Fabric gift

It’s been many years since I’ve been to Japan, and right now the only thing I miss about that country, pretty much, is the opportunity for fabric shopping. Well, fabric and the food. Online fabric shops are wonderful, and they supply me with most that I need, but occasionally I wonder what I’m missing by not being there in person.

So every time my mother – who also lives in Australia – visits Japan, I beg her to please go fabric shopping on my behalf. She’s always a little hesitant at first, saying she doesn’t know what I want, but I tell her that it’s okay to choose what she likes. Our tastes are different, but not so different that I wouldn’t like what she chooses. Actually, I love the element of surprise.

And this is the pile of fabrics my mother bought for me in Janurary.

A pile of Japanese fabric

Wow! There is so. much. fabric. Some are canvas and others are more lightweight. I’ve seen some of them on online shops, but most of them are new to me – which just confirms my suspicion that I am missing out by not being in Japan.

These are some of my favorites.

guitar fabric

sewing supply fabricFrench pastry fabric

Black cat fabric

Black cat fabric

cute rabbit fabriclinen dots and floral fabricJust looking through these fabrics is inspiring me to make things. Though they’ll have to be small things, because most of them are one meter or less in quantity. But I love that challenge as well. The only thing is I might not have the courage to cut into some of these fabrics, let alone sell them, knowing there is only so little…..

These fabrics are a gift for my upcoming birthday. Lucky me! Thanks Midori! It’s nice to have such a lovely mother.

Library bag giveaway

Well the long summer school holiday is finally coming to an end here in Australia, and it’s nearly time to go back to school – or in my kids’ case, preschool.  One thing that was good about this holiday for me was that the kids really bonded with each other. Maybe it’s only natural after spending all those weeks together, instead of going to separate preschool and daycare rooms. But I am truly grateful that they are playing together so well now, with much less fighting and tears.

Anyway, to celebrate the beginning of a new school year – and to thank all my blog and Facebook readers for their support – I’d like to give away THREE library bags to three lucky winners! These bags are my bestsellers, and no wonder, because they are super useful. You can use it for library books, for a sheet and blanket for daycare or preschool, and they also come in handy for keeping your suitcase organised for traveling. It’ll also make a great gift for a new mother, because she can cram a lot of baby stuff in the bag and toss it in the stroller basket, without having to buy an expensive nappy bag.

Rather than picking the three bags myself, I’d like each winner to pick a bag of her/his choice from what’s listed in my Etsy shop (subject to availability). So please check it out.

To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment to this blog post (not on Facebook) with your name and which library bag print you would like to have if you win.

The giveaway is open till Thursday, January 31, at 9pm Sydney time. I will then choose three winners randomly. Good luck!

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The giveaway is now closed. Thanks everyone for entering!

library bags / large drawstring bags

 

 

Insulated lunch bag

It’s been such a hot, hot summer here in Australia. During our road trip to Adelaide, the temperature regularly rose above 40 degrees celsius.  It’s hot even back in Sydney, and the other day it was 48 degrees where we live – which turned out to be the hottest day in recorded history. Yikes.

So even though I had been putting off making insulated lunch bags till now -despite several requests from customers -, this heat wave has pushed me over the edge. As usual, my creations are inspired by necessity – I couldn’t have survived the four-day road trip through the sweltering heat without a constant supply of cold water in our Esky bag.

Here’s my new insulated lunch bag – tote bag style.

insulated lunch tote bag

For the insulation effect, I used a product called Insul-Bright. It’s just like a quilt wadding, but bulkier.  I used waterproof ripstop nylon for the lining, to keep the bag dry outside. 

At first I didn’t particularly enjoy working with these materials. I’m not a fan of synthetic materials, and the combination of Insul-Bright and nylon was was a bit too much. I think that’s why I chose this very natural-looking linen bird fabric to compensate for the mostly synthetic materials. But soon I got used to it.

And I love the result! The tote bag-style lunch bag is super cute, don’t you think? It’s small enough to be cute, but large enough to contain all that you need for your (or your child’s) lunchtime – a couple of containers, a small water bottle, a piece of fruit, cutlery… and a bar of reusable ice block to keep everything cool.

insulated lunch bag with lunch stuff inside

Next I put the bag through a rigorous (??) scientific scrutiny to test its effectiveness. I put an equal amount of ice cubes in two glass jars, and put each jar in the insulated lunch bag and my regular drawstring lunch bag, along with a bar of reusable ice block each.

The result? Two hours later, most ice cubes were melted in the normal canvas lunch bag, but most were still intact in the insulated bag. Moreover, the bottom half of the regular lunch bag was soaked wet from the “sweat” of melting ice, but the insulated bag, thanks to its nylon lining, was completely dry. Four  hours later, the ice cubes had just melted in the insulated bag, but the water was still icy cold. Success! Of course, I’m not claiming the homemade lunch bag works just as well as professionally made Esky bags. But it certainly is a big improvement over my other lunch bags.

ice cube test for insulated lunch bags

The larger bag below was the very first version of the bag I made – which turned out to be too big. But that’s okay, because it’s the perfect size for a mason jar I use to make yoghurt. I love homemade yoghurt, but I was feeling that wrapping the bottle in my child’s winter sleeping bag was a little unsightly, as effective as it is. Now I can make yoghurt in style.

insulated lunch bags, version 1 and 2

Here are some more lunch bags I made for my shop. I just love this linen bird fabrics. So beautiful.

three insulated lunch bags in linen bird fabrics

 

 

Holiday!

Happy new year, everyone! I had a wonderful holiday break, going on a two-week camping road trip to Adelaide with my family. Well, we actually only camped for three nights, and stayed at my mother’s house in Adelaide mostly, but still.

It was our first time camping with our little ones, and was slightly apprehensive about it. But we need not have worried. They absolutely loved sleeping in a tent.

 

photo of the kids in a tent
We took three days to drive from Sydney to Adelaide. The scenery in rural Australia was just like this for 99% of the trip.
view from a car window in rural Australia
We packed our days in Adelaide with activities every day.  Cherry picking in Adelaide Hills….
cherry picking in Adelaide Hills
and apricot picking in my mother’s backyard.
apricots from my mother's backyard
We went to the beach a lot…..
seaweed picking in Adelaide
and fed farm animals at the fantastic Farm Barn in Hahndorf.
feeding a lamb at Farm Barn
The Central Market is amazing. If I lived in Adelaide, I’d be here all the time.
Central Market in Adelaide
 I didn’t do any sewing for two weeks (and didn’t even miss it). But I made lots of jam.
homemade apricot and cherry jam
On our way back to Sydney, the temperature soared to over 40 degrees. We chilled in the Murray River…. and gave up camping and sought air-conditioned accommodations instead.
swimming in Murray River
If I had to pick one favorite moment from the trip though, it would be watching the sunset into the ocean on New Year’s Eve. Bye-bye, 2012!
Sunset on New Year's Eve 2012

Last zakka sewing class – bucket hats

Earlier this month, we met for the last zakka sewing class for the year to make kids’ sun hats.  It is a little sad that after six months of such fun monthly activity, it has come to an end. But it couldn’t have gone on forever. All good things come to an end, and it’s time to recruit new beginners to help them get sewing.

So for our last group class, we made kids’ sun hats from a free Oliver + S pattern (available for download here).  Vicky and I thought the pattern was a challenge, but doable for our increasingly-confident sewers.  Here’s what I made the previous day to prepare for the class.

Oliver + S bucket hat pattern cut out for use

 

At our class, I mostly followed the original instruction from Oliver + S, except I figured out a way to put the hat together without any hand sewing. Do you like hand sewing? No, me neither. It’s very easy to machine sew the whole hat. You make two complete hats, one for each fabric, and then you put them together at the edge of the brim, right side together, leaving about a 2-inch gap for turning. When you turn the hats inside out (just like when making a tote bag), you topstitch at the edge to sew the gap shut – and there you go! No fiddly hand sewing.

And everyone did really well with their hats, don’t you think? Beautiful stitching.

three reversible bucket hats made at zakka sewing classbucket hats modelled by a little girl

Here are all the hats modelled by an adorable little girl who came to the class with her mother.

There is still a couple of spots available for next year’s zakka sewing class, starting in February. It’s free. Just bring your sewing machine and fabric. If you are in Sydney and are interested in learning to sew, please contact me.

Wristlet pouches

I’ve been working on wristlet pouches for a while.  So far I’ve made no less than four different versions.

red and white polka dot wristlet pouch

This was the first one.  I loved its simple construction and cute shape.

But it turned out to be a little too narrow to fit a typical women’s wallet.  I had no idea because my own wallet is very small – it’s great to have a product tester to point these things out for me.

wristlet pouch with red stripy traditional japanese fabric

So this is the wider version I made.  (aside: I used this traditional Japanese fabric, with which I’ve been in love for a while.)  Definitely wide enough for big women’s wallets.  I also started using padding for that cushy feel.  My product tester was happy.

So I made another one using this gorgeous handprinted fabric from Blueberry Ash.

wristlet pouches using handprinted fabric

Very pretty.  At this point I was still attached to the shape of the small pouch, so I made one of each.

 

But deep down I wasn’t happy with the shape of the larger pouch.  It just wasn’t cute enough for me.  So I tried this one, using a recessed zipper pattern, with a fake piping detail.  I used another gorgeous traditional Japanese fabric called “nanairo” (seven colors).

wristlet pouch with recessed zipper

The result? It was a disaster!  It wasn’t anywhere near cute.  It looked boxy and cold like a fridge.

Then I figured out what I didn’t like about it: I didn’t like the bottom of the pouch looking narrower than the top.  I also thought the pouch was out of proportion because it was too short for its width.  So I got off my lazy chair and drafted a nice rounded pouch pattern.  It should be wide enough for a large wallet, but is also slightly taller.  I scrapped the recessed zipper idea, but made the zipper ends a little neater.  Here’s a sample.

wristlet pouch final version with rounded bottoms

Now this one, I am in love.  See how cute it is with the bottom of the bag looking rounded and wider than at the top?  It doesn’t have a gusset, but it is still 3D in shape because of the little darts.  It looks so friendly and inviting, you just want to hold in your hand all the time.

green daisy wristlet pouch

Here’s the same pouch in green.  Which one do you like better – green or red?  Finally, finally the pouches are shop-ready!

Zakka sewing class no. 4 – drawstring tote bags

We had a lot of fun this week at our fourth zakka sewing class.  We made drawstring tote bags, even though we had made tote bags a couple of months ago, because a couple of new members really wanted to make tote bags.  We decided on the drawstring version to keep everyone interested.  

I made muffins.  Vicky made muffins and scones.  She’s amazing.  

photo of muffins

photo of scones and muffins Vicky madeHere are the lovely bags everyone made.  It was a smaller class this time, because a few people couldn’t make it.  But not to worry, here’s my tutorial for everyone who missed the class.  

photo of drawstring tote bags made by class

I love the fabrics people chose.  The Japanese ballet fabric was perfect for a bag, which will be used for a little girl’s dance lessons.  And the navy dot bag will be used as a two-year-old boy’s lunch bag.  So cute!

photo of drawstring tote bags made by class

We are all fast becoming good friends, too.  We go fabric shopping together, and meet up for morning tea.  I am looking forward to our next sewing class – in which we’ll be making boy shorts and girl skirts.  Not strictly “zakka” I realize, but that’s okay.  Having made bags and potholders, we are moving on to children’s apparel.  Vicky will teach the skirt part, and I’ll teach the shorts part.  Fun!

 

Tutorial: drawstring tote bag

 

We made drawstring tote bags this week at our fourth zakka sewing class.  What is a drawstring tote bag?  Well, as the name would imply, it is a tote bag with a drawstring closure.  A picture below will say it all.  These hybrid bags appear in many Japanese craft books as children’s lunch bags, etc.

photo of a finished drawstring tote bag

This tutorial will make a fully lined tote bag in the above photo, about 8″ wide, 9″ tall, and 3.5″ deep.  A little bigger than a child’s lunch bag, but it’s a versatile size for either a child or an adult.  Of course you can modify the size to your liking.

What you need:

  • 1/2 yard of fabric for the bag body – canvas, denim, interior fabric, or other sturdy fabric is recommended.
  • 1/2 yard of fabric for the lining and the drawstring top – any lightweight woven fabric, like quilting cotton, will do.
  • 1 yard of cotton webbing for the bag handles (or you can make your own).
  • About 1.5 yard of plaited cord, ribbon, or any other material for the drawstring.

Step 1: Cut all the fabric pieces

  • Main bag body: (13″ x 12″) x 2 pieces
  • Lining: (13″ x 12″) x 2 pieces
  • Drawstring top: (13″ x 6″) x 2 pieces
  • 2 x cotton webbing in the desired handle length (plus 1″ for seam allowance)

photo of all the cut pieces for drawstring tote bag

Step 2: Prepare the drawstring top

(1) Overlock or zig zag stitch the sides of each piece (just the two sides; you don’t have to overlock the top and bottom edges)

photo showing overlocking or zig zag finishing the sides of thedrawstring top

(2) Mark with a pencil at 2.5″ from the top, on each side.  Sew the two drawstring top pieces together on each side, starting at the marked points and all the way down (again, just the side seams – don’t sew the bottom seam together). Sew at 1/2″ seam allowance.

photo showing how to sew the side seam of a drawstring top

(3) Press the side seams open, and from the wrong side, sew all the way around the open top sides.  Like this:

photo showing how to sew the top side seams of a drawstring top

(4) Fold the top seams over twice, making sure you leave enough space inside to thread your drawstring cord.  Stitch very close to the folded edge.

photo showing how to sew the top of drawstring bag

Step 3: Prepare the bag body and the lining

(1) With the right side of fabric pieces together, sew all the way around the three sides of the main bag body, at 1/2″ seam allowance.  Repeat for the lining – except leave about 4″ of seam unsewn (so you can turn the bag inside out later on).  I tend to leave this opening in the middle of a side seam.  But it doesn’t matter where really, as long as the opening ins’t too close to the corners.

Photo showing how to sew the sides and bottom seams of the bag and lining

(2) Cut the corners off and sew the gussets.

Mark about a 1.5″ square on the bottom corners of the main bag and the lining.  I measure this length not from the edge of the fabric, but from the sewn line.  Cut the squares off.

a photo of fabric with corners cut off for gussets

Tease each corner open, and sew at 3/8″ seam allowance.  Repeat for the remaining corners.

a photo showing how to sew a gusset

Step 4: Assemble all the pieces together

(1) Mark where you want to attach the bag handles, and sew them on to the top of the body, at about 1/4″ from the top, to the right side of the bag body.  Make sure the handles are attached in the inverse position, with the handles facing south.

photo showing how to baste handles on a bag body

(2) Layer the drawstring top over the main bag body, at the top, with the right sides of the fabrics facing together.  Make sure the finished edge of the drawstring flap (the part where you thread the cord) is facing south.

(3) Now, layer the lining over the drawstring top, with the right side of the lining facing the wrong side of the drawstring flap.  Basically, you are layering all three pieces together, with the drawstring top sandwiched in between the main bag and lining.  I hope it makes sense.

photo showing how to assemble three layers of bag parts together

(4) Pin the three layers together at the side seams, making sure all the three side seams are matching up.

(5) Sew the three layers together, all the way around the bag, at about 1/2″ from the raw edge.  If you sew slowly, while gently pulling the fabrics towards you as you sew, everything should match up more easily.  Press the seam (it’s always a good idea to press over a sewn seam for a cleaner finish).

Step 5: Finishing up

You are nearly done!

(1) Turn the bag inside out from the opening in the lining.  Press the top seam open.

(2) Tuck the lining and the drawstring top inside the main bag, and press the top seam again.

(3) Top stitch all the way around the top edge of the bag (very close to the edge, at about 1/8″ from the top).

photo showing the topstitching at the top of the bag

(4) If everything looks good, sew the opening in the lining shut.  Being lazy, I always use a sewing machine, but blind stitching by hand will make a more beautiful finish.

(5) Thread your drawstring cords at desired length.  A bodkin will come in very handy if you have one.  If not, a safety pin will do.

 

And that’s it!  Yay!  If you don’t want to use the drawstring closure, just tuck the flap inside, and you can use it as a regular tote bag.

photo showing the inside of a finished drawstring tote bag

And if you were looking to make a lined tote bag without the drawstring closure, just omit making the drawstring top from this tutorial.  You might want to attach a set of magnetic buttons to the lining though.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zakka sewing class no. 3

 

This month at our zakka sewing group meeting, we made cushion covers with zippers.  Vicky from the accidental crafter blog has graciously agreed to teach the class this time — so I didn’t have to do anything.  Well I cleaned the house a little,  and made a pound cake.  But that’s about it.

third zakka sewing class - everyone working at a small dining table

 

My dining table was just big enough to accommodate all the keen sewers, who by the way are no longer beginners.  I think everyone had a great time.  

Here are the lovely cushions everyone made.

cushions everyone made at the August zakka sewing meeting

Vicky has also made yummy muffins. She is super talented at everything.  

Blueberry muffins Vicky made

Vicky’s tutorial for the cushion cover is posted on her blog here – so you can make one, too!  Thanks so much, Vicky, for doing all the work, while suffering from a bad cold. I’ll make it up to you next time….  

And next month, we are making a drawstring tote bag.    

 

 

Links for tote bag tutorials

 

I apologize for being so tardy in posting.  No excuses but my own laziness, really.  But I found, as I suspected, that there are many excellent free tutorials online on tote bags.  So there is no need to reinvent the wheels.  [note: having said that, I did write a detailed tutorial for a drawstring tote bag.  You can follow this to make a regular lined tote bag, too. Just omit making the drawstring top and add a set of magnetic buttons to the lining.]

(1) Patchwork tote bag with gusset tutorial:  

Aside from the patchwork and quilting details, this is how we made the tote bag in our sewing class.  I love how clear the instructions are in this tutorial.  I also like inserting a layer of quilt wadding in a tote bag, because it gives such a lovely cushiness and structure to a bag.  But of course you can just use normal iron-on interfacing instead.

A couple of other tote bag tutorials use different construction methods.

(2) For a very quick and easy tote bag without a lining, here’s a nice tutorial on Purlbee.com:  

(3) Another excellent tote bag tutorial from Purl Bee: an oil cloth tote with a circular bottom (not a gusset). 

Whichever method you use, the key to a successful tote bag is the fabric choice.  You would want to use heavier fabric like denim, canvas, and home decor fabric. Quilting-weight cotton is a good choice as a lining, but not really suitable for the bag body, because it is too lightweight. 

Happy bag making!