Hello Kitty madness

I need to admit… since my last post I have officially become obsessed with Liberty Hello Kitty fabrics. I can’t stop thinking about what other little things I can make with those fabrics. Why little things? Well, aside from not needing much fabric, those Liberty fabrics really shine at a small scale, because the prints are so detailed and crisp. Besides, little things are inherently cute, don’t you think, and I have a tendency to be obsessed with tiny creations.

Liberty Hello Kitty sun hats

Aren’t these sun hats pretty? Okay, they are not exactly “little” – they are for 3 year olds. But still, hats don’t require too much fabric in the scheme of things. Each hat takes less than 1/4 meter of the main fabric.

Liberty Hello Kitty hats being made

Here’s a shot of the hats before they had linings. The Liberty fabric is very lightweight, so I fused it first with woven interfacing to give it the body a hat needs.

Liberty Hello Kitty sun hat with pink stripes

This one has pink and white stripe lining, which is very girly and dreamy.

Liberty Hello Kitty sun hat with bright pink lining

This vivid-colored hat has solid hot pink lining. The lining is important because you’ll see it when you wear this hat with its brim rolled up. It’s fun to have a different fabric peeking under the brim. These hats are actually reversible, but seriously, would you ever wear them to hide the gorgeous Kitty print?

And while at it, I couldn’t resist making something else to go with these hats.

Liberty Hello Kitty mini handbags

Mini handbags! I had so much fun making them. These are just little zippered coin purses basically, but with the little handles, don’t they look like handbags?

Liberty Hello Kitty mini handbags as a phone case

They may be small, but not completely useless. I could fit an iPhone in it, so a grownup could use it as a phone case. They are lightly padded as well.

Liberty Hello Kitty mini handbags as a phone caseNow, what else can I make with these fabrics….? To be continued.

Backpack envy

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.

fabric backpack in black zoo print

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.

My son wearing the new zipper backpack

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.

zipper backpack front detail - pocket

zipper backpack side detail - patch pocketHere’s what the inside looks like.

zip backpack detail - inside view

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!

zip backpack in pink zoo print

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).

zip backpack detail - side D ring tab

zip backpack detail - adjustable strapszip backpack detail - inside viewI hope my kids will be happy to wear them to school, and not feel too envious of other plastic backpacks out there….

Slow blankets

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Tutorial – Make your own lunch bag (or two)

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

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

Ready? Here we go!

Step 1: Cut the fabric

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Step 2: Overlock or zig-zag the 3 edges

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3: Sew the outline of the bag

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Step 4: Sew the top side seams

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Step 5: Finish the top of the bag

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Step 6: Thread the cords and prepare the gussets

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 7: Sew the gussets

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

The gusset looks like this from the right side:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extra-large daycare / nappy bag

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

Wipes

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Why use cloth wipes and not disposable ones?

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

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

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

(d) Disposable wipes are bad for the environment.

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



Mealtime accessories

I’ve been shopping around for a perfect fabric for making child-sized placemat and napkins.  Then this week I found it, right in my own sewing room among a pile of fabrics I hadn’t used before — 55% linen, 45% cotton dotty fabric with the most gorgeous texture and colors, from Japan of course.  Its simplicity is just right for mealtime (where the principal player should be the food, not accessories), and the large dots and pretty colors add a touch of cuteness for child appeal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is admittedly a rather pricey fabric.  A luxury fabric I would say.  You’ll just have to touch it to see what I mean.  Is it a little bit of an overkill to use such fabric for children, who may not be so discerning at the age of 2 or even 4?  Well… of course not!  Not because the little ones deserve the best, etc.  But because beautiful children’s items are not just for them, but for the parents as well.

Like when I was using drops of lavender essential oils in Miss M’s bath when she was a baby, hoping that the scent will relax and sooth her nerves.  I had no idea it did or not, but it certainly soothed my nerves and calmed me down at the end of a long day.

In my household, mealtime can be quite stressful.  Particularly dinnertime after daycare or preschool, involving super-tired and cranky children, feels like walking through a mine field.  Make one wrong move and boom! goes off the tantrum button.  “I don’t LIKE tomatoes, mommy!” “I want MILK, not water!” And so on.

Having a pretty table setting doesn’t solve all my mealtime problems, but it helps.  I love looking at pretty fabrics at the most stressful of times.  It soothes me.  And my children seem to love having their child-sized placemats and matching napkins.  I think a little touch like that makes them feel a little special.  Like I said before, kids do appreciate a little presentation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the napkins, I used soft and lightweight organic cotton / hemp fabric.  I used organic cotton / hemp canvas for the placemat backing.  Again, top-quality fabrics… but oh well, happiness is all in the details, don’t you think?


Boy apron

I don’t know why I like aprons on children so much.  I never wear an apron, except when I was working in restaurant kitchens.  But then the aprons I like on children are not the chef-like aprons anyway. They are real clothing items, semi-fitted, with proper armholes and neckline, that opens at the back for tie closures.  They are more for mealtime, like bibs, but provide wider coverage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. A thinks he’s too cool to wear bibs these days, but he’s okay with aprons.  In fact, being a rather messy eater, he asks for one when he starts to stain his favourite clothes.  Until recently he’s been wearing Miss M’s girly aprons I’ve made before, but now that he’s nearly two (!), it was time for a proper boy version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, okay, maybe the light green gingham wasn’t exactly a manly choice.  But still.  It’s a very simple design, with a big pocket in the middle and no gathering or frills.  Don’t you think it just looks adorable on boys?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course girls can wear these, too.  But when it comes to girls, I find it hard to resist adding a few girly touches.  Like a little gathering at the neck, or a ric rac trim on the pocket.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I might make a couple of these for my online shop.  Just to see if anyone else would find them as cute as I do.

Non-towel towel

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.

Sun hats

The winter has been brutal here in Sydney this year. But just when I was bracing for another month of coldness, spring is suddenly upon us, catching me totally off-guard. In our backyard, a newly planted lemon tree is about to blossom. Strawberry flowers are already blossoming. And the sun is getting noticeably brighter. Soon it’ll be another skin cancer season…. It’s time to make sun hats.

Last summer I made a few sun hats for my shop, but I was not completely happy with the pattern I made. The brim was too slope-y and bucket-like, and as cute as it was, it interfered with the child’s visual field. So, I went back to the drawing board today.

Let me warn you first: I have no idea how a professional pattern maker would make hat patterns. So please don’t copy me or quote me if you are researching how to make a hat pattern properly. I just wanted to share how I did this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you see, I already have a pattern for the crown part. For the brim, I first drew a rectangle for the brim, with the length representing the circumference of the hat. If you use this pattern for a hat as is, the brim would come straight down over your eyes like a ski mask, and you will be totally blindfolded.

Next I arbitrarily divided the brim rectangle up into small sections. I then cut out the big rectangle, and made slits along these little lines almost till the end, leaving just a tiny bit uncut so the whole thing still held together as one piece. Then you can fan it out like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you make a complete circle like this, and trace over the pattern, I’d imagine your brim will sit about 90 degrees from your face – like a shower hat (or how do you call those things you attach to your child’s head so you can wash her hair without the water getting into her eyes?).

I wanted a brim with a gentle downward slope, so I was aiming for something like a 45-degree angle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This took a long time, ensuring that all the little pieces were spaced out evenly…. When I finally had them positioned where I wanted, I roughly traced around the whole shape, then smoothed out the rough edges into a nice curved shape.

Then I tweaked the pattern a little more to make sure the lines were smooth and the circumference matched with that of the crown. Then I added seam allowance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The work-in-progress pattern above is for half a brim.

When the pattern is done, it’s Judgment Time – time to make a sample. Here, too, is where I am a total amateur. Instead of using muslin, I can’t help using a nice fabric for my sample sewing. Because I am eternally hopeful that, in the event it all works out perfectly the first time, I will have a lovely hat I can use straight away. Although I should know by now that things almost never work out perfectly the first time. That is why my children often wear crooked or ill-fitting samples. Because I’m too cheap to throw them away. See, I never seem to learn.

But today I got lucky! Yes the first sample had problems — the brim was too long and didn’t match up with the crown, and the angle was a little off. But after I ripped the brim off, I was able to salvage the fabric by re-cutting it using a revised pattern.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A finished toddler sun hat in Miss M’s size. It’s lined with solid pink cotton. After yesterday’s apron-rejection fiasco, I didn’t want to argue with a three-year-old’s favoured colour choice. See, I need her to wear a hat – any hat – in this country of harsh sun and skin cancer.

I do enjoy making hats. Something about all these flat pieces ending up nice and round and 3-D – gives me a lot of satisfaction. Off to make some more for my neglected online shop and for the upcoming Mathilda’s Market.