Category Archives: Sewing Help

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! In 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!

Customising: How to Make Suffolk Puffs (or Yo-Yo’s)

yoyo suffolk puff

The depths of January aka the perfect time of year for a slow sewing, hand sewing, frugal kind of project. Inspired by my recent post on ideas for using up your leftover fabrics, here’s a step-by-step tutorial for one of my stash-busting suggestions………

Suffolk Puffs (or yo-yo’s as they’re known in the US) come from the patchwork and quilting world where they’re traditionally joined together to make covers or used to decorate other items. They’re little discs of gathered up fabric and look great when made in lots of different fabrics and sizes. I’ll warn you now……they’re quite addictive making once you get started and they’re not just for quilters!

How to make yo-yo’s and Suffolk puffs:

1 – Make your template – the finished puff will turn out half the size of your template. (You can get puff makers, but having used one, personally I don’t think they make as nice a puff because you can’t get your gathering stitches small enough). suffolk puff instructions 12 – Choose your fabrics – lightweight cottons and silks work best – thicker fabrics won’t gather up so well and can become a bit bulky.

3 – Turn over a tiny (approx. 0.5cm) hem all around the edge of the circle of fabric towards the wrong side. Thread up a hand sewing needle with matching colour thread, make a knot at the end of the thread and sew a small (each stitch and gap approx. 0.5cm) running stitch with a single thread, not doubled (it’s more likely to get in a tangle if you use your thread doubled) all around the edge of the circle. suffolk puffs instructions 2

4 – When you get back to the start of your stitching draw up the running stitches to gather the fabric as tight as you can without snapping the thread!

TIP use synthetic thread not cotton – it’s stronger so won’t snap when you’re gathering your fabric. suffolk puff instructions 3

5 – Turn the puff through to the right side of the fabric before the gathering stitches close the hole. Close the hole as tightly as you can.

6 – The circle will turn into a little pouch! yoyo instructions 4

7 – Fasten off the end of your thread securely and flatten out the puff. I like to then give them a little iron to really flatten them and make them into little fabric discs.

yo-yo's detail

What to do with your yoyo’s and suffolk puffs:

You can then slip stitch them invisibly onto your garment by running your needle along the folded edge of the puff (you’ll have what looks like a line of running stitch on the inside of the garment.

puffsphoto3-web

They look great creeping across the front of a plain skirt or around the neck of a t-shirt!

yo-yo skirt

yo-yo's t-shirt

Make colour / pattern coordinated ones or make a rainbow of them with your fabric scraps – perfect for those tiny bits of super precious fabric that you keep hoarding.

Or, if you’re keen to get back on your sewing machine after all that hand sewing….

yo-yo's

….tack them onto some water soluble fabric and join them together with some freehand machine embroidery.

yo-yo's

Happy sewing and remember, I warned you they were addictive……I have a box full, most sewn while sat in front of the TV or on public transport!

4 Ways to Use Your Fabric Leftovers

uses for left over fabric

If you’ve been sewing for even just a few months, I’ll bet you’ve already started building up your own “stash”. A personal stock pile of fabrics that are either left over from past projects or yet to be cut into and patiently awaiting the “perfect” project. Eventually that stash will need a box, then a cupboard, then one day a room of its own, so get it under control right now!

This post is all about ideas for using up your smaller pieces of fabric, I’ll be writing another in which I’ll talk about teaming fabrics with the right patterns.

So, start using your fabric offcuts instead of hoarding them!

Colour blocking and panels / patch pockets in garments:

I love the challenge of using up small pieces of fabrics that aren’t big enough to make whole garments, in parts of garments. Your stash can make perfect contrast cuffs, collars, sleeve bands, hem bands, and why not add seams to garments so that you can piece fabrics together like in this version of my Walkley Vest pattern.

I’m also quite partial to a contrasting patch pocket like this one on the fishtail skirt from “Beginner’s Guide to Dressmaking”.

beginners guide to dressmakingPicture © Julian Ward

Bias binding:

It’s so easy to make your own bias binding and if you use my continuous strip tutorial, you’ll be amazed just how much binding you can get out of a relatively small piece of fabric.

Facings and pocket linings:

If you’re not into contrast fabric details that are visible in your handmade garments, you can still use up that stash – facings and pocket linings are often the perfect size for those odd leftover pieces of fabric in your stash. You can add a secret little flash of contrast fabric on the inside of your garment that only you know about. It’s little details like these that make sewing your own clothes so satisfying!

Suffolk puffs and ruffles:

Suffolk puffs (or yoyo’s) are really easy to make from the smallest pieces of leftover fabrics and I’ve used them a lot as embellishments on garments. Admittedly, this is a long slow project, but the effects are worth it. Find my step-by-step tutorial for making them here.

A quicker embellishment idea is to use long strips of jersey, gathered along the centre of the strip and then stitched onto an otherwise plain garment.

Things to Watch Out For When Using Your Stash in Garment Making:

  • choose fabrics that are similar weights when combining them within a garment
  • make sure all the fabrics have been washed so that any loose dye has been washed out and any shrinkage has already happened
  • pay attention to the grainline – you still need to use your stash fabrics with the grainline in the right direction for your pattern, if you piece together fabrics with the grainline off in different directions, you’ll end up with puckered seams and stretched and / or distorted areas in your garment.