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.