Backpack diaper bag

I didn’t think I needed a new nappy bag – I already have two styles of nappy bags on Etsy and madeit, and they are both very popular. But this week, while climbing this tower in a local playground, hauling my kids all the way to the top and then back down, I suddenly realized that I needed a new nappy bag.

Playground tower at Newington Armory in Sydney

So when we came back home, I spent the rest of the day and much of the night thinking about the design. Then the following day, I made this.
New backpack nappy diaper bag - front view
Hmm, isn’t it just another big elephant bag, looking slightly more sporty than my other bags? Well, maybe, but not really. If you look closer, it’s actually more like my French pastry bag (or the “birthday tote bag“) than like my “daycare bag” or “beach tote bag.”
New backpack nappy diaper bag - bottom view
It has a wide rectangle bottom.

New backpack nappy diaper bag - inside view

I also used heavy-duty cotton for the lining, to give the bag a firm structure. You can see it’s firm enough to stand well on its own, with nothing in the bag.

There is one large patch pocket inside. I used the same yellow elephant fabric here, but in retrospect it was a bit too much of the elephants. Next time I’ll make a plain white pocket.

New backpack nappy diaper bag - front pocket view

The main bag body has two decorative white vertical stripes, to give it a sporty look. There is a “hidden” pocket in the middle of the stripes, on each side of the bag. These pockets are not huge, but are handy for things like sunglasses, wallets, and keys. 

New backpack nappy diaper bag - front pocket detail view

The bag comes with two adjustable, removable straps. That means you can carry the bag as a traditional tote bag with two handles, or use just one strap to carry it like a messenger bag.

New backpack nappy diaper bag - front strap view

It looks a little like my “daycare bag” like this. It’s great for hanging over stroller handles.

But the best feature of all, is that you can attach the two straps like this….

 

New backpack nappy diaper bag - backpack straps view

and you can wear it as a backpack in case of emergency – like having to push two kids up an enormous tower, or when crossing a busy road holding their hands.

The “backpack conversion process” takes just about 5 seconds. Well, it might take a few seconds longer if you need to adjust the strap lengths. Anyway, I tried to make it as painless as possible.

The bag is not quite ready for sale yet, because I need to source better hardware. I mean, the ones I used function fine, but I know there are more elegant-looking clips out there. It should be shop ready in 3-4 weeks.

Overall I’m very pleased with this bag. The hardest part was to make the bag look good both as a nappy bag and as a backpack. It gave me quite a headache thinking about it, but in the end, I figured that most people would use it mainly as a regular nappy bag, and use the backpack feature only occasionally. So I prioritized the nappy bag part of the design.

New backpack nappy diaper bag - being worn by me

So you see, it may not look very backpack-like when worn like a backpack… but I think it looks okay, and it’s surprisingly comfortable. And when you really need your hands free to look after your kids, it’ll be priceless to have that option.

By the way, don’t you just love this yellow elephant fabric? I’ve been using the elephant fabric for years, but had never thought to order the yellow variety before – because I thought it was too similar to orange. But the yellow is so much more beautiful in person – it’s such a gentle, sophisticated color. It’s similar to the grey elephant one in that sense – both are perfectly suitable for grownups to wear.

 

 

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!

French pastry bag no. 2

This week. I had another chance to make a tote bag with the beautiful “French pastry recipe” fabric and leather handles. This one was for a special client, who has now become a crafty friend. She requested that the bag be about 2″ shorter than my previous bag, and to have an exposed zipper pocket inside. This is what the finished bag looks from the outside. I love this shape.

French pastry tote bag with leather handles

I had never made an exposed zipper pocket before. Was it fearless of me to agree to a design I had no idea how to create, or was it a little… reckless? 

French pastry tote bag with leather handles - exposed zipper pocket

I hope it looks all right! Thankfully it was not too hard. I found a fantastic (and free!) tutorial on Craftsy.com by Ms. Elaineous. Her step-by-step instruction with clear diagrams saved my day.

Had I used a white zipper instead of dark brown, it would have looked more seamless. But I think this thin line of brown zipper looks lovely as a decorative accent.

The bag has a simple patch pocket on the other side. 

French pastry bag tote with leather handles - inside pocket

Stitching the leather handles was very time consuming, like last time. But instead of being frustrated about it, I just decided to watch a couple of Grey’s Anatomy episodes while stitching. A very enjoyable experience. And hard work is clearly worth it, because the finished bag looks very elegant and luxurious with that touch of leather. 

French pastry bag tote with leather handles - leather handles

In other news I’m planning a special Facebook “auction market day,” in about three weeks time. I’ll focus on making small things like wet bags and sandwich bags using leftover fabrics. So check out my Facebook page for details!

Thoughts on custom orders – a tote-style diaper bag

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!

Tote-style diaper bag with leather handles

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.

Tote-style diaper bag with leather handles

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.

 

 

Zip-top daycare bag (i.e. diaper bag)

Recently I was asked to make a nappy bag with a zipper-top closure instead of a magnetic button closure. I said yes, thinking it wouldn’t be too hard.

Zipper-top diaper bag in green elephant

Well it turned out to be a little more challenging than I anticipated. Simply inserting a zipper at the top is easy. But keeping the D-ring tabs on either top ends of the bag – which is part of the bag design, allowing the shoulder strap to attach neatly – required some thought.

In the end the solution was simple – I used a recessed zipper design, which I have used before for my wristlet pouches.

Looks great, doesn’t it? I also attached a handy carabiner tab (I used a lovely linen tape here) just under the zipper here, so you don’t lose your keys or wristlet pouches. You don’t really need these for my regular diaper bags with magnetic button closure, because you can simply use the D rings on either side, and tuck the hanged items inside the bag. With the zipper-top, you can’t do that because then you won’t be able to close the zipper.

I’m pleased with this optional design. This bag will be great for traveling, too, because the content will not spill out when accidentally knocked over under the aiplane seat, for example. You can also carry your tablet or laptop and feel secure about it. These zipper-top nappy bags are now available to order on my Etsy shop.

I love it when my customers challenge me to come up with a new design feature I had not made before. It allows me to experiment with new things, and expand my creative horizon. 

Insulated lunch bag pattern

Now I’d like to tell you a little about my new insulated lunch bag pattern. The pattern itself is quite simple, and I’m sure a lot of people could have come up with a design like this on their own. Originality is not a huge factor here.

There are two things I’m very happy about this pattern though – one is the computer-friendly format, and the other is the detailed instructions.

Format

I used a landscape format with one or two large photos per page, and corresponding bullet-point instructions in large, easy-to-read text.

Insulated lunch bag pattern first page

Does it look like a Powerpoint presentation? Why yes, that was the idea exactly. I used Apple Keynote for writing this pattern, and once I got over the initial learning curve (thanks to a wonderful tutorial on Lynda.com), the application was so simple and a joy to use.

I chose this format because I am terrible at following other people’s patterns. The reason for this, I thought, was that most patterns use the A4 format, with small text and tiny, infrequent photos. I am a visual person, and what I crave are large, clear photos and lots of them. Having to figure out a pattern by deciphering the meaning of text alone often makes my head spin.

So I’ve come up with a format that even a pattern-challenged person like me can follow with ease, with lots of large photos and texts in short sentences, presented as bullet points.

Another advantage of this format is that it is computer/tablet-friendly. I dislike having to print patterns, because printed patterns are easily lost, not to mention the cost of the printer cartridges and the environmental factor. My pattern fits nicely on your computer, tablet or even a smartphone screen, so you don’t have to print it out. It looks like this on an iPad.

Pink elephant with iPad

[Thanks to Su-Yin Johns for letting me use her photo.]

Of course, you might have to adjust your computer/tablet/smartphone setting so that it does not go to sleep after a couple of minutes. Having to wake it up every time you are ready for the next step can be annoying. But most of my patten testers loved this format, so I’m pretty sure you’ll love it, too. After all, this is the day and age where even my 60-something mother carries around a MacBook Air, and many of us prefer reading e-books over printed books.

Detailed Instructions

Another thing I am proud of this pattern is the detailed instructions. I wrote the pattern with beginners in mind, so they can learn new skills and techniques by making the lunch bag – kind of like a project-based sewing class. For example, inserting a zipper in the lunch bag is probably the hardest part of making the bag. So the pattern has many, many pages explaining the zipper attachment process step by step. Even if you have never made a zippered pouch before, you should be able to follow the instructions and make the bag pretty easily.

insulated lunch bag pattern zipper section

Of course, if you are more advanced in sewing, you can skip those pages and just read the sections that are new to you. That’s another beautiful part of having a tablet/computer-friendly pattern. Turning pages is effortless, and you don’t feel resentful that you had to print out 20+ pages of instructions and photos that you mostly didn’t need.

So I hope you’ll give my pattern a try. They are available on Etsy and Craftsy. If you’d also like to receive all the necessary materials to make the bag in the mail as well, you can purchase a kit as well on Etsy. And if you are not keen on making an insulated lunch bag, stay tuned for more patterns in the future.

Pattern testing – insulated lunch bag

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.

Sarah's lunch bag - boy and ship

Kristy from Monkey Mai made this lunch bag with the red bird fabric. Beautiful job!

Kristy's lunch bag - red linen birds

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?

Bec's lunch bag - grey linen bird

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.

Su's lunch bag - Pink elephant with iPad

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?

Erika's lunch bag - Hello KittyErika's princess lunch bag

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!

Insulated lunch bag

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

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

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

insulated lunch tote bag

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

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

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

insulated lunch bag with lunch stuff inside

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

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

ice cube test for insulated lunch bags

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

insulated lunch bags, version 1 and 2

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

three insulated lunch bags in linen bird fabrics

 

 

Wristlet pouches

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

red and white polka dot wristlet pouch

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

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

wristlet pouch with red stripy traditional japanese fabric

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

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

wristlet pouches using handprinted fabric

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

 

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

wristlet pouch with recessed zipper

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

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

wristlet pouch final version with rounded bottoms

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

green daisy wristlet pouch

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

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.