I think there are 2 camps of people when it comes to coasters – those who insist on them and those that don’t understand what all the fuss is about. I have always been in the second group. I had never used a coaster. Theoretically, I understood the concept of protecting the surface, especially wood surfaces, from water damage from liquids. I had just never used them.
My opinion changed when I was experimenting with using cord to make bowls. It was easiest and less wasteful to make coaster sized circles. What I discovered was these were fun to make, useful, and make great small gifts. For instance, I was working temporarily over the winter holidays and wanted to say thank you to the people who had been especially helpful. Unfortunately, I didn’t think about it until the day before my assignment was over. Luckily, I had cord and fabric enough in the house to make a bunch of coasters. I even made them in the school colors. (I was working at a university.)
Once you get good at the coasters, you can modify the technique to make bowls, larger shapes that would work as trivets or hot pads, or even create a placemat or table runner. The possibilities are endless. You can make them rustic or contemporary, sleek or shabby chic.
In this article I’ll give instructions and the supply list for making coasters. The lengths of fabric and cord will yield about a 4” coaster. Whether given as an individual item or in a set of 4 or more, they make a great gift or a practical household item.
- Sewing machine that has a zigzag and straight stitch
- Cord/rope that is capable of being sewn through. I like to use clothesline. It’s a good diameter and has a soft outer coating. A coaster needs about 56-60”.
- Fabric – 1/2-1” strips. This coaster used about 88” of fabric. This amount will vary depending on how wide the strip is and how you end up wrapping the cord
- Thread – I recommend a color that will blend with the fabric. It will hide your mistakes. If I don’t quite catch one of the sides, I’ll go back at the end and just re-sew that part, anchoring the thread at the start and end.
- Glue stick (my secret weapon)
You have several options for fabric. This is a great project to use with multicolored ugly fabric because you won’t really see its pattern. Although it wasn’t ugly, the coaster above with the glass sitting on it is a white background with black shapes and yellow and red flowers. It is the first coaster I made and has been in daily use for 5 years.
You can always use a solid color, although tone-on-tone or multi-colored fabrics work really well and add interest. It also hides mistakes better. I decided to use an ombre fabric to demonstrate because I’ve been curious how it would work out. Batiks are another great option, but I hate to use some of my stash for this project because you won’t really see all the great patterns and colors.
For the university project I did the center 5-8 rows in tone on tone golden then switched to a blue on blue pattern. (I wish I could show you an example, but I gave them all as gifts. One thing to keep in mind if you’re going to switch fabrics you may also want to switch thread colors also. When I got to the color change I just switched my stitch to straight on a zero and sewed a few stitches to lock the thread and then snipped them off.
One final note about your fabric choices. Some fabrics fray more than others and this project will leave you with threads if you use strips cut with the grain. If you don’t like stray threads, you have a few options.
- You can trim the stray threads once you are finished. This is the easiest option.
- You could cut your fabric on the bias. This eliminates fraying and would actually make wrapping the cord easier. I haven’t tried this because I don’t want to cut into a large piece of fabric just to get a bias strip. If you are doing a really large project or have already cut the fabric on the bias, this would be a great option.
- I have actually made cord bowls where I wanted a clean edge – no stray threads. I folded the fabric over. I didn’t make the two sides equal, but cut down on the bulk by having the inside fold be ¼ of the way down, instead of ½ way.
- Using the selvedge of fabric would give you a clean edge. This only works if there isn’t printing in the selvedge and, of course, you only have the two sides to work with so if you have a larger project you may need a much longer length of fabric. On the other hand, you can always save up your selvedges and combine them in a single project.
Starting & Ending the wrapping – It’s clunky to have abrupt start and ends to the cord. By pushing the outer soft coating of the clothesline back you find a synthetic inside. I angle cut the inside, push the outer threads back to cover it up, and then start gluing my fabric. I actually twist the fabric once or twice without the cord inside to get a smooth transition. I’ll do the same at the end of the coaster/project so that there is a smoother finish and not an abrupt end.
Wrapping the rope – I like to attach the fabric to the cord beforehand. When I first saw this technique demonstrated, the sewer would put an inch or two of fabric on the cord at a time while at the sewing machine – wrapping as she went along. I found this cumbersome. Other people suggested using binder clips, clothes pins, or pins to hold a few inches of wrapped fabric on the cord. The pins stuck me!, the clothes pins were tough to keep on, and you would need a lot of binder clips to hold the fabric while they clunked along.
I decided to try a glue stick. It was a huge time and finger prick saver. Also, glue sticks dry quickly, don’t stain, and will wash out if you want. I just run the glue stick along the rope a few inches at a time and wrap away. Glue a line, wrap some more. You don’t have to glue the entire circumference of the rope either. One line on one side is sufficient. You can, and I probably have, put the glue on the fabric. It is an option but you’ll end up getting messier and using a lot more glue.
Starting the coaster – One of the harder parts is actually starting the coaster. I start forming the inside by curling the rope in on itself for 2-3 rows. I’ll put pins in to hold it in place. Then I make my way to the sewing machine. It’s almost impossible to actually zigzag the innermost rows – they are just too tight – so I use a straight stitch to bind these together. You can start in the end or middle, sew to the other side, backstitch to the middle, and then, with the needle in the down position raise the presser foot and reposition the cording 90 degrees. Repeat the process. I’ll usually make a snowflake shape with 3-4 lines to hold the inside together.
Once the inside is secure, you are ready to start the zigzag. You’ll want to hold the secured part in one hand while the other slowly turns the coaster and holds the wrapped cord tight against the already sewn part. I like to use a walking foot on my machine and I had the zigzag set at 2 width and 2 length. There is no right or wrong way to turn (back or front / coaster on the right or left). You’ll know what works best for you by experimenting. It isn’t uncommon for me to start a project and realize that the direction I’m going is awkward. When this happened on this coaster, I merely anchored the thread, turned the coaster over, anchored it again, and continued. If you look closely, you can see that the very inside as darker thread (the bobbin thread I had wound that I thought I would finish). No one will ever know that you flipped it over.
Continue sewing the coaster. When you are almost at the desired size or the end of your cord, put your needle down, and prepare the end. Make sure that the inside of the cord is angled and you have a bit of extra fabric at the end that you can wrap around itself. Hold the last bit as close to the coaster as you can. I used a stylus to keep it close without sewing through my finger. I have actually brought the last bit of fabric over the last row and sewn it down that way also.
I have used all types of fabric, although most have been cottons. I have even chosen to use unwrapped cord. This works just as well and opens up all kinds of possibilities for decorating. I have tea dyed it, used Rit dye or fabric paint to color the edges or the entire project. I have also used a stencil and acrylic or fabric paint, or screen printed a pattern on it. (I chose a ginko leaf.) The possibilities for this project are truly endless.
This is one of those projects that’s fast, easy, functional, and can be for personal use or a gift. It isn’t expensive but can be tailored to yours or the recipients’ tastes to make a thoughtful presentation. Coasters are a perfect way to work on your skills before you go on to larger cord projects.