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Do It Yourself: Learn Sewing Basics #30DaysofGOOD

Today we're going to pull out a needle and thread. We'll start with an easy project, turning a cloth square into a napkin.

Things are easier said than done, or so the old adage goes, and we couldn't agree more. That's why we do 30 Days of GOOD (#30DaysofGOOD), a monthly attempt to live better. Our challenge for July? Do It Yourself.

Today we're going to pull out a needle and thread and learn the basics of sewing. We'll start with an easy project, turning a cloth square into a napkin.

Simple sewing projects like this one can be done quickly and precisely with a sewing machine. But not everyone has a machine to learn on, so we'll learn an initial hand stitch that will start your grasp of what method to use for different sewing projects.

The backstitch is one of the easiest stitches to learn. It is often used for embroidery, and can be used to attach two pieces of fabric together. Its general stitching pattern is to pull a length of thread through the fabric, then, using the needle, route the thread through the fabric and loop a short ways back on the other side. A second pierce returns the thread to the front of the fabric. By continuously alternating between a long stitch on one side and a shorter stitch on the other, the pattern moves forward, and can pull two pieces of material (or a folded hem) together tightly.

For a good visual guide, the Wikihow entry on backstitching shows how the pattern is created. The same site also shows two easy ways to tie the thread on your sewing project.

With the basic backstitch understood, let's sew something we can put to use—a table napkin.

Find a square of fabric anywhere from 12 to 16 inches. Cotton is always a good choice, but if you're feeling fancy, some linen or satin will work great. Mark two lines around the inside perimeter, the first one 1/4" from the edge, and the second one 1/4" inside that one. At the corner, draw a diagonal line from where the innermost line on one side ends, connecting it to where the same interior line ends on the other corner. This small triangle is then trimmed off, leaving a large square of fabric with angled corners.

Fold the fabric to the first line, 1/4" of the way in, and iron flat. Try to get a real good crease on the edge. The cut corner should line up and match nicely. Tuck the new corner down to match with the second 1/4" line, then fold the edges of the fabric in again to conceal the cut edge of the fabric. Iron to crease these edges as well, and you're ready to sew.

For sewing, following along the inside edge of the fold, using your newly mastered backstitch technique. Most people use a thread that closely matches the fabric, but you can find a complementary color to give it a nicely embroidered design.

Sewing projects can be a bit tricky to describe without seeing the steps, and this one is no exception. Design Sponge has a great mitered napkin how-to, with descriptive photos, that can help guide you as you practice your skills. And once you get this mastered, you can start thinking about sending in your Project Runway application.

Read more of Mike Senese's DIY tips and projects at DO IT.

We're giving away $1000 for you to share your own DIY skills with others. Participate in our Host a GOOD Workshop challenge.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user libookperson.

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