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10 Things I wish I Knew When I Started Sewing

I got my first sewing machine 13 years ago and, to be honest, I just muddled along. I had my fair share of ‘how on earth did I do that!?’ and ‘why can’t I do this!’ conversations with myself and learnt as I went. Recently I’ve tried more advanced sewing techniques and it got me thinking about what I would tell my 18 year old self to make her sewing going more smoothly. So here’s a mixture of tips and just things that are really useful to know.

10. Zips aren’t scary. Yes, even invisible zips. I used to get myself in such a tizz at the mere thought of inserting a zip. I remember very clearly pacing around the room before finally sitting down at my machine in some sort of terrified state. But now, a zip is one of the easiest parts of a project and no longer do my invisible zips look far less than invisible…

When it comes to invisible zips my ‘trick’ is definitely to use the correct foot. And to iron the zip first. More on this in another post.

9. This button is actually there for a reason… and it’s actually really useful! I’ve recently starting sewing with really thick fabrics and this magic button makes this easier. You press it before lowering your presser foot and it keeps it level. When this is no longer needed, the button pops out and you can sew normally. Now I bet you’re going to go and try that now aren’t you?

8. Your shop bought size is never your sewing pattern size. The first pattern I ever bought, I immediately made a size 8; that’s what I wore so what could go wrong? Well a lot of things actually but the main being it didn’t fit. Now I always check the measurements on the packet and compare them to my own. Even then it’s still not always right. So if I’m sewing with an expensive fabric, then I’ll make a mock up (or toille) of the item in a cheaper fabric so I can adjust it if need be.

7. Sometimes you’ll just wing it when a pattern doesn’t seem to make any sense. Some patterns, such as Tilly and the Buttons patterns, are great because they have step by step photographs to follow and lots of online support. Other patterns however…. I’ve recently used a pattern from one of the ‘Big 4’ (Butterick, McCalls, Simplicity and Vogue) and the instructions were AWFUL! I read, I reread, I asked other people to read it… but I was getting nowhere. In the end I just went with my gut and used my experience and it worked out ok. Now I couldn’t have done that when I started necessarily but I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to even try.

6. There is a way to make your stitching straight. When I started sewing I would keep my eye on the needle and, inevitably, my stitching wouldn’t be straight. Instead, I use the guide lines on my sewing machine. Normally when making clothes I have a seam allowance of 5/8″ so I just line up my fabric with that line and voila, much more accurate sewing.

5. You don’t need to pull the fabric as you sew. When I started sewing I’d pull on the fabric as I was sewing because I thought I had to do this to pull it through. Not the case. Machines have ‘feed dogs’ which are the metal ridges you can see in the photo below. These move as you sew and grip the bottom fabric helping it to pass through smoothly. So by pulling my fabric, I was skipping stitches as the fabric was passing through too quickly.

4. Jersey isn’t that scary Now this is a relatively recent revelation for me. I’d put off using jersey until last year and I wish I’d started using it sooner. There’s no need for zips or buttons and it isn’t half as bad to use as people say. I found that using my walking foot really helped. The walking foot (see below) is designed to have an extra set of feed dogs for the top fabric. It basically keeps it all together! My other trick is to cut using a rotary cutter as it really reduces stretching when cutting.

3. Ironing is essential I hate (and hardy ever do) ironing when it comes to my already-made or shop bought items but it really is essential when sewing; particularly clothes. So why iron?

  • Ironing before cutting eliminates inaccuracies
  • It helps seams to sit flat and therefore look more polished.
  • You can manipulate fabrics, particularly wool, in to different shapes by stretching and shrinking it.
  • It just makes the finished item look better. Simple.

2. There is a hidden compartment in a lot of your sewing threads. Again, this is relatively new to me. It doesn’t really help with my sewing but it’s interesting. Most threads have a little bit at the bottom that detaches; this is mainly for keeping the thread secure. But if you remove it, you have a little compartment for needles for on the move sewing. Just seal up the hole with tack or something similar.

1. You will ALWAYS have to use a stitch unpicker. On every project. Embrace it.

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Project of the Month: How to make a Pencil Roll

This month to help get ready for the new school term we’ve done a how to make your own Pencil Roll! Could also be used for paint brushes or even make up brushes!

You will need:

X2 Different fabrics 28cm x 39cm
60cm 15mm wide Satin Ribbon

Tools and Equipment:
Sewing Machine, Thread, Pins, Needle, Fabric Scissors, Ruler, Pen / Tailors Chalk,
Iron and Ironing board, Pinking Shears, a mug / something with a curve to draw round

Let’s get Making!

Decide which of your fabrics will be the inner and which will be the outer. For our roll the white animal fabric is the outer and the purple raindrops is the inner. From both of the fabrics cut the following: 28cm x 13cm. 28cm x 26cm (you’ll notice this fits into a fat quarter perfectly so you could actually make the roll out of just one fat quarter is you didn’t want the contrasting fabrics!
Next just with the larger piece of both fabrics grab your mug and butter it up to the top corners, draw around and then cut to give you a nice smooth curve!

Little Hack
Fabric cut out and ready to go!

Take the two smaller pieces right sides together and stitch along the top (1cm seam allowance for this project) Open out and press and then fold so that wrong sides are facing and press the seam down. This will make up the front pockets.

Pocket piece pressed

Take your pocket piece and lay it on top of the larger inner piece of fabric so that bottom corners and lined up. Now grab your pins and a rular, you can use the pins to mark out where you will be stitching to make the multiple pouches or a washable pen / tailors chalk if you prefer. Mark out the pins 3.5cm apart from each – APART from the ones on the other edge, they will need to be 4.5 cm from the edge to allow for seam allowance for when assembling. This perfectly fit 3 pencils per pouch, feel free to change it round to be either smaller or larger depends how many you’d like to fit if each section!

Align your pins for where / how big you’d like your pockets to be

Stitch straight lines down attaching the pouch to the inner piece of fabric. Snip off the loose threads and grab out remaining outer piece of fabric face down (so right sides together) sandwich together and pin around the edge

Sandwich together your pieces, right sides facing

Leave a gap of roughly 7cm along the edge (in between the curves) and sitch around the edge. Snip off the corners, turn and press flat.
Ladder Stitch the top opening.

Place your roll in front of you with so that you’re looking at the back of it. Measure 10cm across from the left hand side and 10cm up from the bottom and pin the centre point of your ribbon to this spot. Stitch the ribbon to the roll but be sure not to stitch all the way through tacking down one of the pouches. I find tucking my finger in one of the pouched so I can feel when the needle is through the fabric and stop it going through the pouches. This should also line up so that this little line of stitching doesn’t show when you turn the roll over as it’s inside on the little pockets.

And Voila! Your roll is complete! Please let us know how you got on with this project and if you share on social media tag us in with #bunyippotm so we can see them!

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Top 10… Haberdashery Items


I sew so I use a lot of different haberdashery on a regular basis (that and I work in a haberdashery of course). Mattie asked me a while ago if I could do a blog post about my top ten items and it got me thinking… What makes something one of my favourites? It’s not like fabric where I look at it and my heart beats that bit faster; these are practical items. But a blog post about sewing thread and needles wasn’t going to cut it. So in the last couple of months I’ve been paying close attention to what I use, how I use it and how it improves whatever project I’m working on. The result is this, my top 10 haberdashery items.

10. Bias Binding

The binding in the photo is beautiful, pretty bias binding that would have to be on show. I have done this recently on outfits when I want to make a bit of a statement and it’s so easy. But I’ve also started doing hidden bias binding finishes on necklines and arm-holes. Still super easy but also makes my clothes look nice and professional.

9. A Variety of Sewing Needles 

I know I said that I wasn’t about to write a post on needles but I did have to include some in the round up. In my sewing kit I have a variety of different needles for different jobs including general sewing, embroidery, beading or darning. When I first started I never would have thought that there were so many out there, but the right needle does make the job a lot easier!

8. Buttonhole Thread

I recently found the joy of hand sewing a buttonhole. So therapeutic and much less temperamental than doing it on my machine. A good strong thread in a variety of colours is definitely a part of my sewing box.

7. Buttons

It surprised me that buttons didn’t come a bit higher in my list (I am the girl who has buttons in her tattoo!) but they are definitely still there. Buttons can really make a garment and at the moment my particular favourites are these coconut buttons in yellow. Just scrummy!

6. Self Cover Buttons

Self cover buttons are great because you can choose the colour to match whatever you’re making. It can be a complete contrast, a perfect match, patterned or plain. You will definitely find something that works.

5. Pin Cushion

I love the ease of a pin cushion. No boxes or envelopes to open, just stab the needle in and voila, tidy. I’ve managed to master the skill of removing pins and continuing to sew on my machine so a pin cushion is a must for quick, blind tidying. 

4. Interfacing

When I first started writing this, my immediate thought was that this would be number 10. But after thinking about it, I actually use interfacing a lot. I like to make purses and bags so this gives me the structure and stiffness that I need. It’s also useful on collars to keep them looking pristine. 

3. Sharp Snipping Scissors

I have a lot of scissors in my craft room… I mean a lot. I obviously use my fabric scissors all of the time but I do love a nice, sharp pair of little scissors for snipping threads at the end of a project. The ‘sharp’ aspect is the most important bit here; no struggling and faffing involved.

2. Seam Ripper

It had to be here didn’t it. Barely a project goes by without me having to use a seam ripper. I have about 5… just in case.


And at number 1….

Chalk Pens

I often make my own designs so these pens are perfect for creating thin, precise lines on my fabric. They’re also perfect for transferring markings from a commercial pattern. The best bit, they wash out so no unsightly marks on my finished make. 

So there’s my top 10, what would be in yours?