9 Favorite Small Tools I Use All The Time

Nine Favorite Small Tools I Use All The Time

 

With the Holidays fast approaching I thought a list of my Ten Favorite Small Tools would be fun. These tools are listed in no particular order.

Pattern Weights/Washers

3 large meatl washers on a work table with 4 smaller washers nearby. I use the washers as weights.

Washers as Weights

I use large washers from the Hardware Store to hold my fabrics and patterns in place on my work table.  The size of the washer does not matter, but the weight of each washer is important; look for stainless steel or steel, zinc washers are too light. Washers come in many sizes from Grainger.com or special ordered from your local hardware store. The large washers are 3/4″ washers; washers are measured by the size of the inner hole ( to fit around a 3/4″ bolt.)  The smaller washers are 1/2″ washers. On the far right is a small washer that was spray-painted white to disappear in photos. I like 3/4″ washers as I can easily grab a stack with my fingers to distribute or gather up.  You can buy washers singly or in boxes of 20 for $43.41, plus $12. shipping, from Grainger or another hardware distributer.

https://www.grainger.com/product/FABORY-3-4-x2-O-D-22UG68

 

3 small magnets on a work table

Magnets

Magnets:

Keep a small magnet near your sewing machine and/or cutting table. When you tip over your box of pins a magnet will make picking up the pins much easier.

 

 

 

Seam rippers

A sharp seam ripper makes the annoying job of ripping out a seam much easier.

2 seam rippers on a work table

Seam Rippers

The small seam ripper is an inexpensive version like this one from Gold Star Tools.  I have  these inexpensive seam rippers in multiple locations in my work room.

https://www.goldstartool.com/seam-ripper–3-1-2-extra-fine-blade-fortiny-stitches.htm

The larger seam ripper was a gift from a cousin. It is double headed, with a large ripper on one end and a smaller ripper on the other end.  I use this tool if I have a long seam to rip out as the large, ridged handle is comfortable and easy to hold for that annoying,  mis-sewn seam. I have seen rippers like this one at craft fairs and small sewing/quilting stores.

Snips

I keep these by my sewing machine for clipping threads. The upper snips are inexpensive and efficient, but can’t be sharpened.

2 pairs of fabric snips on a work table

Fabric Snips

https://www.wawak.com/Cutting-Measuring/Cutting/Thread-Clips/thrifty-4-14-thread-clips/?sku=IS25 at $2.98

https://www.goldstartool.com/thread-clippers-springtype-all-metal.htm at $1.99

The lower snips are heavier and can be sharpened when needed. I keep these snips by my sewing machine and on my worktable; they are great for cutting notches.

https://www.wawak.com/Cutting-Measuring/Cutting/Thread-Clips/gingher-4-12-thread-snips/?sku=IS27 at $12.49

https://www.goldstartool.com/stainless-steelthread-clips.htm at $7.99

Fabric Markers:

There are lots of different fabric markers on the market. I have lots of fabric markers in my workroom, but these are the two I reach for most often.

2 fabric markers on my work table

Fabric Markers

The Chaco Chalk Maker leaves a fine line that can be brushed away. In the photo is my blue Chaco chalk Marker; they also come in white.

https://www.wawak.com/Cutting-Measuring/Marking-Chalk-Pens/Chalk/clover-chaco-liner-marker-white/?sku=CK4 at $5.81   Little bottles of ground chalk for refills in a 2-pack cost $3.44.

Frixon Pens are the newest version of “disappearing ink” pens. The ink in Frixon pens is heat sensitive; the heat of an iron (140°) makes the ink “disappear”. The ink does vanish from view, but will reappear if exposed to extreme cold: 14°. I recommend the “Fine” point at 07. I find the Extra Fine at 05 is too fine.

https://www.amazon.com/Pilot-FriXion-Erasable-3-Pack-31578/dp/B004JXHTDK/ref=pd_cp_229_2/143-5975381-7412206?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B004JXHTDK&pd_rd_r=9cc92d31-dabc-463d-865e-00f7a66a128a&pd_rd_w=zqHkG&pd_rd_wg=hl2No&pf_rd_p=0e5324e1-c848-4872-bbd5-5be6baedf80e&pf_rd_r=41K6MQM2CECJR619W5GY&psc=1&refRID=41K6MQM2CECJR619W5GY for a 3 pack at $5.79.

https://www.staples.com/Pilot-FriXion-Point-Erasable-Pens-Extra-Fine-Point-Black-3-Pack-31578/product_343209 for a 3-pack at $5.79.

Hole Maker and Pattern Notcher

Hole punch and pattern notcher on my work table

Screw hole punch and pattern notcher

The Screw Hole Maker is perfect for making a hole in your pattern to mark dart tips, button placement, the break point of the jacket lapel, etc. With changeable bits, you can make a small hole, a medium hole or a large hole; the large holes are large enough to sew Tailor’s Tack through.

https://www.goldstartool.com/japanese-book-drill—screw-hole-punch-with-6-bits.htm at $13.99

A pattern notcher eliminates the fussy cutting of the triangle notches the major pattern makers use. Instead of cutting out 3 triangles, squeeze the pattern notcher once (or three times side by side) and get a cut into the pattern’s seam allowance. When cutting out your garment in fabric make quick snip into the seam allowance to mark the notch.

Three overlapping triangles and 3 vertical rectangles, representing pattern notches.

Different pattern notches: triangles or slits

 

Pattern notchers are available at Gold Star tools, Wawak and other sewing tool suppliers.

https://www.goldstartool.com/pattern-notcher.htm at 14.99

https://www.wawak.com/Cutting-Measuring/Patterns-Supplies/pattern-notcher/?sku=TOOL15 at $18.35

Special Needles

Both of these needles help finish a seam. On the top, an Easy Thread needle, which threads from the top, is perfect for hiding thread ends.

2 special needles: an Easy Thread needle and a double eyed needle on my work table

Easy Thread needle and Double eyed needle

On the bottom, a double eyed needle has an eye on each end. Thread the ends of a serger chain into one of the eyes. Slide the other end of the needle back through the serger seam and bury the thread chain ends to prevent the chain from raveling.

Easy Thread needles are available at Gold Star tools, Wawak and other sewing tool suppliers.

https://www.goldstartool.com/selfthreading-needles-10-pc.htm at $3.99 for a 10 pack

https://www.wawak.com/Sewing/Needles/Hand/john-james-assorted-easy-threading-hand-needles-4-size-4-2-size-8/?sku=NEDE48 at $1.79 for a 4-pack

The Double ended needles are harder to find.  I found them at Sewing Machine Plus online:

https://www.sewingmachinesplus.com/havels_dbleneedle.php?gclid=CjwKCAiA5JnuBRA-EiwA-0ggPRwVPbTWsVMHRBbgbolswUNnQDq_fI-j_mUayHqFVQ3gPLkyQmYWGBoCMQMQAvD_BwE at $3.99 for a 2 pack.

I hope you have  found a new tool put on your Holiday Wish List or buy for yourself.  I’m sure you have other tools you love that aren’t listed here.  Please share!

NB: all of the links to the shopping sources are provided by me, without any sponorship from the vendors. I have received good customer service from GoldStar, Wawak and SewingMachings Plus.  Please let me know if the links don’t work!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salmon pink short sleeve with grey Sashiko stitching

Sashiko instructions

Long ago, in June 2019, I promised to post instructions for Sashiko.  Six months later I am finally posting the instructions.   I took the instruction and photos directly from Creating Couture Embellishment, which means the text is quite small; I’m sorry.

In Step 1 of the text below it says to “see box, right” to learn about adjusting the tension of the bobbin case but those instructions have been moved to the bottom of this post.  Enjoy!

First page of instructions from Creating Couture Embellishment describing how to do Sashiko.

 

Second page of instructions from Creating Couture Embellishment describing how to do Sashiko.

Diagrams and text explaining balanced machine stitching.

 

New Experiences…

New Experiences…

Hello everyone! It’s been a beautiful summer here in New England. I spent most of the summer working on outside projects. After so many months of being inside, hiding from the winter weather, it was glorious to get outside and move rocks, plant flowers and swim in a Maine lake. I need to find ways to get outside in the winter, to keep moving and not turn into a slug. A new experience need is needed.  Any suggestions?

 

In August, I went to Taunton Press to tape a podcast for Threads Magazine, which will be available in November.  This was a new experience for me.  Sarah McFarland, Jeannine Clegg, Carol Fresia and I sat around a table and talked about sewing for 45 minutes; it was such fun! I adore these women and could have talked to them for days. They are knowledgeable, open and generous. After the podcast taping Sarah and I discussed a couple of ideas for magazine articles I might write for Threads. Woo-hoo! I love writing articles about sewing!

Blue and silver Herringbone wool

Blue and silver herringbone wool

A Teaser: My next article for Threads involves Chinese Knots and this lovely herringbone wool. The wool is from Emma One Sock Fabrics. https://www.emmaonesock.com/fabrics

 

In October I am going to Milwaukee, WI for the annual ASDP  Conference. (Association of Design and Sewing Professionals). I love this conference; it’s whole conference filled with people who sew clothing professionally.  https://www.sewingprofessionals.com/      If this might interest you there are still places in many of the classes, including mine.

Cover of the ASDP Conference Program

ASDP Conference Cover

I will be teaching a class called An Afternoon of Rose Petals, Sharks’ Teeth and Butterfly Bows on Friday afternoon, October 18th.   I am hoping this class will feel like a mini tea party, minus the tea part, with lessons about Ribbons and some of the cool things you can do with them.

Poinsettias made from silk organza and ribbon

Poinsettias

It’s interesting how different it it teaching a one meeting workshop class versus a semester of classes. As a teacher you have to be one your toes all the time in both situations. When you have a semester you can learn about each student and how they learn, you can re-phrase your directions in the next lessons to suit the students learning styles, re-visit a point a student made last class, correct a place you may have misspoken last class. When you have a workshop you don’t have those opportunities: there’s the 3 hour session and then you’re done. The student who speaks up gets lots of attention and the quiet student gets less attention. The quiet student may not want the attention; she may want to just soak up everything she can and process things on her own time. But often the quiet student has some really interesting observations that can take the class in a different direction- a place you wanted to get to, too. The vocal student is a wonderful asset to a class too; she asks questions that can make it apparent that my directions were clear as mud or steer the class off on a tangent that is often a place you wanted to go—eventually. The vocal and quiet student are both valuable. In the workshop setting I have to be more alert to the subtle clues that everyone is confused by those clear as mud directions, or that I’ve said the same thing already and it’s time to move forward or really, it’s just time for a break; no one should sit for 3 hours without a break. After teaching in the semester formatfor 10 years, I’m learning to teach in the workshop format. The thing that no one tells you is that teaching is a constant learning experience.

Any advice from other workshop teachers?

 

Amazing Price for CCE

#37 – Amazing Price For Creating Couture Embellishment

 book-cover-creating-couture-embellishment

Amazon/ Super Book Deals is offering Creating Couture Embellishment for only $42.52 (+ $3.99 in shipping, total = $46.51)   Amazon/ txtbroker is offering  CCE for only $42.63  (+ $3.99 in shipping, total = $46.62)

The wholesale cost of Creating Couture Embellishment is $42.50.  If you have any interest in buying CCE now is the time to do it! click here.

For those of you who shop all year round for Holiday gifts, now would be great a time to buy Creating Couture Embellishment  for anyone who in your life who sews.

If you do buy CCE I’m happy to send you a personalized book plate you can add to your book;  write me a note in the comments section or send me an email.

Also, if you would be kind enough to leave a review on Amazon here,  or Goodreads  here, that would be lovely.

The glass-1/2-empty part of me says that Amazon is selling my books super cheap to get rid of them.  The glass-1/2-full part of me says the more copies that are sold, the more the word gets out that Creating Couture Embellishment  exists.

Please note: Amazon is offering  “flexi-bound” or “hard cover versions of Creating Couture Embellishment.  They are the same book; there is only way printing/binding of the Creating Couture Embellishment .

Happy Shopping everyone!

I’m Teaching at the ASDP Conference

#36 – I’m Teaching at the ASDP Conference!

It’s Official!  I’m teaching at the ASDP Conference!   I emailed a proposal for a class, which has been accepted and I’ve been put on the schedule.

Friday afternoon, October 18, 2019 in Milwaukee WI.  Here’s the class description:

Tempted by all the lush ribbons in the stores but not sure which makes the best flowers?  Wondering how to make a beautiful Dior Rose? Come spend an afternoon with Ellen W. Miller, author of Creating Couture Embellishment to learn all about making flowers and ribbon trims to suit today’s fashions. Using different kinds of ribbon and fabrics we will make lots of flowers: Peonies, Pansies, Geraniums, Foxgloves, Dior Roses, Poinsettias, with leaves and stems to round out our bouquets. Lest you think that’s all the ribbons are good for, we’ll make some Shark’s Teeth trim, a glorious Butterfly Bow and other ribbon trims. This class will spark lots of creative ideas for adding contemporary flowers, bows and ribbons to future projects.

If you are interested in signing up for the class here is a link to the ASDP Conference site.

ASDP Conference Schedule

ASDP Conference Schedule

 

I hope to see you there!

Inexperience and It’s Sew Easy TV

#35 – It’s Sew Easy TV 1505

In March 2018 I went to Cleveland to video-tape a 10 minute segment for It’s Sew Easy TV. Before I went I wrote about my preparations: Going to Ohio & England!

This was way out of my comfort zone; I was a professional stagehand, backstage, for many years. I think of myself as a support person, not the onstage, out-front person. I had never been video-taped but the producers of It’s Sew Easy TV assured me it was just like teaching. I’m comfortable teaching, so this should be different but fun. OK…

The rest of this post is about that experience, most of which was really difficult. Most of the problems were due to my inexperience and few miscommunications with the producers of It’s Sew Easy TV. Also, I want to emphasize how much I admire the people who do this really well- like Joanne Banko and Angela Wolf of It’s Sew Easy TV.

At home I prepared my 10 minute speech and my samples. I practiced at home in front of my cousin and my husband, until they could recite my lines. Then I packed my large suitcase filled with clothes and samples and flew off to gray, sleet flecked Cleveland.

The It’s Sew Easy TV offices and studio is in an industrial park: gloomy and unwelcoming. I opened the door to the offices and was greeted with big smiles by Sarah Gunn, Cheryl Sledoba and JoAnne Banko! Michelle Paganini was video-taping her segments. I spent a lovely afternoon getting to know these lovely sewists. Wicked Cool!

Problem #1: I am not a morning person. I was scheduled to video-tape first thing the next day. I had to be at the studio at 7:30 am for Make-Up. I got up extra early to drink lots coffee before heading for the studio. OK…

Problem #2: After make-up, I went into the studio to set up my samples. That’s when I was asked what was I going to sew during the demonstration? Why…. Nothing! I had all my samples pre-sewn as I didn’t think there would be time to get used to sewing on a new sewing machine before the video taping. Since Bernina is a big sponsor of It’s Sew Easy TV, everyone must sew something on the their machine during their segment. OK…

Problem #3: There was no tele-prompter and when I started to “recite” my script, I was told it too rote. Improvise more. OK…

Problem #4: When I teach I spend a lot of time looking at my students and gauging their reactions to see if they comprehend what I’m saying. When video-taping you are supposed to look at the camera: not the camera man who’s behind and slightly above the camera, the camera. And did you know cameras don’t show any sign of comprehension when you tech them something? OK…

Problem #5: It is really really hard to demonstrate a sewing technique with your hands, explain what you’re doing and look at the camera; don’t look at your hands or at the sample. When I teach I look down at the sample and my hands, look up at the students and make sure they are following along with me, look down at the sample- you get the idea. When you are video-taping a How-To segment, you must look at the camera, not at your hands. OK…

Problem #6: A very small amount of time was allotted for the video-taping of my segment. No stopping or redoing if I left something out or misspoke, both of which I did. Keep talking, even when you forget what you were supposed to say. When I started to cough during the taping I was told to keep going; I finally stopped when I was coughing so much I couldn’t speak. The tape was backed up to where I started to cough and we went on from there. I expected a second recording would be made and the two versions would be spliced together to get a good version. I didn’t know there would be no second recording until we were “through” the segment. OK…

Problem # 7: In an effort to streamline my presentation I simplified my presentation. In fact, I simplified it so much it’s completely incomprehensible! OOPS…

Solution to problems #1-6: If I am ever recorded again I will rehearse with a professional director recording until I am comfortable with the results on the tape, be recorded while teaching a class with students present. Combining both of these solutions would probably be the best: rehearse a ton and have students present.

To anyone who tried to follow my directions for Sashiko from It’s Sew Easy TV the directions in my book, Creating Couture Embellishment, are very clear and good. I will post the direction in my next blog post; this blog post is plenty long!

A second technique was recorded immediately after Sashiko: Flounces. I don’t know when It’s Sew Easy TV will be airing this segment. I haven’t seen it. I hope it’s better than the Sashiko segment.

Have you had an experience like this? Something you thought would be fabulous, but turned out to be awful?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which way should I go?

Just when I thought I wouldn’t be teaching anymore, I was asked to teach a class at the ASDP Conference in October.  So much for my understanding of The Way I Am Supposed to Go.   “What?” you ask, “No teaching?  How did you get there?”  Let me explain…

Since Creating Couture Embellishment was published in August 2017

My book, Creating Couture Embellishment sitting on my work table.
Creating Couture Embellishment aka CCE

 

I have applied to various conferences and conventions to teach. For one reason or another, all of my proposals were rejected.  To make this more insulting, many conference/convention organizers never wrote to say, “Thanks but no, thanks.”  I thought about teaching in small fabric stores and studios around the country, but that has a whole bunch of other problems, the most serious of which is that I don’t have a big mailing list of students who want to take a class with me. So despite the fact that:  I have taught at a post college level for more than 10 years before writing CCE,   I love to pass on the sewing and pattern-making knowledge, and I am a very good teacher (I really am), I thought the universe was telling me, “No teaching, go another way.”

I found another way to go…

A cuff with Braided Bias strips pinned to it

Cuff with Braided Bias strips pinned

I wrote an article for ASG Notions Magazine, vol. XXII, no. 4, Fall 2017 about Embellishing Ready to Wear shirts.

Boston University's Seal

Boston University’s Seal

I wrote to various alumni magazines touting CCE.

 

Fleece hat prototype with lots of ribbons pinned to it

SFD hat prototype

I made an apron and a hat for auctions at the School of Fashion Design to benefit the Scholarship Fund.

Navy blue soutache trim sewn to yellow-gold wool in a braided pattern.

Soutache trim around the collar

I wrote an article for Threads Magazine, issue # 202, April/May 2019 about Soutache trimming on a wool jacket

 

Logo of LinkedIn Learning

LinkedIn Learning Logo

I indulged in Procrasti-learning, as in: I can’t write blog posts until I learn PhotoShop.

Bixby International logo

Bixby International logo

I made a dress for Rubbish to Runway auction to benefit Long Way Home out of industrial discards of poly-urethane fabric.  Reminder to self:  get the photos of this dress from the photographer!

 An open book

I’m even thinking about writing another book- something I swore I would never do. (Cue James Bond and Never Say Never Again).

ASDP logo

ASDP logo

 

 

 

 

And then ASDP came calling- or rather emailing. To paraphrase their email: since the number of conference registrants is very large, they need more classes. Would I be willing to teach- but not what I had proposed earlier.   OK… Truthfully, having seen the class list I understand that my proposed classes duplicated what other teachers also proposed. We quickly settled on a class topic, which I am calling “An Afternoon of Rose Petals, Sharks’ Teeth and Butterfly Bows.” The class will make some flowers out of ribbon and fabric, some folded ribbon trims and some plain & fancy bows. I am very excited about this class; it should be really fun.

 

Maybe the universe does want me to teach. Or maybe this is a one-off opportunity. Either way, I will keep writing, which doesn’t come easily to me, as it’s a solitary, isolating activity. According to Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies, I am an Obliger: good when I have outside imposed deadlines, not so good with my own personal deadlines. You can attest to this, as there has been an eight-month gap in Blog Posts.   I would promise to do better, but I don’t make promises I may not keep.

How do you keep on yourself on track? And how do you manage commitments to yourself?

Threads Gift Guide, 2018

#33 – Threads Gift Guide

November’s Threads Magazine features their annual Gift & Goodies Guide – For the stitchers in your life.

Cover of Threads magazine, novemeber 2018, featuring their annual gift guide

Cover of Novemeber 2108 Threads

Creating Couture Embellishment is among the 16 fabulous items they selected this year. “I’m chuffed!” as the English say. Or as New Englanders say, “I’m wicked pleased!”

one of four books picked for the gift guide is Creating Couture Embellishment

Threads recommendation of Creating Couture Embellishment

Need I say more?

Ellen with a gleam in her eye

Wicked Cool!

Rhode Island Sewing Network

On November 6, 2018 I will be presenting a Power Point Presentation to the Rhode Island Sewing Network about my Embellishing Ready To Wear Shirts.  I am excited to meet this group of sewists from Southern New England. Below is the article about me that appeared in their monthly newsletter announcing my talk.

 

Tumbling Blocks quilt pattern spread across a RTW white shirt

Tumbling Blocks on a Shirt

November Meeting Program

November 6th, 2018

We are very excited to welcome Ellen Miller to the RISN in November. She loves to sew elegant clothing, from the simple to the ornate. She is an accomplished professional couture seamstress and experienced college-level teacher of fashion construction. Ellen’s book, Creating Couture Embellishments, was published by Laurence King Publishing, London, in late 2017. Through her company, Ellen Miller, Seamstress, established in 1983, Ms. Miller has created and altered custom garments for hundreds of sophisticated clients. She served for a decade on the faculty of the School of Fashion Design on Newbury Street in Boston, teaching a variety of construction, pattern-making, and couture techniques. In both her professional and teaching work, Ellen uses her craftsmanship and design sense to realize the designer’s concepts, treating each design as a challenge to create a wearable work of art, and in the classroom, to enable all her students to realize their designs. The personal summary: I love to sew clothes. I love taking a piece of flat paper or muslin and creating a pattern, cutting out the garment pieces in luscious fabric, pining the pieces together, sewing and pressing the seams to form a three-dimensional thing that slides over the body giving voice to wearers inner vision of herself. Creating clothes is slow, meticulous work but oh- the final product- it speaks of me: the love and care put in to it and it speaks of the wearer: bold or soft spoken, brightly colored or muted tones, bejeweled or plain- if it accurately represents the wearer- she will stand tall, feel confident, equal to anyone in the room.

Embellished Shirts

Hello everyone! I have been absent from the Blog-sphere for a while, but I’m back – finally! I had some minor health issues that have been resolved and my sewing has returned! Yippee!

In January (!) I created a series of embellished white shirts for an article in Notions, the magazine for American Sewing Guild. Here is the introduction for that article:

Embellishing Ready To Wear White Shirts

A well-fitted white shirt has been declared an essential item in today’s wardrobe. We have been told that we can dress up the white shirt by adding a suit jacket and look “professional” for any occasion. That’s all well and good, but why settle for a plain white shirt when you can embellish the shirt in a few hours to make a unique garment? By adding ribbon, lace, some cords or Seminole Patchwork you can create a beautiful shirt with original details.

I bought some white shirts from a local discount clothing store and embellished each with a different technique. Using fabrics and trims from my stash, I used a number of techniques to embellish each shirt differently. Inspiration is sure to strike after seeing these beautifully embellished white shirts.

 

a four strand brand sewn to the cuffs and collar of a RTW white shirt

Four Strand Braid RTW Shirt

 

Blue lace replaces the lower sleeve on a RTW white shirt. A lace flower is pinned to the collar

Lace Sleeves on a RTW Shirt

 

 

 

 

 

 

Organza ribbon sewn to the sleeves and front placket of a RTW white shirt

Organza Ribbon on the Sleeves and Front Placket

 

 

 

Seminole Patchwork sewn to the cuffs and pocket of a RTW white shirt

Seminole Patchwork Cuffs and Pocket

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will post the directions for one or two of the embellished shirts in a future post; I promise.

Since my sewing mojo has returned I created a new shirt that I hope will interest quilters: a Tumbling Blocks embellished shirt. I know several quilters who would like to show off their quilting skills, but you can’t exactly wear a quilt to work, can you? The Tumbling Blocks shirt uses a plain white shirt, with a set of blocks sewn onto one shoulder. Then several single blocks tumble down the front of the shirt, ready to join some mates at the bottom of the shirt.

 

Tumbling Blocks quilt pattern spread across a RTW white shirt

Tumbling Blocks on a Shirt

 

I think the Tumbling Blocks work well enough and are fun enough that I’m now playing with the Spool of Thread pattern. What do think? Do these variations on quilt work interest you?