Sewing machine needle organization

Every time I used to switch to a different type or size of sewing machine needle I would put the used needle in my pincushion and put a brand new one in the sewing machine, since it was hard to tell what types of needles I had in the pincushion without getting out a magnifying glass. One day I realized I had over twenty needles in my pincushion and I decided I needed to do something about it.

Sewing machine needle organization card

I cut a card sized piece out of a manila folder and marked a grid on one side. I punched holes to hold the needles and labeled what type and size each one was using abbreviations. I wrote everything in pencil so I could erase and re-label as necessary. On the left side of the card I wrote an explanation of the abbreviations I used.

Now when I need to switch needles I check the card first, and I’m down to nine used needles.

Posted in Sewing

Thrifty Sewing

These days, at least in the US, it is difficult to save money sewing your own clothes. It’s usually cheaper to buy clothes on clearance or at thrift stores, even if you buy fabric on sale. For me, a big part of the fun of sewing is the idea of saving money, so it makes me kind of sad that I can’t really save money sewing quality clothes for my family like my grandmother did, but I do still love sewing just for the sake of it, and to make clothes that actually fit.

Here are some ideas for things you can do to save money sewing:

  • If you need a sewing machine, look for one at thrift stores and garage sales, or ask around to see if someone you know has a sewing machine they never use. A vintage sewing machine will probably serve you better than a cheap new one. Often older sewing machines just need a good cleaning and oiling to sew well. Older machines tend to be heavier, which I’ve found is something I require in a sewing machine. I have a newer light-weight sewing machine with a few fancy stitches that my older machines don’t have, but I almost never use it because it vibrates so much, even on a sturdy table. Also, in my mind, a fancy computerized machine just means higher repair bills. A straight stitch and a zig-zag stitch are all you really need.
  • If you are trying to decide whether or not to buy a serger, maybe all you need is an inexpensive overcast foot so you can finish your seams with zig-zag stitches without puckering the edges. Or maybe you just need a decent pair of pinking shears. I’ve been quite happy with my inexpensive Fiskars pinking shears.

overcast foot and pinking shears

  • Instead of buying buttons at the fabric store, save buttons from worn out clothes or buy used garments just for the buttons. Ready-to-wear clothes often have neutral colored buttons that will look good on a wide variety of fabric colors. I waited until there was a sale at a thrift store and bought several shirts and dresses with nice buttons for the price of one set of new buttons. Also, the buttons at my local fabric store are such poor quality I’d probably re-use ready-to-wear buttons even if it didn’t save me money. I store matched sets of buttons on paper clips that have been straightened, then coiled on the ends with needle nose pliers. These bundles of buttons take up very little room and don’t get tangled up.

buttons on bent paperclips

  • When garments are worn past their usefulness, save the zippers. I mostly do this with jeans. After buying a new jeans zipper that didn’t slide smoothly, I decided not to buy new ones from the fabric store. It takes a while to unpick the zippers, but you can do it while watching TV or something.

save jeans zippers

  • Upcycle clothing. Alter thrift store garments to fit, or use the fabric from adult clothing to make children’s clothes.
upcycled jeans

Kids’ jeans made from two pairs of Dad’s worn out jeans.

  • Sew your own shopping bags from used clothing. The bags I bought at the grocery store didn’t last long enough to pay for themselves (with the 5 cent reusable bag credit each time I used them), and probably used more fossil fuels over their lifetime than if I’d just gotten plastic grocery bags. Another benefit is your shopping bags will be washable, which is a necessity for grocery bags.
  • Mend your clothes.
  • If you have a stash of fabric, use it! All that fabric you bought because it was on sale doesn’t save you money if it just sits around taking up space. Be creative figuring out how to use the fabric you already have. I’ve been making underlined pants with fabric that is too thin to use on its own (Thanks to Lene at Ozviking Sews for reminding me of this idea).

fabric stash

  • Make quilts from old clothing and fabric scraps. For me, a lot of the fun of making a quilt is the creativity it takes to make all those scraps work together, and part of the charm of a quilt is remembering where the fabric came from. For example, the quilt on my bed has pieces of fabric from the first dress I ever sewed as a young teenager. Buying fabric just to make a quilt has always struck me as so artificial and wasteful. Plus the low quality of commonly available quilting fabric these days is a turn off.
  • Washable glue or glue sticks are easy alternatives to basting while quilting or sewing on pockets, but don’t use expensive fabric basting glue or fabric glue sticks. Regular washable glue stick or washable school glue work just fine. I put some washable school glue in a reused nasal spray bottle (with the inner tube removed) so I can apply small drops of glue. I store it upside down with a drop of water in the cap, and it hasn’t clogged up. Apply a little glue or glue stick, then iron it dry. Or you could even make your own cornstarch paste to substitute for glue or glue stick.

washable glue and glue stick

  • If you have a serger and you want to have lots of thread colors, just buy one spool of each color and divide it up onto your own thread cones.

Here they are, finished! And I only had to buy one spool of fushia thread, which I will probably never use up.

  • Use cones of serger thread in your sewing machine. Although serger thread is a little thinner than regular sewing thread, it works fine for general sewing. Just don’t use it for high stress seams, especially the crotch seam of pants. You can buy thread stands to use with serger thread spools, or make your own stand. If you are going to buy a thread stand, I suggest getting a decent quality metal one. My flimsy plastic thread stand falls off the edge of my sewing table every so often if I don’t attach it to a weighted base or clamp it to my sewing machine table. You don’t have to spend money buying a thread stand, though; it’s easy to make your own. Here are some ideas for making a thread stand:
    CD case
    Coat hanger and pencil in a block of wood
    Coffee mug
    Jar and a hook on the sewing machine

serger thread cone stand

Do you have any money saving ideas you’d like to share?

Posted in Sewing

Tips for Pattern Drafting with Inkscape

Amy at Cloth Habit wrote an awesome post about pattern drafting for the hobbyist with Adobe Illustrator. If Illustrator is out of your budget, you can try pattern drafting using Inkscape, which is free vector graphics software that can be used as a substitute for Illustrator.

Most of this post will not make sense to you until you play around with Inkscape for a while. To get started in Inkscape I suggest you first go through some of the tutorials available in the Help menu. There are lots of tutorials and help available online too, including a very complete Guide to Inkscape.

When you get started, first make sure you get familiar with

The pen tool

Edit paths by nodes, (especially join selected nodes and break path at selected nodes)

Combine and break apart paths

Object selection methods

Object snaps

The Transform commands



Rotating objects and moving object rotation centers

Since Inkscape is a free program, of course it does have some bugs and quirks you need to watch out for. For free software, however, it really is pretty powerful and capable. But save often!

Things to watch out for:

Don’t print directly from Inkscape; the scale will not come out right (as of version 0.48, anyway). Instead, save a copy your of your document as a PDF (from the menu, File > Save a copy, select PDF as the file type). This will save whatever is within your page layout area to a PDF. Now you can print the PDF from Adobe Acrobat Reader and it will come out fine. Another printing issue you might need to watch out for, which is not related to Inkscape, is the print quality setting on your printer. My inkjet printer will not print to an accurate scale unless I set it to the highest quality print settings, so any time I print PDF sewing patterns, whether I’ve made them or not, I have to use the “presentation” print settings.

When you use the Scale command (from the menu, Object > Transform, then click the Scale tab), Inkscape scales the object based on what you see on the screen, so the width of the stroke will be included in the calculation when you scale an object to a specific size. For example, if you have a circle with a 1 mm thick stroke and scale it to 2 cm, then draw a line that is the length of the diameter of the circle by snapping from quadrant to quadrant, the line will be 1.9 cm long, not 2 cm. So what I do when I’m scaling an object is this: select the object, remove the stroke (if you don’t have any fill on your object it will temporarily disappear, but don’t worry, just make sure you don’t de-select your object), scale the object, then add the stroke back.

Inkscape Scale with Stroke

Other tips:

To measure the length of a line (path) you have to use the Measure Path extension. From the menu, Extensions > Visualize Path > Measure Path. This will actually print the length of your path as text in your drawing. It’s a little clunky, but it works.

Inkscape measure path

Understand what is considered a single path. You can have a single path with multiple segments that don’t even touch each other (to make multiple paths into one, Path > Combine). If you select a node on a path and click Break path at selected nodes it is still a single path. In order to break it into two paths, you need to also break it apart (Path > Break Apart). However, if you have two paths and you use Join selected nodes to join the endpoints together you will now have one path.

To add seam allowances you will need to use the Outset command. Linked Offset and Dynamic Offset will not do what you want. First make sure that you have joined all the nodes together in your path – Outset may not do what you were expecting if you’ve only combined multiple segments. Here’s the weird part: you have to specify the inset and outset in pixels (abbreviated px), not inches or centimeters. There are 90 pixels per inch, or 35.433 pixels per centimeter, so you’ll have to do some calculations. Let’s say you want to add a 5/8” seam allowance. From the menu, select File > Inkscape Preferences. Scroll down and select Steps. Change Inset/Outset by to 56.25 px (.625 inches * 90 px per inch = 56.25 px). Duplicate your path that is the stitching line for your pattern. The copy will now be selected. From the menu, select Path > Outset. The Inset and Outset commands treat every path as if it was a closed shape, so you may need to add segments to the ends of the copy of your original path (or close it) in order to get the outset command to do what you want. The resulting offset path will always be closed, so you may need to trim it.

Inkscape seam allowance outset

There is no true trim command like you would find in a drafting program. You have to get creative in order to accurately trim paths, and often it takes a few extra steps. Sometimes I will draw a temporary line, snapping one end to the intersection of where I want to trim my lines, then I add a node to the path I want to trim, snap the new node to the end of my temporary line, delete any extra nodes on the line I’m trimming, then delete my temporary line. Whew.

Inkscape trim with temp line

1-2. Draw a temporary path, snapping one endpoint to the point you want to trim to. 3. Add another node on one path near the point you are trimming to. Select the node, and snap it to the endpoint of the temporary path. 4. Select the extra nodes on the path to be trimmed and delete them. 5. Repeat steps 3-4 for any additional paths you are trimming. 6. Delete the temporary path.

Sometimes the Difference command works for trimming, but it’s buggy, so save first. Draw a closed shape around the portion of the path you want to trim. If you want to trim multiple paths, make duplicate copies of your closed shape before you use the Difference command, because you have to trim the paths one at a time, and the closed shape is deleted in the process. If the closed shape is not the last thing you drew, select it and press the Page Up key until it is above the line you want to trim (whichever object is on top is the one that will do the cutting). Select both the new closed path and the path you want to trim, then from the menu, Path > Difference. The Cut Path command will often work if Difference isn’t working. Then you can just delete the extra path created when the original path was broken into two. Sometimes Cut Path will (randomly and unexpectedly) do what the Difference command should have. If the wrong half of your path is being cut off, try reversing your path before you cut it (Path > Reverse).

trim with closed object

If you scan a paper pattern at 90 DPI and import it into Inkscape, it will be the right size. If you scan with a different resolution, you will need to scale the image after you import it. For example, a 300 DPI scan will need to be scaled 90/300*100% = 30%.

Scale in Inksceape

I find the easiest way to trace a scanned drawing is to simply use the pen tool to draw a path with straight line segments, placing a node in the center of each curve. Then go back and delete the extra nodes, which changes those path segments into curves. After that, select and move the handles on the nodes to change the shape of the curves. Add more nodes if you need to. It takes surprisingly few nodes to match a shape

Trace curved path from straight segments

I’m willing to answer questions about Inkscape. Please be as clear as possible with any questions you have and include links to screen shots if possible.

Posted in Patternmaking

Grow Your Own Starch

getting ready to grate potatoes to make starch

You can see I had a few purple potatoes in the batch, but the starch still came out white.

I recently started using starch when I sew, but I don’t like the high cost, scent, and chemicals in commercial starch, so I make my own. Starching fabric adds preparation time, but makes sewing easier, and you get permanently crisp creases on hems, collars, and pockets, rather than the puffy home made look. I’ve been using starch to press up hems so they require less pinning, make jersey knits easier to handle, and to temporarily glue pockets in place before I sew them on. Quilters often starch their fabric, too. The starch washes out quite easily once you are done sewing.

I have posted recipes for home made laundry starch. You can take it a step further and extract your own starch from potatoes. Or two steps further and grow your own potatoes. Potato starch can also be used in gluten-free recipes and as a flour substitute for thickening gravies and sauces. And if you’ve got a bunch of potatoes that have turned green, you can still use them to make laundry starch.

To Extract Starch from Potatoes:

Either wash and scrub your potatoes well or peel them. Unless you want to use the starch for making laundry starch that will be used on white fabric, I see no reason to peel the potatoes.

Shred the potatoes finely. The finer you grate the potatoes, the more starch you will be able to get out. Cover the shredded potatoes with water in a bowl and stir them. I just let my kids stick their hands in there and play with the potatoes for a while.

Grated potatoes covered with water

Strain out the potatoes and save the water (which contains the starch) in a bowl or cooking pot. If you want to get every last bit of starch you can, wrap the potatoes in cheesecloth and squeeze them. Put the potatoes in some fresh water, swish them around, strain, and squeeze them again. Strain all of the liquid through cheesecloth or a very fine mesh strainer.

Let the liquid sit for a while undisturbed. Some people say to put it in the refrigerator and let it settle for a few hours. I am not that patient, so I just let it sit for about 45 minutes on the counter. Most of the starch has settled out by then. You might get another spoonful or so if you wait longer.

Slowly and carefully pour off the dark foamy liquid to reveal the layer of starch on the bottom of the bowl or pot.

Dark liquid after potato starch has settled out

I like to add some fresh water to the starch, stir it up, and let the starch settle out again. The water will be much clearer this time. Slowly pour off the water.

Potato starch second rinse

Scoop out the starch, spread it out on a baking pan, and leave it in a warm place to dry. Keep the starch below 110°F / 43°C as it dries. I like to stir the starch and smash it with a potato masher when it is partially dry to break up the clumps. If you live in a humid area and you are not sure your starch has dried completely, store it in the freezer.

Potato starch spread out on baking pan

From 9.5 pounds (4.3 kg) of potatoes, I got just over a half pint (200 g) of starch.

Dried potato starch in pint jar

You don’t need to waste the shredded potatoes. Fry them up as hash browns or put them in soup. If you have more left over shredded potatoes than you can eat right away, you can dry or freeze them. Before drying or freezing, blanch the shredded potatoes briefly in boiling water, then cool in ice water.

Posted in Crafts

More Free Printable French Curves + Hip Curves

If you’re looking for printable French curves or hip curves with measurement marks, here you go. I made both imperial (inches) and metric (centimeters) curves. The inch/centimeter marks are not numbered, so you can decide where you want to start numbering and add the numbers yourself. The pdfs have multiple pages – there are mirror image curves in case you need a curve facing the other way, and the French curves come in three sizes.

On my inkjet printer the scale only comes out right if I print on the highest quality print setting, so watch out for that. There are lots of fine lines in these drawings, too, so that’s another reason not to print with draft quality.

Either print the curves on heavy paper or print on regular paper and glue onto paperboard (such as a cereal box or notebook cover), then cut them out. The hip curves are too long to fit on a single sheet of paper, so cut along the borders and tape the two pieces together, then cut out the curve.

Click on the images below to download the pdfs.

Free printable French curve labeled in inches

Imperial French Curve

Free printable hip curved marked in inches

Imperial Hip Curve

printable French curves marked in inches

Metric French Curves

Free printable metric hip curve marked in centimeters

Metric Hip Curve

and here are the French curves I made previously:

Various sizes of free printable French curves

French Curves

Posted in Patternmaking

New Jeans Zipper Fly Tutorial

Jeans zipper flies

I am making a rub-off jeans pattern for one of my kids. When I got to the zipper fly, I compared the child-sized zipper to adult-sized ones, and to my surprise, they were about the same width. It varied a little from pair to pair, but my husband’s fly topstitching was almost the same width as that on child’s size 6 pair of jeans. So, that got me thinking that rather than trace the zipper fly pieces for this pair of jeans, I could just make a zipper fly template and use the same pattern when I make myself jeans, too. I’d just change the length of the pattern pieces, and maybe I’d make the topstitching a couple of millimeters further from the edge for adult jeans.

Despite the fact that I’ve sewn over a dozen zipper flies, they still make my head spin. I’ll get it all figured out, then after not sewing one for a year, I’ll have forgotten everything. For self-drafted patterns, I was using a variation of the women’s zipper fly instructions in the original version of the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing. I wasn’t really happy with this method. There is one step in particular, where you have to fold up the end of the zipper tape to keep from stitching through it, that I tend to mess up half the time and have to pick out my stitches.

I want to sew real jeans zipper flies that look like the ones on ready-to-wear jeans. I looked through all of my sewing patterns and only found instructions for sewing mock flies (the fly facing is part of the pants front and folded over rather than sewn on). I looked through all of my sewing and patternmaking books and struck out there too. I looked through a dozen or so zipper fly tutorials on the internet, and every single one was for sewing a mock fly. Except they don’t call them that anymore. They just call them a zipper fly. I’d be OK with a mock fly on a skirt, maybe dress pants, or even little girls’ jeans, but darn it, I wanted to sew a “real” jeans zipper fly and I couldn’t find instructions for one. So what did I do? I figured it out myself and wrote a tutorial, of course.

There seems to be no end of variations on how to sew a zipper fly, so I’m not worried about doing it “the right way”. There really doesn’t appear to be such a thing as “the right way” to sew a fly. Even looking through the zipper flies on the ready-to-wear pants in my house, I can see they used different construction methods.

Zipper fly template

Jeans Zipper Fly Tutorial

If anyone knows of any other good zipper fly tutorials (ones with a sewn on fly facing, not a mock fly), please post a link in the comments.

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

New Page: Sewing and Craft Recipes

I added a new page for Sewing and Craft Recipes. So far I have paper mache recipes, a paste recipe, and home made laundry starch recipes.

Posted in Crafts, Sewing

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