Birthday bucket shoulder bag with outside pockets

I might have said this before, but I love customer feedback. Feedback is invaluable in improving my designs and coming up with new ones. Honest feedbacks are the most helpful, and the most honest customer I have in that department – is my mother.

My mother – who has always been an amazing supporter of my little business, always tells me exactly what she wants. And when she’s not happy with a particular product, I do hear from her!

So when I showed her my small Echino bucket bag to see if she’d like one of these for her birthday this month, she said she loved the Echino fabric, but she wasn’t sold on the bag design. She wished there were outside pockets – like some of the previous bags I made for her. She finds the pockets really useful, and an entire bag with just one fabric showing is a bit boring, she said. See, she’s honest.

I felt deflated for a minute (because I loved the original bag), but then I recovered and started cutting for another bag.

Bucket shoulder bag with outside pockets by Piggledee Bucket shoulder bag with outside pockets by Piggledee

 

Here’s the bag I made for her – small bucket shoulder bag with outside pockets…

Bucket shoulder bag with outside pockets by Piggledee

… and two inside pockets as well – four pockets in total. It does take a fair bit longer to make this bag, but the added feature of large outside pockets does make the stunning Echino fabric stand out more. I still like the original, all-over design, too though… which one do you like better? Here’s the two of them together. Meanwhile, Happy birthday, Midori!
Bucket shoulder bag with outside pockets by Piggledee

 

Snow!

It snowed last Friday in the upper Blue Mountains. It wasn’t just a few fluttering snowflakes, either – it was real, pile-up-high kind of snow you rarely see in Australia. Here in the Blue Mountains, snow like this hadn’t happened in decades (or so the locals told me – we’ve only been here for six months).   The snow started late Thursday night, and when we woke up Friday morning, it had piled up to a magical proportion. snow in the blue mountains Our balcony covered in snow. snow in the blue mountains Our front yard transformed. snow in the blue mountains View from my sewing room. washing line in the snow Oops I had forgotten to take in the laundry!

Our kids had never seen snow before. Upon seeing the snow in the morning, they began singing Christmas songs – which I thought was funny. Their excitement doubled when they learned that school was cancelled – not that our car would have made it through the snowy roads anyway.

Mark and I were just as excited. I grew up in Japan with annual ski holidays, but I hadn’t seen snow in 10 years. Needless to say, we didn’t get any work done on Friday or Saturday. snow in blue mountains The snow brought back my childhood memories. I had forgotten just how much fun I had as a kid, on those snowy winter holidays in Hokkaido. Sledding, mini skis on the road, sliding down hills on cardboard boxes, and of course skiing. Our kids had been missing out! We might have to take them on a snow trip to Victorian mountains next winter.

Vegan Get-Well Muffins

It’s well and truly winter in the Blue Mountains, and our whole family has been struck with the flu the last couple of weeks. First me, then Miss M, then Mark, and finally Mr. A fell ill as well. It sure sucks to be sick, but I count it lucky that by the time my little ones came down with a fever, I was reasonably recovered enough to look after them.

Today I felt even better, so I made these healthy muffins as a treat for my kids. For days, they have been just managing with milk, strawberries, and ice cream. It’s time I try to get them to eat something a little more food-like, I thought. These muffins are full of wholesome goodness, and accidentally vegan to boot. Well, I just couldn’t find any eggs in the fridge, so I went without, and they still came out wonderfully. 

Vegan fruit and veggie muffins

I threw all the ingredients together without following a recipe, but noted the amounts just in case the muffins came out well and I wanted to make them again. And they did! So, lucky for you and me, I have a winning recipe to share.

Ingredients

1/2 cup apple sauce (cooked and pureed apples with a tiny bit of sugar)

1/2 large carrot, grated

1/2 large ripe banana, mashed

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1 1/2 cup wholemeal plain flour

2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking powder

How to make

1) Melt coconut oil in a small pan with olive oil.

2) Using a wooden spoon or spatula, mix grated carrots, apple sauce, mashed banana, maple syrup, and melted oils together. Add the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon and gently mix the whole thing together.

3) spoon the mixture into silicon moulds or paper muffin moulds. Top with slices of strawberries and bananas for decoration. 

4) Bake at 200C until baked – about 20 minutes or so.

This recipe makes about 9 small muffins. The cute silicon moulds are from IKEA. These muffins are not very sweet, but just sweet enough to feel like a special treat – or so I hope.

Enjoy!

Vegan fruit and veggie muffins

 

Easter Hats

Two months ago, we sold our house in Sydney and moved to a semi-country area called the Blue Mountains. We love it here. The air is fresh and clean. The traffic is non-existent. Our new house in a bushy area is incredibly peaceful. But the move meant our kids would attend a new school – a public school. Having only experienced Steiner schools before, the new school has been as much a culture shock to me as to the kids.

For one, this school has a lot of events – and I mean a lot. Every week there is something new. Crazy hair day, cake stand sales, snake education (yes there are snakes around here), excursions, and Harmony Day dress-up. It’s hard to keep up, and I admit, I’ve failed to prepare the kids for a few of these events, much to their dismay and embarrassment.

So when the school sent us a note that we needed to “make” special hats for our kids for the Easter Parade (and oh by the way, could you also contribute cakes for the cake stand?), I saw this as an opportunity to redeem myself as a Committed Parent.

I consulted my children about the designs of their Eater hats. My 5-year-old son immediately requested a “pirate bunny” hat. My 7-year-old daughter didn’t have any ideas. So I thought I’d make her something bright and rainbow-y, because she likes rainbows. I got this Japanese hat-making book out (“Oshaberina Boshi” – or “Chatty Hats” by Yumiko Itoyama), and got to work.

Japanese hat-making book - Oshaberina Boshii

For the pirate hat, I modified this brimless hat pattern.

Japanese hat-making book - Oshaberina Boshii

I used black canvas for the hat, and dark blue canvas for the lining. I modified the pattern to make the sides wider, to make it resemble a pirate hat. Then I painted a skull-and-swords pirate symbol on a piece of fabric (yes you can laugh at my feeble attempt)…

pirate bunny Easter hat in progress

…and attached it onto the finished hat with fusible web. Lastly I made a tiny eye-patch for a store-bought bunny doll, and pinned it to the hat. Finished!

pirate bunny Easter hat finished

For my daughter’s rainbow hat, I decided on this tulip hat pattern.

Japanese craft book Oshaberina Boshi tulip hat

I used six different Kona cotton colors in pastel shades.

tulip rainbow hat in progress

Then I pinned some store-bought pastel eggs at the top for the finishing touch.  

Rainbow Easter hat finished

I was very pleased how these hats came out. And the kids seemed happy as well!

 

 

pirate bunny and rainbow Easter hats

I didn’t forget to make carrot cupcakes for the cake stand, either. 

Carrot cupcakes with cream cheese icing

The Easter Parade was so much fun to watch. It wasn’t quite what I expected though, because other kids had truly crazy and bright-colored hats, which looked like they were made by the kids, not the parents. The black pirate hat especially looked demure and tame among the ocean of colors….

School easter hat parade

But it doesn’t matter! Because for once I felt like a Committed Parent on top of a school event. And my kids were happy to wear the hats I made, sing happy Easter songs with their classmates, and eat yummy cakes for lunch – though maybe not necessarily in that order.

I hope you all had a happy Easter weekend!

Birthday tote bag

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

black and white tote bag with sheep fabric

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

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

black sheep tote bag - exposed zipper pocket

but also a recessed zipper top.

black sheep tote bag - recessed zipper top

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

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

black sheep tote bag - bottom view

 

 

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

black sheep tote bag - inside view

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

Tutorial: Mother’s Day apron

My mother loves aprons. She adores them so much that she wears them pretty much all the time at home. I haven’t worn an apron myself since my pastry chef days, but doesn’t it look cute on my mother? This is the apron I made for Mother’s Day this year (along with a few placemats using the same fabric), using a lovely cotton linen blend canvas from Japan with drawings of vegetables on it.

mothers' day apron

 

Are you an apron fan? Or maybe your mother is? Then it’s really easy to make, even without a proper pattern. Just use whatever apron you already have and like, and make a pattern from it – I’ll show you how.

Step 1: Copy a pattern from your favorite apron.

Press your favorite apron well, and place flat on a large piece of paper. I’m using a thin tissue paper for pattern tracing, which you can buy at a sewing supply shop. You can use any large piece of paper you have, of course, but having this semi-transparency helps in the step below. 

making an apron pattern from an existing apron

First, make sure there is enough blank space on the paper around the apron, to add seam allowance later. Then trace all the way around the apron with a pen or pencil.

tracing around the apron

Next, you are going to clean up those lines you just traced. Fold the marked pattern vertically in half (fold along the dotted “center fold line” on the diagram below), more or less matching the left and right sides together. See, this step is easier to do if you used the semi-tranparent paper.

Chances are the lines for the left side don’t exactly match the lines for the right side, because your apron has been worn and washed many times, and it has lost the original sharp, symmetrical lines.

apron pattern making diagram 1

With the draft pattern folded, re-draw neat, straight lines over your original tracing, using a ruler (except for the armhole curves). Make sure (1) the top hem line and the bottom hem line are aligned parallel to each other, (2) the two straight sides are parallel to each other, and that (3) the straight sides are at 90 degrees from the bottom hem line. Basically, if you extend the side seam and top hem lines till they meet, the apron outline should be a perfect rectangle shape. I hope this diagram helps.

Now is a good time to modify the pattern to your liking. If you’d like a longer apron, just add some lengths to the side seams. If you’d like a wider apron, so it will wrap over your body for better coverage, just extend the armhole lines a bit on each side, to make the apron wider.

Next, you need to add seam allowances to the pattern. Add 1 3/8″ (3.5cm) to the top and bottom hems. Add 3/4″ (2cm) to the sides, and to the curved armhole hems. The drafting part is all finished now!

apron pattern making diagram 2 - adding seam allowance

With the draft pattern still folded in half, cut the pattern out along the seam allowance lines (but don’t cut along the folded center!) – so you’ll end up with one big apron pattern piece.

Finally, make a paper pattern for a rectangular pocket, too. Any size of your choosing is fine, but 13″ wide x 10″ high (33cm x 27cm) is a good size that includes seam allowances.

Step 2: Cut the fabric and cotton tapes.

Now that you have the pattern, the rest is easy! Choose any medium to heavy-weight woven fabric for the apron, such as canvas or home decor / interior fabric. Linen or linen blend fabric will make a particularly lovely apron. Quilting cotton is not recommended, because it is too lightweight. Prewash and press the fabric well.

Pin the apron pattern over the fabric, and cut along the pattern.

apron making - cutting fabric from a pattern

It’ll be most accurate if you first mark the outline of the pattern onto the fabric with a pen and a ruler, and then cut along the marked lines. But for things like an apron, there is little harm done if you choose to just pin the pattern onto the fabric and cut the fabric along the pattern.

apron making - cutting fabric from a pattern

Cut the pocket piece, too.

Cut two lengths of lightweight cotton tape (about 1″ or 2.5cm wide) for the neck tie (one for each side, to be tied together at the desired length by the wearer), and two lengths for the waist ties. Again, any length you like is fine. My suggested lengths for a thin-to-average sized woman is 21″ (55cm) each for the neck ties, and 35″ (90cm) each for the waist ties.

You can buy lightweight cotton tape in bulk quite cheaply online. Try searching on eBay or Etsy, for example. I use them for a lot of things, from lunch bag handles to bunting making.

rolls of white cotton tapes

Step 3: Make the pocket and attach it.

Fold over the top edge of the pocket at about 3/8″ (1cm), and then fold it again to make a double-fold hem. Stitch along this folded edge. Fold the sides and bottom edges of the pocket at about 3/8″ (1cm), and press well. apron making - making the pocket

Pin the pocket to the middle of the apron.

apron making - pinning the pocket

Stitch around the sides and bottom of the pocket onto the apron, stitching close to the edge (about 1/12″ or 2mm from the edge). Then stitch around the sides and bottom again, at about 1/2″ (1.3cm) from the edge. This second round of stitching (1) makes the pocket more securely attached to the apron body, and (2) conceal the raw cut edges of the pocket inside the double stitching. So if you look inside the pocket, it’ll be nice and clean.

Step 4: Sew the curved armholes.

Fold over the raw edge of a curved armhole in, at 3/8″ (1cm). Press. Then fold it again at 3/8″ (1cm), to make a double-folded hem. Press. 

apron making - folding side armholes

Sitch along the fold. Repeat for the other side.

Step 5: Sew the top hem.

Fold the top hem over at about 3/8″ (1cm), and then fold it again at about 1″ (2.5cm) to create a double-folded hem. Press well. Insert a piece of cotton tape (for the neck tie) into this fold, close to each end of the hem. Pin.

apron making - inserting cotton tape at top hem

apron-making - top hemStitch along this top hem, close to the folded edge. Your stitching will attach the cotton tapes to the apron at the same time, with the cut edge nicely concealed inside the folded hem.

Now fold each cotton tape over towards the top (so the ties will face upwards towards your neck, not droop downward toward your feet), and pin. Topstitch along the very top of the apron, stitching over the cotton tapes along the way.

apron making - topstitching the top hem

Step 6: Sew the sides.

Fold over a straight side hem at about 3/8″ (1cm), and then fold it again at 3/8″ (1cm) to create a double-folded hem. Press well.

apron making - folding the side hems

Insert a piece of cotton tape (for the waist tie) into this fold, at the top of this hem, and pin.

apron making - side hems

Stitch along this side hem close to the folded edge like you just did with the top hem, stitching over the cotton tapes at the same time.

Now fold the cotton tape over to face outwards (so it’s ready to wrap around your waist). Stitch over the tape in this position (just over the tape bit; you don’t have to sew all the way along the side again) – try to stitch right over the previous stitch line, so you won’t see the second line of stitches from the right side of the apron.

Repeat for the other side.

Step 7: Sew the bottom hem.

Fold the bottom hem at about 3/8″ (1cm), and then fold it again at about 1″ (2.5cm) to create a double-folded hem. Press well. Stitch along this bottom hem, close to the folded edge.

Stem 8: Finish up.

Your apron is nearly ready! Try it on, and make sure the neck ties and the waist ties are the lengths you like. If they are too long, cut them shorter. (If they are too short… well there is nothing you can do now at this point, other than unpick the tapes and stitch longer ones on in their place.) If everything looks good, fold over the raw cut edge of each cotton tape piece twice, and stitch over the fold line to keep the tape ends from fraying.

All done now! Enjoy your new apron.  (This is my mother last year, wearing last year’s Mother’s Day present!)

apron modelled by my mother

 

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.

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

Circle skirt

 

 

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.   

 

 

 

 

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.