No More Crooked Patch Pockets–A Technique Learned from Reclaimed Jeans


It’s easy to pin patch pockets on straight–but sewing them on straight is another matter. That’s because the machine presser foot PRESSES the fabric in one direction. If you start out on one pocket corner and sew to the other (the way I was taught) you often end up noticeably higher on the second corner.


Not your fault–but that doesn’t lessen the FRUSTRATION factor.


So work with pockets a lot. My passion is making heavy duty, vintage fabric tool aprons for women. A reclaimed denim patch pocket is almost always part of the design. After ripping many of these off to straighten them–I stumbled on a better way–change your starting point when sewing on a pocket.

Begin stitching at center bottom and sew toward one corner.


The seam indentations on jeans make this easy. On regular fabric use your presser foot as a seam guide.


Sew to the top edge. Pivot and take a few stitched between the seam lines (I like to back stitch here for extra strength). Pivot and sew down (making two rows of stitching).

Repeat at the other corner. Stitch down to the center again and you’re done.


Works ever time on all fabrics with just 3 pins! Try it. Everyone need an extra pocket.


And for a closer look at my signature tool aprons, check out my ETSY shop.

How (and why) to Make your own Chenille

I love combining and altering fabrics–and turning them into chenille is one of the techniques I use.

Let’s take this large monochromatic cotton floral print in the upper part of the photo below.   It was just a little to perfect for me, so I decided to distress it by making chenille.

Chenille Irises "Before".  I used the reverse side of the second fabric for my under layer so the wavy blue threads  would show through.

Chenille Irises “Before”. I used the reverse side of the second fabric for my under layer so the wavy blue threads would show through.

First I sandwiched  the print to a backing fabric that I wanted to show through.  I used  parallel rows of stitching with my presser foot as a guide.  (This is a great way to practice straight sewing.)

Chenille Irises in progress.  Washing will fray them (and create strings to clip)

Chenille Irises in progress. Washing will fray them (and create strings to clip)

Next, (carefully) cut down the middle of each row.  Small scissors work fine for me, but if you plan to use this technique a lot, you may want to invest in a  chenille cutter.  Here’s a link for info about this speedy little tool.

After I wash and dry my piece, it has a nice fluffy texture and depth.  Cool, don’t you think?


Here’s a closer look.  Can you see the wavy blue underneath?



And here’s another recent chenille project.


I needed a yellow-orange “fur” for this appliqued cat portrait.  Instead of shopping all over town or the web, I went to the thrift store.  A silky orange print blouse, stitched over a yellow sweater and chenilled fit the bill perfectly.  The fraying gives my portrait depth and interest, too.

I can see this technique used to create fabric  oceans, waves of grass, even clouds.

Any other ideas?  How would you use homemade chenille?


Making Mock Box Corners ( And Other Loose Ends and Updates)

Covering box edge cushions can be challenging–trust me, I’ve made my share.   Seems they often come in groups of 3 or 6.

Lots of box cushions on this recent slipcover project.

Lots of box cushions on this recent slipcover project.

But the mock box corner is so easy I teach it to my Basic Sewing students at the Scrap Exchange in Durham.    This is the corner I like to use when I’m making quick and easy purses from awesome Scrap fabric samples.

Step 1:  Sew 3  sides of a rectangle together.  Make sure to PIVOT at the lower edges instead of sewing to the end of the fabric.  We’ll use that seam allowance later.  And yes, a fold can replace your bottom seam.  That’s what I did in the example.

Side seam and bottom fold.  Note how I've clipped the seam allowance and pressed the side seam(s) open

Side seam and bottom fold. Note how I’ve clipped the seam allowance and pressed the side seam(s) open

2:  Press all seam allowances OPEN.  If you’re using a fold like I am, you’ll need to clip the seam open.   Now channel your inner paper airplane maker and fold the side seams into the center of a point–think of the airplane’s  nose.

Side seam now looks like a paper airplane nose.

Side seam now looks like a paper airplane nose. Pins are marking the stitching line

4: Stitch across the point TWICE for strength.  Cut off excess then flip to the right side and there you have it–cool boxy shape or at least half of one.  So repeat on the other side.

Cutting off the excess fabric in the corner

Cutting off the excess fabric in the corner


Outside purse bottom

Outside purse bottom

Once you get the hang of mock box corners it’s easy to move from purses to pillows like this one pal Karen and I  sewed from two larger samples.  There’s a zipper in the back seam so she can take the cover off for cleaning.

Mock box corners made this bottom cushion super-easy

Mock box corners made this bottom cushion super-easy

In the loose end department– reader, cousin, and sewing pal Betsy requested a photo of the hidden deck in the slipcover at the top of this blog .  I’m so glad I scrimped fabric at every turn on that project.  In the end, it needed an extra 10 yards of piping which I was able to create from the yardage that didn’t end up in the deck.

Stretching my fabric with a hidden canvas deck

Stretching my fabric with a hidden canvas deck

And for niece and nephews BB&T, my transformed birthday tee.  New neckline, new bodice and sleeve length, even new side seams (many tee shirts don’t have them).  It’s a favorite and I always get compliments.  Woof Yall and thanks for remembering my b’day.  Scroll down on this earlier post if you want to see the BEFORE shot of my unisex shirt.

Dog lovers tee remade.  Note our puppy's back in lower right.  She hates the camera!

Dog lovers tee remade. Note our puppy’s back in lower right. She hates the camera!

Sew a Zipper in a Pillow Cover with 3 Easy Seams

Snowy view from my sewing room window

Snowy view from my sewing room window

Bad days for travel are good days for sewing –which is why my little sister just called to ask for advice on sewing  pillow covers with zippers.


Good timing, little sis.  I’m  just stitching up these 16 inch knife-edge pillow covers with zippers, so I’ll  take a few photos to share:

First, think about PLACEMENT.  You don’t want the zipper extending into the corners where it will make bulky lumps.   So go shorter.  For each of  these 16 inch pillows, I’m using a 14 inch zipper.

My zipper collection rocks!

My zipper collection rocks!

Then I toss the package instructions , if I ever had them to begin with.  I use a lot of reclaimed zippers which I install in just 3 straight  easy peasy seams.

Zipper seam 1 is mostly a place holder:   Beginning with regular-size stitches, sew a few inches in.  Lock (by stitching back then forward one or two times) then change to long (basting) stitches.  Now sew for the length of the zipper.  Lock again and stitch to the end  of the seam with regular sized  stitches. Tip:  always do the zipper seam before the pillow sides and top.  it’s soo much easier when you can lay it all flat.

Regular sized stitches here--from the corner about an inch and a half in--

Regular sized stitches here–from the corner about an inch and a half in–


Basting stitches here-- Set your machine between 4 and 5  so they'll be easy to pull out later.

Basting stitches here–
Set your machine between 4 and 5 so they’ll be easy to pull out later.


Next press the seam flat, then open.  Press your zipper, too.  Tip: Finish the raw edges of the seam allowance now, if you like–a good idea if you’ll wash the cover.

Zipper seam 2 is an anchor seam.  First open the zipper and lay one side  face down with teeth next to seam.  Pin and stitch it to the seam allowance only.    Tip:  Relax.  Since the seam won’t be seen on the outside,  you don’t  even need to sew it straight.  Just make sure the zipper teeth are straight against the seam. I use a lot of pins for this and pull them as I go.

Seam two joins zipper to seam allowance only

Seam two joins zipper to seam allowance only

Now that you’re warmed up, zipper seam 3 is the real deal.   Put on the machine zipper foot to let the world know you mean business. snow_zipperfootZip  the zipper, flip your pillow cover over to the  RIGHT SIDE and lay everything flat on a work surface.  Pin zipper on the two long sides,  top and bottom through all layers. Use lots of pins–they help so much.    Then stitch, removing pins as you go.snow_zippins

Remove long basting stitching with a seam ripper and you’re done.snow_done

I proclaim you an official Zipper Master!

One more tip for pillows:  Don’t forget to trim extra fabric out of the inside corners.  It makes a huge difference.  I like to zig-zag the trimmed  edges so they won’t ravel out when I wash my pillow cover..

Now, stay off the roads.  Go sew, and share your photos, please.


4 Ways to add Words to your Textile Projects and Art Quilts

I love adding words to my designs.

Maybe it’s my background as a video producer and editor, or maybe it’s the resonance words give my projects–at any rate, it’s become part of my style.nesting_tight

Lately, I’ve been working on a pack of “titled” pillows using my new favorite way to add words–stamps and fabric markers.

Here’s a pillow cover titled “Nesting” that  I’m about to list in my Etsy store.nesting_wide

I used rubber alphabet stamps and an ink pad for the rough outline of my letters, then filled in with a brown fabric marker.

Love the look–

Here it is again on my” Dive In” pillow top in progress.divein_1

And here’s another technique I’ve used for words on pillow:  Computer generated type, printed to an iron-on fabric transfer sheet.apple_wide

Easy  to read, but not really distressed enough for me.  I actually tackled this text with a  nail file to take some of the shine off the transfer.apples_tight

Method number 3 is printing with  a fine tip,  permanent marker.  I especially like the way this text looks on sheer fabric.   You need a lot of it to make the printing look like more than an accident.  In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say.garden_journal1

Finally, “found words” are my go-to method of titling.  I cut letters and words from tee shirts and other reclaimed sources, then applique them to my work.gardenmor_1

I do love the serendipity of this method.   Often, I just plunge my hand into  my stash  bin labeled “words” and see what combos come out.

So how do you add resonance to your projects?

Zippers are Easy–How to Install one with just 3 Seams

My awesome reclamied zipper collection--

My awesome reclaimed zipper collection–

Installing a zipper can be intimidating. And no wonder!  Just look at the tiny little  instructions that come inside the package. ( I hate fine print!)zipper_text

But zippers are very hot right now.  And if you can stitch a straight seam, you can install a cool zip in about 15 minutes. Here’s how I taught my students in a recent class at the Scrap Exchange in Durham. 

This method was big hit–as in 100% success!!!zipper_1-1

Seam one:  With right sides together and raw edges even,  use long basting stitches to close the seam where the zipper will go.  At the  point where the zipper will stop,  change to  regular length stitches .  Back stitch.  Then sew to the end of the seam and lock (back stitch) again. zipper_1=2

Note:  Pressing makes everything easier.  So  press the seam open and finish the raw edges at this point.  I used a machine zig-zag stitch on the fabric in the photo. zipper_2-1

Seam two:  Also happens on the back or inside of the project.  First put the zipper foot on your machine.  Now open the zipper and lay FACE DOWN on one seam allowance–doesn’t matter which one.   The zipper teeth should snug right up against the seam.  Pin and stitch one side of zipper tape to seam allowance ONLY.    zipper_2=3

Seam three:  Your final seam (yes, you’re almost finished!) will be seen on the right side of your project, so it’s important to keep it straight.  Careful pinning is the key. First close your zipper.  Next,  I pin everything flat on  the inside, then flip and put pins on the outside.  (Don’t forget to remove inside pins). zipper_3

Now stitch  a long “U” shape–down , pivot, across, pivot ,then up. Follow the arrows in the photo removing the pins as you sew.  Press. Use a seam ripper to remove basting stitches and you’re done.

PS:  If you’re interested in learning more basic sewing techniques, check out my upcoming classes at  or join us for Sew Night Community Meet-up at the Scrap–2nd and 4th Thursdays from 6-9 pm.  Sew Night is free and open to all!

Get Creative with a Basic Pillow

If you want to get inspired, teach someone else.  My Basic Sewing class at the Scrap Exchange (Durham, NC) was packed with 7 super-creative people  (men and women) who couldn’t  wait to see their fabric visions take shape. 

Just look at the first machine project from student Karen–Karens_coolpillow

If you’d like to try your hand at a very personal pillow like her’s,  basic instructions from the class handout are given below.

Instructions for your PILLOW:

1) Cut 2 identical squares or rectangles that will be the FRONT and BACK of your pillow.  Cut them larger than the finished pillow, allowing ½ inch for seams on each of the 4 sides.

Note: if you were using a purchased pillow form, measure the form and add seam allowances to those measurements.

2) If you are adding appliqué or other embellishments to your pillow, stitch them to the right sides of the fabric now.  Christine can help you with appliqué technique.

3) Placing right sides together, pin around the back side of the fabric on all side of your pillow.  Now place two pins on either side of the opening you will use to turn and stuff the pillow.

Tip:  you will be putting your hand inside the pillow to distribute stuffing.  Make sure the opening is wide enough to let you reach all sides and corners. 

4) Stitch a one half inch seam around the pillow edges, pivoting at corners, leaving a generous opening for turning.

5) Press and clip corners to reduce bulk. 

6) Turn your pillow right side out and (gently) push out corners.

7) Stuff your pillow well using small pieces of craft stuffing, then pin the opening closed.

8)  Hand sew opening and fluff your pillow.  Now pat yourself on the back. 

CONGRATULATIONS you have created an original!

Reclaim a Vintage Coat with Cuffs

The calendar may say “Spring” but it’s cold and rainy in North Carolina on this April day–perfect weather for my favorite mid-thigh 1950s coat.

reclaimed_coatI loved the swing style, top stitching, big buttons and pockets the moment I saw this piece  hanging in  the vintage clothing store.  And it fit through the shoulders! Mine are large.relcaimes_collarBut women of the 50s and 60s tended to be petite.  Vintage sleeves are always way too short for me.cuff_2

So I added a self-lined cuff in brown fabric from my stash.  It matches the topstitching, and large original buttons perfectly. And my brown cuff covers a high-wear spot on the original coat–slightly frayed sleeve edges.cuff_1

Another stash fabric–a brown plaid becomes a thin bias strip between the two fabrics.  This little detail makes my add-on cuffs look a lot more polished. 

I think it would be a good technique for vintage children’s wear, too.  What do you think?

Roll your Fabric Stash

For years, I stored my fabric yardage in flat folds.   Moving them around became quite a workout over the years. 

Thank goodness my husband’s brain is wired differently.  “Looks like that would be easier if you rolled them up,” he said. 

He was so right. 

Yes– It did take many, many hours to roll and tie my large collection of yardage, which I  arranged on shelves by color. 

But the results were more than worth it.  It’s now easier to see what I have, and more importantly, I can  dig out fabrics at the bottom of the pile with out shifting an entire stack of heavy folds. 

I still use my labeled plastic bins for speciality collections like vintage tablecloths, embroidery, decorator samples,  etc.  But for yardage, rolling is a much better way to manage my stash. 

What about you?  How are you storing your fabric collection?

Published in: on November 10, 2012 at 4:27 am  Leave a Comment  
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3 tips for using Sewing Patterns

These days, I make more vintage fabric accessories than clothing, but I still pull out my favorite sewing patterns every season.    

Making a  pair of custom travel pants or the perfect shirt to match them can be very, very rewarding. 

So for all of you just starting to sew your own garments, here are three tips I learned the hard way. 

1–Pattern sizing and ready to wear sizing  are NOT the same.   Trust me here–The 10 or 12 you wear off the rack is not the same 10 or 12 on the pattern you buy.    Check the measurements on the back of the pattern envelope against your body measurements.  When in doubt, always go up a to the larger size.

2–Patterns fit is NOT perfect fit.   I never work with a pattern until I compare the tissue paper pieces to a similar garment from my closet that fits really well.  Take the perfect pants–  I added 3/4 inch to length of the crotch seam and totally rechalked the legs to match a favorite pair of pants. 

3-Finally CUT FAT as in extra margins.  You can always trim off excess fabric but you can never add it back.  On my example pants, I added 1 inch to waistline and another to each side seam.  Different fabrics hang and fit differently, so give yourself some wiggle room. 

BTW–If you’re local, (Raleigh-Durham, NC) I’m in the Scrap Exchange Design Center on the 4th Thursday night of the month for Community Sew Night.   Bring your projects and your questions.  The next one is Oct. 25th.  It’s free and open to all!

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