Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sewing 101-Lesson 1: Supplies and Basic Envelope Pillow

I love to sew. People tell me all the time that they would love to learn to sew and I thought it would be a fun series for the blog.  Each Friday, I will post some sewing tips, as well as a simple project that you can work on to try out your new skills. I am designing the series so that each lesson will build on each other.  

I'm a total cheap-skate, but if you're going to sew, you're going to need a few supplies. This isn't an ad for any company, these are just products I like.

Lesson 1: Supplies
 You need a good sharp pair of scissors.  See those blue scissors-sometimes they come in orange too? Those are not sewing scissors. They are inexpensive, but they are not what you want.  You're going to need to spend at least $15 to get a good pair.  I have a pair or Gingher and a pair of Zwilling that I've never sharpened in 16 years and still cut a nice clean edge.
 I use these more often than I'd like to admit. You'll use them to pick out seams when you make a mistake or to cut button-holes. 

 I personally am not a fan of chalk (unless I'm sewing on black and have no other option). Since I don't always complete a project in the same day, I prefer the water soluble over the disappearing ink ones. I really like the Mark B-Gone with the purple on one side and the blue on the other.
 You'll use this to measure hems and to make sure that you are putting a pattern in the correct spot. These are super cheap.
 Everything you need to know about fabric is found on the end of the bolt.  
1. Tells you the kind of fabric.  
2. Price per yard
3. Washing instructions
4. See where it says 044 in?  This tells you the width of the fabric.  For example, if I buy a yard of fabric, it will be 44 inches wide and 36 inches long. Most cotton fabric will be about 44 inches, decorator fabric will be around 54 inches.

 I don't recommend starting out w/ silk (it's easy to work w/, but it's expensive), its just the only bolt I had on hand.
 For beginners, I suggest a cotton or cotton/ polyester blend. I would avoid knits, shears, crepes and satins. If you hate ironing- thin 100% cotton fabric is cheap but wrinkles very easily.  

I would also avoid stripes, b/c they can be challenging to line up. Something with a small print, that doesn't have a set up or down will be the easiest for newbies.  

You can pretty much tell the quality of fabric buy looking at it and touching it. Your biggest investment in any sewing project is going to be your time, so splurge a little on the fabric.
Check out the clearance racks and remnant bins to get good deals and of course, use those coupons.  You can buy inexpensive fabric, just don't buy cheap fabric.
WARNING: Buying fabric is very addicting.  I think it is way more fun than actually sewing something. Pretty fabric is somewhat magical to me- it has endless possibilities of becoming something amazing.

 When it comes to machines, you get what you pay for.  I love my machine.  It's the basic Bernina and doesn't do anything fancy, but it sews a nice clean stitch and don't have the problems and frustrations with my thread always, pulling, jamming, or breaking that I would with cheaper machines. Learning to sew is frustrating enough w/out having to fight w/ your machine.  
If you want to buy a machine, go visit a few shops and take some for a test drive.  Another advantage of buying a machine from a shop is that they often will come with free classes.  People tell me all the time that they have a machine sitting in their closet and no idea what to do w/ it.

That being said,  I know someone that makes several thousands of dollars each month sewing for her etsy shop w/ a cheap machine she got a Target.
Tomato pin-cushins are quaint, but I prefer these magnetic ones. It's also great when you spill  all your pins on the floor and need to pick them up quick.

Sewing needles come in many different sizes. The smaller the number, the thinner the needle.  Thin needles are best to use on delicate fabrics, to avoid putting runs in your project (that's super frustrating).  For most projects, you can just use a universal needle. If you are  sewing on denim or other heavy fabric make sure you use a thicker needle, so your needle doesn't break.  

Needles get dull and you will need to change them out every few projects.

 My MIL will only buy Gutterman 100% cotton thread.  It is good thread, but I don't notice a huge difference between it and other cheaper threads and so will sew w/ whatever. (I sew blessing gowns for my etsy shop and do use more expensive thread). Your thread color can add a design element, but until you can sew really straight stitches, I would suggest matching your thread to your fabric color.  
Also make sure you are using a multi-purpose thread, and not one designed for top-stitching or jeans. 
TIP: When choosing thread color, go a tad shade darker than your fabric.  It will match better.

Rotary cutter, mat and giant ruler.  These are great for quickly and easily cutting a straight edge.  

This is the longest post I've ever written.  If you're still here grab a snack and keep reading. Most posts won't be this long-I promise.

That was a lot of info, are you ready for this week's project? I thought we'd start with a simple envelope pillow.
For this project you will need:
1. 1/2 yard of fabric at least 44 inches wide
2.  thread
3.  16 inch pillow form

Step 1:  Cut your fabric into two 17 inch squares and a 10x 17 inch rectangle. You can either use all of the same fabric or use 1 for the front and one for the back.
NOTE:  We are making a 16 inch pillow, but you can easily adjust to any size pillow.  Just measure your pillow and add a 1/2 inch of each side for seam allowances.
Step 2: Take the 17 inch square that you will be using for the back of your pillow.  Iron it. (ignore my wrinkles). I'm using onsburg and it's the same on either side, but if you are using printed fabric, put the pretty side down. With your gauge measure 3 1/2 inches from the top and stick a pin through the fabric.  Do this at least 3 times.

Step 3: I hope you can see this from the picture. Fold the fabric along where the pins are sticking out.  Iron fold down and remove pins.  You should know have a fold that is 3 1/2 inches wide along the top edge of your pillow back.
Step 4:  Place the pillow front-side up. Lay the pillow back on top with the fold side out.
Step 5: (I actually forgot to take pics so I had to go back after I already stitched it.) Lay the other back piece along the top edge of the pillow. (Pretty side down)

 Step 6: Before you start sewing make sure your needle is in the center position. 5/8 of an inch is your standard seam allowance (how far your stitching is from the edge of the fabric).  There should be notches on your sewing machine to help you.  Just line up the fabric with those notches. Go slow at first so you can sew as straight as possible.  You will want to sew all 4 sides of your pillow. 

Every machine is different but you will want to adjust your Stitch Length (how tight your stitches are together) to between 2.5 and 3.  If you are using normal cotton fabric use 2.5, but if you are using heavier decorator fabric set it at 3.
 Step 7: Clip off the corners.  This will help them look more pointy.  You can even use the point of your seam ripper to help make the point.  Just be careful not to rip out your stiches.
 Step 8: Turn your pillow inside out through the opening formed by the 2 back panels and shove in a pillow form. If you want you can embelish it w/ bows, buttons, lace, stencils.....

 Step 9: Admire your work!

Step 10:  Show off you work and link it up below-I'l love to come and see it. (I'm leaving it up indefinitely so no pressure-when ever you finish-I'd just love to see it)

Step 11: Join us next week for lesson #2 (we're sewing my very favorite-don't-need-a-serger to look professional skirt).
Questions, comments, suggestions? 

Step 12: You have graduated to WEEK 2: EASY BUBBLE SKIRT
Bubble Skirt
To see where I link up or to add your party, please click here.
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Craft & Tell


  1. I don't have a pillow to link up, but I loved the tutorial. Thanks for sharing! :)
    P.S. Ash has a few pillows on her toddler bedspread post.

  2. This is a great series! I bought a sewing machine just this week and it's supposed to be delivered next week... I'm trying this project first thing!

    And, I totally agree: buying fabric is like an addiction. :)

  3. Fantastic! I never knew how to do this and always have to buy new pillow forms. I'm tickled that you did this and made it so elementary! You even define the basic sewing terms. Awesome job!

  4. Thank you, this is great! I found your blog just in time! My birthday present sewing machine (my birthday was in December) was sitting all lonesome until just this Saturday. I knew a few basics from self-teaching on my mom's machine, but this is a great tutorial for actually figuring out the essentials. Thanks tons!

  5. Great start - I am no expert at this business and feel like I have much to learn still. I agree that buying fabric is actually more fun than actually sewing! I love what I can picture in my head - then I try to make it and they do not always turn out like I think they should. Probably because I do not know the proper technique or tip or trick.

  6. Thank you! I'm pinning this. I want to get better at sewing.

  7. Thanks so much for helping all of us wanabee sewers!

  8. Wonderful sewing 101 post!! Thanks SO much for linking up!
    "Kiss Me I'm Irish" linky party now open!

  9. Thanks for sharing - I look forward to reading more!
    I need all the help I can get with sewing!

  10. Thank you for sharing. I just recently restarted sewing. Used to do it when I was younger. Now, that I'm older, will begin again. All help is appreciated.

  11. I look forward to this series. I'm wannabe seamstress :) so... this is going to be fun! Thank you!!!

  12. I saved this to my favorites! I already have the fabric to make new pillows for my sofa! Thank you so much!

    Lou Cinda :)

  13. I've sewn for over twenty years, and this is a great tutorial for beginners. I will be looking forward to the rest of the series. Thanks for sharing your creative inspiration at Sunday's Best.

  14. Very comprehensive for a beginner, you covered everything!! Great post. I have been sewing since I was 10 or so...that was a long time ago...Glad I found your blog!

  15. Great post! Thanks for sharing.

    Mrs. Delightful

  16. Great tutorial! I need to try to make this pillow! I would love for you to link up at my party going on now at Jillify It!

    Enter to win a Hobby Lobby gift card while you're there!


  17. Cute pillows! Thanks for sharing at Shine on Fridays last week!

  18. Great tutorial & tips about sewing! Thank you so much for linking up to Fabulous Friday at Faith, Trust & Pixie Dust. You are invited back again next week.

    Warmly, Michelle

  19. Here via Bubbly Nature Creations. Look forward to reading more. I am one of those people that "wants to learn to sew".

  20. This is such a fabulous tutorial for beginners! I totally get what you mean about the magic of fabric, too! I always say that some ladies have a fabulous shoe collection and I have my fabulous fabric collection! Thanks so much for sharing at our party this week! Can't wait to see what you are up to next week!

    Take care,


  21. I love you site, found it on pinterest! I'm just starting out sewing and am confused how to turn the pillow right side out and insert the pillow form, it says we sew all 4 sides. Help :(

    1. You do sew all 4 sides. However, there will be an opening where the 2 back flaps overlap. I will try and post a pic of the back later.

    2. Ooooh that makes perfect sense actually! Sorry. Thanks for the help! :)

  22. Ooooh that makes perfect sense actually! Sorry. Thanks for the help! :)

    1. I'm trying to be as clear as possible and if something doesn't make sense, I hope people say something. I really appreciate the feedback.

  23. What a great idea for a series! Thanks for all the great tips - I really need a new pair of scissors. Off to check out the bubble skirt!

  24. It makes perfect sense for gift card Gift Card envelopes...I appreciate you share it.

  25. Sewing supplies may seem overwhelming to the beginner seamstress or crafter. There are a few basic sewing supplies that are essential for anyone. Knowing what is needed is the best way to narrow down seemingly overwhelming choices.

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