My favourite crafting tool – and top picks from other crafty peeps

My favourite crafting tool – and top picks from other crafty peeps

It's probably obvious by now that I'm a pretty crafty lass. I clearly love sewing, but it's not the only craft I dabble in. Over the years I've picked up the odd crochet hook, I love photography (both using my DSLR as well as my smartphone camera), I have a tonne of screenprinting gear that I have little time to use at the moment. And I'm also a bit of a hand lettering and papercraft fan.

So when a dear friend asked me what was my absolute favourite crafting tool, it took some serious consideration to answer.

I mean, obviously my sewing machine is one of my favourite tools – but is it my top pick? And after some extended pondering, I don't think it is.

My favourite craft tool would have to be my quick unpick.

Let me explain.

It's a tiny, tiny tool. It's pretty fast to use. I can use it to unpick both machine-stitched seams as well as hand-stitched ones. It can fit it my pocket and it's cheap as chips to replace. And when I sew I need to have it handy at all times — because even experienced sewists make mistakes.

My relationship with this handy tool has significantly changed over the years too.

I used to resent having to use it because that meant I'd made an error and would slow up my stitching time. Having to use it was a constant reminder of my lack of skills and reinforced what a beginner I was.

But as my skill level increased I found that I still needed to use that damned quick unpick at least once during every garment's construction. And then I realised I'm not the only one.

LOADS of highly experienced dressmakers have a close relationship with their quick unpick too. So I'm in good company.

I now have quite a few quick unpicks in my sewing kit, because there's nothing worse than needing one RIGHT NOW and not being able to place my hands on it quickly.

I have my favourites, too. The essential features of a quick unpick (also known as a seam ripper) need to include:

  1. A sharp edge. Old unpicks tend to lose sharpness over time. It's like a knife: it needs to be sharp to do its job properly or you might hurt yourself — or your fabric (which is much more likely).
  2. A ball on the point. This helps protect your fabric from the sharp edge or from poking that point through the fabric's weave. Neither are good things, so make sure yours has that plastic ball.
  3. A decent sized handle. I know the cheapie jobs from Woolies are handy, but if you're unpicking a long seam (or a hem on a massive full skirt) then you absolutely need to have a decent handle. Those tiny cheapies are great for a quick, short seam but anything longer and your hand will cramp up and you'll be cursing so bad that a sailor will blush. And no-one wants that for you!

 

My friend's question really did make me ponder, so I asked a few of my bloggy friends what their favourite crafting tool was too.

Some of their responses surprised me — and gave me some ideas for more crafts to try.

Here's what some of them had to say.

Dorothy from Oz And Other Places

Paint pens are the absolute best. They are the perfect intro tool for newbie crafters since they are easy to use and give you a polished looking final product. They are also great for more serious crafters because they allow for more precision than a paint brush. I love making personalised gifts for my friends and family, and my paint pens are un-matched when it comes to decorating things they can use again and again. I have used them for personalized wine glasses, plates and coasters. We even used them to decorate hot chocolate mugs at a winter-themed bridal shower I hosted!

Cindy-Jo Williams from Best Vinyl Cutter Reviews

I just love my Cricut Explore Air 2! It's such a versatile crafty tool and I've made so many different things with it that it's hard to pick just one example. I love that I can use it to cleanly cut vinyl transfers to make witty t-shirts for my kids, but then I can also use it to make birthday cards. I've even used it to cut out labels for all my storage containers in my pantry. In fact, with a little bit of thought, I can use it to make gifts as well as to wrap them in a pretty handmade box, then make the gift card to go with it!

Crystal Hodge from Ceramic Cookware Hub

My favorite crafting tool is my hot glue gun. It's such a nifty tool, not just for adhering things, but also for making useful hacks, like creating a knife sheath or pot and pan protectors in a pinch. Adhering fabric, embellishments, ceramics, wood, or other materials to items in home projects is a breeze with a glue gun. With a bit of imagination and the use of my gun and stapler, I transformed my old cutting board and a piece of fabric into a cutlery organiser.  It’s such a handy tool to have (even in the kitchen).

Kay Winters from Paws And Pines

My favourite crafting “tool” is washi tape. It comes in a seemingly infinite variety of colours and designs and is perfect for adding a pop of colour or a flair of personality to otherwise boring objects. I've been known to border my office cabinets and shelves with a teal chevron pattern washi tape – if I want to switch up the design, I can also peel it off and replace it somewhere else. It really is versatile and reusable! Additionally, I wrap my Apple pencil with two layers of washi tape to give it a cute design that can be changed every few months. And best of all, because it's made from biodegradable materials (paper and rubber adhesive), it's an environmentally-friendly option for those who care about the planet.

So, now it's over to you. What's your favourite crafty tool – tell us in the comments below!

Sewing Happiness book review

Sewing Happiness book review

Sewing happiness is a beautiful book that deserves a place in your sewing library.

I was very excited to discover my local library has recently added Sewing Happiness by Sanae Ishida to their collection. I had seen this book online but it wasn’t in any of the bookshops I visited while in Brisbane and as we don’t have many bookshop options locally, I had given up finding a copy to browse and help me decide if it belonged in my personal (rather extensive) sewing book library.

After excitedly bringing it home, I wasn’t disappointed. The styling and photography is beautiful and thoughtfully presented, and the 19 projects are all simple and easy enough for a sewing beginner to achieve in a single afternoon. Well, mostly – the projects with sashiko stitching it might take take a bit longer. As a simple but beautiful style of simple Japanese embroidery, the hand embroidery might take a bit longer for a beginner but not that much longer.

What makes this book special is the stories Sanae shares through essays at the beginning of each season.

Sanae describes her catastrophic fall from grace from ‘rising star employee’ to being unceremoniously fired. She also shares how extreme stress prompted a serious autoimmune disorder and how her workaholic tendencies almost destroyed her marriage. What follows next, in each essay, is a gradual rediscovery of the therapeutic benefits of slowing down and reconnecting with handmade creativity.     

It’s no coincidence that the subtitle for Sewing Happiness is “A year of simple projects for living well”, and it’s this philosophy that underpins the whole book. Sanae talks about discovering mindfulness through making, which I’m sure most of us who are a part of the maker movement would understand.

None of these projects are technically challenging, which adds to the book’s charm and accessibility. With 19 different projects on offer, from homewares, bags, accessories, gifts for men as well as babies, and even some women’s clothing, there are plenty of options if one or two don’t appeal to you.

These projects will give you confidence if you’ve never sewn before, and even if you have sewn before, these simple projects are fun, versatile and stylishly elegant. They are not your usual simple sewing projects.

Sanae confesses in her foreword that the projects needed to be ‘straightforward and easy’. Her aim was to make them easy enough for her nine-year-old daughter to confidently attempt them. Despite this, there is nothing childish or twee about this book and it’s very much a ‘personal story about unexpected transformations’. I can absolutely recommend this book deserves a place on your bookshelf, preferably in your lounge room, so you can pick it up and be inspired by the gorgeous photography, empowered by Sanae’s essays, and encouraged to incorporate some handsewn creativity into your life.

To see more sewing books I recommend, see my post Best sewing books for beginners.

Overall rating 5/5
Number of projects: 19
Project difficulty levels: Very easy
Types of projects: dressmaking, accessories, gifts and homewares

Music for making – December playlist

Music for making – December playlist

Oh my goodness – it's December! And you know what that means? That's right! It's time to put up the Christmas tree, crack open a beer (or pour yourself a glass of bubbles, if you're classy!) and put on some Christmas carols!!

I love Christmas, I really do! I love the atmosphere, and the joy and the frantic rush to get everything done before everyone goes on annual leave. Closely followed by watermelon, cold drinks, lazy summer days, swimming pools and salt-sticky bodies after a day spent at the beach. So, so GOOD!

I love Christmas carols too, but I seriously despise the crappy, over-produced elevator Christmas music soundtrack that's been ubiquitous since Halloween ended. It's truly awful.

So to help stop your ears from bleeding, and welcome the festive season with style, this month's playlist features loads of vintage Christmas carols by Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby, as well one single, truly Australian, Christmas song that never fails to make me pause and listen.

Welcome to the festive season, friends! I hope it's wonderful!

Music for Making – November playlist

Music for Making – November playlist

This month's playlist is a more relaxed and cruisy pace than October's playlist. It's full of acoustic guitars and laid back, folky tunes, perfect to see out the last month of Spring with some relaxed and non-stressy making.

Put the kettle on, get out your crafty kit and have a listen!

Great podcasts to listen to while crafting

Great podcasts to listen to while crafting

I must confess, it all started with the first season of Serial, a podcast produced by This American Life and one which took the world by storm. Serial was my gateway drug. It took just the first episode to reel me in. And now listening to podcasts while I sew is an addiction that has continued to grow ever since.

So in the interest of sharing the addiction love, here’s some other great podcasts that are perfect for listening to while you get crafty.

Seamwork Radio

Sewing your own clothes is the theme that ties all Seamwork Radio‘s episodes together, but it’s so much more than that. Sarai Mitnick explores topics as broad as self-expression, homosexuality, identity, fat shaming, chronic illness, creating a fashion label, sustainability and so much more. It’s honest, raw and wonderful storytelling in the vein of This American Life. If you’re into any form of crafting, particularly sewing, you will really enjoy this podcast, produced by Colette Media and released in conjunction with each issue of Seamwork Magazine.

Welcome to Night Vale

My cool, crafty friend Emily introduced me to Welcome to Night Vale a few weeks ago. It’s a warped, funny and disturbing podcast set in the fictional US desert town of Night Vale. Told as a series of Community Radio news announcements by the silver tones of Cecil Baldwin, there’s something eerie, and not-quite-right about the fictional characters. Episodes are released fortnightly. As it’s been broadcasting since 2012, there’s a massive archive of episodes to listen to, which is perfect for binge-listening while addressing your UFO pile (that’s UnFinished Objects, in case you were wondering).

Invisibilia

I’ve only listened to this single episode of Invisibilia, entitled The Secret Emotional Life of Clothes, which is all about how the clothes we wear both shape and reflect our identity. The episode included interviews with a man whose addiction to wearing sunglasses all. the. time. contributed to his marriage failures and inability to form close relationships. It also delves into the private life of standup comic Will Franken, who identified publicly as transgender, for a time, and then no longer felt that identity suited who he was. It’s interesting stuff.

Science Vs

Previously produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and now part of the Gimlet Media stable, Science Vs is hosted by Australian science journalist Wendy Zukerman. According to my friend Carmel, this podcast cuts through the populist crap and tells it like it is. In my other life, I’m a science and environment writer, so I’m rather looking forward to checking this one out!

This American Life

My friend Clare really enjoys This American Life, and as I’m a HUGE fan of Serial, which is produced by the good folk at This American Life, I’ll have to check out their other shows. Thanks for reminding me, Clare!

A Great Recipe For Life

As a multi-tasking multipassionate person, I'm always interested in how other people manage to cope with the various demands on their time. Writer, producer and blogger Mel Kettle launched A Great Recipe For Life a few months ago, and I really enjoy her conversations with some very interesting, and often high-profile, guests. I'm particularly interested in how they find balance in the chaos of modern-day life. 

That’s six new podcasts I think you should listen to while you work or make things. It’s a pretty varied list, don't you think? I hope you find something you’ll like. And if you’ve got a recommendation for any other podcasts that you think are worth listening to, please let me know!

What are your favourite podcasts? Let us know in the comments below, and feel free to include links to them!

Review: Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing

Review: Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing

I've long been a fan of Gretchen Hirsch (known as Gertie) and her blog Gertie's New Blog for Better Sewing. I love her rockabilly style, kitschy-cute dresses and her treatise on feminism and foundation garments. She really is an entertaining and interesting writer. So in 2012 when I heard she'd released her first book, Gertie's New Book For Better Sewing, I was thrilled. It took me ages to get the courage to buy it though!

I know you're wondering why.

 

Detail of open pages of Gerties New Book For Better Sewing, by Gretchen Hirsch.

Gertie’s New Book For Better Sewing, by Gretchen Hirsch, includes lots of diagrams to explain techniques that might be new to inexperienced sewists.

 

Because as much as I love vintage fashion, I knew virtually nothing about the couture techniques used to achieve those gorgeous, structured garments. Vintage sewing and couture sewing have an awful lot in common. They share fine sewing techniques, unusual fabrics, strange terminology and a whole lot of hand-stitching. I let that level of commitment to a garment overwhelm me, but I really shouldn't have.

Gertie's New Book For Better Sewing is a wonderful introduction to the world of fine, vintage-inspired clothing. She covers extensive techniques and tips—from pad stitching to stabilising to laundering—which I found easy to understand and quite inspiring. She also covers some history of fashion designers from the early part of the Twentieth Century, gives an outline to common silhouettes and features found in vintage fashion, and even covers the pros and cons of using true vintage patterns versus reproduction retro patterns. Gertie doesn't stop with just stitching and couture techniques though. She also covers pattern adjustments and patternmaking, and gives advice on how to achieve the perfect fit.

 

Gertie gives a comprehensive take on the pros and cons with working authentic vintage patterns and compares it to working with reproduction retro patterns. It’s a very useful guide and worth taking into consideration next time you’re lusting over that hard-to-find vintage sewing pattern.

 

Gertie's New Book For Better Sewing also comes with 12 garment patterns, plus instructions for a whole swag of variations. I particularly love her 1940s A-Line Military-style skirt and plan to make it soon. Her patterns range from the deceptively simple Bow-Tied Blouse (bound buttonholes, anyone?) to her New Look-inspired suit jacket, which is anything but simple.

Final verdict

This book is not for beginners looking for a quick make. No way! However, this post outlines all the best books I recommend for sewing beginners. But if you're a beginner sewist with a penchant for fine sewing and wanting to expand your repertoire, then it's definitely one worth adding to your sewing book collection.

Gertie's New Book For Better Sewing is published by Stuart, Tabori & Chang available from The Book Depository for about $40 (AUD). 

 

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