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How to Insert Zips

If you've never tried using zips in your sewing projects, don't be scared to give them a go - practice makes perfect in this case, and once you've got the knack of the zipper foot, you'll find you breeze through it in no time! Everyone has a different way of showing you how to do it, so here's our top tutorials from across the web on how to insert different types of zips in different ways.

How to Insert Zips

This comprehensive guide from Make It Love It shows you how to insert both regular and concealed zips - and uses tape to help hold everything in place with concealed zips!


We also love these tutorials from popular pattern designer, Sew Over It - the afficionado's at dressmaking! Lisa shows you how to insert zips on actual garments and offers loads of top tips along the way.




For those who want to try more advanced zip techniques, we also like this lapped zip tutorial from Coats:



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Best Videos for Crochet Beginners

So you've seen all the new cute crochet yarns and patterns on our website right? And you've looked at them wistfully, wishing you could create something as lovely as that... well guess what, you can! Although it can seem daunting, crochet is a great needlework to have a go at, and in some ways much simpler than things like knitting - so why not have a go? 

It's always hard to learn from written instructions, so we're here to show you the top youtube videos we've found for beginners crochet, to teach you all the tricks and techniques you need to know!

And once you feel like you can give it a go, take advantage of our fab offer - grab yourself a FREE pattern of your choice when you spend £15 on crochet yarn!

Top Videos for Crochet Beginners

How to Crochet a Granny Square for Beginners

First up, here's a great little video that clearly explains how to get you going on a few basic crochet techniques. It's quite a long video (about 25 minutes), but well worth the time as it takes you through step-by-step to create a sweet little granny square. Granny squares are one of the most popular projects for crochet beginners as they are fairly easy to complete and come together reasonably quickly.

 Learn to Crochet - Chain Stitch and Single Crochet Stitch

If you've got a little less time on your hands and just want to try out some basic techniques without a specific project in mind, this little 5 minute tutorial on chain stitch and single crochet stitch is great. It's supposed to end up being a crochet dishcloth project but you don't necessarily have to continue all the way to the end. It's handy for showing you how to crochet lines of stitches across and back, and for practising these two stitches. 

How to Crochet in a Round - Magic Ring and Chain Stitch

If you're looking to have a go at crocheting things like hats and mittens later down the line, one of the best methods to learn is how to crochet in a round - and this video is great for teaching you two techniques to do so. Once again, it's really only a technique tutorial so you won't get a project out of it but it's great for practising before you start on something new.

 How to Crochet a Rose for Beginners


One of the most popular crochet projects out there is how to make a crochet flower, and this tutorial is a fab walk through how to do a pretty little rose. You'll need a standard needle to sew it up a little at the end, but this is a great little crochet project for beginners to get started!

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National Hobby Month: Sewing Machine Footers Explained

When you're new to machine sewing, footers can seem pretty confusing and daunting - no longer, with this fantastic guide to sewing machine footers! Covering the most common range of footers used, find out what's available and what you should be using for each type of sewing project or fabric. 

National Hobby Month: Sewing Machine Footers Explained

standard presser foot

Standard/universal machine foot

This type of presser foot usually comes with your machine when you buy it. It's a great all rounder for sewing light to medium weight non-stretch fabrics, using a range of straight and zigzag stitches. 

Zipper foot

Sometimes included in the accessory pack for your sewing machine, zipper foots are essential for inserting a zip using your machine. They let you stitch closer to the zipper teeth, and help achieve a neater finish. 

Buttonhole foot

Another life saver for sewing garments, which often comes with your machine as standard. You use them to set the width of your buttonhole, which makes sewing garments so much easier as they often need at least 3 buttonholes that are exactly the same size!

Blind Hem foot

This foot is great for when you're trying to create an invisible hem on your machine, something which is hard to achieve using a standard presser foot. 

Pintuck foot

These are used in conjunction with a double needle to create pin tucks on garments. They are used less and less nowadays but you might see them used in some older sewing projects. 

Edgestitch foot

The edge stitch foot is great for anyone who does a lot of topstitching, as it allows you to keep your top stitching beautifully straight. It's sort of similar to a blind hem presser foot. 

Invisible Zipper foot

Another life saver for dressmakers! Invisible zips are used quite a lot in women's dressmaking, especially on skirts and dresses, so this foot is invaluable. It allows you to sew closely and accurately to the zip teeth, achieving a much smoother and neater finish. 

Open Toe Embroidery foot

This is one of those jazzy feet for a bit of experimental embroidery! It's becoming quite popular again now as sewing techniques like free stitch style come into fashion. It allows you to move the fabric and needle around more freely, enabling you to trace shapes and outlines much better than a standard foot as you can actually see what you're doing. 

Jeans foot (for heavy fabric)

This foot is designed for sewing heavy fabrics, so is a great addition to your machine gadgetry if you sew a lot of jeans or thicker garments like coats. 

Patchwork foot

This footer is mainly designed for quilters, due to its width which is uniform for most patchwork and quilting projects. It's also great for stitching smaller items such as children's toys, however. 

Non-stick/oilcloth foot

If you ever sew with oilcloth, this is a definite must-have item! Worth its weight in gold (and sanity), this foot is coated with teflon which enables it to glide over the surface of the fabric without sticking. If you've ever tried sewing oilcloth, pvc or leather without this, you'll know how impossible and frustrating it is!

Rolled Hem foot

This is a great little presser foot which allows you to neatly turn the edge of the fabric under twice, resulting in a super neat hem! They're available for all different weights of fabric too, depending on what you're working on.

Binder foot

If you struggle with sewing bias binding, this is a good foot to have to hand (see what I did there?). It is usually used in conjunction with a binding attachment, and makes sewing the binding a hell of a lot easier and less fiddly!


January 21, 2015 by Amy Gilbert

Our Top 5 Magazines for Stitchers to Subscribe To

Looking for a new magazine to have a flick through every month for ideas and inspiration? Here's our pick of the top magazines to subscribe to for those that love sewing - and they're not all solely magazines for sewing!

Our Top 5 Magazines for Stitchers to Subscribe To

Mollie Makes 

mollie makes magazine


One of our favourites, Mollie Makes is fab for new sewers and those that like all kinds of stitching as well as sewing. It's more craft-focused than sewing-focused which is sort of nice, as you get to try out different things and also appeals to people that enjoy a bit of crochet or knitting alongside their sewing! Best of all, their free gifts are usually fun little projects that you actually want to use!

Craft Seller 

craft seller magazine

Craft seller is another great magazine, especially for those that sew for business as well as pleasure. While this is also a mixed-media magazine, they always have super trendy and super cute projects in there. The one amazing element of this magazine is the handy business tips and finance tips for each project - it will tell you what you can make a project for and roughly what you can expect to sell it at. Like Mollie Makes, the mix of crafts can be really helpful and inspire you to make something along the same lines. 

Love Sewing

love sewing magazine jan 2015 edition
A classic sewing magazine, love sewing is great for beginners looking for some inspiration thats all about sewing. Their articles are really handy for people who are just getting into sewing, covering things like how to pick the machine thats right for you and sewing on a budget. They also come with fun free gifts like dressmaking patterns!




sew magazine february 2015 edition


Sew is another classic, offering a range of projects specifically for sewing. Most of the time they tend to be a bit more home/item based sewing than garment sewing, but the magazine is also great for info about new products and techniques. They also cover a range of techniques, which is good for beginner to intermediate sewers. 

Burda Style Magazine


burda style magazine


Burda Style is one of my favourites because it's more fashion based than other sewing magazines. Whilst a lot of them feature a few clothing patterns, this is much more tailored to the dressmaking market, which is my kind of sewing! It might be a little unsuitable for a beginner though (unless you're feeling ambitious!), as it can include more complex techniques and sewing. The big bonus is that they feature soooo many patterns, it's amazing!


For more ideas and inspiration, why not take a look at our range of Books - including books on sewing, knitting, crochet, creative stitching, toy making and quilting! 

January 20, 2015 by Angela Gilbert

National Hobby Month: Setting Up Your Sewing Machine

Got a sewing machine for christmas or new year but too scared to tackle setting it up? Take a quick look at our guide on sewing machine basics and get your machine ready, we promise it's not too bad. (And once you've got the hang of it, you'll never stop stitching on it!)

National Hobby Month: Setting Up Your Sewing Machine

The Golden Rule: 

Read your instruction manual before you start! Although you may not understand all of it, they often have useful diagrams and ensure that you don't start trying to pull apart bits that aren't meant to pull apart...

As every machine is slightly different, it is best to refer to your manual alongside whatever guide you are using to find the correct part and action to take. For example, some machines disengage the needle by pulling out the wheel, others by just moving the bobbin winder - you don't want to be pulling out the wheel if it's not meant to come out!

What's What on your Machine

Reminder: your machine may not look exactly the same (unless you have the same make and model!) so the different parts may be located in slightly different places or look slightly different - refer to your manual for help in finding these parts if you get stuck.

How to Change the Presser Foot

For a lot of machines, presser feet are relatively easy to change as they just snap on, although some use screws to hold them in place. Remember to do this with your machine turned OFF - you don't want to accidentally start sewing over your hands!

To replace or change a snap-on foot, simple raise the footer using the footer lever to the right of it (usually black plastic). This should bring it up to give a little bit of space underneath to get your fingers under. 

There is usually a metal lever at the back of the footer bar that goes up and down. If you flick it up, it will release your current footer. 

To attach the new footer, raise this lever whilst you position the footer in place under the bar, then lower it to grab hold of the footer and "snap" on. This can be a bit tricky to position so just bear with it and do a bit of shuffling to get the footer into the right place. 

How to Insert a Needle

A lot of machines come with a needle already inserted nowadays, but this is useful to know as you may need to change the needle if it snaps or when you are sewing with fabrics that require a special needle.

Simply turn the black screw to the right of your needle a couple of times to the right, to loosen and allow you to pull out the needle. To insert the new one, ensure that it is facing the right way - rounded side facing towards you, flat side facing the back of the machine, on the top of the needle - and place it into the hole, then tighten the screw. 

How to Wind a Bobbin

Winding the bobbin is an important technique to know how to do, as you'll need to do it every time you change to different colour threads. As always, each machine is slightly different so refer to your instruction manual to begin with. 

To begin, place your spool of thread on the spool holder if you haven't already and attach the bit of plastic that holds it in place. Take the loose end of your thread and bring it over to the thread guide on the top of the machine - most newer machines have a little diagram showing you where exactly to put the thread for winding the bobbin. 

Most of the time, it sits under the lip of what looks like a screw. Draw your thread to hook around this and pull back over towards the right of your machine.

Next you will need to disengage the needle and engage the bobbin winder. Quite often this involves pushing the bobbin winder (metal pole thing on the top) to the right. As always, check in your manual for specifics as this is where machines tend to differ the most in method.

Now thread the end of your thread into your bobbin, from the middle out through one of the holes. Place your bobbin on top of the metal bobbin holder, keeping hold of the loose thread end which should be coming from the top of the bobbin.

To begin winding, switch your machine on and simply put your foot on the pedal. The thread should begin winding itself onto the bobbin at a reasonable pace. Keep going until you are sure you will have enough on the bobbin to complete the project - quite often I just wind them on for ages so I don't have to keep winding thread on for every project, although this means you may have to buy new bobbins for each colour. 

How to Insert a Bobbin

For most top loading bobbins, it's relatively easy - quite often instructions are printed on the bobbin cover in the form of a diagram. 

Remove your bobbin cover and place your bobbin in with the thread drawing to the right. Then hook the loose end of the thread back around the metal section highlighted on the bobbin cover, and back up towards the top of the bobbin tray. With the loose end sitting out the edge of the bobbin tray, replace the bobbin cover. The loose end should be trapped between the edge of the bobbin tray and the bobbin cover. 

How to Thread a Sewing Machine

This is often the part that most people find daunting when setting up their machine the first time - my word of advice, it only gets easier the more you do it! Begin by placing your spool of thread on the spool pin, and hold in place with the spool holder cover. 

Next, simply follow the numbered guide on your machine to help you with threading. Firstly, bring the loose end of your thread spool around the thread guide on the top of your machine, and down the gap. 

At the bottom of the gap, follow the arrow to pull it back up in the parallel gap to the left of the first one. At the top you will see a hook - pull the thread around this and back down the gap, making sure the thread is round the hook the furthest it can go in.

Now you need to thread the needle. Most machines come with a built-in needle threader, so you can either use this or thread it by hand. To use the needle threader, draw the thread to the left and then secure under the two hooks to the right whilst holding down the needle threader lever in place. 

Hold the end taught when you release the lever and the thread should be drawn through the needle. Simply untangle the end to let it sit freely over towards the back of your machine. 

Now you need to thread the bobbin in. Insert your bobbin according to the instructions above, or your own instruction manual (the process is different depending upon the type of bobbin loading your machine uses - front or top loading). With the needle in the raised position, draw the needle downwards by twisting the wheel on the side of your machine. Hold your spool thread (the one inserted through the needle) taught as you continue turning the wheel - this should draw up your bobbin thread through the metal plate on your machine. 

When you see it, grab hold of the end of the bobbin thread and untangle, placing it facing towards the back of your machine like your needle thread. It should look like this (with the bobbin cover on): 

Hope this helps and happy sewing everyone! If you have any questions, leave a comment or email us!

The Ultimate Fabric Guide

New to sewing, or just never really learnt what was what when it came to fabrics? Check out this handy guide to fabric types, which helps explain the most common types of fabric and their uses. A great post to have to hand when looking at new projects!

The Ultimate Fabric Guide

Fabric Fibres 

natural cotton fibresNatural Cotton - image source Ancient Arts Fibre Crafts

Cotton is one of the most widely occurring natural fibres in fabrics. It is comfortable against the skin with a breathable quality, and feels soft and smooth to the touch. 

Rayon is a semi-synthetic fibre made from cellulose. It behaves much like a natural fabric despite containing some synthetic elements, and often appears as a lustrous fabric akin to silk. 

Linen is one of the oldest types of fibres used in fabric, and is made from flax. It is very strong and durable, whilst remaining cool and breathable, making it ideal for items like trousers or summer suits. 

Silk has always been associated as a rich and luxury fabric for hundreds of years, mostly due to the intensive manufacturing methods involved in processing silkworm cocoons. Silk fabrics have a lustrous quality to them, and are extremely versatile - they keep you warm in winter and cool in summer, making it a super comfy fabric to wear. It usually comes in a range of fantastic shades as it is one of easiest fabric fibres to hold dye.

Wool tends to be used less often in fabrics nowadays, but was once a staple fibre in fabrics during the Middle Ages! It is made from the hair of sheared animals, spun and woven into strands and then fabric. It's greatest quality is its warmth, and it is also breathable. Wool can come in a variety of textures from a super soft, fine weave like cashmere to a more scratchy and coarse weave.

Synthetic Fibres are often also added in conjunction to these natural fibres to produce similar fabrics at a cheaper cost. One common example of this is polycotton, which is often used in place of 100% cotton fabric as a cheaper alternative that behaves in much the same way as pure cotton would. The most common synthetic fibres are nylon and polyester. 

Common Fabric Types

Quilting Cotton

is one of the most widely available and widely used fabrics. It is very versatile and can be used in a mix of dressmaking, quilting and craft projects. It comes in a wide variety of patterns, designs and colours and ranges in quality.


is a very light and transparent fabric that is often used for a fluid drape to a garment. It can be made from a range of fibres, including rayon, polyester or silk. It has a delicate and soft quality to it which is often desirable for evening or occasion wear. 


is another light and sheer fabric, but with more stiffness than chiffon. It is often used over lining fabrics for a beautiful sheen over the top, or can also be used as an interfacing or interlining for other light fabrics.


is another commonly used fabric for dressmaking, due to its stretch. It is a knitted rather than woven fabric, making it stretch beautifully and accommodate shape well. It is often used for more casual garments or body con style garments. It's often a mix of cotton, wool, silk, rayon, nylon or polyester.


is available in a variety of thicknesses, and possesses a wonderful drape, making it great for elegant dressmaking. It is slightly crinkly in texture and usually made from silk, polyester, rayon or wool.


is a combed cotton, once again with a light quality. It has a good balance of stiffness and drape, but comes in different weights. Finer lawns can have a silky texture.


is sometimes used in place of chiffon, for a heavier weight fabric. It is semi-sheer and often available in a good variety of colours and designs.

Habotai/China Silk

is one of the most beautiful lining fabrics ever! It is so light that it is not usually used to make garments alone, but sits so comfortably against the skin that it is perfect for lining. It is made wholly of silk.


is a cotton fabric designed specifically for making shirts due to its medium weight - it is easy to tailor whilst being breathable and comfortable against the skin. It comes in a wide variety of patterns and colours, as well as a wide range of quality. 


is a woven satin fabric that is crinkly textured on one side and shiny on the other. It flows and drapes well, making it ideal for making dresses. It is often made using silk, rayon or polyester.


can be made from either cotton or wool. It is a brushed fabric with a soft surface texture. Lighter flannel is made from cotton and is used for garments like shirts, whereas heavier wool flannel is suitable for garments such as suits.


is a beautiful fabric that is often used for evening and occasion wear due to its luxurious semi-shiny texture. It is reasonably crisp and therefore able to hold some structure, making it ideal for things like party dresses. It can be made using a variety of fibres of varying quality, including silk, rayon, nylon and polyester.


is a fabric made of silk, that uses irregular threads in order to create "slubs" in the fabric texture. It is fairly stiff and crisp, but it tends to fray a bit.

Worsted Wool

is a sturdy fabric made from wool, that is ideal for suiting due to its reasonably stiff and strong qualities. 


is quite well known for its recognisable patterns - often using multiple colours woven in to create a mottled or flecked effect with lots of texture. Made from wool, it is quite sturdy in nature, making it a popular choice for suiting and skirts.

Weaves & Knits

Plain weave is a simple weave in which the threads form a criss cross pattern. It is the most common form of weave for fabrics, including cotton, lawn, taffeta and more.

Twill is a woven fabric with a diagonal pattern, making each side of the fabric look different and therefore creating and right and wrong side. Fabrics such as denim use a twill weave.

Satin weave is used to create a sheen or shiny surface on the fabric. Common examples are duchess satin, sateen, and silk charmeuse.

Knits are made differently to weaves, using a knitting machine to create loops of fabric that interlock and create a stretchier fabric than traditional weaves. Because of this, sewing with knits can be harder and requires more concentration and greater skill, as they are more prone to warping during sewing. Sometimes it is necessary to use more specialist equipment such as different needles for your sewing machine, and special stitches for stretch fabric that can accommodate stretch without breaking. 


Fabrics come in a variety of weights or thicknesses, from light to heavy. Heavy fabrics are thicker and contain more weight, but can add bulk when used in dressmaking. Light fabrics such as cottons, tend to be thinner to the touch, and even to the eye with a sheerness about them. Consider the weight of the fabric not only in how it will sit or add bulk, but also how heavy it is to wear. Light weight fabrics are more suited to summer, whereas heavy fabrics tend to be more wintery. 


Drape is a very important factor to consider when purchasing fabrics for dressmaking. The weight of the fabric can affect its drape: for example, heavy fabrics tend to be a bit stiffer, leading to a more structured look. Drape is mostly affected by the stiffness of the fabric - the stiffer the fabric is, the more structured it will look. Lighter fabrics such as chiffon are much more fluid and give a softer drape and flowing feel.


The amount of stretch in a fabric depends upon the way it is made and any elastic components in the fabric make-up. There is a certain amount of give or stretch in all fabrics, but often these can be limited in fabrics such as quilting cotton. The fabrics with the most stretch tend to be ones that are knitted rather than woven, and/or incorporate elastic elements such as lycra. 

Shop Dress Fabrics or Shop Cotton Fabrics

January 13, 2015 by Amy Gilbert

How to Do a Basic Hem

Starting to sew clothing projects and other larger projects often involves sewing hems to finish off. Although this may seem daunting at first, it's really not too bad! Check out this quick guide to sewing a basic hem if you need a bit of guidance to get you going.

How to Do a Basic Hem

You will need:

  • Sewing Machine
  • Your project
  • Thread, in a complimentary colour 
  • Pins
  • Iron 

How to Make:

  1. Take the project you want to hem and lay it out flat. Iron out any creases in the fabric if necessary - (I have chosen to hem the top of this pocket piece for an apron).

  2. Turn the fabric over so that the right side (patterned side) is against the table surface. Decide how big you want to make your hem - this usually depends on the type of fabric you are using, but the general rule is the heavier the fabric, the larger the hem. Hems usually vary from 0.5cm-2cm wide (I made mine a little wider than normal so it would show up better in the photos).  Fold your fabric up from the edge at your desired width.

  3. At this point, check that you have an equal width all the way along the hem. You may find it easier to press the hem flat at this point, though it is not necessary.
  4. Turn over from the folded edge by the same width once again, so you have no raw edges showing. Pin in place.

  5. Thread your machine up and place your hem underneath the needle, starting at the top edge (or where a seam is if an item of clothing etc). Begin by stitching forward by about 1cm, then use the reverse stitch button on your machine to go back over the stitching you have just done. This strengthens your stitching to give a strong hem that will withstand more wear and tear.

  6. Continue stitching normally down the length of your hem, ensuring that your stitching is straight. You can use the metal plate above the bobbin loader to help guide you - they often have lines etched in at different widths, to help with sewing straight hems.
  7. When you get to the end, reinforce your hem stitching once again by reverse stitching by about 1cm.
  8. Raise your footer and cut the thread. Trim any loose threads on your project (I didn't get around to doing this yet as I had more sewing to do after, but you want it to look neat!). 

  9. Check that the stitching is neat and correct on both sides. If you think you've sewn it too wonky or the thread is all caught up on the underside, you can always unpick it using a seam ripper and try again. Press flat for a neat finish. 

National Hobby Month: A Guide to Hand Sewing

Lots of people are reluctant to take up sewing because they are worried about investing in a machine. No worries! You can still get going on your sewing journey by beginning with hand sewing. 

National Hobby Month: A Guide to Hand Sewing

What can I make using hand sewing?

Hand sewing is a great way to get started with sewing, and build up your stitching skills slowly and confidently. Although it takes longer than using a machine, you can get your stitching looking exactly how you want it, where you want it! You can make all sorts of small projects - some of the most popular ones are pin cushions, small toys, felt projects and hanging decorations.

Basic hand sewing stitches

There are 3 basic hand sewing stitches: running stitch, back stitch and whip/blanket stitch. 

running stitch diagram

Running stitch is one of the most commonly used stitches, which is the easiest and quickest to sew. It involves simply inserting your needle into your fabric front-to-back and then back through from back-to-front at a space of about 0.5cm.


back stitch diagram


Back stitch is a little more complicated but used for more decorative purposes than running stitch, often used in embroidery detailing. It involves bringing your needle through the fabric back-to-front and pushing it back through like running stitch front-to-back (steps 1-2). At this point you then begin a Step 1 again, at point 3, starting where you want the left hand side of the stitch to begin. Repeat Step 2 to anchor your stitch at point 4, where your first stitch began.


whip stitch diagram

Whip stitch and blanket stitch are often terms used interchangeably, although there are two techniques for doing this.

Whip stitch is a little more simple, and is usually used on the edges of your material, to bind them together in a decorative way. It involves bringing your needle through the fabric front-to-back, but without bringing it back through back-to-front; instead, you simply pull you thread up and over the side of the fabric, and place a new stitch front-to-back to the left of the previous.


blanket stitch diagram

Blanket stitch is very similar and is used for much the same purpose, it just involves pulling your needle and thread through under the stitch you created previously as you begin the next one, to add a line of thread along the gap between the two edges of the fabric.

Starting and finishing your stitches

It's always important to start and finish your stitching properly, so all your hard work doesn't go to waste! Remember to knot your thread securely at one end before you begin - it sounds silly to remind you, but you'd be amazed how often you can forget or make a knot that is too small and gets pulled through mid-stitch. Always make sure your knot sits on the inside of your project for neatness.

When measuring out your thread, make sure you add plenty of extra - you don't want to get to the final few stitches and then realise you don't have enough left to knot it properly! Like at the beginning, securing your final stitch is super important so that your stitching doesn't come undone. I like to stitch through my last stitch a couple of times for extra security, then knot off.

What you'll need 

Lucky for you, this is pretty simple - all you really need is a pack of good quality needles, some pins and a pair of scissors! You can then choose your material and thread according to your project. So easy to get started right away!


Great hand sewing projects to have a go at are pin cushions, felt projects and hanging hearts - all require simple cutting and can be as decorative as you like, leaving you plenty of time to practice getting your stitching right! 

Why not try one our fabulously easy Strawberry Pin Cushion kits? It includes everything you need to complete the project, including a pattern, instructions, fabric, ribbon and thread - just grab your needle, scissors and pins, and off you go!

Or if animals are more your thing, we also have these very popular Felt Owl Kits, designed for beginners. They come in 4 different colours too, and you can hang them up around the house when you're done!


Shop Sewing Basics 


How to Choose a Sewing Machine

So you've decided that you're gonna have a go at sewing, and you want to invest in a snazzy machine - but which one do you go for? Choosing a machine can often be confusing, especially if you've never really sewn before. You don't want to be wasting money on features you don't need, but you may not feel like you know what you should have as a standard on your machine. Read on!

How to Choose a Sewing Machine


When choosing a machine, there are so many different brands to pick from. Each one makes their machine in a slightly different way, although they all tend to do essentially the same thing and have the same core features. Some swear by one brand in particular, others don't mind which they sew on. We would personally recommend Janome machines for their durability and practicability, but other popular brands are Brother, Viking, Singer and Bernina.


Machines vary from fairly simple manual machines (and mini machines), to digitised and computerised ones that automatically adjust to what you're sewing. Deciding which model to go for can often be tricky, as there are so many features! On the whole, starting on a manual rather than computerised machine is often best, as you learn how to work out thread tension and other important knowledge which you may need in the future. Manual ones tend to be much cheaper, starting from below £100, whereas digitised machines begin from around £250. If you are an intermediate or above sewer, then selecting a digitised or more complex machine is often a better choice as it will see you through a wider range of projects with more extensive features such as automatic button holes, free arm, more footers, and a wider range of stitches.


The functionality of your machine can often be the most baffling part - sewing machines have so many features nowadays, even on the simpler machines! As a basic sewer, you will probably use all the standard stitch types on a more basic machine (such as straight stitch), and will need to use a reverse stitch lever. Some mid-level machines offer automatic buttonholes - my advice would be, go for a machine that does automatic button holes, it's such a time saver! Even if you go for the cheapest model that has this feature, you will be so glad of it. All sewing machines use footers to help you guide your fabric and needle together under the machine, but mid-to-high range models tend to have a wider range available, and more easily. Think about the different types of projects you may want to use your machine for and buy accordingly. 


Sewing machines now come in two main sizes - mini and standard. Deciding which is best for you is really dependent upon how much you want to spend, what functionality you want, and how much space you have to store or use it in. Mini machines are great for those who don't want to shell out a lot at first, and offer a good range of basic functions. They tend to be less durable, however, than standard machines. Standard machines are great for most sewing projects, but whilst they tend to last longer, they are also bigger and heavier. 


Prices range far and wide when it comes to sewing machines. You can grab a mini sewing machine for a bargain - often less than £50 - but they often struggle to last anywhere near the length of time that a standard machine does. Standard size machines are a bit more of an investment, however, cheaper options on the market can still come in for less than £100 sometimes, particularly if you manage to catch them on a good offer. As with most machinery, quality costs money, so if you want a machine that does last, it's often a good idea to fork out a little bit more for a mid-range machine that will see you through a good 4-5 years at least. 


Don't forget that sewing machines, like most other machines, usually need servicing every so often to keep them running smoothly. All sewing machines tend to need this at some point in their lifetime, so be prepared for this extra cost - which can sometimes include buying new parts to replace worn ones. This is where purchasing a second hand or older machine can sometimes become costly, as the parts may be harder to source, or sometimes, completely unavailable any more. 


Product Review: Sew Cute To Cuddle by Mariska Vos-Bolman


Sew Cute To Cuddle features an array of popular and likeable characters that any child would love to see sitting on their bed every morning. It seems there are endless characters to create in the book, which features 12 patterns for "easy soft toys and stuffed animals".

Read on for our full review of what seems to be a very popular sewing book at the moment...


Initial thoughts

From the outside, the book looks quite fun and modern, like you'd be able to find something in there that you would like to make quite easily. The bright colours and glossy finish make it seem like a great present in itself for any enthusiastic sewer!

The front cover features 3 of their designs, one of which I had a go at making up. The blurb of the book succinctly tells you everything about what's between its pages, and is actually very helpful - mentioning the easy patterns at full size for instant tracing/photocopy, clear diagrams, and unique designs.

Inside, the patterns and instructions do seem very well laid out - there is a clear photograph of each toy in its finished glory, alongside diagrams for each step of the way. There are also useful tips on some pages, where some of the techniques may be hard or confusing. Helpfully, they point you to the kind of skill level you need to complete the projects, as some are a little harder than others.



The book is relatively easy to read and understand, but as some of the designs get confusing at points (for us, when attached legs and arms inside the body of Emma, the girl doll) it definitely is useful to have their diagrams for reference! Being the ambitious sewer that I am, I quite often wanted to sew things on in a different way or sequence to which they had stated, but I stuck to the instructions and it came out okay. There were times when I get a little confused but the pictures definitely helped me through!

My biggest problem was choosing which one to make first...



I think the patterns in this book are fantastic! So original and fun, and yet they tend to work around similar groups of patterning - for example, Emma and Emilio, the boy and girl, use a very similar pattern that make it easy to complete one when you've already done the other. The only pattern I struggled with was the complication of the Dragon pattern, but they do warn you that it is for more experienced toy makers. I would say the sheer number of parts is what complicates it with that pattern, over anything else!

But all in all, I know most children would love to have any one of these designs sitting on their bed every morning, and I wouldn't ever worry that I'd picked the wrong one to make because they are all so great!


Making Up

Making up depends on how well you know your sewing techniques. As a bit more of a beginner, I wouldn’t say that these patterns are easy as such, as there are some challenging elements; however, the challenging elements tend to be fiddly bits, that I’m not sure get much easier with experience, but become something you learn to power through! The toys seem to come together relatively quickly though, which is very satisfying – I made the Emma doll in an afternoon.

It can take a couple of attempts to get everything perfect, but to be honest, mine looked okay having only spent one afternoon on it. Yes, it could have all been a bit neater, and next time I would try to attach the arms and legs a little closer, but overall, it’s not hard to come out with something decent. For the perfectionists out there, it may take a few tries before it all looks neat and tidy, especially if you’ve never made toys before.


The other challenge that some readers may have when making, is trying to match fabrics! Whilst some fabrics are easy to source (polka dots and plains etc), some of the fabrics they have used are ones I’ve never seen around. This means that quite often you’ll need to find your own based on the colours they have used in the book, or make up your own set of co-ordinating fabrics. I didn’t find this too hard and used their colours as a base, but for those of you who struggle with fabric matching and co-ordination, this may be more of a challenge.

Don’t be afraid to go with your gut and do a bit of clashing though! As I’ve said, if you get stuck, just follow the basic shades that they have used. For example, they used a funky orange and yellow 80’s type fabric for Emma’s hair, which I substituted for a yellow pinstripe. Dress and clothing-wise, I stuck to a staple bright pink in two different patterns, with a complimentary lime green on the legs.

Although my two pinks for the body and feet didn’t quite match, the green in between meant that you couldn’t really tell and they didn’t look out of place. The secret to using colours that are slightly off matching – place a contrasting one in between, and usually you won’t notice the difference!


Word of warning

One small thing to note is that if you’re making any of these toys to sell, they must comply with safety regulations. The book doesn't really mention this except for on the very last page, but it is important if you use this book to go on to make your own designs (or just want to make sure your makes are super safe for kids).


Overall Rating: 5 *****

Overall, this book gets a 5/5 because I think it’s a great all rounder for most people, and not a bad start for those who’ve never attempted sewing toys or stuffed animals before. The patterns and instructions are clear and concise for the most part, which really helps when making up, and some projects can be done in a day.


October 28, 2014 by Amy Gilbert