Tutorial #4: How to make a tailor’s ham (and save at least £10)

Sick of pressing dodgy darts and crazy curved seams on my old worn out ironing board, I decided last week to investigate buying a tailor’s ham and perhaps even a seam roll. A quick search on google shopping threw up a rather interesting tartan version for under a tenner (not for me). Undaunted I turned to Etsy for something cute and unique. Yeh… you can get them there… but it’s more like £20. For a bit of stuffed fabric? Really?

So I decided to investigate making my own, using fabric from my bulging scraps bag lurking in the corner of the sewing room. I found a fantastically easy tutorial (including a pattern to print out) from http://www.bombardone.com. I had no idea it would be so deliciously simple! They also give instructions on making your own seam roll which I’ll attempt next week.  Plus this tute from Burda Style also goes through it very well.

So first you cut out four layers of your chosen material, all to the same pattern shape. I chose contrasting fabrics for my top and bottom. I had some leftover fat quarters from napkin making. When I say ‘leftover’ I mean I got bored of making napkins, which mans we have three napkins at home. Handy for dinner parties eh? You pin all four layers together with the innermost two layers right sides together. When you turn this right side out later on it’ll make sense.  The other two layers on the outside of your project don’t really matter as they’ll be on the inside of your finished project, but I kept them right sides outward facing.

Tailor's ham material

Sew about a half inch seam allowance all round the edges, leaving about three inches open (so you can stuff it with all those leftover fabric scraps).

Tailor's ham sewn seams

Turn it right side out. Then stuff it, stuff it and stuff it some more. This bit took about ten minutes – it’s amazing how much you can get in there.This thing eats fabric scraps.

Tailor's ham stuffed

Then just sew up the flap you left open and voila! A tailor’s ham that looks like it could have come from Etsy but cost pretty much nuffink to make. Bargainous, non?

Finished Tailor's ham

Tutorial #3: A superior posterior pad

It’s been a difficult week to get much sewing done here in London. I’ll not go into the details, I think the excellent blogs already out there from Tilly and Karen, plus the news coverage pretty much sums it up. I haven’t a) quite been able to pull myself away from BBC News and b) felt much like it. But last night and tonight, things have been quieter. So I thought I’d put together my tutorial for making a bespoke seat pad with piping.

A superior posterior pad

A while ago I wrote a blog about finding some old and unloved chairs on the street. I confess – I am a total skip-dipper. I can’t pass one without having a nosey. I sanded down and painted the chairs about a month ago and what better way to set off their fresh new look than a bonny new seat pad! I asked you guys what fabric I should plump for and you picked the rather fabulous vintage (60s? 70s?) pink curtain that I picked up in Bethnal Green at a Vintage Fair last year.

Which fabric goes best?

Okay – here’s what you’ll need.


Foam pad – enough to cover the area you want

Fabric – I use hard wearing cotton or linen, old curtains, etc. How much you need depends on your seat pad width and length, whether you’re using the same fabric to cover your piping, whether you want seat ties etc… but half a metre or so should cover it. You’ll need:

1. Three pieces sized roughly the same as your foam pad (the trimmed size – see below)

2. Two matching strips roughly 1.5″ x 16″ for your seat ties and one strip roughly 1.25″ x the circumference of your seat pad for your piping (or you can use a contrasting piping for more of a funky look).

Notions: Matching thread and enough piping to go round your seat pad – a metre should cover it.

Nice to have:

Electric carving knife. Yep – that’s right! Seriously – cutting foam is no joke. Scissors  and stanley knives are tough-going and make the edges ragged. Get yourself one of these beauties and you’ll be the home furnishings equivalent of Edward Scissorhands. I got mine for less than £10 on Amazon and use them solely for this but bet if you ask your mum she’ll have one knocking about.  Alternatively you can get ready-made foam pads for seats but I find that one size rarely fits all.

Piping foot: I suppose this could theoretically be a ‘nice to have’  as you can use a zipper foot but I wouldn’t like to attempt piping without mine – it removes all pain and frustration and makes your world a happy, happy place.

Let’s get started

First thing is to get a sheet of newspaper, tracing paper or pattern paper and lay it on your chair. Mark out the general shape of your pad, trying to make it as symmetrical and even as possible . Cut out and lay the paper on top of your foam pad, trace an outline with a marker pen or chalk – and cut! So here’s the finished foam insert. Like so.

Finished foam insert

At this point take your piping and wrap it round the circumference. This measurement, plus a couple of inches will be how much piping you need, and the length of the 1.25″ fabric strip I mentioned above. If you’re short on fabric length then just sew a couple of strips together at the ends until you get the desired length. The joins really won’t stand out on the finished fabric, I promise.

Measuring piping

A word about seam allowances here. I don’t add extra seam allowance to the fabric pieces, because every time I have, they’ve ended up a bit loose and wrinkly. And what I really want is a tight, professional looking finish. So I cut the fabric without seam allowances, but sew with a seam allowance of about 3/8″, meaning the cushion cover is ever so slightly smaller than the foam. Then I just  stuff the foam in and sit on it until the foam flattens and it looks fabulous. But that’s just me.

So anyway, take your paper pattern and cut out three pieces from your fabric. Cut three because one will be your top and the other two will form an overlapping envelope opening on the bottom side. If you’re using a patterned fabric it’s nice to ensure all patterns face the same way but to be honest you can get away without worrying about this too, because it’s on the bottom anyway.

Take your two pieces that will form the envelope opening, and place them side by side. Piece one is on the left and piece two is on the right. Now trim about a quarter of the material away from the right hand side of piece one and do the same on the left hand side of piece two. Does that make sense? Here’s a pic.

Creating envelope fabric pieces

Now you’ll want to finish your three fabric pieces with a zig zag stitch about a 1/4″ in, all around the edges, to prevent fraying. If your material is heavily woven then I’ve heard pinking shears will do the same job. Don’t worry about the strips for piping and straps – they’ll be fine without it.

Again taking your two bottom pieces of fabric, press 1″ under  on those sides that you trimmed and sew a straight line about 0.75″ in from the edge to secure. This will give you a nice finish on your envelope opening. See?

Finished edges

Now let’s make the piping. Tuck your piping cord into the middle of the 1.25″ strip (right side on the outside). Using your piping foot on your sewing machine, stitch as close as you can to the piping itself. As I said above I use a piping foot for this (which tucks the cord underneath part of the foot) but you can use your zipper foot as well. Sew all the way along the cord. You should hopefully have a little border of material right the way along which is 3/8″ – the same seam allowance as we’ll be using on our seat pad. So that’s your piping done!

Sewing the piping

If you’d like to use chair ties (those little ties that secure your seat pad to the chair spindles) then let’s make them now. Take your two shorter strips and press them in half lengthways. Then on each side of your pressing line, press in half again lengthways. Basically you’re making bias binding.  Then sew a straight line of stitching down one edge to secure. You could do both edges and the ends if you like but life is short and time is money and noone will EVER look at this and judge you. Really. Here it is in pic format:

Making the seat pad ties

OK now we are ready to put the thing together! Lay your piece of fabric (that will be the top of the seat pad) right side up. Arrange your piping around the edges with the piping cord on the inside and raw sides together. Round the corners it’s worth making snips in the seam allowance of your piping every couple of centimetres or so – just makes curving it so much easier.You’ll find that you have an overlap of piping, right? Here’s what to do. To join your piping and make it all nice and neat, unpick some of the stitching (about half an inch or so) on one side of the piping and open up the fabric casing. Take the other length of piping and trim it so it joins your first bit of piping inside the opened fabric case. Then just tuck your opened fabric casing around the piping again and turn the end under so there are no raw edges. Voila.

Joining the piping

Now fold your little strips in two and lay them on top of the piping, equidistant from each side, making sure the open ends are facing inwards into the cushion.

Pinning ties in place

Now take your two ‘envelope opening’ pieces of fabric and lay one on top of the left hand side and one on the right hand side with the fabric facing the wrong side up. They should overlap by a couple of inches. Now pin all your pieces together, making sure you’re securing your ties at the back with your pins.

All pieces pinned together

Again, using your piping or zipper foot, sew all around the edges with your needle as close to the piping as you can possibly get, feeling your way along through the fabric.

Now turn it out – see?

Seat pad right side out

It’s all magically come together! Stuff your foam insert in. It will feel tight and seem like it’s never going to fit and you will curse me, but pummel it, punch it and squeeze it until it fits. Then check out your fine work by plopping your posterior on your superior seat pad and having a nicecupofteaandasitdown.com. In just a few hours of use the foam will have worked its way into every corner and evened out, giving you a lovely smooth finish!

Finished seat pad

Finished seat pad ties
If you do decide to make this, then let me know how it goes and whether I’ve missed anything vitally important! I basically wrote the tutorial then followed my own instructions so I hope it makes sense. Happy sewing and sitting xxx

Tutorial #2: Apron with pocket and piping

Apron with pocket and piping
Reversible - look!

Hi everyone. I’ve managed to cobble together a tutorial for making a lovely reversible apron complete with a charming little pocket and piping all round the sides for that retro fifties look. This particular apron is for my mum, who’s just moved back into her house after a devastating fire last year. I like to think of her wearing this as she tootles about her new kitchen, whipping up Ulster fries and muttering Hail Marys, as Irish mothers are wont to do.

Apologies in advance for the quality of the images below: I left my camera lead in work so I’m taking these ones with my mobile. Hopefully you can still make everything out.

OK – so I’ve used three different contrasting fabrics for the apron but don’t worry – you don’t need three, or even two. You can do the whole apron in one fabric but then you might miss out on all that fun when you flip it to reveal a whole new look! I’ve used a floral print for the ‘front’ and a cute little strawberry print for the ‘lining’. I’ve used blue polka dot fabric for the pocket and the piping, plus some left over ready-made binding to frame the pocket.

Apron pattern

I’ve used a free pattern from the wonderful world wide web for my basic apron shape. Get it here from (gulp) the Martha Stewart website. Hey, it’s free. Don’t judge me.

You will need:
Fabric for front (26″ x 40″)
Fabric for lining (26″ x 40″)
Medium weight 1.5″ cotton twill tape approx 80″ depending on how long you want the neck and the waist straps to be.
Contrasting fabric for pocket (6″ x 8″)
Contrasting fabric for piping (120″ x 1.375″ – I cut three strips of about 40″ each and sewed them together to get this)
Piping – I used size 4 which has a circumference of about 0.375″
Binding – enough to frame your pocket – mine was roughly 27″

Your seam allowance for this project is 0.5 inch, included on the apron pattern.

Making piping

To start – let’s make our piping, which is the sweet little blue polka dot trim around the outside of the apron. Although I’ve given you the measurements above, if you’re using a different width of piping you’ll need to adjust this. So to work it out, wrap a tape measure around your piping nice and tight and make sure your tape measure then allows for half an inch (which is our seam allowance) on either side. If that doesn’t make sense – hopefully the picture will! The total measurement will then be the width you need your strips to be.

Secure piping in the fabric

Then just tuck the piping into the middle of the strip (right side on the outside) and stitch as close as you can to the piping itself. I use a piping foot for this but you can use your zipper foot as well. So that’s your piping done.

Now let’s cut out our apron. As you can see from the pic you’ve got to fold your fabric and place the edge of the pattern on the fold. So when you cut it out and unfold it you get a perfectly symmetrical apron! Cut one of your front fabric and one of your lining. Mark where you want your waist straps and neck strap to come out of. Don’t worry about the markings on the pattern – just do it where it feels natural.

Cutting out your pocket

If you’re adding a pocket you need to do it before you sew the apron together as then all your stitching will be hidden on the inside. So I just did a simple half square with a curved bottom like this, but you can do any shape you want. Cut it out of your chosen fabric, again on the fold.

Adding binding to the pocket

I used some leftover ready-made binding to frame it. I just folded the binding around the edge of the fabric and pinned it, pressed the corners and turned the edge under at the end to neaten the join. Then I edge stitched around the binding to secure it to the pocket, pinned the pocket to the apron and then stitched over my edge stitching so it was nice and neat. Obviously leaving the top open. Yes you may scoff, but I sewed a few inches into my opening and had to unpick it with a seam ripper. Durrr.

Inserting the pipingNext it’s time to put all your pieces together. So, lay your apron pieces on top of each other, right sides together. Your piping can be inserted as you go along pinning. So as you can see from the pic the raw edge of the piping lines up with  the edge of your fabric and is sandwiched in between the two layers. Pin as you go to secure it. I started at the bottom of the apron so any joining would be done in a less conspicuous place.

Clipping piping on a curveRound the curves it’s worth making snips in the seam allowance of your piping every couple of centimetres or so – just makes curving it so much easier.

Inserting the strapsWhen you get to where your straps go in, carefully tuck the strap inside the two layers and just have a centimetre or two peeking out. Make sure it’s between your piping and your lining fabric so that you get the uninterrupted piping all the way around. This will make sense when you turn it right side out, I promise.

Sew all the way around the apron except for where your piping overlaps – leave roughly 5 inches open. Again I used my piping foot and sewed right into the side of the piping so it was nice and snug.

Before fixing your opened piping, turn your apron right side out and admire your handiwork. Poke out any edges that haven’t fully turned.

To join your piping, finish your seam and make it all nice and neat, unpick some of the stitching on one side of the piping and open up the fabric. Take the other length of piping and trim it so it joins your first bit of piping inside its opened fabric case. Then just overlap one length of fabric over the other, turn the end under so there are no raw edges and then tuck it back into the apron seam, turning the upper and lower edges of the apron under to match the 0.5″ seam allowance. Press if you need to, then just do a tight edge stitch along the opening, ensuring you catch all three layers.

Press and you’re done!

Again – sorry about the misty dark quality of the images. Normal service will resume next week. Have a fantastic sewing weekend! x

Tutorial #1: Felt birdy mobile phone cover

Felt birdy mobile phone cover
This is a bit of a cheat tutorial as the project is not of my own making, but comes with Issue 1 of the fantastic new sewing and craft magazine Mollie Makes.

Mollie Makes magazine

Each month you get a little package with the mag that has all the relevant materials inside plus directions and templates on how to put it together in the magazine. I thought I’d do my own version of the tutorial for anyone who isn’t subscribed as you can just buy a few pieces of felt and put it together yourself at home.

Felt supplies

What you need:

1 piece of 35cm x 10.5cm grey felt (or two pieces roughly 18 cm x 10.5cm each)

3 pieces of felt in assorted colours (here we have  pink white and yellow but you can use any colours you want), roughly 7cm x 7cm each.

Not pictured here but a rectangle of white felt sized 10.5cm by 3cm.

A pretty button

Not shown here but I added a sequin at the end for the bird’s eye. You could use a button or some stitching or leave it blank if you like.

I also used thread to match the colours so I used grey, yellow and white. You can use all one colour if you want, that’s absolutely fine, it’s kinda up to you.

Pin the templates to the material

You can download the templates for cutting out your shapes here from the Mollie Makes website. cut them out and pin them to your material. Don’t fret if you pin them a bit wonky – felt doesn’t have a grain so it won’t look weird at all. You will need a small sharp pair of scissors for this as cutting out the bits in the middle of the circle and the bird is a bit fiddly.

Shapes all cut out and ready

Now you’ve got all your shapes cut out you’re ready to rock. Note – you can do this entire project just with hand stitching but I used my machine for most of it. For tricky tiny bits I turned my hand wheel instead of using my foot pedal as I’m just a big clutz when it comes to tiny sewing.

Sew white rectangle to the grey front cover

First of all, sew the white rectangle to the grey front cover with the scalloped edge. Aim for two or three centimetres down. The idea is that when you turn the scalloped edge over on itself, a nice trim of white peeks out at you.

Sewing white rectangle to the grey front cover

Pin shapes to the front cover

Next, pin down your scalloped edge and pin the pieces of felt to the front cover and sew around the outlines. You can do this in stages if you like. I didn’t sew around my pink circle. I’d like to say this was deliberate but actually I just forgot. But that’s ok because the birdy keeps it locked down anyway.

All stitched up

So that’s your front done. If you want to add an eye better do it now, otherwise you’ll end up trying to sew on a sequin from the inside. That’s what I had to do and it was a whole ten mins of fiddling that I’ll never get back. It sucked.

Now you can attach it to your back. Just line ’em up. If the back is slightly longer then just trim it at the top so both sides match. If it’s shorter then I don’t know what the heck kind of drugs you were doing when you were measuring and cutting out my friend.

To attach both sides do a blanket stitch about half a centimetre in around the outside edges (obviously not the top bit – that would be foolish). Remember that from home economics? Nah, neither did I. I had to turn to Youtube to help me with that one.

Quick check on the catsA quick check on the cats to see if they’re ok. They look pretty ok to me. Think Keef is dreaming about his girlfriend. (That’s not Gracie by the way – they’re brother and sister. That would just be sick.)

Felt birdy mobile phone cover

And there you have it.

Hope this all made sense – it’s my first tutorial, so if you have any questions or if you’ve spotted that I’ve missed some vital part out just give me a shout and I’ll update it.

Thanks for checking it out and if you create one of these – pop it up in the comments section for everyone to see and marvel at! Don’t forget you don’t have to stick to the bird theme – anything is possible with a few bits of felt.

Finished project: Polka-dot baby dress

I love this dress. If I could shrink myself into it I would. But it’s for a 1 yr old. My niece in fact. I made it from a pattern and tutorial available free online from the Prudent Baby website. Here’s the link if you fancy making one yourself. The pattern is for a top but all you have to do to make it into a dress is extend the sides a bit – very, very easy.

Polka-dot baby dress

The only tricky bit I found was the neck facing – It was so teeny tiny and I have trouble top stitching so close to the edge of fabrics. I think I sew too quickly and inevitably veer off course which is something I have to work on. The pattern recommended pearl snaps for the fastenings on the shoulders which I bought but then realised I didn’t have a snap setter. So I used some sew in velcro instead which was super-easy. I do now have a snap setter but I’m afraid of it. For another time I think.

I bought the fabric online (though can’t remember where) and the dusty pink binding is from John Lewis. You could make your own binding if you have a binding tape maker or a steady hand and an iron.

Cara in her new hand-made dress

And here’s the young lady in the very same dress! Look at those legs!

I realise this post isn’t very handy for people who want to see a project from start to finish but I’ve got a bunch of finished bits and pieces that I want to put up first before I go through a project like that. Plus I don’t know whether I’ll make sense  so I’ll have to work on how I present it! In the meantime hopefully I can point you towards good expert tutorials and patterns that I’ve used, and show you the results.

If I can do it, then anyone can, seriously.

Anyone else got any super-simple tutorials to share? Bring it!


Tutorial spotlight: Nom nom coasters

I missed the web revolution on sewing and blogging completely. While I had my nose buried in book after book of sewing projects (most of them deeply old fashioned and not in the good retro way) I had no idea there so many fantastic online tutorials available for everything from aprons to stunning dresses. Durr. So recently I’ve been going a little mental on saving and printing out tutorials – I have a stack of them on my sewing desk and a list of projects to do that will take me a year to get through.

But this tutorial for felt coasters from Purlbee.com is one of those projects you can do in front of the Coronation Street omnibus. Look at them – don’t they look good enough to eat?

Citrus Coasters tutorial from http://www.purlbee.com

I’ve got a stack of felt (not quite the same colours but close) and plan to make as many as I can. I love how the little stitches look like seeds. Here’s my version:

Citrus felt coasters I couldn’t get quite the right lime felt, and you can see I got my segments a bit stuffed up. But that was my first one, so that’s ok. The rose pink one (what the heck kind of fruit might that be?) was a bit better, although I really need to work on my attention to a ‘neat running stitch’.

This is a great project for a beginner – you don’t even need a sewing machine! Makes me thirsty though. Is it Pimms o’clock yet?

Felt coaster - rose pink