Sew South Africa: A pincushion tutorial

WARNING: Photo-heavy post!
This is a tutorial I’ve put together specifically for people with very basic sewing skills.  So if you are a proficient sewer, you’ll probably be very bored.
First, the back story:
In the week before Mother’s Day I had a very hard time, seeing that it was the first Mother’s Day without my mom.  So I was sort of wandering up and down my house, aimless-like.  In my fabric stash, I found a few scraps that my mom had given me many years ago.  What she had intended for me to do with it, I don’t know, it was literally small scraps left over from a blouse she had made for herself.  Sweet co-ordinating floral prints.  Well, I’m one of those people who tend to stick my sewing needle into the arm of the couch, then forget about it *blush*.  Drives my husband insane!  So what better way to solve two problems (three, actually) than to make a pincushion with the scraps my mom had given me.  I made this:
The tiny bit of lace was also folded up inside the scraps, literally just that tiny piece – what didshe want me to do with it?  The little blue button is one I found in my favourite antique shop.  I wish the blue square of fabric was a bit more of a pastel blue, but it’s what I had.
I loved it so much, I made more pincushions out of scraps.
So, would you like to make a pincushion for yourself, or as a sweet gift for a sewing friend?
First you need to draw a paper pattern.  Do use something that has a 90° angle like this triangle out of a geometry set.
My square is exactly 7 x 7cm.  The finished square will be 5cm, because we have a 1cm seam allowance.
My original scraps of fabric wasn’t long enough for one long strip, so I divided it in two, that’s for the part that goes around the squares, the sides of the pincushion.
Exactly 7 x 22cm rectangle.
Now what scraps are lying around?  I have these floral prints.  All of them just tiny pieces left over.
Now the interfacing.  I stuff leftover bits of interfacing into a little storage basket – I’m frugal like that.
Now trace around the pattern pieces onto the interfacing.
In South Africa, we cannot buy interfacing by brand name, as you would have noticed sewing bloggers from overseas can do.  This one is a light-weight, woven, iron-on interfacing.  Now cut out the interfacing pieces, taking care to make straight cuts.  
You will note that there is another type of interfacing there.  This other one is a non-woven, iron-on interfacing, also light-weight.  There’s two different interfacings, because I’m using scraps, it’s actually a better idea to use the same interfacing throughout your projects.
Now iron the interfacing to the back of the fabric scraps.  You can tell which side of the interfacing has the heat activated glue by looking at it.  The woven one has little bumps on, and the non-woven will have a shiny side.  Make sure the glue side is down on the wrong side of your fabric.  Your iron should be set at a medium heat.  Put the iron down on the interfacing, lift up the iron, set it down, do not slide the iron around like you would with normal ironing, the interfacing will warp and distort.  This is pressing.  You will find this referenced to often in sewing.  There is a reason for it, it’s a good idea to follow the instructions.
Now cut out your pieces carefully.
Normally I would not go this route of ironing interfacing to fabric and then cutting it out, it’s very wasteful.  Normally I would cut the pattern pieces out of the interfacing and the fabric and then press them together.
Now let’s choose how to embellish our pin-cushion.
I have found these printed cotton-tapes all over the place these days.  The gift-wrap shop, and even those plastic-container shops seem to carry them (this is Sew South Africa, overseas readers might not “get” all of the references).  
You can cut little “pictures” off the tape – like the one I used here.
Make a clean, clear cut and immediately apply something that will stop fraying.  I personally prefer this “Fray Stoppa” brand. (No, I don’t get paid to say that)  
I’ve tried a number of other brands, but this one dries very clear, not even vaguely shiny as some others do.  Now, be careful, this is cotton tape, the ends WILL NOT melt the way synthetic ribbon does.  DO NOT TRY TO MELT THE ENDS!!
So, back to our pincushion.
Decide on how you want to lay out your squares.  I’ve got some lace, cotton tape pictures……maybe add a button?
Yes, this is my button tin, and yes, I know it’s almost impossible to find anything and yes, I know I should sort it.
Now that I’ve decided what to embellish my pincushion with, 
let’s start by pinning the blocks together two-by-two and one of the short ends of the side piece.
When one is sewing different colours, or patches together like this, one should use a thread that matches the darkest colour.  In this case I have three dark colours: burgundy, dark blue and chocolate brown.  I’m going with the burgundy, as it matches the buttons I chose.
On your sewing machine, you will note several lines next to the foot, these are seam-guide lines.  Our seam allowance for this project is 1cm, which is the line closest to the foot.  A good habit to develop when starting to sew, is to keep your eye on the line at the beginning of the foot, not – I repeat NOT, next to the needle.  This will stand you in good stead when you start to sew curves.
Put your first piece under the foot, lower the foot.  Now hold the thread ends away with one hand – it stops your machine from “sucking in” these thread ends, which will result in knots and might jam your machine.  The other hand should guide the fabric.  
Sew three stitches, press your backstitch button and sew those three stitches back again.  This will ensure that your stitches do not pull out later.  Sew up to a pin, pull out the pin, sew.  Do not try to be quick by sewing over the pins.  You will at best bend the pin or at worst break your needle.  A flying piece of broken needle can make a nasty gash in your face – I wear glasses so I was protected the one time it did happen to me.  Listen to the advice: Do. Not. Sew. Over. The pin!
When you get to the end, backstitch again.  Now lift up your presser foot, pull a bit so that a tiny bit of thread comes out, place the next piece and sew, backstitching as before.  Sew all of the pieces, including the side piece like this.  Congratulations!  You have just “chain-pieced” (see how much you’re learning?)
Now take those pieces and snip off the threads.  This method also saves a lot of thread (frugal!).
Now to the ironing board.
First iron the pieces as is.  This is something I learned from the incomparable Bari J. Ackerman.  It makes one heck of a difference to the neatness of seams.  Try it and thank her later!
Now you want to press the seams open.  First iron one piece to one side.  
Now take the piece that will be its mate and press that seam to the OTHER side – you’ll see why in a minute.
The long side piece you want to press open.
Iron all pieces on the front as well.
Now take your matey pieces and butt the seams together.  See how nice they fit if the seams are pressed to opposite sides? 
It also helps to prevent a thick, bulky seam under your sewing machine foot.  Pin neatly and sew as before, using that 1cm line as your guide.
Now back to the ironing board, press the seams you just sewed open after pressing as sewn. 
You will see here that you now have a lot of layers of fabric together in the centre.  
This is what those small scissors are for.  
Neatly snip a bit of the corner away here.

 Do not snip into your stitching.  You can trim more of the seam allowance if you want, I prefer not to, as the 1cm seam allowance is small enough in my opinion.

See how nice and neat those four corners meet in the middle?  Now aren’t you glad you pressed those seams to opposite sides!
Now here’s the part that prolific sewers are going to snigger at.  I’ve been sewing for about 30 years, and I still do this in this particular way.  It’s what works for me.
Take your squares and make 1cm mark at each and every corner with a water soluble pen, or even with your pencil since no-one is going to see it anyway.  
Now pin the top to the side, matching the middle seam of the top with the side’s seam.  
I pin the bottom piece too at this point, you might prefer to do this separately.
Now you are going to start sewing at the mark you made – NOT at the edge.  When you backstitch, do it slowly so that you don’t go over the mark.  Sew to the end – only UP TO the mark and backstitch, again only going up to the mark.
Now you want to iron those seams again.  First flat as sewn, then toward the side piece, iron on the front as well.
At this point I prefer to add my embellishments.  You could do this before sewing the side on, I prefer to do it now, as I then have a better idea how everything will look together.  Also, if you want to use heavy or bulky embellishments, rather leave them till later, as they will make the turning inside-out part almost impossible.
I’m going to sew the lace down first, so the cotton tape tag’s end will have to be able to lift up.
At my sewing machine I now change to white thread and sew down the lace on both edges.
Now I change to a cream coloured thread to match the cotton tape, 
set my machine to a zig-zag stitch 
and sew the little tag down.
Here now we have the beginning and the end threads on top of our pincushion.  
Since they are right next to each other, I can thread both of them together through hand-sewing needle and take the threads to the back.   
Now what I do to secure these threads is to knot them together twice with the thread ends that are at the back and only then do I snip them shorter.
You can now also trim any lace/ribbon etc. from the edges.
Now we will turn corners.  Fold back the square’s edge.  
Make a 45 °snip into the side piece with those tiny scissors up to about 1mm away from the stitching.  
Take care not to snip the stitches.  
Now you can turn the corner with great ease, the edges will match beautifully.  
I prefer to now pin all the sides, top and bottom at this point, snipping those corners as I go, you might want to do them separately.  
And sew as before, starting at the mark and ending at the mark.  
Now look, if you put in your pins this way, you can see them from either side.  
As I did here, to make sure my edges matched nicely, I pinned on the side piece’s side and am sewing on the top piece’s side, but I can still see the pins and pull them out before I get to them.
Again we are going to iron the seams as sewn and then we want to turn the thing inside-out so that we can iron on the right side too.  Now see the corners?  
They are going to bunch up and be bulky when you turn the pincushion out.  Carefully snip those corners away, taking great care not to snip your stitches.
If you have one of these pointy tools, use it to gently poke out your corners, otherwise use the back end of an artist’s paintbrush or a thick, blunt knitting needle.  Be careful, don’t poke too hard, or you’ll poke a hole in your fabric.  
Now fold the seams and press them gingerly.
Now the last side.   First turn the thing inside-out again.  Snip the side piece again as you did before, pin from the corner. 
Now when you get to the middle, fold back the seam allowance.  The middle seam of the top and bottom pieces will be a great guide to make that seam nice and neat.  Now sew exactly as before, going right across the folded-back seam allowances.


Snip corners.
Now you have a gap in the side piece.  You can turn the whole thing through this gap.  Be patient, it will go through.
At this point you can sew on heavier embellishments by hand and through the gap.
Stuff your pincushion.
Since we do not have a “Jo-Anne’s”, “Michael’s” or “Target” stores in South Africa, you will have to purchase your stuffing at your local fabric store.  You can purchase bags of “poly-fill” (No, not Polyfilla, silly!) or toy stuffing there.  There are a few craft stores who carry toy-filling as well, but they are few and far between.  You can tear up some batting if you want.  Or maybe use the insides of an old pillow or even scraps of fabric if you have enough.  I know that “emery sand” is actually ideal for filling a pincushion with – good luck finding any!  I’ve also read somewhere that apparently one can purchase ground walnut shells at the pet stores (used for lizards and such), which is also good for filling pincushions.  Erm…yeah…not in this country.
Now be careful not to over stuff your little cushion if you’re going to put a button at the top and bottom, as this will make it really hard to squish it down.
At this point, take a moment to admire those perfect corners you’ve made.
Now it’s time to close the gap.  Thread a needle and knot the ends.  Push the needle riiight up into the corner.  It takes a bit of fiddling, but you can do it!
Now do a ladder stitch.
Don’t know how?
Make a small stitch right in the fold of the one lip. 
Pull up the tread and make a small stitch a little back from where you came out in the opposite lip.  
The stitches literally make a little “ladder”.  Make sure you pull the stitches tight, but not too tight, as this will pucker up your seam.
When you get to the last stitch, loop the needle back through the stitch before you pull it tight, making a figure 8 with the loop, now when you pull up, the thread will make a tiny knot.  
Push the needle into the pincushion, coming out any random place and snip the thread.  This will in effect “bury” the end inside the pincushion.
Neat seam!
Now for the button.  Use a long darning needle.  Don’t use an upholstery needle, they are too thick and will destroy your pincushion.  
Take a double piece of thread, knot the ends, you will have four threads.
Now push the needle just off the centre in the bottom of the pincushion and poke the front through the top, squishing the cushion down to achieve this best.  
Now thread it through the back of your top button.  Squish down on the cushion, poke the needle through the other hole of the button, this time from the top.
 Poke the end to the bottom and sew the bottom button in the same way.  
You will need to squish down hard on the cushion to find the top button’s holes again, be patient.  
Sew it two or three times.  This isn’t a heavy-duty thing, so we’re not going to need to sew it so many times.  Just make sure you pull the thread tight if you want that squished-in look.  Now at the back/bottom, come up under the button, not through a hole, pull up the thread.  Hold the thread coming out in one hand and the needle in the other, loop it once around the button, pulling tight, now do it again, except this time, put the needle through the loop before pulling tight, effectively making a knot again.  
Now bury the thread end inside the cushion again as you did with the side seam.
Whew. Done!
Now isn’t that just the prettiest thing!
If you do make one using this tutorial, I would love to see.  Please do post a picture on my Facebook page!!
But if you don’t feel like making one, these pincushions are all for sale in my shop at R80-00 each.