonkified mess.

Q: What is bias tape and bias binding?

I think it makes more sense to refer to bias tape as bias strips.  Bias tape and binding can be purchased ready-made in either the packaged notions section or the by-the-yard section.  Strips of fabric cut on the bias are infinitely useful in finishing techniques on garments, home dec items, and quilting.  These strips are made using the diagonal of the grain as a guide.  These strips can be cut in any width and are generally folded twice lengthwise: once in half, and then opened and folding so that outer edges of the strip meet in the center fold creating a thick “tape” with no raw edges visible.  These strips are extremely flexible and easy to manipulate.  If your original fabric was a stripe or plaid, your bias tape will add more visual interest.  I prefer to cut my own bias strips.  For small amounts of tape, I may lay out my fabric and use a rotary cutter and ruler to make several cuts across the fabric giving me many short strips that need to be sewn together to make one longer piece.  For a big project (like making 50 yards of cording for an upholstery project) I would follow instructions for what is called “continuous bias tape.”  In other words, a method that is time-consuming, but results in one, endless strip with no pieces to sew together.  The instructions to do this should be in every person’s sewing room.

Rosalie Quinlan Designs

Bias tape and binding are basically the same thing, the difference between them is how they are used.  Bias binding is made of bias tape.  Bias binding means using the tape in its folded state  to wrap around other fabric in order to conceal raw edges, or hold multiple layers of fabric together (or both.)  At times, bias binding is applied merely to add stability: satin binding on a baby blanket.   Any clothing that has interior seams covered in fabric is most likely bias binding (and a sign of good quality.)  The cording, piping or welting you see along the edges of pillows and sofa cushions is comprised of standard poly/cotton cord covered in bias tape.   Some pattern instructions may call for bias tape to be sewn on as a casing for elastic, or to hide a hem on the inside of a garment.  When a project calls for bias tape as an embellishment or trim, opt to make your own out of fabric of your choice.  Commercially made bias trims are not made of highest quality fabrics and will take away from the appearance.

Understanding grain, bias, and how to make and use bias tape are not topics to be skimmed as your sewing skills advance.  Working with a fabric’s weave will make all the difference in every project and you will be thankful to have  bias tape handy in your sewing room to resolve many situations.  Plotting and cutting large quantities of bias strips is time consuming and tedious work with nowhere near the satisfaction of assembling a pair of shorts.  But that’s sewing and it’s worth it.

For more information, MaCall’s Quilting has a simple but thorough page on binding and preparing a quilt for binding.  Resources for quilt blocks and information on piecing bias edges are available as well.

Photo Credit

July 29, 2010

Four Videos to Expand Your Sewing Expertise

Posted in Sewing 101, Videos and Step-by-Step Tutorials tagged , , , , , , at 12:52 am by kdthreads

Photo: Husqvarna Viking USA

Even if you do not own a Husqvarna Viking sewing machine or serger, I recommend clicking here to view their four accessory demos.  These tutorials cover the Quilter’s Hoop, Adjustable Bias Binder Foot, Clear-view S-Foot and Chenille Foot.  These pieces may be far outside your skill, desire or financial realm, but watching these videos will further introduce new sewers to terms, techniques and equipment while experienced sewers can add to their repertoire.  Many other brands of machine offer accessories that perform the same functions, but I find HV the most user- friendly.

By the way, if you are thinking these tools are of no use to you, think again!  Whether you are using a $5,000 machine with magic feet or your own two hands, a seamstress should be as confident with quilting and bias binding as a carpenter with nails and glue.  Quilting is not just for bedspreads, but is a beautiful way to create purses, jackets, baby clothes, kitchen linens and energy-efficient draperies.  Bias binding is an easy way to professionally finish interior apparel seams, blanket and quilt edges, diaper covers, and just about anything else that requires a stable, polished edge.  FYI, it is easy to sew bias binding and end up with a sloppy result.  Sewing binding by hand is the most accurate, but that is time consuming on a Queen-sized quilt and impractical on reusable diaper wraps.  This accessory foot makes neatness and quality attainable in half the time.

Chenille technically refers to several strips of fabric stacked and sewn through the layers with edges frayed for a soft effect.  Chenille may make you think of fuzzy slippers, but this is one easy way to create your own textile.  Layering cotton homespun (or any loose weave) of different colors and patterns will make your chenille variegated, while identical layers create a solid color.  Homemade chenille makes cozy Christmas stockings, baby toys and even your own bathmats!

The Clear View S-Foot is great for those times you need to line up markings or fabric detail in the center of the foot instead of the side of the foot or seam allowance guides.  The foot’s name is just a different way of saying “a clear plastic foot you can see through” as opposed to a solid metal one where you can’t.  I am on the fence as to the need for this accessory, but this tutorial does expose you to “Omni Motion” or decorative stitches.  Notice the cuffs on the instructor’s sleeves; she embroidered three rows of different white on white OM stitches.

If you own a machine, and you need to break out a screwdriver every time you want to change feet, you will be amazed at the “snap-on” foot feature on these machines!

July 23, 2010

Filling the Dressmaker’s Tool Chest

Posted in Sewing 101 tagged , , , , , , , at 12:09 am by kdthreads

It will not take you long (or cost much money) to gather the basic tools needed for sewing. (If you did not view the videos on sewing tools, do so now!) As your skill set and confidence level grows, your tool kit will probably grow too. The notions wall in the fabric store can seem like a disorganized, intimidating mess tucked away so no one has to help you! If you do not have an experienced sewer to bring along or a quilt shop in your area that sells supplies, read on and familiarize yourself with these products.

A Word About Sewing Baskets

If you are like me, part of your sewing dreams included a sewing basket, tastefully adorned, and practically a time machine transporting you to an era of simplicity and elegance. Unfortunately, these darling icons of homemaking are not practical. They are generally too small and are not configured to house the tools for the job. Even if you are only doing some hand sewing and want to keep a minimal amount of tools, the basket won’t be big enough to hold your project, or secure enough to keep pets or children out. If you are taking sewing out with you, a storage device that keeps your tools locked up and protected from any weather are both a must. I had a lovely sewing basket (a grandmother’s) carefully placed on the floor the the foot well of my car, but after a winding road and slamming on the brakes, I had 250 glass-head pins strewn around the car. I spent my day searching for pins with a flashlight and a magnet instead of sewing.

At the same time you create a budget and plan for purchasing/acquiring your supplies, also decide on your organizing. If you do not have a sewing machine and plan on hand sewing, maybe you could designate a sewing “chair” under a good lamp next to an endtable with storage space. If you have a machine and a place for it to stay out permanently, store your supplies there in drawer unit (either clear plastic type, or a desk or dresser.) If your sewing supplies need to be portable, try a large toolbox or bag from the hardware store. A plastic container with clip-on lids with a handle makes it easy to see inside and come in multiple sizes. A favorite place of mine for drawer dividers and tiny baskets (made for things like cosmetics) is the Dollar Tree. My main sewing toolbox is actually a miniature cleaning caddy on a table, and I have wooden racks for storing thread. Most of these items are plain, functional, “Made in China” boxes and no where near as sweet as a basket, but with your new skills and wealth of knowledge your creations will be so beautiful you will forget about the lure of the sewing basket.

Shopping List :