Sewing Needles: A Craftsperson needs the right tools

Milliner Sewing Needles are amazing

Until several weeks ago, for hand sewing, all needles were created equal.  If sewing with thicker thread,  I’d likely choose one with a little larger eye but in general, one needle was as good as another and for more years that you’d want to know, it worked for me.  That was until I had the wonderful opportunity to attend one of Kenneth King’s classes several weeks ago.

The weekend of May 19th was PR (PatternReview) Weekend in Philly. It was a blast.  I always thought I could keep up with power shoppers but the nearly 60 people on this weekend get-away were in a different league than me.  They could really shop for fabric.  It was exhausting.
Since this was my first PR Weekend and I’m new at blogging, I didn’t even think to take my camera.  Many of my new sewing friends did a great job of documenting the weekend and posted the photos on their blogs.  Take a look and you, too can enjoy PR Weekend in Philly, albeit vicariously.

Sewing by the Seat of my Pants

The Slapdash Sewist


Another Creation


Mia’s Sewing Room


La Cubanita Cose

Sheila Sews

Sew a Beginner

Milliner Needles

Now I need to share some information about this amazing sewing basic – a Milliner’s needle; alternatively called a straw needle.   While observing Kenneth King hand sew while he was teaching an embellishment class, I noticed that he used very long, thin needles and they didn’t look like beading needles.  I always enjoy sewing with a long needle but previously I was only aware of darners or other similar needles which are very difficult to use with fine fabric or when sewing many layers.  Intrigued, I asked him what type of needle he was using, and now you know the answer.  The beauty of these needles is that they glide through the fabric as the diameter of the needle is the same from top to bottom.  The ones I bought were manufactured by R. Hemming and sons.  The package says “large eye” but at my age the eyes in all needles are small, so I’m not a good judge. Nevertheless, the challenge of threading is well worth the time it takes to thread the needle.  Now I almost want to throw out the hundreds of other needles and only use these.  (My DH would probably like it if there were fewer needles in the house as it could decrease the chance of him stepping on one.)  I’ve hemmed with this new delight, done other hand sewing.  It’s so much easier to have a long needle.  I used a #11 to hand-pick the zipper in Megan’s wedding dress and the needle easily pulled through the 8 or more layers of fabric.

Maybe I’ve been living under a rock – am I the only one of us who didn’t know about these needles?

So where do you find Milliners?  I went right to Ebay where there were several sellers who carried them.  They arrived several days later.

Postscript on PR Weekend in Philly

My husband, Kevin, is very supportive of my sewing habits, aside from an occasional needle in his heel followed by some choice words.  When he picked me up a few hours before  the end of the PR Weekend, he may have been a little surprised by the mound of fabric but kindly didn’t ask how much I added to our monthly credit card bill.  (To clarify, my sewing peers didn’t wear me out – we had a graduation dinner for our nephew).

Today Kevin got a traffic ticket in the mail from that afternoon – the wonderful revenue producing stoplight cameras.  He must have been rushing home so I could start sewing on all of that fabric.  Now we know that I should have stayed until the end of the day and spent more $$ as in the end it would have been less expensive.

Flower Girl Dresses for Adorable Girls

Pick-up Skirt: Tutorial

One of the great things about a sewing project is the opportunity to try out new techniques. I’ve always liked the look of and wondered how to make skirt “pick-ups”.  A pair of flower girl dresses was exactly what I needed to try my hand at it.  Caitlin’s request was to “make me the most beautiful person at the wedding”.

Here’s the dress I tried to create, knowing that I would make some modifications – like eliminating the “off the shoulder” look.

The first step was to make a sample dress for each of the girls.  Caitlin scored on this one:

Cate's Sample dress

Confident that the dress fit was correct, I sewed the real dress using poly satin.  The skirt has 3 layers; an underlined overskirt, 4 layers of tulle and a lining.  With all of those layers already bulking up the waist seam, I made the crinoline as a separate garment. Because these pick-ups are only in the front, the skirt was constructed at the desired length.   When the dress was completed and after placing a 3/4″ hem, I started to plan for the pick-up’s.


  • Use a fabric with some body.  The first time I tried this, the fabric was too limp.  I then added organza as an underlining for the front panel and it worked great.
  • If you do this without a pattern, realize that it’s a crap shoot.  Plan for trial and error.

Tutorial:  How to Make a “Pick-up” Skirt

1. When the dress is constructed, measure the skirt length.  This one was 21-1/2″

2. At the center front seam of the overskirt, use pins to mark where you want your pick-up’s.  I marked about 5″ from the waist (pin #1), then down about 6″ (pin #2), and down another 6″ (pin #3).  The bottom pin was several inches from the bottom of the skirt.

3. Now place markers midway between pin #1 and pin #2 at 5-6 inches away from the center line.

4.  Place one marker between pin #2 and pin #3 at about 10-12 inches to the left and to the right of the center front.  Click on the following photo to see the placement more clearly.

Placement of markers for skirt pick-ups

5. Next you will mark the locations which you will secure the overskirt markers.  To make this easy, lift the overskirt and clip or pin it to the top of the hanger to make it easy to work on the underskirt.

6. Find the exact center front of the lining (or in this case, the tulle underskirt and lining needed to be considered as one – what a pain).

7.  Mark with pins on the center line, at about 2″(pin #1), 5″ (pin #2) and 8-9″ (pin #3) from the waist.

8.  Now place markers midway between pin #1 and pin #2 at 5-6 inches to each side of the center front.

9.  As with the over-skirt, place markers between pin #2 and pin #3 at 10-12 inches to each side of the center front.

Underskirt markers

Now comes the fun part, where you match the outer marker to the respective marker on the underskirt.

10. With the skirt hanging, match pin #1 on the over-skirt with pin #1 on the under-skirt.  Place a pin at the markers (safety pins would be better but could also make holes in the fabric).

11.  Do the same for each respective marker, being careful to keep the fabric aligned so it won’t look crooked.

12.  Step back and take a look.  Are the pick-ups where you want them?  If not, adjust.

Enlarge photo to see the pin placements

13. When you have the look you want, at each marker, hand stitch through all layers of fabric.

14.  To assure that the threads won’t pull through, place a small button on the back side and a small bead or pearl on the front.

Small button on the back side prevents the thread from pulling through
5mm pearl on the overskirt to secure the pick-up

15.  When you’re done, it should look something like this.

Adorable Mira and Caitlin in their "floofy" dresses

What are your experiences with pick-ups.  Is there an easier way?

How to attach Spaghetti Straps

Bridesmaid Dress #2 is finished

Yes, I am still working on the dresses for Megan’s wedding, which is now one month away.  Last weekend we made a trip to Wisconsin, where Megan had a final fitting and we delivered 2 flower girl dresses and Angela’s bridesmaid dress.  The flower-girl dresses will be detailed in an upcoming post but here’s Angela in her dress with the hem pinned.

Angela in her bridesmaid dress
A while ago I showed how to make pleated fabric and how to make spaghetti straps.  Most of all, I feel obligated to do another post on this dress because since that posting, one of the most common searches to reach my blog is “how to make spaghetti straps”.  A similar search is “how to attach spaghetti straps”, which is a question worthy of an answer.

How to Attach Spaghetti Straps: Tutorial

1. When sewing the back of the dress, place the strap inside the dress fabric and the facing.  You can place it at a 90 degree angle or you can angle it slightly toward the shoulder.

2.  Sew all 3 layers as one.

3.  Turn the fabric and the strap will be secured.

Securing a spaghetti strap at the back
Securing a spaghetti strap (back)

4.  Try on the garment and pin the strap to the front (not too loose here)

5.  Hand sew the strap to the facing, using a double strand of thread and small stitches.  Stitch all the way to the top on both sides.

Securing the front of a spaghetti strap
Securing a spaghetti strap (front)

Making Crafty Flowers

Hand-made Organza Flowers

About six weeks ago,  Mira, Caitlin and I spent some time in an unlikely project for young children.  I had recently seen this tutorial on making organza flowers by Reese Dixon and tried my hand at these lovely flowers.    When Mira (7) and Caitlin (4) saw them they wanted to try it out and their skills amazed me.

As we began the project, I wasn’t sure that using a candle to burn the edges of fabric was a developmentally appropriate activity for a seven year old but Mira quickly told me she learned about fire safety in Girl Scouts.  I soon learned that my assessment was incorrect.

Since you can see the tutorial by clicking on the link above, I won’t repeat it, but will show some of our work below.

1.  Sealing the edges of the flower petals

2.  Petals are ready for assembly

3.  Mira suggested that she could dye the petals (I wasn’t sure how this would work but stayed with her on this idea).  We used food dye which resulted in variegated pastel colors.  As you can imagine, the girls loved this part of the activity.

4. Caitlin loved participating in this project with her big sister.

5.  Mira sewed the petals together with great ease.

6.  The final product.


This very easy project could be easily undertaken for a small Brownie or Girl Scout troup or on a rainy day.  All you need is a small piece of polyester organiza, a candle and a few beads or pearls.  The sense of accomplishment was amazing.

This weekend when we visited our granddaughters, Mira showed me where these lovely flowers were stored.  As she removed them from the drawer, I could again see how proud she was of her accomplishment.  Is there anything better for a child’s self esteem?