Technique Tutorial: Satin-Stitched Doll Eyes

I can't count how many times this year I've received e-mails from readers asking if I could make them a ballerina doll because they didn't think they could tackle the hand embroidered eyes. But since I know for a fact that anyone can sew embroidered eyes, I decided to post a tutorial to take the mystery out of it. If you can believe it, I actually find sewing doll eyes to be slightly easier than the blanket stitch on pincushion leaves. Let's jump in!

Technique Tutorial: Satin-Stitched Doll Eyes

 Retro Mama: Satin stitched doll eyes tutorial

1. So. First things first: embroider the eyes before you sew the hair. That way if something goes so awry that you need to start over, you haven't wasted felt or time sewing the hair (but you won't, because you have this handy tutorial to guide you!).

2. In order to get symmetrical eyes, it's important to start with accurate tracing. In the past, I have taped the pattern to a sunny window and held the fabric on top of it, however my preferred method now is to use a light box, so I don't have to worry about the fabric slipping around on top of the paper or the awkward angle for tracing. If it's still too slippery, go ahead and use a bit of tape to keep everything in place. If you're curious, this is my favorite fabric pen.

3. Sew small backstitches around the eye circles. I aim to have the needle tip go through exactly the center of the traced line or just on the outer edge, then make sure it goes back into the same hole as the previous stitch. Try to be consistent with your needle placement as this will help your circle to be as round as possible. Don't be afraid to take out a stitch or two if your circle forms a little angle. It is way easier to take out a couple of stitches now than to try to camouflage it later. If your circle is persistently angular, your stitches are probably too large.

 Retro Mama: Satin stitched doll eyes tutorial
 Retro Mama: Satin stitched doll eyes tutorial
4. Fill in the circle with satin stitches. Start your stitches right next to the backstitches, or slightly in between them. Try to fill in all the fabric underneath the first time around, but go back and fill in the gaps later if necessary. Start at the bottom of the eye and end at the top. Don't pull the thread super tight, just enough so the thread lies pretty flat and the fabric underneath doesn't wrinkle.

 Retro Mama: Satin stitched doll eyes tutorial
 Retro Mama: Satin stitched doll eyes tutorial
Think you're finished filling in the eye?

 Retro Mama: Satin stitched doll eyes tutorial

 Retro Mama: Satin stitched doll eyes tutorial
A little gap likes to hide at the top of the eye; use your needle to push the thread downward, hold it with your thumb, and then sew another satin stitch or two to fill in the remaining space.

5. On to the eyelashes! These are just a few little backstitches. I sew the long line downward (2-3 stitches) so the last stitch is even with the bottom of the eye, then add a stitch for each eyelash, sewing the bottom lash first and then the one above. Tie off the knot on the back and trim the thread.

 Retro Mama: Satin stitched doll eyes tutorial
 Retro Mama: Satin stitched doll eyes tutorial
6. This last step is crucial, as it adds some sparkle to your doll's eyes. Sew a single white stitch in the upper right corner of each eye. Aim to have the stitches in the same spot on each eye, even if they aren't exactly where my stitches are. Again, if it doesn't look right, take it out and try again. It's just one stitch and worth a little extra effort to get it the way you want!

 Retro Mama: Satin stitched doll eyes tutorial
 Retro Mama: Satin stitched doll eyes tutorial
 Retro Mama: Satin stitched doll eyes tutorial
On the other hand, don't stress about the inevitable imperfections that are part handmade sewing. My doll eyes are never perfectly even. So when you are struggling a little bit, when you have the urge to just throw it away, sleep on it and take another look in the morning, it's never as bad as you think!

 Retro Mama: Satin stitched doll eyes tutorial
 Retro Mama: Satin stitched doll eyes tutorial
Do you have any questions about hand stitching the eyes? Or is there something else keeping you from making your first doll? Let me know and maybe I can help de-mystify it for you!

Happy Stitching!

P.S. The darling girl pictured above is not my daughter (I know I've been away for a while, but it hasn't been that long!). Isn't she the most adorable little model?


Newsy news

Hello friends! I'm so sorry for my prolonged absence from posting, but I do have a most excellent excuse...

Let's see if you can guess which of the following is the reason for my disappearance:

A) I'm taking a paddle board sabbatical in Bora Bora
B) I've become Doctor Who's newest companion
C) I forgot my Google password (okay, that's not an excellent reason, but it does sound like something I'd do)
D) I'm writing a book!!!

 Retro Mama is writing a book!

Possibly the exclamation marks have given away the correct answer. Although, doesn't Bora Bora sound nice?

 Retro Mama is writing a book!

I'm absolutely bursting to share every little detail with you, but alas, it's not yet time. Meanwhile, I will continue dreaming, sketching, drafting, cutting, pinning, and stitching up a bunch of adorable projects that I think you'll love and will keep you busy in the near-ish future!



Congratulations to AliceKiss, who has just won this little elephant. I will contact you right away for your mailing address! Thanks to everyone who entered!


Mini Elephant Giveaway

It's not Spring, not just yet. But as we are thawing out from (yet another) winter storm here in Indiana, I can't help but daydream a little that it is just around the corner. And so, as I prepare for warmer weather (right, Mother Nature??), I'm doing some Spring cleaning in my sewing room. A few pattern samples are hiding about in here and they are eager to make room for new goodies--so I thought a little giveaway would be fun. Let's start with a tiny Tilly softie!

This cute little polka dot pachyderm is such a cheery companion that I thought she might like to brighten your day, too! Standing at 6" tall, she is a mini version of my elephant softie pattern (you can make your own by photocopying the pattern at 75%).

 sweet little elephant softie from Retro Mama

If you'd like to win this cute little elephant, leave your name and e-mail address in the comments below or in the comments under this post on my Facebook page (one entry per person, please!). International entries are welcome :) I will draw the winner Friday, March 14. The winner has been drawn, thanks to all who entered!

Best of luck to everyone!


Where Thou art – That – is Home

I’ve got a little something for you. Okay, so it’s very little. I've received so many requests for the pattern since I first posted this quilt block, but I didn’t feel comfortable sharing it just yet because I needed to fix a few things so it would have borders all around and be a proper square, and have a fancier window. Blah blah, excuses. Tiny tweaks, really, but I couldn’t quite get my act together.

And then I realized that this WIP was gnawing at me and I wanted to finish it for those patiently waiting. This quilt block is actually somewhat special to me; I feel as though I’m finally grasping the idea of home, something I’ve found to be quite elusive, having been a bit of a wanderer in life, especially in the geographic sense. I’m ready to choose to be home right where I am, and that original block is displayed as a daily reminder (in my favorite room of the house—my sewing room, of course!) of that sentiment. And, finally, my house quilt block pattern is ready to be shared with you!

 house quilt block | Retro Mama
You can find the Quilt Block House Pattern in my shop. Inside, you will receive not only the house pattern, but some ideas for fabrics, as well as comprehensive enough instructions and photos so that even beginners should be able to assemble it with little difficulty.

This quilt block is so cute on its own as a wall hanging or on a pillow sham or bag, but you could also piece several together to make a curtain border or a full quilt, etc. The block is 8-1/2” x 8-1/2”, and in the pattern I also let you know how to get a 9" block as well.

I hope you enjoy this pattern, wherever your own home happens to be, and I can't wait to see what you make with it!

Happy Stitching,


"A cute" triangle pillow tutorial

I just made a really nerdy math joke, that is so unlike me (I lie, that is very much like me). My apologies, I blame either sleep deprivation or overzealous hot chocolate consumption. Seriously, Polar Vortex, this is getting a little old.


I made this triangle/hexagon pillow a few years ago for my sewing chair, and it is so comfy and has held up so well I thought I'd share a quick tutorial with you. It's machine sewn and does not require any tricky piecing, unlike regular hexagons, so this simple, scrappy pillow whips up pretty quickly!

Triangle Hexagon Pillow Tutorial

 retro mama: triangle hexagon pillow tutorial


First things first, you'll need to choose 6 main colors, and then 4 prints for each of those colors (this should be easy for those of you organized stitchers whose fabric scraps are color coded, for me, not so much, I mostly used fabrics straight off the shelf). This will allow you to do monochromatic wedges, but you could do any kind of design you want. You will also need 1/2 yard of fabric for the back of the pillow. On the pillow above I used regular linen, on my new pillow I chose Essex Yarn Dyed in Black from Robert Kaufman (a super soft linen/cotton blend).

You will also need:
Iron/ironing board
Rotary cutter and mat
Quilting ruler
Straight pins
Sewing machine
All purpose thread
Hand sewing needle
Polyfill or other stuffing material

My colors - citron, mint, gray, black, off-white, and fuchsia

 retro mama: triangle hexagon pillow tutorial


I started out doing actual geometry to come up with the triangle pattern, until I realized that I could make one very easily in Word. If you're interested, the pattern is just an equilateral triangle, so you can insert a triangle shape into Word and then adjust the width and height to make it the right size (the height should be 86.6% of the width, which is approximate, but close enough for this project; for the pillow, the width is about 5.22"). I mention this because you can make the pattern as large or small as you like. Click here for the pattern.


1. Cut one triangle from each of the 24 fabrics (press each fabric before cutting!) and place in the order that you want. The photo below shows half of my triangles. Keep in mind the direction that you are cutting the fabric if your pattern is text or a similarly directional design.

 Retro Mama: Hexagon Pillow Tutorial
2. Now you're going to sew one section of four little triangles into one bigger triangle. Start with two lower triangles:

 retro mama: triangle hexagon pillow tutorial
Flip over the right-hand triangle onto the first, so they are right sides together. Then sew a 1/4" seam down the right side (if you are using this pillow as a cushion, you might consider triple-stitching the seams, if it is for light use as a throw pillow, then single stitching is fine).

 retro mama: triangle hexagon pillow tutorial
Open up the triangles and press the seam allowance toward the triangle that will be on the outside.

 retro mama: triangle hexagon pillow tutorial
Now place your next triangle on top of the upside down triangle, and sew a 1/4" seam down the right side.

 retro mama: triangle hexagon pillow tutorial
And again, open up the triangles and press the seam allowance to the outside.

 retro mama: triangle hexagon pillow tutorial
Finally, place the last triangle on top of the center triangle, right sides together, and sew a 1/4" seam across the top.

 retro mama: triangle hexagon pillow tutorial
 retro mama: triangle hexagon pillow tutorial
3. Make large triangles with the other five colors.

4. Remember how you connected your first three little triangles? Well, you're going to do that again, with three big triangles.
 retro mama: triangle hexagon pillow tutorial
5. Sew your remaining 3 triangles together as you did in Step 4.

 retro mama: triangle hexagon pillow tutorial
6. Place the two larger pieces together, so the long edges line up, and sew them together. Take care to match up the center points as well as you can! Then open up your hexagon and press the seam allowance to one side.

 retro mama: triangle hexagon pillow tutorial
7. Use your big hexagon as a pattern to make the back. Place the hexagon right side down on your backing fabric and cut around it to make another hexagon (so that both pieces are right sides together). Go ahead and cut off all the little seam allowance points that hang over the edges.

8. Pin the edges and then sew all the way around, leaving about 5" open on one side so you can stuff your cushion. Make sure your corners are sharp--your needle should stop right on the corner seam when you make your turns.

9. Trim the seam allowances around the corners.

 retro mama: triangle hexagon pillow tutorial

10. Turn your pillow right side out, then press the stuffing hole fabric under so it is sharply creased. Next, stuff your pillow with polyfill (it will start out really fluffy, but the polyfill compresses nicely after sitting on it a few times!), and hand sew the stuffing hole closed with ladder stitches (scroll down to Step 8). Be sure to put plenty of stuffing in each of the corners!

 retro mama: triangle hexagon pillow tutorial

This pillow would look gorgeous in solids, too. I hope you enjoy this little project--and please feel free to link to your photos or blog posts in the comments if you happen to make this pillow!

Happy Stitching,


Measuring tape fabric

I know I'm a bit late off the starting block, but I just discovered (and wanted to let you know) that one of my all-time favorite (and most asked about) prints is again available. It's called “Measuring Tapes in multi” by American Jane for Moda. It appears to be the exact colors as before, so grab it while you can! The rest of the line is called Pot Luck, and looks to be a mix-n-match of American Jane favorites.

 photo tn_MeasuringTapesFabric_zps0d3bbd66.jpg

Happy Stitching!


Rev up your ribbons...She's here!

Please welcome Brigitte Ballerina to the Retro Mama pattern family (and see below for a sale, too!)...

 retro mama: Ballerina Doll Sewing Pattern

Many of you have been eagerly inquiring about this pattern, so I'm thrilled to announce that she is ready for your holiday sewing!

Your little sugar plums will love this doll--she has a pretty bun for decorating with ribbons, a sweet face with hand embroidered features and a twinkle in her eye, a changeable tulle skirt and tutu (both patterns are included with the doll), and ballet slippers--the shoes are not removable (no panicked searching for slippers under the sofa!), but the ribbons are loose to be tied and retied to her heart's content.

 retro mama: ballerina doll sewing pattern

Brigitte is 19" tall, and I recommend her for intermediate to advanced stitchers. This doll does have some tricky parts so I don't recommend her for beginners, but you'll do fine if you are comfortable with making bias tape, quilting, the fussy turning-of-things-right-side-out, and hand embroidery.

 retro mama blog: pretty ribbons

As always, you are welcome to ask any questions you may have while stitching up your dolls, and please do share your project photos on my Facebook page so everyone can admire your handiwork!

And...to make your holiday crafting a little bit sweeter, I'm having a sale! Use the coupon code TWINKLE20 for 20% off your order at my Etsy shop through Wednesday, November 27, 2013. Sale is over, thanks so much!

Happy Stitching!



Once upon a time, a long, long time ago when I was a wee lass, I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. My recollection is that I almost immediately responded that I wanted to be a ballet dancer.

You see, I had a perfectly fluffy pink tutu that made me feel like a beautiful ballerina. I even took ballet lessons, although I was completely terrible at it--adorable, but terrible.

It's been quite some time since my dancing dreams had faded, so the request for me to make a ballerina doll to show at Quilt Market was a very welcome surprise! I initially thought about using my Greta pattern, but she just didn't have that ballerina feel to me, so I came up with a new doll.

 Ballerina doll by Retro Mama
Instead of a tulle-only tutu I wanted to show off more of those gorgeous Arabesque prints by Anna Griffin, and so made her a skirt with some tulle layers on top, with a vintage button jewel on the waistband.
 Ballerina doll by Retro Mama
There is something so special about ballet slippers, I just had to put little soles on the back so my ballerina could dance en pointe.
 Ballerina doll by Retro Mama
I especially love her eyes.
 Ballerina doll by Retro Mama
Isn't this antique (and completely hand sewn) baby quilt amazing? Every stitch is perfect.
 Ballerina doll by Retro Mama
I am putting this pattern together right now for you, but it will take a little while to get it just right--I'll be sure to post updates!

Happy Stitching,