Tote Bag Tutorial (or, What To Do With Hundreds of Upholstery Samples)

A couple of weeks ago I received a phone call from the woman who owns the drafting shop where I get my pattern sheets printed. We’ve gotten to know each other over the years. She said that her parents were closing their furniture store, and would I like to have the upholstery samples? Well, sure, why not?! Not exactly your typical heirloom or garment or quilting fabric, but it’s fabric, right? So my husband took the pickup and picked up four big packing boxes full of upholstery samples! And by big, I mean about 40 pounds each!


Textures, colors, patterns, oh what fun! But what in the world could I do with all those samples? I thought on it for a while, then sorted out about half of the fabrics that were too heavy (and too many browns!) for what I might have in mind. That left two big almost-full boxes of lovely fabric.

I know that many of my sewing friends do a lot of charity sewing. There are my friends from the Florida Sewing Sew-ciety; the SAGA Wee Care program; Threads of Love; Quilts of Valor; Project Linus, and many other groups, not to mention all the individuals who sew, just to give to those less fortunate. They are a very generous group! So I thought that if I could write up instructions for a simple tote bag, someone or some group might want to use the upholstery fabric for totes for women’s shelters, homeless shelters, etc.

I stitched up some bags, working on the instructions in my mind as I made them, then posted to my friends on facebook that the samples were free to a good home for anyone who could pick them up or would pay shipping. I’d even throw in instructions for the totes. Within minutes the fabric was spoken for!

These are not couture totes, but they are very nice. The fabrics are sturdy, and the construction is solid. I designed them so that they would be easy to sew, but also so that they would look good enough that anyone would be proud to carry one.


I thought that others might also like the instructions. So here it is…

The Upholstery Sample Tote Bag Tutorial

Each bag requires: Two approx. 18″ squares of upholstery fabric, 3/4 yd. quilting cotton, polyester sewing thread, size 90 or 100 (14 or 16) jeans machine needle. Optional – glue stick, 2″ wide blue painter’s tape

Seam allowances are 3/8″ to 1/2.” Accuracy is not critical!

Do not press the upholstery fabric with an iron. Some of it is very heat sensitive (ask me how I know!)

If using regular fabric instead of upholstery fabric for the outer layer, it should be interfaced with a medium-weight woven interfacing.

Choose two upholstery fabrics that coordinate. Trim them to the same size, if necessary.tote-1

You can just make one side of the tote from one fabric, and the other side with the other fabric. But you can also make it more interesting by piecing the fabrics so that it looks like you’re supposed to be using two fabrics! Place both fabrics right sides up, and cut through both layers. This cut can be vertical, horizontal, or diagonal (see finished totes photos above.)


Pair the bottom layer from one side of the cut and with the top layer from the other side of the cut, and vice versa.


Place the two pieces for one side of the tote right sides together and stitch; repeat for the other side of the tote.


Now, remember, you can’t press some of these fabrics. So just fold the seam to one side, and topstitch from the right side on both pieces.tote-5

Now it’s time to make the straps. I made these to go all the way to the bottom of the tote, for more support. Straps just stitched to the upper edge are more likely to pull out.

Get out your quilting cotton. Cut enough 4″ wide strips to equal two lengths, each about 1-1/2 yards long. Seam these together if necessary to get the length needed. Several inches shorter or longer is fine, too.

Press the strips in half lengthwise, right sides out, then open the strip back up. Press the long raw edges in to almost touch the fold. Then fold the strip in half again along the original crease. You will have a 1″ wide strip that is 4 layers of fabric thick. Use a little glue stick to hold the final folds in place; it makes stitching much easier. Press to dry the glue.tote-6

Stitch close to both edges of both strips.tote-7

Place one end of one strip 4″ – 5″ from the side edge of one tote side, with the short end even with the lower edge of the tote side. Use a ruler as shown below to make this easy. Use some glue stick on the back side of the strip, but don’t put any glue at the top edge. Place a strip of 2″ wide blue painter’s tape across the top, even with the top of the tote fabric edge, as shown. This not only holds the upper edge of the strip in place, it creates a stitching line for the next step.tote-8

Bring the other side of the same strip around, and glue and tape to the other side of the same tote side. Make sure the strap isn’t twisted.tote-9

Starting at the lower edge, stitch with the needle down, along the previous stitching line from the bottom until you just touch the blue tape.tote-10

Pivot and stitch right next to the tape until you get to the other side of the strip.tote-11

When you reach the stitching line on the other side of the strip, stop and pivot again. tote-12

Stitch down about 1/2″ ( I counted five stitches.) Stop and pivot again, and stitch across the strip.


Stitch to the line going up to the blue tape, and stitch up  and across again, reinforcing that stitching. Then pivot and stitch down the other side of the strip to the bottom of the tote. Repeat for the other strap placements.

Right sides together, stitch the front and back tote pieces together at the lower edge. Fold the seam to one side and topstitch.tote-15

This is now your pattern for the lining! Cut a piece of quilting cotton to the same size.tote-17

Fold the tote right sides together and stitch the side seams. tote-16

At one lower corner, bring the side seam to meet the bottom seam. The corner will be at the tip of the point. Stitch across the point about 1-1/2″ from the tip. Backstitch well at each end.


Similarly, stitch the side seams of the lining except leave a long opening on one side seam. Press back the seam allowances of the opening. tote-19

“Box” the lower corners of the lining the same way you did for the outer layer.tote-20

Don’t cut off these corners on either the lining or the outer fabric.

Turn the lining right side out, and slip it inside the outer layer, which is wrong side out. Match up the side seams and pin (these are the only two pins you need for this project!) Now, working from the inside of the circle, with the outer fabric against the bed of the machine and the lining on top, stitch all the way around the upper edge, making sure to not catch the straps in this stitching.tote-21

Reach your hand through the opening in the lining side seam, and pull the entire bag right side out through the opening. Reach through the opening and push out the boxed corners of the outer fabric.

Line up the edges of the lining opening, and stitch close to the folded edges.tote-22

Push the lining down inside the bag. Now grab the bottom of the bag (both outer fabric and lining) and turn the entire bag inside out. Working again “inside the circle” with the lining against the bed of the machine and the outer fabric on top, topstitch the upper edge. Keep the straps out of the way. You’ll have to work the fabric with your fingers to get the seamline to lie along the edge, but just work a few inches at a time.tote-23

Finally, turn the bag right side out. Finished!tote-a





Ruffle Fabric Grab Bags (and instructions for a ruffle skirt!)

Four or five years ago, I discovered ruffle fabric, and had a great time using it in girls’ clothing. So much fun that I purchased a lot of it and sold it, along with an idea booklet. Well, I’ve lost interest, and I need the space (for the upholstery samples I’ve been given!)

So, I’m offering grab bags. I can fit at least 2 yards, and probably more, plus some nice soft waistband elastic, in a USPS Tyvek mailing envelope. $12.00  plus $5.00  shipping $8.00 shipping (I’m sorry, I just shipped my first batch of orders, and the shipping was a lot more than I estimated) The fabrics all sell for $15/yd. or more. The value of the fabrics and elastic will be at least $35.00. US domestic shipping, only. If you’d like to order, go to my contact me page on my website here, let me know what you’d like, and I’ll send you a Paypal invoice.

You’ll get at least two colors, maybe more. Some pieces may be small, but you can use small pieces for trims. But here’s the catch – no color requests. The choice is mine, and when a fabric is gone, it’s gone. But all the colors are pretty. There are solids, floral prints, tie-dye effects, and a netting fabric with rosettes.


Also, you’re on your own for sewing the stuff. It’s not difficult. No hems required! I apologize in advance, but I just don’t have time to answer individual questions on how to use it. But if you’re a little adventurous, you can have a lot of fun for just a little money!

Here are some ideas…

A simple skirt with an elastic waistband (instructions at the end of this post.)


A purchased t-shirt cut off, with a ruffle skirt added, and purchased leggings with a strip of ruffles sewn on at the bottom.


Bodice made from the rosette netting, and skirt from ruffles.


A woven cotton skirt with elastic waistband, with a strip of ruffles at the lower edge.


A dress with sleeves cut from ruffle fabric, and a single ruffle at the neck edge.


I have a limited number of idea booklets left, for an additional $5.00. You can see it here. But like the fabric, when they’re gone, they’re gone; I won’t be printing any more.

Here are those instructions for the 30-minute ruffle skirt!

30-Minute Ruffle Skirt by Susan Stewart

Make this quick and easy skirt for any size using knit ruffle fabric. This amazing fabric is a poly/spandex fabric with knit-in ruffles! No hems or seam finishes required! Most of the design work and embellishment is done for you! Just think of the twirl possibilities!

For this skirt you will need two measurements – the waist measurement where you want the elastic to sit, and the length of the skirt from the bottom of the elastic to the lower edge.

You will need:

Desired length plus ½” of ruffle fabric

Waist measurement of 1½” decorative waistband elastic


  1. Add ½” to the desired skirt length, and cut this length (or as close as possible) across the width of ruffle fabric. For a girl’s full skirt, use the full width of ruffle fabric. For a slim skirt, measure the fullest part of the wearer’s hips, and add 2” or 3”. Cut the fabric to this width.
    1. When cutting between the rows of ruffles, fold the ruffles out of the way so you cut through the backing fabric only. Most ruffles have a sheer strip and a heavier strip of fabric behind each ruffle. This gives a nice line along which to cut for most applications. The sheer strip is below the top of the ruffle, and the opaque strip is below the lower part of the ruffle.  
    2. Length measurements can only be approximate, as the fabric must be cut in between rows of ruffles. When in doubt, make it a little longer. To shorten the garment, all you need to do is cut off a ruffle or two!
    3. Make sure the ruffles are lying in the correct position when cutting across rows of ruffles.
  2. Before you stitch the seam, you need to hold the ruffles in place, so they don’t get bunched up or flipped up in the seams.   “Tame” the ruffles by pinning, serging or zigzagging, or use blue painters’ tape to hold the ruffles in place.
  3. Right sides together, stitch the short sides together, matching rows of ruffles, and using polyester thread and a stretch needle. While seams can be serged, I usually prefer to simply zigzag them. Why? Because if a ruffle is caught in a zigzagged seam, it’s easy to open a few stitches, release the ruffle, and re-stitch. If it is caught in a serged seam, it may be cut off! Zigzag (approx. W = 2.0, L = 2.0) on the seamline, and again about ¼” from the first stitching, within the seam allowance. Trim seam allowance close to second stitching.
  4. With a lengthened straight stitch (L = 4.0) and slightly loosened needle tension, stitch two rows of gathering threads around top of skirt, one row about ⅛” over the top edge of the upper ruffle, and the other about ⅜” from the first row, within the seam allowance. Fold skirt in fourths and mark the quarter points.
  5. Measure elastic to fit snuggly around waist, by measuring around the wearer, if possible. If that is not possible, then cut the elastic an inch or so shorter than the waist measurement.
  6. Stitch cut ends of elastic together. Fold the waistband in fourths and mark the quarter points.
  7. Pull up the bobbin threads of the gathering stitches to make the skirt top edge fit the waistband. Match the quarter points and adjust the gathers evenly.
  8. Pin the lower edge of the waistband over the gathered edge of the skirt so the edge of the elastic just meets the top of the upper ruffle (for the floral ruffles, let the edge of the elastic cover about ⅛” of the upper ruffle, which is white instead of printed.)
  9. With the skirt inside out, stitch the waistband to the gathered fabric. You should not need to stretch the elastic to fit the fabric, as the fabric is gathered. There are several ways to do this stitching, which must stretch:
    1. Use a 6.0 double needle. Use a second spool of thread, or wind an extra bobbin, for the extra needle. The bobbin thread will zigzag between the needle threads and provide the needed stretch. Do some test stitching to determine if the tension needs to be adjusted.
    2. Stitch with a multi-step zigzag, about 6mm wide. Test and adjust the length so the points of the zigzags are about 4mm apart.
    3. Stitch two rows of a “lightning stitch” or a straight stretch stitch about ¼” apart.
  1. Pull out the gathering threads so the skirt can stretch. On the wrong side, trim off any excess skirt seam allowance above the waistband stitching, if necessary.

And that’s it! Your twirly, ruffly skirt is done!

A New Dress from an Old Pattern

If you read my previous post, you know I’m going to Florida soon to teach. If I’m going to Florida, I probably need a new dress, right? Right! I’m finished with the projects, the instructions, and the kits, so I had time. I recently bought a nice supply of knits from Gorgeous Fabrics during one of their sales, so I pulled out this beautiful print. Now, I don’t often wear prints, but hey, why not? I’m not exactly sure what to call this poly-lycra fabric – it’s not a double knit, it’s not a jersey. It has a slight crepe-y texture on the right side, and it’s very stable, almost like a stretch woven. It was a breeze to sew!

Then I went through my pattern stash. I don’t live anywhere near a good place to purchase patterns, so I was limited to what I have on hand. I came across Burda 8707.


This pattern is probably at least 13 or 14 years old, and out of print. I’ve never sewn it, but I always liked it.


I like the curved French darts, and the slight fishtail of the back skirt. So, I made a quick muslin of the bodice to check the fit, and went at it!


It’s been a long time since I’ve sewn a Burda pattern. I cut a 16 for the muslin, because that’s where my measurements took me. And I never, ever like tight. The muslin fit pretty well, except it was too wide across the chest, and a little large overall. But I was pleased that the dart points were not too high (lowering dart points is a pretty common thing for those of us who are a few – or more than a few – years beyond our 30s!) I was also pleased with how the back fit. This pattern has shoulder darts in the back. It seems like most patterns used to have them, but few do anymore. They really make the back fit more nicely. There is even slight shaping in the center front bodice seam. Because I originally thought I’d add sleeves, I also fit the sleeve pattern. This had an elbow dart, another thing that seems to be rare these days, but really improves the fit.

I didn’t want the high jewel neck. I knew I’d feel like I’m choking! I like necklines that fall just below my collar bones, so that’s where I drew in the new neckline. I also narrowed the shoulder width by 1/4 inch front and back, and adjusted 1/2″ for square shoulders. In addition, I lowered the right front shoulder 1/4″, because my right shoulder is slightly lower than the left, and if I don’t make this little alteration, the neckline on the right side always wants to gape.

Okay, time to cut. I didn’t have enough fabric to even try matching the large print, so I just cut randomly. I cut a 12 across the shoulders, 14 at the side seams, angling to 16 at the waist and hips.

The dress sews up easily. The only tricky part at all is those curved darts. The instructions say to slash the dart take-up in the center, then stitch. Instead of slashing, I cut a wedge out of the dart, leaving 3/8″ seam allowances.


This made it much easier to pin those curved lines together.


When stitching to the dart point, stitch all the way to the edge of the fabric, then stitch a few stitches off the edge. Lift up the presser foot, slide the fabric toward you for about 1/2 inch, then lower the presser foot and stitch several stitches in the dart to secure the threads. This makes a much prettier point than trying to backstitch.


Isn’t this a pretty dart?


After I stitched the bodice and skirt, I basted the side seams to check the fit. Still a little big. I ended up taking in almost all that I had added to the side seams. It ended up about a 12 at the underarms, and 14 at the hips. I took the side seams in about 3/8″ more at the waist to give just a bit more shaping. I also took in just a smidge at the center front seam at the neckline, merging into the seamline about 4″ below the neck, and I also took in the center front seam 1/4″ from below the bust to the skirt seam, and 1/4″ from the center front skirt seam at the waist, angling out to the original seamline.

I decided to make an exposed zipper, using a black zipper with a lacy tape from Ghee’s, like this, except mine is black.

When I tried on the dress again at this point, I decided I didn’t want the sleeves. The armholes fit very well with no gaps, and I think it looks nice sleeveless.

The patterns calls for a full lining, but I didn’t want that (nor did I have any stretch lining fabric) so I cut facings for the neck and armholes. I trimmed the seam allowances where they crossed in enclosed areas, such as the facings, to avoid bulk.


After the enclosed seam allowances were trimmed and clipped, I understitched. When doing this, press the seam allowance toward the facing, and stitch from the right side close to the seam. Spread the facing out so that the curve lies flat. This opens up the little clips in the seam allowance, and keeps the facing edge smooth and non-rolling.


I kind of like this little dress! It’s comfy and, I think, cute!






Florida, here I come!

To Quilt or Not To Quilt?

I don’t travel and teach much these days. I live about two-and-a-half hours from a medium-sized airport, so besides the normal hassles of air travel, I have the added long commute before and after a trip. Besides, I’m basically a hermit, most happy when I am at home with my hubby and my cats and my fabrics! But when I was asked to teach for a wonderful group of stitchers in Florida, I couldn’t say no. You see, back when I coordinated Project First Day for the school kids of Joplin after the devastating tornado five years ago, this group sent not just a few garments, but hundreds! They have ongoing charity sewing projects. They’re good people. So, I’m going to Florida soon!

One of the projects I’m going to teach is this “To Quilt or Not To Quilt” table topper. Lots of heirloom techniques! It’s pretty without quilting.


But I wanted to demonstrate how quilting can add an extra dimension to a project like this! So here is the same project (well, some of the laces are different, and the crazy patch center block is different) layered over taupe silk dupioni and quilted!

IMG_5812 (2)_2

I know quilting is not for everyone, and it takes a lot of practice to be able to do free-motion quilting smoothly (I quilt on a sit-down machine, not a longarm; in other words, I move the fabric, not the machine,) but it really is pretty!🙂

Here are the techniques included, in both the unquilted and quilted versions:

Puffing with entredeux and lace insertionIMG_5804_2IMG_5815_2

Lace and Rickrack Bridging…(Sorry, I didn’t get a photo of the full unquilted block. But this lets you see the technique close up.)IMG_5806_2IMG_5819_2

Bias Linen AppliqueIMG_5803_2IMG_5814_2

Transparent Reverse AppliqueIMG_5802_2IMG_5821_2

Machine FaggotingIMG_5801_2IMG_5816_2

Lace Crazy Patch…IMG_5800_2IMG_5823_2

Many of these techniques are covered in detail in my class “Heirloom Sewing: More Classic Techniques,” which you can get for just just $24.99 here.

I spent days preparing the class kitsclass kit

In this nice little plastic bag are 11 pieces of pre-cut fabric, 3 pieces of pre-cut water-soluble stabilizer, an embroidered motif (which I made), 4 yds. of bias linen strips which I cut, rickrack, entredeux, and 3 kinds of lace (over 12 yds. total!)

I’m ready to head south!



Transparent Reverse Applique and Burda 6890

When I was preparing for my second Craftsy heirloom techniques class, I wanted an adult garment showcasing my Transparent Reverse Applique Windows and Hem techniques. I had several children’s garments, but nothing for women. Fluffy and frilly for grown-ups is not “me,” so I wanted to make something with classic, simple lines, and just a bit of embellishment. Something that I might choose to wear.

It doesn’t get much more classic than a sheath dress, so that’s what I was looking for when I went pattern shopping. This is what I chose.

Trans rev app B6890

A straight, semi-fitted sheath dress, with darts front and back. I chose the sleeveless version (because I wanted to use as little as possible of the really awesome shadow-check linen that was in my stash!) This sample was for display only, and the dress form in the studio is a size 10, so that’s what I made. Besides, when you’re travelling with dozens of garment samples, smaller is better!

2429 resized

I wish I could wear the dress, but I haven’t been a pattern size 10, which is much smaller than a ready-to-wear size 10, since I was in about 7th grade. And this is a very fitted size 10! One thing I did notice about the pattern is that the dart points at the bust are very close together – they end only about an inch apart, so the person wearing this would have to wear a pretty pointed bra! Other than that, the pattern was well drafted and went together nicely.

Here’s a photo of the dress with backlighting.

trans rev app

I underlined the shadow-check linen with light pink cotton batiste. The edges of the linen were shaped with water-soluble stabilizer for the Transparent Reverse Applique Window at the neckline…

Trans rev app window

…and the Transparent Reverse Applique Hem.

Trans rev app hem

Pink silk organza was pinstitched to the shaped edges. The techniques are covered in detail in Heirloom Sewing More Classic Techniques. I made a little slit in the silk organza hem for a little extra room in this very straight dress (even though no one will ever wear it!)

I think my sample turned out to be a very classy dress, showing that heirloom sewing for women doesn’t have to be frilly; a dress that many women of different ages and sizes could use as inspiration!



New Tops for Me, Part 3 (and more tips for working with knits)

This is the final knit top I made myself last week. I liked New Look 6343, the pattern from yesterday’s post, so much that I had to make it again!

black 1

This time, I used black Swiss 4-Way Stretch nylon/acetate/lycra from Gorgeous Fabrics (it’s the same type of fabric I used in the green top.) This was a piece left over from a top I made my daughter last year, and I had to really work to be able to fit the pattern pieces on! The white lace fabric for the sleeves was from my stash, from Emma One Sock, I think, several years ago. I’m not sure of the fiber content – maybe a poly or nylon mesh, with cotton motifs? In any case, I washed and machine dried it (although I’ll never machine dry the top) and it came out beautifully, although it did shrink a bit.

black 2

I wanted the contrast to really show off those angled armholes! This top is dressier, but not so much that I can’t wear it with jeans.

For this version, I did a FBA and added a bust dart, and I scooped out the neck about 1-1/2″ in front. I lengthened the sleeves about 1″ (standard for my long arms) and cut the top to the same hip length as the green top. I also used one size up for the sleeves, because this pattern is for knits, and the lace has a bit of mechanical stretch, but is not as stretchy as the black fabric. I also added about 3/8″ to the top of the sleeve cap. I pressed the seam allowances away from the sleeves and topstitched, so the seam allowances don’t show through the lace.

I like the black cuffs on these sleeves! I think it adds a bit of a surprising touch.

black 3

Knits can be a bit slithery to work with. Here are two tips that can be helpful:

  • When making knit bands, such as the neckband and wristbands on this top, you stitch the fabric into a loop, then fold the loop in half and stitch the doubled raw edges to the garment. Easy, unless your fabric slides. To make it easier and allow you to use a LOT fewer pins, use water-soluble glue stick (sparingly) to hold the raw edges of the band together. No slithering, no uneven edges, and no twisted bands!
  • When stitching a hem, use narrow strips of lightweight fusible web to “baste” the hem in place before stitching. I cut 1/4″ strips of Lite Steam-A-Seam 2, which is slightly sticky and repositionable, position them near the cut hem edge, remove the remaining paper, fold up the hem, and fuse in place. Then stitch. It keeps the hem from shifting and twisting. Lots of people use a double needle to hem knits, but for whatever reason, I have never had good luck with that method. So I just use one of the stretch stitches on my machine, play with the width and length and tension until I like the look, and stitch away!

I think I’m done sewing for myself for a while. Now, it’s time to get to work writing instructions for a class, working on a magazine article, and quilting a challenge quilt. But at least I have some new clothes to wear!

New Tops for Me, Part 2 (and a tip for knit neckbands!)

Here is knit top #2 from last week’s sewing!


Recently, I read a review on of New Look 6343.


So, once again, I downloaded a pdf, printed, tiled, and taped. While this pattern is not from Australia like the pattern from yesterday’s entry, I live 30 miles from a JoAnn’s that might have the pattern, so I can still do the pdf thing faster than trying to get the paper pattern.

I really liked the look of those angled armsceyes!


The fabric is a pretty green 4-way Swiss nylon/acetate/lycra stretch knit from Gorgeous Fabrics that has been in my stash for a year or so. Their description: “This fabric will be a mainstay of your wardrobe…it is perfect for work, play or travel! It never wrinkles, it washes beautifully, and it’s a joy to sew. It comes from the best knitwear mill in Switzerland.” It feels wonderful to touch and to wear!

I sewed this with my workhorse Pfaff 7530. I didn’t feel like getting my serger out, and besides, I don’t have serger thread this color. I am just as happy most of the time sewing knits with my regular machine. I stitch the seams with a zigzag (W = 1.0, L = 2.0), then stitch again about 1/8″ away in the seam allowance, and trim the seam allowance to 1/4″.

I didn’t download the instructions, so I’m not sure if they tell you to set the sleeves in or sew them in flat. I always prefer the fit of set-in sleeves, but I knew this would be a bit tricky with the two corners (the back sleeve line has the same nice corner angle as the front.) So I did a cheater set-in sleeve. I set the sleeve in flat, clipping and pivoting at the corners, but I started stitching about 2″ from the side seam at the underarm, and I stopped stitching about 2″ from the side seam. Next, I stitched the side seam and the sleeve underarm seam. Then, it’s easy to stitch the remaining part of the armsceye seam. I topstitched the seam to make it a little more noticeable.

I changed the length of the sleeves, and shortened the tunic length to hip length.

Now, here’s my tip! Sometimes, when I make a knit neckband, it doesn’t want to lie flat all the way around the neck, especially at that sharper curve of the neckline just behind the shoulder seam. Some knits are very soft and ease easily, but this was a somewhat firm and very “snappy” knit.

neckline 1

Here’s what I did to fix this!

neckline 2

Thread a large darning needle (they have blunt tips and large eyes) with a doubled length of elastic thread, more than long enough to go around the neck. Slide the tip of the needle between the stitches of the neckband seam. You don’t want to pierce the fabric, just go between the stitching. Thread the elastic all the way around the neckline, being careful not to pierce the fabric.

neckline 3

When you reach the starting point, slide the needle out of the same stitch into which you inserted it. Pull out the elastic thread tails, and un-thread the needle. Now, gently stretch the neckline and work the ease so that the neckband lies flat – you don’t want gathers. The elastic is not pulling up the neckband, just controlling those little floppy parts.

neckline 4

When the neckband is the way you want it, tie a secure double knot in the elastic, and trim the tails. You can put a dot of seam sealant on the knot, if you like, and allow to dry.

neckline 4a

Then, work that little knot back through the seam, into the neckband. You can use the eye end of the darning needle to help, plus a little stretching of the band.

neckline 5

See how nice and smooth that neckband is now?! Compare “before”…

neckline 1

…and “after!”

neckline 5

I know I’ll wear this top a lot, and I know I’ll use this elastic thread trick a lot, too!



New Tops for Me, Part 1

I’ve made three new knit tops for myself this past week. I love sewing beautiful dress clothes, but, really, I live in knit tops and shorts and jeans. All the time. So I dug in my stash, downloaded a couple of pdf patterns, and started sewing.

The first top I made was Style Arc’s Ann T-Top.


It is one of their promotional patterns on etsy, and costs less than $4.00. Or, you can download it for free if you are a member. Of course, you have to print and tile the pattern, but it’s a lot faster than waiting for shipment from Australia! I found a pretty poly-lycra print jersey on my shelves (from Gorgeous Fabrics a few years ago, I think.) I rarely wear prints. I don’t know why. They catch my eye, but I almost always go for solids. But in this case, I had purchased a couple of pairs of shorts from Sam’s for $9, and I needed something to wear with these bright pink ones. This print was perfect!



The print also coordinates nicely with the crepe myrtle!🙂

This pattern has a bit of shirring on the front at the side seams. It’s nice, although I think it would look better if I had made a smaller size. The pattern suggested using narrow elastic to gather up the front side seam allowances before stitching the side seams, but I just used gathering threads to pull up the slight gathers. I didn’t want the extra bulk of elastic, and the gathering worked just fine.


I lengthened the sleeves to elbow length, and finished the lower edge with a band instead of turning up a hem. The neckline is a nice scoop shape – not too low, not too high.


Watch for my next blog for a trick to help with knit neckbands!




This blog post isn’t about sewing at all! But when a photo I put up on Facebook a couple of days ago of some frozen basil pesto cubes I made got just about as many “likes” as some of my prettiest sewing projects, I thought I’d write about it!


Every spring, Mark fills a big planter with basil plants so I can harvest fresh basil during the summer. When the plants are full and fragrant, I make basil pesto. I usually get half a dozen big batches a year. It’s soooo good! Basil leaves, garlic, Parmesan cheese, toasted pine nuts or walnuts, and olive oil – the sum is so much more than the parts!

Because I have a lot more than I can use at once, and it doesn’t keep all that long in the fridge, I freeze it. Yep, in cheapie old-fashioned plastic ice cube trays. I pop the frozen pesto cubes out of the trays and store them in zip-top freezer bags. The pesto stays fresh all year. When I want to add this culinary green gold to food, I just get out a cube (or two or three!) Sauces, chicken, fish, burgers, veggies, soups – just about everything tastes great with this stuff added. I try to get a big bag of pesto cubes to Annie each year, as well.

I like pesto, but I like lots of other delicious and interesting tastes, too. I’m not a chef. I cook things that are reasonably healthy and reasonably quick. Because I have exercised almost every day for decades, I’m always aware of the “calorie cost” of food, so I avoid frying, and I really don’t care for things with cream of mushroom soup or Velveeta. I love almost all veggies (except for fresh tomatoes – go figure…) I rarely make deserts, not because I don’t like them, but because I do (although I did make a peach crisp last week that was sooo delicious!)

Along with my pesto cubes, I like to keep my freezer stocked with some really great “flavor enhancers” that let me make some really varied and tasty meals. Here are some of them:


Chipotle cubes. Chopped chipotles in adobo are yummy in burgers, some soups, mixed with sour cream on fish tacos, or mixed with mayo as a sandwich spread. For a while, I would open a can, use what I needed, and end up throwing away the rest, because it’s not something I use every day. Then it came to me – make good use of those ice cube trays again! So I chop up the entire can (or usually two cans at a time), freeze into cubes, and store in baggies. Again, I can take out what I want anytime I need it.

I don’t have any in the freezer right now, but I also freeze chopped sage leaves in olive oil in my ice cube trays. I never liked dried sage, but then I tried fresh. Yum! Try it in turkey burgers. Ground turkey can be very dry, but a sage and olive oil cube, warmed up and mixed in, keeps the meat moist and very tasty. Or spread the sage/oil on top of pork roast. I get those huge pork loins from Sam’s, and when I get home I cut them into pork roasts and pork chops. Again, those very lean pork loin roasts can be dry, but that sage/oil on top keeps it moist. And butternut squash with sage is delicious!

Rosemary chopped and mixed with oil and frozen is good, too. Cut or slice potatoes and mix in some rosemary/oil, then roast. Or use the same way as the sage on a pork roast. Rosemary is such a strong flavor that I make smaller cubes. I’ll make thyme cubes, too, if I can find fresh thyme. These are great in soups. I’ve also had suggestions to make cilantro cubes, and I think I’ll do that, because I rarely use a whole bunch of cilantro before it goes bad.

More things in my freezer…


Fresh ginger. Such a fragrant and tasty addition! It’s not something I use every day, and the ginger would get moldy in the fridge before I used it. So, I peel it and store it in the freezer. All I have to do is grate what I need.


This Microplane grater makes easy work of it. I don’t have a lot of kitchen gadgets (just like my sewing) but these graters in several sizes are things that I use often.

Again, no picture because I don’t have any in there right now, but red curry paste is another thing I like to keep in the freezer. I only use it a few times a year, so I spoon out tablespoon-sized mounds onto waxed paper, freeze, then store in baggies.


On the last things on my “seasoning shelf” are bags of chopped Hatch green chiles. I don’t live in an area where these are available, so I preparee my own. Once a year, for about two weeks, I can buy these chiles. So I go through the process of charring, steaming, seeding and chopping the chiles. That’s more work than I like, but they are so good, and it’s so nice to have them to use. I especially like these on cheeseburgers and mixed into scrambled eggs. Yummy!

Now I’m hungry – I think it’s time for dinner!🙂

“The Lion King” Challenge, part 2

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the Cherrywood fabrics challenge quilt I made with Kimberly Einmo (King of the Backyard Jungle.) I said I would show you our other quilt when Kimberly posted a photo of it. Well, here it is!

Kim challenge 2

For this quilt, Kimberly made the center block

Kim challenge 1

(sorry about the color on this – the finished quilt shows the correct colors), and I added the borders.

Kim challenge

The giraffes and crown are machine embroidered, and the symbols are appliqued. The symbols don’t mean anything, I just thought they looked right with the rest of the quilt! I sent the top back to her, and she quilted it. She used a Sashiko machine for most of the quilting, and it looks awesome! Kimberly also used a decorative stitch to embellish the narrow sashing and the binding. This quilt was accepted into the exhibit! Yay!

Kim challenge 2