Monday, 16 May 2011

Toddler trousers

Seven of you answered the poll on the website and said that you wanted to know how to make toddler trousers - here you go!

Toddler trousers are just about the easiest things in the world to make. Having said that, I constantly screw them up. This is because they are actually quite counterintuitive. OK, they are only two pieces of fabric sewn together with three seams...but each time I make them (correctly) it amazes me how they turn out.

Choose your fabric wisely and you can make these in twenty minutes. Add an applique, ribbon or trim, and pockets if you've got time to spare. Stretchy knits are lovely - just make sure to use a zig-zag stitch. Try cozy fleece for winter, or make mini-joggers with a drawstring waist. Oh the possibilities!

You will need:

-a pair of toddler trousers to use as a template
-newpaper for making your pattern
-elastic (I like to use fairly thick elastic, but whatever you're comfortable with really)
-sewing machine

Step 1: making your pattern

Take a pair of trousers that already fit your toddler, or are the size you want to make. Lay them on top of a piece of newspaper, so that the outside edge of the leg is along the fold of the paper.

Trace up the inside seam, and along the top until you get to the centre seam of the trousers. Remove the trousers, and join together your top and inner seam lines. Cut out and open up the paper to hopefully reveal a shape like this:

Step 2: Cutting Out

Cut out two of these shapes.

Step 3: Sewing

Here's the part I ALWAYS mess up. If I look at the pieces of fabric, my feeling would be to fold them in half and sew to make the legs. But that's not the right thing to do (and yet, I do it 3 times out of 4...this pair of trousers was the FIRST that I managed to sew properly in the first go). But don't worry - I'm sure you are much cleverer than I and this will pose no problem at all.

What you do is sew up the top right and left sections of your two pieces, like so. I used a zig-zag stitch because my fabric is stretchy. Use a normal stitch for not stretchy stuff, and it's a good idea to go over it again for strength. Sew the left and the right side.

Sew up the top half, left and right, to make the bum and front of your trousers.

Now open up your trousers and turn them so that one of the seams you just sewed is front and centre, and your fabric looks like this:

Now, pin together and sew up and around the inside to make your two legs. Again, it's a good idea to sew this twice for strength. You may want to snip around the curve, too, if the fabric isn't lying flat once you turn it right way out. (To do this, make tiny cuts up to but not too close to your line of stitching, just to easy the tension on the fabric as your stitches curve.)

Hem the bottom of your trousers to the desired length.

Fold over the top edge of what will be your waistband, just a tiny bit to get rid of the rough edge (or forget this step, because it will be hidden inside the trousers anyway!). Fold it over again, to make a casing wide enough for your elastic to easily fit. Sew around the bottom edge of this casing to secure it, and leave an opening of about 1-2 inches.

Cut your elastic to the desired length. The best way to do this is to actually measure it on your model! You don't want it too tight, or too loose - especially for babies. Attach a safety pin to the end of your elastic and start threading it through your casing, making sure you don't lose the other end!

Once the elastic has gone through, grab both ends and sew them together, sewing over the pieces several times to keep them secure. Now sew up the rest of the casing to hide the elastic away.

Turn your trousers right side out and admire! Embellish as desired and enjoy. Easy peasy.

The finished product!

Sunday, 15 May 2011


I've always been a sucker for smocking. Before I had a daughter, seeing smocked baby dresses would nearly reduce me to tears. To me, smocking is everything little girl clothes should be and I would spend far too much on a dress just because it had a little bit of smocking on the top. You get the idea - I LOVE smocking.

So last year, when I was first learning to sew, I googled smocking in hopes that I could master it and put it on EVERYTHING. But it looked impossibly hard, and I never tried it. Smocking went into the 'for skilled crafters only' file (along with applique, and look how wrong I was about that!). But today, I was given a fantastic book: Making Stuff: An Alternative Craft Book. Along with a fantastic way to cheat at felting, it had instructions for smocking a little sundress - and it looked dead easy. So during nap time, I ran out to the fabric shop to buy shirring elastic and spent £1.70 on 60cm of floral poly-cotton to make this adaptation. (Normally, I like 100% cotton but this was the practice number. I bought some gorgeous cotton for the next one!)

Now this would be easily done in a nap time - even a short one - but I kinda goofed in my measurements. Math is never my strong point. So follow the equation carefully, and you can have this dress done in 30-40 minutes, no problem.

What you need:

-fabric, about 60cm for a child's dress
-shirring elastic, in a colour that vaguely matches your fabric
-buttons (optional)
-sewing machine and iron

Step 1: draft your pattern

 Basically, you are going to make a shape something like a rectangle with the bottom half of a triangle. To do this, you first need to measure around the chest of the little one you're sewing for. On my model, I measured loosely and got 48cm.

Now you need to do the math. Take your chest measurement (48) and divide it by 4 (=12). Then add the original chest measurement (=60) and divide the total by 2 (=30). This is the right way to do it, not whatever way I originally did it which gave me 22.5 and subsequent problems.

So, the number you get is the top of your sundress. Now you need to decide how long you want the bodice (the smocked part) to be and draw down to give you the rectangle part. Now add 1/3 of your top width to either side and that will give you your bottom width. Draw diagonal lines down from each side to make up this number. You can actually make your bottom width as wide as you like; the wider it is, the fuller the skirt will be.
Pattern shape - cut two of these
It all sounds quite confusing written down, but if you've got a shape like the one in the photo then you're on the right track. Cut out two of these.

Step 2: Sew the dress up

Hem, zig-zagged and turned up once
Put your two piece of fabric right side together and sew up the side seams so that you have a tube-like shape. Open up the dress and press the seams flat. Now fold over the top about 1/4 inch and press. Fold over again and press again before sewing. Now do the same for the hem on the bottom of your dress (or, sew along the rough edge with a zig-zag stitch and then just fold up the once before sewing).

Step 3: smock!

Wind your elastic onto your bobbin. I had to do this by hand: I don't know if other sewing machines can manage it, but mine can't. It doesn't take long, though. Keep your normal thread in the top and put your elastic thread into the bottom.

Set your sewing machine to its longest stitch and position your presser foot just below your finished top. Make sure that your dress is right way out at this point, so that the elastic is on the inside and your normal thread is on the top. Now, start sewing!
The inside will look like this when you're done.

You are going to sew what will be horizontal lines all around the top of your dress, like hoops! Your first one won't look like much, but when you finish the first row, stop, cut the threads, and reposition your presser foot so that its edge is in line with the row you just finished (basically, your rows should be about 1/4 inch apart).

Keep going until you've smocked as far along as you want and then stop and admire how clever you are!

Step 4: Straps

Set your stitch length back to normal and take the elastic out. Cut two strips the length desired for straps. Make them a bit longer if you want them to cross in the back, and cut them about 2.5 times the width you want them to actually be.

Fold them in half length-wise, right sides together, and sew up the long edge so that you have two long tubes. Turn them right way out and press flat. Tuck in the rough edge of one end and sew. Add a button hole to the end of each strap if you want to use buttons. Sew buttons on to your dress (front or back, up to you!) where you want the straps to fasten. Sew the other end of the strap on to the inside of your dress on the opposite side.

Ta da! A gorgeous sun dress, which can be worn alone or over a shirt or onesie, made in an hour!
Modelled by my wee one, before the straps were added

Variations: make four straps, and have them tie over each shoulder, or simply sew your straps in place. If you want to go this route, for a young child I would suggest using elastic so that they're stretchy enough to make the dress easy to put on.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Octonauts 'Peso' Stuffed Penguin

For more Octonauts tutorials, go here! 

My son adores Octonauts. Unfortunately (fortunately?) there is no Octonauts merchandise, and won't be any until later in 2011. I have trawled eBay, folksy, etsy, and google and found only cake toppers, potty reward charts, and some very clever but rather pricey wall plaques. Not content to wait until the end of the year when he'll probably (hopefully) have lost interest,  I whipped up a stuffed Peso for him.

I love making stuffed toys with felt. It's super easy, super durable, and holds shape nicely. You could use other fabric, but the felt makes this a really easy and fast project.

Until I learn how to make downloadable patterns (help, anyone?) you'll have to draw your own. Or even better, download and printout a colouring sheet, like this, or this. But if you don't have a printer,  don't worry - it's pretty obvious what you need to make Peso, and I'll tell you just in case. My Peso is quite small, as I didn't have a lot of black to hand. Make yours whatever size you like, but adjust the fabric required accordingly.

You will need:
-black felt, 2 of the rectangular pieces you can get from a craft shop
-yellow felt
-white felt
-light blue felt
-co-ordinating threads for all of the above
-two black buttons for eyes

(this project can be hand or machine sewn)

Step 1: cutting out

For Peso's body, you will need two black pieces that are basically shaped like a number 8. The head is quite a lot bigger than the body (the photo I took is a strange angle, and makes the two parts look the same size but in fact they're not). You also need a white oval for the belly, and a heart shape with the pointed bottom cut off for his face.

Cut four black leaf shapes for wings, and four yellow feet shapes with a tab at the top, and a little yellow triangle for a beak. Also cut two narrow blue rectangles and angle the edges to make Peso's blue collar.

Step 2: applique!

If you are using a sewing machine, shorten your stitch length as though you were doing a button hole and set your stitches to zig zag. Using the appropriate coloured threads, applique the white tummy and face patches, the blue collar pieces, and the beak into place. Hand sew the two buttons in place for Peso's eyes.

Step 3: wings and feet

Set your sewing machine back to its normal stitch. Line up your wings and feet so that you have two wings and two feet, each double thickness. Sew around them, as near to the edge as you can.

Step 4: assemble the penguin

Put the piece of felt with the face and tummy face down on the other figure 8 shaped piece. Tuck the feet  inside the bottom so that only the little tabs you've made stick out and are visible. Do the same with the wings. You may want to pin them just to make sure nothing shifts.

Starting where the penguin's ear would be if penguins had ears, sew all around the body ending up at the other ear. Turn Peso right side out and stuff to the desired chubbiness. Hand sew the opening shut.

I did make a hat for Peso but it didn't turn out brilliantly so I'll leave you to puzzle that one out on your own! You could also make him a little medical bag, and a roll of bandages. And there you go - one Octonaut, made in about half an hour. Much faster than waiting for the toys to come out!

Baby Clothes Quilt - part 1 (The Quilt Top)

Last night, I finished something that's been in my bag for two years.

The project was a quilt made from my son's baby clothes. I came up with the idea when he was about 18 months old, and arbitrarily decided that it would include clothing up to when he turned 2. So, I had to wait for him to outgrow things - and he took his sweet time doing that. Then I lent some of his things to a friend who'd had a wee boy, and had to wait for him to outgrow them. And then, perhaps the most time-consuming part, I had to decide what I was going to do with them. Once all this was decided, the actual quilt took no time at all - but the getting there was a looooong process.

I am a hoarder when it comes to memories. I don't want to throw anything away. So the prospect of saying goodbye to these little stained shirts, worn out trousers, tiny pockets and buttons wasn't something I was capable of doing. Likewise, though, I couldn't keep them all. By the time I devised the project I already had four shopping bags of clothes that he had outgrown, and only one small cupboard to keep them in. So, I steeled myself and one afternoon I took the scissors, the rotary cutter, and a ruthless determination and started cutting.

This was definitely the hardest part, and there were a few things I couldn't bear to chop. The very first sleeper he wore is still intact, and a few other tiny vests and knitted things. But the stack of squares took up one (Clarks size 4 creepers) small shoe box instead of half a closet, and once I started there was no going back.

One of the biggest obstacles I faced was the fact that almost all of his precious clothes were made from stretchy, t-shirt material. Serious quilters will tell you that you CANNOT quilt with this. Less serious quilters will sacrifice perfection and do it anyway. More about how to do this below.

Now the two years of planning, saving and cutting means this isn't really a project that can be made in a nap. However, it can easily be broken up into nappable-sized chunks, which is largely how I got it done. Depending on how quickly you work, this is probably a week's worth of naps - maybe a bit more if your handsewing is a bit rusty.

Before we get to the step by step, a few tips learned along the way:

1. Cut your squares a good few inches larger than you actually want them to be.
2. Try and get pockets, buttons, details, and prints in - but avoid having anything bulky (snaps, thick seams) at the edge of your squares.
3. It doesn't have to be a complete archive. If there's something you can't bear to cut, don't.

My finished quilt used 63 squares, each 5 inches when finished. You can adapt as needed!

You will need:
-a rotary cutter and mat (not absolutely essential, but they will make your life easier)
-a quilting ruler
-iron-on stabiliser. I have no idea what brand I got, and there are a lot of varieties, but you want something very lightweight that will make stretchy stuff not stretchy. Ask your friendly fabric shop, or search on The Cotton Patch website for stabilisers (like these). You can even get super fancy ones that wash away when you first launder your quilt, meaning that the slight stiffness you get from a stabiliser vanishes. I didn't go for this option, simply because of the cost, but feel free!
-100% cotton thread, suitable for machine quilting (NOT hand quilting)
-a stack of baby clothes to make 63 fabric squares
-fabric for the sashing (on mine, that's the white cotton that frames each square)
-an iron
-a sewing machine

A note on fabrics. I like cotton, and I particularly like brushed cotton. Flannel is also lovely. You don't want anything too heavy and bulky, but otherwise there are no real rules. It helps if you like it and like sewing with it!

Step 1: making your squares

Assemble your baby clothes and your nerves and start cutting. At this point, cut out the squares larger than you actually want them to be: you won't trim them down to their proper size until they've been stabilised. For my quilt, I cut out 6 inch squares.

Once you have a stack of squares, you need to iron-on the stabiliser. Do this according to the instructions on the brand you've bought. Now you're ready to trim them down and make them into nice, neat squares of the size you want.

The finished size of the squares in my quilt is 5 inches, in order to incorporate some of the larger designs in the fabric. Whatever size square you want, make sure you add half an inch to allow for seams. So, for my 5 inch squares I cut out 5 1/2 inch squares.

Step 2: making your sashing

Sashing is the white stripes that surround each of the patchwork squares in my quilt. I wanted a finished border of 1 1/2 inches, so again allowing for seams I cut strips that were 2 inches wide. You want 6 long strips (to go between the columns), 56 5 1/2 inch strips, and enough white for a border all around your quilt.

Step 3: lay out the quilt

Get a big piece of floor and lay out your pieces how you want them to go. My quilt is 7 squares across x 9 squares down. Arrange to your hearts desire.

Step 4: start sewing

*** ALWAYS use a 1/4 inch seam allowance ***

Sew your squares together in columns, adding a piece of 5 1/2 sashing between each square. You should end up with a long, narrow panel of 9 squares, divided by bits of white. You want seven of these. Turn them over and press the seams open flat.

Once you have your 7 columns, you need to add a long strip of white between them and sew them all together. Then, when you have a big rectangle, add your white border. First, cut two white pieces to go across the top and bottom of your quilt, and then once they are sewn on add the borders down the sides.

Remember to press all the seams out so your quilt top is nice and neat.

Ta da! Your quilt top is finished. In the next instalment, we'll finish it off!

ABCs of sewing: B is for Binding

Binding is another one of those things that used to scare me, so I avoided it. However, a few months ago I made a quilt and unlike my other quilting attempts where I cheated and did the binding on a sewing machine (more on this later), this one I wanted to do properly. A quilting friend showed me what to do and surprise, it actually wasn't that scary at all. And now I use it ALL the time. Like this skirt. I wanted to add a touch of colour, so instead of hemming it I put binding top and bottom. Et voila!

I use binding on the edges of necks and sleeves, along the top of a cloth bag, around the edge of a cushion, and of course on a quilt.  There are different ways to do it, but here is mine.

You will need:
- strip of fabric, 2 inches wide and as long as you need it. If you can't get the required length in one continuous piece, don't worry. Just cut as many pieces as you need to get there. (To make your life easier, you may well want to use a rotary cutter and mat, or at least a good ruler and a fabric pen - the kind that fades within 24 hours - to mark your lines. You do want to be quite precise here.)
- sewing machine and iron

Step 1: joining pieces

If you don't have one single piece of fabric that is long enough for your purposes, you will need to join pieces together. You do this by placing two pieces of fabric right side down so that their corners form a right angle. 

You then sew across this angle from the bottom left point to the top right point

Open the strip out and you should have joined the two pieces with what looks like a diagonal seam.

 Trim the back, and press it flat. Join as many pieces as you need, but make sure that all the seams are on the same side. (I say this from experience: when I was making this piece, I had to tear out four sections which I'd sewed together back to front. Oops.)

Step 2: Ironing

Now that you've got your very long length, you need to fold it in half length-wise and press it. You should now have a very long, 1 inch tall strip.

Step 3: Attaching the binding

Now these pictures show the binding going onto a quilt, but the premise is the same no matter what you're attaching it to. You want to lay the binding on top of the good side of your quilt/garment/whatever so that the rough edges line up. You're then going to sew the binding on, following along the edge, as shown:

Step 4: Finishing

Now fold the binding around so that it covers all the rough edges and ends up on the back of your quilt/garment/whatever. If you're making a quilt, you'll probably want to take time and finish the other edge by hand using as neat and hidden stitches as possible (see below).

However, if this is just for a skirt or something that isn't going to be closely inspected from both sides, I'm all for just whipping it on with a machine. Unless you're very careful, the stitches will probably show a bit but I don't mind. If you're doing it by machine, fold the binding under and then sew through all the layers, from the top, positioning your needle in the groove where you joined the binding on. The stitches will show on the other side, but shouldn't be too visible from the top. You can see the finished effect on that skirt - the wrong side clearly shows the pink stitching, but the right side looks pretty good!

There you go. A rough guide to binding. Sometime I will show you the very easy, very cheating way to bind a quilt by machine - but that's enough about binding for now.