Novice Class Project 1

In 2012 I developed a simple workshop to introduce novices to the world of sewing. It was just $10 for the program and the fee included the kit to create a toiletries case. Lessons were taught in my living room. Six years later, the program is offered at no charge and is either 2 or 4 sessions long. These days we make two cases, the larger one usually involves homework, to reinforce the lessons learned in class. The sewing time for the small case varies but an intermediate sewer should be able to finish it in about 15 minutes. With this tutorial new sewers can learn to:

  • mark and cut a project in reference to the grainline,
  • sew and finish a seam,
  • create a self lining,
  • insert a zipper,
  • work with stabilizer and interfacing,
  • mark and accurately stitch buttonholes,
  • securely attach buttons using your machine,
  • add decorative trims or stitching, and
  • pivot and trim fabric for crisp corners.

Please Note: This project tutorial is designed for the second session in the program. In the first session participants learned how to thread the machine, sew straight lines, pivot and sew inside and outside curves. To be successful with this tutorial you must have these skills. 

For this project you will need:

  • 1/3 yard (30 cm) cotton fabric such as quilting cotton 44 inches – 45 inches wide (no less),
  • 1 x 3/4 inch button,
  • 2 x 9 inch zippers,
  • Matching thread,
  • Spray Starch,
  • Scrap of fusible interfacing, water soluble stabilizer or a dryer sheet,
  • Sewing Kit as outlined in class, 24 inch ruler and a sewing machine with a 1-step buttonhole feature, and
  • OPTIONAL: decorative zipper pulls or trims.

Understanding the Grainline and Selvedge

The selvedge is the finished side edge of the fabric. The direction of the selvedge is the same as the grainline. As fabric is woven, the long threads are held in place on the loom. In the photo below, these threads are white. The white, stationary threads are called the warp threads and they form the grain of the fabric. The strength of the cloth is in the direction of the grain (white threads) A second set of threads is wrapped over and under the warp threads. These are called the weft or woof threads. The direction of the weft/woof is called the crossgrain. These threads are shown in colors below. You can easily identify the grain by using the selvedge as your reference. Sometimes, particularly with cotton, the selvedge is marked with the name of the manufacturer and other details. When cutting a garment or project it is crucial to keep the strongest direction in mind.

Source: Canstock Photo: csp24042199 uploaded by photonewman

Marking and Cutting: Now that there is an understanding of the selvedge and grainline,  place your fabric on a flat surface with the right side down. The short sides (where the white, finished edge is) are the selvedges. Use your ruler to mark the fabric 20 inches from one selvedge end as shown and draw a line the full twelve inches across, with the grain of the fabric.

Cut along the line. You now have 2 rectangles: one that measures 12 inches x 20 inches and a second rectangle which is 12 inches x 24 inches +/- (depends on the width of your fabric).

Using spray starch such as Faultless, mist the fabric and press the two rectangles until the fabric has a firm hand*. This may take several layers of starch. Do not over spray, instead press each fine misting into the fabric, slowly building up the stiffness until the desired hand is achieved. During the pressing process, the fabric may become slightly stretched as shown. Use your ruler to draw a line to correct any uneven edges and trim. The white edge on the right side of this photo is the selvedge.

*Hand: the hand of a fabric is how it feels when you touch it. Words such as firm, stiff, soft, supple etc. are often used to describe how the fabric feels to the touch.

Fold the smaller rectangle in half, right sides together as shown. The rectangle is now 10 wide and 12″ high

Mark the fabric on the selvedge end 4″ from top and bottom. The selvedge in this photo is on the left (white portion).

Pivot and Trim: Stitch from the corners to the marks leaving the 4 inch space between the two marks open. Remember to back stitch at the beginning of your sewing and at the opening. Trim the corners of the seam allowance neatly. Reminder: the seam allowance refers to the strip of fabric between the row of stitching and the raw edge.

Self Lining Method: Turn the rectangle right sides out and press tucking the raw edges in. Do not worry about the unfinished area. It will be stitched up later. This creates a self lined project.

Fold the fabric again with approximately two thirds at the bottom and one third at the top. Press. Using a glue stick, adhere one edge of the zipper tape to the underside of the top short edge as below.

With your zipper foot attached to your machine, top stitch.

Repeat on the other side, opening the zipper as you sew. Leave the zipper open or you will struggle!  Sew two rows of top stitching as shown below to close the two ends. If desired, add a zipper pull or some decorative trims when top stitching. This completes the small bag.


With the first project, simple lines of straight stitching were sewn. For the second toiletries bag, we will expand on that skill by learning to finish the raw edges.

Cutting: Mark two inches from the long edge of the second rectangle of fabric and cut. You now have a strip of fabric 2 inches wide and twenty-four inches long. Cut two ten inch strips from this piece.

With the fabric right sides together, sew along one long edge. Turn and press. Using the same method as above attach the zipper to the stitched edge. I made a small mistake when cutting mine, as you can see below, so I was a little bit short. Next, place the raw edge of the zipper piece along one short raw edge of the rectangle, right sides together. Sew.

Create a fold 4″ down from the raw edges. Using your ruler, mark 45 degree angled lines 2 inches down from the fold.

Stitch along the lines, cut and trim. REMEMBER TO BACK STITCH!

Press your seams. Your piece should now look like this (almost – my trimming was a bit short as noted above 🙂 If you are using a dryer sheet or fusible interfacing affix it now to the wrong side of the flap section before turning the flap right side out.

Create a fold 3/8 inch (1 cm) from the raw edge on the opposite short side. Press.

Using the method outlined above, affix the folded edge to the zipper tape and stitch. KEEP THE ZIPPER OPEN OR YOU WILL STRUGGLE! Turn the case inside out and stitch the unfinished sides. Press the seam. With the raw edges together switch to either a zigzag stitch or an overcasting stitch. Finish the seams by sewing the zigzag or overcasting stitch in the seam allowance. This finishing step adds durability to your project. Turn the case again and press.

Mark the button placement line with your chalk or dressmaker pencil one inch from the folded edge of the flap. The marks should be 1 inch apart to accommodate a 3/4 inch button.

If you are using stabilizer to strengthen your buttonhole, affix it to the underside of the flap now. Using the one-step buttonhole feature on your machine, stitch out a 1″ buttonhole following the machine manufacturer’s instructions.

Very carefully use a seam ripper to open the buttonhole. Do not cut through the stitching! Create a line on the body of the case by running your chalk or dressmakers pencil in the opening of the buttonhole with the flap in position. Remove the presser foot from your machine and engage a zigzag stitch with the stitch length set to zero. Place ONE LAYER of the case under the presser foot holder. If you place both layers, you will stitch the bag shut and have to rip out your work. Drop the presser foot holder onto your button as shown. Verify that the swing of the needle will not strike the button by turning the hand wheel slowly. Adjust the width of the stitching as needed.

Take several stitches. When the stitching is complete, leave a long thread tail. Repeat for the second set of holes if needed. Using a hand sewing needle pull the thread tails to the wrong side of the project and tie off.

The project is now complete.! Add decorations if desired and enjoy your two beautiful toiletries cases!


Happy Sewing!