Thursday, December 6, 2012

Holiday Decorating with Buttons

This year, I have been determined to spend more time creating projects that allow my creativity to blossom. Of course sewing and embroidery of all types feed my creative need, but there's something about doing a project for the sheer pleasure of creating, if for no other reason than to celebrate the season.

When my sisters and I were young, my mother came home with a bag of shiny ribbons of varying widths, sparkling sequins and beads, richly woven trims in myriad of rich colors, and dozens of Styrofoam balls. She then went on to explain that since we didn't have the money to purchase ornaments for our tree, we would make them instead. Then, she proceeded to dump a mound of old Mardi Gras beads onto the dining room table and encouraged us to find our favorites among the glittering finery.

This ball was made with swirls of bright white shell
buttons alternating with swirls of dark shell buttons,
all held in place with white pearlized pins.
The red silk satin ribbon was added after.
In those days, Mardi Gras beads were constructed of beautiful mercury glass and polished beads from Czeclosovakia so they were treasured for their beauty and collectibility and rarely thrown out. Some necklaces were created with crystals in monochromatic colors while others jumbled combinations of beads with no compatibility except for being grouped together in the same strand. Long sections of tubular glass beads strung together with round glass baubles were plentiful but fragile so few survived the day intact. I coveted those necklaces with multiple strands of seed beads in a single color that invariably became the crowd favorites too and were highly sought by all parade goers. Mardi Gras, or Carnival as it is known to native New Orleanians, was quite a different event then and the "throws" were much more appreciated than the inexpensive plastic examples of today's beads.

The wreath begins with a small round styrofoam ring.  Three-fourths of an inch wide silk satin ribbon was swirled around the ring on the diagonal and pinned in place. To mark the position of the buttons, I used a dark color thread and wound it around the ring, then taped it in place. It was easy to re-adjust the position of the thread when necessary. Lastly, shell buttons were placed along the thread with pearlized pins (1" length), and then the thread was removed. The bow and streamers were added last.
The homemade ornaments we created turned out to be our favorites for years to come and the time spent creating with my sisters and mother will never be forgotten. So, this year, I sat down to create my own rendition of homemade Christmas ornaments and invited my niece to join in the fun. I decided to use buttons and ribbons, of which I happen to have amassed large quantities. Here are the results.

Editors note: This holiday season, I hope you take a few moments to create memories with your loved ones while creating special heirlooms to enjoy for years to come. The important thing to note is that my mother let us choose the colors, beads and ribbons WE liked and didn't interfere with our designs, allowing us to enjoy creating entirely on our own. Her role was feeding us inspiration to create.

This ornament began with a solid layer of ruby red buttons covering the surface and held in place with red pearlized pins. Brighter buttons of red, pink and fuschia were added and held in place with red and light pink pearlized pins.
Begin this ball with wide silk satin ribbon pinned around the widest point, then add shell buttons to the surface with pearlized pins. Heart pearl buttons are sprinkled on top of the round buttons inside the gaps with pearlized pins. Irredescent sequins were added to the small gaps and attached with sequin pins. The bow was added last.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Cyber Monday Sale

Are you enjoying all the Cyber Monday emails you have surely received in your mailbox today? Well, I for one always check to see what type of promotions my favorite vendors are running so I can stock up on my stash.

We have decided to offer a special Cyber Monday savings to our best customers this year, and I want to extend the invitation to you. If you did not receive an email from me yesterday and you would like to be added to our email list, please drop us a line at We will be using this list of names to notify you of our class offerings, current events, newsletters and special promotions.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Color Block Baby Dress

In just one week, we will all be going to the polls to elect our next President of the United States. To show my patriotism, I designed this cute dress. The dress was one I recently taught and I wanted to offer it to everyone. The version I taught was made with hemstitching along the applique bands, but this version features Point de Paris stitch by machine. We are featuring this project on our site as the Kit of the Month, along with a special price. The kit contains beautiful Ulster Linen gingham checks and grid handkerchief linen and comes in sizes 1 to 4. It is also available in blue and white.

This is the first time I have joined a Madeira Applique band cut on the bias. Let me tell you, it was quite different as the band kept stretching, making measuring tricky. Below is a mini tutorial for joining the contrast bands.

The completed Color Block Baby Dress made in the red version with Ulster linen and grid woven handkerchief linen.

Antique buttons were used to accent the pleats. These buttons are included in the kit, too.

Back of dress features shoulder bands that snap together for ease in dressing.

The contrast Madeira Applique hem bands.

Pin and then baste the applique band to the dress, matching up the seams. Mark the placement on the band where the seams meet. It is better to align the seams than to match checks.

With right sides together and edges even, pin the band together.

Sew the band together at the marked position. Trim away excess seam allowances AFTER checking the fit of the band.
Open out the hem band, place it in position on skirt and baste securely in place, turning under the edges along the stay-stitches. Press well, then stitch via machine with the blanket stitch function (Point de Paris or Pinstitch), L=2.5; W=1.5.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Beginner Tote Bag Class

A few weeks ago, I hosted my first adult beginning sewing lesson. I chose a cute tote bag made of pretty black toile and hot pink pique fabrics as the project. My students, whom I had never met before, were determined to start sewing and needed a bit of assurance and instruction to get started. The class was broken into two sessions, each lasting three hours. Working from 9 am to 12 noon over two days, allowed a bit of relief inbetween to avoid possible "gotta finish or else" jitters. It worked out so well that I've decided to reschedule the same class again. Hopefully, I'll get more students next time.

The completed tote bag.

Cristaine works diligently on her totebag. (See Cris' second project, Witch's Trick-or-Treat Bag in the previous post.)

The beginner students displays confidence while working on her totebag.

When Jamie completes her hand sewing on the lining, her bag will be completed.

Witch's Trick-or-Treat Bag

Most of you are aware that I'm best known for my fluffy white linen dresses with hand embroidery. Lately I've been going back to my roots and taking on sewing projects that I normally don't do. Frankly, it's a lot more fun doing what you want rather than need to do. This is a class I taught last week in Wendy's Sewing Studio. The project was the student's choice and idea and I provided the pattern and instructions for the lesson. This is a gift she made for her daughter, who is enjoying her first Halloween in the States. What fun!
The completed Witch's Bag. This bag is constructed of crepe back satin in black and purple for the basket. Channels are sewn and stuffed with fiberfil. A large piping cord keeps the rim and handle stable. The legs are constructed of striped quilting fabric and the shoes are appliqued on, using the same fabric but inverted so the dull side shows outward. Pompoms decorate the shoes. Although you can't see the sparkles, the netting is glittery and perfect for Halloween.

The legs are sewn with tiny zigzag stitches to prevent tears in the seams. They are stitched into the bottom section of the bag, which will eventually be hand stitched onto the outside of the basket.

A bias loop is attached to the gathered rim of the basket.

The lining of the basket is shown above. Purple was chosen, rather than black to enable tracing lines to be visible.

The leg pattern shown with the skirt already gathered and ready to be sewn onto the bag.

Sewing Room Class is Huge Success

I have been so busy lately that I have not had a chance to check in with you all. Last week, I just returned home from Birmingham, Alabama where I taught a lovely group of ladies at the loveliest shop, the Sewing Room. My hosts Patsy and Billy Smith graciously invited me to teach not one, but two groups. The project they chose was from 1996, one of my very first class projects. Needless to say, the handout needed serious updating, which started me on a quest to revise ALL of my handouts and class project instructions. This is a serious undertaking, to say the least, but now that my schedule is not as frantic, (no Martha Pullen School) the timing is perfect. I also have been working on updating the graphics on my site, but that has been a lesson in patience and preservation. Of course, Jane is doing a ton of the work leaving me to the photos and photo banners.

Just because I'm not included on the schedule at the School of Art Fashion in Huntsville, doesn't mean I'm going away. Quite the contrary, as I now have the time to truly think again and I'm coming up with a ton of new ideas to share with you. For the time being, they will have to remain a mystery, but you will be the first to know when I'm ready to spill the beans.
Here I am with Patsy Smith, owner of the Sewing Room in Birmingham, Alabama.

Here are a bunch of students looking very intently at their tracings.

The Boudoir Bow Pillow class project. If you would like a kit or pattern of this project, please let us know at

Group 2 busy at work tracing their designs.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Classroom Reveal

This idea came from my friend, Steve Savage, who visited me for lunch one day. I would like to share it with you.

My studio classroom is a huge square room. No closets, no storage of any kind exists. As soon as I began bringing machines from my home studio to my work studio, I realized I needed a place to store them when not in use. Below the staircase is the perfect place, and after all, I have seven machines so there's no way I can be using all of them at the same time.

I love my sewing machines, but the room was beginning to look like a Sew 'N Vac dealership with all the stuff hanging around. (My apologies to all you Sew 'N Vac people). The original idea was to make a drape beneath the staircase attached with magnets to the steel beams. I thought it was a wonderful idea and I immediately began collecting fabrics and trims for the project.

I chose a beautiful floral print to use as a lining and a wide awning striped cotton for the outer fabric. To accent the ginormous header, I decided to make a scalloped valence. The minute I began working, I realized this would be a mathematical nightmare, keeping the angle of the staircase even with the angle of the stripes. So, I got out my trusty contractor's ruler and began measuring. I measured the highest point and the lowest point of the staircase. I measured the width of the fabric and began cutting strips. First strip, longest length was first. I remembered the cardinal rule of sewing: Always cut the largest piece first. So far, so good.

The next length was cut and joined to the first, and following the same guidelines, joined the final length the same way. All the straight edges were aligned on the hemline of the drape. Working on the diagonal, I began cutting the upper edges evenly. When I was done, it was time to check my angle. Of course, it was inaccurate. I never was very good at math, which is a serious understatement. But, I forgave myself and kept going. After a rather lengthy hunt for magnet clips, I managed to find them at Lowes in the hardware department. I envisioned sewing curtain rings to the header and hanging them onto hooks, but the only magnets I could find had binder clips instead of cup hooks. Those would work. Well, not really. Once I got the fabric cut to size, the magnet clips weren't strong enough to hold it, and I still needed to line the curtain and attach the header. So then arose yet another dilemma. My mechanic husband, Billy suggested I use the clips and just clip the header to the rail, which I suppose is a "guy thing" to just get the job done. That worked, but looked unfinished. I'm still trying to figure out a solution, so if any of you clever gals (or guys) can solve my problem, feel free to chime in.

Moving on, I began concentrating on the header. Common knowledge told me the fabric would be prone to stretching because after all, it was cut on the diagonal. To avoid this problem, I cut 4" width strips from the fabric to act as a stabilizer the upper edge. Then, I attached the scalloped valence onto the edge and flipped it over the band so it wasn't noticeable. I chose a lively print for my lining fabric instead of plain white fabric, so when the drape is pulled back, it would still look pretty. I hemmed the bottom and attached the lining and viola! my curtain was completed. Check out the photos below.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Yikes Stripes!

A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to finish decorating my classroom and declutter for the last time. It just so happened that a high school friend of mine visited us at the studio around the same time, and I had the opportunity to pick his brain about ideas for finishing off the rough spots. He suggested I make a drape to hide the miscellaneous stash of machines and file cabinets below the staircase going up to my retail space. I thought it was an excellent idea, and since the staircase is made of steel, it would be perfect for magnetic attachment.

I decided to carry through the "pink" theme a bit more since almost everything I own is hot pink. In order to keep it from becoming a pink palace, I decided to use pink with black and white, a winning combination no matter who you are. I also decided to add a skirt on the unused cubbies stacked against the wall, and went a step further and added decorative storage inside the cubbies and utilize that for a hidden storage area.

I purchased several yards of black and white stripe fabric with stripes measuring about 2" in width. I already had pink pompom trim, so that went into the equation working as an accent to the single monogram I thought would be a great addition to the overall plan. Here's how I did the monogram.

Choose a monogram font on your computer that you like. I chose a curvy design, as I though it would be easier to cut out and applique than a straight font. Print out your monogram in REVERSE (flip horizontally). To do this, I saved the monogram as a jpeg and opened it in my photo program. At that point, I was able to enlarge it and flip it as a piece of artwork.


For this task, you will need paper back double-fusible web product (I used Steam-a-Seam Lite), paper scissors, and tape (if the monogram is larger than the web).


Trace the outline of the monogram onto the paper that has the glue adheared.


Remove the protective paper backing and position the glued side of the monogram onto the WRONG side of the applique fabric.

With a warm iron, fuse the applique to the fabric. It would be best to use a pressing cloth to protect your iron from the glue. Note: I joined fusible web to the edges of the monogram that extended beyond the page size with scotch tape. Place the tape pieces outside the monogram areas.


Carefully cut out the monogram along the edges. Note: the paper backing is still fused to the glue side of the applique.

Peel away the paper backing from the applique.

Position the applique onto the curtain and fuse in place.

Sew up your sewing machine with the clear applique foot, #80 needle, and matching color thread. I used cotton 40 wt. thread for this task. Set the machine on the desired stitch such as zigzag, blanket, or satin stitch.

I decided to satin stitch around the edges of the monogram, but first, I stitched an open zigzag stitch around the edges.

The trim was placed along the stitching line of the hem, about 2" from the edge. I used foot #13, a straight stitch with a narrow edge so I could maneuver around the pompoms. Straight stitch the edge.
Use a skewer or stiletto or something to hold the pompoms out of the way while stitching. Both edges of the trim are straight stitched.

My completed curtain. Kinda wobbly, but still fabulous!!!

I'll reveal the staircase curtain and the completed room in the next blog. Happy stitching!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I just wanted to let everyone know that we are safe as we ride out the worst of Hurricane Isaac.  We have no power but managed to supply a bit of juice for a small window unit, the fridge, and a couple of lights via a generator. I have caught up on my reading and day dreaming and napping, so now I'm bored and want this all to be over. I think electricity will be restored by Thursday. I'll be thinking of new projects in the meantime.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sew-Special Birthday Party!

Yesterday, I was pleased to host my first ever sewing birthday party at Wendy's Sewing Studio. I wish I could take credit for this idea, but it was the mom who approached me with the idea for her 9-year-old daughter. She explained she had purchased a truckload (that's right) of 60 kiddie sewing machines a few years ago and had either sold or given away all but 12. Her idea was to give each child the sewing machine as a party favor and have a sewing theme. I was approached to teach the girls to sew just before the cake and refreshments. After giving this serious thought for several weeks, I decided I just had to do it. After all, I had the facility, ample parking, lots of chairs and tables, and the mom was so sweet and persuasive, I couldn't miss this opportunity. I wouldn't get rich doing birthday parties, but at least I might pick up sewing students for my Summer Camp or after school activities. I also decided to make a little purse pincushion for each girl as a door prise.

The week before the party, all the little machines arrived and we all began unpacking them. I personally set each machine up and loaded the bobbins and threads. Luckily, they all received a mini sewing kit with each machine so nothing had to be purchased. I was relieved to discover all machines working.

The mom, Angela, purchased cute printed fabrics for the kits and we decided it would be age-appropriate for them to make a small square purse. I requested that each girl have at least one adult assistant attend the party. Angela decided she would serve pizza and box juice in addition to the cake. The cake she supplied was adorable and in keeping with the purse theme. Purple and pink were the desired colors of the day.

The day before the party, I set up the tables, plugged in the machines and cut all the fabric squares for the girls. I also gave them a small scrap of fabric to practice with. I arrived a few hours early the day of the event in order to set up my video equipment and lay out all the little goodies they would receive. When 1 o'clock arrived, the moms and attendees began to arrive. Even though 12 girls rsvp-ed, only 10 arrived and after waiting about 45 minutes, I decided to begin the lesson.

I explained via Powerpoint, how the purse would go together, demonstrating mostly to the moms what was to be expected. I laid out the ground rules such as only adults could use the irons and no food or drink around electrical equipment. I had the girls repeat what I was saying in unison for assurance they had been listening, and I instructed them of the operational basics of the machines. Working on practice pieces, we began sewing. Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk, to the 10th power. Picture ten assistants giving direction at the same time while girls happily pushed the tiny food pedals to make the machines work. I said a quick prayer that none of the machines would break and practiced breathing techniques to keep myself calm. Then I signalled them to stop.

Next, a lesson in how to pin the fabric together. I announced the most important thing to remember is, YOU NEVER SEW OVER A PIN, and had them repeat it out load. Okay, so that wasn't very difficult. Again, they began to sew. Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk they went, diligently stopping just before each pin to remove it, and then stitching resumed. They made it through both edges of their purse outers. Sweew! No blood, no tears...a very good sign. Then, I had them repeat the procedure on the lining fabric. I demonstrated how to turn the upper edges under and the assistants pressed them in place. I explained how to position the lining inside the purse outer and they pinned the layers in place. Straps were inserted between the two layers and pinned in place. I decided that the little machines wouldn't be strong enough to sew through 4 layers of fabric and the straps, so I asked the assistants to sew them together using my machines while the girls had refreshments.

The girls hungrily devoured their pizza and then they sang Happy Birthday to the birthday girl both in English and French, since the girls all attend The French School at Audubon Elementary. Each girl left with their little machines, which were quite a surprise to them, their little purses, a goodie bag, and a well-deserved dose of self accomplishment for having participated in such a wonderful day.

End of Summer Crunch

I received a phone call from a mom who was in town for ten days visiting relatives. She was interested in booking a workshop for her 9-year-old daughter and 10-year-old niece the last week before they returned to school. Having had such a positive experience from teaching my group of 11-year-olds, I agreed. They booked two days of sewing lessons.

The girls arrived bright and early on the first day prepared to work and have fun. I thought it would be a great idea to have them make a pillowcase dress just like the older girls except without the contrasting band on the hemline. I started them off making a simple purse-size tissue paper cover letting them choose the fabric they wanted. They did a pretty good job, but it didn't take long to realize how different their motor skills were compared to the 11-year-olds. They had a bit of difficulty keeping the fabric straight. I found myself using a video game analogy in order to train them to keep the foot even with the fabric's edge. It worked and they completed their projects just before lunch.

As soon as they finished eating, we returned to work. I cut out the fabric blocks to size and had them mark and cut out the armhole openings. They sewed up the side seams and I had them zigzag stitch over both seams to finish them off. So far, so good. Off they went to the ironing boards to press the seams. Yikes! They didn't grasp the idea of standing the iron upward after use and soon, I was literally putting out smoke bombs. I was kicking myself for not supplying iron rests. Lesson learned. They really enjoyed ironing and even managed to scorch a few spots. Oh well. I should have turned the temperature down a bit. Another lesson learned.

We cut out the string ties and they stitched them up. We ended the day on a positive note by using the tube turner on the ties. That was a lot of fun for them and I felt really good about what they had accomplished. The moms were so excited when they saw the completed tissue paper cases.

I spent a good portion of the next day overcast stitching their edges and inserting bias binding in the armhole openings for them. I didn't think stitching-in-the-ditch was something they would be able to do and my goal was to have them wear the dresses home on Day-2. I also turned under all the edges of their pockets and pressed them in place.

The next day, they arrived bouncing off the walls and ready to sew. I had them turn under the neck edges to form the casing and sew them down. Having edge-stitching feet on their machines was a godsend and they performed this task to perfection. They turned under the hemline for a simple hem and stitched them in place. For the pockets, I decided since they were having trouble handling seams with pins, I would glue the pockets in place so they wouldn't slip and the girls could just zip around the edges. That decision was pure genius.

When the dresses were completed, I glanced at the clock in shock to discover we had 2 hours of class time left, so I decided we would make matching purses for their dresses. I had the girls fuse the largest flower with Wet N Gone then had them cut them out. We then applied them to their purse fronts. I decided to zigzag stitch around the flowers for them, as the design was way too tedious for them to handle. I made a long strap from bias binding and they completed their purses in the afternoon.

When the moms arrived, I thought they would start crying at the sight of their daughters. And the girls were so excited they were already making plans to come back during the Christmas holidays when they would be together again. Looks like I'll be busy this December. In November, I'm doing the 11-year-olds during the Thanksgiving break too. These just happen to be my lean months and I can't think of a better way to spend the holidays. I asked the girls what else they had done this summer and among other things, they had participated in a cooking class, which they didn't enjoy because the teacher treated them like little kids, they said. And they had to use plastic knives to cut up veggies, which was a complete drag for them. I was happy I had decided to allow them to iron for themselves and challenged them to work on big kid garments. It made them feel special and made me feel as though I had accomplished my goals this summer. It was a win-win situation all around.