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French Desk Set: Blotter

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A desk blotter is a bit of a throw back when you consider most work areas these days have a computer or laptop front and center. But, our French Desk Set collection is very traditional, and so a classic blotter was a must. The surface is a custom-cut piece of non-glare glass, which makes a wonderful writing surface and allows you to see Moda's beautiful French General fabric underneath. We've incorporated gripper fabric into the design, and between that and the weight of the glass, it ain't goin' nowhere ... whether you're furiously scribbling a missive or penning an elegant thank you.

This project looks advanced, but the actual sewing is pretty straight-forward. The tricky parts are the precision of the measuring, and attaching all the necessary pieces of gripper fabric and Velcro so everything wraps and stays in place the way it should. Read through our instructions a couple of times, then dive on in. We've provided a free pattern download to help you correctly cut the corners and 'wings' that make this all come together.

You can find a great selection of Moda's beautiful French General fabric online from our friends at FatQuarterShop. Our thanks to them for supplying all the fabric for our French Desk Set tutorials.

Sewing Tools You Need

Fabric and Other Supplies

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  • 1 yard 54" wide patterned fabric for blotter base (what you see through the glass): we used Moda's French General Oiseaux Bird Roche
    NOTE: I've accounted for the extra fabric needed to allow you to fussy cut the area of the design that will show through the glass.
  • ¾ yard 44-45" wide plain fabric for blotter back and wrap around ends: we used Moda's French General Roche Texture
  • 1 yard of lightweight fusible batting
  • 16" x 24" piece of cut glass with finished edges
    NOTE: Any glass/window repair place and many hardware stores will custom-cut glass. I recommend non-glare.
  • Gripper fabric: one piece apx 18" x 9"
    NOTE: This is like the traction fabric used on the bottom of feetie pajamas - it can be found in stores and online under the names Slipper Gripper and Jiffy Grip
  • ½ yard of 1" sew in Velcro
  • Wax or parchment paper
  • Glue Dots or transparent double-sided tape
  • All purpose thread
  • See-through ruler
  • T-square or corner square
  • Fabric pen or pencil
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors or rotary cutter and mat
  • Hand sewing needle
  • Straight pins

Getting Started

  1. Download and print the Blotter Corner A and Blotter Corner B patterns.
    IMPORTANT : You must print this PDF file at 100%. DO NOT SCALE to fit the page.
  2. Cut out both pattern pieces along the solid lines. Butt the the two pieces together where indicated and tape. Do NOT overlap. Set aside.
  3. Cut one 33" x 23" rectangle from the plain fabric for the blotter back (Roche Texture in our sample) and the fusible batting. Set aside.
  4. Determine the part of your patterned fabric (Oiseaux Bird Roche in our sample) you want to be the center of your blotter - the part you'll see through the glass. For example, I had two birds I wanted to be the focal point, and so wanted my center point to be in between them. I measured and marked this point with my fabric pencil.
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  5. From this center point I measured up 11½" and down 11½", making appropriate marks. I then measured 16½" to the right of the center point and 16½" to the left, again making appropriate marks. I made a number of marks to allow me to draw a straight line between them.
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  6. Connect your marks to draw straight lines up, down, left and right to form a 33" x 23" rectangle with your chosen design dead center. Use a T-square or corner square to insure your rectangle is straight and true with 90˚ corners.
  7. From the gripper fabric, cut two 16" x 2" strips and four 3" x 2" blocks.
  8. Cut the 1" Velcro into four 3" strips
  9. From the wax or parchment paper, cut two 17" x 3" strips and four 4" x 3" blocks.
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  10. Match up the fusible batting rectangle to the wrong side of your back fabric rectangle.
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  11. Following manufacturer's directions, iron to fuse the batting to the wrong side of the back fabric.
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  12. Fold your front fabric rectangle in half widthwise (so it is now 16½" x 23") WRONG sides together (right side out).
  13. Position the Blotter Corner pattern along the fold line as marked on the pattern piece so the two opposite edges line up with the raw edges of your fabric. Pin in place.
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  14. Cut along the solid line. Do no cut the fold or the inside edge.
  15. Flip the pattern piece over and repeat to cut the opposite side.
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    Click to Enlarge
  16. Repeat steps 12-14 to make the same cuts in your fused back fabric, cutting through both layers (fabric and batting).

At Your Sewing Machine & Ironing Board

Positioning and stitching the gripper fabric and Velcro to the front fabric

    1. There are two strips of gripper fabric and four pieces of one side of your Velcro strips (I put the loop side on the front fabric) that must be positioned and sewn in place on the RIGHT side of your front fabric piece.
      NOTE: My positioning notes are for a blotter with a 16" x 24" glass insert as we have it sized for this project. If you are trying to work with a different size piece of glass, you'll need to adjust. I'd like to tell you exactly how to do that, but you'll have to wing it. Dimensional projects like this make both my and Alicia's brains leak out our ears, so the thought of trying to figure it in multiple sizes was more than either of us could tackle.
    2. The two 16" x 2" strips of gripper fabric are centered on the right side of the front fabric's 'wings.'
      NOTE: The gripper fabric does not easily fray, so it's not necessary to hem or finish the raw edges. If you're a neat-nik, you could pink the edges with pinking shears.
    3. Measure 1½" from the outside raw edge and the inside corner, then ½" up and ½" down from the inside corners. Pin in place.
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      Click to Enlarge

A Velcro piece is centered is each corner. I put the loop pieces on the front. Measure ½" from each side and center top to bottom. Hold the Velcro in place with a Glue Dot or small piece of double-stick tape.
NOTE: Make sure your measurements are exactly the same in all four corners.
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  1. Collect your two wax paper/parchment strips and bring to your machine along with the front fabric. Be careful; you don't want to knock any of the Velcro pieces out of position.
  2. Lay the wax paper/parchment strips over the top of the gripper fabric strips. This is because the gripper fabric is .... well, grippy. And it is very difficult for the sewing machine's presser foot to move across it. The wax paper/parchment provides an excellent surface for the presser foot to stitch on, plus, because it's semi-transparent, you can see where you're going, and when done, it easily tears away without any residue.
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  3. Edgestitch both strips in place around all four sides, pivoting at the corners. Tear away the paper.
  4. Edgestitch each Velcro piece is place around all four sides. Again, be careful as you pivot your fabric at the corners; you don't want to dislodge any un-sewn Velcro pieces.
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Positioning and stitching the gripper fabric and Velcro to the back fabric

  1. There is a block of gripper fabric in each corner and the four pieces of the opposite side of your Velcro strips (I put the hook side on the back fabric) that must be positioned and sewn in place on the RIGHT side of your back fabric piece.
    NOTE: Again, these positioning notes are for our blotter sizing. If I tried to explain HOW I figured out exactly where everything goes, I'd probably morph into that Mad Hatter character Johnny Depp is playing these days. You'll just have to roll with me on it.
  2. A 3" x 2" block of gripper fabric is centered in each corner.
  3. Measure ½" from each side, accounting for the diagonal, and center top to bottom. Pin in place.
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  4. Each Velcro piece (I put the hook pieces on the back) is positioned using the inside corner angles as your guide. Measure 1½" up from the raw edge and 3½" in from the corner. Hold the Velcro in place with a Glue Dot or small piece of double-stick tape.
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    Click to Enlarge
  5. Make sure your measurements are exactly the same in all four corners.
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  6. Collect your four wax paper/parchment blocks and bring them to your machine along with the back fabric. Be careful; you don't want to knock any of the Velcro pieces out of position.
  7. On the back, I stitched my Velcro first, edgestitching in place around all four sides, and being very careful when pivoting not to to dislodge any un-sewn Velcro pieces.
  8. As you did with the front fabric, lay the wax paper/parchment strips over the top of the gripper fabric blocks. Edgestitch each block in place around all four sides, pivoting at the corners. Tear away the paper.
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Assembling blotter

  1. With all your gripper fabric and Velcro in place, place the front and the back pieces right sides together and pin around all sides, leaving about a 10-12" opening along the bottom.
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  2. Using a 3/8" seam allowance, stitch around the entire outside edge of the blotter. Start at the right side of the opening, back-tack to reinforce and lock your seam. Sew all around, stop at the left side of the opening and back-tack.
    NOTE: Sew slowly, pivot at all corners, including the corners that make up the diagonal edge. You'll need to be especially careful pivoting at the inside corners, because you sew up onto the fabric and so can no longer see your needle plate markings. I go very slowly, kind of 'eyeballing' it but erring on the side of not far enough as opposed to too far. I then do a test pivot to see if I line up after the turn. If not, I use the handwheel to move forward a stitch at a time and keep test-pivoting until I get a perfect turn. It's really important that these inside corners are perfect 90˚ angles. If they aren't, you'll get kind of a wacky looking turn that almost appears to have a gather in it. Go slowly and carefully and you'll be fine.
  3. Remove your blotter from the machine, trim all the outside corners at a diagonal, and notch all the inside corners.
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  4. Turn the whole thing right side out. Poke out all the corners (I used Patty's Young's 'chopstick idea' and it worked great!). Because of the layer of batting, it helps flatten everything out if you kind of roll the seams between your fingers to get your edges as sharp as possible.
  5. Press really WELL, but avoid the gripper fabric and Velcro with your iron. You also need to press in the raw edges of the opening so they are flush with the sewn edges.
    NOTE: It's SUPER important that this bottom edge is straight. Take the extra time to press, pin, and check with the edge with your ruler. Un-pin and re-press if needed to make sure the final bottom seam is nice and even.
  6. Thread a hand sewing needle with matching thread and slip stitch the entire opening closed. Make lots of tiny stitches so there are no gaps.
  7. Press, press, press again.
  8. Lay your blotter on your work surface front fabric right side up and blotter flat.
  9. Get your piece of glass and place it top.
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  10. Line up the corners of the glass with the inside corners of the blotter.
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  11. Fold the 'wings' on the top of the glass, then very carefully lift everything up together and wrap the four corner tabs to the back, matching up and securing with the four pairs of Velcro.
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  12. Adjust as needed to make sure the wrap is tight and secure.
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Hints and Tips

Press, press and press again

I know I already mentioned pressing well several times above, but I'm going to pound away some more on it. This French General fabric is GORGEOUS, but it does have a high linen content, which means a high wrinkle value. You should press often and press well. Press the fabric before you cut, after you cut, after you attach the gripper fabric and Velcro (avoiding both these items with your iron), after assembling front to back... you get the idea. I even pressed it in place once I had it wrapped around the glass. Once you get it pressed, it stays quite nice under the weight of the glass.

Project Design: Alicia Thommas
Sample Creation: Liz Johnson

Other machines suitable for this project include the Bernina aurora 440QE and the Brother NX-250.



Comments (2)

AngelicaSews said:
AngelicaSews's picture
I was in my local Dollarama (Canadian dollar store) and noticed that they carry glass cutting boards. They would be just perfect for making these!
Sylvia F said:
Sylvia F's picture
Thank you for providing this tutorial...I have been wanting to make one for a small table in the guest room. This is just perfect!

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