I will admit it – smocking is one of the more challenging aspects of sewing. For it to look good, it has to be done right and getting it right takes a lot of patience, practice and precision. But… once you manage to get a handle on it, you’re all set for the most amazing and creatively fulfilling journey yet.

Smocking can add an interesting dimension to all your sewing projects. Imagine taking a flat swatch of fabric and transforming it into a rocking, smocking three dimensional cushion cover, a charming baby dress or a even sexy little apron.  The sense of creative accomplishment this can give you is reward in itself.

Start with Samplers

Before you plunge right into reading instructions and getting started with your first project, it does pay to take some time to learn the basics of smoking. Understand the terminology and the principles involved. As I’ve said, this is a technique that requires a little more precision than most other sewing techniques and mastering it calls for a lot of practice and patience.

Make a sampler. In fact, make more than one sampler. Try out different techniques. Try out the same technique on different types of fabrics. Compare the results and see what works for you and what doesn’t. Just in creating the samples itself, you will be giving yourself some invaluable practice.

Don’t Dive In the Deep End

Once you understand the difference between pleats and rows, quarter spaces and half spaces and you’ve figured out how to get the fabric pleated, you’re all set to get started. As always, when embarking upon any new project, the same rule applies – keep it simple. I mean it, keep it really, really simple. Sure, you just can’t wait to be able to replicate those fabulous beauties you’ve seen in all those sewing newsletters you subscribe to. Take my advice – don’t.

You’ll get there eventually but for the moment, choose the simplest project you can think of. Why? The more complicated the project, the longer it will take. This will tax your patience and you will find your enthusiasm just fading off after a while. Whereas if you start with an easy project like a simple smocked Christmas ornament, you’ll be done in no time at all and that wonderful feeling of pride and triumph will be incentive enough for you to keep going on.

You’re On Your Way!

One of the easiest smocking projects to take up after smocked Christmas ornaments is a square or rectangular pillow cover. It only involves all straight seams and the only part you may find a bit tricky is mitering the corners but really, that’s not a major obstacle at all.

As you get more and more familiar with the basics of smocking, it’s time to start experimenting with more complex techniques and projects. A smoked apron is another easy project to take on, especially if you’ve learnt how to sew an apron in school. I could never understand why but most schools that have sewing in their curriculum always end up teaching students how to sew an apron of all things!

But I digress. If you know how to sew an apron, adding smocking into the mix is not very difficult at all. Smocked aprons can make for a really cool gift idea. Don’t forget to make one for yourself. A suggestively smocked apron can make for some smoking hot moments in the kitchen!

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A motor that is 60% more powerful than that of the typical household sewing machine and the super-fast speed of 1,100 stitches per minute puts the Singer CG590 Commercial Grade Sewing Machine firmly in the commercial sewing machine category. This is the first choice for someone who is looking for a machine to handle bulk heavy sewing.

Features of the Singer CG590

  • The powerful motor is housed within a solid metal outer body. It is heavy and stable and will not bounce when sewing at its top speed
  • The bed plate is made of stainless steel so it can withstand the continuous use that a professional sewer would typically subject it to
  • 18 useful built in stitches including a 4-step buttonhole
  • Top-loading, jam-proof bobbin system
  • Easy to use, thread tension dial
  • Stitch balance level allows you to balance your stitch to the preferred amount
  • Free arm capability takes the frustration out of sewing cuffs and pant legs
  • Automatic needle threader so you don’t need to strain your eyes while trying to thread the needle anymore
  • Drop feed system makes traditional darning and free motion quilting easy
  • Exclusive electronic foot control guarantees a steady, consistent speed with no jumping while starting.
  • Finger guard for finger protection when sewing fast

What Users Love about the Singer CG590 Sewing Machine

Most users who have bought the Singer CG590 rave about the power and speed of the machine. For those who do bulk sewing of uniforms, these two attributes help them increase their productivity and ultimately their bottom line. Not for nothing is it categorized as a commercial grade sewing machine.

This machine is SUPER FAST and will zip through bulky fabrics with ease and without bouncing like other machines do when sewing through heavy weight fabrics. What you need to consider though is that it will move your table because of its sheer power. It’s best to avoid placing this machine on a flimsy work table.

The self-adjusting tension is another feature that all professional sewers love about this machine. No need to mess around with the tension every time.

Final Thoughts…

Even though the Singer CG590 does not have hundreds of fancy stitches and patterns, it is hardly a deterrent.  After all, it is being sold as a heavy-weight, sturdy, no-frill machine. Moreover, what it lacks in fancy additions, it more than makes up with its awesome power and speed.

Click to Buy the Singer CG590 on sale at Amazon

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The fabric you choose for your project plays a major role in how the end product turns out. Use the same techniques on two completely different types of fabric and you’ll be simply amazed at how different they can end up looking. Imagine this – you use the same pattern for a pair of trousers and cut one out on denim fabric and another on a soft cotton fabric using the same measurements and the exact same methodology. What you’ll end up with is a sober, straight pair of jeans on one hand and a sassy, flowing pair of summer pajama pants on the other.

For some projects, it really is fun to experiment and shoot for different effects. However, if you have a definite picture in mind about what you are looking for, it is important that you choose the right fabric so you can achieve that look. If you are not very familiar with different types of fabric and how they will behave, this can be a tad tricky.

Here are a few things to think about and which will help you select the right fabric for your project.

Weight of the Fabric

To me, the weight of the fabric is the very first deciding factor.  Some types of fabric are just too heavy for certain projects and some are just too light for others. And as I said before, even if you can use different fabrics for the same project, the end results will be drastically different.

Fabric comes in several different weights and this plays a huge role in determining how your project turns out. Curtains made from a heavy fabric such as satin will drape and fall differently from curtains made of light, breezy chintz or lace curtains. When thinking about a project, it helps to try and first determine the look that you are trying to achieve.

Seasonal Fabrics

No matter how well a fabric may be suited for a project, it could be entirely inappropriate for the season. Sure, a mohair wool jacket drapes beautifully and feels just great against the skin but you could just never wear it in summer. The fabric you choose for a summer jacket is entirely different from what you would use for a winter jacket.

When sewing clothes for summer, stay away from synthetics and wooly fabrics. Instead, keep everything lightweight. Cottons, chiffons and georgettes in cheerful colors or dainty florals can be worked into the coolest looking clothes for those hot summer days. Keep the heavy wools and gabardines for winter.

Looks vs Convenience

Here’s where things get a bit tricky and all rules get blown out the water. Let’s say you are sewing a top. Now you can use several types of fabric, from polyester and silk to cotton or linen and each of them will look completely different from the other.

In addition to how it will look, you also have to consider the convenience factor and decide what is more important to you. My sister ribs me constantly about the hours I spend ironing my linen outfits. Her wardrobe is stuffed full of wash-and-wear, wrinkle free outfits. But really here’s where it comes down to making choices. I love the look and feel of linen and don’t mind the time spent on ironing rather than compromise. Then again, I know it’s just not feasible for everybody. If you are aiming to sew clothes that are just wear and go, you need to look for fabrics that are wrinkle free and washable. Think nylon, polyester or lycra. Don’t go anywhere near linen or pure cotton.

Cost of the Fabric

With keeping all of the above factors in mind, all fabric does come at a price and that price can surprise you. You need to decide how much the project is worth before buying the fabric. While you may not mind buying an expensive fabric for a formal gown, there is no justifiable reason for going all out and buying designer fabric for a sun dress you will wear a couple of times on the beach.

We could talk about fabric and fabric choices all day. And sometimes this may sound daunting and sometimes it may not. You may make the wrong choices sometimes and absolutely nail it at other times. Just remember, as with everything else in sewing, getting it right takes experience and experimentation. After all, some of the biggest hits on the fashion runway have actually been the result of breaking all rules!

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sewing machine maintenanceAs with all machines, sewing machines work best with some basic maintenance, done regularly. The emphasis is on the words ‘basic’ and ‘done regularly’. Most machines today are designed to perform well for years together without any major problems. More often than not, if you encounter any problems, it will be because you have the wrong setting on your sewing machine or because you may have done something wrongly or just plain forgotten to do something.  The chances of there being any mechanical problem with the machine are slim to none.

Don’t Ever Tinker With the Mechanism of Your Sewing Machine

I say this from experience – no matter how much of a DIY guru you or your spouse may be, do not ever open out your sewing machine to try and trouble shoot its inside workings. That’s unless you are fully qualified to tinker with it. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to see the inside of a sewing machine, you’d be amazed. It’s a very intricate, complex maze in there! When my sewing machine was skipping stitches, I made the mistake of complaining to my all-knowing, Mr. Technical husband who insisted fixing it would be a snap! Well, many snaps later, my pride and joy lay in a huge tangled mess and when I took it to a sewing machine repair shop to try and fix it, they advised me to scrap it and buy a new one!

In hindsight, if only I had thought of referring to my manual for some help with troubleshooting this very minor problem! Well, at they say – live and learn, which brings me to my very first tip for preventing sewing machine problems:

Read the Instruction Booklet

Every sewing machine comes with a detailed instruction booklet that is relevant to that particular model. Even before you start sewing, make it a point to read this instruction book from cover to cover. These booklets are full of helpful advice and tips on how to use your particular machine properly so you can enjoy many years of good service.

Clean Your Machine Properly & Regularly

Dust, thread residue and lint buildup can play havoc with your sewing machine and hinder its inner workings. Don’t wait to do the cleaning up only after you have any problems.  Regular cleaning can stave off problems before they occur and keep your running smoothly.

When cleaning pay special attention to the areas around the presser foot, the bobbin case and the feed dogs. Remove the bobbin case and brush or wipe off the link from the shuttle race as well as the case compartment. Remove the needle plate and using a brush, carefully reach in and clean the lint off the surface of the feed dogs.

Last but not least, oil your sewing machine where indicated in your instruction manual.

A machine that is well maintained and cared for on a regular basis will run better and prevent time consuming and expensive problems latter.

Happy Sewing!

Tip for the day

If you’ve have misplaced and cannot find the instruction manual of your sewing machine, you can usually find copies of almost all models on the internet. Some sewing machine manufacturers even keep these on their website itself. 

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The Brother 2340 CV Serger cover stitch is the perfect alternative for someone who’d like to give their garments a professional looking finish without having to pay the exorbitant prices that they’d have to for other high end sergers. Usually the cover stitch is only available on the really expensive serger machines but the Brother 2340CV offers this fantastic feature for less than $400, which is a really great deal!

Highlights of the Brother 2340CV

  • Two-thread double chain stitch
  • Wide 6 mm, double or triple needle cover stitch
  •  Quick and simple looper threading system, which is color coded
  • Stitch length 2 mm – 4 mm
  • Easy to follow lay- in threading
  • One hand thread cutter
  • Vertical needle drop
  • Slide lever regulator for differential feed
  • Free arm sewing for ease of sewing sleeve cuffs and pant hems
  • Extremely fast, capable of doing up to 1,000 stitches per minute
  • Snap on presser foot
  • Presser foot pressure can be adjusted

The differential feed helps eliminate wavy stitches on fabrics and produces perfect seaming irrespective of the type of fabric.

The Cover Stitch

The cover stitch is a serger type stitch that is used to finish cuffs, collars, necklines and hems when no fabric has been cut. The wonder of this stitch is that it is not restricted for use only at the edge of the fabric. It can also be used to create decorations anywhere on the fabric.

This stitch can be made using 2 needles or 3 needles and is particularly suited for sewing knits as well as other newer blends of woven and stretchy fabrics. It works great for circular hemming and t-shirt hemming as well as for fixing lace onto any fabric and attaching binding, elastic lace or taping. In addition, it also sews a few really neat decorative stitches and can do belt loop stitching too.

Pros

  • Easy to set up and use
  • Plenty of useful serger features for less than $ 400
  • Very fast- can go up to 1000 stitches per minute
  • The differential feed is very useful to eliminating wavy stitches

Cons

Many users have remarked that while they love all of the features of this machine, the one drawback is that the machine is partial to expensive thread and does not tolerate cheap thread very well. Cheaper threads tend to break more easily. This is an expense that could add up very quickly.

In Conclusion

With lots of useful features at a really reasonable price, the Brother 2340CV is the perfect alternative to other more highly priced serger machines that you will find anywhere.

Click for Lowest Price on the Brother 3240CV Serger

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Being new to sewing is no excuse for sloppy work. Considering all the time and the money you will have spent on any project, it can be terribly disappointing to end up with something that looks slapdash and shoddy. When you put so much of your creative energy into a sewing project, the best reward you can get is when the finished product is something you can be proud of; something you would love to use over and over again; something that you know will draw the admiring glances of everybody who sees it.

Fortunately, this is not an impossible task. A little thought and care and some precaution is all it needs to give your sewing projects a professional look.

  1. No matter how much you love that print, if it is on a low quality fabric, do not buy it. Very often, low quality fabrics have attractive prints and look fabulous on the bolt. Problem is the finished product will just never look good. Your project is only as good as the fabric you use. This does not mean you need to go out and buy the most expensive fabric. Low price does not necessarily mean cheap quality. You need to have an eye for fabric quality, which is something you will acquire with experience.
  2. Prewash your fabric before you cut it, especially if you are working with fabrics with natural fibers such as cotton, linen or jute. These fabrics tend to shrink (sometimes quite a lot).  Skipping this step will result in an outfit that will be basically unwearable after the first wash.
  3. Iron your fabric after prewashing and before cutting. This helps you get rid of all the creases and wrinkles in the fabric and also allows you to get correct measurements. While you will need to set your iron to high heat for 100% cotton fabrics, you should remember to put it down low for polyester blend fabrics. These synthetic fabrics can burn easily if the heat is set to too high.
  4. Check all the settings on your sewing machine. Is the tension setting right for the fabric you are working with? Are the needle size and the thread size correct? After you’ve adjusted all your settings and you think you are ready to go, do one final check by sewing a few stitches on a similar scrap fabric or in one corner of your fabric. Fine tune the settings till you are happy with the results and only then proceed with sewing the actual project.
  5. Snip off the extra threads at the start and end of every seam as you go along. It may look like one teeny little bit of thread at the outset, but as you get on with the project, it can begin to look very shabby, much like a garden that badly needs weeding.

A Final Thought

Despite all the precautions, if your first project does not come out looking the way you imagined it would don’t be too disappointed or  discouraged. Think of the first few projects as learning experiences. If you approach every project with the care it deserves, everything else will fall in place sooner than you think.

Tip for the day

When choosing fabrics with large prints or block prints, unroll a length of fabric and check out the distance between the patterns. Larger patterns that are set further apart are not always suitable for all projects. If you are planning on sewing a garment with this type of fabric, you remember to buy extra to match the patterns. 

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With its straight, clean lines and sturdy, motor, the Brother CP-7500 computerized sewing machine combines form and function in one sleek little package. The candy-pink trimming gives it a cutesy, whimsical touch that any girl is sure to love.

Stitch Features of the Brother CP-7500

The CP-7500 comes with a really nice selection of 70 built-in stitches from the basic utility and quilting stitches to fancier decorative and heirloom stitches. When you consider that many of these stitches can be adjusted to up to 5 mm in length and up to 7 mm in width, it all adds up to 110 varieties of stitches.  The extra large length and width add even more versatility for anyone who loves sewing home decoration items such as cushion covers, bedspreads and curtains and also for the avid quilter.

The 7 styles of 1-step buttonholes make easy work of making buttons with literally the push of a button. That’s right! All you have to do is push one button and the machine does the rest. It’s that easy!

Features & Functionality

With plenty of automation combined with a neat mix of easy-to-use features and advanced sewing features, the Brother CP-7500 is an excellent beginner machine that will serve you will as you progress with your sewing skills.

Automatic, User-Friendly features include:

  • Automatic needle threader and automatic bobbin winder
  • Automatic presser foot pressure
  • Start/ Stop button to start or stop sewing with a simple push of the button
  • Drop-in, quick set bobbin with transparent bobbin cover; just drop the thread and you are ready to go
  • Thread tension control dial
  • Variable speed control with a speed control slider that’s easily adjustable so you can sew at a comfortable speed
  • Built-in manual thread cutter
  • Reverse-reinforce button
  • Free arm sewing for tackling sleeves and pant legs
  • Diagrams on the side of the machine act as a convenient guide for novices

Advanced Features Include

  • Variable needle positions
  • Twin needles for sewing 2 parallel lines of stitches either for decorative purposes or for reinforced seams
  • Drop feed dog lever
  • Can attach buttons with 2 holes as well as 4 holes

The Brother CP-7500 used to come with 7 presser feet, zigzag, blind stitch, zipper foot, monogramming, overcastting, button fitting and button hole. The recent addition of 2 feet, the quilting foot and the Walking foot at the same price comes as a really cool bonus.

 Pros

  • Automatic start up features and very clear instructions make the machine easy to set up and go.
  • Lots o stitches to choose from
  • 9 presser feet at no additional charge
  • Runs smoothly and quietly
  • Works without a hitch on bulky fabrics such as multiple layers of denim
  • Extra wide extension table makes quilting easier

Cons

  • The work light isn’t too bright and cannot be used as the exclusive  source of light. Using an additional source of light is a rather easy solution to this.
  • Bobbins are an unusual size. Buying extra bobbins when buying the machine is advisable.

Marketing pundits predict that come Christmas time, the Brother CP-7500 is sure to be one of the top holiday gifts. Why this model especially?  Three main reasons stand out -  it looks cool, it has some fabulous features and at less than $200, it offers tremendous value for money! A 3-in-1 combination that’s hard to beat!

Click here for the lowest price on the Brother CP-7500

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When you are starting out with sewing, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when things start to go wrong with your sewing project. You just cannot get a handle on fitting on the collar or the sleeve cuffs. You’ve cut out the pattern and now you realize the stripes don’t match. The pleats just won’t stay in place.

You get frustrated, storm away and you vow never to go near your sewing machine again! This is a common scenario for novice sewers who have taken on a project much too complex for their experience level.

Sewing shouldn’t be an exercise in frustration. It’s supposed to be fun and the only way to keep it that way is to make it easy on yourself. Start out with something simple and gradually ease into it as you go along.

So what can you do to make it easy on yourself?

1- Choose a Simple Pattern

The simpler the pattern the fewer pattern markings you will need to transfer and the less basting and sewing you will need to do. With a simple pattern, everything from the measuring and marking to cutting and sewing, is pretty straightforward, which means lesser chances of making any mistakes.

If you are sewing a garment, choose a pattern that does not have pleats, pockets and does not involve intricate cutting and sewing techniques. Here are a few ideas for simple, easy projects that are ideal to start off on – a skirt or pant with an elastic waist, a straight skirt without any pleats, a simple, straightforward top without any elaborate sleeves and collars.

2- Choose a Simple Fabric

There are two things you will want to keep in mind when choosing fabric for your first few projects – the type of fabric and the fabric pattern.

  1. Type of Fabric: Cotton is the best choice for your first few projects. Because it is medium weight, it can be easily handled unlike fabrics that are extremely lightweight and shifty or extremely heavyweight and cumbersome to work with. Also, cotton has a slightly rough texture so it won’t slip and slide all over the place when you are cutting and sewing.  Leave the slippery satins and silks or the sheers that unravel easily for when you have acquired a little more expertise and patience.
  2. Fabric Pattern: Avoid fabrics that have one-way prints, large blocked prints, stripes or plaids. All of these will require you to place the pattern carefully before cutting and even then, every little mistake will show. Stick with random patterns and solid colors when starting.

Getting into the habit of doing your prep work and keeping everything that you need within easy reach will help make it things easier for you, now and always.

Last but not least: Practice! When it comes to improving your sewing skills, there’s no substitute for practice and patience.

Tip for the day

Keep your sewing area well lit. Working in bad lighting slows you down and can cause you to make a lot of mistakes. The better you can see your work, the less likely you are to make a cut in the wrong place or sew the wrong pieces together. 

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I’m the first to admit that sewing is not something that should be rushed. Like all creative processes, you want to take your time at it, enjoying each step and savoring every triumph. Unfortunately, even the most ardent sewer is likely to find that they are pressed for time and cannot afford to indulge as much as they’d like to. Fortunately, there are ways you can have your cake and eat it too. The secret lies in being sewing efficient.

Keep these few tips and suggestions in mind and you will find that you can finish off your sewing projects faster without actually feeling rushed.

Tip #1-Set Up Your Space

The more time you spend looking for your thread, bobbin, needles, pins, etc., the less time you will get to do any actual sewing. Setting up your space is the first step towards increasing your sewing efficiency. Look for tips and ideas on how to find the right balance of storage v/s accessibility. I cover more on organizing your sewing work space in this article.

If you do a lot of sewing, invest in a sewing table so you do not have to put away your sewing machine and then take it out every single day. This can get pretty tedious. If you have limited space to work around, even just a small corner table that you can dedicate to your sewing machine can make a huge difference. Just being able to sit ‘n’ sew without all the elaborate fuss of setting up the sewing machine every day can be tremendously motivating.

Tip #2- Practice Batch Sewing

If you are sewing several of the same items, say baby swaddles or baby jumpers or even table mats or curtains, you will be able to get everything done faster if you do work on all the same items at one time and finish them off before moving on to the next project. Just taking the above examples, the fabric for baby jumpers will be finer than the fabric used for table mats or curtains. Switching between the projects will involve changing the top thread and the bobbin thread to suit that particular fabric, rethreading the machine with the new colored thread and re-adjusting the machine tension. You will also have to change the sewing machine needle. Those are a whole lot of extra steps that you can avoid if you just forge ahead with one project, finish that off and then switch to the next.

Tip #3-Work In an Assembly Line Manner

If you are doing a whole lot of sewing, whether you are working on the same project or different projects at the same time, you will find that you save time and energy when you work in an assembly line manner. For example, soak all of your fabrics for pre-shrinking at the same time. For tips on preshrinking see our article on preparing for your project. Then, when the fabric is still slightly damp, do a batch of ironing so all of your fabric is ready for cutting out.  Now clear a space on your table and do a batch of cutting, pinning and hand basting.

When you are all ready to sew, then you batch sew as mentioned in tip #2.

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As a very first sewing project, there’s nothing easier or cheaper than sewing placements and napkins. You don’t have to spend a fortune on expensive fabrics. There are no tricky sewing techniques to keep in mind or complicated patterns to fit. It’s simple, straightforward, easy and hardly takes any time at all. Moreover, sewing your own placemats and napkins allows novice sewers to get ample practice with getting the stitches in a straight line when machining.

For most beginners, machining in a straight line is the trickiest part of getting a handle on machining. It’s one thing to read all the theory you can on sewing but it’s only with a lot of practice that you can actually master this crucial machining technique and what better way to start than with simple rectangular shapes. The techniques required for sewing placemats and napkins are the same. The only differences lie in their sizes and the kind of fabric used.

Size & Fabric Requirements for Rectangular Placemats

Standard placemats measure about 18” x 14”. Of course, this size is not written in stone so feel free to adapt it to your requirements. You may want to sew smaller versions to fit on a smaller dining table or bigger placemats if your plates are unusually large.

Sturdy fabrics of medium thickness work best for placemats. Avoid very lightweight, shifty fabrics as these can be very inconvenient for the purpose.

Size & Fabric Requirements for Napkins

Standard napkins are square shaped with each of the sides measuring16”. You can make them slightly smaller if need be but avoid making them larger than 16”square or they will look and feel just too big and bulky.

Medium weight fabrics that are absorbent work best for napkins. The fabric should not be as sturdy as the one you will use for your placemats. It should be softer so your napkins can be used for the purpose they are meant.

When choosing colors, you can either go with matching table mats and napkins or choose them in complementary colors.

How to Sew the Placemats & Napkins

Whatever measurements you choose to go with, you will need to cut at least ½” outside the measurement marking for the hemming. After you’ve got all your placemats and napkins cut out, iron them out while pressing down on the edges to create a hem. This is necessary to get a clean finish and straight lines.

Once you’ve got all your hems neatly pressed, it’s time to get machining. While stitching the sides is straightforward, it is important to be extra careful when you’ve reached the corners so that you get a clean and smooth continuous stitch. To get this, when you reach a corner, lift the presser foot with the needle still in the fabric. Swivel the fabric ninety degrees, put the presser foot down and sew the next side. When you’ve finished hemming the fourth side, do a few backstitches and end off. Trim off the threads neatly and you’re done!

Adding Details to Your New Creations

Why stop now! If you have an embroidery machine, go right on ahead and use it to add details to your new creations. If you are planning on gifting the napkins and table mats, you could monogram the initials of the recipient or perhaps embroider a theme befitting the occasion such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day or Thanksgiving.

That’s it! You’re all done. Time for you to sit back and admire your first project on your sewing machine.

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