Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How to Make Simple Beanbags

I thought I would kick-off my sewing projects for beginners with one of the most simple projects I could think of--beanbags.  I like beanbags for several reasons: you can use fat quarters, it is a super quick project, you can get the kids involved, it is just straight lines, you can almost always make them without a trip to the store, you can make them completely individualized, etc.  The reasons are really endless.

Here's What You'll Need:
  • Fabric (I would recommend basic cotton for beginners: a fat quarter is a good place to start)
  • Thread
  • Sewing Machine (you can sew by hand if you prefer)
  • Iron & Ironing Board
  • Pins
  • Rotary Cutter, Ruler, and Board
  • Scissors
  • Piece of Paper
  • Filler (I used rice for these bags, but I have used beans, and popcorn kernels in the past)
Most of these items can be found on this list of the Ten Tools Every Sewer Needs.

Now that you have gathered your items, we can begin!

Iron your fabric flat, then fold it in half along the grain line.  Fold in half again the same direction (so it becomes much skinnier).  When cutting with a rotary cutter, you only want to fold one direction to keep the fabric as flat as possible with consistent grain lines.  Your fabric should now be four layers thick.  Cut in the opposite direction of your folds in 3.5 inch strips.  

Unfold your strips and line them up along the lines of the cutting board.  

Cut in the opposite direction of your original cuts to create squares that are 3.5 inches wide by 3.5 inches tall.

Adjust your sewing machine needle to the right, so you get a 1/4 inch seam allowance (the distance between your seam and the edge of the fabric).  Set your stitch length to 2.

Take two squares, and place them right sides together.  Be sure to line up the edges and corners; you can pin them together if you wish, but with this project, I do not.  Line up the edge of your fabric with the edge of your presser foot about 1 inch from the corner.

Sew to1/4 inch from the corner and leave the needle down in the fabric.  Some machines will have a button for this, but if yours doesn't, then just manually move the needle down at the corner using the hand winder on the right side of your machine.  With the needle down, lift the presser foot, and rotate your fabric 90 degrees.  Lower the presser foot and sew the entire side.

Repeat the corner turning process until you have sewn three complete edges, and most of the final edge.  You will leave a hole in the center of one edge.

Clip each corner like pictured above.  This helps with your corners when you flip the beanbag right side out. Be sure to clip close to your seam without actually clipping your threads.

Using the hole you left, turn the beanbag right side out.  Make sure to poke the corners out to crisp corners. Iron the bean bag flat.

This step is not necessary for the construction of the bean bag, but I think it lends it a finished and more professional look.  Begin in one corner.  Leaving a 1/8 inch seam allowance, fix your thread (set your stitch length to zero and sew a few stitches to knot).  Sew along the side the same way you did previously, turning the corners until you have sewn along three edges with 1/8 inch seam allowance.  Fix your thread in the last corner.

Now we are ready to fill our beanbags.  Roll up your paper into a cone, and place the small end in the opening of your beanbag.

Fill with your filler until the bag is about 2/3 of the way full.  You should be able to fold the fabric back, and pin with a pin close to your fold to hold your filler away from your seam.

Sew your last edge shut leaving a 1/8 inch seam allowance; be sure to fix your seam at the beginning and at the end.  Then clip your threads.  I didn't pin on my first beanbag, but I did on the rest.  I found it much easier to sew the final seam when I pinned the filler back.

Here's your final product.  You can experiment with different fabrics, contrasting or matching thread, different sizes, and even different shapes.

We played with the beanbags in a pretend snowball fight.  We stacked them to see who could make the tallest tower.  We tried to throw them through the post in the stair rail.  How will you play with your beanbags?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

10 Sewing Tools Every Sewer Needs

People often ask me what they really need to start sewing.  After spending a lot of time thinking about this, and looking through my sewing box, I compiled this list of tools every sewer needs to get started sewing.  This list does not include  tools for a sewing machine; come back tomorrow for more information about sewing machines.

Rotary Cutter, Ruler, and Cutting Mat - Yes, yes I know that this is a list of three things, but they all work together as one tool, so I thought it worked.  For me, the rotary cutter is indispensable; it makes cutting fabric quick, easy, and accurate.  Tara over at Happy Momma Quilts recently posted this great tutorial showing how to use a rotary cutter, so I will save time and refer you there for more info.

Seam Ripper - A seam ripper has been vital to my sewing.  There might be people out there who sew perfectly every time, and never have to unpick stitches...but I am not one of them.  Seam rippers are much more useful when removing stitches than scissors.

- They come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes.  Find one that you like to work with, and a storage system that works for you.  You can get a magnetic pin cushion, a box/container for the pins, or a soft cushion to stick pins in like this cupcake pin cushion (click here for instructions on making your own).  Your pins should be handy when working on projects to hold your fabric together.  

Sharp Scissors - Buy them.  Label them.  Hide them.  Sharp scissors are a must when sewing.  Make sure your scissors are only used for fabric projects, and I recommend getting a new pair about once a year to make sure they are sharp.  You can then give the retired pair to the family junk drawer for whatever else you need to cut.

Iron & Ironing Board - Again, this is a set.  Your projects will always turn out better and look more professional and finished if you take the time to iron your fabric before beginning, and throughout the sewing process. (no picture because I figured everyone knows what an ironing board looks like)

Measuring Tape - I can't tell you how often I use this measuring tape.  Just trust me on this one.  You will use the tape to measure in many of the projects you create.

Needles (for sewing by hand) - Bahahaahaha.  You can tell from my picture, that I don't have to replace these very often.  I try to avoid sewing by hand when at all possible, but sometimes, it is actually easier to finish a project or sew one component by hand.  I recommend getting a set that has a variety of sized needles and eyes as well as a variety of sharps and rounds.

Fray Check - This handy tool is sort of like super glue for fabric.  It can prevent fabric from fraying (the threads from separating), and can keep thread knotted at the beginning or end of a seam if you have not knotted sufficiently.  I use fray check in every project where I use ribbon, and many times throughout other projects.

Pattern Cutting Board - If you plan on making any projects that are larger than your small rotary cutting board, a large pattern board is a must.  It provides a large, flat surface perfect for cutting pattern pieces and large swatches of fabric. (pattern cutting board as background for this t-shirt to toddler dress upcycle)

Fabric Marker - Fabric markers are useful for sewing projects because the ink disappears (usually with cold water) and leaves your fabric looking as beautiful as ever. (no picture again -- it's a marker)

Now you should be all set to learn about sewing machines tomorrow, and starting your first project on Friday.  If you have any questions about sewing machines, please comment or email me, so I can answer them in the post.  I hope you are having a great week, and you are as excited as I am about our upcoming sewing projects!

Monday, July 9, 2012

What is a fat quarter?

A fat quarter is basically what it sounds like: a fat quarter yard of fabric.  Instead of buying the typical 9 inch-wide by 44 inch-long swatch of fabric, you can buy a swatch of fabric that is 18 inches wide by 22 inches long.  This enables you to make more projects without having to buy half a yard of fabric.  Many fabric stores sell pre-cut fat quarters in a variety of colors and patterns.  One of my favorite things to do is find some fabrics that I love, buy a couple fat quarters and make a project--or save them for a future project.

Most pre-cut fat quarters are basic cotton fabric used in quilts, but can be used for much more.  I used the fat quarters pictured above in the first beginners' sewing project I will share this week.  Come back to see what I did with these fun fabrics!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Sewing Machine Needles

When it comes to sewing machines, needles are one of the important areas people often neglect.  If you follow a few simple needle guidelines when sewing, it will make sewing easier and faster.

Use the correct needle type for your fabric.  There are three main types of needles used when sewing.  
  • The universal needle is perhaps the most commonly used needle.  The universal needle has a very slightly rounded tip so it can be used on many knit fabrics without snagging or skipping stitches, and it is small enough to pierce through woven fabrics as well.
  • Ball point needles are used on knit fabrics, and have a larger ball point than universal needles.  They shouldn't snag the fabric or skip stitches.  These work well on heavier knits and spandex or lycra.
  • Sharp needles are used on tightly woven fabrics, or light weight woven fabrics.  The tiny sharp point on the end of the needle allows it to poke through the weave of these tightly woven fabrics and sew in straight lines.
  • Click here for a chart detailing the use of specialty needles.

Use the correct needle size for your fabric.  There are three main categories of needle sizes used when sewing.  
  • Needles 8/60 and smaller are considered small needles and used for lightweight and sheer fabrics.  These needles will sew through the lighter fabrics without creating gaping holes, but will bend or break in heavier fabrics.
  • Needles 9/65-12/80 are considered medium needles and used for medium-weight fabrics.
  • Needles 14/90 and larger are considered large needles and used for heavy fabrics.  These needles can sew through the heavy fabrics without bending or breaking.

photo courtesy of asilentstorm.com

Use fresh needles.  Over time, needles can become dull and slightly bent, which can lead to problems while sewing.  I myself have been known to use a needle for weeks longer than I should, and I am always surprised at how much better my sewing machine works when I use a new needle.  Frequently, when I am struggling with a project, simply changing to a new needle fixes the problem.  Old needles can cause skipped stitches, snagged fabric, broken thread, and jammed sewing machines.  Throw away used needles after each project, or when you experience any of these problems.  

Monday, June 25, 2012

Fabric Basics

I have a love for fabric.  The colors and textures appeal to me on many levels.  I can spend hours at the fabric store looking at different patterns and feeling the luxurious fibers.  While there are many, many things to know about fabric, when first starting out, you need to know a few basics.

Most fabrics you work with will either be woven or knit together.  A woven fabric seems like a basic grid of threads woven together in perpendicular patterns.  This fabric here is a loosely woven fabric; you can even see the weave easily with the naked eye.

Knit fabrics are stretchier, and people often find working with knit considerably more tricky.  The picture above shows the pattern in which knits are woven.  It's the loopy weave that lets the fabric stretch in multiple directions.  You will want to know the difference between a knit and a woven fabric when choosing fabric for project as they behave differently.

Most projects and patterns will reference the "right side" and the "wrong side" of the fabric.  Many fabrics will have one side of the fabric that has much richer color, and is the side meant to show in a project.  The other side I often think of as the back of the fabric: the side that is meant to be hidden.

The final piece of basic information you need (in my opinion) about fabrics is what is meant when talking about grain or bias.  The grain is the direction that the fabric is woven.  Bias is a 45 degree angle from the grain.  Fabric holds its shape when sewn based on the grain, and stretches when sewn according to the bias.

I am lucky enough to have a mother that is a walking encyclopedia of fabric information, who has taught me all about fabrics, but for those of you who don't have a mother like mine, I recommend purchasing Fabrics A to Z by Dana Willard (author of Made).  She is one of my all-time favorite bloggers, and wrote an incredible reference book that is small enough to fit in your purse, so you can take it with you to the fabric store.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sewing Lessons {An Introduction}

A few months ago, one of my cousins was visiting from the east coast.  We talked about sewing, and she lamented that she didn't even know where to start.  It got me thinking about how people learn to sew.  

For me, I had/have a wonderful mother who taught me how to sew first by hand, then by machine.  It started with sewing clothes and blankets for my American Girl doll, and progressed into sewing my prom dresses.  Before we go any further, laugh if you must, but please understand that I graduated in 2001, and the styles of my dresses reflect that time period.

This first dress, my mom was mostly responsible for sewing.  I helped her, and watched to learn.  My mom should have been a pro because the dress came out beautifully!  I felt like a princess at the prom that year.  You can laugh at Adam's bleached 90's hair--I often do.

The second dress I wanted to make myself.  My mom helped me find the fabric I wanted, and the pattern.  Being the difficult person that I am, I wanted the top of one dress, and the bottom of another.  I was between sizes, so after I made the bodice (top) out of muslin as a test, I used a smaller seam allowance to make the pattern slightly bigger.  

My world came crashing down after I sewed the skirt and was ready to attach it to the bodice.  It was the week of prom.  I had forgotten to use a smaller seam allowance on the skirt, which was a real tragedy.  The skirt pattern consisted of three layers: a liner, a base satin layer, and a top sheer layer.  Each layer was seven panels.  When I realized all the time it took me to cut and sew those twenty one pieces together, had been wasted I burst into tears.  Luckily, my mother was calm enough to talk me "off the ledge" and told me that if I would use the seam ripper to remove the stitches, she would sew the pieces back together for me with the adjusted seam allowance.  My mother was a much faster and more accurate seamstress than I was, so her help made all the difference.  We were able to finish the dress in time for "Cinderella to attend the ball."

This last prom dress, I made myself.  For those of you who didn't attend high school at the turn of the millennium, this dress was inspired by Bianca's prom dress in 10 Thing I Hate About You.  Look it up--I think I made a pretty good likeness.  My mom was still there to answer any questions I had along the way, but she had already taught me so much that I was ready to construct this dress almost completely on my own.

Yes, if you were wondering, I did wear rhinestone tattoo jewelry on my neck, arm, and face for this prom.  You are right--I was totally hip!

My sewing now rarely consists of making anything this fancy and intricate, but the skills required to make a prom dress are many of the same skills required to sew much more simple projects.  Next week, I will cover some basic background information necessary for the beginning sewer.  Over the next few weeks, I will share 10 sewing projects for beginners.  The skills you learn making these projects will give you a basis for the more complicated projects I share on this blog.

So get ready for some sewing fun!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Carrot Cake Favorite

Most of the cakes I make are variations of my basic cake recipe, but this recipe I adapted from my fan-favorite zucchini cake.  Just so you know--I am going to do some shameless bragging about this recipe.  Feel free to skip the rest of this self-gratuitous paragraph.  This is one of the best cakes, and hands down the best carrot cake, I have ever tasted.  As many of you know, Adam is not generally a fan of sweets, but he snuck a cupcake and a mini cupcake before I could take pictures.  This cake pleased everyone from the ninety-five-year-old Grandma, whose birthday we celebrated, all the way down to the toddlers.

Ok.  I'm done now.  Let's get to the recipe.

Cake Ingredients
  • 3 Cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 Cups dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 Cup vegetable oil
  • 3 Cups grated carrots
  • 1/2 Cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 Cup black (I'm not sure what these are called) raisins
  • 1 Cup crushed walnuts

Frosting Ingredients
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 Cup (2 sticks) butter - this makes a more buttery cream cheese frosting; if you really like cream cheese, use just one stick of butter
  • 2-3 Cups powdered sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla

Mix and Bake (for tips on baking see this post)
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
  2. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together into medium mixing bowl
  3. Combine brown sugar and dry mixture in large mixing bowl--mix well
  4. Beat together the eggs and oil in the small mixing bowl
  5. Add egg and oil mixture to large mixing bowl--add vanilla while mixing these ingredients together (DO NOT OVER-MIX)
  6. Your batter at this point will be sort of stiff and sticky like a dough
  7. Add carrots, raisins, and nuts, and mix until dispersed--the batter becomes much more moist and like a batter
  8. Spray pan with baking spray, and pour batter into pan (use spatula to scrape out mixing bowl)
  9. Bake at 325 degrees F for 50 minutes (cupcakes take much less time: about 12-15 minutes for minis and 18-22 for regular)
  10. Place pan on cooling rack for 15 minutes
  11. Turn cake out onto rack to finish cooling

Mix Frosting (for frosting tips see this post)
  1. After putting cake in oven, remove cream cheese and butter from fridge to soften 
  2. Cream together butter and cream cheese
  3. Add powdered sugar to frosting mixture and mix well; add enough sugar so that it tastes delicious and is stiff enough to hold whatever shape you are going for
  4. Mix vanilla into frosting
  5. When cake is cool, stack, frost, and decorate

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Brooke's Wedding Blanket

One of my favorite gifts to give for a wedding is this wedding blanket.  I lucked out right at Christmas time this year and found these throw blankets at K-Mart for less than $20, which is way cheaper than buying the fake fur and minky fabric out of which these are made.  One side is the soft and slinky minky fabric, but the other is like a fake sheep's wool.

I bought three and planned on saving them for future weddings, but I couldn't help myself.  Adam and I now have two of them on our couches because they are so soft and comfy.  The third I used for my sister's wedding.  All I had to do was rip out the seam in the corner to separate the top and bottom fabrics, embroider, and resew the seam right up.  It was quick and easy, and made this gorgeous blanket.  My sister and her husband said it is their favorite blanket to cuddle under.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sesame Street Cupcakes

I made these cupcakes for a first birthday party last spring.  I couldn't believe how fun and easy these were to whip up.

If you have been reading along for a while, you will know that I already prefer to buy my frosting from the bakery at King Soopers (Kroger stores).  The frosting is less expensive to make than buttercream, is perfectly white, doesn't need refrigeration, has a great consistency, and has a great flavor.  The time saved is also a bonus.

The morning I was making these, I was really running late on time, and I found out that the bakery will sell the colored frosting as well as white.  The colored frosting is more expensive, but the amount of food coloring required to get these rich colors probably about equals the extra cost (I haven't actually done the math, but this past year I have been more short on time than money, so I am willing to go with my estimate).

Here's what you'll need:

  • cupcakes (I used my basic recipe)
  • red frosting for Elmo
  • blue frosting for Cookie Monster
  • white frosting for eyes
  • black frosting for eyes and mouth (I used the stuff from the shelf that comes in a can with attachable tips) ***I would probably use black fondant cut into shapes in the future***
  • 3 piping bags (one for red, one for blue, one for white)
  • star piping tip
  • large circle piping tip
  • orange jelly beans (M&M's might work as well)
  • mini chocolate chip cookies
For Cookie Monster:
  1. Start with a plain cupcake.
  2. Cut your mini cookies in half.  They don't need to be exact.
  3. Use the star tip in a piping bag to frost the cupcakes.  You should pipe in a back and forth motion from the center to the outside, moving around the cupcake, to create the furry look.  This is not an exact science; in fact, the more random you make it, the better it looks.
  4. Use the circle tip in a piping bag to make large dots of white frosting for the base of the eyes.
  5. Use the circle tip of the black frosting to make smaller dots on the eyes.  Cookie Monster's eyes should both be looking different directions (often each looking out).  ***I would use small black fondant circles next time***
  6. Stick a cookie half in for the mouth.  It's ok if there are crumbs around the mouth; Cookie Monster is a messy eater.
For Elmo:
  1. Start with a plain cupcake (this isn't its own step because it wouldn't have looked as good in the collage-ha ha). Use the star tip in a piping bag to frost the cupcakes.  You should pipe in a back and forth motion from the center to the outside, moving around the cupcake, to create the furry look.   This is not an exact science; in fact, the more random you make it, the better it looks.
  2. Use the circle tip in a piping bag to make large dots of white frosting for the base of the eyes.
  3. Use the circle tip of the black frosting to make smaller dots on the eyes and the curve of the mouth.  ***I would use small black fondant circles and black fondant crescents next time***
  4. Stick a jelly bean in for the nose.  I poked the long side in to create a circle nose instead of an oval--the oval looked more like Gonzo's nose.
Mini Cupcake Variation - I made these cute mini cupcakes with the extra batter and supplies; you know I am a sucker for mini cupcakes.  The basic technique is the same, but you use a smaller chunk of cookie for Cookie Monster's mouth, and cut the jelly bean in half for Elmo's nose.