Category Archives: Tutorials

Bias tape seam binding


Bias tape is a wonderful way to finish an edge, particularly weirdly shaped edges that you can’t or don’t want to line. It gives a nice clean finish even along curves that are otherwise difficult to deal with. You can make bias tape from the fabric you’re using for something subtle or use a contrasting fabric to add a bit of interest. You can buy bias tape in solid colored cotton, but it’s easy to make yourself and if you do you can have so many lovely colors, patterns, and materials. Continue reading

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My great-grandfather Larry, Louie, Lawrence, or (to me) Zaide worked in a button factory. To this day, everyone in our family will lean in close and pick at the buttons on someone else’s jacket – “nice buttons!” we’ll say, the way normal people might compliment the garment as a whole. We don’t have many of Zaide’s buttons left in the button jar, because it’s been a long time and most of them have been used in special projects over the years. But I’m pretty sure this is one of them: my mom particularly loves shell buttons, and he’d save them for her.

Zaide never had a laptop, and honestly I have no idea whether or not this bag would be his style (so I’m going to go with not). But the button on it reminds me of him.

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This pattern uses seed stitch, which alternates knit and purl stitches. Unlike in ribbing, the knits and purls also alternate between rows. So if you see a knit stitch in the previous row, purl, and if you see a purl stitch, knit.

Seed stitch worked flat (over an even number of stitches):
Row 1: k1 p1 to end
Row 2: k1 p1 to end

Seed stitch worked in the round:
Row 1: k1 p1 to end
Row 2: p1 k1 to end


How to knit a laptop bag

Size: to fit a 17″ laptop, but easily modified for other sizes.

Unfortunately this yarn was a gift which came in two lovely balls of unknown length, so I have no idea how much yarn I used. Two biggish balls.

Gauge is 14.5 stitches in 4″. You want a tight knit to make a sturdy bag: use a bulky yarn and go down a needle size or two.

To start the bottom of the bag, cast on 50 stitches (for other bag sizes/gauge, cast on [width of laptop]*[stitches per inch] stitches). Work in seed stitch (see instructions above) for 2″. Pick up stitches around the other three sides of the rectangle you’ve just sewn and begin knitting in the round. Work in stockingette for 9″ (or [height of laptop] – 1″). Work in seed stitch for 1 1/2″. At the start of the next row, work 50 stitches in seed stitch, then bind off until the end of the row. 50 stitches remain. The stitches still on your needles should line up with your original cast on. This will be the flap. Work flat in seed stitch for 3 1/2″. On next row, work 22 stitches, bind off 6, work 22. Coming back on the wrong side, work 22 stitches, cast on 6, work 22. This forms the button hole. Work another 1 1/2″ in seed stitch, then bind off all stitches. For the strap, cast on 8 stitches and work in seed stitch until it is 25″ long, or a bit shorter than you like your bag strap: it will stretch a bit when you put a heavy laptop in the bag. Sew the strap to the sides of the bag, sew on a 2″ button, and weave in the ends. You have a new laptop bag!

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Lemon marmalade


After my failed first attempt at plum jam, I made lemon marmalade: something I actually know how to do. I like marmalade better than jam in general and I find it’s easier to make. You don’t have to test for pectin at all since lemons always have enough. So as long as you cook it hot enough and long enough, it will always set.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

Makes about 6 cups

5-6 Meyer lemons
About 2 cups sugar

Cut lemons into small pieces, removing the pits as you go. Some people save the pits and boil them in the juice in a cheesecloth bag to add more pectin, but I don’t think this is necessary with marmalade – there’s plenty of pectin in the peel. If you cook it enough it will set.

Put a plate in the freezer- you’ll use it later to test if your marmalade is done.

Measure the chopped up lemons. Add equal parts lemon, water, and sugar to a heavy pot. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for half an hour. Get that cold plate out of the freezer and pour a small spoonful of marmalade on it. Roll it around until all the marmalade has cooled, then drag a finger through it. Is it set? You’re done! If not, keep cooking it until this test produces something that looks like marmalade.

Pour the marmalade into jars and let it cool. It’ll take a day or two to set completely, but should be set enough to eat when it reaches room temperature.

Troubleshooting lemon marmalade: if your marmalade has cooled to room temperature and is still more like juice, you can rescue it! Pour it all back into the pot and just keep cooking it. It’ll get there.

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Neva’s plum jam


When we were kids we made plum jam every year with our godmother Neva. It was an all day event: Neva would come over in the morning and we would collect plums from the trees all over our neighborhood. We’d hold an old sheet under the trees and Neva would rattle the branches with an extendable stick we called The Plum Basher until the plums fell down, mostly on our heads. When we’d caught enough plums in the blanket we’d bring them home to cook the jam, which is where my memory of how to make plum jam ends. As I recall, Neva did something magical involving a lot of cooking and squishing and straining and stirring, while we made elaborate labels and ate the warm jam foam she skimmed off the top of the pot.

This past week I’ve tried to reconstruct Neva’s plum jam recipe. I had my limited memories, some notes I took the last time we made it together, and the Joy of Cooking. It took two tries, and I ended up making jelly rather than jam, but it’s delicious. The key, I think, is to get some young assistants to help with the bashing and straining. I couldn’t do it on my own, but with help from Kate and Clara, we made a lovely plum jelly.

More seriously, I think Neva’s recipe is meant for the small plums that grow in our neighborhood. On Monday I tried to use plums from my mom’s new tree (a mere decade old) which has big fruit like you see in stores. The fruit is sweet and delicious for eating, but you don’t really want to add any sugar to it. It also barely scraped by in the pectin test and after cooking it didn’t have much plumy flavor, it was just vaguely fruity syrup. No good at all. If you have plums like that and want to make jam, you’ll want a different recipe and probably some packaged pectin. So when I tried again I gathered up a plum bashing team and collected the little plums we used to use. Much better.


Neva’s Plum Jam

Makes 4-8 cups of jam, depending on how many plums you start with


A large basketful of barely ripe 1″ plums
2-4 cups of sugar

Wash the plums. Dump the clean whole plums into a heavy pot over medium heat. Stir and squish down the plums to let the juice out (a potato masher is great for this, but the back of a big spoon will do). Cook until all the plums are soft and smashed.

Drain the juice through a sieve (top right picture above), stirring to let all the liquid out. Neva would scrape the skins against the metal of the sieve with the back of a spoon to get out all the meat of the plums, which makes a thicker, cloudy, more flavorful jam. Since Kate and Clara were doing this step we stirred but did not scrape, which makes something closer to a jelly. I like to do one big ladle-full (about 2 cups) at a time, and dump all the skins and pits into the compost between scoops so they don’t block up the holes of the sieve.

Test the juice for pectin. In a jar, shake a tablespoon of plum juice with a tablespoon of rubbing alcohol. Does it set? If there is pectin in the juice, it should form a big blob or two. If it doesn’t do this, you need to add pectin. Get a package of the reduced sugar stuff, and follow the directions inside.

Put a couple of little plates in the freezer. You’ll use them later to test whether your jam is done.

If your juice passed the pectin test, measure the plum juice back into the pot. Add as much sugar as juice and bring to a boil (bottom left picture above). The jam must boil or it will not set. Turn down the heat and simmer. A cloudy layer of bubbles will form at the top of the jam. Skim this foam off the top and drop it in a bowl for your assistants to dip bread in.

Starting after about half an hour, test whether the jam is done by putting a spoonful onto one of your frozen plates. Roll it around until the jam has cooled, then run a finger through it. If your finger leaves a clean trail and the jam feels solid and jammy, it’s done. If not, keep cooking. It has taken us as long as two hours before the jam is done, so don’t worry!


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How to make raglan cap sleeves

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A good half of my summer sewing projects this year feature raglan cap sleeves. The dress I posted about on Friday had them, and the next dress to comes does too. They’re cute and summery, keep my shoulders from burning, and quite simple once you get the hang of it.

The trick to raglan cap sleeves is the gathers at the top of the armhole. This is what gives the sleeve a curved shoulder-like shape. You don’t need a lot of gathering – this isn’t a puff sleeve. But without it you get strange pointy wings that don’t look like a sleeve at all. The gathering is key.

You also need to put the raglan seam in a sensible place. I think having the lowest edge about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom of the armhole, with a strong upward slant looks best. If you put it too low you lose range of motion in the sleeve, and too high just looks silly.

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Finally, you want the right curve in both the top and bottom of the sleeve. Essentially, the side of the seam closer to the neck is a straight line angled down toward the armpit, and on the arm side it is curved like a set in sleeve. So for the sleeve, the seam begins high on the neck side and angles gently down, running in a straight line, then curving ever so slightly downward. For the body piece the sleeve attaches to, the seam also begins high on the neck side and runs down at the same angle as the sleeve. As it nears the end of the sleeve it curves down more quickly than the sleeve so that the outside edge of the sleeve gets pulled in ever so slightly, then continues curving down to form the armhole. The back will be more or less the same. Look at the sketch above to see how this all works. The inside edge of the sleeve is a straight line, while the outside edge curves out.

To assemble your raglan sleeve top or dress, loosely gather the center 3″ of the outside of the sleeve until the gathered area is 2″ long. Sew up the side seams of the top. Sew the front raglan seam up. Sew the back raglan seam. Carefully sew bias tape around the edge of the sleeve, starting at the side seam at the bottom of the armpit. Sew bias tape around the neckline. Your sleeves are complete!

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Gathers might be my favorite sort of shaping. They’re easy to get right – much more forgiving than darts – and they add an interesting little detail. Someone recently asked for more detail on how I make the gathers in my picnic dress, so here it is: a step by step tutorial on gathering.

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1. Decide where your gathers go. Mark each end of the gather. For bust gathers, start by subtracting your front underbust/ribcage measurement from your front bust measurement – this is how much you will gather up. Then measure how much ungathered space you want in front, and how much. For example, my front bust measurement is 19″ and underbust/ribcage is 14″, so I need to gather in 2.5″ on each side. If I wanted the final gathers to be 3″ I would need to start with 5.5″, so I might mark my fabric to be gathered between 2.5″ and 8″. This leaves 3″ of ungathered fabric in the middle, which works well for me. You might want to hold a measuring tape up to yourself and make sure you’re happy with where the gathers are going to side and how long they will be.

2. Stitch between the marks, using a slightly longer stitch than usual. The longer the stitch you use, the bigger the gathers will be and the more fabric you can gather in. If you’re using a heavier weight fabric or trying to gather very tightly, you’ll need a very long stich length. If your fabric is lighter weight or you’d like the gathers to be less obvious, use a shorter stitch length. I typically use a stitch that is one step longer than the one I sew seams with.

3. Make the gathers. Pull both threads to the back on each side of the seam. Tie the ends of the thread together in a double knot on one side. On the other side, pull gently on one thread (it’s easier with the back thread, but either will work), pushing the fabric along. When your gathers are the length you want, tie the two threads together.

4. Sew the gathers into a seam. When you sew a gathered piece of fabric to a smooth piece, put the gathers on top. Make sure the tiny ruffled edge is all pulled out so no fabric gets caught poking through. Sew right over your gathering line.

I’m you’re still confused about step three, I made a little video!

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How to draft a bow collar

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My favorite part of my winter coat is the bow collar. This variation on a shawl collar is cozy and warm, since it comes right up to your neck, making it perfect for a winter coat. It works best with an asymmetric closure, but I’m sure you could adapt it to work in the center.

First off: a bit about collars. A collar is usually made of two pieces: a stand, which is a rectangular or slightly curved strip of fabric an inch or two high and as long as the neckline, which is hidden under the collar and raises it up to an appropriate height, and the collar its self, which sits on top of the stand.


These are the pieces of the pattern. You only need one measurement for the collar: the circumference of your neck. Add an inch and a half to two inches to this measurement, since you don’t want your collar to be chokingly tight – this is a coat, it should have breathing room and space for clothes underneath. On your coat, cut down the neck opening until it is as wide as this measurement. If it is already larger, use the neck opening as your neck measurement.

First trace the stand: a rectangle 1 1/2 inches high and as long as your neck measurement.

Next the left side of the collar itself: draw a curve (a half circle, or a slightly flattened half circle) as long as 1/2 your neck measurement. Draw a straight line 5″ up from the top of the circle. This will be the center back seam. Holding the measuring tape perpendicular to the curve, measure 5″ out at several points along the curve. Draw an outer curve connecting these points. About 4″ from the end, start bringing this curve in, so that it meets the end of the inner curve.

For the right side of the collar, flip over the left side. Copy the inner curve, center seam, and outer curve until it begins curving in. Add a straight line extending 4″ beyond the bottom of the inner curve. Draw a straight line up 5″ from the end. Finish the outer curve, keeping it 5″ from the inner curve until it meets this new line.

For the “knot”, trace a 5″ by 5″ square (it says 8″ on the diagram, because that’s what I started with, but I ended up cutting it down to 5, because the knot looked better that way).

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Cut out all your pieces from the main fabric. Cut out all pieces except the knot from lining fabric. 

Sew the two collar pieces together along the center seam. Sew the inner curve of the collar to the long edge of the stand for both the main fabric and the lining, beginning from the left side of the collar. There should be 4 inches of collar left over. Sew the main fabric to the lining along the outer edge of the collar, along the extra 4″, and down the short sides of the stand. Turn right side out and top stitch. Gather the collar fabric at the end of the stand, just before the 4″ flap  (this is optional: I didn’t do this, but I wish I had). Sew the stand to the neck opening of your coat.

So far this has been more or less how you’d sew in any collar. Now for the bow! Fold the knot fabric in half and stitch the long sides together. Turn right side out. Sew one end down along the seam between the stand and the collar, where you just gathered. Fold the “knot” strip up and wrap it around the collar. Iron over the other end and sew it down in the same place at the back. I did this part by hand, because the collar is quite thick at this point, and I didn’t want it to show from the front. Your collar is done!

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Flower Girl Dresses

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I don’t sew a lot of kids clothes, what with not having any kids, so I had a lot of fun making these flower girl dresses. They’re just so much simpler and smaller and faster to sew!

To make your own, simply trace out the shapes above, matching the measurements listed. To make the skirt even, hold one end of your measuring tape fixed, and swing the other end along the edge of the skirt like a giant protractor, marking as you go. Wash your fabric and cut out your pattern pieces.


First, sew the two front pieces together along the neckline and armholes, then do the same for each of the back pieces. Turn the back pieces inside out and line up each strap so that the back piece is around the front piece. Sew along the top of the strap and turn right side out. Do the same for the sides, sewing the outside to the outside and the lining to the lining.

Add pockets and sew together the skirt. Then sew the top of the dress to the waistband and the waistband to the skirt, beginning and ending at the zipper opening.

To add the ruffle, create a long 5″ wide strip of fabric by sewing together several strips the length of your fabric. The amount you need will vary a lot depending on how long the skirt is and how much you gather the ruffle, but it’s easy to add another strip of fabric if you start gathering the ruffle and realize it’s not going to be long enough. Fold the strip lengthwise to form a 2 1/2″ strip with the right sides facing out. Using a long straight stitch, sew along the rough edge of the strip in 1 yard increments. At the end of each yard, tie the two threads together at one end and pull gently on the other end of one thread to gather the strip into a ruffle. When your ruffle is long enough to go all the way around the edge of the skirt, pin the rough edge of the ruffle to the edge of the skirt, and sew along the gather line.

Finally, put in a zipper, being careful to line up the waistband. You have a twirly flower girl dress!

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Flat cap

I love hats. I love sewing. But on the whole I don’t love sewn hats. The seams usually look out of place. But a cap like this is actually meant to be sewn and looks right that way.

I made this one for my dad, based on this tutorial. Rather than take apart an old hat, I carefully measured one, adding 5/8″ seam allowance along every edge. I used a milk bottle for the brim – it’s a bit stiffer than any of the cardboard I had in the house. If I made another one, I’d make the back of the hat a bit longer, but I’m pretty happy with the way this one turned out.

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Flapper Earwarmer Pattern

This turban-like earwarmer is a perfect last minute gift. Once I’d figured out the pattern Isabel’s took less than an hour to knit, even including breaks to take the cookies out of the oven and help my dad find his keys (turns out I had them all along). Just what I want from a Christmas knit. Plus, unlike the cape I made her last Christmas, this one might actually keep her warm in the New York winter.

I used a bulky weight yarn at about 3 stitches per inch, but the exact gauge isn’t important for this pattern.

Cast on 16 stitches

Odd rows: p1, k1, p1, k10, p1, k1, p1
Even rows: k1, p1, k1, p10, k1, p1, k1

Knit until piece measures 16″. Cast off. Sew ends together to form a loop, pulling hard on yarn as you sew, so the fabric gathers.

Cast on 5 stitches and knit in stockingette until piece measures 3″. Cast off. Wrap around seam of other piece, and sew ends together.

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