Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Thrift Store Fabric Shopping

Over the years I have gotten some great fabric from thrift stores. There are lots of times I purchase fabric with no project in mind and the fabric often dictates the project I make. I may see a piece of fabric and a project instantly comes to mind. Then there are those occasions when I just have to purchase a piece because it is so beautiful and unique. However, when it comes to shopping for fabric at a thrift store the results can be hit and miss at best, but it is always a treasure hunt.

Identifying The Fabric
Thrift stores are a great source of materials for sewing, crafts and art projects. However, how do you know what you are purchasing. Sometimes you can feel the fabric and identify what it is and other times you have to take your chances and test the fibre when you get home. A fabric burn test is a great way to get an idea of what you are working with. With just a small swatch of the fabric, you should be able to identify if it is a natural or synthetic fibre. If you have enough of the fabric, you can also test a small piece for other factors like colour fastness and shrinkage. There are also lots of great fabric guides available to help you identify and work with different fabrics.

Cost Effectiveness
Fabric shopping can be an expensive venture, so a thrift store is great source if you are on a tight budget. You can sew beautiful projects for your home and make unique handmade gifts for your friends and family without a huge expenditure. It is also a great source for fabric if you are a beginner sewist and you do not want to spend a lot on materials to practice.

Unique Selection
Thrift store fabric shopping is a great way to find unique fabrics. You can sometimes find beautiful vintage fabrics or designer prints.You can use them on their own or combine them with other old or new fabrics. Pieces will vary in size, but even a small piece can be used as an appliqué, pocket or bag strap. Often times you can get fabric by the yard or you can purchase a bed sheet or tablecloth.

Purchasing your fabric from a thrift store extends its' usefulness. You can prevent more materials from entering the landfill by repurposing abandoned yardage or an article of clothing. I do not usually purchase clothing pieces, but you can often find a piece that you can use for a project. If you do not want to use a piece of clothing, you can reuse the buttons or other elements.

Here are ten tips for fabric shopping at a thrift store:
  1. Head over to the linen section where you will find fabric by the yardage and ends. You can also find sheets, pillowcases, and table linen in this section.
  2. If you are purchasing bed linen; a crisp, new content label is a good indicator that the linen may not have been used.
  3. Examine the fabric for any imperfections, damages, weak spots and stains.
  4. Tug gently on an end of the fabric to confirm there is no dry rot due to poor temperature and moisture control. You will generally see other signs of dry rot, but if it is not visible the fabric will tear with a gentle tug. 
  5. Smell the fabric for any unpleasant odour. Some odours are difficult to remove.
  6. Access how much of the fabric is usable.
  7. Do not dismiss half completed projects that you can take apart and use in a new way.
  8. Do not buy it just because it is cheap; access the uniqueness of the material, how much you like it and what projects you will like to make.
  9. If you purchase a bundle of fabric in a bag; go through the bag after purchasing and donate any pieces I do not want, before you leave the store.
  10. Identify the fabric content and clean accordingly prior to use.

Project Ideas

Shower Curtain - made from vintage sheet
Apron - vintage pillowcase and new fabric
Hand Embroidered Apron - vintage pillowcase and new fabric
Scrap Pincushion - remnant fabric
I-Spy Bag Toy - old kids shirt

Please share your tips for getting fabric and other sewing supplies at a thrift store. What is your best thrift store fabric find?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

20 Beginner Sewing Essentials

Vintage Sewing Box

Students often ask me; what they should have in their sewing kit. This post will share some essential items that I believe should be included in any beginner sewing kit. As your sewing skills develop and your projects become more complex, you may find it necessary to expand your sewing kit and to add specialty tools and other supplies. If you are still shopping for a sewing machine, check out a previous post on how to choose a sewing machine. If you have a sewing machine, some of the items mentioned may be included with your machine. You machine may also have a variety of attachments that can be used for various sewing techniques.

Left to Right: meter stick, pins, paper scissors, cotton thread, safety pins, hand sewing needles, water-soluble marker, gauge, sewing machine needles, dressmaker shears (fabric), measuring tape, plastic bobbin, seam ripper, pin cushion, polyester thread 
  1. Scissors - This is the first and perhaps the most important tool in any sewing kit. Invest in the best quality scissors you can afford, and dedicate its' use to only cutting fabric. Your scissors should make cutting your fabric easy and provide a nice clean cut. I recommend holding the scissors (if possible) prior to purchasing to confirm how comfortable the grip is in your hand. I have several different scissors in my collection, but the "Gingher" dressmaker shears are my favourite. I generally use a smaller scissors to clip threads. A good quality scissors will last you a lifetime.

  2. Paper Scissors - Use a separate paper or utility scissors for cutting your paper patterns. This will ensure that your quality scissors are not used for this purpose. These scissors can also come in handy for other purposes.

  3. Seam Ripper - We all have to use a seam ripper at some time or another. Have one handy to help make opening your seams easier and avoid damaging your fabric. They are also really handy for opening up the space in your buttonholes. Often there is a small seam ripper included with your sewing machine. This will be fine for some time, but can be replaced by a larger seam ripper with a larger more comfortable grip. The most important thing in a seam ripper is that it is sharp.

  4. Pins - Good quality pins that are sharp are essential. There are different types of pins available to suite the fabric you are working with. I recommend glass head pins, which have the added benefit of not melting if you iron over them.

  5. Pin Cushion(s) - Having a pincushion near by can be very handy and a safe way to collect your pins while you work. You can purchase a pincushion, but I always find it more fun to make one.

  6. Bobbins - Sewing machine bobbins are available in different types. It is always best to use the type of bobbin that is suited to your sewing machine. You will find that there are plastic and metal bobbins available. I recommend referring to your sewing machine manual or take your bobbin with you when you shop for new ones. You can visit a previous post on how to fill a bobbin.

  7. Sewing Machine Needles - Your sewing machine will likely come with a sample pack of needles. You can use a universal needle for many different projects, but you should purchase needles to suite the type of material you are working with. It is also recommended to change your needle with each project, for best results.

  8. Hand Sewing Needles - Having an assortment of hand sewing needles can be very helpful for hemming, basting and other sewing jobs.

  9. Needle Threader - Not everyone has perfect vision or a sewing machine with an automatic threader. These little guys can therefore come in very handy for both hand and machine sewing.

  10. Safety Pins - Having an assortment of safety pins can be very helpful. I often use a safety pin to secure layers of fabric together or to help pass elastic through a casing.

  11. Measuring Tape - A dressmaker or tailor’s tape is an important tool for taking body measurements, as well as measuring other types of sewing projects. The measuring tape will generally measure to 60" and will often have increments in centimetres and inches. If you are sewing home decor projects, I recommend also getting a longer measuring tape that goes up to 120".

  12. Measuring Gauge - The 6" measuring gauge is a handy little measuring tool that is great for all sorts of sewing task. It can be used for measuring a seam or hem and can assist with an accurate placement of your buttonholes, buttons and zippers.

  13. Meter Stick - You can find a meter stick at your sewing supply shop, art store, office supplies or hardware store. I have on hand a wooden and a metal meter stick. I have found that the metal meter stick is handy when using a rotary cutter.

  14. Water Soluble Fabric Marker - Having a good marking tool is important for transferring pattern markings and other details onto your fabric. The water-soluble fabric markers are great on most fabrics and will easily wash away. You can also use other marking tools such as chalk or fabric pens as an alternative. I have found that tailors chalk works best on dark colours and the "Frixion" iron away pens are great for fine lines. I recommend testing your making tool on a sample of your fabric prior to use.

  15. Thread - This may seem like an obvious one, but my recommendation is to always have on hand a variety of thread for different types of projects. Purchase good quality thread, which will be best for your sewing machine and provide a better stitch quality. Also consider purchasing several spools when they are on sale. I recommend having cotton thread for your cotton or linen projects, silk threads for your silk and wool projects and quality all-purpose polyester thread that works well with many different fibres. Generally you will match your thread colour to the dominant colour in your project; however, you can also use a contrasting colour thread for a decorative effect.

  16. Iron and Ironing Board

  17. Iron - An iron with a steam and variable fabric setting can really enhance the finish of your projects. Press your seams as you go for best results. Use a pressing cloth when needed.

  18. Ironing Surface - There are various products available to turn virtually any flat surface into an ironing surface. However, I have found that I get the best results from using an ironing board at the appropriate height.

  19. Self-Healing Mat - Using a self-healing mat to cut your fabric, can save your work surface from damage. Even if you have an old worktable or a dedicated cutting table, a cutting mat can be a helpful addition. They can be pricy depending on the type and where you purchase them. You can find rather large cutting mats at your local sewing supply shop. However, if you are looking for a more economical option, consider purchasing one from your local office or art supply shop.

  20. Lint Roller - A lint roller may not be at the top of the list, but depending on your fabric it can be handy to have one around. It is also a great way to cleanup loose thread on your projects.

  21. Washi Tape - I have used washi tape as a seam guide and it does not leave a sticky residue on my sewing machine. As an alternative you can also use painter's tape. I recommend removing the tape at the end of each use.
I hope that you have found this post helpful. This list is by no means everything you will ever need for sewing, but it is a great start to getting you on your way to enjoying sewing. If you have any recommendations on what you think should be included in this list just comment below.

Happy stitching!

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