Not Martha

bend-the-rules sewing

Amy Karol‘s book Bend-The-Rules Sewing comes out today, congratulations Amy! I was lucky enough to get a copy a little early, and I’m very glad I did. This book is for those who are completely new to sewing as well as those who know how to sew but could do with being a little bit more relaxed about it all. Amy really wants you to love sewing, and to come to have a fun and relaxed time sewing.

The first chapters start with the basics and tell you all about what you can expect and what supplies you might need (and what they are for) in a friendly and chatty tone, it’s really like a friend is telling you how it’s done. I appreciate all the care given to explaining things in a way that gives you the norm – what size sewing machine needle to use if you have no idea what you might need, how to find and understand the markings on the end of a bolt of fabric, what kind of thread to choose, what fabric widths are normal, what exactly “right sides together” means, how to sew a seam.

She takes time to talk about sewing machines, what you want to look for, where to buy them. (You can read about what machines she uses in the FAQ on her site.) She covers some things that made me cheer – why she doesn’t like interfacing and what to use instead, very detailed instructions on inserting a zipper, making your own bias tape (which will look way better than what you can buy in an average fabric store) and that it’s ok to stitch two things together without pinning them first. Amy covers everything else you might need as well, hand stitching including closures and tidy decorative stitches. She also talks about fabric paints and creating patterns using freezer paper. Instructions are accompanied by clear hand drawn illustrations.

The projects are are small and charming, all things you want for yourself and would make fantastic gifts. There are a bunch of bags – a zip pouch, basic tote (with interior pocket), wallet and three handbags. Dog collars and a kitty bed for the pets. Projects for the home include coasters, napkins, placemats, a tea cozy, table runner and two kinds of curtains. There is a lap quilt that looks like a lot more work than it is, and a pillow three ways. Amy is big on aprons, and appropriately there is a section on aprons including basic (from a tea towel), vintage and a section on making apron pockets.

The book includes a bunch of adorable things to make for children, my favorite being a puppet theater with a matching case. A smock, bib, woodland elf hat, simple jacket and soft turtle are all cute but not cutesy. All the patterns have hand illustrated instructions and include color photography of finished products. Those projects that need a pattern have easy to photocopy pages in the back with increase percentages included.

As someone who has studied sewing I love the relaxed nature of the projects. And I have to say, I’d give this book to someone new to sewing well before I’d give them a sewing reference book.

· comments [23] · 06-19-2007 · categories:books · craft · sewing ·

crafts and sewing

After seeing this great skirt that Laura at Busywork made, I want to buy Sew What Skirts. I love the way Laura mixed the Amy Butler fabric with a dark denim, very cool.

More on skirts – Thoughts (and Girly Things) made this fabulous skirt from a pair of jeans.

Pretty, pretty Parkhaus felt colors.

New Singer sewing and embroidery machines at Craft. They also talk about the Singer Simple series of books, including Sewing Guide, Home Decor Handbook, Pattern-Free Fashions & Accessories and Pattern-Free Home Accents.

How to sew piping into your bags at U-Handblog.

Bright and happy Martha Stewart flower garlands at Oh Happy Day.

I really like the One For All shoulder bag pattern at Betsy Ross Patterns, seen at The Craft World.

Check out Leah Peah’s Trade A Craft site where you can trade finished crafts or materials. Things are just getting started, but how cool is this?

· comments [3] · 06-12-2007 · categories:craft · sewing ·

your first sewing machine

Advice on getting your first sewing machine is something that gets asked a lot and is awfully hard to answer. I certainly don’t want to encourage somebody to buy a machine that they end up leaving in a closet, or worse, one that does not work very well and only leads to frustration and more expense. Somebody recently emailed asking me for sewing machine advice and this is what I came up with. (I have some book suggestions below, so if you already own a sewing machine, you might want to skip down there.)

– You can learn to sew from a book but taking a class will give you a better feel for what is normal, like how you should (almost) always backstich at the beginning and end of a seam, how fast you can expect to go, when you really need to iron before proceeding (almost always). You can also get a feel for this by watching old Martha Stewart sewing segments, or sewing shows on PBS or HGTV.

– A lot of new machines appear to be expensive because they contain computers that are capable fancy stitches and embroidery, and are able to use a lot of software. Unless you’re a hardcore textile geek who is moving past the basics, I don’t think these are necessary. Beyond using the buttonhole feature and the occasional zig-zag stitch, you’re unlikely to use many fancy stitches.

– Having a free arm is worth spending a little bit more, in my opinion. A free arm allows you to hem cuffs and finish the tops of bags easily. My own machine does not have a free arm and I found I was at a disadvantage when making sturdy bags as gifts this past Christmas.

– A common theme for new stitchers is fear of the tension knobs. This leads to a near religious fear of touching or changing them, and lots of fretting over broken threads being your own fault, not the machines. I am guilty of his myself. But the owner’s manual will show how to use these and one should adjust them whenever needed. Throwing your own machine out of sync is frustrating, but understanding how to get it to work again is important.

– Do you need a serger? Really, not until you’re making a large part of your own wardrobe.

– See this diagram understanding a sewing machine at, a machine manual and any basic sewing book should also have this.

– See this animation of how a bobbin works at Craft, it’ll keep you from wondering and possibly help you untangle threads if they get stuck.

– What sewing machine brands are good changes all the time, so it’s difficult to recommend one company. Viking, Pfaff and Bernina are good names, but these can be pricey machines for a beginner or occasional stitcher.

– Cool Tools gave a recommendation for this small Brother machine, which has gotten pretty good reviews on Amazon.

– A while back Craft did a round up of sewing machines and got these beginner sewing machine recommendations from the girls at Stitch Lounge. Craft also has this mid-range sewing machine round up.

Here are some books you might find useful or inspirational.

Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing
When I entered college as a costume design major, this was the book we were instructed to bring to draping class. Well, mine was an older edition with hilarious 70s clothing and housewares projects in the back. This book has complete instructions for all sorts of clothing construction and I still use it as a reference.

Vogue Sewing
I’ve seen this referred to as the bible.

Sewing 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Sewing
Start at the beginning.

Sew U: The Built by Wendy Guide to Making Your Own Wardrobe
Built By Wendy shows you how to create your own wardrobe.

Bend the Rules Sewing: The Essential Guide to a Whole New Way to Sew
By Amy Karol, the loveliness behind Angry Chicken and Kingpod.

Lotta Jansdotter’s Simple Sewing: Patterns and How-To for 24 Fresh and Easy Projects
This book comes with patterns tucked away in a special pocket, I love this book. You can read what I wrote about it here.

Amy Butler’s In Stitches: More Than 25 Simple and Stylish Sewing Projects
This book also comes with patterns tucked away in a special pocket, you can read why I love it here.

Sew Subversive: Down and Dirty DIY for the Fabulous Fashionista
They start with the basics of sewing and show you how to alter your wardrobe. Read more of what I had to say here.

Simple Sewing With a French Twist: An Illustrated Guide to Sewing Clothes and Home Accessories with Style
I’ve only peeked inside this book but it had plenty of inviting projects.

· comments [37] · 05-11-2007 · categories:books · craft · sewing ·

craft links

How I want one – hungry softies, via Craft.

Where to buy felt, at AT:NY.

Knit shopping bag at Craft.

1-hour cardi-wrap via Bleu Arts. This might work well for a wedding I’m going to this summer.

How to make Big Warm Fuzzy Secret Heart, at Craft. It was made in honor of Jonathan Coulton‘s song Code Monkey.

· comments [3] · 05-7-2007 · categories:craft · sewing ·

simple sewing creations

Lotta Jansdotter writes on her blog (02 April) that she would love to see what you’ve made using the patterns in her book Simple Sewing. She included Ahn-Minh’s placemat and magazine holder in her post. If you’d like to share you can send your photographs to questions[at]jansdotter[dot]com. I’d like to see too!

In case you have not heard of it, Simple Sewing is a fantastic book full of simple, beautiful patterns for yourself and your home. You can read about how much I love it here.

Related: Glittergoods scaled down the doorstop she made from Simple Sewing, and it has a happy ending. (Such adorable elephant fabric!)

· comments [8] · 04-24-2007 · categories:books · craft · sewing ·

craft stuff

How to make an a-line skirt pattern, at Craft.

Fabric shops in New York, at Poise.

Fabric knitting basket, at Knitting Box.

Animated how a bobbin works, at Craft.

Sewing resource links, at Action Hero.

How to make a rag rug, at Craft.

· comments [5] · 04-23-2007 · categories:craft · sewing ·

craft stuff

on knitting machines at Craftzine

Angry Chicken shows some of the Denyse Schmidt’s new fabric line Katie Jump Rope

One Hour Craft points us to these free Burda patterns – I love the ’60s bag, a lot

how to make leather business card holders, at Bluelines

Anh-minh and Skona Life show off some projects from Lotta Jansdotter’s Simple Sewing, and Glittergoods discovers the doorstop is larger than it seems in the photographs

· comments [6] · 04-12-2007 · categories:craft · sewing ·

some things I’ve found useful

Last weekend I pulled out the ice cream scoop which I originally bought to make the birthday cupcakes. I realized I never showed off the little case I made for it. The case is make from oil cloth, it is squared at the bottom to allow room for the scoop, and it is flat at the top to accommodate the handle. I folded the end under to give more support for the large snap which holds it shut. It was easy to make.

I also wanted to show you this bag I made for my rolling pins:

I simply folded a tea towel in half lengthwise and stitched the bottom and side. I caught two pieces of ribbon in the seam near the top which are used to tie the bag shut. I think I saw this idea in a Martha Stewart magazine, but I was never able to find it again.

Trivia: The rolling pin bag is made from a Disgruntled Housewife towel which came with Smile and Act Nice schwag at a SXSW long ago. I keep the Smile and Act Nice pocket mirror from that same goodie bag with my knitting supplies. Nikol Lohr, the girl behind Disgruntled Housewife, has a book out: Naughty Needles: Sexy, Saucy Knits for the Bedroom and Beyond. As you can tell, I’ve been a fan for a while.

· comments [15] · 02-13-2007 · categories:sewing ·

my Juki and me

Craft magazine blog is doing a round up of what sewing machines crafters actually use and you can see the all of the posts so far here. If you’re thinking about buying a machine there is a round up of articles and three solid recommendations in the mid-range round up post, and see Stitch Lounge recommends starter machines, and one serious Bernina.

You can read about my machine, a Juki, at Craft blog here.

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· comments [15] · 12-5-2006 · categories:sewing ·

Sew Subversive

Sew Subversive Down & Dirty DIY for the Fabulous Fashionista. I love this book, adore it. I nearly squealed with glee when they started with how to thread a needle, went through basic mending and then through everything you need to know about sewing machines, including how to load different bobbins and talk about tension, all without being boring. I really wish I this book had been around when I was in eighth grade. The book covers tools, how to care for fabric. The projects all cover easy fashion transformations using existing garments or materials, from pillowcase dresses to pin tucking an oversized shirt or skirt. They cover making skirts out of jeans, and how to (joy!) de-taperfy your pants. Each project is clearly explained with photographs and good diagrams. Here is another thing I love – not all the clothing in the photographs is perfect, there are some loose threads showing, a few slightly ragged edges. But it looks great, an expression of pride in the work it takes to create something cool. The authors really love what they are doing and it comes across really well. I recommend this for anybody who is starting out sewing, and anybody who is interested in refashioning clothing. You can see more of the book, including the introduction and table of contents, here.

· comments [1] · 11-17-2006 · categories:books · sewing ·

I have a stack of books I’ve been meaning to mention here. So, here’s to trying to get one up every other day, or so.

In Stitches by Amy Butler. I was completely taken in by the special pocket containing patterns which is closed by a sticker and the spiral binding, so easy to leave open in front of you. The book itself is simply charming. The projects in this book are fantastic, they are whimsical and practical things I would not only make but also use. At the moment I’m most taken by the fabric boxes, I’ve been wandering around my house envisioning colorful boxes tucked on shelves. The illustrations with the directions are clear, and the colors and photography make everything so very appealing. See more about the book, including pictures and a list of projects inside, at Amy Butler’s site here.

· comments [0] · 11-9-2006 · categories:books · craft · sewing ·

The Plush You show here in Seattle at Schmancy (and Fancy and Pants) will be opening Oct. 6th. This year Plush You will also hold two workshops on Sept. 30th — first is Make Your Own Wee Soft Toy workshop and the second is making Pet Jewelry, for you and your pet. The workshops are each $10, and they are sponsored by Stitches, another favorite shop of mine. Read more about the workshops and how to sign up here. Also see more about Plush You.

Also of upcoming interest — there will be a book signing for Sew Subversive at Stitches on Monday, Sept. 25th from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

· comments [0] · 09-21-2006 · categories:books · craft · events · sewing ·

Soft boxes made of fabric and felt, at Whip Up. I’ve been thinking about these lately, and I saw some nice bins, used for display, made of vinyl when I visited Smoking Lily in Vancouver.

· comments [0] · 09-7-2006 · categories:craft · sewing ·

Mariko from Super Eggplant and Kelly from Buzzville have opened a fantabulous online fabric store for Japanese prints — Superbuzzy. I love these little birds. Keep an eye on them, they nearly sold out after opening and new stock will come in frequently.

· comments [0] · 08-31-2006 · categories:craft · sewing · shopping ·

My lastest post is up at the Readymade blog – it’s about how Pattern Review came to my rescue.

· comments [0] · 08-16-2006 · categories:sewing ·