Sunday, March 23, 2014

Pillowcases with French Seams are Easy Sewing

Set of pillowcases with timeless embroidery decoration
Pillowcases are Useful as Well as Decorative

Make your own Pillowcases with French Seams

We purchased new pillows, and they are fatter than the pillowcases easily hold so after struggling a few weeks to shove the pillow into the case, I decided it was time to make some new pillowcases. Pillowcases are easy to make, but you need to use French seams to keep the cases from fraying and to make them easy to slide the pillows into the casing.

Cut two pieces of sheeting fabric in a size suitable for your pillows, plus 4 inches on the sides and 10 inches on the ends. Most sleeping pillows are about 20 inches wide and if you're using 45 inch wide fabric, it works out without any trimming. We like to cut off the selvage edge so it doesn't pucker the stitching. A standard pillow may be about 24 inches long; the king size may be 36 inches long. Measure your pillows around with a measuring tape just as you would measure your waist and divide by two, since you’re measuring all the way around. Alternatively, if you're using 44 or 45 inch fabric and have small pillows, you may not need to make any cuts on the side, as this makes a 22 inch pillow case.

Place the fabrics WRONG sides together (right sides out) and stitch a 5/8 inch seam on both sides and down one end

White pillowcase fabric sewn down side with one end open
Stitch the Side or Sides and One End Closed

Trim the seam so that it’s smooth all around to prevent frayed areas from hanging out when you stitch it again.

White pillowcase fabric with stitching and trimmed edge
Trim the Seam Allowance
White pillowcase shows second row of stitching encasing the first one
Stitch all Around About 5/8 inch from First Stitching
Turn the pillowcase inside out and press. Stitch 5/8 of an inch from the edge all around the three sides, encasing the first stitching and the raw edge. Here's what the inside looks like with the stitching in place.

Turn the pillowcase so the right side is out and the stitching is inside the “bag.”  Here's what it looks like from the outside.

Pillowcase shows outside view of French Seam
Seam From the Right Side
Fold the open end about 1/2 inch from the edge of the fabric and stitch as close to the edge as comfortable.

French seam from inside with folded top edge and edge stitching
Inside View with French Seam and Edge Stitching
Turn the pillowcase inside out again.

Fold the open edge to the inside and press at the point you want the seam. Some pillowcases have 1 1/2 inch seams on the open end; others have as much as 4 1/2 inches. When making your own pillowcases, it’s your preference that determines how wide you want the seam. If you want to add decorative trim, you might want to make the seam about 1 1/2 inches so the decoration won’t interfere with your sleep. You also want to consider that you need the fabric to come well over the end of the pillow. Stitch the final seam and press your pillowcase.

Completed French seam shows enclosed raw edge
Completed French Seam from the Inside
Try the pillowcase on your pillow to be sure it fits, and make another one just like this one. Making a pillowcase is quick and easy and probably much less expensive than purchased pillowcases. Also, you can make them so they fit your pillows. They can be made of printed fabrics, or silk or satin. The French seam has many uses, including garment construction as well as purses, handbags and crafts. 

See you soon!  It's spring in Texas and the birds are already coming to the fountain for water.
Motorized fountain shows doves getting a drink
Doves at the Fountain Last Year

 See you soon!


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Using Checks or Stripes for Quilting - Tips for Success

Using stripes or checks for quilt blocks can create designs you may have missed in your quilting adventures. For a different look, it's interesting to see what works. If you haven't tried it, here are a few issues to watch for from my practice blocks:
Use only fabrics that are woven checks or woven stripes. Printed designs aren't accurate enough for quilting. Here's how you can tell the difference: a woven fabric shows the design on both sides, although one side may look like the reverse. The printed fabric isn't printed on the backside, so the checks or stripes are only on one side. The blue fabric here is woven; the red fabric is printed. 
Blue woven check fabric suitable for quilting
Woven checks have colored threads

Red printed fabric with checks not suitable for quilts
Printed checkered fabrics show from the backside
Trim the selvedge edge off the area you want to use. Then cut the fabric at any stripe or check line close to the 10 1/4 inch size. Lay it on the cutting board and rotary cut it to the 10 1/4 by 10 1/4 inch size.
Stripes and checks require exact squares or the design will look like it goes uphill or downhill. Check your work by folding it diagonally to see if the tips meet with no excess on the side. If not, go back and measure again. If it folds into a diagonal with no extension on the side, you should have a perfect square.
Folded square into a triangle shows perfect square
A folded square will make a perfect triangle

Match background colors. Stripes and checks together can work, but the real key to making it attractive is to have the same color background on each piece. (Ours don't match well here.) If your backgrounds aren't similar shades of white, ecru, or gray, the colors never look as good as those that match.
Quilt block in red stripes and checks shows different color background
Quarter triangle practice block shows problems
Practice with stripes or checks. What happens when you use a stripe to make a quarter-square triangle block? I made a couple of samples, starting with a 10 1/4 inch square. This will create a 9 inch block when finished.
Once you have a 10 1/4 inch square, cut it on the diagonal to make four individual triangles. You'll see that the triangles will fit together to make a square, but the design won't be attractive without cutting another square and dividing it into triangles the same way. Cut a solid color, a print, or even a checkered fabric for the second fabric for your quilt block.
Alternate the two sets of triangles, making sure that if you're using stripes, the two triangles you use go in the same direction. (You'll have two horizontal pieces and two vertical stripes.) Press the blocks and trim the corners. Press your pieces to one side, not open like regular sewing. I always try to press toward the darker fabric so the dark doesn't show through a light one. This is especially important if you're working with polyester and cotton. 100 percent cotton is a little heavier, so the seams don't show through as much.
Here's another sample with stripes only, all going in the same direction. The stripes were cut horizontally, but when made into the quarter-triangle block, show as diagonals.
Quilt block sample shows effect of four matching striped fabrics
Quarter triangle block with stripes
When you use stripes or checks, the quilt blocks seldom look attractive side by side, even if you use a solid color for alternates in the blocks. Solve this with sashing or a strip of fabric dividing the blocks so the eyes see each block individually. I left a space between blocks here so you can see how they would look with a strip between, but you can also see that they don't please the eye side by side.
Quilt blocks showing effect of white stripe between
Imagine a solid strip between blocks
Half-square triangle blocks make interesting designs with stripes, particularly when using four squares together to make a pinwheel.
Here's a much better look. The white background of the stripe matches the white of the solid fabric. The design doesn't flow over from one piece to the other, and you can turn the stripes in different directions for other effects. This block has a problem, though. The bottom left striped piece should be a horizontal stripe to create alternating vertical and horizontal stripes. These are the kinds of issues you can learn about from making a few practice blocks.
Stripes and solids with four half-square triangle blocks makes pinwheel
Effect of using white between stripes
White background quilts are fashionable today, much like they were in the early 20th century. We're seeing white backgrounds on quilts shown on several of the 2014 quilt magazines, so don't hesitate to use white when it works to please the eye.

Have you seen this quilt? You may be able to solve a murder mystery.
Until next time, enjoy crafts while the weather is cold. Make the best of your time indoors.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

If the Thread Twists when Hand Sewing, There is a Remedy

Spool of thread with needle threader and needle
                                           Leave Thread on Spool to Start Threading the Needle

Everybody knows how to thread a needle. Maybe. If your thread twists when you sew by hand or if you get knots in the thread when you pull it through the fabric, you may not know how. This may be one of those things you didn't know that you didn't know.

I could sew before I could read or thread the needle, so "how to thread a needle" was never part of my sewing education. My Grandma threaded the needle, and I sewed scraps together to make a purse. It probably allowed coins to slip through the large stitches, but I made it myself and carried it around the house until I started sewing doll clothes by hand. Then, I was allowed to climb on the stool and quilt, but the quilting threads were already started. I never needed to know how to thread the needle.

Years after I learned to sew, I often had thread that twisted with every stitch. Eventually, I figured out how to avoid twisted thread. If you have twisted thread when you sew, it's not the thread. It's the way you thread the needle. 

Thread has a directional twist that makes a difference when you thread the needle. Here's the easy way to avoid twisting of the thread. 

Thread the hand sewing needle before you cut the thread off the spool. Set the spool on the table or your lap and push the thread through the eye of the needle. 

When you cut the thread off the spool, knot that end as soon as you make the cut. When you sew, you'll be pulling the thread through the fabric along the diagonal twist and not against it. This prevents the thread from twisting when you sew.

Blue thread on spool with needle threaded ready to cut
Cut the thread at the spool and tie a knot at the cut end
You may have twisting with embroidery thread and perle cotton, particularly if you rewind the thread onto a cardboard flat or if you split the six-strand embroidery thread into two or three threads. It's the same principle -- thread the needle from the original open end of the thread and tie the knot at the end closest to the original wrap.

If you rewind the thread onto a cardboard, you'll have the reverse. You'll need to tie a knot in the end, take the thread off, cut it, and thread from the end you just cut. 

This is confusing when you divide the six-strand embroidery thread into two or three strands. Keep track of the end that comes out of the original floss package first as that's the end that goes in the needle. If you mess up and the thread starts to tangle when you sew, you can start over and thread from the opposite end -- but you can learn to avoid the extra steps with a little care -- and knowledge.

Improve your hand sewing skills with this easy technique. Make crafts faster and neater.

See you soon!

Cajun Collection

Friday, November 29, 2013

Sew Fabric Christmas Ornaments Safe for Small Children, No Sewing Machine Required

Red fabric Christmas ornament shaped like strawberry
Strawberry for Full-Size Christmas Tree
You've probably started your Christmas crafts already, but there is always time for more fabric slashes and stitches to round out the holidays. I'm making some fruit Christmas ornaments from cotton, satin and felt scraps and thought I would share them with you. These are made entirely by hand, so you can make them while watching television or chatting. You'll need a needle and thread and fabric scraps.
My grandchildren are 2 this year, so not all ornaments are safe, and the wire hangers we all use are especially unsafe for little ones. You can make ornaments small children can enjoy by using fabrics and thread, with thread hangers. As the children get older, you may want to add decorations that you can't use now -- buttons, beads, sequins or rolling eyes. You still have to watch a small child with any Christmas ornament, especially if he still put things in his mouth.
These are all simple, but original patterns and ideas you are welcome to try.
Start with scraps of fabric and choose some shapes you'd like to hang on a tree. A large tree will need full-size shapes; a small tree can use small ones.
Here are some of the fruits you can make, with a little imagination: Strawberries, apples, lemons, cherries, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, oranges, and maybe grapes, with lots of patience.
Round red Christmas ornament representing apple or tomato
Tomato or Apple Christmas Ornament Handmade
Round green fabric Christmas ornaments resemble white grapes
Could these be Grapes? Need Several to String Together
All the round fruits take a full circle, just like yoyos. A 2 or 2 1/2 inch diameter circle makes smaller fruit, and a 3 1/2 inch circle makes larger pieces of fruit.
Choose a color that resembles the fruit, but it doesn't have to be solid colors. Cherries, strawberries, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, red apples can be made from shades of red fabric. Represent lemons and star fruit with yellow, and grapes with purple or green. 

Cut the circles for the size fruit you want to make, except for the strawberries. Use a larger circle cut in half and make two strawberries from one circle. See more directions below for the strawberry.
Fold about 1/4 inch at the wrong-side edge of the circle and secure the thread with a couple of stitches on top of the knot-- you'll be pulling on it later and need it to be anchored. Stitch around the circle with wrong sides together until you get all the way around. For a lemon, I take a few tacking stitches in the center to resemble the bottom and use a round green circle for the top.
Yellow circle with stitching around edge
Cut a Circle and Stitch Around It for Round Fruit Ornaments
Yellow fabric Christmas ornament shaped like lemon
Completed Lemon with Stitching Gathered Tight at Top
For the strawberry, fold a half circle in half with right sides together and stitch up the side. Tack. Fold about 1/4 inch of the raw edge at the top, wrong sides together and tack the thread. Straight stitch around the semi-circle until you're all the way around. Turn the strawberry so the inside can be stuffed. 
Red half circle stitched up side and around edge for ornament
Strawberry Requires Half a Circle Stitched Closed
Red semi-circle and star cap makes strawberry Christmas ornament
Strawberry Christmas Ornament with Star Cap
I use felt for filling the fruit -- scraps, strips, small pieces left over. Once the fruit is stuffed, pull the thread to gather it tight at the top. Take a few stitches to secure it, then add a top piece. A cap for a strawberry or tomato looks like a star, or you can add a stem for an apple, or leaves.
Green felt fabric used for cap for tomato and strawberry Christmas ornaments
Cap for Tomato, Strawberry Christmas Ornaments
Secure the top, then loop the thread two or three times to make a hanger for your fruit. Tack the hanger loops in place and cut the thread.
Your fruit Christmas ornaments don't have to look real. You can make fictional pieces and let the children imagine what fruit they represent. Children love magic, and may find that the best Christmas ornaments don't represent anything they've ever seen.
Printed fabric makes fruit Christmas ornaments
Start with a Fabric Circle and Stitch Around the Edge for Gathers

Green printed fabric with solid red star cap makes fictional fruit Christmas ornament
Complete a Fictional Fruit with Christmas Colors
We hope you get pleasure from crafts and creating safe and inexpensive Christmas ornaments, and that you have a wonderful Christmas season!
See you soon.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Identifying Quilts by Era of Production

We're often asked about old quilts and textiles, and sometimes we're helpful in placing items into perspective by style and fabric.
Vintage quilt has cotton seeds visible in the light.
Old Quilt with White Background
If you haven't worked with fabrics all your life or if you aren't as old as we are, you may not know some of the characteristics of the eras. Here are some tips that may help you identify when your quilt was made.
Nineteenth Century quilts are often made of wool and dark colors. Twentieth Century quilts are lighter colors and fabrics. Typically, colors during wartime are darker than in peace.
Hold the quilt to the light. Quilts were made with batting that had cotton seeds early in the 20th century, and holding a quilt up to the light shows what the batting looks like. If it has seeds and isn't consistently the same throughout the quilt, you may have an early 20th century quilt. The quilt above with the white background and the fan pattern shows cotton seeds when held to the light.
Feel the fabric. Quilts after about 1960 were often made of permanent press fabrics, after these fabrics were available. Dupont introduced nylon in 1938 and Dacron about 1950. Ruth Benerito, credited with developing permanent press fabrics, recently made the news upon her death at 97.
Quilts before the late 1950s used primarily cotton, but sometimes were made of linen or wool. Feed sack prints were common during the 1930s and 1940s, and these were coarse fabrics with small flowers, usually on white or off-white background. Quilts from the 1970s may be double knits fabrics, a heavy polyester that didn't wrinkle, but was heavy and not always comfortable. 
Fan quilt block showing typical 1940s and 1950s fabrics.
1950s Quilt with 40s and 50s fabrics
Look at the Style. Watercolor quilts weren't popular until about 1980 or so, so if you have one, you'll know that the style tells you that it's more recent than that. You can check online to see when a quilt pattern or design was developed. Some patterns have been around for more than a century, while other blocks are recent designs by quilting artisans.

Watercolor quilt with flower patterns in light to dark hues
Watercolor Quilt

Look at the colors. Each decade has a color scheme, although the colors weren't as obvious in some decades as others. Colors in the 1950s were teal, chartreuse, pink and gray together, and speckled. The 1960s transitioned from psychedelic to yellow and blue, and by the 1970s, we were into orange and green in large designs. Avocado, coppertone and harvest gold were colors of appliances, and that carried over into fabrics.
We saw popularity of soft colors in the 1980s, such as spring green, mauve and shades of purple and blue, and those colors became forest green and burgundy by the 1990s. We're back to a little brighter palette now, after a few years of natural colors, chili pepper red and steel.
Use your instinct. Some quilts just look old, and they may be. Others look new. Quilts may be made of old fabrics or old blocks in another decade. We've been working on some 50s blocks for several years, but the quilts, when completed, look new. In fact, a few of the blocks have a yellow poly-cotton fabric added.

50s pieces with recent addition of yellow fabric to complete block
These old blocks are from the 1950s, but yellow was added later
Study the quilt. Look at the thread used in addition to the color of thread. Imported quilts often use white thread with about 5 stitches to an inch. American quilters like smaller stitches closer together. Cotton covered polyester and nylon quilting thread are signs of a newer quilt than cotton twine. Check the binding and how it's made. Purchased binding has been available for more than 50 years, but many quilters make bias binding from fabrics from the decade of the quilt. The more you examine quilts, the more you'll see the differences in old and new.
See you soon!