Bias facing detail on Simplicity 1364

Sewing the Simplicity 1364 Retro Sleeveless Woven Top

I love a classic top with a bateau neckline. And this pattern is fairly simple, with just a few pieces. But the lapped zipper in the back and the bias facing in the arm holes did make things a little trickier.

Project features

  • lapped zipper
  • facing
  • bias tape facing
  • darts

Process notes

Simplicity 1364 retro blouse pattern

For fitting this top, I used Nancy Zieman’s book The Busy Woman’s Fitting Book. After experiencing Joi Mahon’s pattern fitting techniques, it seemed like a good idea to give the pivot and slide method Nancy teaches in order to compare the two.

I chose the pattern size based on Nancy’s front width fitting chart. It’s hard to say how effective this method was because the pattern needed to be made wider at the shoulders and narrower at the bust. I started by doing the wide shoulder adjustment (adding 1/2″ to the shoulder width) and the square shoulder adjustment (moving the shoulder up 1/2″), then made a muslin to test fit.

The test fit revealed that there was way too much fabric in the bust, waist, and back, and not quite enough at the hip. In addition, the neckline in the front was cutting into my neck a bit, the darts on the front were too long, and the arm holes were too snug. I really liked how the neckline looked though — the bateau neck was crisp and flattering.

After seeing the fit of the muslin, I made further pattern adjustments:

  • dropped the front neckline by 1/2″
  • lowered the bottom edge of the arm hole and blended it into the upper part of the arm hole
  • brought the side seam under the arm hole in and blended it down to the hem (small bust adjustment)
  • widened the hip at the hem
  • shortened the dart by 1″

Then came the difficult decision of which fabric to use! A remnant of lightweight indigo chambray was calling to me, and for the bias facing on the arm holes a white and navy stripe was a good complement.


Simplicity 1364 Retro Top

Striped bias facing on Simplicity  1364
Striped bias facing on the arm holes

With the exception of the shoulders and shoulder blade area, I’m super happy about how this top turned out. The fabric is soft, lightweight, and has a good drape. And the design of the top is crisp and polished, but casual as well. The long zipper in the back makes it feel purposeful and put-together.

The ends of the shoulders at the arm holes are just a bit too high, making them pop up when they should mold to the shoulder better (this is less evident when my arms are bent like in the photos). And I learned a valuable lesson: if there’s a poorly-blended curve in the pattern, that will show up in the final garment. Makes sense! These areas are now fixed on my pattern.

I’m on the fence about whether a bit of a broad shoulder adjustment would help me or not — my concern is that adding fabric to the back will exacerbate the sway back fitting issue, but I’m consistently wearing tops that pull at the upper torso/shoulder area. That’s something that will continue to evolve for sure.

I also learned why some sewers like to stabilize the fabric before attaching a zipper. My fabric kept smooshing downward as the zipper got stitched on, causing wrinkles and puckers. If I had fused some interfacing on before folding and stitching, it probably would have alleviated this issue.

Vogue 1004 fitting shell in gingham

Pattern Fitting and the Fitting Shell

Once every seven years or so I get the itch to sew a garment. And every time the results disappoint me. The primary reason for this is the fit. It seriously never occurred to me before that patterns wouldn’t fit right out of the envelope. And when they didn’t fit, I blamed myself, thinking that my body was just a weird shape or I didn’t have the skills to make the item correctly.

So when I learned more recently that it’s uncommon for patterns to fit well right out of the envelope — that they’re just a guide to get started — it was highly enlightening. And encouraging!

There are so many options when it comes to pattern fitting, it was a little overwhelming to know where to begin. People seemed to favor one of two methods:

  1. slash and spread
  2. pivot and slide

I was most interested in the slash and spread, and fitting a muslin before jumping into nice fabric. Because I’m a visual learning, video classes are my go-to learning tools (I’m addicted to Craftsy and Creative Live). It was really hard to choose between the Craftsy classes Sew the Perfect Fit with Lynda Maynard and the Fast-Track Fitting series with Joi Mahon. A helpful Craftsy Comparison blog post on Bobbins & Whimsy described the differences between them, and the most compelling factor was that Joi teaches how to measure and fit the pattern before making the muslin, making a sewing buddy less necessary.

Joi teaches a logical approach that includes measuring the different sections of the body and adjusting the pattern in those specific sections. This allows the adjustments to be made where they match the body instead of just where the pattern’s existing adjustment lines are printed. And it gets the muslin much closer to a good fit the first time, although some fine-tuning is likely after the muslin is made.


Followed Crafty’s Fast-Track Fitting and Fast-Track Fitting: In the Details classes

Process notes

  • used Vogue Fitting Shell 1004 with 1″ gingham check fabric
  • traced off a copy of each pattern piece and left originals intact
  • forgot to pin out the darts when measuring the pattern against my body measurements, so had to trace off a second copy of each pattern piece
  • compared body measurements to pattern measurements and adjusted in batches (vertical first, then horizontal)
  • cut fabric one layer at a time to stay on grain
  • transferred pattern markings to fabric with transfer paper and wheel (and fabric pen for darts)


Vogue 1004 fitting shell in gingham check

Vogue 1004 fitting shell in gingham, torso

This was a fantastic learning experience. The best parts were:

  • gaining an understanding of how to compare body measurements to pattern pieces
  • learning how to change the pattern to fit me
  • gaining confidence that now I can adjust a pattern before cutting it out in the final fabric and it’ll fit so much better
  • the moment I tried on the muslin and saw how well the bodice fit
  • having the time to go through the entire fitting process on a practice garment rather than feeling pressured or rushed to fit a final garment

The most challenging parts were:

  • transferring the pattern markings to the fabric so they would show up
  • knowing how to make the pattern pieces for arm holes and sleeve cap fit each other
  • doing the math on the horizontal adjustments and still have the side seams match up
  • fitting the sleeves into the arm holes (causing many rounds of getting up and down from the sewing machine, trying on the muslin)

Forgetting to pin out the darts when measuring the pattern was actually a happy accident — it allowed me to experience the process of making pattern adjustments so that the second time it went much more smoothly. The first time, I made one adjustment at a time, in pace with the videos. But the second time I was able to see it more holistically and make smarter cutting choices.

Trying on the muslin for the first time was such a delight. The bodice (without sleeves) fit like a glove. The lower body needed a bit more wiggle room, but it was definitely in the ball park. To adjust the lower body I removed the front darts and increased the area and length of the back darts. In retrospect, I think it would have been better to adjust the sided seams and leave the front darts.

Attaching the sleeves to the arm holes was tricky! This by far took the longest time in the muslin fitting process. My primary hangup was the shoulder area — my shoulders are wide and I didn’t end up with quite enough fabric in that area. I never did fully resolve the sleeve fitting, but eventually had call it good enough to move on.

Once I had it fitting well enough, I went the seam lines with a marker and disassembled the muslin, then transferred the changes to the paper pattern. Mostly this was for gaining the experience doing it. It’s unlikely I’ll actually use the pattern again as it is. And I had to laugh because by the time the muslin was done, a few of the adjustments needed to be put back to the original pattern measurements.

What I learned and can apply to future garment fitting projects:

  • don’t be too stingy with seam allowances on the fitting garment
  • adjustments for wide shoulder and square shoulder should help my upper torso fitting issues (this method for square shoulders looks interesting because I also have the sway back)
  • a broad shoulder adjustment may be necessary (as in this method written about by A Fashionable Stitch)
  • it’s important to make horizontal adjustments in the right places so that the side seams still match up when joining the top to the bottom

It’s also become clear that it’s going to take practice and repetition to become confident about when pattern adjustments need to be made. My hope is that by making several different garment patterns in relatively quick succession things will become more intuitive.

Exposed bias facing on the Sorbetto Top by Colette Patterns

Sewing the Sorbetto Top

When I was compiling my sewing curriculum I became familiar with the Coletterie blog and found an excellent article on How to Build Sewing Skills if You’re an Absolute Beginner (The Art and Science of Skill Building). I connected with Sarai’s story of ambitious sewing adventures: getting in over her head (been there) and the frustration that ensues when things don’t go right (definitely been there). Since she seemed to speaking directly to me, it seemed wise to start with garment sewing the way she recommends: with a pillow (check!) then the Sorbetto Top by Colette Patterns.

After exploring the enormous fan club of sewers who’ve made their own Sorbettos I put it at the top of my garment-sewing list.

The Sorbetto is a great candidate for getting familiar with garment sewing because it’s very basic, with no sleeves or closures. And it features exposed bias facing. I have a mild obsession with making my own bias tape. There are just so many possibilities when it comes to choosing colors and patterns to coordinate with the main fabrics, I feel like I could spend a lifetime just exploring that one element.

Sorbetto Top in muslin

Since my goal right now is to learn learn learn, I made my top out of muslin to take the pressure off in case it didn’t turn out well. The thought of gambling with my treasured stash was too much to handle. I also decided not to do any pattern fitting for this project, and sewed the pattern as printed.

This really was a great pattern for getting more comfortable with garment sewing. It’s not complicated and the instructions are clear. I’m happy with my binding around the neck and arm holes, but way the finished shoulder and side seams peek out from under the bound edges bugs me. If I make this top again, I’d like to find a way to improve those areas.

And some pattern adjustments would help it fit me better:

  • shorten the bust dart so it’s not going all the way to the apex
  • lengthen the top
  • lower the bottom edge of the arm holes
  • decrease the width at the bust line to reduce gaping under the arms

Making this top is a big milestone for me — it’s been on my mind for months, so actually getting it made feels like an accomplishment. Next up is pattern fitting with Joi Mahon’s Craftsy classes, Fast-Track Fitting and Fast-Track Fitting: In the Details.

Half scale dress and pants

Half-scale muslins for sewing technique practice

The first phase of seriously improving my sewing abilities — completing the projects in the School of Sewing book — was a success. I feel much more confident about basic sewing skills like choosing threads and needles, sewing straight lines, installing zippers, hand-stitching, and the general construction process.

The next phase in my custom-designed curriculum is to work on basic garment sewing skills. For this, I’m primarily referring to The Sewing Book: An Encyclopedic Resource of Step-by-Step Techniques by Alison Smith, which came highly recommended by other sewers. It’s great for techniques, but instead of practicing techniques on plain blocks of fabric, I wanted to do some test-runs of garments.

In this spirit, I did some experimenting with the quarter-scale dress pattern from and the small pants pattern that came in the materials from the One Pattern, Many Looks: Pants class on After making them both half-scale and adding seam allowances, I constructed little muslin samples of the long sleeve dress and pants with side zipper.

Half scale dress and pants
Smalled down big ones: half-scale dress and pants for practice
Half scale dress and pants
The invisible zipper and facing in the pants

They’re both creepy and cute at the same time. And making them was a good exercise for learning more about garment construction. Some things I learned:

  • For seam allowances that aren’t going to get trimmed down, such as with side seams, it’s easier to finish the edges before sewing the seams.
  • I need to remember to true up patterns before cutting — on the pants pattern the front and back legs were different heights and one of the legs twisted when I tried to align the pieces.
  • When sewing the facing for the waist of the pants, I didn’t pay attention to the front and the back in relation to the side zipper, and ended up with the front facing in the back side of the pants which made the facing a little imbalanced.
  • On the dress I pressed the darts to the sides, but after finishing that piece I read that they are better pressed to the middle instead.
  • When attaching the binding to the facing edge, I tried both the edge joining foot and the overedge guide foot, but because it had a slightly concave curve to it the foot couldn’t get up into the ditch. It was nice and even, but the guide pushed the ditch away from the needle too far.
  • The set-in sleeves are way to gathered at the top, so I have work to do there to learn how to make them fit better.
  • Neither pattern came with facing pieces, so I made my own, but my curves were off and they ended up as a large scalloped shape rather than a nice, smooth curve. That would have been improved if I had used perpendicular cuts off of the fold edge rather than curved ones.

It was great getting experience with darts and a real-world application of an invisible zipper. It was also good to do the facing pieces because it took some of the mystery out of how those pieces work. Reading about these things can be very different from actually doing them! I tend to get hung up on learning something intellectually, delaying the actual hands-on experience that digging in and making provides. My goal is to get cracking on more garments (of the normal-human-size variety) to get up to speed on fitting and construction over the next few weeks.


half square triangle quilting blocks

Sewing skills project 12: My First Quilt

Chambray and linen quilt
My half-square triangle quilt, featuring chambray and linen-cotton blend fabrics

Technically, this was my second quilt, but the first one was fifteen years ago and I didn’t know what the heck I was doing at the time, so…this is my first proper quilt.


My First Quilt (lap size) from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • matching seams
  • pieced half-square triangles
  • machine quilting
  • hand-sewn binding

Process notes


  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Charcoal
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in White
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Ash
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Spice
  • 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)

120 fabric squares ready to sew into blocks
120 fabric squares, ready to sew into blocks

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)

120 half square triangle quilting blocks
120 half square triangle quilting blocks, seams pressed open and ready to trim to size

Day 6: trim blocks to 6 1/2 x 6 1/2; arrange blocks; sew first 5 rows

quilt blocks arranged for construction
quilt blocks arranged for construction

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

completed quilt top
completed quilt top, ready for pin basting

Day 10: pin basting the top to the batting and backing

pin-basted quilt top
pin-basted quilt top

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.

Half square triangle quilt with chambray and linen blend fabrics

Pieced placemat detail

Sewing skills project 11: Set the Table Placemats

plain quilted placemat backs
After washing and drying, the placemats have a crinkly, casual texture
Back of pieced and quilted placemat
The pieced design, after washing


Set the Table Placemats from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • machine quilting
  • hand sewn binding
  • pin basting
  • batting

Process notes

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
  • chambray
  • 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.

pleated purse detail

Sewing skills project 10: Pleated Purse

pleated purse in camel and chambray
This roomy pleated purse with both zippered and flat interior pockets has a substantial feel without being too stiff


Pleated Purse from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • magnetic snaps
  • pleats
  • zippered interior pocket
  • boxed corners
  • topstitching

Process notes


  • chambray
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton Honey
  • Pellon SF101 Shape-Flex woven fusible interfacing

Equipment and settings:

  • Universal 90/14 needle for topstitching strap
  • Microtex 90/14 for topstitching exterior, 3.5/3.5 with 1/4-inch guide foot, tension 5


My favorite part of this project was learning how to do the zippered interior pocket. I’m really glad to have one of those under my belt and definitely want to do more of them in the future. The interior panel that I put the zipper in got a little distorted during the process, so that’s something I’ll be more careful with next time. The main issue was that I pulled the rectangular zipper opening to close together when sewing in the zipper, so it pulled it out of alignment a bit. For the other interior pocket, I made a simple flat pocket with stitched divider as suggested.

interior zipper pocket in pleated purse
The way the zippered pocket comes together is sort of magical, but it’s not hard to do

It was great to get some experience with pleats. My exterior panels were a tad narrower than instructed once the pleats were sewn down, so on the final piecing of the exterior I reduced my seam allowance to 5/16″ to compensate and that worked fine.

Now that I know how the magnetic snaps work, I’ll know how to position the fleece stabilizer behind them better next time. Mine are up too high and barely align with the snaps. I think it would also be nice to have some coordinating fleece interfacing on the exterior panel because during the final pressing I ironed over the snaps, causing shiny spots where the snap tabs were.

For me, the most challenging part of this project was getting through the thick layers with my sewing machine, and it was hard to choose the right needle. It would be awesome if the instructions came with needle suggestions to help point us in the right direction.

I’m excited to use this purse this summer — I already have a black purse, so for this one I chose a summery camel and chambray combo. It’s very roomy and will easily hold a little cardigan along with all of the ordinary purse stuff.

quilting samples with pre-washed and unwashed fabrics

Quilting test swatches with pre-washed and unwashed fabrics

What’s the difference between quilting with pre-washed fabrics and fabrics straight from the bolt? Should I use cotton or polyester thread? As the quilt “final exam” project from School of Sewing approaches, I wanted to run some tests to get a better idea of what kind of outcomes to expect with these different variables.

I was pretty sure I’d like the effect of non pre-washing the fabrics, because those would have a larger chance of getting more crinkly, which is my preference. The fabrics for my actual quilt will be a combination of quilting cottons, linen/cotton blends, and chambray, and from what I’ve read it’s smart to pre-wash linens and linen blends because they tend to shrink more and can pull apart at the seams. The primary motivation of this test was to see whether I’d like the look of pre-washed fabrics once they’ve been quilted and finished.

I put together 4 samples to quilt, bind, wash, and dry with a combination of pre-washed and unwashed 100% cotton fabrics, pieced and quilted cotton and polyester threads. The samples were washed and dried on the cotton/normal settings (warm water + medium heat). Needle used was a Sharp 75/11, thread tension 3.25, piecing stitch length 2.0 and quilting stitch length 2.5.

Swatch A Swatch B* Swatch C Swatch D
Quilt top pre-washed not pre-washed pre-washed not pre-washed
Quilt backing pre-washed pre-washed not pre-washed not pre-washed
Thread (for piecing and quilting) Gütermann 50 weight natural cotton (white) Gütermann 50 weight natural cotton (white) Gütermann Mara 100 polyester (dark grey) Gütermann Mara 100 polyester (dark grey)
Binding pre-washed not pre-washed pre-washed not pre-washed
Size before washing and drying 7 9/16″ x 4 1/8″ 7 7/16″ x 4 1/4″ 10″ x 4 1/4″ 7 3/8″ x 4 3/8″
Size after washing and drying 7 1/4″ x 4″ 7 1/8″ x 4 1/16″ 9 1/2″ x 4 1/4″ 7″ x 4 1/8″

*I used Pellon NB-96 Natural Cotton Batting for all samples, but for Swatch B it was a bad bolt and was too thin. I didn’t realize this was possible! Lesson learned.


I was pleasantly surprised to see that all of the samples got nice and crinkly, even the pre-washed fabrics. This was a relief because I’ll be pre-washing my quilt project fabrics since I’m using a few different kinds of fabrics together.

quilting samples with pre-washed and unwashed fabrics
The backs and fronts of each of the quilting samples. From top: A, B, C, D
Swatch A front
Swatch A front
Swatch A back
Swatch A back
Swatch B front
Swatch B front
Swatch B back
Swatch B back
Swatch C front
Swatch C front
Swatch C back
Swatch C back
Swatch D front
Swatch D front
Swatch D back
Swatch D back

Each of the samples did shrink some after washing, even those that used pre-washed fabrics. I attribute this to the batting shrinking and pulling everything together. Swatch B, with the unusually thin batting, has a much subtler quilting effect on the top and is flatter than the others.

I like the look of the cotton thread, and would like to try a 40 weight for quilting and keep the 50 weight for piecing. The hard part will be deciding what color thread to use for my quilt! I like the look of the light and dark threads…


essential tote bag topstitching detail

Sewing skills project 9: Essential Tote Bag


Essential Tote Bag from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • topstitching
  • boxed corners
  • interior pocket
  • strap length options
  • pieced stripes

Process notes


  • chambray
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Stone
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Black
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Navy
  • Pellon SF101 Shape-Flex woven fusible interfacing
  • Pellon 971F Thermolam Plus interfacing

Equipment and settings:

  • Universal 90/14 needle for most of the project, except for the straps used Jeans 100/16
  • used default stitch length setting 2.5, except for topstitching and quilting used 3.5
  • for topstitching the straps used 1/4-inch guide foot and edge joining foot


This project has a few really nice options with the instructions, and I chose to make the striped version, with long handles and an inside pocket. It’s a very roomy tote, and the Thermolam gives it good structure without being overly stiff.

My 1/4-inch guide foot and edge joining foot were invaluable for this project — I’m so glad to have them! For making the 1/4-inch quilting stitches next to each stripe seam, I just ran the guide down the ditch and it was a piece of cake. I ran into little hiccups when topstitching the opening in the last step because my guide would run into the straps and get hung up. As was mentioned in the book a few times, going slow on the topstitching really does help. After hearing it from several places, it’s finally sinking in that there’s nothing wrong with sewing slowly. In fact, it’s faster in the long run if stitches don’t need to be ripped out and re-sewn.

tech case detail

Sewing skills project 8: Tech Case

tech case for iPad 2


Tech Case from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • sew a curve
  • sew a buttonhole
  • sew a button
  • custom pocket
  • protective padding

Process notes


  • dark navy chambray
  • Marcus Fabrics Aunt Grace Ties One On #5369 in navy and white
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in a taupe shade (possibly Cobblestone)
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Sage
  • Pellon SF101 Shape-Flex woven fusible interfacing
  • Pellon 987F Fusible Fleece

Customized fabric measurements for iPad 2:

  • 8 3/4 x 11 for exterior, lining, and pocket
  • 7 3/4 x 10 for coordinating interfacing/fleece pieces

Equipment and settings:

  • Microtex 80/12 needle for most of the project, except for the final assembly used Jeans 100/16
  • used default stitch length settings for straight stitches
  • basting stitch #06
  • for topstitching around the opening, used 0.0/3.5 stitch with edge joining foot
  • used pinking shears to trim seam allowances
  • tried using the open toe foot to stitch the seam on the flap, but the fabric didn’t stay flat around the curves, so that didn’t work very well
  • switched stitch length to 1.8 around curves
  • for top stitching the flap used 0/3.5 with the edge joining foot on the straight parts and 0/3 around the curve
  • for buttonhole used 5.0/.3

tech case for iPad 2


I ran into some confusion with the flap pattern piece in the back of the book because it says to cut 2 of the woven interfacing, but the written instructions say to cut 1 fusible fleece and 1 woven interfacing. I followed the written instructions and it worked great.

It was challenging to sew the seams when constructing the exterior pieces because the presser foot kept wanting to squish the thick part of the fabric out to the side. So my seams there are wobblier than I’d like. It’s definitely something to practice! It might have helped to put a thick, folded piece of fabric on the right side of the foot to even it out.

I’m really happy with how the final case turned out — it looks very crisp, polished, and professional. My iPad is a really tight fit along the sides (the height is perfect) so if I make another I’ll add extra ease into the width so it’s easier to get in and out.


Sewing skills project 7: Carry-All Clutch


Carry-All Clutch from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • sewn curves
  • hook and loop tape
  • zipper closure + zipper tape ends
  • sturdy interfacing
  • attached key fob

Process notes


  • dark navy chambray
  • Moda Weave in a light grey
  • Pellon 987F fusible fleece
  • Pellon 808 Craft-Fuse fusible interfacing

Equipment and settings:

  • Microtex 80/12 needle for most of the project, except for the final assembly used Jeans 100/16
  • used default stitch length settings for straight stitches
  • basting stitch #06
  • used pinking shears to trim seam allowances


This is a great size for a small clutch — it easily holds a phone, some cards, and lip balm. And this project was definitely a step forward in complexity with so many new techniques! It also featured more pieces and notions, more layers, and more to align. One thing I’m learning through this process is the importance of taking my time and aligning things carefully because once they’re sewn down, a small misalignment can have a big impact on how straight the final piece is.

I liked the technique of sewing the hook and loop tape down with a zig zag stitch. I wish the tape matched my fabrics better, but I had to make do with what was available at the fabric store.

carry-all clutch with ruffled key fob carry-all clutch open

Joining the lining pieces and exterior pieces around the zipper tape was hard for me. It was really thick there and I had trouble sewing in a straight line while keeping the tape ends free.

When I sandwiched together the lining, zipper, flap, and exterior I didn’t get things properly aligned and my basting stitches were visible on the flap. Also, that set of layers was too far from the zipper teeth. So next time I’ll look at that area more carefully to see if I can get it even.

Considering how challenging it was for me, I was pleasantly surprised how polished my project looked when I turned it right-side out and pressed it into shape. Such a good feeling!

quilted zip it pillow

Sewing skills project 6 Extra Credit: Quilted Zip It Pillow


Zip It Pillow, Extra Credit quilted version, from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • binding
  • covered zipper
  • soft interfacing
  • removable and washable cover
  • quilting
  • + hand-stitched binding

Process notes

As with the last pillow, I made my own 18 x 18 pillow form.


  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Stone
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Charcoal

Equipment and settings:

  • microtex 80/12 needle
  • 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
quilting with painters tape guide
Using painter’s tape as a quilting guide


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!

hand stitched pillow corner detail
I’m happy with the hand stitching on these corners

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.

zip it pillow quilted detail
The wrinkled texture gives this cover a more casual look