Designer Duds for the Garden and a Tip

Who says gardening can’t be fashionable? I recently finished a second pair of overalls for myself and my husband, and I used designer fabric to boot. It’s a Ralph Lauren denim (sold out?) from our local fabric maven Roz at Sew Much Fabric.

They’re a bit big to photograph together; I tried to lay them out on the sofa.

Here are mine again pinned to my dress form.

It’s the same pattern I used last time, Kwik Sew 3897. It says misses but when I compared it to a men’s pattern, it was pretty much the same, so I used it for both of us.

I embroidered my pockets with a cute little gingko design from Urban Threads,

and did traditional topstitching on my husband’s pockets.

,A quick tip: turning denim as for the straps here, can be a bit difficult, most “tube turning tools” aren’t designed for heavier fabrics. So, I created my own: I used a rod from a HangIt DangIt© quilt hanger. It’s very sturdy and has a much larger diameter than most turning tools.

After you sew, press and trim your tube, get it started at one end by pushing in your thumb a bit, then push it down onto the device of your choice, then keep pulling until your tube is turned. It’s kinda like those water toys we used to have, they continually turn themselves inside out – do they still make those?

Then once it’s right-side-out, you can straighten it, poke your corners out and press before topstitching. Try it next time you have a heavy fabric to turn!

Some of you may have noticed a small hole on either side of the bib in the second pair of overalls; this is because I mis-placed the buttons; they actually needed to be a little closer in. Unfortunately bachelor buttons leave holes in the fabric, so after removing them I used a little fray block to keep the fabric from unraveling.

I’ll have to make a note on the pattern so I don’t do it again!

Which Door is Which? – A Quick Project

The photo above is the foyer in my new home. There are three doors on one wall, looking very much like each other; can you tell which is the garage, which is the coat closet, and which is the powder room? No, I couldn’t either, it took me a few tries after we moved in.

Now can you tell? I found this set of cute designs from Anita Goodesign. I just did it as a quilted panel, then put binding on the edges, with a little cloth hanger. Notice the serpentine stitch on the binding?

That’s called “I calculated the width of the binding way wrong and needed a way to hold it down” decorative stitching. Actually outer borders and bindings often have decorative stitching, it’s just that in this case, it was also necessary.

See how it catches it on the back?

Quick product review: if you notice, I used a command hook to hang this. I used to think these were the bees’ knees. In my old home I used them to hang all of my embroidery hoops on the wall. Well, since moving they’ve come down a little in my estimation.

Apparently, the sticky pad can get old. This makes it either very difficult to remove years later, or, they cannot be used if you’ve kept them around for a while. I had a tough time getting all the hooks off the walls in my old house, and when I went to rehang them in the new house, I used the sticky pads I’d already had for some time.

After a couple of weeks, I started hearing noises from my sewing studio: turns out, the hooks – and hoops! – were falling down. At first, I thought it was because the walls were a bit more textured than usual, but I had tried to place them where the texture was low. Every few days another hoop would fall – don’t worry, none were damaged. By the time I went to take them all down to do the remodel, I was having trouble getting them off the walls.

It was then I realized two things: most of the ones that had already fallen were the old pads I had purchased long before moving, and thus fairly old. And the ones that I had trouble getting off the walls – pulling up paint and paper from the drywall and breaking while trying to pull – were also the old ones. The new sticky pads I had purchased to hang the remainder of my hoops were holding fine on the walls, and were very easy to remove.

So I recommend these with a few reservations; if you’re going to buy sticky pads as you need them, and are going to move the hooks around fairly often, then they work as advertised. If you plan on hanging a hook and leaving it there for years, it will last but will be a bear to get off the wall without damage to the wall or to the pad. And if you try to use pads you bought years ago, the hook may just fall off the wall.

See you at the next post…

Why I have a 10-Needle, Part 2

My 10-needle, “Enterprise G”, ready for the next project

Here I continue with my reasons for the multi-needle machine I chose. It’s really long, and if you aren’t interested in buying a multi-needle, then you may want to skip this post. But if you’re on the fence or want more information, I invite you to read my experience below.

Firstly, the domestic vs. commercial argument; yes, per unit, commercial machines are less expensive, offer more embellishment options, and have as many as 15 needles. And yes, if you have the space and are going straight into the embroidery business, then getting multi-head embroidery machines (most companies offer single head and compact machines too) makes sense. They can not only embroider, but couch sequin tapes, thicker decorative threads and yarns, and do cutwork and chenille techniques.

But they are commercial machines; you usually need a separate (sometimes proprietary) software to run and/ or use them, they’re meant for large-scale production, and they often have manual adjustments. For myself, the interface of these machines is not something I like – little to none, just a small screen that has the basic information of the design you’re using, or you use a computer you’ve networked with the machines. Some manufacturers have created full-color screens similar to domestic machines, especially for their single-head models, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

And then there are things like sales and maintenance; you work with a regional sales rep who I imagine gives you some information about how the machines work, then you (as I understand it) have a regional maintenance person who comes to you when you need. But mostly you rely upon yourself and any staff you hire/ train to figure out how to use and maintain the machines. And there is nothing wrong with any of this, absolutely nothing; it’s just not what I want.

I started as a home sewer, and I enjoyed embroidery. I had a combo machine, and if I only did very simple or occasional embroidery, that would have been enough. But I really enjoy large, complex embroidery designs, so getting a multi-needle made sense. And I started taking orders for embroidery right around the time I got my 10-needle, so it worked out very well. I didn’t intend on going into business, but that’s where I am now.

I was able to get training from my local machine dealer, and I can take all of my machines to them for maintenance. And whenever I have a problem they’re only a phone call away. As fellow sewers, the people at the local shop understand the type and level of embroidery I’m doing. And I like the interface much better on my domestic machine; it’s a large, full color touch screen that doesn’t require software to use (you do need a computer to load designs onto a USB pin.) I can change the design in the machine – colors, sequence, resizing, etc., and this particular model has a camera for background scanning and placement.

And a lot of professionals do have domestic machines; they’re like me, working from home, maybe don’t have a lot of space, and offer what I call bespoke embroidery. When you go to most embroidery stores, they have a minimum number of units you have to buy, usually won’t take your items to embroider, and you have to order what they offer, in the numbers they specify. This has to do with the number of heads they have on their machine, i.e., if they have a 12-head machine, they have a minimum order of 12, and you order in multiples of 12. An embroiderer like myself though is able to take your own items for embroidery, and can embellish as few as one item.

In short, since I don’t take large orders, mostly use my machine for my own sewing, and am short on space and wanted something with a much lower learning curve, I chose a domestic multi-needle machine.

Why I have a 10-Needle (and a Preliminary Photo)


I’ve finished the Crane Tapestry, and the preliminary photo is above. Why preliminary? This isn’t the final placement for the tapestry, I have to do a bit of rearranging on that wall first. When it’s in place the lighting will be much better and I can post a more detailed photo. The final size is 60×75 inches – definitely big! It took about 70, 75 hours to complete, including the piecing, quilting and binding. For those who are interested, the price for this piece (or rather a similar, as this one is for myself) is just above $3000. It can be made in much smaller sizes as well; this is the largest size. It’s done in silk dupioni with a cotton batting and cotton backing. The design is Crane Tapestry by Anita Goodesign, as well as the supplemental design from Geisha, also by AG. A border can be added to change the framing, as well as different sized bindings (the outer-most edge.)

Did I do it on my 10-needle? Yes I did, as I discussed briefly here. I’ve often been asked why I have a multi-needle machine; I’ve also been asked why I have a domestic multi-needle instead of a commercial one. A lot of different reasons, but mostly because this is the machine that suits me and my sewing best. In my next post, I’ll go into more details about why I chose my machine, but for now, I’ll give a brief overview about why a home sewer might want a multi-needle.

So, you walked into your local sewing machine dealer and saw this fantastic wall hanging and asked how they did it? Or you went to a demo at the store for new machines and you became entranced watching that combo machine whip out lace and buttonholes and greetings cards? And you went home with one: you can sew on it, it’s nice and large for quilting, and most of all, it embroiders!

You’re giddy with ideas swirling ‘round your head, all the possibilities for new projects. Then you buy one of those big wall hanging designs, load them into your machine and – sit, and watch, and change the thread color; and sit, and watch, and change the thread color; and sit, and watch, and change the thread color; and sit, and watch, and change the thread color – and repeat for that block. Then repeat for the remaining blocks: repeat; repeat; repeat. Yeah, most home sewers with a combo machine (a regular sewing machine with a single needle that also embroiders – thus, combo) only do one or two big projects in the lifetime of their machine. If they even finish it.

No really, I’ve talked with them. Now, there are those who don’t really mind, and don’t do much actual sewing, they just do the embroidery. And space and budget limit them to a combo machine and they’re happy. But most home sewers only have the one machine, so they can’t do anything else while they’re embroidering. Or they get frustrated that it’s taking so long (sooo looong) to finish one. stinkin’. project. That would be me. I had my trusty combo machine, had an armload of big embroidery projects, and either had to sell all those designs at a loss or find a way to do the projects. So I found a way, by getting a multi-needle machine.

Now I can do big projects, whether they’re single color free-motion designs, or big, long, complex multi-color designs that look more like tapestries than quilts. And I can do them more quickly, and I can do multiple projects at a time. My machine has ten needles, but there are machines that go up to 16, or just six or seven. And yes, once in a great while I wish I had more than ten, but so far it’s worked out fine.

Next post I’ll talk in more detail about why I chose my particular machine – see you there.

Embroidering on Linen Part 2

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Here we are again with my new linen jacket. It’s a familiar pattern, Simplicity 8464, made in a lovely mid-weight linen in Ruby Red from Roz at Sew Much Fabric. The lining is from Roz too, but this color is no longer available. This time I added a stand collar for something a little different.

I pre-washed the linen and charmeuse so I can clean the jacket at home if needed. And yes, you can wash silk; it’s not the fabric that’s un-washable, it’s the finishers on the fabric that spot and stain from water. By pre-washing your silk, you remove the finishers and the problems. I wash mine on gentle in the machine, get it half-dry on low in the dryer, then hang to finish drying. Yes, sometimes darker colors like black or chocolate brown or deep navy can come out looking “sueded”, but you can always test a swatch and see if you care for it. I kind-of like the look myself. There are also fixatives you can get (try Dharma Trading) to keep dark colors from running.

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I didn’t want to change the hand of the linen too much, so I underlined the area of embroidery with a fusible tricot knit. First I used the sample embroidery stitch-out for placement. I used a white wax tailor’s chalk to mark the middle.

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Then in order to make sure I was placing the tricot in the right area, I marked the center with pins so I could see it from the other side.

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After I fused the tricot – use a pressing cloth! – I extended the chalk marks and hooped the fabric with a mediumweight tear-away. Yes, even with the interfacing/ underlining you still need to hoop stabilizer with the fabric. I also used placement stickers since my machine has a camera; just a little extra insurance.

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I used a black pre-wound bobbin, but you can also wind a bobbin from the thread you’re using. In this case, the thread is a DMC cotton machine embroidery thread. (I get mine from Uncommon Thread.) I didn’t want the shine of rayon for my jacket and the cotton was good match, as I was going for texture almost more than a stand-out design here.

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And now the completed design. And after the other side is finished, I place them together to make sure I get a mirrored design on each side.

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A bit of picking and poking later (you can use a wash-away instead) and I have two nicely, subtly embroidered pieces for my new jacket.

Embroidering on Linen, Part 1

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Well it’s the first week of August already – hope you’re staying cool! I’m back from my summer break and have been busy catching up on my projects.

This project is one I completed just before my break, a quick little jacket that is part of my first wardrobe capsule. This capsule was planned with travel in mind, something coordinated that I could pack quickly for a long weekend.

I wanted a nice but casual jacket that I could carry on a plane or for long car trips, that wouldn’t mind getting a little travel-worn – i.e., wrinkly. Some people like their linen to stay crisp, but I’m in the less-work-is-better camp, so I’m OK with a few creases.

I also wanted it to coordinate with the fabric I was using for the blouse and skirt set that is part of this capsule. My first thought was to line it with the same fabric, but I didn’t want it too matchy-matchy. So I chose silk charmeuse in a medium shade of navy: it lets the jacket glide on nicely, and makes a nice layer for warmth in an otherwise lightweight jacket (I am far more often cold on planes and in restaurants, so a good choice for me.) It will also cross seasons well too.

Instead of using the print fabric for lining, I decided to trace the pattern and turn it into an embroidery design – because I can! My combo machine, Sunny, can scan line drawings and photos and turn it into an embroidery design with IQ Designer software.

I can go from this print

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To this design

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To this embroidery in no time!

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In the next post I’ll show how I embroidered the linen itself.

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Finished Project: Landscape Christmas Table Topper

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Here’s my finished table topper; while it was for last winter, it will just be early for this coming winter!

Several people wrote to ask how long this kind of project takes, but it’s a little tricky to get an accurate estimate. One way of course is to track how much time it takes each time you do a project like this. While probably the most accurate, it does take some planning and perseverance because you have to write down stop and start times, consider the time for things like pre-washing and pressing fabric, cutting down yardage, the placement of appliques, replacing bobbins, and of course keep remembering to write all this down. If you’re very organized (and I am not) it can work.

Another good way to get an estimate is to look at total stitches. The total stitch-count for this project is 262,532 – and that’s just the embroidery remember. You also have to know how many stitches your machine is set to run at. You then divide the total stitches by the stitch-per-minute (spm) speed and you get a fair approximation of how long it might take. Let’s say you set your machine to 500 spm; you then get an estimate of 525 minutes, or 8.75-ish hours.

Let’s not forget, you might set your machine to run at 500 spm, but depending on the type of stitch it’s doing it may not actually be going that fast. If it’s a wide satin stitch, it may be going very slowly. A regular running stitch will go that fast, but a triple run or bean stitch will not.

Let’s also take into account what else needs to be done. If you’re hooping the fabric and stabilizer, hitting start and using a single color on a running stitch design, then you can be confident that the time estimate will be close. If however you have lots of appliques, lots of color changes, and other similar things, that will slow down your progress.

This brings up another question I received from a sewing acquaintance; she was frustrated using her combo machine (single needle sewing and embroidery machine) to do one of these projects, and assumed my having a 10-needle made them much easier. Well yes and no; this particular project was done on my own combo machine, Sunny. Why? Because of the number of appliques per block. If I have to be there to add an applique every one or two steps, then there’s no difference in effort using the single-needle or the 10-needle. Yes, having all the colors set up on the 10-needle saves some seconds per color change, but not enough that it matters to me.

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Sunny, my single needle/ combo machine

So where do you use a 10-needle (or any multi-needle)? My current project is a good example, the Crane Tapestry. It has one base fabric, possibly one or two appliques, and the rest are just stitches in only three colors. I especially save time here because this design has very long run times, so I can let the machine go completely and not have to be too attentive to color changes that might have 30 or 40 minutes between them. I do have to set up the machine to stop at the first few appliques, but then I hit start and walk away.

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My 10-needle, “Enterprise-G”

(There are of course other reasons for multi-needle machines, but I won’t go into that here.)

So how long did this table topper project take? Approximately 7.5 hours of run time, plus two to three minutes per applique at seven to sixteen appliques per block, let’s say another 5 hours; then time to assemble and press the blocks, sashing, backing and binding, another 3-ish hours… I would say 15 to 17 hours, give or take, as I’m sure there are several steps I’m forgetting. And then there’s time to plan the project, select the materials, prep the materials… it wouldn’t be unfair to say maybe 20 altogether.

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First ten blocks, with number eleven just off the machine

How long will my current project take me? Whew; it’s got 1.6 million stitches, so run-time alone is about 44.7 hours at 600 spm. And the time to set up each block for 64 blocks, call it 10 to 15 minutes, another 16 hours… so just creating blocks will be about 60 hours.

Another Quick Tip for Large Projects

Cover Art from Anita Goodesign

This particular project, Crane Tapestry, is very large, 64 blocks. And while technically all the bocks are unique, some of them can start to look quite the same. The instructions came with a grid that labels each block, and I can mark them off and match them as I complete them.

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You can see the included grid on the left, and my pencil markings on the lower left corners of each block

I have also though decided to mark the back of each block with its number (or something similar) so I can keep track of which order they go in.

Another easy thing to do of course is to assemble the blocks as they’re created, but with several projects going at once right now, I will need to wait a little while before I can start assembly. I will though take the time occasionally assemble the finished blocks just so I won’t have so much to do at a later time.

Llama Mama Sleep Sack

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Here’s another quick project I did recently, a sleep sack for my niece. I’d never hear of a sleep sack before, but it’s basically a sleeping bag with arm holes, I imagine so little ones don’t get tangled in the blankets.

I found a pattern here, from Peek-a-Boo Patterns. It was unfortunately PDF only, so you do have to spend time printing, trimming, taping and tracing – thankfully it’s only a small pattern.

Her Mom requested I make Lil’Bit’s sleep sack without foot-holes, so I traced the larger size straight across the bottom and proceeded as for the other sizes. (My niece is known to me alternately as Lil’Bit, Sweet Pea and Goober Girl, for when she’s really acting up.)

The fabric is a cute Riley Blake print I got From Harts Fabric – my niece is now a llama mama!

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I also embroidered her initial on the shoulder, and since it’s for her to wear while sleeping, I thought a little extra itch-protection would be nice; I used a fusible tricot to cover the back of the embroidery. Most stabilizer manufacturers sell a product just for this, something like Gentle Touch or Light ‘n’ Soft Fuse-On. The truth is, they’re all just fusible tricot, and if you’re a garment sewer, you probably have some at home already. The specialty stabilizers tend to be pricey compared to garment interfacing.

I like the one my local fabric maven Roz sells here in black and white (temporarily out of stock); hers is great for knits, light wovens and is excellent for home décor, especially if you’re using a quilting or fashion fabric for your home dec project. If you’re using a very light weight or sheer fabric, the elegance fusibles from NY Fashion Sewing Supply are excellent as well.

For this flannel, I used a 3 oz cut away stabilizer. I didn’t bother with a topping because the flannel was pretty smooth, and I used a tatami-type stitch for the monogram, instead of a traditional satin stitch.

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For those of you who noticed, yes, the fabric is upside down on the front of the sack. I figure Lil’Bit will just get to see the llamas right-side up from her point of view for a change – it is a good reminder though to always double check your pattern placement when using directional prints!

Managing Large Embroidery Projects

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The wall hanging I made a couple of years ago

Most of our embroidery projects are small or quick – something we can turn out in a few minutes, or in a few short sessions: a monogram, a single-color design. We’ve got plenty of thread and stabilizer hanging around, and our project is there waiting to receive the design.

Occasionally though we want to do something grander: an embroidered quilt, a wall hanging – something with some square footage to it. So how do you plan for that? I find the keys are to be prepared and to stay organized.

One of the first things to do – the first thing to always do with any sewing project – is read the instructions. Not just a glance to see if you have the materials, or what notions you’ll need to buy; but sit down and go step-by-step and really understand what the project is asking for.

Once you’ve done that, the next thing is to make a list: what fabrics, battings, stabilizers, applique scraps, needles, threads and bobbins are required? Do you need spray adhesive, additional types of stabilizer or toppers, other notions like a zipper, ribbons or buttons? Just like a sewing pattern, you want to write down everything.

You’ll also need to make sure you have enough fabric and stabilizer; do you have the size of stabilizer you’ll need for the hoops you’re using? Remember the design will dictate which size hoop you use – always use the smallest hoop that will hold the design. Sometimes the company will tell you how much fabric you need, sometimes the design is not set and you’ll have to figure it out.

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I keep threads for an embroidery project together on a tray

Two examples of projects I’m doing now; Landscape Christmas and Crane Tapestry, both by Anita Goodesign. Crane Tapestry is fairly set: you have two sizes to choose from, there’s a background fabric, two applique fabrics, and three thread colors. Since it’s so simple, they’re able to tell you approximately how much fabric you’ll need.

Landscape Christmas however, is not a set project; you choose which blocks you want and how you want to arrange them. I wanted to make a table topper to match a wall hanging I made a few years ago, so I first measured my table, then decided which arrangements of blocks in which sizes would best cover the table. I made a list of these blocks, the size I was using, the number I needed of each and a sketch showing the configuration I decided on – because I would never remember what I had chosen later. This allowed me to get an approximate square footage of fabric and batting I’d need.


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My diagram, and the probably inaccurate math I used to calculate my fabric needs

I next print out the design sheets; these tell you which threads and appliques you’ll need, and in which order. They will also have either a photo of the design or block, or a full-size diagram that you can cut out as a template. Some embroidery designs come with both, it depends on the company you’re using.

I then make a list of the colors or thread numbers that are used; this usually turns out to be a very long list. Sometimes I find that across a dozen blocks, eight or nine shades (or more!) of a color will be used. This often has to do with the designer’s ideas about what color an object should be – street lamps are this color grey, car wheels are this color, door knobs are yet another. Then within these objects, there’s shading and highlighting, and you can wind up with two or three colors per object. (Sometimes too I think they just have a whole set of thread colors to choose from, and use as many as they see in front of them!)


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The list of colors on the left – it gets long! The embroidery design sheet on the right

For myself, that’s a lot of unnecessary differentiation. I look to see whether the similarly colored objects are next to each other; if they are, then I try to maintain some differences in color. Usually though, they’re not even on the same block, so I just re-use the colors where I can, reducing the total number of colors needed. I often get a reduction of one quarter to one third this way. So instead of seven shades of red, twelve shades of blue and eighteen (yes, eighteen!) shades of grey, I can get it down to three or so of each.

Having narrowed down my list I bring it to my own thread collection. I match the colors as best as I can, assuming I’m using similar colors. But this is where you also get to choose which colors you want and what you’d like to change. Maybe you’re doing a quilt with roses, but instead of all one color, you’d like each one to be different. Or maybe the opposite; you want all your Sunbonnet Sue towels to use the same appliques and fabrics for each one. Whatever it is you’re deciding to change, take the time to write it down on the design sheets and your list of colors; trust me, you won’t remember later what you had decided to use for which, and you’ll be frustrated trying to figure it out all over again.

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All the fabrics for my appliques, waiting their turn

I then gathered the remaining supplies; fabrics, applique scraps and anything else specific to the project. Because I had taken the time to do all this work in advance, I was actually able to put this project down a couple of months ago and pick it back up just recently.

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Cutting mat, ruler and rotary cutter for trimming down finished blocks. There will be quite a pile of finished blocks when I’m done

In fact, I do this will all my sewing projects; I keep the fabrics and notions together in a bag or box, I keep a list of the steps and where I am, any adjustments I need to make, and I mark the steps off as I go. This comes in handy whether I need to put a project aside for a few weeks, or even a few months – or years, as I describe here on the blog of Roz, our lovely local fabric supplier!