fail friday :: visit from *this is marzipan*

it’s friday and that means it is time for another fail!  fail friday is a series of posts showcasing and celebrating sewing and crafting failures.  why? because life is messy and so is crafting and the more honest we can be about that, the happier we can stitch…and learn and laugh and embrace our imperfections. feel like joining in? post in the newly created flickr pool and share your fail story!

failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something ~ morihli veshiba

this week, I am thrilled to have mary frances from this is marzipan stopping in.  mary frances happens to be one of my oldest blog-world friends and we had the wonderful opportunity to actually meet in real-life recently.  and, she is just as thoughtful, honest, funny, and all-around wonderful in 3-d as she is on the world wide web.  (she is also one of those people that is beautiful and glow-y while pregnant…her family is waiting for their third right now.)  she brings all of those traits to her sewing, which makes her a blow-you-out-of-the-water kind of maker and brilliantly skilled photographer and writer. so, I feel especially lucky to have her ‘fail’ here today along with some brilliant tips and tricks on sewing with vinyl.  welcome mary frances!


hello happystitch-ers!  I was so pleased when Melissa decided to launch this Fail Friday series, because a) I fail at sewing projects all the time, and b) I am always relieved to read that it happens to others, too.
Most of my Fails end up stuffed in a bin in my closet.   You know the one–it’s thickly lined with guilt and trimmed with broken promises to return and salvage whatever unhemmed skirt or three-sleeved jacket has been banished there.  Still, sewing is a learning process and even when I don’t come back to a project-gone-wrong, I am certain that I take away lessons that make me a better sewer going forward.  Really, I am mostly OK with The Bin.
But I want to write a little today about what happens when you CAN’T settle for leaving a project behind.  Like, when a sewing Fail is not just for fun, but supposed to fulfill your volunteer requirement at your kids’ school.  Ahem.
Sewing With Vinyl; or, Pressing On When Your Presser Foot Is Wrong
Montessori schools have a lot of special materials, each with their own special container to keep things easy for the kids to use and put away.  One of those materials is the nomenclature or three-part cards.  These little sets present vocabulary labels along with diagrams and definitions for sets of terms ranging from art terminology to parts of a mushroom.  My boys’ school would like to move from the  ziploc bag storage system they are using now to a more-sophisticated vinyl folder system that will keep each type of card/label separate within the set.
And they needed someone to make these folders–200 plus of them, sewn from vinyl.  I am lucky to share the “seamstress” co-op job with a professional textile artist(!), but neither of us had any experience sewing with vinyl.  And it turns out that sewing with vinyl is kind of tricky.
Without going into all the gory details, let’s just say that my first attempts at making these guys were . . . frustrating.  Vinyl has a weird combination of stickiness and slipperiness that makes it difficult to cut and nigh-impossible to feed through a sewing machine under “normal” conditions.  On another project, I would have let myself give up somewhere between the second crooked cut and the umpteenth thread jam.  But, thanks to the forces of necessity and the generosity of the internet crafting community, I came up with some potential solutions, tried a few, and found some that worked.  And the packets didn’t come out half bad.  (There’s a metaphor for life in there, folks.)
I share more sources for vinyl-sewing tips and tricks below, but here are the ones I’ve discovered and found most helpful as I work through this project:
–Cutting:  If you are working with a large roll of vinyl, it really helps to have a second pair of hands to help steady the vinyl as you make your cuts.  Otherwise, the vinyl will shift during cutting and send your scissors/rotary astray.  I found a rotary cutter to work best, and I also found a large metal ruler from my husband’s woodworking supplies to compensate for the extra length of the large roll.
–Needle selection: You’ll want a heavy-duty topstitching needle, or even one designated for leather.  Change it often, as the vinyl will dull it more quickly than fabric.
–Thread: Similarly, a heavy-duty thread performed best.
–Stitch type: I used a zig-zag for all stitches, to avoid a single line of holes in the vinyl that might result in tearing.
–Presser foot: ***Here is where I ran in to real trouble.  When the double thicknesses of vinyl were refusing to feed through my machine, many of the sources I consulted said that you need a specialty foot–teflon, walking, or roller feet are mentioned in various places–but I was hoping to avoid a special purchase.  A little more Internet poking resulted in the best tip of all: you can usescotch tape to cover your presser foot and plate to provide a texture that will feed the vinyl through your machine smoothly.
–Other warnings: Layers of vinyl will stick together, so you’ll want to treat any edges of pockets with stitching or some kind of fabric tape to make them accessible in the finished product.  And look out for your machine’s thread trimmer when you are removing the piece from under the presser foot!  Since vinyl is stiffer than fabric, it’s more likely to get dragged through that tiny blade accidentally, ruining the piece you just finished sewing.  Not that that happened to me or anything.  Definitely not twice.
And that’s it!  It’s a good experience to HAVE to persevere on a project, because then you experience the joy of finding solutions when it seems all is lost.  I’ll close with some additional resources and projects that employ vinyl:
Here are a few sites that share multiple approaches to sewing with vinyl and similarly-coated fabrics (like PVC and oilcloth):
Slick Tricks at
How to Get Leather or Vinyl to Glide Smoothly Across Your Machine at
Oilcloth Tips at SewMamaSew.
For the very ambitious, MJ Trends (a source for buying vinyls and PVCs) has a detailed guide on apparel sewing with these fabrics.
Inspired?  Here are some great tutorials from around the internet for sewn vinyl projects:
Too Cute Card Holders at Rosey Corner Creations.
Clear Vinyl Tote Bag at Craftinomicon.
Sewn-In Vinyl Pocket Notebook at futuregirl.
Clear Zipper Pouches at Make It and Love It.
Paper-Vinyl Wallet Craft at Martha Stewart.
As for myself, I think it would be fun to make a wall-hanging jewelry or notions organizer that combines fabric and vinyl.  Ashley’s (pictured above and with a tutorial available at her site, Make It and Love It) is super cute.  Or how about a larger version for your kids’ rooms for racecars, Legos, or dolls?  I didn’t get around to trying it for this post (blogging Fail!), so maybe one of you will do it first!  You’re armed with vinyl know-how, now let me know how it goes!
fantastic! it is hard not be be inspired to sew with vinyl when faced with such an impressive list of ideas! am definitely inspired…lots of gift possibilities in that, I would say.  thanks for sharing miss mary frances! I’m awfully happy you failed, for my benefit at the very least.

5 Comments on fail friday :: visit from *this is marzipan*

  1. Amanda Pedro
    November 30, 2012 at 8:03 am (5 years ago)

    This is indeed a great resource! thanks for doing all the research.
    The covers look great.

  2. Becca
    March 25, 2013 at 5:47 pm (5 years ago)

    I’m a Montessori Teacher and need to make some of these. What gauge vinyl did you use?

    • ahappystitch
      March 26, 2013 at 7:48 pm (5 years ago)

      Oh goodness. Since this was a guest post I don’t have the answer. But, my friend Mary Frances might, check her out at!


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