Welcome to Yesterday’s Thimble!


I am now retired from teaching sewing classes, but not from writing. This website is designed to help beginner and more advanced sewists alike!

You’ll find help with basic sewing, along with historical costuming and cosplay, home decor, fabric designing, doll costuming, organization, and even fashion sketching!

The blog section contains sewing hints and tips, book reviews, and studies of antique fashion plates. If you’re looking for something specific, use the categories and tags, or the search bar (top left). Still can’t find what you need? Contact me!

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Color Harmony

Primary ColorsWhether you sew clothing, quilts, or anything else, using color can be intimidating! Here’s a quick guide to help you figure out which colors work well together.

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Several years ago, we published a two-part article on how to organize your sewing room. Here is a shorter, updated version!


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Basics: Staystitching

Here’s a tip for you: I cannot stress enough the importance of staystitching. Patterns aren’t always clear about this crucial step, sometimes skipping it altogether—usually with disastrous results! Whether your fabric is woven or knit, all curved edges must be staystitched as a preliminary step.

What is staystitching? Staystitching is a line of regular straight stitching that stabilizes the fabric’s edge, so it won’t stretch during construction. It’s done within the seam allowance, so it won’t show. I usually use a slightly smaller stitch length than normal.

When should you staystitch? It must be done first thing, before you start pinning and sewing anything together. Handling the fabric, even just to pin the pieces, can result in unintended stretching. Then when you go to assemble your garment, you’ll find that pieces no longer match up. Or your neckline is suddenly a lot deeper than it should be.

Where should you staystitch? To be safe, staystitch any curved or bias edge that might potentially stretch during the sewing process. This includes necklines, contoured waistlines, armscyes, sleeve caps, and even shoulder seams. It’s done within the seam allowance, so it won’t show. If your allowance is a standard ⅝”, staystitch at ½”. If your allowance is ½”, staystitch at ¼”. You get the idea.

How do you staystitch? You’ll need to use a technique known as directional stitching, which is designed to minimize stretching, puckering, and distortion. Here’s a short guide (Directional Stitching), but basically, you sew from the highest point to the lowest point.

With a neckline, you’ll start at the shoulder edge and sew downward, following the curve to the center-front. Do not keep going up the other side! Stop sewing at the center -front. Flip the piece over and repeat what you just did, sewing from the shoulder down to the center-front.

Directional Stitching

Directional Staystitching


Hopefully, you’ll find a lot less distortion and stretching once you incorporate staystitching into your sewing repertoire.

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One of the common misunderstandings I see with my students is about needles. How often do you need a new needle in your sewing machine? What size? What type? Here’s a quick guide to sewing machine needles.


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Hand Washing Fabric

Friendly reminder: Always pre-wash fabrics! This includes lace, ribbon, and trims, provided they’re washable. Exceptions can be made for silk and anything else that must be dry-cleaned, such as metallic trims.

Reason for this friendly reminder: I recently ordered a couple yards of dark brown point d’esprit (dotted net lace). It wasn’t quite as soft as I thought it should be, so I filled the sink with water, added a touch of detergent, dunked the lace, and swished it around. When I lifted the lace up in order to drain the water, the water was a surprising shade of brown. I made sure to rinse the lace repeatedly, until the water ran clear.

I wasn’t in the practice of pre-washing this sort of lace, but you’d better believe I will from now on! This is especially important if you’re sewing for dolls. Any excess fabric dye can stain a fashion doll’s vinyl body.

Bonus tip! To dry point d’esprit (or any kind of delicate lace yardage), lay it on a large towel. Fold the towel in half, or place a second towel on top, and press down with your hands. The towel will absorb a lot of the water. If it needs additional drying, arrange the lace on a fresh towel and roll it up.

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Frixion Pens

Earlier this year, I talked a little about various methods for marking fabric, such as chalk pencils, marking pens, and so forth. (Sewing Tools: Things to Know Before You Buy) Frixion erasable pens are quite popular these days, since the ink is heat sensitive and will vanish when you press your garment. The thing is, you have to be careful to test them first, because the marks don’t always disappear. I’ve encountered some disbelief as to this fact, so here is an example.

Frixion Erasable Pens

Frixion Ink Doesn’t Always Disappear


See the white smudge at the top corner? That’s where I’d marked the pivot point. You can see another white dot near the end of the seam on the right. This is AFTER I’d pressed the fabric, so those marks shouldn’t exist. Now, in this case, it’s the lined yoke of a doll skirt, so it’ll be totally enclosed and no one will ever see these wayward marks. But what if you’re marking darts? Or any other kind of marking that might be visible from the right side of the garment?

In judging sewing competitions, I’ve seen many garments where there are visible chalk or ink marks at the dart points, buttonholes, and other areas. Not all of these were sewn by beginners, so it’s a common problem.

Solution: Always test your marking method! Make sure the ink or chalk will disappear before you use it. Yes, even Frixion erasable pens. If you can’t find a pen or pencil that vanishes properly with your fabric, try tailor’s tacks.

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Buying a Sewing Machine

Brother Sewing Machine

What kind of sewing machine do you need? What features should you look for? How much should you spend? Here’s a quick guide to choosing a sewing machine.


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Quick Fashion Tip

You know how some ladies’ slacks have fake back pockets? Sometimes, those pockets aren’t actually fake. They’re simply basted shut. Don’t ask me why, I’ve no idea! But several times, I’ve had to carefully unpick the stitching holding the back pockets closed.

How can you tell if they’re fake pockets or not? Check inside the pants. If there are pocket bags, the pockets are real. You can use a seam ripper to quickly undo the basting.

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Sewing Tools

ThreadNot all sewing supplies are created equal! Before you rush out to buy everything you need, there’s a few things you should know.


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A Year of Sewing: 2017


Every year, I post an illustrated list of the various projects I completed throughout the past twelve months, to help me keep track of what I’ve done. Here’s 2017’s.


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