Project: Picnic Place Mat

Deborah Moebes’s Stitch By Stitch* includes a Picnic Place Mat project.  I was initially unexcited by this one as I don’t really need a picnic placement. However, I’m determined to go through to book to learn the skills taught by each project. Midway through my first one, I realized that a rollout pouch with pockets is useful for many things! I made two of these, one for me as a scissor holder and one for Alek to hold his paint brushes.

I used the following supplies:

The first Mat:

  • 3/4 yards woven gingham blue which I purchased at $1.99/yard
  • Thread
  • Ribbon that I had around.

The second Mat:

Total Materials Cost: $10.24

This is the first project that actually makes use of the bias tape that the book suggests making as an early project. My first mat was a bit of a disaster because my bias tape was completely uneven so it was difficult to get the edges to look good.

This project triggered me to become better at making bias tape. After getting the required tools and nailing down how to make bias tape, I tried again.

The next attempt was far better! The wider, more even bias tape gave the whole thing a more professional look. Alek’s still isn’t completely perfect but the flaws are a bit harder to see on a first look!



My starting point near the bottom of the back is a bit messy.

I messed up the ties on both of these in slightly different ways. On the first one, I misunderstood the instruction to fold the tie in half before attaching and folded it in half along the width of the ribbon rather than the length. This means that tying it is a bit difficult.

On Alek’s, I completely forgot to add the twill tape when I was stitching down the bias tape.  I ended up stitching it just under the seam of the twill tape, but it left a visible line.


The twill tape ribbon is attached a bit awkwardly here.

There are several aspects of this project which require a good bias tape. The ironed fold of the bias tape is used as a stitch guide after you’ve aligned the bias tape edge with your mat’s raw edge. If you don’t have an even edge on your bias tape this completely fails. This definitely happened to me on the first project.

Additionally, “Stitching the Ditch”, which requires you to restitch at the seem of the bias tape on the front of this project was far easier when the bias tape was wider and the fabric that the bias tape was made from was thicker. With the very lightweight gingham, I had a really hard time pulling the seam apart. It was much easier using the quilting weight cotton.

I’ve been using the gingham to hold my sewing tools. It is good for keeping things together but scissors tend to be too heavy and fall out easily. I have a vague plan to make a similar project in leather or canvas for myself!


Project: Brigitte Scarf

After some success with smaller projects, I decided that it might be time for me to start making stuff that I can wear. I wanted a book to give me a slow introduction to making clothing. The description of Tilly Walnes’s Love At First Stitch* was exactly what I was looking for.

The first project in Love At First Stitch is the Brigitte Scarf – Brigitte is a long head scarf with instructions to make a neck scarf as well. I made both scarves.

I used the following supplies:

Head Scarf

  • 1/2 yard white and green chevron material that I was given as a gift
  • 1″ of  elastic*

Square Neck Scarf

Total Materials Cost: $2.54

The head scarf was straightforward. I spent about an hour before work making it. I decided to slant my edges since I thought I would like that look better.IMG_20160406_090107

I may have cut my edges a bit too much as the scarf ended up not fitting around my head. Determined to get something useful out of my pre-work hour, I cut a bit of elastic and attached the two edges together.

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Better to salvage than scrap, right?

The elastic would look nicer sewn inside the seam, but my hair should generally cover the ugliness anyway.

I’m pretty happy with the way the headband looks.  I’ll probably make more of these with the elastic inside the seam. This prototype was a tiny bit looser than I’d like (although still wearable).  Next time I’ll make the elastic strip a bit smaller.

The neck scarf was very similar to the napkins that I posted about last week. The differences from the napkins were that it was a bit larger and unlike the napkins, it didn’t have mitered corners. After having the head scarf come out a bit too small, I decided to go with the 32″ x 32″ neck scarf. My fabric pulled a bit on the first side that I stitched. I switched from a size 14/90 needle, which I used for the cotton headband, to a size 11/80 needle to stop the pulling. The larger needle was too much for this very light-weight fabric.


A neck scarf really isn’t my style but I decided that this would make a nice bandana!

My biggest take away from this project: if something doesn’t quite work out, roll with it.  I like to wear wide headbands while I’m working out – so I’m excited to use long scraps to make more of my own!

It was also pretty exciting to make my first wearable!

*Amazon Associates link

Project: Fancy Napkins with Mitered Corners

Deborah Moebes’s Stitch by Stitch: Learning to Sew, One Project at a Time* has a project teaching how to make cloth napkins. It’s a great beginner project, as the materials are cheap and you get to practice cutting and sewing straight lines.

I used the following supplies:

  • 1 1/4 yards woven gingham blue which i purchased at $1.99/yard
  • Thread
  • 1 1/4 yards purple floral fabric which was a gift.

Total Materials Cost: $2.50

The first part of this project just has you over cast the edges of your napkin. I’ve already talked about my initial difficulties with overcasting, so I won’t go into details here. In summary: before getting the hang of overcasting, my napkins were a disaster.


Bad overcast stitches are pulling, making the napkin unable to lie flat even after ironing.

The next part of the project instructs the reader to fold over and miter the corners of the napkins, and then topstitch to keep the folds in place. I used the machine’s fancier stitches for the top stitching.  This made the napkins look nicer. Sadly since I was starting with a bad base (from the overcasting), my napkins still weren’t great.


The uneven pull of the napkin made for messy folding and topstitching.

The final part of this project has you fold the edges, iron, and then fold again. No overcasting needed! This was pretty great for me, as I hadn’t yet learned the secret of overcasting when I tried this part of the project.

I went for a different fabric this time, my napkins are far better than the blue and white checked napkins. My stitches aren’t as straight as I’d like them to be but I’m not embarrassed to use them!


With the raw edge folded under, overcasting isn’t required.



This project was definitely worth doing for the practice, especially since the the cost of materials was so low.  I find practicing my making something to be way more fulfilling than sitting around stitching straight lines just to get experience. We even put out the nicer set of napkins this weekend when we had guests over!

Making Bias Tape

Early on in Stitch by Stitch: Learning to Sew, One Project at a Time, Deborah teaches readers to make bias tape. Bias tape is made from thin strips cut along the stretchiest length of the fabric (the bias) – generally this means diagonal cuts from corner to corner.

You can use bias tape to hide raw edges while adding a cute trim to your project.


The yellow trim on this project is made from bias tape.

There are some tricks to getting a long continuous piece of bias tape. The trick Deborah uses (also on her blog) is to make a weird tube so you only have to cut once. This left me with uneven edges and nearly unusable bias tape time and again.


This is “completed” bias tape with edges ironed down.  Notice the uneven edge?

After much frustration from not getting nice edges, I started thinking about how I could achieve the same results by sewing smaller strips together after cutting individually. Made Everyday with Dana had the solution I was looking for! Now I could cut short strips using my rotary cutter rather than the scissors and the edges were straight and clean!

Next up: ironing down the edges of the bias tape.  On my first few attempts, I used a Clover Hot Hemmer and Clover Iron Finger.  The folds were uneven, and I was super frustrated. I was working with 60″ of bias tape – folding and measuring was tedious to say the least!

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Measuring and folding with the hot hemmer.

“There has to be another way!” In Stitch By Stitch Deborah uses a Bias Tape Maker, which she says is not required. I respectfully disagree. If you’re going to make your own bias tape GO BUY THESE NOW! You can buy the off-brand set of 4 for less than $10. They saved me so much time and frustration, totally worth it!


A tool to make nice even folds for me?  Yes, please!


Of course, you can always just purchase bias tape if you don’t want to make your own. However if you make your own you get to decide exactly what colors and prints work best with your project.

Frayed Edges

Washing fabric prior to using it for a sewing project is a requirement if you ever plan to wash the finished product. You run the risk of your finished project shrinking substantially and unevenly after the first wash if you opt out of prewashing. Never plan to wash your finished project? Don’t bother with prewash.

I enjoy the variety of fabrics that come in fat quarter bundles. As I’ve worked through beginner projects, fat quarters have often been the perfect size for small projects. I’ve made the mistake of washing 10 fat quarters together without pretreating the  edges. I pulled a knotted mess of fabric out of the drier.


A large knot remains after separating all of the fat quarters.

I recently talked about overcasting edges to avoid fraying. Overcasting isn’t just important in treating the edges of your finished project – you may also want to do it before a prewash. You’ll either spend the time overcasting before washing, or detangling after. Treating the edge before washing leaves the fabric easier to work with when you’re ready to get sewing.

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The overcast edge is mostly clean after washing and drying.



My sister, Jess, has been sewing for over a decade. Naturally, when I mentioned to her that I’d bought a sewing machine, she offered lots of awesome advice based on her experiences. She also gave me a copy of Stitch by Stitch: Learning to Sew, One Project at a Time* by Deborah Moebes for my birthday.

One of the first projects in Stitch By Stitch is cloth napkins. The book builds from very basic cloth napkins with overcast edges to a more formal napkin with mitered edges. We’ll talk about the mitered edges later – today, I’d like to address overcasting.

Overcasting is one method of finishing the raw edge of your fabric so that it won’t fray. For the simplest of the napkins, Deborah recommends overcasting the edge using a zig-zag stitch. Unfortunately, as easy as that sounded, I couldn’t get it to work.

The primary and most frustrating issue was that the fabric kept getting pushed down into the needle throat plate, causing the machine to completely jam. The jamming, panic, and unjamming are worthy of their own post so I won’t go into detail now.

After I’d resolved that though, the edges puckered and curled in. The napkins looked terrible. Even after ironing them, they won’t lay flat because the edge tension caused puckering and uneven pulling.


Notice the ripples.

I finished four napkins, convinced that with practice it would get better. Much of my issue was getting this very lightweight cotton to feed through the machine when I was working so close to the edge. I tried changing my stitch length and width but couldn’t get anything to work.

It was time for some internet troubleshooting. I very quickly found references to an overcasting foot after a quick Google search. I went to my sewing machine manual. Not only did my machine have the foot, the manual has a section on overcasting. I was using the wrong foot as well as the wrong stitch setting for my machine. The solution had been on my desk the entire time!


The overcasting foot

The foot itself is neat. It has a little rod down the center which isn’t attached in the back. It wraps the thread around the rod as you stitch at the edge. The thread slides right off when the feed dogs advance the fabric.


Notice the white thread to the right of the needle is wrapped around the rod.

Empowered with my new knowledge, I was able to do some overcasting before washing new fabric to keep it from fraying! The right circle below contains my new, clean overcast edge while the left is a closeup of my attempt to zig-zag stitch along the edge.

Achievement Unlocked: Overcasting!


*This is an Amazon Associates link.