Embroidering needlecases and another coat for Ruby…..

embroidery on table


In between some commissions for Christmas stockings, I’ve been trying to finish off these little needle-book cases and pin cushions.  For once I’ve sewn the patchwork using a sewing machine (nothing too high tech though as I gave Dorothy an airing) and then hand embroidered a scattering of tiny flowers over the seams and across the fabric.


embroidery for needlecases


Most of the embroidery silks I use nowadays tend to be vintage finds (also I am a bit of a hoarder and have tins and boxes full so won’t ever run short).  I love the soft, mushroomy and nutty brown vintage silks, I guess originally they would have been more for stocking repairs however I’m happy to embroider with them.

When I’m embroidering the sewing table soon becomes covered with strands of coloured silks and flosses.  It’s even worse when I’m making the Christmas stockings, tiny snippets of felt mix in amongst the piles of threads.


pinned edges


After what seemed like a month of Sundays the needle-cases are almost finished (though to be fair to myself, I had finished a little stack ready to take to a craft fair the other week but had a very early morning accident with a bottle of ink…this is what happens when I think “oh, I know, I’ll get up early and do extra things ” rather than just stay in bed.  Sometimes I don’t have the sense I was born with)


inside edges


I had some really lovely soft darning silks which were the perfect match to sew the edging closed.  For the linings I use tea dyed cotton and the vintage silk was the exact colour.


inside Rubys coat


And as well as Christmas stockings and needle-case sewing, I’ve also finished a second winter coat for Ruby.  It’s the same design as the first one but with slightly nicer matching welts in the buttonhole.  (She wears a harness so I needed to make a bound buttonhole for her lead to fit through)

The fabric was from Butt of Lewis Textiles, and was Harris Tweed number 228.  It’s a gorgeous tweed, really soft and the colours are just perfect for autumn.


collar and bib


The underneath part of Ruby’s coat is fixed with velcro and I made a spare, that way if she gets a bit dirty and muddy (and it’s hard to stay clean this time of year) then a clean one can be used while the dirty one dries and then gets brushed clean.

Sewing on the “Harris Tweed” official label is so wonderful……it looks so fancy and really finished the doggy coat off.

It’s rained here pretty much all weekend, thanks to a certain fluffy tummied gentleman* I was woken at six by a persistent mew mew mew, and ended up just getting out of bed and making the sponge for a slow rising bread.  It’s been out of the oven just over an hour and it’s already being tucked into….it smells lovely, I threw in a handful of sesame and sunflower seeds and they really add a warmth and wholesomeness to the bread smell.

*he wanted to be let out for a wee, so I let him out, then had to towel dry him when he came in, he stayed in just long enough to eat some breakfast then was off out again, before sneaking back in and making the chair in my sewing room all wet and muddy ….I however, like a simpleton, was standing out in the rain calling him thinking he was going to be all wet and cold.  The cat is, I’m sure, much much smarter than me.

Buttonholes and pocket openings part two……

matching in fabric


Once you’ve made your pocket or button hole opening it’s time to fit in your welts.  These are like closed lips either side of the “mouth” of the buttonhole.

There are lots of different ways to make welts but this is the way I made the ones for Ruby’s coat.

The Harris tweed for the coat has a very strong and defined pattern so it was important to have the welts match up as perfectly as possible.  When they are just right they will disappear as they blend in.

Lay your welt fabric near the opening so you can see where your fabric needs to fit in following the line of the pattern.


fold over fabric


Fold and gently press the welt fabric.  For this example I knew there was a black line running through the central line of the coat, when making the welts I decided to allow the whole black stripe on one side and then the next welt would start with the grey line.  Taking advantage of the strong pattern of the tweed will mean the welts blend in even better when finished.


folded fabric blends in


Before sewing anything, I just tuck the welts under the opening to check everything matches up okay……


tack the welts


Next step is to tack or baste the welts.  This just stops the fabric from shifting about.  I like to use as contrary as shade of tacking thread as possible, it makes it much easier to see when I’m unpicking at the end.


pin the first welt into place


Carefully pin the tacked welt into position.


tack the first welt into place


And then tack it in to place.  (again use a bright and easy to see tacking thread) I prefer to tack all the way round one side of the opening,  securing the welt firmly so it won’t wiggle or move slightly.


tack the second welt into place


Then pin and tack the second welt into place.


welts from behind


This is how it looks from the back. Depending on the type of fabric used (does it fray a lot) and on the use of the garment, you might like to overcast around the edges of the welts so they won’t fray.  This is done with a sharp small needle and a tiny overcasting stitch.


close up of needle making stab stitch


Using the same stab stitch you used when you secured the buttonhole open, you now need to stitch around the outer edge of the buttonhole to secure the welts stay in place and become part of the buttonhole.

I prefer to use a tiny stab stitch and use the thickness of the tweed thread as a guide.  The stab stitches are about 1/8 th of an inch apart.


stab stitch around welt edge


I sew about an 1/8 th of an inch away from the edge of the buttonhole.  You can just about see my needle in the top right corner just above the edge of the buttonhole.


finished welts in place



This is the finished buttonhole with welts.

I know it seems like a lot of trouble to go to, especially for a dogs coat, but if you are of that opinion, then obviously you haven’t met Ruby!


Buttonholes and pocket openings part one……..

mark out buttonhole


I’ve just finished sewing a second coat for Ruby (she’s a beautiful russet coloured King Charles Spaniel, so this autumn coloured Harris Tweed really looks gorgeous on her).  When she goes on her walks and strolls, she wears a harness, so when making her coat I made sure to include an opening for her lead to clip onto her harness.

The opening I favoured is called a Welt buttonhole, it can also be used for pockets (zips insert really nicely if you aren’t using welts)

Firstly, mark out the size of the opening, I’ve drawn it on some light weight wool suiting which I’ve also used to line Ruby’s coat.  The opening for her coat is about 2 1/2 inches long by 1 inch wide.  Make sure the drawn opening is exactly where you want your “buttonhole” to be.

Pin, and then tack in to place.


fold fabric before cutting


Using a sewing machine, carefully sew around the drawn line.  Keep to the drawn line as steadily as possible.

Fold the sewn fabrics together and snip across to make a small gap.  I find this is always easier and neater if I fold the fabric in half first.  (I’m using some rather grand buttonhole scissors from Merchant and Ivory.  They’re perfect for buttonholes but also for cutting notches in fabric, their blades aren’t very long but are sturdy and sharp so cut extremely precisely)


cut a straight line


Continue to cut a straight line in either end of the sewn rectangle.  You want to cut up to about 1/2 an inch from the end.


cut to corners


Then carefully cut up to each corner edge, cutting as close as you can, maybe a 1/16 th of an inch away.  Make sure you do not cut right through the stitches.


tuck fabric through the hole


Then push the the top fabric through the hole you have sewn (this bit is pretty good fun)


fabric is tucked beneath


Once the fabric is all pushed through the hole it looks a bit more like a buttonhole or pocket opening.


fabric from underneath


From the back it’ll be all messy, gently flatten it out with your fingers.


smooth and pin lining fabric


Smooth out the fabric and carefully pin it.  I prefer to pin it quite close to the seam as that way when I sew it into place it doesn’t feel like I’m holding a hedgehog as the pins tend to prick the palm of my hand.


buttonhole from the front


Once the fabric has been pinned flat, then from the front, the buttonhole already looks much better.


stab stitch into place


Using a very fine and sharp needle and a thread that matches as close as possible (I’ve favoured a thread that blended into the Harris tweed as the underneath of this buttonhole won’t be seen) sew a small stab stitch around the edge of the buttonhole.

I use applique or “sharp” for this as they are finer and like their name, are indeed super sharp.

Knot the thread and sliding the needle up under the lining, bring it out near the edge of the buttonhole.  Insert it through the two layers of fabric and push the needle through.  Then working to the right, make a tiny stitch in the tweed before pushing the needle all the way through slightly on the diagonal to the left side.

When you bring the needle out through the lining, make a tiny stitch over to the right before inserting the needle upwards with a diagonal slant to the left.


work the stitch in a chevron pattern


The stab stitch is worked round the button hole in a chevron pattern which  looks a bit like this \/\/\/\/\/\/\/\


basic buttonhole finished


The finished opening looks like this.

From here you can add welts to close over the hole, or you can insert a zip (this is often found on outdoor or sporty wear)

You could even leave it as it is (especially if your dog coat will always be worn with a harness underneath)


buttonhole from the back



From the back it looks like this.

Ruby’s coat is lined so this doesn’t get seen but is all hidden away in the coats construction.

I think from the back view, you can see how easy it is to then add a piece of fabric to make a nice pocket, especially handy if this is worked on the lining of a tote or shopping bag


More doggy coat details

collar and lining


I’ve finally finished the rather swishy and posh coat for Ruby and popped it round to her the other evening, it fitted a treat (I forgot to take my camera but will endeavour to take some snaps of the glamour girl in her new coat as soon as possible).   Ruby is the same russet colour as the orange in the tweed so she looked gorgeous (I also got lots of lap cuddles which made a certain windy gentleman very grumpy when I got home!)

The coat is lined with a wool suiting (she’s really going to be kept snug as a bug come the colder evenings and frosty mornings…..where we live it’s quite low laying, near marshes and riverbanks.  Autumn mornings are often foggy and damp feeling, and we always seem to get more frost than in the city so wrapping up to keep warm is a must). I’ve hand sewn the lining into place with a perfectly matching vintage thread.


buttons at front


I’m not sure if it is just me, but I think the top part of the coat looks like something worn by a little ewok from Return of the Jedi…Wicket perhaps?

Vintage buttons are sewn either side of the collar (the bib which isn’t shown, is attached with velcro so the buttons are just decorative.  I checked to make sure that the buttons weren’t in nibbling reach so won’t be a choking hazard)

Rather than top stitch round the edges, I’ve used a stab stitch and hand stitched all the way round the coat so the fabric is held together.  I tried some top stitching on a scrap piece of fabric and it just didn’t look right, although the stab stitching takes a bit more time it gives a much neater finish.

After I’ve finished sewing and making for the Glory Days Christmas fair in Holt next Saturday I’ll be making Ruby another coat (obviously a lady can’t have too many coats!) with more of the same Harris Tweed.

I’ve also been emailed a few times where people can purchase the toys and colourful creations made by my friend Sasha, well she will also be at the Christmas Fair in Holt.

Doggy coat details…….


tack in stiffener


I’ve nearly finished sewing the dog coat for Ruby (who is the prettiest little russet coloured King Charles Spaniel) that lives just round the corner from me….. I’m using a beautiful Harris tweed fabric from Butt of Lewis Textiles which is both a little bit Sherlock Holmes and a little bit Miss Marple.

The coat has an upright collar which I’ve hand stitched using a tiny backstitch as I wanted to make sure both corner curves would be nicely rounded, I didn’t want to unpick the  tweed if it wasn’t exactly right and I wasn’t sure if I’d get the curve quite right on my machine.  Then I pinned and tacked a piece of sew-in interfacing so the collar would keep it’s shape, even after lots of wear.

After basting I’ve hand-sewn it into place.  While I was sewing the collar I tried to keep the fabric held slightly bowed so that the finished collar would have a nice curve, and sit more comfortable around Ruby’s neck.


trim and notch


I’ve clipped out tiny notches around the collar edge so the pieces fold over better, and have also trimmed the inner fabric a little shorter which helps create a nicer line as the collar is rolled over. (It also cuts down on bulk)

I still find the best thread for hand sewing is the old fashioned Dewhurst Sylko threads…I had some nice Autumn shades which blended into the Harris tweed a proper treat.  I also tend to use vintage needles for hand sewing, especially on a fabric as thick as the tweed (even though it’s incredibly soft, it’s also incredibly thick and on a test piece of fabric I noticed newer needles were tending to bend within minutes…the quality of vintage haberdashey items is so much better than most of what is available today, and if you’re lucky then it can often be picked up pretty cheaply.)




Once the collar has been turned over I’ve pinned it into place.  On a test piece I tried out some top stitching but it didn’t look quite right, so instead I made 2 rows of tiny stab stitches near the edge, these are worked back and forth and are a bit fiddly but I think give a neater finish to the seam edge.

I worked one row about an eight of an inch away from the edge, and then the second row three/sixteenths away, they are pretty close but as the stitches are so small it means teach row strengthens the other.  The stitches themselves are worked about a quarter of an inch apart, the second row being sewn in the gaps between.




I’ve tried to incorporate some nice little details into Ruby’s coat so it looks a bit more swishy and swanky than the average type of doggy coat that is found in those huge pet supply stores.  As well as looking pretty nifty these also help the coat sit better and take into consideration that Ruby wears a harness rather than a collar for walks.

Along the bottom edge I’ve made a couple of small darts, it’s not that Ruby has a particularly large bottom or anything like that (really she’s gorgeous and I hope to take some pictures of her wearing this  when it’s all finished) but more because it helps the coat sit better.  The coat is quite long  and was flaring out a little at the end. I originally made a calico toille to check the pattern was fitting properly, and once Ruby was wearing it, it was easy to pinch up the fabric required for darts and pin and mark when the darts needed to be.

I’ve tacked them in blue thread in the picture, and then hand sewed them so they’d be nice and soft and blend in better.  These were then lightly pressed with a little steam, and then carefully stab stitched down so the fabric of the dart won’t rise or bunch up (the tweed being very springy)


bar with buttons


These are the finished darts, I’ve tried to match the horizontal lines across the darts, the vertical lines were a little harder do to the pattern of the fabric, where the darts needed to be, and also their width.

Just above the darts is a little back band, it’s an extra detail and helps to add a bit more weight at the back to help the coat drape nicely.  I’ve used some lovely vintage “grand-pa cardigan” buttons (I checked first to see that I had enough buttons so I could package up a couple of spares in case a button should ever go a stray)


buttonhole with welts


The last detail in the coat is the button hole between Ruby’s shoulders.  Ruby doesn’t wear a collar, but she does wear a harness when she goes out for walks and her lead clips on to that.  I’ve measured where the lead fits to the harness and then made a bound buttonhole with welts.  This means there isn’t a hole in the back that’s constantly open, when the lead isn’t being used the welts close over.


I learnt the basics of making patterns and toilles when I was studying fashion at college (I didn’t know then I’d be using those same techniques to make coats for dogs…….I wish so much Bernard would let me dress him up but I suspect there’d be grumps to last a month of Sundays if I tried it)……. however I’ve also found the following books really helpful in refreshing sewing techniques, and explaining different ways of sewing seams, collars, buttonholes etc

Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire B. Shaeffer

the Arpette bought me this as a surprise some years ago, if you dress-make and fancy incorporating some rather lovely details into your wardrobe then this book is worth every penny, there are some amazing pictures of Haute Couture items un-picked so you can see exactly what is going on under-neath as well as how the garment has been constructed.  The book is full of some invaluable information about how couture items are made and which techniques can be learnt with practise at home and then incorporated into your own dress-making.

Practical Home Needlecraft in Pictures by Dorathy M. Cox

The Big Book of Needlecraft by Annie S. Patterson

These are both vintage sewing books from the forties, full of often no longer used techniques and details but very thorough!

Needlework for Schools by Melita M. Neal       

I originally bought my copy because a) I liked the lovely typeface and pink, green and black colours on the cover, and b) because this was the book we were still being taught from when I was at school in the eighties!  Details and methods are really easily explained, and as it was originally a school book, there are pieces you can set yourself as homework so you know you have really learnt what you are reading.