Category Archives: the syndicate

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!




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!



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!




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!





DIY bow tie five different ways

It’s a fact: bow ties are cool.

group of handmade bow ties

As soon as I introduced the necktie to my online shop, I had people asking me about bow ties. And the same was true when I introduced my four fold necktie pattern! The fact is that bow ties are never going to go out of style.

The good news is my bow tie pattern is now available for sale, and it includes the traditional butterfly style bow and the swanky diamond point bow. The even better news is I’m going to show you three more variations!

Although I am showing them tied here, my pattern is for a freestyle bow tie you tie yourself, not a clip-on or pre-tied tie.

reversible, diamond-point bow tie

variation #1: make it reversible
When it comes to fabric, my motto is more is better. Why choose just one awesome fabric when you can have two? With a reversible bow tie, you can see both fabrics or one or the other, depending on how you tie it!

fabric layout for reversible bow tie

Achieving the look is simple. Your bow tie is in four parts: two short ends and two long ends.

To make your bow tie reversible, all you have to do is cut one set (one short end and one long end) in one fabric, and the other set in a coordinating/contrasting fabric.

If you were feeling really crazy, no reason you couldn’t use four different coordinating fabrics. Wild!

(If you want to make your bow tie reversible AND adjustable ~ instead you’ll cut both short ends in one fabric, and both long ends in the other fabric.)

adjustable bow ties

variation #2: make it adjustable
My bow tie pattern is for a fitted tie, but it is super easy to make it adjustable, if (a) you don’t know the shirt collar size of the wearer or (b) you simply prefer a little flexibility.

First, you’re going to need some hardware. I use this 3-part set, which I purchase from the amazing for a ridiculously low price.

They are sturdy, yet slim, for a comfortable fit underneath a shirt collar.

3 part bow tie hardware

Next you’re going to need to adjust the pattern. All you need to do is add a few inches…add 1″ to the short end, and 5″ to the long end.

The pattern tells you to create a front and a back of the tie by joining one short end to one long end.

For an adjustable tie, instead you will sew the short ends to each other and the long ends to each other (right sides facing, all the way around, leaving the opening at the pointed end of the strap).

bow tie with adjustable strap

You’ll turn each end of the tie right side out, and then fold under the raw ends to wrap around the hardware. The hardware joins the two completed ends together. That’s it!

variation #3: make it “batwing”
In addition to the traditional butterfly tip and the diamond point tip, you can go for the ultra modern batwing bow tie.

(I have no idea why it is called this. It is clearly not shaped like any part of a bat, nor any type of wing, as far as I can tell. EDIT: apparently it is so-called because it resembles the shape of a cricket bat!)

Adjusting the pattern to make this style of tie is ridiculously easy!

adjusting the bow tie pattern to make it batwing style

Start with your butterfly bow tie pattern. Take a ruler and draw a straight line from the widest part of the curve of the bow, straight out towards the end of the bow.

The line will cut off the very point of the tip of the bow, and that’s okay.

batwing bow tie pattern

This will form a paddle sort of shape, which is what you want to form the “batwing” bow. There is no curve in this style of bow tie, which gives it its modern silhouette.

With so many variations, you can make a bow tie for every well-dressed gentleman you know (or lady…lots of ladies in my classes make bow ties for themselves!), and they can all be different.

Click here to get the pattern and start sewing tonight! As always, send me pictures of the ones you make, I would love to see them!



make a mini jewelry roll with an expandable pocket

Good news sewing friends…I’m going to be introducing each of the ten patterns from my 2yards 10gifts e-book individually! First up, the mini jewelry roll.

This tutorial is a variation on the pattern, and shows you how to add a deep expandable pocket, to accommodate jewelry like wide, cuff-style bracelets. Check it out:

add an accordion pocket to your mini jewelry roll

The jewelry roll has long been the most popular item at Holland Cox, and since I designed it in 2008, I have made literally hundreds of them for friends, my best customers, and dozens and dozens of bridal parties.

I designed the mini version to be a stash-buster (you only need one fat quarter), so it is just as cute, but easier to make!

the mini jewelry roll compared to the regular size

I think they make such great gifts because they are so pretty and practical, yet not the sort of thing people usually buy for themselves.

This tutorial is all about the mini jewelry roll, but there’s no reason you couldn’t apply the same technique to the regular size (or some other thing with a zipper pocket!). The pattern for the regular size jewelry roll was published in One Yard Wonders: 101 Sewing Projects from Storey Publishing in 2009.

step one: alter the pattern

step one: alter the pattern
Click here to purchase the mini jewelry roll pattern. The pattern includes directions for two pockets, and this tutorial will show you how to make the bottom zipper pocket expandable.

Add 2 and 1/8″ to each side of the pocket pattern piece before you cut the fabric and interfacing for the bottom pocket. Prepare the pocket just as the directions indicate.

pin the zipper in place

step two: pin the zipper in place
Make sure your zipper stops are an equal distance from each raw edge, and slip the zipper tape in between the folded edges of the front and back of the pocket.

Take a moment to make sure the raw ends of the zipper tape are tucked inside, and then pin in place.

topstitch the zipper in place

step three: topstitch the zipper
Using the zipper foot on your machine, stitch the zipper in place by sewing very close to the folded edge (about a 1/8″ seam allowance), making sure you catch the raw ends of the zipper tape.

Normally those ends would be sewn into the side seams of the jewelry roll, but with the expanded pocket, the ends of your zipper will be exposed. You want them to look neat, don’t you?

mark and stitch fold lines

step four: mark and stitch fold lines
Use tailor’s chalk or a pencil to mark the bottom edge of the completed pocket 1/2″ away from each side. Then measure 2″ away from the first mark, and mark the fabric again.

Stitch through all layers of fabric at the second mark; this will form the outer fold of the expandable pocket.

Start your stitch at the raw edge, and sew towards the zipper. At the very top of the fold, leave the needle down in the fabric. Lift your presser foot, and rotate the fabric to sew in the opposite direction. This way, you get reinforced stitches without any messy thread ends to deal with.

stitch and fold lines

If you like, you can do another stitch along the inner fold, which would be 1″ away from the first chalk mark you made.

fold and press expandable pocket

step five: fold and press
To create the deep folds that make the pocket expandable, fold the pocket so your stitch line matches your first chalk line, and press the pocket carefully.

This will form a 1″ deep pleat, while leaving enough seam allowance at the raw edges to sew the expandable pocket into the jewelry roll.

continue with the jewelry roll directions
This tutorial replaces step five in the pattern directions, so after you press down the folds, continue with step six!

expanded pocket zipped closed

The expandable pocket zips closed quite nicely, even with that large cuff bracelet inside.

The best part is that the expandable pocket doesn’t take much extra time to make, and only a little bit of extra fabric!

The mini jewelry roll pattern calls for one fat quarter, but with the larger pocket you’ll probably need another half fat quarter. If you had three fat quarters you could easily make two mini jewelry rolls with the expandable pocket (surely you know two people who would like such a pretty gift?).

Download the pattern right now, and you can have one of these finished tonight. I know you have two fat quarters’ worth of fabric laying around!

finished jewelry roll with a big fat cuff bracelet inside

Pretty cute Mother’s Day gift, don’t you think?

As always, I’d love to see pictures of the ones you make, whether you choose the expandable pocket or not!


sneak peek: 2 yards 10 gifts!

Later this month, I’ll be releasing an e-book of sewing patterns called
2 Yards 10 Gifts.

It is exactly what it says on the tin! Ten gifts that you can make, using only two yards of fabric (yes, you can make all ten with just 2 yards)!

Holland Cox mini jewelry roll

Next weekend, I’ll be hosting a special workshop at Bits of Thread sewing studio in Adams Morgan based on the e-book.

Participants will get a sneak peek on all the projects, and make one of them in class. You’ll get a free copy of the pattern you make in class, plus a coupon code to use on the entire book when it comes out!

Check out the details by clicking here.

free style bow tie with pocket squares

Included in the book is my pattern for a free-style bow tie in two styles, plus three other items for guys. You’ll be able to make something awesome for everyone on your list, AND you can use up your fabric stash while you do it!

Subscribers to my Syndicate newsletter list will get a pretty sweet pre-launch price on the book AND a bonus pattern. Sign up here if you want in on that deal!




are you joining the syndicate?

Okay, I don’t know that I’m actually going to call it “the syndicate,” but I sure do like that word. Sounds mysterious and slightly illegal. But my new thing is neither of those things.

My new thing is a brand new division of Holland Cox. Don’t worry, I’m still going to be making all the lovely handmade classics that you’ve grown to love. This new division, whether I call it the syndicate or not, is going to be all about sewing.

Even though all the little parts aren’t in place, I thought I’d go ahead and mention it, because September is National Sewing Month!

To celebrate National Sewing Month, I’m introducing the first element of the syndicate, a super-fun, stress free way to learn to sew and make cool stuff to wear.

This is something I’m super excited about! You all know how much I love to sew, and how it’s a personal crusade of mine to get as many of you sewing too. Well, what better way to make that happen than to teach you myself?

Click here to get all the details on the personalized, one-on-one sewing clinic that I am now offering.

I have big plans, my friends, and I hope you’re as excited as I am! Coming soon, as part of the syndicate:

  • more free tutorials and simple patterns for sewn accessories
  • patterns for sale for more complex accessories that are still a breeze to make
  • lots of tips and advice for using simple sewing skills to create awesome things that only look complicated

The patterns and the sewing lessons are just the tip of the iceberg, friends. Want to be notified when the syndicate is fully operational (or when I decide on it’s real name)? Sign up for my special sewing-news-only newsletter, and get in on the ground floor.

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Any questions, suggestions, concerns? Hit me up in the comments, or send me an email at valerie (at) hollandcox (dot) com. I always welcome suggestions on what types of tutorials you’d like to see next, or what kind of patterns you’d like me to develop!

Also? Tell your friends!