the World’s Fastest Pencil Case {a tutorial in 10 easy steps}

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I always try to make a little gift to send home with the kids at my daughters’ parties. There are quite a few opinions out there about take-home party gifts. I’ve read many a blog post about the merits of sending home items that will be used, provide entertainment and won’t get thrown out within a few days. So, my aim has always been to try to find something useful, and home-made. I am lucky because I have fun doing it, and I generally have the extra time it takes to make a handmade gift happen. One year it was homemade playdoh and cookie cutters. Another year they all got one of these beach towels. I think I also made bath crayons and wash cloths for everyone another year. This year I knew I was not going to have a lot of time, so I spent quite a while thinking about something fun that would be fast and this one is a winner!

I spent about 3 hours total making 13 pencil cases – which averages out to about 18 minutes each – and I know I took a coffee break in there a couple of times! Thirteen, of course, included one each for my kids as well – since you can’t leave them out. Anyhow, I needed the kids to have one for the photo-shoot! The packaging didn’t take long, since my husband designed-up a little 4×6 card to put in with the gift and we included a few fabric markers and a healthy snack. I even enlisted the kids to help me divide the 8-packs of markers into groups of 4. Hooray for help!

It helps to have this amazing IKEA Tidny fabric – because it definitely ready to colour. But, I think it would be fun to search through the Spoonflower library of designs and find something in just black and white that would work well. You could even design your own theme-appropriate fabric! The fabric markers I used get mixed reviews online, and I can tell you that they definitely don’t work on dark colours, but they are great for this project. And, true to the brand, they wash off of little hands just fine… I know from experience!

If you are scared off by the zipper, this project doesn’t even need a zipper foot. I used my regular zig-zag foot for the whole thing. Definitely give it a try! It might even work out to be a good project to make with your kids, since the beginning of school is soon upon us. (Don’t worry, I won’t mention it again.) And it also has a simple french seam on each edge, encasing the seam and providing an easy way to make this an un-lined, and still “nice-looking” pencil case!

 You will need:

  • 12″ zipper
  • 12″ wide by 14″ high fabric – cotton/home decor weight/canvas
  • 2 pieces of 3″ grosgrain ribbon
  • sewing machine, thread, scissors, chopstick

Here we go:

  1. Unzip your zipper and lay one side along the top of your rectangle. The zipper teeth are facing down and the top of the zipper is aligned with the left side of the rectangle.
  2. Pin/Glue if desired and stitch along the edge with an aprox. 1/4″ seam – attaching one side of the zipper to the pencil case. I put my presser foot right next to the zipper teeth and moved the needle to it’s left-most position. (I was extra quick by eyeballing the edge instead of pinning as I sewed each zipper on.)
  3. With the zipper still unzipped, fold the pencil case right sides together and line up the left side. This helps to line the zipper up so both sides match when you are finished. Pin the second side of the zipper in place and stitch as in Step 2. (I only pinned it once, making sure  it was aligned, and then lined the rest of the edge up as I went.)
  4. Your pencil case should now be a tube. Turn and press the fabric away from the zipper teeth so it lays flat. Be careful not to heat up the teeth too much, so they don’t melt.
  5. Now press the case again while it is right side out, this time measuring so the zipper is aprox. 2″  down from the top edge. Make sure the raw side edges are aligned, this will ensure the pencil case corners are squared up.
  6. Open the zipper and stitch a wide zig-zag over the zipper tape and raw edges of your fabric. This is easier when sewn with the right side down and finishes the seam so the fabric will not fray. Fold each tab in half and pin them centred beside each end of the zipper.
  7. Keep the case folded right sides out and stitch along each raw edge with a 1/4″ seam. Catch each tab in the seam as you go, and make sure to watch for any metal parts of the zipper so you do not stitch into them.
  8. Make sure everything is well aligned and cut off the excess zipper.
  9. Turn the pencil case right sides together and use a chopstitck or similar object to push the corners out. Stitch a 3/8″ seam down each side, enclosing the previous seam and the tabs. (Your french seam is done! Easy, peasy!)
  10. Turn your pencil case right side out and give it a press. All done!

If you have any questions I’d love to help – you can email me: or contact me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

I’d love to see your creations! You can share your projects on Twitter and Instagram @sherrisylvester with the hashtag #alongforthreadride or #threadridinghood, or post them on the Thread Riding Hood Facebook page.

This tutorial is for personal/charitable use only. Thank you!

Kid Art – Simple Fabric Painting

A weekend nod to Kid’s Clothing Week’s end today! This fabric painting idea is a fun summer project to do with your kids. Especially if you plan to do some simple sewing with it. (That they would love to be included in!)

Fabric painting with “puffy paint” is something I immediately associate with the eighties and early nineties. In grade six I made a pair of cut off shorts (right above the knees to be modest of course!) with painted bows all over them in different colours. Very puffy, neon and verrrrry coool. If I remember it right they were the most amazing shorts ever… I wonder what happened to them! (Mom?) Anyhow – it is these memories that make me hesitate when I dig out my old-school fabric paints. The horror of the item I’m painting actually turning out puff-painted is enough to make me run in the opposite direction. Until I found this post by the girl creative.

Though I am blogging this a year later, these photos are from the second time we painted fabric. I thought it would be fun for the girls to use paintbrushes and see if their watercolour paintings could be a bit more intentional than the splatter-type art we created the first time. I love seeing just how much the girls have changed and grown up over the last year! They look so much more grown up now, time goes by so fast. My youngest had just turned 3 at this point, it’s such a great way to preserve their art in something they can touch.

To make these, you can refer to the girl creative’s post. My paintings look a lot different than the watercolour look she got on her fabric – you’ve got to check it out!

The painting is really simple and easier outside because it’s simpler to clean up, but if your kids will sit still it works indoors too. Just make sure you cover everything first because the paints do not wash out. To make each square of fabric easier for the girls to paint on I backed them with freezer paper. Just iron the shiny side onto the back of your fabric and it stays in place. (This works when using fabric pens as well!)

As a confession… I’ve still got the squares the girls painted on my to-do list. (Yikes!) Maybe another summer project I could work on with them?

ConKerr Cancer + Fridays Off Fabric Shop = LOVE {+ free shipping in Canada}

In the last year or so I’ve felt the need to do something “good” with my sewing – and especially my never-ending stash of fabric. I remember seeing some kind of pamphlet at my local fabric store last year mentioning something about pillowcases, but I “got busy” (as usual) and didn’t pursue anything. Enter Alanna, from Friday’s Off Fabric Shop in Toronto, to give me a swift kick in the right direction! Thank goodness… because I needed it.

Alanna has recently volunteered to become a ConKerr Cancer drop-off location. If you have not heard of ConKerr Cancer, they make pillowcases – called “Smiles” and donate them to local children’s hospitals. They are given to children with cancer and other life-changing illnesses or injuries. These pillowcases brighten up hospital rooms and help to fulfill ConKerr’s goal of “of making hospital stays as pleasant as possible for chronically ill children and their parents.” (via)

I am especially excited that Alanna will be dropping off her pillowcases at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario. I have had personal family experience with this children’s hospital and would so love to give some smiles to the kids there. I’m really excited to say that my sewing group has decided to take one of our monthly Sewcials to sew pillowcases for ConKerr. Hooray! I am also hoping to sew pillowcases with my kids and I would love to make it a regular project that we can work on together.

Want to help out?! There are a few very important things to remember if you choose donate some pillowcases. Sew with this specific pattern. Get kid friendly fabric. Wash, pack and ship your pillowcase as per ConKerr’s instructions. Alanna has explained exactly how to do this in 5 simple steps on her website, which includes the shipping address of the drop off location.

I’m excited to say that Alanna also has kits available in her shop – to give you a simple way to get exactly what you need to make and donate a pillowcase or three! Below are a few examples of kits she has available, click on the photos or the links to get to her shop. (The yardage is also available in her shop if you would rather mix and match your own fabrics.) To make it even easier for you to order, Alanna is also offering free shipping from today until June 30, 2014 on all orders shipped within Canada – use the code “TRHFREESHIPPING”! This discount applies to pillowcase sales AND regular yardage for other projects – go and get ’em folks!

I hope you will join us in making the lives of these hospitalized kids and their families a little brighter. There is a lot more information about ConKerr Cancer available on their website and so many inspiring photos. They have chapters located throughout the US, Canada, South Africa and the UK. I know we likely all have fabric stashed away that could use a home, please consider ConKerr Cancer as a great place to give it to!

I’d love to hear from you if you plan to donate pillowcases. I’d also love to know if you donate your sewing stash and time to any other “good” causes. Hearing what other people are volunteering their time for is so inspiring. Thank you.

Kids & Hand Stitching

My youngest needed something to do the other day while I was sewing so I decided to see what she would do with some hand stitching. I gathered up a few supplies – 10″ embroidery hoops I found the day before, some spare rectangles of canvas and some embroidery floss I bought for my fabric tray tutorial. Those plus a needle and a water soluble marker and we were good to go!

I got her busy colouring her hoop with markers while I drew a few straight dashed lines and tied a knot in the end of the floss – no point in teaching her how to do it without a knot yet. I was happy to find out that she actually enjoyed finishing up her “sewing work”! Of course, she took breaks in between, but by the end of the afternoon she had managed to finish her three lines one at a time.

I have to admit it was a bit scary giving my almost-4 year old a sharp needle. But she did very well with it and only pricked her finger (very lightly) once. It was good that the canvas has such a loose weave, because we were able to easily back out of a stitch the few times she forgot to go “up” on the same side she went “down” into with the needle. I used very technical terms to describe everything to her (hee hee)!

The next day my oldest was looking for something to do and spotted her sister’s canvas – so she had to start one of course! Since she’s a bit older, she decided to draw something herself and then proceeded to sort out how to embroider it. I did try to teach her a back-stitch, but in the end it was more fun for her to do her own thing. I decided that it was not important to teach her this time, and that we’d try again later. I’ll have to post photos when she is finished, since she’s not keen on letting me post it here half done – though you can see a peek on instagram (that she agreed to) if you’d like!

Speaking of Instagram, I am playing along with Made for Kids Month this June. This is a Liesel Gibson (Oliver & S) and Rae Hoekstra (Made by Rae) invention. Post photos of your kids wearing clothes that you have sewn with the hashtag #madeforkidsmonth. You can find out more here. So far my kids have randomly chosen clothing I have made each day, so that has been fun! I have definitely sewn them a lot more summer things than I have winter things, so my odds are good! Follow along if you’d like!

Simple Fat Quarter Skirt {a tutorial}

I have way too many fat quarters and I don’t quilt (yet!).  I have seen many tutorials for fat quarter skirts, but I hadn’t really found one I was happy with. I love that you can use one fat quarter to make a simple skirt for a very small child, but as they get older the skirt may fit, but it ends up too short. I worked this tutorial out a few weeks ago.  I was teaching my friend’s daughter a bit about her new sewing machine and seeing me teach someone else to sew was enough for my daughter to want to make something herself. The simple two fat quarter skirt was born! It is very easy to sew, so as long as you can stitch a straight line you’ll be fine. This was a good project to do with my daughter (she’s six), though she got a bit tired of finishing all of the seams properly!

Today also has the advantage of being the second day of Kids Clothes Week (sew 1 hour a day for your kids each day this week) and I’m fully ready and on board! I’ve even got my patterns printed and some of the fabric cut.

Though I finished these fat quarter skirts on Sunday I think I will post them on the KCW blog anyhow, I also need to stitch up some knit skirts that have been waiting for over a month now, two Easter dresses (very important!) and I am hoping to finish a pair of jeans for my youngest who has been asking to “match Mommy” for quite some time.

I don’t think I’ll finish it all in 1 hour a week – so I’m trying to dedicate the whole week to the process instead. Of course there are normal other things going on… ha! Who am I kidding – I’ll likely be lucky to finish one or two of my ideas but hopefully I will surprise myself!

Want to make the skirts? I’ve included all of the steps you need below as a free tutorial. The fat quarter skirt has a great contrast band at the bottom, and an easy to sew separate casing. Use non-roll elastic for a more comfortable fit.

The Fat Quarter Skirt PDF Pattern is Now Available!

Purchasing this fully tested skirt pattern gives you access to 5 sizes, child’s 2-6, to create a skirt that is 9-11 1/2″ (23-30cm) long. Expect lots of tips and tricks throughout, a glossary of terms, recommended best practices and instructions geared towards an absolute beginner. This pattern is truly a quick sew – allow yourself just 1-3 hours to finish, including your fabric cutting time. It’s also a great stash-buster, requiring only 2 fat quarters and a length of elastic… things you probably already have in your stash! To find out more about the pattern, click here.

Purchase the Fat Quarter Skirt PDF Pattern – $8.50 CDN

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Thank you for your support!

Please email me if you have any questions,, and I’ll do my best to help you out. And of course, I’d love to see your creations! You can share your projects on Twitter and Instagram @sherrisylvester with the hashtags #fatquarterskirt #alongforthreadride or #threadridinghood, or post them on the Thread Riding Hood Facebook page. (As usual, this tutorial is for personal/charitable use only – thanks!)

To Sew this (check below for sizing information), you will need:
  • 2 fat quarters (18″x22″, pre-washed and ironed)
  • 3/4″ elastic (non-roll recommended, length 1″ longer than your child’s waist measurement)
  • matching thread
  • safety pin
  • measurements as per instructions below
  • your normal sewing supplies
Before you begin:
  • Measurements needed: 1) Your child’s waist measurement, 2) The desired length of the skirt – measure from the waist down to the desired length.
  • Will this skirt fit my child? This tutorial uses 2 fat quarters – 22″ wide by 18″ high (after they are pre-washed). Measure around your child’s waist and then their hips. If the separate measurements are both between 15″ and 27″ this tutorial should work to fit your child. If the hips are slightly larger you should be fine as well, the fullness and loose fit of the skirt allow for some extra room. Also check the desired length of the skirt – the longest you can make this (when working with two fat quarters) is about 11.5″.
  • My child is too small, what should I do? The main reason this may not fit is the width of the fabric. If your child is very small, and the width is more than triple their waist measurement, the fabric will become bulky in the casing area making it impossible to gather it small enough to fit your child. Instead of using the full width of the fat quarter, use a width that equals the waist measurement of your child. (ex. Waist = 18″, use two 18″ wide pieces of fabric as indicated when cutting)
  • My child is too large, what should I do? You will need to account for the extra fabric needed and ignore the cutting instructions. The main instructions will work fine once you have your pieces cut. Your main skirt should be as wide as your child’s waist measurement (use two pieces as indicated in the cutting directions). The contrast band can be any height you’d like, so: double the desired height and add 1/2″ for seam allowances. The width of the casing (which is always 2″ high) and contrast band are the same as the main skirt width.
Here we go – Cutting your fabric:
  1. Casing Height: The casing pieces will always be 2″ high so the 3/4″ elastic will fit through them. Cut two pieces from your contrast band/casing fat quarter that are 2″ high.
  2. Contrast Band: You now have a fat quarter that is approximately 14″ high by 22″ wide. You need to get two contrast bands from this piece. To calculate how high you would like the contrast band, double the desired height and add 1/2″ for seam allowances. Example: If the desired contrast band height is 3″ – double that to get 6″ and add 1/2″ for seam allowances. This gives you a contrast band height of 6 1/2″. You need two bands, so the total fabric height needed is 13″. This will fit within the 14″ of fabric you have left after cutting the casings. If it does not fit, choose a smaller contrast band height – when working with a fat quarter, the height of the contrast band fabric pieces cannot exceed 7″.  I cut my 6 year old’s contrast band at 5 1/2″ (for a 2 1/2″ desired height) and my almost 4 year old’s at 4 1/2″ (for a 2″ desired height). 
  3. Main Skirt: Find the desired length of your skirt (“Before you begin, Measurements needed” above) and subtract the desired contrast band height. Add 1/2″ to this height to account for seam allowances. You will need two main skirt pieces. Example: If the desired skirt length is 9″, and the contrast band height is 2″, the skirt length will need to be 7″. Add 1/2″ for seam allowances to get a main skirt height of 7 1/2″. You will need two main skirt pieces, so the total height needed is 15″. This will fit within the 18″ fat quarter height. If it does not fit, choose a shorter skirt length – when working with a fat quarter, the height of the main skirt cannot exceed 9″. I cut my 6 year old’s main skirt at 9″ and my almost 4 year old’s at 8″. 
Here we go – Sewing the skirt:
  1. Prepare the casing, main skirt & contrast band:(a) Place each matching fabric piece right sides together. Pin the short ends. (b) Stitch with a 1/4″ seam. (c) Finish the seam allowance with pinking shears or a zig-zag stitch. Press the seam open or to one side. You will now have 3 tubes of fabric. 
  2. Prepare the contrast band: Fold the tube sides in half lengthwise with the wrong sides together, matching raw edges. You will have a large tube with right sides showing on both sides, one folded edge and one raw edge.
  3. Add the contrast band hem: (a) Place the contrast band tube over the bottom of the main skirt matching the seams and raw edges. Pin. (b) Stitch with a 1/4″ seam allowance. Finish the edges with pinking shears or a zig-zag stitch. (c) Press the seam up towards the main skirt. Top-stitch along the bottom of the main skirt aprox. 1/8″ away from the edge of the contrast band.
  4. Add the casing: (a) Place the casing tube over the top of the main skirt matching the seams and raw edges. Pin. (b) Stitch with a 1/4″ seam allowance. (c) Iron the casing up from the main skirt. Iron the raw edge of the casing under 1/4″ all around. (d) Fold the casing over at the seam line around the main skirt top edge. Press well. (e) Pin the bottom edge of the casing. Mark a 2″ opening along the casing bottom, I like to use 2 pins to indicate the ends of my opening. (f) Stitch around the bottom of the casing about 1/8″ away from the bottom edge. Begin and end on either side of your marked opening.
  5. Insert the Elastic: (a) Attach a safety pin to one end of your elastic. Use the safety pin to thread the 3/4″ wide elastic through the casing. (b) Use a safety pin to secure the elastic and try it on your child if possible to check the size. Cut to size, leaving 1/2″ for seam allowances. (c) Overlap the ends of the elastic by 1/2″ and pin. Stitch over the overlapped area with a zig-zag stitch to secure. (d) Pin and stitch the casing opening closed.
  6. Finishing the Skirt: (a) Even out the elastic through the casing so the gathering is relatively equal. (b) Pin through the elastic and casing at each side seam. (c) Stitch from the top to the bottom of the casing along the seam line (stitch in the ditch). This will secure the elastic and help prevent it from rolling.

All done! I hope the little person who gets this skirt is super happy. They are great for twirling (just a hint!).

Made by Me Monday – Spoonflower Tea Towels {a mini tutorial}

I’m posting a project that I’ve been working on since November! My monthly sewing group (the Material Girls) decided to join me in making tea towels with our kids’ artwork on them. We all used them as Christmas gifts for aunts and grandmothers – and of course I kept a set for me! I think I saw this idea a few years ago – when Spoonflower was just a baby – oh how fast they have grown up! I’ve been meaning to try it, but never remembered until the last minute. If you haven’t heard of Spoonflower you can learn more in my DIY Canvas Art tutorial post.

Working with Spoonflower is pretty simple. You scan in your drawing, colour-correct it, re-size it and upload it to your Spoonflower Studio. There are lots of tutorials on how to do this, so I’m not going to go into all the details here. And that is why I have named this a “mini” tutorial and not a full one! When you are printing these, get them made in linen-cotton canvas. When you recieve them they will be a bit stiff. But I used this to my advantage when hemming them and then washed them up. They are much softer and I am assured that they will become nicer with each wash.

I thought it would be helpful to include the template for sizing (below) that I used when I was working everything out. 1 yard of linen-cotton canvas is 54″ wide (selvage to selvage) and 36″ high. This will fit 4 good sized tea towels – as you can see below. Each tea towel is 27″ x 18″ un-hemmed. I put a 3/4″ border on each of my tea towels (like Emma has done here) so it is easy to cut the tea towels apart and also easy to hem them, because you have the line already there. If you want to add the border, reference the smaller size, and make your visible area 25.5″ x 16.5″. When the tea towel front is designed you can add the coloured border to make the final tea towel 27″ x 18″. The other nice thing about Spoonflower is that you can order only one fat quarter tea towel or multiple yards with 4 towels on each.

Christmas tea towel gifts are great – but what about Valentines’ gifts, Birthdays, Anniversaries… and having the kids involved makes it a lot of fun. They were so proud that their artwork was important enough to be printed and given to everyone! I am not sure my tea towels will ever dry a dish. I am far too sentimental and don’t want them to get ruined. Though, if they do get stained (because I think the kids would love for me to use them), I can always order more!