Category Archives: Sewing Help

Customising: How to Print with Freezer Paper

printing with freezer paper

Here’s a quick and professional looking way to customise a shop bought t-shirt, using a freezer paper; brilliant stuff that’s been used by patchwork and quilters for years.

You will need:

freezer paper printing

  • a plain t-shirt
  • freezer paper (it’s made by Reynolds and is available from most big sewing supplies shops)
  • fabric paint (I’ve used Dylon fabric paints on my t-shirt, you could also use a fabric spray paint like the Marabu one in the picture, just make sure you choose an opaque paint if you want a bold graphic effect like my t-shirt)
  • a chopped up washing up sponge or a paintbrush
  • cutting mat
  • craft knife
  • pencil
  • a design for your stencil (or you can download my foxy face).

What to do:

1.how to print with freezer paperCut a piece of freezer paper to fit your stencil and to fit onto your t-shirt.

2.how to print with freezer paperPosition the stencil on the freezer paper and draw around it.

3.how to print with freezer paperCut the design from the freezer paper carefully using a craft knife or scalpel and a cutting mat to protect your work surface! TIP: be extra careful in the corners to make sure you don’t tear the paper.

4.how to print with freezer paperTake the shape of the fox’s head that you’ve cut out of the freezer paper and place it shiny side down in the position you want it to be on your t-shirt. Iron the paper and it will stick to your t-shirt. Move the iron slowly and be sure to go over all the edges and corners, but be careful not to scorch your t-shirt.

5.how to print with freezer paperSlide a couple of sheets of paper in between the layers of the t-shirt so that the paint doesn’t go all the way through both layers.

6.how to print with freezer paperUsing your washing up sponge gradually apply the fabric paint over the edges of the stencil. TIP: don’t put too much paint on the sponge at any one time or it will make big uneven splodges on your t-shirt and you may even drip it in the wrong place!

7.how to print with freezer paperLeave the paint to dry for a few hours before trying to remove the stencil.

8.how to print with freezer paperOnce the paint has dried remove the stencil carefully.

9.how to print with freezer paper

how to print with freezer paperIron the paint to set it and make it permanent. TIP: use some thin muslin over the top of your t-shirt – this enables you to use a hot iron without scorching your t-shirt and ensures no paint could find its way onto your iron!

10.how to print with freezer paperYour stenciled design is now fixed and permanent and your garment can be washed as normal.

If you don’t like the “reverse” or “negative” style of the stencil on my t-shirt, use the shape that was left behind when you cut out your stencil to get a “positive” image like this one:printing with freezer paper

Happy printing!

Find the first post in my Customising series here, it’s all about how to make and use Suffolk Puffs.

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Shop Your Stash – Planning Your Makes

For the last 3 months I’ve been talking about how to use your leftover fabric scraps, organising and de-cluttering your fabric stash and how to pair your newly organised fabrics and patterns into winning combinations. The last of this mini series is all about planning your projects; to make best use of your time, to avoid stressful sewing and to improve your skills and knowledge.


OK, every project doesn’t have to be a battle to master a new technique; we all love to sew and often the most pleasure is to be had in just sailing through a project, feeling confident in what you’re doing and having everything go right. But occasionally it’s good to choose a project that is going to challenge you in some way and enable you to learn something new, even if it’s in just one aspect of that make: maybe it’s a fabric you haven’t sewn before, a fiddly detail that you always struggle with or a difficult garment to fit.

My first piece of advice is: tackle one challenge at a time! Don’t combine all those challenges into one garment – trying to tackle a tricky detail in a difficult fabric on a garment that might not be the best fit is a recipe for frustration and disaster.

My second piece of advice is: don’t try to learn something completely new with every project – practice makes perfect. I’ve encountered students in the past who as soon as I’ve taught them a new technique and they’ve tried it once, are all too keen to move onto the next one. You don’t collect new techniques, they’re not fully formed and perfected after doing them once, the process of learning new skills and techniques needs practice and you need to master each one until they become almost like second nature. Identify the bits you find most difficult and explore ways that work for you to make them easier – that might be extra tacking, chalking seamlines or simply just practicing on fabric samples until you’ve got it right.

Try and plan your makes with this advice in mind, so if you have a tricky fabric in your stash that you’re planning to use up and it will work equally well in 2 of your patterns, choose the pattern that either; you’ve made before, or is the least technically challenging for you.

It’s rewarding to use your hobby to develop your skills, it gives you a greater sense of satisfaction with your end results and you’re continually building on what you already have. I call this approach “Progressive Sewing”, I’ve written about it before in more depth here, but it’s basically an idea I took from my gym. The instructors in my gym like to encourage everyone’s training to be progressive which means regularly changing your exercise routine by adding new exercises and increasing the difficulty of existing ones. This pushes your body to increase in strength and fitness.

Here are some ideas for a progressive approach to sewing your own clothes that will build your skills and techniques.

how to plan your sewing


In the previous part of this series I went through some common fabrics and the styles of clothes they’re best suited to, this month we’re adding those all important fibres to the mix. Fibre content is important for knowing how the fabric will handle and most crucially – what it will be like to wear. From now on, when you’re shopping for fabric, make a note of the fibre content of the fabric (and the recommended washing instructions!)

Here’s a quick reference guide to the most common fibres, what they’ll be like to wear and what they’re best used for. Print off a copy so that you have it on hand when you’re fabric shopping.

fibre identification chart

Now you might not always know the fibre content of a fabric in your stash, you might buy fabric that isn’t labelled with a fibre content or you may want to check the fibre content of a fabric that you suspect might be mis-labelled. The only way to check fibre content accurately is to burn a bit of the fabric. CAUTION! Use a small piece of fabric, hold it with tweezers and do the test ideally outdoors or at least over a sink.

Here’s a table of what happens to the most common fibres when they’re burnt. Obviously fabrics made from a mix or blend of fibres can be more tricky to identify, but if you’re trying to check if the fabric you’ve been sold really is 100% cotton or really does contain some elastane or really is silk, this should help.

how to identify fibre content


We touched on planning in the 2nd part of this series; mainly talking about seasonal versus non-seasonal sewing and setting yourself realistic goals.

Heed this advice that I’ve personally learned the hard way and that I’ve experienced with lots of my students: don’t decide to make yourself something “special” to wear on the spur of the moment for an imminent event!!

It’s stressful, you’re unlikely to enjoy the process (even if you do enjoy the end result), you won’t learn much as you’ll be rushing rather than taking the time to do things well, you might make some bad fabric / pattern choices and end up wasting money and you might not be happy with the results.

If, however, you enjoy flying by the seat of your pants and have to sew to a deadline, choose a fabric that you know you can sew easily in a colour and print that you know you will wear and ideally choose a pattern that you’ve made before, don’t try to learn new techniques in a project with a tight deadline. Or if you do, don’t bring it to your sewing class!!!

Shop Your Stash – Matching Patterns to Fabrics

For the last 2 months I’ve been talking about how to use and organise your leftover scrap fabrics and your fabric stash. So now you have a beautifully edited and organised stash of fabric, but no doubt you also have a pattern stash?! Here are my tips for how to streamline and organise your pattern collection and a quick guide for teaming fabrics with patterns.


how to store patterns

Go through your wardrobe and pull out the garments you most enjoy wearing. You could even take photos of them and create a moodboard or a “My Style” Pinterest board (this is probably a good version of that for me). Hopefully a pattern will start to emerge of styles, shapes and details.

You might also begin to see some gaps that could be filled with particular garments.

Next get an accurate set of your body measurements; include your cup size as well as your bust, inside leg and your preferred skirt lengths. Always refer to these measurements when choosing your pattern size, DO NOT go by dress sizes on patterns – they’re meaningless (read why here), get to know your body measurements and just go by the size chart and finished garment measurements on the pattern.

Download a copy of my guide to taking measurements:how to measure yourself


Next, go through your patterns and using the flat technical drawings so as not to be distracted by photographs and illustrations, pull out all the ones that you would wear and that fit in with the styles you identified in step 1. Be honest with yourself!

Once you have made a pile of “possibles” go through these patterns again and check that the sizes covered by each pattern include your measurements (remember to check both the body measurement chart AND the finished garment measurements of the pattern). Put all those that cover your measurements to one side, the rest are your reject patterns to get rid of.

Like with your culled fabrics, there are lots of ways to get these patterns out of your life:

  • sell them online – there’s always Ebay, but social media sites like Instagram are becoming popular in the sewing community for regular “Destash Sales”,
  • organise a pattern swap with your crafty friends at a class or meet-up,
  • donate them to your local charity shop or school.

What’s the best way to store your newly edited library of patterns? Patterns come in a wide range of shapes and sizes and then there are PDF patterns.

As with fabrics, I’m a fan of the clear plastic stackable box approach, but here are some more ideas for storing your patterns:

  • paper patterns that you think you’re likely to use several times need to be more durable – transfer the pieces onto card or iron interfacing onto the backs of the pattern sheets before cutting out the pieces,
  • store card and interfaced patterns on pattern hooks and hang them along with any toiles you’ve made of the patterns,
  • don’t try to stuff cut out paper patterns back into their envelopes, either store the pieces in a card or plastic folder and keep them on a shelf or put the pieces in a clear plastic sleeve and put the sleeve on a hanger along with any toiles you’ve made of the pattern,
  • don’t roll patterns that are on card or stiffer paper – they will never lie flat again and will drive you bananas!

It’s time to shop your fabric stash! Take each of your edited patterns and see if you can find a suitable fabric in your (now beautifully organised) fabric stash.
Each pattern will have a list of suggested fabrics, if you’re still quite new to sewing, these lists can be quite confusing.

To help you out I’ve put together 2 checklists:

  • a fabric checklist which explains by fabric name some of the more common fabrics, along with what kind of styles they best suit and their typical fibre content,
  • a project checklist for you to better plan your sewing projects.

You can download them here.

fabric guide

If you’re planning to make a pattern that you haven’t made before, make a quick toile in a similar weight, substitute fabric first to check whether you want to make any tweaks to the fit or style.

Once you’ve sewn with a range of different fabrics and have an idea of how they behave, what they’re like to sew and how much you enjoy wearing them, you can experiment with substituting the fabrics recommended for your patterns.

How to Sew Stripes and Stripe Match Every Time

stripe matching tips

If, like me, you love wearing stripes, you really need to learn how to stripe match. Look at most cheap high street stripey clothing to see great examples of awful (non existent) stripe matching. Argh, it sets my teeth on edge!!

If you’re making your own clothes you have the power to change that and get beautifully matched stripes every time.

stripe matching tips

I’m going to show you some of my simplest stripe matching tips so that you can achieve results like these. Spoiler: there are no shortcuts.  It takes time to achieve perfection and sometimes it can be wasteful of your fabric, that’s why you’re unlikely to find it on the high street.

I’ll show you how to ensure perfectly matching stripes at every stage of making your garment:

  • Planning Stripes
  • Stripey Layouts
  • Cutting Stripes
  • Sewing Stripes

STEP 1: PLANNING STRIPES

Fact – some stripes are easier to sew than others. If this is your first attempt at stripe matching, go wide. The wider the stripe, the easier the stripe matching.

In these examples, the stripe on the right may just tip you over the edge if you haven’t had a bit of experience with stripe matching.

The second thing to consider (more in terms of fabric consumption and cutting) is whether your stripe is symmetrical.

A stripe with a simple symmetrical repeat (like the 2 above) will allow you to use a 2-way lay plan ie. you will be able to turn pattern pieces upside down in order to make best use of your fabric.

These two examples of asymmetric stripes would mean placing all your pattern pieces the same way up with the tops of the pattern pieces all at the same end of the fabric:

Here’s an example of one of those stripes in repeat with front and back pattern pieces placed on it in different directions:

how to sew stripes

 You can see straightaway how the stripe repeat would be different across the front and back of the garment; that narrow double red stripe would always be above the wide red stripe across the front, but below it across the back.

STEP 2: STRIPEY LAYOUTS

Once you have worked out whether your fabric has a symmetric or asymmetric stripe, you’re ready to start laying out your striped fabric ready to cut.

If you’re working with a knitted fabric and a horizontal stripe, this can be a challenging stage. You need to be sure that your fabric is square and if you want to cut out your fabric folded, that fold has to be spot on and the same stripe must be sitting on top of itself with the fabric folded otherwise you’ll never be able to match your seams and your horizontal stripes will end up looking a bit sea sick.

how to sew stripes

I tend to cut stripes on the right side of the fabric to be absolutely sure they’re going to match, so once you’ve folded your fabric and followed the same stripe around the fold to the underside of the fabric to ensure it’s sitting on top of itself, pin the ends of the stripes along the selvedge to hold them in place. I like to pin every few stripes – yes you’ll be using a lot of pins!

how to sew stripes

This is also when you can find lots of knitted fabrics haven’t been cut square. You can see where the 2 selvedges meet in the middle of the fabric above; once I had matched up the stripes the selvedges were drifting off at a bit of an angle. This is because most knitted fabrics are knitted on circular knitting machines as a tube. As most home dressmakers are used to working with “open” fabric, this tube is then cut open, not always accurately.

If you’re struggling to keep your stripes matched when folding your fabric, don’t panic, just cut out your fabric as a single layer. To make life easier, adapt any pattern pieces that are cut on a fold into full pattern pieces and remember to flip over pieces that are cut twice to make sure you get a left and a right piece and not two identical ones.

STEP 3: CUTTING STRIPES

Now you’re ready to place your pattern pieces onto your fabric and start stripe matching across the different parts of your garment.

The key thing to remember, is to start with one prominent pattern piece (such as the front) and line up the same points on each pattern piece with the same part of the stripe. The easiest points to line up are the hemline or the top (underarm point) of the side seam.

how to cut stripes

Always try and follow a stripe along straight hems and if you’re working with an asymmetric stripe with a very dominant colour or wider stripe in the repeat, think carefully about where you want that to end up in your garment as it’s likely to draw the eye to that particular area.

I prefer to weight my patterns and draw around them on stripes, again to ensure I’m being as accurate as possible.  Then remove the paper pattern and cut along the chalk lines. If you’re working on folded fabric, place a few pins within the chalked out pattern piece at its extremities to ensure the layers don’t move while you’re cutting.

A note about bust darts – if your side seam incorporates a bust dart on the front of the garment, begin your stripe matching at the hem. Only by chance  will the stripes match above the dart (it’s all down to the size of your dart and width of your stripes) and you have the longest expanse of seam visible to the stripe-matching police below the dart!

STEP 4: SEWING STRIPES

Now, if you don’t like tacking or precision sewing, maybe stripes aren’t for you just yet as we’re going to be doing a lot of pinning and tacking.

First, match up the stripes at each end of your seam and pin them accurately together. Then, work your way along the seam pinning every stripe for wide stripes and every other stripe or every 2nd stripe for narrower stripes. Place your pins at right angles to the edge of the fabric; you can fit in more pins and the pin is holding more of the stripe in place.

stripe matching tips

Take a peek and double check the stripes in between your pins are aligned before you start tacking.

stripe matching tips

Set your sewing machine to do a tacking stitch: a straight stitch on the longest stitch length setting.

Machine tack your seam together ON THE SEAMLINE don’t tack to one side because when you do your final stitching the stripes can move out of alignment.

how to stripe match

Once tacked, open the seam to check the stripes are matching.

stripe matching tips

If they have moved (yes, I know how frustrating it is once you’ve got this far and been sooooo careful), don’t fret, all is not lost. Your fabric is likely to be either very stretchy, a bit thick or a bit “bouncy” and the top layer of your seam has been moved slightly by your machine, pushing the stripes out of alignment.

Here’s how to fix it:

1 – If your machine has the facility, reduce the presser foot pressure.

how to stripe match

This reduces how hard the presser foot presses down on your fabric and so can stop your machine pushing that top layer of stripes out of alignment.

2 – Use a walking foot.

The walking foot has an extra set of feed dogs (the little metal teeth under the presser foot that feed the fabric through the machine) which means your 2 layers of fabric feed through the machine evenly without the top layer being pushed out of alignment.

A walking foot tends not to come as a standard accessory with your sewing machine and so needs to be bought separately.  Make sure you buy the correct foot for your make and model machine.  The price will vary according to what sort of machine you have. It’s worth investing in a walking foot if your machine doesn’t have the facility to adjust the presser foot pressure.

A note about hand tacking – anyone that knows me knows that I love a bit of hand tacking, but honestly, I don’t think it’s the best method for tacking stripes; machine tacking is just that bit more secure which is exactly what we need when stripe matching.

Once you’re happy with your stripe matching after tacking, carry on and permanently stitch the seam using your chosen method. If you’re sewing a  knitted fabric with just your regular sewing machine, I have written lots of tutorials with advice on different machine settings here. If you’re going to overlock your seams, here’s a short video of how easy your overlocking will be once you’ve machine tacked your stripes in place! Note that I’m following the tack line with my left needle thus making it the seamline.

Now you too can become a stripe matching geek!

stripe matching tips how to stripe match how to stripe match

No Pattern T-Shirt & Dress Project

free dressmaking project

When Julie from the Sewing Directory got in touch to ask if I’d create a dressmaking project for their site that could use an overlocker and didn’t require a pattern I immediately said yes. I like a challenge!

Armed with some gorgeous knitted fabrics that were kindly provided by Girl Charlee here’s what I created…..

free dressmaking project

….a tapered hem dress,

free sewing project

and a loose drapey t-shirt (those dogs, always trying to get their little hairy faces in…..!!)

The project works in woven fabric as well as knits and you can find it here.

Don’t forget to share your makes on social media and tag me (I’m @thatwendyward on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest or you can post a photo on the MIY Collection Facebook page). I love seeing what you make with my patterns and projects!

Shop Your Stash – 4 Easy Steps

stash busting

In this post I talked about ways to use up those awkward left over offcuts of fabric in your stash that are too small to make a garment, but too big to just discard. Now let’s get serious and tackle those bigger pieces of fabric in your stash – yes, you know what I mean, those lengths you bought on impulse that are languishing in the bag with the receipt completely forgotten about ……! It’s fine, we’ve all done it, but they’re taking up valuable space, so here’s my four-step plan for tackling them.

stash busting

Tackle the stash head on and prepare to be harsh and brutally honest. Pull out any fabrics that are in colours and prints that don’t coordinate with the rest of your wardrobe and that you’ve never worn before; if you’ve never bought clothes in those colours or prints you’re unlikely to wear anything you make in them. Do this in daylight with a mirror close by – if you’re unsure about a fabric, hold it up to your face, you’ll soon get a feeling for whether you’d be likely to wear it.

Put the fabrics that pass the cull to one side ready for the next steps. Get rid of the fabrics that didn’t make the grade. There are plenty of good things you can do with your rejects:

  • use it for non-dressmaking sewing
  • if you have storage space – keep it for making toiles
  • sell it online – there’s always Ebay, but social media sites like Instagram are becoming popular in the sewing community for regular “Destash Sales”
  • organise a fabric swap with some stitchy friends at a class or sewcial meet-up
  • donate it to a charity or school.

stash busting

Once you have your carefully edited pile of usable fabrics, make sure each piece is washed so that it’s all ready to just unfold and cut. Pre-washing is important and I’ve written more about it here; it removes any loose dye and encourages any shrinkage in the fabric. Natural fibres are most prone to shrinkage (especially cotton and wool), as are regenerated fibres such as viscose and rayon. Knitted fabrics are also more likely to shrink than woven fabrics. 

Here’s a guide to how much different fibres are likely to shrink:

  • wool by up to 15%
  • viscose 8%
  • cotton 10%

By now you probably won’t have a note of the washing instructions for your fabrics, not a problem, what I tend to do is put fabric on the machine cycle that I want to be able to use for my finished clothes. Personally I don’t dry clean, so if a fabric can’t withstand machine washing, I’m unlikely to use it. If you have any fabric in your pile that you know may require more careful cleaning such as silk or wool, put them on a delicate, cool machine wash or hand wash them if they’re very precious.

Dry knitted fabrics flat and woven fabrics on a line, airer or over a shower rail. Never drape any fabric over anything with protruding parts (like the backs of chairs) to dry as they will distort and stretch the area of the fabric that covers them and these stretched areas can be almost impossible to remove once your fabric is dry.

stash busting

Label each piece of fabric with the following information to save time when shopping your stash:

  • fibre content (if you can remember – you can always do a burn test to check)
  • whether the fabric is pre-washed
  • the size of the piece.

Then fold or roll the fabric. There are arguments for and against both folding and rolling fabric; rolling tends to reduce creasing, and although I find rolling takes up more space, rolled lengths of fabric stored on their ends can make it easier to see at a glance what fabrics you have.

The key to storage is visibility; I like to store my fabric in clear plastic boxes. If you’re lucky enough to have the space, fabric stored on shelves is most accessible, but if you’re short on space, vac pack bags like these are great space savers while keeping your fabric visible.vacuum storage bagsIt’s vital to shopping and using your stash to store it in a way that makes it easy to see what you have; if you chuck your stash all together in a box or suitcase under the bed it won’t work, it will never be seen again. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience!

Finally, beware of every fabric stash’s enemy – the moth! I always put moth balls (or similar) in my storage boxes and spray wool and silk with moth proofing spray before putting them into storage.

stash busting

Try and think ahead with your sewing. Unless you’re making lots of really quick-to-sew garments, anticipate your needs and start making in advance. I find it really difficult to sew out of season; I just don’t fancy sewing heavy warm wools in summer and likewise, floaty silks and cotton lawns just don’t appeal in the depths of winter. But, unless you want to wait a whole year to wear your makes, start more challenging seasonal projects ahead of season; for example, plan and make a start on a winter coat project at the end of the summer. You can always keep a few easy quick seasonal makes going alongside your big projects; a cool tank top or t-shirt dress isn’t going to take long to make and will be a welcome instant fix when you get tired of (or overheated by) the coat!

Identify the gaps in your wardrobe (including wardrobe winners that you want to make more of) and make a “to-sew” list. Beth of Sew DIY has a nice little sewing calendar you can download from her blog here.

According to the Craft Industry Alliance Sewing Planners are the next big thing, Colette’s sewing planner has been around for a while and more apps for “organising your stash” have emerged in the past year such as Cora and Sewologie. Personally I’d rather channel the work involved in setting up an app into a physical planner any day, but maybe that’s just the design school training of keeping a sketchbook that’s ingrained in me or maybe it’s the simple fact that fabrics are tactile and you need to touch them….

Whichever method you choose, the key is to keep it manageable – there are only 12 months in a year, so if your list has 25 projects, that’s 2 a month and do you really have that much sewing time? Also try and throw in at least a couple of projects that you know will stretch you and encourage you to learn some new skills.

I’ve written before about planning your sewing rather than rushing into projects to realise halfway through that you don’t like or need them….

  • find my post on thoughtful sewing with a Sewing Planner to download here
  • you can download my guide to making a Home-Sewn Collection here.

Change the Width of Your Elastic – A Quick Fix

Have you ever found yourself mid-project, in need of some elastic of a specific width and only able to find something too wide in your stash?

If you have an overlocker, here’s a genius way to fix that:

Just overlock your elastic to the width you need and the overlocked edge stretches with the elastic without unravelling.

Happy sewing!