zip it pillow

Sewing skills project 6: Zip It Pillow

Project

Zip It Pillow from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

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

Process notes

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.

Fabric:

  • 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

Results

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.

zip it pillow zipper detail
Rust-colored zipper to match the living room furniture
zip it pillow hand stitching detail
The hand stitching was much smoother than my previous attempts on other projects

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.

zipper pouch

Sewing skills project 5: Zipper Pouch

Project

Zipper Pouch from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • easy zipper
  • fully lined
  • sturdy interfacing
  • topstitching

Process notes

Fabric:

  • navy and white chambray
  • Robert Kaufman Betty Dear by Darlene Zimmerman in Stripe and Dots Lipstick
  • Pellon 931TD medium weight fusible interfacing

Equipment and settings:

  • used microtex 80/12 needle, tension 4 and 5
  • I zipper foot
  • used basting stitch #06 to hold the zipper in place
  • for zipper topstitching used 3.0 stitch length

Results

This is a great medium-sized pouch that opens up nice and wide when fully unzipped.

I had a hard time making the topstitching on the zipper match on all sides and had to rip out the second seam a few times to get it closer to matching the first one. In addition, the fabric got uneven, making it difficult to line up the exterior and lining pieces during the final seaming.

Trimming the zipper tape to 10″ before sewing made it difficult to line all of the pieces up evenly, and a raw edge is starting to poke out from one end of the zipper.

I made a boxed bottom, and according to the instructions making 1 1/2″ notches in the corners of the exterior and lining would form a 2″-deep base. However, my 1 1/2″ notches resulted in a 3″ base. Which is fine, but a pretty big difference. I have yet to find a dependable formula for these boxed corner pouches. It’s going on my list of things to do!

I’d like to work on my zipper skills more to improve the accuracy of my sewing so that all sides of the zipper (either side to left and right, and interior/exterior) match up nicely. This involves basting more precisely, writing down machine settings, and pressing with consistency so that I can reliably sew in a zipper with good results.

I really like how these two fabrics look together.

zipper pouch detail

Adjustments to consider for next time:

  • leave zipper untrimmed until final seaming
  • align layers more carefully so they match up on final seaming
  • try narrow fusible web instead of basting stitch
  • explore some tutorials for making the zipper ends lie flat
ruffled wristlet key fob

Sewing skills project 4: Ruffled Wristlet Key Fob

Project

Ruffled Wristlet Key Fob from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • gathered ruffle
  • topstitching
  • sturdy interfacing
  • D-ring hardware

Process notes

Fabric:

  • dark navy chambray
  • Moda Weave in a light grey
  • Pellon P44F lightweight fusible interfacing

Equipment and settings:

  • used universal 90/14 needle, tension 4
  • for edge stitching used edge joining foot
  • used basting stitch #06 to make the gathering stitches on the ruffle piece
  • for ruffle topstitching used 3.5 stitch length

Results

While I’m not a ruffly kind of gal, this was a fun little project. It was a good opportunity to practice my topstitching accuracy, and was an introduction to two new things: making ruffles and adding a D-ring.

ruffled wristlet key fob detail

The lightweight interfacing (not sure what kind it is because it was an unlabeled remnant) was very nice to use. It was surprising how much structure it provided. After fusing it to the fabric, it didn’t seem to be adding much, but it worked out well and didn’t make unsightly crackles or creases like with some heavier interfacing. It was also easy to sew through.

When I made the final stitches securing the D-ring in place, I noticed that I hadn’t positioned my ruffle quite evenly, so one side looks longer than the other. It wasn’t bothering me enough to rip out the stitches — I’ll keep it as a reminder to align with more accuracy next time. Other than that, I’m very happy with how this project turned out.

simple strings apron detail

Sewing skills project 3: Simple Strings Apron

Project

Simple Strings Apron from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • topstitching
  • all-in-one adjustable strings
  • divided pocket

Process notes

Fabric:

  • Robert Kaufman Railroad Denim Fine Stripe in Indigo

Equipment and settings:

  • used 80/12 microtex needle, tension 4
  • for edge stitching on string used edge joining foot, 0/2.5 (1/8″ from edge/fold)
  • for topstitching on pocket used J foot, 5.5/2.5 for 1/4″ seam
  • for 1/2″ seam used J foot, 0/2.5
  • overcasting stitch 11 with G foot for raw seams in pocket
  • used hera marker instead of paper pressing guide when folding and pressing edges
  • used chalk wheel instead of fabric marker when marking stitch lines

Results

This lightweight fabric and smaller shape makes this apron much easier to wear than my previous one. It doesn’t pull on my neck as much, and the size fits me better (as opposed to the larger, unisex version I sewed before).

simple strings apron

My fabric was fraying quite a bit at the raw edges, and they were left exposed on the interior seams for the pocket. So before stitching the pocket down to the apron, I finished those seams with an overcasting stitch.

Using a striped fabric required extra time to get the folds and seams to line up nicely. This fabric made very crisp folds, aided by Best Press spray. Overall it has a very crisp, clean look to it.

As suggested in the book, the edge joining foot did make the job much easier, as I was able to zip down seams (especially on the super long string) with a high level of accuracy. I did notice that aligning to the left side of the guide resulted in a narrower seam than aligning to the right, so that’s something to watch for next time.

lined drawstring bag

Sewing skills project 2: Lined Drawstring Bag

Project

Lined Drawstring Bag from School of Sewing by Shea Henderson

Project features:

  • easy-to-close drawstring
  • fully lined
  • boxed corners

Process notes

Fabric:

  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in Poppy
  • Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton in a taupe shade (possibly Cobblestone)
  • Moda Fresh Air by American Jane in Light Blue
  • Marcus Fabrics Aunt Grace Ties One On #5369 in navy and white

Equipment and settings:

  • used 90/14 needle for everything but the drawstrings
  • for 1/4″ seams used J foot 5.5/2.5, following right edge of foot, thread tension 3.5
  • to edge stitch the lining opening closed, used R foot 1.5/2.5
  • for top titching the casing, used blue needle thread and white bobbin thread, increased tension to 4, stitch length 3.5
  • to topstitch the drawstrings, used edge joining foot 1.0/2.5, and  switched to 80/12 microtex needle

Results

lined drawstring bag detail

This is a great little bag! The drawstrings are substantial, giving it a sturdy feel.

When the strings are pulled, the unfinished seam allowance in the casing can get pulled out, causing some unraveling. Plus it doesn’t stay as neat and tidy like I’d prefer. Finishing the seam allowance on the casing portion with a zig zag or serging and topstitching that portion down would help.

I ran into an issue with the way the instructions are written — in step 1 we’re to cut two 1 1/2″ squares from the corners of a 10 1/2″ side, and it says the bottom of the piece should measure 10 1/2″. But the piece was that wide to begin with, so removing 3″ would leave shorter 7 1/2″ sides. I emailed the author about it but hadn’t heard back. I forged ahead anyway and everything worked out just fine, so I think it was a small typo in steps 1 and 2. Or a difference in the way I interpreted the instructions.

UPDATE: I heard back from Shea and it was indeed the way I was interpreting the instructions. Once the corners are cut, the bottoms of the lining and exterior are 7 1/2″. The instructions say 10 1/2″ because the top edges and both edges of the accent piece are 10 1/2″.

I learned a good lesson in the importance of slowing down and reading the directions carefully. I was so excited to get started and see the finished bag that I forgot to make cut one of the drawstrings during the cutting stage (not a huge loss, but felt silly). And I didn’t take a moment to consider my bobbin thread color when topstitching the casing so had to rip out my first stitches and re-do that part. One of my goals during this experience is to slow down and enjoy the process of sewing, not just rush to the finish.

I’m really happy with the accuracy of my sewing in this project, which is a good step in the right direction.

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.

Project

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.

Fabric:

  • 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

Results

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!