Bags


I can’t believe it’s been two months since my last post.  The lack of posting is due to my forgetfulness at taking photos of my projects before I send them onwards and not due to a lack of sewing.  I have been doing lots of sewing.  I’m finding that a little sewing at the weekend sets me up for the next week and that if I don’t find the time my week is sluggish.  Luckily some of my recent projects have gone to family so I hope to get photos soon so that I can post about them.  But anyway, in this post I can talk about two projects whilst showing the pictures of one because really this should have the title Chocolate birch handbag No. 2.

Chocolate birch handbag

This bag came as a kit from Ink & Spindle.  I first stumbled upon the company in about December of last year.  I saw the chocolate birch fabric and thought that my sister would love it.  At the time the only way they were selling this fabric was as a bag kit with a pattern called Aiko Tote by Lara Cameron.  I figured K would like the bag so I put in an order.  The company is based in Australia and my order went in too near to Christmas for it to arrive before the New Year but that was ok because I’d planned on giving K the bag for her birthday.  However, when it arrived I fell in love with the fabric, the brown is so rich and the birch trees so beautifully printed.

I had a crisis of conscience.  I thought that K would love the bag too so I felt guilty at wanting to keep it for myself.  In a bit of a panic I asked if K would like me to make her an Emmeline apron for her birthday, she said yes and I figured that as she didn’t know that I’d planned to give her the bag she wouldn’t mind the change in present.  Oh dear, I found the perfect fabric for her apron but I had to buy it from the USA and it didn’t arrive in time for me to make her apron for her birthday.  I panicked again.  Luckily another tote kit in the chocolate birch became available from Ink & Spindle, so I snatched up the kit for myself and gave K the first bag for her birthday (I made her the apron for Mother’s Day and will post about that when I get a photo of her wearing it).

After a wee wait, the second kit arrived (along with a couple of other fabric bundles I couldn’t resist buying) and yesterday I found the time to make it.  When I made the first bag I learnt from the pattern how to make inside pockets as a part of the lining and outside fabric (rather than patch pockets) and I adapted the pattern to include a small outside pocket for my travel card using the same technique (see first picture).

The kit comes with everything needed to make the bag, including iron-on interfacing and the magnetic clasp.  Lara Cameron‘s pattern was fun and easy to put together and includes inside pockets that I’ve stitched so that they hold my diary, a pen and my phone.  The pattern also taught me a different (and easier) way of forming square corners on the bag bottom (the corners are cut out when the fabric is cut rather than at the end).  For both bags I also added a key fob and an inside zipper pocket for valuables.  The interfacing that came with the kit is pretty sturdy but for my bag I swapped in heavier, fleecy sew-in interfacing for the bottom of the bag it help it stand on its own.

For K’s bag the kit came with a white spotty fabric whilst mine came with this red print called Acacia.  I love the vivid red and that the bird theme is continued from the outside in.  I’m very pleased with my new handbag.  What with all of the extras that I put in the design and construction took me all of the BBC’s 2005 version of North and South and one and half episodes of the BBC’s 2006 version of Jane Eyre (about 6 hours and yes, R was away for the day doing TA things).  Time well spent I think.

R whisked me away to Dublin for a relaxing weekend and although it is colder than at home the sun is shining and there’s clear blue sky (rather than the snow and rain of home). Ireland is very active in its social and environmental policy making, for example a couple of years ago they banned free plastic carrier bags in the shops.  So people either buy carrier bags at the checkout or bring in reusable bags.  Apparently although there was uproar at first most people have adapted smoothly to the ban.

Like many people I am trying to reduce adding to my pile of plastic shopping bags.  I have a variety of reusable shopping bags but inevitably they are rarely with me when I need them.  I saw this tutorial and thought that if I kept a neatly folded bag in my handbag and messenger bag then I might be more successful.

The bags have a pocket on the outside with velcro on the outside of the top of the pocket and on the inside of the bottom of the pocket to keep the bag neatly folded.  I’ve made two so far, one as part of a swap and the other as part of N’s birthday present.  At some point I will make a few for myself. The bag rather large (big enough to do a reasonable week’s shop) so I’ve used a thin canvas in the second bag and it still folds up well.

In the second bag I also added a zip to the pocket to make it more secure for holding keys/wallet etc.  I “borrowed” the second bag when I was caught out bagless in the supermarket and hadn’t yet posted the present and I was pleasantly suprised at how much it held and how comfortable it is to carry.

Last weekend I was fed-up with work and needed to do some craft so I made a friend a wallet for her birthday using Sew Christine’s tutorial.  I love the fabric I used in this project.  When choosing the fabric I took a couple of combinations to R and asked his opinion.  At first he was very decided that my safe option (the turtle fabric with the light blue spotty I used in my robot messenger bag)  was the best but then he emphatically decided that the riskier option was the only option.  i love that the spots go in the other direction inside the purse.

In this project I finally got around to using the Lamifix that I bought at this year’s Festival of Quilts.  I thought that if I made the outside of the wallet plastic then the wallet would be more durable.   The lamifix was pretty easy to use to get reasonable results although I think I need a little more practice.  I’m not sure I’d want to use it on large projects or ones where there is a lot of turning inside out though because once it gets creased you can’t get the lines out.

A few months ago I signed up to swap-bot, a website that facilitates swaps.  I liked the idea of using my fabric remnants to make things for other people and the excitement of waiting for unknown parcels arriving in the post.  When I was umm-ing and ah-ing about signing up I asked my boyfriend to dissuade me from joining some swap groups and the best argument he came up with was that I might get gangrene and then my legs would fall off, so I took the risk.  So far things are going well.  I haven’t lost a foot, never mind an ankle and two swaps in my partners have both liked their packages.

(I had planned to take photos of the packages I’d recieved to put alongside the pictures of the things I’d sent, but I whilst I took pictures before I posted my packages I haven’t had time to photo the things sent to me, sorry.)

The first swap I signed up for was a handmade eyemask swap.  My assigned partner’s favourite colour was green and she described her garden in her profile.  So from that I made her a mask from a green patterned cotton for the outer fabric, soft blue/green jersey (cut from a long sleeve t-shirt I refashioned) for the eye side and stuffed with cotton batting and dried lavender flowers.  I felt that I was taking a wee bit of a risk with the lavender, some people love it whilst others hate it, but my partner loves her garden so I thought it was a risk worth making.  As it turned out she liked the lavender lots.

I hadn’t really used elastic tape before that so that was my ‘new thing’ in this project.  I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out but looking back at it I wonder if I should have quilted the three layers together, although maybe that would have been a faff due to the lavender flowers.

The second swap was all about zips.  The idea was to make a zippy bag/purse and fill it with 4 things for the sewing room.  My assigned partner liked blue and chocolate brown, and black and white, ribbons and buttons. From that I decided to make a box, zippy bag (as much for my own amusement because I hadn’t made one before).  I used this tutorial for the box-bag, it was lots of fun to do and I’m very pleased with the way it turned out.  However I wanted to line the bag and that wasn’t included in the tutorial.  I used the blue and white spotty fabric that I used in my robot bag but my brain couldn’t handle how to make the box with a perfect lining so I ended up treating the outer and lining as one and pinking the insides where necessary (sorry for the lack of internal pictures).

I filled the bag with a big chocolate coloured button, a roll of blue and brown ribbon, a packet of cute pins (with coloured stars, moons etc. on the tops) and I made a needled book and a small pincushion (because I’m coming to the conclusion that one can never have too many pincushions).

Whilst I’m rambling I’d like to mention a work related thingy.  I’m mentioning work because of the aesthetic pleasure one aspect of my job gives me.  I study the influenza virus and one way I do this is by growing airway cultures that model and mimic the cells in our respiratory tracts.  To push dust and mucus and pesky microbes away from the lungs, and up and out, the trachea is lined with cells whose top surface is lined with cilia; little fingers that beat in time and direction pushing everything away from the lungs.  I love watching these cultures under the microscope.  They remind me of sea anemone in rock pools.  Watching the cultures always makes me smile (and I have a dance to mimics the cilia that tends to make others giggle, albeit at my expense).  I wish I had a movie to show you.  But still, I love the image of sea anemone lining my trachea, beating away to keep my lungs clean.


Katie asked me to make a post about the embroidery I did when I was an undergrad in Edinburgh.

I made this pencil case for my mum. At that time I didn’t have a sewing machine so the pencil case and bag below was hand stitched and very rough. To be honest, the construction of the pencil case and the bag was very much secondary and the embroidery was where I found the fun. There was a shop a couple of doors down from the flat and when I was glum I would spend ages looking at the embroidery threads and choosing which ones to spend my beer tokens on.

I have no idea where I found the patience for all of those French knots.

About this time last year I bought a very cute wallet in Toronto. It survived until Christmas before I’d used it to death. I tried to design my own wallet but it was a spectacular disaster (there was embroidery, I was not happy). So I started using a simple coin purse that N had bought in India for me. Last week I killed that. So I went hunting for a wallet tutorial online.

Happily I found Sew Christine’s tutorial and worked my way through it last night.

Her instructions are clear and the construction is simple and compact. There’s a zipped-up coin compartment, two slots for cards and a roomy pocket for notes and receipts. I added a magnetic snap (which I struggled with a wee bit because it had to be placed so close to the seam) instead of the velcro fasting. I used some blackcurrant fabric for the outside with the hope that the darker fabric will take longer to get grubby whilst I scrabble around the bottom of my bag. I’m pleased with how the wallet turned out; I really hope it survives a wee while and I that I don’t destroy it within a few months.

I’ve been going through one of my crazy-busy periods at work and so there has been very little time for crafting. However, because it never rains but pours at the moment, my busy period culminated in being dragged along to the Honourable Artillery Company summer ball. My sister helped me find a dress (a sort of 70s number, black with a big white swirly print and Katie said I looked a little “Margot Leadbetter”), a mad dash into town got me some shoes but I didn’t have a bag for all of mine (and Rory’s) bits and bobs (his uniform, whilst yummy to my eyes, is very impractical; there are no pockets worth using so I end up carrying most of his stuff). Well, ok, I probably could have bought a bag from somewhere but I’ve had a metal frame from u-handbag since last winter and I wanted to use it. Plus Katie has been on at me to get some of my embroidery up here.

I really didn’t think I would manage it but within a week I went from a white sheet and a metal frame to an evening bag. I spent one evening planning the embroidery design, an evening and a luxurious afternoon off work curled up on the sofa reminding myself how much I enjoy doing embroidery and then 3 episodes of 24 series 2 the night before the ball cutting fabric and putting the bag together. I used the u-handblog guide to metal frames to work out the pattern and construction but I inserted a small zip pocket to keep my cash and cards safe.

I do like this bag. Neither the construction of the bag nor the embroidery is as neat as I would have liked (but I was in a rush and I’d forgotten how much the stray threads on the wrong side of the embroidery can show through). The small zip pocket worked well but next time I’d position it an inch higher. I was a little worried about gluing the bag to the frame but I should have trusted Lisa Lam. The gluing was a wee bit messy but once I got over my fear it was fun and the bag has stayed together and survived ooodles of fun at the ball including bumper cars, a ferris wheel and a carousel.

The embroidery stitches I used were back stitch, satin stitch, cretan stitch (for the open leaves, double knot stitch, flat stitch (for the closed leaves), French knot, ribbed wheel filling or spider’s web stitch and stem stitch. Sorry that the pictures are not great.

I’ve been wanting to make a Montessori By Hand (now Sew Liberated) messenger bag for the last six months. I need to increase my bag making skills (after a couple of disastrous own designs) and figured this would be a good start, but finding the time was tricky. Last week’s rainy bank holiday weekend, where I was also on duty and therefore stuck in the flat, gave me enough guilt-free time to plod my way through the bag.

I love the robot canvas, bought from Kitty-Craft and the blue/white-spotty lining made by Clothworks (oddly called “Joined at the Hip). When I was starting to choose which fabrics to use I kicked myself for not buying the pink/white-spotty from the fabulous fabric shop in Derbyshire but I think the red cotton lining works and is probably better for being less fussy. Oh, and I think this will finally be the last project for the purple corduroy.

Messenger bag

The bag is large, with big pockets front and back and the instructions are clear. I learnt how to put in zip pockets! I did make some additions: an internal key strap and clasp, a magnetic clasp instead of the ribbon and button and an open internal pocket for my laptop.

To add the magnetic clasp I had to lengthen the top flat but I couldn’t do that until the end of construction (when I knew how long it needed to be) and so the bottom of the flap isn’t as neat as I’d otherwise like. To make the internal laptop pocket I first made a mini practise pouch out of some scrap fabric so that I could work out how to make it. I think it works well, although my laptop fits snuggly so I won’t be able to upgrade to anything larger.

I only have two problems with the bag, which at some point I plan to go back and fix. Firstly, the interfacing I used isn’t really strong enough for the bag to keep its shape properly. And secondly, I want to sew the bottom of the front outside pocket so that things don’t get lost underneath the bottom of the bag.

Time has been in very short supply for me recently and yet I have been itching to sew, especially for other people and so I have been making very easy shopping bags as gifts.

It was my mum’s birthday last week and my sister was knitting her a beautiful stole. I thought I’d try to be helpful and so planned to make mum a bag she could use to keep the stole safe and clean. Erm, it all got a bit rushed and I didn’t plan it out very well, so the bag ended up being far too big. It works as a shopping bag though (although I realised later that I should have reversed the order of the fabric so that the bottom was the top and visa versa so that it looked cleaner for longer). Ah well.

The week before that I’d rushed out another shopping bag for my friend Claire, who’d had her birthday weeks ago but I’d not managed to finish anything for her. Claire was my PhD sibling; we worked in the same lab, we started on the same day, had our vivas on the same day (and finished within 5 minutes of each other) and submitted on the same day. So when we were finishing I had great plans for a leaving present for her. There was going to be abstract embroidery of the virus we’d both been working on and I was going to make that into a wallet. But, oh dear. The first bit of embroidery went fine but I failed in my attempt to turn it into a purse (I didn’t have a pattern and was trying to design it myself). I never finished the embroidery for the second attempt. So, instead, I rushed a bag together for her. Luckily she likes it and although I forgot to take pictures of it before I gave it to her, she brought it along to our graduation last week and so I was able to take pictures then. The bag even goes well with her graduation robes!

Oh and Brian May (from Queen) also graduated with a PhD in the same ceremony. And a proper one too (albeit 30 years after he’d started it), not an honorary one.

I have a tiny Samsung laptop that carry with me almost everywhere.  It is essential for work (we only have 4 computers in the office for 12 people) and play (I live in a towerblock with no external tv aerial and the indoor aerial I have is very temperamental).  However, a few months after I bought my lovely laptop I dropped it onto the hard, concrete floor at work (it was late at night, I was spooked by something and rushing, trying to carry too many things).  Amazingly it was pretty much fine; there is a dent in one corner and the dvd drive cover falls off but otherwise it is fine.

I’d been planning to make a laptop bag but after dropping the laptop it’s bag was rushed to the top of my list.

The main fabric is from Heather Bailey’s Freshcut range, purchased at last year’s Festival of Quilts and  I used a medium sew-in interfacing to give the bag some strength.  The laptop fits inside snugly and I have no more excuses for dropping it ever again.

This was one of the first bags I made (sorry, the timeline for this blog will be very messed up until I catch up with myself) and I hadn’t yet learned how to sew strap into the top seam of the bag.

After about 2 months the button came off.  I’m not very good with buttons.

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