speedy pillowcase

Developing my sewing skills, project 1: Speedy Pillowcases

One of my big goals for this year is to cultivate my maker nature by developing my sewing skills. I’ve sewn on and off for as long as I can remember, getting lots of exposure to it because my mom and grandma both sewed a ton while I was growing up. And I was in that group of kids that was still lucky enough to have classes like Home Ec and Industrial Arts.

The projects I’d work on here and there were relatively diverse — sometimes it was a pouch, sometimes a zip-up jacket — but I never sat down and really learned the ins and outs of sewing. And as I thought about my strengths and what makes me stick with something for a long time, I came to the conclusion that the keys are to spend the time learning processes and techniques step by step, and then to apply this knowledge in a methodical, progressive way. This is in contrast to the jumping around from random (and typically way-advanced-beyond-my-experience-and-skills-) project to other random project approach I’ve used up to this point. While some people thrive with a jumping-around approach, history has taught me that personally it causes more frustration than satisfaction. When I make something, I want it do be done really well, and without taking the time to develop my skills I wasn’t getting the results I wanted.

To get me moving in the right direction (and because order and process make me happy!) I outlined a program to follow that should give me a solid foundation in sewing techniques, garment construction, alterations, and pattern design. It’s basically like a college curriculum adapted for home learning. Ultimately my goal is to design and make accessories for dogs and their humans, allowing me to combine my love for design and making with my love for pets.

The first stage in this educational journey is to complete the projects from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson. This is a fantastic book that just came out a few months ago, so not too many people are referencing it on blogs yet as learning-to-sew favorites. But of all of the books I’ve read or explored on this topic, it’s my favorite. It’s for adults, not kids, and all of the projects included were carefully curated to be things modern adult sewers actually want to make. A lot of books featured so many projects I just didn’t care to have and didn’t want to bother making. It doesn’t hurt that the book is beautifully designed, with top-notch photography, typography, organization, and layouts.

There are 12 projects, building in complexity, skills, and materials. The first project is the Speedy Pillowcase, and it’s where I’m beginning.

I’m using my new Baby Lock Elizabeth, so equipment and settings refer to this model.


Speedy Pillowcase from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • French seams inside
  • no raw edges exposed
  • quick to make

Process notes

Choosing the fabrics for this first project was both exhilarating and intimidating. I settled on an earthy modern direction to coordinate with our mid-century-influenced bedroom.


  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Sage
  • Moda Modern Neutrals Patchways in Steel
  • Timeless Treasures Owl Be Seeing You Raindrops in Sorbet

Equipment and settings:

  • 90/14 sharp needle (came with machine)
  • walking foot
  • foot tension 3
  • thread tension 3.5-4.25
  • stitch #2
  • 3.5/2.5 for 1/2″ seam, using 5/8″ marker on stitch plate for guide
  • 7.0/2.5 for 1/4″ seam, using right edge of walking foot for guide


speedy pillowcase detail
His and hers pillowcases, to coordinate with our dark grey fitted sheet and muted grellow flat sheet

I loved this roll-up method for sewing the cuff to the pillowcase! I want to use that on more projects.

One thing that was surprising to me about working on this project was that buying high-quality (more expensive) quilting fabrics really made me appreciate the process more — it’s like I wanted to slow down and absorb the experience. Just handling the fabrics felt more special than working with lower-quality fabrics.

On the first pillowcase (the one without the accent stripe), I had a problem with threads unraveling and sticking out the French seam. And they were hard to remove because most of them were still attached to the fabric and didn’t easily come out. It left some unsightly little thread stubbles along the finished edge which I didn’t like.

For the second pillow (the Extra Credit version with the accent stripe), I kept a better eye on those unraveling threads and it wasn’t as bad. But I think zigzag stitching or serging those edges before the final seam (after trimming the seam allowance) would have been even better. As long as it could be done small enough to fit within the 1/8″ trimmed seam allowance.

One thing I noticed about the Extra Credit instructions was that by the time the accent stripe was stitched in place and the work turned, there width of it got very narrow compared to the photo. If I made this again, I think I’d increase the cutting width on that piece to 2 or 2 1/4 inches to compensate for the 1/2″ seam allowance.

The instructions don’t say to do this, but I changed my thread color part way through sewing so it would match the fabric pieces. In retrospect, I think using one color the whole way down the seam would have been fine, and it would have eliminated the tricky stitching transition point. I also could have aligned the edges of the cuff on the second pillowcase better — one side is sticking out a bit from the other and that bugs me.

All in all, I was very pleased with how this project turned out and I’m looking forward to using these fresh new pillowcases at night!