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Monday, February 1, 2021

Leather Sewing Machine Needle Folder

Updated March 16, 2021:  

I am still tinkering with needle folder ideas.  The case pictured above has a padded lining to hold loose needles instead of the narrow pockets, pictured below.  The new pattern is available for free download here.  If you don't want to sew your own, there are several with padded lining in my Etsy Shop!

I have a fairly organized drawer of sewing machine needles.  Even so, I find myself going through stacks of needles to find the one I want.  Last fall, I started looking at ways to organize my needles.  Since then, I have made six or seven needle organizers in one form or another.  A few did not work at all.  I made three versions of this folder before deciding to share the pattern.  This folder may not be the last in my search for the perfect needle organizer, but, for now, it makes me happy to pull this from my sewing drawer!  Here's why it works for me:

  • It holds a variety of needles so I don't search through my full supply to find the size I want.  When I use the last needle in a case, I replace it from the larger supply.  If I move the last case from supply into the folder, I know it's time to order more.
  • I can see at a a glance if I have a used needle.  I know some people do not re-use needles, but I occasionally switch a couple times in a single project and I know the needle is still good.
  • It folds flat and fits nicely in my needle drawer.  
  • If it gets shuffled around in the drawer, the needle cases, my needle changing tool, and the clip I use to remind me of what needle I am using all stay in place.   

One of my new leather samples (thank you, Jan!) was the inspiration for the size and shape of this folder.  The pattern can be adapted to different materials, and any size with as many pockets as you want.  

This folder has 12 pockets for small needle cases and 12 narrow pockets for used needles.  If you don’t keep used needles, or if you store them in empty needle cases, you can eliminate the narrow pockets.  

I have edited some of the instruction out of this blog.  I will dwell more on why than how.  Download free PDF instructions here!  All feedback is welcome!  


  • 1 - Leather: 10-3/8" x 9"
  • 1 - Leather strap: 1-1/2" x 9"
  • 1 - Lining fabric  11-3/8" x 10" (I used Cordura 500D nylon)
  • 2 - Stabilizer: 4-5/8" x 8-3/8" (I used Decovil light)   
  • 1 - Stabilizer 1” x 4” Decovil light for strap
  • 3 - Transparent vinyl: 1-1/4" x 11" (3 each pocket strips)
  • 3 - Transparent vinyl: 1-1/2” x 9-3/4” (3 each flaps)
  • Heavy duty thread, either bonded nylon or polyester.  
  • Snaps and rivets for strap closure

Prepare the Leather Exterior

My Bernina sewing machine dictated several of the design decisions.  It will sew some leather, but not through several layers as would be needed for making a bag.   Some things that help me sew through a leather project:  

  • Round corners vs. squared corners help eliminate the extra folds when you sew the lining to the leather.  
  • Keep stabilizer out of the seam lines. 
  • Attach the strap with rivets rather than sewing it in the seamline.   


In an earlier version of this pattern, instead of gluing the Decovil to the leather, I attached it to the lining.  It seemed to make more sense because sewing the pockets would help keep the Decovile in place.  But, the finished folder did not look as neat.   This thinner leather needs a bit of stabilizer.  

I have several glues I use for bags and wallet, but my favorite is Rowley Fringe Adhesive.  It is low odor, sets quickly and cleans easily with water.  It’s a little expensive, but lasts a long time.  I order the large 16 oz. size and fill a small needle nose squeeze bottle that I use for most applications.  

Make Leather Strap Closure

The leather sample I used for this folder had an end that was hemmed for hanging.  I cut that end from the leather, removed the stitching resulting in a 1-1/2" x 9" piece of leather with needle holes on both sides.  I folded it in half to make a 1-1/2"x 4-1/2" strap, stabilized it with Decovil and sewed all the way around through the previous needle holes.  I did not backstitch.  I started sewing at the short raw edge end and stopped sewing exactly where I started.  I left long threads at the beginning and end, pulled the threads to the back of the strap and knotted them.  This is where the strap will be connected to the folder, so the knots will not show.         


Last October, I replaced my hammer and anvil with the Kam Snaps press.  Installing snaps and rivets has never been easier.  I love it!  My only regret is that I waited so long to buy it!  


As you install your snaps and strap, there are a couple things to keep in mind.  

  • Strap and snaps aligned
  • Snaps are far enough away from the edge of the folder so they don't get in the way when you stop stitch the lining to the leather.  
Here's how:

To install the male portion of the snap, place the leather folder on your work table, right side down with the long 10-3/8” edges running horizontally.  On the left hand (9" side), measure the center from top to bottom and mark at least 1" from the edge.  Punch the hole but don’t install the snap yet.  Close the folder, make sure the edges are even, and use a pen to mark through the hole onto the back Decovil.  This will help you align the strap on the back.  Now, install the male portion of the snap on the left. 

Determine where you want your rivets on your strap piece and punch those holes first.  With your leather folder still wrong side up and the male snap already installed on your left.  Place the strap on the opposite edge of the folder at least 1" from the edge and centered over the pen mark you just made.  Using the pen again, mark through the rivet holes in the strap onto the Decovil.  Punch the holes in the folder. Place the strap on the outside side of the folder, align the holes in the strap and folder, and install the rivets.   



 Your leather exterior is done.  Set it aside for now.


Prepare the Lining

I normally use a fabric marker that disappears with heat.  Because direct heat cannot be used near the vinyl, I chose to make my marks in the seam allowance and use masking tape as a stitch guide.    

Mark the lining for pockets and flaps:


The marks pictured across the top are made from the left edge and should also be marked across the bottom.  

The marks along the left hand side are measured from the top and should be made on the right side as well.

Remember to make your marks inside the 1/2" seam allowance. 

Sew the three 1-1/4” x 11” vinyl strips along the horizontal lines:

These longer strips are 1/4" narrower than the flap strips because I found it was hard to grasp the used needles out of the pockets.  If you are not going to store used needles in this fashion, you could make all the strips 1-1/2" tall.  The sewing line marks stay the same.  The flaps simply overlap an extra 1/4".

The marks are the stitch line.  Lengthen you stitch to 3.5 or 4.  Place one of the long vinyl pieces just about 1/8" over the line marked at the edges.  You can tape the vinyl in place or just carefully hold it as you stitch from the mark on one side to the corresponding mark on the opposite side, catching the vinyl with about 1/8" seam allowance.  I backstitched inside the seam allowance at the beginning and end.  


Repeat for all three vinyl strips.


Sew vertical lines to create individual pockets: 

Some tips to make this easier: 

·    Sewing from the bottom to the top helps keep the vinyl flat as you sew across each strip. 

·    To sew a straight line without marking the fabric top to bottom, I positioned the lining under the needle at the most right vertical line.  I placed a piece of blue painter's tape on the bed of my sewing machine at the very edge of the fabric so I could follow that line as I sewed from one edge to the other.  Backstitch in the seam allowance at start and end of each line of stitching.  


Move to the next vertical line, moving the “edge guide” piece of tape and sew from edge to edge, backstitching within the seam allowance at beginning and end.  Repeat until all vertical lines have been stitched.

Sew vinyl flaps: 

The flap strips are shorter to keep the edges of the flap out of the seamline when you sew the lining to the leather.  Make sure they are about 5/8” from the edge of the lining. 


Starting with the flap for the bottom pocket, place one of the shorter vinyl strips (1-1/2" x 9-3/4") centered horizontally and abutting the upper edge of the flap to the bottom edge of the middle pocket strip.  Stitch 1/8" away from the edge that is abutting to the middle pocket. As you sew, gently push the flap towards the edge of the pocket strip so there’s no gap between the two pieces. 

Do the same with the next strip, centering horizontally, and abutting the top edge of the flap with the top pocket strip.  

The top flap will be aligned 1-1/4" above the top vinyl pocket strip.  Make sure it overlaps the top pocket by about 1/4". Sew in place as you did the others.


Sew lining to leather

This next step is the most difficult part of sewing the folder.   Double sided tape around the edge makes it easier.  

If you use woven or cork exterior instead of leather, simply cut the exterior the same size as the lining.  Follow these directions to this point.  Place the exterior and lining right sides together and sew a 1/4" seam all the way around leaving a gap to turn it right side out.  Top stitch all around and you're done.  I may try that next!                         

Remove DST protective paper one side at a time.  Fold the lining under so the edge of the lining meets or is just a hair inside of the leather edge.  Clip it as you go.  Do this on all four edges.  The corners need some manipulation to make them smooth.  You are going to sew this together from the leather side, so make sure the edges are as closely matched as possible without the lining showing beyond the edge of the leather.  


With the leather side up, sew 1/8" all the way around.  Do not backstitch at beginning or end.  Stop sewing where you started and pull the threads into the seamline between the lining and the leather.  Knot it.  Using a needle, pull the threads through the seam allowance.  Don’t let the needle puncture the leather or vinyl!  Snip the thread ends.  I use a teeny drop of glue at the knotted area.    



Friday, September 11, 2020

Behind the Seams - Cork and Waxed Linen Range Backpack

 I have not posted lately, but if you follow me on Facebook you know that I have been busy sewing bags.  New patterns and materials keep me inspired.  Sometimes it is the pattern that inspires the materials, and sometimes the other way around.  It is the waxed linen that inspired my cork and waxed linen urban backpack.  This "behind the seams" look at making the Range Backpack by Noodlehead will show just a few design decisions that will make a one-of-a-kind bag using a purchased pattern.    

The Pattern

I have a very good domestic sewing machine.  It does a lot of things really well, but bulk is not one of them.  My first design decision is the pattern itself.  For instance, if the pattern is made for a leather bag, it probably is not something I can do.  Sometimes cork can be substituted for leather, but woven fabrics usually cannot.  Some bags are more easily sewn on a cylinder bed or walking foot machine.  Often, a pattern will say that it is suitable for a domestic machine.  If I am unsure, I will search the bag name to see if I can find photos of the bags other sewers have made.    


Even if your pattern is suitable for a domestic machine, heavy denim, canvas, and heavier decorator fabrics may cause trouble. For this bag, I used a pretty 7 oz. waxed linen, a lighter weight than most waxed canvas fabrics at 10-12 oz.  I like to use a 9 oz Cordura 500D for lining. It is durable, easy to clean and does not need to be interfaced to keep its shape. Cork fabrics are more commonly measured by thickness.  Most machines handle them well, but too many layers will take up valuable space under the presser foot.  

With a few minor changes to the pattern, I decided I could make these fabrics work together.

I unrolled the waxed linen in a well-lit area and spread a few cork fabrics around to see which ones work best. I usually have a plan in place when I purchase fabrics. However, I buy most of my fabrics online and I am sometimes surprised when they arrive.

Hardware, Zippers and Thread

Hardware and zipper selection is exciting, but can be frustrating as well. I hate finding everything I need in my stash except, perhaps, one small item like a zipper pull, a single swivel hook, or even rivets. That means I start over with my selections, or I order what I need and wait days for it to arrive.

Straps were also a consideration, cork or nylon polypropylene.  This pattern calls for 1-1/2" straps.  That's pretty wide and I was afraid cork straps would be too stiff and heavy, so I chose a nice lightweight polypropylene from Strapworks.

I chose a heavy duty polyester thread #69 T70.  It is not bonded, so ravels a bit, but with some patience and a little practice, it really looks nice.  I will sometimes use a bonded nylon #69 T70.  Unless I am sewing straps or an area where the bobbin thread will be visible, I use regular polyester thread in the bobbin.  Keep in mind, a larger needle is required with the heavier fabric and thread.  I use a jeans needle 110/18.

Choosing to top stitch with a heavy thread in a coordinating color is a design choice that takes a lot of commitment.  If the stitches are a feature, they need to be straight and even.  I think small wobbles are acceptable in handmade bags.  But, too many wobbles will have you pulling threads and trying to stitch again in the same holes that were created the first time you top stitched on your cork! 

This bag calls for two different hardware sizes, 1-1/2"  for straps and 1" for the strap closure.  I modified the closure by replacing the two 1" D-rings with a single 1" D-ring and a 1" swivel hook.  I added a 1/2" swivel hook for a key strap.  

No interfacing was required with my fabric choices.

Putting It Together

It takes a while to cut everything out.  Even without interfacing, this pattern has 21 exterior and interior pieces to cut. The pattern came with labels to help stay organized.

The pattern calls for a pleat in the front pocket.  I made the pleat on the cork and Pendleton wool bag, but it was problematic. The pleated pocket, pleated lining and zipper created 7 layers that my machine did not like.  I simply left the pleat out on this one.  

I used 6mm rapid rivets to secure the bottom closure.  I like to add a cork "washer" behind the rapid rivet to protect the fabric.  The Cordura and cork are very strong and tear resistant, but it's a bit of insurance against wear and tear.  Where both sides of the rivet are visible, I used 6mm double cap rivets.

The inside front of the bag is neat and tidy.  I used two rows of top stitch, so seams are flat and secure.  The side seams and boxed corners are not top stitched.  To ensure durability,  I sewed the first seam according to the pattern.  Then, I flipped the bag over and stitched again next to the first line of stitches, just inside the seam allowance.  Now I have two rows of stitching with heavy duty thread on both sides.  I also used a zig-zag stitch on the waxed linen seams to ensure no ravel.  Strong!  

This is the wrong side of the exterior back.  Straps are attached and finished with rivets.  The waxed canvas is really starting to build personality.  I like it more with every new wrinkle!  


The lining is great place to make it your own bag.  It's easy to add or change pockets to suit your preference.  These two smaller pockets and the key strap are not part of the pattern.  They are features that add a lot of convenience, especially to a tall, narrow bag where small items might get lost. 

 The pattern calls for a large slip pocket, but I like to use a zippered or welt pocket that hangs between the lining and the bag exterior.  It provides a nice place to turn the bag right side out rather than having an 8" seam at the bottom of the bag.  I actually did not need to turn this bag, I used a drop-in method, but this pocket is so easy and attractive, I used it anyway.  I use this same method for a zippered pocket but chose to make a welt pocket for convenience and easy access in this deep and narrow bag.

The side seams on the lining are top stitched.  This is a little hard to sewing in a tunnel.  But, it really helps the lining to hang better.  

Any top stitching that does not start/stop at a seamed edge gets special treatment.  This picture is not great, but it shows that I have left the thread tails long at the beginning and end of the top stitch.  I pull these threads to the back and hand knot them along with the bobbin threads.  I touch the knot with a bit of glue so they do not unravel.  This makes a clean top stitch with no obvious stop/start point.  It is time consuming, but makes a big difference in the finished look.    

It is always hard to accurately capture the interior.  Keeping the bag open while eliminating shadows is almost impossible.  In this picture, I am preparing to sew the lining into the exterior.  Because the top is fold-over rather than zippered, a drop-in lining works well.  I did it a little differently than the pattern for several reasons.  The main reason was to reduce the impact on the waxed canvas.  Turning the bag using the "birthing" method would add a lot of wrinkles to the waxed canvas.  I like the wrinkles, but I want them created naturally through use, and not necessarily being crunched up while passing the bag through an 8" opening in the pocket.  This method makes it a little harder to make a straight and tidy top, but it can be done with patience and care.  

That's it!  A behind the seams look at my Cork and Waxed Linen Fold-Over Range Backpack.  For more pictures and details, visit the listing in my Urban Stitcher Etsy Shop.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Mindfulness and Masks

As the world population battles COVID-19, my moods have swung from disbelief to sadness, then anger and fear.  I suspect the mood swings are not over, but for me, staying busy keeps the anxiety at bay.  

A Facebook group called Crafters Against COVID-19 *PDX* was created March 18.  By April 1st ,  over 8000 Portland area members had delivered 5427 homemade masks to Multnomah County Health Department.  The County is distributing them to care facilities and shelters.  

Sew Many Good Patterns!

I have made 200 masks using four different patterns. All were good patterns, but not all were suitable for production-like sewing.  A few days ago, I found another pattern that I will use going forward.  It goes together very quickly.  The finished product is attractive and easy to wear.  It hugs the face around the edges, while leaving a bit of breathing room at the nose and mouth.  

The pattern was created by Liz Schaffner, owner and creative genius (I kid you not) of Moments by Liz.  She has many great patterns with innovative sewing techniques.  I learn a lot from Liz and her talented group members.  Liz shared the free pattern with the members of her private Facebook group.      

I modified the pattern to comply with the Crafters group guidelines and to make it more suitable for production-like sewing.  After a few trial runs, I was able to make a mask in about one half the time it took to make any of the other masks.  And, the mask is so much easier to wear.  

I sent Liz a photo of my finished mask and she has generously allowed me to make the modified version public.  

Download free PDF version here. 


For each pattern, you need:
  • 8" x 10" 100% cotton outer fabric
  • 8" x 10" 100% cotton lining fabric
  • two 9" pieces of elastic  (updated December 6, 2020)  7" elastic was too short after several washings


Cutting and Turning

Place outer fabric and lining fabric right side together, edges aligned.  Measure and make a small mark 2” in from each corner on all sides.  Draw a diagonal line connecting the marks.  
I made a cardstock template to make this faster and more accurate. 

Don’t cut the corners yet.  This is my personal preference.  It is easier to maintain the shape as you sew the bias (diagonal) cuts of the fabric.   


Using 3/8" seam allowance, sew the lining and outer fabrics right side together leaving open about 3” to 4” on one long side for turning.  The diagonal lines are where you will cut.  Make sure you sew 3/8" inside that cut line.  When sewn, cut the corners off along the diagonal lines.

Turn right side out.  Press the mask making sure the seam allowance you left open is turned inside and pressed flat.  Roll the seams between your fingers to make sure they are fully extended and corners are sharp. I sometimes use the "non-hooked" end of a small crochet hook to gently push the corners out. Corners that are not fully extended will be troublesome when you make your folds.  

Folding the "Liz" Pleats

The pleats create the cup shape that make this mask so comfortable to wear.  This picture shows what we are trying to do.  Read on to see how to get there. 

Fold the bottom up on one side about 3/8” to 1/2” above the side corner.  

Hold the top of the fold in place and pull the lower corner to the right so the edge is parallel to the side of the mask, as pictured below.

Pin in place.

You will be sewing across the pleats top to bottom.  Pinned edges should be aligned to make a straight edge at an even distance from the side of the mask.  Try to make the two inner points meet in the center. I do not spend a lot of time trying to eliminate any gap between the points.  If there is a short gap between those points, it will not impact your finished mask.  As long as you can sew a straight line from top to bottom, it will work.  Be consistent on both sides.  

Top Stitch Finish

The top stitch will accomplish the last three steps: 
  • Sew the pleats in place
  • Secure the elastic
  • Close the opening used to turn right side out

You can do this in whatever manner you feel most comfortable.  I like to do the entire top stitch without breaking my thread. 

This picture of the inside of a finished mask may be enough to explain what I have done.  If not, you can read on for more pictures and detailed instructions.   

Starting at one corner, top stitch close to the edge across the long edge, down the side over the folds sewing the pleats in place.  When you have sewn across the first set of pleats, stop sewing with needle down and pivot.

Insert one end of a 7” piece of elastic into the pleat next to the fold and as far as it will go.  Top stitch to the side of the mask on top of the pleat catching the elastic inside.  Pivot.  

Sew up the side of the mask to about an inch from the second pleat.  Stop and insert the second side of that 9” piece of elastic.  Continue sewing to the fold.  Pivot and sew along the fold, catching the elastic as you sew.  

Stitch back and forth from top to bottom a few times catching the elastic at each end.  Continue sewing the remaining long edge to the other side.  Sew over the second set of pleats, stop and pivot.  Insert one end of the second piece of elastic and complete the top stitching as you did on the first side.  Continue sewing until you meet the top stitching where you started.

You are done!  So easy!  

Thank you Liz Schaffner, Moments by Liz, for the great pattern and for allowing me to share.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Paper and thread botanical greeting cards

The holidays are over and I am settling back into routine.  A new blog post is overdue so thought I would do a quick tutorial on how I made the botanical greeting cards recently posted in my Urban Stitcher® Etsy shop.  They are fun to make with endless possibilities.  I will mention the supplies I used, but honestly, there are no rules.  You probably already have everything you need to get started.  

I wanted a simple design to accommodate a variety of media, including free-motion sewing machine stitches.  

As with most all my projects, I started with a sketch pad.  

Now, switching to my 9"x12" watercolor pad, I cut one sheet in four 4-1/2" x 6" pieces.  My blank card stock is 4-5/8 x 6-1/4, so no waste!  I prepared the watercolor paper with a simple wash.  I will not dwell on how to do this.  I am not accomplished with watercolor, but there are great tutorials on YouTube that have helped me learn the little I know.  

I traced the outside line of the picture to a paper-backed adhesive.  I use Pellon's Wonder Under.  The paper will be peeled away, so pencil is fine to do the tracing.

After tracing, I loosely cut around the image.  More care will be taken in cutting out the image after adhering it to the decorative paper. 

After the basic shape was cut out, I used my steam iron on low heat/no steam to press the Wonder Under image to the back of decorative paper.  Any kind of paper or fabric can be used.  I used Thai Mulberry paper in several colors. 

Now it is time to carefully cut around the image. When the image is cut out, peel the Wonder Under paper backing away from the decorative paper, flip it over and use the iron again to press it to the prepared watercolor paper.  

I used a Frixion Clicker Erasable pen to draw the detail I want to stitch.  This is my favorite pen anytime I need to make a temporary mark on fabric or paper.  It disappears with a light press with an iron.   

I used a very dark green Sulky 40 wt rayon embroidery thread to stitch the detail in free-motion.  It is good to plan how you will stitch the lines.  The needle makes holes in the paper.  It's part of the charm unless you go over the same area too many times.    

Sometimes it is necessary to stop stitching in one area and move to another area.  In that case, I leave a long tail on my threads so I can come back later, pull them to the back side, and knot them on back.

In this picture, the flower is completed.  The watercolor paper has been trimmed to a size that will allow me to use a "mat" and still fit on the blank card stock.  I will use a needle to pull these threads to the back side and knot them.   

I use double backed tape to adhere the watercolor paper/mat onto the blank card stock.  I like the layered look, so my picture was trimmed to allow a bit of mat and the blank card to show below.  Again, just personal preference.

I used very little stitching on this card because the embedded mulberry leaves add so much character.

Some of these leaves were too small to detail with decorative paper, so I used a little watercolor to give them color.   

That's it!  Simple greeting cards made with love.  I hope you are inspired to try making some of your own!    

Thank you for visiting.  Between blog posts, please visit Urban Stitcher on Facebook and Etsy.