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Twenty-Twenty: The Year of the Face Mask and New Things

Hi there! Remember me?

Since this year is strange and shocking in so many ways, I figured I would just add to the unexpected by actually sitting down at my computer to write a blog post! I hope all is well with you and you’ve found ways to make the most of life while everything seems to be stuck in limbo.

(If you’re curious what I’ve been up to for the past 5 years, you can surf my Instagram account. Teaser: I had my hands inside Dior dresses at a museum install last year!)

My seasonal full-time Opera Costume Shop work started back up as usual in February (after a two-month hiatus), and then a month later, a virus had shut the world down. It was a really good thing the shipment of locked costume hampers was late to arrive for the last big rented show of the season – since we never opened them, we didn’t have to do a complete inventory before sending it all back! As it was, we were able to walk away after doing a few weeks of in-house stock reorganizing & cleaning when the rest of the season was officially canceled.

As weird as life is for a lot of people this year, I’ve found that not much has changed for me personally. I’m used to long undefined breaks between jobs, and I was an expert in social distancing before it was cool. (My husband, thankfully, is able to work from home and he’s been busier than ever.) I found a few sewing projects to keep myself occupied with, and I can’t express how happy I am that I invested in a brand-new industrial straight-stitch Juki last summer! It has been soooo nice to have my “work” machine at home this year!

industrial sewing machine

I named it Thor.

I made a few rainbow color-spectrum swirl skirts – one for myself, 2 have sold, and 3 have yet to sell. I also made 3 other swirl skirts (I’m calling them “color swipe swirl skirts”). I’ve claimed one for myself, but I still have 2 more for sale. Using up lots of fabric I already had for these!

If I ever get around to it, I’ll put them in my Etsy shop (I set it up years ago and have yet to list anything!) unless someone claims them before I list them. Email me if you’re interested in details.

Then I ended up drafting my own multi-sized face mask pattern because I had non-sewing friends who needed masks for work, and were having difficulty finding any that fit well:

You can’t go wrong with Star Wars or a solid color mask.

Masks for my friend who works at a cinema

Soon after that, I was making masks for family in Michigan:

And then I had a flash of brilliance to make my 5 year-old nephew a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mask (of course, I wanted one for myself too):

And then it morphed into a few commissioned TMNT masks – mostly for adults:

This was the first batch that was half Mikeys. I made a couple more batches after this that evened up the numbers a bit.

Some people sent me photos:

Fast forward to the end of summer when there doesn’t appear to be an end to the mask requirements, and I was inspired when I saw Jen’s craft foam mask frame on Epbot.

A mask that keeps everything away from your nose and month so you don’t feel like you’re eating it when you talk – yes, please! Being able to wear chapstick underneath is the cherry on top.

Face mask with craft foam frame underneath.

Ear-loops with Kam snap-attached cover.

Ear-loops with velcro-attached cover.

Here’s Jen’s full video tutorial:

I printed out her template, made a few modifications, slightly adjusted my self-drafted mask pattern to be the perfect fabric cover for it. I also graded the frame pattern to fit all my other mask sizes.

Mockups of original template on the left and my modified version on the right.

Stacks of prepped and cut mask frames.

Click the link below to download the pdf of my modified version of Jen’s frame and patterns for all sizes with fabric covers:


Print it out and mask some of your own!

I’ve been sewing my craft foam. It’s faster and less messy than gluing. Jen wrote a second post about sewing the frames after I told her how I did it.

Here’s how I sew craft foam face masks:

  • Use polyester thread (cotton-covered poly tends to cause problems and skip stitches)
  • Use a new needle – thinner is better (I used a 70/10 universal needle)
  • Set your zigzag stitch as wide as your machine goes and use a length of 2 or a tick bigger
  • Push the sides of the foam together and straddle the seam with the zigzag as you go
  • Start at the bottom of the V and sew out towards the edge, back-stitching at beginning & end

I stitch mine from the outside (side where the metal nose wire is stuck) and let it cup up around the back of the machine as I sew the seam. Then I carefully turn it right side out starting at the bottom edge. That way, the feed-dog tracks end up on the inside.

Stick-on nose wire added to the mask frame and velcro stitched before sewing center front seam. (Snaps can be put on before or after stitching.)

Stitching the center front seam of the craft foam frame.

The metal nose wire can then be carefully curved over your finger (don’t just bend it in half without a curve). I use stick-on nose wires instead of a paperclip sandwiched between two layers of craft foam.

Flat unbent nose wire.

Curved and bent nose wire.

If the bottom edge is a little bit off after stitching, you can trim the foam with paper scissors to even it up.

Some colors of craft foam stick to a regular metal presser foot more than other colors do. If you find that the foam isn’t feeding though your machine very well and at the right speed (stitches are really close together), use a Teflon/non-stick foot or put a piece of Scotch tape (the invisible “magic” kind) on the bottom of your regular foot. If your machine has the ability to reduce the presser foot pressure, that can also help.

I’ve been using either Kam snaps (this is the off-brand snap kit I have) or Velcro to attach the frames to the fabric mask covers. That way I can make mine with ear loops or around-the-head elastic. (See Jen’s video above for another style option using eyelets and removable around-the-head elastic.)

Kit of plastic Kam-style snaps.

Snaps and velcro on completed craft foam mask frames.

If you order packs of craft foam, you’ll need to air them out for a couple days by spreading them out. My living room smelled like a shoe store for a few days, but that goes away once the foam has been unwrapped for a while.

You will also need to test each color of craft foam to see if it bleeds! I found that only hot pink, royal blue, and dark purple (the worst!) bleed when soaked in hot water. If your foam bleeds in hot water, it will also bleed color onto your face when you wear it.

Soak a scrap of each color in hot water for at least 15 minutes.

Results of color bleed test after soaking.

I sealed the craft foam with an iron set to “cotton blend” like Jen’s video shows. It gets a little stiffer and shinier when you seal it:

Heat sealed (shiny) on the bottom, untouched craft foam on the top.

For my fabric covers, I sew the center front seams of both the outer fabric and lining fabric, Then I stitch the seam allowances down on both sides of the seam. No need to press the seam open with an iron because the machine will do that as you stitch.

If you want a nose wire pocket on the fabric cover, here’s the photo step-by-step of how I do that:

Fold bias rectangle in half, stitch both short ends, press, and turn.

Baste to the right side of the top edge of either the outside or lining fabric.

Then sew the outside to the lining (right sides together) at the top and bottom. Leave the sides open and turn through one of them. After turning, edge-stitch the top and bottom.

Sew outer mask to lining with the pocket sandwiched between the layers. After turning and pressing, the result will look like the photo.

Another view after lining is sewn to outer fabric.

Top-stitch edge of mask with pocket folded down to the inside (on the lining).

Stitch bottom edge and one side of the pocket through all the layers of the mask.

Fold and press ¼” to ⅜” to the inside on both sides. Then fold in another 1” and press. This will be the casings for elastic. Attach snaps or Velcro before sewing the casings down.

Sides pressed and snaps attached.

To save time, pre-make ear loop elastics (cut them around 9½” or so) and put them on before stitching the last seams. If the elastic ends up being too long, you can just re-knot it to fit the person wearing the mask. And the knot can be rotated to hide in the casing.

Inside of completed face masks with nose wire pockets.

You can even make the mask frames to wear loose under disposable masks or others you already have.

Craft foam mask frame under disposable mask.

Craft foam mask frames.

Craft foam frames can be hand-washed with soap & water as needed. Fabric covers can be washed & dried as normal laundry (just make sure you preshrink any fabric before making the covers).


And now on to new things besides face masks…

A few months ago, I started a new social media community on called The Sewing Sphere. I even hired one of my online artist friends to help me design a great logo.

The Sewing Sphere is the place to go if you’re looking to escape the frustrating algorithms and hang out with others who sew. It’s not all sewing, and it feels so much more connected in real-time than other social media platforms. It’s free to join – you can see posts and give “thumbs up” to posts you like. If you’d like to participate in comments and posting, you have to subscribe (help support what I do!) for a minimum of $2/month. I’ll be coming up with new things and sharing special content there. Come help me grow it into a great community – free from trolls & spam!

This summer, I’ve also been learning to tambour bead from my friend and fellow costumer Janet Gershenfeld, who was trained by the ladies who beaded Michael Jackson’s iconic glove! We have plans to offer couture beading services in the near future. I just need to finish building our website and we need to take care of a few boring business-y things.

This crazy year has given me the time to consider multiple career directions, and I’m looking forward to what the future brings!

I hope we don’t need masks much longer, but if we do, maybe my pattern and photos will help you build some you don’t mind wearing all day! And if you don’t sew and would like to commission some craft foam frames and/or fabric covers, email me.

Now that I’ve dusted off my blog a little, we’ll see if I can manage to post a little more regularly again. I really need to give it an overall freshening up!

Sewing Hors d’Oeuvres

Since social media moves fast and things often get completely missed or quickly buried in the constant flow, I’ve decided to assemble some of the miscellaneous sewing tips I’ve shared on Instagram and publish them together in a single blog post. That way it’s a little easier for you to link, find, and reference later.

So whether you missed them before or just forgot about them (some of these are over a year old!), I hope you savor these quick tidbits! Enjoy! =)

Copy-Instead-of-Trace-PatternsYou might recall that I like to trace sewing patterns (especially the vintage ones) to preserve the original. But I also like to use my printer to copy the pieces that are small enough to fit on a page or two.

Sharpening-Hole-PunchYou can sharpen any kind of metal paper-punch by punching through aluminum foil. Punching through wax paper also helps if a punch is sticking.

Interfaced-Sewing-PatternMy friend discovered that fusible interfacing ironed to the back of a favorite and frequently used sewing pattern makes it much more durable.

Cutting-Fur-FabricWhen cutting fake fur fabric, cut from the back and cut only the backing. That way you aren’t cutting any of the long fur and you can easily cover the seams in the end.

Sewing-Fur-FabricAfter some trial and error, I recently determined that pins on the bottom help when sewing fur fabric. Sew with a zig-zag stitch so it’s easier to pick the fur on the front to cover the seams after.

Spray-n-BondSpray-n-Bond is my new favorite thing! It was the only way I could appliqué stretch crushed velvet on top of another layer of stretch crushed velvet without it shifting all over the place. It even made using a walking foot unnecessary!

Removing-Beads-from-Seam-AllowanceRemove beads from the seam allowance by smashing them with a hammer. This will keep all the beading threads intact so the beads you leave on the outside don’t become loose and fall off as easily. (Protect your eyes! Wear safety glasses when pounding beads!)

Easing-with-PinsEase with pins. (You don’t need to use gathering stitches to help with easing!) I do this all the time and with all ungathered sleeve caps. Pin both ends, then pin the midpoint, and keep pinning the “middles” until you have the ease distributed evenly.

Gathering-Zigzag-Over-ThreadWhen you need to gather tightly or are using a thick fabric and you’re afraid of breaking a thread when you pull the gather, zig-zag over nylon or upholstery thread (or even dental floss!). You can then pull the stronger thread without fear of it snapping off mid-gather. Just be sure to secure the other end to the fabric or knot it to another row of gathering stitches.

If you have a presser foot with a hole for stitching over cord or trim as pictured above, it’s even easier.

Baste-Stitchline-for-GuidelineSew a stitchline to follow when seam allowances are different widths or uneven. This is especially helpful when attaching bias tape without pins. (Larger stitchline at far right was for basting two layers of fabric together.)

Use-Cone-Thread-Without-Thread-StandA domestic sewing machine rigged to feed cone thread without a cone stand. You can use a roll of tape or a mug to hold the cone.

Topstitching-Stitch-GuideCreate a topstitching guide with painters tape for things like a fly-front zipper. (It took me until the third pair of pants to remember this trick!)

Serging-Tail-FinishWhen you have a serged edge that isn’t crossed by perpendicular stitching or serging, tuck the thread tail under the serging using a large needle to prevent it from unraveling.

How-to-Flatten-Plastic-BoningYou can flatten curly plastic boning by ironing it and using steam. Just make sure to iron it in the fabric casing or under a piece of fabric to prevent melting.

Sewing-Button-with-Thread-ShankUse a small knitting needle under a button when you need to sew a thread shank. Makes for an even and pretty shank once you pull the knitting needle out to wrap the thread.

Sewing-Snaps-on-CenterSnaps have holes in the center for a reason! Mark a center dot on your fabric and pin straight through for perfect placement while sewing.

Handsew-with-Loop-Instead-of-KnotAnd finally, my favorite way to handsew, especially buttons – put both ends of the thread through the needle eye and catch the loop after making the first stitch. No knot!

This is particularly helpful when sewing on net or loosely woven fabric when a knot won’t catch and stay.


Do you have any favorite quick sewing tips to add? Share and/or link to them in the comments!

Build Your Own Ironing Table

It has been far too long since I’ve had a chance to sit down and blog! That doesn’t mean I haven’t been sewing – just more work sewing than fun sewing.

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you’ve seen little bits of what I’ve been up to since I tend to update daily. And you don’t need an account to view what I post there.

At the beginning of January, I decided my sewing room needed a major cleaning/reorganizing. I spent a couple of weeks rearranging the furniture in my sewing room and adding a few new pieces. I think it will really be more efficient in the long run. (More on that to come in a later post.)

I got about 90% finished with the reorg and then I started getting back-to-back jobs and the last 10% has been taking the longest to finish.

But before I got work-busy, I did manage to build myself a new ironing table! Yes, table! No more wimpy ironing board for me! You might recall that I’ve been using the square end of my ironing board and ignoring the pointed end for years.

I’ve always loved the large tables set up in costume shops where I’ve worked (there are usually multiple irons sharing one large surface). It was high time I had my own personal table at home!

My new ironing table!

And because I know all of you who sew will want one for yourself, I took lots of photos so you can make one too. =)

I started with a NORDEN sideboard from IKEA:

NORDEN-sideboard-from-IKEAI’m not sure how long IKEA’s carried this, but I just noticed it recently. It was exactly the size/height I’ve been looking for to use as an ironing table base, and it is solid wood. Plus, it even had the bonus of drawers and shelves!

So for $149.00, I had the perfect table base and I didn’t have to engineer anything from scratch. (I still find it amusing that the least expensive large piece of furniture in my sewing room is the cutting table!)

The dimensions of the NORDEN sideboard are 47½” long x 16½” wide x 35⅜” tall. The height was perfect but the top surface was a little small. I needed something that wasn’t too big and would fit along the wall where I already had my ironing board without blocking the closet door.

First, I constructed the sideboard table exactly as the IKEA comic book instructed because I had come up with my own simple plan to make the surface bigger without having to alter the original design.

I wanted a surface area that was significantly larger than my ironing board, which measures 13½” wide x 53” long (to the narrow pointed end). I decided 60” long would be a decent size to fit my space while still being long enough to iron fabric yardage in one pass from selvage to selvage.

I also determined that 19” wide would not take up too much space in my room – I had to be careful not to make my sewing room feel crowded with the other furniture rearranging.

Norden sideboard assembled and placement determined in my sewing room.

Then, my husband and I went shopping to buy some supplies at the home improvement store:

  • 1 piece of 19” x 60” plywood ¾” thick (we bought a full 4’ x 8’ sheet but had the store cut it to size)
  • 2 square dowels 1” x 36” each
  • 10 flat headed Phillips machine screws size #6 – 32 x 2 in
  • 10 nuts to fit the #6 machine screws (ours came in packs with the screws)
  • 10 flat washers size #6

Plywood rectangle cut to finished size, two square dowels, and hardware.

We already had these but you will also need:

  • Drill
  • 1 wood drill-bit 5/32”
  • Measuring tape or yardstick
  • Staple gun & ½” staples
  • Hammer
  • Screwdriver
  • Adjustable crescent wrench or socket wrench (to fit nuts)
  • Nail setter or a piece of flat metal you can hammer to completely set the staples
  • Any kind of (power or hand) saw that can cut 1’ square dowels
  • Gloves (recommended for handling the plywood)
  • Safety glasses/goggles

We cut each square dowel into 3 pieces measuring 3”, 14.5”, and 18.5”. The small 3” pieces were a good size to keep the dowels from blocking the drawers on the front of the sideboard. Exact size is not important as long as you are able to frame each corner of the existing tabletop with the dowels.

We turned the IKEA unit upside down, placed it on the plywood top, and marked it so the base would be centered on the plywood lengthwise. (Note: make sure you remove the adjustable shelf before turning table upside down!) We offset the sideboard table a little closer to the front edge so that the dowel would be flush with the edge of the plywood (thus, prettier and easier to cover).

Then we put some extra plywood scrap on the floor underneath everything. This was so we could drill all the way through the plywood top without worrying about drilling into the carpet beneath.

A spare piece of ¾” plywood protected the carpet from the drill nicely.

Starting with the two small front dowels, we butted them up to the edge of the sideboard and drilled one hole all the way through the dowel and the first layer of plywood that would be the new top.

Then we unstacked everything and put bolts through from the top (the part that was facing the floor while drilling) and attached them with washers and nuts on the dowels on the bottom.

After that, we did the same with one dowel on one side – drilling one hole on each end because this piece of dowel was longer.

We continued drilling, unstacking, and attaching one dowel at a time so we could make sure everything fit perfectly and would be tight around the sideboard.

Last dowel drilled!

Finally, we had the dowel frame all attached. It didn’t matter that the bolt heads weren’t perfectly flush with the top surface because I knew the padding I would be putting over everything would smooth any height difference out. As long as the dowels were secure on the plywood, it was perfect.

Dowel frame completely attached.

I initially had plans to secure the plywood top to the IKEA sideboard after covering it with appropriate ironing fabric, but it ended up fitting so snuggly we didn’t need to. For once, one of my crazy IKEA hacks actually turned out to be less complicated than originally planned! Win!

My NORDEN has a bigger top!

Here’s a size comparison of my new ironing table to my old ironing board.

You may have noticed I was able to move my fabric tubes from under my cutting table to under my new ironing table. This was perfect because with my new furniture arrangement, the tubes were a little more in the way under the cutting table.

Next came the hard part: waiting for specialty fabric to come in the mail so I could cover the plywood top.

The best ironing tables in costume shops are covered in a drapery interlining fabric called English bump cloth. I read somewhere (apparently I failed to save the link) that it was first used as a curtain interlining for British royalty in order to better insulate palaces from the cold and damp.

Bump cloth is a thick, somewhat flannel-like fabric that adds body and structure to fancy drapes.

English bump cloth fabric.

I found some at in my first search and placed an order. Even though the website said there was around 40 yards in stock at the time, I received an email a couple days later saying they were sold out. Grrr. (I have had such rotten luck with completely filling my last few orders!) If you feel like taking a chance with them, here’s the link for their Hanes Drapery Interlining Bump Cloth listed as item #UK-528.

Once I learned I wouldn’t be receiving my first order of bump cloth, I started looking elsewhere. I eventually found some at and it was less expensive than’s! I quickly ordered 2 yards (I was planning to use two layers to cover my plywood top) and they shipped within 24 hours! Here’s their link for English Classic Bump Natural Interlining.

While I waited for my bump cloth, I went to my local JoAnn Fabrics and purchased 2 yards of aluminum coated ironing board fabric in their utility fabric section. (You can also buy it on their website.) I knew I wanted another silver ironing surface like I had on my ironing board before because it looks better for longer. Most costume shops cover their ironing tables in muslin, but leakage from irons stains muslin.

Ick! stained muslin on a costume shop ironing table. My silver cover never stained so visibly in all the years I had it despite an occasional iron pee.

As of yesterday, Fabrique! (the little fabric store where I work part-time) also started carrying silver ironing board fabric! You can order it from the website as well. From what I can tell, this fabric might have a slightly heavier muslin backing for the aluminum than what JoAnn sells. Too bad I wasn’t able to buy it from work when I needed some!

Finally, my bump cloth arrived and I could finish my ironing table!

The following steps can be used to cover any wooden table surface to create an ironing table if you already have a piece of furniture and don’t want to buy a NORDEN sideboard.

I cut two strips of bump cloth slightly wider and longer than the plywood top and laid them pebbled side down (slightly ribbed/striped side up) on a paper covered work space on the floor. Then I placed my plywood tabletop on top of the fabric.

Then I folded and stapled both layers of the bump cloth (at the same time) to the plywood, starting with one long side and then attaching the opposite side to make sure it was tight. The handle end of a metal nail setter allowed me to hammer staples all the way down along the dowel edges. After securing the long sides, I neatly folded the corners and stapled the rest into place.

I discovered, even after pulling the bump cloth tight, there was still too much slack when I rubbed the top surface. So I pushed the extra up toward the front of the tabletop while my husband held and spring clamped the excess in place.

To correct the slack, I pushed the extra fabric to the front edge and stapled it down. Then I moved the extra fold of fabric to the underside. This ended up working well because there was no dowel across the front and the little ridge of extra fabric created a nice little lip to mask the front edge of the sideboard top.

I used scraps of bump cloth to cover the nuts and screw ends so nothing could catch on them while I ironed later. Then I covered everything tightly with a layer of silver ironing board fabric stapled on through all the layers.

Once the plywood top was completely covered, we just pushed it in place on the sideboard. It fits nice and snug. If I ever need to recover it, I can just take the top off and change out the fabric that needs to be replaced. Super easy. =)

I love my new ironing table!

Bonus: I no longer need to iron yardage in steps before I roll it – I can roll as I iron! And all my ironing tools fit in one drawer while my press cloths & ironing products (aside from interfacing) all fit in the other drawer. I chose to hook my sleeve board over the right edge of the tabletop because I use it often and it makes the tool drawer a bit crowded. I don’t need to leave everything on the open shelf above where it gets dusty – now I only keep spray bottles and sizing etc. on the shelf above.

Ironing and rolling fabric in one step! And everything fits in the drawers!

I just need to clean up the used gravity-feed industrial iron I bought used years ago, and I’ll have totally finished my ironing upgrade!

I hope you find the above tutorial helpful and are inspired to build your own ironing table! Send me a photo or link if you do – I’d love to see!

Swatch It Burn

Have you ever wanted to know the fabric content of some unidentified yardage?  Well, pull out a lighter, light a candle, and figure out what that mystery fabric is!

A group of us on Twitter meet every Friday at 4pm EST/3pm CST using the hashtag #FabricChat to spend an hour talking about a pre-decided topic relating to fabric and sewing. (Join us! You can tweet along or just follow silently; but either way, we’d love to have you there!)

Today the topic was fabric fiber content and burn testing, so I made a few videos on Instagram yesterday in preparation.

I was going to include a fabric burn-test chart from some of my costuming books, but Threads Magazine eerily posted a good printable chart just a couple of days ago. (Have they been following all of the Sewcialist conversations on Twitter to get ideas?)

So below are 8 short video examples of common fabrics aglow, followed by a photo of each fabric after being burned. It was a bit like science lab. =)


Smells like a campfire (leaves and paper) while burning.

Cotton fabric after being burned.


Stinks like burning hair or feathers.

Silk fabric after being burned.


More campfire smell.

Linen fabric after being burned.


Smells even worse than silk. Really strong burning hair smell.  Like Bantha fodder.

Wool fabric after being burned.


Has a slightly sweet chemical smell. It is man-made after all.

Polyester fabric after being burned.


Melts more than burns. Has a bitter chemical odor.  Attracts nosy little dogs.

Spandex fabric after being burned.

Cotton-polyester Blend

Not usually included on a burn chart, but I wanted to see how it behaved in comparison to cotton and polyester separately. Blends are usually the hardest to identify because they burn in such a variety of combinations.

I find it interesting that the cotton-poly ignited so quickly. The melting polyester seemed to hasten the cotton’s burn time. Instead of slowly burning into an afterglow as cotton does, it just shriveled up in a fast flame in the metal pan. The burned fabric became both brittle ash and hard plastic at the same time.

Cotton-polyester fabric after being burned.

So if your “cotton” fabric curls up as it burns and smells a little sweet, there’s a good chance it contains some polyester.

Wool-polyester Blend

Since I knew what it was, I decided to see how this blend burned. It was nasty smelling. Eww ick. Like Solo’s tauntaun. Probably the worst smelling of everything I burned.

The wool-poly melted on the edge and on the bottom where it was touching the flame. Definitely smelled like a wool but melted like a polyester.

Wool-polyester after being burned.

And Katie of Kadiddlehopper was able to make some videos of the fabrics I didn’t have in my stash. She filmed the following examples of acetate, rayon, acrylic and nylon burning. (Thanks so much, Katie!)


Smells like vinegar when burned. Melts and burns.

Rayon and Tencel

Both burn similar to cotton because they are semi-synthetic. They are what I call the “bologna” of fabric because they’re processed from wood pulp. Thus, they also smell like campfire.


Sputters and melts as it burns. It has a chemical smell similar to broiled fish.


Melts but doesn’t really burn. When I burned some white nylon I had at one time, I remember it not even turning black. It just melted into a hard plastic. It smells like celery or boiling green beans.

Hopefully, you found the video examples of the burn tests useful and will now be able to better identify some of those mystery fabrics in your stash.  Like that sample of uniform from that army officer of Gilder.

Burned fabrics in the cup of water I used to dispose of the scraps during the test.

Next Friday’s #FabricChat topic is “how to paint fabric” if you’d like to join in. Sadly, I will be working, but I look forward to reading the archived chat on Leila’s blog.

Inset Point Sewing Tutorial

Sewing inset geometric shapes like rectangles & triangles (aka godets) can be intimidating and confusing at first glance, but they are nothing to be afraid of!

You can see examples of point sewing in some of the dresses I made for my sister’s ‘30s style wedding (my dress specifically, which is also pictured here, along with a copper skirt involving some crazy points set into gathering); in the envelope art on many of my favorite vintage ‘50s patterns in my collection; on the front skirt of my navy ‘40s dress; and most noticably (because of the contrasting fabrics) in my Stars & Stripes skirt. (Is it obvious that point sewing is one of my personal favorite sewing challenges?)

You need to completely disregard pattern instructions when it comes to point sewing, because they just make it more complicated than necessary. I’ll demonstrate the simplest way to sew inset points with a short picture guide, and you might even find yourself drawn to the challenge of point sewing!

I recently took some photos of the process of point sewing while demonstrating it to a friend, who was making herself a dress using retro Butterick 5708, which has a V-shaped seam pointing down under the bust in both front and back.

Technical line drawing of Butterick 5708.

In most situations, it’s best to first stitch together any straight seams that join to a pointed piece. I find it easiest and the most likely to produce a precise point in the end.

Straight seams stitched on the mockup first.
Red thread used for better visual.

Press seam open and mark match points. (Once you start practicing and have begun to master point sewing, you may not need to mark the match points every time.)

And this is the key to point sewing: Do not try to sew the point as one continuous seam! Treat each point as two separate seams and always start from in the middle at the point.

Just knowing that will save you hours of frustration. =)

Match points marked with dots.
(I used a dark marker for illustration purposes.)

Pin through the dots to match the points.

Pinning through the match points.

Then pin out from the point for the rest of one edge.

Pinned and ready to stitch.

Start sewing right on the dot at the point.

Hand-crank the needle down right on the dot and then remove pin to start sewing the seam.

First half of point stitched.

Remove any stitches above the dot on the pressed open seam that was stitched first. If pattern does not have a seam lining up with the point, clip to dot to spread fabric for pinning to second half of inset point.

Clip to point, spread, and pin second half of pointed seam.

I find that most times at this stage, it’s easiest to flip the pieces over and sew from the other side – once again starting at the point. (However, I sometimes decide to end the second half at the point. It really just depends on the fabric and how it is behaving.)

Starting stitch at the point again.

Completely stitched point. Wrong sides both front and back.

Point sewn and seam allowance pressed down, following direction of point.

And there you have it – a nice sharp inset point!

The same method also works with more complex shapes like a T-shaped yoke (illustrated in views A & B of this vintage pattern). Just start at a point and stitch each edge in separate steps.

But remember: there are no real rules in sewing! There’s always more than one way to do something – some ways are just easier than others. =)

(By the way, my friend finished her dress and her inset points turned out beautifully! If I ever get a photo, I’ll update the post to include it.)

If you ever have a sewing dilemma, feel free to leave a comment, ask me by email or find me on Twitter – I’d love to help out if I can!

Reupholstering Dining Chair Cushions

I just finished a home décor project for my aunt that involved more hand tools than sewing. In her kitchen, she has 4 dining chairs with upholstered seats that were becoming a little threadbare after years of use. I helped her pick out some upholstery fabric and I was delighted that she chose to make them each a different color. The finished chair cushions look great around her glass tabletop:

Newly covered chairs around my aunt’s kitchen table.

Upholstery work is always hard on your hands and the deconstructing the old upholstery takes almost as long as the putting the new stuff on. (Note to self: If you ever recover more than 2 chairs at a time again, buy a pneumatic staple gun or recruit the husband!)

The foam of the seats was still in good condition (only the fabric covering it was wearing out) so luckily I didn’t have to rebuild anything.

Chair BEFORE – notice the foam is
poking out of a few holes in the fabric.
(Wensley photobomb!)

After removing the seats from the chair frames (they were attached with four screws on the bottom of each cushion), I inspected the original construction and reverse-engineered them.

I was relieved to discover that the foam had been wrapped in fabric and the matching fabric piping had been stapled to the cushion base separately. This meant that I only needed to remove the existing backing & piping before recovering them and I wouldn’t have to sew the new piping to the new cover.

I removed the piping & the backing staples by forcing an awl between the piping and the cushion base to loosen the staples so that I could grab them with needle nose pliers.

I removed quite a pile of staples and I was so glad I didn’t have to remove the rest!

There were a few staples ends that broke off during removal and were too short to grab with the pliers. I pounded those flat with a hammer to prevent the sharp edges from being a hazard. Then the prep work was finished and the cushions were ready to be recovered.

Ready for reupholstering!

I first cut two-inch wide bias from each of the four fabrics. One yard of each had been ordered, and all but the reddish-orange came with an extra generous cut of nearly a yard-and-a-half! This meant that I only needed to cut one strip of bias from the long three (there was actually enough left over for a second seat of each) and I just pieced two strips of the orange.

Marking the bias is easiest with a clear quilting ruler with grid.
And it’s already 2-inches wide.

I had some utility cotton cording in my stash, but it was just a little too wide to make the piping out of the thick upholstery fabric in the size I needed.  So I went to the hardware store and picked up some one-eighth inch nylon cord for about $4.

To make the piping, I wrapped the bias strip of fabric around the cording and sewed through the fabric next to the cord with a zipper/cording foot. I followed the guidelines that came with the upholstery fabric and used a ballpoint needle with nylon thread.

Notice my tension had to be adjusted WAY up for the heavy-duty thread, but I made a handy pencil line on my tension dial so I always remember the setting my machine likes best for standard sewing. (I have pencil lines for various settings on both my sewing machine and serger.)

For the one strip of bias I needed to piece, I simply stitched two pieces together with a tiny tiny stitch (no need to backstitch). Then I opened the seam flat as I stitched the cording inside. It was almost impossible to detect the piecing on the finished piping – upholstery fabric usually has a nice texture for hiding seams. =)

Sewing over the seam of the pieced bias.

My pile of finished piping.

To cover seat cushions, first determine which direction the fabric’s nap (the fuzzy texture) is going. You should be able to feel the direction by running your hand over the right side of the fabric in a straight line with the grain. You want the fabric to feel smoothest (the least drag) when you “pet” the chair from back to front.

I found the nap direction and then roughly traced (on the wrong side of the fabric) the amount I needed to wrap around the cushion and marked the front with an “F”.

Working on the floor (aka “dog territory”), I wrapped the fabric around the cushion and stapled the center back and then pulled it tight and stapled the center front. Next, I pulled the sides tight and stapled the center of those. (I used a hammer to drive the staples all the way down into the wooden base of the cushion.)

I used an old college text book to prop up the edge of the seat cushion so that I could work on a flat surface. I also used my feet (not pictured) to hold the cushion steady when I needed both hands to fire the staple gun. (Upholstering is an full body sport, hehe.)

Once the first few staples were in place on all four edges of the cushion, I followed the previous cover’s folds and eased the fabric around the corners and curves making sure that the top and side were as smooth as possible. (It’s okay if the bottom is a little lumpy and folded because it won’t show.) And I trimmed off excess fabric as I went.

Close-up of the folded front corner
(I’m holding the side and the front is on the Right).

After I was satisfied with the fabric wrapped around the cushion (I needed to remove and redo a few staples as I went), I moved on to piping attachment.

I lined the piping up with my finger on the edge of the cushion
and stapled as close to the cording as possible.

To finish the piping where it overlaps, I started in the back
so that the overlap would be hidden by the center back of the chair frame.

Finished piping on bottom of cushion.

Detail of piping around curves and corners.

It is amazing how much more finished the piping makes the seat cushions look! A professional look is all about the details. =)

Cushion with piping compared to those without.

Following the piping came the backing, just to finish out the bottom neatly. I used a sturdy cotton weave so the cushion could “breathe”. (The original cover was a black fabric like the reusable grocery bags, but I couldn’t find any of that in a solid color at the fabric store.  I just used some neutral fabric I already had.)

I cut the cotton fabric around the cushion and folded the raw edges under
as I pulled it tight & stapled it to the bottom next to the piping trim.

Once the backing was on, I used a sharp pair of scissors to
cut small holes where the screws attach.

I think they turned out really well and should last for years since they are covered in thicker fabric than they were before. Reupholstering is not really difficult from a technical standpoint, but your hands take a lot of abuse with a project like this, so plan for a couple days of minimum hand use afterwards should you attempt to recover your own.

My stack of completed seat cushions – my hands were very happy to be finished stapling!

The completed dining chair cushions side-by-side.

Make Your Own Pillowcases

Fun bedding always makes me smile. As a kid, I loved my cute Sesame Street sheets – why do we have to give up the colorful and amusing things when we get older?

A couple years ago, a friend of a friend joined the Army and was sent to Iraq. Our mutual friend and I decided she needed cheering up, so we started to brainstorm ideas for what we could send her in a care package. The general idea was to give her a way to decorate her windowless room and make it feel more like a home than a depressing army bunker.

We included things like flameless candles, a curtain that could stick to the wall with a strip of Velcro, and a pack of four stick-on square wall mirrors to make the panes of a “window” for the curtain. We really crammed a huge amount of stuff into one flat-rate shipping box!

Of all the items we included in the box, her favorite thing was the handful of homemade pillowcases I made for her bed. It was such a simple & easy way to decorate her room. And it was great fun picking out cutesy cotton prints for the cases – we were able to fit 5 in the box (one was even for her roommate)!

Here are three of the pillowcases we sent in that first care package:

Little birdies and scooters

Yoga monkeys!

Currently, she is stationed in Alaska and has local shopping available to do her own decorating, but she misses her custom made pillowcases (the Army lost them when she moved). So I’ve made 3 more to send her.

Three more pillowcases ready to send to her.

I made my pattern by measuring some of my own store-bought pillowcases and choosing the fit I liked best – I was surprised how different some of the cases were! I guess there are no standards for standard size pillowcases (ironic, huh?).

My crudely drawn paper pattern.

I thought others might like to make some for themselves or to put in a care package for military or students. It is one of the easiest sewing projects and is prefect for beginners or kids who want to learn to sew!

Since I’ve already done the math, below are two versions of a downloadable .pdf file with basic instructions and measurements if you are interested in making your own. (I’m sure you can buy a pattern for a pillowcase but it is so simple that it should be free!)

Ideal for serged or zigged seam-allowance:


Ideal for French seam assembly:


It’s not precision sewing, so you can choose to make a pillowcase as simple or complex as you want to – plain with just a hem, a little trim, or a bunch of ruffles. And you can use that crazy print that you would never want to wear or otherwise decorate with. Just have fun with it! =)

Helpful hint: After cutting your fabric, attach any trim before you sew the pillowcase seams.

Trim attached first.

Of the 3 new ones I’ve just made, I have made a plain hemmed version, one simple version with one line of rick rack trim, and one slightly complex version that required a little problem solving (because I didn’t have quite enough yardage).

It was all about the detailed fabric print on this pillow,
so I didn’t add any trim.

I added a single line of rick rack because this cute (but slightly busy) monkey print needed to be broken up a little.

The fun thing about having to add a few inches with a horizontal coordinating stripe is that this pillow is sort of a 2-in-1 design just by turning it over. =)

As a final personal touch, I wrote her name inside the pillowcases using a Sharpie Rub-a-Dub laundry marker. Maybe it will keep the Army from losing them next time she moves. =)

Name written inside hemmed edge.

If you make any fun pillowcases of your own, I’d love to see them!

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