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!
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.
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.
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.
Kristy from Monkey Mai made this lunch bag with the red bird fabric. Beautiful job!
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?
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.
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?
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!
My son started attending a Steiner preschool this year. My daughter, who attended that same preschool last year, has moved up to their “Little Kindy” classroom. So to celebrate this milestone of both my kids going to the same “big school,” I promised them each a new backpack.
Until now I had been packing the kids’ school and daycare stuff in large nappy-bag style bags I made. But when my kids see all the other children going to school wearing (mostly bright-colored plastic) backpacks, they naturally wanted backpacks just like them. Yes, peer pressure.
Well, I really dislike the look and feel of plastic backpacks, but I didn’t want my kids to feel left out at school. So I wanted to make nice fabric backpacks that still resemble the shape of plastic ones. Here’s what I came up with for Mr. A. He chose this fabric himself.
The pattern is my own, but let me tell you, there were some struggles along the way. The first version came out terribly (I’m embarrassed to even tell you why), and the second version came out way too big. After going back to the drawing board, the third version was just right. Well, it still looks pretty big on Mr. A., but you know, he’s barely three, and will soon grow into the backpack size – I hope.
Here are more photos of the backpack details. It has a flap pocket in the middle, side patch pockets, and little tabs on both sides to make it easier to open and close the zipper. The strap is padded and adjustable.
Here’s what the inside looks like.
I used a heavy-duty cotton canvas for the lining, to give the backpack a good structure and shape, like those plastic ones. I bound the raw seams with orange bias binding, just because a bit of color is fun.
A few days later, and after much nagging by Miss M., I finished her new backpack. Of course it’s pink – but I love that my kids chose the matching print. How cute!
I have to admit this one came out nicer than my son’s. I made small improvements, like using larger tabs on the side, and using sliders for for adjusting the straps (for the black one, I used double D rings, which didn’t work too well).
I hope my kids will be happy to wear them to school, and not feel too envious of other plastic backpacks out there….
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.
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.
Black cat fabric
Just 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.
I’ve been working on wristlet pouches for a while. So far I’ve made no less than four different versions.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Here’s the same pouch in green. Which one do you like better – green or red? Finally, finally the pouches are shop-ready!
I have this gorgeous cookbook called Simple to Spectacular, by Mark Bittman and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. What I love about this book is its organisation. For each section, there is one easy, basic recipe. And then the book offers several variations based on the basic recipe, making it progressively more involved, interesting, and luxurious. For example, there is a recipe for a simple boiled egg, and the luxury version has a sauce with caviars that makes the dish restaurant quality. I love this concept, because this book shows you the very process of cooking – learning to cook is all about coming up with variations yourself, not blindly following a recipe every time you cook. The books shows you how to think like a chef.
So I thought of this book when I thought of starting a free sewing class. Instead of showing people how to blindly follow a sewing pattern, wouldn’t it be great if I could inspire them to come up with their own variations on a basic pattern? You just have to learn to think like a crafter.
Okay, so back to potholders. How do you make a potholder go from simple to spectacular? Some techniques include patchwork, quilting, and appliqué. In this post, I’ll just demonstrate the very basics of patchwork. There are hundreds of books on patchwork out there, with more tutorials on the internet than you can ever use.
Two-Patch Patchwork Potholders
Step 1: Prewash the fabrics:
If you are using different types of materials for one potholder (like linen and cotton canvas), it is best to prewash all fabrics before cutting them. Each fabric may shrink at a different rate, so if you don’t prewash, chances are you’ll end up with a wobbly, uneven potholder when you wash it once. Just wash the fabrics with or without a bit of soap in the washing machine, and press it flat with an iron when it is about 90% dried. Prewashing is also a good idea when you are using brightly coloured fabrics, to be combined with white or cream coloured fabric. You don’t want the bright colors to come off and stain the white fabric after the potholder is finished…
Step 2: Make a pattern (or not) and cut the patchwork pieces
You can make a pattern for each piece, or do without a pattern.
(a) How to make a paper pattern
(1) Copy the potholder pattern (say, 8 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ including a 3/8″ seam allowance around the square – see my previous tutorial) on a piece of paper.
(2) Draw a line where you want the patchwork piecing to happen. For each piece, copy the shape, and add 1/4″ seam allowance where the two pieces will be sewn together. (See picture below). That’s it! Cut the two pattern pieces out.
(b) Two-patch without a paper pattern
If you have a rotary cutter / mat / quilting ruler setup, calculating the size for each patchwork piece and cutting it is simple. Even if you don’t have the setup, here’s one fun way of making a two-patch with no pattern.
For each fabric you want to use, cut one shape 8 1/2″ x 9″. So you have two pieces of fabric of different patterns. Stack them together neatly. Along the 9″ side, draw a vertical line where you want the piecing to happen, and cut along the line, with the two pieces of fabric together. Switch one piece from fabric 1, with the same-shaped piece from fabric 2 — and patch them together. Repeat for the backside of the potholder. That’s it – you should have two pieces of two-patch squares at 8 1/2″ square.
If you can do this for a two patch, three-patch is just as easy, using the same concept. If you want to use more patchwork pieces and don’t have the patience to work out a pattern first (like me), just roughly cut each piece, start piecing them together, and in the end trim the whole thing down to 81/2″ square.
Step 3: Sew the two pieces together
(1) Lay out the fabric pieces in the finished position. (See photo below at the top right.)
(2) Where the pieces will be sewn together, stack the pieces together, with the right sides of the fabrics inside. Pin. (See photo below at the top right.)
(3) Sew the two pieces together at about 1/4″ from the raw edges of the pieces. (See photo below at bottom left)
(4) Press both seams to one side. (See photo below at bottom right).
You are done! Make the potholder, following Step 2 of the tutorial onwards. When you are quilting over the whole thing at the very end, you should quilt just near the patchworke seam. It looks good that way, and it makes the joined seam more durable.
Patchwork variations are endless, so it’s up to you to come up with a spectacular creation! I made this nine-patch potholder (I actually made a pattern for this) just to give you an idea.
Next week, I’ll write about appliqués.
But I’d LOVE you to go make a patchwork potholder now. And please take a photo of your spectacular creation, and post it to our Flickr group called “Zakka Sewing with Piggledee” here.
Miss M and I had a skirt crisis the other day. She was getting dressed for preschool — she put on a shirt, undies and tights, and then she realized that her favorite blue skirt was not there. It was not there because it was in the wash. She was not happy. I took out all the other skirts so that she could pick one, but she refused. She had to have that blue skirt, which was her favorite. She cried. I realised then that she needed a new favorite skirt in her wardrobe to avert this crisis in the future.
So in the afternoon after our first zakka sewing class, I made not one but two new skirts for Miss M. The pattern was a circle skirt from a Japanese craft book called Everyday Girl’s Clothes by Yuki Katakura (まいにち着る女の子の服）.
The pattern had one seam pocket. I had never made seam pockets before (or a circle skirt, for that matter), but it seemed simple enough. I thought Miss M would probably want two pockets, not just one.
First I made a pink skirt, with white polka dots, with green floral fabric as the waist band and the pocket lining. Very girly! It made me sad how much of the expensive fabric the pattern required, but it’s all right. It was for my special girl.
The only thing about this skirt I wasn’t sure about was that the fabric was medium-weight cotton linen blend. It was a little on the heavy side for a circle skirt.
Since I had some time left before the kids returned from daycare, I made another one, this time in a more lightweight cotton linen fabric. I used black and white check print for both the skirt body and the waist band. I had doubts as to whether Miss M would wear a black skirt, so I made the lining of the seam pockets bright pink – not that you can see much of it when wearing it. It almost looks cuter turned inside out.
And Miss M’s verdict? She loved the black and white one. She wore it for the next three days straight – so that was a big success. The pink one though… she wouldn’t even try it on for a photo shoot… Why, why, why, I have no idea. This just confirms my past experience that I could never predict know what my four year old would or would not like. At least I got one out of two right. Not too bad.
I am so excited that a few people have read my blog and contacted me to attend my little sewing class. I never know if anyone is reading my blog (aside from my faithful family and a few friends), so I often feel like I’m just talking to myself. It is fantastic to hear that I actually have readers out there!
Well, today I wanted to write about fabric choices for zakka sewing, and a few of my favorite fabric sources in Sydney and online. First off, the word “zakka” is Japanese for random household items – it just means little things you use around your house, anything from an apron to a shopping bag to a potholder. The word zakka has spread to the West these days, and there are even English language books on zakka sewing, like this one or this one.
So what types of fabrics are suitable for zakka sewing? The short answer is, pretty much any woven fabric (i.e. not knit, jersey, or stretchy fabric). Natural fabrics like cotton, linen and hemp are best. Japanese people LOVE linen, particularly natural-colored linen. So when I think of zakka, I have this mental image of beige linen fabric, combined with colourful but understated prints like Liberty of London tana lawn (wildly popular in Japan) — sometimes embellished with simple hand embroidery or trims like lace and buttons for the handmade look.
Canvas or home decor fabric is a little on the heavy side, and is ideal for things like bags, aprons, fabric baskets and potholders — things that need a bit of structure. Cotton or linen blend canvas is also easy to sew. Lighter fabrics like quilting cotton or Liberty fabrics are useful for softer things, like cushion covers, tissue box covers, and also as a lining for bags, pouches, and fabric baskets.
So where do you find these fabrics for zakka sewing? Quilting cotton is easy to find anywhere. Finding good-quality cotton or linen canvas fabric is a little more challenging if you are in Australia.
Below are some of my favorite sources of canvas and home decor fabrics.
Ikea sells home decor fabric by the meter. The selection may not be huge, but they have good-quality cotton and linen interior fabric suitable for zakka sewing. They have a basic selection of solid-color fabrics, as well as a few stripes and prints. The price is quite reasonable.
Etsy and eBay
Did you know that Etsy also has a “supply” section, and you can find a wide range of fabrics, including printed canvas, at quite a reasonable price?
eBay is also a good source of fabric, and you can often find great deals. The downside is eBay is so huge, you have to know how to look for the fabric you are looking for. If you are after a particular designer fabric (say, the “Far, Far, Away” ranges of children’s prints by Heather Ross), it is easier to find it.
Online fabric shops
Many online fabric shops in the US and Australia now carry lovely canvas / home decor prints (most of them are, surprise, imported from Japan). There are too many shops to choose from, but here are some of my personal favorites.
- Superbuzzy (US) – This online shop is like a shrine to Japanese fabric goodness. You can find not only canvas, but also quilting-weight cotton and double gauze in cute Japanese prints.
- Purl Soho (US) – Fantastic selection of various Japanese canvas prints. Pricey, but not as pricey as buying from Australia-based online shops. Purl also has a great blog, with tons of free tutorials for everything from quilts to lunch bags to table napkins.
- Fabricworm (US) – Has a good selection of Japanese canvas fabric as well, and they often have a sale going on.
- Kelani Fabrics (Australia) – I was so excited when I first “discovered” them at an annual quilting show in Sydney several years ago. They have a ton of cute Japanese prints! They also carry other home decor fabrics, and beautiful hand-printed canvas fabrics by Australian screen printers. It’s not cheap – as fabrics in general are more expensive in Australia – but the upside is you’ll get fast shipping, and you don’t need much fabric for making small things like potholders.
- Duckcloths (Australia) – Another beautiful online fabric shop based in Australia. Carries a wide range of Japanese, home decor and other fabrics suitable for zakka sewing.
Retail quilting and craft shops in Australia
Some quilting shops are now branching out to carry some home decor or canvas fabrics, some imported from Japan. The range is still pretty small compared to online shops mentioned above, but at least you can touch and feel the fabrics in person if you live nearby. The trendy quilting shops these days are not your grandmother’s quilt shop! Here are some of my favorites in Sydney.
- Calico & Ivy – This stylish craft shop has branches in Perth and Sydney (10 Birchgrove Rode, Balmain). They carry a small but lovely selection of Japanese canvas fabric, as well as a few Japanese craft books.
- Material Obsession – I am partial to this shop because this is where I first leaned to make quilts years ago. I remember being happily overwhelmed by bolt after bolt of beautiful modern prints they carry. Definitely not your grandmother’s quilting shop. Their shop in Drummoyne has mostly quilting fabrics, of course, but I have seen a few cotton-linen and home decor fabrics as well. Worth checking out if you live nearby.
Well, that’s it for now I think. I am sure I have missed many other sources of fantastic fabrics, but if you have no idea where to start, the above links will get you started in the right direction. I’d love to discover new fabrics shops, too, so if you have a favourite shop, please do leave a comment and share!
One more thing…. I often get asked where I get the Japanese fabrics I use for my online shops. I get most of my fabrics directly from online shops in Japan (or send my mother to search for fabrics when she visits Japan). These sites are in Japanese, unfortunately, and are hard to access and navigate if you don’t read Japanese. Many shops don’t deliver internationally, either. That is the reason I didn’t mention those shops here.
Happy fabric shopping!
So if you are interested in learning to sew, but are a little hesitant to actually get started, here are my reasons why you shouldn’t wait any longer, and just do it.
(1) Sewing is about self-sufficiency
In the old days, everyone (well, maybe most woman) sewed because they had to. Someone had to make quilts to keep themselves warm at night, or mend torn clothes because they could not afford to throw them away and buy new ones. You might think those days are long gone (thanks, Walmart!), but you know what, I have a feeling those good old days are coming back.
The days of $5 shirts and $10 sweaters made in China will be over soon. The world is running out of oil. The price of cotton is on the rise. Long-suffering garment workers in third-world countries are demanding better pay and working conditions (as they totally should). Soon, it’ll be a matter of economic necessity for us to stop and think before tossing that pair of toddler jeans in the bin just because there is a hole in the knee area – or that once-pristine white bib that now has a patch of spaghetti sauce stain on it that doesn’t come off.
That’s where your sewing skill comes in handy. How hard is it to mend torn jeans, and maybe apply a faux leather patch to make the jeans cuter than it was before? Not hard at all. Or appliqué a little heart-shaped fabric over the spaghetti stain on the bib? You just saved yourself a lot of money and made your kids happy. And you didn’t even need a sewing machine. Same idea if you lose a button on your skirt, or buy a dress that should be 5 inches shorter. Being able to sew is like being able to change a lightbulb yourself and not call an electrician. It’s empowering.
(2) Sewing saves you money
It is related to my first reason above, but sewing does save you money. Especially if you are in an anti-“made in China” (pro human rights) mindset, or if you have a taste for having beautiful things around your house (luxury items are always expensive!)
Here is a stack of double gauze handkerchiefs I made last night (yes, in one night). I was inspired by necessity, as usual, because the kids and I all have a cold and are in constant need to wipe our noses. Sewing skill required: minimal. Money saved: ??? I think I’ll list these handkerchiefs in the shop for about $10 each… See, I hope you don’t buy them and start making your own instead!
(3) If you sew clothes, you’ll wear clothes that fit you better.
Do you find it difficult to find ready-made clothing that fits you well? People come in all sorts of shapes, so it’s no wonder that most people won’t fit into standardized sizing of ready-made clothing. For instance, I always have trouble finding pants and skirts that fit me – if it fits snugly around my waist, it is too tight around my hips. If it is just right around my hips, the waist is too loose. Same story with the tops and dresses, because I suppose an average size 4 mannequin would come with a bigger bust than I do.
So when I first took up sewing, I made a few skirts. They were not very well made — the supposedly “invisible” zippers were very visible, and I chose wrong fabrics (I used a lot of quilting cotton for wearables, which was a mistake — but more on this in a later post). But I wore them all the time anyway because they fit me. And it’s such a joy to wear clothes that fit you properly. These days I don’t have much time to sew my own clothes. So even though I can probably make better-looking skirts now that my sewing skill has much improved, I still wear those wonky skirts I made years ago because they are so comfortable.
And the problem of fit isn’t just with grownups. Children come in all sizes and shapes, too. If you knew how to sew even the simplest garments, like summer shorts and simple dresses, your children will thank you.
Here’s an example. I made these wide shorts for my two-year-old son , who has a lovely curvy bottom. Combined with a bulky cloth nappy he was wearing at the time, I had a hard time finding pants that would fit him (and not be a mile long). So I found a pattern for wide shorts, and cheap cotton seersucker fabric I found for $5 a meter, and made several pants like these. Each took less than an hour to make. My son loves them, and wears them all the time even on freezing cold days.
(4) If you have kids, they would LOVE the things you make
It’s true. I know I’ve written about Miss M’s famous inclination to reject the clothes I lovingly make, but deep down she really adores that I make things for her. I know this because when she goes to daycare of preschool, she proudly tells everyone “Mommy made this!” (Or this, or this….) Kids know that you are taking the time to make them something special. And even if it is a really small thing, like an appliqué on an old bib, they feel the love and appreciate it – even when they don’t quite like the way it looks.
(5) And finally…. sewing can be fun.
Sewing is fun for me, and for a lot of hobby sewers. It offers a creative outlet in an otherwise-hectic life filled with mundane chores — be it a nine-to-five office work or taking care of little ones day in and day out. You don’t have to be a “creative” person to begin with. I believe for a lot of people, like me, creativity comes with practice. There are lots of beautiful fabrics in the shops, and easy-to-follow instructions or patterns. At first all you do is just blindly follow the instructions, and that’s totally fine. Because when you end up with something you created, it’s very satisfying. Over time, with practice, I bet you’ll find that you are a creative person after all, and may start making your own patterns, modifications, and even fabrics.
Well, I rest my case for now. My next post will be how to find a cheap sewing machine.