How Do You Decide What to Sew?

IMG_5919.jpgI love fabric, I love to sew, and I love patterns. What could be the problem? Simple. I just don’t know how to pick the right fabric for the right pattern, get the right fit, and sew the pattern well. I end up with a lot of fabric trash. Here’s an example. I made this Moss skirt from Grainline Studio in pink stretch denim from I had made it previously in a linen blend and another stretch denim. love it but when I made it in a size 10, it was rather large. I did not realize how much the stretch in all those fabrics would impact my size choice. Nor did I realize that the pattern does not call for fabric with any stretch.


I bought faux suede and corduroy from StyleMaker Fabrics and made it again. I could not wait to see how it would come out. Little did I know that my expensive faux suede had no ease at all. I couldn’t sit. I had to add a stripe of ponte to each side. Now every time I look at it, I am just upset with myself for not knowing. And I’m afraid to cut into my pretty olive corduroy. So frustrating.

As one of my sewing goals for 2018, I am striving to get better at this. Here’s how:

  • I acknowledge that I am still a beginner. I spend way too much time on social media looking at people’s gorgeous makes. I have to remind myself that they, too, started somewhere and probably had a lot of fabric trash too.
  • I joined the 2018 Ready to Wear Fast to remind myself that I can make things rather than buy things.
  • I joined Sew My Style 2018 to get discounts on good patterns and stay focused on my goal of making more of my clothes. Truth be told, I probably will not buy half the patterns. I know my limits. I am not planning to make a coat in February. But I am planning to make the Tamarack Jacket by Grainline.
  • I enrolled in Skirt Skills, an online class taught by Brooks Ann Camper.

I’m hoping Brooks’ class will help me get a basic understanding of my personal fit issues. But she does not focus on commercial patterns, so I still won’t know what pattern look like on me, how a fabric will react to that pattern, and how to alter fit to make the pattern look good.

So, I ask you: how do you decide what to sew? I hope you’ll share your insight with me as I begin my 2018 sewing journey.


DIY Quilted Baby Play Mat

I saw a tutorial for a quilted baby playmat on the AGF blog and I knew that was what I wanted to make for my niece for her first child. The tutorial seemed pretty straight forward, and the baby mat was absolutely beautiful. I asked a few friends with babies at work if they thought that would be a useful gift and I got a resounding “yes.”

It was a little harder than it looked.

First of all, I needed to choose the right coordinating fabrics. I struggle with getting fabrics to go together as nicely as the projects that I see all over Instagram. Since I couldn’t find the exact fabrics used in the tutorial, I settled on these four sets of AFG fat quarters from the Fat Quarter Shop.

I thought they would give me the look I was searching for. At times, I wasn’t so sure.

I created a circle pattern using Swedish tracing paper. Like the pattern on the AFG blog, I decided the diameter should be 47 inches.

  • First lesson learned. This was a dumb mistake that I realized later. How wide is normal cotton quilting fabric? Answer: 44 inches. Make your matt 44 inches or less and you won’t have to piece the back!

I divided the diameter by 4 to create a quarter pattern piece. I added seam allowance and measured out the 4-inch border. So far so good. First I used the navy and mint to create the night and day background, sewed it together and used my pattern piece to create the circle. Then I started cutting the mountains to lay against the night sky. Second dumb mistake. The tutorial called for folding the fabric under to hide the raw edges. In retrospect, I should have used steam a seam to iron on the fabric with the raw edges exposed, then used a zig zag stitch to secure the fabric. As I started sewing the mountains on, I realized I would have a little flap of fabric between where I was stitching and the edge of the fabric. I hoped my quilting would keep that from flipping up.

  • Second lesson learned. The tutorial called for folding the fabric under to hide the raw edges. In retrospect, I should have used steam a seam to iron on the fabric with the raw edges exposed, then used a zig zag stitch to secure the fabric. As I started sewing the mountains on, I realized I would have a little flap of fabric between where I was stitching and the edge of the fabric. I hoped my quilting would keep that from flipping up.

Here’s what it looked like as I started to pin down the mountains. I really wasn’t crazy about it at this point, but I had bought all this fabric and started this process and wasn’t ready to give up.

My first attempt at adding the mountains.

Once I had the mountains placed and stitched down, I started adding the sun rays, then the flower stems. I think the yellow rays helped balance out the funny looking mountains, and also added some brightness to the mat. But the orange seemed too strong. By now I really wasn’t happy about my decision to fold under the raw edges but it was too late. It was easier, however, to do the rays and the stems. I used a ruler to cut the rays two inches at the top and widen out to two and a half. I made the stems by cutting two-inch strips and folding them under half an inch on each side.

I also used the tutorial’s advice to trapunto the flowers, which I made by attaching the fabric to some interfacing right sides together, then turning right sides out. I sewed the hole closed when I sewed the flower down. I found some crinkly wrap that was used to hold my toothpaste boxes together, threw it in the dryer first to make sure it wouldn’t melt, then cut it up. I used a seam ripper to cut a small hole in the back after I sewed down the circles, then lightly puffed the flowers with poly stuffing and the crinkly wrapping. The flowers started to pop and the play mat started to come together.

fullsizeoutput_57aNow it was time to add the border. I used my pattern to cut the circular pieces and pieced them together with the scraps I had left over from creating the quilt. Something told me to keep the border light and I’m glad I did.

fullsizeoutput_57eI still wasn’t 100 percent happy with how it was coming out, but I just kept pushing along. Creating this baby mat made me realize that it is never a good idea to quit. You have to keep pushing yourself to finish, even if you’re not crazy about the work in progress. Things have a way of working themselves out.

I gave a lot of thought to how I would quilt this. I thought I”d use some variegated green and blue thread I have, but in the end, I opted for just gray on the light side and dark blue on the dark side. I started by quilting the flower petals around each flower.

  • Third lesson learned. Do not stuff those flowers too much. You will not be able to get your foot close enough to quilt around it!

I’m not the world’s greatest free motion quilter so I did a lot of straight line quilting with my walking foot. I did my best with the free motion foot and in the end, it looks okay. I’m happy with it.

I used a dark blue from the Navy collection to bind the quilt. I only needed one fat quarter to create enough binding. Phew. And, even though I felt like I should cut the binding on the bias to more easily go around the edge, it worked out fine. I forgot to clip the circle after I sewed it on, and it is still smooth. I hand stitched the binding to the back and I was done!


My Summit Pack by Cloudsplitter Patterns – Review

My daughter looked so darn cute during a recent college visit. She had a neat Kavu Rope Sling Bag slung over her shoulder, and it just made me think, I have to make one. I searched for an over the shoulder bag online and came up with the Summit Pack by Cloudsplitter Patterns. The reviews were good, and at $6, the price for the pattern was right. Sold.

Now, what to make it with. I had 2 22- or 24-inch black zippers that I wanted to use – one I bought from Emmaline Bags; and the other I got at the Houston International Quilt Show from ByAnnie. Both are good quality zippers with wide tape, but the Emmaline Bags zipper had an awesome nickel “handmade” zipper pull. So my bag had to be black in some way.

I had been wanting to try SewSweetness’ faux leather so I bought some in silver and rose gold. Her video tutorial of her free hobo bag in the rose gold made me think sewing with her product would be easy enough, and the end product was too good to resist. I threw in some charcoal gray too. And, while I was buying, I figured, that cork threaded with metallic silver would work! That was by far the most expensive part of my purchase and once I got these luscious sheets of cork and faux pleather, I was afraid to cut them.

Usually, I make a test of a pattern before plunging ahead, but then I have to spend money buying all the materials only to either rip it apart so I can use them again or end up with a not-so-great version I will never use that feels like a waste of money. So I took the plunge and slowly cut into my cork and faux leather.

First, let me say that cutting the leather and cork was a breeze. There’s no fraying. You can’t pin it so I used clips to hold it in place. And you can’t iron the faux leather, although you can iron cork. None of that really mattered. The bag went together pretty simply. The pattern maker has a unique way of attaching each part of the lining during the whole process so if sits really nicely in the bag. The instructions were very clear and I didn’t run into any problems, with one exception. When I was adding the larger zipper, I somehow ended up with more zipper than I needed and started adding the outside of the bag incorrectly. It turned out longer than the rest of the bag which would have set me up for trouble when I sewed everything together. Rather than panic, I simply ripped it apart. The leather and cork are unforgiving when it comes to sewing holes. Once there, they are there to stay. But I was able to cover those holes up so nothing shows when I sewed the bag back together correctly.

The final fear came when I sewed the entire bag together. The entire bag is pulled through a 7-inch opening in the exterior pocket. I was terrified something would happen to the leather or cork when I pulled it through, but it was very sturdy and looks great! I can’t iron out the edges, and I have some tucks where I’d rather not have them, but all in all, I think it came out pretty good and can’t wait to wear it. It has a padded pocket for my iPad, credit card pockets so I don’t have to carry a wallet, and plenty of other pockets for my phone, keys, and sunglasses. it’s perfect for a plane trip or anywhere I want to go where I don’t have to worry about a pocketbook falling off my shoulder.

I want to make another one and am starting to get obsessed with the idea of doing it in waxed canvas and faux leather. Stay tuned for that one!

So much to make, so little time.

Easy gift for a sewer to make

I can’t wait until the end of the year to start figuring out what I’m going to make for my friends and families for the holidays. So when I come upon an idea that is inexpensive, easy to make, and a crowd pleaser, I mark it in my handy bullet journal. I made this one last night and I will definitely be making more.

I googled neck pillow pattern and found two that I combined into one. I used the pattern from Craft Gemini. She has an excellent video tutorial, but I didn’t watch it. I figured it would be a pretty fast sew.

Then, I found this idea from The Cottage Mama. I really liked her patchwork idea so I pulled out my scraps and went to work. You can see the pattern from Craft Gemini in the background.

Neck pillow pattern



I love  how this came out. I kept the back plain, but tried to embroider my name on the back by printing my name from the computer on white paper, and transferring it to tissue paper. I then used short stitches to sew the outline, and a very narrow zig zag and my free motion foot to fill it in. I think it’s kinda messy so I won’t be doing that again.

Free neck pillow pattern

I love how this neck pillow came out. It will be perfect for traveling, and as a gift for a loved one for the holidays. What do you think?


Manhattan bag review

I love this bag. I love how it looks, I love the hardware, I love how functional it is. Did I mention I love this bag?

I bought the Manhattan bag pattern from Emmaline Bags. Janelle MacKay, the Canadian designer, does a fantastic job with her instructions, and I have been pleased with every bag I’ve created. This one takes the cake.

The pattern comes in two sizes. The Mamma is a pretty large bag. I made it for my mom for Christmas. The top flap zips open to reveal an eyeglass case that’s velcroed inside.

Janelle offers a free tutorial for a small bag that fits inside. I made this one first (don’t mind the wrinkle) just to see how the pattern went. Gave that to my mom too!bag

Then I made the Manhattan Miss, a smaller version of the shoulder bag, for me. It’s just the right size for my wallet, my eyeglass case and my phone, which slips into the front pocket. I left off the zipper on the front flap. I really didn’t see any reason for that to open. The modification was pretty simple.



Let me say that one of the main reasons I love these bags is the fabric I used. I bought it at the Houston Quilt Show and it is superior. I had never sewn with cork or pleather and it was surprisingly easy. I can’t wait to make something using more cork. Not as sure about the pleather because I think the quality is a deal breaker. And, if I can’t touch it, I don’t know if I want to spring for it. But from what I can tell, cork seems to be plentiful, it comes in so many gorgeous colors, and is getting rave reviews from bag makers.

The second thing I love about this bag is the hardware. Hardware makes the bag. I bought it all from the Emmaline Bags website, including the handmade label and the tassel I created with the leftover cork. Janelle has a lot of free tutorials on her site that make it so easy to add these important touches.

Next, I’m going to make her necessary clutch wallet in cork, and use my leftover shell looking fabric for the lining. I can’t wait!

Sewing is cool thanks to social media

When I first started sewing, I had no one around me to show me the ropes. I turned to the web and found friends. Through Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, I discovered a whole community of sewers willing to share their advice and tips, and commiserate with me about common frustrations. This story, which I wrote, originally appeared in the News & Observer.

While Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook may be to blame for the countless hours that people spend on their mobile devices, the social media networks are also inspiring a new generation of sewers to put down their phones and pick up a craft many learned from their mothers and grandmothers.

Continue reading “Sewing is cool thanks to social media”

Quilted journal cover for my bullet journal

I spend a lot of time on my phone, and it’s time to break the habit. When I heard about the bullet journal, I knew that would be a good first step.

A bullet journal follows a simple pattern. It’s contained in a blank notebook of your choosing. It starts with an index, which lets you track what you are jotting down on your pages (all pages in your journal are numbered). That’s followed by a future log, a monthly overview, and your daily tasks, notes, events and reminders. You create a key to remind yourself of the symbols you are using to track your information. You can find all the details about setting up a bullet journal at

Continue reading “Quilted journal cover for my bullet journal”

Davie dress review take 2

Here’s my second attempt at the Sewaholic Davie dress. You can see my first attempt here.

davie-dress-me This cotton jersey was much much easier to work with than the slinky ITY I bought at Joanns. I had no problems with the fabric catching in my machine. It was smooth sailing. However, the lesson I learned from this wearable muslin is to watch my fabric pattern. I like the way the dress came out, but I don’t really like the way the pattern looks with all these seams. it was a good lesson for me to learn about choosing fabric and patterns, and watching out for how many seams a garment has and how the fabric pattern will be affected.


I also had to alter the pattern because the arm holes are absolutely huge. Not only do they hang very low; they also gape so that you can see my bra. After reading a few reviews, and knowing that lifting the shoulder seam worked on my first Davie dress, I made two adjustments: I took half an inch of each shoulder at the top, and a quarter inch under the sleeve.

davie-dress-floral-backI bought a busy check ponte at GirlCharlee, but I think it will be way too loud. And I think the seams will cause an issue for me to really like the dress. So I’m holding off. I think I’ll have to buy a solid ponte somewhere before I splurge on Emma One Sock. I really want to make a color block Davie dress with a dark floral on the front two panels, and black or even plum or gray on the sides. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Free pattern alert: Colette Sorbetto review

Since I am not a very confident sewer, I love finding free patterns. That way I can make mistakes and not feel like I wasted my money. There are a few good free patterns out there. You can find many at this forum post on The only one I can vouch for with complete confidence is the Colette Sorbetto. I’ve made it 3 times – each slightly different – and it works every time.


This is one is by far my favorite. I bought this fabric at a local fabric shop – the only independent shop that sells fabric for apparel in my area – for $13.99/yard. I’m not exactly sure what it is. It’s cotton, it has a nice drape with structure, and feels soft. I was so afraid to cut into it. But, this is why you spend more for fabric. It wears well, washes well, and looks great.

So, as usual, I went to Joann’s first and made my first Sorbetto from some cotton lawn. (Picture coming soon.) It came out well. I purchased the dark blue binding you see on this top, and used it on my first top. I had enough leftover to do this binding. I love this top. I made a straight size 8 and it fit to a T. (Just showing you the back of it here so you can see both sides.)


You can find a lot of variations on the Sorbetto on the Collete blog. I inverted the pleat on my most recent one, and my own bias binding using this tutorial and a fat quarter. (The first time I made my own bias binding, I used the Colette tutorial and a Clover binding tool. I didn’t like how it came out at all. The tutorial I linked to is very similar, but my binding tape came out better since I really wanted half-inch double fold, not one-quarter single fold.)


I’m not crazy about how the pleat puffs out at the bottom. (Picture coming soon.) I’m not sure what I would do to fix that so I don’t know if I’d do it again. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to share!

My next free pattern will be the Hemlock T from Grainline studios. It’s only available by signing up for their newsletter. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Davie dress review

This is my first attempt at Sewaholic’s Davie dress. While I’m not sure if it’s a wearable muslin – I haven’t worn it yet – I will definitely be making it again.

davie dress side

The dress is easy to make – if you’re comfortable with knits. I am not. I’m still learning my way around them, and I don’t have a serger. But that isn’t necessary for this dress. All the seams are sewn with a sewing machine, then top stitched so that they lie flat. The dress is flattering, although I think it’s sized at least one or two sizes too big.

Davie dress alterations

I picked a size 10 based on the dress’ finished measurements, but took it in a lot on the sides and at the shoulders and especially under the arm. The dress pieces are sewn together, first the front, then the back, then at the shoulders, which allows you to take it in at the sides if necessary. I liked that. I just retraced the size 8. I’ll let you know how that works out.

The arm holes are quite large and low. I tried to sew clear elastic into the shoulders but must have pulled it too much because the shoulders came out lumpy. I just cut it out – probably cut at least an inch off each shoulder – and sewed them up again. You can see that it didn’t ruin the dress at all – even lifted it up a bit so that there wasn’t as much of a gap in the arm hole.

I used a woven double fold binding tape around the neckline as indicated in the instructions by following this tutorial. Rather than follow the instructions, I used the same binding method for the sleeves. I think it made them stand up a little nicer, rather than be floppy.

Davie dress fabric choices

I bought this purple ITY knit at Joanns. It was relatively inexpensive, and I could tell it was very stretchy, but I thought it would be easier to work with. It was not easy to work with. I used a ball point needle, a stretch stitch and a walking foot, and put gift wrapping tissue under the fabric, but it caught in the machine a lot. I wish I knew why that happens. It was very frustrating and made for a lot of pulls. I don’t like how it looks in the back, which is one reason I may not be wearing this muslin. I think I should have lengthened my stitch. I did lengthen the top stitching stich. I also don’t think I’ll be top stitching in the zig zag stitch. And from now on, I’m using my teflon foot for this type of fabric. It just works better for me than the walking foot.

davie dress back

I just don’t like all the different spots I can see on this solid where the thread jammed or the fabric got sucked into the machine. That’s especially true around the curve on the breast. A pattern review that I read said to carefully snip the seam allowance around the  the curve so the fabric would lay smoother. I think that screwed up my top stitching. It bunched too much for me to feel comfortable wearing it.

Davie dress front showing keyhole

I love the way the keyhole came out and I love the overall look of the top stitching. But be forewarned: all that top stitching takes a lot of time and uses A LOT of thread. I bought a small spool of matching Guttermans thread for this dress and had to go back and get another spool. If you’re going to make this dress, make sure you have a lot of thread!

All in all, I really like the way this dress looks on me, but I feel it could look better. I’m trying it again with this fabric, and just ordered this ponte from that was on sale. If I can get good at making this dress, I’m going for the gusto and ordering a ponte from Emily One Sock. I’ll keep you posted on my results!

See my second attempt here.