Mar 252014

An easy way to brighten a room without major effort is to add a couple of pillows you can sew yourself. Although Sew-Easy Designer Pillows, edited by Barbara Weiland and published by House of White Birches, has been in print since 2006, this well-illustrated book contains basic construction tips for many types of pillows, along with suggestions for fabrics and supplies, and step-by-step instructions for various kinds of pillows.


Sew-Easy Designer Pillows is filled with finishing tips that give that special designer flair to pillows you sew yourself. For example, when you cover the cording used in welting—the edging you’ll see on the red-and-white pillow shown below—simply spray a light adhesive on the wrong side of the fabric before wrapping it around cording, then finger-press the layers of fabrics together before sewing them.

Welting Technique

An interesting way to add flair to a pillow is to pleat or ruffle fabric and and edge your pillow with it. Before you pull out your sewing machine’s ruffler attachment, read “Ruffler Success” on page 89. (Note: The book erroneously points you to page 82.) The most important tip I can share with you from personal experience is that you should sew a test strip of differently-spaced ruffles first. The fabric you choose—and whether you decide to press it or not—greatly affect the final appearance of your ruffles/pleats. If you don’t have a ruffler attachment, the book suggests using the Clotilde Perfect Pleater that can be purchased at Annie’s Crafts or Craft Town Hobby Land USA. Like the ruffler attachment, it is an expensive tool that is not always easy to find, but you can make your own following Burda instructions for How to Make a Pleater Board. You can also visit TonyGync on Etsy to purchase a Mr. Pleater Board in widths ranging from 1/2 inch to 1.5 inches. Watch the video, Making Perfect Pleats with the Perfect Pleater™, on the site, to learn how a pleater, in general, works.

Pleat Edging

I love the look that piping adds to just about any pillow. In the pillows shown below, perfect for a garden patio setting, the piping is especially striking. It’s easy to make your own piping with cording you can purchase in the upholstery section of any fabric store. You’ll need to cut bias strips of fabric that are one inch wider than your cording. If you don’t know your cording width, simply wrap paper around it, pin it in place, slide the paper off the cord, and measure it. Fold your fabric strip in half lengthwise around the cord, right side out, and machine baste close to the cord using your zipper foot. You may need to adjust either your foot or your needle to sew as closely as possible to the cord without actually sewing the cord itself.

Piped Pillows

For a clean, modern look, consider using a combination of wool fabrics or synthetic suede in solid colors. Add a button, tassel or other decorative element to the center of the pillow, and you’ll have a one-of-a-kind pillow that is simply stunning. I am not sure, but to me it looks like a hair barrette was used for the pillow shown below.

Modern Look in Wool or Suede

The frayed-look denim pillows shown below are perfect for a dorm room, den or study because they are so sturdy. You cut bias strips of denim with a rotary cutter, sew them together right sides out, then re-slice the fabric into strips that run perpendicular to the stitching. Sew the new strips together, right sides out. Repeat these steps for both the front and back sides of the pillow, then sew the pillow together (right sides out), leaving an opening for a pillow form you’ll insert at the end of the process. Wash the pillow cover in the washing machine, then toss it in the dryer so that the raw edges of the fabric will fray. Insert your pillow form, then sew up the opening in the pillow cover.

Frayed Denim Pillows

Another clever look for a pillow is the envelope cover, where you use different inner and outer fabrics, allowing the inner fabric to peak through a slit in the outer fabric. You could give a new look to an old pillow this way.

Envelope Cover

Sew-Easy Designer Pillows is filled with many more pillow projects that will provide you with a jumping-off point for inspiration, especially when you select your fabrics. If you would like to enter a giveaway drawing for this spiral-bound book, just tell me in the comments below what room you’d like to revamp in your house, and what style or theme appeals to you: nautical, country, cottage, boho, modern, or whatever. Next week Wednesday, assuming there are at least five entries, I’ll announce a winner.

© 2014 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Jan 192014

I’m the Queen of Bs in my home. Nope, that’s not a typo. B stands for Books, Boxes and Bags, all three of which I collect in all sizes and shapes. I’m guilty of purchasing duplicate books and bag patterns, in fact, because I likely have too many of them and can’t keep track of them. That being said, I have decided that 2014 is the year when I will begin to actually use those bag patterns, mainly to learn about bag construction, with a long-term goal of designing my own.

BagClubButtonTo get started, I joined Bag of the Month Club, organized by Sara Lawson, author of Big-City Bags: Sew Handbags with Style, Sass, and Sophistication. The club is open to anyone, releases one brand new bag pattern a month from a different but well-known designer, and runs for six months. Over 200 individuals have joined the club so far, which you can join anytime you like during the six months of the club, and you’ll still get all six patterns. The cost is $40—pretty reasonable for well-written and illustrated bag patterns from designers like Sara of Sew Sweetness, Janelle of Emmaline Bags, Samantha of At home with Mrs H, Betz White, Anna of Noodlehead, and Chris of Chris W. Designs. You can join a Flickr group, too, or visit Facebook, where you can view other people’s finished products.

January’s bag is the Bye Bye Love Bag, designed by Sara Lawson. The bag features two exterior pockets on the front, a zipper pocket on the back, and six pockets on the interior. So far those who have completed the bag say it is very roomy, perfect as an overnight bag.

Photo courtesy of Sara Lawson

Photo courtesy of Sara Lawson

I have some purse hardware I bought locally at Jo-Ann Fabrics, as well as some online sites. Some great online resources for bag hardware and purse-maing supplies include:

I have not yet begun to sew my first bag because I have been occupied with Destination Imagination volunteer activities this month, but I did purchase my fabrics. They are from the Bobbins and Bits line designed by Pat Sloan for Moda Fabrics©.

Bag Fabrics

I don’t know whether I will actually be able to finish one bag a month, but that is certainly the goal. Have you started a new monthly challenge recently?

© 2014 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Jul 282013

I’m admit I’m a latecomer to the art of zakka, which I believe represents the kind of sewing I like to do these days: small items made of cotton or natural fibers that are functional and beautiful. Both physical space and time constraints steer me away from larger projects.

So, what is “zakka?” Depending on the person you ask, zakka is a Japanese word that means household goods, many things, or small necessities—and usually refers to a design style in which the simplicity, charm and detail of an item contribute to the individuality of an environment, particularly in a home. Sewn items are often made of organic fabrics, especially linen and cotton, and include—but are not limited to—tote bags, tea towels, table linens, and baskets. Zakka-style sewing encompasses a combination of hand- and machine-sewing techniques that can include sashiko embroidery and patchwork quilting. Zakka’s definition is fluid, allowing for a broad interpretation. The style is influenced by trends such as kawaii (cute), using foreign words and phrases as a design element, and furoshiki (the art of folding fabric to wrap packages or gifts). Simply stated, zakka represents a design aesthetic that combines beauty and simplicity with purpose. While the zakka movement may have begun in Japan, its principles are evident in other cultures, such as Scandinavian or Appalachian folk needlework.

Over the last few years, zakka-style sewing has been growing in popularity, with sewists enthusiastically joining Lindsey Rhodes’ 2012 Zakka Style Sew Along and 2013 Patchwork Please Sew Along. In fact, more than 300 zakka enthusiasts posted photos of more than 1,700 completed projects in the Zakka Style Sew Along pool on Flickr. Asako of Piggledee in Australia has led a local Zakka Sewing Group. On Pinterest, Aunt Pitty Pat has a wonderful collection of Zakka projects on her Zakka page. Jessica Okui of Zakka Life devotes an entire blog to zakka-style original craft projects and tutorials. On, you’ll find more than 3,000 handmade zakka items, and more than 10,000 zakka-related items.

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Zakka-style sewing appeals to me because of its simplicity in design, the practical nature of completed items, the use of linen and cotton, and the prevalence of both hand- and machine sewing. Although I doubt I will be able to keep up with any of the wonderful sew-alongs I’ve described in this post, I intend to do more of this kind of sewing in the future. If you feel the same, here are a few books to get you started:

© 2013 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.