How to Accurately Mark Dark Fabric with Soap

I was so happy when I discovered using Crayola Ultra-Clean Fine Line Washable Markers to mark fabric. They work so much better than the fabric markers and pencils available at fabric stores. These markers changed my life. Seriously, they did. But of course, they don’t show up on dark colored fabric.

The main challenge I’ve had with marking on dark fabric is finding a tool that I can use to smoothly and quickly trace around a pattern onto dark colored knit fabric without stretching or snagging on the fabric. I finally realized the solution is to use soap slivers, probably something my great grandmother used to mark fabric! I can’t believe I’ve been ignoring such an obvious solution for so many years. I thought soap would make an imprecise tool at best, but I’ve discovered that I can get a nice crisp line by marking against the edge of a piece of paper.

Pattern traced soap sliver

Links in this post identified by an asterisk (*) are affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a commission (at no additional cost to you). If you see CA* and/or UK* after a link, these are links to the same or similar products on the Canada and UK Amazon sites.

I had read a tip about marking fabric with soap slivers many years ago. I got out a little bar of hard hotel soap, tried using it to mark fabric, said, “Yep, it leaves a mark on dark fabric,” put it in my drawer of marking tools, and never got it back out. The reason I never used it is I thought it made wide, fuzzy marks that wouldn’t be of much use. But, as I’ve discovered, there are ways to use soap to get a nice sharp line!

There are two tricks to getting precise marks with soap. First, you need a piece of soap the right shape. If you use regular bar soap, the thin soap sliver you are left with when the bar is almost used up is a pretty good shape. The soap sliver should be about 5mm (3/16″) thick. Let it dry completely before using it to mark fabric.

Soap sliver on washcloth

If you don’t use bar soap, and don’t want to use someone else’s old soap sliver, you can use a small saw to cut a piece of hard bar soap to about the size and shape of a piece of tailor’s chalk. You want your piece of soap to be about 5mm (3/16″) thick.

Not all types of bar soap will leave good marks on fabric. The little bars of hard soap you get at hotels work well for marking fabric. If you don’t have one of those, I recommend using hard bar soap such as Kirk’s Castile Bar Soap* (CA*, UK*) or Dr. Bronner’s Castile Bar Soap* (CA*, UK*). Dr. Bronner’s bar soap has a better shape for cutting into slices. If you are going to cut a bar of soap, start with a fresh, unused bar so it crumbles less.

Cutting soap with saw

To cut this round hotel soap, I cut off one side to give me a flat surface, then sawed the bar in half to make a thinner piece.

Cutting round soap

You can sharpen and bevel the edges of your soap sliver by rubbing the soap on fine sandpaper. Use an old toothbrush to brush the soap residue off of the sandpaper, and you can keep re-using the same piece of sandpaper.

Sharpening soap with sandpaper

I tried cutting soap with a serrated knife, and it mostly just crumbled, but I got some small usable pieces. So if you don’t have a saw, you can try cutting or shaving soap with a knife. If you are starting with a small bar of hotel soap, you could also try using a cheese grater to make the bar thinner or bevel one side to get a sharp edge. You can sand the soap pieces with sandpaper to shape them further.

The second trick to getting a good line with a soap sliver is to use it up against a piece of paper. That way your line can be any width, but you know to use the nice sharp edge of the line that was against the paper as your guide. If you like you can make some stray marks on the fuzzy side of the line to remind you which is the correct edge of the line to reference.

If you are tracing around a pattern, it’s easy to remember which is the correct side of the line to reference, since you will be cutting off the soap marks. However, for marks on the interior of your pattern, you need to keep track of which side of the line was against the paper.

In the picture below, the line on the left was drawn freehand, and the other two were drawn against a piece of paper. On the line on the right, I drew some stray marks to remind me that the other side of the line is where the actual reference line is. So, with these thicker soap lines, the center of the line isn’t what you look at, it’s one edge of the line that matters.


Soap lines on fabric

I found that marking against paper about the weight of regular printer paper works best, but you can also trace around a tissue paper pattern if you are careful.

Marking against a ruler doesn’t work, since the blunt edge of the soap can’t get up against the ruler. When you use paper, the soap rides over the edge of the paper, giving you a nice sharp line on your fabric.

I usually go over my line a couple of times to make sure I have a good visible line, but this goes quickly since the soap glides so smoothly over the fabric.

To mark a dart, I find the easiest way is to cut along one leg of the dart on the pattern and fold it open. Trace along the edges of the dart legs with soap, and remember that the outside edges of the soap marks are the actual stitching line. Even if your soap line is a quarter inch wide, you still have a perfectly accurate stitching line, because the edge of the line that was against the paper is your stitching line.

If you are cutting your fabric on the fold or double layered, mark the ends of the dart legs and the dart apex with pins or tailor’s tacks, then flip the fabric over and mark the other side, using the pattern as a guide.

Marking a dart

Marked dart


For comparison, here are the other marking tools I tried previously to mark dark fabric. None of them work as well as soap!

I tried putting cornstarch in a sock to make a DIY pounce pad, and while that worked, it was really messy and the powder ended up spreading everywhere, so I’d rather not try that again.

White Clover Chaco Liners* (CA*, UK*) are great marking tools, but they have some limitations. I use them frequently to mark dart lines and such on dark fabric, but they are easier to use to mark straight lines than to trace around curved pattern pieces. The chalk lines brush away easily, but if you rub your finger along the chalk line right after you draw it, it helps rub the loose chalk into the fabric so it won’t brush off as easily. While I can use Chaco liners to trace around a pattern onto fabric, I have to work slowly to avoid stretching out knit fabric. I usually have to go over the same area multiple times while carefully holding down the fabric to keep it from stretching, and even then the marks are not always as visible as I would like.

I tried regular clay tailor’s chalk, which works a little better than a Chaco Liner for tracing around a curved pattern onto knit fabric. It doesn’t glide smoothly, so I still have to work slowly to avoid stretching out the fabric, but the marks are more visible than the Chaco Liner marks, which is good. The main problem I have with chalk, though, is I really don’t like touching chalk. The feel of the dust on my fingers brings me back to third grade and that kid that liked to scrape his fingernails down the chalkboard . . . shudder.

I’ve been using white china markers* (CA*, UK*) to mark notches on knit fabric, since I don’t like to clip into knits to mark the notches, especially when I have quarter inch seam allowances. The marks seem to wash out just fine, but I still use these grease pencils sparingly and only in the seam allowances, just in case. These marks are more visible than chalk marks, and they don’t brush away. While china markers work to trace around a pattern onto woven fabric if your pattern is on sturdy paper, I find they don’t work at all to trace a pattern onto stretchy knit fabric.

So tailor’s chalk was the best option I knew of, but I kept wishing it would glide more smoothly, and I wondered if the wax based chalk tailors use would be better. I almost ordered some, but that was when I remembered soap slivers!

All these years, and the perfect solution has been in my house the whole time. Unlike chalk, soap glides smoothly over both woven and knit fabric, it leaves nice visible lines that don’t brush away easily, and since it’s soap, I know the marks are going to wash out! Tracing around a pattern with soap is much faster and easier than anything else I’ve tried.




Posted in Sewing

Free Printable Combination French Curve

I was using my printable French curves while working on a sewing pattern, and I found it useful to use two different sizes of curves. I kept losing one and having to search through the layers of pattern pieces on my table to find the curve I needed. Finally it occurred to me that I could combine the two sizes into one, so I at least would only have one tool to lose.

I put three of my curves together, traced them onto a clear plastic sheet I’d saved from some packaging, and came up with this:

I figured other people would also find this tool useful, so I put together a pdf of similar combination French curves. There are four pages to the pdf. The first two pages are for two curves marked in inches (they are mirror images). Pages 3–4 are for curves marked in centimeters. As before, I left off adding numbers, so you can label them where you like after you print them.

Since these curves are larger, they won’t fit on one piece of paper, so you will have to trim off one of the borders and tape or glue the sheets together.

To print to scale, make sure to print from Adobe Acrobat Reader or another dedicated pdf reader, not a web browser. Choose the option for printing “actual size” or “100%” or “no scaling” (the wording will vary depending on which software you are using). You can also print them at a scale of 50% for half scale or to another scale if you are doing small scale exercises. The inner curves are actually half scale versions of the outer curves, by the way.

To make a curve with labels on both sides, I printed out a set of mirror image curves onto heavy paper, cut them out, and glued them back to back. I labeled them so that the numbers were in the same spot on the front and the back.

Posted in Uncategorized

Free Printable Tailor’s Square

Printable_L-SquareOne of my readers was inspired by my free printable French curves to create a printable pattern drafting tool of her own, which she would like to share with you.

Here is a printable tailor’s L-square, courtesy of Eva Mendoza. To make the ruler, print out the sheets at actual size. When printed to the correct scale, the border around each sheet should measure 7 inches by 10 inches.

Trim along the borders as needed, and carefully glue or tape the sheets together, checking the alignment marks and numbers on the ruler to make sure you are taping the right sheets together.

There are separate files for the front and the back, so you can print both and glue them together, keep them separate, or just use one or the other if you don’t need both sides.

14 x 24 Printable Tailor’s Square Ruler

14 x 24 Tailor’s Square Ruler (Back)


Posted in Patternmaking

Three Blackwood Cardigans – A Brutally Honest Review

I needed to make some new sweaters or sweatshirts to wear around the house. After considering several different cardigan and sweatshirt patterns, I decided on the popular Helen’s Closet Blackwood Cardigan pattern. This pattern had the features I wanted, but I also chose it because I’m a fan of the Love to Sew podcast, which Helen co-hosts with Caroline of Blackbird Fabrics, so I like to do what I can to support the hosts’ businesses.

When I first saw the Blackwood cardigan pattern, I dismissed it as something I would never wear, since I mostly saw people making the long version. I’m 5’2″ tall so, a long cardigan would be overwhelming on me. I also don’t like a lot of weight hanging off my shoulders. I had looked at the shorter view, but I thought it looked too boxy.

However, I finally tried the short version anyway, and once I saw the finished garment on myself, I don’t think it looks boxy. I also wasn’t sure that a cardigan worn open would keep me warm, but I found that it does keep me warm enough, and I like how it shows off the top you have on underneath. So I’ve been a little slow to join the Blackwood fan club, but now I’m a convert.

I decided to live dangerously, and I made my first Blackwood out of some navy blue wool French terry that had slightly less than the recommended amount of stretch. I started with one size up from what my measurements called for, did a full bust adjustment**, a full butt adjustment, my usual amount of shortening, and straightened the sleeve seam to give me a little more elbow room. I also made some pattern corrections to the armholes and sleeves, which I describe later in this post.

**Helen includes a copy of her guide to FBA’s on knits with the pattern. I chose to combine two of the methods (the two shown in this blog post) which worked quite well. I converted half of the bust dart to ease at the side seam, and then used the method that curves the lower hem to get rid of the rest of the bust dart.

You can’t see much of my navy cardigan, since it’s such a dark color, but here it is. The bottom edge hits me just below hip level, which is longer than I was anticipating, but I guess longer keeps me warmer, right?

I was quite pleased with my first Blackwood, but I don’t like to wear wool sweaters except on really cold days (they make me break out in a cold sweat, and then there’s the scratchiness) so I made two more in cotton fabrics. For the next two, I went a size narrower at the shoulders, which I think looks better on me. Plus I used fabric with more stretch, which made them more comfortable.

Links in this post identified by an asterisk (*) are affiliate links. If you click on these links and purchase something, I will earn a small commission.

For the second cardigan, I combined three different scraps of unbleached cotton. The body of the sweater is made from some thick, cozy fleece, the sleeves from a waffle knit, and the bands are made from 2×2 ribbing from Organic Cotton Plus*.

Here’s a close-up of the three different fabrics I used. This cardigan is so softy and cozy I want to wear it every day.

For my third Blackwood I used some pink cotton velour. I shortened this one to hit me above the hip, and also shortened the lower band. This one is cute and would look nice over a dress.

Sewing velour is pretty frustrating, but it’s worth it in the end. I had to glue baste with washable glue stick in several places, and I had to hand baste the sleeve bands, because I couldn’t get the fabric to stay in place with pins or Wonder clips. Even though sewing velour is a pain, I sort of want to make a cotton velour Blackwood in every color.

Hmm . . . and now I’m wondering how a three-quarter length sleeve or short sleeve version would look. Just a little something to wear over a sleeveless summer dress. I’ll have to re-visit that idea in a few months when the weather warms up.

I felt a little guilty making my cardigan out of this velour, since I originally intended to use it to make a dress for my daughter, but I did manage to squeeze a T-shirt for her out of the scraps.

There is this weird nicey-nice culture around sewing blogs, where people tend to gloss over pattern issues and glowingly praise every pattern, no matter how poorly drafted it is. Frankly, the pattern drafting on most home sewing patterns, whether they are big 4 or indie patterns, isn’t that great.

I’ve found myself not writing blog posts about some things I’ve sewn, since I had so many problems with them, and I hesitated to say anything negative here, because I don’t like reading negative stuff, and I’m guessing you don’t either. I’ve decided that from here on I’m going to honestly and frankly point out the problems I run into with patterns, and if I can, show you how to fix them.

I’m not doing it to be mean, but to help people. If you ask me, it is mean and hurtful to NOT point out problems you find in a pattern, because you might lead a beginning sewer to try a pattern that needs significant pattern corrections to even sew together. Plus, you never know, the pattern designer might read your review and do a better job on their next pattern.

Since learning to draft sewing patterns, I always check the sleeves and armholes on commercial sewing patterns. There is almost always something wrong with them. Luckily, with this pattern, the shape of the armhole and sleeve cap are very nice (probably the best I’ve seen on a pattern for a knit top, actually), but there are some things that need to be corrected. The sleeve is twisted, the front armhole is too large, and the front armhole notch is in the wrong place. I checked this on size 10 and on size 20, and I found the same problems on both sizes, so there’s a good chance that all sizes have these problems.

Helen, the pattern designer, recently re-released this pattern with a larger size range. She mentioned removing some excess fabric width in the front armhole area, and this must have been a last minute alteration, because she apparently did not make alterations to the notches, etc. after doing this, which I am guessing caused some of the problems with the sleeves and armholes. These are relatively minor problems, but I think they are worth correcting, especially the front armhole notch issue.

I should add that I am not specifically picking on this pattern designer. Overall, this pattern is drafted better than most home sewing patterns I’ve tried. I’ve just decided I’m tired of all the dishonest praise fangirls post on their sewing blogs, and I’m going to start pointing out the issues I find on every pattern that I review, even those I really like.

Here’s how to correct the issues I found with this pattern. Ideally, you should make these corrections before you make any other fit alterations to the pattern, but they can also be made later if you’ve already altered your pattern.

Note: I printed out half scale versions of the pattern to save paper and to make photography easier.

Draw in the seam allowances accurately around the front and back armholes and the sleeve cap.

Here’s how to correct the sleeve twist.

First, lengthen or shorten the sleeve if you need to. If you changed the sleeve length, draw in a smooth line for the front sleeve seam, but don’t worry about the back seam yet. If you want a slightly looser sleeve, like I did, draw the sleeve seam as a straight line from the underarm to the wrist.

Partially cut out the sleeve along the front inner arm seam and the front half of the sleeve cap.

Fold the pattern in half lengthwise, matching the sleeve seams the best you can, but without twisting or wrinkling up your paper. The underarm and wrist points do not line up, indicating the sleeve has some twist in it. This means that if you sew it up as is, you will get diagonal wrinkles on the underside of your sleeve. Apparently this is a common issue with sleeve patterns, because I saw this correction mentioned in a Craftsy class.

I found that the front underarm point was a little higher than the back. If the difference is small, you can either trim off the extra length on the front, as shown below, or raise the back to match the front. If you have a significant difference, trim off half the difference on the front sleeve cap seam at the underarm, and increase the height of the back at the underarm to match. Smoothly blend into the existing curve.

At the wrist, use a square to draw a new wrist line perpendicular to the fold.

Trace the front sleeve seam onto the back.

Before unfolding the pattern, cut along the wrist line.

Open up the sleeve pattern and draw in a new grainline on your fold line. Cross out the original grainline, then finish cutting out the sleeve pattern along the new lines you marked.

Now cut out the notches on the sleeve cap. Walk the sleeve around the front armhole, using an awl or pin as a pivot point along the seam line. Here’s how to walk the seam, in case you haven’t done it before (or if you’ve only seen the grossly inaccurate methods demonstrated in certain Craftsy classes): Start by matching up the shoulder points, with the awl at the shoulder point right on the seam line, not the edge of the pattern. Pivot the sleeve pattern slightly, and re-position your awl a little further down the seam, making sure to place your awl right on the stitching line each time you move it. Repeat this until you get to the notch.

Mark the notch location on the sleeve onto the armhole (the original notches don’t match up).

Continue to walk the rest of the sleeve cap seam. You will see that the armhole is larger than the sleeve, which is the opposite of what you are used to on a woven garment. On a knit garment the sleeve cap and armhole seams should usually be the same length.

My suggestion is to simply ease the extra armhole length into the sleeve between the notch and the underarm point. Because the knit fabric is on the crossgrain or bias in this area, it will ease so well you will barely notice it as you sew. There’s no need to even sew ease stitches—just stretch the sleeve to match the armhole as you sew.

The armhole ease is essentially acting like a replacement for a small dart, giving you a little extra room in the bust area. I actually did this same thing on purpose as part of a full bust adjustment on my Lark tees, and it worked great. The ease at the lower front armhole is not noticeable on the finished garment.

Alternatively, if you are small busted, you could trim this extra armhole length off of the front side seam, blending to nothing at the waist.

Now you should also walk the back sleeve cap/armhole seam. I didn’t find any problems with the back armhole on size 10, but I didn’t check any of the other sizes.

With these changes, you can make this awesome pattern even better. Yay!

* Links in this post identified by an asterisk (*) are affiliate links. If you click on these links and purchase something, I will earn a small commission.

Posted in Sewing

Doll House Size Dress Form

Someone asked me if my miniature dress form patterns could be used to make 1:12 scale dress forms for a doll house. I was going to reply no, since they are designed for quarter scale to half scale. But then I wondered if maybe the paper version could be made that small.

The half scale paper dress form pattern is designed to be printed on card stock and reinforced with corrugated cardboard. To test making the pattern at 1:12 scale I printed it at 16.7% of the designed size on regular paper and used a cereal box for the cardboard. I taped it together with tiny strips of Scotch Magic tape and used Liquid Stitch fabric glue applied with a toothpick.

As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy to put the tiny pieces together. However, much to my astonishment, it was actually possible! It helped that I have made several samples in the half scale size, so I was familiar with the construction process.

I wasn’t planning on finishing the dress form. I had thought I would just put a couple of the pieces together to see if it would work. The pieces went together well, though, and it was so cute I had to finish it. I also used the included cardboard stand pattern to make a stand for it. The pole for the stand is a piece of wire coat hanger.

I sewed a knit cover for the dress form from some thin knit fabric and decorated the stand with washi tape. It is so adorable I almost want to make a doll house to put it in. But no, sewing takes up enough time and space in my life, and I don’t need another hobby. I’ll just set this dress form next to my keyboard.

Posted in Half-Scale Patternmaking and Sewing, Sewing

Favorite Sewing Tip of 2018: Pin Diagonally!

I meant to come up with a favorite tip for each year, but I couldn’t think of one last January. This year, however, I came up with a really good tip. In fact, this may be the best sewing tip ever. And it’s so simple it’s mind blowing.

Here it is:

Pin diagonally. Not perpendicular to the seam. Not parallel to the seam. Diagonally.

Apparently, there is some great debate about whether pinning perpendicular or parallel to the seam is better. I’ve always been a perpendicular pinner, because that’s what my mother did. I never even thought about it. Then I watched Kenneth King’s Craftsy (now Bluprint) classes, where he advocates pinning parallel to the seam, so I decided I’d do a test to see which I liked better.

I’ve always pinned parallel to my seams when matching dart legs, but I hadn’t tried it on a whole seam. After trying pinning parallel along the seam a couple of times, I decided it was not for me. Yes, pinning this way keeps your fabric edges aligned better, but it’s harder to match seams or stripes, it’s harder to remove the pins, you can’t sew as close to the pins, and worst of all, I stabbed myself with pins every time I tried it.

Then one day, I think when I was pinning down a bias binding, which is kind of bulky, I had a pinning epiphany. When you pin at a 45 degree angle to the seam, you get the benefits of both parallel and perpendicular pinning, without the drawbacks of either, plus a couple of additional benefits.

Here are the benefits of pinning diagonally:

  • The pins slide in more easily.
  • The fabric is distorted less.
  • It’s easier to pin through bulky areas.
  • You can sew close to the pins before removing them.
  • The pins are easy to remove.
  • The fabric can’t shift either side to side or along the seam.
  • You can easily match stripes or seam lines.

Here’s how I match a seam or stripe.

First, measure in the width of your seam allowance and stick a pin vertically through both layers of fabric, matching the seam or stripe right on the stitching line.

Now put a diagonal pin right on either side of the vertical pin, making sure the first vertical pin stays straight.

After those pins are in, remove the vertical pin and put it in diagonally right over the match point. Finish pinning your seam.

When you sew the seam, sew right up to the pins near the match point before removing them.

Every time I do this I’m amazed at how well my seams match. I always had problems matching seams before I tried it this way.

While I’m on the subject of pins, I thought I’d share my recently discovered favorite pins with you. I’d been sewing with the same old pins for over twenty years, and then when I kept trying to replace them, I ended up with a whole drawer full of dull pins. I am so frustrated with the poor quality of nearly everything these days.

Links in this post identified by an asterisk (*) are affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a commission (at no additional cost to you). UK* and CA* are links to the UK and Canada Amazon sites.

Finally I bought Clover Marbled Glass Head Pins* (UK*, CA*). These are absolutely perfect for garment sewing. They are 36 mm long, 0.5 mm in diameter, sharp, and you can iron over the glass heads without melting them. They slip right into fabric, but aren’t so thin that I’m constantly bending them. [Edit: After using these pins for a while, I realized that these pins, while sharper than most pins, are not quite as sharp as the Patchwork Pins. This means they won’t slide into tightly woven fabric as easily, but they won’t slide into your fingers as easily, either!]

They are however, a little pricey, and you only get twenty pins in a package, which I found wasn’t enough. I liked them so much I hated having to use my old pins when I ran out of the new Clover pins.

I almost bought a second package of them, but then I realized that Clover Patchwork Pins* (UK*, CA*) are the same diameter and length and also have glass heads, so I bought a package of those instead. The Patchwork Pins come in a package of 100 instead of 20. Don’t be put off by the word “patchwork” — they are perfect for garment sewing, too. The only difference I could see between these and the marbled pins was the color of the pin heads. So unless you really want pretty marbled pin heads, just get the Patchwork Pins or Clover Silk Pins* (UK*, CA*) which are also the same length and diameter.

After checking the thickness of all of the pins that I have and testing how easily they slide into fabric, I decided that 0.5 mm pins are the thickest I ever want to use for garment sewing. For thick fabric that would bend the pins, I switch to using Wonder Clips* (UK*, CA*).

For thin fabric, I use Dritz Ultra Fine Glass Head Pins* (UK*, CA*), which of all of the Dritz pins I’ve tried are the only decent ones. These pins are 0.4 mm thick and very sharp. They bend easily, so I only use them when I really need thin pins. Clover also makes 0.4 mm pins, if you’d like to stick with the Clover brand:  Clover Patchwork Pins-Fine* (UK*, CA*) (don’t confuse these with Clover “Quilting Pins” which are longer and thicker).

Pinning diagonally is so simple and effective, I’m wondering why everyone doesn’t pin this way. Have you tried it?

* Links in this post identified by an asterisk (*) are affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a commission (at no additional cost to you).


Posted in Sewing

Half Scale Pattern Changes

Craftsy is in the process of making changes to the patterns available on their site, and as part of the process, they’ve removed most of the patterns I had listed for free and for sale there. They will be making more changes, but it is not yet clear what they are.

All of my paid pdf patterns continue to be available in my Etsy Shop. If you have previously purchased a pattern on Craftsy, it will still be available for you to download.

To maintain access to all of my free half scale patterns pictured below, I’ve created a page here on my blog where you can download them, and I added the page to the main menu.

I have plans for more patterns. I’ve been working on fabric men’s versions of the miniature dress forms. I have the patterns designed, but I still have more samples to make, photos to take, and instructions to write. With everything else I have going on it may take me a while to finish, but I hope to have these patterns out in the next couple of months. Here is a sneak peek of the men’s dress forms.

Posted in Half-Scale Patternmaking and Sewing

Tailor’s Hams and Waffles

Here’s my tutorial and free patterns for making pressing hams of various sizes. And as a bonus, you get my gluten-free waffle recipe.

I’ve been meaning to get an actual pressing ham forever, but instead I’ve just made do with my sleeve roll that has a rounded end. Finally I decided it was time to get a real tailor’s ham.

Links in this post identified by an asterisk (*) are affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a commission (at no additional cost to you).

After reading reviews of commercially made hams, like the Dritz Tailor’s Ham*, I realized the “wool” side is usually some type of synthetic fabric, or a blend containing a small amount of wool, and it can melt if you are not careful to use low heat on that side. They just don’t make them like they used to.

I’d seen tutorials for making your own ham, so I decided that was the way to go.

The trick with making your own pressing ham, though, is finding something to stuff it with. Pressing rolls and hams are traditionally stuffed with sawdust, but safe sawdust is hard to find. As long as no pressure treated wood has been cut in the mix, sawdust is probably not terribly toxic, but these days even plain lumber is all treated to prevent mold, so it’s more than just wood in that dust. I believe in Canada it’s illegal to sell sawdust. So unless you can get sawdust that was made from cutting firewood or other virgin wood, I’d stay away from sawdust.

I’ve read other suggestions of using shredded paper or fabric scraps. I imagine serger and thread trimmings would work well, but I haven’t been saving them up lately.

I already had some pine shavings made for animal bedding, so I decided to use that. However, wood shavings are designed to be fluffy and hard to compress. I’d read another blog post where the author considered blending them up, but decided it would be a bad idea.

However, I have a super-duper blender. I use my Blendtec Total Blender* to grind grains into flour to make gluten-free waffles, and thin wood shavings are probably easier on the blender than grinding up rice, right?

Pine shavings. Will it blend?

Yes, of course it will!

I found it worked best to blend about three cups of non-compressed shavings at a time on speed 9. They blended down to about a cup of sawdust.

The blended shavings were still probably a little fluffier than actual sawdust, but they were much easier to compress than they were before blending. The blended shavings did have an advantage over sawdust from a saw, though — there was much less fine dust in the mix.

I drew up a set of patterns for tailor’s hams in various sizes. Print out both sheets, trim off one of the borders, and tape the sheets together, matching up the lines.

I made the second largest size and the smallest size. See the picture below for size reference. I plan to use the miniature ham for sewing bras and half-scale garments.

I cut one piece of wool fabric, one of cotton, and two of cotton muslin to underline both sides.

Here’s how to sew the ham:

Place a muslin piece against the wrong side of each of the outer fabric pieces. Stitch the muslin to the outer fabric between notches, 1/4″ (6 mm) from the edge.

Place the right sides of the outer fabric pieces together and stitch around the ham with a 1/4″ (6 mm) seam allowance, leaving the seam open between the notches, and backstitching at each end of the seam.

For the two smallest sizes, you can trim the seam allowance, but don’t clip it. Don’t trim or clip the seam allowance on the larger sizes.

Turn the ham right side out.

Then stuff sawdust (or other filling material) into the ham. Pound and squish it to compress the stuffing. Keep stuffing and stuffing, until it is as firm as you can get it and you can’t physically get any more stuffing in there. This will take a while. I made the opening on the largest three sizes large enough to fit a canning funnel* into. That should help you fill it, at least until it is mostly full. If you don’t have a wide mouthed funnel, you can make one by cutting the ends off of a plastic beverage bottle.

If you’ve stuffed your ham with sawdust, you will now have a horrible mess. Get out your vacuum cleaner and vacuum the dust off of the outside of your ham.

Now hand stitch your ham closed, and get pressing!


When I was blending wood shavings, my daughter heard the blender going and came over, hoping the sound meant I was making waffles. So I had to make waffles right after I finished blending the wood shavings.

Here’s my “recipe” (or a summary of my haphazard method, at least) for making gluten-free waffles with a Blendtec* blender.

This makes a big batch. Even with a family of four pigging out on them, we have some left over for the next day. You can freeze any leftovers.

For grains to blend properly in a Blendtec blender, you need to blend 1.5 to 2 cups of grain at a time (no more or less), so keep that in mind if you want to reduce the recipe to make a smaller batch.

I blend grains at speed 9 out of 10. If your blender just has high-medium-low settings, blend at high speed, though I’m not sure if it will work quite as well with that type of blender.

Blend (2 cups at a time)
2 cups hulled buckwheat*
2 cups quinoa
2 cups brown rice

You can substitute other grains like millet (very dry, so don’t use too much) or oats (medium dryness) for some of the grains. A balance of dry and gooey grains works best. I suggest keeping the proportion of 1/3 buckwheat in the recipe, since it is nice and gooey. The waffles come out dry and crumbly without the buckwheat. (A caution about buckwheat – grind your own buckwheat flour from hulled buckwheat – don’t frequently eat commercial buckwheat flour that has the hulls ground up in it. Buckwheat greens and hulls cause sun sensitivity. After eating just a little commercial buckwheat flour regularly for a few months, for an entire summer I got hives every time I got the slightest bit pink from too much sun. It took months for the effect to wear off.)

  • Put all of the flour in a large mixing bowl.
  • Add 1 1/2 to 2 Tablespoons baking powder and
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix the dry ingredients together in the bowl.

  • Put 1/4 cup of coconut oil or other oil in the blender jar.
  • Add your choice of 2 eggs, 1 tsp sunflower lecithin powder*, or two eggs worth of egg replacer*. (Optional —makes the waffles a little less crumbly.)
  • Add water until it’s up to the 3 cup measuring line. (You can substitute some type of milk for some of the water for a richer flavor.)
  • Add 1/2 tsp vanilla if you like.
  • Blend at maximum speed until the liquid is well mixed.

Pour the wet ingredients into the flour. You will need to add more water or milk until the batter is the right consistency, usually about 3 cups (but start with 2). Mix up the batter. The amount of water needed depends on the mix of grains you use. Err on the side of too thick, since it’s easier to get gluten free waffles out of the waffle iron if they are made from thick batter. Plus it’s easier to add more water than more flour if you need to adjust the batter. You can also use this batter to make pancakes.


* Links in this post identified by an asterisk (*) are affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a commission (at no additional cost to you).

Posted in Crafts, Half-Scale Patternmaking and Sewing, Sewing

Just Sew It!

This year I resolved to get my sewjo back. I was frustrated that my “to sew” list just kept getting longer and longer. Also, I really needed some new clothes, but now that I know how good custom made clothing feels, I can’t bring myself to buy ready-to-wear clothes. But I was stuck and couldn’t seem to start a sewing project.

Heather Lou, the designer behind Closet Case Patterns, was on Episode 23 of the Love to Sew Podcast last January. Her advice for procrastinators really resonated with me. “Just do the damn thing. Stop thinking about it. Stop making endless lists. Just do it.”

I really need a personal cheerleader telling me that all the time. I tend to think something to death because I’m so afraid of something going wrong, or I’m just not sure of how to get started, or I want it to be perfect. Also, I have way too much sewing stuff in too small of a space. I have things arranged as best as I can on rolling carts and things, but there’s still the mental hurdle of having to move things around before I can get started.

Since I don’t have a personal cheerleader, I thought maybe I could print out a note reminding me not to procrastinate and hang it on the wall. I know from experience, though, that I’ll stop noticing a sign on the wall after a couple of days.

I thought maybe if I spent several hours sewing myself a note instead, I might pay a little more attention to it. So I made this wall hanging, which I put on the wall just above my computer screen:

Did it work? Well, I still ignore this sign sometimes, but when I do really look at it, I have positive feelings about sewing. It is definitely more motivating than words on a piece of paper would have been. I think a paper sign would make me feel guilty for not doing something, while the sewn sign makes me happy because—hey, I sewed that, and look at those nice satin stitches on the applique!

I’ve sewn quite a few things this year. The funny thing is, I just haven’t felt like blogging about most of them. I guess I feel I should have pretty pictures of them. But, you know what, taking pictures sucks. I don’t have good lighting or much room indoors, and taking everything outside is a huge hassle. Then there’s trying to get good pictures when I am a total dunce at posing. But this is my blog, and I can do whatever I want, so you get whatever pictures I feel like taking, even if they are just on my dress form or in bad lighting.

I’m writing this blog post mostly for myself anyway, to remind me, that yes, I’ve sewn quite a few things this year. When I don’t blog about them, I tend to forget how many things I really have sewn.

After I took care of the two main things that had me stuck—I needed to make bras that fit me before I started fitting new clothes, and I really wanted a new custom dress form—I started sewing a lot more. That dress form has been absolutely amazing, by the way. I can’t believe how much faster and easier fitting is now. I wish I could come over to your house and help you make your own dress form, but I can’t, so that’s why I wrote the tutorial on how to make your own dress form. Actually, I think writing that tutorial is what got me burned out on blogging for a while—it was a lot of work.

These are the garments I’ve sewn this year but haven’t mentioned on my blog. They are all made from fabric from my stash purchased in 2017 or earlier. I spent too much on a set of thread and some vintage sewing machines this year, so I’m not buying fabric for the rest of the year. I’m making room in my stash, though, so next year I’ll have room for new fabric!

Here’s an Itch to Stitch Davina Dress. I made this with a heavyweight cotton/spandex double knit fabric that I had previously cut down the middle lengthwise to make it into a baby carrying wrap. My babies are now almost teenagers, so I converted the wrap into a dress. The fabric was narrow, so I had to do some creative piecing, but I made it work. I had some issues with the neckline gaping, so I sewed some clear elastic into the seam, and now it ripples. I need to remember to alter the neckline and do an FBA if I make this dress again. I do wear the dress, though. In fact, I’m wearing it right now.

Here is an SBCC Tonic Tee. I made some fit alterations, so this version fits a little better than the last one I made, although I may have overdone the flat upper back alteration just a tad—the shoulder seams are a little too far back now. But it’s a knit, so it all works.

Another Tonic Tee in mint green.

An Itch to Stitch Lago Tank. This was the first one I made, so I consider it a wearable muslin. I should probably get rid of it, because it’s polyester, and I hate wearing polyester.

Another Lago Tank made from cotton baby rib knit. This one has a very loose fit, because there is no spandex in the fabric. I don’t really care for the cut of this tank, because it shows my bra straps in the back, but it’s a good place to start from if I want to customize the pattern. I’ll wear this tank in the winter as an extra layer for warmth.

Here’s my first Helen’s Closet York Pinafore. The fabric I used was a remnant of cotton twill. I made the bias facings extra narrow, hand basted them in place, and sewed them down from the right side with jeans topstitching thread. I did an FBA and shortened the pattern in the upper chest area so the neckline and the opening on the side aren’t down so low. I also made some fit changes to the back shoulder and made a full bum adjustment. The pattern alterations were so easy with my dress form! It is such a simple pattern that I just pinned the printer paper pattern onto my dress form and adjusted it. Kind of like tissue fitting, but I didn’t even bother tracing the pattern onto tissue paper.

Here’s my second, longer version of the York. I made this in linen. I drafted narrow exposed facings for this one instead of using bias tape. The facing fabric is floral linen left over from making my Bootstrap Fashion dress form.

I had some lavender linen left over, so I made another modified Scout Tee with it.

Helen released a cross-back apron expansion pack for the York Pinafore. I thought that was a fabulous idea, but I had made so many fit changes to the pinafore already that I thought it would be easier just to figure out this pattern hack on my own (plus I spent too much money on sewing stuff already this year, so I’m on a fabric and pattern buying break). I put my first York pinafore onto my dress form and pinned ribbon onto the back to figure out the apron back lines, then traced them onto tissue paper.

I managed to squeeze this apron out of just under a yard of cotton canvas I had in my stash. I had to cut the back pieces slightly off grain, but it looks fine.

The apron is ever so much more comfortable than ones with a tie around the back of my neck. And it fits! The one-size-fits-all store bought aprons I have are much too large for me.

I made a second, reversible York cross-back apron. I thought it would be easier to sew than sewing on over five yards of bias facing, but it really wasn’t, and the edges aren’t as stable. If I make another one of these aprons, I’ll stick to finishing the edges with bias tape.

Is it a floral kind of day?

Or am I in the mood for food and farm animals?

Here is a loose fitting tee I made. My husband got a free T-shirt that ended up being a women’s large, not men’s, so he gave it to me. It is absolutely the perfect size for me, and I realized that my other ready-to-wear tees are all either too big or too small. So I traced off a pattern from the shirt, compared it to my fitting shell, and came up with a method for drafting the perfect loose fitting tee based off of a woven sloper. Once I’ve perfected the method a bit and tried it on other people I’ll share it. This tee is almost perfect. I need to raise the shoulder points just a bit on the next version.

I don’t tend to think of loose fitting T-shirts as needing much fitting, but they really are more comfortable when they fit correctly!

I sewed three more bras using the same self-drafted pattern as last time I made bras. The yellow and white checked fabric is Kaufman Carolina Gingham, which seems like an unlikely choice for bra fabric, but I really like it. It doesn’t stretch out too much over the course of the day, yet it has a good amount of give on the bias. I didn’t have yellow ribbon, so I made the bow out of a narrow tube of bias cut fabric.

I pulled out all of the scraps of knit fabric I had in my stash and sewed a drawer full of underwear. I only own two pairs of ready-to-wear underwear now. The pattern is one I made myself. Originally I traced off patterns from three different pairs of ready-to-wear underwear and combined them. Then I just kept tweaking the pattern. By the last pair I had the fit perfect.

Here are a couple of blurry mirror shots of my Avery Leggings. These are really just a wearable muslin. I actually made the lower rise, cropped version, but I’m so short they nearly come up to my natural waist, and go down to my ankles. I added length to the back waist for a full bum adjustment, but next time I’ll add just a little to the width, too.

The pattern calls for 1/2″ elastic at the waist. I’m sensitive to pressure, so I used some 3/4″ elastic instead. You have to use elastic with gentle stretch, or the elastic will be longer than the fabric and it won’t sew together right. Even with the gentle stretch 3/4″ elastic, the waistband still cuts into me painfully. If I put my finger under the elastic, it doesn’t feel tight, but I just can’t tolerate narrow elastic around my natural waist.

I think I have enough fabric to re-cut the waistband and try to make it more comfortable. I can try a slightly longer piece of elastic. If that doesn’t work, I might try figuring out how to fit two rows of elastic at the top. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find wide elastic with gentle stretch. The wide elastic I’ve purchased is all pretty firm.

It’s too bad I find the waistband uncomfortable, because I really like the higher waisted look of the leggings, and the double layered wide fabric waistband holds in my tummy nicely. It’s only waistbands up at my waist that I find uncomfortable, so I may have to get rid of the fancy waistband and just do a simple stitched and turned lowered waistband with wider elastic on my next version. I’d still get the benefit of the nifty hidden gusset in the pattern.

I sewed four pairs of woven pants for my son. I made the pattern using an experimental draping/drafting method I’m working on. I’ve learned so much about how pants fit during the process. It’s really been quite horrifying to realize how much pants fitting “experts” and pattern drafters misunderstand about the geometry of pants fit. No wonder those fitting and drafting methods haven’t worked for me. I’m not quite ready to share the method, but I think it’s going to work.

I also made him a few pairs of sweatpants using the same experimental patternmaking method for the pattern, and a matching sweatshirt using Jalie 3355. I reinforce the knees on all of his pants with interfaced patches. Otherwise he blows out the knees in a few weeks.

Not pictured are four pairs of elastic waist pants I made for my daughter, a leather holster for my scissors, and some pillowcases I sewed with my kids.



Posted in Sewing

Three Scrapbuster Scout Tees

I’ve been trying to use up some fabric from my stash, and I thought woven T-shirts would be a good way to use small pieces of fabric. I have not had good luck with woven T-shirts in the past, though. Many years ago, I sewed Vogue 8294, view B with short sleeves. It was nearly unwearable. I only wore it a few times, because when I lifted my arms even slightly (like to type on my keyboard) the sleeves pulled tight and cut into my arms and the whole shirt lifted up. That pattern just exemplified everything that is wrong with big four patterns, and is one of the reasons I hardly sewed anything for many years.

Now that there are many more options for patterns other than big four patterns, I have some patternmaking and fitting knowledge that I didn’t have years ago, and I have a custom dress form, I finally feel like I can sew anything I want, and make it fit like I want it to.

I remembered hearing a podcast where Jen Beeman from Grainline Studio said that her Scout Tee is one of her best selling patterns, so I decided to start with that pattern.

I had draped a sloper pattern on my new dress form, so I compared it to the Scout pattern to check the fit. I started with the back, and it looked like one size up from the size selected from my full bust measurement would be a pretty good fit, with only a length adjustment to fit my petite self. Going up a size surprised me, since I’m larger than a B-cup, so usually I would go down a size or two and then do a FBA. Good thing I checked! Indie pattern companies are great, but you have to figure out what changes you need to make for each company, since their sizing and fit vary.

Then I compared my sloper to the front pattern. I was confused at first because the shirt front was really wide above the bust level. The neckline was so wide it looked like it would gape. I looked up pictures of the #scouttee on Instagram, and saw a quite a few gaping necklines, which confirmed my suspicion. It didn’t gape on everyone, though, so either it works on some people, or they made fit changes.

I think the pattern was designed so that the front is the same width as the back, which is how basic loose fitting knit T-shirts are designed. However, loose fitting knit tees usually have high necklines, which minimizes the gaping problem caused by the extra width in front, and knit fabric is more forgiving of fit issues. The Scout does have a wedge of fabric taken out from the neckline/front shoulder seam to reduce gaping, but it apparently isn’t enough of a solution to work on everyone, based on the pictures I looked at.

I know Jen Beeman likes loose fitting boxy garments, but wide gaping necklines and extra folds of fabric at my front armholes aren’t really my thing, so I re-drafted the front pattern.

In case you are familiar with patternmaking and are curious, here’s what I did: I started with my sloper pattern, and added about 1.3 cm of width at the armholes. I eliminated the below the bust dart on my sloper, then I rotated part of the upper bust dart to become ease at the armhole (I think about 2 cm total – I already had 1 cm of the upper bust dart converted to armhole ease on my sloper, but I added more). This is basically an unsewn dart, and it makes the armhole much more comfortable. Then I rotated another portion of the upper bust dart into fullness at the hem, to give me the same width as the original pattern at the hem. The remaining portion of the upper bust dart I left as an actual dart, angling down slightly from the bust to the side seam. I used the original pattern as a guide for the amount of ease to add at the bust. Then I made the neckline narrower to fit the new pattern. I think I raised the neckline a bit, too, which I usually do since I’m petite.

I made sure my armholes were the same length as on the original pattern, and I didn’t make any changes to the sleeve pattern.

I made up a quick muslin, and wore it around the house to test out how comfortable it was. Even though it was made of quilting cotton, the muslin was pretty comfortable, and it gave me an acceptable range of movement. I wore it two days in a row, so I took that as a sign that this pattern was a success!

My first impression was that the pattern came out perfect on the first try, which was incredible, but then I did notice a couple of things that could be improved. The side seams swing forward slightly, which I think is an indication of too much length in the upper back area (I have a flatter than average upper back – the opposite of the more common round upper back fitting issue). The bust dart was also just a little too low.

I decided not to fix these minor issues. The tee already fit better than most of my clothes, and it was good enough as is. No, it was better than good enough. I’m trying to get over my perfectionism – done is better than perfect, right? I have a tendency to think things to death and then never get anything done.

I looked through my fabric stash, and labeled all of the most likely pieces with their width and yardage. I discovered that a lot of my fabric was in larger pieces than I thought – too large to waste fabric by making a Scout Tee from it, which in my size only takes about 1.3 yards. But I was committed to making Scout Tees, so I dug really deep into my stash, into those leftover bits that I’m not sure why I was keeping, and found some fabric to use.

This first Scout is made from some striped cotton gauze that used to be someone’s curtains. My mother had picked up a bin of fabric at an estate sale and had given it to me. It was mostly ugly quilting cotton that I use for making muslins, but these gauze curtains were included. There were some stains on them, so they must have been kitchen curtains, but I mostly cut around the stains, which don’t really show through the stripes anyway.

I wore this shirt out gardening on a hot day, and it was wonderfully breezy. It’s loose enough to give me reasonable freedom of movement, and it keeps me cooler than a knit T-shirt on a hot day, since it stands away from my body and allows lots of air to blow through. Of the three Scouts I made, this one is my favorite, probably because these colors look good on me.

The second is made from some stripy mustard colored cotton fabric I bought years ago. I had just enough to make a Scout from it. I’m glad to finally find a use for that piece of fabric that I’ve been staring at in my stash for years.

The third Scout is made from the cotton voile lining I removed from a thrift store dress I never wore – one of those “What was I thinking?” purchases. It’s underlined with cotton voile saved from one of my old nightgowns. I just barely squeezed the pattern onto the fabric I had. I ended up with a seam at the center back of the underlining. The fabric already has a couple of tiny holes starting – it wasn’t high quality fabric to begin with. It’s really comfortable, though, and I’ll wear it as long as I can.

This last one wins the prize for scrapbusting. It’s made from two small pieces of fabric rescued from former garments that I was hoarding just in case I needed a scrap of voile for something – and now they are transformed into a garment I will wear!



Posted in Sewing
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