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.  

 

Slow blankets

When it comes to my handmade business, I’ve never been very good about planning ahead.  It was already spring when I started to make sun hats, and now it is almost winter and my warm winter baby blankets are still not finished…

It’s partly because I am starting to yearn for slower handmade products.  I mean, all the things in my shops are handmade, but when I zip through canvas bags with my super-fast industrial sewing machine, I confess I sometimes don’t feel the love of handmade goodness in my finished products.  Even in my cosy sewing room in the cozy house in suburban Sydney, is what I’m doing all that different from the work of factory sewers in China?

Hence the yearning for slower work.  I don’t plan on hand sewing my canvas bags anytime soon, but at least when it comes to baby blankets, I believe it’s important to have a little genuine handmade touch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These blankets are (unfortunately) machine pieced, but the handmade touch is in the binding.  You can sew a binding on with a machine of course, but I’ve never been happy with the look.  It just looks ugly.  Besides, working with double gauze is a tricky thing.  The fabric stretches and frays, and the grain lines never seem to lie straight.  Machine-sewing this double gauze binding is hence frustrating, and the result even less satisfying.

It takes hours stitching the binding on each blanket by hand, but it is satisfying for me, and all the more fitting because baby blankets deserve to be a little special.

I just hope it won’t be spring before I finish this trio of double gauze (with the warm, luxurious 100% organic cotton fleece backing) and update my shops….

Quilts I made

Today I am thinking about quilts.  Maybe it’s because I was attaching a binding to a quilt I was making for a little girl who lives next door last night.  Maybe it’s the crisp autumn air this morning that made me want to cuddle up in a nice warm quilt.

So just now I walked into to a  local fabric shop and on impulse, bought enough fabric to make my son a new quilt.  Because I have never made him a proper quilt before.

While I am contemplating the design for my son’s new quilt, I thought I’d share with you some of the quilts I had made before.

This is my very first quilt, a cot quilt for Miss M when she turned one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a modified version of Denyse Schmidt’s triangle quilt pattern.  Doesn’t it look simple? Well, it was really hard for me back then. I can’t remember how many of those triangles I had to unpick, so the points match up (more or less).  Probably close to half.  It took many months to complete, and for that reason is my all-time favourite quilt.  It is machined pieced and hand quilted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This one is a picnic-sized (about 1.5m square) quilt in bright bold colours, from one of Kaffe Fasset’s patterns using “S” blocks.  Also machine pieced and hand quilted.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the largest quilt I have made so far, in queen size, for our bedroom.  It’s a very simple pattern of blue rectangles on white background.  Machine pieced and machine quilted.  I realised then that I wasn’t a big fan of making huge quilts – too heavy and cumbersome to manage!  I nearly gave up, and had to have this one professionally quilted for me.  Since then I have only made baby-sized ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple baby play quilt in red, white and light blue – machine pieced and quilted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Green pinwheel quilt – machine pieced and hand quilted.

See, I was too lazy to take new photos of my quilts, and I have never taken proper photos of my finished quilts.  So what you see here are glimpses of my quilts in action, so to speak.  I use these quilts everywhere – on beds, on the floor, outside on the lawn, on the coffee table (actually I don’t remember why this one ended up on the coffee table), absorbing drools, baby wee, and beverage spills.

There are actually more little quilts around my house, and I love them all.  They are all simple in design.  Not because I don’t like complicated designs, I do, but it seems that only simple ones end up as finished quilts.  The rest are sitting in my “unfinished” pile, looking very pretty… but unfinished.

This is the stack of navy batik print fabrics I bought today, along with some basic whites.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arn’t they pretty?  I have no idea what I will do with them, but probably something very simple.

Shopping mall office

For the past few months, I have been claiming Saturdays as my official work day.  Ideally I’d like to work at home, in my sewing room, but it’s impossible for me to get any work done while the kids are around.  So most Saturdays around 9am, I leave the kids at home with Mark, and head out for a nearby shopping mall with my laptop, for a good 5-6 hours of work.

Why a shopping mall? Because it has a lovely internet cafe, where you can use free wi-fi for hours over a cup of latte.  Plus there is a fabric shop where I often get supplies.  I can also grab a few things for dinner before going back home.

Now that I have two main online shops, which are getting busier every month (thanks everyone!), there is actually quite a lot to do outside of actual sewing.  Processing photos, listing items, responding to emails, updating inventory, ordering supplies, not to mention keeping up with social media and even occasional blogging.

I used to dislike shopping malls.  Before the kids came, spending 5-6 hours at a busy shopping mall might have sounded like an idea of hell.  Now I cherish my Saturdays alone at a shopping mall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also work on Mondays while the kids go to daycare.  But Mondays are more intense because I try to cram in as much sewing as I can in the 6-7 hour time frame, while trying my best to ignore the housework that’s screaming to be done.  I’m exhausted by the time I have to go pick up the kids.

Saturdays, in contrast, are relaxing and luxurious.  It is my work day, but I’m not sewing and I’m not looking at a pile of dirty laundry.  It is a mental health day.

Grey elephant love

It’s no secret that I love Japanese elephant prints (made by a company called Daiwabo).  They are just adorable in an understated way, and they come in beautiful shades of pink, green and blue.

But of late I’ve been in love with the grey colorway.  Initially I ordered it for a custom-order daycare / nappy bag.  At first I thought it might be too gloomy for children’s accessories, but upon seeing its gorgeous color in person, it immediately become my favorite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the custom-order daycare / diaper bag.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doesn’t it look sophisticated with the light grey lining? I also made a matching set of zippered diaper cases for my custom-order client.

I had enough fabric left over to make my mother a tote bag in the same colorway.  She is a school teacher, and she wanted a bag to take to her school everyday.  I assumed she’d carry A4 folders, notebooks, and maybe her brand-shiny-new Macbook Air (in a matching grey color, too).  She also wanted lots of pockets (she’s a tough customer).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bag is basically in the same style as the daycare / nappy bag, but with a rectangle bottom instead of oval, is taller than is wider, and has two bag handles instead of one shoulder strap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The inside view – it has two large pockets for keys and other little things.  Combined with the two large outside pockets, I hope they satisfy all her pocket needs.

Sourcing the grey elephant fabric is a little bit of a pain…. But I think I’ll have to order some more, so I can make more bags for my shop.

Tutorial – Make your own lunch bag (or two)

Of all the things I have made for my shops, backpack lunch bags are probable the most popular – and no wonder, they are very useful.  In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to make one yourself.  All you need is:

  • a sewing machine
  • an iron
  • a pair of scissors, or even better, a rotary cutter and a cutting mat (which I’ll use here).
  • 1/2 yard or meter of fabric (you’ll have some left over) – I use canvas because it’s sturdy, but you can use quilting cotton, linen, or any woven fabric.
  • 2 x 37.5″ (95cm) of plaited cords – or ribbon or any sturdy string-like material, and
  • less than one hour of your time

Ready? Here we go!

Step 1: Cut the fabric

Cut 2 pieces of fabric, 11″ x 11″ (43.5cm).  You can make it larger or smaller if you like, but this is the size I normally use.  It’s easy to cut the pieces accurately if you cut two layers of fabric at the same time, using a rotary cutter and a mat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I often make two bags at a time, because you can get 4 11″ x 11″ pieces from one 11″ strip (using a 44″ wide fabric), and two bags come together very quickly if you make them at the same time.  Plus, it’s good to have two — you’ll have a spare when one is in the wash.

Step 2: Overlock or zig-zag the 3 edges

For each piece of cut fabric, zig zag stitch around the two sides and bottom of the fabric (you don’t have to do the top edge) to prevent fraying.  I use my overlocker here, but a zig zag stitch will do just fine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3: Sew the outline of the bag

Put the two pieces of fabric neatly together, with the printed side facing inside.  Measure 2 1/4″ (5.7 cm) distance from the top edge, and on the right edge, mark the spot using a fabric marker or pencil.  Do the same for the left edge.  The marks won’t show when the bag is finished if you mark just a tiny bit.  This is just so you know where to start and stop sewing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, make sure the two pieces are exactly laying on top of the other, and are you ready to start sewing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sew the sides with a 1/2″ (1.3cm) seam allowance, at the point where the mark is (2 1/4″ from the top).  It’s important not to skimp on the seam allowance here.  Sew around the three sides of the bag, pivoting at the corners, and stopping where you find the other marked spot.  Make sure you back-tack a few times at the start and end of this seam, to keep the bag from falling apart with repeated use.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you see, I don’t use pins.  Pins are unnecessary for little things like this and they only cause trouble.  The trick is, you first anchor the needle down at the start of sewing and do the back-tack.  And then you hold the two layers of fabric at the end of the seam together, holding them so they match up.  Now gently pull the fabric towards you till the pieces are straight.  Then sew down the seam, while holding down the end of the fabrics together.

Step 4: Sew the top side seams

Now you have the three sides sewn together, with the top 2 1/4 inches left unsewn.  Press the side seams open, all the way to the top of the bag.  Like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then sew around the open edge at about 1/4″ (6mm) from the edges – like you’d sew a  slit opening on a garment:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can you see that at the short bottom seam, I sewed back and forward a couple of times to create a very strong seam?

Step 5: Finish the top of the bag

Fold and press a top raw edge of the bag about 3/8″ (1 cm) inward, then fold and press again at about 1″ (2.5cm).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then sew along the edge – as close to the edge as you can.  Repeat for the other side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, no pins.  But please make sure you really match up the end of the seam so it looks nice and clean when finished.  Most natural woven fabrics have a little “give” or stretch, so sewing while gently stretching the fabrics works really well.

Now at this point, if you turn the fabric the right side out…. you have a simple drawstring bag done already! Well, all you need is to thread a cord. Yay! But not very long to go for a completed lunch bag, either, so hang in there.

Step 6: Thread the cords and prepare the gussets

At the bottom corners of the bag, mark little 1.5″ (3.8 cm) squares with a pen or pencil.  It’s 1.5″ from the sewn lines – not the edge of the fabric.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can use a ruler each time, but if you are making multiple bags, it’s handy to have a little paper template here.  Then cut along the marking.

Your bag will look like the photo below.  Now prepare the two cords.  If you’ve followed the sizes I’ve mentioned precisely, you’ll need 2 cords each about 37.5″ (95cm) long.  Otherwise, lay a doubled-up cord like this – a little longer than the edge of the gusset square – to measure how much you need.  You’ll need two of these.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thread the cords using a bodkin (a cheep and very handy thing to have, but you can use a safety pin if you don’t have a bodkin).   Here are my bags all threaded:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 7: Sew the gussets

You are almost finished! Now, for each side, bring the two cord ends from the inside of the bag (the printed side), along the side seam, through the cut gusset opening.  Tease the gusset edges open to form a straight sewing seam, and position the cord ends win the middle of the seam, like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is one place you might want to use pins – use a pin for each cord end to secure it in the right position.  Then, with about 3/8″ seam allowance, sew the gusset seam – making sure you sew over the two cord ends a couple of times, back and forth, to make a very secure seam.  Repeat for the other gusset.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trim the end cord bits sticking out, and overlock or zig zag finish the seams.  And that’s it! Your bag is finished.  Yay!

The gusset looks like this from the right side:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, if you’ve been making two bags at the same time, you’d be rewarded with not one but two pretty lunch bags. Very satisfying!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zipper love

I am in love with zippers right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love that they come in a rainbow of colours.  Love that they are easy to use, and make a polished-looking product in no time.  Love that little children adore opening and closing zippers. So what happens when I fall in love with a particular material? I buy hundreds of them, in varying length and colours, ready for any new project that comes to my mind.  Never mind I have no storage space left in my sewing room.  I can’t help myself.

So far I’ve made pencil cases and nappy cases.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know, I know, everyone makes zipper pouches and has been for decades.  It is such a cliched thing really.  I have made a few pencil cases and pouches before, too.  But when I started Piggledee, I vowed not to go down the zipper pouch route, because I wanted to make things that are slightly less common.

So why the change of heart?  Well, it’s the colours.  I just “discovered” a whole range of lovely pastel zipper colours available online — whereas before, I wasn’t inspired by the same boring selection of darker colours available at local crafting shops.

Besides, as much as I love the cute Japanese fabrics I use for my shops, they don’t leave much room for creativity, because it’s those amazing fabrics that do all the talking.  With these zippers, I can have a little more fun combining the main fabric, the zipper colour, and the lining fabric.  Like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fun, isn’t it?  Padded mobile phone cases, Children’s shoulder bags, maybe even laptop sleeves – Watch out, here I come!


Extra-large daycare / nappy bag

For some time I’ve been wanting to make my daycare bag (or nappy bag) a little bigger.  The original ones were just the right size for a family daycare my children had been attending at the time, and they are great for Miss M’s preschool.

But some daycares in Sydney require you to bring a ridiculous amount of stuff – a sheet, blanket, not one but two sets of change of clothes, a water bottle, sunscreen, a hat, lots of nappies and even food.  It’s hard enough to find a bag big enough to contain all the gear.  And if you are using cloth nappies, you might as well find a suitcase to fit everything in.

So when a friend wanted a daycare bag, I asked if she might want it slightly bigger.  And here it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.  It is only about 5 cm taller than the original one, with the width being the same, but it looks huge next to my children.  No, it still doesn’t fit cloth nappies for Mr. A, but it is big enough for everything else, including a lunch bag, 4 or 5 disposable nappies, a hat, a water bottle, change of clothes, sunscreen, a cot sheet and a blanket, and a teddy bear.

As a nappy / diaper bag for casual outings, it should be large enough for everything you need.  I love the open-top shape of the bag because it’s easy to access whatever you need when the baby starts crying – snack! bottle! a clean nappy! A new mother’s sanity seriously depends on such small details that allow for a split-second response.  I don’t know how many times I drove myself insane with my commercial nappy bag with a flap and a million pockets to hide just the item I was looking for.

I think I’ll list the large version in my online shops soon, as a custom-made item.

 

 

 

Birthday party

My children’s birthdays are two days apart.  So this year, like last year, we decided to celebrate their birthdays together.  It wasn’t a big party, because most of their little friends were away on holidays (note for families planning for a baby – giving birth during the summer holiday is probably not the best idea).  But still we had friends, family, and some little ones who could make it, and it was great fun.  Naturally I took the opportunity to make more things.

I made colourful bunting flags.  There are 14 flags, because I initially had a plan to print “happy birthday” on them… but I ran out of time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I made little party favour bags and traffic-coloured play-doughs to go in them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I made two cakes – banana chocolate pound cake for Mr. A, and strawberry mousse cake for Miss M.  Decorations were rather simple (because I ran out of time yet again), but I got many compliments on the taste.  Which, to me, is the main thing – many birthday cakes are stunning to look at but are overly sweet and disappointing in the substance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two days before the party, amid this buzz of preparation, I realized I didn’t have a present for my children.  At all!  Feeling ashamed, I quickly made this dolly quilt for Miss M – because she got a new doll for Christmas from her grandmother, and she’s playing with her all the time, often using my precious new fabrics she drags out of my sewing room as blankets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I used Liberty of London fabrics in my stash.  They are such beautiful fabrics, and no matter how you arrange them, they go together really well.  Machine pieced and quilted, it came together in a few hours.  The most time-consuming part was the hand-stitched binding.  It is a detail most people would not even notice unless they are quilters, but it is a little handmade touch that makes any quilt – even a doll-sized one – much more special. Now I want to make a quilt for Mr. A’s new teddy bear — but since he’s a little too young to notice my tardiness, I’ve given myself a slack.

Overall the joint birthday party was a big success.

Wipes

It appears I’ve been making lots of simple square things lately – table napkins, placemats, and now, wipes.  I have had a on-again, off-again relationship with cloth wipes, loving them for a while and then reverting back to the convenience of disposable ones when baby number two came along.  Now I’m back in love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A bunch of wipes for everyday use – great for using up scrap fabrics that are fast accumulating in my sewing room.  They are about 5″ x 6″ pieces of double gauze with organic cotton jersey or bamboo towel backing.

When Miss M was little (before I started Piggledee), I was too cheap to buy nice fabric just to wipe poop.  So I just cut up bits of flannel from a hand-me-down bunny wrap, finished the edges with an overlocker, and that was it.  They weren’t pretty, but they worked. This time I’m lucky to have gorgeous, luxurious, organic even, leftover fabrics thanks to Piggledee.  I don’t get bored sewing these simple squares because the fabrics are so lovely.

And of course I had to make something even lovelier for my shop:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The double gauze is buttery-soft organic cotton, with the cutest apple prints! It’s from Japan of course, and is the priciest fabric I’ve ever ordered – but thankfully you only need a little to make wipes.  For the backing I used organic cotton / hemp French terry, which has a lovely natural colour and towel-like surface.  It is the most absorbent fabric I’ve used.  Even the fabric ribbon is organic cotton.

Why use cloth wipes and not disposable ones?

(a) Most disposable wipes have icky chemicals in them that are bad for sensitive baby’s skin.  Okay, I don’t know what these chemicals are called, but isn’t it suspiciously unnatural how they never seem to dry out in a box?  Some babies seem to suffer from chronic nappy rash due to disposable wipes.

(b) Cloth wipes are easy to use and more effective for poopy mess than those thin, slippery disposable ones.  I used to use 4-6 or more disposable wipes to get a job done.  I only need one or two of my thick wipes on the other hand.

(c) Disposable wipes are expensive. As with cloth nappies, they will save you a lot of money in the long run.

(d) Disposable wipes are bad for the environment.

Also, like I said before about placemats and napkins, having pretty, high-quality accessories at otherwise stressful or no-fun times does wonders to brighten up your mood.  Wiping sticky messy poop from a squirmy two-year-old’s bottom? Not one of the highlights of a day – but at least I get some pleasure using those gorgeous pieces of fabric.