I'm Erin. I love to sew pretty things for my children. I haven't bought an actual pattern in over ten years now. Read more...


"Your information on flat pattern drafting has been pretty much the best and most straightforward I've seen!" -Cindy J.


sewing a bias hem facing

A bias hem facing is basically a strip of fabric, cut on the bias, that's used to face a hem.  Wow.  That's about the most circular definition ever.  But it's really that simple.  I use it when I want to add a little extra color at the bottom of a hem, when the hemline could use the extra weight of a seam, or when the hem is a funny shape.  Bias tape is way more forgiving of curves than straight-grain facing.   

Let's try it.

First you'll need a hem that needs facing (ours has the side seams sewn already), and enough of a length of bias tape to equal the hem measurement, plus a few inches for overlap.  You can use prepackaged bias tape, or you can cut your own strip of fabric.  Here I've used fabric that coordinates with the garment I'm making.  The width of the strip needs to be the width of your desired finished hem facing, plus two seam allowances.  Mine's 5/8" plus 1/4" on either side, which gives me a strip 1 1/8" wide.


1)  If you had to cut more than one strip to equal the hem measurement, sew the short ends of those together to make one continuous strip. 

2)  I know that packaged bias tape will have two folds, but we'll only need to fold down one seam allowance and press it.   

2)  Right sides together, match the unfolded raw edge of the bias strip to your garment.  Leave an inch or so of strip loose before your stitching.

3)  Sew all the way around your hem, and when you get back to the beginning, fold the tail you left in step two up like this:

And sew the end of the strip right over it.  

4)  Now trim those ends like so:

Then fold the facing down, away from the garment, and press it.  Now you can see why we did that little folding thing:

5)  Fold the seam allowance that you pressed down in step 2, fold the facing to the inside of the garment, and pin.

Now you can either blind hem the facing or straight stitch it as I've done here.  

Press it and you've got a nice tidy hem finish.



sewing an obi style belt

Authenticity is very nice.  It is useful in many instances.  Today, however, what we're making could perhaps be called an "obi-inspired" belt, lacking, as it does, the mark of true authenticity.  As long as we all know what we're working with, and what we're aiming for, we can understand each other hand have some fun making something pretty.  In my (admittedly small amount of) research, I find that this belt we're making today is most closely related to a "tsuke obi", since it uses separate ties and is on the small side.  

This belt is, basically, an oblong piece with ties on both ends that wrap around the back and tie again in front.  I can see it being pretty on a high-waisted maxi dress as well as on a kimono top, as it's shown here.  

Let's make it, shall we?

Drafting the pattern:

In order to make the pattern, I measured my daughter's waist and divided the measurement in half.  This way the belt can go from side to side around her front only.  She measured roughly 13" from side seam to side seam.  I also determined that 3 1/2" would look just about right for the widest point at the center front.  An inch and a half will suffice for the ends of the oblong part where it meets the ties.  

So, drafting it so that the edge of the pattern is on a fold and ends up being the center front would look like this:

After you've drafted it with the measurements as on the left, draw nice curves on the top and bottom like the diagram on the right.  Actually, just draw one curve, either top or bottom, and after you draw in the seam allowances you can fold the pattern in half and cut it out so both curves are the same. 

Add seam allowances all the way around, and cut out your pattern. 

The rest of the pieces we can cut out using measurements. 


First we need three oblong belt pieces, an outer piece (purple) an inner piece (gray) and an interfacing piece (off-white).  I'm just using fabric for the interfacing piece, but you could use fusible interfacing if you've got it. And here are our pieces:

We'll also need two ruffle strips, which will be 1 1/2 to 2 times the length of the oblong part, and 2 times the finished width plus two seam allowances.  So for a 1/2" wide ruffle with a 3/8" seam allowance we'd need strips 1 3/4" wide.   The length of the ruffle strip depends on how ruffly you want it and the weight of your fabric.  All of that is discussed in Making Ruffles.

Also, we'll need ties.  These need to be long enough to go from the ends of the belt, around the back, back to the front, and tie.  Width is 2 times the finished width plus 2 seam allowances. The finished straps here are 5/8", with a 1/2" seam allowance, for a total of 2 1/4".  


1)  Baste the interfacing to the wrong side of the outer oblong piece.  

The extra layer will help hide the bulky seam allowances we're going to make here pretty soon. 

2)  Make ruffles with your ruffle strips.  Baste them to the upper and lower edges of the right side of the oblong piece.  Taper the ruffles into the seam allowance before you get to the ends.

Then trim off the extra ruffle even with the edges.

3)  Make your straps.  I just fold in the seam allowances and press them, then fold it in half while I edgestitch along the open side.  Like making double-fold binding, but edgestitching both edges of your strap.  Don't edgestitch all the way down one side, then turn around and edgestitch up the second side.  Do both edges in the same direction, or your strap will most certainly twist on you.  

Once you've got the straps made and pressed, pin them to the short edges of the oblong.

Now pin the inner oblong piece right over all of that, right side down.

Hopefully you have more than four pins.  Hopefully your children have some kind of mercy instead of being diabolical pin-losing machines.  Where do they go?  I suppose I'm lucky not to have found any in anybody's foot.

The straps just sort of hang out, getting pushed out of the way as you sew.  Just don't sew through them anywhere but on the short ends there where they're supposed to be attached.  The rest of the straps need to either end up completely inside this little sandwich we're making or poking through the space you leave to turn it right side out.

See?  No straps were harmed in the making of this belt.  Sew all the way around, leaving an opening like that.  Trim the corners of the seam allowance. 

4)  Turn that sucker right side out.  

The great thing about the straps right now is that they give you something to pull on to pull the belt right side out.  Get it all nice and turned, and press it. 

5)  Now we've got that nice little opening we left that we've got to deal with.

Fold in the seam allowance and pin that edge so that it just covers the seam that connects the ruffle to the front/interfacing piece.

If the children lose any more of my pins I'll have to become a pioneer of pinless sewing.  

Edgestitch all the way around the oblong piece, through all the layers, catching that inner fold as you go. 

Press it, wrap it around and tie it, trim the ends of the ties if necessary, and we're done.

Now, if you wanted, you could do free-motion embroidery on this belt just like we did on the mandarin collar.  I just couldn't.  It's perfect the way it is.  



sewing a mandarin collar

I just really like mandarin collars.  They're easy to sew, easy to draft a pattern for, and they add a polished look to kids' clothes.  I was just reading the Wikipedia article on mandarin collars, by the way, and it mentioned that they're used in films to "create a distinctive appearance for sinister characters."  So, you know, cute kids' clothes, sinister movie characters, take your pick.  

The one we're making today is decidedly un-sinister.  It's got a purple linen outer collar, a gray sateen inner collar, and some free-motion machine embroidery to add a bit of a boho vibe there.  Shall we dive in?

Drafting the pattern:

A mandarin collar is a type of standing collar, and you can find out everything you want to know about drafting those in Drafting Collar Patterns.  You may even find out more than you want to know.  All you'll need is the neckline measurements of the garment you're about to collar-ize.  


What you'll need is an outer collar, an inner collar, and something to stiffen it a little inside.  This can be iron-on interfacing if you like.  I just use another collar piece cut from a medium weight fabric because 1) I live half an hour and five kids away from a fabric store and don't always have interfacing, 2) I can use a natural fiber, which makes my collar ultimately biodegradable, which is a pet thing of mine, and 3) It uses up scraps, which I always have, and is therefore free.  

So, we'll start by cutting out three collars:

Make sure that you've got center back, center front, and shoulder seams marked on all these pieces.


1)  Lay the interfacing on the wrong side of the inner collar and baste all the way around, just outside the seamline.  

If you're using fusible interfacing, fuse it to the wrong side of your inner collar.

2)  Staystitch the neckline of your garment, just outside the seamline.

Clip to the stitching so that you can lay that line of staystitching straight.

3)  Lay the inner collar, right side up, on the table.  Pin the neckline edge of it to the wrong side of the neckline edge of your garment, matching center backs, center fronts, and shoulder seams.  

Now make a sandwich out of it by laying the outer collar on top, right side of the outer collar to the right side of the garment.  Pull out the pins and repin them through all layers.  How to show all this to you I don't know, but here's what it looks like when it's finished:

Here.  I'll turn it over for you so you can see that the inner collar/interfacing bit is sandwiched onto the other side:

Okay, now we're going to sew the neckline seam.  This is not frightening.  Just sew from one center front to the other, all along the neckline.  If you're worried about your fabric shifting, start at one center front and go to the center back, then stop and start again at the other center front.  Make sure that you backstitch just over the bump that's the edge of your garment at the center front.

4)  Sew a guideline just outside the seamline along the upper edge of the outer collar.  

I could have sewn this back in the preparation stages, if I'd wanted to be all tidy-prepared.  Works just as well to throw it in where it's needed.  I find this to be a fairly decent philosophy on most stuff in life, in fact.

5)  Now roll the front of the garment out of the way and pin around the rounded edge of the collar there.  (Not that it technically has to be rounded to be a mandarin collar, but ours is.)

Making sure you don't catch any part of the garment front in the stitching, sew around that curve.  Now isn't really the time to be a stickler about seam allowance.  Heresy, I know.  But if there's been any shifting of the neckline pieces while you were sewing them, the center front of the garment and the center front of the collar pieces may not exactly match.  So at the center front, put your needle down just a hair away from the garment center front (which you can feel between the layers). Then sew around the curve, and as far as you can down the upper edge.  It won't be far before the garment front gets too bulky and you have to stop.  

Do the same for the other side.  Here it is sewn:

Now clip the point and curves:

and turn it right side out:

6)  Now's where that guideline we sewed in step 4 comes in handy.  Fold the remaining raw edges of the collar in along those guidelines, rolling the stitching ever so slightly to the inside, and pin the opening together.

Edgestitch all the way around the collar, through all layers, being careful to catch that loose edge on the inner collar.

Give it all a good press (don't use steam) and you're done:

Unless you'd like to add a little funkiness.  I've done swirls with free-motion machine embroidery, which sounds fancy, but just means you lower the feed dogs, put on a darning foot, and sew, using your hands to propel the fabric around.  

That's it.  Was it as hard as you thought?  Do you have an easier/better method?  Let me know!



18-month bodice 

Do you have an 18-month-old to sew for?  You lucky duck.  Can I come over to your house?  I had one once, but he grew up.  I had a bunch, in fact, and they kept. growing. up.  Stay little, I told them.  Keep the chubby legs and the chirpy voice.  No, they told me.  Now feed us so we can keep growing. 


But if you do have an 18-month-old, or any child, in fact, who has a 19" chest, you might appreciate that we've got a new basic bodice pattern in just that size.  I was asked why there's a big gap in size between the 12 month and size 2 bodice patterns, why I hadn't made an 18 month size.  The simple answer is, the dress forms from which I was using the measurements didn't come in that size.  This new size, then, is an even split between the those two sizes.    

So here, in case you're lucky enough to need it, is the 18 month size basic block pattern.  

Enjoy, and kiss that baby for me. 


18-month basic bodice pattern 
(chest 19")


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You make a dress me?

This dress, just a basic yoke dress, is special all the same.  It's the first dress that she's known I was making for her.  I stood her on a chair when it was still in halves and pinned the pieces together over her to check the length.  She stood very still, looking down at the dress, a good little model, when suddenly it clicked.  Her face lit up with toddler joy and she said, "You make a dress mee?"

From then on, whenver I was sewing, she was behind me in my chair, chubby arms around my neck, an endless stream of sometimes-intelligible questions about the dress pouring into my ear.  When I finally put it on her, her gleeful chortle was priceless.  

Is it any wonder that I sew when I've got this to look forward to?


Note to self: Alas, this is the last time you can get away with buying one yard of fabric for the dress and half a yard for trim.  This dress used every scrap of the blue fabric, and another half-yard of red would have given you enough to make baby bloomers to go with it.  Those legs are growing so, so fast.