Category Archives: tutorial

Tutorial: Tasseled tatted bookmark

Tatted bookmarks with tassels

Tatted bookmarks with tassels

I’ve made a bunch of tatted bracelets lately, and while I was working on one of those an idea struck me for another way to use all the edging patterns I’ve posted: fancy-schmancy bookmarks with a matching tassel on them. After all, tatting thread is pretty ideal for making tassels, so you can get perfect matching, and the actual fabrication of a tassel can’t be but so hard. And, unlike many of my “can’t be but so hard” moments, this one turned out well: tassels are really, really easy to make, especially if you have your tatting tools on hand.

Brown tassel with the frame I used to make it and a ruler for scale.

Brown tassel with the frame I used to make it and a ruler for scale.

You don’t need any special supplies if you’re a needle tatter; if you use shuttles, you’ll probably want a tapestry needle or similar just to tuck in the thread ends, or possibly a tiny crochet hook. You may also want some sort of tool to set the length of your tassels—a 6″ metal ruler, a pack of 5″ index cards, a pack of 4″ playing cards, etc. depending on the length you want—but you can also just use your hand, especially for shorter tassels. For the white tassel, I used my hand, and for the left I used a frame built out of Zometools, which are a modeling kit I have a lot of on hand.


  1. Ready for a tassel

    Ready for a tassel

    Choose a lace pattern and make about a 6″ strip, or whatever length you want the bookmark body to be. Shown are my Atlantis edging and garden path edging. Make sure you end with at least a foot of thread left on either the needle or ball thread, and at least 6″ (or longer for a longer tassel) on the other.

  2. Hold both threads  together and tie an overhand knot in them, snugged down close to the end of the work. Still holding them together, tie another overhand knot about an inch away—this creates the dead thread between the top of the tassel and the bookmark to go over the top of the book. This doesn’t have to be exact—mine are about exactly a half-inch and an inch-and-a-half.
  3. Making a tassel

    Making a tassel

    Set the work aside and start making your tassel. Using your same thread, wrap it around your hand or your length-setting tool 20-30 times, depending on how fat you want the tassel to be. Mine are 22 (brown) and 31 (white) wraps. Note: the width of the object, not the circumference, sets the length of the tassel, so your hand will give a 3-4″ tassel.

  4. Finish the wraps with a bit of overlap between the two ends (see photo) and cut. Work the next step on the far end of the loops from the overlapped area, as best you can judge, so the loose ends will both be at least the length of the finished tassel.
  5. Taking the tatted piece up again, tie the two loose threads around the bundle you’ve made, at one end. Make a good solid square knot or similar. Drop the shorter piece, holding it together with the bundled threads.
  6. Pinch the long thread against the bundle

    Pinch the long thread against the bundle

    Lay the longer piece along the bundle and use your thumbnail to pinch it against the other threads, about 3/4″ from the top of the tassel. See photo.

  7. Start wrapping the longer thread around the bundle, working back upwards towards the top of the tassel and catching the section that you were holding in place with the wraps. Wrap as tight as you can, and be careful to lay each new wrap alongside the previous without crossing or tangling the threads. 10-15 wraps is a good number, or whatever looks best to you—I would not go fewer than about 5 for durability reasons.
  8. Wraps made, ready to pass the thread down through the tassel

    Wraps made, ready to pass the thread down through the tassel

    Use your needle to tuck the last wrap you make under the second-to-last, pull tight, and then pass the needle down through the middle of the wrapped section of the bundle, pulling the thread through and tight.

  9. Cut the loops of the bundle at the bottom—a good way to do this is to hold onto the top, insert one blade of your scissors through the loops, and apply tension with both hands to make sure your scissors are right at the middle before cutting.
  10. Comb the separate strands of the tassel with your fingers to make them as aligned as possible, then trim the ends to make them all the same length. The sharper your scissors are the easier this will be.
  11. Finished! Stick it in a book or wrap it up for a fancy little gift.

bookmark_white bookmark_brown

Tutorial: Tatted bracelet clasp

Two tatted bracelets with a wrapped pony bead clasp

Two tatted bracelets with a wrapped pony bead clasp

I put up a lot of lace edging patterns here, but I know not a lot of y’all have the interest in garment sewing that I do, so making edgings is less appealing.  However, strips of lace have other uses: you can make a headband, a necklace, or a bracelet, to name three. For my choker pattern, I used ordinary brass findings from the beading section of my local craft store, but it’s always nice to have other options, and in the interim I thought of a way to do integrated clasps without having to worry about matching colors or styles between the findings and the thread. Today I’m going to show you how, as well as show off a couple bracelets I made recently.

In addition to your normal tatting supplies, you will need a single large, large-bore bead. Anything labeled a pony bead should do, and most things labeled barrel beads should do as well. If you somehow don’t have any of these on hand—I was a craftsy kid in the 90s so I have a whole box of them, sorted by color, cluttering up my craft space—you can get them by the hundreds for a couple bucks. It’s a good idea to choose one roughly the same color as your thread, if possible, but you’re going to be wrapping it completely so it doesn’t matter too much. Note: this tutorial, along with all my tatting stuff, comes from a place of needle tatting, but if you’re a shuttle tatter you can play along too—you’ll need a tapestry needle, doll needle, or similar for covering the bead, anything you can get your tatting thread through the eye of, and which isn’t much larger in diameter than the thread—no yarn needles.

First, choose a tatting pattern. Anything I’ve posted tagged “flat edging” will do well, although be aware of how wide it’ll be when you choose. So far I’ve used my crowns edging and my garden path edging. You’ll need to decide where in the pattern you want to break to insert the clasp. For the crowns edging, I started at step 7 and finished at step 3, and for the garden path, started at step 1 and ended at 8. You want the insertion point to be somewhere that a ring or chain made from that point will extend along the length of the piece, rather than off to the side, and ideally be somewhat centered.

Note: This clasp pattern is worked out for #10 thread and your standard plastic pony bead; if you are using different materials, I recommend practicing wrapping a bead first, then making sure the ring in step 1 below will go around it before putting in all the work on the bracelet. For smaller threads, add groups of 8 single stitches (one full spiral) to both sides of the first ring. See also my dragonfly pattern for another use of this ring shape.


  1. Ring 6ds, 32 first-half single stitches spiraling four times around the needle, 12ds, 32 second-half single stitches spiraling four times around the needle the other way, 6ds. Depending on the pattern, you may want to add picots to either or both 6ds section to secure it to the rest of the pattern. Both of my bracelets start this ring with 3ds, picot, 3ds.
  2. Make lace according to your pattern, starting at your start point, until you have roughly 8″ (or desired length) from tip to tip and you are at an end point in your pattern.
  3. If necessary, add a short length of chain or spiral chain to separate the bead from the last ring of the pattern by at least an eighth-inch or so.
  4. prepTie a square knot between your needle and ball thread.
  5. You will need roughly a yard of thread on your needle. If your current needle thread is shorter than that, cut the ball thread a yard from the piece and thread that. Shuttle folks: cut a yard of thread, attached to the piece, from either your ball or shuttle, and thread that onto a tapestry or doll needle.
  6. Thread the bead onto the thread.
  7. secure_beadTie a single overhand knot between the needle thread and the thread under the bead, then pass the needle through the bead, from bottom to top (in the same direction as before) to put the knot inside the bead. There should be one loop of thread wrapping over the outside of the bead. See photo.
  8. Slide the bead down to the end of the tatting piece and pull the knot tight to secure it into place.
  9. three_wrapsBegin wrapping the thread around the bead: always pass the needle through the bead from bottom to top, and make sure each wrap lies straight next to its neighbors, not crossing or tangling. Keep the thread pulled tight as you work. The inside of the bore is smaller than the outside you have to cover, so the thread will bunch up on the inside and try to form gaps on the outside; just cover the gaps as necessary.
  10. When you’ve gotten about halfway around the bead, wrap the thread down around the outside, then pass the needle straight across the bottom of the bead, passing through the square knot if you can, wrap the thread around the outside from bottom to top, and start wrapping from the opposite side, passing the needle through the bead from top to bottom. This just makes the final tie-off easier.
  11. fully_wrappedFinish up by wrapping over any gaps you see, pulling the thread tight as you do. When you can’t see the bead any more, not even by wiggling the thread around with your fingertips, you’re done. It should be getting a little full in the center of the bead, but still easy to get the needle through.
  12. Tie a knot between the thread you’ve been working with and the other one coming off the tatted piece. I like holding both ends together and tyingfinished a single overhand knot in both.
  13. Cut both threads to a few inches length, if necessary, and thread them both onto the needle together. Pass them through the bead, from bottom to top, and tug to get the knot up inside the bead. Trim close to the top of the bead.
  14. The clasp works by pushing the wrapped bead through the elongated ring made in step 1; the elongated shape helps prevent the bead from coming out on its own, much like a slit buttonhole.


Tutorial: Cheating hand-made buttonholes

Finished shirt, buttoned, with placket flap pulled back to show buttons and ribbon

Finished shirt, buttoned, with placket flap pulled back to show buttons and ribbon

Today I want to talk about buttonholes. Specifically, I want to talk about how painful and tedious it is to make buttonholes by hand, without a machine. I want to complain that although I have twice as many sewing machines as a reasonable amateur needs, neither of them has a buttonholing feature. Then, I want to talk about how to cheat—making buttonholes, by hand or machine, with only a simple, straight seam and a bit of ribbon.

I’ve been working on button-up blouses lately, so that will be the context for this tutorial; unfortunately the technique that I’ve come up with is pretty much exclusive to rows of buttons on plackets. It could work on fly buttons, cuff buttons, etc., but I leave that as an exercise to the reader. I recommend being familiar with the ordinary ways of making plackets before reading this tutorial: in general, plackets are folded-over areas of fabric that provide reinforcement and stiffness for the buttons. My technique is a form of hidden placket, meaning when the shirt is worn buttoned up, the buttons are hidden behind an extra flap of fabric.

You will need:

  • Fabric for a shirt (or any item with a placket/button closure)
  • A pattern you like, with allowance for ordinary (not hidden) plackets
  • Buttons; since they will be hidden it is okay if they are a poor match or ugly
  • Roughly 2 feet of ribbon, piping, or bias tape; anything narrower than 1/2″ and non-fraying, and preferably matching the color of the fabric. I used quarter-inch satin ribbon; I’ll refer to it as “ribbon” in the instructions but other options are fine.
Pattern piece (McCall's M6035) with allowance for ordinary plackets; note the fold lines and center-front line.

Pattern piece (McCall’s M6035) with allowance for ordinary plackets; note the fold lines and center-front line.

What I mean by “allowance for ordinary plackets” is this: starting from the center front of the garment (often marked on patterns with a dashed line with buttonhole and button positioning marks on it), extra fabric is added, two and a half times as wide as the intended placket; if the final placket will be 1″ wide, 2.5″ is added. The placket width must be wider than the buttons; typically shirts have half-inch buttons (plus or minus an eighth) and inch plackets, but skirts or coats may have larger buttons and correspondingly wider plackets. This added fabric has two folds in it, typically marked with fold lines on patterns: one at half-the-placket-width (1/2″ on shirts) from the center-front line, and another halfway between the first fold line and the edge.


  1. Make sure your pattern has allowance for ordinary plackets, not hidden plackets or a narrow hem or anything else.
  2. Cut fabric piece with center front line (including buttonhole positions) and first fold line marked with pins

    Cut fabric piece with center front line (including buttonhole positions) and first fold line marked with pins

    Cut fabric and transfer markings: mark the center-front line (and button/hole positions) and the first (closest to center-front) fold line. You can mark the second fold line as well, but I did not—it’s recoverable from the first fold line, and I was running low on pins. Make sure you mark the center-front line from top to bottom, not just where the buttonholes are; this will be a fold line on the buttonhole side. If you want to adjust the button/hole positions (I generally make mine closer together to avoid gapping), do it now. Note: I cut my pieces with the straight edge along the selvedge, which helps with construction, but if your fabric has a pucker or anything weird on the selvedge, don’t do this; make sure that the straight edge is as straight and clean as you can, though, as there is effectively less than a quarter-inch seam allowance on it (it’ll work out, I promise).

  3. On the button side (typically left side of the worn garment for women’s shirts, right for men’s), make the placket as normal: fold on both fold lines, creating basically a wide hem, and stitch close to the edge.
  4. On the button-hole side, lay the fabric piece flat with the wrong side facing you. Take your bit of ribbon and lay it right-side-down along the marked center-front line. You want to place just the very edge of the ribbon over the markings, with the rest of the ribbon extending out over the placket allowance (see photo). Pin it down, making sure the ribbon is as straight as possible. Make sure you’ve marked the top and bottom of each buttonhole.
  5. ribbon sewn down

    Ribbon sewn down; if you look closely (click for larger) you can find the tops and bottoms of buttonholes by the knots

    Start sewing the ribbon to the fabric, sewing as straight as you can right over the very edge of the ribbon and through the center-front line of the fabric. Sew from the top of the piece to the top of the first buttonhole, then stop and reinforce the seam. I found this easiest to do by hand, tying knots to reinforce, but it should still be less frustrating than hand-sewing buttonholes for all you machine-sewing folks out there. If you are machine-stitching, use a straight stitch with a fairly short stitch length, and take your time.

  6. Leave a gap for the length of the buttonhole, where the fabric and ribbon run parallel but aren’t connected. If you are hand-sewing, carry the thread across the buttonhole by inserting the needle into the fabric, running the thread loosely along the right side (far side) of the fabric, then coming up at the bottom of the buttonhole, and you’re good to tie a knot and start the next segment. If you’re machine-sewing, finish each segment as you normally finish top-stitching (this seam will be somewhat visible on the outside of the garment); I recommend leaving fairly long tails of thread, then using a hand-needle to hide them inside the finished placket sometime after step 12.
  7. Checking that the buttons go through the gaps I've made

    Checking that the buttons go through the gaps I’ve made

    Sew between the bottom of the first buttonhole and the top of the next, reinforcing at the beginning and end of the seam. Check at this point that your buttons will fit through the hole you just made; if they don’t, rip it out and do-over, and if they slide through too loosely, you can go back and make the gap a little shorter now or do it later.

  8. Work down the rest of the center-front line, leaving gaps for all the marked buttonholes, to the bottom of the piece. Check, as you work or afterwards, that all the holes will accommodate your buttons.
  9. Fold the fabric around the seam line you’ve just made (center front line), right-side to right-side, with the ribbon sticking out away from the folded fabric. Pin and/or press.
  10. Fold the placket allowance wrong-side to wrong-side, matching the cut edge of the fabric with the marked first fold line (if you marked the second fold line as well, just fold along it). Pin and/or press.
  11. Fold along the first fold line, wrong-side to wrong-side, enclosing the raw edge of the fabric. From the front of the piece, it should look like an ordinary hidden placket: an unblemished 1″ strip of right-side fabric at the center-front. From the back, it should look a little weirder; see photos below.
  12. Topstitch all these folds in place, working close to the inside edge of the placket but making sure to securely catch the folded-in raw edge of fabric. If necessary, make two passes. Make sure not to catch the ribbon/buttonholes in this seam; there should be more than half a button width between where the ribbon is attached and this seam.
  13. If you want, for decorative reasons or because you’re worried about the raw edge unfolding, topstitch just the front part of the placket close to the outside edge.
  14. Your placket is done! Still easier than hand-stitching buttonholes, right? Anyway, time to make the rest of the garment!

Note on construction order: I generally make my side seams and bottom-edge hem before making my plackets, but for this construction, the hem really can’t happen before any part of the buttonhole-side placketing. It’s a little weird doing what I consider almost a finishing step, making the plackets, as the very first part of construction, but I think it’s the only way to work it.

Note on working with easily-frayed fabrics (linen blends, satins, silks? I am poor, I don’t know if silk frays): I would recommend trying this technique first on a cotton or cotton-poly blend so you grok the construction before trying it on any fabric that frays. Once you’ve done so, adapting to a fraying fabric is not too bad: the problem is that securely catching the raw edge of the fabric in step 12 is going to be difficult. This is solved by making the placket flap one layer thicker: add an extra placket-width (one inch, for most shirts), or a bit less, to the pattern before/when you cut, adding a fold line at the old edge of the pattern, and transferring all three fold lines. Around steps 10&11 make another fold, making the flap three layers thick instead of two. Then in step 12 you are catching a folded edge instead of a raw edge, which prevents fraying. I don’t recommend this extra thickness if you don’t need it, though, for two reasons: 1) altering patterns scares some people, and 2) the fancy placket is already thicker than most shirts; adding another layer of fabric will make it even stiffer and heavier and risks looking weird.

alt buttonhole

Variant method—the top buttonhole of my green shirt, with the ribbon folded around to hide the end and tacked down. For this one the ribbon was added after constructing the placket; if you follow the instructions above but end the ribbon this way it will be on the other side of the inner part of the placket.

Variant: I prefer the way given above, but if you don’t like having the ribbon run the full length of the placket (because there’s an open collar, for instance), cut the ribbon three-quarters inch above the top of the first buttonhole, before you start sewing; fold the tail of ribbon on a right angle above the buttonhole so it’s pointing towards the middle of the garment, fold the end under and sew it down to the fabric (see photo). In fact, you can construct steps 9-13 first, then mate the edge of the ribbon to the folded edge of the fabric, either with a whipstitch or a slight overlap and running stitch, folding under both ends of the ribbon; this is how I did my first attempt, allowing me to put off placing the buttonholes until the shirt was constructed enough to try on, but I still prefer the method given above overall.

green shirt 2

Green shirt with ribbon ended just above the top buttonhole: note that even with the collar folded down, no ribbon is visible, although the unusually-folded fabric is.

I suppose at some point I should address the question of, well, what happens when you finish the shirt? Is it wearable? Is it going to take hours to get in and out of? To which I answer, I was actually surprised by how well this works. I was expecting it to function, but be annoying to fasten/unfasten, and it is, but much less annoying than I expected; it’s only a tiny bit more annoying than ordinary buttonholes, and I think that even integrated over the lifetime of the shirt, the extra annoyance of using these buttonholes is completely compensated by the reduced annoyance of making them. On the other hand, I would not gift a garment with this kind of placket without checking with the recipient; I have unusually nimble fingers (as do you, if you do much fiber crafting), and I could see the unusual-ness by itself being a problem. As a final note, I used satin ribbon because I have it to hand in lots of colors, but I think the annoyance factor would go down if you use a thicker, less slippery material, like bias tape or piping or non-satin ribbon.

Pattern: Floral edging


Five-petal flowers connected by a ruffled chain

Today’s pattern is one I’ve been trying to get right for a while; I’m still not confident I’m there, but I’m happy enough to share it. It comes with not one but two new techniques, which I may be re-inventing but I’ve not seen on the tatting internet before. If such things scare you, be assured that they are pretty optional; I’ll include instructions to sub in more tried-and-true techniques.

New technique number one I am calling a reversed join, because that’s what it is. It is a picot-less joining technique, meaning you can join the ring (rings only, and only the way I make rings, unless you have spare needles) you’re currently making to any point on the established piece, without needing to plan ahead and put a picot there. I came up with it when doing a lot of design, when I wanted that flexibility, but another advantage is you can make much tighter joins than I know how to make with ordinary picot/joins, which is why I use it in this pattern.

Steps for the reversed join:

  1. Omit the picot that the pattern wants you to join to, but keep track of where it would be. Use safety pins as markers if you like.
  2. Just before starting the ring with the join in it, poke the needle through the knot where the picot would be and pull the thread partway through. This is similar to setting up for beaded picots, but instead of a bead you’re using the tatting you’ve done so far.
  3. Make the first part of the ring, up to where it says to join, in the needle thread between the threaded-on join and the rest of the work.
  4. Slide the join up to the knots on the needle.
  5. Make a picot of whatever size you like with the join on it; for this pattern, just pull the thread tight.
  6. Finish the ring as normal.

New technique number two I am calling a ruffle chain, and it is a successor of the spiral chains I’ve been talking about lately. It’s not essential to this pattern—replace with a spiral chain if the idea frightens you. I think they look neat, though, and will probably be using them more in future. The idea is that, if a normal chain has a fairly severe natural curve to it, and a spiral chain is straight, what if you make a chain that’s somewhere in between ds and spirals? Specifically, what if you spiraled part-way around and then came back? The ruffle chain is just that: make two or three or four single stitches of the same type in a row, then make the same number of single stitches of the other type to come back. Two-stitch ruffle chains (that’s two first-half single stitches, two second-half single stitches, two first-half, etc) and three-stitch ruffle chains have intermediate curvatures, and four-stitch ruffle chains are very nearly straight by nature. And, instead of a straight row of knot tops or a spiral staircase, the knot side of ruffle chains zigzags in what I find a pleasing way. Your mileage, of course, may vary. To put the curvature and knots in the right place, it helps to start and finish with fewer single stitches than your main repeat, so a four-stitch ruffle starts with two single stitches, etc.

flower_edging_2Without further ado, the pattern:

  1. Ring 4ds; if you don’t like the idea of reversed joins, ring 2ds, small picot, 2ds instead
  2. Chain 4ds
  3. Ring 3ds, large picot A (1/2″ or so; large enough to make four joins into), 3ds
  4. Chain 6ds, join B of previous flower, 6ds
  5. Ring 3ds, join A, 3ds
  6. Chain 12ds
  7. Ring 3ds, join A, 3ds
  8. Chain 12ds
  9. Ring 3ds, join A, 3ds
  10. Chain 6ds, picot B, 6ds
  11. Ring 3ds, join A, 3ds
  12. Chain 4ds
  13. Ring with reverse join: insert needle into the ring you made in step 1 between the second and third ds, pull through some thread; 2ds, slide join up to knots, pull working thread fairly tight and make 2ds with no picot. If you don’t like reverse joins, instead just ring 2ds, join to the ring made in step 1, 2ds.
  14. Ruffle chain: 2 first-half single stitches; (4 second-half single stitches, 4 first-half single stitches) three times, 2 second-half single stitches. If you don’t like ruffle chains, feel free to either: spiral chain 32 or so single stitches, or shoelace trick, chain about 30ds, shoelace trick.



Tutorial: Hiding your stitching

Today I want to share some things I’ve learned over the years about making really professional-looking handmade items. In particular, I want to talk about making the stitches themselves less obtrusive, or even completely hidden, on a finished garment or other project. I will mostly be talking about hand sewing, but include a couple tips that are good for machine sewing too.

1. Get creative with construction

These techniques work with machine or hand-sewing, and I’m not going to go into a lot of depth, but just list for completeness’s sake. There are a lot of ways to slightly change the construction of your project to hide stitches:

  • Inside top back of my green tunic, showing facing/lining. The only stitching on the exterior of this garment is the bottom hem.

    Inside top back of my green tunic, showing facing/lining. The only stitching on the exterior of this garment is the bottom hem.

    Replace hems with facings: cut strips of fabric 1″ to 2″ wide that follow the contours of the edge, sew to the edge right side to right side, and turn to inside

  • Line some or all of the garment and work inside out and then turn
  • Sew yokes and straps inside out and then turn, rather than top-stitching, as much as possible

2. Work on making smaller stitches on the front

Seam stitching: same amount of thread on the front as on the back of the seam.

Seam stitching

One of the lovely things about hand-sewing is that you have more control over where the thread is—and isn’t. Sewing tutorials and stitch diagrams generally show all of the stitches the same length, but this ignores a wealth of customizability. For seams, I will generally do fairly even stitches, the same amount of thread in front of the fabric as behind (see photo at right; as always, click for larger photos). Even stitches are better for seams than uneven stitches, because no one can see the thread anyway and it distributes the stress more evenly.

Hem stitching

Hem stitching

For hems, however, I shift as much of the thread as possible to the back/inside of the piece, coming up only for one or two threads every eighth-inch or more (see photo). Still, although I am proud enough of my stitching to brag about it on the internet, it’s a work in progress—there’s no special trick to improving your stitching, just a little bit of paying attention and a lot of practice. Just to drive home the point, here are some photos of the inside and outside of hems I’ve made recently:

Another benefit of making your visible stitches smaller is that they look much neater, even if you can still clearly see the stitches; compare the apparent neatness of the inside and outside of the green tunic above.

3. Don’t sew all the way through

Skirt yoke with no visible stitching on outside

Skirt yoke with no visible stitching on outside

This last tip is going to be useful whenever you have a pattern tell you to “stitch in the ditch” or topstitch a multi-layer area. I use it for cuffs, collars, yokes, and straps. It’s similar to the “invisible stitch”, which is more used for stuffed animals and pillows than apparel sewing; think of it as a one-sided invisible stitch if that will help.

I’ll take the example of putting a waistband/yoke on a skirt, just for clarity: imagine you have the main part of your skirt all done and you have two waistband pieces: the outside/front and inside/lining. You’ve attached the outside piece by sewing a right-side-to-right-side seam, and pressed it flat. You’ve attached the two waistband pieces together by sewing their top edges, right-side-to-right-side, and then flipping the lining to be on the inside. Now you need to attach the bottom edge of the lining to the outside so it doesn’t flip or fold while you’re wearing it. If you’re machine sewing, you have two options: “stitching in the ditch”, which is a decent way of hiding machine stitches, or topstitching through the outer and inner layers of the waistband and a few seam allowances. If you’re hand-sewing, you can do either of the above, or you can sew the waistband lining to the seam allowances of the outer piece and the skirt panels without involving visible parts of the waistband at all.

Inside of same yoke, two rows of stitching visible

Inside of same yoke, two rows of stitching visible

Turn the piece so that the lining is facing you. Insert your needle as if to stitch, but simply don’t go through all of the layers—it helps to insert at a somewhat glancing angle, and use the fingers of your off hand to check that the needle doesn’t go through (no thimbles, sorry). If it does, pull out the needle and try again. While the needle is in the fabric—before pulling the thread through—give it a tug perpendicular to the fabric to make sure that you’re actually attaching what you want to be attaching. It’s a bit tedious, but with practice you get a feel for it, and can get three or four running stitches on the needle at once, so it’s not too much worse than basic seams.

If you are working with particularly loose-spun, loose-woven or thick materials, like a large houndstooth twill or a brocade satin, you may be able to pull off this technique with hems: work from the back/inside of the piece, as above, and catch only the back threads of the front layer of material. Note however that this can lead to puckering, fraying, etc., so make a test hem with a scrap before using it on the real thing.

Tutorial: Adding an in-seam pocket

In-seam pocket

In-seam pocket

Today I want to show you how to modify a sewing pattern by adding the easiest possible pocket, a set-in-seam pocket. This tutorial will work for hand- and machine-sewing alike; I will assume you have a pants or skirt or tunic or coat sewing pattern that you like except for the vexing lack of pockets, and show you how to go on from there. For reference, the pants shown are made from Simplicity 2860, a pattern I can heartily recommend due to multiple fitting options and solid design, despite indeed the vexing lack of pockets.

Well-behaved in-seam pocket: no bulge, even with my wallet and keyring inside

Well-behaved in-seam pocket: no bulge, even with my wallet and keys inside

In addition to being dead easy to make, in-seam pockets are very professional-looking, since they basically disappear into the existing seams of a garment. The downside is that they can gap open, creating an unflattering bulge at your hip or belly, but if you a) choose a seam that is not going to be strained (so, don’t do this in tight clothes) and b) limit how much stuff you put in them, it’s not a big deal—see photo at right for a well-behaved in-seam pocket. It helps, also, to take your time over the construction, and make sure everything is really lined up and pressed flat. Stiffer fabrics will do better, too.

Because my most recent project was a pair of slacks, the photos will be for setting a pocket just below the waistband of pants, but it’s mostly the same procedure for other garments and the instructions are all-inclusive. Regarding interpreting the photos, my main fabric is matte black twill, and the pocket lining is dark gray with a curlicue pattern on the right side and much lighter (kind of a black and white hash where the printing is only sometimes bleeding through) on the wrong side. As always, click for larger photos. If you have questions, please ask in the comments.

Cutting fabric:

  1. sizingChoose what size to make your pocket. You can judge a good size by splaying your hand out over a piece of fabric; make sure to allow for seams all around your hand. I recommend at least 8″ tall and 6″ wide for a pants pocket; shirt pockets can be shorter. Mine is nearly a foot tall and 8″ wide, including seam allowances.
  2. Choose a piece of fabric at least as tall as you want and double the width; fold it in half, and if necessary cut a flat edge perpendicular to the fold for the bottom edge. You can use scraps of the main project fabric, or a complementary fabric; for the most part this fabric won’t be visible but it may peek out, so don’t use anything hideous.lineup
  3. Place the pattern piece that you want the pocket to rest against (usually the front or center-front piece) over your fabric such that the overlap is the size you want. Line the fold up with the vertical line of the pants—parallel to the grain line, unless it’s bias-cut, or perpendicular to the hip line or hem. This is not super important, just a good guideline.
  4. Cut wherever the fabric emerges from under the pattern piece, transferring markings on the side that the pocket opens on.
  5. If you are making a tunic/coat pocket, or anything where the upper edge will not be made by the waistband, cut a straight or downward-sloping line for the top.


  1. pocket_labelStitch the bottom edge of the pocket closed, right-side to right-side, leaving a seam allowance width unstitched at the loose edge. Don’t turn it; right-side will face right-side in the finished piece. Finish the seam however you like.
  2. If you are making a tunic/coat, do the same for the top edge; if you are making pants/a skirt, leave it for now.
  3. Baste the section of seam that you are setting the pocket into, and stitch the rest of the seam, reinforcing the ends of the seam. Make the basted section at least 5″ long, more if you have big hands—measure the circumference of your hand at the widest part and divide by two to get the minimum length. If you are making pants/a skirt, remember that the top half-inch or so of the side seam is seam allowance for attaching the waistband, so add length accordingly. Press the basted section open (for now).
  4. seams_annotatedOn the inside of the basted seam, put the pocket and the seam allowance fabric right-side to right-side, matching edges and lining up markings.
  5. Sew each side of the pocket to the corresponding side of the garment seam, about 1/8″ inside the basted seam; sew the entire height of the pocket (not just the basted section). Finish your seams however you like.
  6. Press each of these seams towards the pocket and press the whole mess flat against the main-garment piece that you want the pocket to lie under. Note that the 1/8″ offset in the previous step means the top line of the pocket and garment won’t quite line up any more, but they should be close enough together that you can proceed.
  7. If you are making pants/a skirt, attach the waistband, holding (or pinning) the pocket together with the garment panel.
  8. Unpick the basted seam, opening the pocket.

Note: the 1/8″ offset means that the lining doesn’t come right up to the pocket opening (photos above). I recommend it because it gives a much more professional look, and it allows contrast linings to be suitably hidden. On the other hand, it makes it more difficult to match weirdly shaped garments or to make kangaroo pockets, and I love me a kangaroo pocket, so feel free to disregard and sew as close to the basted seam as you can without picking up the other fabric. If you are committed to the 1/8″ offset and want to make something complicated or a kangaroo pocket, just cut 1/4″ off the sides of the pocket lining before sewing it on, and measure both the cut and the offset carefully to avoid wrinkles or puckers.

Pattern: Paired hearts choker

Paired hearts choker

Paired hearts choker

Today’s pattern is a tatted choker in the form of a row of tiny hearts, leaning back and forth in pairs. The hearts use a spiral chain (or Chinese staircase, or Josephine chain, or whatever else you want to call it) to achieve the dimple at the top, and are super easy to make. I normally dislike chokers (if you’re wondering why, read the name again), but tatting has enough give to it that it’s actually quite comfortable, without being loose.

For the choker you will need:

  • Fittings, such as a lobster clasp and jump ring
  • Embroidery floss: one full skein and part of another for the hearts, and part of a skein for the chains
  • Tatting needle, size 5, or shuttles (you’re on your own for converting the pattern to shuttles, I’m afraid)

If you want to make a bracelet, you’ll need less floss, and for a loose necklace more; if you want to make an edging or trim this pattern still works, just don’t bother with the fittings and start with the first ring in the pattern. I drafted the pattern on size 20 crochet thread with a size 7 needle, so can verify that it works at that size.

Note: the pattern decidedly has a right and a wrong side, at least in my opinion; the ridge created by the spiral chain wants to face outward. If you follow the directions below, the clasp will be operated by the right hand, closing behind you; if you are left-handed or if you prefer to close necklaces in front of you and then spin them around, you may wish to begin with the jump ring and end with attaching the clasp. If you are left-handed and prefer to close necklaces in front, proceed as written. If the fittings you have are symmetric, ignore this.


  1. hearts_knotclaspThread one end of both the hearts-color thread (variegated pink in my example) and the chains-color thread (white in my example) through your clasp, pulling out a tail of about 3″. Holding all four threads together—both tail ends and both long pieces—tie a single overhand knot and cinch it down snug against the clasp. As always, click for larger photos.
  2. Thread the hearts-color floss onto the needle; the chain-color thread is your ball thread.
  3. hearts_hidethreadUsing a small clip or a bit of tape or a small elastic, hold the ends of the tails of floss against the needle (see photo). Chain 6ds onto the needle, over the tails of floss, close to the knot you made in step 1. Pull off the needle as usual, and pull on the tails as well as the needle thread to make sure they aren’t bunched up in the stitches. See the mini-tutorial below for tips.
  4. hearts_joinclasp2Put your needle through your clasp and draw through most of the floss, leaving a foot or so between the work and the clasp (see photo). This will let you slide the clasp onto a picot in the ring you are about to make.
  5. Start a ring: make 4ds on the needle with the needle thread that’s between the work and the clasp. If you are confused about using the needle thread to make knots, peruse my tutorial here. Some needle tatters use the ball thread for all knots, making an overhand knot to switch threads every time they turn the work; that is not how I tat and you should not be making any overhand knots in this pattern except to attach fittings.
  6. hearts_joinclaspContinue the ring: slide the clasp down against the stitches you just made, make a tiny picot with the clasp on it, and make 6ds. See photo at right.
  7. Continue the ring: make 4 single stitches that are “first-half” stitches, that is, as if you were starting a double stitch. As you do, let the thread come forward around your needle until you are working on the opposite side of the needle. hearts_picotOn that side of the needle, make 2ds. Make 4 single stitches in the opposite direction—“second-half” stitches—to come back around the needle. Finish the ring with 2ds, picot, 8ds.
  8. Slide the knots off the needle as usual and pull the needle thread through to form up the ring (again, I invite anyone who doesn’t usually make rings this way to peruse my tutorial). hearts_firstPull the ring good and tight; I am one of those tatters who pulls everything neurotically tight, and I’m not sure this pattern will work if you don’t. You may need to manipulate the ring a bit with your fingertips to make it nice and heart-shaped, and use your needle or fingertips to position the 2ds at the top of the heart in the inside of the ring. It won’t be terribly sharp, but it should be recognizably heart-like at least.
  9. Chain 20ds.
  10. Ring 8ds, join to previous heart, 2ds, 4 first-half single stitches, 2ds, 4 second-half single stitches, 6ds, picot, 4ds.
  11. Chain 4ds.
  12. Ring 4ds, join to previous heart, 6ds, 4 first-half single stitches, 2ds, 4 second-half single stitches, 2ds, picot, 8ds.
  13. hearts_fullRepeat steps 9-12 until you have a length you are happy with (see mini-tutorial below if you run out of thread before you are happy with the length). That is, hold it up against your neck; make sure to account for the jump ring/other half of your fittings that must still be attached. Finishing will add the length of the fitting plus about a quarter inch from the edge of the last ring. My choker is 24 rings long and about 13″, for reference. End on a ring, but it doesn’t matter which one.
  14. If you ended on a step 10 ring, chain 6ds. If you ended on a step 12 ring, chain 15 ds. Slide the chain off the needle and pull snug.
  15. Put the needle through the last dangling picot and pull the needle thread through. Make a square knot between the needle and ball threads (or whatever kind of non-slip knot pleases you).
  16. hearts_jumpringAttach the fitting: if you are attaching a jump ring at this point, I recommend using the needle (or a tapestry needle if you have one handy, as it’s shorter) to tie two or three double stitches around the jump ring with the needle thread, then switch the needle to the ball thread (cutting to about 6″ length if necessary) and tie two or three double stitches in the opposite direction with it. Pass both threads through the space between the square knot and the jump ring (or any other convenient space, just to get them back away from the business end of the jump ring) and, holding them together, tie a single overhand knot in both. Trim 1/8″ from the knot. You are finished! Go try it on.

Me trying on my pretty new choker

hearts_draftingIf you are curious, the photo at right shows my drafting process for this piece. First, there’s the mangledy thing in the bottom of the picture, a row of unconnected rings joined only by short chains, while I worked out how to make the least ugly heart ring I could. I actually quite like the tiny ones, too—they are 4ds, 4 first-half single stitches, 4 second-half single stitches, and 4ds in a ring—but they didn’t fit what I needed for the choker, so maybe I will use them in something in the future. Once I had settled on a heart ring I liked, I needed to work out the chains and joins, and that’s what the top piece is. I already had a pretty good idea of how I wanted them to join, rocking back and forth with a low join and then a high join, and just needed to find the chain lengths that would make the piece straight and flat.

Mini-tutorial: adding new thread in the middle of a piece:

I don’t know if there’s a better way to do this out there, but I am pretty happy with the method that I came up with while stranded on an internet-less family vacation. It involves no knots (other than the tatting stitches themselves) and tucks the ends of the thread away securely. You will need a small clip that grips the ends of the threads, or a small elastic, or a bit of scotch tape, or really anything that a) you can use to secure two thread ends to the tip of your needle and b) you can easily pass knots over (so your fingers won’t do as well). I use small hairclips—the same ones I’ve mentioned using to regulate my picot size—which have a nub of plastic close to the hinge that is pretty grippy. Alligator clips, bobby pins or little tiny binder clips should also work.

100_1372 (1024x768)First, as you are working along in your pattern, stop when you a) have made at least one ds since the last picot/join/other funny business, b) have at least one ds to go before the next picot/join/other funny business, preferably at least two or three, and c) have about 3″ of working thread left. Drop this tail end for now, and call it the dead thread. In the photo at right, I have done a 6ds chain and 4ds, picot, 4ds, picot, 1ds of a ring on my pink thread.

100_1383 (1024x768)Cut your new length of thread and pick up one end. Hold this end together with your dead thread end and run the thread up in front of the needle, over it, down, and around to the right of and then in front of the two ends that you are holding together, making the first half of a double stitch. With the new thread, finish the double stitch as normal, ignoring the two ends. In the photos at right and below, I am splicing in a blue thread so you can see the splice clearly; in reality you would use a thread of the same color.

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100_1396 (1024x768)Clip (or tie, or tape, or whatever) the two thread ends to the tip of your needle, moving the stitches you’ve made forward or back along the needle until the ends lie flat against it. For the rest of your ring or chain, treat these thread ends as if they were part of the needle. Finish your ring or chain, wrapping the thread ends in the new knots you’re making. In the photos, you may be able to tell that the blue (post-splice) stitches are a little bit bigger than the pre-splice (pink) stitches; this is visible in the finished work but is less glaring than a big ol’ knot and less likely to come untied and unravel your whole project.

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100_1403 (1024x768)If you are replacing the needle thread, thread the needle with the other end now. Slide the ring or chain off the needle and finish it as normal, tugging gently on the protruding thread ends to make sure they haven’t gotten bunched up inside the knots. Make your next few rings/chains, and either now or when you are finishing up the piece, cut the thread ends off close to where they emerge. I recommend waiting until you have done at least one chain (or progressive/split ring, or anything that gets you away from that point) after the splice before cutting the loose ends; you can weave them back through the work to keep them out of the way in the meantime.

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Now I am contemplating ways to use dramatic mid-ring color changes as a design element in a pattern…


Tutorial: Clothing design paper dolls

nausicaa dress

Sketches for a tunic/dress-to-wear-over-trousers that has been bouncing around in my head for a while, made on the paper dolls I will show you how to make.

So, I have this issue with the way my main hobby, sewing, interacts with what I will jokingly call the fashion-industrial complex. On a pragmatic level, that issue is I am not a size-zero lady, and clothing that fits/flatters size-zero ladies does not always look good on me. On a philosophical and political level, well, I’d like to keep this blog about crafting so I won’t get into all of my issues with fashion in modern society.

One thing I have been thinking about lately is being really honest with myself about the shape of my own body, without turning that honesty into guilt and shame and unhealthy behavior. That means no more “wishful thinking” sizing of sewing patterns, even by one size, even just in the hips, and then being sad when the garment is uncomfortably tight. That means no more buying patterns that look fantastic on the waifish model (or the even thinner fashion drawings; actually I stopped buying patterns without photos some time ago) assuming that that means they will look fantastic on me—and then being sad when they make me look dumpy, or in denial, or pear-shaped, or just plain fat.

A while ago, I read somewhere that fashion is a unique art form in that it has two sometimes-conflicting goals: the item itself should look beautiful, but it also should make the wearer look beautiful (or, sub in whatever art concept you want instead of “look beautiful”). This provides an interesting lens for choosing patterns—it is easy to choose beautiful items but harder to fulfill the second part, when you can’t try things on like you can with ready-to-wear clothes. Add in a third axis that high-fashion designers don’t really worry about, comfort, and this becomes an interesting challenge.

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Actually a pretty tame fashion sketch

I have also been thinking about doing more of my own designing—starting from a sketch, drafting or modifying existing patterns, and bringing a creation purely of my own mind into the real world. The traditional way of doing this, the iconic “fashion sketch” that we’ve all seen, is even thinner, taller, and more elegant than the thinnest, tallest, and most elegant model. Needless to say, this conflicts with the honesty I talked about above—and because this fashion sketch is so pervasive in our culture, or at least in the garment sewing subculture, drawing anything freehand runs the risk of being taller and thinner than reality. Besides which, my sketching skills are not impressive, to say the least. So I want some sort of guideline, a template for design sketches that will both aid my sketching and prevent me engaging in body-shape wishful thinking.

I could, I suppose, take a set of good measurements and use them to alter the standard fashion sketch, by some arcane rules of figure-drawing that I’m sure exist. Two problems, though: I am actually really bad at measuring myself, and I know basically nothing about figure-drawing. Three problems, actually: I am also super lazy.

However, I do have a couple of decent cameras, a steady mouse-hand, and some drawing software. Howsabout I take some photos and convert them into sketch bases? I discovered a while ago that I can make quite striking line art just by judiciously tracing lines from a photo, then deleting the photo out from underneath. Turns out, it works pretty well for making fashion design paper dolls too.

You will need:

  • Close-fitting foundation garments, such as a camisole or tank and yoga pants; if you are just designing tops, you can wear normal pants instead. Do wear whatever bra you want to wear with the shirt.
  • A camera with a timer, remote trigger, or obliging friend; I used the built-in camera in my laptop with a wireless mouse as a remote trigger. This actually worked really well; you don’t need great color or a huge number of pixels, and the laptop on a table and stack of boxes was really steady.
  • Drawing software that is better than microsoft paint—I used Inkscape, a freeware mimic of Adobe Illustrator; anything that will let you a) draw straight lines and b) remove the photo afterwards will do. In a pinch you could probably manage this in powerpoint. If you use Inkscape, I suggest using the pencil tool, and click once to start the line and once to stop it rather than click-and-drag.


  1. Set your camera up so it sees from about clavicle or eye level—if you set it up at belly level you will be disappointed. An obliging friend, tripod, or large stack of board games/books/furniture helps here.
  2. WIN_20140401_145547

    See? Not size zero at all.

    Take a bunch of photos in different poses: front, profile, and back; sitting, standing, leaning, and dancing; full-body and detail; whatever will let you get a complete drawing of the garment and even inspire you. Take some care over your posture; you don’t want to have slouchy pictures that you hate to look at when you’re just starting out. The goal is to be honest, but to present the best reasonable version of yourself.

  3. Crop those photos to be just you and import them into your drawing program.
  4. Zoom in a bunch—you want to be looking at maybe six inches square of yourself at once. The closer you are, the more accurate your lines can be, but if you are too close you may lose the forest for the trees, capturing every wrinkle of the cami or getting lost in shadows.
  5. Use a line-drawing tool to start tracing all the edges in the photo. You can be pretty vague about the face—I did outline, hairline, and eyebrows. Trace around your body, being as honest as you can (being zoomed in helps with this), but feeling free to smooth over wrinkles and such that come from the foundation garments. If you have a lumpy tummy like me, feel free to smooth over it a bit—as long as you do so on the outside rather than making yourself look thinner. Make sure that at least some of the photos give a good sense of where your armpit is, where your bra straps lie (if you are not a bra-wearing person please ignore this and other mentions of bras), where your waist and hips are, and so on.
  6. Bodies are made mostly out of curves, but straight-line tools make, well, straight lines; if your hand is good enough, feel free to use a pencil/curve tool, but I like straight lines. Make lots and lots of short lines that connect end-to-end, and if you screw up, you can always delete a couple lines and try again, or adjust the endpoints. There will be a temptation to make as long a line as you can, just to get around this outline as fast as possible, but if you take your time the result will look a lot better. Remember to be honest—no wishful thinking that your arm was less rounded or whatever; half the time making “corrections” to your figure at this stage will make you look like an alien instead of a model anyway.
  7. Repeat for the rest of your poses; I used 8 poses total (and have more photos to make more if I want). Copy them all into the same sketch document if you can and scale them all to be the same (ish) height and on the same level.


    Sketchified versions of 5 poses in cami and trousers. Compare the one on the right to the photo above.

  8. If you are really comfortable drawing freehand on the computer, you are done: make a copy of the document for each garment and start drawing, deleting whatever interior lines (like bra straps) that will be covered by the garment.
  9. If you would rather print and draw with pencils, I recommend arranging all your sketches in some coherent fashion on a page, and making all of the lines a really light gray before you print. The goal is that you, looking at the page up close, can see the lines and use them, but once you have shaded in a sketched garment, the interior lines of the model won’t be distracting. When you are sketching the garment you can also trace over any lines you do want to be seen, like the face and the pants.

I am actually really pleased with how these came out. I had this idea a while ago, and tried it before, but a combination of bad camera work and body-shame made me scrap it at the time. Immediately on finishing I printed out a set and started sketching a couple of ideas that have been bouncing around in my head; see the post-topping photo for one of the sketches. I think the sketches that look kinda fugly are actually more instructive, though:

bicolorThis is an idea for a two-tone, knee-length, pencil-skirt professional dress that I have been thinking about since making the patchwork shirt, and I think it would look terrible. I don’t like pencil skirts or knee-length skirts much to begin with, so it would have to look really fantastic for me to try it, and I just do not have the waist for it. So, maybe I will make it in shirt form instead, or do something else entirely. Maybe it would look better in reality—I haven’t had the chance to calibrate the sketches to reality yet—but it helps me prioritize at least. In this image you can also see a couple of light-gray paper dolls that I haven’t sketched over yet—if you have good eyes and a good monitor.

tennisI am kinda on the fence about this one. It’s a tank with attached skirt-thing, like a tennis skirt, idea lifted from here. Again, I feel like I just don’t have the figure for it. Maybe making both the bodice and the skirt longer would help, I’m not sure. More sketching to ensue. Also that is a totally unrealistic number of buttons.

Watch this space for progress on the sketch at the top of the page. I have a pretty good idea how to do it, and I think I have enough left-over fabric (lighweight woven cotton in a light sage green) that I can pull it off without a store trip.

Quick Tutorial: Hand-sewing 101

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Sometimes I run into craftsy people who do some machine sewing, but express amazement that I can stand to do much by hand. They’re right that it takes more time, but there are plenty of advantages to hand-sewing—primarily that it is silent (so you can watch TV or hang out with people at the same time) and portable (so you can take it on your public-transit commute or to crafting bees). To me, an hour of machine-sewing by itself is a lot more boring than several hours of hand sewing whilst doing other things. Hand-sewing has other advantages too: less start-up cost, less visible stitch lines, more flexibility in tight spaces, less thread use, and so on. So I thought I would put up a few notes on how to hand-sew and how to make it maximally easy on yourself.


First off, you will need a needle, some thread, and two pieces of fabric you want to sew together; pins are also useful. Anything marked as a hand needle or quilting needle will do, so long as it’s straight, thin, and about 1″-2″ long. All-purpose threads are fine. Good starting fabrics are quilting cotton, broadcloth—anything without noticeable stretch and not too slippery. Pins are used for holding the two pieces of fabric in place relative to each other as you sew.

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100_0790 (1024x768) Two examples of starting knots

To start off, cut a length of thread about a yard long—the longer it is, the less often you have to tie off and cut more, but the more likely you are to have tangles in your thread; I usually cut about 4 yards these days, but pay for it in tangles. Tie a starting knot in one end: basically the starting knot is an intentionally-made tangle, not a formal knot. Pinch the very end of the thread in your finger and thumb and wrap the thread twice around your fingertip. Slide/roll the loops off your finger, allowing them to twist and tangle; pinch the loops and roll them around between your fingertips until they are good and tangled. Still pinching, pull the long end of the thread until the tangle tightens up into a small, hard ball. If it pulls out, try again; if it continues to not work try wrapping the thread three or four times instead of two. This takes some practice. Once you have a good strong knot, it’s time to thread the needle. This just takes patience, steady hands and a good eye; hold the needle in one hand, the thread about a half-inch from the end in the other, and poke the thread through the eye. It helps to dampen the end of the thread so it won’t separate—lick your fingertips and pinch the end of the thread, smoothing any frayed fibers towards the end of the thread; if it’s too frayed, cut a clean end with sharp scissors and try again. If you prefer, you can also buy a needle-threading tool, which makes the process much easier, but I find that these tools are very fragile and, to me, not worth the hassle.

You have a number of options for stitching, the easiest being running stitch and backstitch. In the running stitch, you can make multiple stitches at once, covering ground very quickly, but it is easy to pull the thread out or create puckers in the fabric. With the backstitch, the seam locks itself in place and avoids puckers, but each stitch must be made individually. My workhorse stitch, therefore, is a hybrid of the two—a number of running stitches made at once, with a backstitch every time I pull the needle up. Thus:

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Several running stitches are accumulated on the needle at a time, then the needle is pulled through. The next set of running stitches starts behind where the thread emerges from the fabric, whereas for a pure running stitch the next set would start in front. The final picture shows the back of the seam; the arrows point to where two stitches overlap due to the backstitch. You can make this seam less noticeable (for top-stitching, for instance) by a) choosing a thread that matches the color of the fabric, b) making the stitches in front as short as possible, catching as few as one or two threads in the weave, and c) making the stitches in back longer.

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100_0809 (1024x768)100_0810 (1024x768) Making the finishing knot

When you have finished your seam or run out of thread, you will need to tie a finishing knot. My preferred knot works thus: as close as possible to where the thread exits the fabric, insert the needle and make a tiny stitch, and pull the thread through until you have a 1″ or so loop coming out of the fabric. Put the needle through this loop, come around, and put it through again, then gently pull the thread to close the loop. Don’t ever cut the thread closer than about 1/2″ from this knot, as it will unravel with a short enough tail; I usually hide/secure the loose thread end by making an inch or so of running stitch in the seam allowance before cutting.

Et voila! The rest is details.

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Detail 1: Seam Allowances and Sewing Straight

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Seam made with a measuring tool (top) vs. without (bottom). Note that the upper seam is considerably straighter than the lower; it is also a known, consistent distance from the fabric edge.

Whenever you sew, it is a good idea to leave some space between the line of stitches and the edge of the fabric. This space is called the seam allowance. Most commercial patterns allow either 3/8″ or 5/8″ for the seam; in my experience 1/4″ is a bare minimum, and that only for straight seams in a fabric that doesn’t fray. Any less and you are asking for the seam to come apart, or at least for frayed ends to show through your seam.

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Sewing a 3/8″ seam with a cardboard measuring tool

Sewing machines often have small rulers on the foot or the arm so you can keep a consistent seam allowance, but in hand-sewing you have no such amenities unless you make your own. One option is to check your seam every few inches with an ordinary ruler or measuring tape, but this is really tedious. My solution is to make a little cardboard tab with 5/8″ and 3/8″ markings on it, and to hold this against the seam allowance with my off-hand thumb while stitching.

To make: get a notecard or other piece of thin, stiff cardstock, a good ruler, a fine-line pen or pencil, and some clear tape. The precision with which you make your guide limits the precision of all your seams, so it is worth using your best tools and taking some time to get it right. Mark two parallel lines, 3/8″ and 5/8″ from one edge of the card. If you expect to use other seam allowances than the standard 3/8″ and 5/8″, mark those as well. Mark another line perpendicular to the first two, 5/8″ (or your most-used allowance) from another edge. Carefully cut out the marked 5/8″ square. Laminate it with clear tape and cut off the excess tape. These little guys are pretty easy to lose and aren’t super durable anyway, so you may as well make several at a time out of the same card.

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Detail 2: Saving Your Fingers

One drawback of hand-sewing is it can be pretty rough on your fingertips—I have a pretty permanent callus on my first finger from damaging it with the butt of the needle. However, this is partly because I can’t always be bothered to get my thimble out—you can protect yourself almost entirely with thimbles. I recommend the soft thimble kind, like this one, because it fits my finger better than the traditional metal cylinder ones and accommodates long fingernails. The thimble is used both to push the butt of the needle through the stitches—so you will want one with a hard plate in the tip at least—and to grip the sides of the needle when pulling it through.

Detail 3: Stitch Choice

One thing to note about the running stitch is that its drawbacks for normal seams make it ideal for basting, gathering, and the first step of setting zippers. For gathering fabric, I usually make a row of running stitches just inside the seam line and then a second, parallel row just outside; instead of the usual finishing knot I cut the thread about 3″ from the fabric and make another starting knot. The fabric is gathered by pulling both knots together, and the stitches are removed later by cutting one knot off and pulling on the other.

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Making the blanket stitch

Another stitch I use regularly, especially for buttonholes, is the blanket stitch. It’s usually done on a loose edge; the needle is passed through the fabric about 1/8″-1/4″ (wider on thicker fabrics) from the edge, from back to front (or front to back), passed through the loop of thread thus made from front to back (or vice versa), and pulled snug-but-not-tight. The result is a decorative square stitch that prevents fraying or stretching of the edge.

If for some reason you want to counterfeit a machine stitch—for repairing a really nice machine-made garment, moving a hem, or similar—you can do so with pure backstitch, inserting the needle for each stitch where the previous stitch ends, or with another hybrid. This hybrid stitch starts with a backstitch that enters at the end of the previous (running) stitch, coming up exactly where the loose end of the thread currently emerges, then making one running stitch before pulling up the needle. Final picture is of the back side of the fabric.

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Detail 4: Ultra Portable Sewing Kit

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Since I talked about portability in the rationale for this post, I thought I’d share my on-the-go sewing kit. You really can’t get around needing lots of space for cutting fabric, but once you have the pieces cut, the rest is easy to take with you.

You will need:

  • Mint tin or other small container that closes firmly
  • Scrap of felt or other fabric that fits flat inside the tin
  • Needle and pins
  • Short seam-ripper that fits inside your tin (you may need to ditch the sheath)
  • Soft thimble, if you use a thimble
  • Seam allowance measuring tool (see above)
  • Bobbin of thread
  • A needle-threading tool, if you need one, will also fit

The seam-ripper lets you cut thread on-the-go, and is so small and safe that it has never even been banned from airplanes; if you like, use a thread-cutting ring or a pair of tiny scissors (e.g. nail scissors) instead. The scrap of felt or other fabric is your pincushion; it takes a little more time to use than a standard pincushion, but my tin isn’t large enough for anything bigger. The bobbin lets you not carry a full spool of thread, if you want to be super self-contained; I mostly just use it for emergency thread though and carry the spool separately these days, since I use so many different colors of thread. The tin contains the rest of the stuff and is also your portable thread-ends-and-fuzzies trash receptacle so you aren’t leaving detritus everywhere you work. You can also keep safety pins, buttons, hooks and eyes, or whatever other small notions you need in here.

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In the photos, the black shiny thing is my leather thimble, and the pincushion is a scrap of cotton that’s been folded into four layers and stitched around the edges; the line of colored dots are pin heads and the needle is perpendicular to the pins. The blue-handled thing is my stitch ripper; it came with a sheath that made it about twice as long, but without the sheath just barely fits on the body diagonal of my itsy-bitsy mint tin.

One drawback is you don’t have a pair of scissors, so you can’t trim seams properly, however, I’ve had reasonable success with trimming corners and clipping seams with the ripper. For clipping seams, insert the point of the seam ripper 1/8″ from the seam in the allowance side, and rip outwards. For trimming corners, insert the ripper 1/8″ from the seam corner, grip the fabric firmly and rip at 45 degrees from one seam line, then put the ripper in the tear you’ve made, facing the other way, grip both sides of the tear, and rip at 45 degrees from the other seam. If you really need to trim seams, for instance on a long convex seam that you want to look really professional, just bring a pair of scissors separate from the main kit.

Another drawback you may have noticed is that the kit does not admit an iron. If you are doing really professional sewing and need to press large areas flat or press creases, you may need to do it at home, but I have found that I can press seams open—the main use of the iron in hobbyist sewing—by scraping along the seam with my thumbnail or simply pinching it between finger and thumb. This method can stretch out some fabrics; I had particular trouble with a fairly heavy, loose-woven linen blend recently, so test this method on scraps of your fabric before relying on it, but I’ve had good success with quilting cottons, suitings, and jersey knits among others.

Tutorial and pattern: Needle tatting 101


Easy tatted headband

This post will be a hybrid pattern and tutorial designed to teach the basics of needle tatting. The pattern is for a decorative headband made of embroidery floss. If you are not a headbands kind of person, you can make a bookmark or similar instead. If you are a shuttle tatter not interested in needle tatting, the pattern should still work for you.

Difficulty: this post is designed to be the very basic level of tatting, but tatting is in my opinion somewhat inherently difficult to get the hang of (although very easy once you have). If you are a fiber crafter already who knows crochet or knitting or sewing or something similar, you should be fine; if you were ever any good at making those friendship bracelets that many camps teach, you will be fine; if you are just starting to dabble in fiber arts, you may want to start with something easier–crochet is, in my opinion, a great place to start.

You will need:

  • 4 skeins of embroidery floss (2 would be plenty for a bookmark). Embroidery floss is very low-investment and comes in a huge range of colors; as you embark on larger projects you may prefer to use crochet threads, which come in a range of sizes, colors, and fiber contents. All four skeins of floss will show in your headband (see the four shades of blue above), so pick colors that go well together.
  • 4 embroidery floss cards/spools/bobbins. These often come with variety packs of floss; if you don’t have any, you can use empty thread spools or bobbins, or make your own out of cardstock–cut out a 1″x2″ or so square, and cut slits in one end that will grip the floss. The goal is just to have the unused floss neatly wound out of the way.
  • Tatting needles, sizes #5 and #3 (the #3 is not needed for a bookmark). I recommend getting a variety pack from your favorite craft store, or look for a pack like this online.
  • If you have a small (size E or smaller) crochet hook, you may want to have it handy, but it is not required.
  • If you have tiny hair clips, alligator clips, or something similar that is 3/8″ to 1/2″ wide, this may help, but you don’t need it.


  1. 100_0690 (2) (896x1024)Decide what order you want your skeins of floss in; number them from 1 towards the front of your head to 4 towards the back.
  2. Take skeins 1 and 2 and unravel them–do this on a large flat surface so you don’t end up hopelessly tangled. Find the midpoints of both skeins and tie them together, doing your best to place the knot at the midpoint. I use a single overhand knot, holding both threads together.
  3. Wind both threads on one side of the knot onto a spool. On the other side of the knot, wind floss 1 onto another spool, starting from the end and winding towards the knot. Thread floss 2 onto your #5 needle and pull through a long tail–it’s easiest to manage the thread if the tail is almost half of the thread. In common tatting parlance, floss 1 is now your “ball thread” or “spool thread” and floss 2 is your “needle thread” or “working thread”.

100_0693 (1024x806)Some basic theory/overview on tatting: At the large scale, almost all tatting patterns are composed of “rings” and “chains”, with some additional design elements like cluny leaves, Josephine knots, etc. at higher levels. Rings and chains are exactly what it says on the tin: rings are circle-ish shapes, where the thread enters and exits at the same point on the ring, and chains are lines/arcs that move the thread from point to point. So, virtually any design that you can draw on a piece of paper, without picking up your pen, and without crossing too many times (okay to make loops, not okay to make nested loops), you can make in tatting.

Tatted rings and chains are composed of repetitions of just one simple stitch, the double stitch or “ds”, which wraps one thread around another core thread. Some decoration and structure can be added using picots and joins; picots are simply loops of thread that poke out from the row of stitches, and joins let you attach a ring or chain to a picot that you made earlier. I use picots almost exclusively for joining, but there are lots of beautiful patterns available using picots of difference lengths or with beads attached for decoration. One goal to strive for when learning tatting is to make all your picots the same size; this takes a lot of practice (or using gauge tools).

Steps: First ring

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100_0697 (1024x928) 100_0698 (1024x769)100_0700 (1024x819) Step 2: making the first half-hitch

  1. Hold your needle in your right hand. Hold the knot against the side of the needle with one finger, just to keep track of it. Hold your working thread in your left hand, about 6″ from the knot, with the knot end held between your thumb and middle finger and the trailing end (towards the needle) running through your pinky finger; keep your first finger free.
  2. Bring your first finger behind the working thread between your hand and the knot and up, bending the working thread(see photos). Bring the needle in front of the front strand of the thread, under it, and up between the two halves of the working thread. Slide your finger out of the working thread and pull with your left hand to slide the stitch just formed down the needle until it reaches the knot; pull snug. This should form a half-hitch, with the working thread caught behind a loop of thread that goes over the needle. This is your first single stitch. Hold it in place with the first finger of your right hand against the needle.
  3. Reverse the process: bring your first finger from in front of the working thread and bend it backwards. Bring the needle behind the back strand of the working thread, under, and up between the two halves of the thread. Remove your finger and pull the second stitch down snug against the first one. In knot terminology, this is a second half-hitch with the opposite handedness of the first one, making what you’ve made so far a cow hitch around the needle. In tatting terms, this is a double stitch, or “ds” in pattern shorthand.
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  4. 100_0715 (1024x768)

    100_0716 (1024x768) Making the picot with or without aid

    Repeat steps 2 and 3 seven more times each, for a total of 8 ds on the needle (total of 16 single stitches).

  5. Time for your first picot–a picot, on the needle, is just a gap between stitches. Make your first single stitch, as in step 2, but don’t pull it snug against the previous stitch; use the first finger of your right hand to enforce a space of 3/8″ to 1/2″ between the two stitches. If you have a 3/8″ hair clip or similar, you can use it to enforce the gap, sliding it onto the needle before making the stitch and holding it teeth-side down (see photo) and then pulling the stitch snug against it. Leave it in place until you’ve made a couple more stitches to lock the picot in place, but make sure you can remove it by unclipping, i.e. without sliding any stitches off the needle.
  6. Finish the ds by making a single stitch as in step 3, then make 7 more ds.
  7. 100_0724 (1024x768)

    100_0726 (1024x768)100_0727 (1024x834) Closing the picot and finishing the ring

    Gripping the last few stitches you made in your left hand, slide the new 8ds along the needle until they are next tothe first 8ds; the thread making the picot should fold up into a loop that sticks out from the stitches.

  8. Continue to slide all the stitches along the needle towards the eye, being careful to keep all the stitches together. Gently slide the stitches off the needle onto the needle thread and pull the needle thread through until it naturally pulls the stitches into a loop with the picot and the bumpy parts of the stitches on the outside. Keep other threads, such asthe ball thread and the needle thread that you’ve already pulled through, out of the way in front of the closing loop.
  9. You have now made your first tatted ring. Because there are 8 double stitches on each side of a picot, this would be noted in a pattern as: “Ring: 8ds, picot, 8ds”, or “Ring 8-8” or “R8p8” depending on how terse the notation is.

Steps: Finish the motif

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    100_0731 (1024x768) Making the chain

    Turn the work so that the ring you just made is pointing up and the ball thread is pointing down, and again hold the starting knot against the needle with your right hand. Hold the ball thread in your left hand like you held the working thread before.

  2. With the ball thread, make 16 double stitches all in a row.
  3. Slide these stitches onto the needle thread and pull it through; this time it won’t close into a ring, but it will form a natural curve with the bumpy side of the stitches on the outside. This is your first chain, and would be noted in a pattern as “Chain: 16ds” or “Chain 16” or “C16”.
  4. Turn the work again so the ring is pointing down; hold the end of the chain you just made against the needle such that the ball thread is above the working thread, and hold the working thread in your left hand as for the previous ring.
  5. Make 8 double stitches.
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    100_0749 (1024x744)100_0752 (1024x768) Making the join

    Time to join the rings together: pull the first ring down and around so that the picot is just at the tip of the needle, and slide the stitches you’ve made forward on the needle so there’s only about 1/4″ of the tip of the needle before the stitches.

  7. Hold the working thread in front of the first ring. Pass the tip of the needle through the picot from back to front, right to left. Make a first single stitch and pull it snug against the previous stitches, with the picot still on the needle. With your fingernails or a small crochet hook, pull the picot up and over the stitch you just made and off the needle, without removing the stitch. This is way tricky to get the hang of; slide the stitches closer or farther from the needle tip as needed to make it easier. If you are having too much difficulty making joins, use a small crochet hook to pull a loop of thread through the picot, from front to back, and form this loop onto a stitch on the needle, instead of the whole inserting the needle through the picot procedure.
  8. Make the second single stitch and then another 7 double stitches, for a total of 16 ds on the needle, half of one of which is involved in the join.
  9. Slide the stitches onto the needle thread as before and pull into a ring. This is a “Ring: 8ds, join (to picot of previous ring), 8ds” or “R8j8”. The two rings should be the same size, and firmly connected at their centers via the picot/join.

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Steps: Shrinking motifs

  1. Repeat all the steps above, but removing one ds from each group of 8. In other words, Ring: 7ds, picot, 7ds. Chain 14ds. Ring 7ds, join, 7ds. Call this a “7-motif”, where the first ring-chain-ring motif you did was an “8-motif”.
  2. Make another 7-motif: Ring 7ds, picot, 7ds; chain 14ds; ring 7ds, join, 7ds.
  3. Make two 6-motifs: (Ring 6ds, picot, 6ds; chain 12ds; ring 6ds, join, 6ds)*2.
  4. Make two 5-motifs: (Ring 5ds, picot, 5ds; chain 10ds; ring 5ds, join, 5ds)*2.
  5. Make two 4-motifs, or as many as you have thread for, leaving at least 8″ of floss 2 for the tie.
  6. Chain 6ds, and leave the loose ends hanging for now.

If you want to make a bookmark, go back to the starting knot and thread floss 2 on your needle. Chain 16ds with floss 1, pull tight, and make another knot if you like for symmetry. Skip to step 3 below, using floss 1 for floss 4 and floss 2 for floss 3, and after step 6 below tie all four thread ends together, trim the loose threads and you are done!

Steps: The rest of the lace

  1. Repeat all above steps on the other side of the starting knot: with floss 2 threaded on the needle and floss 1 on the spool, make one 8-motif, two 7-motifs, two 6-motifs, two 5-motifs, and two 4-motifs (or as many as you made on the other side), and finishing with a chain of 6ds.
  2. Unwind floss 3 and 4 and set up as you did to start; floss 4 will be your ball thread and floss 3 will be your working thread.
  3. 100_0764 (1024x768)With your working thread, start a ring with 8ds. Lining up the finished (floss 1&2) piece and the new work such that the knots are parallel, join this ring into the picot of an 8-motif (one that you have already used to join). You may wish to use your needle or crochet hook to make the picot more accessible–simply insert the needle into the picot, and pull the outer side of the picot out away from the motif, sliding the ring that’s already joined there up against the other one. Be careful not to twist things–when you have made the join it should lie flat. Finish the ring with 8ds, pull off the needle and tighten.
  4. Chain 15ds and ring 8ds, join into the same picot you just joined into, 8ds to finish a modified 8-motif joined to the other piece. Note that the chain is one ds shorter than it was on the other side; this is on purpose to accommodate the shape of the head. If you are making a bookmark, chain 16ds instead, and make all your motifs with the same number of stitches as before.
  5. Continue with two modified 7-motifs, joined to the 7-motifs in the first piece: (ring 7ds, join, 7ds; chain 13ds; ring 7ds, join, 7ds) twice.
  6. Continue with two modified 6-motifs, two modified 5-motifs, and two modified 4-motifs (or as many as you made before). The chains should be 11ds, 9ds, and 7ds respectively. Finish with a chain of 6ds.
  7. Repeat with floss 3&4 on the other side of the knot.
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One end of a headband showing tapering size, groups of four rings joined on the same picot

Steps: Finishing the headband with a tie end

  1. On one end of the headband, tie the ends of floss 2 and 3 together–a square knot is good. Get out your #3 needle and thread both ends together onto the needle.
  2. Working with both floss 1 and floss 4 as ball thread, alternate 1ds of floss 1 with 1ds of floss 4, rolling the needle 180 degrees between colors. You want the floss 1 bumpy part of the stitch to be across the needle from the floss 4 bumpy part, but be careful not to wrap the floss around the needle between stitches–roll the needle back and forth, not around and around and around. This is a little tricky to get the hang of; the goal is a flat band that doesn’t curve because it has an equal number of stitches on either side of the needle. It will have a zigzag pattern, with a raised ridge of floss 1 on one side and a raised ridge of floss 4 on the other.
  3. Continue with this alternating stitch until you are out of either floss 1 or 4, sliding the stitches gradually down the needle (and off it onto threads 2&3 as necessary) as you go. Pull the needle the rest of the way through, pull the stitches snug but not really tight, and hold all four threads together and tie an overhand knot in them. Trim the ends.
  4. Repeat on the other side of the headband.
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Closeup of tie end stitches: red is floss 1, green is floss 4.

Wear as a headband by tying around your head, with the starting knots centered up top. One downside of the embroidery floss is it’s pretty slick, so you may need to hold it in place with bobby pins.

If you have followed along through this whole post, you have everything you need to go forth and tat most patterns. If anything is baffling, please let me know in the comments and I will do my best to correct it.