Category Archives: Sewing

Upgrade Your Sewing: Hand Sewn Mini Pincushion

A hand sewn mini pincushion

Loryn: Even if you have a sewing machine, there are times when hand sewing can really make the difference in your sewing projects. If you would like to upgrade your hand sewing, this mini pincushion makes a great stocking stuffer while improving your skills. It looks adorable even when your sewing isn’t perfect!

The supplies you need are:

  • Small scraps of a natural fiber fabric
  • Sewing thread and needle
  • Pearl cotton embroidery thread in a contrasting color and embroidery needle
  • Two tiny buttons

The first thing to do is to pick out your fabric. I’ve used wool on this one. It’s only 1 3/4″ in diameter, so you can use up tiny scraps of fabric. I do recommend that you use natural fibers like cotton, linen, or wool for this project if you’re a beginner, as they are not too slippery. Silk and most synthetic fibers are slippery, so the layers slide out of place, something you don’t want to deal with while you’re getting your sewing chops!

Use a glass as a template.

After you’ve picked your fabric, decide on the size. The easiest way to do this is to find a round object about the size you want to use. My favorite round template is this vintage juice glass, which is 1 3/4″ in diameter. Double your fabric with the right sides in and trace around your object with a disappearing fabric pen or chalk pencil.

Trace a circle on your fabric.

If you haven’t already, trim the fabric down into a square with a wide hem allowance, which makes it easier to grip. We’ll cut it down to a small seam allowance after sewing. Put a pin into each corner, and you’re ready to start sewing.

A knot to get started

Thread your needle and you’re ready to get started. I’m using contrasting thread so it photographs better. By all means use contrasting if it helps you track your stitching—it will still look great! If you want to match, here’s a good tip: if you can’t find an identical thread match, go with a greyish shade of the same color, or even medium grey if you can’t find anything close. It will fade into your fabric.

I typically use a standard doubled thread knotted at the end for basic hand sewing. If you have a problem with knots, try a product like Thread Heaven. It really does make a difference.

Turning and stuffing the pincushion will put a lot of pressure on the knots, so pull the knot almost snug, then bring the needle back to the top and run it through the loop that is left (see photo above). This will prevent you from pulling the knot through the fabric.

Getting started with running stitch

Now you’re ready to get stitching. I’m using running stitch on this project. Slide your needle under the fabric and then back to the top, making the stitches as small as you can (turn it over to make sure you caught at least a few threads on the bottom). Start by making just one stitch at a time, then move onto more as you get comfortable.

Continue working around the circle

Continue working your way around the circle, following your traced circle line. Try to stay on the line, but don’t worry about being perfect. You’re getting practice, and it will still look cute!


Leave an opening about 1/2″ wide. The smaller it is, the harder it is to turn and stuff, but the larger it is, the harder it is to slipstitch the curve of the circle. I prefer the former!

Make two slipknots with your needle. To do this, make your last stitch, then stitch again in nearly the same place, but don’t draw the thread tight. Put your needle through the loop, then draw it tight. Repeat in the same place, and don’t cut your thread yet.

With seam allowances trimmed down.

Now you’re ready to trim the seam allowance down to about a 1/4″ (making sure not to cut your thread!).

Turning the pincushion.

Now it’s time to turn it right side out. A bodkin is a really helpful tool. It clamps shut, so you can stick it inside, grab onto the fabric, and pull it through that small hole. Bodkins are also great for threading elastic and cord through tubes, so it’s a great tool to add to your sewing box. Once it’s right side out, use the bodkin to make sure it is fully turned.

Stuffing time!

Now you’re ready to stuff it. I like to use scrap fabric, as it makes it weightier than polyester stuffing. Cut fabric remnants into small strips, and stuff them inside, using the bodkin to push them all around the pincushion. I used the fabric I trimmed off the seam allowances, plus some extras I was getting ready to throw away.

Sewing it shut

Once it’s stuffed, thread your needle to the right side, fold the seam allowances inside, and pin it in place. To slipstitch it shut, catch a small bit of fabric on the fold, alternating between sides until it is sewn shut. Make two more slipknots, and hide the thread inside the pincushion. To do this, put the needle in exactly where you make the knot, and bring it out in the middle of the cushion. Cut the thread, and wiggle the stuffing until the thread end disappears inside.

Embroidery time

Now comes the fun part—decorating! I’m using gold pearl cotton to divide the pincushion into segments. Thread about 30″ of pearl cotton into an embroidery needle, using a single strand with a knotted end. Run it through the middle of the cushion (your knot will be covered by a button later) and pull the knot snug.

Wrap the embroidery floss around the edge of the cushion, and run it through the cushion at the same point. Pull it snug enough that the thread creates a scallop.

Wrap the thread around again, this time on the opposite side from your first wrap.

Repeat, dividing it into quarters.

Put your final threads in the middle of each quarter, so you end up with 8 segments. Now you’re ready to finish it off with buttons. I used two tiny mother of pearl buttons from my collection. Thread the button on, then run the thread through the other hole to the bottom of the cushion. Put another button on, and repeat, so that you end up with the thread coming out of one of the holes of your top button. Run the thread through the buttonhole, and bring your needle out under the button, without going back through the pincushion. Wrap the thread around the thread shank that holds the button three times, then hide your thread inside the pincushion. You’re done!

If you have any questions, put them in the comments. I’m happy to help!—Loryn

Miniature pincushion

Goblin Ball Halloween Costumes Pt. 2

Happy Halloween (again) to all our readers who celebrate this weekend (and Monday)!

This year my SO and I decided to be attendees to the Goblin Ball, from the movie Labyrinth and here is an excellent video of the ball scene (and yes, that is David Bowie as Jareth, the Goblin King).

In my previous post I talked about and had pictures of our masks. This post is all about the rest of my costume. I will start from the top!

My hair is going to be huge. I have some blonde spray to put some streaks in it and made these wonderful feather clips to add volume, color and texture.

Photo of feather hair ornaments.

Photo of feather hair ornaments.

Photo of feather hair ornaments.

Feather Hair Decorations
Feathers wrapped around clips.

They were pretty easy to make. I bought a bunch of alligator clips and wound the feathers on with thread.

My dress was a bit trickier. My SO and I wandered around a bit and finally landed in a costume shop. There wasn’t much on the shelves that wasn’t Leggy Lane (sexy whatever) and I was getting a little disappointed. Then, one of the ever so helpful salespeople told me that since they are planning on moving to another location next year, they are selling as much of their rental costumes as possible so they don’t have to move them. This sounded promising and there it was, the perfect ballgown type dress. And even better, it needed some work which meant I could negotiate a price.

Photo of ball gown costume.

After talking to the owner of the costume shop (and making sure he saw the tears and problems), I got the dress for $15. I didn’t have to put too much work into it, it needed cleaned pretty badly and a couple of seams had ripped. So, thankful for polyester, I threw the dress in the wash, stitched up the seams and ironed it and it looks pretty good.

Photo of ball gown costume.

Photo of ball gown costume.

As Halloween was going to be a cold night I knew that I would be grateful for a wrap of some sort to put over my shoulders. I decided to splurge a bit and made myself a shawl of velvet and brocade with some pretty lace that I could use for regular use if I was so inclined. It is made of maroon royal velvet and silver brocade and has lace edging and tassels at the end corners.

Photo of velvet and brocade cape.

Close-up photo of lace on the velvet and brocade cape.

Under the dress was a little more interesting. I will state here that if I had any idea how hard tulle is to work with, I would have bought a crinoline (although I do like what I made much better than what I saw in the costume shop). For this, I looked at patterns before I made it. It came out pretty well, and I now have an off-white crinoline if anyone needs to borrow one.

Photo of crinoline.
It is so pale in color that it makes it a little hard to see here.

My only problem now was that the dress was really just a little too short for me and the crinoline really showed at the bottom. It wasn’t unattractive, just not what I had in mind. I thought, why not make any underskirt that would hide the crinoline and match the dress. I decided to make it out of some pretty green organza that has little sparklies all over it that I found at Joann’s (I have been to Joann’s practically every day for the past week).

Photo of organza underskirt.

Close-up photo of sparklies in organza underskirt.
Here you can see the sparklies in the organza.

This brings us down to my shoes. I wanted something that would have a Victorian era (not that our costumes are even remotely accurate to the era), but wouldn’t cost much. One more trip to Goodwill found me the perfect shoes, in bright blue. This wasn’t a deterrent for me at all, especially as these are the dye-able type of shoes. I bought some fabric paint and painted those suckers gold and voila! The perfect shoes.

Now to make them even better, my M-I-L had these gorgeous rhinestone shoe buckles that are absolutely perfect. I love my family!

Photo of shoes.
You can still see a little of the bright blue color they were originally on the inside of the shoes.
Close-up photo of shoe buckles.

After all this, last night I was considering how on earth I was going to carry around any personal effects and decided to make up a quick drawstring purse to match.

Photo of drawstring purse.

Close-up photo of eyelets on drawstring purse.
Here you can see the gold eyelets.

I cut a round piece from the same velvet and brocade used to make the shawl, sewed them right sides together, turned it (like a pillow), stitched the edges flat, made a medallion of cardboard for the inside and outside covered with the same fabric to give it shape (which I then stitched together), used some gold eyelets for the drawstring, threaded with some black cord and voila again! A great little purse for my cards and chapstick (and some touch-up makeup).

I cannot wait for tonight! I will post pictures of both myself and my SO all done up. This is going to be so much fun!

Quilting Technique—Finished Wristlet Purse


Stripe quilted wristlet.

Loryn: I’ve been working on a mini purse or wristlet to go with my new paisley bag. I wanted it to coordinate, but not match too slavishly. I also wanted to try a different spin on the quilted technique I had used in one of my unfinished objects. You can also see it here, in this wristlet I made for my stepsister a few years ago:

Purple stitched purse

For this purse, I made and finished each piece separately, before assembling.

Previously, I had made the pieces out of a quilt sandwich of muslin surrounding flannel. I didn’t have any flannel (and our fabric shop has left town), so I used six layers of muslin instead.I did not use a pattern for this. I made the main body the size I wanted, 7″ by 11″ long, and quilted it. Then I made the curve I wanted and sketched around it to create a pattern piece for the sides.

I had not tried multi-colored stripes before. I wanted this design to read as gray, so I used two shades of gray, with pink and fuschia. I did all of the quilting before assembly.

The next step was to add the zipper (seen here on the finished piece). To sew a zipper into a tube, use a zipper that is a few inches longer that the piece. Baste the zipper into place, then sew it into place with the zipper fully open so you can get both sides under the presser foot. When you’re done, cut off the excess and sew a tailor’s tack over the teeth to keep the slide from coming off.

The hardware was a pain for this project. Our local Joann’s Fabrics closed because a super Joann’s was opening in Kokomo, and evidently they can’t have two stores within 30 miles of each other. I stopped in at the new Joann’s when Kristin and I were in Kokomo to look for hardware, and the selection was simply terrible. They had no small d-rings. Kristin’s ingenuity came to the rescue, and she suggested that I use belt buckles with the center piece removed. They didn’t have the hooks I wanted, either (like the ones on the purple-stitched purse above). Instead, all they had were this spring type. Save yourself the headache and don’t buy the spring-type pictured here. They fall apart almost instantly. Also, the finishes didn’t match, as one was brushed and one was glossy. Spray paint to the rescue!

To assemble the bag, I slipstitched the sides together by hand. This looks really good, but honestly, it was a pain!

Finished mini purse


And here is the finished bag! I will have to replace the hooks sooner rather than later, but I’m going to look at hardware stores to see if I can find better quality there. I’m looking forward to carrying them to work tomorrow!

Cheap Tricks: iPhone Bag

Cheap tricks are great and most of the time, they are things you just don’t think about, you just do them. Today, I did one that I had to think about. I love lounging around my house in comfortable clothes. However, very few of those pajama type bottoms that are the perfect lounging wear actually come with pockets where you can stash your phone, and since I like to listen to audio books and music while working around the house, I definitely need someway to carry my phone around. Hence, I created the Kitty Bag (named after the fabric I used, not the actual application of the bag, although, if the Kitty Bag were big enough, our cat, Jamison, probably wouldn’t mind being carried around in the bag too).

I bought this absolutely adorable, kitty-patterned flannel some time ago. It was just too cute to pass up a few yards and was on sale to boot.

Black flannel with neon kitty figures.

You can see the three pieces I cut out of it today. They are all cut selvage to selvage (45″). I then sewed the long, thin strips at one end, right sides together. Then I sewed this even longer strip into a tube, again right sides together and turned it for the handle. The last piece of fabric (which is about 1″ wider on each side than my iPhone) I also sewed right sides together, leaving the selvage side open to turn the fabric through.

Next I ironed the two pieces (thank you Loryn for stressing ironing projects, it really does help). After determining the length of the handle (the handle is actually sewn all along the sides of the bag, so it needs to be long enough to go from the bottom of the bag over your shoulder and back to the bottom of the other side of the bag) I ended up cutting off about 3 inches on each end. I made the bag to go across my body, not just over my shoulder. Then I sewed the handle in, starting with the front panel of the bag, down and around to the bag with only about a 1/8″ seam. I did the same thing with the other side of the bag. This created a flap of the extra body fabric.

Side view of the handle stitching to the body fabric

I needed to decide how much of a flap I wanted and I also wanted something to weight it down a little and after digging through my supplies, found a pretty ribbon that looked perfect with my neon kitties. I cut off about three inches from the flap and turned it under and wrapped the ribbon all the way around and sewed two seams, one towards the top edge of the ribbon and one at the bottom. This also has the benefit of closing the opening left from turning the fabric.

Finished bag.

All-in-all, this was about 1/4 yard of fabric (if even that much), 6″ of ribbon, black thread and some time, all of which I had on hand today. It was done very quickly (about an hour) and works just perfectly. It is also big enough to hold my ear buds and hangs just at my hip when wrapped across my body. Then flannel lining helps protect my phone from damage or anything else I choose to stuff in it.

Finished bag open to show my iPhone.

Well, time to get some housework done now that I can carry my phone around and bop to the music. Have a wonderful Saturday!

P.S. Sorry about the odd lighting effects, I just got my very own studio lighting and haven’t quite got them where I want them.

Upgrade Your Sewing: Basic Curtains

Pink laundry room curtains
Pretty in pink!

Loryn: If you’ve been wanting to improve your sewing skills, this article kicks off a series of articles on how to make simple home dec projects really shine. Most home decor projects, like curtains, pillows, and bedskirts, are just simple rectangles, so it’s the details that make them special. These simple curtains look good because of three basics:

  • Pressing
  • Lining
  • Edgestitching

I started sewing when I was about five years old. I made project after project after project, drafting my own patterns and getting wildly creative. The one thing that I didn’t have any patience for was the finishing details. My work was sloppily finished until I saw the projects a friend of mine produced. She wasn’t an experienced sewer, but her simple projects were so beautifully finished that they looked great! It finally sank in that all the creativity in the world didn’t pay off if I didn’t pay attention to the details. If you haven’t been quite happy with the results of your sewing, read on for tips you can apply to any project.

If you only apply one tip to your sewing, it should be pressing. Pressing every seam open may seem like a lot of fuss, but the results are worth it. I set up one end of my work table as an ironing board so I don’t have any excuse to skip it. Because I’m cheap, I just throw a folded towel down and iron on it, as it gives me a lot more surface area than an ironing board.

These curtains are lined, as unlined feedsacks are thin and don’t give a lot of privacy. The lining also helps the curtains keep those nice folds at the top. My favorite source for linings are old sheets. This lining is made from new in package vintage fitted sheets that were too small for thick modern mattresses. If you see at garage sales, be sure to pick them up! Here you can see the difference the lining makes:

To make the lining, I sew the lining and and the main fabric (right sides together) around three sides like a pillowcase. Press the stitched seam, then turn the curtain right side out. Use a pin to get your corners pointy, then press the edges again in preparation for edgestitching.

The edgestitching makes precise edges that look great. I use the 1/8″ mark on my machine’s throat plate to keep the stitching line precise. If your edgestitching is not as straight as you’d like, keep your attention on the 1/8″ mark and keep practicing! Edgestitching around the three seams, and then you’re ready for the hem.

To get the best results, hang your curtains on the rings, and then fold a standard hem. I sewed two lines of stitching. This makes a firm hem that makes a flippy curve along the bottom.

Here you can see how I’ve tacked the rings to the curtain. Clips would also look nice, but I have a large supply of vintage cafe rings.

The rings are brass, which doesn’t go with my kitchen/laundry room, so I spray painted both the rings and the rod:

Here’s a simple way to get your rings or clips evenly spaced. First, always use an odd number of rings. Sew or place the rings at the ends, then fold the curtain in half, lining up the rings you just placed. Place the middle ring at the fold mark.

Then quarter the curtain by lining up the end ring with the middle ring. The fold is the spot for your next rings. Do that on each side. For small curtains, I use five rings for each panel.

After one final pressing, the curtains are ready to hang.

I hope you’ve found a few tips that will be helpful. Check back soon for another post on how to upgrade your sewing!

Finishing Unfinished Projects

A pile of unfinished sewing projects
Unfinished business

Loryn: Unfinished projects are the bane of every crafter, and I have more than my share of them. The ones above are just my sewing projects. I’m not even going to bring up home improvement projects or beading!

It was really helpful to pull all of the projects out and evaluate them. Many are quite good and deserve to be finished. Others are a good technique that I should revisit. If you haven’t looked over your unfinished stuff recently, try it out. You might be surprised how inspiring it can be!

Unfinished tote bag project

This one is a puzzler. Why on earth didn’t I finished this large tote bag? The body is a poly/silk brocade, and the base and straps are ultrasuede. The lining is cut and inside the bag, and the zipper is there, too. I think I’ll finish this one soon. I like sturdy bags that can stand on their own, so I think I’ll add another layer of canvas for structure.

Unfinished bag and lining

You might recognize this canvas from the chair in my laundry room/entry way. This is a mid-size bag, about half the size of the one above. I absolutely love the bright lining fabric with the paisley canvas. I sewed the side seams of the body and lining before getting distracted. This one has a very heavy canvas interlining, which gives the bag great structure. I think I’ll finish this one right away, so I can use it before summer is over!

Unfinished quilt

This is the oldest project in my unfinished project pile. I started this for my friend Melissa’s son. He just turned 16! All it needs is quilting perpendicular to the current quilting and binding, and it’s not even very big. She has a second son who is now 15 months old, so I need to get this done before he grows up! This will be the second project to finish up.

Unfinished knitted stuffed animal

This is really a knitting project, but since all it needs is sewn together, I’ll lump it in with this group. This is a knitted stuffed cat that I started as a Christmas gift for someone several years ago. It’s hard to tell scale in a photo, but the body is just under 3″ tall. I knit it in lace weight alpaca at 12 stitches per inch. This one definitely needs to be finished. I did so much knitting on tiny needles that I really messed up my hands. All that effort shouldn’t go to waste! The pattern is from The Knitted Teddy Bear by Sandra Polley. It’s one of my favorite knitting books.

Beaded velvet birds

Aren’t these adorable? I started these more than ten years ago, and I think I set them aside because I wasn’t quite sure what I would do with them. At the time, I was doing a lot of hand beading. I’ve been wanting a hand sewing project (they’re hand beaded and hand sewn), so I think I’ll work on them in the near future and use them as Christmas ornaments, or maybe put them on a wreath.

Unfinished quilted bag

This is a long, narrow bag with a free-hand quilted texture. I didn’t finish it because I didn’t plan the construction well enough. I should have finished the flap edges before I quilted it, and I didn’t think of that until too late. Bulky hems or binding at the flap edges would ruin the look. Still, I really like this technique, and need to try it on a different bag, or maybe a pillow. The fabric is muslin, sandwiched around flannel. The closely spaced stitching is time consuming to complete, but it gives an inexpensive cloth like muslin a rich look and great body.

Unfinished mini quilt

Here’s another miniature. The finished patchwork squares are 1/4″. I love the beautiful colors of the linen, but this one was too fiddly, even for me. I had visions of tiny, hand-quilted miniatures, but I will never get beyond this point. I don’t have the heart to get rid of it, and it doesn’t take up much space!

Those are my current unfinished projects. Of course, this doesn’t include the hundreds I’ve gotten rid of over a lifetime of crafting, just the best of recent years. I’m going to get started finishing these, and you’ll see them in the blog soon!


Feedsacks? Floursacks? Fabric!

Loryn: Feedsacks, floursacks, just about anything that came in a sack (including flour, beans, chicken feed, and rice) was sold in bright printed fabric during the depression era. Feedsacks have to be the best marketing ploy for crafters that has ever come along! In the 1920s, manufacturers realized that lots of housewives used the sack fabric, and they would buy even more if it was a pretty print. Here in the middle of Indiana, with all of our farms, we have lots of feedsacks around even today.

So, how do you know if you have a feedsack? The first clue is a cotton fabric with a tell-tale loose weave, that looks something like this:

Loose weave in feedsack fabric
Most feedsacks are very loosely woven

Not all fabric with that weave was actually a feedsack, though, as you could buy the same fabric in yardage. The sacks were usually between 36-39″ wide and 43-46″ long. If you have the entire sack, you should be able to see the stitching holes along two sides, like this:

Feedsack stitching
If the sack has been taken apart, you can still see the stitching holes

Sometimes you’ll find a sack still stitched together. The seam was sewn with a chain stitch, so it pulled out easily. I’ve come across one with the label still intact, too. If you fabric doesn’t show the stitching holes, it may have been yardage. From a crafting viewpoint, though, the prints are just as nice!

I really enjoy sewing with feedsacks, as the prints are great and the cotton fabric is very easy to handle. I often line feedsack items because of the loose weave, to give it a little more body.

Now on to a gallery of prints!

Gorgeous red print, one of my mom’s (Lynne’s) favorites! This one is even more loosely woven than most.

Red stripe. Stripes can be challenging, because the stripe is not always on the grain of the fabric.

One of my favorite prints!

I have several sacks in this print, and you’ll see them in use soon!

I only have a few scraps of this print, which is too bad.

Yellow is one of Cheri’s favorite colors, so I’ve used this fabric in projects for her.

I love this bright gingham, but the print is slightly off register.


A fun print.

One of my favorites.

This is one of the first feedsacks I ever purchased, while antiquing in college.

Feedsacks were made into the 60s (though in more limited quantity), and I suspect this is a late print.

This is a change from the bright prints that I usually prefer.

This one has a few stains. The oxy boiling method will get rid of all of them!

Like the bright pink one above, this has a woven stripe.

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing part of my collection! For a fun read on feedsacks (including a woman who left the part of the label that said “self rising” on her husband’s drawers!), head to For a site that is full of information, head to