Sewing Skill Builder: French Seam

A French seam provides a great finish to many projects. In a French seam no raw edges are visible, as they all become trapped inside a small casing.

This can be a really great feature as you won’t have any frayed edges. I have found this seam to be very helpful on projects that are going to be washed a lot, which usually creates a lot of strings. I also like to use a French seam on projects in which the inside will be visible.

To sew a French seam you actually sew twice.

You sew first with the fabric WRONG sides together. This can seem strange since we usually sew with right sides together.

Then we trim, press, fold with the fabric RIGHT sides together and sew again along the same edge with a larger seam allowance.

Now, on both the right and wrong sides of the seam, no raw edges will be visible.

Once you get the hang of it, a French seam is fairly simple, and it’s a great skill to have in your Sewing Bag of Tricks 🙂

INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO:

Learn to Sew: Lesson 6: Drawstring Bag

In this lesson we will learn several topics that are applicable in a wide variety of sewing projects. The drawstring bag introduces how to make a casing or channel that can be used to hold, a drawstring, elastic, ribbon, and more. This skill is used everywhere from bag making to garment construction and makes the drawstring bag a great project for beginning sewers.

Lesson Category:

  • Machine Sewing – Straight Seams

Lesson Topics:

  • Making a Drawstring
  • Making a Casing
  • Sewing Straight seams
  • Finishing Seams
  • Pressing

This bag measured approximately 13.5 x 15 inches when finished, but could easily be adapted for other sizes.

The bag features a 1/2 inch wide drawstring made by piecing and folding 2 inch strips of fabric.

This project was designed to only use 1/2 yard of fabric, and as a result the drawstring is pieced, but you could use more fabric if you prefer to make the drawstring out of a continuous piece of fabric rather than multiple pieces.

It has a wide casing for easy threading of the drawstring. I’ll show you a quick way to make sure the sizing of your channel is consistent.

It also introduces finishing seams, which is a great skill in general. If you are interested in learning more about finishing seams check out my Skill Building Video on the topic!

In the video also introduces tips for how to turn a corner exactly, how to finish the edges of the drawstring channel and more.

Supplies

  • 1/2 yard cotton fabric
  • Coordinating thread

Helpful Tools

Instructional Video:

Skill Builder: Unpicking a Seam

No matter how long you’ve been sewing, or how much experience you have unpicking seams is inevitable.

Sooner or later, you will have to unpick a seam. It’s actually good to do so. In most cases, when something goes wrong, it is best to redo it right away. Ignoring it can often make the issue worse, as you may find that what went wrong impacts what you will need to do four or five steps down the road. So, if we can become comfortable and skilled at unpicking seams, we will be able to improve the overall results of our sewing projects!

In this video I will show you four different ways to unpick seams. Since many fabrics are different, often the way we unpick the seams differs as well. All of the methods have their uses and are helpful in a variety of situations.

Method 1: Unpicking from the Wrong Side

This is usually done with the fabric laying flat and right sides together. It is the most common method of unpicking, and is my go to method in most cases.

This method is actually quite simple, but it’s easy to do more work than you need to. Just remember…you don’t have to unpick EVERY stitch! That’s usually not necessary unless you are using a very small stitch length or are working in an area that was backstitched.

Simply slide the seam ripper under every 4th or 5th stitch, tearing the thread, and then pull thread from the back and ta da! It’s all undone!

Method 2: Unpicking from the Right Side

I use this method a lot on fleece or plush fabrics. I find on these fabrics my stitches sink right into the fabric, and sliding the seam ripper under the stiches can be difficult. I also like using this method in situations where the stitches are difficult to see, especially if you are using coordinating thread.

Lay your fabric flat with the seam allowance open. Unpick the first few stitches one by one, and then gently pull the fabric on each side away from each other. You will then be able to see the thread between them. This makes sliding the seam ripper under the threads much easier! And since you are gently pulling as you go, it often is quite quick.

Method 3: Unpicking Zig Zag Stitches

Zigzag stitches are probably the easiest stitches to unpick. You simply slide and go. Guide the point of the seam ripper under the stitches and slide right through. The seam ripper is usually able to glide under several stitches at once, ripping the stitches of the seam in seconds.

Method 4: Using the Little Red Ball

This is a really popular method for unpicking and is super convenient. Simply unpick a few stitches in the seam to get it started, then slide the little red ball between the layers of fabric, and gently push it through the seam. The little ball helps separate the fabric so only the threads are cut.

As the seam ripper slides down the seam it will cut the stitches. This method is SO fast. If you are careful it works great. This can be done with the fabric wrong sides together such as on the edge of a closed project, or with the fabric laying flat and the seam allowance open (which protects the fabric a bit more). It is actually pretty fun to watch the seam ripper slide smoothly along the edge and take out those unwanted stitches 🙂

I want to love this method, I really do. It is so easy and it’s nice to just slide that seam ripper along and let it do its’ work. Unfortunately, this method does have its drawbacks. Every once in a while a bit of fabric gets caught in the groove and the blade can tear a hole in your fabric. This could happen for a lot of reasons. It could be the weight or position of your fabric, a dull seam ripper, unexpectedly tight stitches, or any number of other reasons. I have on multiple occasions cut a hole in my fabric using this technique. As a result, I don’t use it very frequently. I also avoid attempting it on expensive fabrics or project that don’t have any leeway in sizing. I’ve found it’s just a bit too risky for me. That said, a lot of people love it and this is the method they use all of the time. So, give it a try! Find the method that works best for you and don’t hesitate to unpick a seam when needed!

Video Instructions:

Sloth Plush Video Tutorial Part 2 and Backpack

Part 2 of the Sloth video tutorial is finished and ready to share! I hope you are excited to complete this project!

Sloth Supplies:

  • 7 x 48 inches Faux Fur or Fleece for body and legs
  • 4.5 x 18 inches of fleece for the face and claws
  • Scrap felt for face details
  • Two 16mm Safety Eyes (You could also use felt circles or buttons if you prefer)
  • Embroidery floss
  • Magnets, Velcro, or Snaps (optional)
  • Scrap fabric to cover magnets (optional)
  • Coordinating Thread
  • Poly-fil Stuffing

Helpful Tools:

Files:

Sloth Quick Overview:

Sloth Video Detailed Instructions PART 1:

Sloth Video Detailed Instructions PART 2:

BACKPACK

When I made the sloth plush project I always intended for there to be accessories to go with it. So, here is the first!

This is a tiny little backpack that is just adorable on the sloth project!

It could easily be adapted for other dolls and stuffed animals by adjusting the elastic straps.

You can choose to make the backpack out of a single layer of fabric (like my denim example), or you can make it with lining (pink example). There are also two different options for the lower straps. Loops that go around each leg, or a single strap that goes around the belly.

Overall, I was really happy with how this one turned out. I hope you enjoy it as well!

Supplies:

  • 4.5 x 18 inches of Main Fabric
  • 4.5 x 18 inches of Interfacing (optional – I used Pellon SF101)
  • 4.5 x 18 inches of Lining Fabric (optional)
  • 1.75 x 4 inches of fabric for the trim
  • 3 inches of 1/4 inch wide ribbon (optional)
  • One 7 inch Zipper
  • 3/4 yard (27 inches) of 1/4 inch wide elastic
  • Coordinating Thread

Files:

Backpack Video Instructions:

Sloth Plush Video Tutorial PART 1

The sloth plush has been one of my posted free projects for quite some time, but I thought it was time to make a video!

I absolutely LOVE this project! It is so cuddly, which just makes me happy! It does take a bit of time, especially if you choose to work with fur, so the instructions for this project will be in two parts.

Supplies:

  • 7 x 48 inches Faux Fur or Fleece for body and legs
  • 4.5 x 18 inches of fleece for the face and claws
  • Scrap felt for face details
  • Two 16mm Safety Eyes (You could also use felt circles or buttons if you prefer)
  • Embroidery floss
  • Magnets, Velcro, or Snaps (optional)
  • Scrap fabric to cover magnets (optional)
  • Coordinating Thread
  • Poly-fil Stuffing

Helpful Tools:

Files:

Video Instructions PART 1:

Skill Builder – Finishing Seams

One thing that comes up frequently in sewing is finishing seams. This can be just as important on simple projects as it is on garments and in more complex construction.

Having a bag of tricks for finishing seams can remove the need for linings and can simplify projects. It can also provide a more polished and professional look.

In my video I will demonstrate four different methods of finishing seams.

PINKING SHEARS

This is the easiest method for finishing seams. It takes very little time and is really convenient. However, it does require a nice pair of pinking shears and they can be a bit pricey.

Zigzag Stitch

This method is very convenient as well. Most sewers are comfortable with the basic zigzag. It doesn’t require any special tools or accessories and it gets the job done.

Zigzag Over the Edge

This is a quick substitute for the overcast stitch if you don’t have the overcast foot available. However, depending on the weight of your fabric the edge may roll a bit when it is met with the tension of the stitch. I find it works well on heavier weight fabrics. The fabric shown in the example is a mid-weight flannel.

Overcast Stitch

This stitch provides the most professional finish. Since it is actually designed to go over the edge it is great for finishing seam allowances. However, it usually requires a special foot for your machine, and depending on your machine the stitch may or may not be an option.

Watch the video and learn how to use these seam finishing methods!

Learn to Sew: Lesson 5: Felt Carrying Case

Thanks for your patience for this latest post! I am a full time teacher, and with school starting back in full swing I haven’t had as much time to devote to new posts as I would like. Don’t worry! I still plan to post new content. However, it just may not be as frequent as it was over the summer. I hope you enjoy the new projects as they come and until then check out my free projects that are already available!

This is a fun quick project that helps practice sewing straight seams. It also introduces bag making basics with boxed corners.

Lesson Category:

  • Machine Sewing – Straight Seams

Lesson Topics:

  • Essential Tools
  • Cutting Rectangles
  • Sewing Straight Seams
  • Boxing Corners

This project uses large sized felt fabric, since the pieces are larger than the standard sized felt sheets available in most stores.

Felt is a great fabric to start with for your first projects because it doesn’t fray. You don’t have to worry about raw edges and it will look nice inside and out!

The top of the bag is made with two layers of felt stitched together for added strength and to provide contrast.

It also has boxed corners. Boxed corners can be a bit of a challenge, but it adds a lot of great features to your bag.

It provides space at the bottom of the bag so it is no longer flat.

In this case it also allows the bag to stand up. Once you learn how to add boxed corners it is a great feature to add to many different types of bags and cases.

Lesson:

Skill Builder – How to Sew a Seam

Once you’ve mastered threading and using seam allowances, as we studied in Lessons 3 and 4 of the Learn to Sew videos, you are ready to sew a seam.

This is where all machine sewing begins!

It’s important to be able to distinguish between the Right Side of the fabric, the bright side, the side you want to see on your final project, and the Wrong Side of the fabric, the dull side, the side you want hidden inside.

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Almost always, when you sew a seam you sew with right sides together. This means the pretty sides of the two pieces of fabric will be touching.

You then align one of the sides with your seam allowance guide mark on your machine, and sew along the edge.

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You use the needle plate on your machine as a guide to measure your seam allowance. As a result it is important to know your machine so you can ensure that your needle position aligns with the markings on your needle plate.

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Once your needle is on the correct position and your machine is set to the correct stitch you can follow your guides as you sew to create a nice even seam allowance. It’s helpful to practice using different seam allowances so you feel comfortable using the different guides. That way when those seam allowance sizes appear in a project you are prepared.

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It’s important to always back stitch when you start and stop your seam, unless told to do otherwise. This acts as a knot and prevents the seam from coming undone. Back stitching on a machine is different from the hand sewing back stitch. On a machine it’s when you make a few stitches in the opposite direction to secure your thread in place.

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It’s also a good idea to trim your threads after each seam. This helps prevents tangles and having a lot trim at the end of your project. It also improves the overall appearance of your project.

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In the videos below I have demonstrated sewing a seam on two different machines, on both a Brother Mechanical and a Brother Computerized Machine. The principles are the same for both, but there are slight differences in how you select your stitches and prepare your machine.

SEW A SEAM – BROTHER COMPUTERIZED MACHINE

SEW A SEAM – BROTHER MECHANICAL MACHINE

Learn to Sew: Lesson 4: How to Thread a Machine

In this lesson we will be threading Brother sewing machines. This will be demonstrated on two different machines.

The first is a Brother Computerized Machine with a Horizontal Spool Pin. The second is a Brother Mechanical Machine with a Vertical Spool Pin. Brother machines are very similar, so chances are if you have a Brother machine it will be similar to one or both of these.

If you don’t have a Brother machine I encourage you to consult your manual or find videos specific to your machine. Knowing how to thread your machine properly and being comfortable doing so, will solve 90% of your problems when sewing.

Lesson Category:

  • Sewing Machine Basics

Lesson Topics:

  • Quality Thread
  • Threading a Bobbin
  • Threading the Machine
  • Threading the Needle
  • Using an Automatic Needle Threader
  • Inserting the Bobbin into the Machine

First thing to know when threading your machine is that the quality of thread matters! If poor thread is used in a sewing machine it breaks frequently. Not only is this annoying, but if you are just learning to sew it can make you want to give up altogether.

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I mainly use Gutermann and Coats and Clark All Purpose threads.

You also want to make sure you have the correct bobbins for your specific machine. Unfortunately, bobbins were not all created equal and while some look similar, just a slight difference in size can be significant. Most of the Brother machines I have used take SA156 Bobbins.

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Since your sewing machine requires a bobbin in order to sew, we first learn how to thread the bobbin and then how to thread the machine.

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It’s helpful to identify if your machine has a vertical or horizontal spool pin. Thread spools that are wound with a crisscross pattern, such as the Gutermann threads shown in the picture shown at the beginning, work best on horizontal spool pins.

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Threads that are would so that the thread is stacked, such as the Coats and Clark threads, work best on vertical spool pins.

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While I have used both styles of spools on both types of machines successfully, it is something to consider if your thread is giving you trouble.

I also occasionally have to use an adapter on my vertical spool pins in order to use the larger Gutermann spools (1093 yds). My adapter is very fancy…just kidding…it’s the body of a basic Paper Mate pen. I just take off the tip and the ink and use the hollow pen. I simply slide it over the spool pin and then slide the spool of thread over it. It’s definitely not the recommended method, but it has always worked great for me 🙂 It adds a bit of stability for taller spools. It’s also a whole lot cheaper than official spool pin adapters.

A note on a popular machine. The Brother CS6000i (and CS7000i) is wonderful model. It’s a computerized machine, but has a vertical spool pin. If you have this machine, threading the top of the machine and the bobbin will be most like my video on vertical spool pins, while inserting the bobbin casing will look like the one shown in my video with horizontal spool pins. You can just skip to the appropriate chapters in each video.

HOW TO THREAD BROTHER COMPUTERIZED MACHINES WITH A HORIZONTAL SPOOL PIN:

HOW TO THREAD BROTHER MECHANICAL MACHINES WITH A VERTICAL SPOOL PIN:

How to Change a Sewing Machine Needle

When I was younger and had been sewing for just a few years, my sewing machine started acting funny and I thought for sure it was broken. Turns out, that wasn’t the case at all. The problem was I had been using the same needle the whole time I had been using the machine. My goodness, I was lucky it lasted as long as it did!

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Now that I have quite a bit more experience I realize how important your needle is, both the type of needle and its quality and condition.

When to change your needle?

There are many times and situations when changing your needle is a good idea. Here are a few examples.

  • Every 8 – 10 hours of sewing
  • Whenever your needle is bent or damaged
  • Whenever you need a specialty needle or specific size
    • Ball point / Stretch Needles (knits)
    • Denim Needles
    • Quilting Needles
    • Microtex Needles (vinyl)
    • Small Universal Sizes (8 -10) Lightweight fabrics
    • Medium Universal Sizes (11 – 14) Mid-weight fabrics
      • I usually use a size 12 when sewing cottons
    • Large Universal Sizes (16 – 18) Heavyweight fabrics
  • For every new project (or every few projects if they are small and/or lightweight)
  • After sewing heavy duty projects
  • When your machine is sewing with irregular stitches
  • When your machine has tension issues

Once you become familiar with how to change a needle it’s really quick and easy! And since you can usually find needles at very affordable prices it’s best to change your needle rather than use an old one, if you are in doubt.

I like to purchase needles frequently, so I always have them on hand. Here is my favorite place to buy needles for both regular point universal needles and ball point needles.

Video Instruction: