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….
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.
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.
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.
As promised in my previous post, I made a sample reusable shopping bag over the weekend.
The fabric of choice: 55% hemp, 45% organic cotton canvas in natural, stone colour. I love this fabric. I know, I know, how could I just tuck away all those adorable new Japanese prints, and spend a weekend fondling this plain beige fabric instead? Is Piggledee having an identity crisis, you wonder? But before I answer that question, let me show you more of this bag first.
I used an orange cotton facing to finish the opening edge of the bag. The pretty bird fabric is actually a big pocket – which is mostly decorative, but is still useful to hold a few lightweight things like an envelope.
A view of the inside. Simple . I topstitched the side seams, encasing all raw edges, so it looks neat and tidy inside. I used to love my overlocker, but of late the overlocked finish has been bothering me. It looks too factory-made and not pretty to look at. Encased seams exude quality, I think. Beauty is all about details.
This bag wasn’t meant so much for grocery shopping – even though you can of course use it anyway you like. Personally, I already have a dozen reusable grocery bags I bought from supermarkets, which are cheap and ugly but lightweight and functional. Besides, if I’m doing a grocery run, I don’t really care what I look like much. But for other kinds of shopping — craft supplies, books and magazines, clothing — that might involve a leisurely stroll through an upscale mall (or not), it gets depressing having to carry those unsightly grocery bags.
So with a pretty bag like this, I can reduce consumption of disposable bags I’d otherwise accumulate from the shops (did you know disposable paper bags are just as evil as plastic ones?) while looking pretty cool.
Now, to answer your presumed question about whether Piggledee is going schizophrenic, well, I don’t think so. I’m not giving up using cute Japanese prints for making children’s accessories. I’m just trying to incorporate more and more sustainable materials in my children’s items, like blankets, washers and towels, without sacrificing the “aw… so cute” element. Because in my opinion, sustainable items should look good as well. Unfortunately, those cute Japanese children’s prints do not come in organic cotton…
At the same time, since most of my customers have young children, I’m also making a few earth-friendly products for their daily use, like this shopping bag. Because, after all, parents of little ones are in a peculiar position to be most concerned about our environment, aren’t they? It’s the children who are most vulnerable to pollution or pesticides, and parents are the first to watch them suffer. Even the most selfish of parents must be concerned whether there will be any habitable planet left, at this rate of pollution and abuse, on which their children could live long happy lives.
Anyway, to summarise my point, it’s all about integrating “pretty” and “sustainable” in a fun and non-dogmatic way in everyday parenting. It’s my lifestyle that’s showing in my products, and it’s not schizophrenic.
I just listed this bag on my madeit shop here.
So what’s next on my to-make list using sustainable materials? I think something fun and pretty for kids’ mealtime. Cloth napkins, place mats and maybe aprons. Because all too often, mealtime with little ones is anything but fun. Stay tuned!
My stock of Japanese prints have become pretty low lately, so I ordered and received a whole new batch of Japanese goodness. Hurray! They are all canvas-weight fabrics, most are cotton linen blends (my favourite type of fabric).
Strawberries – Can you see little bees as well?
Vintage-look cars and trains on natural, linen-coloured background.
Kittens on pink background.
Vintage kids’ items – this one is too cute for words.
Green-on-natural elephants are back by popular demand.
By far the most interesting fabric I found is this one: a panel print of a boy traveling by car and ship. If you cut this panel in half, you’ll see:
This on one side, and
This on the other side. Too cute for words. Beautiful colours, too.
Aside from the elephants print, all the other ones were designed by Mico Ogura. Of all the cute (or “kawaii”) Japanese prints out there, I just love her designs best, and I notice I’m almost exclusively buying her fabrics these days. She also designed the “Paris,” “Animal Friends,” and “Flower Garden” fabrics that I’ve used before, and have been popular in my shop. I adore everything she designs! The only other children’s fabric designer I madly adore is Heather Ross.
Well, even though I am still in the zone for making things from sustainable fabrics – blankets and towels are done; reusable non-grocery shopping bags are next on the list – I will be making more kids’ bags and backpacks using these new fabrics soon. Meanwhile if you see a fabric you like, I can still take custom orders.
I’ve been wanting to make a bath towel for children for a long time. It’s something many children use every single day, and the commercial ones are rather boring and unappealing. I wanted something super soft and eco-friendly, with a pretty visual detail. I gathered samples from around the world for organic cotton or bamboo towel fabric. But none of them felt quite right. Some were too rough to touch, some were too expensive, and while bamboo felt very nice, I am a little confused right now about how earth-friendly bamboo is, considering it appears to take a lot of chemicals to convert bamboo into fabric.
Then one day it occurred to me. Why, a bath towel doesn’t have to be made of traditional towel material! Any soft and absorbent fabric will do. That’s how I found this perfect non-towel towel material: hemp and organic cotton blend jersey.
It is hard to describe how beautiful the fabric is without the benefit of touch. It is lightweight. It has a lovely natural, off-white colour. It is very soft, but has some knobby texture to it that is warm, earthy, and welcoming to touch. Forget about your children, you just want to wrap yourself in it.
And hemp is brilliant. Before I saw this fabric, I had the impression hemp was a little on the rough side – suitable for canvas or heavier fabric, but not for something soft and delicate for baby items. Well, I was wrong about that. Or maybe hemp gets “tamed” here with the blend of organic cotton. Did you know hemp is extremely absorbent – more so than plain cotton? It is also naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, and as such well suited to children’s items.
The jersey is stretchy in both directions. I bound the raw edges with my all-time favourite fabric – Liberty of London tana lawn, for that gorgeous, luxury look.
The towel is also beautiful as a swaddle wrap for a newborn. Stretchy, generous-sized, and lightweight for the Spring-to-Fall seasons. In fact, I’m not sure if I can convince anyone else to use this as a towel, so I think I’ll list it in my shop as a wrap and a blanket….
But I love this as a towel. I’ve been using it on my little ever-willing (forced?) product testers, and I’ve been very happy with its absorbency and function. It’s great for warmer weather. Moreover, don’t you hate washing heavy traditional bath towels? They take so much space in the washing machine, takes forever to dry, and what a waste of water that is. Washing this lightweight material is a breeze.
Oh, another thing about traditional towels I don’t like: after a while of use, they tends to get hard and brittle when dried in the sun. Maybe this is because of the water quality in Sydney, or because the soft ones have some synthetic material blended in it. But some of the bath towels I have turn into a sand paper when I dry them, I wouldn’t in a million years want to use that on my skin.
Here’s Miss M wrapped in her new favourite towel. She insists on sleeping with it as a blanket, too. I love it when she approves of something I make…. because as you’d know if you’ve been reading my blog, it doesn’t happen very often!
I’ve listed one on my Etsy shop. There’ll be more shortly.
Today I received another shipment of Japanese goodness:
Double gauze! With baby elephants in an assortment of colours. And blue “working cars” print. Just how cute are these fabrics?
Double gauze is my newest object of infatuation. It is the softest, cushiest, most snuggle-able cotton fabric ever. It is also extremely lightweight – it’s like air. If you have never seen one in person, it is like cheese cloth (or muslin in Australia) but with two layers of them fused together to make a more dense, workable fabric.
In Japan, people make children’s clothing (even adults’ clothing) with this material. It is especially perfect for baby clothing and accessories because of its incomparable softness, lightness and absorbency. This type of fabric may not be Japan’s invention, but only in Japan does it come in such wonderful range of children’s prints.
What will I do with these double gauze prints? Why, make accessories for babies of course. I’ve been wanting to make things for babies. But the usual suspect of baby items – you know, bibs and wraps and such – didn’t inspire me creatively because they are so overdone. I mean, go to any retail shop and you’ll find an overflowing amount of pretty baby goods. I thought I had nothing new to offer in this market. But now I do!
Actually I’ve been making washers lately with double gauze and organic cotton jersey or bamboo terry (towel material). These are divine – so soft, absorbent, and just a delight to hold in your hand. Useful, too, for wiping little noses and as a wash cloth in bath. I just listed a few in my shop.
Stay tuned for other baby items using my brand new stash of Japanese double gauze.
Every now and then, a friend or family member asks me to make something specific for them, something that is not in my normal line of child-friendly products. I love these challenges because they give me a refreshing change of scenery.
Last week I made a sun hat for a relative in Japan (yes, it is getting towards summer over there). I sent her a few photos from one of my favourite Japanese craft books, called “Stylish Cloche,” by Ohko Ishida. I love this book not only because of the gorgeous hat patterns, but because the photos are styled exquisitely, sometimes featuring an older model, which is unusual.
My “client” chose this last hat for me to make. She picked this design because of the large, bucket-shaped brim to avoid evil UV as much as possible. She requested a cotton linen canvas fabric in a beige or off-white polka dot print. She also added: “please make it look good!” I’m sure she didn’t mean to give me any pressure or anything. Lucky for her, I’m the kind of arrogant crafter who thinks she can make anything – especially if there is already a book with a pattern to trace. Easy peasy, I thought.
This is the hat I made:
I call this the lampshade hat, because the moment Mark saw it, he said “lampshade!”
I know, I look cool and breezy in those photos, but in truth, I was sweating as I made the hat over one long afternoon. It wasn’t as easy to make as I thought it would be. I didn’t examine the pattern closely before I offered it up to my relative (further proof of my arrogance) – but it turned out the top of the hat had four tiny darts to give it a rounded shape. Fiddly! I also had trouble getting the right interfacing – I ended up using heavy-duty interfacing for the brim lining (so it won’t cover your eyes blind), while using no interfacing at all for the crown of the hat (so it won’t be too hot to wear in Tokyo’s sweltering summer). With all this cutting and re-cutting, I nearly ran out of my lining fabric, causing me to panic because I could not have sourced more of it easily.
In the end, I’m 95% happy with the result. In fact I love this hat, and I might make one for myself next summer; I’m sure I can sew it more easily the second time around. But the real jury is still out, because I had just shipped the hat off to Japan… I hope she will like it, too!
Japanese children’s prints seem to come in three types: all-over print, border prints, and panel prints. All-over print is like any Western prints, with the same images printed repeatedly across the fabric. You can use any part of the fabric and make almost identical products. Border prints and panel prints, on the other hand, seem practically unique to Japanese fabric — I can’t recall seeing anything like them elsewhere.
Border prints have “feature” images printed along the two borders of fabric (along the selvages), and something else (or nothing) in the middle section of the fabric. Like this:
Panel prints have different image “sections” scattered all over the fabric, so depending on how you cut your fabric, you end up with completely different images. Like this:
I have a love / hate relationship with these prints. I love them because they are irresistibly cute, and they appeal to my creative spirit. I get all excited thinking, I can use this part of the fabric for a backpack, and then the middle section for a lunch bag, and so on. It’s like a puzzle to me. I also get deluded into thinking what a great value these prints are, because you can make different-looking bags using the same yard of fabric.
Deluded, however, is the truth here, because these prints in fact offer no value in a strictly business sense. On the contrary, when I try to actually make something out of them, I end up spending an inordinate amount of time agonising over how to cut them. So, from a strictly business point of view, they are time wasters.
Moreover, when you finally come up with a great way to use these border/panel prints, and you start cutting around the prettiest parts of the fabric, inevitably there is a lot of leftover fabric that you cannot use up easily. If I can make three backpacks from a meter of regular, all-over print, for example, I can only make two from a border print. So these prints are not only time wasters, but fabric wasters as well.
And yet… and yet I still buy these fabrics. Why? Well, because working in a “strictly business” mode all the time is boring. The wasted time I spend agonising over how to use a border fabric? I enjoy every minute of it. Sure, I cannot impose a “difficult fabric surcharge” on a bag just because I spent a lot of time making it, or because I end up wasting fabric. But my work is also my creative outlet, and there is a lot of (self-)satisfaction when I come up with a fabulous way to use a particular border fabric. Like this complicated border print:
This one has large-sized cars on white background on one end and small-sized cars on white on the other end. In the middle there are cars printed on blue background. After a lot of thinking, and several trial and errors, I came up with these two backpacks:
Aren’t they gorgeous? I love the pair of them. They look similar but different, because they come from opposite ends of the fabric. The pocket was the most difficult part, because there was no way I could “match” the print underneath without wasting a huge amount of fabric. So instead of trying to match them, I used a small-cars pocket for large-cars backpack, and vice versa. I love the sort of magnifying glass effect (and opposite of it) it creates. These backpacks took days to make. Granted my work day is rather short, but seriously, days.
And you would think, wouldn’t you, now that I’ve figured out this particular print for my backpacks, surely I can make more of them more efficiently? Well, unfortunately, this print is sold out. No more “working cars” print available to order. Sigh. Ah well, at least it was fun while it lasted, and I’ll move on to the next challenging border print.