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a guide to beads

For the most part, I have my style figured out. It’s classic and feminine with a touch of whimsy. I still try trends every so often (and usually fail miserably), but it’s nice to have a handle on what you feel good in and what is flattering on your body. While this is more of a positive thing than anything else, it’s also easy to fall into a routine of the “same old, same old” projects, like endless repeat makes (hi, how many versions of Vogue 8772 have I made now? a dozen?) and lots of the same silhouette in different colors and patterns. I happen to think that there’s nothing in the world wrong with that – as long as you’re making and wearing things you love, who cares? If you’re like me, sometimes a project comes along that very much your style or something you just really enjoy sewing, but it’s begging for a little something extra. Things like embroidery and trim and applique can do the trick, but so can something like beadwork and sparkly embellishment. (Did someone say sparkly?)

There’s plenty I can talk about with confidence, but I am by no means an expert in this particular area. I want to say that right off the bat. Beadwork is something I’ve dabbled in over the years, and what I know is a direct result of experimentation and practice. I’ve done a good bit of research and studied the placement of embellishment on RTW garments to get a handle on how to do it, and I’ve gotten really good at drafting the grid on my patterns for balanced, symmetrical placement. (It’s really not difficult at all. I’ll dedicate a post to that soon.) I’ll stock up on pretty glass beads a couple times a year when they’re on mega sale, and my notebooks are full of different design sketches and thoughts about bead/rhinestone combinations. I love the idea of embellishment like this, because it immediately makes a garment look more expensive and unique. It also adds character to an otherwise basic piece. We all need basics and there’s nothing wrong with them, but sometimes the basics are so uninspiring to me I can’t think of anything I’d rather make less.

I had big plans for Vogue 9197 in navy blue with embellishment for Christmas 2016, but I never got around to it. I’d like to revisit the idea this year, but here are just a few ideas for different clusters of embellishment. The options are endless!

I made a white blouse last year (another version of Vogue 8772), and I put the pussy bow ties on it (You can see it in this post). I never, ever wore it. It was in plenty of pictures, and it sure looked great on my dress form, but I knew I had to remove the pussy bow and replace it with a traditional collar. I did that a few weeks ago (I love it now), and I knew that doing so would make it a perfect piece in the black and white collection I’m working on. It was fine and all, but I woke up one day inspired to make it a little more . . . luxe. I played around with some color combinations, but I ultimately decided that something that had black, white, and gold in it would go beautifully with the other pieces in the group, like the black pants or floral skirt. Using those colors also keeps it neutral enough to go with lots of other things too, which I love.

For this blouse, I’m using black, glue-on rhinestones, gold bugle beads, and silver Swarovski hotfix crystals. (I’m planning to replace the clear buttons with black ones.)

This is what my grid looked like on the pattern. I like to get a rough idea for placement and then put either one of the beads or the whole design (depending on its size) on the pattern to confirm that the spacing is okay. You don’t want something too dense, and anything with too much negative space looks like an afterthought.

Most of the beads and crystals I use I’ve found in the jewelry department at JoAnn or Hobby Lobby, Just because something is labeled for one thing doesn’t mean it isn’t a great option for something else! I used to be wary of anything that had to be glued on, but there are some excellent glues out there that will absolutely keep your beads on the fabric permanently. I’ve used both of these, and I would recommend them. Both are easy to use, but the E6000 glue came with a few small applicator tips to make gluing small beads easier, which is nice. I used the Gem-Tac on the white blouse, and it was a breeze to apply.


I’ve been collecting various beads and bits over the years, and my stash includes pearls and glass beads and sequins and wooden beads, and a few hotfix crystals. I had no idea what hotfix crystals were until last summer, when I made this pair of earrings, and now I’m hooked. Hotfix crystals have a flat back with glue, and you use a special applicator that melts the glue and attaches the crystal. It’s really fun and super easy. For my first go-round with those crystals I bought the inexpensive tool that didn’t come with different size tips to fit different size crystals. Please don’t do what I did. I actually burned a couple test pieces because the tip was so much bigger than the crystal. It could have also been user error and keeping the tip on the crystal for too long, but I got this Simplicity applicator a few weeks ago, and it’s the one you need for these crystals. Plus, it plugs in so no need for batteries. I got this at JoAnn, but Darice is also a good brand and it’s available here.

Rhinestones, available in tons of different sizes and colors – and either glue-on or sew-on.


Glass beads.

Glass bugle beads are some of my favorites because they bring a very linear look to the party. They come in tons of colors and sizes too.


Most sew-on beads have a very narrow hole for the needle, so you’ll need a couple packs of beading needles. I say a couple because they are quite delicate, and I have broken a few along the way. Tweezers are also a good idea, because they do make placing everything in the right place much easier.

A few years ago, I had an idea for a beaded collar, just covered in glass beads and pearls. Each and every one was sewn on by hand, and it took forever, but I got comfortable with the process during that project. The collar was quite heavy and needed a little extra support, but I would absolutely do that again. I love the texture is adds and the various sizes of the pearls is really interesting to me.

This is another project from the archives. This skirt sold in a sample sale, but I eventually made another for myself in khaki sateen. There’s room for improvement in terms of placement and scale of the embellishment, but I still like it. All of those beads were sewn on too, which took forever. Forever.


After the black and white collection, I have some ideas ideas for a couple pastel garments, but then I’m really going all out after that for spring. Bright orange, rich cobalt blue, vivid grass green – I’m really excited about it. I’d like to include a piece with some embellishment, and this is what I’m playing with. I love the different shapes and sizes!

Adding embellishment like this does make the garment a little more delicate in terms of how you care for it. Just look for beads that can be washed or dry cleaned, and the same thing goes for the glue. I prefer making garments that I can easy peasy throw into the wash, but I don’t mind having to pay special attention to something every once in a while. Some of you asked about how I’m going to wash the white blouse. I will probably hand wash it, hang it to dry, and then steam out any wrinkles. Not low maintenance, but that’s alright. Sometimes it’s worth it.

The black and white collection is coming along nicely – I’ll have finished garments to start sharing with you next week. Until then, happy sewing!


P.S. A little more embellishment inspiration I found on Pinterest. I have a whole collection of saved images on Instagram too. So many great ideas!

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sew ready with studio designs: furniture for sewists (and giveaway!)

I’m a big believer in doing the best you can with what you have. I’ve been the recipient of many a hand-me-down in my life – everything from clothes and furniture to tools and appliances – and most of those things have come in quite handy over the years. When I first started sewing as a teenager, I parked my machine on our dining room table – having to move it every night for dinner. Later, it moved to a side table in my bedroom, which was cramped and awkward. In college, my mom gave me a table after she got a new desk, and I have used that table (and added two more hand-me-down tables from my husband to it) for the past 15 years. Those tables, along with things my dad made for me, rolling racks I’ve gotten on sale, and dress forms I’ve purchased for a bargain from local sellers or stores’ going out of business sales, have moved from about a dozen different houses over the years and been set up in a variety of spaces: teeny, tiny spare bedrooms, formal dining rooms, closets, and loft spaces. They’ve been used nearly every single day, and I’m lucky I have them.

I believe in doing things like that: cherishing what you have and making it work. But I also believe in investing in good quality tools and equipment when you can, and having functional furniture and thoughtful spaces in which to use it. In December, I got a new sewing machine, and I found myself in need of a new table for it. I’ll be using this machine mostly for embroidery so the embroidery arm will always be attached, which means I needed something long with plenty of workspace. In a very, very lucky sequence of events, Studio Designs reached out and asked me to pick a table I liked, review it, and share my thoughts with you. Oh, and one lucky winner will be getting a table too – eeee! (Entry form is at the bottom of this post.)

Studio Designs is a leader in the art accessories and art furniture field, and they have a number of specific furniture lines, including pet furniture, sewing furniture, home furniture, and office furniture. Like most everyone else on earth, purchase price is a big deal to me, because I’m in no position to dump endless cash on all the things I’d love to have (as much as I would like to). The Sew Ready collection is super affordable, and it’s one of the main reasons I was excited to partner with Studio Designs. This stuff is great quality and easy on the pocketbook.

After looking over the dimensions of the different sewing tables, I decided that the best match for me was the Eclipse Hobby Sewing Center. With the shelf on the left side up, it measures 60.25″ wide, which is more than enough space for my machine and supplies – and plenty of room for the embroidery arm to move freely. I also love the three drawers. I really like hideaways for supplies and all the things we use on a regular basis but don’t want to see or have cluttering up our workspace. Prior to getting this table, all of my embroidery thread was in big plastic bags in a box. Not exactly ideal. Now I can store them in these drawers and see exactly what I have and organize everything by color – which you know I love to do.

There’s also a platform under the table that is great for fabric or other supplies, and I’m using it for rolls of stabilizer and interfacing. Pretty much everything I need for embroidery can be stored in this table, and I just think that is beyond handy.

The tables are delivered in pieces, but it’s incredibly easy to assemble. I put this table together all by myself in about an hour one afternoon.

The tabletop itself is two pieces, one of which can be lowered so that the arm of your sewing machine to be level with the table. It’s adjusted by loosening the bolts, which isn’t difficult – but I do wish there was some sort of spring or latch mechanism that allowed you to raise and lower that shelf just by sliding it into place.

The left side of the table can swing down, giving you more or less tabletop depending on what you’re working on.

This table is solid and sturdy and everything you need a sewing table to be. It is a welcome (and much needed) addition to my studio! Be sure and check out the entire Sew Ready Collection (I love this cutting table too). The Comet Sewing Table is a great table for beginners or anyone short on space, and this Multipurpose Sewing Table is handy too.

Now, for the best part! Studio Designs is graciously giving away a table for one winner! To submit an entry, fill out the form below. Entries will be accepted through Monday, January 29th at 11:59PM CST. One, randomly-selected, US-based winner will be picked, and I will announce who that is on Tuesday. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you to Studio Designs for kindly sending me this sewing table. It will be used for many years to come!

sewing for beginners

Sewing is a skill. It takes time and lots and lots of practice to learn it and get it right, but we all start somewhere – everyone is a beginner at some point. One of the questions I get asked most often is what I recommend for a new sewist: the best machines, the easiest patterns, the most user-friendly fabrics. Quite frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken me the entire year and a half I’ve been blogging to address it. (I’ve been distracted by pretty fabrics!) So, I thought with the start of a new year it was a great time to talk about a few things you’ll need if you’re just starting your sewing journey.

First things first, a good quality sewing machine is absolutely essential. If you’re really serious about getting into the craft, buying the best sewing machine that your budget allows is the way to go. I always recommend that, because there are a lot of great sewing machines out there that don’t break the bank, and they do everything you need them to do. Last year, I took the HUSQVARNA VIKING® DESIGNER JADE™ 35 for a test drive, and it’s a great sewing and embroidery machine for a beginner. But if you don’t need embroidery capabilities, I would recommend the SINGER 4425 Heavy Duty sewing machine.

I own this machine, and it is reliable, sturdy, and has a lot of basic, built in functions that come in handy, like the automatic, one-step buttonhole. There’s also six basic stitches and four stretch stitches, so you can sew both wovens and knits with ease. I like the idea of a heavy duty machine for beginners because you can mess up and make mistakes (and we all do) and a machine like this is so tough it won’t miss a beat. And as you build up your confidence and gain experience, this machine comes is exactly what you need for sewing more challenging projects like handbags and jeans and heavy wool coats.

In the beginning it is really, really easy to tackle too much. When I first started sewing, I was so excited to learn and make things that I ended up with a bunch of so-so projects that were very rushed and I eventually tossed them. The best thing you can do for the first little while is go for one project at a time. I speak from experience – being overwhelmed only leads to frustration and you waste your time and fabric. Start with simple patterns, and slowly make your way up to things like zippers and buttonholes. Look for patterns with a wrap design and things that aren’t too fitted. Closures and alterations can come later.

Pajamas is a great place to start for a beginner sewist. Jammies are usually pretty straightforward (nothing too complicated to sew) and because they’re designed to be loose fitting you don’t have to worry about getting the fit just right. There’s a lot of basic concepts in pajama patterns that make a great foundation to build upon, like easy hems and seam finishes and drawstrings.

“Lifestyle” or “five easy pieces” patterns are also a great option for beginners. Oftentimes, the designs are more simple and easy to sew, so there’s usually a number of projects to choose from. I like this Vogue pattern because there’s a lot of really nice pieces in it, and not one is too complicated or difficult. The pants actually wrap around you with one button in the front and back, so there’s no worrying about a zipper, and the shell and poncho are fantastic basic pieces. How great would those pants be in linen at the beach?!

This pattern has even more concepts in it, like using bias tape, sewing French darts, attaching trim, and elastic waistbands (on the shorts), but not one of those things is something a beginner can’t tackle.

 Sewing is all about concepts that build on one another. Once you’re familiar with some basics and are comfortable with the construction process, you can apply those skills to more “advanced basics” like swishy dresses with bias tape finishes and blouses with sleeves and garments with pockets and gathers.

Butterick 6214 (a great little top for beginners and experienced seamstresses – it’s a great basic!), Butterick 5757 (a classic, easy to sew skirt), and Butterick 6350 (love that for summer).

When you’re just starting out, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the fabrics out there. Here’s my best advice: stick with cotton, linen, and lightweight denim and wool and ignore the rest. Just because you’re new to sewing and working with only a handful of fabrics doesn’t mean that your projects have to look like beginner projects, so don’t think that working with a few fabrics is limiting. I work with cotton and linen all the time, and I use simple patterns all the time too – simple and easy doesn’t mean it’s bad!

Save rayon, silks, sequins, and prints that require precise matching (plaid, stripes, directional prints) for later. Investing in a book that explains all the different fabrics and how to use them is a must. You’ll be glad you have that resource, and it’s something you’ll reference for years. There’s lots of great books out there, but these are two of my favorites. I own an older version of this Fabric Savvy book, and it’s a pretty comprehensive guide to fabric, and it gives you information on what size needle and interfacing to use which is really helpful.

All New Fabric Savvy: How to Choose & Use Fabrics

This is also a book I’d recommend. This one is nice because it shows different fabrics as they’ve been used by designers on the runway and in collection. It’s informative and inspiring.

The Fashion Designer’s Textile Dictionary: A Guide to Fabrics’ Properties, Characteristics, and Garment-Design Potential

Just like anything else, being good at sewing takes practice and time. But it’s also not an insanely difficult thing to master. Half the battle is accurate cutting and pressing, pressing, pressing. Invest in a nice pair of scissors and a good quality iron. I use these scissors, and I love them so much I have two pairs.

As far as irons go, there are tons of good, inexpensive options. I’ve used Rowenta for years, but Reliant is also good and Black & Decker makes a good iron too. This Rowenta iron is similar to the one I have, and I love it. (I have a “Master” and this one is a “Pro Master.” Either way, both are great.)

Rowenta DW8080 Pro Master 1700-Watt Micro Steam Iron

Beginners will also want to invest in a sewing kit with a few tools like a seam ripper, hem gauge, thread, and needles. Getting into sewing will cost a little money, but you can do it without spending a fortune. Nice cotton fabrics are pretty inexpensive, and grab patterns during a sale – which happens all the time. And here’s a few tips that will help lead to sewing success:

  • Take your time, and don’t rush. You’re learning, so don’t worry about doing things quickly. Speed and accuracy will come in time.
  • Read the pattern and sewing instructions carefully, and don’t be upset about starting over or ripping out a seam. I think most commercial patterns have pretty good instructions whether you’re a beginner or know what you’re doing, it’s just a matter of reading and understanding the visuals.
  • Take advantage of all the available resources out there: books, blogs, video tutorials, and anyone you know who may sew. Most any question you have can be answered by a quick online search – don’t be afraid to ask!
  • Your iron is your bestie. Good sewing and well made garments are a direct result of careful cutting and pressing like it’s nobody’s business. Press as you go: seams, darts, facings, hems – all of it. Don’t wait and press everything at the end.
  • Use good fabrics. There is nothing worse than the frustration that comes with working with poor quality, cheap fabrics. Just don’t do it. There are plenty of inexpensive fabrics out there that aren’t cheap. And the good stuff can come from anywhere. I actually found some really nice Oxford cotton at a local Goodwill store over the summer.
  • Study at your favorite stores. A lot of my “shopping” trips are less about actually shopping and more about looking. I’ll pop into J. Crew or Dillard’s and look at how the garments are made. How they’ve done the hem or what type of buttons are on a blouse. Same thing applies to designer shops. I take pictures of those things too, especially if it’s something I can use on my own projects.

I’m always telling folks to “go for it!” and “keep sewing!” because I know how rewarding sewing is, and I want everyone to experience it. And that’s not to mention how fantastic it is to be able to make clothes that you can’t find anywhere else that are a true representation of who you are and what you want to say with your style.

There’s no reason whatsoever to be intimidated by sewing. Besides a few obvious things like a sewing machine and fabric, you just need a healthy amount of desire and determination to get into it. I hope this post helped answer some of the questions you have, but if there’s anything I’ve forgotten let me know. Leave a comment or shoot me an email, and I’ll get back with you. I don’t know about you, but I have never been more inspired about a new year – let’s sew!


P.S. I post updates on Instagram occasionally, but it’s been a while since I shared our first floor remodel with you here. Things are coming along, and we’ll have walls again next week. Cabinets will be installed at the end of the month, and we’ve picked paint colors and countertops. My dad was in town last week to help us, and I loved having him here. He helped me figure out a new furniture arrangement in my studio too, which was a huge help. I’ll write more about my studio in the coming weeks, but here’s a look at our house in its current state:

We’re going with white and grey, and quartz countertops. (Basically obsessed with everything in this picture!)

Ty and my dad taking out the horrible built-ins at the top of the stairs. Those are the stopping point for phase one of this whole remodel, and it’s so much brighter and open with them gone.

We’re finally getting to the point where things start to get put back and rebuilt, so I’m looking forward to the next few weeks. In the meantime, I can retreat to my studio and sew! 🙂

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