9 Sewing Tips for Beginners that I had to Learn the Hard Way

They say that part of growth is learning from your mistakes, but let me save you some time and you can learn from mine.

1. There is a correct way to pin a piece.

When I was attempting to sew ribbon onto a tunic for embellishment, I pinned the ribbon to the shirt horizontally along the ribbon. Bad move. When I ran the piece through the machine, I poked my fingers on sharp points as I fed the fabric through, or worse jammed my machine when the head of the pin inevitably got stuck. The correct way to pin is vertically, so the machine can easily glide over the pins without catching or jamming. (At least I’m great at pinning on Pinterest.)
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Examples of how to pin a piece for feeding into a sewing machine. Left Pin: Incorrect way to pin. Right Pin: Correct way to pin.

2. Adjusting thread tension is important.

If your thread’s tension is off, then your stitches will not be even across the front and back of the piece. For me, I struggled with the back of the piece. In transporting my machine to a friend’s house I offset the tension dial without realizing it. When I held up my piece to admire my neat, even, and miraculously-straight stitches, I felt so proud. Short lived pride, I’m afraid. I turned the piece over to find a horrendous, ugly knot of thread on the bottom side. When this happens, the only solution is to take the stitches out with a seam ripper and start again.

3. Adjusting thread tension also requires patience (plus two hours, a phone call to Grandma, two phone calls to Mom, and a burrito).

Your sewing machine’s manual will be essential in helping to correctly adjust the tension. Go slowly, have a piece of scrap fabric that’s a close material to the one you’re working with as a final piece (example, if your working with denim, don’t test on thin cotton), and make adjustments one at a time. Reach out for help if you need it, and if all else fails take a break and come back to it. I struggled adjusting the tension and after two frustrating hours I stopped for a burrito break with my friends. When I came back to the machine I adjusted the thread perfectly on the first try. Obviously, it was the magic burrito that made this happen.

4. Measure how much fabric you’ll approximately need before going to the craft store.

It’s a little embarrassing to be up at the counter at Jo-Anne Fabric’s holding a bolt against your body trying to guesstimate how much fabric you might need. Take your measurements and have an approximate number in your head (or even better, written down!) before you get to the store.

5. Don’t settle for a material that “kind of works”

Most often, buying a back-up material in case you can’t find the one you really wanted will only be a waste of money. Either you’ll find the right material later, and have lost the receipt or be past the return policy’s window for the backup, or even worse, you’ll use the backup and won’t be happy with the finished result. Try to avoid this as best you can, time and planning are big factors in making this happen. Don’t rush through a project if you can avoid it. And if you do have to compromise for a back-up material, it’s okay, that’s called life. We can’t always get what we want, but it’s always worth the effort to try.

6. Operate the sewing machine’s pedal at a speed you’re comfortable with.

You wouldn’t go mach-10 out of the driveway, so there’s no need to also drop a lead foot on the sewing machine’s pedal. It’ll likely cause the fabric to bunch and is harder to control the direction so you’re stitches might not stay in a straight line. That being said, going too slowly can also have a similar effect if you lead the fabric to the machine too quickly. Try and operate at a moderate speed that keeps the fabric moving but you in control.
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This is my mom’s sewing machine, she very kindly let me borrow for crafting.

7. Invest in quality scissors – you’ll waste less fabric this way.

Quality scissors will list on the label that they’re designed for cutting fabric, ideally multiple layers of fabric. With a pair of sharp scissors, material will cut more easily and frey less, which means that you’ll waste less fabric overall because you’re not struggling to get an even line.

8. Sewing in a straight line takes practice.

Don’t compare your stitches as a beginner to someone who has been using a machine for years. Sewing is a skill and you’ll improve over time with practice. In my most recent project, I noticed that the stitches located on the projects in the beginning are more uneven than the ones when I was near the end of the overall project. Through practice, I gained confidence in my ability to operate the machine, as well as improved my technique. I still have a lot to learn and a long way to go, but I won’t be discouraged by measuring myself against someone who excels in this skill.

9. It’s okay to rip out stitches and start over.

We all have to do it at some point. Don’t think of yourself or your project as a failure, just consider it a part of process and keep going. While it’s a pain in the moment, you’ll definitely be happier if you take the time to fix it than if you kept it as is.
Happy crafting!
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Making of a Mask: Lucina’s “Marth” Mask

When we first meet Lucina in Nintendo’s Fire Emblem: Awakening, she appears disguised as the legendary hero Marth wearing a dark navy mask that shields her eyes. Though the design initially appears complex, by breaking it down into manageable parts, it’s not too challenging to create your own. Here are easy-to-follow instructions for a mask you can make in a weekend.

Getting Started

Skill: Beginner

Project type: Papier-Mâché, painting

Time: Full weekend (8+ hrs or overnight dry time required)

Materials:

  • Mask base (purchase at a craft store)
  • Newspaper, torn into 1-inch strips
  • Poster-board or thick paper for shaping
  • Glue (I prefer Elmer’s School Glue)
  • Water
  • Masking tape
  • Scissors
  • Paint brushes
  • Acrylic paint
    • brown
    • black
    • white
  • String or cord to tie mask
  • Covering for workspace – this can get messy!
  • paper / plastic bowls (optional)
    • For mixing glue / water
    • Holding shredded newspaper
    • Mixing / holding paint

Step 1: Shaping

Start with the mask base, available at most craft stores, this saves you a significant amount of time and is totally worth it, especially if this is your first mask. Using the poster-board, create the lower edge of Lucina’s mask by tracing a shape that looks similar to the lower half of a butterfly’s wing. Cut the shape out, and use it to trace an identical one for the other side. With the two shapes cut, tape them to the bottom of the mask base using masking tape.

Step 2: Papier-Mâché

DSC_0227 Lucina Mask Base Papier-Mâché

Messy but worth the effort – Papier-Mâché strengthens your mask.

Definitely take a few minutes to prep your workspace, because this step can get very messy. We’ll use Papier-Mâché to secure the poster-board cutouts to the mask and create a well-balanced piece. Use a paper bowl to mix the Papier-Mâché. There are many recipes available online, but this is the one is the one I prefer because it’s very simple:

Easy Papier-Mâché Mix

  • 3 parts glue

  • 1 part water

Mix these together until combined. You’ll want the substance to be fluid but not runny.

Dip the strips of newspaper into the glue mixture, using your fingers to remove the excess. Gently apply the strips to the mask, concentrating on covering the poster-board for support and securing where it attaches to the mask. Take care to smooth any ridges or air bubbles out while the glue is wet. TIP: Don’t cover the holes for the ribbon to tie the mask on, or you’ll have to punch them through later.

Let dry completely, for 6-8 hours or overnight.

Step 3: Apply a Base Coat

Newspaper is great for using in Papier-Mâché because its thin, inexpensive, and a great way to recycle. The downside? The black ink will show through projects unless you apply a solid base coat. It’s worth the extra effort.

Paint the entire mask white. I like acrylics because they’re easy to use and dry fast. Let the mask dry completely, 1-3 hours depending on how thick of a layer you’ve painted. Apply a second coat of white paint across the entire mask. This will ensure that your base coat is even, and will make your decorative paint colors appear more uniform across the mask. Let dry completely.

Step 4: Painting – The Fun Part

My favorite part of the mask project: Painting! For the Lucina mask, begin with a base of dark Navy blue. If you have navy paint – great! If not, mix small (and I mean tiny!) amounts of black paint in with a dollop of primary blue until you reach the desired shade. It’s better to start small and mix more black in, than to go in too strong and waste a lot of blue paint to get the hue right. I like to use a larger brush for this part.

When the navy dries, using a small brush, paint the detail in white. This thin white layer will dry quickly, and then you can go over it with gold. I find that this method is easier than trying to keep white boarders while painting the mask navy. It does require a little more patience and a steady hand, but the results are worth it. Even though acrylics layer really well, I find that the white base allows the color to pop more – so the white base will help the gold paint stand out better. Let dry completely.

Step 5: Finishing Touches

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The completed Lucina CosPlay Mask

The mask isn’t complete without a way to wear it. Here are a few options arranged by difficulty:

Easy:  Purchase a pre-strung mask, it’ll already be fit to size and ready to wear

Medium:  Cut two lengths of string and tie the ends of each through the holes. Leave the second ends loose to tie around the head to wear.

Hard:  Cut elastic cord 1-2 inches longer than the snug length around head. Thread an end through the mask hold and hand sew to attach. Repeat on the other side, ensuring that the mask will fit snugly on the face without falling off or giving the wearer a headache.

Now your mask is ready to wear.

Challenge your fate, and happy crafting!

Embellished Reading

It’s not an uncommon site to find me lost in a book. When I’m enjoying a good read, I can tune out the world. The TV could be on, the music could be playing, a full conversation could be happening around me, but if Harry Potter is dueling with Voldermort in the battle of Hogwarts you can bet my mind is not in the living room.

It’s because of this love of reading that I’ve come to utilize every scrap of paper as a bookmark – which can actually be a disadvantage when you’re searching for your shopping list or when you’re reading at the bus stop and your bookmark accidentally blows away.

DSC_0537 handmade bookmarks

A little bit heavier than paper; but at 1/4 of an ounce, they’re still pretty lightweight. 

Somewhere along the line, I came to love real bookmarks; particularly the pretty ones that have cute details that hang down the book’s spine. And best part, I don’t have to worry about losing my list or my bookmark blowing away again.

 

The charms on a few of these actually came from cast-off pairs of earrings. While the charm was still in good shape, it wasn’t exactly my style for earrings. Rather than let these go to waste, they can have new life in bookmarks.

Others feature statement beads that are both beachy and eye-catching at the same time. Perfect for hot, sunny days reading with your toes in the sand.

Until next time, happy reading!