This is less of a tutorial than a nudge to give free-motion machine sewing a go – whether it is embroidery, applique or quilting. If you are like me, you may have put off dropping your feed dogs and going for it, and I am here to tell you it is easier than you might think. All you need is a sewing machine that allows you to drop the feed dogs (usually a switch at the back of the machine’s table somewhere) and although not absolutely necessary, I do prefer to use a darning foot. I have heard of people taping thin card over the feed dogs if they cannot be dropped.
Most of the feet for my machine are changed by pushing the release at the back of the foot and reattach just by pushing them back on, but I think a lot of darning feet are like the one in the photo and you have to undo the screw at the side…I am embarrassed to admit that took my a little while to work out! You can free-motion sew without a foot at all, but please do watch your fingers as there is nothing to stop you stitching through more than just the fabric.
To stop the fabric getting out of shape as you sew you either need to hold it firm with an embroidery hoop or – as my lovely friend Karen pointed out to me – you can use a fabric stabiliser. I use stitch-and-tear, which I iron on to the back of the fabric. It gives you more to sew through and you can tear it away when you have finished. You can also get stabilisers that wash away.
I suggest setting up your sewing machine, ironing some stabiliser to a scrap of fabric and just having a play. I was really surprised how quickly I started to get the hang of it.
I find I end up sewing over my starting thread and the criss-cross stitches hold the thread in place, so it is not necessary to pull the thread tail through to the back and tie it or anything – just trim it close. If you are writing with the machine or sewing discrete areas with the same colour thread, just raise the needle and the foot and pull the fabric away from you to give yourself a loop of thread, so it doesn’t pull when you go on to the next bit of stitching. You can trim all the loops at the end – it saves time, rather than trimming each bit before you move on.
Free-motion applique is a really quick and easy way to applique. It leaves a raw edge to the fabric pieces, but I rather like that effect. You can either cut a shape and sew around the edges or use a piece of fabric, sew your outline and then trim away excess fabric. I usually use the first way, as I like to get an idea of how the finished piece will look, but the second way may be a little quicker. (One little hint: if your sewn line goes a bit wobbly, just sew over it again as somehow two slightly wobbly lines together look like they are meant to be like that). You could pin or tack applique pieces in place, but I find it far easier to use a fabric glue stick. They are designed to be suitable to sew through without getting your needle all gummed up.
I am now practiced at changing to and from the darning foot (and keep a small Phillips screwdriver in my sewing kit), but still find myself choosing to do all my free-motion projects at the same time rather than switching between feet too often. Today, I decided to do a little (very basic) free-motion quilting, making an ivory satin dolly bag.
I had thought I might do some gardening today rather than sewing, but the sunshine kept making way for Spring showers. However late afternoon, the lure of sunshine in the garden was too much for me.
Before I go (sorry but Philadelphia is on tv and I am a big fan of Denzel Washington!) I just have a special photo I would like to share – especially for Shellie and Christina! 😉
I am pretty chuffed to have been asked to put together some tutorials for making gifts for your pets. It is part of the ‘I heart my pet’ campaign being run by the nice folk at NOAH – no, not Russell Crowe’s new film (although I do want to see that!) – this is the National Office of Animal Health, which provides expert advice on caring for pets: http://www.pethealthinfo.org.uk/
I want my tutorials to be:
quick to make
and of course, safe!
So I thought a bit of upcycling would be a good idea and I am providing instructions to make:
a pet bed from an old jumper
a catnip fish from a baby sock
a dog coat from an old jumper
Before I start there are some basics about sewing for pets – apologies if I am teaching my grandmother to suck eggs (not that I recall my grandmother ever sucking eggs!). In many ways making crafts for pets is a lot like making toys for children – items need to be washable, they can be chewed so avoid fabric paints that might come off and cause health problems and trimmings that could be a choking hazard, avoid highly flammable materials. Equally, it is important to be sure to keep pins and needles away from little paws. I keep a set number of pins and needles in a pincushion so I can always tell if one is missing and may be stuck in the carpet, and I keep a magnet handy to help find any stray pins and to double check nothing has been left in a craft project.
Of course the really good thing about making things for your pets, is that they are never going to turn round and refuse to use something because ‘it makes my bum look big!’ or ‘nobody else has homemade stuff!’ or ‘I want designer labels!’.
1) how to make a pet bed from an old jumper
1 old jumper or sweatshirt
toy stuffing or the stuffing from an unwanted cushion
ideally a sewing machine (it can be hand sewn, but will take longer to make)
hand sewing needle
Step one – make sure your toy stuffing is packed in a cardboard box (other retailers are available), remove toy stuffing…oh well that’s it really!
What? You want more? Oh well ok…
1) Choose an old jumper or sweatshirt. Any shape or style will do but if, like me, you have used it for decorating, make sure you have scraped off any lumps of paint etc. It needs to be washable so, if it is pure wool, wash it and you can even tumble dry it before you start. It doesn’t matter in the least if it felts when it is washed, but you need to be sure it is not going to shrink to a size too small to be useful.
If your pet is like our cats, they really like to sleep on things that smell of you, so you could wear the jumper for a couple of hours before you cut it up and sew it, and your scent may encourage the pet to sleep in the bed, as it will not smell strange.
2) Although our two cats are quite big, they like sleeping in small spaces, so I only used the sleeves of the jumper to make the sides of my cat bed. If you want to make a bed for a small dog or larger cat, you can cut a piece of fabric, just bigger than the neck hole and either machine or hand sew it in place so you can use the whole of the top section of the jumper. It will make the back of the bed higher than the front, but I think that looks rather good.
3) Turn the jumper inside out and pin the front and back together to hold in place. Use a ruler or straight edge and draw a line from armpit to armpit (I used tailor’s chalk, but as it is on the inside of the jumper it doesn’t matter if you use a felt tip pen). Cut along the line.
4) Stitch along the raw edge – I used an overlocking stitch, but any stitch will do. If you are hand sewing, use a backstitch* to make it stronger.
My jumper is rather old and misshapen but that’s not a problem, just catch in any extra folds.
5) For a smaller bed, cut at the arm hole or either side of the neck hole and join the two pieces together (not necessary if you are using the whole top section). Turn the arms inside out and place one inside the other, right sides together and pin in place.
6) Sew the raw edges. Many sewing machines allow you to remove part of the sewing table, leaving a narrower section to make sewing around a sleeve like this easier.
7) Stuff the long tube made from the sleeves. It is important that you use a stuffing that is washable and has reduced flammability. You can buy toy stuffing that conforms to British safety standards online and in craft shops or you can take the stuffing out of an unwanted cushion; just make sure the cushion has a fire safety label (some older cushions do not and should not be used). I used a couple of unwanted cushions.
8) Use the stuffed arms as a guide for the size of the base. I used a round tray to draw around to cut the base of of the bed from the body of the jumper. I like to make the base circular as it is forgiving – no need to match the centre of the sides to a particular point on the base or to make sure each arm is exactly the same length, but you can make the base any shape you like.
9) Pin the back and front of the jumper to hold in place and cut along the line you have drawn. When you sew the two pieces together you will need to leave a gap to stuff the base of the bed. I have a bad habit of getting carried away and sewing the gap closed, so I use pins with a different colour head (or two pins together) either side of the gap so I know to…’mind the gap’.
10) Turn the base the right side out and stuff it – I often use a chopstick to push the stuffing right up to the seam.
11) Fold over the raw edges, pin in place and hand sew (slip stitch**) closed.
12) Hand sew a running stitch around the open ends of the sleeve tube with a doubled piece of thread, pull tight and over-sew to hold in place.
13) Hand sew (slip stitch) the sleeve tube to the base, gently pulling the tube over the seam in the base as you sew it in – just to be tidy.
I left a small gap at the front of the bed, but you can join up the two sleeve ends if you prefer. I have made the bed quite puffy, as it will flatten once it has a cat in it.
I really like making pet beds from old jumpers – with the sleeves as the side of the bed, it is just like making a hug for a cat.
* with backstitch you overlap your stitches so there are no gaps between them
** slipstitch is an almost invisible way of joining two pieces of fabric
2) how to make a catnip fish from a baby sock
Now we don’t have children, so I don’t have baby socks lying around the place, but I suspect lots of people do (and the socks I use were only a few pence in a charity shop). So save those teeny weeny odd socks from the recycling bin and reincarnate them…in to fish!
1 baby sock
1 bag catnip (available from most pet shops or online)
scraps of felt
needle and thread
1) Turn the sock inside out and push the toe towards the ankle so the heel is sticking out – the aim is to turn the boomerang shaped sock in to a tube, so you need to take out the heel. The sock I used has a coloured heel which makes it particularly easy to see what you are doing.
2) Sew a straight line across the heel, so when you turn the sock the right way out it is now a tube.
3) Using a double thread, over sew by hand to fasten the end of the thread to the sock and then do a running stitch 6cm to 8cm from the ankle opening. Leave the thread and needle hanging from the sock; do not pull tight yet. It is just easier to do the running stitch before filling the sock with catnip.
4) Pour catnip in to the sock as required. I use my jam funnel to make it easier, but a spoon works perfectly well.
5) Pull the running stitch thread tight and fix by sewing back and forth through the gathers. Once the gathers will not come undone, do another row of running stitch lengthwise along the middle of the sock to the ankle opening. Pull tight and over sew to fasten the thread.
6) Cut two circles of coloured felt and two smaller circles of black felt. Sew the black felt to the coloured felt and sew very securely to the sock. Catnip toys get chewed and bitten and scratched, so be sure the eyes will not come off; you don’t want your cat to swallow them!
The only thing left to do is to let your cat(s) play! Our cats go totally mad for catnip and act a bit crazy, so we only let them play with catnip toys when we are there to keep an eye on them.
3) how to make a dog coat from an old jumper
As we head in to the warmer weather you may be packing away your Winter clothes and weeding out a few old things – perfect for making a dog coat so you are prepared for when the Winter weather comes back (usually around July!).
We do not have a dog, but I walk our friend’s dog, George, when she cannot. So before I start, I should like to thank George and his mum Julie and her daughter Jade for letting me be a nuisance and pop in to measure and fit and photograph George.
1 old, thick sweater*
small piece of sew on velcro
* I used one of Mark’s old gardening jumpers because it was really warm and thick, but you could use anything that is big enough. If you use a lighter weight fabric, add a piece of quilt wadding for extra warmth.
Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, so it is difficult to provide a definitive pattern – it all depends on your dog. There may be some trial and error.
1) Start by measuring your dog; you will need:
length of back, from neck to the top of the tail
total circumference around tummy where the strap will be
the required width of the coat
the length from the neck to where the tummy strap will go
2) As this is not a precise science, I recommend making yourself a paper pattern, so you can put it on your dog to check it is the right size and shape before cutting the fabric. You can use dressmaker’s pattern paper, but I just tape pieces of greaseproof paper together to make a large enough piece (mind you, George really did not like the sound of the rustling paper!). The pattern should look like a saddle and should be symmetrical, so it is best to fold the paper in half and cut out the two sides together so they end up exactly the same shape and size.
Hold the paper pattern over your dog and adjust your pattern if necessary.
3) Pin the pattern to your jumper (right way out) and cut around it. If your fabric is lighter weight use the pattern to also cut a piece of quilt wadding (or fleece or old sweatshirt) to sandwich between the two outer layers of fabric.
4) Pin the bias binding (either shop bought or home-made) around the edge of the layers of coat pieces, right sides together.
4) Carefully sew the bias binding in place (you can hand sew using back stitch of you do not have a sewing machine), sewing along the ditch of the fold in the binding and removing the pins as you go.
5) Trim any excess fabric so the edge of the coat pieces and the edge of the binding match. Fold the binding over the edge of the coat pieces to the other side so the raw edge of the binding is folded under and stitch in place. I use hand sewing for this, but you could machine sew close to the edge of the binding if you prefer.
When complete, you should have a contrasting bound edge to the coat, which is probably narrower on one side than the other – pick whichever side you prefer to be the outside of the coat.
6) You will need a short strap to join the two sides of the coat at the front and to hold the coat in place over the tummy. For each strap cut two rectangles of fleece, each about 5cm wide and as long as you need for your dog (see 1. above) – I use fleece as it doesn’t fray, so you do not need to neaten the edges.
Either leave the ends square or pin the two pieces together and round off the corners.
7) For each of the two straps sew around the edge, joining the pieces together – trim if necessary. Starting with the front strap pin in place on the coat and sew, trying to follow the stitching where you joined the two strap pieces together. For George the front strap needed only to be long enough to connect the two sides of the coat, but a larger dog may need a longer front strap.
8) Repeat for the tummy strap, but only sew one end of the strap to the coat – sew velcro to the other end of the strap, the soft side on the strap and the harder, scratchy side to where you want it to join the coat.
Doesn’t George look handsome!!
I hope you find these DIY pet craft projects fun – and I would love to see what you make! Don’t forget to check out what else is going on in the ‘I heart my pet’ campaign on the website, Facebook and Twitter!
In my last newsletter* I included instructions on making pom pom bunnies, and I rather skipped over making the pom poms themselves. I have had a request for a reminder about how to make them, so here goes…
pom pom making tutorial
Making this tutorial I have realised how much quicker it is to use a pom pom maker. They work in just the same way as the cardboard rings but each half of both rings open up so you can use a full ball of yarn, and the two rings clip together so the strands are less likely to fall out as you cut between the rings.
When I went to visit some textile students I promised a tutorial on a couple of ways of making ribbon flowers and thought I should share it here in case anyone else might find it useful.
This uses either a 10cm wide 1m long strip of fabric with the long sides folded in so they meet in the middle (with the right side facing out), ironed but not sewn, or 1m of ribbon at least 5cm wide. Here I have used a satin ribbon.
This method uses a strip of fabric folded and ironed as for method 1 or a piece of ribbon, but is less fiddly and can be made with any width of fabric or ribbon. If you use a strip of fabric, ensure the raw edges face in to the centre of the flower as you make it.
You can see the difference in the results of the two methods most clearly when they are side by side.