Notions to Know: How to Sew a Buttonhole

In this post, I covered how to sew on a button by hand. But we all know a button is not very useful without a hole for it! So how do you sew a buttonhole?

Many sewing machines come equipped with a buttonhole stitch and foot. If your machine has this function, sewing a buttonhole is as easy as a little set up and pushing the pedal according to your machine’s instructions. If not, there’s still hope for you!

This post will teach you how to sew a buttonhole using a simple zigzag stitch.

First, mark your fabric where the buttonhole will go. The length of the hole should be just slightly longer than the width of the button. I’m using a 5/8″ button, so my hole will be just longer than 5/8″. When you do this on a real craft, you’ll want to use something easily washable like tailor’s chalk, because buttonholes usually show on the finished product. For this demonstration I’m just using a fabric marker.

Working with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your Stuff

Next, set up your fabric in your machine with the regular presser foot. It’s wise to use interfacing before you sew a buttonhole to stabilize the fabric, but for this demonstration I’m just using two layers of cotton fabric. Start with the top of the hole below the needle.

Working with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your Stuff

Set your machine to a wide zigzag stitch, with a stitch length of 0. Sew a few stitches and then stop.

Working with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your Stuff

Adjust your fabric so that the needle is just to the right of the mark. Set your machine to a narrower zigzag stitch with a short stitch length (but longer than 0) and sew the length of the mark.

Working with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your Stuff

When you reach the bottom, repeat the wide zigzag stitch used at the top.

Working with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your StuffWorking with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your Stuff

Now position your fabric so that the needle is to the left of the mark. Stitch in reverse with a narrow zigzag stitch and a short stitch length.

Working with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your Stuff

Now cut your thread and pull the fabric out of the machine. Using a seam ripper and/or small scissors, cut the fabric on the mark. Be careful not to cut the stitches!

Working with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your StuffWorking with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your Stuff

Now your buttonhole is ready to go!

Working with sewing notions is important for a beginner learning how to sew a buttonhole - Sew Me Your Stuff

Happy sewing!

Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
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Notions to Know: How to Sew a Zipper

Zippers are pretty much ubiquitous in our everyday lives – from clothing to accessories to home goods, we’ve all encountered a zipper at some point. But many people I’ve met who sew as a hobby and are great with many different sewing notions struggle with figuring out how to sew a zipper!

There are a few different techniques for attaching different kinds of zippers. but today we’re going to look at the most common and basic way to sew a zipper. It’s going to involve basting, covered in this post, and topstitching, mentioned in this post. You should also dig up your zipper foot if you’re sewing by machine. A zipper foot looks like this:


A zipper foot is essential in learning how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

To demonstrate how to sew a zipper, I’ll mimic a zip-open back of a dress. Here are the materials I’ll be using:

  • Fabric of choice, cut into 2 equal rectangles
  • Zipper of desired length (Note: if you’re unsure about the length you need, it’s safer to buy a zipper that’s too long so that you can trim it later!)
  • Thread
  • Zipper foot

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

When you sew the back of a dress, before you attach the zipper you’re going to stitch the seam below where the zipper will be. Notice in this picture how I line up the zipper with the edge of my fabric to see where the bottom stop will be and then mark it.

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Since my zipper is going to be 7 inches, I’m going to start the stitch 7 inches from the “top” of the fabric (minus the seam allowance) and stitch all the way to the “bottom.” Use your regular presser foot for this.

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Next, press the seam open, including the unstitched seam allowances. (Review this post if you need to see how to press a seam!)

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Now grab your zipper. Press the zipper tape flat, being careful not to touch the metal coils with the hot iron! Close the zipper and flip the pull tab upwards.

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Position the zipper face down on the wrong side of the fabric, with the zipper teeth centered on the seam and the bottom stop where the stitched seam ends.

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Baste one side of the zipper to the seam allowance, and place a pin right below the bottom stop.

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Flip your fabric right side up, and position your zipper foot so that the foot is to the right of the needle. Set up your sewing machine to begin stitching at the pin, but remove the pin before you stitch.

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Starting at the seam below the zipper, stitch across and up the length of the zipper on the right-hand side through all layers. I recommend starting the stitch with the zipper closed then opening the zipper once you’ve gotten about halfway down the zipper. You can’t sew around the zipper pull very easily, so you’ll want it out of the way.

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your StuffIt's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Now repeat on the left-hand side, moving your zipper foot so that it’s to the left of the needle.

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Now just remove the basting. Congratulations – you now know how to sew a zipper!

It's important to learn how to sew a zipper, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

This is just one method of attaching a zipper, but it’s the basic technique that can be adapted to many different situations.

Happy sewing!


Learni.st
 – Learn how to sew starting from step one
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Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff

Sewing with Elastic: Elastic Casing

Hello sewists! Sorry for the hold up in posts – lent my camera to a friend for the weekend and just got it back. But now it’s time to get back to business by learning to use a new notion in your projects: sewing with elastic.

Sewing with elastic is a great skill to learn, and learning how to sew with elastic can be the first step in moving from beginner projects to more personalized crafts and garments. As mentioned in this earlier post, there are two ways to add elastic to your project. You can either insert it into a casing or sew it directly to your fabric.

In this post, we’ll cover the easier of the two: sewing an elastic casing.

I’m going to demonstrate by making a small bag with an elastic opening.

A bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

The first thing I did was to measure out a rectangular shape – about 14″ x 6 1/2″. That way my bag would be roughly 6″ x 6″ when completed. I only cut one piece of fabric to fold in half to use as the bag, but you can also cut two identical pieces to stitch together. The folded version is just easier!

A bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Here is my cut out piece of fabric that will become a small bag! Next it’s time to fold it in half as I mentioned before.

A bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your StuffA bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

If you’re using a fabric with a right side and a wrong side, fold right sides together. The fabric I’m using does not have a district wrong side, so it’s a little hard to tell in these pictures. But when you do this fold, the wrong side should be on the outside.

A bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Press the fold in place so that all raw edges are even, including the sides and the opening. The fold will be the bottom of the bag. Next we will stitch the side seams.

A bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

The side seams are the raw edges perpendicular to the fold. Stitch, press, and trim the sides.

Now it’s time to look at your elastic. What is the width? Mine for this project is 1/2 inch. The width of your casing should be about 1/4 inch wider than your elastic band, so I’m going to do a casing that is 3/4 inches.

A bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your StuffA bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

At the opening of your bag with wrong side out, measure the width of your elastic casing and press it down all around the bag.

A bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Here is the pressed elastic casing. Remember, at this point your bag should be wrong side out.

A bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Place two marks along the edge of your casing, approximately 2 inches apart. This will be the opening where you insert your elastic.

A bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your StuffA bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Next, stitch your casing shut starting at one mark all the way around to the second mark, but leaving the 2 inch opening unstitched.

A bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Attach a safety pin to one end of your elastic. Don’t attach it right to the end because it might get pulled off!

A bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your StuffA bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Push the elastic through the casing safety pin first, moving the fabric over the safety pin. Make sure your elastic does not get twisted in this process! When your safety pin has made it all the way around the bag, overlap the ends of your elastic. I’m making my elastic band a little shorter than the circumference of the bag so that the casing will have some bunch to it when finished.

A bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your StuffA bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Stitch the ends of your elastic together multiple times, backstitching several times. Trim the excess ends and push the elastic band fully into the casing.

A bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

Sew the 2 inch opening shut, with your elastic band fully enclosed in the casing.

A bag with an elastic casing is an easy craft for a beginner learning how to sew elastic, a sewing notion - Sew Me Your Stuff

And voila! You now have a bag with an elastic opening! This skill will come in handy for many projects, more than just simple bags!

Happy sewing!

Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
Pinterest & Twitter – Follow for tips, ideas, and more
Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff

September/October 2012 Summary

Hello sewists! It’s November, which means it’s time to put the shorts away and stay warm inside while you get started on some Christmas crafts! If you’ve fallen behind on Sew Me Your Stuff posts, here’s a recap of what’s been covered the last couple of months.

Need to go back further? Past recaps:

Sewing Patterns:

Sewing Machine Help:

Notions and other Tools:

A Bag’s Life:

Remember, if you ever would like to see a topic covered by Sew Me Your Stuff, just submit it here!

Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
Pinterest & Twitter – Follow for tips, ideas, and more
Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff

Machine Stitches to Know

Hello sewists! I hope you’re getting comfortable pushing fabric through your sewing machine and are ready to get more creative with your stitches, because now it’s time to look at the different stitches your machine can do and when to use them. There are approximately billions of different stitches you can do (estimation rounded up), but here are some of the basic stitches that will come in handy on your machine.

Straight stitch – I hope you’ve already been using this stitch by now as it is the most basic, simple stitch that a machine can do. It can hold together most basic seams and is totally sufficient for a beginner sewist working on early projects and crafts. If you choose not to finish your raw edges and seams, an entire project can be completed using only a straight stitch.

Straight stitches are also used for embellishments like topstitching. Topstitching is simply a straight stitch done on the right side of the fabric that is visible on the completed project. Usually, topstitching will be used to secure a seam allowance in a certain direction, but it can also be used purely for decoration. As covered in this post, you should use a longer stitch length for topstitching.

If your pattern calls for staystitching, this is simply a straight stitch done in the seam allowance that forces a pattern piece to hold its shape during construction. This is often used when a pattern piece cut in one direction will be attached to a piece that was cut in another direction. Use a normal stitch length if you need to staystitch a piece.

If you need to gather some fabric, simply stitch a straight stitch with a long stitch length and pull the ends to cause the fabric to bunch. For an illustration, see this post on stitch length.

Zigzag stitch – A zigzag stitch is exactly what it sounds like, a stitch that directs the thread in zigzag lines rather than straight lines. The primary purpose of a zigzag stitch when stitching a seam is to provide the fabric with more stretch than a straight stitch will allow. Remember these stitches from last week’s stitch length post?

Knowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use when is important for a beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Well here is the same fabric, stitched this time with a zigzag stitch instead of a straight stitch.

Knowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use when is important for any beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your StuffKnowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use when is important for a beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Notice that the fabric not only does not pucker as it did with the straight stitch, but it is much more free to stretch.

Zigzag stitches are also used in finishing edges after stitching and pressing a seam. To achieve this, simply stitch a zigzag stitch right on the edge of a seam allowance.

Knowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use when is important for any beginner learning how to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Zigzag stitches are also used to sew the edges of buttonholes. If your sewing machine is equipped for buttonholes, you simply sew a zigzag stitch with an extremely short stitch length to create the buttonhole edges. Be on the lookout for a future tutorial on buttonholes!

Finally, you’ll want to use a zigzag stitch when attaching elastic directly to fabric. Using a zigzag will allow the elastic to stretch and will ensure that the entire elastic strip is attached if you adjust the width or your stitch to cover the entire band.

Knowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use is important for any beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Blind hem stitch – This is actually a stitch I typically skip and do by hand, but it can come in very handy if you master it. If you look at a dress skirt or dress pants very closely, you can find a faint line of stitches on the outside of the garment where the hem has been attached. This was achieved using a blind hem stitch. The process of performing this stitch is slightly more complicated than a straight stitch or zigzag stitch, so I will have to write a full post on it in the near future.

Knowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use is important for any beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your StuffKnowing what basic sewing machine stitches to use is important for any beginner learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Here is a picture of a blind hem stitch in progress and a completed blind hem stitch.

When I say that I do this by hand, I mean I use the stitch demonstrated in this post.

These three stitches combined are truly all you’ll need as a beginner to complete a plethora of different crafts and projects. Happy sewing!

Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
Pinterest & Twitter – Follow for tips, ideas, and more
Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff

Stitch Length & How to Use It

Now that you know what all (or at least most) of the knobs on your sewing machine do and how to get your machine started, it’s time to start looking at machine stitching itself.

To make a stitch, you place the fabric under the needle, slide down the presser foot, and hit the pedal. Easy enough! But to really get advanced with your sewing, you’ll have to learn different techniques in stitching to achieve different effects.

First, let’s talk about stitch length.

Part of this is probably intuitive: shorter stitches are more durable and tighter, while longer stitches are looser. So when do you need each?

  • As a beginner, there are pros and cons to each. A long stitch may be favorable because it uses less thread than a short stitch. Short stitches are generally more durable, but for your earlier projects you may be willing to sacrifice durability for resourcefulness. On the flip side, setting your machine to a longer stitch means that the feeder dogs will move more quickly. If you don’t yet feel comfortable using your machine at high speeds, you may want to stick with shorter stitch lengths until you have better control over your fabric as you feed it into the machine.
  • If you’re using a stretchy fabric, you’ll want to use a longer stitch. Shorter stitch lengths can pull and pucker your fabric. If you find that your stitches are puckering on a certain fabric, try adjusting the stitch length to allow for longer stitches.
    Knowing how to use different lengths of stitches is important as a beginner learning how to sew
    Notice in the above picture that the stitch on the left is significantly more puckered than the fabric on the right. The stitch on the left was done using the shortest stitch on my machine, while the stitch on the right was done using the longest stitch.
    Knowing how to use different stitch lengths is important for a beginner learning how to sew
    The fabric in this picture is a non-stretchy fabric. Notice that there is no significant difference in puckering between the short stitch length and the long stitch length.
  • For decorative stitches such as topstitching, which is visible on the finished project, a long stitch length is usually more favorable. Long stitches are generally more attractive than short stitches.
    Knowing how to use stitch length is important for a beginner learning how to sew
    In the above picture, the seam has been sewn and the seam allowance pressed to one side and then topstitched. More on this process later, but notice that the stitch is a long stitch length. For durability use short stitch lengths; for decor use long stitch lengths.
  • Another function of long stitch lengths is gathering. If a pattern calls for you to gather a seam, you stitch with a long stitch length and then pull the ends of the thread to cause the fabric to bunch.
    Knowing when and how to change your stitch length is important for a beginner learning to sew
    Pictured is the same non stretchy, long stitch length seam from the second picture. Because the long stitch length makes the seam looser, I can pull on the ends of the thread and gather the fabric.
  • So how do you change your stitch length? It depends on your machine. There are generally two types of stitch length dials: stitches per inch and millimeters.
    Knowing how and when to use different stitch lengths is important for a beginner learning to sew
    Pictured is the stitch selector and stitch length knob (top) on my machine. Mine uses a millimeter scale, as evidenced by the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4. These numbers simply indicate how many millimeters long each stitch will be with 1 being the shortest and 4 being the longest. If your stitch length knob has numbers ranging from 4 to 60, yours is a stitches per inch machine. This is the reverse from a millimeter machine because a higher number, 60 stitches per inch, indicates a shorter stitch because there are more stitches in a single inch than, say, 4 stitches per inch. For basic everyday sewing, a stitch length of 10-12 stitches per inch is typical. On a millimeter machine, this is about a 2.5 millimeter stitch.
  • To adjust your stitch length, simply rotate the knob to select the length you need!

I hope you found this helpful! Soon I will cover basic stitches and techniques with a sewing machine.

Happy sewing!

Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
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Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff

A Bag’s Life Part 3: The Construction

And now the epic conclusion to the Sew Me Your Stuff saga of how to go from pattern to product – Market Tote Edition.  This post detailed the process of choosing an easy pattern for a beginner and finding notions in the store. This post will guide you through understanding the pattern and setting it up to get started. Now it’s time to learn how to turn that pattern into a finished craft!

The last step mentioned in the previous post was cutting out the pattern pieces needed for your project. The next step will be to trace the pieces onto fabric, but there’s a little preparation before you do that.

Learning how to use a sewing pattern to make a craft is important for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

First, you’ll need to iron the fabric to smooth out any wrinkles. Wrinkles can distort the traced pattern and cause your final product to be pretty wonky. This fabric that I’m using I picked from the home decor section of the fabric store, and it’s a simple woven cotton. I highly recommend a fabric like this for a beginner’s craft. It was great to work with!

Learning how to use a sewing pattern to make a craft is important for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Next you have to flip your iron to a low setting and press your pattern pieces flat. The folds and creases in the paper can also distort your lines, so it’s very important that you completely flatten the pattern piece.

Learning how to use a sewing pattern to make a craft is important for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Before you begin tracing, lay the pattern pieces on the fabric to be sure that you’re leaving yourself enough fabric for both pieces. The pattern instructions will often contain a guide to laying the pieces that you can use to help you with this step.

Learning how to use a sewing pattern to make a craft is important for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

To help you trace the pattern accurately, you should pin the pattern to the fabric. If your fabric is folded, pin the pattern through all layers. This thin paper can easily be shifted while tracing, but pins will hold it in place.

Learning how to use a sewing pattern to make a craft is important for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Next it’s time to actually trace the pattern. Because all of the edges are straight, I used a ruler to guide me. This isn’t always possible, but if you can then it will help you keep your lines accurate.

Learning how to use a sewing pattern to make a craft is important for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

You can see in this picture that I completely traced the outline of the pattern, but very importantly I also traced the markings on the pattern that indicate where the pocket and straps should go. Make sure you transfer all markings from the pattern to the fabric!

Learning how to use a sewing pattern to make a craft is important for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Next it’s time to cut! With all the extra markings on the fabric, be sure you only cut the lines that you’re supposed to.

Learning how to use a sewing pattern to make a craft is important for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Repeat this process for all pattern pieces. It may be most time-effective to trace all pieces and then cut all pieces, but because of the layout of these pieces I decided to do them separately.

Learning how to use a sewing pattern to make a craft is important for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

From here on out I’ll be following the instructions included in the sewing pattern. It’s very important that you start with the first step and follow the instructions carefully. (I actually skipped the checkstand hanger loop)

Learning how to use a sewing pattern to make a craft is important for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Midway through the process. Webbing straps are pretty easy to sew! Notice that all pins are perpendicular to the path of the sewing machine. Most sewing machines can tolerate horizontal pins like this, but if your pins are vertical it can damage your sewing machine!

Learning how to use a sewing pattern to make a craft is important for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Sewing the side seams. I had some crookedness in my stitches, but this fabric was very easy to move through the machine.

Learning how to use a sewing pattern to make a craft is important for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

Cutting the last stitch!

Learning how to use a sewing pattern to make a craft is important for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff

And voila! We have a bag!

Hopefully this series has helped you see how easy it is to go from cutting the pattern to putting your new tote bag (or other craft) to work. You can really surprise yourself with what you’re capable of making once you get the hang of sewing!

Learni.st – Learn how to sew starting from step one
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Etsy – Shop Sew Me Your Stuff