My First Pattern

Pre-puppy, when life was (relatively) calm, I finally got back behind the sewing machine.  I haven’t done anything since my skirt attempt a few months ago, and since that went (relatively) well I decided to test my skills and do something that totally frightened me: A Pattern.

Now, patterns are frightening in a myriad of ways.  First, the instructions.  They read like freaking Greek.   Second, the laying out process.  What direction does it go?  What does a fold have to do with it? What on earth is nap? And finally, there is the inevitability of having what I made look absolutely NOTHING like the picture on the front of the pattern.  But I faced my fears and lived to tell the tale.

I went shopping at Hobby Lobby (aka the greatest store EVER) during a ninety-nine cent sale awhile back and came home with what I thought were going to be easy patterns.  It even had the word “easy” in the title!  Turns out….not so much.

I called my  mom in defeat, who very kindly searched patterns online until she came up with a list of beginner patterns that she thought I should start with.  Back to Hobby Lobby I went (patterns were still on sale!) and came back laden with patterns, fabrics, and “notions”, a sort of catch-all word referring to anything that isn’t fabric.

I was enthusiastic,  but still nervous.  All pattern instructions operate under the assumption that the user has some basic sewing knowledge.  Which I don’t.   It’s written in an obscure Sewer’s Code for which I don’t have the cipher.

I Googled frantically, searching the Web and YouTube for SOMETHING to break this thing down for me, but alas, my quest was a failure.  I would have to rely on myself (and my mom, via phone). I painstakingly went through the process, line by line, until I had my Eureka moment:  I broke the code.

Just in case I can save somebody else the same heartbreak and woe that I went through, I’m going to walk you through the pattern the way that I did.  Now, I could very well have done this COMPLETELY the wrong way (and if I did, somebody please tell me), but in the end I did end up with a wearable garment!  It’s not “Project Runway” ready or anything, but it’s a start.

Here’s what I did:

I bought Simplicity pattern 2228, which is a pillowcase dress. On the back of the pattern, it has a chart telling you how much fabric and what not you’ll need for whichever size you’re making.  For instance,  I made it a size 7, which means that I used 7/8 of a yard of fabric for the main piece of the dress, and 5/8 yard of different fabric for the contrast band along the bottom.  I also needed thread, 2  3/8 yard of 5/8″ wide ribbon, and a  package of 7/8″ wide single fold bias tape.  I’ll get to the bias tape thing in a minute, but it’s ridiculously confusing.  Hint: it’s over by the thread.  Last freaking place that I looked.

Okay, so the first thing you do is pull out the pattern pieces and cut them out for the size that you want them to be.  Just follow the little black lines; this is the easy part.  The instructions say to press the pattern pieces with a warm, dry iron, but honestly I skipped that part.  In retrospect, I probably should have done it.   Also, make sure to pre-shrink your fabric by washing, drying, and pressing it.   One thing I’ve learned about sewing is that it makes you VERY familiar with your iron!  In some cases, too familiar, as is evidenced by this loveliness:

But I digress.

Now take your nicely pressed fabric, and fold it like the little diagram in the instructions.  Then lay your pattern piece with the arrows pointing right to your fold, pin it, and cut it out.  Next, take your pattern piece, flip it over, and cut it on the fold again. I know that I’m not explaining this part very well.  It’s really better if you can see it.  Do the same with the contrast band piece.

Once you have everything cut out, it’s time to start sewing!

Step 1: Sew the front to the back at the side seams, making sure that you’re sewing the fabric with the RIGHT SIDES together – the wrong side of the fabric will be facing out.

Step 2: Break out that bias tape!  Here’s what the package looks like:

I got pink, to kind of match my fabric, but I really don’t know if the color matters or not. It’s going to be folded like this:

Now what you have to do is UNFOLD it and press it flat.  Next, fold the tape in half, lengthwise with the raw edges even, and press that flat.

Step 3: Take your dress and spread it out at the side seams with the RIGHT side of the fabric facing you.  You want the armhole to look like a big “U”.  Now pin the bias tape to the armhole edge, trying to keep the raw edges even.  Sew the tape onto the armhole with a 3/8″ seam.  Trim the seam, and clip the curves (this was a tricky part for me – turns out curves are harder to sew than straight lines).  Repeat on the other armhole.

Step 4: Turn the tape over to the INSIDE (wrong side of fabric); press it and pin it.  On the OUTSIDE (right side of fabric), top-stitch the tape.  Repeat on the other armhole.

Step 5: Keep that bias tape handy, because we’re using it again!  Get a piece that still has the weird little fold on it – like this, remember?

Now open out just one of the edges and press it.

Step 6: Next,  we’re going to make a casing for the neckline of the dress.  With the RIGHT sides of the fabric together, pin the tape to the upper edge with the raw edges even.  Turn it under when you get to the armhole on each side.  Stitch in a 3/8″ seam.

Step 7:  Fold the fabric over to the INSIDE of the dress and press it.  See? It’s like a hem or a waistband because now you’ve got a little casing.  Pin it, then stitch close to the inner edge (make sure you’ve got enough room to slide in that ribbon!).  Do the same on the other side of the dress.

Step 8: Cut the ribbon in half for the ties.  Insert the ribbon through the front and back casings, making sure that the ends extend evenly (you’ll tie them in bows at the shoulders when it’s worn). It’ll look like this:

Step 9:  Time to get out that contrast band!  This part was really confusing for me, so I have no idea if I did it the right way or not.  You’re going to stitch the front part of the band to the back part of the band at the side seams.  Fold the band in half lengthwise with the WRONG sides together, having the raw edges even.  Press it and pin it (the instructions say to “baste”.  I have no idea what that means.  In my little world, it means pin).

Step 10: On the OUTSIDE of the dress, pin the band to the lower edge of the garment, matching the centers and side seams.  Stitch the seam.  Stich again 1/4″ away from the first stitching.  Press seam toward the garment, pressing the band down.

Step 11:  On the OUTSIDE, top stitch the front and back close to the seam.

And voila! You have something that is actually wearable, albeit way too large in my case.  Here it is:



I may even try to re-use the pattern and making matching dresses for the other two girls.  Eventually.




Sewing 101: My First Attempt at Skirts

I recently bought Brett Bara’s “Sewing in a Straight Line”, and decided to attempt the “one-hour skirt”.  It seemed a bit more complicated than pillows, but maybe not quite as difficult as following a pattern.  Here’s a link to her website, with a video demonstration of how to sew the skirt:

And – lo and behold – I did it.  I made not one, but TWO skirts!  That are wearable!  And not completely horrible!  And that I adjusted to fit children!  Here’s how I did it, in case you want to make a not too horrible skirt, too.

You’ll need:

-1 to 2 yards of medium weight fabric (I used cotton; Brett Bara suggests a cotton-linen blend), depending on the size of the skirt

-1″ wide elastic, cut to fit your waist circumference (Brett Bara called for 1 3/4″, but I couldn’t find it)

-A large safety pin

Step 1: Wash, dry, and iron your fabric (according to all the sewers I know, this is of grave importance).

Step 2: Cut

Measure the hip circumference, about 7″ or 8″ below your natural waist.  C’s skirt, which is what’s pictured here, was 24″ wide.   Next, measure the length.  I wanted the skirt to hit just above knee level, so I measured her from waist to knee and added an inch for the hem.

Cut two rectangles with a width equal to your first measurement and a length equal to your second measurement.

Measure the waist circumference and cut a piece of elastic to that measurement minus 1″.


Step 3: Sewing Side Seams

Pin together the two pieces of fabric with the right sides facing each other.

Image  Next, sew each piece along the length edges with a 1/4″ seam. (Brett Bara calls for a French seam, which I couldn’t quite figure out – so I just pressed the seams instead).


Step 4: Sew the Waistband

Turn under the top edge of the fabric 1/2″ (I used my cutting board to measure; a ruler might be a wise investment) and press.


Turn under this fold top edge 1.5″; press and then pin it.


Topstich (aka sew on the outside) the folded edge in place, leaving an opening near one of the side seams about 4″ long.

Step 5: Sew the Hem

Turn the hem under 1/2″ and press.  Turn it under again 1″; press and then pin it.

Topstich the hem in place.

Step 6: Finish the Waistband

Here’s where things get tricky.  Attach a safety pin to one end of the elastic.  Thread it through the entire waistband casing, which is difficult because it wants to twist.  It’s also difficult when you don’t measure your casing correctly and make it too small for the elastic to fit through – which is what I did.  And then you have to start over.  Which is annoying.


When the safety pin gets back to the opening, overlap the two elastic edges and sew them together.  Just go back and forth a few times.  Insert the now-joined elastic ends back into the casing.  Topstich the opening of the casing closed.


Step 7: Ta-Da!

Scoot the gathers along the waistband to make them nice and pretty.  Brett Bara tells you to “stich in the ditch” along each side seam at the waistband to secure the elastic in place, but I opted against it.  And you’re done! You made a skirt that your child can actually wear*!

*As long as nobody looks at your funky looking hem and wobbly seams too closely


And here’s my child, modeling hers:


Here’s a link to Brett Bara’s book on Amazon, in case you want to buy your own*:

*Brett Bara has no idea how I am, so this is by no means a paid endorsement.  I’ve yet to be paid to endorse anything, though I would very much like to be.  I’ve just found her book to be very helpful so far.


Taming the Beast Project 1: Wonky Pillows

I undertook my very first sewing challenge last week.  Once I got the machine cleaned and threaded (which was actually easier than I expected – apparently “following the directions” is useful), I headed to Hobby Lobby for fabric and patterns.  I found an adorable McCall’s pattern for a little girl’s dress that could easily double as a nightgown, which is what the girls want me to make for them.  They were on sale for ninety-nine cents each, so of course I had to stock up.  I went up to the sweet little old lady working the fabric counter and asked her advice on nightgown fabrics.  I confessed that I’ve never sewn before, and that any advice would be helpful.  The sweet little old lady looked up at me and said, “Oh, honey”, as only sweet little old ladies do, “Do you really think that you can make these when you haven’t sewn a thing before?”

I was crestfallen.  Gone were my visions of the girls going to bed that night in beautifully crafted, homemade nighties.  My disappointment must have shown on my face, because she quickly said, “What you need to do is go and get yourself some cheap fabric and make you some pillows.  And you just keep on makin’ those pillows until you get things figured out, okay?  And after that get yourself a sewing book.  And after that you can try your hand at some patterns”.

Properly admonished, I allowed myself to be led to the clearance fabric section, certain that I’d be stuck with seventies-looking paisleys or neon solids.  To my surprise, I found several bolts of Disney Princess fabrics! Score! L picked a purple Princess Tiana print, and C picked out Cinderella.  I found a cute, mod hot pink and brown polka dot for A that matches her room.  I got half a yard of each for a grand total of about seven dollars (not including the ninety-nine cent patterns that I insisted on buying anyway)!  So cheap even my husband couldn’t complain if I totally screwed them up.

Princess Tiana went first, and went surprisingly smooth – in the beginning.  About halfway through the second side my bobbin ran out of thread.  I, being the sewing dunce that I am, assumed that bobbins were like spools of thread and had to be replaced when they ran out.  I posted a lack-of-bobbin lament on Facebook, only to have a comment from my mom ten seconds later that read, “You know you can refill those, don’t you?”

No.  I did not know that.

I found my machine instructions (while ignoring the Facebook alerts on my phone indicating that many, many other people had also clarified my idiocy) and set about refilling the bobbin.  Lo and behold, it worked!

And it was one of the proudest moments of my life.

I got back to work, and finished my pillow – and it looked like a pillow!  An actual pillow!  And so did the others!  Well, poor C’s pillow ended up more of a lumbar-pillow shape, but that’s due to my poor scissors skills (which is a whole other story).  But wonky or not, all three girls were pretty pleased with their new travel pillows, and they were finished just in time for our spring break road trip.  Here they are:


And I did it all by myself*.

*Aside from the helpful phone advice from my mom

Facing the Fear

I am both mesmerized and terrified of my sewing machine, which has been touched only once in my eight years of ownership.   I’m mesmerized by it because I have always wanted to quilt, or throw together a cool throw pillow, or even just hem something.  I’m terrified of it because I’m convinced that I will run a needle straight through my finger (hey, I watch “Project Runway”, I know that it’s not unheard of). But now that I’m in my thirties, maybe it’s time to face the fear.  Since I’ve met one of my goals for 2012 (start a blog – check), I decided this week that I should get started on my second goal: learn how to sew.

My grandmother, mother, aunt – pretty much every older female in my life – knows how to sew, and does so beautifully.  Somehow life got the way of me ever learning how, but I’ve always wanted to.  When I was growing up, my mom would always sew my Halloween costume, and every Christmas I’d get a box full of gorgeous, hand-made Barbie clothes from my grandmother.  It’s such a timeless, homey, uber-domestic art that I want to be a part of.

So.  I delved into the bowels of the attic last week, and, after knocking over about fifty boxes of baby clothes, finally found the sewing machine.  It was a birthday gift from my mom eight years ago when I first expressed an interest in learning how to sew – and moved to Atlanta three months later without touching it.  Well, sewing machine, your time has come.  Unfortunately, it’s in a bit of a sad state:


Hopefully a quick wipe down will fix ‘er right up.


And with it I found my handy owner’s manual and an Idiot’s Guide to Sewing:



And a box full of dust-encrusted sewing accoutrement (I’m terrible about sealing boxes):



Goal for this week:  Clean Machine and Figure out how to Thread it and Learn Where the Bobbin Goes and what the Hell is a Bobbin Anyway.

Maybe next week I’ll tackle Not Sewing My Finger.