Sewing 101: Part 2

Did you get your sewing machines out and ready for this week with Kim? I know I did. If you missed part 1 from last week go check it out!

Now on with Kim’s lesson and rad coaster tutorial…


P.S. Here’s Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4.

Hello! Kim here again, from Retro Mama, continuing with the second installment of introductory sewing lessons here at Craft Snob. Last week we chatted about sewing tool essentials, and this week’s topics include a mini-glossary of sewing machine stitches, some tips I wish I had known about when I first started out, hints for straight lines and corners, and finally, my first project tutorial of the series!


Some common stitches and what they are used for:

  • Backstitch: a couple of extra stitches back and forth at the beginning or ending of a seam to keep the stitches from unraveling
  • Straight stitch: most common type of stitch, used for sewing 2 pieces of fabric together, and also for topstitching and quilting
  • Topstitching: can be a straight stitch or decorative stitch, and is used to create a finished edge
  • Triple stitch: a very durable reinforcing stitch I frequently use when making bags and stuffed toys, creates a straight stitch that is reinforced 2 times
  • Zig zag stitch: decorative, appliqué, finishing edges of seam allowances to help prevent fraying


My Basic Sewing Tips (a.k.a. A few handy suggstions that might save you a headache or two)

  • Always backstitch at the beginning and end of each seam. This means: sew a couple of stitches forward, a couple of stitches backward, and then go ahead and sew the seam as desired. This prevents the thread from unraveling at the ends of the seam.
  • Press, press, press your fabric. Before you cut. Before you sew. After you sew. You will have much more accurate and neat results when you are working with unwrinkled fabric. Always make sure to use the proper heat setting so you don’t melt something to your iron, and used distilled water in your iron so you don’t get mineral buildup.
  • If your machine is constantly tangling up threads, skipping stitches, or otherwise having a fit, the first thing you should try (after removing the tangled threads and making sure there are no stray threads under your needle plate) is to put in a fresh sewing needle and rethread the machine. A dull needle will wreak all sorts of havoc, trust me!
  • Do not sew over straight pins. Your pins will get bent and your needle can be ruined if you happen to land directly on a pin. I remove the pins right before I sew over that area. Also, if using pins with plastic heads, be very careful when ironing as the heads will melt if they touch the hot iron.
  • Trim your needle and bobbin threads whenever you finish a seam (trim close to your project, and leave a few inches of thread hanging from the machine) so they don’t get pulled into your machine or tangled up with your next seam.


Are you ready to sew? I thought you might be… I’ve whipped up a little worksheet for you to practice straight lines and corners, you can get the PDF here. Remember to backstitch at the beginning and end of each seam! Go ahead and sew right on the paper, but don’t use that needle on fabric afterward as it will become dull from the paper.

Tips for straight lines:

  • Only sew as fast as you are comfortable with. With more experience, higher speeds will become more comfortable.
  • You should not need to push fabric through the machine while sewing. That’s what the feed dogs are for! Keep your hands relaxed and guide the fabric along the seam allowance line. (If you are sewing with paper, however, you might need to gently push the paper along because it is so slippery)

Tips for turning corners:

  • The key is to land your needle in the down position exactly on the corner so that when you turn the fabric, the edge of the fabric will match up again with the seam allowance guide. In reality, it doesn’t always work out this way on the first try (or the second), but it will get easier with practice. Either reverse the knob on the side of your machine to take up the last stitch you made if you went too far the first time, or go back and add a stitch or two so your needle will land right on the corner before you turn.
  • If you are having a really tough time judging where to turn the corners, try placing dots on the corners with water soluble or disappearing fabric ink. With experience, you’ll get better at knowing just where to turn!

Seam Allowance:

  • Those little lines on the needle plate of your machine are seam allowance guides. Line up the edge of the fabric with the appropriate guide line (when your needle is in the center position) while you sew.
  • Quilting seam allowance is typically 1/4”, which is probably not one of the seam allowance lines on your machine. A couple of options to obtain an accurate 1/4” seam allowance are: A) use a quilting 1/4” presser foot, or B) with a regular presser foot, line up the fabric with the right edge of the presser foot, and adjust the needle position by moving it right or left with your machine controls (mine has button controls that move the needle to the right or left), until it is 1/4” from the edge of the fabric (use a ruler to determine the setting on your machine).

Now I know you’re dying to try out your straight lines and corners on some real fabric, so I’ve put together a tutorial for you:


Fair and Square Patchwork Coasters


  • Fabric scraps or charm squares for patchwork Linen
  • Solid colored cotton or twill
  • Shot cotton or other fabric for surrounding fabric and coaster backing (1/4 yard, or a fat quarter)
  • Cotton quilt batting (a small crib-sized package will leave lots left over for other projects, or you could have 1/4 yard cut from a roll)
  • Thread


  • Sewing machine
  • Quilting ruler or quilter’s square
  • Rotary cutter
  • Scissors
  • Chopstick or point turner
  • Iron and ironing board


1. Play with fabric! Choose several prints to use for your coasters. I kept it simple and stuck with a red and blue theme.


2. Cut your prints into rectangles. Each rectangle should be 2-1/2” wide, but the height can vary. I cut the rectangles between 1-1/2” to 2-1/4” tall. You will need about 4 rectangles per coaster.


3. Pick some rectangles for your first coaster and line them up in the order you wish. Try to make the pieces add up to at least 6-1/2” tall before they are sewn together, because you will lose some height in the seam allowances and you need the final height to be 4-1/2” tall.


4. Place piece A on top of piece B, right sides together (the sides of the fabric that are printed are the right sides), matching the 2-1/2” wide sides. Sew along the 2-1/2” wide side to connect the pieces, with a 1/4″ seam allowance.


5. Open up your pieces and press the seam allowance to one side with your iron.


6. Continue sewing rectangles C and D together so they make one strip. You want your final strip to be 2” wide by 4-1/2” tall. If your strip is too tall, don’t worry, just go ahead and trim it. If it is too short, remove the top or bottom rectangle with a seam ripper and sew on a new rectangle that is taller. When your strip is the right height, then trim 1/2” from the width.


7. Cut a strip from your linen or other backing fabric that is 1-1/2” wide by 4-1/2” tall. Sew it to the left side of your patchwork strip, right sides together, and long sides together, and using a 1/4” seam allowance.


8. Press the fabric open.


9. Cut a strip from your linen or other backing fabric that is 2-1/2” wide by 4-1/2” tall to the right side of your patchwork strip, right sides together, and long sides together. Press open.


10. Using a quilter’s square or other ruler and rotary cutter, trim your patchwork piece into a 4-1/2” square.


11. Cut a piece of batting into a 4-1/2” x 4-1/2” square. Place your patchwork square on top the batting.


12. Keeping the batting and patchwork together, topstitch (straight stitch) on the linen, very close to the edge where it meets the patchwork. I lined up the edge of the linen with the inside edge of my presser foot (see arrow in photo). I also used a slightly longer than usual stitch length (3.0 on my machine).


13. Repeat the topstitching on the other side of the patchwork.


14. Cut a 4-1/2″ x 4-1/2″ square from your backing fabric (I used linen). Place the backing fabric on top of the patchwork piece, right sides together.


15. Pin together. Sew around the outside edge of the coaster, starting at the bottom black dot, going around the outside, and then stopping at the black dot above. This will leave about 2” unsewn. Remember to backstitch at the beginning and end of the seam!


16. Clip the edges of the coaster close to the seam, but be careful not to snip the stitching.


17. I went ahead and trimmed a little bit of extra fabric around the corners, to reduce the bulkiness even further.


18. Open up the top layer of linen and turn the coaster right side out.


19. Use your chopstick or point turner to gently push out the corners. Don’t stretch the fabric!


20. Carefully tuck in the unsewn edges of your coaster to create a straight edge and iron the coaster flat. This step is very important!


21. Topstitch all the way around your coaster, very close to the edge (remember to backstitch at the beginning and end of your seam so it won’t unravel!). If your machine has a little trouble getting going on the corners, use the tip of your chopstick to gently push the fabric under the presser foot as you sew.


22. Repeat as many times as you wish to make your set of coasters!

Happy Sewing, and see you next week!


  1. Although I've been sewing for a while, I'm really enjoying the series so far. Thanks! I love the coasters, too!

  2. I would like to see some free motion sewing, I have a problem with the bobbin  thread tension

  3. I am SO trying this! Great newbie project…thanks!

  4. Really beautiful! I will have to make some of these some time! :) 

  5. Thank you so much for this!

  6. Thanks for the tutorial! Those are such cute coasters, I can't wait to make some. Any idea if they can be washed?

    • The coasters are sort of like mini-quilts, and they are washable!  I'd wash on a gentle cycle, and lay them flat (or hang them) to dry, and press the coasters with a hot iron and steam to get out any wrinkles.  You could add additional quilting to the coaster after you've topstitched it to hold the shape even better if you expect to wash them frequently :)

  7. i blogged this today :) thanks for the tutorial

  8. FANTASTIC.  I already knew this stuff BUT I'm making a mission trip to Romani in the autumn, to teach the sewing class in a gypsy community some projects they can sell.  This will be a great reminder, so that I don't forget any of the basics when sharing with them!

  9. Wonderful tutorial!  I just made a set for a friend's birthday.  Check it out:

    • Your coasters are gorgeous and the wrapping looks amazing, great job!  I'm so glad you enjoyed the tutorial!

  10. I am so excited that I found these tutorials. Kim your instructions are so easy to follow. I received my very first sewing machine for my birthday a few weeks ago and today I had a go at making these coasters. They turned out beautifully!! Onto part 3……

  11. this will be fun to make. Will try out. Thanks for sharing this.

  12. Very cute! Your tutorial is great!

  13. Many Thanks for this little tutorial!!! I've recently tried the coasters and because of your lovely photos everything was very easy to understand even for a German ;o)
    I love my new coasters for the bbq-season! If you would like to have a look at them please click here: Aunties Coasters
    Frau Börd {Stephie}

  14. Very appealing and practical too in the daily life… must go for some…Thanks for the easy tutorial
    Now I am back from my vacations and in blogging world too…
    A little post to share some of my moments of vacation… hope you like to visit and enjoy it…

  15. I just found these tutorials on pinterest, and wanted you to know that they are making the rounds months later, and they are SO helpful!  I haven't come across anything that is so clear and helps a total rookie without making me feel like a dummy.   Thanks again for doing these!

  16. Hi Kim, I've just bought a John Lewis fairly cheap sewing machine and am having problems with the straight stitch, it doesn't seem to be straight, each stitch sits slightly slanted into the next and doesn't look neat, I used my Mum's old Singer sewing machine before I bought this one and the stitches looked perfect (unfortunately it blew up so I had to buy a new one – it was old) I just wondered if you had any ideas what I am doing wrong, I have tried the different tensions for straight stitch which isn't making any difference. Is it just because it's a basic cheap(er) machine?  and I am being too picky? Maybe you can shed some light – your straight stitch looks very neat. Thanks for your time! Susan x

    • Hi Susan,
      It’s very possible that it’s the fabric you’re sewing on, and not the machine, causing the slanted stitches.  Try sewing on some heavier fabrics (a nice, weighty cotton or home dec fabric) and see if there’s a difference.
      This is a helpful blog post about things that can cause slanted stitches:–what-to-do-about-it.aspx
      If my stitches don’t look quite right, here is my checklist: 1) is my needle appropriate for the fabric I’m sewing on? 2) try a new needle–the one I’m using might be dull 3) experiment with stitch lengths 4) try different thread 5) adjust the tension 6) adjust the sewing speed
      Please let me know if you’re able to correct the problem!
      Happy stitching,

  17. I am loving your instruction!! ;-)

  18. Just saw this tutorial, but wanted to say these are so easy and so much fun. I’ve been making these for at least 3-4 years now. When I make a quilt for a gift, I usually make a few of these to match, just for fun. I actually made about 80 of them as table favors in my high school’s colors for our 50-year class reunion. Some were half-square triangles, some 4 patches, some quarter-square triangles, whatever I came up with. Most were 4″ finished, some were 3.5″ finished. Everyone loved them!

    • Wow that’s amazing, Carol! So glad you are having fun with them!

  19. I had the same problem with my stitches not straight. I was told if the bobbin is a drop in that just the way it is. If it’s put in on side or front of machine it has the nice straight stitch. I have noticed this on my machines

  20. I realize that this tutorial was posted long ago but I am hoping to still get an answer. I have a little bit of experience sewing but it’s been awhile. I just got a new machine and I am preparing to get started again and I think these little projects are just perfect.

    So my very beginner question: In step 4, it appears that you sew straight across with no backstitching to knot the seam. So are you basically just basting the fabric together since you will topstitch in step 12 and that keeps it all together?

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