Bag Ladies

My mother had this old black handbag which she carried slung over one arm like the Queen (or, more accurately, like my Grandmother – my enduring memory of her is as she wandered the garden, pruning back everything while carrying her handbag slung over her forearm. I do mean everything, she could turn a lush oasis into a tree stump and clippings in an hour flat, bless her). Mama complained about this bag for months before I actually found a pattern we both liked and I was able to make her a replacement.  The pattern I used for both bags is the Rachel Bag Pattern from Crystelle Boutique, which is free. When I showed her the pattern I said “This one has a hessian bag as the front, we can find something else”, but as it turned out there was a hessian coffee bag lurking in a cupboard, so I used bits from that for both bag fronts.

A couple of things to keep in mind now, the first is that “hessian” is burlap. The second is this – you know how there’s a ton of bloggers out there who spend hours setting up their photos and messing with the light, props and backdrops? I am very much not one of them, so in the upcoming pictures I’d like you to imagine the “Sheet over a pillow” is actually a perfectly selected backdrop with super adorable props scattered around. Thanks, I appreciate it. I would have skipped the sheet if… well it’s the dog pillow most of the time so it’s a little bit doggy and even I have standards for what goes online.

Mama's Bag

Mama’s favourite colours are greens and browns. She decided she’d like hessian as the backing of the bag, the sides and the strap because she likes to hear me say swears as it starts to unravel before I can fix the edges. I followed the pattern pretty much as written, but did add a backing to the loops holding the hoops. The pattern just has the edges folded in, but I wanted to secure and protect the hessian edges so I popped some cotton in there as a backing. The pattern also calls for a two part strap, with a decorative knot in it. We’re not really decorative knot people, so I just made it a solid strap instead.

Bag lining

I also added a second pocket into the lining of both bags, because pockets are super handy. The inside of Mama’s bag is a bit patchy because the fabric I used was from a stack of fat quarters she won last year in an art show, and there wasn’t enough to do the lining in full pieces. She quite likes the patchwork effect, so it’s all good. Also, I hope you will enjoy our genuine 1970s floor there.

My Bag

Now, my own preferred colours are reds and oranges (warms basically). The top fabric is a fat quarter I picked up at Spotlight because it was so nice but didn’t have any plans for. The middle fabric is from a pack of chopped up kimonos. A local shop sells them as patch working or small craft grab bags and I’m a shameless addict of these bags.  The kangaroo is from the coffee bag. I had to lose some wordage to get the roo on, but I think it was worth it. If I’d gone with the words I’d have had a roo nose and it just wouldn’t have been as sweet. I did ponder using hessian as my backing and side fabric, but I decided on corduroy so that I could be a magnet for every piece of fluff ever. My strap is longer because I prefer to carry my bag with the strap crossing my body, which is unflattering but less annoying. Oh, also – we couldn’t find hoops we liked in the handbag bits section, so we bought curtain rings instead.

Lining in My Bag

For the lining of my bag I used a sarong I’d bought in Darwin on holiday. The heat in Darwin makes you think these purchases are a good idea, but then when you get back to Melbourne you think “Why did I buy this? I will never wear it again”. I’d already chopped half of it up for something else, but I had the perfect amount left over for the lining. For the record, I did wear it in Darwin, but not in public.

The pattern is a good one. The bags are roomy without being massive and they are straightforward to sew up, if a little fiddly in places. There’s lots of other free bag patterns on the site to poke at too, I just liked the roundy shape of this one.

New to Sewing? Have some tips.

The subtitle for this post should be “Learn from my mistakes”. Sewing is not as complicated as people pretend it is, but there’s a few bits and bobs to keep in mind to make sure your projects go smoothly. Bear in mind I don’t do complicated sewing – soft toys and the occasional skirt or handbag, but I do a fair bit of it and here are some things I wish people had told me back when I started out.

Yes, you need to press.
It’s tempting to look at your fabric and say “Eh, it’s pretty smooth” and just go ahead. Skipping the ironing stage can save you entire minutes, I get that, but they are minutes that are well invested. Crumpled or folded fabric, when cut to a pattern shape, may surprise you with unexpectedly wonky edges, and your finished piece won’t look as crisp or polished. Sometimes that’s the look you’re going for of course, but overall – pressing saves you a headache in cutting and sewing so it’s worth doing.

Cut on a clear surface
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been cheerfully cutting out a pattern and then felt the scissors chop through a thicker layer. Yep, the last piece I cut out was in the way and is now sporting a massive cut through it. I tend to cut out on a small table, so it’s easy to let it get crowded, but ideally you should move your cut pattern pieces, fabric left overs and other pattern bits to one side, giving you a clear surface where the only thing the scissors will strike is the fabric you want to be cutting. Personally I leave the ironing board set up after pressing as a home for the to be cut and has been cut fabrics.

Read the instructions. Twice.
It’s no good having a quick skim and then jumping in, make sure you’ve really read and understood what the instructions for your piece are – should this bit be cut on the fold? Do you need to do something fancy with this other bit? The difference between a great finished piece and a thing you don’t even want to admit you made is instructions.
Which is not to say the instructions are always clear, because they’re not. If you’re baffled by something or other, try a search for the project – other people were probably baffled too and might have some tips to offer you.
Also some people don’t bother to mention steps, or seam allowences or unsuitable fabrics. I’m just saying – sometimes patterns are a nightmare, and not understanding them doesn’t mean you’re not skilled enough to make the piece, it means the person who wrote the pattern wasn’t skilled enough to write a proper set of instructions.

Pin pin pin
This goes for cutting out, and for the actual sewing. Scrimping on the pinning is easier, but means your pattern pieces or fabric can shift around. Pin your heart out! Make sure everything is really secure before you start cutting or sewing, otherwise you might cut a wonky pattern shape which won’t sew nicely to the other bits, or you’ll find you’re sewing one piece of fabric but not the other.

It’s not a race
Try to avoid giving yourself a set time to have your sewing finished by. Sure, it’s nice to create something from scratch in an afternoon, but rushing yourself will lead to mistakes. Take your time, sew at a comfortable speed and if things start going wrong – that’s a sign you should take a break.
Cut your fabric carefully, make sure you’re cutting the right pieces and stop from time to time to take stock of where you are and what you still need to do.
As for using the machine – look, we’ve all seen people wizz a seam through in the blink of an eye, but if you feel like you can’t control the fabric you’re sewing faster than you should be. That insane speed (which my Grandmother had, she was a speed demon on the sewing machine) comes with practice and time, so if you’re plodding along slowly but surely then that’s perfectly alright. As you gain confidence and skill, you’ll speed up if that’s bothering you. I’m quite quick on straight seams now, but I take forever around curves and that’s all good. Losing control of the speed leads to a session with the unpicker, which is no fun at all.

Don’t scrimp on the cheap stuff
Thread, pins, marking chalks, needles – all these things are the absolute least expensive things about this hobby. Most of your budget will go on fabric and patterns and those are the things you should be careful and kind with.
Be ruthless, for example, with your pins. Pins go blunt over time, or bend, or develop catches and burrs. If your pin doesn’t go through the fabric smoothly then throw it away. Bent pins don’t hold fabric in place as well, so they can go too.
Sewing machine needles also go blunt. I don’t have any hard and fast rules about how much I sew with each needle (I know some people do), but throwing out a needle after you’ve done a large project makes sense. A blunt needle will pucker and pull at your fabric, so it’s just not worth saving the cents on those.

Watch your bobbin
When you’re machine sewing, keep a good eye on your bobbin thread. I’m telling you this as good advice because I always forget about the bobbin. Maybe modern machines have a warning or cut out system, I don’t know, but check it yourself. If there’s only a little bit left, play it safe and run a new bobbin. Yes, throw out the thread that was left, see above note about cheap stuff.

Your fabric scissors are for fabric
Invest in a quality pair of fabric scissors. Treat them nicely and they’ll last you forever. The fastest way to blunt your lovely fabric scissors is to use them on paper, or hair, or wire or… Keep your fabric scissors just for fabric and stock up on cheap general purpose scissors for around the house. Have them sharpened from time to time too, they’ll blunt slowly and you won’t notice until they’re nicely sharp again.

With the price of fabric getting ever higher, it can be hard to talk yourself into just having a play and sewing up some nonsense. Sewing up nonsenses is a great skill builder and confidence builder. Grab some fabric at an op shop (thrift store) – old bed sheets for example give you a ton of fabric to play with, and they’re usually cheap second hand. Or chop up your old clothes and make things. It’s perfectly fine to make things you don’t need, just for the fun of making them.

Canvas Photo Thing

It’s time for another round of the Pintester Movement! This time it was a case of finding a pin, and doing that pin. The rules are complicated, are they not? Anyway, I decided to try my hand at the DIY Instagram Photo Canvas from Savvysugar. I chose this for a couple of reasons, not the least of which being I already owned Mod Podge, foam brushes and a printer and knew where I could get square canvases for $2.50 each. In the spirit of truly doing the pin properly, I even did this with a couple of Instagram photos, even though I tend to treat those as disposable throw aways (unlike some bloggers who are apparently selling theirs. For real. Mad old world).

I didn’t take any photos of all the steps, so you’ll have to tap into your shiny imagination. Bold indicates the actual directions from the link above.

1. Select a picture that you’d like for creating the print. Resize the image using your computer until it is 6 by 6 inches and then print, using the best printer settings
I did this, but I added a step of increasing the DPI on the image too – they were 72 originally which is sort of Internet standard (even though I yoinked them straight off my phone). I don’t honestly know if it makes a difference once you’ve resized it, but I felt better about it being print quality. I pumped them up to 300. Which considering they were taken with an aging phone camera was probably overkill.

One of the first things I thought might be an issue was the water based ink, which was about to get quite wet. I wasn’t far off with my prediction, but it wasn’t as terrible as I expected. Read on to resolve that cliff hanger!

2. Use a paper cutter to trim the image, creating a perfect square. You can position the print over the canvas to double-check its size, trimming as needed.

Cutting the picture

As it happens, I do have a paper cutter. I saved it from a skip at a previous job. It works in that it cuts paper, but it has a slight slant to the blade which makes it hard to cut a perfectly straight line, so I avoided it and went with a craft knife and steel ruler. I don’t know if you can tell that the colours in the picture I’m cutting there are slightly off – the printer decided not to use all of the available inks and instead stamped its own interpretation on the picture.

3. Give the front of the canvas a quick sanding with fine sandpaper, which helps the Mod Podge really adhere to the print and canvas.
There’s no photo of this step, but I did do it.

4. With a foam brush, coat the front of the canvas with a layer of Mod Podge and then position the print, smoothing gently. Don’t worry if there are any bumps or puckers, they will smooth out once the glue is dry. Let rest for an hour before the next step.
Pictures stuck on canvasSo here are my photos all stuck down to the canvas. I smoothed out a few bubbles and ripples, but as instructed I didn’t worry about them too much, as they would smooth down when the glue was dry. Wouldn’t they?
I left them to dry for a couple of hours and went and did other things which mostly involved swearing at the sewing machine.
When I returned, I discovered that the “lumps and bumps smoothing down when the glue was dry” was a big fat filthy lie. I smoothed, prodded and poked and the sewing machine picture stayed as bubbly as ever. If you’re trying this pin yourself, smooth the bubbles out, or you’ll be stuck with them. Also you’ll stop trusting random tutorials on the internet, and then where would we be?
Since it was now 10pm, I decided to soldier on regardless.

5. Now coat the print with a layer of Mod Podge, working first horizontally with the foam brush and then vertically. Once again, don’t worry about any bumps; they’ll disappear as the canvas dries.
LIES UPON LIES UPON LIES. Of course they didn’t, I’m not even sure how they’re supposed to. I did come up against the other issue though, namely the smearing of water based inks.
Top CoatingI did the crochet picture first, and ended up with a pink tint to my picture and also to the Mod Podge from all the red inks. The sewing machine needle picture ended up with a blue tint and also there’s a couple of patches where the ink just plain disappeared or rubbed off. I’m not overly bothered, but if you were wanting your colours preserved it might be better to use a spray on top coat rather than a varnishy brushy on one (look at me, throwing around all these technical terms). Or you could laser print your picture I suppose.
These top coats may have gone on too thick. I found a thin coat of Mod Podge was nearly impossible because it just picked the ink right up and pushed it around – a thicker coat meant the foam brush wasn’t in so much contact with the print, but did mean a streakier finish.
I left the whole lot to dry overnight while I went to bed with a James May DVD and some hand sewing to do.

6. Place a piece of scrap paper under the canvas, and coat the sides with black acrylic paint, which really makes this DIY look professional. Touch up the black paint if needed.
Finished Canvas
“Professional” might be a stretch. I did alter this step in two ways. Well three, I didn’t bother with the scrap paper because protecting work surfaces is for wimps. I used the foam brush instead of a paint brush. This was to create a deliberate overlap of paint around the edges of the pictures. The canvas had a slight curve where the edges started and the picture edges just wouldn’t stick, so I painted them. Shortcuts for everybody! Also I used Paynes Grey instead of black. Yes there’s a difference.
They look.. fine. They look alright. Quite lumpy and a little bit smeared, but aren’t we all?

Now the idea behind this pin was to save money on canvas photo transfers which tend to run at $20 or so apparently. It just so happens that I have a canvas photo print, so I can offer you a side by side comparison:
Canvas Prints
The Mod Podge being thick does give the printed one a bit of texture, but nothing like a genuine thing. I’d say if you had a photo that was really important to you, or that you wanted to show off it’s probably worth spending the money on a proper canvas print. Otherwise this is a quick and cheap wall decoration, but smooth out your bubbles.
Can you see the pink through the one on the left? I can. If you can’t then you’re wrong.

Temperature Scarf: August (and bonus unicorn)

Temperature Scarf for August

BAM! There it is! I actually finished the month this morning, so perhaps a little cheaty but you won’t know if I don’t tell.. you.. ah. Damn. Anyway! One more day under 10 and as you can see at the end there, Spring is starting to Spring upon us so I can relegate the lavender to the Granny Squares bucket now as I don’t think I’ll be needing it again this year.

Scarf until the end of August

So long now! I mean the scarf is long, not that I want you to leave. I’d like to think my stitches are more even and all that, but I think they’re probably not. The edges are a lot less wonky for August though.

Now, it’s been almost a month since my last post and you’re probably all “Is that all you’ve been up to Lyn? Slack much?” to which I say “Mean.” I’ve been working on a few bits and bobs, some of which will end up here when they’re finished, and also making two more Unicorns.

Two Unicorns

Twinsies! These are off to their new homes tomorrow. As before, the pattern is by Woolhalla and the felt is from Winterwood Toys.

Last, but not least, here’s my 1 Second Everyday video for August which (like July’s video) is included here because it’s got a lot of crafting in it. Because that’s what I do that’s interesting.

I will hopefully be back with stuff to talk about before the September installment of the scarf, but I make no promises.