Tag Archives: sewing tools

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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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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