Sewing machine purchasing – serious business!

One of the most common questions we get here at Stitch is about the purchase of a new machine – where do you go as a beginner? Cheap… Convenient… Super duper nice with buttons that allow the machine to sew for you while making your morning coffee as well?

We don’t sell machines at Stitch because we just don’t have a favorite brand or type of machine! When we are asked about choosing a machine we usually suggest a few things:

Try it before you buy it! Visiting a dealer is a great way to get your hands (and fabric) on a machine that you can try before making a big purchase. I like to feel the machine. When you start to sew does it hesitate? Does if feel sturdy? I really hate sewing on a lightweight machine that travels across the table while I am trying to work!

Choose a machine that allows you to choose your own stitch length and width. Some machines have presets where you can only choose 3 different stitch lengths or widths. You really want to have more choices then that! Find a machine that allows you to change the settings yourself.

I love a good walking foot! Walking feet vary from machine to machine. Many machines come with them already attached. This is great! Especially if you have the ability to raise and lower it at your discretion. Walking feet help the feed dogs push/pull the fabric through your machine steadily. This is especially important if you are working with fabrics that are stretchy, heavy, or very fine. In straight sewing you may not notice a marked improvement in the stitches, but when the going gets tough you’ll be glad you have this feature! You can purchase an aftermarket walking foot. They are a little more cumbersome then having them already attached but with some practice it will become second nature.

One step buttonholes are awesome! Most new machines have one step buttonholes now. Basically, it allows you to make a no fuss buttonhole without measuring and marking… your machine will measure the button for you up to 1″. One step buttonholes are very even and neat looking. Manual buttonholes (which usually consist of 4 or more steps) are sometimes difficult to create evenly and symmetrically.

Stitch options… know what you need! It can be mind-blowing when a sales person shows you the thousands of stitches that your new machine does! Most of these you will probably never use! Be sure your machine does a zigzag, multiple stretch stitch, and a straight stitch. You should be able to move your needle position from right to left as well… This will come in handy when you are installing zippers!


I always advise people to stay away from the cheap stuff. Expect to spend between $200-400 for your first machine. You really do get what you pay for in this situation. Buying a cheap machine can make sewing very frustrating. We have a lot of students who had walked away from sewing because they were frustrated… it is usually their machine’s fault! After you purchase your machine be sure to treat it well. Clean it regularly, have it serviced when it needs some attention… In return, it will treat you well! When you come in to Stitch for lessons, we have lots of machines here for you to try out. After a few lessons you will get a feel for what you like! Trying before you buy will make you a better informed consumer.

Our favorite ways to mark…

How do you transfer pattern markings to your fabric? We have a few favorite ways…

My absolute favorite marking tool is Tailor’s chalk. It is a waxy square of white chalk. The kind we use is not very chalky or dusty. Quality Tailor’s chalk should feel like candle wax. It leaves a white mark on your fabric so it is not the best choice if you are working with light colored fabrics. The best part about this chalk is that you can use the blade of your scissors to sharpen it so that you always have a nice, clear, sharp mark.

The con of Tailor’s chalk: it does sometimes leave a stain. No matter what type of marking tool you use, you should always test it on a hidden portion of your fabric first. Tailor’s chalk tends to leave a dark stain on silks.

Another way to transfer your markings is with disappearing ink. We use a double ended pen – one side disappears on its own in a few minutes (perfect for marking where to stop your seam or a quick button placement) and the other side goes away when moistened with water. The inks are purple and blue respectively so this makes them great for light colored fabrics and a perfect compliment to your Tailor’s chalk!

When you find yourself working with very fine fabrics or a textured fabric that may not show markings very well (sequins, velvet, faux fur) you can use tailor’s tacks! Some people only use tailor’s tacks and completely forgo the pens and chalks. That’s fine, too… they just take a bit more time. Tailor’s tacks are like markings with thread… Find a quick tutorial below!

Quick Tailor’s Tacks

20121010-105947.jpg With the pattern still pinned to your fabric, insert needle threaded with contrasting thread into marking. If you have two layers of fabric, you will be stitching through both layers… Leave a thread tail about 3″ – 4″ long.





Create a loop by stitching into the same spot again. If you are sewing through multiple layers of fabric, your loop should be larger then the one pictured here (3″ or so in diameter). I like to have more rather then less… So if in doubt, make your loops large! You can always cut off any extra.





Snip the center of your loop and snip off your needle, leaving a 3-4″ thread tail.





Gently lift your pattern tissue off of the fabric. You will be left with several threads sticking out of your fabric, centered around your marking. Here is where you’ll stop if you are marking through only one layer of fabric. These threads should remain in your fabric for the duration of your project. They are simple to remove when you finish, even if you catch them in your stitches!



  Carefully, lift the top layer of fabric to reveal 1 – 2″ of your tacks.





Snip the threads between the layers.





Now you have two markings! The longer you make your thread loops and tails in the previous steps, the longer your thread tacks will be. I prefer small ones so that they don’t get in my way while I sew, but special care has to be taken sometimes to prevent them from coming out prematurely. Experiment with this method to see what works best for you! I have a friend who knots her threads together so that they don’t budge!

Inventory your sewing room 1

For years I’ve been wanting to inventory my sewing room. Patterns, fabric, notions… Everything. It would be great to have a file at my fingertips that I can look through when choosing my next project instead of having to dig through my closets and bins. Also, for those of you who own businesses where you need to purchase fabric and notions, it is necessary to know what purchases you’ve made for the year to appropriately claim them on your taxes at the end of the year.

I figure there are two ways to go about this: physical or digital.

I like the idea of having samples of my fabrics clipped to inventory cards in a physical file that I can look through. I came across one at crafty staci. She even has a free printable for the inventory card available for you to download and some great suggestions on how to put them into action!

If you’re looking for a more ‘at your fingertips’ solution you can try one of the many apps available. I’ve been using one for my iPhone called Sewing Room. It allows you to scan the barcode on all patterns from major pattern companies to enter them into your inventory. A picture pops up along with all the details! You can even enter your own notes. This app also lets you take pictures of each of your fabrics and enter lots of identifying information to accompany it in your digital inventory. You can also make lists of people you’d like to sew for and projects you’re working on! I really like that I can enter in where I bought my items and how much I paid. Don’t worry – even if your pattern collection includes lesser known designers and companies, you can enter them manually and take your own picture! Can you tell I’m excited about this?

I’m really going to work on this project this week… I’ll let you know how it goes! Has anyone else been working on becoming more organized with their sewing?



I’m trying to start small this year.

Usually I bite off [way] more than I can chew at this time of year. My fridge is usually full of  notes reminding me to be consistent with far too many resolutions. This year, I’ve decided to just go with the flow and fit in what I can. I used to promise myself that I’d make time every night to get in some personal sewing and I wake up each morning feeling like I failed because I couldn’t conjure up the motivation after chasing a toddler into bed and folding the laundry. Argh!

I feel pretty good about my progress this year. I find it much more reasonable to have smaller projects handy that don’t take too much brain power! I’ve been knitting and crocheting small projects (tonight I finished a ‘beard hat’ – photos to come tomorrow), I picked up cross stitching again, and I also started sketching more! I think that sometimes I feel like I have to stick to one project until I finish it… Why?! It’s not fun if I have to force myself to do it! Now I have several choices that I can pick up based on my mood!

Here are links to some of the projects I’m working on… Won’t you join me?

Ultimate Bearded Beanie – you’ve probably seen this one already, but I love it! I also did the slouch version by the same designer. The patterns were VERY easy to follow… and I am a pretty basic crocheter… just saying.

Cross stitch. My nephew really likes Ed Hardy. I can’t believe I actually found a cross stitch book based on his work. This was supposed to be a Christmas gift but I chose a very large design, so…

I also really like Subversive Cross Stitch. This needs no explanation.

I pretty much love to sketch anything (one of my latest is pictured here)… still life, fashion, design ideas… But I did find a book that I really liked and purchased it as a gift for a friend. One Drawing a Day gives you prompts to use supplies you’ve never experimented with, location ideas, and inspiration. I also recently picked up some artists’ trading cards at a local craft store. They are 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ artists’ papers. Fantastic! Sometimes a huge canvas can be overwhelming. They are just right for my next masterpiece!


So what are you hoping to achieve creatively this year? Can you share some ideas for ways to fit art/sewing/creativity into our days?

Color Play 1

So many of our customers and students feel nervous and anxious when faced with the challenge of grouping colors and patterns. When admiring a shelf or stash of fabrics filled with all of your favorite colors, how do you choose?

Heidi is a pro at helping you keep your cool when faced with developing themes and grouping colors! Don’t you love her sample? It’s been hanging in the shop and attracting so much attention!

By the end of class you’ll feel more confident about working with large prints, patterns, and bold solids.

COLOR PLAY APR 7, 6-8:30pm  $45 (THURS)** The date for this class has been changed to Saturday morning, April 23, 10am-1.  We’ll be meeting for our Modern Quilt Social on April 7th-please join us for some stitchy fun!

The interfacing dilemma… 1

this bodice, being draped by one of our students, is going to be interfaced. the interfacing will supply much of the body for this garment.

We get a lot of questions about interfacing from our students and customers. What kind? What color? Fusible or sew-in? Wow, so many choices, which do you pick?

Interfacing can be tricky but once you get the hang of its main functions you can use it to your advantage. The purpose of interfacing is to give a fabric more body and stability. You can find interfacing in collars, cuffs, plackets, and even in bags and purses. It is often the unsung hero of a sewing project. The right interfacing can really emphasis a garment and give it life and structure. No interfacing can leave a garment limp and looking unprofessional.

Let’s start with sew-in vs. fusible. Fusible interfacing used to be a big no-no. However, years ago it started to become acceptable to use in the fashion industry. I’ve heard people say that they feel like they are cheating when they use fusible interfacing… no worries, you aren’t. There are some clear benefits to using fusible interfacing instead of sew-in. For one, it is so much easier! Sew-in interfacing has to be cut and then stitched to each fabric piece that needs to be interfaced. This can be tricky because the fabric and interfacing shift easily under the machine, causing puckers and pulling. Ugly.

Fusible interfacing is cut and then ironed on to the backside of the corresponding fabric piece. Easy peasy. No worries about puckers or pulling. The remaining sewing is done as though the interfacing isn’t even there! Once the glue is activated, the fusible interfacing also offers a crisper finished product then the sew-in interfacing. Fusible interfacing is a Stitch Cleveland favorite… in case your wondering!

After your initial choice between sew-in or fusible, you’ll choose wether you want woven or non-woven. Woven interfacing is simply fibers woven into an interfacing fabric. A non-woven interfacing is made by fibers being bonded together to create a “fabric.” Non-woven interfacing has no grainline, it does not shrink, and it does not unravel. Woven interfacing will need to be pre-washed in the same manner as your finished garment to remove any shrinkage. Woven interfacing is not as heavy as non-woven, which comes in more weights (more about that later). I use woven interfacing whenever the weight is appropriate for my fabric type. I feel like the flex of the woven fabric relates better to my woven fashion fabric.

The last thing you’ll need to consider is weight. Interfacing comes in a few different weights that are acceptable for a range of different fabrics. The bolt of interfacing usually describes it’s weight by saying lightweight, midweight, or heavyweight. I find that description to be utterly useless! To help me choose the appropriate weight of interfacing, I take a sample of my fabric along to compare it with the available interfacings. Generally, you’ll want your interfacing to be similar or lighter in weight then your garment fabric. This will give your fabric a nice amount of body without stiffening it so much that the use of interfacing is obvious.

There is an exception to the rule of choosing interfacings that are lighter in weight then your fabric. If you are trying to change the properties of your fabric you can choose a heavy interfacing. For example, if you want to make a bag out of a fabric that is a little light or maybe is not very stiff, you can use a heavy interfacing to change it’s weight. The heavy interfacing bonded with the lighter fabric will create a heavier result. When in doubt, try it out!

I don’t often find that I need interfacing when working with knit fabrics. However, when I do I make sure to use knit interfacing. I believe that Fusi-knit is the most widely available. There are not many choices when it comes to knit interfacings. Black or white, fusible or non-fusible. You can choose based on the above information.

Generally speaking, I have found that lightweight fusible woven interfacing has been my standard go-to. I stock up during a sale or use a coupon. It’s one of those staples that I know I’ll always use.

Pets love handmade, too…

Recently someone stopped in and told us that lots of animal shelters could benefit from our fabric scraps…


Word on the street is that you can sew a pillowcase shaped ‘sack’ and fill it with your fabric scraps. Once it’s full you’ll stitch it closed and – wallah – a pet bed! We’ve got a pillowcase pinned to our huge cutting table that has been collecting small scraps all week. We’re doing some research to find out which animal shelters may be able to use our handmade pillows and will surely keep you posted.

Lili loves the pillows I make for everyone else in the family – the one in the picture is Liam’s pirate pillow. Of course – I should have made her one ages ago!

In your room… 2

We are lucky enough to have a huge area to sew in here at Stitch Cleveland. Although we would love a bit more space to spread out, we are happy to feel cozy with all of our fabric and supplies at our fingertips. Heidi and I are always trying to come up with ways to change our ‘organization’ methods or create more space. We were recently talking about doing a huge sewing machine mural on our back wall and then use small shelves to store our notions.

Today I noticed this post on Kellie’s scraplog. The photos of her sewing room are so neat and clean. Come on, Kellie… come clean… does it always look like this?! I need to know your secret! I always have a hard time organizing those tiny items that seem to pop up…

One thing I don’t think I could live without is shelving and fabric boxes. You can get them in awesome colors and prints and they really hide your fabric stash from hungry eyes! We love the Ikea Billy Bookcase. Target seems to have a great selection of fabric boxes and the print/ color selection changes each season.

What are your secrets for an organized sewing room?