Birthday tote bag

It’s my mother’s birthday today. Happy birthday, Midori! Here’s a special tote bag I made for her.

black and white tote bag with sheep fabric

Don’t you just love the hint of sheepish playfulness, in the otherwise classic monotone scheme? My mother bought the sheep fabric herself when she was visiting Japan. She actually gave it to me for my birthday – along with stacks of other fabric. But what goes around comes around, and now I’m giving this fabric back to her all dressed up as a bag.

This large tote bag is in the same style as this diaper bag and this shorter variation – all with leather handles and a rectangle bottom. This bag is even more ambitious than the other two because it has not only an exposed zipper pocket…

black sheep tote bag - exposed zipper pocket

but also a recessed zipper top.

black sheep tote bag - recessed zipper top

I’m quite pleased how professional this bag looks! The exposed zipper pocket was much easier the second time. There is another patch pocket on the other side – because when it comes to pockets, the more the merrier.

Here’s what the bottom looks like. I used heavy-duty cotton canvas in grey for the bottom, with lots of interfacing layers glued on for extra stiffness.

black sheep tote bag - bottom view

 

 

My mother is a school teacher, and she lugs around her laptop to school every day. I’ve made her a laptop bag before. But this time, she wanted a bigger bag with a zipper top, so the laptop is hidden from view. This bag is large enough for both a laptop and an A4 folder (plus other personal things).

black sheep tote bag - inside view

I finished this bag just in time to rush to the post office for an Express next-day delivery. Australia Post can be unreliable though, so I’m crossing my fingers it’ll arrive on time!

Pattern Preview – Drawstring gift bag and a mini towel with double gauze

I am very excited to share that my next sewing pattern is nearly finished! This one is for a lined drawstring bag and a mini towel using a type of fabric called double gauze, and I wrote it with near-total beginners in mind. I love that it has two projects in one pattern. A beginner can learn the basics of sewing by first making the super-easy (but cute and useful) mini towel, and then move on to make the drawstring bag to learn the basics of bag making. And when you are finished, you can put the mini towel inside the drawstring bag, and what a perfect handmade gift that would make a new baby! 

Lined drawstring bag pattern - page one

I chose to feature double gauze in this pattern, because it is such a beautiful fabric for babies and children. It’s a popular fabric in Japan, where you can find them in so many adorable prints.  Unfortunately though, the popularity has not yet spread to the Western world. It’s a matter of time I’m sure, but I wanted to help spread the love of this soft-as-air fabric. Of course, you can substitute other materials for double gauze if you don’t have access to it, but I really hope you’ll give it a try some day. 

The pattern has a section on how to work with double gauze, and throughout the instructions there are tips on sewing with double gauze. So even if you are a more accomplished sewer, you might find this pattern interesting just for the information on double gauze.

This pattern, like my previous lunch bag pattern, has very detailed instructions with large, clear photos. Here’s a sample page from the mini towel section.

Lined drawstring bag pattern - sample instruction page

The drawstring gift bag is slightly more challenging, but is a perfect second project for a beginner to gain confidence in sewing. The resulting bag is beautiful because it is fully lined, and the ruffle top is particularly sweet as a gift bag. Once you make the gift bag, you can use exactly the same technique to make a larger laundry bag, or shoe bag, or lots of other kinds of drawstring bags. 

The pattern is being tested by six lovely volunteer testers right now. Four of them have already finished them this week, and have kindly sent me photos of their creations.

Pattern tester's finished bag and towel 1

This is Deanne’s creation. She had only one sewing lesson prior to making these items for me, so I’m so pleased what a beautiful job she did. She was able to follow the pattern without asking me a single question about it. So proud of you, Deanne!

Pattern tester's finished bag and towel 2 - Koala print

Pattern tester's finished bag and towel 3 - pink rabbitThese are the bags Sarah (navy koala) and Kristy (pink rabbit) made. They are not exactly beginners, but am very grateful for their help with pattern testing. 

drawstring bag by Erika

 

Lastly, I LOVE this bag Erkia made. She chose her own fabric (how adorable is the goldfish fabric!), so this is not double gauze. You can see the pattern works perfectly well with other types of fabric. 

I’m still waiting to hear from two more pattern testers, but as soon as their feedback comes through, and I revise the pattern, it’ll be up on my Etsy and Craftsy stores. 

 

French pastry bag no. 2

This week. I had another chance to make a tote bag with the beautiful “French pastry recipe” fabric and leather handles. This one was for a special client, who has now become a crafty friend. She requested that the bag be about 2″ shorter than my previous bag, and to have an exposed zipper pocket inside. This is what the finished bag looks from the outside. I love this shape.

French pastry tote bag with leather handles

I had never made an exposed zipper pocket before. Was it fearless of me to agree to a design I had no idea how to create, or was it a little… reckless? 

French pastry tote bag with leather handles - exposed zipper pocket

I hope it looks all right! Thankfully it was not too hard. I found a fantastic (and free!) tutorial on Craftsy.com by Ms. Elaineous. Her step-by-step instruction with clear diagrams saved my day.

Had I used a white zipper instead of dark brown, it would have looked more seamless. But I think this thin line of brown zipper looks lovely as a decorative accent.

The bag has a simple patch pocket on the other side. 

French pastry bag tote with leather handles - inside pocket

Stitching the leather handles was very time consuming, like last time. But instead of being frustrated about it, I just decided to watch a couple of Grey’s Anatomy episodes while stitching. A very enjoyable experience. And hard work is clearly worth it, because the finished bag looks very elegant and luxurious with that touch of leather. 

French pastry bag tote with leather handles - leather handles

In other news I’m planning a special Facebook “auction market day,” in about three weeks time. I’ll focus on making small things like wet bags and sandwich bags using leftover fabrics. So check out my Facebook page for details!

Hello Kitty madness

I need to admit… since my last post I have officially become obsessed with Liberty Hello Kitty fabrics. I can’t stop thinking about what other little things I can make with those fabrics. Why little things? Well, aside from not needing much fabric, those Liberty fabrics really shine at a small scale, because the prints are so detailed and crisp. Besides, little things are inherently cute, don’t you think, and I have a tendency to be obsessed with tiny creations.

Liberty Hello Kitty sun hats

Aren’t these sun hats pretty? Okay, they are not exactly “little” – they are for 3 year olds. But still, hats don’t require too much fabric in the scheme of things. Each hat takes less than 1/4 meter of the main fabric.

Liberty Hello Kitty hats being made

Here’s a shot of the hats before they had linings. The Liberty fabric is very lightweight, so I fused it first with woven interfacing to give it the body a hat needs.

Liberty Hello Kitty sun hat with pink stripes

This one has pink and white stripe lining, which is very girly and dreamy.

Liberty Hello Kitty sun hat with bright pink lining

This vivid-colored hat has solid hot pink lining. The lining is important because you’ll see it when you wear this hat with its brim rolled up. It’s fun to have a different fabric peeking under the brim. These hats are actually reversible, but seriously, would you ever wear them to hide the gorgeous Kitty print?

And while at it, I couldn’t resist making something else to go with these hats.

Liberty Hello Kitty mini handbags

Mini handbags! I had so much fun making them. These are just little zippered coin purses basically, but with the little handles, don’t they look like handbags?

Liberty Hello Kitty mini handbags as a phone case

They may be small, but not completely useless. I could fit an iPhone in it, so a grownup could use it as a phone case. They are lightly padded as well.

Liberty Hello Kitty mini handbags as a phone caseNow, what else can I make with these fabrics….? To be continued.

Liberty Hello Kitty fabrics… and DIY covered button hair ties

I am not a huge Hello Kitty fan. I mean, I probably was when I was 8 or so, and all the little girls in Japan loved everything with Hello Kitty on it. I know the Cat has since become an international icon of cuteness, but I never quite understood why.

So when I first saw Hello Kitty fabrics from Liberty of London (was it a few years ago?) – I didn’t get it. To me, Liberty of London tana lawn meant top-quality, luxury fabric for grownups. These fabrics are super expensive, and frankly, just too good for children who’d smear spaghetti sauce on them. And Hello Kitty meant… well, “childish trinkets” comes to mind when I think of it. Liberty and Hello Kitty just didn’t seem to mix.

Until I saw this fabric.

Liberty Hello Kitty Art fabric

Wow! So beautiful and cheesy at the same time. The design is so clever in that, while the cats are everywhere, they are well-blended into the overall pattern – you probably wouldn’t even notice the cats when looking from a distance. Instead of being the main thing, Hello Kitty has become dots, flowers, and colors.

When I learned that these fabrics are only available for sale in Japan in limited quantities, I had to order some right away. Never mind the exorbitant price tag.

Hello Kitty Liberty fabrics

And these arrived yesterday. I love, love, love them. The silky quality of Liberty Tana Lawn fabric, combined with the detailed and crisp print, and the silly cuteness of colourful cats everywhere, is a winning combination – even for a grownup I might say.

Hello Kitty Liberty fabrics - selvedge

 

Here’s what the selvedge looks like: Printed in Japan, and for sale only in Japan. It’s not allowed to make products out of this fabric for sale.

Now the dilemma was, on one hand these fabrics were too precious to cut into. On the other hand, I was dying to play with the kitties because they were too darn cute. Hmm… The solution?

Hello Kitty Liberty covered button hair ties

Covered buttons of course! Made into girly hair ties! These were so easy and satisfying to make – and require only a tiny amount of fabric. Would you like to give it a try? Here’s what you need:

Materials needed for covered buttons

You can buy covered button sets from a craft shop, or online. They are pretty cheap in bulk and come in different sizes. Each set has a rounded, outer button and the backside panel. Make sure they come with the mould tool, or buy it separately. I bought mine here.

Step 1: Make a template with clear plastic so you can “fussy cut” the fabric. The button kits I had are about 1 1/8″ in diameter. The template should be a circle with about 2 1/8″ diameter. I marked the center of the template, so it’s easier to place a desired object – say, a Kitty face – right in the middle of the button.

Step 2: Place the template onto the right side of the fabric, and trace around it with a pen.

covered button DIY - cut fabric

Step 3: Cut the fabric.

covered button DIY - cut fabric

Step 4: Sandwich the fabric between the mould and the rounded outer button. Make sure the right side of the fabric is facing the mould side. Press the button into the mould.

covered button DIY - setting the button

 

If you have a clear mould, you can check from the other side if the pattern is placed where you want it. You also have to be a little careful with very lightweight fabric like Liberty tana lawn, because the fabric can get stretched out of shape — and the pretty face of the cat could be distorted. If you are not happy here, you can take the button out the mould and start again, till you get the result you want.

covered button DIY - place fabric on mould

Here the fabric is pushed all the way in.

 

covered button DIY - back of button

Step 5: Press the back of the button into the mould till it clicks in. I just use my fingers here, even though the mould comes with a little tool for pushing the back panel in (it’s the little round blue thing you see in the photo above).

 

Step 6: Pop the button out of the mould, and that’s it!

Step 7: Thread a narrow, commercial hair tie through the loop hole in the back of the button, and you just made the world’s prettiest hair tie for your little girl – or for yourself.

covered button DIY - threading hair elastic

You can also buy covered button kits with a flat back, without the loop hole. You can glue them onto DIY hair slides, or magnets, or little pegs… the possibilities are endless.

Thoughts on custom orders – a tote-style diaper bag

I love custom orders. Well, I should say that I love the right kind of custom orders. The right kind of custom order is when a customer wants a product that I also want to develop. In other words, a custom order becomes a funded research and development project. This kind of custom order motivates me to come up with a good design in a relatively short period of time – whereas, if left alone, I could be working on a new design in my “spare time,” and a project could drag on for months or more.

Another thing I love about a custom order is that I can work directly with my customer about the design. A customer doesn’t passively buy my finished product, but becomes a partner in creating something new. I really enjoy this collaborative process because I can learn what kind of products people are looking for, while at the same time, incorporating my design agenda. Plus in my line of work, it can get pretty lonely, and I love these rare teamwork opportunities – even when the client lives thousands of miles away!

Tote-style diaper bag with leather handles

Here’s an example of what I mean by the right kind of a custom order — a large tote bag I made this week for a customer in New York.

She loved the French pastry recipe fabric I posted on Facebook, and requested a large tote bag that could be used as a diaper bag for her upcoming baby. She chose the bag style and orientation (longer than wider), and requested lots of pockets. The rest was up to me.

Tote-style diaper bag with leather handles

Leather handles! I had never used leather handles before, but when I looked at this beautiful fabric, I thought it deserved to have leather handles. It’s a good thing my customer was not a vegan.

I used heavy-duty cotton canvas for the lining and for the bottom, to give the bag a good structure. I needed this structure inside, because I didn’t want to use interfacing for the French pastry fabric — it would have ruined the wonderful softness and drape of the 50% linen fabric.

 

 

Inside, there is a large zippered double pocket with waterproof lining on one side, and a simple patch pocket for the other side. So three pockets in total. If the bag was in “landscape” orientation (i.e. wider than longer), I might have added a side pocket.

You can’t see it in the photos, but there is also a linen tab with a carabiner on one side. These carabiner key-holder tabs are so useful, I’m adding these to a lot of my bags these days. It’s great not just for hanging keys, but you can hang a wristlet pouch from it to keep your essentials securely attached to your bag.

Another small detail I like is the strip of facing I added to the top of the lining, using the same French pastry fabric. Don’t you think it gives the bag a nice professional look? It also gives the bag another layer of fabric for structure at the opening.

I loved how the bag turned out, it was sad to send it away to my customer! But oh well, I can always make another one. That’s the beauty of doing this kind of custom orders – after the order has been shipped, I am left with a detailed note I took on how to make the bag. And that’s worth the many hours it took to make the bag itself.

 

 

Zip-top daycare bag (i.e. diaper bag)

Recently I was asked to make a nappy bag with a zipper-top closure instead of a magnetic button closure. I said yes, thinking it wouldn’t be too hard.

Zipper-top diaper bag in green elephant

Well it turned out to be a little more challenging than I anticipated. Simply inserting a zipper at the top is easy. But keeping the D-ring tabs on either top ends of the bag – which is part of the bag design, allowing the shoulder strap to attach neatly – required some thought.

In the end the solution was simple – I used a recessed zipper design, which I have used before for my wristlet pouches.

Looks great, doesn’t it? I also attached a handy carabiner tab (I used a lovely linen tape here) just under the zipper here, so you don’t lose your keys or wristlet pouches. You don’t really need these for my regular diaper bags with magnetic button closure, because you can simply use the D rings on either side, and tuck the hanged items inside the bag. With the zipper-top, you can’t do that because then you won’t be able to close the zipper.

I’m pleased with this optional design. This bag will be great for traveling, too, because the content will not spill out when accidentally knocked over under the aiplane seat, for example. You can also carry your tablet or laptop and feel secure about it. These zipper-top nappy bags are now available to order on my Etsy shop.

I love it when my customers challenge me to come up with a new design feature I had not made before. It allows me to experiment with new things, and expand my creative horizon. 

Insulated lunch bag pattern

Now I’d like to tell you a little about my new insulated lunch bag pattern. The pattern itself is quite simple, and I’m sure a lot of people could have come up with a design like this on their own. Originality is not a huge factor here.

There are two things I’m very happy about this pattern though – one is the computer-friendly format, and the other is the detailed instructions.

Format

I used a landscape format with one or two large photos per page, and corresponding bullet-point instructions in large, easy-to-read text.

Insulated lunch bag pattern first page

Does it look like a Powerpoint presentation? Why yes, that was the idea exactly. I used Apple Keynote for writing this pattern, and once I got over the initial learning curve (thanks to a wonderful tutorial on Lynda.com), the application was so simple and a joy to use.

I chose this format because I am terrible at following other people’s patterns. The reason for this, I thought, was that most patterns use the A4 format, with small text and tiny, infrequent photos. I am a visual person, and what I crave are large, clear photos and lots of them. Having to figure out a pattern by deciphering the meaning of text alone often makes my head spin.

So I’ve come up with a format that even a pattern-challenged person like me can follow with ease, with lots of large photos and texts in short sentences, presented as bullet points.

Another advantage of this format is that it is computer/tablet-friendly. I dislike having to print patterns, because printed patterns are easily lost, not to mention the cost of the printer cartridges and the environmental factor. My pattern fits nicely on your computer, tablet or even a smartphone screen, so you don’t have to print it out. It looks like this on an iPad.

Pink elephant with iPad

[Thanks to Su-Yin Johns for letting me use her photo.]

Of course, you might have to adjust your computer/tablet/smartphone setting so that it does not go to sleep after a couple of minutes. Having to wake it up every time you are ready for the next step can be annoying. But most of my patten testers loved this format, so I’m pretty sure you’ll love it, too. After all, this is the day and age where even my 60-something mother carries around a MacBook Air, and many of us prefer reading e-books over printed books.

Detailed Instructions

Another thing I am proud of this pattern is the detailed instructions. I wrote the pattern with beginners in mind, so they can learn new skills and techniques by making the lunch bag – kind of like a project-based sewing class. For example, inserting a zipper in the lunch bag is probably the hardest part of making the bag. So the pattern has many, many pages explaining the zipper attachment process step by step. Even if you have never made a zippered pouch before, you should be able to follow the instructions and make the bag pretty easily.

insulated lunch bag pattern zipper section

Of course, if you are more advanced in sewing, you can skip those pages and just read the sections that are new to you. That’s another beautiful part of having a tablet/computer-friendly pattern. Turning pages is effortless, and you don’t feel resentful that you had to print out 20+ pages of instructions and photos that you mostly didn’t need.

So I hope you’ll give my pattern a try. They are available on Etsy and Craftsy. If you’d also like to receive all the necessary materials to make the bag in the mail as well, you can purchase a kit as well on Etsy. And if you are not keen on making an insulated lunch bag, stay tuned for more patterns in the future.

Pattern testing – insulated lunch bag

I’m so excited to announce that my first pattern and kits for insulated lunch bags are now finished and up for sale! Why am I now writing patterns, you ask? Well, I have always wondered if other crafters might enjoy making the zakka items I create, rather than having to buy the finished items from my shops. I also feel passionate about getting people to learn how to sew. So my hope was to write patterns that are detailed enough for beginners to follow, but are still interesting for more experienced crafters.

I’d love to tell you more about the pattern and the kits in another post, but first, I’d like to tell you about the five wonderful women who tested my lunch bag pattern and kits – Erika, Bec, Su, Kristy and Sarah. At first I was hoping to get two or three volunteer testers, but was thrilled to find five! And they’ve all done tremendous work getting the kits sewn up and giving me invaluable feedback.

Here’s the lunch bag Sarah made. She chose this “boy and ship” fabric that turned out to be quite cute for this bag.

Sarah's lunch bag - boy and ship

Kristy from Monkey Mai made this lunch bag with the red bird fabric. Beautiful job!

Kristy's lunch bag - red linen birds

I was lucky to have two other professional crafters to test out my kits and pattern. Bec from Little Toot Creations is an experienced dressmaker. Isn’t her grey bird lunch bag beautiful?

Bec's lunch bag - grey linen bird

Su, another experienced dressmaker from Alice Loves Handmade, chose this pink elephant fabric for her daughter. It turned out so pretty and girly. I’m also pleased that most of my testers were able to make the lunch bags without having to print out the 20-odd-page instruction. You can see how nice the pattern looks on Su’s iPad in the photo. But more about the pattern itself later.

Su's lunch bag - Pink elephant with iPad

Last but not the least, Erika helped me out all the way from Vermont, US. She’s an avid crafter, and was the one who initially encouraged me to write patterns. She made not one but two lunch bags using her own fabrics – because sending kit materials to the US would take so long. I love both her bags! She made her own handles, too, which add a lot to the design, don’t you think?

Erika's lunch bag - Hello KittyErika's princess lunch bag

I really enjoyed working with all the pattern testers, and feel that they are now part of my team. It gets lonely sometimes working alone in my studio at home. So even though I have never met any of the testers personally or even spoken to them on the phone, it’s been wonderful to have this teamwork experience by email. It just shows how generous and supportive this crafting community is. Thanks a million for your help, and I look forward to working with you again in the future!

More Japanese craft books – handmade wallets

I did not mention in my previous post that, when I bought those Komihinata books, I also bought two other Japanese craft books about small things (or “komono,” as we call them in Japan).  These books are both on handmade wallets. One book is called “Handmade Wallets,” and the other one is called “More! Handmade Wallets” – both published by Vogue Japan. It’s pretty rare that I buy craft books on such specialized items, but I was hoping to learn all the high-level skills associated with wallet making. You can tell I was obsessed with wallets when I was making these mini wallets.

Two Japanese craft books on wallet making
I was pleasantly surprised to find a wide range of wallets discussed in these two books. There are traditional folded wallets with many compartments, L-shaped ones, clutch purse-like ones, ones with metal frames, and even those tiny “macaron” coin purses that have been wildly popular in Japan for the last few years.

Here are some pages from the books.
A page from a Japanese craft book on handmade walletsA page from a Japanese craft book on handmade wallets

A page from a Japanese craft book on handmade walletsA page from a Japanese craft book on handmade walletsA page from a Japanese craft book on handmade walletsMacaron coin purses from Handmade Wallets bookBeautiful, aren’t they? In addition to the many designs the books contain, I love that the publishers included several fabric variations for each design. You can see how a wallet would look completely different when the fabric choice is different.

So how many of these have I made so far? None. That’s right, not one. It probably has something to do with my laziness in following other people’s sewing instructions, compounded by the inherent complexity of wallet making. I mean, just look at this page from the “how to make” section.

Instruction page from Handmade Wallets book

Does it make your head spin? It totally spins mine. Look at the sheer number of little fabric pieces to cut…. I did read most of the instructions though. I pored over them at every opportunity over the summer holidays, when I did not do any sewing. I do this a lot with craft books actually – just read the instruction pages like a novel, without making anything.

But these wallets are just too beautiful. So yes, one of these days I will make one. One of these days…