First zakka sewing class

Well, I am still buzzed by the success of our first zakka sewing class yesterday.  I was having so much fun I nearly forgot to take photos.  I managed just a few at the very end.  We did the sewing in the tiny (but sunny) dining area, and did the ironing and cutting in the family room.   I think there was a good mix of socialising and creating.  Aren’t the finished potholders gorgeous?  Such a creative group!  












































Potholder Tutorial – Basic Method


Today was our first day of zakka sewing class at my home, and it was so. much. fun.  I had fretted over how to teach three sewing beginners, but I needn’t have worried.  They were all such quick learners, and completed their lovely potholders well within the two-hour time frame.  And it didn’t hurt to have two other friends / helpers who were experienced sewers helping me out.  Thank you guys! 

So for those of you who would liked sew along with our little group in Sydney, here’s a tutorial for what we did today.  

Materials you need:

  • About 1/4 meter of medium-weight woven fabric (canvas or home dec weight)
  • A small piece of quilt wadding 
Step 1: Make a paper pattern and cut the pieces
If you have a rotary cutter and a mat, you don’t need a paper pattern.  Go ahead and cut TWO pieces of the pretty fabric, each at about 8 1/2 inches x 8 1/2 inches and ONE piece of wadding in the same size (I know, we live in metric Australia, but in the quilting world we still use imperial measurement, so I’m using inches here as well).
If you don’t have a rotary cutter, it helps to make a paper pattern first.  Here’s the easiest way — Take any A4-sized paper, and fold it over in a large triangle snap, matching the left short side onto the top long side.  Like this.  
Draw a line along the folded edge.  Cut along the line to make a square shape about 8 1/4″ x 8 1/4″.  Place the pattern over your fabric and wadding, trace around the pattern with a pen or pencil, and cut.  You now have three pieces of fabric and wadding in the same size.  For the hanging tab, cut another small piece of fabric, about 4″ x 1.5″.

Step 2: Make the hanging tab and baste it
Fold the tab into half along the long side and press with an iron.  Unfold, and fold each edge again towards the centre fold line.  Press.  Fold the whole thing over again, so you have a long, narrow strip of fabric with four layers of fabric folded in.  A picture is worth a thousand words.
Sew the folded tab together, very close to the open edge.  
Instead of making a tab like this, you can use any cotton tape, ready-made bias tape, a piece of ribbon, yarn, or anything similar in shape.  Now sew the tab onto a corner of one potholder fabric, about 1/4″ from the edge of the fabric, like this:
Make sure you sew over the tab back and forth a few times to ensure it’s securely attached.
Step 3: Stack the three potholder pieces and pin
Neatly stack the three pieces you’ve cut on top of each other in the following order, from the top: (1) fabric piece 1, with the wrong side showing on top; (2) fabric piece 2, with the right side showing on top; and (3) wadding.  Secure the three layers together with pins.
Step 4: Sew around the edges, leaving an opening for turning
You want to start sewing about 2/3 of a way along one side, at about 3/8″ from the edge of the fabric (or 1cm seam allowance).  Sew all the way around the square, and finish sewing about 1/3 of a way along the first side — like this drawing below.  You want to leave about 2.5″ of a seam unsewn, so that you can turn the potholder inside out.
Step 5: Turn the layers inside out and press
Through the open seam, turn the potholder inside out – so the wadding stays in the middle.  Make sure the corners are nicely shaped (use a pin or a chopstick to make a nice-looking corner).  Press into shape.  Now fold the raw edges along the turning opening inwards in the finished position, and press.  
Step 6 (nearly finished!):  Topstitch over the open seam and around the entire potholder
It is only slightly tricky.  You want to topstitch over the open seam pretty close to the edge, about 1/8″ from the edge, so the opening is actually sewn shut.  Then continue topstitching around the rest of the potholder.
Ta-da! All finished!
Step 7 (optional): Machine quilt over the finished potholder
Actually, there is one more fun optional step. Using a fairly large stitch length (around 3.5 to 4), sew over the potholder, freestyle, in any pattern you like. A few straight lines are cool.  Or you can do diagonal lines, or any combination.  It would give the potholder a lovely puffy, quilted look.  The stitching would secure the wadding inside as well.
Now that you can make a basic potholder, you can make a lot of other things using the same technique.  I will post more on variations and modifications soon.  

Zakka sewing for beginners (learn to sew post no. 1)

It’s been nearly 18 months since I started making and selling handmade bags and other children’s accessories, and it’s been a lot of fun.  Along the way I learned so many new things —  not only how to make certain things, but how to source fabrics and how to manage a website.  Also along the way I’ve met a lot of people, fellow stall holders at markets, crafty friends, and of course my wonderful customers.  Most of whom are other moms of little ones.

One thing I often  hear from these moms is, “I wish I knew how to sew….” Every time I hear this I say, “But you can! It’s easy.”  And often I want to add “Why don’t you come over to my place and I’ll show you how to sew.” But I realize that for most mothers, learning a new skill while taking care of babies and toddlers is difficult, to say the least.  I mean, it’s hard enough sometimes to even take a shower undisturbed.  

But I began to think how fun it’ll be for me to teach sewing to complete beginners.  Making things to sell online can be a little anti-social.  Wouldn’t it be fun to get a group of people together at my house, from time to time, chat about how hard it is to be a mother etc., have a nice cup of coffee, and then help them learn to sew at the same time? Absolutely!

So I’m excited to tell you that I’ve set aside some time to do it. I don’t have many “clients” yet, but I believe they will turn up eventually.

If you are in Sydney and and would like to attend, just email me. I’ll also post sewing tips, fabric shopping tips, and more tutorials from time to time.  Stay tuned.

Oh by the way, “zakka” just means various homewares, the sort of things I make for my shop – bags, washers and other accessories.  


Thoughts on markets

I have done a flurry of markets the last few months, mostly new ones I hadn’t done before, just to see what they are like.  It is quite exciting trying a new market, be it a crafty one, children’s market, or school markets.  What would the venue be like? Will the weather be all right? Would there be a big turnout, and how will people react to the things I make? Will there be someone selling good coffee?  A lot of the market thrill is in the anticipation of the unknown.

One thing I always enjoy about trying a new market is seeing what other stalls are selling, and how they are displaying the goods.  Usually, once I’m all set up with my stall, I walk around the room to check out other stalls, admire their handmade goodness, and have a pleasant chit-chat with the stall holders. There is a great sense of community among crafters at markets. And this is the reason why, even when the market turns out to be disappointing in terms of sales, I usually have a good day at a market.











Here’s my stall at a recent baby and kids’ market in Menai.  My stall always looks rather messy and crowded! I need to stop making so many different things.  Most other handmade stalls are much cleaner and streamlined.  They seem to make just one type of thing – be it girly hair accessories, bibs, girls’ dresses, or cupcakes.  I’ve got to admire these people.  They have the focus I don’t have, and their stalls look beautiful and organized.  The truth is I get so bored making just one thing, I keep expanding my sewing repartoire.  I don’t think I can ever be a handmade “specialist”….  but maybe I can bring fewer things to markets next time.


Mathilda’s Market

It’s been a week already since the Mathilda’s Market, and I should have written about it earlier. I’ve been quite busy last week – not so much crafting, but gardening. Gardening meaning, mostly pulling weeds out of our junglified yards. We’ve been totally neglecting the yards, especially the front one, that upon removing long weeds I have discovered – surprise! – proper plants underneath that the previous owner must have planted. Our neighbours must be sighing a collective sigh of relief now that our house is no longer looking like the black sheep of the street.

Anyway, there was a lot of anticipation about the Mathilda’s Market, because it is a big crafting market with a big stall fee. They have markets in Sydney only about three times a year, and unlike the general weekend markets like Orange Grove, only have stalls selling baby and kids’ items — not necessarily handmade, but there are a lot of handmade stalls. This time it was at Sydney Cricket Ground / Fox Studios, and there were over 120 stalls! It was overwhelmingly big.

I got lucky that I had a stall space near the entrance with good lighting.























I went to Ikea the day before to get the white board and the coat stand.













My usual suspects of bags and backpacks.










Items I only sell at markets, like popcorn bags, toy magnets and keychains.

As expected, it was quite a different kind of market experience than the Orange Grove market. I had never seen so many pregnant women and mothers with strollers in one place. I had good sales, too, even considering the high stall fee. Plus, as ever, I got to meet a few other stallholders who were not only talented, but also mothers of small children who pursue their crafty passion with what little time they have left in their busy days. I very much enjoy that feeling of camaraderie at markets, as well as talking to my customers face to face.

Slack environmentalism

Recently I was invited to have a stall at an arts and craft fair called Creative Lane in Marrickville on July 31st (Sunday). The energetic organiser of the event, Suki, was preparing a brochure for the event featuring the stallholders, and she wanted each of us to contribute a full-page content for it. At first I thought I didn’t have time for it (really, how many weeks has it been since my last blog post?), but upon further encouragement from Suki, I decided to just do it. This is what I came up with:

I’m a slack sort of an environmentalist. I always have the best intention of doing my bit to save the earth, but when it comes to the grind of daily life with two little ones, the sad truth is my actions often don’t live up to my ideal. Often I don’t have the energy or patience to make sacrifices for a cause. Remember that Murphy Brown episode where a hungry and tired Murphy orders a delivery of takeaway, and it arrives in a Styrofoam container she’d vowed to boycott? She hesitates but sends it back in the end. If it were me, I would eat it in a heartbeat. I’m weak that way.

Take cloth nappies, for example. I used cloth nappies (and cloth wipes) for my first child. But when the second one arrived two years later, there was a lot of washing to be done with the two of them in nappies. And the “one size” cloth nappies I had bought didn’t fit my youngest well. There was a lot of leakage… and hence more washing. So I gave in and started using disposables.

But other “green” choices are easier for me to make, because they don’t require any sacrifice on my part – and offer only benefits. I buy used kids’ clothing because it’s cheap and wearable. I adore the feel of natural fabrics like cotton and linen, and use them whenever possible in lieu of synthetics. Organic food is not only earth-friendly but tastes better. And composting? I love how I don’t have to squeeze all the garbage into the bin every week to make it fit.

The handmade accessories I make reflect my penchant for no-sacrifice environmentalism. The fabric lunch bags are great alternatives to bulky plastic ones since they’re lightweight, easy to store, and machine washable (i.e. more hygienic). Same with my daycare bags, which are machine washable and for that reason alone  better than stain-prone plastic backpacks in the shops. And when wiping those grubby little faces, I much prefer using my organic cotton washers in lieu of disposable wipes or tissue – they’re prettier, feel better in your hands and on my kids’ delicate skin, and have no nasty chemicals. The things I make for my shop are things I love using every day – and as a bonus they happen to be earth-friendly.

Because, seriously, parenting is hard work. We all want to save the earth, but if we can do our bit without a big sacrifice… wouldn’t we all prefer a win-win situation?

Sounds good, doesn’t it? The thing is, upon writing this and sending it off to Suki, I suddenly began to feel guilty. Guilty about the disposable nappies I’m still using six months after Miss M was toilet trained. Guilty about still using my apartment-era clothes dryer sometimes, even though our new house came with the biggest Hills Hoist ever, just because I like my towels soft or because the weather is a bit chilly outside.

Driven by this wave of guilt, I remembered a book review a while ago, about a family in New York who, as an experiment, lived a whole year in a sustainable way — in an extremely sustainable way in fact: no driving cars or using public transport, using no disposable anything, including coffee cups and toilet paper, and not even using an elevator.  The book is called No Impact Man by Colin Beavan. I bought the Kindle version of the book and started reading it straight away.

Well I’m still reading it, but so far, No Impact Man is having a devastating impact on my conscience. All the more so because Beavan is such a fantastic writer and the book is an entertaining read – there is a lot of interesting family drama involved in his experiment (his experiment applied to the whole family – his fur-loving wife and their 18-month-old daughter). In particular, Beavan’s account of how he struggled to reduce – to zero – the vast amount of garbage the family had previously generated, including disposable nappies and take-away containers, is sending my level of guilt and shame to overdrive.

Forget that I compost, recycle, use “earth-friendly” cleaning products, or use cloth handkerchiefs — suddenly these things seem like trivial trickles in light of the ocean of transgressions I am making elsewhere. How could I have possibly thought it was okay to buy yoghurt in plastic squirt tubes just to placate my whiney kids while grocery shopping? How can I justify driving my gas-guzzling V6 car for 40 minutes each way to an organic market? Or anywhere for that matter? And all that fabric I buy from overseas… how much damage in carbon emission is that causing?

I am not a slack sort of an environmentalist. I am just slack.

Things will have to change. I can’t give up toilet paper or avoid driving altogether… but I cannot avoid making sacrifices anymore. I need to go beyond my yuppy comfort zone. I am hopeful though, that “sacrifices” may not feel like sacrifices anymore when you  begin to realize your wants and needs were unjustified to begin with. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate win-win situation?

Handmade lampshade

Look what arrived at my doorstep this week.


























Isn’t this gorgeous? I bought it from lovely Kristen at her madeit shop called Lulu’s Lamps. The shade is expertly handmade from an Amy Butler fabric I like and have used in the past to make things, like a quilt and bibs.

I originally bought the lamp for my children’s room, but upon seeing this lovely little thing in person, I immediately changed my mind: my children don’t deserve this lamp. They don’t appreciate it like I do.

I have been making things myself for a long time, but buying handmade from other people is new to me. Previously I had this narrow-minded attitude of “why buy it when you can make it yourself.” But I was wrong! There is something special about buying handmade from someone else. You know there is a real person behind the item, and that person had spent her (or his) precious time thinking about it, designing it, and making it. Having that item around you makes you connect with that person. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know this person at all. You still feel this connection every time you look at the object. And that makes me happy.

I think I am now hooked on buying handmade.

The lamp now lives on my desk, casting a warm glowing light as I work at night.