Mini-Tutorial: Finishing top-stitching and machine quilting invisibly

So, you’ve spent time sewing, stitching and pressing and your lovingly handmade bag or fabric basket is nearly finished. Now you are top-stitching the completed seam, spending time ensuring that the stitching is neat and even, perhaps even using different spool and bobbin threads so that the you coordinate exactly with lining and outer fabrics. So no way do you want to back stitch or reverse stitch at the beginning of your row of top-stitching – if you are anything like me, you will want it to look absolutely perfect. Or maybe you are doing some beautiful machine quilting and your bobbin has run out, or your design means that you can’t hide the end of your stitching in the binding – this method will work for you too!

Mini-tutorial on finishing top stitching and machine quilting invisibly

Firstly you need nice long tails of threads to work with – 5 or 6 inches is ideal. If you are machine quilting and you’ve run out of bobbin thread – just unpick a few stitches to create some tail to work with. If you are top-stitching, this is not the time to use the automatic thread cutter on your sewing machine!

The picture below shows the beginning and end of my row of top-stitching. You need to work on the wrong side of your project, so the first step is to pull the threads on the right side through to the wrong side. Pull on the bobbin threads on the wrong side, and the loops of the spool threads will appear – use a needle or pin to hook the loops and pull the threads through.

Mini-tutorial on finishing top stitching and machine quilting invisibly

Here’s how it should look when you have everything through to the wrong side:

Mini-tutorial on finishing top stitching and machine quilting invisibly

Knot the threads together in two pairs, like this. Obviously, if you’re quilting, you’ll only have one set of threads to worry about – yay, you’ll be done in half the time!

Mini-tutorial on finishing top stitching and machine quilting invisibly

Thread up one pair of the thread tails onto a needle with a reasonably large eye. This is a slightly cheaty short cut. If you are working with very fine fabrics or you are quilting and don’t want to make great big needle holes on the back of your quilt, you can use a smaller needle and deal with the thread tails one at a time.

Mini-tutorial on finishing top stitching and machine quilting invisibly

Insert the needle really close to the knot that you made in this pair of threads, and make a long stitch back along the seam line:

Mini-tutorial on finishing top stitching and machine quilting invisibly

Pull the threads through and keep gently pulling until the knot disappears beneath the fabric.

Mini-tutorial on finishing top stitching and machine quilting invisibly

The stitchy jargon phrase for this is burying the knot. Only one lonely knot left to go now – and if you are quilting you are all done. Snip off the excess thread tails before you deal with the other knot.

Mini-tutorial on finishing top stitching and machine quilting invisibly

Now you can repeat for the other set of thread tails, if you need to.

Mini-tutorial on finishing top stitching and machine quilting invisibly

Mini-tutorial on finishing top stitching and machine quilting invisibly

And that’s that! Hope you find this a useful – old hat to many I am sure, but now I am teaching beginners I’m realising it’s definitely worth sharing these tips.

Tutorial: Quick and easy ring binder cover

Fabric file Cover tutorial

One of the sewing classes I teach at Hollies Haberdashery, is for people who are totally new or newly returned to using a sewing machine. Because I know that people will have lots more fun if they learn sewing by actually doing AND because I want them to feel full of the confidence that having completed a project gives you, I needed a REALLY simple sewing pattern to use with my students.

So I came across this fab idea on YouTube (and in lots of places elsewhere) to create fabric covers for ring binders/folders – and as it only involves a few straight lines of stitching and some zig-zagging, it struck me as being the perfect project for a beginner – especially as I give my students lots of helpful sewing info to take home with them in their newly-covered folders. So here is my simple step by step pattern, using the same idea – with lots of photos to guide you through.

As I found out at my first teaching session, there are almost as many different ring binder sizes as there are people who come to my class! Who would have thought that a folder for A4 papers could come with so many different dimensions? My contribution to the pattern is to explain how to calculate the fabric measurements you will need to cover your own folder. I really hope you find it useful.

Easy Ring Binder Cover

Finished folder

Notes on taking measurements

  1. Open up an A4 ring binder (like this one) and measure the height and the width (rounding up to the nearest half inch), making a note of the measurements for each dimension. Remember, the width measurement needs to be the width of the OPEN folder.
  2. Add 2 inches to the width measurement and 1.5 inches to the height measurement. These are the measurements you will need to cut the main outer piece, the lining piece and the piece of batting.
  3. The pocket pieces will be the same height measurement as calculated in Step 2. To calculate the width of the pocket pieces, divide the width measurement you took in Step 1 by 3 (round up to the nearest half inch), add one inch to that total, then double it.

Here’s an example – and the measurements we will use for the pattern. The binder I used measures 12.5 inches high and is 21 inches wide (again, like this one), so the fabric measurements will be as follows:

  • Width of outer, lining and batting pieces: 21 inches plus 2 inches = 23 inches
  • Height of outer, lining and batting pieces: 12.5 inches plus 1.5 inches = 14 inches
  • Height of pocket pieces: 12.5 inches plus 1.5 inches =14 inches
  • Width of the pocket pieces: 21 inches divided by 3 = 7 inches. Add one inch = 8 inches. Double that total = 16 inches.

You will need

These quantities may differ slightly for you, depending on the measurement of your folder, so do check!

  • 1 metre of fabric for the outer, lining and pockets. You can use different fabrics for all of these if you want to – just consult the cutting list so that you can calculate how much you will need.
  • 1/2m low loft batting, wadding or single-sided fusible fleece such as Vilene H630

Cutting list

  • Cut 1 piece measuring 14in by 23in the outer cover.
  • Cut 1 piece measuring 14in by 23in for the lining.
  • Cut 2 pieces measuring 14in by 16in (remember, the 14 inch measurement will be the vertical axis of the pocket, if your fabric has a directional pattern) for the pockets.
  • Cut one piece of batting/wadding or fusible fleece measuring 14in by 23in.

Here’s a PDF if you’d like to print out the pattern – Step by Step Binder cover.

Step 1

Fold and press the 2 pocket pieces in half to create two pieces measuring 14 inches high by 8 inches wide.

Step 1

Step 2

If you are using batting, place it on your work surface and put the piece of outer fabric on top, right side facing you. If you are using fusible fleece, iron it onto the outer fabric first, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Step 3

Put the 2 folded pockets on the outer fabric, one on either side, raw edges aligned with the 2 short edges of the outer piece, and folded edges towards the middle:

Step 2

Put a few pins along the folded edges and the middle of the pockets (through all the layers), so that they stay in place for the next stage. Make sure that you don’t put any pins within an inch of the edges.

Step 3

Step 4

Put the lining fabric on top, right side down. Pin all round the edges – insert the pins perpendicular to the edges. Leave one of the short edges free of pins.

Step 4

Feel along the two long edges with your fingers for the places where the pocket folded edges are located. Make a mark with a fabric marker at those points.

Step 5

Step 5

Stitch with a scant half inch seam around the 2 long edges and one short edge. Leave the unpinned short edge unstitched. Reverse stitch at either end of stitching and over the folded pocket edges where you have made marks.

Step 6

Turn the cover right side out and check everything looks ok – it is well to check that your folder fits ok at this stage. If all is well, turn the cover inside out again and trim the seam allowance to about 1/4 inch. Also trim diagonally across the stitched corners – mind your stitching!

Step 6

Turn right side out, but keep the pocket on the open end of the cover on the wrong side of the cover – it will look something like this:

Step 7

Use a knitting needle or similar to push out the corners at the completed end of the cover, and press thoroughly, making sure you are creating a really nice neat edge.

Step 7

Stitch the open edge closed (with a scant ½ inch seam again) reverse stitching at either end.

Step 8

Step 8

Trim this seam to ¼ and finish with a zig-zag stitch to neaten (optional).

Step 9

Turn the final pocket right side out to finish and give the whole thing another press, then insert your binder to finish – you will need to fold the binder back on itself to get it into the pockets, but be patient!

Finished folder3

Tutorial: Appliqué and patchwork boiled wool pillow


I can’t tell you what a fun project this boiled wool appliqué and patchwork cushion is. The wool is so forgiving and doesn’t fray, and wonky machine stitching seems to just disappear… If it’s not a fabric you have experienced before (and it was new to me!), boiled wool is a bit like wool felt, but it has a cosy, fuzzy texture and a little bit of  drape and stretch. The stretch gives boiled wool the advantage of making it rather easy to match seams (the exact opposite of what I was expecting). It has been an absolute revelation to me as a glorious fabric to work with – you just have to follow a few simple rules.

Working with boiled wool:

  • If you have one, use a walking foot. I’m not entirely sure I’d attempt this project without one..!
  • Use a ball point machine needle. I used a 90/14, which coped really well with the thick layers, especially when I was sewing the whole cushion together.
  • Use a longer stitch than usual. I found a 3mm stitch was fine for this project.
  • Don’t pull the fabric through the presser foot from the back – let the feed dogs do the work for you, and make sure you are supporting the weight of the wool fabric so that it doesn’t have to be dragged up to the presser foot by the feed dogs – that’s a sure fire of causing the fabric to stretch out of shape.
  • When ironing the wool (e.g. when you are pressing the seams open), press incredibly gently on minimum heat and try not to press the front of your work at all.
  • Use 1/2in seams.

Dragonfly Fabrics - Designer Dressmaking Fabrics

Huge thanks to Dragonfly Fabrics, my sponsors, for provided me with the boiled wool and velveteen to make this cushion.


You will need:

  • A selection of pieces of boiled wool – I used a selection from my sponsors at Dragonfly Fabrics – where you can buy in increments of 30cm (12in). It’s hard to be specific because it really depends on how many different colours you want to use. To give you an idea, you need a 6in by 12in piece to make one square, one flower section and one flower centre, and 3 cuts of 30cm each would certainly be enough if you used just 3 colours for the cushion (which would look great and would be far less confusing than my more scappy approach).
  • 30cm (12in) cut of stretch velveteen in a coordinating colour for the back of the cushion. You could also use more boiled wool, or some other sturdy fabric with a bit of stretch, for example, a stretch denim.
  • 16in square of cotton fabric to line the patchwork section
  • Stranded embroidery cotton or cotton thread to match the flowers and flower centres
  • 17/18in cushion pad – I used an 18in duck down cushion pad for my pillow and it is a really great fit
  • Freezer paper
  • Pattern templates
  • Both the boiled wool and the velveteen shed tiny fibres everywhere whilst you are cutting them. I highly recommend a lint roller to pick up all the bits.

Pattern notes:

  • Seams are 1/2in throughout.
  • Finished size is 15in square.

Cutting the fabrics:

From the wool felt cut:

  • Nine 6in squares for the background.
  • Nine 4 1/2in squares for the flower petals
  • Nine 2in squares (although you can probably just about get away with 1 3/4in squares) for the flower centres

From the velveteen cut:

  • 2 pieces measuring 10in by 16in

Preparing the flower pieces:

Download and print out the templates. Make sure you open them in Adobe Acrobat reader and untick/deselect the ‘fit to page’. You can use the little inch square to make sure the print out is the right size.

Trace the flower template onto a piece of freezer paper and cut out. Repeat for the circular flower centre.

Iron the freezer paper flower template onto a 4 1/2in square wool piece as shown (shiny side goes against the wool).



Cut out the flower, and then peel off the freezer paper. Cut out 8 more sets of petals in the same way. You should be able to use the same freezer paper template to cut all the flowers.

Iron the circle template onto a small piece of felt and cut out:


Repeat to make 8 more flower centres. Again, you should be able to use the same piece of freezer paper to cut all 9 pieces.

Making the flower units

Decide on the arrangement of squares, flowers and circles and lay them all out on your work surface, and then take a photo! You will forget, so it’s great to have this as a reference. Here’s the kind of thing I mean – although it’s a rubbish photo, and shows how I made my arrangement in a horribly disorganised way – but it’ll give you an idea:


Pin all the flowers in their respective squares, and put the circles somewhere safe until you need them.

Take one strand of embroidery thread or use ordinary cotton sewing thread and stitch each flower in place. I used a simple whip stitch  – here’s a lovely clear overview of how to do this stitch by Alison Glass at Sew Mama Sew. Put the TV on, or the radio, or your favourite podcast and just enjoy the hand sewing. If you want to give the edge of your flowers more definition, and make the stitching more of a feature, you can use a larger whip stitch with more than 1 strand of embroidery thread, or you can use a blanket stitch. Customize away!

Once you’ve done all the flowers, check your photo again, then pin and stitch all the centre circles in place.

Making the patchwork

Take two squares and pin or clip together. Adjust your stitch length to 3mm, if you haven’t done it already and stitch with a 1/2in seam.




Refer back to your photo, and complete this row. Stitch up the other 2 rows and then very gently press all the seams open. They won’t stay very flat, and please don’t try and get them to go flat because you will spoil your beautiful wool, but you should be able to press them enough so that they stay open. Don’t trim the seams.

Take two of the completed rows and clip/pin together matching the seams. I find it helpful to clip the seam allowances so that they stay open. I pin through the seams so that I get them really nicely lined up:


Stitch the final row in the place to finish the patchwork, and then press the seams open – again, don’t trim the seams.

Lining and ‘quilting’ the patchwork top

Clip the lining piece and the patchwork top together, wrong sides together and clip round the edge. Pin through the centre of each block too, to keep the 2 layers together (sorry pins aren’t pictured):


Make sure the wool patchwork seams are open (the lining will help keep them open) and lying flat.


Working on the right side of the patchwork, ‘quilt’ (officially I shouldn’t really say quilt if there aren’t three layers being stitched – don’t tell!) the two layers together, stitching in the ditch along the seam line, as shown. Repeat for the other 3 long seams.

Making the back section

Fold in 3/8in on one of the long edges of the velveteen pieces, and then fold again to make a double fold, hiding the raw edge. You can use an iron on a cool setting to help you make this fold – don’t press with too high a heat or you will destroy the lovely nap of the velveteen. Clip or pin this double fold as shown.


As you can see, the backs of the clips are facing up in the picture – because you now need to flip the fabric right side up and stitch this fold closed on the right side of the fabric. I kept my stitch length at 3mm and continued with the ball point needle. Make the line of stitching a scant 3/8in from the folded edge to make sure you catch the fold with your stitching.

Repeat with other piece of velveteen. If this kind of thing bothers you, you will want to check that the nap will go in the same direction when the back pieces are in place before deciding which of the long edges to fold and sew on the second back piece.


Finishing the cushion

Lay the cushion top, right side up, on your work surface. Place one of the cushion back pieces on top, right sides together as shown:


Put the other cushion back piece on the other side, again right sides together with the cushion top, and so that the 2 folded edges overlap.

Pin or stitch together and stitch all round the edge of the cushion with a 1/2in seam. Trim the seam to a generous 3/8in and then use a zig zag stitch or overcast stitch on your sewing machine (or overlocker if you are lucky enough to have one) to finish the seam neatly (unlike the wool the velveteen will fray).


Turn the cushion through to finish, and push the corners out with the blunt end of a pencil or similar.



And that’s you all done. Enjoy your lovely cosy cushion!