Sewing on Thursday: Skill-builder Series Introduction

Most of us buy a sewing machine with a singular goal in mind. Learning to sew probably tops the list for those that don’t know how. We want to make things. Awesome things. All those things we see on Pinterest! So we buy a sewing machine. And it sits in the corner. Because we can’t figure out how to thread it. Or use it. And all those things we had dreams of creating sit in the corner with it. Or fill up our Pin boards.

Bone needles

Which brings up the question, how did people learn to do things before they had the internet? It was passed down from generation to generation. First, people learned to create by hand. They used bones, animal guts, and eventually iron needles.

They passed these techniques down and future generations improved on them. Then in the 1800’s the first functional sewing machines were built, but were failed enterprises because of fears the “machines” would put tailors and seamstresses out of business! Elias Howe received the first patent on a working sewing machine in 1846, upon which Isaac Singer stole used Howe’s patented mechanism to make a foot treadle machine that became wildly popular. Bellis, Mary. The History of the Sewing Machine.

My circa 1908-1913 Singer Treadle – needs work, but I love it

As everyone was trying to invent the machine, seamstresses across the world were still teaching their daughters the “old ways” of mending, stitching, sewing, and embroidery by hand, in preparation for running their own households. Mothers would sit their daughters down and show them a stitch, then give them instructions to create sample pieces. As the girls worked on their sample pieces, they would create works that blended all of their stitches and lessons together. These became known as samplers and some were quite valuable later on.

So with the background lesson, we come back around to using a sewing machine. Mothers don’t always set their daughters down and teach them to sew anymore. Grandmothers may live somewhere far away, have passed away, or never learned themselves. So arts start to disappear. Thankfully, we DO have the internet and books. Lots and lots of books.

I love finding vintage sewing books. They are chock full of information that you can’t even find on the internet today. One of these books that I found I have treasured for a long time. It’s called Creative Machine Stitchery and is published through Better Homes and Gardens in 1985. I’ve been wanting to work through it bit by bit and teach myself some new things, making a sampler and putting it to good use. Widgets One of the lessons in the book is on using your machine’s potential. Aha! This is sounding good enough to do a skill builder series on!

Sampler pockets for sewing basket

I’m finally going to go through this book step-by-step and share what I learn with you, hopefully teaching you some things along the way and helping you to use that machine sitting in the corner. There are a few lessons and projects that I will not be using, but I’m choosing the ones that I think will help improve and teach sewing. Here is the outline and what you have to look forward to:


1-6: Sewing samplers to create sewing basket pockets
You will learn to create various size zig zags, openwork, puffing, couching, smocking, and faux French hand sewing.

7: Assembling the Samplers

8:  Fabric Collage Pin Cushion
We will learn how to do a little pit of applique to make a pin cushion to hang off of our sewing basket sampler.

9. Making a Rug out of Yarn – on the sewing machine
This is one of those very interesting techniques that have been rediscovered and are very exciting for me!

10. Using the machine to stitch on canvas
We’ll use our machines to make needlepoint-style stitches on canvas


These are the materials needed for the first 8 lessons. The other two I’ll give you plenty of heads up for as we get nearer.

  • 1/4 yard each of 3 different fabric colors (they use ecru, off-white, and cranberry)
  • 1/2 yard muslin
  • 1/2 yard quilt batting
  • 3 colors of sewing thread to match your fabrics
  • polyester fiberfill
  • 1 package pre-made binding for pockets, 2 pkgs. pre-made binding for alternating pockets and to join pockets. (you can also buy a little extra of your 3 materials to make binding)
  • 17″ 1/4″ wide lace
  • 8.5″ of 1.25″ wide lace beading (I’ll be doing a crochet lesson on this before we get to it, so if you can crochet it, don’t buy it! Same goes for the doily. I’ll be making mine, but not sharing the lesson.)
  • 17″ entredeux (french lace that goes between panels. I will also be giving a lesson on how to make this homemade, but it may be worthwhile to purchase it.)
  • 1 yard Belgian lace
  • Lace doily (very small, for pincushion)
  • cording of various thickness
  • flower applique
  • typing or stabilizing paper
  • marking pen
  • elastic sewing thread
Ok, so here’s your chance! Let’s do this thing and learn how to use that machine!

Sewing on Thursday: An armrest sling for crafty projects

I have a mess in my living room. It’s not from the kids, or the dogs, or even the husband. It’s me. All mine. It’s globbed up in piles in various areas. I have organizers and bags filled to the brim with tools and accessories, yet none of them seem to be able to give me the rapid availability I require for my projects? It’s a conglomeration of yarn, threads, sewing needles, knitting needles, crochet hooks, patterns, scissors, stitch markers, and coffee cups.Try as I might to keep it tidy, I get back in there at the end of the day and start working on my projects. Before long, everything is right back out again. After 2 days, I’ve given up trying to put it away when I’m finished with it, because rarely is there a point where I say, “Ok, I’m done for the night.” Nope. What usually happens is that I work up until I send the kids to bed around 8. Then we go in, read or tell stories, say goodnight prayers, and drift off to sleep. Yes, me included sometimes. They’re just so warm and snuggly. It’s difficult.

I want all of my tools right where I can easily grab them, without having to undo an organizer roll or search through the bag at my feet. They need to be ready instantly and be able to drop right back into place. So I created: The Armrest Project Organizer


Approximately 2 yards of top fabric for sling top and pockets
1 yard muslin or backing fabric
lightweight interfacing

First things first, measure your couch. I went from outside in, first measuring the drop on the outside of the arm, then the top of the armrest, the drop inside the armrest, and across the bottom of the couch under the cushion.

Also measure the distance front to back for the depth you want.

My measurements were 10″ outside drop, 8″ top of armrest, 13″ inside drop, and 21″ across the bottom. The width was 18″ across. Add 1/2″ to all of your measurements. I’ll be referring to my measurements throughout, but please substitute your own measurements for mine.
Cut from top fabric

1-18.5″ x 21.5″ (bottom)

1 – 18.5″ x 13.5″ (inside drop)
2 – 18.5″ x 8.5″ (top of arm/pocket)
2 – 18.5″ x 10.5″ (outside drop/pocket)
1 – 18.5″ x 5.5″ (pocket)

Cut from muslin or backing fabric

1-18.5″ x 21.5″

1 – 18.5″ x 13.5″
1 – 18.5″ x 8.5″
1 – 18.5″ x 10.5″

Cut from interfacing for pockets

1 – 18.5″ x 8.5″
1 – 18.5″ x 10.5″
1 – 18.5″ x 5.5″

  1. Using 1/4″ seams, match the sections to each other, right sides facing. Outside arm to top of arm, top of arm to inside arm, and inside arm to bottom. You’ll have one long piece of fabric x the width you chose. Iron all seams open.
  2. Do the same with the muslin or backing fabric. I chose to cut these in sections so that they would hang better on the couch. You could also do one very long piece of each fabric if you choose.
  3. Iron on interfacing to the 3 pocket sections. Turn the top edge of each pocket under 1/4″ and stitch down to create a narrow hem.
  4. To do the pockets, decide how many sections you’d like. You’ll only be able to section one of the pockets in this, and I chose to do the middle pocket. I made one 6″ section and three 4″ sections. I matched the edges of the bottom and sides to the longer (10″) inside section and sewed straight lines from the top of the middle pocket to the base, then sewed a 1/4″ seam around the sides and bottom.
  5. Layer the bottom pocket to the other two pockets and sew around all three thicknesses.
  6. Match the main fabric to the muslin, right sides together, lining up seams and edges, and sew 1/4″ seam all around, leaving an opening for turning.
  7. Clip the corners and turn the piece right side out. Iron flat and top stitch around seam allowances.
  8. Attach to armrest by laying long piece under cushion and over the top of the armrest.
TADA! You now have a beautiful, one-of-a-kind armrest project sling. You can use this for any type of craft such as knitting, crochet, needlepoint and much more. You can also use it as a handy remote control holder or a candy bar stasher. I hope you had fun with this and as always, if you make one, please post it to our Flickr group! 

Thursday Sewing: Making a tree skirt from curtain valances

I had something completely different planned for today’s post! And as you can maybe tell I’m a bit late in posting today. What I had planned will have to wait until next Thursday’s Sewing Session though. So sorry.Today I bring you: Making a Tree Skirt from Curtain Valances

This would be a lot more relevant if we were closer to Christmas, but I also never got a chance to post it over Christmas. I was sick most of the time and we had family in from Brazil. So here it is today, and maybe it will give you a head start on your Christmas sewing?

To begin with, I had some old valances laying around that I had picked up at a thrift store, intending to make a silky bag with them. The bags never came to fruition. I needed a tree skirt. The one we had was too small and I wanted something a bit more elegant. And handmade. So I “found” the valances on my fabric shelf and started taking measurements.

With two of them, I had enough material to make the skirt. To make the skirt, I needed to sew them together, make a circular cut out in the middle, and then make eyelets or something similar for the ties on one side.

The first thing I did was to sew them together in the middle, so that the borders were on the outside edges. Then I folded them into halves and quarters so I could easily make a pie-shaped wedge to cut out the circular middle. I really just measured the top of my tree stand, subtracted about 1/2″ for seam, and measured from the point to the distance on the ruler. I then cut it and seamed it by folding 1/4″ under and running a zig zag stitch all the way around.

During all of this, I’d forgotten that I needed an opening to actually put it around the tree stand. So I cut down the middle of one side, seamed up the sides, and stood back to take a look at it. It needed more. It was just really plain. Here was where my two hour project became four.

I remembered that I had made a filet crocheted set of bells meant to be used as a centerpiece about 11 years ago. They had taken me forever, but were now laying unused in a drawer. I decided they would be perfect for my tree skirt. Sure enough, I got the centerpiece out and laid it across my skirt. Perfect! Now how to sew that sucker on there?

Looking around the craft room, my eyes landed on the can of basting spray I use for quilts. With an Aha! moment and recall of Ashley’s post about attaching her crocheted appliques, I set about spraying small sections and applying the piece to the skirt. This probably would’ve held for a while, but I didn’t want to risk it. I pinned the bells around, making sure to keep the slippery material as smooth as possible underneath the bells and the bells flat as well. With a zig zag stitch set for a long length and a short stitch, I carefully sewed the bells to the tree skirt.

For the final touch, I used an eyelet setting on my Janome. I made small holes down the sides of the open edges and then let the Janome do its thing. With little effort on my part, the eyelets were made and nearly perfect. I then laced it all up using some ribbon I had.

So it got a little involved, but I was really happy with the fact that I upcycled the valances and found a new purpose for my unused centerpiece. I also had a brand spanking new tree skirt that didn’t cost me a dime to make this year. (I’m not considering the initial cost of the valances which was about $3 and the thread used to crochet the bells, or the ribbon that I had on hand. It was all stuff I had on hand and didn’t have to go out to buy.)

With a little thought, looking through your stash, or a fun run through a thrift store, I bet you can find some stuff to make you own Christmas tree skirt for next year. If you make something, would you consider posting it to my group Flickr account? I’d love to see your projects!

*The pattern used for the bells centerpiece was from the November, 2003 issue of Crochet! Magazine and is by Ferosa Harold. You can reference the pattern on Ravelry.

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