Tag Archives: sewing tips

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

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!