I thought for my upcoming sewing class at the local quilt shop it would be fun to do a pet bed. There were a few pet bed sewing patterns to choose from but I became fixated on the idea of a simple oversized floor cushion.
And since I love piecing (more so than quilting) the Fat Quarter Floor Tuffet by Kenzie Mac & Co looked promising. I love that it’s made with fat quarters, making it fun and easy to gather the fabrics needed for the project. There’s something about choosing fat quarter fabrics that’s like picking candy off the shelf — they’re all packaged and ready to go!
The pattern has two options for the button design: either a real button, sewn through the top and bottom to make a tufted cushion, or a mock button made from fabric and sewn to the top and bottom. I chose the mock button design since this is for pets. It’s easy for a real button to get caught in fur or chewed off, so this was a safer route for the little fur kids.
The cushion measures 26 inches wide x 5 inches high. My dog, Pipsqueak is pictured in the photo, and she’s a 10-pound Chihuahua mix. So I think it would be a good size for cats and dogs up to about 18 pounds or so.
Because of the interfacing used, this is a nice and substantial cushion, and very satisfying to sew. I used about 1 pound of fiberfil stuffing for my sample bed so that it allows some squishing down in the center and the edges to be a little taller. And since it’s stuffed with fiberfil, it’s lightweight and soft.
Robert Kaufman Essex Yarn Dyed Linen Blend in Black
Robert Kaufman Chambray Union in Indigo
Robert Kaufman Essex Wide Linen Blend in Flax
Gütermann 50 Wt Natural Cotton thread, color 3260 for piecing
Gütermann 50 Wt Natural Cotton thread, color 6210 for binding
Coats Machine Quilting & Crafts 30 Wt Mercerized ELS Cotton thread, color 155 Dogwood for quilting
Equipment and settings:
for piecing, used foot pressure of 2, J foot, tension 4, 5.5/2.0 with stitch 21 (except for the linen-to-linen blocks used pressure 1)
for quilting, used walking foot, 3.5/3, aligned seam line with edge of foot
Day 1: cut block pieces (120 squares); piece together the back (cut the length of fabric in half, resulting in two pieces each 2 yd x WOF; stitched 5/8″ from selvedge edge, then trimmed edges to 1/2″ before pressing open)
Day 2: join binding pieces and press in half; pin blocks and mark for triangles
Day 3: sew seams on blocks to form triangles (used 1 bobbin + one and a half 100-m spools of thread)
Day 4: set block seams; slice each block in half diagonally
Day 5: press seams open (120 blocks)
Day 6: trim blocks to 6 1/2 x 6 1/2; arrange blocks; sew first 5 rows
Day 7: finish sewing rows; set seams for 8 of the rows
Day 8: set rest of seams; start sewing rows together
Day 9: finish sewing rows; press row seams flat
Day 10: pin basting the top to the batting and backing
Day 11: quilt first half of the lines
Day 12: quilt second half of lines; trim edges; apply binding by machine; prep for hand stitching
Day 13: begin hand stitching binding
Day 14: complete hand stitching of binding
Wow, this was a big project. Every time I started to feel close to being done, it turned out there was a lot more to do. And it wasn’t even a bed-sized quilt! It was such a great experience though, learning new things and bonding with my sewing machine.
My first challenge was cutting. Actually, my first challenge was choosing fabrics. My second challenge was cutting. It was hard for me to cut multiple layers of fabric and stay on grain. More accurately, I didn’t stay on grain. That’s something I’ll definitely need to watch more carefully, especially for garment sewing.
I’m so grateful the author instructed us to cut the blocks a bit larger and trim them down after the half-square triangles were pieced. They tended to be misshapen just enough that finishing without that trim would have likely put things askew.
When sewing the rows together I discovered that some Solvy stabilizer on the underside helps the fabric go over the feed dogs smoothly and prevents the trickier intersections from bunching up, getting sewn down wrong. This occurred to me only after 10 rows of ripping out a few corners on each row and re-sewing.
If I could change one thing about my project it would be the quilting stitches. I wouldn’t buy the 1200-yd spools of 30-wt thread for this machine again. There were just too many tension issues, and my quilting stitches aren’t as even as I’d like. The 50-wt worked much better. For me, sewing row after row during the quilting stage was rather tedious, with the size of the quilt unwieldy for my machine.
The hand stitching went very well and by the end I really felt like I had gotten into the rhythm of the stitch. Doing a quilt like this, with so much hand stitching, made me less likely to avoid it on future projects because now I know it’s not insurmountable.
I’m delighted with how my quilt turned out. I love the way the colors and fabrics work together — it looks crisp and polished, yet casual because of the chambray (which I’m addicted to) and dark grey backing. It has an appealing nautical feel to it. I’m not certain if there’s another quilt in my future, but I’m very glad to have made this one, and that my goal of sewing all of the projects in the book is completed.
I made two placemats following the regular instructions, and two with the Extra Credit piecing method.
Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Stone
Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Charcoal
Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Honey
Moda Weave in a light grey
Pellon Nature’s Touch Cotton Batting
Coats Machine Quilting & Crafts 30 Wt Mercerized ELS Cotton thread, color 155 Dogwood (for piecing and quilting)
Gütermann 50 Wt Natural Cotton thread, color 6210 (for binding)
Equipment and settings:
75/11 Quilting Needle for piecing, 3.5/2.0 stitch, using 1/4-inch guide foot for piecing striped version
90/14 Quilting Needle for quilting front to back, 3.0 stitch length, 4.25–4.75 needle tension
used Thread Heaven for hand sewing the binding to the backs
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed making these placemats. We’ve never been a placemat type of family, so I wasn’t sure I’d really connect with the project, but it was such a wonderful warm-up to the quilt project, and a cool way to try out different fabrics and piecing designs. I enjoyed the piecing in particular — it was relaxing and fun to see the sections grow strip by strip. Love my 1/4-inch piecing foot.
During my quilting experiment, I learned that a heavier thread is nice for quilting, so that’s what I used on this project. However, I wish that I had used a 50 wt thread for the piecing. The thick 30 wt thread was unnecessarily bulky on those pieced seams. The 30 wt was nice for quilting though.
The large 1200-yd spool of thread was too large for the thread area in my machine, and my spool pin doesn’t have a vertical orientation option. When it was lying horizontally in the primary spool location, the thread got caught between the spoon and the machine itself, causing tension problems. So it required using the secondary spool pin, which worked much better. But it still wasn’t as smooth as with the smaller spools, so in the future I’d avoid buying these large spools for the sewing machine.
When it was time to quilt, I kept forgetting to draw my design on before pin basting. I was able to get around the pins to do a simple diagonal line on the two solid placemats, but it would still be better to get the designs drawn before pinning as suggested in the book.
Most of my hand-sewn binding happened on a comfy lounge chair, but I did the last placemat at my work desk in my office chair. I was surprised to see that the stitching looked better (and was actually easier to do) when done at my desk. The Thread Heaven thread conditioner worked best when I ran the thread through once, then put it through the needle and knotted the ends, then ran the double-thickness through the conditioner again.
One of the biggest lessons I’m learning from this process is that it’s all about the prep. Planning, using the right supplies and equipment, and careful cutting make the process go much better — or at least make it more enjoyable.
When I finished the placemats I realized that our dining table is too narrow for them to be used like normal. It would be fun to make a set customized for our table size, perhaps with an improvisational approach. I was watching old episodes of It’s Sew Easy and was intrigued by a segment with Victoria Findlay Wolfe. She explained how she uses her 15 minutes of play method to create fabric from pieced-together scraps, then uses that fabric to make blocks. That sort of free-form play is basically the opposite of my structured approach to things, which is exactly why I think it would be awesome to try.
This week I wanted to make some gifts for friends who both happen to be getting into cooking more, so some custom-designed kitchen towels sounded like a fun idea. I brainstormed a variety of approaches, but one of my requirements was that the fabric be absorbent. Non-absorbent kitchen towels are super annoying.
At the fabric store, I didn’t see any bolts specifically marked as tea towel fabric, but there was something called “diaper cloth”. I figured that had to be absorbent! It’s a soft, lightweight cotton with a slight diamond texture on one side and fairly flat texture on the other side.
Each friend received a set of two towels: one with their initial and one with a more graphic element designed to fit their style. To make the images, I outlined the element in Illustrator and filled it with a diagonal line. Then I printed them on my laser printer (reversing the image) and used a blender pen to transfer the graphics onto the towels.
I experimented with the sizes of the towels: two of them are 15 1/2 x 23 1/2, and two of them are 15 1/2 x 26 1/2 (final sizes). Normally I sew with polyester thread, but for this project I picked up some white cotton thread. It was really nice to sew with, and I like the way it blended in with the 100% cotton fabric. Mary Ellen’s Best Press made the seams a piece of cake to fold, press, and stitch. That stuff is awesome.
The towels can be washed and dried no problem, and perhaps in time the graphics will fade some, which would actually look pretty cool.
used optional muslin backing to make quilt sandwich
marked first quilting line with fabric pen, then each additional with 1 3/8″ painters tape, using the walking foot and stitch #2 3.5/2.5
for the lines next to the primary grid lines, used stitch #1 0.0/2.5 and aligned the original stitches with the left edge of the walking foot
I think I used too few (or poorly-spaced) basting pins because there was some rippling with the muslin backing. This wasn’t a big issue because that backing was the lining, but it’s something to watch for when making the quilt project.
After quilting the top, I trued it up with the backing and noticed it was 1/4″ smaller all around. So the backing required a little trimming to make them line up.
I must have had beginner’s luck with the first pillow — after joining the binding ends on this one, there was a bit too much binding length and it caused a tiny wrinkle when it was stitched down. It’s barely noticeable, but it’s something to be careful of in the future. It’s definitely easier to re-sew that binding joint than rip out the seam after stitching it down!
The hand-stitched binding was trickier on this pillow because it was so much darker than the pillow itself. I decided to use thread that matched the binding rather than the pillow, and it was more visible than if the binding and pillow matched in color. But after I washed and dried the cover it helped blend the thread in pretty well, and leaving it unpressed after drying resulted in really cool texture that helps loosen up the understated look of the plain solid fabrics and straight quilting.
The instructions called for an 18″ square pillow form, and I made my own using a 36″ x 18″ piece of muslin, serged on two sides, turned right side out, then stuffed with about 12 oz of polyester Poly-Fil, and serged closed.
Robert Kaufman Railroad Denim Fine Stripe in Indigo
Equipment and settings:
for attaching zipper, rested the foot on the zipper teeth and aligned the edge of the tape with the edge of the foot
zipper foot: 2.5/2.5 for right side of foot, 4.0/2.5 for left side of foot
to stitch front and back pieces together, used walking foot (love this thing!!) with a foot pressure of 2
It was super easy to make a pillow form from scratch, and I’d definitely do it again. With the cost of the muslin, it was under $3 to make the form, which is a fraction of what I saw them priced at in the store.
I really like the structure the fusible fleece adds to the fabric. It was more challenging to fuse smoothly than the lightweight non-woven or woven styles, but eventually I got it smoothed out.
Sewing in the covered zipper went fairly well, but the flap fabric shifted some while stitching it down. Next time I’ll try to align and pin better so it stays smoother. This zipper did turn out with more even stitches than the Zipper Pouch, so that felt good.
When I read that we’d be hand stitching the binding using the ladder stitch on the back side, I have to admit I was kind of dreading it. But once I got rolling with it, it actually became a nice, soothing thing to do. It was a little disappointing to reach the end! It took me around 4 hours to complete the hand stitching, and it was fun to see the finished results. This is the best explanation of this stitch that I’ve seen so far, although I struggled with the corners — will work to improve them on the next pillow.
There was a bit of a whoopsie when I was trimming the binding overlap: instead of cutting just one of the loose ends to make the 2 1/4″ overlap, I cut through both ends. This left me with no room for joining the two ends of the binding. So I had to sew one cut piece back on, using the 45° angle join, then trim it properly, and finally sew the final joint. Essentially it left me with an extra binding joint seam very near the final one, which isn’t a huge deal but something to take more care with next time.
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.
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)
foot tension 3
thread tension 3.5-4.25
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
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!
I sewed this divided basket to keep in-progress knitting projects tidy and portable. It’s a natural cotton canvas body with a herringbone wool pocket and cotton liner. I’m so happy with this neutral and classic combination of colors and textures.
I wish I had lined the pocket in front — the knitting needles poke through the wool pretty easily. And next time, I’ll adjust the pattern to make the lining a bit taller, while making the divider a bit shorter.
For the interfacing, I used the heaviest one I could find (Pelon 71F Single-Sided Fusible Ultra Firm Stabilizer) but discovered I really don’t like sewing with it. At least, not with this pattern. It’s so stiff to work with, and isn’t flexible enough for the curves in this project. Next time I’ll try the Pelon 808 interfacing + 987F fusible fleece as recommended in the pattern instructions.
While researching ways to store and organize my knitting supplies and in-progress projects, I came across one particular pattern many times…like, over and over. It’s a divided basket sewing pattern by Anna at Noodlehead and it appears to be taking the fabric basket world by storm. It has great proportions and a clean, crisp look to it, plus it’s so practical. I really like making things that have a useful purpose.
Before I purchased the pattern from Noodlehead, I had found a few tutorials and figured out how to make the general basket with handles and a large front pocket. At the time, I didn’t really need the divider on the inside, but discovered through trial and error that the divider really does help add structure and stability to the basket. I used leftover canvas ticking from my apron project and made a large basket, originally to hold those knitting supplies. But it’s too large to be practical (doesn’t lend itself well to hauling around the house) and the sides are too floppy. The interfacing wasn’t quite strong enough to hold up those large sides.
I think I’ll move this one under my vanity to hold towels.
With the pattern for the divided basket in hand, I adjusted the dimensions to create a small basket for a shelf in my bathroom to hold miscellaneous hair stuff. I always have bobbie pins and hair ties floating around, along with various clips.
This small basket is sized at 5″ W x 4″ D x 3″ H, with a divider inside. It’s made of medium-weight woven cotton (the dark brown is a Kona Cotton, which is a beautiful color and fabric).
With this basket I learned that the top of the divider should be no closer to the top of the basket than 3/4″. Mine was too tall and my stitches are really erratic around that area. Other than that wobbly stitching, I’m really happy with how this little guy turned out. The channels on the pocket in front are good for holding a few clips, and the divider is actually really helpful to keep the pins and ties from making one tangled mess.