Five Household Items to Help with Sewing

Five Household Items to Help with Sewing

While it is true you often need to acquire specific tools to take your sewing to the next level, there are also items you will find around your house that easily make sewing and quilting a breeze. Each of the following items were truly an “ah-ha!” moment when I discovered them. I hope they help you too.

Shelf Lining

I used to have the infuriating problem of my machine slipping as I tried to quilt. Short of cutting a hole in my desktop to fit the machine level with the table, I wasn’t sure what to do to remedy the problem, until I saw shelf lining used under a sewing machine. Genius!!! Now I put a piece underneath where I work and my machine stays put every time.

Now I put a piece underneath where I work and my machine stays put every time.

Now I put a piece underneath where I work and my machine stays put every time.

Hairspray

I’m far-sighted, which means threading a needle can be difficult. It gets worse the longer I’ve been sewing, if I’m really tired, or the lighting is poor. Hairspray fixes that. Spray a little bit onto the end of the thread and it will glide through the smallest needle hole like magic.

Spray a little hairspray onto the end of the thread and it will glide through the smallest needle hole like magic.

Spray a little hairspray onto the end of the thread and it will glide through the smallest needle hole like magic.

A Laser Marker

This little tool is currently all the rage in quilting circles. I bought mine at Harbor Freight. It has multiple ways it can attach to your machine, including magnets, sticky back, and screws.

The laser marker is currently all the rage in quilting circles.

The laser marker is currently all the rage in quilting circles.

Just look how far it extends the straight line you need to sew. Plus it makes you feel like a high-tech ninja when you use it.

Just look how far it extends the straight line you need to sew.

Just look how far it extends the straight line you need to sew.

Don’t want to get a laser to extend that line? You can also use washi tape or painter’s tape to do the same.

You can also use washi tape or painter’s tape to do the same.

You can also use washi tape or painter’s tape to do the same.

Elmer’s Glue (the washable kind)

It’s time to raid your stash of school supplies and bring the Elmer’s Glue over to the big kids’ table. Like the Laser Marker, quilters are currently gaga for glue. The genius of washable Elmer’s is that you can apply a tiny amount, heat set it with an iron, and it holds beautifully. You can sew through the heat set glue without a problem and when your project is complete, it washes out without leaving any marks or stains. If you ever wonder how people achieve perfect corners, they are probably using Elmer’s Washable Glue.

If you ever wonder how people achieve perfect corners, they are probably using Elmer’s Washable Glue.

If you ever wonder how people achieve perfect corners, they are probably using Elmer’s Washable Glue.

A Square

My whole life I’ve called the carpenter’s tool called a Square, an L, because that is what it looks like. These giant L-shaped tools make squaring your quilts or larger projects very easy. Pictured is a smaller, triangle version, which I use for corners that need to be evenly squared.

A smaller, triangle version, which I use for corners that need to be evenly squared.

A smaller, triangle version, which I use for corners that need to be evenly squared.

What other common household items do you use as part of your sewing and quilting took kit? I’d love to hear in the comments!

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

Miter Me This

One of the alterations I did last week for the television show Blindspot was lengthening the sleeves on a woman’s suit jacket for one of our actresses – a straight-forward and fairly simple task.

Or so it should be

Functional, cut buttonhole, unless you need to lengthen the sleeve.

Functional, cut buttonhole, unless you need to lengthen the sleeve.

This time, though, the alteration gods (and the clever designers at Banana Republic) were against me. The suit jacket had cut, functional buttonholes (three of them) on the sleeves. Not that big of a problem. I just needed to lengthen the sleeves 3/4″ and could get away with leaving the buttonholes as they were as the first hole was only an inch and ¼ from the hem.

No biggie

So, no big deal, I could still re-miter the corner 3/4″ below the original hem and not have to mess with the buttonholes. I might have to cut some of the seam allowance free from the bottom hole but it shouldn’t matter. I would still have enough fabric to do the miter properly.

I pulled both sleeves inside out to find the one with the top stitched opening. Women’s jackets normally just have one sleeve with the lining opening and the entire thing can be pulled through that hole and inside out. This is because, in most cases, the armhole lining isn’t attached all around the seam allowance as it is in men’s suit jackets.

I pulled my two sleeves inside out through the opening and started taking the hem apart. Much to my annoyance, I discovered that the miter corner had been trimmed so it was impossible to redo the miter at a longer length. I also needed to add more seam allowance to be able to lengthen the sleeve the amount I needed.

Take a step back

A simple alteration just got a bit more tedious. First, I dug into my fabric stash to find a wool similar to that of the jacket. In this particular case, the jacket I was working on was a dark brown and black tweed. The jacket was paired with black wool pants so I decided I could get away with using a black wool for my corner and added seam allowance.

I cut two pieces of black wool 2″ wide ( ¾+ ¾+ ¼ for each seam allowance. you need ¾ twice because you need the length for both the lining and the face fabrics) and 10″ long (this length doesn’t matter except it needs to be longer than the sleeve hem) on the bias (or diagonal). I also cut an addition 2″ wide by 6″ long bias piece for the corners.

Sleeve lining with topstitched seam (open up from here and pull everything through).

Sleeve lining with topstitched seam (open up from here and pull everything through).

The next thing to do after opening the entire sleeve hem up (don’t press, you’ll want to see the original seam creases) is to sew the black wool to the miter edge. Follow the stitching line from the original miter and make sure to leave additional fabric on both ends. Then, open the sleeve hem up so you can see the straight angles of the bottom and side edges. Draw straight lines to connect those edges, then trim.

The mitered corner.

The mitered corner.

Next, attach the 2″ piece to hem edge and trim any excess off the ends. At this point, I redraw my miter line. Measure down ¾ from the original hemline exactly on the fold line – that’s your cross line for miter. Use your old miter line as a guide for the proper angle. Sew the miter, press, and turn. Don’t cut. I use a wooden tailor point pressing block, a simple point turner, and generous steam.

 

Diagram on where to add fabric and redraw miter seam line.

Diagram on where to add fabric and redraw miter seam line.

Wash, rinse, repeat

Mark the ¾ down on the un-mitered corner and any sleeve underarm seams into your fabric extension so that you can match up the lining properly. Then, pin together your hem edges and sides. Sew. Repeat for the other sleeve, turn everything back right side out, and sew the opening closed in the sleeve lining.

The finished contrasting corner miter: (note: the suit jacket will be worn with black pants so the corner coordinates nicely).

The finished contrasting corner miter: (note: the suit jacket will be worn with black pants so the corner coordinates nicely).

Done. I now have a jacket with a cool little detail. Most people probably won’t notice it but if you happen to watch Blindspot and see it, let me know! I like it and my designer and actress like it, if only for the reason that the sleeves are the proper length.

The Zen of Making

The Zen of Making

I’ve been a professional tailor and pattern maker for twenty-five years. Some days I love my job. Some days I hate it. Some days everything goes together without mishap. Other days needles break, threads knot, seams bunch, the sewing machine makes crazy bobbin art for no reason, and garments with alteration tags that read, “drop a lining in” hang on the to-do rack. (please see ‘drop a lining’ rant at the end of this post). All of these things sometimes make me forget that I actually really do like to sew, to make things, to create from a pile of fabric a new complete garment.

The hard part about ending up in a career that involves doing something you love is that, every once awhile, you end up hating the very thing that you know you love.

Which is a shame. Thankfully, I always get over it. Sometimes the getting over it as easy as finishing an annoying project and moving on to something new. Occasionally, I need to have a little talk with myself, take a deep breath, and slow down (even if there are three people asking me when I’m going to be done.) I have to block out outside distractions and focus fully on what I am doing. That is when the ‘flow’ happens.

…my alterations motto is: leave no trace.

Currently I’m working on a show that, though it involves endless multiples (lots of stunts so actors usually need four to five of the same outfit plus one for their stunt double), never really sends me to the “I hate sewing” place of darkness.

One of the characters, new to this season, wears high-end clothing that usually requires quite a bit of alteration. I love taking apart a designer dress and figuring out the best way to alter it without anyone being the wiser. As in hiking, my alterations motto is: leave no trace. I can get happily lost in such a project.

Go with the Flow

The same goes for when I’m patterning or building something from scratch. I find that I’m in the flow of making. I forget about everything else going on and just concentrate on the thing I am doing.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says that Flow is the secret to happiness — a statement he supports with decades of research. During a 2004 TED talk, he said “When we are involved in (creativity), we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life. You forget yourself.”

A study titled, The Neurological Basis of Occupation, found that music, drawing, meditation, reading, arts and crafts, can stimulate the neurogical system and enhance health and well-being. And this study concluded that computer activities; craft activities, quilting, playing games; and reading books were associated with decreased odds of having MCI (mild cognitive impairment).

What this all adds up to is probably what most of us who sew and create already know: making things is good for your psyche and your soul (and your memory!). However you do it, wherever you find your flow is important and necessary to your well being, to you being you.

Drop a Lining In Rant

“Just drop a lining in,” they said, “It’ll be easy. No big deal. Shouldn’t take you that long.”

Anyone who tells you this really doesn’t know much about sewing or patterning. “Dropping a lining in,” is no easy task and certainly not as simple as dropping, well, anything. Unless your garment is a true honest to god couple of rectangles sewn together (and believe me it very likely is not) there isn’t anything ‘just’ about it. To line a jacket, or skirt, or dress, or anything, you really need to make a pattern and it’s going to take more than a couple hours to do it correctly. On Boardwalk Empire, we would regularly end up with vintage dresses literally hanging on by thread with the note, “Drop a lining in!” attached. None of us wanted to do them. We’d shuffle them to the end of the rack until we couldn’t put it off any longer and finally someone would say, “Ok, ok, fine, I’ll do this one if you’ll do that one.”