Shopping in the New York City Garment District

Fabric Shopping in the New York City Garment District

Shopping in the New York City Garment DistrictWhen I first moved to NYC a lifetime ago, I worked for very little money as an assistant to a crazy hat designer in the heart of the garment district. The only upside to the job was that I spent a good part of every day out on the streets gathering fabric swatches and button and trim samples. There was another assistant who had been there for almost a year already and she took me around with her and introduced me to all the people and stores. The two of us had a great time digging through bins of buttons, wandering deep into the back corner of NY Elegant Fabrics, and convincing the nice people at Mood to let us into their “secret” warehouse (it really does exist).

I only stayed at that job for about a month, though it felt like a year, and the other assistant (who has since moved back to Korea to head up a fashion company there) and I still keep in touch. I don’t go to the garment district as often as I once did but I do have a list of must visit favorite places.

Mood – 225 West 37th Street

I’ll get this one out of the way first since most people at this point have heard of Mood which lucked into some amazing advertising when it became the fabric store featured on Project Runway. One of the coolest things about Mood is the building its in and the old elevator, still manned by an actual man, that you have to take up to the 3rd floor. Once up there, the rows and rows of fabric reach from floor to ceiling. Things are pretty well organized, the selection is large, and most bolts have swatches already cut and attached to the ends that you can take.

One little note about swatching in most all the stores in New York City: If someone asks if you are a student, say no. They’re asking because most stores have specific hours for student swatching and won’t allow you to do so if its not during those hours.

Also of note: Mood has a public restroom in the back right corner. 😉

NY Elegant – 222 West 40th Street

I love NY Elegant for its selection of light weight cottons, organdies, and batistes. NY Elegant is a family run store and is the last standing fabric store on 40th St. They also get a lot novelty fabrics – fake furs and things with glitter and sparkly threads.

Paron Fabrics – 257 West 39th Street

This is one of my absolute favorite family run fabric stores in the city. Sadly, they closed their doors for good just last month. I’m only including it to remind everyone to try and support their local fabric stores and if, you have the chance, come to NYC and shop in the garment district. You really can find almost any kind of fabric there by visiting the larger stores and just wandering down 39th street and stopping in to the small stores that still remain.

B & J Fabrics – 525 7th Ave #2

B & J is your best bet for high end linens, lace, and silks. The store is extremely well organized and always seems extraordinarily well lit in comparison to other garment stores. They are a little pricier than some of the other stores but the quality of the fabrics they stock is superb.

Lou Lou Buttons – 69 West 38th St

Lou Lou Buttons sells only buttons. They have bins and drawers and barrels full of buttons. They have wood buttons, shell buttons, mother of pearl buttons, and every funky, unique kind of button you could imagine. The people who work there are helpful and friendly and don’t seem to mind if you spend hours looking.

M & J Trimming – 1008 6th Ave

There are a lot of small trim stores in the garment district with beautiful things but M & J has by far the largest selection of trims in the city. And, unlike a lot of the garment district stores, they’re open on Sunday (you know, for those weekend trim emergencies.)

Tinsel Trading – 828 Lexington Ave

Shopping in the New York City Garment DistrictTinsel Trading recently moved out of the garment district to this new location on Lexington. They stock the most amazing unique vintage and new trims you’ll find (unless you’re shopping in India or Southeast Asia). Their stuff is expensive but much of it really is one of a kind. If you like metallic thread, fabrics, and fringes, this is the place to go.

If you’ve never had the chance to shop for fabric in New York City, I encourage you to plan a trip if possible – you won’t regret it. And, if you come during the month of December, you can also go visit the holiday windows at the retail stores along 5th Avenue – Bergdorf’s (always my favorite), Saks, etc.

Grateful for Sewing

I don’t get enough time to sew these days, but when I do, I’m incredibly grateful for it. Sewing is unlike any of my other crafty hobbies. I can express myself and discover myself in ways I can’t with any other hobby.

Truly Alone Time

Grateful for SewingWith my other craft hobbies, such as knitting, I tend to do them in front of the television surrounded by my boyfriend and our four four-legged children. While this is a great way to combine downtime with family time, it also means I don’t truly shut down. When I get the chance to sew, everyone else is out of the way. The four-legged babies don’t like the noise of the machine and since I’m not in a communal family area, my boyfriend doesn’t feel compelled to join me.

Creates Space

Our house, while adorable and comfortable, is also small and sometimes feel crowded. When I bought it, I was single with two fur babies. When I met my love and he moved in with his two fur babies we quickly realized finding our own space would be a challenge. I can create space for myself working on a sewing project and he creates space for himself by practicing archery in the back yard.

Unique Clothes

I’m not a clothes hound by any means. My wardrobe is small, but I do enjoy making it pop with a few really unique pieces. For me, the most fun way to do this is to buy a pattern I love, find the perfect fabric for it and make a dress, skirt or shirt no one else will have. Add on the compliments and feeling of success I get each time I wear something I made myself and I’ve got the perfect way to punch up my wardrobe.

Helping Others

Being able to sew is a skill fewer people have these days. Being able to sew affords me the opportunity to help others. Whether it’s fixing a zipper or shortening a head for someone I care about or making handmade items for charity, I’m grateful for the chance to use my skills to help others – and save them the cost of buying new clothes when the item could be repaired.

Creative Outlet

I write for a living, but I write factually based things, not fiction. I’m not known for an amazing imagination, but I am creative and that expression needs an outlet. For me, sewing is one way to let my creative side play.

Why are you grateful for sewing? What else are you grateful for?

Beginner Sewing Project: Felt Flower Pincushion

Beginner Sewing Project: Felt Flower Pincushion

Felt Flower Pillow Pincushion

Felt Flower Pillow Pincushion

A pincushion is one of the first things you need for sewing. You will love yours if it is a pretty one and you make it yourself.  This project is super easy and it makes a perfect first project at your new machine.  This pincushion is a generous size and you won’t find one quite as nice for sale at the store.

If you are not an absolute beginner, you can whip up this pretty pincushion quickly for yourself or for a friend.  This makes a sweet gift.  You could even make these for friends who don’t sew by filling with lavender flowers instead of stuffing so that they can enjoy it as a pretty sachet instead.

Even non-beginners appreciate a fast project. Making one or a few of these might be a nice pick-me-up on an otherwise dreary afternoon.

Though it does make a pretty sachet, this project was designed as a pincushion, and it is my favorite of the many in my room. I sewed snaps on the back of mine and made a permanent place for it on my sewing room organizer curtains.

Pin it

Speaking of pins, here’s an important word to the wise: All pins are not created equal!  I highly recommend you further beautify this pincushion with head pins.  Really, I can’t stress this enough- do yourself a favor and arm yourself with this kind of pin. Pearl or flower head pins are easy to see, find, and remove from your project while sewing. Plus, they are pretty!

To make this beginner project pincushion, you need:

Two six-inch fabric squares

Felt scraps, for cutting petals.  I made mine using purples, greens, and blues.  You could make a more realistic flower using all one color of felt, or perhaps several shades of the same color.

A button for the flower center

Embroidery thread

Polyester fluff or other stuffing

To make the flower:

I cut my petals into pointy football shapes.  I tapered the petals at both ends to reduce bulk behind the button center.

Six graduated layers of six petals each make a nice, full flower.  Use the six largest petals for the back layer, stepping down to the smallest set of six petals for the front layer.  Also cut a small, one-inch circle of felt to place in front of your smallest layer of petals as the flower center.

Cut a three inch backing circle from the same color of felt as the back layer of petals and assemble all layers atop this circle and stitch them down by hand through the center.  Then place the button at the flower center and sew the button down using embroidery thread in a contrasting color.  I used a metallic silver thread in this example.

Now, set the flower aside.

Assembling the pincushion

Place the right sides of the 6″ squares together.  Sew around the square, leaving an opening for turning. Be sure to back-stitch the beginning and end of this seam.

After you’ve done that, clip off the tiny corner triangles outside of your seam, and turn the pincushion right side out. Use a point turner or other tool to push the corners out well.

Now stuff.  Stuff it nice and full, and then top-stitch to close your opening. I like to continue the top-stitching and go all around the entire square using matching thread.

Center your flower on top of the pincushion. Affix it by hand-stitching the backing circle to the cushion.  The larger petals will prevent these stitches from showing.

And now you made a pretty pincushion and completed this easy project that fast.

What will you make next?

Sew It Straight and Square

Sew It Straight and Square

I wanted to take an opportunity to tell you about something I learned very early in my sewing experience. Hopefully, it will help when you have to square off fabric for blocks or other things.

When I resumed by sewing hobby after being away for several years, I found many things have changed. Well, me for one, because I started out thinking I would make a few things, have a sewing machine available for mending, and leave it at that. I wanted to make a shirt or two.

But, never, in my wildest dreams, I thought I would have an interest in quilting. Being able to buy many different fabrics, mix them up, find harmony between them, and create an awesome piece of art was exciting!

So my first fabric obsession started with “fat quarters”. You know, they are bundles of one designer’s collection, or curated by someone else mostly sold in online fabric stores offering 10, 15, 20 or more pieces that have the same colors or coordinating fabrics! Oh… shopping online!! A whole other obsession!! Sorry. I got distracted!

But, I knew right off, I couldn’t cut them with fabric shears or pinking shears. It would take years off my life.

So, today I want to share how I learned to share how to cut “ fat quarters” for multiple precise pieces all at once.

Three tools necessary for straight and square pieces:

  1. Rotary cutter
  2. Acrylic ruler – my favorite 24 x 6 inches, but I also love 14 x 8 inches. Another handy one is 12 x 6 inches. I use them all.
  3. A self-healing cutting mat, measured in centimeters and inches. One with measurements is the KEY here.

Most Important!

RULE #1 – Never Cut Toward Yourself or Sideways with a Rotary Cutter – Always Away from Your Body

RULE #2 – Measure Twice and Cut Once

  1. Open 21 x 18 inch piece. Press with iron flattening fold creases. It makes a difference, you will see!
  2. Cut away selvage edge. You will have the longest part on the mat. Do not double the fabric and trim as close to the edge of the selvage as possible.
  3. Refold the length piece in half by taking the left side and match the edges on the right side where the selvage was.
  4. Square right hand edge with ruler and mat. Take off just a little sliver. Then trim the opposite side for threads. Not much to do there if it is square.
    • Now, the left has a fold, the top is folded two times giving you 4 layers of fabric. The top folded pieces have to be shaved too and the left side so you will still have exactly 9 inches on those two sides if you are careful.
    • Are you still here? Almost done!
  5. Line up the longer piece with the ruler, and trim off the small 2 inch piece to have 4 perfectly squared 9 x 9 pieces. The best part is you only lose about 1 ½” of the fabric by cutting it this way.

However, if you are feeling bold… and you put:

Beautiful 8 x 8 inch napkins ready for your next meal or party.

Beautiful 8 x 8 inch napkins ready for your next meal or party.

Right sides together, sew up the sides at ¼ inch leaving an inch or two (somewhere close to the end but not the corner) to turn them to their right sides, press seams, pin opening closed and top-stitch around all sides.

Then you have:

Beautiful 8 x 8 inch napkins ready for your next meal or party.

I would love to hear your comments or questions. Stop by and see me again soon!

Cheating on the Measurements?

Cheating on the Measurements?

Sometimes, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the latest trends and technologies. That idea can be seen by anyone who rushes out to buy the latest phone, computer, or game system. I’m not saying having the most current examples of those things is bad, but the situation can lead to the mental debate of how much your phone/computer/gaming experience is actually bettered by having the latest in technology.

Believe it or not, this logic can be applied to the world of sewing as well. If you give a bit of thought to the sewing machines your grandma might have used, you could already see carbon dating, so to speak! It was a different world for sewing, and that world continues to change! In fact, not too long ago, I saw a sewing machine for sale that seemed to have digital buttons for the stitch types. Simple change, but kind of weird to me! Were we really that inconvenienced by turning a knob for different stitches?

Convention or Innovation

I’ve been giving this overall notion some serious thought, and I’ve come up with one area where simplicity can get the sewing job done in a world where technology keeps pushing farther. So, forget the glitz and glamour of modern technological advancements for a moment, and walk with me down Simplicity Lane for a block or two! The reason? We’re exploring not-so-technological options for that one area in particular: Measuring!

There are a number of options available for purchase in regard to measuring your material for your sewing projects, and far be it from me to say they’re all ridiculous and not worth the investment. I haven’t tried them all, and I can’t judge an entire category of sewing utensils on the small number of tools I have in my collection.

This fancy see-through ruler can definitely come in handy, but guys, you need one.

This fancy see-through ruler can definitely come in handy, but guys, you need one.

But the truth is that even if those advanced tools are worth the money and are worthy of being in your sewing collection, you still might not have any of them at your disposal next time you sew. This fancy see-through ruler can definitely come in handy, but guys, you need one. There are other (maybe less impressive-looking/sounding options) that can still get your measuring done!

For this reason, I will be exploring three options for measuring your fabrics that might be technologically lacking, but are logically accurate nonetheless. Let’s do this in a reverse good-better-best format as we scale it back farther and farther from the technological best, shall we?

The Steps

Using the flimsy roll of tape that can come with a general sewing kit can serve your fabric-measuring purposes.1) Reverse Equivalent of Good: Old school sewing tape is still an option! Sure, it might look outdated, and it likely won’t wow most people if you bring a roll of it out of your sewing case. But the bottom line is that it works!

I’m not saying more advanced methods of measuring don’t have their benefits, but when pressed, using the flimsy roll of tape that can come with a general sewing kit can serve your fabric-measuring purposes. If you have it and you’re in an economic pinch, you can still make your fabric measuring work!

2) Reverse Equivalent of Better: Honestly, we can take the idea of simplifying that measurement detail even farther, way back into elementary school days to reach for a general ruler that can also be bought here.

In fact, certain rulers come with the added bonus of being potentially more useful than sewing tape for tracing your line, assuming they have a smooth edge. All you have to do is hold the ruler in place and make your mark! Just like kindergarten, but maybe with more straight pins!

3) Reverse Equivalent of Best: Anything that’s geometrically okay works, too! This one though does come with a disclaimer because exact numbers could be a big deal in projects. If you’re working with a pattern, following its given numbers can allow you a polished final product, so this strategy won’t necessarily work out for you in that scenario. But for those of us who make patchwork things, that’s not the case!

Sure, a person might have a preference toward one measurement of block to use, but the fact is that if your blocks are more or less equal, you’re good to go! It doesn’t matter if they’re 10 x 10, 9 x 9 or 8.25 x 7.75. If they match and you make sure the longer sides all go in the same direction, your final product can still be polished. With that in mind, you don’t need an actual ruler. One specific object that’s used for an outline can do just as well — like a box or a frame. As long you can outline it and are more or less consistent with that shape, your blocks will match up in size.Oh, and if you use one certain block of fabric for your general pattern, make sure you mark it so you recognize it among the rest, then don’t forget and sew it into your quilt! Oops!

One more disclaimer though: This technique is not necessarily for the strictest of quilters and such who demand perfectly square blocks! Oh, and if you use one certain block of fabric for your general pattern, make sure you mark it so you recognize it among the rest, then don’t forget and sew it into your quilt! Oops!

So, there you go — moments when technology can be scaled back for measuring purposes, and the careful measurer can still get a finished product! Do you have any cheat strategies for your sewing? Leave a comment, and let me know!

Sew for Your Soul

Sew for Your Soul

Sew for Your SoulSewing is a meditative and calming activity, as we’ve looked it in a previous article. What you may not realize is that sewing is also a way to reconnect to yourself and bring out different personality traits.

Express the True You

Unless you’re making a sewing project to give to someone else, there’s no reason to hold back on displaying the style and colors that give you the most joy. It can feel scary to wear something outside what’s considered the norm for your circle or career, but in doing so, you also begin to step into your true self. This leads to more confidence and pride, which in turn leads to feeling more comfortable and being more successful.

Strength in Colors

Did you know that colors can change your mood and mindset?


Red is a power color. Career coaches and HR professionals recommend avoiding red during a job interview because it can be interpreted as trying to over power the interviewer. If you’re trying to overcome feelings of insecurity, consider a sewing project with lots of red.


Orange is uninhibited and happy. The brightness of orange is known to inspire joy and bring out creativity. If you’re struggling to tap into your creativity, consider sewing something with lots of orange.


Yellow is cheerful and stimulating. It’s warm and stimulates thought. Yellow is also calming. The combination often brings about feelings of confidence. A yellow sewing project may be in order if you’re struggling with feelings of inadequacy.


Green, frequently associate with clean or natural, is the color of renewal and growth. Green is often used in therapists’ offices to help their clients reach insights and heal. If you’re struggling to forgive or to love yourself or someone else, consider making something with lots of green.


Blue is frequently used by politicians, airlines and large companies. It’s known have a calming effect and symbolizes wisdom, loyalty, and trust. If you’re feeling unheard or like people don’t believe what you say, try a sewing project with lots of blue.


Purple was once worn exclusively by royals and therefore is associated with wealth, power and wisdom. If you’re trying to work through a problem or challenge and feel stuck coming up with a solution, consider sewing something with lots of purple to tap into the wisdom of your own instincts.

What colors help you feel connected to your true self?

Scissors, scissors, scissors

Scissors, scissors, scissors

Partial scissor collection.I have a bit of a scissor problem, as in, I have a lot of them. I’m not always good about getting them sharpened, or sharpening them myself and often will just order a new pair – which isn’t necessarily very economical but, often, much more fun. This photo is of the scissors that are currently in my shop at Blindspot. It doesn’t include the scissors I have at home or the scissors that are in my sewing kit on the wardrobe truck or the scissors I probably forgot about that are at the bottom of a bag somewhere in a closet.

In New York City, you can have someone come to your shop and sharpen all your scissors with an electric grinder. There’s also a scissor and knife sharpening truck that still trolls the streets of Brooklyn (like the Mr. Softee ice cream truck). I never have any scissors on me when I see the truck though I always want to flag it down. You can, of course, sharpen your own scissors using a sharpening stone but I never seem to get around to doing that.

Most tailors have a favorite pair or a preferred model that they own more than one of.

My absolute best loved are Gingher’s original 5” tailor points, the ones that are actually pointy on the end. For some reason, when Fiskar acquired the Gingher brand, they altered the 5” tailor points. Now they have more rounded blades and a blunter end and are often called ‘craft’ scissors. The pair on the left in the following photo is the oldest pair. See how much narrower and pointier the blades are?

Evolution of Gingher’s 5” tailor points.

Evolution of Gingher’s 5” tailor points.

I do quite a bit of cutting. I never really took to the mat and rotary blade camp though I can understand how it can be an efficient and accurate way to cut. Probably because I started my whole tailoring/pattern making career before cutting mats and rotary blades were prevalent. Or maybe I’m just old. At any rate, my favorite scissors to cut with are Gingher 11” knife edge shears.

Cutting shears.

Cutting shears.

Other scissors that I use on a daily basis are:

Gingher 8” straight blade shears

– For trimming seam allowances, though you can cut with them. I just like a longer blade.

Gingher 7 ½” pinking shears

– I usually pink the hems in men’s suit pants as opposed to serging, mainly because a serged hem will leave a ridge if someone (drycleaner or otherwise) gets over zealous with the hem pressing.

Gingher 6” applique scissors

– I use these when I need to trim something very close the edge, or when I’m cutting around an applique (obvi.)

Gingher 7” straight blade scissors

– I use a pair of these as my paper scissors when patterning.

One of the sacred sewing laws is to never use someone’s fabric scissors to cut anything but fabric. Ever.

One of the sacred sewing laws is to never use someone’s fabric scissors to cut anything but fabric. Ever.

Excuse me… What are you cutting?!

Speaking of paper scissors. One of the sacred sewing laws is to never use someone’s fabric scissors to cut anything but fabric. Ever. The standard response from someone who sews to the question, “Can I borrow your scissors?” is “What are you cutting?”

The reason why is fairly simple: try cutting fabric with a pair of craft or paper scissors and you’ll find your edge looks as if it were chewed off by some sort of extremely hungry wild animal.

Wiss pinking shears.

Wiss pinking shears.

A few years ago, I acquired some old scissors for a mens’ tailor in the city who was retiring. I love this pair of old Wiss pinking shears. Despite the knicks and scratches on the exterior, they still cut very well.

What’s your favorite pair?

Sew Gifts for Everyone on Your List

Sew Gifts for Everyone on Your List

Do you make most of your holiday gifts?  Have you wanted to start this tradition?  If you haven’t, this is a great year to sew gifts for everyone on your list.Sew Gifts for Everyone on Your List

I have been sewing and/or making most every gift I give for many years now.  So I know from experience that it is easy to get stuck for ideas, especially for certain recipients.  But I have learned that with time and thought, it is possible to sew gifts for everyone on your list.

The most important tip I have learned in making holiday gifts over the years is to get started early.   With an early start you can complete your gifts in plenty of time to enjoy your holidays.   Starting in December can make for a stressful season!  Learn from my mistakes and get started now, or you could wind up as I have- sewing late into the night on Christmas Eve.

For babies, try a stuffed ball with ribbon tags for grabbing.

For babies, try a stuffed ball with ribbon tags for grabbing.

You can sew gifts that everyone will love.  Here are some ideas to consider for everyone on your list:

For Kids

Quiltshere are some tips for sewing fun, quick quilts.

Soft Toys –  dolls, stuffed animals, robots, monsters. For babies, try a stuffed ball with ribbon tags for grabbing.

This rainbow book of colors is one of my favorite gifts ever.

This rainbow book of colors is one of my favorite gifts ever.

These are a lot of fun, both to make and to play with.

These are a lot of fun, both to make and to play with.

Soft Books – These are a lot of fun, both to make and to play with.  This rainbow book of colors is one of my favorite gifts ever.

Bags – make a tote bag with divided pockets for crayons and include a coloring book.  Or whip up a precious little purse to match a sweet girl’s personality.  I’ve even made a Star Wars backpack from an outgrown favorite T-shirt.

ou could sew a sack lunch, complete with felt brown paper bag; pretty cupcakes and donuts; even a whole roast turkey!

Felt Food – these are both easy and lots of fun to make.  You could sew a sack lunch, complete with felt brown paper bag; pretty cupcakes and donuts; even a whole roast turkey!  There are a ton of free patterns and tutorials for felt foods available online, but these are easy to make up off the top of your head, too.Crayon, Marker, or Colored Pencil Rolls- make a great gift for kids on-the-go.

Crayon, Marker or Colored Pencil Rolls – make a great gift for kids on-the-go.

Doll Clothes and Accessories – Sew something new for her favorite dolly.  Make a dress or two, a carrying bag with a front pocket designed as the doll’s bed, or a doll quilt.

For Anyone

Lap Quilts.Zip Bags – These are useful for everyone.  Ladies can use them for cosmetics, men will appreciate them for holding shaving and toiletry supplies for travel. Children can use them as crayon or pencil bags, or for containing sets such as legos to-go.  They also make great first aid kits for the car or travel.

Lap Quilts – Be inspired by your recipient’s favorite colors or personality and sew them something special for snuggling.

Pillowcases – You can sew a pillowcase from any yard of cotton fabric.  Choose a beautiful print or fun novelty fabrics.These are always appreciated and a great way to use fat quarters from your stash. Embellish with ruffles, pockets and/or appliqué.

For Ladies

Half Aprons – These are always appreciated and a great way to use fat quarters from your stash.  Embellish with ruffles, pockets and/or appliqué.

Needlebooks –  These are a fun little project for playing with patchwork and make useful and treasured gifts.

Folklore Bag

Folklore Bag

Purses – What lady wouldn’t like a pretty new handbag?  My favorite purse pattern is the Folklore Bag from the book One-Yard Wonders.  I like to add special details like an attached clip for easily finding keys.

Cloth Napkins – Holiday themed sets from novelty fabrics make a lovely gift. This is my go-to for teacher gifts.

Cloth napkins.

Cloth napkins.

For Men

Barbeque Apron – Here’s another fun place to use novelty fabric.  He’s sure to appreciate one emblazoned with his favorite ball team’s logo, or choose a funky fabric with vintage cars, guitars, or hot dogs.

Handkerchiefs – I use the embroidery feature on my machine along the edges.  My machine has an alphabet, so I like to sew “Bless You” on these too.

Throw Pillows – with football fabrics or something else he’ll appreciate.  Be sure they match the couch or décor in his man-cave!

Over-the-Visor CD Pockets for the Car – include a mix cd for extra fun.

For Furry Friends

Gift wrap.Dog or Cat Bed – You can make these as a simple stuffed rectangle or square, or go fancier with patchwork or other design details.

Stuffed Toys – catnip stuffed mouse or felt or fleece “bones.”

Matching Collar and Leash – I buy ugly collars from the dollar store for the hardware, then I make nicer, new collars with nylon webbing covered with embroidered ribbon.  These make a super nice gift for pet parents.

Make this the year that you sew gifts for everyone on your list and they will thank you for it!  And don’t forget the gift wrap; use holiday fabric and whip up gift bags to fit any size gift. These re-usable wrappers are zero-waste and your recipients will be happy to use them again next year.

Should you Include Barter in your Sewing Business?

Should you Include Barter in your Sewing Business?

If you run a small (or sometimes large) sewing business, you may occasionally have the desire, or encounter an offer, to barter services. Bartering is an age old method of exchanging labor and/or goods and it’s one I would encourage you to not dismiss until you’ve fully considered what it could offer.

Bartering is an age old method of exchanging labor and/or goods and it’s one I would encourage you to not dismiss until you’ve fully considered what it could offer.

When considering barter, keep the following things in mind before you agree:

Make Sure you Get an Equal Exchange of Goods

Ensure your barter is for an equal exchange of goods or labor. If you are providing someone with $500 worth of labor on repairing upholstery, make sure you get the equivalent in return. If, for example, you would only receive $300 in custom built-in shelving, be very explicit that the remaining $200 will be paid in dollars. Be sure to delineate labor versus supplies/shipping/etc., and that both parties are in agreement on which exactly of those things is being bartered equally for.

Is it Worth it to You?

A lot of people have a hard time saying no. Remember, in addition to practicing your craft, you are running a business. If you prefer cash or the person offering the bartered goods or services doesn’t have something you need or desire, politely decline and ask for actual payment instead.

Exchanging my labor for spa services worked for me. Here I’m on a Mexican vacation, rocking a pedicure obtained via barter for my sewing services.

Exchanging my labor for spa services worked for me. Here I’m on a Mexican vacation, rocking a pedicure obtained via barter for my sewing services.

Recently I was approached about doing barter for a local spa. They needed large amounts of their high-end spa robes repaired and offered to barter in exchange for spa services. I’m a sucker for a good pedicure and I usually pay for this indulgence. A barter of my labor in exchange for spa service in this case was definitely worth it. I submitted invoices of the time my labor took for each batch of robes, and the monetary amount was then put 1 to 1 into my vendor account as credit at the spa.

Write it Down

Get your agreement in writing. Even if that writing is an email thread where you go back and forth until all the details are fully worked out, it’s crucial you have the agreement in writing should either party need to go back and clarify.

Also consider only doing barter for a specific time or a specific project. Just because you’ve used barter in the past does not mean you are forever stuck doing that. Be clear about for how long you’d want that specific agreement to last and don’t hesitate to ask for monetary payment in the future.

Understand whether or not to include tax on a barter invoice. In California, you do not need to charge tax for labor on repairing items that have already been made.

Understand whether or not to include tax on a barter invoice. In California, you do not need to charge tax for labor on repairing items that have already been made.

Don’t Forget Taxes

You may need to include tax on your barter invoice. Every state has its own laws in this regard, so look up where you are living to make sure you bill accordingly. I live in California. In the example above where I bartered my labor in exchange for spa services I did NOT need to charge tax but that is only because my labor was on repairs. If I had sewn new robes for them, I would have needed to charge tax on that labor. Take the time to find out how to report each transaction.

Do you barter? If so, what types of bartering situations motivate you? If you haven’t tried bartering, you may want to give it a try. Let me know how it goes.


Charlotte Kaufman is a writer and sewist in Mammoth Lakes, California. She specializes in marine and home interiors and continues to fall more and more in love with quilting. You can follow her at

Fabric Guidelines and Tips!

I’ve written tips on this blog, and I’ve written about fabrics. Truthfully though, some of the most sensible pieces of advice I think you can give a person just diving into the world of sewing are about fabric. While it might be easy to fall into the mindset of simply looking for patterns and colors, there’s more to consider in regards to your fabric choices—particularly for those of us with potential baby-steps skills with sewing. Those details, as it were, can have severe impacts on the ease or difficulty of putting together your first quilt, pillow, shirt, etc. For this particular post, I’ll focus on one specific kind of project: Patchwork Quilts.

Running the risk of making this read like a high-school, three-point essay, I’ll still stick to my idea here in saying that there are at least three fabric details worth considering before beginning your first patchwork quilt: Type, stretchiness and size.

1) Type:

Can words honestly express how big of a deal the type of fabric you pick can be? Well, let’s look at it logically. Through Amazon, you can buy these pieces of material:

Which one, just by looks, seems to be the most agreeable to work with? If you chose the owl-including Door #2, you would be correct!

Of course, that was an easy example since lace just looks like it would be a pain, but even choosing silk or satin as your first fabrics could prove a regretted decision. They’re slick, and that easy-to-slide quality could lead to stitching that is too wavy to be precise.

A good first-fabric, in my opinion, is cotton. It’s simple, but it stays where you put it more than silk or satin, which could lead to more accurate stitching with less hassle. A better product that’s simpler to come by could be in your hands and on your sewing-resume just by picking the right fabric!

Another detail worth considering in type is *you* personally. Example: I have potential issues with polyester—like sneezing—so that’s probably not the way I should go!

Some fabrics have more give than others seem to have.

Some fabrics have more give than others seem to have.

2) Stretchiness:

Some fabrics have more give than others seem to have. That doesn’t mean you should necessarily rule out every piece of material for the rest of your life that has a stretchy quality, but it’s something worth noting as you pick out fabrics. If you’re making a quilt, a stretchy piece of material that’s beneath a non-stretchy one could be an issue.

Example: If Block A is non-stretchy and is above stretchy Block B, the end result could be that Block B *has* to be stretched out to match Block A’s size. Say you measured Block B’s fabric by *having* it stretched out. That decision, if your blocks are the same size, would lead to the need to keep Block B’s fabric stretched for it to reach the same end-line as Block A. That, in turn, could lead to a scrunchy detail for your quilt that you don’t care for because the material condensed back into its original form.

Trust me! Few things are as disappointing on a quilt you made as seeing lines that are obviously not straight and blocks that are clearly mismatched in size! Speaking of size…

3) Size:

Last but not least, the size of your material matters, and I’m not talking about how much you get from your fabric store. I’m talking about block sizes. It really pays to think about where you want your overall product to go, and in two particular ways for this idea: How complex you want your product to appear, and how difficult you want your journey toward a final product to be. Once you find the answers to those questions, you might be closer to deciding on a block size for your patchwork quilt.

For instance, if you want something that looks really complex, smaller pieces of material might be your friend. Think of it like a puzzle. If your puzzle has one hundred pieces, you might have an easier, quicker time finishing it than a puzzle with fifteen hundred pieces, but the fifteen-hundred-piece product might look more impressive to someone who notices it. It’s the same principle with patchwork quilts. Even though tiny squares can look impressive, there’s more time that goes into making smaller squares into that large final product. It might look better if you get it right, but be ready for some effort!

If you want something that’s easier, you might think of having larger squares—like ten inches. The final product could look particularly amateurish though *because* the quilt squares are so large. Without some kind of embellishment for the patches, the simplicity might make your product seem less impressive.

For those reasons, you might want to decide on a combination of impressiveness and ease for your first quilt—maybe 8 inches. They’re large enough blocks to be easy to work with, but with the material that would be taken up while sewing the patches together, the final product might look more professional. Sounds like a potential win/win!

One final tip about size: Once you select one, you might think of buying pre-cut fabric squares in that size for your quilt. It’ll ease up your first-quilt process, and maybe you can get enough confidence with their help to give you fuel to keep going in your quilting journey!