Sewing Tools of Note (13): A rotary cutter with an angle


After I published my last ‘Sewing Tools of Note’ about tiny needles, Kerry (my blog namesake, who is definitely one of my mentors, she crops up so much in these posts!) left a comment mentioning how important it is to use the right needle when hand sewing because it helps to avoid hand and wrist strain. Such an important point, and very significant to anyone who struggles with joint and muscular pain, whatever the cause. It got my thinking about the changes I have had to make recently to protect my wrist.

Earlier this year I had an encounter with a pub door (I promise you I had only had half a pint of beer) and managed go through the door, whilst leaving my thumb caught in the handle on the other side… The result of this ‘amusing’ (or so my friends thought…) incident was a trip to A&E, a wrist sprain and quite a lot of ongoing soreness. After this little incident, I really struggled with using a rotary cutter to cut my fabric, so I thought I would investigate alternatives to the standard Olfa rotary cutter that I’ve been using. I was recommended to try the TrueCut Rotary cutter – which has an angled handle design that aligns the wrist more naturally, placing your weight over the blade and eliminating stress in the wrist and arm.


You can buy the cutter with special fancy rulers, but I just bought the cutter and use it with my standard quilting rulers.  It was odd at first, because the blade is in a slightly different position to standard cutters, and it took me a couple of days to get used to the fact that you have to use the cutter in  a certain way. But I soon got used to it, and have found that it makes a huge difference, because I don’t have to press so hard to cut the fabric, and because of the way my hand is positioned, it takes the pressure of my wrist. I love it, and wouldn’t go back to the other kind now.

I even fell for the little marketing point – you can personalize the handle with pictures, fabric or photos – I found this bit of selvedge that seemed to fit the bill!


So using a rotary cutter hurts, perhaps it’s time to make a change. I’d be really interested to read about other ways that people have found to protect hands, wrists, shoulders, arms, and backs whilst sewing and crafting in general. It’s something I struggle with on and off, and I am sure other readers do too, so please share your ideas so I can do a bit of investigating and reporting back.

This post is another in my ongoing bloggy series on my favourite sewing tools – you can find more articles here on the main Sewing Tools of Note listings

A day in my working life…

Last week I joined in with the Stoke-on-Trent City Wide Artist Census Day organised by the artist in residence here at Acava Studios: Spode Works, Nicola Winstanley.

Stoke-on-Trent Artists Census

It was an exciting day, clicking on the hashtags on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and seeing all the other creative activity going on in the city, especially as we all get together to support Stoke’s bid to be the UK City of Culture in 2021. It was really exciting to hear that, according to Trendinalia UK, #stokeartistatwork and #sotaaw were 6th in the top 20 trending topics in the UK for a while…

I posted hourly (ish) updates of my work, during the times when I was working, and it was quite an eye opener, really, into the amount of stuff I get up to on what was a fairly average day..!

My first pic for the census was posted at around 8.30 a.m. on Instagram – a blog reader had asked a question about one of my tutorials, and I was trying to answer, whilst remembering back to how the tutorial works, whilst drinking my one cup of coffee for the day..!

Trying to formulate a helpful answer for a blog reader.

At 9.30ish, I was still at home (having planned to get to the studio for about 9 – Sandy will tell you that this is a very common feature of working life, there’s always one last thing to do at home before I head out to Spode). Last Tuesday I was still trying to decide which fabrics to take down to the studio for a project I was starting. I don’t have enough room there to store all my fabric stash (haha, is there enough room anywhere?), so have to make sure I get organised in advance.

Final fabric pull for a kitchen-themed project for a magazine commission.

These fabrics are for a practice piece for a project for a craft/sewing magazine piece that I have to write for December 2nd. This is my usual way of working when it’s a small project – I make one or two prototypes to get the pattern clear in my head, then I write the step by step instructions, photograph and make the final piece(s) that will be sent to the magazine. If it’s a big project, like a quilt, I can’t have a first go (not enough time, not enough fabric!), so that’s always far more nerve-wracking, especially as once you get to a certain point, there’s no turning back!

By 10.30, I have finally arrived down at Spode, and I am delighted to see that the banner is up for our Makers’ Market. Hurrah! It has been a lot of hard work getting the Market going – it is our first selling event at the Studios, so we have learned an awful lot as we have gone along! I am so glad that, with massive assistance from our friends at Design by Weather (also based at Spode), we went with this fabulous red and white scheme.


At the studios, my first job is to quickly finish and then photograph two mini Christmas stockings I have made for a free tutorial for my blog. I need to do this first because the light is so poor today, and I need to take photos before it starts to get even worse after lunch. That’s one of the big difficulties of pattern writing at this time of year in England!

I really enjoy writing tutorials for my blog, it’s such a pleasant contrast to writing for magazines, because I am not limited to length or number of pictures, and, of course, I have more say in the choice of project and fabrics! In my blog tutorials I can focus on writing for people who might not have been sewing for very long, and include loads of extra info and explanation that just isn’t possible in a magazine pieces. The other reason for writing free tutorials is to bring people to my blog, who will then perhaps, click through and go and visit my lovely sponsors, who I have a strong sense of responsibility towards.. first because they are great businesses, and second because they are one of my main sources of income.

The finished stockings – Liberty lawn patchwork and linen always look so fabulous together. You can find the tutorial just here


Then I get on with trying to draw a template for the magazine project – showing how terrible I am at drawing!

After lunch and a dog walk, I finish off a little cactus garden I am making, inspired by a book I am reviewing for the blog. Again, writing about topics like this is partly about bringing traffic to the blog – but, as I love gardening books, and cacti and succulents are a real craze for me at the moment, this is a lovely way to do it! I get requests to review lots of books and products, and am very choosy about it – I never blog about anything that doesn’t interest me, or that I can’t be enthusiastic about, because although I want people to come and read, and click on links, I still want to be as true as I can be to myself and my interests. It’s a fine balance to get this right, and I’m not sure I always do.

Not a great photo because the light really is scarce by this stage!

When I am at home and have time to work, I try to catch up on admin and social media stuff – so my next photo shows that side of my work. We have a little bit of money left in the advertising budget for our Makers’ Market at Spode, so I volunteer to make a Facebook ad to boost the event listing in the final few days before the big event:

You’ll be glad to know, the Market was a big success!

Now it’s time to watch a Laurel and Hardy film with one of my boys, so no more work for me until after dinner.

Once we’ve all eaten and the boys are chilling out before getting ready for bed, I get back to my computer for the final slog of the day – editing pictures for my blog tutorial. I am pleased with how well they have come out, but there is 26 photos in all, and it takes a long time to go through them all, doing a bit of editing to make sure that they look their absolute best.


Thankfully I have a cup of chai or two, to seem me through until bed time…

So that was one day of my working life… it’s not always quite this busy, but the mix of lots of different things going on is certainly a real indication of how much planning and flexibility is necessary to keep on top of things. Looking back now, one thing that strikes me is that I was very stressed that day, and yet now, looking back, the blog posts are published, and the Market has happened, and good times were had – so maybe all that anxiety wasn’t really required. I’m sure that Nicola had entirely different aims for her Census project, but having that insight is a real help for me.

Tutorial: Liberty patchwork mini-Christmas stocking

If you are looking for a Christmas stocking that you can stuff lots of lovely gifts into, this is not the sewing tutorial for you! The final stocking is about 7in (18-19cm) in height, and is meant really for decoration, although there’s nothing to stop you putting a little present or two inside… I always imagine the finished stocking hanging from a beautifully polished brass door handle, against a lovely oak door… well, a girl can dream…!



If you haven’t used woven iron-on interfacing before, you might want to read my blog post with some tips and tricks that will give you confidence to work with this very useful fabric.

You will need

  1. Scraps of 8 different Liberty prints in coordinating colours. The scraps need to be gig enough for you to cut twelve 1 inch squares from them. Feel free to use more than 8 different prints if you want to, as long as you can cut a total of 96 1 inch squares. I used a Christmas scrap pack from my sponsors Duck Egg Threads.
  2. Approx 10in x 14in of linen style fabric, for the main outer. I used yarn-dyed Essex linen in flax, one of my favourite fabrics when I need a natural linen look.
  3. Approx 10in x 14in Liberty fabric for the lining and toe end pieces
  4. Approx 14in x 18in light weight iron-on interfacing – I used Vilene G710, a woven interfacing which brings body without stiffness
  5. 10in x 14in medium weight iron on interfacing – I used Vilene G700, again a woven interfacing
  6. 7 inch piece of narrow ribbon
  7. Neutral grey or cream thread for your sewing machine – here’s a piece I wrote about not trying to match thread to patchwork
  8. Print outs of the main stocking template and lining template. Make sure you open the templates in Adobe Acrobat Reader, and when you print, make sure that the ‘print to fit’ box is NOT ticked/checked. There is a 1 inch box printed on each template so you can check the templates are the right size.
  9. 60/8 sewing machine needle – I find a very sharp microtex needle works well, or a really nice new sharp Universal 60/8 would work too.

Cutting list

Cut twelve 1 inch squares from each of the Liberty prints. The easiest way to do this is to cut the scraps into 1 inch strips, then pile up the strips (up to 6 in a pile) and cut into squares. The squares don’t have to be very accurately cut, as long as they are not hugely too big or too small.

Fold the outer main fabric in half and pin the larger template securely to it, through both halves of the fabric. Draw round the template and then cut out the 2 stocking pieces from the fabric (if you have a small rotary cutter, you can cut round the template using that).

From the lining fabric cut 2 pieces measuring 2.25in x 3.5in for the toe ends. Fold the rest of the fabric in half and pin the smaller stocking template very securely in place, pinning through both halves of the fabric. As outlined above, cut out 2 lining pieces – here’s what you should end up with:


From the light weight interfacing cut 2 rectangles measuring 8in x 4in. Next fold the rest of the interfacing in half, and use the larger template to cut out 2 pieces, as you did for the main outer fabric.

Fold the medium weight interfacing in half and use the smaller template to cut 2 pieces, as you did for the lining fabric above.


Step 1: Make the patchwork cuff pieces

Working on the smooth side of one of the 4in by 8in pieces of lightweight interfacing, draw a grid of one inch squares like this:


I use a soft pencil for this – it’s very important to use a marking pen that isn’t affected by heat (so no Frixion pens!). Make sure you can see the marked lines fairly clearly on the other side of the interfacing.

Take 48 of your prepared Liberty squares, and working on your ironing board, or on a piece of card or small cutting mat that you can carry to your ironing board, arrange the squares into four rows of eight.

Put one of the prepared pieces of interfacing, rough side facing up, on your ironing board and place the first 4 squares on the first marked column.


Carefully use the iron to press into place – they don’t have to be really firmly stuck at this stage, so just a brief press will do. Use a piece of baking parchment to protect your iron from the sticky stuff.


Repeat with the next column of squares, and then continue along until you have completely filled the grid. Don’t worry at all if some of the squares overlap a tiny bit, this will be sorted at the next stage. Once the grid is full, flip the interfacing over, and run a steam iron over it 5 or 6 times, or use a damp cloth and press for about 10 seconds, to make sure that all the squares are firmly attached. This is how it should look:


Thread your sewing machine with a neutral grey or cream thread. Fold the piece of interfacing along the first short grid line, RST.


Put a couple of pins through the fold to secure, making sure that the lines on either side match up.

Stitch with a scant 1/4in seam. It’s important to be stingy with the seams because of the extra thickness that the Vilene adds to the fabric.


Continue, stitching all the short rows in turn. You will end up with something that looks like this:


With a pair of sharp dressmaking scissors, trim off a tiny part of the seam allowance of each seam, close to the fold. This will allow you to press the seams open, and ensure that the seam allowances don’t get too bulky.


Repeat this trimming process for each of the folded seams, and then open up the seam allowances and press very thoroughly. You will end up with something that looks like this on the back:


I find the pointy end and the flat end of a Hera marking tool really useful for opening up the seam allowance and holding it open whilst I press. Here’s how it should look on the front:


Next fold along the first of the long grid lines, as shown:


Stitch a scant seam, as before, and then repeat for the other 2 grid lines. Trim the seams and then press them open, as before. Your finished patchwork piece should look like this.


Repeat this whole process with the other piece of interfacing and the Liberty squares.

I like to make one final step with the cuff pieces before I move on to the next stage – I stitch all round the edge of the patchwork about 1/8th inch away from the edge, just to keep stitches unravelling as I work on constructing the stocking later.


Step 2: Complete the lining pieces

Iron the medium weight interfacing to the lining pieces – 5 or 6 passes with a steam iron, or 12 seconds pressing with a damp cloth will be enough to fix it in place.

Then take one of the cuff pieces and place right sides together with the top of one of the lining pieces, aligning it centrally, and pin in place.


Stitch and then press the seam upwards (I find this really helps when you are folding the cuff down, later on):


Use the main body template to trim completed lining section to size:


Repeat these steps to finish the other side of the lining.

Step 3: Make the outer stocking

Iron the lightweight interfacing onto the 2 main body fabric pieces.Fold the template toe section along the marked line then use the template to mark the toe section line on the back (the interfaced side) of the 2 pieces.


Take one of the marked pieces and put one of the 2.25in x 3.5in Liberty rectangles right side together with it, aligned as shown in the picture:


There should be a 0.25 inch overlap at the seam, as shown, and enough fabric that, when you stitch along the marked line, the fabric will cover the entire toe section. Stitch along the marked line, reverse stitching at either end. Fold the fabric right side out, and press:


Top stitch close to the fold, then trim the excess fabric away:


Repeat for the other outer stocking piece.

Put the two outer stocking pieces right sides together, and pin. Because I am entirely incompetent at stitching curves in a smooth way, I like to mark my stitching line on the curved section:


Stitch round the edge, reverse stitching at both ends of the seam.

To help the seams lie flat when you turn the stocking through, you need to clip and notch the seam allowance. Clip the concave section (the valley shaped bit!) and notch the convex sections (the hilly bits!):


Turn the completed outer right side out and press.

Step 4:Complete the lining section

Fold the hanging ribbon in half and position on the cuff section, just next to the seam between the lining and the cuff, as shown. The raw edges should be lined up with the edge of the cuff. A smidgeon of washable glue is really useful here, to hold it in place, but you can pin if you don’t have glue.


Put the other lining piece right side together with this one, and stitch as you did for the outer, but this time leave a 2.5in-3in gap in the long back edge of the stocking lining – remember to reverse stitch at either end of this gap, and and at either end of your line of stitching (sorry I didn’t get a picture of this bit, but you can see the turning gap in the next picture). Notch and clip the curves as before.

Keep the lining section wrong side out, and pop the completed outer section inside, so that their right sides are together.


The picture shows the top bit of the outer poking out, but you need to line up the two top edges, making sure that seams are aligned, and pin all round.

Take the stocking to the sewing machine and stitch round the top edge. I find the easiest way to do this is to work on the inside of the stocking, pulling the top layer out of the way, and gradually easing my way round the top.


When you have finished pull the entire stocking right side out, through the hole that you left in the lining. You should have something like this:


Push the lining down inside the outer – a large size knitting needle or crochet hook is really useful here for pushing the lining into place.

Press the top edge of the outer, until you have something that looks like this:


Top stitch the top edge, close to the fold, again working on the lower part of the stocking and pulling the top half out of the way as you stitch. Fasten off the ends of the top stitching, thread the ends onto a hand sewing needle and pull them through between the outer and inner sections to get them securely out of the way. Then sew the turning hole in the lining closed.

Turn the cuff down and press again to finish.


Artist Trading Card Top Tips!

Hi there! My name is Bekki, and Ali has been really kind and let me take over her blog today so that I can tell you a bit about my design process. I’m going to share my three top tips on designing an ATC.

I’m always blown away by the awesome ATC’s Ali’s swappers share on Flickr. I love to see how people interpret a theme in such different ways. But coming up with an idea or design that you’re happy with can be quite a daunting task when you sign up for a swap like this. Wondering ‘will my ATC look the way I see it in my head?’, or ‘will my swap partner like it?’ can bring the self-doubt gremlins in with their anxiety glue that sticks the creative muscles so they can’t move. I hope it’s not just me that feels that way. Anyway, I watched the ATC swaps from the side-lines for a long time before I plucked up the courage to join in because of those pesky gremlins.

Being prepared and having a design you love will fill you with confidence and send those gremlins away. So, here are my top tips:

Tip 1


If you’re anything like me, the first thing you do upon learning the theme for the swap is to look up from your computer and … stare into space for a while. I found the best cure for this is to brainstorm ideas very quickly so you can see where your creativity is leading. There are lots of methods of doing this, but the one that works best for me is to take a piece of A4 paper and draw lots of 2.5” x 3.5” rectangles in both portrait and landscape orientations. This gives you ATC sized thumbnails to sketch out your ideas as they come to you. These don’t need to be perfect drawings, just a rough sketch of the things that come into your mind when you think of the theme.

In the photo you can see my sketches for the ‘say something’ ATC swap.  My mind went in all kinds of directions with that theme so I was glad to get my ideas down on paper where I could see them all. Just very quick and simple line drawings are enough to convey your idea. No masterpieces here.

Using this method means you can see how the scale of the design will work and how it will fit into an ATC. You’ll find that your eyes and thoughts keep going back to the same one or two designs so finding your favourite is easy.

This method can be really helpful if you are a visual thinker.

Tip 2


My next tip can be a scary prospect for some, but it really works so bear with me.

Drawing or painting your design in a small sketchbook can help you to simplify any complicated shapes in your design so it’s easier to make your ATC later.

Here’s an example

For the ‘winter comfort’ ATC, I wanted to express the idea of being with friends and family. I decided that birds huddled together in the snow would be a fun way to do that, but when I searched for images for inspiration I soon learnt that when birds huddle they really squeeze tightly together and tuck their heads in to keep warm. It’s very cute to see but it’s also really hard to tell one bird from another. I didn’t want to embroider a mash of birds so I used my sketchbook to figure out how I could draw a group of birds together without losing the definition of the individuals. I then simplified it for the ATC.

This doesn’t have to be a masterpiece either, just a way of drawing simple shapes and imagining how to reproduce it in a tiny ATC. Remember, sketchbooks needn’t be intimidating. Nobody else needs to see inside yours, so don’t worry about perfection, it’s just a sketch.

Tip 3


My third and final tip is to cut out an ATC-sized window in a piece of card or paper that you can use to visualise how the ATC will look when it’s cut down to size. Holding it over your work will frame it, helping you to make sure you stay on track. It will also help you to decide on the placement of your design elements, so they all stay within the piece and don’t have to be trimmed out later.

So there you have my three top design tips. I hope they help. Do you have any tips for designing an ATC? Maybe you have a design method you go back to time and again. Please share it in the comments!

Thank you Ali for letting me be a guest writer on your blog today. Thank you too for organising these ATC swaps for us. They are a lot of fun!