Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Simple Chic Pillowcase Tutorial

I needed to bring a little "girly" back into the guest bedroom adorned with SuperHusband's aviation art and the kids' masculine quilts -- airplanes and dragons.  These dramatic damask pillowcases dressed the space up nicely, and they make a perfect first project for the sewing beginner.

First, decide what you want your pillowcases to look like and that will determine how much fabric you need to purchase.  You can get more from your yardage if you do a coordinating set instead of a matching set.  That works great if you're giving them away, but most people prefer the symmetrical look of matching cases.  (We might just make a few more on Saturday and send them to Colorado.)

*The figures below are minimums.* If you use flannel or lower quality quilter's cotton, I recommend purchasing as much as 1/4 yd more of each to accommodate shrinkage.  

Once you buy your yardage, overcast the raw edges and pre-wash it.  You can overcast with a serger or the zigzag stitch on a regular machine.  Overcasting prevents your fabric from coming out of the wash cycle a tangled, frayed mess.  I know you want to get started, but make pre-washing a priority for this project.  Pillowcases take a lot of abuse and you want to get the majority of the shrinking over with before you sew. 

Left:  Overcasting with a serger.  (3-thread overlock, narrow, long stitches)
Right:  Overcasting with a sewing machine. (zigzag stitch, width 5.0, length 2.0)

For purposes of making our pillowcases, we're going to refer to the main body fabric (the damask on mine) and the band fabric (the solid black on mine). 

Cut list:  
From your main body fabric:  2 ea, 26 in x 41 in
From your band fabric:  2 ea, 10 1/2 x 41 in

Don't panic if your pre-washing caused the fabric to shrink too much.  If you run a little small, it should still work.

After you cut your 4 pieces, fold the two band pieces in half lengthwise WRONG SIDES TOGETHER and press them in place.  You should have a folded piece of fabric approximately 5 1/4 in x 41.  You should also be looking at the "pretty side" (or RIGHT SIDE) of the fabric.  (I realize it's kind of hard to tell the difference between the right side and wrong side on my solid black flannel.)

Next, lay your band on the RIGHT SIDE (pretty side!) of one of the cuts of main body fabric.  The raw edges of the band (two layers) should be lined up against the raw edge of the main body fabric.  Pin

Someone wanted to help with the pinning...  :)

Using 1/2 in seam allowances, stitch the band to the main body along the long (41 in) edges.  I wasn't very careful when I cut my band, so it was a little longer than the main body.  If your ends are a little off, it's no big deal.  After this step, you just trim the extra even with the main body.

Overcast the raw edges of the seam allowances with a serger or zigzag stitch.  Remember, all the seam allowances will be exposed on this project, and it will be washed frequently, so do what you can to protect the seams from raveling.  You're doing too much work to let it fray!

This photo shows the overcasting, band pressed open,
and the seam allowances pressed toward the main body on the wrong side.

Next, press the band away from the body.  The seam allowances should be pressed toward the body on the underside (WRONG SIDE).  If everything is working correctly, the seam allowances should want to lay naturally in that direction.

The pin shows you approximately where your line of topstitching will go.  The topstitching should fall approximately 1/8 in inside the main body from the seamline, and should secure the seam allowances underneath.  

After you press your band and main body open, you'll topstitch along the seamline to secure the seam allowances underneath and encourage the band to lay open and flat.  Topstitching is sewing on the top side of the project.  It can be intimidating for beginners, because you can't see what's going on underneath, nor can you see the guides etched into the machine to keep your stitches aligned.  So here are a couple of tricks to help you out:   

First, since you can't see the guides on your machine when topstitching, pick a point on your presser foot as a reference as you stitch.  My presser foot has a metal outside edge framing clear panels on either side of the needle.  See how I've used the line where the metal meets the clear plastic?  I lined the seamline on the pillowcase up with the line on the presser foot.  If I concentrate on feeding the fabric under the presser foot and continuing on that line, my topstitching will be a consistent distance from the seamline.  Don't look at the needle!  Look at the point where you feed the fabric under the presser foot and focus your efforts on keeping everything lined up there.  
Second, use your fingertips to feel where the seam allowances are underneath the top layer.  See above how I'm pressing down lightly along the left side of the stitching line?  I'm making sure I can feel the seam allowances extending out beyond the stitch line on the left side so they'll be caught by the needle.  

Third, occasionally stop and look underneath to make sure everything is laying correctly and that nothing's gone wonky.  You'll want to kick yourself later if you sew a tuck underneath or the seam allowances get dragged over to the wrong side.  (Ask me how I know...)  All it takes is a little patience.  

Your finished topstitching should look like this.
Finally, the most important thing?  Take your time!  You're putting a lot of work into this, so take the time to do it slowly and methodically.  You'll make fewer mistakes and love your final products so much more.  :)

Next, it's time to turn your creation from a flat piece of fabric into a case.  Fold it RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER.  (This means you'll be looking at the "not pretty" side of the fabric.)  Pin along the edges.  
Try to pin important points first.  These are places where you want your seamlines to intersect nicely.  For example, in this case, you want the seamline and topstitching to line up correctly.  See?  

If you do that, after we stitch and turn the pillowcase, it will look like this.  Nice, huh?

When you stitch your pillowcase up, you'll only stitch on two sides.  One side is folded and needs no stitching, and you don't want to stitch your pillowcase closed at the band.  So the only two sides that you'll stitch along are the ones with raw edges.  You'll stitch them together with one continuous line beginning at the band (because you want those edges to line up), going down the long side, turning the corner and finish up on the short side.  

I sometimes like to use a stiletto (pointy object, in this case a dental tool
purchased from the flea market) to hold my layers together as they approach the needle.
To turn the corner, stop at the turning point, put your needle down into the fabric,
lift the presser foot, turn, drop your presser foot and continue on your way!

Once you stitch your case together, you'll be tempted to be done, because essentially, it's all together.  But remember, you want to finish off those raw edges so you didn't do all this work for nothing!  So go back and overcast the short edge first.  Then start the long edge, beginning at the opening (band edge).  When you get close to the end of the long edge, turn the seam allowance from the short edge right at the seam line and tuck it under the stitching as you complete overcasting the long edge.  Like so:

Approaching the end of the long edge.  I've turned the short edge seam allowances to the top
along the short edge's seamline.  See the stitches on the very, very edge between my thumb and forefinger?
A view of the same thing as it feeds under the presser foot of the serger.  

This is not the traditional method of clipping corners before turning that you may have learned from others.  This method gives you cleaner, better corners once you turn your pillowcase right-side-out.  Trust me...I've been doing it the other way for years, and I'm tickled since I learned this method.  

Turn your pillowcases right-side-out and just look at those pretty corners!
Press your pillowcase, fill it and make someone (or some bed) really happy.  :)

Oh, and check out our awesome wildlife pictures from today!  I love quilting in view of the East Bay and watching the dolphins catching fish. 

After a few tumbles and missed opportunities, this guy finally snagged a fish.  (And I snagged a photo...Phew!)

He might be crabby, but he isn't shy!  (I know, booooo.)

We fell in love with our house when we visited for the first time and saw
stingrays gliding around the dock.  The kids are fascinated by them.