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Fancy Fabric Gift Bags Tutorial

For Throwback Thursday, reposting a favorite Christmas project of mine: fancy fabric gift bags. I make piles of them every December.  These bags are a great excuse for buying gorgeous, splashy fabrics that you would never, ever use in a quilt. 

Make your gift extra-special by wrapping it in one of these beautiful, reusable fabric bags. I’ve given gifts in these bags for years, and many times, the recipient likes the bag just as much as the gift inside! It’s like adding a little extra treat to your gift.

Use the instructions in this post to make lined drawstring bags in three sizes:

  • Small (9-1/2″ x 6-1/2″ )
  • Medium (11-1/2″ x 10-1/2″)
  • Large (19″ x 15″)

Supply List for Fabric Gift Bags

Here are the supplies you’ll need:

  • 1 piece of focus fabric for the outside of the bag. It’s easiest if you use a non-directional fabric that can be cut either vertically or horizontally. Cut the fabric 7″ x 20″ for a small bag, 11″ x 24″ for a medium bag, or 16″ x 40″ for a large bag.
  • 1 piece of coordinating fabric for the bag lining. Cut the pieces of coordinating fabric the same size as the focus fabric.
  • All-purpose thread in a matching color.
  • Two pieces of decorative cording, wide grosgrain ribbon, or laundry cord. If you use ribbon, choose a thick one. Thin ribbons get tangled easily when tied into a bow. Cut each piece of cording to the following length:  30″ for a small bag, 35″ for a medium bag, or 45″ for a large bag.
  • Sewing machine.
  • Rotary cutter.
  • Large see-through cutting ruler, ideally 6″ x 24″.
  • Scissors.
  • Seam ripper.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Use the rotary cutter and ruler to cut a rectangle of the focus fabric a same-sized rectangle of the lining fabric.  
  2. Fold the two rectangles in half with right sides together and the fold at the bottom, like this:  
  3. Sew the side seams on each rectangle, using a ¼” seam allowance.This will make two fabric pockets.
  4. Turn the lining fabric pocket right side out. Leave the outer fabric pocket inside out.  
  5. Stuff the lining pocket inside the outer pocket. Match the side seams and bottom corners. Both pockets should have their right sides together. Pin around the top edges if desired. (I don’t usually bother.) 
  6. Sew around the top edge of the bag with a ¼” seam allowance. (This is a lot easier to do on a free-arm sewing machine, if you have one.) Leave a gap of about 3″. You will use this opening  to to turn the bags right side out. 
  7. Reach into the opening. Pull the lining fabric right side out through the opening, then pull the outer fabric through and turn both parts of the bag right side out.  I use a chopstick to poke out the corners. This is the only tricky bit in making the bag.  When you’re done, both bags should be right side out and attached at the middle, like this: 
  8. Push the lining fabric down inside the outer fabric.Now the lining should be inside the outer bag with right side of the lining facing in and the right side of the outer bag facing out. Poke the corners of the lining into place with a chopstick or stiletto. 
  9. Press the bag. Pay special attention to turning under and pressing the seam allowance in the unsewn area. 
  10. Topstitch around the top seam of the bag, using a 1/4” seam allowance. Make sure the opening where you turned the bags is stitched closed. I often use a decorative stitch like the one shown in the photo below to secure the entire seam allowance area at the top of the bag and make sure I haven’t left any little gaps. 
  11. Next you’ll make a drawstring casing. Stitch around the bag 2” from the top.  I used 1″ blue painter’s tape to mark the 2″ spot on the bed of my sewing machine.
  12. Stitch a second seam around the bag 1 inch below the first seam.  With the 1″ painter’s tape marking my sewing machine bed, I just aligned the top of the bag with the far edge of the tape.
  13. Use a seam ripper to pick out the side seam stitches between the two casing seams. Don’t remove the stitches from the inner bag.
  14. Cut two pieces of cord or ribbon. (See the proper lengths for each size bag in the supply list above.)
  15. Tie a knot in one end of the first piece of cord. Attach a safety pin to the knot and close the pin. 
  16. Insert the pin into the opening at the side seam.Work the pin through the casing with your fingers, pulling the cord behind it, until the pin and cord come out the same opening where you started. Knot the ends of the cord or ribbon together. 
  17. Insert the second cord or ribbon at the opening on the other side of the bag, work it through, and knot its two ends together.
  18. To close the finished bag, hold the two cords at their knotted ends and pull them apart. The bag will close automatically.

You have now created a gift bag that makes any present seem a little more special. Even better, the bag can reused again and again.


It’s Rag Quilting Season

Rag Quilting Season Infographic

It’s that time of year again in the Northern hemisphere — the season when the dark lingers longer every day, when going outdoors makes you give an instinctive little shiver, when you feel the need to snuggle up in something warm and soft (and drink something hot and steamy.) It’s rag quilting season.

I will freely confess that I make rag quilts all year long, but there’s something about autumn that makes rag quilting feel like the perfect way to spend a slow, chilly day. With that mood strong upon me, I made this little rag quilt from the first pattern in my latest book, Rag Quilting for Beginners. This quilt will go in the back of my car to be a warmer-upper on cold days.Machine Quilting Sampler Rag Quilt 101

The fabric came from leftover strips I had cut for a double-four-patch quilt a few months ago, and from fabrics I had bought for that quilt but decided not to use for it in the end. Leftover and scrap fabrics are the bane of my quilting existence. They seem to multiply and create mysterious fabric mounds in my sewing room no matter how many quilts I make from them, so it is a pleasure to stitch something up from my scrap pile that I know will be used.

I did something during the making of this rag quilt that you might want to try: I borrowed an idea from Christina Cameli’s book, First Steps to Free-Motion Machine Quilting, and made this quilt into a free-motion quilting sampler. I tried out a different free-motion quilting motif in each strip of the quilt. Here’s a vertical motif with a simplified star set at intervals along each vertical line:Machine Quilting Sampler Rag Quilt 106

I machine quilted rows of scallops in this pink strip. This motif was fun:

Machine Quilting Sampler Rag Quilt 105

And in this strip, I sewed an elongated stipple based on an old Japanese design that suggests moving water. (Can you tell I took this photo late at night?) 

Machine Quilting Sampler Rag Quilt 104

The book offers dozens of different motifs to try. These were just a few of the simple ones. After years of nothing but stippling, I’m working on expanding my machine-quilting horizons. The small sections in a rag quilt make it perfect for building your machine-quilting skills.

If you make a rag quilt this season, I’d love to see a photo. Happy quilting!

Get the books I used in this post:

First Steps to Free-Motion Quilting Christina Cameli








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Pumpkins by Moonlight Quilt October 2003I don’t know about you, but I always start my seasonal quilts a bit too late to have them done for the season. I won’t confess exactly how many times I’ve finished a a Halloween quilt the day after Halloween, or a Christmas quilt two days after Christmas. (Let’s just say it’s not an unusual occurrence.) But when it happens, I just laugh at myself and say I’m ready very early for the next year!

All this is just to remind you that Halloween is just over a month away, and it’s time to get started if you want to make a quilt to give your house that Halloween spirit.

Here’s some Halloween quilt inspiration I first posted a few years ago. I wish I had the talent to make this stunning pumpkin quilt, which I photographed at the Pacific International Quilt Fair. Check out the link to see quite a few more Halloween quilts.

Pumpkins PIQF 2009

And here’s a link to a tutorial on making this cute little cheesecloth ghost quilt wall hanging:Cheesecloth-Ghost-Quilt-Large


Half-Hour Table Runner Tutorial

Half Hour Table Runner Who else likes to make projects that are super-quick and show off some adorable new fabric you just had to buy?

Here’s a table runner you can make from start to finish in about half an hour. The author of the original tutorial from Iowa Living Magazines claims that she made hers in just 10 minutes! But I am only human, and I was watching old episodes of Teen Wolf on TV while I made this, so it took me half an hour. But it really is easy! A big thanks for author Suzanne Sievers for designing this clever project, which I would never have been able to think of for myself.

All you need to make this table runner is two fabrics: 1/3 yard of a focus fabric and 1/2 yard of a coordinating fabric for the background and the reverse side. My focus fabric was this chicken print from Urban Zoologie by Ann Kelle for Robert Kaufman Fabrics, and the background fabric was a red and white polka dot from Moda. Be sure to choose fabrics that don’t face only in one direction. See how my chickens face in all different directions? And of course polka dots look the same from every direction. Directional fabrics don’t work so well for table runners because at least half of the people viewing them will see the pattern upside down.

Half Hour Table Runner Fabrics


Cut a 12″ strip (1/3 year) of the focus fabric and an 18″ strip (1/2 yard) of the coordinating fabric. Cut both strips the full width of your fabric, from selvage to selvage. Put the strips with one raw edge together and right sides facing each other, then pin to keep the edges aligned. The background fabric strip will be quite a bit wider than the focus fabric strip. Don’t worry — that’s all part of the plan.

Lay Fabrics with Right Sides Together

Sew the fabrics together along the pinned edge. I meant to use a 1/4″ seam, but I ended up sewing a 1/2″ seam, and the table runner still turned out looking good.

The other raw edges together and sew in the same way. You will end up with a tube that has a lot of extra background fabric between the two seams.

Half Hour Table Runner Tube with Extra Fabric

Turn the tube right side out. The tube in my photo is almost completely turned.

Turn Tube Right Side Out

Flatten the tube out and center the focus fabric so there is an equal strip of background fabric on each side. Once you are satisfied with the edges, press the tube flat.

Focus Fabric Centered in Tube

Square up the top and bottom edges and trim off the selvages.

Square up and Trim off Selvages

Fold the tube in half lengthwise, with the two edge strips aligned together, like this:

Fold Tube in Half with fold in center of focus fabric


Sew the narrow top and bottom edges with a 1/4″ seam. Backstitch at the beginning and end of your seams. Once you have the seams sewed, press the seam allowances open. This is a bit awkward, but do your best.

After the seams are pressed open, turn the two ends of the tube inside out. This will make a triangle at each end of the table runner. I used a bamboo chopstick to poke out the point of the triangle.

Turn triangle inside out

Straighten the triangle so the seam line is centered and the top of the triangle is perpendicular to the outer edges of the runner. Mine, you can see, hadn’t quite reached the stage of perfect alignment when I took this photo.

Center seam and straighten triangle

Stitch down the wide end of the triangle to secure it. I used decorative stitches from my sewing machine’s memory, but you could use any stitch you like, or buttons or other embellishments that strike your fancy. I also sewed down the side seams with a second decorative stitch, because I just love stitching long lines of decorative stitches.

And here is the finished table runner. It looks small, but it actually measures 14″ x 42″. I liked making this so much that I think I’m going to make another one in Fourth of July Fabrics. And since I don’t have any suitable fabrics, that means a trip to the fabric store! Care to join me?

Finished Table Runner




Strip and Flip Rag Quilt

Strip and Flip Rag Quilt with Copyright

Whenever a beginning quilter me asks what kind of quilt is best to start out with, I always recommend making a pieced strip quilt. Anyone who can sew a reasonably straight line can sew strips together. If you aren’t completely confident of your ability to choose colors that look together, making your quilt from a jelly roll of precut strips helps take away that anxiety. The colors and patterns in jelly rolls are designed to work together. (By professionals!)

Precut strips are a bit more expensive than buying fabric yardage, but they save you all the time of measuring and cutting, which is one of my least favorite parts of making a quilt.

I made this easy lap size rag quilt from the free Strip and Flip tutorial  from Allison of the Cluck Cluck Sew blog. I adapted the original pattern into a rag quilt and added white ric-rac around the outer edges to give it a decorative touch.

The Strip and Flip quilt is made by sewing a set of color-coordinated strips into a quilt top, then cutting the top into three sections, flipping the middle section around, adding white strips to the center section, and resewing the sections back into a single quilt top. Check out Allison’s tutorial for complete instructions.

I made my quilt a bit bigger than the original and changed the proportions of the three sections a bit. I also omitted the white strips around the middle section, because I could achieve the same effect by making the quilt a rag quilt.

The fabric for my quilt came from this jelly roll of precut 2.5″ strips from Moda. The fabric collection is called Pedal Pushers.Pedal Pushers Moda Jelly Roll

I arranged my strips so the color moved in gradations from navy blue to red. I love these fabrics and their cheery spring colors.


I sewed the individual strips together with a standard 1/4″ quilter’s seam. After I cut the quilt top into three sections, I used a wider 3/4″ seam to rejoin the sections, so I could have a generous clipped edge. The white polyester fleece backing fabric you can see in the rag seams substitutes for the white strips in the original pattern.

Learn How to Make Rag Quilts:

RagQuilting3dCover 400 pixels wide






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Houses Quilt Finished!

Houses quilt finished large

Finished! Here’s the Houses quilt I’ve been making for my aunt in bits and pieces for the last month or so. It’s always satisfying to get a quilt done, especially since I’m also rearranging my sewing room at the same time and everything else I’ve been working on is in a state of total upheaval.

In the interest of time, and also because this quilt is pretty large to handle on my home sewing machine, I did the final quilting in a minimalist way. First, I stitched in the ditch along most, but not all, of the seams in the quilt. Then I chose a stylized leaf stitch from the assortment of decorative stitches on my sewing machine and sewed it around the center of the outer border. And that’s it!

For the binding, I picked the second fabric from the left, which I dug up out of my fabric stash.

Houses Binding Fabrics Large

I like the cheeriness of striped binding, so I cut the fabric along the length of grain (parallel to the selvages) to highlight the stripes in it. After I made the binding strips, I sewed the binding on using a machine-sewing-only technique (see tutorial here), and finished it with one of my favorite decorative stitches. In this photo, you can also see the leaf decorative stitch I sewed onto the outer border.

Houses quilt finished binding
And here’s the quilt folded up and ready to go in the shipping box. Finis!

Houses Quilt finished folded


Stitching in the Ditch

Houses quilt 3

On my sewing machine today: a Houses quilt I’m machine quilting to send to my aunt as a thank-you for hosting me and a friend last summer.

This quilt will be used in Vermont, which has a chilly climate, so I backed it with white polyester fleece. I laid the fleece out on my cutting table with the right side down, then put down the quilt top, right side up, and spray basted the whole thing with 505 Spray and Fix temporary glue. I will wash out the glue when I finish quilting  and binding. (Learn more about spray basting and backing a quilt with polyester fleece.)

Then it was on to the machine quilting. For me, the first step in machine quilting is to stitch the quilt “in the ditch,” which means sewing the quilt layers together in the little depressions that run along the seam lines where the quilt top was pieced together. The red arrow in the photo shows one seam line I stitched in a Coins quilt I made last fall.

Stitch in Ditch 2

I start with the major seam lines between blocks. I work my way from the center seams out to one edge, then turn the quilt and work from the center to the other edge. Once the whole quilt is stitched in the ditch, I can add any fancy stitching I decide to do without worrying about getting puckers on the back of the quilt.

To make the job a little easier, I use a special sewing machine foot called a “stitch in the ditch” foot. As you can see, the foot has a little projecting fin that rides right in the depression along the seam line and helps me guide my stitches. Instead of trying to watch where the needle is going, I just watch that little front fin. You can buy this kind of foot for most sewing machines for about $15 U.S.

Houses quilt 1

If you are really good at stitching in the ditch, you can make your quilting lines just about invisible. (I’m not usually that good, but I try to use a thread color that fades into the background and then call it good enough, however my stitching turns out.)

For this quilt, I used a white, 60-weight polyester thread from Superior Threads and Superior’s super-lightweight Bottom Line thread in the bobbin. I like Bottom Line because I can wind so much more of it on my bobbin than I can if I use a heavier bobbin thread. The fewer bobbins I have to change, the better!


Log Cabin Quilt-as-you-go Block

Second BlockDo you ever feel like you’re drowning in fabric scraps? That’s how I felt when I came back to my quilting room after spending most of the holidays away from my sewing machine. Having scrap piles everywhere is very stressful. But I hate to see any piece of fabric go to waste.

So today, I decided to tackle my scraps by making a set of scrappy Log Cabin blocks, using a new (to me) quilt-as-you-go technique from Jera Brandvig’s book, Quilt-As-You-Go Made Modern.

Quilt-as-you-go is a technique that eliminates a couple of steps from the typical way of making a quilt. You sew together the quilt top and attach it to the batting all in one step, instead of putting together the quilt top first and then adding the batting and backing layers. In Jera’s book, you quilt the top and batting together, then add the backing fabric as a separate step at the end.

To make these blocks, you start with a square of batting and a set of scraps whose colors and patterns you like together. The batting block should be an inch or so larger on each side than you want the finished block to be. You will trim it down when you square up the blocks at the end. My batting blocks were 15″ square. I like big blocks because it only takes a few of them to make a whole quilt.

Start by laying a piece of fabric more or less on the center of the batting block. This is an improvised block, which means you don’t have to worry about getting your fabric exactly in the center. I used a leftover Four-Patch block I made for some long-ago project.

Fabric on Batting 2

Stitch the fabric to the batting with a series of parallel seams, like this.

Stitch down first square 2

This is an improvised block, so you don’t have to get the seam lines exactly parallel to each other. Jera recommends setting your stitch length at 3.5. Start and end your stitches on the batting. You don’t need to back stitch or anchor your stitches, since the ends of your seams will be covered by the fabric you add later. After you finish stitching, trim off the loose thread ends. That way, they won’t get caught in your presser foot as you add more sections to the block.

Lay a second piece of fabric on your central piece, right side down. A strip is the perfect shape, but your strips don’t have to be perfectly straight to work.

The new piece should be about the same length as one side of the original piece. If your piece is too long, fold it up at the edge of the center piece and finger press, then use scissors to trim it to the right length.

Fold and trim extra strips

Stitch the new strip to the edge of the original piece, using a 1/4″ seam. Your seam doesn’t have to be perfect, either, but you do want to make sure you stitch through both layers the whole length of the seam.

Add strips with quarter inch seam

Finger press the new piece to the side, then quilt it to the batting the same way you did the first piece. Sew the strip along its length so your stitches start and end on the batting.

Keep adding new strips, working your way around the outside of the section you have already quilted. Try to arrange your strips so your quilting alternates between vertical stitching and horizontal stitching.

When you are finished quilting, lay the block on your cutting board with the right side down. Trim any extra fabric from the outside edges of the block.

Here’s the first block I finished:

Quilt as you Go Log Cabin Block Large

And here’s the second block:

Second Block

Once I got the hang of quilting each strip immediately after I sewed it on, the blocks went together very quickly. I like the modern look the grid quilting gives the blocks. And I love using up scraps! Did I make any impact on the size of my scrap pile? No. But it still felt satisfying to work from my stash instead of buying new fabric.

In a future post, I’ll show you how I put the blocks together into a quilt.

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New Rag Quilt in Action

Here’s a sight every quilter likes to see: a brand new quilt that is already hard at work, keeping someone cozy and warm. This quilt is a rag quilt with Christmas-themed fabrics that I finished right before the storm of holiday visiting, cooking, and parties burst over my head.

Did you quilt for the holidays, or give someone a quilt as a gift? I have given lots of quilts as presents. After all the designing, cutting, piecing, and machine quilting, each of which is fun in its own way, my favorite part is hearing from the recipient that they love, love, love snuggling up in their new gift.

Pantone_Color of the Year Paint Pot

Really? That was my reaction when I saw the color Pantone chose as the trend-setting color for 2015.  It’s called “Marsala,” and it’s a subdued (all right, drab) wine color. I guess you can tell from my tone that I’m not exactly feeling Marsala for quilting. For winter coats, purses, and shoes, yes. But quilts? Not so sure. I like rich colors, and I also like the white-and-bright combinations I see in a lot of the quilts being made by young quilters today. Here’s an example of “white and bright” from Angela on Flickr.com:

White and bright 7711418978_6f8b454746_bNo Marsala there!

You know where Marsala would have felt right at home? Back in Victorian days, when the first (mostly) colorfast red dyes were just coming on the market. Quilters just snapped them up. Reds and browns were all the rage then. They were also great at hiding dirt in a time when all washing had to be done by hand.

If Marsala appeals to you, you can find it and lots of Victorian reproduction fabrics online at stores like ReproductionFabrics.com, or at quilt shops that specialize in helping quilters produce authentic-looking reproductions of historic patterns.

How about you? Have you found a color palette for quilting that feels like your natural combination of colors? I’d love to see what kind of quilts you’re making and which colors you prefer.


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