Five or six years ago when Anna Maria Horner's book, Seams to Me, came out, there was a flurry of interest in one particular project in the book, the Pincushion Caddy. It was popping up on many blogger 'want to make' lists but enthusiasm waned as some reported back that the pattern was nearly impossible to assemble. I was one of those who was ready to take the plunge, despite my general disdain for such projects because the thing was so darn cute ~ and looked like such a handy sewing aide. At some point, however, I backed away from the idea since I already had abandoned several such projects midway.
Fast forward to several weeks ago. I was browsing Pinterest one morning and a photo popped up in my feed of some really nice pincushion caddies. Someone had made three ~ how hard could it be? When I clicked on the photo, I found that the maker had posted her own supplementary tutorial for how she addressed the problems with the pattern. Game on!
Before I searched out the Horner book, I did a little more internet research on this pattern. I found a Seams to Me Flickr group that was really informative. Although it covers the whole book, there are lots of pincushion caddy pics which people have uploaded to the photo pool and most have comments and/or links back to makers' blogs with their take on the pattern and their experience. Also, I learned that Anna Maria has published an errata sheet (FAQ page, link in question #4) which covers a few construction issues. However, I think that the biggest help to me was the step-by-step photos and tips that Melanie Sullivan posted on her blog, Texas Freckles, as she made her caddies.
Despite my careful preparation, my first effort was initially disappointing. After joining the outer ball to the inside tube, I flipped it right side out only to find two tucks in the outer form. That really bugged me! If you look closely at the photos of other makers, however, you can see that everyone seems to have had this problem. Texas Freckles addresses this common problem in her option to custom measure your inner piece. I did that, but after seeing this, thought about it and realized what the problem was. (**More later.)
While the fabrics I chose gave it a happy look, I was disappointed in the end product. Although I had inserted a jar into the center while stuffing (as suggested), it wasn't quite close-fitting enough to prevent the stuffing from bulging into that area. Also, it was almost impossible to stuff the body of the caddy from the suggested opening. Even though I have small hands, I just couldn't get enough packed in around. I tried using tools to prod it in ~ a small rubber spatula, a new pencil with a gummy eraser end ~ all to no avail. I left it on my worktable and walked away, planning to clean up the mess in the morning.
But when I returned, it didn't look so bad. I decided to unpick some stitches on an opposite side seam and stuff from the other side as well. I followed the instructions to finish the bottom and threw in a few spools of thread and some scissors to take a shot for Instagram. Once it was filled, the interior bulges were hardly noticeable. And surprise ~ I liked it! I decided right away that I had to make another, to work out the kinks. Plus, during my fit of pique I had been messaging with Molly, who quickly claimed it when I expressed my utter disappointment with the whole thing.
Yes, I've made three in four days! Are you ready to make one? If so, following are all of my suggestions for getting a good result. Although I'm including some illustrative photos, this is not an inclusive tutorial, just lots of tips.
1. You will need Anna Maria Horner's book, Seams to Me, for the pattern. It's available at many online booksellers for a wide variety of prices. It's probably also at your library. Don't forget to check out her errata page.
2. I highly recommend Texas Freckles' photo tutorial for this project. Even if you choose to use all of the pattern pieces from the book instead of figuring some of them yourself, the sequential photos here will be helpful in better visualizing the construction process. I did calculate my own measurements using TF's helpful pdf.
4. When choosing fabrics, mix things up a bit. I used plaids, florals, ditzies and at least one sewing themed print in each caddy.
5. Before assembling and using a long stitch (so it can be picked out later, if you like), stitch along the seam line of the four edges you plan to leave open for stuffing. Match these up to use as guidelines when you handstitch the openings closed.
6. I used a very tight stitch ~ 2.2 ~ which held up nicely later when stuffing. I liked the post-it note seam allowance guide idea from Texas Freckles. Highly recommend!
7. Anna Maria is right ~ it's easy to press the seam allowances over the end of your ironing board! I found it much easier to do them one at a time after sewing each seam. If you have one of those little Clover mini-irons, it might work well here.
8. **I did figure out why people, myself included, were getting tucks around the top edge. It seems to have happened with both those who were following Anna's directions/pattern pieces as well as those calculating dimensions with TF's pdf. In the 9th photo down, you'll see TF measuring the top edge of the sewn-together sections to figure the length needed for the interior tube. However, you aren't sewing the top edge, you are sewing 1/2" down from the top edge, which is a wider measurement. Once I measured 1/2" down and recalculated, my next caddies fit perfectly. No tucks!
9. For those using the book pattern pieces, I did see a very neat pincushion caddy photo whose maker noted that she used only 7 sections for the exterior and that adjustment seemed to fit perfectly.
10. Skipping ahead, the worst part of assembling this is sewing the exterior section to the center tube shape. This is what it looks like, carefully pinned, before stitching. My current machine has a flat bed so it's very unwieldy to sew ~ however, quite doable! If you have a free arm machine, it will be quite a bit easier.
11. I found it easiest to insert my left hand in the tube to help guide it along. I stitched very slowly until the entire edge was complete all around.
12. You know how fussy I am. Well, this is what my seam looks like. If you're sewing on a flat bed, there's no getting around it. It's very difficult to stitch this straight while managing the stiffly interfaced tube. After I had stitched this once (and pulled out the pins, etc), it was easy to go back over the stitch line to straighten and neaten it, closer to the interfacing. (I used my zipper foot.)
13. Skipping ahead again (remember, these are just my tips, not step-by-step instructions), it's suggested that you find a jar or can with a similar circumference to insert in your tube section before stuffing. For my first caddy, I used a container (for corn meal, I think) that was slightly narrower and you can see from my interior photos of it that it didn't do a great job. After rummaging around the pantry, I found this perfect fit, a can of steel-cut oats. However, when I extracted it after completing the pincushion, there still was a bit of interior bulging. The interfacing is just not strong enough to hold a firm shape. If you want a neater interior, several have recommended inserting a pliable plastic (plastic canvas, heavyweight template plastic, etc.).
14. After making the circle to cover the bottom of the caddy (and Anna Maria's tin foil trick is a winner!!), I used some fine straight pins to center it over the opening. I just pushed them in as shown. I wouldn't have thought of this until I noticed that some of the bottoms on the Flickr page were off center and *OCD me* couldn't live with that. Ha.
15. I wasn't really clear from the book whether she left the cardboard in the base or not. It looked like Texas Freckles did. I chose to leave it in, although it did make stitching it on a little more time consuming. (I only caught the fabric, however.) I like the neat look of the stiffer bottom.
Ready to start? Honestly, putting this post together took me almost as long as it takes to make one! I just know how many people love the look of these and I wanted to share what I learned so hopefully you'll give it a try, too.
Bet you can't make just one!