Labels Matter–Why you Should Always “Sign” your Sewing

Too many stories are lost—
Too many heirlooms end up at thrift stores-
Too many projects created by women come down to us without a name–

Which is why I always label my family gifts and other important sewing project.

For example: this OBX (Outer Banks) pillow made for my beach-loving nephew, BOB.

Unless you had prior knowledge that it was made from a vintage signal flag, you might miss the significance entirely–

So I used an indelible fine-tip markerto handwrite a large label, which I stitched on the back.

Yes, handwriting. Nothing is more personal than that–

I always encourage labels for my sewing students, specially the younger ones who will remember these early accomplishments all their lives. Here are two labels for special dresses made by Klara and Miriam.

What wonderful stories they tell!

New Sewing Studio–Finally Taking Shape


Pinch me, because after decades of wishing for my own DEDICATED sewing space, the dream is finally coming true.

I’ve always thought garages were wasted on cars. My half is (quickly) becoming a studio.


My new sewing studio will have lots of natural light and storage on the back–a big laundry sink for fabric dyeing, too.

The elevated floor makes heating and cooling easier. Floor covering will be laminate–which means no more pins in carpets or thread clogged vacuum cleaners. If you sew every day, you need a floor you can sweep.


Yes, I know I’m incredibly lucky. Most of us carve out sewing spaces in bedrooms, guest rooms and kitchens. I’ve done this all my life.

But if I can think of one thing that made me an avid sewer–it was having the old Singer set up in my childhood bedroom. Bad day at Jr. High? Come home and zig-zag it away.

That’s why I always tell my beginning sewing student to find a place where they can leave their machines at ready. Don’t let setup drain your creative energy away.

So what’s your favorite sewing spot?

Doll Making with the Girls–A Refresher Course in Why I SEW

Some days my love of sewing is a bit overwhelming–all those tangled threads, dropped pins and unfinished projects seem to be going nowhere.   That’s when I call some friends and set up a date for doll making.

Doll making reminds me of how my sewing began (Barbie clothes) and why it continues at such a fever pace.  Think of the adult coloring book craze transferred to fabric.  Sewing is essentially PLAY.


So here’s to a houseful of girls (ages 10 and up), two sturdy sewing machines,  a well used pattern and a bin of old doll clothes.   What a great way to start a new year of creating with fabric.


13-year-old Klara made this doll in an afternoon.  Klara’s lady is wearing a very chic ensemble from 1930s doll wardrobe I stumbled on in an antique store.  Fortunately, there were hats in wardrobe.  We didn’t have time to make embroidery floss hair in our first meeting.


Doll maker Miriam also shopped the 1930s wardrobe.  We used fabric pens to make the doll faces, but embroidery is another option if you have the time.    (Note: Pal Megan took her doll home to hand-stitch the face.  That’s too much sewing for one day, and why she missed the photo shoot.)


Our pattern came from a tried and true (out for print) book from my collection.  You can find other books and patterns, but I wouldn’t recommend working on a smaller scale.  Smaller patterns would be too hard to turn to the right side–which is time-consuming at best.


Another thing I like about this book–instructions have you  sew around the doll shape before cutting it out.  I find that much easier than the other way around

Be sure to have chopsticks, dowels and other tools for turning small arms and legs.     And we used floral wire in the necks so heads didn’t flop .  A white pipe cleaner would work here too.


Here’s my doll, Jessica, made from the same pattern over several days,  several years ago.  Note the embroidered face and stitched yarn hair.


And speaking of creative play–Klara made this dog pincushion for me in the style of Picasso.    Eat your heart out Pablo.


What about you?  What sparks your creativity when you need a reboot?




2nd Sunday Sewing–Same Great Community Meet up at a New Location, Day, and Time


I’ll confess, I was worried.   When the Scrap Exchange in Durham moved to a new (improved) location and changed their hours I thought–what will happen to Sew Night?



I love being a part of  this vibrant, ever-changing community meet up.  It’s  the best value in sewing (FREE) and always a jump start for my sewing.

I get so many great ideas there–

So I’m happy to say we’re not losing it–just morphing it.

Beginning this Sunday 9/14/14, Sew Night becomes  2nd Sunday Sewing 

  • The meet up will be  monthly on the second Sunday afternoon of each month
  • The time 2-6
  • The location is the new and improved Scrap Exchange Design Center–(I was there today setting up machines with other volunteers and it promises to be an awesome new space)



Sewing Sundays are open to all ages and skill levels.  Bring your own machine or use one of the Scrap’s.  Just bring your creativity–







What’s in my Sewing Basket Part 2–More Tools I Can’t Live Without

While my scissors and thread choices are top of the line (See Sewing Tools Part 1), many of my other sewing tools are inexpensive adaptations.

Take marking on fabric–

Everyone needs a way to draw cutting and/or seam lines and dart points.   And while you can buy all sorts of sewing chalk in the notions aisle of your fabric store,  I like to keep it simple.


School teacher chalk is great for marking colored fabrics.  It brushes off easily with your hand.  For white fabrics, I use light pencil marks.  And if I want a heavy dark cutting line, my dark ebony drawing pencil can’t be beat.

Another marking tool that I use all the time is blue painters’ tape. I put it on the throat plate of my machine to help keep my seams straight (great for top stitching) . I also use it to mark button hole placement before I stitch them.

And if I  have a complicated project going on (think slipcover or curtains), I mark my fabric pieces with blue painters tape for easy ID.


I have two indispensable tools for turning corners:  The white one is a plastic point turner from the 70s.   Chopsticks are also great for pushing out corners.   I use them for stuffing with fiber fill, too. Nothing works into small spaces like a wooden chopstick.


And if you’re turning corners, you have to trim  first.  Fray Check and similar products like Fray Block  are great for keeping well trimmed points from raveling through.  I also use this quick-dry liquid  to “tie off” serger threads. Think of it like a dot of hot glue, without the bulk.   It soaks into the fabric and works magic.  Everyone who sews needs a little of that–


Next time we delve into my sewing box–needles– (Why so many needles?, my students always ask.)  And my dirty little secret. Hint:  It’s acid free.


What’s in my Sewing Basket–Essential Tools (Part 1)


Could you put that online or something, said one of my students in a recent sewing class.

Brilliant idea–

So for last month’s Basic Sewing Workshop (at the Scrap Exchange in Durham) and everyone else learning to sew, here are some tools that make it so much easier:



First, think beyond the conventional sewing basket. I carry my tools in a vintage overnight case.  The heavy duty handle and secure locks have saved many a spill–


Long quilting pins are easy to work with and the bright yellow ends make them easier to spot when they fall (make that leap) on the floor.


After years of good service (and several falls), my magnetic pin cushion cracked and split.  I couldn’t find a suitable, heavy duty replacement, so I salvaged the magnets and put them in a Bloody Mary tin.  Works great.  Reminds me to have fun.

Quality scissor are a must.  I buy the top-rated Gingher brand. (Use a Joann coupon.)  For 8 dollars you can send them to Greensboro to be sharpened and reconditioned.  Do this and your sewing scissors will last forever.


Good thread is also a must.  American brands may have rocked in grandma’s time, but not anymore.  Use good European brands. Again, the coupon helps.  I buy the larger spools and they are  not cheap.


And yes, I do have 5  seam rippers in my sewing basket.  Like I tell my students, they’re more than a tool, they’re a philosophy. We’re making originals , blazing trails in fabric.  And like all great artists, we need to erase.  I expect to rip something out every time I sew.

There’ s lots more in my sewing box.  Look for future posts on this topic.

And if you’re interested in future sewing classes,  one of my favorites, Tee Shirt Transformation is coming up next week.

Check out the before and after pictures of  the unisex tees below. Then clean out your stash of ugly tees and join us.  Tee shirts are easy and fun for beginners.

Why ETSY is my Source for Hard to Find Sewing Machine Parts

bernina_partI’m a happy ETSY seller and have been for years

But when I needed a zipper foot for the vintage Bernina 830 Record I’ve been rehabbing, I never thought of shopping ETSY. It’s always been a craft site in my mind.

Silly me.

So I went to the local Bernina dealer, thinking I could just pick up a zipper foot in the shop.

Common part, means easy purchase right?  Not right.

Next I went on-line and got very confused.  They don’t make that part anymore.  I wasn’t sure what I needed.

Frustrated with Google searching, I went back to the dealer route.

The second dealer I tried  offer to order a compatible  foot for $40. OK, Bernina machines are made in Switzerland, but that’s about 4 times what a zipper foot should cost.

Finally, a comment by of my sewing students sparked the ETSY search.

I typed  “bernina 007 zipper foot” in the ETSY search box, and like magic one appeared.   Price $10 (plus 2.95 shipping).

The order was placed on Thursday from  a crafter called Toggle Toes.   My zipper foot arrived on Monday in NC. And life is good. Very good.

Thanks Etsy.  You rock!!

Two Seamstresses who Rocked the World

Not too long ago, women who sewed got bad rap.

Sewing meant we were domestic, which meant we were sweet little things, and not ready for the man’s world and the man’s salary.

How wrong can you be???rosa_parks

Take Rosa Parks, the Birmingham, Alabama seamstress who wouldn’t give up her seat on a segregated bus.   So happy to see that   the mother of the civil rights movement, now has her own US postage stamp.    This one arrived at our house a few weeks ago fittingly, with a check (for work)  inside for me.

Which makes a nice segue to my next sewing hero–The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.   book-dressmaker-195x300The subtitle of the book says a lot:

Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe 

The woman is an Afghan teenager, basically under house arrest during Taliban  rule.

How this she brings her community together in a terrible time is a wonderful story of courage.

For more, check out this post  by my pal (and brave entrepreneur herself ) Melissa.   She’s using the dressmakers’s story to celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week  on her blog.

And  be proud.  Seamstresses rock!

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