Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

Over the past few years, I’ve done a lot of sewing. What started as making stuff for my models led to a full-time job for a linen company as a mender/seamstress. (I’ve since then taken over another position with the company, but still sew when we’re short-handed, which is often… but that’s off topic…)

Also, ~disclaimer~ I’m entirely self-taught and am not a “pro” by any means. I have so much to learn and am always looking for ways to improve. Most of the skills I’ve learned are very basic, but I’ve gotten comfortable with them because of the number of hours I’ve spent using a machine. Those hours have actually been the most valuable thing I’ve been able to apply to miniature work. It takes some time to get comfortable with a sewing machine, but if you keep at it, you’ll begin to see improvement. The same could be said for any skill!

Even though practice is the #1 tip I will give anyone, I also want to share some other things I’ve learned over the past few years. This is (hopefully!) going to be a series of posts.

And no, a free pattern and tutorial for a saddle pad/blanket/etc won’t be happening on this blog. What I will share can still be applied to your projects though. It’s taken me years to develop my patterns, and like I said, hundreds of hours working a sewing machine, so please respect that.

First things first – tools and supplies!


I sew on an old Sears Kenmore. It’s a workhorse, very heavy and solidly built, and can be a total piece of **** until you get to know it. (or it gets to know you…)

Do you NEED a sewing machine to sew for models? No. But it also depends on what you’re going to be doing. Are you going to be making dozens of pony pouches or the occasional blanket? It’s entirely possible to sew everything by hand, but it will take much more time. I rely on a machine for the time it saves and the quality of the finished product. Also, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ve probably seen me complain about my bad wrists. (which, thankfully have gotten better if I don’t overdo it) Hand stitching everything is just not an option for me. In some cases hand stitching is unavoidable, especially on very small pieces or in tight spots. It just depends on the project I’m working on.

If you think you’d like to use a machine, I wouldn’t recommend buying one right away, especially if you’re not experienced with using one. Instead, borrow a machine from a friend or family member if you’re able to. That way if you decide that it’s not for you (I have seen this happen multiple times!) you’re not out several hundred dollars.

As for machines in general, it’s going to come down to personal preference, what you’ll be using it for, and price. I can’t recommend any particular model or brand, and don’t want to because personal preferences vary so much. That said, I’m much more drawn to non-computerized machines with basic stitches. It seems like new machines are built with plastic parts instead of metal, which reduces the weight, but it makes me wonder about durability in the long run. I’ve also noticed that many machines have built in computers, which some people love and others hate. I’m not familiar with these but they also make me wonder about durability.

If you’re shopping for a new machine, definitely do your research first. Reviews on Amazon can be very helpful, as well as on Youtube. If you can, stop in a quilting/sewing shop and ask for opinions too. I want to say that some stores sell refurbished machines, which might be an excellent option for you as well.

Favorite Tools

These are the tools I regularly use in my sewing kit:

  1. Pins and pincushion
  2. Assortment of needles of all sizes. It’s nice to have very small ones and at least one large one with a large eye.
  3. Seam ripper – you will need it. Trust me.
  4. Seam gauge – I use this mainly for sewing bias ends together on blankets and pads. The sliding plastic bit in the center makes remembering specific measurements very easy!
  5. Scissors – I am a bad sewer and haven’t invested in a proper pair of scissors yet. I am especially bad because I use one cheap pair for nearly everything, which is a big no-no when it comes to sewing. The white pair I limit to cutting ONLY fabric though, so I am trying!
  6. A thimble (not pictured but I use this one) – for the longest time I thought thimbles were more of a hindrance than a help. Then I realized that my metal one was just the wrong size. Ideally you want one that won’t fall off your finger when you relax your arms at your side. They also come in different materials and sizes. Personally I use one when I’m doing hand stitching or embroidery, as I use my middle finger to push the needle up through the fabric. I also use one at work to pin packing slips to garment collars – without one my finger splits. And that HURTS.

I also use a large cutting mat, plastic ruler and rotary blade – these I purchased together in a set. I use them mainly for cutting bias strips from fabric. I have a couple bias tape makers too. These are great for making folded bias tape quickly.

An ironing board and iron are also “must have’s” for me. For really small pieces I’ll use an old flat iron. You can laugh if you want, but I swear I get better folds on small pieces like saddlebags with a flat iron than a regular iron!

Misc Supplies

  1. Fabric glue – my favorite is Fabri-Tac. I’ve also got a bottle of E6000’s fabric glue that I’ve been experimenting with.
  2. Fray Check – this stiffens your material so it doesn’t fray. It can darken some fabrics, but it’s nice to have.
  3. Extra bobbins – what size you need depends on the machine you’re using. I buy them in handy little plastic boxes and wind them in whatever color I need.
  4. Chalk and/or a white pencil, soft lead pencil – I use regular chalk to mark lines for quilting, measuring, etc, and use a scrap piece of fabric to rub it off later. A white pencil I use to trace patterns or make marks that won’t be seen, as it’s not removable. I’ll use a drawing pencil with a soft lead for lighter colored fabrics, also for lines that won’t be seen.
  5. Machine oil & lint brush – how often you need to oil your machine depends on how much you use it. More info on that can be found in the machine’s manual. A small brush for removing lint is necessary though. (an old paintbrush will work fine) I sew through a lot of felt so my machine gets full of fuzz often!
  6. Thread – I generally use all-purpose thread as it comes in a bazillion colors. One thing I’ve learned is whenever you buy new solid colored fabric, buy thread to match it. I don’t know how many times I’ve sat down with a pretty new fabric only to realize that I have NO thread to match… and that kind of stuff drives me NUTS!


I am a fabric addict and can spend an unnecessary amount of time in a fabric shop, looking and wanting everything even if I have no use for it. But since I mostly sew model horse related stuff, I try to limit myself to fabrics that will work in small scale.

I find it best to shop for fabric in person. That way you can get a good idea of the thickness and texture, as well as color. I normally use quilting cotton for blankets and saddle pads, as it comes in every color imaginable and is easy to work with.

For prints, I always try to keep an eye out for small patterns. I love fat quarters (about an 18″ x 22″ piece) for model horse projects. They give you enough fabric for multiple projects but not so much that you end up with a ton of excess.
Buying patterned fabric online is a lot harder because it’s difficult to tell how big the print is. Some sellers have rulers against the bottom of the preview image, so keep an eye out for those.

Buying fabric can be expensive, so I try to watch for sales and coupons I can use. Fabric stores like Joanns also sell remnants, which are small pieces usually from the end of a full bolt. This is a great way to get discounted pieces of different textures -like tulle or stretchy knits- for test projects.
I also look for pieces second-hand in thrift stores. Old or damaged clothing can be cut up and repurposed too.


  1. Sewing Parts Online – what I love most about this site is the huge selection of replacement parts. Filtering by brand and model number (check the back of your machine if you’re unsure – my model number is on a sticker) shows what’s compatible with your machine. It’s very handy!
  2. Spoonflower – this site allows you to upload an original design to be printed on to fabric. I order my custom fabrics through here. It can be expensive, but it’s an option if you don’t want to print fabric at home. (which isn’t normally washable no matter what the brands claim)
  3. – this site is dangerous if you’re a fabric addict. So many patterns…! o_o
  4. Etsy – I’ve only just started looking for fabric through Etsy and it’s also dangerous. One thing I like is how many sellers offer smaller cuts of fabric (fat quarters, half yards, etc) which isn’t always possible with bigger retailers. Supporting small businesses is awesome too. 😉

That’s all for now! 🙂


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For more experienced tack makers, this is probably really obvious. However, it took me an embarrassing amount of time to figure out, so I’m hoping this post might help someone else out there. (unless I’m the only one T_T)

I used to hate making tongue buckles. I must have made a subconscious decision to get over it, as I’ve been putting them on everything lately. (and that decision is working- I don’t hate them so much anymore)

The problem I kept running into was the tongues, and how they would line up crooked or wouldn’t lay flat against the buckle. I couldn’t figure out why this kept happening until I looked at a full-size buckle. (aka a belt, as I don’t have any real tack to look at here)

I saw the problem immediately.

To make tongue buckles, I would cut a small notch in a folded piece of leather lace, then thread the buckle and tongue on. Even though I was making the notch big enough for the tongue, I wasn’t considering the size of the loop attaching it to the buckle.

Here’s an older example, on a miniature horse halter I made some years ago:

Crooked tongue argghhh

Here’s a newer one. From the top it looks ok…

But from the side, you can see the problem:

Since the loop couldn’t fit through the notch, it wasn’t acting like a proper buckle at all.

I’ve since solved this by using a mechanical pencil to punch a hole through the folded piece of lace.

I keep it close to the folded edge, then use my exacto blade to cut a bit off one end.

When opened, this creates a nice slot (not a tiny hole!) for the buckle tongue to fit through.

My buckles are looking and working so much better now. It’s amazing how such a small thing can make such a huge difference!

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This is a post I’ve been trying to write for a long time now, but it’s been difficult, as it’s one of those topics that can quickly become very complicated. This is not exactly a miniature printing tutorial and it’s definitely not a Photoshop tutorial. I can try to answer any specific Photoshop related questions, but if you’re new to it you’d probably be better off searching for more in-depth tutorials online. It’s a complex program. I’ve got 10+ years experience with it and still don’t know how to do everything.

Also, just because this is how I do things does not mean that it’s the ONLY way. I’m no expert and am continually learning and trying new things.

For miniature making and printing, I almost always use Photoshop CS6 or Photoshop Elements 6.0, depending on the project. Elements is basically a smaller version of Photoshop… it lacks some features the other has (like Actions, which I use to quickly resize a bunch of images at once, which is nice for sales posts… goodness I’m already trailing off topic here…) but I’m still able to do a lot with it.

I use these programs most often because many of the minis I’ve made have had to be edited, rebuilt or repainted in some way. (I’m picky about micro stuff you can’t even see half the time)
Adobe offers a free 30 day trial for their software, as well as a subscription program. Another alternative (and it’s free!) is GIMP ( but I have absolutely no experience with this program.

Having photo-editing software really comes in handy, but honestly, it’s not something you NEED if you want to print up something simple. If you just want to re-size something, Microsoft Word will work, and maybe Paint. (kudos to you if you can do ANYTHING in paint) You just need to be able to see rulers around the edge of your document. (be sure to check settings to make sure they’re enabled) Just because something looks like it’s the right size on the screen does NOT mean that it will print up that way.

For this post, however, I’m going to assume that you have some sort of photo editing software, and have a basic knowledge of how to use it.

The two things I pay attention to when shrinking stuff is resolution and scale. For high-quality minis you’re going to want your images at a high resolution.

When creating a document I know I’ll be printing, I set the DPI (or digital pixels per inch) to 300. This is a good number for any image you want to print up. If I’m just making things for the web (such as my blog’s banner image) I’ll keep that number much, much lower. (72, usually) Those types of images can still be printed of course but the quality won’t be as good.
Basically, the higher the dpi number, the higher the quality. The lower the number, the “fuzzier” the image will become when printed.

Here’s an example. The book on the right was most likely printed with a 72 dpi resolution, while the one on the left was printed with a 300 resolution.

Guide New and Old

Since it’s a lot easier for me to show this process rather than talk about it, I’m going to make a tiny version of one of my Just About Horses magazines. (I miss this magazine so much)


The first thing I did was scan both the front and back cover, then open them up in Photoshop.


Next I’m going to create a new document. My personal preference is to set the size at 8 ½ X 11 inches (standard printer paper here, it will vary elsewhere) with a 300 DPI resolution. Color mode is CMYK. (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) PS Elements only allows me to choose RGB, (red, green, blue) but either setting will work. Ideally you want CMYK for images to be printed, as RGB images are much better suited for the web.


I have a confession to make: half the time I guesstimate when scaling stuff down. 1:9 is a weird scale, what can I say. Also, math. So much of miniatures is creating the illusion of the real thing… so that’s my excuse.

My JAH magazine is 8 ¼ inches wide by 11 inches tall. To scale this down, I’m going to cheat and use a conversion calculator.


It looks like my mini magazine should be 0.916666… inches wide by 1.222222… inches tall. These are lovely numbers to work with, right? (*cough*whyIguesstimate*cough*) I’m going to adjust this to 1 inch wide by 1 ¼ inch tall. Usually I take these measurements and sketch them out on a piece of scratch paper, then compare that to a doll or model to see if I’m happy with the size, making adjustments as necessary.


Back to the document.

There are multiple ways to do this, but my preference is to start with a solid color shape in the size I need. This is where rulers come in handy… here I’ve made a selection in the very top corner of my document, using the rulers on the side as a guide. This can be filled with any color.


Another (and more exact) way is to create a new shape in the right size.



I’ll use this as a guide when adding the JAH images. You could skip this step of course, and just re-size the images themselves using the rulers.



When I’ve got all the images re-sized, I’ll arrange them in the way I want them to be printed:


I went ahead and scanned in a few spreads from the magazine, and re-sized them as well:


To prepare for printing, I first arrange everything towards the middle of the document. You don’t want anything right against the edges, or they will be cut off when printed.
If I’m putting something up for download, I’ll usually save it as a PDF file, to make printing easier. For personal use I normally print straight through Photoshop. I never check the “scale to fit media” box, as it will shrink the entire document and make the images smaller than they already are. I always double check my printer settings as well.





Now all that’s left to do is cut and assemble all the pieces. Here’s my mini JAH all finished:


And that’s (basically) it! If you have any specific questions feel free to ask. 🙂


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