Making Drawstring Bags—Another Option for the Top

 

Hello!  There’s been just a little more radio silence around here lately than normal, but hey, that’s what retreats are for, right?  Today let’s jump back in with some thoughts about drawstring casings on bags.  In the second part of Hello Sewing Machine, I guide you though making a drawstring bag and leaving a “buttonhole”—a gap in the side seam for the drawstring to pull through.  That’s probably my favorite way to finish the casing, and one that helps you think about how a piece of fabric becomes a finished project, which is why I chose it for my beginner e-book.  There are lots of other options though, basically any method that encloses the raw edges and leaves a place for the drawstring will work.  One of my proofreaders asked about making a little hem on the sides of the bag instead, and I wanted to present that option here.  In my example, I’m altering a commercially made bag which doesn’t have much in the way of seam finishing, and is not going to stand the test of time.  You can also easily use this technique on DIY bags.  Click on any of the pictures to enlarge for a closer look.

 

drawstring bag 1

 

On this bag, there’s nothing to keep the raw edges from unraveling.  I’m especially concerned about the area where the drawstring emerges from the bag, because it’s likely to get a lot of wear and tear, which will cause the fabric to unravel faster.

My first step was to take apart the seam stitching, down to where I wanted the seam to stop for the new finish.  I stitched up to that point and back down (with red thread) to hold all the stitching in place.  Then I took apart enough of the seam holding the casing down to let me make a narrow hem on the edges.

 

drawstring bag 3

 

If you are making your own bag, just stop sewing the side seam a little ways from the top, and back tack over the seam end.  To figure out where to stop, think about the parts of the casing you need to leave room for at the top of the bag.

 

drawstring bag 2

 

At the very top is a little extra fabric, usually turned under (or stitched over) so that it won’t unravel.  It serves the same purpose as a seam allowance.  Then you have the inside and outside of the casing (keep in mind we are looking at the bag from the inside), and you will also need a little more room (about 1-2″ or 3-5 cm) for the transition between the hemmed edges and the seam.   Once you figure out where the end of your seam will be, go ahead and overcast the seam edges, continuing a little bit past the point where your seam stops.  Then on each edge above the seam, fold over and press down 1/4″ (or .5 cm) with your iron, towards the inside of the casing.  Fold over the edge again in same direction, using your first fold as a guide, and press in place again.  Then stitch down your hemmed edges, sewing close to the edge with a straight stitch.   Sew across the seam as well, below the top where you stopped stitching, so that all the stress from opening the bag is not on just one point.

 

drawstring bag 4

 

Next, sew your drawstring casing in place.  Normally I would press a small fold at the top edge towards the inside, and then fold and press down the width of the casing.  Since the casing here is already sewn in place around the rest of the bag,  I opted to replace the original stitching, overlapping it with the red thread.  Make a small back tack at each edge, since those ends won’t be held down by any other stitching later.  Then I used a mock-serger stitch to go over the small raw edge below the casing, since I don’t want it to unravel and lead to my casing pulling loose.

 

drawstring bag 6

 

A quick note about ends: I like to bury them inside the casing or hem, or wherever there’s a double layer of fabric, so that enough thread remains to keep the stitching from pulling out, but it’s hidden.  I thread the ends on a hand-sewing needle, pull them between the fabric layers for one long stitch, and snip them off where they come out.

 

drawstring bag 5

 

Here’s an another example of a commercially-made drawstring bag using the same concept.  I think they hemmed the sides of the drawstring first, and then caught them in the side seam, and finished the seam allowances with a serger.  As I said, you have a lot of options!

 

drawstring bag 13

 

There’s lots more thorough and friendly beginner-oriented directions for sewing seams, overcasting, using your iron to make a casing, and everything else you need to know to plan and sew a drawstring bag in my e-book, Hello Sewing Machine!

If you have other beginning questions, feel free to let me know, I’m always curious about what’s on your mind.   You can also read my answers to others’ questions in this post on Sew,Mama,Sew!

 

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Hello Sewing Machine—Behind the Scenes, and Acknowledgements

 

So today, a bit more about my new e-book, how I made it, and some well-deserved thanks to those who helped out!

 

 

HSM page 6 small

 

My first idea to make this book revolved around a cartoon sewing machine, and adding real thread to my drawings.   I thought it would help explain how all sewing machines are (in a lot of ways) pretty much the same.  I hoped that the thread would show up, and look like thread, and add a fun element of style (it did!).  But I knew that I needed more detail to explain some things.  For months I was stuck, thinking that I needed photographs, and not figuring out how to make them as good as I knew they would need to be.  That’s when my husband Bryan (a professional photographer) suggested maybe I didn’t need photos at all.  After all, instruction manuals of all kinds are still full of illustrations.   Sometimes they are even clearer than photos would be.  The more I thought about this, the more I thought he was right.  I started drawing, and then I knew he was right.  In an illustration, everything that I would like to be in focus is so, and the visual emphasis can be wherever I want it to be.

 

bobbin winding treadle small

This has got to be my favorite drawing in the book.  To find out what’s going on, you might have to get yourself a copy!

 

As I drew, I took some snapshots for reference, so I wouldn’t have to keep moving my hands back and forth and get them in the same place again, etc.  I also took a couple just to show my process and progress.

 

HSM paper sewing

Sewing thread onto a drawing of my mom’s treadle sewing machine, using that same machine!

 

The fact that Bryan suggested doing these drawings points to another really important thing about Hello Sewing Machine, which is that I didn’t make it by myself.  In fact, sometimes it seems like I didn’t make it all (despite the weeks of drawing, months of writing and editing, etc.), but more like I stood in the middle and brought together elements from everyone and everything I knew, things which already existed, and they coalesced and became this book.  I now understand why authors seem so passionate about their acknowledgements!   Mine are in the book, but I’m going to post them publicly here too.  Lookout!  Thanks below:

 

HSM desk chaos

Desk reaches maximum level of chaos, near the end of the drawing phase.

First and foremost, thanks to my mom.  She made most of my clothes when I was little, and created fabric magic right before my eyes.  Not only that, she taught me to sew, too!  She gave me access to all kinds of creative tools and supplies from the time I was old enough to hold them.  When I grew up, she bought me a sewing machine I couldn’t afford on my own, and I’m still welcome to anything and everything in her sewing room at any time.  I absolutely would not have the skills I do now without her in my life.

A close second for thanks is my husband Bryan.  Besides the idea to illustrate this book, I also leaned quite heavily on his knowledge during the design and layout phase.  Every day I lean on his love and support, and the fact that he believes in me.  I couldn’t ask for a better partner in life and our many adventures together.

 

HSM page 32 small

 

Also many thanks to Van and Charlie Odegaard, for letting me teach sewing to real live students at Odegaard’s Sewing Center!  I’ve learned at least as much as I’ve taught.  And I would like to thank Jena R. and Michael K. for the music. I listened to a lot of music during this project, and the CDs they gave me were like friends keeping me company.  Thanks to Brian S. for a great idea in word processing—it worked!  And last but never least, my truly amazing proofreaders: Kelly, Tom, Wendelin, & Lauren.

I’ve been as much humbled as excited by this whole process.  Both are great feelings!  I hope to continue to share the love here.  More soon . . .

Start Sewing with my Brand-New E-book!

 

HSM cover small

 

It’s the reveal of the super-secret project I’ve been working on for so long!  And it’s safe to say I’ve never been as excited about a post, or a project, as I am about this one.  Nearly a year ago, I had an idea to make a tutorial that would get people started sewing.  It would assume the reader knew nothing, and explain as clearly and approachably as I could make it, how sewing machines work and how to use them.

Well, it’s here, today!  Hello Sewing Machine is a PDF e-book, available for instant download from my Etsy shop!  I’ve spent the past year dreaming about it, writing it, drawing the illustrations, editing, doing design and layout, and learning so much about all of the above as I went.  It’s kind of unreal to finally see the finished product on a screen in front of me.  

 

HSM in progress

 

So, do you have a sewing machine sitting in your closet?  Would you like to get it out and start sewing?  Do you already sew, but you have someone you’ve been wanting to teach?  Do it today!  This guide will get you going.  It has everything you need to know about how your sewing machine works.  I want Hello Sewing Machine to be a bridge between would-be sewers and all the patterns, sewing blogs, fabric stores, everything that’s out there to help you make whatever you want.  All you have to do is take the first few steps to get started!

 

HSM page 7

 

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I’m a firm believer in handmade, and that by being makers, we make our lives better in just about every possible way: more connected, more sustainable, more grounded, more satisfied, more joyous.  It’s my hope that this little book will give more people the tools they need to realize those benefits in their own lives.

 

HSM page 13

 

I’ll be celebrating this release with some very relevant beginning sewing posts (including an all new one on hemming jeans) plus some other very exciting things, so watch this space!

 

Sewing Machine Painter’s Tape Stitch Guide

Just a quick tip today.  Last night I was sewing pillowcases for my wonderful massage therapist, Cindy Clark of Hand Dance Massage.  I know, this is good trade to have, right?

Some of the hems were deep, I needed a seam guide outside the ones engraved on my stitch plate.  Painter’s tape/blue tape is perfect for this – it’s easy to apply and reposition, it has a sharp edge which I  can see clearly against the machine, and it peels right off when I am done.  Other types of tape work too but they may be more prone to leave sticky gunk behind (duct tape = no).

You can either use the edge of the tape as a guide or draw a line (or more than one) on the tape.  Either way be as precise as you can with your measuring.  Measure from the center of the foot, where the needle enters the plate when it’s centered.  Once you know how far out the other lines on your stitch plate are, it may be easier to measure from one of them or from the edge of the plate.  Try to get your tape even, and at the right distance, so you can use the whole length of it to guide your fabric.

Remember that if hemming, you need to sew slightly inside your hem to catch it.  For example, I pressed up 2″ for a hem, so my guide here is at 1 and 7/8″.  By watching the guide, you can sew the hem from the top or the bottom, whichever works better for your project.

Zoom in on the picture to see more clearly what I’m talking about.

What do you use painter’s tape for?  What are you trading for?

All About Backstitch

 

Backstitch Drawing 1

 

Revised and updated with new photos and text (and drawings I found in my sewing class materials), this tutorial is now better than ever! Feel free to grab a fabric scrap and some thread and follow along.

If I had to name the single most useful hand sewing stitch I know, it would probably be the backstitch. I love it for repairs, for sewing in zippers, and for anywhere I need the control and flexibility of hand stitching with a hard-wearing stitch.

When you think of hand sewing, you probably think of running stitches, like the ones below. The needle dips into the fabric and comes up going in the same direction. You can make several running stitches on the needle before pulling the thread through, and the thread slides easily through several running stitches at once.

 

new backstitch 1

 

In a backstitch, the thread loops around itself, which makes the stitch much harder to pull out. To make one, take the needle backwards from the direction you’re stitching in, stab into the fabric, and bring the needle out at the further end of the next stitch. Then go backwards again and take the next stitch.

 

new backstitch 2

 

You can see the overlapping loops on the wrong side (backside) of the stitching. By contrast, the running stitches look the same on both sides.

 

new backstitch 3

 

If you make backstitches touching each other, from the right side (public side) it looks almost exactly like machine stitching, which makes this a great stitch for repairs and touch-ups.

 

new backstitch 4

 

You can also leave more space between small backstitches. This is sometimes called a prickstitch. It’s the stitch I use to sew zippers into just about everything, including my trousers! I love sewing zippers by hand, it gives me great control and precision, and more flexibility about when I attach them. Susan Khalje wrote an article for Threads magazine about hand-picked zippers that’s worth looking up if you’re interested, that’s what got me started doing them this way.

 

new backstitch 5

 

Because each one is almost a knot in itself, backstitches are really sturdy. The zippers I’ve sewn with them have lasted at least as long as the pants!

 

Pickstitch Drawing 1

 

Backstitches are also useful for securing your thread anywhere you don’t want to have a knot. I often use one or two to secure the beginning or end of a seam, and when I’m burying yarn ends in knitting. In the days when most garments were sewn by hand, it was common to use running stitches with a backstitch thrown in every few stitches for extra strength. (I know that from reading The Mary Frances Sewing Book, which is amazing).

Happy stitching!

 

new backstitch 6

 

 

How to Sew on a Button

And make a thread shank, for a better-working button.

 

sewing on a button 10

 

As promised, complete directions!  Anyone can do this.  All you need is some thread and a sharp needle.  Start with a piece of thread about as long your arm, and put it through the needle so you have a double length.

Start by anchoring your thread.  The conventional way to do this is by tying a knot in the end.  But sometimes a big knot on one side is too conspicuous or would catch on things.  Instead try backstitching.  A backstitch is a stitch that makes the thread loop back on itself, it’s very secure.  On the wrong side, slide the thread between the fabric layers and come up near where you want the button to be.  Pull the needle though, leaving a thread tail at the start.  Take a small backstitch.  Put the needle out nearby, then take another backstitch in the opposite direction.  The thread is ready to go!  Pop the needle up to the right side where you want the button.

 

sewing on a button 1Click on any of the photos to enlarge if you’d like.

 

The next part is pretty much self-explanatory, except for one thing.  Use a spacer to make room for a thread shank underneath the button (ignore this part if your button already has a metal shank on the back—just stitch through that).  This makes room for the fabric (where the buttonhole is) to fit underneath the button.  I often use a toothpick which I keep in my sewing stuff.  You may want a bigger or smaller spacer depending on the thickness of the fabric and how curved the button is.  Just sew over the spacer as you go in and out through the holes of the button.

 

sewing on a button 2

 

sewing on a button 4

 

Go through each part of the button a couple of times.  Pull out the spacer and pull up on the button, see how there’s now extra thread underneath?  Bring the needle up from the bottom under the button.

 

sewing on a button 5

 

sewing on a button 6

 

Wind the thread a few times around the thread bars under the needle—but not too tightly.  If you make this whole thing too tight, the sides of the holes in the button can rub and wear through the thread.  Stab the needle straight through the thread shank a couple of times from different directions.

 

sewing on a button 7

 

Secure the thread either just under the button, or on the back side with a couple more backstitches, then trim the thread tails.

 

sewing on a button 8

 

So the next time a button pops off your shirt, you don’t need to send it off to Mom or stuff it in the back of your drawer, you can fix it yourself!  Feel free to post other button questions, too …

 

Fix a Ripped Out Button (or Other Small Hole)

 

 

This is a sweater/jacket I picked up at the thrift store the other day, I thought it would be good for our upcoming ski trip to Bend (and also because I’m cold basically all winter long).  Only one or two small problems, the original buttons are some crazy unique things, more like a snap with one large flared button side and a flat back, and two of them are missing, leaving holes where they ripped out.

But small holes like that are pretty easy to fix, especially since the result will be covered by a new button.

The fabric here is a sturdy (not very stretchy) knit.  I happen to have some sturdy black knit fabric to cut little circles from, but if I didn’t I would use a woven rather than something too thin or stretchy.  The fixed place is going to have lots of stitches in it and not be very stretchy anyway.

The easiest way to get the patches to stay where you want them is to baste them in.  (Basting just means stitching that’s not permanent, but meant to hold something in place while you sew.)

 


 

Because I want this spot to be super sturdy, I put one small patch directly behind the hole and another one on top to back a larger area (both on the wrong side of the jacket).  I used contrasting thread for basting, but you may want to try matching, it will make pulling out the smaller stitches later not as necessary.

Next, smooth the sides of the hole down and as much back where they came from as possible, and sew using your machine.  If the fabric has a distinct color on each side, you can use different color top and bobbin thread – I used cream on top and black in the bobbin.  (A picture of me sewing this would show nothing, since it’s all under the foot!)  I used a short stitch length and went back and forth over the hole, mainly in the same direction as the knit ribs of the fabric, and then a bit side to side.  Make sure to catch all the raveling edges.  When you’re done it should look something like this:

 

 

Pull out the basting threads, bury the sewing thread ends, and you’re done!  Next week: how to sew on the button.

One final note, only one of these cuffs had the button come off.  But as you can see, the other one is about to go.  And besides, it will look more natural if they’re symmetrical.  Sometimes it just feels good to pull something off with pliers – rawr!

 


 

Got something you would like to fix?  Not sure how?  Leave a comment!