Fat Quarter Bags

I just got a call from one of the kid’s friends because she wanted to sew a bag like the one I made the kid when I first started sewing (the poor thing needs a scrubbing or I’d show it).  I love, love, love this simple tutorial from Diary of a Quilter.  Sewing the bags shown really got me interested in sewing handbags because I realized I could do it.  From there I made two bags with magnetic clasps, internal zips, interfacing, etc.

Think of it as a learning experience.  At the worst, you have a little produce bag or you can give it to the nearest 4 year old, who will fall over from excitement and see none of the flaws you do.  At some point I will post pictures. I think.

Sewing, Sewing with kids

Not-paper towels: Wiping cloth tutorial

We have used cloth napkins for a very long time in our house.  It’s been so long, in fact, that our thick, durable white napkins started to fray at the edges.  We bought some replacements (including some at a garage sale that had never been used), but what to do with the frayed napkins?

Make wiping cloths.

They don't have to be perfect and are a great way to practice top stitching, placing a hanging strap, and saving the Earth.

They don’t have to be perfect and are a great way to practice top stitching, placing a hanging strap, and saving the Earth.

We have bar mop towels to wipe the puddling water around the sink after washing the dishes at night, but we found that whenever we picked up a little spill — a drip or a dab off the floor after a vegetable dove from the cutting board —  we used a paper towel.  I figured perhaps a few small, ex-napkins with a hanging loop could stand in for those moments and save us a few paper towels.

First, I trimmed the fraying edges and cut each napkin in half.  Then I let the kid have a go at the rectangles of cloth, practicing stitches and sewing straight.  Why not? (This is why there are zig-zag stitches visible below.)

I found some extra material (the pink one was the remaining portion of a previously sewn strap, the others from a long strip of fabric I had left) and made straps.  You can make a strap by ironing the strip in half, then folding each side to the middle and ironing so it looks like a staple after it’s gone through the stapler.  Fold the sides together as if you were bending the staple in half so the folded edges meet, then top sew as close to the edge as you can manage.  You can top sew the other side as well to make it look nice, but for these I didn’t bother…

Here they are wrong side out, strap tucked inside.  Sew around, leave a little space to turn, iron and sew around the outside.

Here they are wrong side out, strap tucked inside. Sew around, leave a little space to turn, iron and sew around the outside.


I then folded the fabric in half and placed the little strap inside with the stem facing out and sewed around with 1/4″ seam allowance, leaving a couple of inchesfor turning right side out.  Trim to 1/8″ and trim the corners carefully (don’t cut your stitches).  After they were right side out, I used a chopstick to get the corners straight. I ironed  and top stitched  — in a couple of cases using thread that was nearing the end of the bobbin — and they’re done.

Every time a newly poured up of water leaves a little ring on the counter, a few drops of milk or tea are left behind, or the dog sloshes her water, I can clear it up without a paper towel.  Often the little spill is just water, so I can hang the little towel on our hooks and let it dry out for another use.  Even if you just clean up spilled bits on the floor and toss them into the wash, these hardly take up any room, are incredibly soft, and give new life to something no longer served its use.


Coffee Cuff, Coffee Jacket, Coffee Sleeve, Coffee Cozy…

coffeecozy1 coffeecozy2I first saw little fabric-wrapped coffee mugs on Etsy (look how nicely these are sewn), and decided I should look for a tutorial.  Of course, I stumbled upon a really nice one at Skip To My Lou (again).  A great tutorial, but I need to elongate the pattern slightly to close the gap around, ahem, the Venti cup…  I probably should have noted that before I sewed about five of them, including one for the (currently sick) kid.  She was very happy with hers, after choosing the fabric and buttons. They all work great, and all of these were made using scraps leftover from other projects, along with buttons whose garments were long ago abandoned.coffeecozycoffecups coffeecozykaffee

Instead of fleece interfacing, which I recommend if you have it available, I used some leftover cotton batting in the center.  It would have been easier to sew (they are a bit wonky) if I had used interfacing instead.  Be sure to check that your fabrics are right-sides facing, that the long end of the hair elastic is sandwiched in there, and if you’re using batting, be sure it’s on the outside.  Good stuff, these!

Sewing, Sewing with kids

Sewing a Bag of DOOM!


“Good things will befall you” or “You will trip in barf,” but either way it’s fun to reach into The Bag Of DOOM!

During Independent Work Time some of the kids made origami beasts (and then tried to sell them to each other), some drew, and our kid made a tiny paper packet that held little paper fortunes.  She called it the Bag of DOOM.

Despite the ominous name, or perhaps because of it, all the kids wanted to choose a message from the tiny, ripped paper folder.  Even the teacher picked from it three times (probably to erase the time she chose the barf message above).  As the child relayed all this to me in the car ride home, I thought it would be funny to sew a Bag of DOOM (you have to accentuate DOOM like something is really crazy is going to come down).

The 10-year-old chose the fabric, ironed and sewed this (on the machine, with my oversight).  It’s not lined, so the side and bottom seams are finished with French seams.  If you aren’t familiar with the term, it’s a fancy way of saying that the raw edge is enclosed in the seam.

With the right side facing out, our child sewed the side and bottom of the bag with 1/4″ seam allowance.  I cut the finished sides down by about half, then we turned the bag wrong side out and ironed it.  After sewing the bottom of the bag and side again with a 1/4″ seam allowance, the raw seam becomes encased and won’t fray.  Try this on a leftover piece of fabric and change your sewing world.  Instructions from Craftsy right here.

To sew an easy bag, see this easy drawstring bag with Brett Bara here.  All we did was add French seams for durability (from DOOM).  The cord comes out of the inside, so use something smooth like a silky ribbon, and in our case, we moved the opening to the side instead of the center.  Don’t like that?  Here are a few other tutorials from SewMamaSew.

After making the bag, she had everyone submit messages to pull out at random: “A closed mouth gathers no feet,” “You’re one of a kind!” “A doughnut is coming your way!” and “Better to remain silent and thought a fool than speak and remove all doubt.”  The rest are all about bodily functions because, well, she’s still ten.


You can make dishcloths?!

You can knit or crochet a dishcloth!  Who knew?  A lot of people who are not me, that's who.

You can knit or crochet a dishcloth! Who knew? A lot of people who are not me, that’s who.

I don’t know how I stumbled upon Mason-Dixon Knitting, except that I do remember one afternoon thinking I should try knitting again so perhaps that was it.  It’s a lovely site.  I came across a post that I loved (nice kitchen, Kay) and immediately thought that I must make a dishrag.  Right now.

So I crocheted one.  Because apparently you can make a dishrag that way too.  My friend Debbie taught me how to crochet one day after school in the sixth grade, and after a few crooked scarves I’ve got that business down pat.

I bought some 100% cotton yarn for dish rags and the like (special yarn!), and hopped to it.  Er, and now I have to make another one, because I had to buy more than one ball of the stuff.  Who makes just one dishrag?  Not me.


Making tote bags

totebags1…I shall return to the history of my sewing later.  I now sew on a machine most of the time…

In Los Angeles,you can’t use plastic bags at the grocery store anymore, and we haven’t used them in ages anyway.  In the summer I sewed up the green tote you see above using fabric left over from ages ago, and this wonderful, simple tutorial from Skip To My Lou.

I’ve carried this bag, which is reversible but has no interfacing, all over town, schlepping jackets and groceries and what-not.  Because the bag has no interfacing, it doesn’t keep its shape well when not filled, and that’s purposeful. Until everyone starts shedding their jackets because the cool morning has given way to an endless summer here by about 10 am in L.A. I keep the bag rolled up and in my rather small handbag .

After a walk to the grocery store after which I returned with 10 lbs. of groceries straining the bag, I decided it was time for a couple more.  I used what I had on hand and came up with these lovelies.  I’m very happy with them, and this time used stronger material for the handles.  If you want a bag with shape, I suggest using Pellon SF101 on the liner or both sets of fabric.

As I mentioned in my first post, I hadn’t a clue what interfacing was or how to use it.  It’s really very simple: Cut it out with your fabric, add the moisture the directions explain by spraying it with a water bottle, iron the hell out of it from the center to the edges.  SF101 is woven and gives movement without stiffness, and also irons on pretty easily (without creasing).  It’s a light weight interfacing, but I prefer it even on purses and zip bags.

When cutting fabric in straight lines, I highly recommend using a rotary cutter and mat.  It’s an investment, and I take forever with the cutting, but it really makes things so precise that when you start sewing, it all comes together rather quickly (and beautifully).



Hand Sewing, Handkerchief, Sewing

It all started in Portland…

All you need to start is a thread, a needle, and some fabric you can't live without.  Really.

All you need to start sewing is a thread, a needle, and some fabric you can’t live without. Really.  Our then 7-year-old sewed the top kerchief.

In 2010 we took a little trip to Portland, landing in a lovely duplex for a couple of weeks.  We arrived with few plans, and after visiting Multnomah Falls, we started visiting all the Farmer’s Markets and exploring the city.  On the way toward the freeway, we saw a place called The Knittin’ Kitten.  I didn’t sew or knit, but with a name like that we had to pull over and see what it was all about anyway.  A lovely little store, it contains vintage and leftover fabric, along with all sorts of notions and fun stuff.  Our daughter wanted the colored thread (what for?  I have no idea), I found a small booklet of batting-sandwiched fabric bearing sewing needles slung through felt inside.  We found bits of crazy-soft fabric that felt smooth like a favorite pillowcase.

After our daughter found some embroidery floss she couldn’t live without, the lady working there recommended I use a bundle of interfacing to adhere a design to fabric, allowing our six-year-old the opportunity to embroider something.  I looked at her like a confused dog.  Huh?  How does that stuff work?  And right, I’m going to give the kid a large, sharp needle, I thought.

We bought the stuff anyway.

Everywhere we went in Portland had beautiful walls, light fixtures, and design.  Portlanders aren’t afraid of color, and I love them for it (and their food, and their obscenely polite driving).  We visited vegan bakeries, shops, coffee, more coffee, even more coffee, and then we landed in a store called Bolt.  And that’s pretty much where the spark to sew burst into a flame.

The fabric was irresistible.  I bought fat quarters, not understanding at all what made them fat.  I also bought some toweling, which comes with two sides pre-sewn.  All you have to do is hem the ends and you have a nice, vintage-looking towel!  Never mind that I couldn’t sew more than a button on a shirt after it had fallen off.

Once home, I decided to make a basket full of handkerchiefs that we would use instead of Kleenex (unless we were sick).  I hemmed a few using brightly colored thread (because, why not?).  I even hemmed them a bit backwards because it looked nice and I didn’t know any better.  This would turn out to be great practice for finishing a quilt.  In fact, every little experiment I have tried has proven to be useful in a later project.

Soon the child picked up a needle and thread and joined in.  The mermaid at the top of the picture represents her second or third effort.  Three years of sewing by hand would follow….