Sewing Tips, Tutorials

How to Wax Canvas Fabric

Last week I sewed a men’s messenger bag with waxed canvas fabric. Waxed canvas has the look of aged leather, but is much easier to sew. It’s also water repellent and stain resistant, which is great for items that will be used outside often.

How to Wax Canvas for Bags Using Otter Wax | Radiant Home Studio

(Some links may be affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission at no cost to you. Thanks!)

Though there are a few sources of waxed canvas in the US (you can find a short list recommended by Colette Patterns), I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for at a reasonable price. I remembered seeing a post over on the Thread Theory blog recommending Otter Wax to make your own waxed canvas fabric.

Men's Waxed Canvas Messenger Bag | Radiant Home Studio

After weighing the options, I decided to try the Otter Wax. It worked exactly as I had hoped! (I feel like I need to say this, but this is not a sponsored post. I’m just a happy customer, sharing my experience!)

First, let me share a few tips about working with the wax:

Use the suggestions on the website to figure out how much you need. I most likely ignored the estimates, hoping to stretch the limits. I ordered the small size bar and ran out. Thankfully, their shipping is super fast and received the 2nd order in 3 days! I ordered the bigger bar the second time, and have plenty left for another bag or a couple of smaller projects.

How to Wax Canvas Fabric | Radiant Home Studio

Applying the wax is easy, but a bit time consuming for larger projects. I worked in small sections (6″ squares) and took breaks. I decided to apply wax as I was putting the bag together. I wanted to avoid stitching on the waxed fabric as much as possible. The presser foot makes extra marks and if you need to pick out stitches there will be visible marks as well. But I also wanted to wax some of the parts that would have been difficult to reach after the bag was finished, like the insides of the outer pockets. I sewed the outer pocket pieces together, then waxed the entire pocket. I waxed the main outer section of the bag before attaching the pocket, but I did the sides of the bag at the end.

How to Wax Canvas Fabric:

Rub the bar of wax vigorously on the canvas. You need to create a bit of heat from friction to warm up the wax. As you can see, it won’t cover every part of the fabric.

How to Wax Canvas Fabric | Radiant Home Studio

Next, use your fingers to rub the wax and spread it evenly across the fabric.

How to Wax Canvas Fabric | Radiant Home Studio

I tried rubbing in all directions, but I created a smooth finish by rubbing perpendicular to the direction of the wax bar strokes. If body heat and friction aren’t enough to smooth out the wax, you can use a hair dryer to warm it up. I didn’t find that a hair dryer was necessary though.

(Update: Wax tends to dry out when stored for months, even when wrapped in plastic. You can soften your wax by microwaving it for about 10 seconds. The surface also forms a sort of crust as it dries out. You can just scrape off that layer to expose the softer wax underneath.)

How to Wax Canvas Fabric | Radiant Home Studio

Just work in small sections, using the corner of the bar to get into the cracks and seams. The wax will stay sticky (and have a distinct smell) for a couple of days while it dries. I recommend letting the wax dry overnight before sewing with your fabric.

You can reapply wax as needed. Just like paint, a second coat will go on smoothly, quickly, and require less wax than the first coat. I expect that a bag would need a fresh coat of wax about a once a year.

Waxed Canvas Retro Rucksack | Radiant Home Studio

Update: Since writing this tutorial, I have continued to use and love the wax! My husband has been carrying his bag for two years now, and it still looks great. The wax keeps the fabric looking new and resists staining. I haven’t applied any more coats of wax and it doesn’t seem to need any.

I recently updated my Retro Rucksack pattern sample with this waxed canvas version. Check out the post for a few more tips!

I also posted a free gift pouch tutorial with a waxed canvas flap.

What do you think? Will you try waxing your own canvas fabric?

Sewing Tips

5 Tips to Build Your Sewing Skills

Are you wondering how to move beyond your beginner sewing skills? There are so many resources available to help you build your sewing skills to move on to more advanced projects! You don’t need to spend a lot of money on classes if you are a self-motivated learner with basic sewing knowledge.

When I was young, my mom taught me the basics of sewing. I learned to sew things like doll clothes and pajama pants. I learned how to use a sewing pattern, and how to find the right materials at the fabric shop. I think this is where many people get stuck—fundamental skills, but lacking in knowledge for how to move on to more advanced techniques and how to build better sewing skills.

When I first got married, my husband worked long hours and I had to find ways to entertain myself. We lived on a tight budget, as most newlyweds do. I did a lot of exploring around town and window shopping. I got a library card and read a lot of the classics that I didn’t get to read in high school. And I also bought an inexpensive sewing machine so that I could make curtains and pillows for our first apartment.

My sewing skills were still just the essentials at that point, but I loved making things and had a desire to learn. It’s been nearly 15 years now, since I began to intentionally build my sewing skills. And I do think it’s important to note that, building sewing skills has to be intentional. It doesn’t happen by accident or natural talent. Everyone starts out as a beginner and spends time learning new skills and techniques as they go.

Looking back, it’s hard to remember where I learned everything, but I know that these 5 things gave me confidence and techniques to try sewing harder things. These are my 5 tips to build your sewing skills…

5 Tips to Build Your Sewing Skills | How to Move Beyond Beginner Sewing Skills | Radiant Home Studio

1. Read Sewing Books

As I mentioned, like most newlywed couples, we had a tight budget. I found that the library had a whole shelf of sewing and crafting books, which I devoured over our 2 years there. I remember one dress, in particular, that I made for myself. It was a huge failure. Somehow it ended up like 4 sizes too big. It was beyond fixing. After that I checked out every book on garment fitting and alterations that I could find. I scoured the books for any tips that would help. I checked them out several times to keep adding to my knoeledge. For a while, I stuck to projects that were easier to fit (skirts and loose tops) until I became more confident fitting complicated dresses.

Another tip…check the author bios in your favorite sewing books and magazines for websites. I’ve found some excellent websites this way!

2. Try One New Thing Each Time

The best way to learn new skills is to add one at a time. Make a simple pillow cover. Then try a 2-piece tote bag and learn to attach the handles.  Make a simple 2-piece tank top (I love the Wiksten tank!), and learn to finish seams with bias facing. Try a simple lined zipper pouch. When you have mastered the zipper, try a side-zip skirt for yourself. With each project, push yourself outside your comfort zone and try something new.

Number 3 may seem contradictory, but…

3. Sew the Same Thing More Than Once

You may figure out the zipper the first time you make a zipper pouch, but if you make the same pouch again you can pay attention to the other details. You will build detailed sewing skills and become more confident making alterations. Several years ago I made a dress for my daughter that I loved, but the way the bodice lining was finished left raw edges showing. I made it a second time and I was able to figure out a way to attach the lining so that the inside was as clean as the outside. That was one of the first successful improvements I made to a commercial pattern early on. It gave me the confidence to make bigger alterations later.

If I plan to make alteration to a complicated pattern, I almost always make it once using the directions and make changes on the second try. It helps to understand the basic construction method before you start inserting steps of your own. As you gain skills, you may be able to alter patterns the first time through when it is similar to something you have done before.

If the dress you made didn’t fit, figure out what went wrong and try it again! Learn from your mistakes and become confident by fixing them.

4. Try Sewing Patterns from Indie Designers

If you haven’t been sewing long, commercial sewing patterns can be a bit of mystery. Sometimes the illustrations and wording are confusing. I’ve had the chance to try out patterns from many different independent designers and I think that many of them are more detailed and intuitive than commercial patterns. They cost a bit more than the patterns you can get on sale for $1, but if you need extra tips, guidance, and photos—you’ll be thankful you spent the $10!

For children’s clothes you can’t beat Oliver & S. And in their shop they sell patterns by several other designers that have been carefully collected and tested for quality. Another one of the popular independent patterns makers is Colette Patterns. Their tagline is “sewing patterns that teach,” so as you might guess there are lots of extra tips. I also love True Bias and Liesl & Co patterns. Search Etsy and Craftsy for sewing patterns. Look for established designers with professional photos and designs. Read reviews to see what other people have made with the patterns.

If all else fails…

5. Google It!

I’ve learned so much from little tips and tutorials that sewing bloggers share! You can find step-by-step photos for almost any sewing technique you need. If your illustrated pattern directions for making a welt pocket don’t make sense, just look up a tutorial for welt pockets online. Another person’s photos or explanation might clarify the process for you. Many times, pattern designers post sew-alongs with extra pictures and tips for making their designs.

I’ve also found that there are a variety of processes for each technique. There are 3 different ways to make an inset zipper pocket (that I know of…). You may find that someone else’s process is much easier for you, so it’s always worth reading through a few different tutorials for each technique. Before you know it, you’ll be swapping pockets and mixing pattern pieces.

Learning to sew takes time and practice, so don’t be discouraged! Build your sewing skills with some sewing books, try something new, practice it again, and search for patterns and tutorials that make sense to you!

Sewing, Sewing Tips, Tutorials

Foundation Paper Piecing Using the Tessellation Quilt Pattern

As much as I sew, I haven’t done much quilting over the years. I made a simple baby quilt for my daughter and pieced some duvet covers for the kids’ beds. They were simple block patterns, but I did not enjoy the picky cutting and it drove me crazy that I couldn’t get the corners to meet perfectly.

A few weeks ago, when Sara at SewSweetness announced the Tessellation Quilt Sew-along (pattern by Alison Glass), I could not stop looking at the pattern cover and Alison’s website. I decided to try quilting again and I am so happy that I did. English paper piecing seems to be popular right now so I’ve seen many tutorials for hand pieced projects, but I’ve never heard of foundation paper piecing. I wonder how many other people that are scared of quilting would find this technique easier and more accurate.

Tessellation Quilt Block | Foundation Paper Piecing | Radiant Home Studio

Basically, you line up your fabric on the paper, sew right on the paper and through the fabric, following the printed line. You don’t have to worry about seam allowances or precise cutting because you trim the block after each seam and around the edges after the block is completed. I find it to be much more enjoyable! I can go make a couple of blocks when I have a few minutes without thinking too hard about what step I’m on or calculating block sizes to cut.

Tessellation Quilt Block | Foundation Paper Piecing | Radiant Home Studio

The fabrics I have used for this block are Cotton & Steel basics mixed with some Anna Maria Horner Dowry and Pretty Potent.

I’m going to walk you through one of the “C” blocks from the Tessellation Quilt to show you how to do foundation paper piecing.

Foundation Paper Piecing Tutorial:

1) Cut out the block (a triangle in this case) and cut out enough fabric pieces to cover each section of the block, including enough to cover the seam allowances. Alison’s pattern has suggested sizes for these. I found that trying to conserve fabric results in frustration, so go ahead and be generous with these cuts.

Tessellation Quilt Block | Foundation Paper Piecing | Radiant Home Studio

2) On the back side of the paper block, place the #1 fabric face up covering the whole #1 section. (You can hold it up to a window or light source to make sure the whole area is covered.) Place the #2 fabric right side down on overlapping the seam line between the #1 and #2 blocks. You can fold it back quickly to check that it will cover the whole #2 section.

Tessellation Quilt Block | Foundation Paper Piecing | Radiant Home Studio

3) Hold the pieces in place, turn it over, and stitch along the seam line between the #1 and #2 sections. For this block, it is fine if the stitching line extends beyond the ends because it will be caught up in the next seam.

Tessellation Quilt Block | Foundation Paper Piecing | Radiant Home Studio

4) Trim the seam allowance. It’s much easier to do this after each seam. Once the seam allowance is folded down into the next seam, it’s very difficult to trim. Get rid of the bulk while you can.

Tessellation Quilt Block | Foundation Paper Piecing | Radiant Home Studio

5) Press the seam open. It’s best to do this after each seam as well to keep from getting wrinkles and puckers, so keep the ironing board close.

6) Hold up the block to your light source again and place the #3 fabric right side down overlapping the seam that runs along the #1 and #2 sections. Fold it back quickly to make sure it is covering the entire #3 section. With right sides together, stitch on the paper line.

Tessellation Quilt Block | Foundation Paper Piecing | Radiant Home Studio

7) Trim the seams and press again.

Tessellation Quilt Block | Foundation Paper Piecing | Radiant Home Studio

8) Line up the #4 fabric. Check the placement with your light source, turn it over and stitch along the #4 seam line.

Tessellation Quilt Block | Foundation Paper Piecing | Radiant Home Studio

Trim and press.

Tessellation Quilt Block | Foundation Paper Piecing | Radiant Home Studio

9) Line up the #5 fabric the same as the others and stitch along the #5 seam line. Trim and press.

Tessellation Quilt Block | Foundation Paper Piecing | Radiant Home Studio

10) Turn the block over to the paper side and trim the edges using your rotary cutter. For this particular pattern, you can get a clear cutting template to make the cutting quick and accurate.

Tessellation Quilt Block | Foundation Paper Piecing | Radiant Home Studio

Alison recommends leaving the paper attached to the block and removing them as you join the blocks. The seam allowance is clearly marked on this one and you can use it to join the blocks accurately as well.

Tessellation Quilt Block | Foundation Paper Piecing | Radiant Home Studio

Do you use this method for quilting? Do you think it is easier?

Crafts, Embroidery, Sewing, Spoonflower, Tutorials

Embroider Over A Fabric Design

So, I’ve had this fabric swatch from one of my Spoonflower designs sitting on my sewing table for weeks. As soon as I received it, I knew I wanted to embroider it. The black lines were begging for some color!

Below, I’ll show you how to embroider over a fabric design with a simple backstitch. You could embellish any number of fabric designs by stitching along the printed design in this way. Choose parts of a print to highlight or stitch over the whole design like I did. Or you could design something specifically for embroidery and use Spoonflower to print it. (Though I’d recommend using a lighter gray color if you want to do that.)

Embroidered Spoonflower Fabric Design | Radiant Home Studio

Once I started, I couldn’t stop…

I started out with this hand-drawn floral in black and white. This is an 8″ x 8″ test swatch on Kona Cotton fabric. (Another example of a fabric design that could be embellished with embroidery is this pretty floral design by Alexia Abegg for Cotton & Steel.)

I did not have a small enough embroidery hoop for this piece of fabric, so I just stitched along without it. The hoop makes it a little easier, but it’s not necessary if you don’t have one on hand.

Black and White Floral Fabric for Embroidery | Radiant Home Studio

Then I just started tracing over the lines with a basic backstitch.

Embroider Over a Fabric Design | Radiant Home Studio

A little further along in the process…

You can see the path of the needle here. This is how you form a backstitch. Each time you go down next to the end of the last stitch and come up two stitch lengths ahead.

Embroidery Design On Spoonflower Printed Fabric | Radiant Home Studio

Using a backstitch, you can cover all of the black lines without gaps showing through between the stitches. If you want the back to look as nice as the front, check out Mollie’s series of post on keeping your embroidery neat and tidy.

Embroider Over a Fabric Design | Radiant Home Studio

So now I just need to decide how to finish it. It could make a really pretty pocket for a tote bag or I could frame it and use as part of a gallery wall I’m planning.

Embroidered Spoonflower Fabric Design | Radiant Home Studio

Would anyone be interested in a downloadable embroidery pattern using these folk flower designs? I’ve been considering adding embroidery patterns to my shop for several months, but just haven’t managed to fit it in. If there is interest though, I’ll bump it up on the priority list…