Tag Archives: Sewing Projects

My Sewing Machine and Other Animals

I’m sure anyone who has ever used a sewing machine has, at times, found the whole process to be extremely frustrating.  I’ve always assumed it was down to my own lack of knowledge in part, but also partly due to some sort of karmic twist which gave my machine a cruel sense of humour.  No matter, we plough on regardless, even when the walking track grabs all the little threads on the underside of your work and snatches them like the troll under the bridge, or when your needle insists on repeatedly unthreading itself, despite your best efforts to make sure there is always plenty of thread pulled through.

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Up until about a month ago, I was sharing a sewing machine with my Nana, as I’d been using her new one (because she didn’t like the new one as much), but her old Pfaff has now been lowered 6 feet under in the landfill so she’s taken that one back.  However, she spotted a new Singer on sale when she was out with my Grandad and he bought me it.  Brilliant, right?!  The workings were fairly similar, but the dials and reverse lever were in different places, and it has a horizontal spool pin, rather than a vertical one.  All in all, it’s a much stronger machine, and I’ve been teaching myself to use it ever since (you learn from your mistakes right?  anyway, I’ve decided to work my way through The Great British Sewing Bee books, starting with the simpler projects and moving up, whilst also finishing everything I had planned to make for my flat.  Oh, and I have a quilt in mind too!

So far, I have had two relatively major dramas with the new machine.

The first came when I was making my kitchen chair cushions and somehow hit the zip tab with the needle. Crack, split, ching: needle broken.  this resulted in panic, and a lot of huffing and puffing as I tried to unscrew the screw which holds and releases the needle using my fingers alone.  It wouldn’t budge.  Grr.  Ouch.  I tried a knife in the little indent, then a screwdriver, and plier, to no avail.  Then I tried a hand sewing needle thinking it would be narrow enough to fit into indent, which it did, but it immediately snapped.  Great – two broken needles!

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As Google is my usual go-to for all things troubleshoot, that was my next bet  – “needle screw too light”…”how to loosen needle screw”…..no dice!  Finally, remembering there was a weird metal tool in the accessories pack for my old machine (I had to use it to undo a different screw to oil the machine in the past), I had a rummage around for that. Lo and behold, the narrow edge was perfect for the screw’s indent, so out came the old needle, in went the new (keeping the flattened side tot he back) and it was easy enough to tighten the screw up again.  First lesson learned.

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Lesson numero dos.  The details will have to remain sketchy for the time being as this happening was part of  a new project I’ve been working on over the last week or so, but it’s a present so I don’t want to advertise it just yet (pattern will follow in due course).  Anyways, I was stitching on a patch pocket when my needle decided to unthread itself repeatedly, no matter how many times I rethreaded and started again.  The fourth or fifth time this happened, I Iooked at the end of the thread and realised it had been almost chewed up and stretched.  That’s when I realised that I was trying to coax thread at a normal sewing tension through 4 layers of fabric (due to the pocket having a double hem).  So I turned the thread tension wheel down a notch from 3 to 2,and tried again, and the needle passed through as easily as it would have through 2 layers of fabric.  I suppose you have to think of the sewing action as a sort of wave – loosen the tension and the wave will deepen; tighten it and it’s grow shallower, pulling the fabric tighter.

Kitchen Chair Cushions

My kitchen came with a tiny square breakfast bar which is perfect for sewing at, eating at, and having extra space available if I’m doing an especially large bake. Trouble was, all the bar stools I could find were far too heavy/chunky for the space. The solution presented itself when I bought my dining set, as it came with 6 chairs, but any more than 4 made the furniture look at bit too big for its space. My Mum suggested moving the extra two to the kitchen, which has been a perfect solution. However, given the breakfast bar is as high as my worktops, the chairs were a few inches too low. My solution was chair cushions, but nothing I could find quite matched my colour scheme or preferred style.

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Although I bought the fabric for these a good few months ago, I’ve only just got round to making them. They can be a bit fiddly (challenging I suppose) but I think the results are worth it. As ever, this was entirely self-taught, so you’ll have to bear with me, but this pattern is a great starting point.

You’ll need:

1 cushion pad, of a size of your choice

cotton or upholstery fabric, cut to about an inch narrower and shorter than the size of your cushion, so that it gives you a nice snug fit while also factoring in your seam allowance

1 fat quarter sized piece of fabric in the same fabric, or in a contrasting colour or pattern. This will be for your piping, ties and covered buttons

1 zip, 4-5 inches shorter than the width of your cushion fabric

1 reel of cotton thread in a matching colour

piping cord, about 4 times the length of the fabric’s side

8 plain domed buttons with shanks

sewing machine, pins, regular sewing needle, large sewing needle (the kind you get for doll making, for stitching the buttons through the finished cushion), thicker thread or polycord

The buttons and ties are of course optional! This pattern makes great scatter cushions – I just adapted it to make them more fit for purpose.

1. Cut 1.5 inch strips from your fat quarter…3 should be enough to cover your piping.

2. Pin the strips together at right angles, pinning on the diagonal from side to corner then sew along the line – when folded back, this should give you a continuous strip. Once you’re sure you have sewn in the right place, trim the excess triangle to reduce bulk.

3. Pin the strip around the binding, leaving you with an even amount of fabric overlapping above and below that can be pinned together – this will be your seam allowance.

4. Change the presser foot on your sewing machine to a zip foot – this is perfect for getting the stitching as close to the piping as you can. Most machines come with a zip foot as a standard accessory, but you should be able to buy one online or at a fabric shop. Sew along the piping fabric, close to the piping , reverse stitching at both ends to secure your work.

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5. Next, pin your covered piping along the edges of what will be the front of your cushion, pinning on the right side of the fabric. The seam allowance will end up on the inside of the finished cushion. I find it helps to notch the seam allowance of the piping fabric a little when you come to the corners to help you get round the corners without pushing the piping out of shape. I’m afraid this photo is from a previous project so the fabric doesn’t match the rest of the photos, but I thought it was a good example.  Getting the ends to match up can be a little tricky.  I usually pin one end down first, pin around the cushion and then match them up once I’ve made it back to the start.  My method involves trimming back the loose end, measuring it up against the piece that’s there.  What you’re aiming to do is trim back the piping inside the starting end of the piping, but leave the fabric intact, whilst also threading an extra couple of cm of the other end into the fabric tube – you may need to unpick the end of the stitching a little.  Then what you want to do is fold the end of the fabric tube inwards to avoid having a cut edge before wrapping this around the other piping tube – you can use either side here – whichever looks neater.  Once it’s nicely overlapping, pin across the join. The stitching you’ll do next will secure it plenty.

6. Keeping your zipper foot on the machine, stitch all the way round the piping, as close to the piping as you can get. Reverse stitch at the start and end to secure. If you’d like, you can zig zag stitch outside the straight stitching to make things extra secure.

7. The ties. These guys are one of the extras I added to these cushions to turn them from regular scatter cushions into kitchen chair cushions. You just need a couple of strips of fabric for each one – length will depend on the width of the chair legs you are tying them around, plus your seam allowance to stitch them in. I just wrapped the fabric round the chair back posts and cut to eye. They need to be just over double the width of the final ties as you are going to hem these bad boys all the way around, then fold each side into the middle. This is where your best hand stitching will come into play! You can machine stitch if you’d like but the stitching would be visible on the visible, right sides of the ties.

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8. Lay the ties on the edge of the piping, facing inwards. The positioning width-wise will again depend on the chairs you are making them for. Try to flatten out the ends so the hand stitched seams face towards each other. Pin, then stitch into place. Leave them facing inwards so they’ll be on the outside when you turn the cushions out.

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9. The zip! On the same edge as your piping joins and your ties have been sewn on (I like to keep the scrappiest parts to one side….they should end up looking pretty seamless, but still!) lay the zip along, centred, teeth and tab facing downwards, so the teeth are sort of buried in the piping. Pin, then see, zipper foot still attached, as close to the teeth as you can manage but bearing in mind the zip will have to run along the teeth.

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10. Once you’re happy with the zip – if it’s not as perfect as you want it to be, feel free to unpick and redo it (a seam ripper is best for this job) – the next stage (we’re nearly there…sort of) is to stitch on the back panel. Take the panel you’ve been working on and lay it out on a flat surface, making sure the seam allowance and piping seam
allowance are folded out flat too, inside of the zip facing upwards. Lay the other panel on top and pin all the way round, skipping the zip. I find it easiest to start at the non-zip tab end of the zip and pin all the way round to the other end of the zip. Leave the gap unpinned for now. You’re aiming to sew all round the outside of the piping, again, with the zipper foot, as close as you can get, so try to feel for the piping when you’re pinning. When you reach the corners, take extra care. You may wish to leave the needle down and lift the foot when you’re cornering to avoid the fabric gathering. If there are uneven gaps between the corners and the stitching, you may wish to go back over things so your corners look neater when you turn the cover out.

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11. Here’s the really complicated part! This is where we sew the other half of the zip to the back panel. The photo above shows how the pinning should work. You want to pull open the the unsewn part of the top panel, push the top of the zip downwards, and pin where the two naturally meet. To sew this, you might want to unzip the zip after it has been pinned in place. I’ve tried this both zipped and unzipped and find it easier to see unzipped, but it can cause issues with visibility of the ends of the zip when you turn the cushion out if you’re not super careful. After you’ve stitched the zip, fold everything back down and secure the ends of the zip from the top panel by stitching back across to the corners.

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12. Cut across the excess fabric on the corners (cutting off a triangle of fabric layers from each corner but still leaving a bit of seam to keep things secure. Unzip and turn out. You may need to grab the zip tab from the inside by pinching it in a bit of the fabric to work it loose. Give it a good iron and it’s ready for your cushion pad!

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13. Stuff the cushion in, zip it up and you’re ready for the covered buttons, which are of course optional. I forgot to take photos when I was making these though I’m afraid, but this is a handy tutorial. You could buy them instead, of course, if you find the right colours. I just made them so I could get them to match the piping exactly. I bought plain domed buttons on amazon and traced around a milk bottle cap to get the right size of fabric. Then, I tied a knot in some thread and tack stitched all way round, keeping the needle in when I was finished. Then I popped the button in the middle and pulled the fabric circle right and sewed through the ruffles to secure.

14. Again, I didn’t take photos of this part, but I learned from this tutorial. Using those principles, measure the cushion to make sure your buttons will be evenly spaced, whether you’re using one or four, and mark with tailor’s chalk. You’ll need to do this on both sides. Take a medium doll-making needle and thick thread or cord, double over and thread the doubled end through the hole in the button shank. Thread the end through the loop and pull to secure. Loop round again and tie. Thread the loose end through the needle and push the needle through one of the chalk marks, finding the corresponding spot on the other side and pull through. Your button should be pulled snugly in so the cushion will puff around it. Thread through the other button and knot as close as you can. I like to wrap the cord around a couple of times and see into a knot. Cut the cord and repeat for the rest of the buttons – sorry it’s a but fiddly.

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15. If you used the handmade ties, cut strips of Velcro and stick to either side, bearing in mind they well wrap around each other so one strip should be on the smooth outside whilst the other should be on the sewn inside. You could use ribbons instead, of course, meaning you’d just tie these to the chair rather than velcroing, but I didn’t want loops hanging at the backs of my chairs. So here’s the finished product! Sorry this was a lot to take in. Please feel free to leave any questions you may have in the comments section, or tips if you have any better techniques to share!

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