Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Review: Senna Tote by LBG Studio for Willow & Co

Yes, another bag.  I can't help it.  I love things that hold things.  Bags or boxes, it doesn't really matter.  On my last trip to visit my parents, my mother pulled a plastic box out of the closet that was evidently mine from when I was quite young (I know this because I had written some of the letters in my name backwards).  I guess my affinity for organizing is deeply rooted.  Hey, at least I'm consistent!

This time I decided to make a Senna Tote by LBG Studio for Willow & Co.  Not shockingly, this is another bag pattern that I first noticed on Instagram, and it's one of those projects that leaves you wondering why you took so long to actually make it (initially it was due to indecision on fabric, but I figured that one out several months ago).  It has a curved top that folds down onto itself and creates a distinctive shape that isn't all that common among the bag patterns I see.

I used the Cigar Box and Expedition prints from Tim Holtz' Eclectic Elements collection and paired them with Michael Miller Cotton Couture Burgundy solid fabric for the bottom of the bag and straps.

Let me start off by saying that this bag was far faster to make than I had imagined (once you get the pattern, fabric, and interfacing cut and fused, of course).  It was also pretty simple to assemble.  I think I would rate this as an appropriate pattern for somebody that is some sewing experience because the materials and zipper installation can be a little more challenging.  I wouldn't say that it is difficult, just a little bit more of a challenge.

This bag relies on duck cloth as an interlining to give the bag its structure.  The biggest problem that I have with using duck cloth is that it frays easily and rapidly.  If the project is a longer term work, I'd even recommend serging the edges or a zig zag stitch along the edge to minimize the fraying.  Another issue that I have with duck cloth is that it smells when ironed (I've bought it from higher end fabric stores in different weights and colors from several manufacturers, and I've noticed that it all seems to smell).

There are only a couple of things that could be more problematic, in my opinion.  The first is the materials.  Duck cloth is heavier weight and more dense than quilting cotton, so some machines might have a hard time punching through the layers.  Using a larger size denim needle (a 100/16) would make it more doable as would slightly increasing your stitch length.  You also want to stick to a thread that is more durable such as a polyester or my beloved 40wt Aurifil.  For this bag, I used colors 2460 and 2370.

The other semi-tricky spot is with the zipper installation.  It is done on a curve, but it is a pretty gentle curve.  My best advice would be to use a lot of pins and take your time.  As with almost every bag I make, I prefer to use handbag zippers (not the chunky teeth jacket zippers).  They have a wider zipper tape which can increase the ease of installation and a longer pull.  The nylon coil can still be sewn through like the standard, lightweight zippers with which most of us are probably pretty familiar.

Check out the cool shape that you get from the curved zipper installation.

I wouldn't be me if I didn't make a couple of modifications.  The first one was to lengthen the straps about 2 inches to give it a little bit of extra drop length.  If it make the bag again, I'd probably add another inch or two beyond that so the rounded top could be left extended instead of folding it over.  It would give a little bit of extra room in the event that I wanted to carry more stuff in the bag.  The other modification was to rectify the lack of lining in the exterior pockets that caught my attention when I read through the instructions before starting to make the bag.  I simply cut a piece of lining fabric using the pattern pieces for the exterior pockets.  I basted the duck cloth to the main fabric and treated it as one piece before following the instructions for how to assemble the pockets.  I wanted the pocket lining to remain soft, so that is why I opted to baste the duck cloth to the exterior/main fabric.

Yes, I am pleased with my choice to line the pockets and not have the duck cloth exposed.

So, would I make this bag again?  Yes, I would, but I think I'd expand my modifications to one other thing.  The bag has 2 exterior pockets.  The front pocket is smaller and is the width of the straps.  The larger, back pocket extends the width of the tote.  I would either eliminate the larger pocket or modify the bag to have a second smaller pocket.  The straps are sewn through the large pocket which divides it into 3 sections.  The center section has a snap closure while the other 2 do not have a closure.  I don't find the outermost pockets to be entirely useful, but that's my preference.

The bag is quite roomy on the inside and it features a single pocket with a line of stitching to separate the pocket into multiple compartments.

Anyway, that's about it for my experience with the Senna Tote.  It's a very cool bag with a distinctive look that was quick to put together.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Review: The Boxcar Tote by Green Bee Patterns

I've seen the Boxcar Tote pop up on my Instagram feed a few times, but I didn't really pay much attention until I saw the kit on Craftsy.  Though I love Rashida Coleman-Hale's Mochi collection, I didn't want to use the same fabric as the kit, so I ordered the pattern directly from Alexia Abegg's site, greenbeepatterns.com.

I hoarded some of  Alexia's Tiger Stripes canvas print before using it in a couple of other bags lately, and I really love it.  So, I opted to use the same print paired others with from Cotton + Steel's recently released Black & White collection. I've nicknamed this the "A Few of my Favorite Things" bag because it has kitties (yes, I know they are actually tigers) and bags.  As with most bags or quilts, I dug into my stash of Aurifil thread.  This time I used their 40wt thread in colors 2311 and 2692.

I used only Cotton + Steel fabrics in the bag.  With the exception of the XOXO
print for the lining, all fabric is from the collaborative Black & White collection.
There are a bunch of things that I really like about the pattern, and a few that I was less keen on, so let's start with the good.

I like that you can really feature several prints that you like.  Even a larger scale print could work.  It's also a great size.  The instructions are straight forward, and this is a project that would be pretty beginner friendly.  I also liked that the instructions gave the option to install a magnetic snap (which I did).  As with many other bags, once I got all of the fabric cut and interfaced, the pattern was quick to sew.

I'm not super keen on Pellon 809 (Decor Bond).  It is a firm interfacing that is still lightweight and thin, so it doesn't add bulk (which is a good thing).  I don't like that it tends to show creases.  So, if I decide that I want to make the bag again (which I can totally see myself doing), I would consider swapping out and using something like Soft and Stable or Pellon 971 (Thermolam fusible needled fleece) which will help the bag to hold its shape and stand on its own (like it does with the Decor Bond).  I also didn't like that all of the pockets, especially the interior pocket, are all wide.  That's an easy enough fix, so I just sewed a line of stitching to divide the inside pocket prior to assembling the lining.

The line of stitching that divides the pocket into two compartments isn't
very visible in the photo, but it's obvious that I need to press the lining fabric desperately.
Other than adding the extra line of stitching to the interior pocket, I also top stitched next to the seam on the front and rear pocket just because I liked how it looked.  My thread blends in very well, but up close, I think it's a nice bit of detail.  I did not divide the pocket, the top stitching was done before the pocket was attached to the main part of the bag.

I would make a couple of recommendations to somebody that is going to make the Boxcar Tote that I don't remember seeing in the instructions.

1.  The type of construction used to assemble the bag has you stopping at a marked dot.  To make the finished bag's corners less squishy looking, you can clip off the points of the triangles being VERY careful not to cut any of the stitching.  You just want to remove some of the bulk from the corners.  I did this on both the exterior and the lining.  Again, you only want to remove some of the bulk, so you don't need to take off very much fabric.

2.  Similar to my first recommendation, clipping the corners on the strap piece before you turn it will make your corners more sharp.

3.  If you are adding a magnetic snap, I'd recommend using an extra piece of firmer interfacing like Peltex or Soft and Stable to increase durability and stability of the prongs.  Before cutting the holes for the prongs, I'd also recommend a tab of a product like Fray Block or Fray Check to keep the slots from growing or fraying.

Let's see.... the other thing that I did was hand stitch the binding on the top of the bag (I did machine stitch the pockets).  I prefer the cleaner finish where it is more visible.

I could also see myself doing a version with a modified strap so that the bag could be shoulder carried (I would probably start the straps at the bottom of the main panel and attach them prior to sewing the front and back pockets on).

I think my dream version of the bag would include changing the interfacing from Decor Bond to Soft and Stable and either stitching a line to divide the large front pockets or adding a snap closure to keep them shut.  I'm noticing that sometimes they do gape open.

Anyway, not a super long review of the Boxcar Tote from Green Bee Patterns, but I did quite enjoy making the bag.  I would not hesitate to recommend this pattern.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Recap and Review: The Butterfly Quilt by Tula Pink

I haven't reviewed many quilt patterns, so I thought this would be a great way to break the cycle.  Before I jump into my review of the pattern and some pictures, here's the backstory:

When I first saw the pattern for The Butterfly Quilt, I remember thinking that it was pretty cool, but it wasn't until Sew Expo in March of 2014 that I actually purchased it.  I was super fortunate to buy it and have it signed by its creator (and my favorite fabric designer), Tula Pink.  To be honest, I wasn't sure when or if I would make it, but something about it resonated with me.

Although the pattern was designed to be a showcase for Tula's Acacia fabric collection, the pattern works well with other fabric collections.  The newer version of the pattern solely lists fabric requirements by value (as an example, 2 5/8 yards of darks - choose at least 3) rather than the combination of value and images of Acacia collection and coordinating Free Spirit Designer Solids  (I usually buy mine from Hawthorne Threads) if you wanted to make a quilt that matches the pattern cover.  I've seen the quilt done with the original fabrics, and it is stunning, but I wanted to take it in a different direction.  So, I waited...and waited...

Now, fast forward to late 2014 and the debut of Tula Pink's Elizabeth collection.  Less than a minute after seeing the images of the fabric for the first time, I knew that I had to make The Butterfly Quilt using Elizabeth and coordinating solids.  I also knew that I would need the help of my wonderful friend and longarm quilter, Teresa Silva of Quilting is my Bliss to help the butterfly take flight with her amazing quilting.  So, I asked her to add me to her schedule for May 2015 (this was booked in very early November 2014) which would give me 2 months to get the fabric and to have it ready for my scheduled time slot.  The wait between the collection's October Quilt Market debut and the scheduled release of March 2015 felt like an eternity, but it wasn't as if I didn't have any other projects. I also had a trip to Texas for QuiltCon on the horizon.

With the remainder of 2014 and first two months of 2015 gone in the blink of an eye, I returned from my trip and got cracking on turning a pile of fabric into the quilt that I envisioned.

This beauty is way too big for my design wall (and the physical wall too), so just pretend the painters tape isn't there.

Now, for my review of the pattern...

Looks can be deceiving.  When I first saw the pattern, I thought there was no way that I would make a quilt that used so many different blocks.  As I mentioned in the backstory, I bought because I could have Tula sign it.  When I got it home, I decided that I would actually look at the pattern, and I was more than happily surprised to discover that the quilt was nowhere near as complex as I had feared/dreaded/imagined. 

This is one of the first pictures that I took of the quilt.  It is early enough in the process that I was using the right side of the center spine to hold the extra blocks.

It's starting to come together and look more like a butterfly after completing part of the wing.

It's really just 15 different blocks (not really even that many because there are several sizes of log cabin blocks, for example).  The key to making it look quite complex is that blocks are done in mirror images (left wing vs right wing) and different color combinations are used.  Wow.  Tula is a mad scientist, evil genius, she's the (wo)man behind the curtain in Pinkerville (kinda like Oz but way more awesome), and just downright brilliant (plus she's actually super nice and funny in person).

The pattern is well written and the diagrams for planning and assembling the quilt are incredibly helpful.  With the exception of the wheel/pie/round blocks, I had no issues with any of the blocks.  I've made quilts with curves without issues on several occasions (4 specific quilts come to mind), and I've done curves too.  The curves in the blocks on this pattern are steep which make them more difficult.  I had to fight with mine quite a bit and load them up with a ton of Best Press (a starch alternative), but they came out still looking like circles.  It certainly can't hurt that I requested that Teresa "quilt the hell out of them" to keep them flat.

Other than the blocks with the curves, the biggest challenge for me was picking fabric.  I knew that I wasn't going to use the full collection, but I didn't know exactly how much I would need of each print or how many prints I would really use.  Thankfully, I had purchased enough fabric of the whole collection so that I could tackle the blocks as the came up.

I didn't work through the pattern in order (I did read it all first - several times, in fact).  The first section that I finished was the flying geese that form the center spine of the butterfly.  For the most part, I worked in sections.  I would make one of the larger blocks in the section and work outward from there so I would get a feeling on which colors/fabrics to use in the neighboring blocks.  In the end, I think I actually scrapped one block that I had made because it just didn't seem to fit after I surrounded it.  Oh well.  It happens sometimes.  For the most part, everything went smoothly.  My sections joined up with their neighbors, and they fit together perfectly time and time again (yay)!

While I did make some changes, the changes wouldn't impact the blocks of the butterfly.  I don't have a queen size bed, and I didn't want to modify it so that it would fit my king size bed.  Would you believe that I saw the answer when I went to Teresa's house to pick up another quilt she did for me?  Her Butterfly Quilt is hanging on a wall.  That was the answer, unfortunately, my house isn't set up to handle such a large quilt.  Most of our walls have large things that can't be easily moved like windows, wall heaters, thermostats, and fireplaces.  So, I am saving the quilt for a future home where it can be displayed.  Knowing that it would be for a wall hanging, I opted to modify the borders.  The original pattern has very wide 11" finished border on top and bottom only.  I elected to change it to 3" all the way around the quilt, and I used the same fabric as the background of the quilt.  My decision to add a border on the side was to create a little extra space between the binding and the tips of the wings.  My binding was going to be quite bold in color and style, and I didn't want to feel like it was encroaching on the central element of the quilt.

Once it was finished, I sent it off to Teresa.  For the record, I am not an entirely trusting person, but she just gets me (scary thought, isn't it, Teresa??).  I trust that she won't turn out poor quality work because that's part of who she is.  She's also a Tula junkie, and she would never "disrespect the Tula" as I like to say.  We make a pretty good team.  Teresa has quilted this quilt on several occasions that I really liked, but she knows she has the freedom to switch things up a bit and experiment with different motifs on my quilts (like the spiral on some of the blocks with circles).

Anyway, she blew my mind.  It's perfect.  I couldn't have dreamed that it could be any better.  Now, I just need to find the right house for my perfect quilt.  Until then, I open up the closet where it hangs and I pet it frequently.  I'm planning to enter it into to show hosted by one of the local quilt guilds.  I'll have more information on that later.  For now, you can read the blog entry from Teresa that has some additional pictures.

So, yes.  If you have the opportunity to see this quilt, you should.  Get up close and really look at it. Now that you know the secret, can you see the pieces falling into place?  It's an amazing pattern, and I think it's worthwhile to buy if you are remotely curious to see how it all goes together.

The debut of Tula's Eden collection at Spring Quilt Market 2015 showed a re-imagined version of the pattern that was dubbed the Eden Moth as Tula selected fabrics to give it a more subtle effect.

A photo posted by Tula Pink (@tulapink) on

No matter how you choose to colorize your Butterfly Quilt, it's sure to be a stunner.