Super fun facings trick

super fun facings trick

Facings are a great way to finish a neckline or armhole (bias binding is another way — see my 3 bias binding tutorials here!). I like to have beautiful facings without having to fold up and finish the lower edge, which can produce a visible line from the outside of your garment, and I learned this clever trick a few years ago (probably from Karen) and thought I’d share. It uses your interfacing to finish the facing edge, and it’s just as quick and easy as folding and stitching or overlocking your facings like most patterns instruct. It also looks 100% better, as you’ll see in this tutorial.

Step 1. Cut out your facings and interfacings

The front / back neckline facing pattern pieces I used in this example are from my Beatrix pattern. You can see these facings in use in my How to make Beatrix without buttons tutorial. This tutorial would also work with most armhole, hem, or combined armhole-neckline facings as well.

I’m using fusible lightweight interfacing (this is the kind I like), but this tutorial also works with non-fusible interfacing.

Beatrix facings

Step 2. Sew the seams

Most patterns call for you to baste or fuse the interfacing to the facings before sewing anything. Instead, sew the front and back facings together, and then do the same with the interfacings (so, separately). In this example, I sewed the facings together at the shoulders, and then the interfacings together at the shoulders using the 1/2″ seam allowance called for in the pattern.


Press the facing seams apart, but DO NOT PRESS THE INTERFACING SEAM IF YOU ARE USING FUSIBLE INTERFACING. Let’s avoid that sticky glue nightmare on your iron, shall we?

Step 3. Sew the facings to the interfacings along lower edge

Place the facings and interfacings right sides together and pin:


Then sew them together along the lower edge with a 1/4″ seam allowance. This should be the edge where you would normally fold up and stitch, or otherwise finish the edge of the facing before attaching it to the garment. It should not be the edge that will attach to the garment.

Beatrix facings - sew together

Step 4. Turn right side out and press

Now go ahead and turn them right side out, using a point turner to push out the bottom edges.

beatrix facings

And then press them together!!! At this point the fusible interfacing will fuse to the facing, and it creates a beautiful finish…see? Here’s the interfacing side:


And the facing side:


Step 5. Attach to garment

Now the facings are ready to attach to your garment! You can see how I attached these in this post.

Finished facings - Beatrix

Aren’t they beautiful?

This tutorial works great with my Beatrix, Washi, or even Charlie sewing patterns. Have you ever tried this trick?

Aqua Swim Coverup

Aqua Swim Coverup

We bought a city pool pass for the summer and have been to the pool twice already since school got out hurrah!! Unfortunately we had to leave mid-way through the first trip due to a “contamination” at the pool, but…let’s move on. Clementine decided she needed a swim coverup, and had clear ideas about making it, so we got to work.

Aqua Swim Coverup

She’s discovered the joy of having an idea and then sewing it to life, which gives me a great deal of joy, as you can imagine. For me (and I’m sure for many of you), sewing is more than just choosing fabric and a pattern and making something; it’s about realizing a vision, and I’m excited that Clementine is starting to get that. She doesn’t feel restrained by pattern pieces (though it probably would be easier if she did), she just decides what she wants and says “let’s make it!” It’s still my job to figure out how to get from idea to finished thing, but I’m sure over time she’ll begin to understand the fundamentals of clothing-building. She can operate the sewing machine pretty well with minimal supervision (she has her own Hello Kitty Janome), so that’s fun.

Aqua Swim Coverup

This project took all of an hour, since it’s basically just a rectangle of rib knit fabric (purchased here) sewn together at the side to make a tube, with some shirring on the top and straps added (similar to the Beach Goddess Maxi, but shorter and with straps). I didn’t even hem the top and bottom; I just used my serger to finish the edges with the standard serger overlock stitch. I did most of the sewing this time, while Clementine stood by and barked orders. She did find the shirring part to be pretty fascinating.

Aqua Swim Coverup

The coverup shrunk by about 3 inches in length when I threw it in the wash, even though I prewashed the fabric, which reminds me to mention that when you are sewing with knits, you really should prewash and dry your fabric two or even three times if you’re worried about shrinkage. It wasn’t a big deal her since it started out a little long (and now, perfect!), but if this had happened after I had made her a tee, I would have been frustrated. Takeaway lesson: PREWASH KNITS MULTIPLE TIMES!

Aqua Swim Coverup

Aqua Swim Coverup

As you can see, she’s still a character. But she’s grown so much bigger this year…waaaah!!! Aqua Swim Coverup

shirring infographic

Here are some more shirring posts from the blog:

Tutorial: Shirring with Elastic Thread (how to shirr!)

1. Aqua Swim Coverup
2. Beach Goddess Maxi tutorial
3. Baby Sunsuit Tutorial (free!)
4. Pomegranate Pierrot with Shirring
5. Princess and the Pea sundress
6. Yellow Birthday Dress with Bows
7. hello pilgrim!
8. Rainbow Dress Tutorial (free!)
9. Summersville Washi Tunic




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Tutorial: shirring with elastic thread

I know that a number of you out there are terrified by the concept of shirring with elastic thread. You Fear the Shirr.

Shirring is sewing with elastic thread in the bobbin of your sewing machine to create a “smocked” appearance on your fabric (it’s not actually smocking, though; true smocking is a decorative stitching technique done on pleated fabric…my grandma used to hand-smock dresses for me back in the seventies and eighties).



I completely sympathize with those of you who are intimidated by shirring, because when the shirring trend started to get really hot a few years ago I just could NOT get it to work on my machine — and, after attempting it a few times, I just about threw my sewing machine out the window. Eventually I figured it out, and now I use it all the time! It’s great for simple sundresses, and as many of you know, the back of the my Washi Dress Pattern is shirred, giving it a fantastic, comfortable fit and preempting the need for a zipper. The ability to shirr (I just had to look up that word to make sure it existed) is an excellent skill to have in your sewing arsenal, so I thought I’d put together a little tutorial for you today! Soon you’ll be shirring like a pro!!


I use a Bernina Activa 220, which has a front-loading bobbin. I’ll address the top-loading bobbin, too, but be aware that each machine will be a little different, and you might find that you need to make an adjustment or two in order to find the perfect technique for you. I’ve included some links to other tutorials at the bottom of this post, so if you find that this method doesn’t work well on your machine, you may want to check out some of those.


First, let’s talk about elastic thread. You can find elastic thread in the notions aisle of any sewing superstore next to the other elastics, but I’d recommend that you skip the store brand or Dritz brand elastic threads (I’ve had mediocre results with those) and look instead for the Gutermann brand, which I’ve heard has a higher quality elastic than the cheaper brands. At some point, I decided just to invest in the giant cone of elastic thread from CTS, and I’m so glad I did. Trust me, at $30 a cone, it’s definitely easier than going back and forth to the store 10 times, and you get about a million times more thread.

Okay, grab your elastic thread, and let’s get started! Slowly wind a bobbin with elastic thread by hand. You’ll want to be careful not to pull or stretch the thread as you wind.


Now place the bobbin in the bobbin case, pulling the thread through the hole that the thread would normally go through. The key is to do everything the same as if you were threading it with regular machine thread.


Place the bobbin case in your machine. You’ll be using regular thread in the top of your machine. Increase the stitch length so that it’s slightly longer than usual; for me that’s a length of about 3.5-4 (on a scale of 1 to 5, where 2.5 is normal stitch length). I do NOT adjust the tension on my machine at all; I’ve tried that, but I’ve never found it helpful.


If you have a top-loading bobbin, it is really REALLY important to make sure that the thread goes through that little thread-guide notchy thing (see arrow in picture below). This is what gives the elastic thread its tension so that it doesn’t make spaghetti squiggles on the back side of your fabric.


Now put the presser foot down, and just start sewing across your fabric. It’s a good idea to try this on a scrap of fabric before attempting shirring on a garment. You know…because it’s the responsible thing to do.


When you get to the other side, lift up the presser foot and your needle, and sew another row, about 1/2″ away from the first line. Leave a loop of elastic thread on the edge of your fabric every time you start a new row. Note: you will eventually have to trim these loops, but to hold each line of shirring in place, stitch forward and backward over each elastic thread as you sew the side seams together. This will secure those ends so that they won’t pull out.


Each row of shirring should seem fairly loose and stretchy, but as you add rows they will work together to gather your fabric. The elastic thread should not squiggle or bubble on the back of the fabric, and it shouldn’t be so tight that it feels like it’s going to break if you stretch the fabric to its original size.


Once you have sewn all of your rows of shirring, use an iron to blast the stitches with lots of steam on both sides of the fabric. This will help gather your shirring even more. If you have a spray bottle, it may also help to spritz the fabric with a bit of water.


This is what it should look like after you’ve finished steam-blasting it:


Let me share one last thing that’s really helped me: on my Bernina (which has the front-loading bobbin), the stitches come out too tight when I’m shirring lightweight fabrics like voile or double gauze (it’s fine when I shirr cottons, though). To fix this, I loosen the bobbin screw slightly (a quarter- or half-turn is usually enough). Don’t forget how much you turned the screw though — you’ll want to turn it back when you’re ready to sew with regular thread again.


You’ll find that the amount of stretchiness you end up with really depends on the type of fabric you use, so trying it out on a sample first is really important! Play around with ONE variable at a time (don’t change three things at once), sew a couple rows, blast it with steam, and if that doesn’t work, change something else. It may take some persistence to figure out what works best for your machine, but if you are patient and figure it out, you’ll be really glad you did!!!

Further Reading:
Jamie Christina’s Shirring Tutorial (drop-in bobbin)
Flossie Teacake’s Shirring Tutorial (front-load bobbin)
Heather Ross’ Troubleshooting with elastic thread

If you’re intrigued by shirring but don’t have a project picked out yet, here are a few easy practice shirring projects:
Rainbow Dress Tutorial
Baby Sunsuit Tutorial
Heather Ross’s Mendocino Sundress Pattern/Tutorial

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My top five fabrics for clothing

I think about fabric a lot–probably more than is healthy or normal. I love how nice fabric looks and feels, and I love sewing clothes with it that I can wear over and over. I like looking at fabric just sitting on my shelf. It’s true, I am a hopeless FABRIC NERD.

fabric top five

When it comes to sewing clothing, I’ve tried just about every kind of fabric you can imagine; silk, rayon, knits, chambray, tulle, corduroy, you name it, I’ve tried it. The fabric I have the most experience with (hands down) is definitely quilting cotton, which I have tried on many occasions to beat into submission to produce clothing, with some successes and some failures (more on that later). But like many, I find myself drifting towards a special few types of fabric when it comes to sewing for myself. The following five types are my personal favorites, the ones I buy over and over, for things like the Washi Dress, clothes for Clementine, and blouses/top-type things. I’m ignoring the ginormous fabric category known as “quilting cottons” for now, partly because I think they really deserve a post of their own, and also because, though they do sew up nicely into certain kinds of garments, I still find myself, well, preferring these five instead when it comes to sewing tops and dresses.

You may notice that these fabrics aren’t necessarily the most traditional garment fabrics, but most of them are pretty widely available. I think the reason for this is that, like many of yours, most of my fabric purchases come mainly from the same online shops that typically sell quilting fabrics. I’ve also noticed that many of the garment fabrics that I grew up sewing with became pretty scarce when sewing went out for a spell (the Dark Years, when it was NOT COOL to sew your own clothing, so the only people who were sewing garments were the ladies making patchwork vests? Remember that? *shudders*). Obviously garment fabrics are still widely used by the ready-to-wear clothing industry, but they’re much harder to find by the yard in great variety unless you’re pretty savvy online or have access to shops like Mood or Britex in the bigger cities.

1. Double Gauze

This fabric is a double layer of gauze stitched together with tiny stitches to hold it in place and keep the two layers from sliding around. It has a loose weave and breathes well, making it really nice for summer dresses. And did I mention how soft it is? SO SOFT. My Aqua Washi is what I wear on days when I want to feel like I’m in my pajamas all day. No joke. One small downside: the loose weave can make it slightly more difficult to sew.

double gauze quad
Top: aqua WASHI dress, far far away top
Bottom: shirred sunsuit, princess and the pea dress

2. Voile / Lawn

I’m grouping these two types together because they are so similar in weight and behavior. Also: I understand that the “voiles” on the market now from Anna Maria Horner and Free Spirit and soon from Cloud 9 (KOI by Rashida Coleman-Hale will be the first collection to include voiles) are actually not true voiles, which are more loosely woven and sheer, but are indeed lawns passing for the fancier French-sounding substrate. (But since this is The Internet, as LeVar Burton would say–don’t take my word for it.) Why do I love these so much? Lawn/voile is really easy to sew as it is quite stable and doesn’t wobble around a ton like, say, silks or knits, but is still soft and floaty and lightweight enough to feel really comfortable. One small downside: it can be sheer, especially in lighter colors, so lining is often a must.

lawn voile quad
Top: green pleated top, pink maxi WASHI dress
Bottom: Liberty tie neck top, yellow voile top with white ric rac

3. Knits

It should come as no surprise to you that knits are high on the list of my favorites, since I’ve now posted two series of posts about knits (see them here). It just makes sense: if you are the type of person who loves to throw on a t-shirt every day (I am), why wouldn’t you sew with the fabric you wear the most? For kids, this is a no-brainer. My kids wear Flashback Tees almost every day.

knits quad
Top: Nani Iro knit top, whale tee for C
Bottom:teal knit top, fox tee for E

4. Rayon Challis

Rayon is what we were all sewing with back in the nineties. Now it’s baaaack, but it’s even better. This year, the highly-anticipated cotton rayon challis fabrics designed by Anna Maria Horner hit the market, and they are TO DIE FOR. If you haven’t already read Anna Maria’s fantastic posts about rayon challis, please read this onethis one and this one right now. I’ve sewn one top with it so far (not yet blogged), and I’m hooked. Drapey, silky, easy to sew, doesn’t fray a ton, washes like cotton…is this my Dream Fabric?? Maybe. My biggest problem with rayons currently is that the print selection is really pretty small. I also get the feeling that fabric shops that sell mainly quilting cotton as their bread and butter are hesitant to carry it, making it trickier to find online and in person. And so far, most of the prints on rayon recently have been — though lovely — a bit large for clothing; I think the smaller prints lend themselves better to garment sewing. Hello, manufacturers? Let’s see some more (small-scale) prints on rayon challis!!!

5. Cotton-linen sheeting

Finally, the lightweight cotton-linen blend fabrics called “sheetings” from Kokka of Japan are another of my favorite fabrics; they have a similar weight to quilting cottons, but I find them to be nicer and a bit drapier (is that even a word? I don’t know). Not quite as soft as the double gauzes or voiles, but I’ve really enjoyed wearing the clothes I’ve made with them, and you can’t beat the amazing prints from Melody Miller and Heather Ross printed on them in the past couple of years.

sheeting quad
Top: Charlie Dress for C, Green Snow White top
Bottom: Arrow Dress for Quilt Market, Ruby Star Washi Dress

Note: You can find most, if not all, of these fabrics in online fabric shops, including those that sponsor this blog; for those who are unfamiliar with shopping for fabric online, check out this post I wrote about shopping for knits online or this one: Rae’s Big List of Fabric Shops).

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Keeping my patterns organized

organizing your patterns
This post was originally part of Pink Castle’s Spring Cleaning series. I’m bringing it home today — thought you might enjoy seeing how I organize my patterns!

When you’ve spent as much time using sewing patterns as I do, you realize that if you don’t figure out a decent pattern-organization system quick, you’re going to have a problem on your hands (in the form of a very messy pile of pattern pieces). Today I’m here to share my “system” with you. Maybe you’ll find it as handy as I do!

file cabinet

My system is pretty simple: I use file folders and a file cabinet. I label each folder with a sharpie (I used to use a label maker, as you might be able to see from the picture, but that ended up being tedious), and it goes in the file cabinet. I have two file drawers, one for my children’s patterns and one for my women’s patterns, which includes purses and bags. All the patterns are alphabetized by name, so they’re easy to find.

patterns on top

I also keep a few hanging file folders on the top of the cabinet for the patterns that are currently in use. It’s necessary to “weed” this one out occasionally and put the files back in the cabinet, but overall, it works great. Let me give you a few examples of how this works for me. All of the patterns I own fall into three main groups:

1. First there are the digital, or PDF patterns. I’m a pattern designer, and most of the patterns I sell fall into this category. PDFs get stored in a folder on my computer, but to be useful, they have to be printed out and taped together.

pdf patterns 1
When I’m done using it, I just fold up the PDF pattern, still taped together, and put it in a folder, and store it in the cabinet.

pdf patterns 2

2. The second type of patterns I own is traditional print patterns in their envelopes. I’ve been buying these kinds of patterns all my life, so I’ve got a bunch. These get stored in a plastic tub, but the file folder system works for these, too, as I’ll explain shortly.



3. Finally, there are patterns from books and magazines. These have big pattern pages in the back with all the pieces nested or overlapping each other. I use the file folder system for these types of patterns, too.


The thing all of these patterns have in common is that when I want to use them, instead of cutting them apart, I trace them. Whenever I want to sew something from a pattern, I first make a tracing of the pattern pieces so that I don’t have to cut into the original pattern sheets or print-outs. Not only does this save me a huge amount of paper and ink with PDFs; it also keeps my pattern sheets from books or envelopes in great shape.  Whenever I need a pattern piece, I take it out and trace the size I need. Where do the tracings go? You guessed it: into folders in the file cabinet!

tracing paper

I make all of my tracings from Swedish tracing paper, which is sort of like a non-fusible lightweight interfacing in that you can cut it, you can sew on it (think tissue fittings without the danger of ripping), AND you can press it! It’s transparent, so it’s really easy to trace a pattern outline in the size you need. Swedish tracing paper makes really nice lightweight pattern pieces that are easy to fold and store in my file folders, and if they get wrinkled, I can just press them flat again with my iron in a split second. (Three places you can find it: WAWAK, Organic Cotton Plus, and Amazon).

Big butt tracing

Whenever I need a pattern piece from ANY of my patterns, I trace the size I need from the original pattern with Swedish tracing paper. It’s really important to label the traced pattern with the size and name, because after a while those tracings all start to look the same. The tracings get put in a file folder, labeled with the name of the pattern, and put in the cabinet.

sew lib 2

When I want to use a pattern from a pattern book? I trace the size I want from the pattern sheet, then fold up the tracings and put them in a folder in my cabinet. I store the pattern sheet in the back of the book it belongs to on a bookshelf.

sew lib tracing

And when I use my traditional print patterns, I trace them, too (why destroy those nice tissue sheets when they can be reused for other sizes?). Those tracings? You guessed it, they go in the file folders, too.

print pattern tracing

And that’s really it! Questions? I’d be happy to answer them in comments.

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Spring cleaning: attack of the patterns

A couple of weeks ago I made a guest appearance on the Pink Castle blog for their Spring Cleaning series with a post about how I organize all my patterns, especially the printouts and tracings that can really pile up in my sewing room over time.


I also talk about tracing patterns with Swedish tracing paper, something that I highly recommend. Head over to the Pink Castle blog to read all about it!

Making clothes for me, lessons learned

I have to admit that reading your comments on the Orange Washi Dress post last week made me freak out, just a little bit. For one thing, it made me really excited to see how excited so many of you are for this pattern. NO PRESSURE. (UPDATED: the Washi Dress is now available as a print-at-home pattern in my shop)

But the other thing: I worry that some people might think that because I have spent so much time on the pattern, getting the bust darts just the way I want them, for example, that the bust darts will automatically be perfect for you as well. Knowing what I know about women’s bodies (that we are curvy and all shaped differently), I know that just simply isn’t true. And while the Washi Dress has some really awesome qualities from a fit-standpoint (like shirring in the back so that people who need back darts like me won’t need to add them (yay!) and a fair bit of cup-size flexibility), I’m afraid that people will pick up the pattern and be disappointed when it doesn’t fit them perfectly right off the bat.

So I want to talk a little bit about the things I’ve learned in the process of making clothes for myself over the years in hopes that some of these pointers will help some of you find ways to get a good fit when you make clothes for yourselves!

I started sewing clothing for myself right around junior high, and though I don’t remember much about that anymore, I’m pretty sure the first thing I ever sewed for myself garment-wise was a yellow cotton skirt. I DO remember much of the clothing I made back then was pretty baggy and big, so fit wasn’t always much of an issue. Yay 90’s!

Most people my age who started sewing when they were young share the same experience as I did: If you wanted to sew a piece of clothing for yourself, you would go to the fabric store, flip through the McCalls (or Simplicity or Butterick, Vogue was “too hard”) catalog, pick out a pattern you liked, find the fabric you liked, and then read the back of the pattern envelope to get your size and yardage. The construction process was pretty standard as well: you’d cut out the pattern pieces in “your size” from those insanely finicky tissue pattern pages, then pin the pieces to your folded fabric with a bajillion teensy pins, carefully cut out your size (right through the tissue) using sewing scissors, sew it together, and hope for the best. I think my mom taught me to do it this way because this was just the way her mom had taught her to do it, and so on. How many generations back did this go? I have no idea.

I’ve been “selfish sewing” pretty seriously for the last 5 years or so now, and I’ve discovered that this process just doesn’t really work for me anymore. For one thing, tissue paper patterns make me crazy. For another, my body is far more curvy and dynamic than it used to be when I was 15 (Having two babies did not help. I gained about 45 pounds when I was pregnant with Clementine and never lost all of it). And with current styles being much more fitted than they were back in the 1990’s, I’ve come to understand that the “hope-for-the-best” philosophy when it comes to picking a size is actually pretty delusional.

How to cope? It doesn’t make any sense to sew things for myself that are going to fit poorly. I’m just not going to wear them, and what’s the fun in that. And why go through the entire process only to discover at the *end* that it doesn’t fit? Depressing! Big SAD FACE!!!

So, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned, steps I’ve built in to my sewing process that have helped insure that when I make something, it’s not a surprise at the end how it will fit. And sure, these steps take extra time. But again, is it better just to hope for the best just so I can save a little time? Nope, nope, nope-ity nope.

Choosing size
My bust, waist, and hip measurements all put me into different sizes on most women’s patterns, commercial or independent (waaah). If I pick a dress pattern based on hip measurement, it comes out too big, if I pick based on bust measurement, it’s usually too small. So, what to do? Most of the time, I pick based on the most important measurement for that pattern. If it’s pants, I pick the size based on the waist because I can always take the hips in. If it’s a top or dress, I pick the size based on the bust to start with.

Tracing pattern pieces
I almost never cut into my pattern pieces even when I am absolutely certain that I know the pieces will fit me just the way I want them to. This means that to try out sizes, I trace them using swedish tracing paper first. I know that “takes it up a notch” for some of you home sewists, but it is seriously one of the BEST supplies in my sewing room and I don’t know how I ever lived without it.

Once I have taped together a PDF pattern, I can just trace the size I want and then fold it all up and put it into a file folder. If I need a different size later, there’s no need to print it out again, I just unfold the pattern sheet and trace again (the same is true for pattern pages from sewing project books or even tissue patterns). I’ve found the swedish tracing paper pieces last longer than paper anyway (they can be pressed, sewed together, and are really hard to tear…they are actually similar to dryer sheets when it comes to tensile strength). I talked about tracing patterns at the end of this post last year (pictured above).

Another thing: if I think I am between two sizes or I’m just not sure, I trace TWO sizes while I’ve got the pattern sheet spread out on my dining room table. That will save me time later!

Making muslins
This is probably the single most important thing I have learned to do when it comes to making clothes for myself. Once I have my pattern pieces traced, I cut them out of muslin FIRST before I touch my Real Fabric. And by “muslin” I literally mean the super cheap unbleached stuff you can buy by the bolt at JoAnn. Don’t wash or dry it either. I used to make “wearable muslins” (see the example shown above, which was a wearable muslin made for this final top) but I’ve since realized that it’s way faster to make a real muslin-muslin. Sometimes I will make just a partial muslin, like the one shown below that I made for the Washi Dress. In this case, I already knew that the skirt would fit, but I was worried about the bodice, so I made the muslin for just the top half of the dress.


When you make a muslin, you machine-baste the seams together instead of sewing them with a regular stitch length (learned that from Liesl Gibson at a Weekend Sewing workshop), and do absolutely NO finishing. No hemming, no facings, no bias binding, etc. If the pattern calls for darts or pleats, you definitely do those (they affect fit!) but skipping all of the more tedious construction steps is a huge timesaver. Then I try it on. If that muslin doesn’t fit, I either try the next size down/up, or make changes such as pinching the muslin together in places where it gapes to see if you can take the seam on the side somewhere to make it fit. The whole muslin process (cutting, basting together, trying on, making another muslin) usually takes me a half hour to an hour, max. The trick is to do it really really quick. And it takes time, DEFINITELY. But the time you save in the long run is irreplaceable!

Blending sizes
Unless you are fortunate enough to have a body that fits perfectly into your muslin the first time, you may have to adjust the pattern a bit at this point. If a muslin is too big on top but too small on the bottom, you can pinch the muslin along the side seams to see where to sew it to make it fit. Sometimes I need to draw a line along the side of the pattern from say, the size 8 line at the bust to the size 12 line at the hip, to “blend” the two sizes together. That is a pretty easy fix. I’ve also discovered that sometimes I fall right between the size S and M size in some patterns. When that happens, I literally (while I am tracing) draw a line *right* between those two sizes’ pattern lines to get new pattern pieces that will fit me better.

Bust adjustment
I’ve known for awhile that both my armpits and my bust apex* (the fullest part of your bust) were lower than average. Armpits always felt too high, even when everything else fit fine, and bust darts always seem to point OVER my bust…not cool! So the armpit thing was pretty easy to fix, I just cut out the armholes a little lower than normal, sometimes up to an inch. It turns out that sliding a bust dart down (or up) is actually pretty easy as well! If a bust dart doesn’t point to your bust apex*, it will look weird. Sometimes it’s just a matter of sliding it up or down the pattern a bit. See this post on i could make that! for a nice tutorial on moving a bust dart.

*This is NOT the same thing as your nipple. OK just realized that in the course of just one week I have used the words “boob” and “nipple” on this blog. Greeeeat.

Last week I finally came to terms with the fact that, being small-chested, I might have to occasionally do a small bust adjustment. For women who are more largely-endowed, I have learned that knowing how to do a Full Bust Adjustment (or FBA) on any pattern is a) pretty easy once you learn and b) TOTALLY WORTH IT because oh my goodness things finally fit properly!! A small bust adjustment and a full bust adjustment are pretty similar, in one you spread the pieces together (SBA) and the other you spread the pieces apart (FBA).

I just this month started subscribing to Creativebug — a crafty video website where for the price of your subscription you can watch as many videos as you want — and one of THE BEST videos on there which I think completely justifies the price of your subscription in one fell swoop is Liesl Gibson’s Bust Adjustment video. You can see a preview at that link as well. The way she breaks it down so clearly is a beautiful thing to behold I tell you. If a Creativebug subscription is not in the cards for you, even for one month, here are a couple of tutorials to try (although I have to say, watching it on a video is so much better in my opinion):
or just google “Full Bust Adjustment” to find oodles of links that will help you learn how (that’s what I did to get those links, y’all. The Power of the Internet). I swear, for those of you who are Big Up Top, once you learn how to do this, you will never go back. A whole new world of sewing will open before you.

Read up
I can’t really take credit for any of this information. All of it is stuff I’ve learned from other places. Let me recommend a few books that I feel are easy to understand and give great information about fit and sewing for yourself. These are some books I own and consult on a regular basis:

  • Built By Wendy books. Especially her “Dresses” book goes into nice detail about adjusting fit, making muslins
  • Colette Sewing Handbook: Also some great info on making muslins and adjusting patterns to fit, including bust adjustment. Her blog, Coletterie, also has a ton of great fit tutorials, and although most are specific to her patterns, many include principles that can be adapted to other women’s patterns as well
  • Design-it-yourself clothes by Cal Patch – this is a great intro to pattern making, and although it’s really basic (no bust darts, etc), it was really a life-changer for me in terms of understanding the basic dimensions of a pattern and how to manipulate them. By the way, did you see that Cal’s also got pattern-making lessons on Creativebug too? Awesome.

OK. I could keep going but at some point this is going to stop being a blog post and turn into it’s own book instead. Hopefully I have given you a few great pointers for ways to perfect your Selfish Sewing.

I definitely feel that sewing for oneself is a process learned over time, not a single leap into couture-sewing for most to be sure. But it can be really rewarding to start to see the hard work pay off. I feel like I should know — five years ago I was sewing straight from a pattern, and now I’m making my OWN patterns! It all happens with baby steps. And If you already do these things (or have other suggestions that you feel strongly about), please suggest!!

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Tutorial by Rae: Magnetic Snap

It always surprises me how many people have never used a magnetic snap. Both my Buttercup Bag and Bonsai Bag sewing patterns call for a magnetic snap, and they’re a snap (sorry!) to put in. Seriously, SO easy, and they look so snappy (sorry!! hee) that I figured it was time to make sure that everyone knows how.

Step 1: Reinforce your lining

A magnetic snap attaches to the lining of a bag or purse, which is almost nearly always made of two identical pieces of fabric (front and back). You don’t want it to tear through the lining fabric with wear, so before you put in the snap you’ll need to iron a little square of fusible interfacing to the WRONG SIDE of the lining with its center where you want your snap to go. I usually cut my interfacing square 1.5″-2″ across. Find the center of the lining, and then place the square well below the seam allowance on the top edge of the lining’s WRONG SIDE:

The picture above is of the Bonsai Bag lining; that pattern has a 1/2″ seam allowance, so in that pattern you place the 2″ square one inch below the top edge.

For the Buttercup Bag (a smaller bag with a 1/4″ seam allowance) the pattern calls for a 1.5″ square of interfacing to be ironed 1/2″ below the center top.

Step 2: Overlap lining pieces and take your snap out of the package

Place your lining pieces right sides together so that all the edges are lined up.

Take your snap out of the package. Each complete snap has two sides, and each side of the snap has two parts, a front and a back, so you’ll need four pieces for your purse.

Step 3: Mark where the snap will go

Take one of the circular snap backs and center it over the square. Two of the holes look like vertical slits. Make sure those are perpendicular to the top of the purse as shown, then mark their location on the interfacing.

Step 4: Cut holes through both linings at the same time

Using a sharp blade* and keeping both linings together and lined up, cut through both linings at the same time. This will insure that both sides of your snap will be lined up perfectly.

*But Rae, what if I don’t have a sharp blade? (UPDATED: thanks to a clever commenter who reminded me that a sharp seam ripper also works great for this!) You can also fold the interfacing in half horizontally and snip those lines carefully with a sharp scissors. Just make sure you hold both lining pieces together carefully and don’t let them slide!

Step 5: Push snap through holes

Separate the linings and push the snap tabs of one of the snap halves through the holes of one lining piece. Remember that the tabs should go to the wrong side of the lining.

Step 6: Place back on snap and push tabs apart 

Now place the circular snap back over the tabs, and press those tabs outward. Repeat for the other lining piece/other half of the snap:

Finito! Doesn’t that snap look sharp? Here’s what it looks like on the Buttercup Bag (after a pocket was added):

Now you can finish up the rest of that purse!  (Rather wonky inside-of-purse shot shown below)

A little tech-talk: You’ll notice that because my interfacing square was 2″ and I placed the square 1″ below the top edge and lost a 1/2″ due to seam allowance, that the snap is now centered 1.5″ below the top edge of the finished purse. If your interfacing square is 1.5,”your seam allowance is 1/4,” and your square is placed 1/2″ below the top (as in the case of the Buttercup Bag shown below), the snap will be centered 1″ below the top finished edge.

Rae pretends she can quilt (and shares a quick quilting tutorial)

Disclaimer: I am not a Real Quilter. I have never taken a quilting class before, nor do I have any other kind of training in the quilting department besides that which my mother dispensed in the rare moments I actually listened to her. I certainly did more eye rolling than listening as a general rule, so what sewing knowledge I was able to get through my stubborn head can only be attributed to her, not me, and is laudable indeed.

With that said, I like to make quilts because I have found them to be pretty intuitive on their own. With very little expertise one can produce a very satisfying end product. Add to that the fact that they are quite simply the best way one can use multiple fabric prints or colors in one place.  I especially like to make baby quilts because they are small and quick and double as play blankets as well as bedding.

So despite the fact that I am a complete Quilting Imposter, I managed to pull together a tutorial for a baby quilt that is quite nice over at Sew Mama Sew.  It’s up today so you can head over there to see it: Crayon Box Quilt Tutorial. This quilt is very similar to the one I made for Clementine last year although hers was 6×7 squares and this one is 6×6.

If you follow Sew Mama Sew at all, you’ll know that many amazing quilters have contributed their expertise in the form of Sew Mama Sew Tutorials. They include but are certainly not limited to: Elizabeth of Oh Fransson!, Alissa of Handmade By Alissa (and founder of Modern Quilt Guild), and Ashley from Film in the Fridge (who I had the pleasure to meet this summer in Vermont!).  If you have time you should visit their blogs. They are Real Quilters and I have learned oodles from them and I am sure you will too.

I think the perspective I can offer as a completely untrained quilter is that there are ways to “cheat” (or as Amy Karol would say, “bend the rules”) when it comes to quilting.  These cheats don’t result in  award-winning heirloom quilts but for small projects like this one (that will probably get beaten up anyway), I’m quite sure it doesn’t matter.  Plus it makes me love quilting just a little bit more when I can make a nice-looking quilt quickly without toiling over it for eons.

So in addition to the tutorial, I wanted to share another trick I use to bend the rules here on the blog, which is that I bind my quilts using the backing instead of making separate binding. I’m sure this has all Real Quilters Gone Before rolling over in their graves, but it makes me feel pretty smug/clever. Here’s a quick tutorial:


This is a tutorial to show you how to use the fabric on the back of a quilt to bind it off.  Most quilts have a separate strip of binding that goes around the outside of the quilt.  Here I’ll show you how to take the backing and fold it over the edge of the quilt to finish it.  This works best for small baby or doll quilts. 

Note: the Crayon Box Quilt Tutorial for the quilt top shown in the instruction photos below was first posted over at Sew Mama Sew. The quilt pictured above is the Storytime Squares Quilt which is available as a free pattern download/tutorial on my blog.

Step 1: After quilting the layers of your quilt together, trim the batting along the outside of the quilt right to the edge of the quilt top.

Step 2: Trim backing (the yellow plaid fabric in my photos) to ONE INCH all the way around the quilt.

Step 3: Starting near a corner and working clockwise around the quilt, fold the backing in half so that its raw edge is lined up with the edge of the quilt top (it will now be 1/2″ wide).  In the photo below, I have folded the edge on the left:

Step 4: Fold backing one more time along the edge of the quilt top so that it overlaps the quilt top by 1/2″.  Pin in place.

Step 5: Mark a diagonal line at the corner.  The base of the line should start where the corner of the quilt top is (under the backing) and end 1″ from the corner along the raw edge.

Step 6: Fold backing along line

Step 7: Fold the backing in half again (I drew a line in the first photo with marker so you can see where) to line up raw edge with edge of quilt top.

Step 8: Fold backing over again at the quilt top edge so that it again overlaps the quilt top by 1/2.” Repeat this method all the way around the quilt until you have the entire quilt backing folded and pinned.

Step 9: Stitch close to edge of backing around entire quilt to finish.

In the photo above, you can see that your quilting lines will be visible past the stitching for the binding since they go all the way to the edge of the quilt top. As long as my stitching blends in with the quilt backing, I don’t sweat this too much, but if you don’t like how this looks you can pull out those threads and knot them where you want them to end using a needle.

Ta-daaaah!  Finished quilt!