Category Archives: sewing

DIY portable ironing pad

A solid 50% of my private sewing students do not own an iron or ironing board…true story! (I was shocked at first, until I realized that the only time I use MY iron is when I’m sewing…not to iron my actual clothes!)

So I found myself toting an iron and mini ironing board to my lessons. This quickly became tedious and unpleasant, and so I switched to a makeshift canvas/muslin combo that was effective, but both unattractive and unwieldy.

Obviously I needed something more convenient and prettier…and here we are!

 

DIY portable ironing pad

 

The truth is, I need this in my home sewing room just as much as I need it when I work with my students in their homes! My ironing board just isn’t big enough for most things I need to press; so I end up using an old towel/scrap muslin combination that is truly hideous. Now I don’t have to!

If you have the type of sewing space that doubles as something else (the dining room, someone’s office, the guest room, etc.), then maybe you’ll find this useful as well!

 

step 1: gather materials

 

materials needed for diy portable ironing pad

 

You only need four things for this project, and you probably have three of them already! I cut my fabric 21″ x 32″, because that’s the size of my cutting table. I made the edges curved because I’m extra like that. ūüôā Make yours any size you like!

The backing: I used terrycloth, but any cotton fabric would work, too.

The batting: I used a layer of Insul-Bright, which is a fluffy, insulating interlining that is used for potholders and coolers and such. If you’re worried about heat or steam damage to the surface underneath your mat, you might want to use a second layer of this, or another layer of something absorbent/heat resistant between this and the backing.

The top layer: I have this vintage red and white ticking that I adore (and that I love to paint on), which I thought would be perfect for this project. Ticking is technically “utility fabric” (most often used on mattresses and such), so it feels very appropriate for an ironing surface. Plus I just like the look of it. As long as you pick something 100% cotton with a smooth finish (nothing with pile or a shine to it), you’re good to go!

The binding: I used extra wide, double-fold bias tape to finish the edges. (Take note in step 3 if you want to skip the binding…)

 

step 2: draw quilting lines

 

ticking marked in 45 degree squares

 

I love me a good windowpane check, so naturally that’s the design I wanted to quilt into the pad. I do a lot of drawing on fabric, and¬†two of my essential tools are a clear ruler and my Frixion pens/highlighters. The highlighters make an excellently bright line to serve as a stitching guide, but will disappears under a hot iron when I’m done stitching.

It does not matter how you quilt the layers together…you could even do just one giant stitch down the middle in each direction. But do some kind of stitching to hold all three (or more) layers together, so your interlining isn’t shifting around in there all willy-nilly.

 

step 3: pin & stitch all three layers together

 

three layers of the ironing pad stacked and pinned together

 

Sandwich your Insul-Bright between the ticking and the terrycloth, and spend some time making all three layers smooth and even. With the lines 6″ apart, it was easy and convenient to leave the pins in while I stitched on the orange lines. If you’re afraid of sticking yourself, use safety pins instead.

If you want to skip the binding, only quilt your top layer and the Insul-Bright together, and leave your backing separate! You can then sew the backing onto your quilted top with right sides together, and then turn the whole thing right side out. Close up the hole with a hand stitch or a simple edgestitch on the machine. Done!

 

step 4: trim and baste

 

trim excess fabric after quilting

 

Once you’re done quilting (and ironing away the lines you drew), it is very likely that the edges of your fabrics will no longer meet. That is okay, we are just going to trim until they are nice and neat and matching again!

Don’t worry if you have to trim both your backing (the terrycloth in my case) AND the top layer (the ticking). Just make sure all the edges are matching exactly.

 

baste all layers together very close to the raw edge

Next, you’ll want to baste the layers together, very close to your newly-trimmed edge.¬† You might even find you’ll need to trim AGAIN after basting…that is totally okay.¬† This will make the binding step much easier!

(p.s. basting just means use a long, straight stitch to hold something together temporarily. In this case, it is holding the layers together so that they do not move during the next step.)

 

step 5: apply binding

 

bias binding pinned to quilted ironing pad

 

I hope you don’t cheat when you apply bias binding by just slipping the binding over the edge and topstitching…! The right way (and the easier way, honestly) is to unfold one fold of the bias tape, and pin it right sides together with the thing you are binding. Make sure the raw edges match exactly.

When making the ends meet, make sure you fold over the beginning spot just a bit and pin it it place. Then fold down the end on top of it. This ensures that no raw edges of the bias tape will be peeking out when you’re finished.

 

end of bias tape folded down over the beginning for a clean finish.

 

When you start sewing on your bias tape, you will stitch directly into that first crease…it is usually about 3/8″ from the edge, sometimes as much as 1/2″.¬† DO NOT start where the ends of the bias tape overlap, but rather slightly below that spot…where I have the double pins in an “X” shape in the image above.

Why? Bias tape can very easily stretch as you sew (regardless of the shape or size of the thing you’re sewing it on to).¬† If that happens,¬† you will want to be able to adjust the tape at the end, to eliminate any bulges or buckles that may have appeared along the way.

 

step 6: finishing topstitch

 

finished bias binding on edge of ironing pad

 

Once you’ve stitched down the bias tape, you will wrap it around to enclose the raw edge of the pad, and pin the other fold to the back of the pad. You might have to fiddle with it if your pad is very thick (I used very thick terrycloth so mine took some wrangling). Then, you’ll want to topstitch the bias tape in place from the front, making sure that your stitch catches the fold of the bias tape on the back.

While I’m pinning the bias tape for this last step, I like to test it as I go, using a pin to imitate what my machine needle will do, making sure the pin goes through the fold of the bias tape on the back.

And you’re done! Now you have an easily portable ironing pad you can use anywhere in your sewing studio, whether you have to pack up your sewing gear after every project or not. Having the right tools always makes sewing easier and more fun!

 

 

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new year’s resolution sewing

This is the year you finally learn to sew! Don’t worry, I’m going to help you.

private in-home sewing lessons in Washington DC

Maybe learning to sew is your new year’s resolution, or maybe it’s finishing that one project, or learning to sew better.

You’re going to be able to do all of the above with my expert guidance, so this is one resolution you can consider done.

 

learn to make garments using commercial sewing patterns

 

For the month of January, I’m having a big sale on all my private sewing lesson packages – from 25% to 33% off!

Since your lessons never expire, now is a great time to stock up at this awesome price, and then enjoy your private sewing lessons all year, on your own schedule, at your own pace, and in your own home.

Unlike learning in a group setting, or having to travel to a studio, the in-home private sewing lessons I offer are all about you: completely tailored to your individual sewing interests, experience, and time constraints.

Click here to see all the lesson packages, and purchase the one that’s best for you.

 

Gutermann thread all in a row!

 

Not sure how much time you’ll need for what you have in mind? Just contact me and we can figure it out together. You won’t be able to find a better deal on private sewing lessons in the DC area.

The sale ends January 31, so don’t miss out!

 

 

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DIY domino-style mask

Are you one of those people who has already finished their Halloween costume (handmade, obviously), have already posted multiple Instagram pics, and have already RSVP’d to all the events and parties that will be graced with your presence (and your awesome costume)?

Then this post is not for you!

I made this tutorial and pattern download for people like me…you love the idea of an amazing costume, but somehow it never comes to fruition…

(I can’t tell you how many elaborate plans I’ve made for awesome costumes that never happened…Ursula, Calypso, Bellatrix, Eartha Kitt-style Catwoman…sigh.)

free pdf pattern and tutorial for a domino-style mask

Don’t fret, my friend! Download my domino-style mask pattern and make yourself a costume that is super-simple but also awesome. Just pair your finished mask with simple clothes you already have!

I made mine in an Italian Carnivale style, but the pattern is so simple, you could do pretty much anything with it. You could use primary colors (or solid black) for a super-hero style mask. You could use feathers or fur for some kind of animal costume. Or, if you’re going for creepy and scary rather than shiny and pretty, switch out all the gold trims for spiders, bats, or fake scars.

If you want to make one like mine, there’s only a few steps!

 

step 1: gather fabric & trims

materials to make my domino mask - felt, black ribbon and gold trims

 

I used felt for my mask, but you could use any type of fabric! If your fabric is very flimsy, you might consider a layer of interfacing as well.

My theme was red and gold, so all my trims and decorations are gold: ribbon, ric rac, netting, embroidery floss, metallic thread, and glass beads.

You’ll also want ribbon or elastic to keep your mask in place while you wear it. I chose black ribbon for the ties, since the lining of my mask is also black.

 

step 2: cut 2 masks

front and back of mask in red and black felt

 

I chose black fabric as the back of my mask, but there’s no reason both layers can’t be the same color. Just remember whatever you choose as the lining will be rubbing against your face all night, so choose carefully!

Click here to download the PDF pattern, and remember to set scaling to “none” when you print…otherwise the mask might come out a little too small. The pattern includes a 1″ test square to make sure you get the scaling right!

 

step 3: decorate the front & attach ribbon ties

red felt mask with gold embellishments

 

This is the fun part! Stitch on whatever you’d like to decorate your mask. I used the metallic thread to sew on the gold trims on one half of my mask. For the other side, I used embroidery floss to stitch in little asterisk-style stars, with a little gold bead in the center of each.

Since I wanted a Carnivale look (but I don’t have any feathers), I used gold netting instead. These were tulle circles meant for bridal favors (I have no idea why they are in my stash…these things happen to me sometimes), that I folded into a fan shape.

Remember, anything you want to stick out of the edge of your finished mask has to be stitched so that it is facing inwards:

decorated mask with ribbon ties and tulle accents added

That way, once you sew on the back, and turn the whole thing right-side-out, your ribbon ties and other embellishments will be facing the right way.

Also: remember your seam allowance! Keep all your embellishments away from the edge of the mask, so you don’t risk sewing over them in the next step!

 

step 4: sew front and back together

mask with black lining pinned in place

 

With right sides facing, pin and stitch the front and back of your mask together, all the way around the outside edge, using a 1/4″ seam allowance.

Make sure to back stitch over the ends of your ribbon ties/elastic to reinforce those stress points.

Trim the seam allowance all the way around. Gently turn your mask right side out through one of the eye holes, being careful not to damage any of your fancy embellishments.

 

step 5: finish the eye holes

mask turned right side out, the eye holes don't match!

 

Once you’ve turned your mask right side out, you’ll need to carefully finger-press, and then press with an iron.

You might find that a bit of your lining fabric is showing through the eye holes. No worries! Just baste the edges of the eye holes together, keeping your stitch close to the edge of the front fabric, and then trim the rest off.

 

trimmed eye holes

 

If you like the way this stitch looks, you can leave it at that. In fact, you might want to do this step with a decorative hand-stitch with embroidery floss, depending on the look you’re going for.

I wanted more glitter and shine, so I finished my eye holes with more metallic thread. I used the widest and shortest zig zag stitch on my machine, and stitched two layers, since the metallic thread is so thin.

Your machine might have a satin stitch which achieves essentially the same look. Try out both on a bit of scrap fabric to see which one you like best!

Note: metallic thread is easiest to use when you also have needles especially for metallic thread (they have larger eyes). I cheated though, and used my size 90 universal needle. I figure this is for a costume, it’s not that serious. BUT you will definitely want to slow down while you sew with metallic thread; it can break easily if it is subjected to too much friction!

finished Italian Carnivale style mask in red and gold

There you have it friends, an easy, low-stress way to have a handmade costume, for Halloween or any masquerade event. Happy sewing and trick-or-treating!

 

 

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bad sewing habits that are making your life harder

So much of successful sewing is muscle memory…experience and practice makes all the difference! So you can imagine how repeating bad habits can make your sewing more frustrating than it needs to be.

No matter how long you’ve been sewing, you can improve your work by breaking some bad habits. If you’re still new to the craft, now is the time to develop good habits, so make sure you don’t fall into these traps!

 

bad habit #1: you’re looking at the needle

 

keep your eye on the seam allowance line, not the needle

The absolute bedrock of sewing properly is learning to keep your seam allowances even. Without this skill (which is more than just sewing in a straight line!), whatever you’re making can end up the wrong size or the wrong shape.

If your stitch lines are wobbly, or your seam allowances are not uniform, you might be looking at the needle when you sew, rather than where your eyes should be: on the seam allowance line.

Looking at the needle gives you no information; how can you know what the edge of the fabric is doing, if you’re not looking at it? Your eye should be fixed on the edge of the fabric, right at the front of the presser foot, so you know your fabric is being fed into the needle properly, and at the correct seam allowance.

Use a bit of brightly colored tape to mark your seam allowance, and help your eye stay trained where it should be. Painter’s tape or electrical tape is great for this!

 

bad habit #2: you’re too grabby with your fabric

 

don't be grabby with your fabric!

 

No matter what fabric you’re using, or what you’re making, you should never be pushing the fabric into the needle, or pulling it from the behind the needle.

(Every stitch behind the needle is already done, you can’t change it! Worry about the fabric being fed into the needle.)

You should use the lightest possible touch on your fabric, and only touch it as much as you need to in order to keep everything under control.

Your hands don’t need to be any closer to the needle than shown above, and if you do have to nudge your fabric to the left or right to keep your seam allowance even, you should do so gently and slowly, while you’re still sewing (as in, don’t stop and re-position your fabric, correct while you stitch). In other words: no yanking, no pulling, no pushing, no being grabby with the fabric!

 

bad habit #3: you’re disrespecting the grain

don't disrespect the grain of the fabric

 

Understanding, respecting, and sometimes manipulating the grain of fabric can actually be a fairly complex discussion. Without getting too involved, I can say that at the very least you should be careful of the grain when cutting your fabric!

If you’re using a pattern, it likely has a grain line marked on it, in the form of an arrow. Sometimes these arrows are labeled “grain” or “straight grain,” and sometimes not.

Use this line to orient your pattern properly on your fabric, with the grain line parallel to the selvedge edge. Don’t just eyeball it, though! Get out your trusty clear ruler and make sure it really is straight: line up a line on the ruler with the selvedge, and make sure the grain line on the pattern also lines up with the ruler, and you’ll be good to go.

If you’re not using a pattern, think about what part of the thing you’re making would require the strongest part of the fabric. What part of it would require the fabric to give a little bit? That’s how you can decide what should be cut on the straight grain (parallel to the selvedge and most often the stiffest and strongest fibers), vs the cross-wise grain (perpendicular to the selvedge and often a bit stretchier than the straight grain).

Cutting on the bias (diagonally) produces the most stretch, which in many cases you want to avoid at all costs, but sometimes can actually produce a very cool effect!

If you aren’t paying attention to the grain, however, you can’t effectively control your fabric, and you might be (unpleasantly) surprised by how your fabric behaves, and what your finished product looks like!

 

bad habit #4: you’re being lazy about pressing

before finger-pressing

Nobody likes ironing…but ironing and pressing is critical for sewing success! Ironing your fabric before you start (and sometimes your pattern, too!), pressing seams open, and using heat to shape fabric are just some ways that your iron goes a long way in making your life easier, and your sewing more successful.

But one part of pressing you might not have thought much about is the idea of finger-pressing. It is exactly what it sounds like: using your fingers as if they are little tiny irons, and flattening out seams and such before you apply your hot iron. It makes a huge difference!

The little wallet above has been turned right side out, but I did not do any finger-pressing.  After spending a little time getting the seams open and flat with my fingers, it looks like this:

 

after finger pressing

Even before any heat gets anywhere near it, it’s much flatter already!

The reason finger-pressing is worth it and is in fact critical is that without it, you’ll be pressing in creases you don’t want. You’ll never have sharp corners or even edges without finger-pressing, and it makes your final project look nice, neat, and finished. It also makes sure it ends up the right size and shape.

It only takes a minute, don’t skip this step!

 

bad habit #5: you’re skipping the interfacing

with and without interfacing

 

Of course, not every sewing project ever requires interfacing. But so many do require it, and so many would really benefit from it!

Interfacing is what gives a tote bag it’s shape, keeps collars from looking floppy, keeps waistlines from twisting and stretching out of shape, and many other miracles. It stabilizes fabric and can make it stiffer, stronger, smoother, and easier to sew.

Choosing the right interfacing for your project depends on lots of factors, but the bottom line is to think about what your final product should look like. I chose a lightweight, woven, fusible interfacing for the inside of the little wallet shown above on the right (Pellon SF 101, my favorite), because I want it to be able to sit up by itself, and stand up to repeated use.

The one on the left is actually made with heavier weight fabric, but without interfacing…you see how it won’t stand up by itself, and how it doesn’t have crisp edges, even after pressing.

Skipping interfacing can change the look of your final product, and make the fabric wear out faster!

 

Any other bad habits you’ve formed over the years, or good habits you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

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5 sewing tools to upgrade ASAP

Like so many other hobbies, there’s lots of stuff associated with sewing. How do you know you have the right stuff? Is having the wrong stuff making your sewing life harder?

There are so many different tools and notions out there, and anyone who’s been sewing for a while will have plenty of opinions on what’s best, I’m sure. But I believe there is a very short list of stuff you absolutely need as a sewing beginner.

This list is about the five sewing tools I think you’ll need to upgrade right away, as in, as soon as you decide to buy a machine and go for it!

 

upgrade your scissors!

upgrade your sewing scissors!

First of all, whatever you currently use as sewing scissors, I hope you are treating them with reverence! You know you should never use your sewing scissors to cut anything but fabric, right???

Now that we’ve got that IRONCLAD RULE out of the way…your beginner sewing kit probably came with a pair of lightweight scissors that look kind of like the red-handled ones above, yes?

These are not good enough. Time to upgrade! Why? They will not keep a sharp edge well, they get nicks and scratches easily, and they are too lightweight to cut much of anything very well.

Pretty much any company that makes sewing notions will also make scissors, and they will probably be fine. Fiskars and Mundial are both brands I’ve used and loved. Treat them right (and get them sharpened when they need it), and you’ll be good!

(Don’t toss your cheap scissors, keep them around to cut paper and other stuff, and you’ll never be tempted to use your good scissors for something you shouldn’t!)

When you’re ready for another upgrade, you’re going to want to get a pair of Ginghers. What makes them the best? They hold a sharp edge like nothing I’ve ever used before (mine are four years old and have never been sharpened, and they are still sharp enough to cut my finger!), and they are heavy enough to slice through just about anything!

you will need a pair of tiny embroidery scissors or thread nippers, too!

You’re also going to want a pair of tiny embroidery scissors or thread nippers (yes, I have three pairs…don’t judge me). These are essential, not just for cutting thread ends, but for getting into tiny corners and other awkward spots. You will absolutely need a tiny pair of scissors for something like installing a welt zipper.

All sewing scissors come in a variety of styles and lengths, and what’s best is going to be whatever feels best in your hand. The most important thing is to get a good pair that will keep its edge, and then treat them with reverence!

 

upgrade your pins!

upgrade your pins!

Just like the scissors, your sewing kit probably came with a small set that seem perfectly fine. Or maybe you bought your sewing notions separately, not as part of a kit, and you went with the least expensive pins because why not? Aren’t they all the same? Nope.

The pins on the far left above are the cheap ones I started out with. ¬†These are not good enough. Time to upgrade! Why? The cheap pins are too short, too large (they will put large holes in your fabric), and are not very sharp. You’re going to want to immediately upgrade to something with a longer, thinner shaft and a sharper point!

Quilting pins (the ones with bright yellow heads) are the ones I recommend to my students who are new to sewing. They are very long (1 5/8″), have a very strong shaft, and a nicely sharp point. The bright yellow heads mean that you are unlikely to lose them in your fabric or on your sewing table.

The pearlized pins are the ones I use the most, they are a great all-purpose pin! The pretty, shiny heads make them easy to spot, and they are nearly 1.5″ long. Perfect for most fabrics and most projects.

The last three types of pins above are all glass-head pins. The glass heads are heat resistant, so that means you can iron over them/close to them without fear of a meltdown! They are essential when I am making neckties and need to press all those folds in place.

my pin cushion with all my favorite pins

They are also thinner than my regular pins, so I use them on finer fabrics (the blue ones are extra-fine). The blue/white headed ones are the same length (just over 1.25″), and the orange ones are nearly 2″ long.

You can see the four types I regularly use in my pin cushion, above. The pearlized pins get the most use, I use the quilting pins for thick and heavy fabrics, and the glass head pins for thinner fabrics, and when I need to press over something.

You might also want ball-point pins if you work with knits, or silk pins (aka dressmaker pins…the ones without heads) if you use lots of silk or other very finely woven fabrics.

 

 

upgrade your marking tools!

upgrade to tailor's chalk!

 

Your sewing kit probably came with something called a fabric pencil or a fabric marker. Just toss them in the garbage right now, they are not good enough.

Time to upgrade! Why? The awful fabric pencils do not mark on all fabrics (or on anything very well), and they are practically impossible to sharpen without crumbling. The so-called “washable” or “disappearing” markers do not always wash out or fade away like they are supposed to! Also, the markers tend to bleed to the right side of the fabric…boo.

Like most sewing notions, there are seemingly a million options for marking tools. My favorite is the old-fashioned tailor’s chalk – it marks on anything, and it always washes out (or sometimes even brushes away).

The red and gray tools above are Clover brand chaco liners, which have powdered tailor’s chalk inside, and a little gear-like edge that make an incredibly sharp line. I love them.

The blue triangle is your traditional tailor’s chalk, and the white rectangle is wax tailor’s chalk. White wax chalk will easily iron away on most fabrics, so I use it when I want to mark on the right side of fabric (FYI colored wax does not usually iron away)!

 

erasable pen and regular pencil as sewing tools

 

Another great tool is the Pilot brand FriXion pens, which are erasable ink pens. They just so happen to disappear on fabric with a hot iron, so they are also great when you need to mark on the right side of fabric! I use them when I sketch out my favorite chevron wave pattern on fabric too light for the white wax chalk. Beware however, that if the ink sits too long (like overnight), it might not iron away.

Finally, don’t forget the humble graphite pencil. A regular old pencil works wonderfully on lots of different types of fabric, and you can get them incredibly sharp when you need to make very fine marks.

No matter what type of marking tool you use, remember to always mark on the wrong side of the fabric. If you must mark the right side, always test your marking tool on a scrap bit of fabric before you commit.

 

upgrade your measuring tools!

a collection of measuring tools for sewing

 

This is less of an upgrade and more of an addition.  The tape measure and seam gauge your sewing kit came with are essential tools you will use constantly throughout your sewing career.

But, you will find different types of tools make different measuring jobs easier. You might end up with a massive collection of different types of measuring tools, but right off the bat you’re going to need some type of clear ruler.

Drafting patterns, altering patterns, accurately pinning patterns to fabric, cutting fabric with a rotary cutter, and marking fabric are just some of the jobs that are easier with a clear ruler.

These come in a dizzying array of sizes and shapes, but the ones I use the most are the 3″ x 18″ and the 6″ x 24.” I like the Omnigrid brand, because they have the bright yellow markings and the diagonal lines, but there are plenty of options. What’s important is that you can see through the ruler, and that the measurements (at least to the 8th of an inch) are clearly marked.

 

 

upgrade your iron!

upgrade your iron!

Nobody likes to iron…but ironing and pressing is essential to sewing success. You might as well have an iron that makes the job easier!

You might have already owned an awesome iron before you started sewing, in which case you can skip this part! But if you only bought an iron and ironing board since you learned to sew, you might have been tempted to get a cheap one, not knowing why an iron could possibly cost $100, and what difference it could possibly make.

Here’s why the $15 irons aren’t good enough: they are too light weight, they don’t get hot enough, and they don’t get steamy enough. Time to upgrade!

This is why I love my shiny Black & Decker iron shown above. It is incredibly heavy, it gets blazing hot (like really hot), produces lots of steam, and it is less than $30 on Amazon!

The other brand I own and love is Rowenta, but even the nicest Rowenta I’ve ever had is nowhere near as heavy as the Black & Decker (yes I own and use multiple irons!).

The mini irons are not at all essential…but I like having the small one (the one in the middle), when I want to press¬†inside one of my handbags. Mine is from Conair, and it obviously isn’t very heavy, but produces a good amount of steam, considering it’s small size!

(The tiny one doesn’t get that hot, and I honestly don’t use it much, but isn’t it so cute???)

 

I hope you’ve found this useful! Having the right tools makes doing just about anything easier, but especially sewing! Particularly if you are new to sewing, you want to do everything you can to make learning easier and success more likely.

Please share in the comments your favorite tools, or best upgrade to your sewing kit!

 

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it’s not the tension: troubleshooting steps to get your sewing back on track

In the last several years, I have taught hundreds (thousands?) of people the basics of sewing, and helped many of them improve their skills beyond the beginner level.

I’ve seen a lot of frustration with bent needles, dull scissors, stubborn fabric, and the myriad other woes that sewers of all experience levels regularly must deal with.

What I have NOT seen a lot of is incorrect tension. Often when something goes wrong, the first thing you want to do is mess with the tension dial. Y’all LOVE to fiddle with that little dial! But guess what: 99% of the time, it’s not the tension.

 

snarled bobbin thread

 

Once you have the tension set properly, you will rarely have to change it. I don’t remember the last time I adjusted the tension on my Viking, and I sew on denim, leather, jersey, shantung, tweed, satin, linen, and so much more.

Next time something goes wrong with your sewing (the stitches look weird…the thread is nesting underneath the fabric…the fabric is bunching up…the machine makes a scary noise…if anything at all goes wrong), I want you to consider these problems first before you even think about messing with the tension!

 

problem #1: your machine is threaded incorrectly

 

Friends, the truth is this: whenever something goes wrong with your sewing machine, it’s probably the threading. In fact, it’s probably the bobbin. I know what you’re thinking.

Valerie, I’m not some kind of *noob* I think I know how to thread a machine!

I know you do. But still: check the threading. Just because it looks right doesn’t mean that the thread is hooked around every little hook, and sliding into every little groove inside the machine. Re-thread the machine, and you will see it’s just like re-booting your computer. Suddenly whatever was wrong is now fixed!

The biggest trouble area is the bobbin. For top loading machines, your bobbin thread should be making a diagonal line across the bobbin like this:

 

correctly threaded top-loading bobbin

 

That diagonal line is how you know you’ve done it right. The same is true for front-loading machines, but of course you can’t see it. Here’s a tutorial for threading a front-loading bobbin.

Additional threading tips:

  • always thread your machine with the presser foot UP
  • always leave a long tail of thread after finishing a stitch (snip threads away from the machine)
  • always lift your bobbin thread through the hole in the throat plate (as seen above)…don’t just pop your bobbin in and start sewing.

Okay, you’ve double and triple-checked the threading path…but are you putting the right type of thread in your machine?

 

problem #2: you are using the wrong thread

 

Patterns and tutorials rarely mention thread. But choosing the right thread is just as important as choosing the right fabric! Your thread, fabric, and needle all have to be working together properly for successful and drama-free sewing!

Like fabric, there are hundreds (thousands?) of different thread types available in various style/fiber/weight combinations. The good news is that all-purpose thread (100% polyester) is in fact all-purpose. You can use it for anything, on any type of fabric, in any machine, and it will always be appropriate!

The bad news is that sometimes, it’s still not that simple.

 

an assortment of common types and brands of thread

 

Using the wrong type of thread can gunk up your machine, cause your thread to break repeatedly, or tangle in your machine, all of which can in turn damage your fabric (and your calm…you might want to throw your sewing machine out the window).

We could be here all day talking about different types of thread, their various properties, and the best time to use each. But for the purposes of this post on machine troubleshooting, let’s focus on what you shouldn’t do. For best results, you should never:

  • use 100% cotton thread on anything but 100% cotton fabric (same for silk thread and silk fabric) in your machine;
  • use machine embroidery thread (that shiny nylon stuff) in your regular sewing machine;
  • use waxed thread (like hand quilting thread) in your machine;
  • use topstitching thread or buttonhole twist for construction seams (unless you’re sewing something really REALLY,¬†REALLY¬†heavyweight…like a sailboat sail – something¬†really heavy);
  • use cheap thread of any type for any reason.

 

Gutermann thread all in a row!

 

I like to pretend I’m not a thread snob…except that I totally am, and you should be, too. If you came to my house and saw my thread collection, you’d see it’s 99% Gutermann. ¬†There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Coats & Clark or Mettler, and I own and use all three (which are the three brands you’re most likely to see in your local fabric store). Aurifil is another brand you might see. I have never personally used it, but I understand it’s quite lovely, and some people swear by it!

What you need to avoid and be “snobby” about, is that off-brand stuff that comes in emergency sewing kits, bargain bins, and from the dollar store. The frustration of constant breakage is not worth it!

Okay, you’ve threaded your machine flawlessly with your high-quality, appropriate-for-your-project thread, but something is still wrong! Now what?

 

problem #3: you are using the wrong needle

 

Machine needles come in different styles and different sizes. Like the thread, it’s important to make sure you’re using the right needle for your fabric, and also the right needle for your thread.

 

Schmetz needles of different types and sizes

 

Universal needles will probably be fine most of the time. I find it worth it to switch out my needle for some types of fabrics and tasks, however. When I’m working with knits, I’ll switch to a ballpoint needle. Denim needles have a stronger shaft, so they are handy when sewing on stiff, heavyweight fabric, or over very thick seams. When I’m sewing on real leather or suede, sometimes a beveled leather needle is necessary (but not for vinyl or ultrasuede). Decorative topstitching, of course calls for a topstitch needle (and thread!).

The next question is the size. Your machine probably came with 90/14, so I’m guessing that’s what you use the most. It’s worth it to size down to an 80/12 or 75/11 for finer, thinner fabrics, otherwise, you’re going to leave giant holes in your fabric. Imagine the damage you’d do to a fine cotton lawn with an enormous 90/14 needle!

 

Organ brand needles of different sizes

 

The reverse is true, of course. You would want a bigger needle for thicker, heavier fabric.¬†But (and there’s always a but, isn’t there???) sometimes, even with thick, heavyweight fabrics, you’re going to want a skinny, sharp needle instead of a bigger one.

Fabrics that are thick but very soft (e.g. thick tweed, wool felt, cotton webbing, even some denim) actually sew up better with smaller needles. The same is true for thin leathers (think kidskin gloves). A fine universal needle would be a better bet than a leather needle that’s too big.

 

an example scenario

Maybe I have a finely woven silk blend twill for the lining of a bag. I might use a size 80/12 universal to sew up the lining, to avoid leaving huge holes in the fine fabric.

Then the outside of the bag features leather stitched on top of other fabrics, so I size up to a 90/14 leather needle for the bag construction. But the area where the denim straps are attached require me to stitch through 4-8 layers of fabric and interfacing, so I size up again to a 100/16 denim needle just for that step.

All totally worth it for the frustration, broken needles, and damaged fabric it would save me!

 

Beyond the type and size of your needle, consider it’s health. When was the last time you changed the needle in your machine? If you can’t remember, it’s probably time to change it!

Needles that are bent, dull, or have little nicks in the shaft or on the point will wreak all kinds of havoc on your sewing, and these flaws are not necessarily visible. Switching to a new needle is always worth it!

Once you know all your notions and tools are on point, what about your machine settings?

 

#problem 4: you are using the wrong stitch

 

I don’t know what type of machine you have, but I’m willing to bet that the default stitch length is very small. Most of the time, you’ll need to lengthen the stitch, for practically every seam, and every project.

Stitches that are too small can damage your fabric, or cause the thread to tangle or break. If your needle is also too big, and your thread is the wrong type, you can imagine the hot mess you’ll end up with! Get into the habit of lengthening your stitch and you will see how your seams look better on practically everything!

 

a sample of straight stitches of different length

 

The first stitch in the above image is the default stitch on my Viking, which is labeled 2.5. I normally sew at 3.5 for regular sewing, and I’ll move it up to 4.5 for most topstitching, like the surface designs on my latest handbags.detail of the topstitching on the anjelica 517 tote from Holland Cox

 

Thread is a lot stronger than you think it is, and tiny stitches are very rarely better. Test out different stitch lengths on a swatch of fabric to figure out what’s best for your project!

For specialty thread like topstitching or metallics, you will almost always want a longer stitch length than what you usually use.

 

BONUS problem #1: the presser foot pressure is wrong

 

presser foot pressure dial on my Viking

 

This is a bonus because not all machines can even make this adjustment! This is the presser foot pressure dial on my Viking. It controls how hard the presser foot is pressing the fabric against the feed-dogs. You can see that “4” is the default on my machine. Unlike the tension dial (which on my machine is further down to the right), I find myself adjusting this all the time.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule for this; I’ve found that experimenting with a swatch of fabric is the best way to figure out where to set this dial. If your machine has this option, sometimes the dial is flat on the left side of the machine. Sometimes instead of a dial, you’ll have a screw on the top of the machine. Consult your manual if you’re not sure!

 

BONUS problem #2: your machine might be dirty!

Believe it or not, regular old dust and oil can be the culprit. You should be regularly cleaning out your bobbin casing, and using a Q-tip or paint brush to clean out the nooks and crannies of your machine. Dust, thread lint, frayed fabric, machine oil, tailor’s chalk, and all kinds of stuff builds up in all kinds of places, and can cause you all kinds of grief if you don’t stay on top of it.

 

topstitching on denim

 

I hope this helps! The bottom line is that¬†the tension only means anything if you’ve already done everything above exactly right! “Tension” in general refers to how the top and bottom threads are being pulled through the machine’s interior mechanisms. ¬†If you don’t have everything threaded right, with the right needle and thread for your project, messing with the tension dial itself will do absolutely nothing.

Moreover, if you DO adjust your tension dial (which I hope I’ve convinced you should be your LAST RESORT), remember to do it with your presser foot DOWN. The machine can only adjust tension with it properly threaded, the needle up, and the presser foot down.

 

Happy sewing, and please share any other troubleshooting tips you’ve found helpful in the comments!

 

 

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private sewing lessons in the DC area

Although I’ve been teaching sewing since 2010 (and designing sewing patterns since 2011), this is the first time I’m having a sale on sewing lessons!

stack of metallic gold fabric

Instead of a big Black Friday hullabaloo, I want to offer my (local) sewing people a pre-holiday deal now:

 

Purchase any package of private sewing lessons before November 24, and get 20% off when you use the code teachme during checkout.

learn to sew the evening envelope clutch sewing pattern from Holland Cox

The best part? Your lessons will never expire, so no worries if your next few weeks/months are too busy to start your sewing adventure.

I design individual, personalized lessons for each of my private students, so it doesn’t matter how much sewing experience you have (“zero” is a perfectly acceptable answer)!

Whether you want to learn to make your own clothes, alter or mend the clothes you already have, make pretty things for your house, or impress your friends and family with hand made gifts, I am happy to help!

 

learn to sew the obi belt from Holland Cox

 

Visit my page about private sewing lessons for all the details, and to choose the lesson package you’d like. Use the code teachme during checkout before November 24, and you’ll get 20% off lessons that will never expire.

Any questions? Contact me and let me know. Happy sewing!

 

 

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the de-stash shop is open!

In the process of redesigning Holland Cox products, I’ve found that some of my stash is no longer what it needs to be.

So I’m getting rid of some of it!

fat quarters in purple, orange, and brown

My Etsy shop is eventually going to be 100% sewing supplies, but for now it’s a mix of clearance and de-stash items.

Click here to check it out!

I have added a few fat quarter bundles and all of my #3 nylon coil zippers that are just sitting around, not being used.  These would be perfect for zip pouches!

 

pink nylon coil zippers

 

Do you want to know when more becomes available? Join my Syndicate Sewing list and get tutorials and sewing tips sent right to your inbox, plus be the first to know when new patterns, fabric, or notions get added to my shop!

 

 

 

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perfect zippers 4: making a welt zipper pocket

perfect zippers tutorial: the welt zipper pocket

The zippered welt pocket is the kind of feature that elevates the style of any handmade bag! You can install one on the outside of a bag, or in the handbag lining. They can be oriented horizontally, vertically, or even on the diagonal. I’ve included a 12″ welt zipper pocket on the inside of all my tote bags, because having at least one zip pocket on the inside of a big bag is always a good thing.

The welt pocket seems scary at first, I know. It’s true there are many steps, and this is NOT one of those times where I’m going to say “close enough” is close enough. You have to measure, mark, cut, and sew very precisely for this to work. But I do not say that to scare you! The good news is: all it takes is a little practice to get perfect zippers. Let’s get started!

 
prepare the welt and the zipper
step 1: prep work
 

First, decide if you’re going to add tabs to the ends of your zipper. Check out part 3 of my perfect zippers series for two ways to make zipper tabs. This step is totally optional! I would probably skip it if I had a metal zipper.

Next, you’ll have to cut and mark the welt. The welt (the pink fabric above) is the fabric that you’ll be stitching into your bag in order to create the opening the zipper will peek through in the end. It needs to be significantly wider and taller than your zipper.

The marks you’ll be making on the welt (the pencil marks on the fabric above) are where you’re going to stitch and cut to make the magic happen. It also has to be a tiny bit bigger than your zipper, but not too much bigger!

For this tutorial, I started out with a 7″ zipper, but with the fabric tabs added, it’s actually only 6.5″ (keep this in mind if the size of the opening in your finished pocket is really important, e.g. something specific needs to fit into said pocket).

 

choose your fabric carefully!
It’s a good idea to pick light weight fabric for both the welt and the zip tabs, to make pressing and sewing in the zipper easier! Thinner fabric will reduce bulk at the corners, and make for a smoother, flatter looking welt opening in the end.

 

The mark I drew for my 6.5″ zipper measured 7″ x .5″. Anything bigger than a half inch will make the welt opening too big for your zipper (unless you have a zipper with truly huge teeth – bigger than 10mm). Think of it like this: the opening has to be bigger than the zipper teeth, otherwise opening and closing the zipper will be difficult. BUT it also has to be smaller than the zipper tape, otherwise stitching the zipper in will be impossible. Not much room for error!

The welt I cut for this project measured 8″ x 3″. You want to give yourself a fair bit of clearance on every side of the mark, otherwise stitching in the zipper will be unnecessarily difficult. Give yourself at least .5″ on either short end of the mark, and at least a full inch on each long side of the mark.

 

hot pink ikea fabric

 

For this tutorial, the welt is cut from the same fabric as the bag lining it’s going to get sewn to (this hot pink canvas from Ikea), because it is fairly lightweight. If I was worried about bulkiness, I’d use a lighter weight fabric in the same hot pink color.

The outer rectangle marked on the welt (the 7″ x .5″ mark) will be your stitching line. You need to mark your cutting lines, as well. Draw a line exactly half way through the mark width wise, and 1″ shorter length wise, stopping .5″ from each short end of the mark. From the ends of this line, draw diagonal lines to meet the corners of the original mark. This line, with a “V” shape at each end, are your cutting lines.

 
reinforce the spot your welt zipper will appear with fusible interfacing
 

step 2: apply interfacing

Depending on your fabric and your zipper, you might be able to skip this step. But most of the time (and all of the time if you are using a zipper with metal teeth), you’ll want to reinforce the fabric where the zipper will be inserted. You are going to be actually cutting a hole in your bag fabric! The fabric will need to be able to hold up the zipper itself, plus the weight of whatever ends up inside the pocket!

Use woven, fusible interfacing for the strongest support. Cut it about the size of your welt, and apply it to the wrong side of the bag fabric where the welt zipper will be inserted.

 
welt pinned in place
 

step 3: pin the welt in place

Next, take your welt and pin it to your bag, with right sides together. Take a moment to make sure it is lined up the way you like – perfectly horizontally or vertically or whatever you want.

It’s a good idea to put your pins in at an angle, and also make sure the points of the pins are facing the stitch line. This ensures that the fabric stays as flat as possible, and also that the pins stay out of the way while you’re sewing, so you don’t have to worry about taking them out as you go.

This illustrates one of the reasons the welt has to be sufficiently bigger than the mark! If it’s too small, it makes pinning it down and stitching accurately that much harder.

 
stitch down the welt
 

step 4: stitch

All the perfect measuring and marking in the world won’t matter if you don’t also stitch accurately! There are three steps to making sure your stitched rectangle comes out perfect:

1. Start sewing the outer edge of the welt mark in the middle and not on one of the corners (see the arrow above).

2. Slow down as you approach the corner, using your hand wheel for the last few stitches to make sure the needle hits the corner exactly (it is 100% okay to make your stitch length smaller as you approach the corner, in order to be really sure that you don’t go too far). Leave the needle down in the fabric before you turn.

3. Use your hand wheel to stitch down the short ends of the rectangle. The side benefit of “walking” over the short end of the mark, is that you can count your stitches, so you can make sure the other end is exactly the same!

 
the welt stitched in, from the wrong side
 

Here’s what the welt looks like from the wrong side of the fabric after it’s been stitched in. The only stitching is on the outside of the mark, and there is no backstitching at the corners or at the end…when you get back to the place you started, make sure your stitches overlap for about an inch, and that’s it!

 
step 5 is to snip the welt down the center
 

step 5: snip

Get out your sharpest, tiniest embroidery scissors or thread nippers for this step!

First, you’re going to cut down the long center line going down the middle of your welt. Go slowly and be careful to cut right on the line you marked, through both your bag fabric and the welt, so that there’s the same amount of fabric on either side of the cut (.25″ in our example).

At the “V” shape lines that extend to the corners, make sure you snip all the way into the corner without actually cutting the thread from your stitching in step 4.

This is why you’ll need tiny, sharp scissors to make this happen, because if your snips don’t go far enough, you’ll never get a nice looking welt opening in the end. Again, go slowly and snip a little bit at a time!

 
flip the welt to the wrong side
 

step 6: flip it & press it

Here’s the magic part! Flip the welt to the wrong side of the fabric, and you will see your lovely rectangular opening appear. Take some time to gently press that seam with your fingers, making sure it’s as flat as possible, and that the fabric is rolled completely away from the stitch.

Next we’re going to press! Please note that it is super-important that you finger-press before you apply your hot iron. The iron cannot possibly do ALL the work of making sure the welt is completely rolled to the back, your fingers have to do most of that work!

 
press from the front

 

Take your time with this step, and make sure the iron doesn’t distort the fabric. If your fabric can’t take the direct heat (maybe it is very thin or has non-natural fibers?), use a press cloth, and try only pressing from the wrong side.

 
roll the welt to the back carefully so that it doesn't peek to the right side

 

This is what the welt should look like from the wrong side. The opening left should be juuust big enough to create a little “window” for your zipper.

If the edges of the “window” aren’t as straight as they should be, tug on the welt from the wrong side while you press, to force all of the welt to fold to the wrong side. If your corners don’t look right, you can always fix them…turn the welt back to the right side, and snip into the corners a little further (without snipping through the stitches you made in step 4!).

 
use pins strategically
 

step 7: pin the zipper in place

I know I sound like a broken record, but don’t rush through this step, either! Take some time to carefully position your zipper so that the zip tabs on each end are even, and that the zipper teeth are positioned right down the center of the “window” that the welt opening forms.

Again, insert your pins at an angle for best results. There are several layers of fabric under there now, so getting it all to lie completely flat will be pretty much impossible, so don’t fret. All we want is to make it as smooth as possible.

I have found that keeping the zipper closed for this step is easiest, but with a very heavy weight metal zip, having the pull open a little bit might make the fabric lie flatter at that end.

 
topstitch the zipper in place
 

step 8: stitch down the zipper

And now the moment of truth! Put your zipper foot on your machine, so you can get your needle 1/4″ away from the folded edge of the welt opening. This time I do recommend starting in the corner of one side. To avoid skipped stitches and make your top stitch look as neat as possible:

~ Use a brand new needle for this step. Sharper needles mean better looking topstitching!
~ Use a slightly longer stitch length than usual.
~ Count your stitches at the short ends & use your hand wheel, just like stitching in the welt.
~ Loosen your presser foot pressure if you can (not all machines have this adjustment)

When you get back to the corner where you started, try to end your last stitch exactly on top of your first stitch. Leave the thread tails from both ends long!

 
bring threads to the wrong side of the fabric

tie thread ends in a knot to finish

 

step 9: finish off the ends of the zipper

This is a technique I like to use to finish of a seam whenever I can’t backstitch, or when I want to add a little extra strength to a backstitch.

Use a needle to bring the end of the threads to the wrong side of the fabric, then tie the ends together in a knot, the way you’d tie shoe laces.

This is a neat finish when you don’t want any messy-looking backstitches to show AND you don’t want any stray threads hanging out on the right side!

Hooray! Your zipper is in, and it looks awesome! But we’re not done yet. You have zipper inserted into your fabric, but you don’t have a pocket yet! The next few steps are all about attaching the pocket bag now that you’ve successfully inserted the welt zipper.

 

attach one end of pocket bag to welt
 

step 10: attach pocket bag

Cut your pocket bag fabric as wide as the welt, and as deep as you want your pocket to be. In this example, this pink fabric is going to be the lining of a 9″ x 9″ bag, so for my pocket bag, I cut two pieces of this chartreuse fabric 8″ wide and 7.5″ deep.

Stitch one piece of your pocket fabric to the top of the welt, as shown in the image above. If your pocket fabric has a right side, it would be with the pocket and the welt right sides facing.

This forms the “back” of the pocket, if you think of looking inside the pocket from the zipper side. Make sense?

 
attach other pocket to bottom of welt
 

Next, attach the “front” of the pocket. Take your other pocket fabric and attach it to the bottom of the welt, also with right sides together. This picture looks a little weird, because this step is a bit awkward. The chartreuse fabric you see to the left of the image is the back of the pocket you’ve already stitched on, it’s just folded back out of the way.

The pink fabric is the rest of the bag lining rolled out of the way, so you can see the bottom of the welt with the pocket front pinned to it. Still making sense?

 
stitch in the ditch
 

The next step is to stitch in the ditch! Instead of stitching the bottom of the welt and the “front” of the pocket along the raw edges, you’re going to stitch in the ditch.

In this image, you can see the pink fabric rolled completely out of the way to reveal “the ditch” – the little ditch formed by the narrow, .25″ edge of the welt that was folded back and stitched into the zipper in steps 6 & 7. You want to stitch with your needle down in that ditch, so that on your finished pocket, you don’t see any raw edges or stitching when you look inside your pocket.

This stitch goes through the front pocket fabric, the welt, and the zipper tape, but does not touch the bag fabric or the back of the pocket, so make sure both are folded completely out of the way!

 
front and back of pocket bag attached
 

This picture shows the front and back of the pocket attached (the bottom edges won’t match at this point…just trim the pocket front to match the back).

Now you are ready to sew the pocket front and back together! Make sure the pocket “front” is completely flat, and then match up the sides and the bottom, and stitch together with a small seam allowance. I used 3/8″ here.

 
all four sides of pocket bag stitched
 

This picture shows all four sides of the pocket bag sewn together. Remember, these stitches won’t be seen by anyone, so for once during this process you don’t have to hyper-vigilant!

The next step is to reinforce the sides of the zipper, where the little pointed “V” from the welt is sticking out.

 
reinforce ends of zippers and welt
 

Fold back your handbag fabric and stitch down those little “V”s through all the layers – the welt, the zipper/zipper tabs, and the lining fabric.

You will definitely need to use your zipper foot for this step, the stitch must be as close to the base of the “V” as possible.

This further reinforces the weak points of the welt opening, as well as provides extra strength for an area of the fabric that is going to get stressed from the opening and closing of the zipper.

 
finished pocket
 

Finally, we’re done! If you peek inside your pocket, you can see how nice and neat it looks, since you “stitched in the ditch” when attaching the front of the pocket.

Remember! This technique cuts a hole into your bag fabric, so it cannot be undone! It’s a very good idea to do a test run on some scrap fabric before you try it in a real bag. Good luck, and share pictures of your welt zipper pockets with me!

Get on the Syndicate mailing list to get tutorials like this sent right to your inbox (plus you get a free gift when you sign up!)

 

Check out the other tutorials in the series:

  • part 1 shows you two types of installation;
  • part 2 is all about getting the corners perfectly flat; and
  • part 3 is about making zipper tabs. Happy sewing and happy bag-making!

 

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perfect zippers part 3: making fabric tabs

I usually don’t make fabric tabs for the ends of my zippers, but sometimes it’s a nice way to add detail or a bit of color.

zip pouches with fabric tabs to cover the zipper stops

In this part of the “perfect zippers” series, I’ll show you 2 ways to make those little tabs to cover your zipper stops.

Part 1 was all about installation, and part 2 was about making the corners flat.

shorten your zips with a new thread stop

step one: shorten your zipper
Both methods start with the same step, shortening the zipper.

The first thing you need to know is that you’ll need a zipper longer than the bag opening you want to have in the end.

I want my pouches to be 4″ wide. If I start with a 4″ zipper and then add fabric tabs, my bag will be much too small in the end.

Behold above: two 4″ zippers. One was born that way, and the other I made into a 4″ zip by creating a new zipper stop out of thread.

You don’t need fancy tools to make a new stop! Just use the zig zag stitch on your machine: make sure to set the stitch length very short, and the width *just* big enough so that your machine needle pierces the zipper tape, not the teeth.

create two new zipper stops with thread

If you just want to shorten a zipper without using fabric tabs, measure and mark your finished bag width from the top zipper stop.

But if you want to make fabric tabs, you’ll want to first create two new thread stops somewhere in the middle of the zipper, as seen on the pink zip above. That way, you avoid both metal stops when it’s time to sew up the sides.

Make sure to open the zipper first so your zipper pull is in between your new stops!

What about zips with metal teeth?
Your sewing machine will sew over narrow plastic teeth easily, but metal teeth are a different matter! Sew in the zipper stop by hand on a metal zipper, or use a zipper repair kit to insert a new metal stop and then remove the excess zipper teeth.

fabric tab sewn into side seam

step two: cut fabric tabs
The first method involves a thin fabric tab that will eventually be sewn into the side seam of the bag, and fold up over the end of the zipper.

It’s really important that you choose thin fabric for this job; I used quilting cotton without any interfacing. Anything heavier would be too bulky to sew into the side seam.

stitch tab to zipper in the ditch

Cut a rectangle of fabric that is just as wide as your zipper tape, and twice that amount in length. In the image above, the green fabric is 1″ wide and 2″ long.

Fold the tab in half lengthwise, and stitch the fabric to the zipper in the crease, so the stitch is hidden.

fabric tabs that don't touch the side seam

The second method involves a fabric strip that is not sewn into the side seam.

A heavier fabric (even leather or vinyl) is fine for this method, since it won’t add any bulk to the side seams. It just sits on top of the zipper.

linen bias strip

Instead of folding tiny bits of this linen in on itself, I made a strip that I could cut to size. That way, both edges would be neat without me burning my fingers trying to press down tiny little folds.

How to make a narrow fabric strip:
Cut a strip of fabric 1.5″ wide, and long enough for both zip ends plus a little extra. Fold your strip lengthwise with right sides facing, and stitch with a 3/8″ seam allowance to form a narrow tube. Cut off the seam allowance, and turn the tube right side out. Press the tube carefully, forcing the seam to one side to form a flat strip.

zippers with new fabric tabs attached

step three: stitch in place
The first method doesn’t show any topstitching (although you can certainly add some if you like). Fold the fabric tab down to hide the stitch, and baste the raw edge to the zipper, to keep the top layer from shifting.

For the second method, Cut two 1″ tabs from the strip, and then stitch them in place over the thread stops.

Take care to maintain the width of your finished bag, and to stitch close to both edges of the tabs. You don’t want the edges folding away from the zipper on either side!

zippers with fabric tabs inserted into pouches

step four: trim & insert zippers
I suppose you could install your zippers with the excess still attached, but I think that might needlessly complicate things.

Make sure you account for the seam allowance (plus a little bit of clearance) on either side of your new zipper stops when you trim off the excess zipper.

seam allowances pinned towards the self

step five: finish!
After inserting the zipper, you’ll use the same technique I showed you in part 2 of the series to sew up the sides of your bag for nice, flat corners.

The trick is to make sure the seam allowances and the zipper tape are all pinned towards the outside of the bag!

finished zip pouch

And then you’re done! Next up: inserting a zipper pocket into the lining of a bag. Let me know what other types of zipper installations you’d like to see!
 

Get on the Syndicate mailing list to get tutorials like this sent right to your inbox (plus you get a free gift when you sign up!)

 

Check out the other tutorials in the series:

 

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