Thursday, 31 January 2013

A tutorial: pleated make-up bag with covered zip ends

I actually wrote this tutorial in 2009 for Sew Hip magazine. My contract allowed me to publish it elsewhere six months after publication and I'd intended to share it here as a free tutorial, but I somehow never got around to formatting it for my blog. So here we are three years later. I wrote this shortly after I wrote this tutorial for a simple, unpleated make up bag. It improves upon some of the things people had told me they were finding tricky as it has slightly different zip ends, which I think can give a neater finish for someone new to sewing or with a machine that doesn't handle multiple layers well. I hope you like it! Here it is, exactly as it appeared in the magazine.

This make-up case is small enough to fit easily in a handbag, yet big enough to carry all the essentials. The zip has covered ends for a neat finish, but due to the zipper being a little shorter than the actual case means that it doesn’t need to be sewn into the seams of the case – making it the perfect project for anyone who has ever struggled with installing a zip.

Ingredients list:

Fat quarter of outer fabric
Fat quarter of inner fabric for lining
Fat quarter of medium weight iron-on interfacing
Fat quarter of heavy weight soft sew-in interfacing
Zip end cover fabric (I use the same as the outer fabric)
10” zip
Ribbon/cord for zip pull
Zipper foot for your sewing machine
Marker pen with disappearing ink

All seam allowances are 0.6cm / ¼” (this allows those who have them to use a ¼” seam guide).

1. Begin by applying iron-on interfacing to your fabrics where it's required and then cutting the following:

In outer fabric with iron-on interfacing applied cut two pieces - 28cm x 10cm
In lining fabric with iron-on interfacing applied cut two pieces – 22cm x 10cm
In outer fabric cut two pieces - 2.5cm x 4cm
In sew-in interfacing cut two pieces – 28cm x 10cm

2. Sew your sew-in interfacing to your two outer fabric pieces. You can do this by using a very small zigzag stitch around the perimeter of each rectangle. Be sure to stitch very close to the edge, so that you don’t risk this stitching being seen on the finished item.

3. Place your two outer fabrics wrong-side to wrong-side, as you want them to appear on your finished make-up case, making sure any directional pattern print is the same way up. Now peel back the corners at the left-hand end and use your marker pen to make a star on the back of each piece. This will act as a guide for which ends your pleats should be placed at.

4. Now place both these pieces face down on your work surface and mark out the following measurements on each piece of fabric at the end where the star is.
From the edge, very precisely, make a vertical line along the top of your fabric at 2cm (mark this as A), 4cm (mark this as A), 5cm (mark this as B), 7cm (mark this as B), 8cm (mark this as C), 10cm (mark this as C).  Now do exactly the same at the along the bottom edge of your fabric.

5. The lines you’ve created are a guide for creating the pleats. Starting at the top edge, match up the lines that you marked as ‘A’. On the outer fabric side fold the pleat toward the centre of the fabric and pin in place. Now match the B lines together, fold the pleat toward the centre and pin in place. Do the same for the lines marked C, always being careful to fold the pleats in the same direction toward the centre. Repeat this process on both pieces of fabric top and bottom.

6. Now sew across your pleats just a fraction from the edge to secure them in place, carefully removing each pin just before you get to it (the pleats look better left loose, but if you wish for them to sit perfectly at all times, you can put a tiny hand stitch at the vertical centre of each pleat. You will need to sew carefully by hand, avoiding going through the fibres of the upper layer where your stitch would be visible. Or you can machine sew through all the layers, top stitching the folds perfectly in place. I didn't do either of these as the bag is so short that the pleats hold in place fairly well by themselves, however, if you've altered the dimensions to make a bigger or taller bag then you'd certainly probably want to secure the pleats in one of these ways).

7. You can check that both sets of pleats are even by laying them on top of one another. They should look something like this. Once you’re happy, press with an iron to give a crisp finish. Set to one side.

8. Take your zip and pull the zipper to the centre, so that you don’t cut off the zipper pull. Now cut your zip down so that it is 20cm long by taking a little off each end (don’t take it all off one end as your zip covers won’t fit).

9. Now take the small pieces of fabric that you cut for your zip covers. Fold the long side in half. Now fold each end in so that it rests on the fold line that you just made. With these tucked in, fold once again so that the folded edges meet. This should give you a neat casing to tuck your zip end into. Repeat for the other zip end cover. Press both with an iron.

10. Butt the end of your zip inside right up against the back of the little case that you just made and sew in place. Take care to do this neatly as this stitching will show.

11. Now take your lining, outer fabric pieces and zip. Fold each in half across the long edge and mark with disappearing ink top and bottom where the exact centre of the fabric is. It’s really important to be accurate here.

12. Take a lining piece, outer fabric piece and the zip (with the zip pull half open) and, laying your materials on a flat work surface, create the following fabric sandwich from bottom to top:
           Outer fabric facing upwards
           Zipper facing with the teeth downwards
           Lining fabric facing downwards
Line up the top edges perfectly and place a pin going through all three layers at the point where all the centre marks that you made line up. At both ends there should be an equal distance between the end of the zipper and the end of your fabrics (nb. the zipper should be a little shorter than the other fabrics). If it all looks good, then pin along the whole of this top edge.

13. Using your zipper foot sew this seam from end to end. Feel for the zip teeth as you sew and butt the side of your zipper foot up against them. Just before you reach the zip pull, lift your presser foot, pivot the material a little to allow you to pull the zip pull backwards so that it sits where you’ve just been sewing,  pivot the material back into place and then let down the presser foot and continue sewing up to the end of the fabric. 

14. Flip the fabrics over so that they lay wrong side to wrong side and then press with an iron. 

15. Now take the remaining fabrics and create another fabric sandwich:
           Outer fabric facing upwards
           Zipper facing with the teeth downwards 
           Lining fabric facing downwards

16. Again, check that your centre points all line up, but even more importantly this time, you want to check that your pleats line up perfectly too. Once you’ve established that everything looks lovely, then you can repeat steps 13 & 14.

17. Now you’re going to top stitch your fabrics in place, this will stop your lining from ever getting caught in the zipper and will also trap down any bulk that your pleats might be causing at the top. Change your bobbin thread to match your lining fabric. Continue using your zipper foot and be sure to begin your top stitching at the end with the pleats each time, as your zipper foot will glide over the pleats smoothly in this direction, without the risk of it catching in them. 

18. Now check that the top-stitching looks neat on the lining side too. 

19. Pull your zipper so that it is about ¾ open...this is important or you won’t be able to turn it right side out afterwards!

20. Now take the (nearly finished!) make up case and flip the outer fabrics so that they are laying face-to-face and your lining fabrics are laying face-to-face. Peep inside and nudge your zip cover so that it sits in the lining sandwich. Pin around the perimeter. The important thing to bear in mind here is that you don’t want to trap the ends of your zip covers in your stitching, but equally you want to sew near enough to them that there is barely a gap between the zip covers and the side seams on the finished item. Your ¼” seam will allow this to come together perfectly, but do pay attention to this in case you need to accommodate for any inaccuracies that may have cropped up during cutting or pleat-making.  

21. Sew around the perimeter, leaving a 14cm turning hole in the bottom of the lining, making sure that your pleats are nicely lined up where they meet at the bottom.

22. Clip the corners of the outer fabric, being careful not to cut through your stitching.

23. Your pleats should match up nicely at the bottom, and once you’ve gently poked out your zip covers, they should sit neatly. If either of these things doesn’t look quite the way you hoped, then don’t be afraid to unpick your stitches and neaten things up.

24. Now, in co-ordinating thread, turn in the seam allowances in your lining and sew the turning hole closed.

25. Press with an iron.

26. You can make a zip pull using ribbon, co-ordinating fabric, or beads threaded onto some cord.

27. Fill the bag with make up goodies and spend some well deserved time preening in the mirror. The face you see before you is a peacock who had just sewn her very own make-up bag. Stand and admire! (That's a recommendation for my own blog readers...I refrained from advising that particular course of action in the original magazine article). 

And if you use this pattern, I'd love to hear how you got on and I'd love it even more if you have the time to drop a picture of your lovely new make-up bag into my Flickr group here.

Florence x

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Sewing EPP pieces to a central medallion

I've trawled though my blog trying to discover if I've already talked about sewing English paper pieced shapes to a central medallion, but the post I'd intended to write about this last summer can't be found, so I'm assuming not. When I was piecing my Rouenneries quilt it was the first time I'd attempted to sew pieced shapes to a medallion. I believe there are several ways of doing this and the one I tried first I know works for many, but sadly not for me. Initially, I used fabric glue on the back of the hexagons and, with my medallion sitting smoothly on a flat surface stuck the hexagonal border to it. All seemed well, but as I sewed I felt that the central piece of fabric wasn't lying quite as taut as I would have liked. No amount of easing it back into place and re-gluing it with better tension worked for me. It wasn't awful, it just didn't look perfect and the rumblings of an internal duck-fit were felt I'm unsure if a duck-fit is a widely used term, but my mother has always described the feeling of flapping around in despair or frustration in this way, which I think is such a lovely image (that of ducks suddenly flapping about, seemingly on the surface of the water, quacking frantically and flapping their wings and spraying water all about. It's always an unexpected event that seems to come out of nowhere).

One way of doing it would have been to create a central English paper pieced medallion which perfectly followed the inside edge stepping-stone line of the small hexagons and then sewing them together in the conventional way for EPP, using an edge-to-edge whip stitch. However, not only would this be fiddly to cut, but in the case of these shapes it would be virtually  impossible to wrap my fabric around so that wasn't an option.

Eventually I found a way of attaching my pieces to the central medallion that made me feel altogether more swan like. My problem was all about tension, so it made sense that if I was sewing hexagons of fabric that were firmly wrapped around card, then my medallion should have an identical tension brought about in the same way. I cut a template a little bigger (by about 3/8") than the aperture created by my ring of hexagons, so that I could sew them to the top of this shape. I sewed the medallion into place by using something which probably most resembles a whip stitch, but with not quite as many stitches per inch as I'd normally do for standard EPP. I sewed the inner edge of the small hexagons to wherever they rested on the central medallion. I lifted the fabric away from the card a little with the tip of the needle to make the stitch as it's really important not to let the stitches go through the centre of the medallion as it would be almost impossible to remove the card afterwards. When you're doing normal EPP if the odd stitch goes through the edge of the template it's not the end of the world because it will perforate the edge and still pull away easily. Here though, the stitches are made about 3/8" in from the edge of the card, so it would be disastrous (and may cause an unforeseen duck fit when it comes to trying to separate the two).

My medallions were actually a little bigger than an A4 sheet of card, so it involved sticking two pieces of card together with glue (as above). It's far better to do this with glue, rather than tape, as it meant I could press my work with the card still in place, once I'd finished. This stabilises the fabrics prior to card removal and has the additional benefit of the heat of the iron warming the glue a little, making it easier to separate the card from the fabric.

I'm yet to find a solution to the problem of finishing this project with any kind of speed, but I quite like that it's something I've picked up and put down over the last seven months as working with these fabrics still delights me.

Florence x

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Lovely fabric shops update

My sewing has finally been forced to come to a stop as we reach Stage 2 of 'Every Floor in My Entire House is Being Sanded', so I've spent the morning updating my list of online UK fabric suppliers, which I've been meaning do for a long time, as that post dates back to 2009. Sadly, some of the links led to shops that have now gone out of business, while there were also a few glaring omissions where new ones have sprung up.

Do go and have a look at the list if you're interested to find new fabric shops. Where a supplier is relatively unique in stocking a certain thing or specialises in particular areas I've put a note saying so.

I also wanted to draw your attention to a couple of bookish finds too. I discovered Kaleidoscope at the quilt show in Birmingham last summer. Their stand had a quite staggering selection with virtually every obscure sewing book you could wish for (including a vast array of Japanese pattern books), so it was exciting to find that they were intending to launch a website (now up and running). They're based in Scotland and offer flat rate postage throughout Europe. I placed an order with them before Christmas and my book arrived speedily, so I feel completely happy to recommend them to you.

I also stumbled across The Running Chicken late last year and have seen that they are stocking a wonderful selection of QuiltMania books (usually only available from France) as well as Jen Kingwell's beautiful pattern, Green Tea and Sweet Beans (usually available from Australia and which Danielle tells me is a wonderful pattern for dabbling in some hand stitching). They also have a good range of reproduction fabrics, which I adore but which can sometimes err on the side of sludgy, but I think the selection here manages to avoid this. I feel most excited by a shop that is winkling out these kind of treasures that aren't easily available elsewhere in England (I'm yet to order from them so can't vouch for their service).

When I re-read my original post that went with my list of fabric suppliers I was shocked to remember just how difficult it was to buy lovely fabric in this country prior to 2009 - it really had been a case of having to place bulk overseas orders up until that time. It wasn't that there weren't fabric shops in England before that, it was that they tended to predominantly sell slightly stuffy, out-dated ranges. So it really was incredibly exciting when all these amazing fabric shops began springing up in England and I felt so grateful that they'd taken the initiative to do so. I wonder if the risk involved in starting an online fabric shop then is a different one to that which might exist now. In the last few years, sewing has become so wildly popular that I'm imagining the concern now isn't so much 'will people want to buy fabric online', it's more 'how can I differentiate my fabric shop from the hundreds of others'.

But many of the shops do seem to have a different feel to one another and have created a cohesive defined style with the collections they choose to stock. I buy much of my fabric locally, partly for convenience, but also because it feels important to support highstreet shops, however, when they turn up a blank for something I'm looking for, I often begin visiting shops online. If you rarely shop online, but would like to and feel overwhelmed by the long list of fabric shops I thought it may be helpful to mention which shops I use as a starting point when seeking out new fabric (you can find links to all these shops here).

Depending on what I'm sewing or who I'm sewing for depends on which shop I head to first. For slightly traditional fabrics that might suit my own house I tend to go to Hulu Crafts, Oakshott, Eternal Maker or the Quilt Room and then Shaukat for large cuts of Liberty prints. For dressmaking, using unpatterned fabrics such as cord, wool or linen, I'll look at Ray Stitch or Dragonfly Fabrics, or M is for Make for the Nani Iro double gauze. If I were sewing for friends with a more modern and minimal aesthetic to their home, then again, I'd go straight to M is for Make. For children's prints I peruse The Village Haberdashery, Backstitch, Holland Fabric House (not in the UK) or perhaps Saints & Pinners. If I'm looking for inspiration and ranges that I haven't noticed elsewhere then I look at The Eclectic Maker, who mix some unusual collections (such as the V&A Benedictus range) in amongst their more widely available ones. If I wanted to find something one-off and precious, I'd visit Donna Flower and immerse myself in the amazing collection of vintage textiles (my husband has bought me several pieces and they tend to have a delicious fragility to them).

So do go and have a look at the list if you'd like to discover some new favourites. Let me know in the comments if you have any haunts you think I might like, which don't appear on my list - I'd love to know what your favourites are and why you're drawn to them.

Florence x

Monday, 21 January 2013

Rouenneries and Thangles

In amongst the disruption of floor sanding I have ended up doing a small amount of sewing, albeit with my sewing machine on a low coffee table and me sitting on the sofa - it requires an odd body posture, but at least it allows me to feed the sewing addiction. I started 2013 determined to finish a few of the half-finished projects I've had left over from last year. I've surprised myself as I rarely used to start a new project before finishing the last, but hand-sewing changed that as it encourages you to have some projects running in tandem - those by hand that can be done here and there, and then those on the sewing machine, which tend to be more quickly finished projects.

The majority of this Rouenneries quilt top is hand-pieced, but I've now started adding some borders of half square triangles to the sides and these are being pieced on the machine using Thangles. Thangles are relatively new to me - they are basically a very accurate way of sewing HSTs (half square triangles), as you simply cut your fabric into strips and then sew on the dotted lines. Once sewn they can be pressed, cut along the solid lines, pressed again, before finally pulling the paper away. Personally, I don't think it shortens the process, in fact, I think it takes a longer (I sewed hundreds of them without using Thangles when making this quilt). However, I'm not sure I'd sew a HST without them now, as they make your sewing so incredibly accurate and perhaps best of all, they ensure that the bias of the fabric is always on the diagonal seam, so that you're left with edges that won't distort as you sew them to other things. I find it slightly exhausting thinking about grain lines with any shape that isn't a square, so this really appeals to me (yes, these end up square, but initially you're dealing with triangles). I bought my Thangles in several sizes from Kate's lovely shop (Kate links to this video tutorial, which explains exactly how you use them) - I can't recommend enough trying them out for yourself.

It began snowing in England on Friday and the country now seems to be under one large not-very-warm blanket. We stayed in our one usable room and watched nearly the entire box set of Anne of Green Gables with the fire on (and because my new sewing machine is so quiet, I was able to sew at the same time), punctuated by going over to see friends for dinner, a first sleepover for the eight year old (adorably, they fell asleep early and he returned a perfectly normal human, rather than the tearful beast I'd been anticipating), and some sledging (theirs, not mine this time as I couldn't find any wellingtons for myself as everything is so disorganised).

The cats were shocked by the removal of the carpet and, for the first few days, each time they came in through the cat flap they ran straight back out again, terrified by all the machines and men. Finally though, I came home one day to find that our tabby had carefully picked her way through to the only place on the sofa that wasn't covered by my quilt top and curled herself up into a tiny ball in the corner - she always astounds me with quite how considerate and sweet she is. She somehow seems to know that lying in the middle of the half-finished quilt top wouldn't be polite.

Our other cat has found a home on top of the piano, which is currently living in the utility room covered by old quilts. I love how her fur is yellowing slightly as she gets older - it makes me think of a well-loved teddy bear.

After being adamant that our floorboards must be oiled to a very dark finish, after several days of gap-filling with slithers of wood (it is now so cosy and warm!), we finally got to the sanding part this morning and I like the natural wood more than I'd expected. It's probably not what I'd pick out myself, but I'm wondering if it suits other parts of the house a little better than my drastic plans, which will involve a thousand other things having to be changed in order to make it look normal. The indecision continues.

Florence x

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


Unfortunately there's not a large amount of sewing going on this week, due to nearly every room in the house been either devoid of furniture or so piled high with it that there's no room for a girl and her rotary cutter and cutting mat to fit in amongst it all.
At the end of the summer, in a response to my alarming dust allergy which threatened to render all conversations to be conducted from behind a handkerchief, we tore up our bedroom carpet and found some potentially lovely floorboards lay beneath, if only there weren't so many holes in them that I was in danger of permanently losing my presser feet every time I changed the foot on my machine (something I do with alarming frequency).
So the time has come to have the holes filled in and have it all properly sanded and waxed to bring out the loveliness which we hope they hold...and we've decided to do the same to the rest of the house at the same time (aside from the children's bedrooms, where it seems nice to have something soft for their trotters to land on when they get out of bed in the morning). Yesterday the rest of the carpets were taken up - my daughter and I have rather fallen in love with this scuffed looking paintwork on the stairs, but my husband is insistent that it will not be preserved, despite it amusing the children for nearly an hour this morning as they climbed up and down it pretending the central area of stair was a waterfall.
I had a very clear idea of what I wanted in my head...warm, but very, very dark floorboards. I'd just forgotten that we already have a huge amount wood all over our house that's a completely different colour. Nearly every door, several window frames and many of the skirting boards are pale stripped wood. Also this vast panel that runs along the side of the stairs.
It feels too awful to paint it white so that we can have the colour floors we'd like (especially when the previous owners stripped much of this by hand), so we're now thinking of compromises that avoid it being so one-toned that our hallway is mistaken for a sauna. It's funny how once you start thinking of changing one thing it has a knock on effect on everything around it.

My Instagram friends were a huge help when I was pondering all this last night. They clarified that I must not ever paint the stair panels white (by using shouty capitals at times); they reminded me that you can start off light and then go darker with floorboards, but not the other way around (without sanding it all over again); they shared photos of their own hallways and floorboards; and even advised about which waxes were best. Instagram is such a wonderfully visual and instant way of talking with people.
So for now, I'm sitting squashed into the corner of a furniture-stacked room doing some work with my husband on his Squeebles, making teas and coffees and considering where we might sleep tonight, as it's not looking obvious which room in the house would allow for such a thing.
Florence x

Friday, 11 January 2013

For my gracious time

So this was what was under the Christmas tree for me this year. I couldn't quite believe it. Several weeks ago when my mechanical machine had swallowed some thread, I took it in to be repaired and happened to ask if there was a machine that could replicate the look of hand quilting as I had launched into hand-quilting the edge panels of this quilt so densely that I felt desperate to know if there was something in existence that could finish the job for me if my hands fell off. I was shown a wonderful machine which had a hand-quilting stitch (although, no, nothing can replicate the look and feel of hand quilting and it's probably not a feature I'll ever use), but which also had numerous other amazing things, such as an automatic thread cutter and the ability to end a line of stitching with the needle either up or down depending on whether I wanted to pull the fabric away or pivot with the needle still in it. These are all things that don't matter overly if you're using your machine for dressmaking, but suddenly feel highly covetable when you're quilt making and doing short repetitive processes over and over. I've been pondering over these features for the last few years and the desire to experience them has been gradually increasing. I think I've said before, there's a sense of using a wilfully persevering with using a typewriter when everyone else is happily using a computer.
I brought the brochure home, drooled over it for a few days and was teased horribly by my husband as the tag line the manufacturer had chosen for the front of the brochure was 'Juki, for your gracious time'. After my husband saw this, I was never just sewing, but 'having gracious time', whatever that was. Or not, because I didn't actually own a Juki.
But ownership was actually just a few short weeks away. Although the machine I was looking at then isn't actually the machine my husband chose for me. It transpired that he went to the shop shortly after I'd brought home the brochure and decided to buy the model up as it had better lighting and he'd become aware, due to the operating-theatre-style maze of lights that I'd set up around my sewing desk, that I was having trouble seeing easily when sewing with dark fabrics. He later told me that he'd brought it home and felt quite pleased with it, but kept thinking about the model one step up from the one he'd chosen.
My husband has owned several recording desks in the time I've known him (he's a musician in his spare time) and he's always preferred the ability to slide a fader or turn a knob, rather than press a button, which might feel sleeker and higher-tech, but somehow lacks the intuitive feeling of manually moving something up or down. And so after a week or so, he returned the machine he'd chosen for me and upgraded it for the next model up purely because of its twisty knobs which he thought I'd appreciate (see photo above). The fact that it also has a great many very interesting feet, a huge quilting table attachment and a presser foot that can be lifted up and down by tapping my knee against a lever was incidental to him, but a complete delight to me. I love how my husband thinks these things through and tries to make sense of what I might want by applying it to what he'd like for himself. He was exactly right: the twisty knobs do make all the difference.
I also quite like that I can either be a tortoise or a hare...I have a tendency for being a hare when I'm machine sewing...a hare that carries a seam ripper.
I was actually too ill over Christmas to use it aside from making a very quick make up bag, which I'll show you another day. I'm still ill (I think that's around Day 19 of Christmas is Cancelled due to Ill Health), but I've begun sewing together some of French General's Rouenneries Deux and Chateaux Rouge in an attempt to finish this quilt and I feel as though I can now safely say that the machine is wonderful and that all those features save not just a lot of time, but a huge amount of thread (the automatic thread cutter means that you don't waste thread as you pull the fabric away from the machine and my machine is unusual in that you don't need to pull the bobbin thread up before you start sewing which saves even more thread)! Lifting the presser foot up and down by knocking a detachable lever with my knee is also a time saver when you're sewing a great many 1.5" long seams. It all feels so quick and streamlined.
It's a very odd shift to make after years of sewing on a completely mechanical machine though. No matter how wonderful and time-saving all those features are I can't help feeling ridiculously cossetted and spoilt by the amount of mundane tasks this sewing machine does for me. I think there's a transition period where one must feel rather like a fallen Luddite who stands redundantly by her new washing machine on its spin cycle feeling guilty for not cranking a mangle.*
But although it takes some getting used to, when I finally brought it to my desk upstairs and put my old machine in a cupboard I couldn't quite believe how tiny and basic it suddenly looked. It's a similar sensation to that of coming home from holiday and in the first moments when you walk in you see your house as a stranger might, rather than with a familiarity which means you almost don't see it at all. The thing that I love most about my new machine though? Its silence. My old machine was incredibly loud and my husband and children referred to it as 'The Judder'. It made it difficult to listen to the radio and meant my husband had to read stories to us at several decibels above his normal level of speech if I happened to be sewing while he read. This machine is virtually silent even when being driven at full speed. I now feel I could happily sew until 4am undetected. I probably won't do that, but it's nice to know that I could if I needed to.  
Florence x
* Jenny, I know you will have thought instantly of Auntie Mabel, but no, she was not in this imagined scene and all attendees were fully clothed with body parts intact.

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