Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I made something that wasn't a quilt or a bag!

Yeah, it really does happen.  :)

I am one of those people that finds something that I like and proceed to buy it in every color.  This is no exception.  In the last month, I've made PJ pants and t-shirts for myself.  I love making PJ/lounge pants/shorts because they are an easy way to use up fabric (3 yards for pants, 1.5 yards for shorts).  I find that I like mine on the very baggy side, so I'm totally fine using quilting cotton that doesn't stretch.

The other garment that I make pretty frequently is t-shirts.  I have pretty long arms, so I can never seem to find shirts with long enough sleeves.  So, the best way to get around that is to make my own.  I found a pattern that I liked, The Perfect T-Shirt from Pamela's Patterns, and I made some tweaks to make it work for me.  Some of the tweaks included shortening the armhole, lengthening the sleeves and body, and making a full bust adjustment.  What was it that I liked about this pattern?  I like the curved hem and the fact that it isn't super fitted.  I wear t-shirts almost every day, and this one has been excellent for a variety of different types of knits including 100% cotton jersey and interlock, cotton blend jersey and interlock, rayon, and ponte roma.  It's also been great for both solids and prints.  I've made this shirt 20 times (no, that isn't an exaggerated number), and I don't think that I'll stray too far.  In case you are wondering, once I got the fit tweaked to my satisfaction, I traced the pattern using Swedish Tracing Paper.  I did this to preserve my altered pattern as much as possible.  When my traced one starts to look super shabby or if I wanted to make a modification like short sleeves, I can just trace a new one (I have 2 sets of sleeves - 1 for long sleeves and another for short).  :)

My most recent batch of shirts used a variety of fabric including 2 interlocks from Amy Butler's Glow collection, 2 jerseys from Katy Jones' Priory Square collection, 1 jersey from Bari J's Emmy Grace Collection, and 1 jersey from Jeni Baker's Geometric Bliss collection.  All of the jerseys are from Art Gallery Fabrics, and they are super duper soft and comfy.  If you have noticed that the shirt on the bottom right isn't finished, you'd be correct.  I was obviously quite sick of cutting when I got to that one because I cut one of the sleeves with the print facing downward.  I didn't have enough fabric on hand to re-cut the sleeve, so I had to order it online.  I hope to be able to finish it this weekend if my fabric arrives in a timely fashion.

I tried 4 or 5 other t-shirt patterns before settling on this one.  When I want a more fitted shirt (that I will primarily use as a layering piece), I like Jalie 2805.

This shouldn't come as any surprise, but I'm pretty picky about my fabrics.  I tested probably 7-8 different fabrics before settling on what I really wanted to use.  If I'm going to use a solid, my favorites have been the 100% cotton interlock from Nancy's Notions.  I did test the cotton/poly interlock from Nancy's, and I found them to be very soft but the polyester did cause pilling.  The fabric seemed to stretch out of shape much more quickly.  My other favorite is cotton jersey.  The one I like most is from Robert Kaufman.  It's the Laguna Cotton Jersey collection, and it is 95% cotton and 5% spandex.  I've also used fabric from the Laguna Cotton Heather and Laguna Cotton Jersey prints, and it's all been great.

The only thing that I really don't like about jersey vs interlock is that the edges curl with jersey.  It is a little more fiddly to cut and sew than the more stable interlock, but the end result is worth it for me.  If you are going to sew with either of these materials, I'd highly recommend using a walking foot or dual feed if your machine has it.  Another recommendation is to use either a jersey or a stretch ball point needle.  The ball point on the needle will push the fibers out of the way rather than piercing and breaking them.

I do find that I get a lot of questions (once people hear that I made my t-shirts) about whether or not I use a serger.  The short answer is partially.  With the Pamela's Patterns shirt, the shirt isn't very clingy, so I use my regular sewing machine with a straight stitch.  It isn't necessary to serge the seam allowances with  these types knit (they don't fray like wovens), but I like the finished look of the overlocked seam.  At the very end, I do use my serger to do a coverhem (not all sergers do this, but mine does) on the neckband, sleeves, and hem.  The effect given by the coverstitching will really make it look more store bought.  Using a twin needle in your sewing machine can give you the same appearance on the exterior if you don't have a machine that will do a coverhem.  I will say that I pretty much suck at sewing in a straight line on my serger, but I'm thankful that I'm pretty particular about getting a good color match on thread.  It hides some of the boo boos, and I"m fairly OK with it as long as it looks fine on the outside of the garment.

For a more fitted shirt, using a narrow zig zag stitch or the "lightning bolt" stitch would potentially be great choices.  As with all fabrics, please make sure to run some test stitching to check tensions and make sure that the fabric is behaving as it should.  For folks new to garment sewing, you will want to make sure that you wash your fabric (as long as it is something actually washable) before cutting out your pieces.  Even though I don't normally put my t-shirts in the dryer, I do toss them in the dryer on low during the pre-washing process.

Making garments can be intimidating, but so can making bags or quilting.  It's a process, and they all take time, practice, and a bit of work to figure out what you really like.  Is it worth it in the end?  For me, yes.  I'm paying a lot less per shirt than I was when I was buying my shirts, and I like that the ones I've made fit better, last longer, and give me more options in the way of prints or colors.  Best of all?  I can say that I made them.

So, that's it for this post.  I have some stuff that needs to be sewn, so I'm off to do that!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Review: iCases by Patterns by Annie

I recently upgraded from an original iPad Mini to an iPad Mini 3, and I decided that I should make a case for it because it will surely accompany me to QuiltCon in February!  My first thought was to look for one of Annie's patterns, and I hit the jackpot.

Exterior fabric is Treasure Box from Amy Butler's Lark Home Dec Sateen Collection
Lining/Binding fabric is Neo Dot from Michael Miller

The iCases pattern from Patterns by Annie is primarily designed for both sizes of iPad, but it could be easily adjusted for other size devices. Measurements are included for both the regular size iPad and the smaller iPad Mini.  

The fabric requirements for the small bag included 1 fat quarter for your main print and a half yard of fabric for the lining and binding. In addition, you will also need a zipper, Velcro, Soft and Stable, and Pellon SF101.

My pattern adjustments started before making any cuts. The pattern indicates that the case is designed to hold either a naked device or one with a minimal shell, I needed to increase the size of my fabric and S&S. My iPad is in a fairly thin case (it's a Tech 21 Impect Mesh case if you're in the the market for a really good case) plus an Apple Smart Cover. The dimensions in the original pattern needed fairly minimal adjustments that consisted of resizing the cut pieces to be .5" longer and .5" wider 

Not too tight and not too loose!
With my pieces now at the revised size, I followed the pattern. This pattern is very easy to follow and does not have a lot of steps which usually means it will be a pretty quick project to finish, and it was. 

I love that this pattern has a Velcro closure on the front flap which does not interfere with the magnets in my iPad. Another plus is the zipper pocket on the back of the case. This will be an excellent pocket to keep an extra pair of earbuds and a syncing cable. I love how padded the case feels with the iPad inside. It feels secure and well-protected.

I can't really say that there was anything I really dislike about the pattern, but as with most things I did make some additional changes (besides resizing the pieces). I had the case all sewn and bound, but I really didn't like the accent fabric on the front flap. That piece of fabric covers the stitching like from attaching one of the velcro strips, but it was far more distracting than the stitching would be for me, so I pulled off part of my binding and removed the offending piece. As soon as I took it off, I was so much happier with it. If you choose to make this same choice before starting the pattern, you can skip the Pellon SF101 because it's only used on that one piece. 

The second change was one of my regular modifications. I opted to hand finish my binding.  Obviously, I had a little bit of binding fail because I didn't do a fussy cut bias binding (I didn't even think about it if I'm being honest), but I obviously should have taken that into consideration.

I feel like the iCases pattern would be suitable for an adventurous beginner. Sewing through the thickness of multiple layers of Soft & Stable was probable the most challenging part for me, but it was worth it. I love my case!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Review: Swoon Coraline Clutch/Wristlet

I've seen a lot of people making Swoon patterns, so I thought I would give them a shot. I saved the one that I really want to make, the Bonnie Bucket Bag, for another time and decided to start on a simple one to get a feel for the flow of Swoon's patterns with the Coraline Clutch.

Coraline has 3 options. There are both large and small sizes that have a handle (the Coraline Clutch) or you can make the small size as a wristlet strap and no handle (the Coraline Wristlet). This third option was my pick because it is adorable, and I don't like the handles on the Clutch design. 

I used It's a Plus from Rashida Coleman-Hale's Koi collection for the exterior
The interior fabric is Waving Pennants from the same collection

For the small size, the pattern requires 1/4 yd for main fabric, 1/4 yd for interior, and 1 yd of Pellon SF101. Since I had to cut a strap, I wound up having to use an additional 1/8 yd of my main fabric plus one 1" d-ring and swivel clip. 

Upon reading through the instructions, my first impression of the pattern was that it appeared to be pretty straightforward, so I cut my pattern pieces and fabric. 

When I was cutting my pattern pieces, I thought the way the darts were done was odd. I had never made darts how the pattern instructed. It worked in the end, but I don't think they had quite as clean of a finish as a normally constructed dart (like I've done in other bag patterns and clothing). I think their method for creating the darts would be easy for somebody that has never made darts and isn't likely to do so again outside of a Swoon pattern, but switching to the more conventional approach later may lead to confusion. 

With the darts done, I continued on through the remaining steps of the pattern. When I got to the edge stitching of the finished bag, I ran into issues. I had trimmed my seam allowance and any extra length on my zipper, but there was still so much bulk on the ends where the recessed zipper is that I feared I would break a needle (which is normally quite difficult for me to do on my Juki). I made it through the edge stitching part, and I am not pleased with how it looked. The bulk made my stitching look slightly wonky in some places, but it's finished. 

I wish I had opted to pad the bag with some fusible fleece (probably Pellon 987F because I think the heavier Pellon Thermolam TP971F would be overkill) because it feels very thin and flimsy to me. 

I can pretty confidently say that I am not a fan of this pattern, and I probably won't make it again. I am still planning to make the Bonnie Bag, so I'm not writing off all Swoon patterns. 

I do love how much stuff I can fit in it. I have my essentials which include an EpiPen, a small wallet, keys, my earbud pouch, and my iPhone 6 (not pictured because I used it to take the picture). 

I did also like that it was a very quick project. 

Of course half of my essentials are made out of Tula Pink fabric!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review: The Beatle Bag by Abbey Lane Quilts

Yes, a bag.  If you groaned when you saw that this would be another bag, that's just too bad!  I am a bag junkie, and I am not afraid to admit it.

So, the Beatle Bag is a pattern from Abbey Lane Quilts that has been pretty darn popular.  It's been so popular that they just debuted a smaller size at fall Quilt Market (yes, I have the pattern but I haven't had time to make it yet).  I've seen quite a few pictures of this bag, and it looked interesting.  For carrying all of my stuff, I still think that By Annie's A Place for Everything bag has my loyalty.  This little darling, however, is the perfect size for my English Paper Piecing (EPP) project.

I used Tula Pink's Camo Deluxe from her newest collection, MoonShine, for the exterior with her Hoppy Dot from her Fox Field collection for the straps and binding.  The interior is her Vintage Stars print from her Fox Field collection

The materials requirements for the bag are pretty straightforward.  You'll need 1 fat quarter for the bag exterior, 1 fat quarter for the inside of the bag, and 5/8 yd of an accent fabric.  In addition, you'll also need Velcro, Soft & Stable, a ring for the exterior strap to loop through, and 4 Beatle Bag inserts.  You may also need pin cushion filling and double sided fusible webbing (I did not use either of those items).

When I purchased this pattern, I had the option of buying it as a kit that included the vinyl pages that were already sized/configured to work with this pattern.  So I said, yes please!  If you have the option, I'd seriously consider spending a few more dollars and purchasing it as a kit because the vinyl is a nice weight, it's already the correct size for the bag, and there are pre-cut holes that the inside straps feed through..

I did have a couple of issues with this pattern.  The first is more of an annoyance because it is an error in terminology.  The pattern uses Velcro (aka hook and loop tape) in several places.  One place says to use the loop side and then sew the soft side.  Well, the loop side IS the soft side.  You can't sew the same side in 2 different places, it just doesn't work.  So, the correction is to first sew the hook side (the scratchy one where it says to install the loop) and then the soft side (the actual loop side) when it says to install the soft side. If you don't believe me, feel free to read all about which side is which straight from the manufacturer - 's FAQ page.

The 2nd issue that I had was with sourcing the 2 1/8" ring that is used to hold the bag closed.  I found all kinds of rings that were 1.5-2" on the exterior, but the 2" inner diameter was hard to find.  I actually went out on a limb and checked at my local Home Depot where I found them sold in a pack of 2.  EXCELLENT!

Of course I had some modifications.  I wouldn't be me if I didn't change up at least one thing!  My biggest changes are the omission of the pincushion and using bias binding (instead of straight grain).  I'm not generally into pincushions of the non-magnetic variety, and my sensitivity to nuts can be problematic if I was to forget about the crushed walnut shells that are often used to stuff pincushions and put a pin in my mouth (yes, it's a bad habit that we all seem to do far too often).  So, leaving it off made sense.

As I mentioned, my other change was to the binding.  While this bag doesn't have a lot of curves to be bound, it does have darts at all four corners.  In order to make that transition more smooth, I decided that I'd rather use bias binding.  It allowed me to get a nice curve on those edges with the binding remaining flat over the corner (and I didn't have to use the fusible tape to hold it down).  Per usual, I also hand bound the edge instead of machine binding.

So, anyway, I've used it, and I love it.  It's a great little bag,  I could see myself making this one again, but it probably won't be anytime soon.  I'm anxious to get my Itty Bitty Beatle Bag made so I can give an accurate assessment.

A quick view of the empty bag before it gets loaded up.  The right side is where the pincushion would have been.

All filled up with my EPP supplies (Tula Pink's Diamonds in the Sky if you are curious)!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Review: Tudor Bag by Sara Lawson of Sew Sweetness

So, I'm back with another bag review (major shocker, I know)!

I've chosen to review Sara Lawson of Sew Sweetness' newest pattern, the Tudor Bag.  I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the name was chosen because the bag on the pattern cover uses fabric from Tula Pink's upcoming fabric collection, Elizabeth.  Elizabeth I of England was the last of the monarchs in the Tudor line (hey Mom, I did learn something in school after all).

I used Skull Camouflage from Timeless Treasures for the exterior and a Black solid for the accent & lining

Sara describes the pattern as a "choose-your-own sewing adventure" style bag that gives you options for a magnetic snap vs zipper closure, whether or not to have a front zipper pocket, and a choice of handles, a long strap, or both!

I love the idea of the pattern because I love a nice, boxy tote, and I especially love that she made it from Elizabeth.  (I also love smooshy totes though too in case you were wondering.)

Sara also says that she wrote the pattern so that it should be doable for a confident beginner.  I totally agree.  Customizing the bag to include both zippers and both straps does increase the skills required, but her instructions make it easy to follow along.

The fabric requirements are easy for this one.  The pattern calls for a yard of fabric for the exterior, a yard of fabric for the lining (additional fabric may be required if directional), and 1.25 yards of a solid fabric for the straps/accent pieces.

Other things required include 1/2 yard of my favorite interfacing, Soft & Stable from By Annie, Pellon SF101 (I love it too), and some optional bits including Peltex 71F by Pellon for giving stability to the bottom of the bag, zippers, and metal hardware.

I did use the Peltex because I don't like the bottoms of bags to sag a lot, 2 zippers and a metal hardware set that I had bought from Annie's site.

As with Sara's other patterns, the Tudor Bag has great written instructions and lots of pictures.  I really liked that this one had only actual 1 pattern piece because most of the pieces were designed to be rotary cut.

In the way of modifications to her pattern instructions, I only had a couple.  The first change that I made was to actually quilt my Soft & Stable to the exterior fabric.  There are a few things that are important to remember if you want to go this route - you MUST cut your fabric and Soft & Stable pieces larger than the pattern instructions (I'd recommend at least 2" larger on both length and width) before you quilt them because they will shrink once quilted.  After the pieces have been quilted, then cut them to the required sizes before proceeding with basting 1/8" from the edge of the pieces.  Please also remember that quilting these pieces can add a significant chunk of time to the whole process.  With this pattern, I used simple grid quilting with the lines at 1.5" apart.  One of the many great things about Soft & Stable is that it does not have to be quilted to the fabric.  Personally, I like the look of it quilted, so it's pretty rare that I will leave it un-quilted.  It's just my preference.

Look how cool the back side of the black Soft & Stable looks when it is quilted with the 40 weight Aurifil cotton thread!

I opted to use 1" black polypro strapping instead of fabric handles because it suited the style of my bag.  If I hadn't wanted the exposed strapping, I would have made a fabric tube, turned it right side out, inserted the polypro strapping, and topstitched it per her instructions (instead of interfacing and then topstitching).  I feel like the strapping is more sturdy, and I like the look and feel more than simple interfacing.  I also added a couple of extra inches to the length of the detachable strap because I tend to wear my cross body bags a little bit lower than most people.  As I mentioned earlier, I used 2 fabrics (one main print for the exterior and one for the lining and solid/accent) instead of 3.  I made the top of the zipper panels and interior pockets out of the exterior fabric so that they would be more visible inside the black interior of the bag and that the bag would have a consistent look from the exterior.

I did have 2 minor issues when making my bag.  The first was with the main zipper.  I did not have a zipper the correct length, so I cut one shorter.  Not having made this style of recessed zipper before, I didn't think about the fact that there was no zipper stop on one side (the pattern has you sew a fabric stop on one of the ends but not both).  So, I made a small zipper stop in the same black fabric that I used for the lining.  The second issue went unnoticed until I had finished topstitching the whole bag... my lining was rotated 180 degrees from what I had planned because my top zipper (if looking at the front of the bag with the pocket) was installed to pull right to left.  Ugh.  I am really picky about my zippers all opening the same direction, so this one will continue to irk me.  Is it bad enough for me to rip the topstitching, the stitching in the lining that I used to turn the bag, and then another row of stitching?  Nope.

Anyway, I carried my freshly finished bag with me to work the day after I finished it, and I really loved it.  After I can get some other things off of my to do list, I'll probably make another one or two or three....

I love how this looks with the double shoulder strap plus detachable strap (I find the detachable strap to be the most useful at the airport).

Yup, that's my backwards top zipper!

The camo slip pockets are much more visible than they would have been with the black fabric.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Review: Quick Zip Cases from Patterns by Annie

Back down to business today with a review of the Quick Zip Cases from Patterns by Annie!

The large case (top) is the Sunday Clippings print on the exterior with You are Here on the interior
The small case (bottom) is Clover Field on the exterior with The Shambles on the interior

I had some of Katy Jones' amazingly gorgeous Priory Square fabric from Art Gallery Fabrics that I wanted to use for something special, and we all know by now that I'm a bit of a bag addict.  So, it seemed like a pretty logical choice.

The pattern makes 2 sizes of case, and either size can be made with 2 fat quarters (the pattern calls for 3 fabrics, but I only opted for 2 without needing any additional fabric), a zipper, and a piece of Annie's amazing Soft & Stable.  Just like the pattern says, the small size easily holds my 45mm Olfa rotary cutter with plenty of room to spare for other goodies.  I'm not sure what I'll keep in the large size to be honest, but I'm sure I'll come up with something!

I have obviously been spending too much time on making more involved bags that I was a little surprised at how quickly they went together (obviously, the name of the pattern should have been a clue that they would be quick).  I almost spent just as much time picking a fabric/zipper color combination as it took me to make one of the bags.  I'd guesstimate the start to finish of making both sizes to be around 3 hours (this includes doing all of the quilting of the fabric to the Soft & Stable).

The only concern that I had going into the pattern was in relation to the exposed seams at the boxed corners.  I have made some bags that have seams exposed, and I can't say that I'm a fan (even if the fabric is gorgeous and is laminated cotton which doesn't fray).  Of course, Annie wouldn't leave a girl like me stuck with exposed seams!

I will absolutely make these again with a couple of modifications to the original pattern:

1.  I prefer the look of 2 fabrics, so I will continue with that (I think this really has more to do with the fabrics that I choose more than anything).
2.  I feel like the carry strap is a little long, so I will make that a tad shorter.
3.  Much like I did on the A Place for Everything bag, I did trim back a little bit of the seam allowance from under the zipper so that the top stitching totally encases the seam.  

I think this is a beginner friendly pattern.  Using handbag zippers make inserting the zippers a breeze (handbag zippers have wider tape than a standard dress zipper), the pieces that require quilting aren't very large so they are very friendly to machines without a lot of space to the right of the needle, and the instructions are clearly written.

Don't forget that directional fabrics may appear as upside down when viewed from one side (no, I didn't forget that)!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

I got published (well, sorta...)

When Art Gallery Fabrics releases a new collection, they release a LookBook to showcase the fabric and inspire projects for those that are sewing obsessed.  So, I wasn't surprised when the announcement was made that LookBook for Katy Jones' Priory Square collection was available.

What DID shock me, however, was that both of the bags that I made for Katy's Quilt Market booth were shown in the LookBook!  I am floored, and they look amazing with the professional photography.  Wow.  I'll totally admit to thinking, hey, I guess I did a pretty good job with those!

So, anyway, you can go see it for yourself.  The bags I made are on pages 25-26 (The A Place for Everything bag and the Sew Together bag), but you should peruse the whole thing because it's stunning.  No, I'm not credited as making them in the book, but yes, those are the actual bags that I made.

Priory Square LookBook

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thinking about making the A Place for Everything Bag? Here's my take on it!

I figure that it’s time that I start posting reviews on here, so I will start with something near and dear to my heart, the A Place for Everything Bag from Annie Unrein of Patterns by Annie.

If you happen to have found the link to blog from my Instagram profile, you probably know that I’m a massive fan of this bag.  For those of you that haven’t seen the pictures, I have made the bag 4 times, and I’ve had the great privilege to make it for a couple of my favorite sew-lebrities (aka sewing celebrities).  It is probably one of my favorite bags ever.

Top Row (L):  The original bag made from Tula Pink's Nightshade Fabric
Top Row (R):  Bag #2 made from Tula Pink's MoonShine Fabric
Bottom Row (L):  Bag #3 made from April Rhodes' Arizona Fabric
Bottom Row (R):  Bag #4 made from Katy Jones' Priory Square Fabric

At first glance of the pattern cover, you will probably assume that the bag will be a lot of work.  That assumption is correct; however, a lot of work does NOT mean that it is not doable.  The materials list might also be a little scary at first glance.  With required materials that include clear heavyweight vinyl, mesh, hook and loop tape, Soft & Stable foam stabilizer (or suitable alternative), and 5 yards of zippers (yes, 5 yards…seriously), this bag is not a super quick, one-day project.  It will be quite a bit of work, but I think it is absolutely worth it.  This bag is made to last, and it is very easy to customize the bag to suit different needs.

I love so many things about this bag.  I love that there are different size pockets to choose from, and I love that the pages attach into the bag with hook and loop (Velcro) tape so the pockets pages can easily be swapped out for another style of page.  I love that it holds so much stuff and yet it is still portable.  I love that I used some of my most treasured fabric to make my bag extra special to me.  Since I’m being totally honest, part of me even loves that the bag can be a little intimidating so you don’t see everybody else carrying one. 

Things to Consider:
One factor to consider if you are thinking about making this bag is skill level.  I really can’t recommend this as a project for a person that is new to sewing.  Some of the materials can be fussy to work with even for people with a lot of sewing experience.  You will also be dealing with sewing bulky materials, a brand new sewist might find the whole process frustrating.  Reading the pattern directions and following the steps in order will be essential for the best results.  When I first made this bag, I would have probably lumped myself into the advanced beginner category, but I tend to do pretty well with following directions on my own.  For people that prefer to watch videos instead of reading a sheet of instructions, Annie Unrein of Patterns by Annie offers a class on making this bag on Craftsy as part of her two project Sew Sturdy Travel Organizers class (it’s called the Everything in Its Place bag in the class, but it’s the same pattern).  I did watch the class, and the videos were excellent. 

Another thing that may be shocking (especially for people that don’t make a lot of bags) is the cost of the materials.  Before fabric, you can expect the materials in this bag to run about $60-80 before tax and/or shipping depending on local availability of parts.  It isn’t inexpensive.  Again, use of the recommended high quality materials makes this bag built to last.  Does this mean that you can only use certain materials from specific sources?  No, but I would really recommend using high quality handbag zippers (size 4.5 YKK zippers are my pick) and heavyweight vinyl (12 gauge would be the minimum that I would even consider, but I prefer the 16 gauge for durability).  With the 3.5 yards of fabric required (1.25 yards for the main fabric, 1.25 yards for lining, and 1 yard of contrasting fabric) on top of the materials, I’d recommend to select fabrics that you really love.  Annie stocks all of the materials that you will need for this bag on her website with the exception of the fabric, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend purchasing from her (I get no kick backs or freebies for endorsing her shop or her products, it’s just my honest opinion).

Invest in a Teflon/non-stick foot for your sewing machine.  I absolutely recommend a Teflon/non-stick foot for use on the vinyl.  If you do not want to make the investment in another sewing machine foot, you can use a piece of tape on the underside of your machine foot (especially if your foot is plastic) to help the vinyl glide more smoothly and reduce static which further hampers movement.  Using the paper that almost always comes with vinyl can also be handy, though it is not fantastic to use if you sew through it.  Picking little bits of paper out from under a line of stitching isn’t the most fun thing to do.  A roller foot can be a decent substitution, but I’ve found that clear vinyl doesn’t move as well as leather and oil cloth with the roller.  Plus, I’ve seen roller feet leave marks on clear vinyl that don’t ever come out.

Get some Clover Wonder Clips.  I prefer the smaller, red (or the special edition pink) ones to the Jumbo size (green or purple in color).  These will be invaluable for pleating the vinyl and holding the layers of your bag together as you are sewing.  Pins will leave permanent holes in the vinyl, and you will probably find that pins (even the really good ones) will bend when you try to pin multiple layers of Soft & Stable (or whichever foam stabilizer you choose) together.

Use your walking foot.  If your sewing machine has a walking foot or dual feed, you will want to use it for this bag.  It will keep the layers from shifting as much when you are sewing.

Read the instructions.  Yes, read the instructions.  Read all of it.  Read them before you start, and read them as you go.  Seriously.  It does help, and it will make the bag easier to accomplish.  Annie’s instructions are well-written.

Use handbag zippers not regular skirt and dress zippers.  Size #4.5 handbag zippers (these are the size that Annie sells) have a wider coil and a wider tape than standard dressmakers zippers.  They don’t have the chunky plastic teeth like you will normally see on separating zippers.  The handbag zippers are durable, and the wider tape makes zipper insertion easier.  When I use them, I find that I rarely even need to change from my ¼” foot to a zipper foot.  Zippers by the Yard are super handy for this project and will minimize the waste from trimming off the ends.  The only words of caution I will offer is to make sure that you are tacking the cut ends of the zippers so you don’t accidentally yank the zipper pull off of the coil.

Think about using 16 gauge heavyweight vinyl.  As with many materials, the thicker the material, the more difficult it can be to sew.  A lighter weight vinyl would make the bulk easier to sew, but it won’t be as durable over time.  Objects placed in the pockets can use lighter vinyl to warp out of shape more easily and the likelihood of an object being able to puncture the pocket increases.  Take your time with the vinyl and make sure you are using a good needle.  I’ve had great success with a size 90/14 needle for all stages of this project.  I’ve successfully used topstitch, microtex (sharps), and quilting needles with all of these materials across a variety of bag projects. 

Use Soft & Stable stabilizer if possible.  The pattern recommends using Soft & Stable foam stabilizer.  Yes, the person that wrote the pattern is the person that developed the product, but it is an exceptionally good product.  I use it quite frequently in bag patterns from other companies, so it's not limited to use in solely Annie's patterns.  It gives the bag stability, and the knit on both sides of the foam makes the product much easier to work with (automotive headliner is similar but has raw foam exposed on one side).  It is also lightweight which is very important because the bag can get heavy if you really load it up with things like all metal pairs of scissors.

Use acrylic/Plexiglass for the spine stabilizer insert.  The pattern recommends a 3.5” x 6.5” piece of Plexiglass, foam core, or heavy cardboard for the stabilizer.  I highly recommend acrylic/Plexiglass.  If you have a store like Tap Plastics in your area (I believe you can order online from them too), you can have them cut a piece for you.  I’d recommend having them round the corners so that the sharp 90 degree corners don’t cut into your fabric.  Using the more rigid insert will provide the bag with better support when being carried.

Think about how you’ll use it.  When you are planning your project, really give some thought to how you will use it.  I use mine for general sewing supplies.  It is the bag that I always take with me to a class, and I even use it a lot at home (I usually buy 2 of most notions so one always lives in my bag and one stays at home in my sewing desk) for some of my important but lesser used supplies like the ¼” clear elastic I use when I make garments and my good fabric scissors.  I even keep my straight stitch plate for my class/travel machine in one of the pockets.  I know people that use their bag for English Paper Piecing projects/supplies, and people that use them for their applique supplies.  These different uses can change which pockets might be the most useful.

Top:  One of the 2 sets of pocket pages
Bottom:  The inside of the bag without the pocket pages attached
What do I do differently from the pattern instructions?:
One thing that I do differently is press my binding.  Annie recommends not pressing your binding strips.  I find that not pressing my strips increases the chance of the bias binding twisting, so I press mine just as I do the binding on my quilts.

I also take a couple of extra hours (yes, hours) to hand stitch my binding (I machine sew it on the front of the pocket pages and on the zipper side strip side of the exterior pieces and fold over and hand sew on the opposite side).  I am rarely ever satisfied with machine binding on any project, so hand stitching allows me to get a cleaner finish.  It can literally be painful to hand bind the bag (you will have to push a needle through Velcro which is the complete opposite of what I’d consider to be fun).

I forgot to add this one into my original post, so this is an addition as of 11/16/14 - One other thing that I do when I make the pattern is trim back the fabric/Soft & Stable in the seam allowance prior to topstitching the zipper to the zipper side strip pieces.  You don't have to trim it back very far, it just needs to be enough so that the edge is totally encased by the zipper.  If you don't do this, you may find that you see a little bit of the raw edges sticking out.  I wasn't entirely pleased when I noticed this after finishing my first A Place for Everything bag, so I made a strip of bias tape and attached it so that it would cover that area.  I've trimmed the seam allowance on all of the other bags that I've made, and I've been much more happy with the results.

So, that's about it.  I hope that I've covered some of the questions that you might have about this bag.  If there's anything that you'd like to know about the bag, please comment below!  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Want to know where I've been?

I've been a busy bee over the last few months, and the results will all be revealed to you this week.

The first to come will be in just under an hour. I was asked by the incredible Sara Lawson of Sew Sweetness to participate as a guest blogger in her Purse Palooza 2014 event. My review will appear on her blog today.

The other big thing is that I was asked by the amazing Katy Jones of I'm a Ginger Monkey to make a couple of bags for her booth at Fall Quilt Market 2014 in Houston which happens in just a few short days.

More to come later (with pics and links)!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

More on managing digital content and some tips on making technology really work for you

To jump back to last year's post on Managing Digital Content, I threw out a couple of ideas on how to deal with our increasingly digital world.  So, since I'm in the mood to revisit the past, I thought I would write a bit more on the subject.

I wrote last year that I would recommend going digital with your manuals.  Is your phone a complete replacement for your manual?  Absolutely not.  I still have times when I will open up my paper manuals, but I love the ability to have the appropriate manual with me when I attend a class.  I don't have to worry about packing another item, I don't have to worry about losing the manual, and I don't have to worry about papercuts (yes, that really is an issue for me).  I know that I will have my phone with me, and I know that it has manuals for all of my machines.  One of my absolute favorite things about digital manuals is the ability to zoom in.  This has been extraordinarily helpful with my serger's threading guide because some of those tiny pictures can be hard to read.  To be clear, I do not advocate for the end of paper manuals, I would just take advantage of some of the resources put forth by our device manufacturers (the ability to view such files) and machine manufacturers (for making the PDF versions easily accessible and FREE) for giving us the option.

So, I've refined my methods for tracking my increasingly large stash of patterns, thread, and fabric since my last post.  I do stand by what I said before, but it wasn't working as well for me as I knew it could.  I had to take drastic measures, so I opted to go for a database.  The word "database" might sound scary and complex, but it really doesn't have to be.  You can make it as complicated and complex as you want, but it should always be useful.  Here are some things that I track in mine:

Patterns - I take a photo of the front and back of a pattern envelope so I know what the item (doesn't matter if it is a garment, quilt, or bag) looks like, and I have a picture of the yardage requirements.  Why is this important?  Ever bought a pattern and forgotten to bring it with you when you go to the fabric store, or maybe you found a cool new shop that you didn't anticipate visiting?  I know you answered yes to this question.  So, by taking a picture, you suddenly have the information in the palm of your hand.  Can you accomplish this without a database?  Absolutely.  Use the camera on your phone to snap a picture of your pattern.  Since I do use a database, I also store information that I find useful including whether or not I've made the item before and whether or not the pattern has been cut.  Having the item stored in my database and checking it before buying a pattern also helps to ensure that I don't accidentally buy multiple copies of the same pattern.

Thread - With as much sewing as I do, I use a lot of different types of thread.  I don't often go to the fabric store with the intention of buying a pattern and all of my fabric and notions in one trip.  I tend to buy patterns and fabric that I like with the hope that I will find the right project to match the two together.  Is it the most cost and time effective way to operate?  No, it isn't, but at least I'm honest with myself about that.  So, my thread database.  This is probably the least refined part of my system.  I track the type of thread (cotton, polyester, embroidery, serger, etc), who makes the thread (Aurifil, Mettler, Superior, etc), which product line is is from (Mako 50/2, Mako 40/2, Metrosene, So Fine, King Tut, etc), a color number (and name too if there is one), the spool size (small, medium, large, cone), and how many I have (< 1, 1+, etc where the plus just means that I have more than 1 but less than 2 full spools).  To really get the most out of this, I should snap pictures for my database, but I've been a little lax on that part.  When I am starting a project, I rely on real thread color cards from the manufacturers.  What is a real thread color card?  It is a card with actual thread wrapped around pieces of cardboard.  You get great color matching abilities because you aren't reliant on printer ink or the color calibration of your computer/phone/tablet screen.  I have color cards for Aurifil, Metrosene, and several lines from Superior.  Superior has a great selection of their cards on their website.  If I can get the thread I want locally, excellent.  If I can't find the right weight and color combination, I will order online.

Fabric - Tracking fabric can seem like a chore, but there are some substantial benefits.  When I buy fabric, I add another entry into my database.  Do I do this at the point of sale?  Nope, but I will usually try to record the information within a day or two of purchase.  For each entry, I will take a picture of the fabric, record the quantity purchased, information on which designer/manufacturer produced the collection, a color name and part number, where I purchased it, and fabric content if it is a garment fabric (100% cotton, for example).  Where do I find this information?  For quilting fabric, it's usually printed right on the selvage edge.  I recommend doing this right away before you chop up the fabric so that you can give yourself an easier way to find it again later if necessary (it's amazing how much old fabric you can find if you plug the part number into a search engine).  Employees at your local fabric store may or may not remember collections from several years ago especially when they are given a 1/2" wide strip of it and you tell them that you don't remember where you bought it (this happens WAY more often than you might realize).  Within each entry, I also record how much of a fabric I have left.  So, let's say I bought 2 yards of a fabric.  I've used 1 yard, so my database would reflect the original purchase of 2 yards and a quantity on hand of 1 yard.  Why do I add this information?  I don't want to have to dig through my stash to see if I have a certain fabric, and then I don't want to have to pull it out to measure it.  I just pull out my phone, and the information is right there.  Now, what happens if you can't remember the name of a certain fabric?  You took a picture, remember?  Scroll through the database and find it.  Maybe you only remember where you bought it?  If you record where and when you bought it, you will have extra ways to narrow down your search.

So, that's how I manage most of my stuff (the largest exception being digital patterns / other miscellaneous files).  If you want specifics on what I use, I have recently converted from Bento (which is now, sadly, discontinued and unavailable) to Tap Forms which is available for Mac, iPhone, and iPad through the iOS App Store or the Mac App store.  I don't use Android, so I don't have the name of an Android app that does the same thing, but I know there are available apps that will give you similar functionality.  

If you have a big stash of anything, you can pretty much count on enduring the pain of having to go back and enter information.  Yes, it sucks, and you can't really get around it.  However, the longer you delay, the worse the problem will get because you will probably buy even more stuff.  I will also add that you may be (I have been) teased mercilessly about the fact that you have a database to track your sewing stuff, but I can't tell you how many times a day that I reference things in my database to satisfy my own needs or to find information for somebody else.

With these recommendations comes with some warnings.  You must charge your device.  Seriously.  If you have a dead battery, these solutions will not be useful. You should also take the opportunity to back up your device to your computer like the manufacturers recommend.  The same thing goes for the software... BACK IT UP because hardware/software do fail and devices get lost / stolen.  Backing up your phone / tablet / computer can save you a lot more heartache on top the headache and expense (time and/or money) of having to get a new device.

p.s.  I also track my sewing projects too so I know which fabric/pattern/thread combination I used plus when I started and finished the project.  :)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A year later, a few of my favorite things revisited

Let's get down to the nitty gritty on some my favorites.  I have not been compensated in any way for writing favorable things about the items below.  These are my honest opinions and are subject to change on a whim (at least in theory) if I find something that I prefer.

Last year I tested a bunch of different brands and types of thread, and I named my favorites (Aurifil 50/2 for cotton, Mettler Metrosene for polyester, and Isacord for embroidery).  After testing even more thread options, I am pretty much going to stand by my picks with a few minor tweaks.

I'm a huge Aurifil fan.  I've used the 50 weight (the orange spools) for machine quilting, English paper piecing (EPP), machine piecing, hand binding quilts, and for making bags.  Since last year, I've been in the process of replacing all of my Mettler Silk Finish with 40 weight (the green spools) Aurifil.  The Mettler Silk Finish thread is a 50 weight, 3 ply thread which seems pretty comparable in feel/thickness/durability to the 40 weight, 2 ply Aurifil.  I find the 40 weight to have significantly less lint than the Mettler Silk Finish even in the  notoriously linty black and navy.  Since I tend to plan things out at least a week in advance (which gives me more than enough time to get an order placed and to have it shipped to me), I've decided that it is worth the wait to place an online order (I order almost all of my Aurifil from Hawthorne Threads because they have the whole range of colors in all available weights) instead of picking up a spool of Silk Finish locally.  I'm sticking with Aurifil all the way for my cotton thread needs, but I would pick Superior's MasterPiece as my second choice.

I named Mettler Metrosene as my go-to polyester thread because of the wide, local availability and the variety of colors, but I preferred the reduced lint of #50 Superior's So Fine.  I still have mostly the same opinion this year - Mettler Metrosene will continue to be my #1 pick for many projects, but I will use Superior So Fine for projects that will work with the colors I have on hand.

I named Isacord as my go-to embroidery thread last year.  My opinion is the same this year.

I went back through my list of picks from last year, and I would like to add a few more to my favorites.

If you are looking for a bag to hold notions for class, I don't think you can do any better than Annie Unrein's A Place for Everything bag.  There are a lot of steps to making this bag, and some of the materials aren't the easiest to work with, but it is quite do-able if you take your time and carefully read through the instructions.

I've also ventured out into the garment sewing world a little.  Since most of my wardrobe consists of t-shirts and jeans, I am going to name Pamela's Patterns' The Perfect T-Shirt as my favorite shirt.  I've made it 10 times in varying fabrics and sleeve lengths.  It's excellent.  For these shirts, my favorite fabric is Robert Kaufman's Laguna Stretch Cotton Jersey.  It has a fiber content of 95% cotton / 5% spandex.  When I want a slightly heavier weight cotton, I love Nancy's Notions' 100% Cotton Interlock fabric.  

In the last year, I've gotten hooked on Sewline notions especially the fabric glue pen and the air erasable marker.  I also use their white fabric pencil as an alternative to my favorite chalk marker, the Chakoner (an imported chalk roller from Japan).

I'm also changing my collection of regular glass head pins to the Clover Silk Pins with glass heads.  These pins are more fine (which glide even more smoothly into fabric) and have all of the benefits of the other glass head pins.

With very little exception, I'm going to name Creative Grids rulers as my rulers of choice.  I wish they had more angle marks like on my Omnigrid/Omnigrip rulers.

Since last June, I've found some great blogs.  My favorite is probably written by Katy Jones.  You might know her as I'm a Ginger Monkey.  Her blog can be found here.

I've been buying a lot of fabric in the last year, but I haven't found any that feel as amazing those from Art Gallery.  Most of their fabric is 100% Pima cotton.  Yes, Pima cotton.  It is incredibly soft and luxurious.  It is a breeze to sew, and their colors are amazing.  I've also bought some of their voiles and knits, but they are presently living in my pile for use in future projects (the voile for some PJ / lounge pants and the knit for more Pamela's Perfect T-Shirts).

So, that's it for this recap because I've got stuff to sew!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A tale of two bags

Well, 2 months since my last update is better than 12 months, right?  I think that I might be really bad at this blogging thing.  Ugh.  Oh well.  I need to just get over it and move forward, so here we go with the big highlights of my blogging hiatus...

In my last post I mentioned that I have had some amazing opportunities in the last year.  It's true.  I've had the chance to meet my favorite designer, Tula Pink, at Sew Expo 2014 in Puyallup, WA back in late February/early March.  She is beyond amazing.  She is completely funny and absolutely brilliant.  I was blown away to have a chance to sit and chat with her about random stuff.  On top of that, she showed me how she does her English Paper Piecing (EPP) projects.  Who better to learn from than the person that designed the fabric and quilt pattern that you are planning to use?!?!  

While we were chatting, I pulled out my phone to show her some pictures of stuff that I had made with her fabric.  She saw a bag that she liked (Annie Unrein of Patterns by Annie's A Place for Everything bag), and asked me if I would make one for her if she sent me some fabric.  Can you guess how many hundredths of a second that it took me to say yes?  If you said next to no time flat, you'd be wrong.  I think I sat there for a few seconds and tried to wrap my brain around the idea that THE TULA PINK was asking me to make something for her.  Wow.  I was utterly powerless to resist.  It's Tula.  

Now we have to fast forward to the end of April.  I received a package in the mail with the fabric to make the super special sew-lebrity bag.  She had told me that she wanted to use fabric from her upcoming collection (that was still unannounced), MoonShine collection (which will be released in August/September 2014).  As a super fan, just having the opportunity to make something for Tula was mind blowing, so I'm sure you can imagine how incredibly lucky I felt (and still feel) to have the chance to play with fabric from an unreleased collection.  

I was fairly terrified to cut into the fabric, but I got over it (honestly, I probably stood there with my rotary cutter in hand for 20 minutes just staring at it after I had carefully planned out how it needed to be cut).  The bag came together beautifully, and I nervously shipped out the package.  Thanks to the beauty of overnight delivery, it arrived safely the next morning.  To make a long story slightly less long, she said she loved it.  I can't tell you how relieved I was to read those words.  Wow.

Anyway, Tula was preparing to depart for the industry trade show, International Quilt Market, the following day, so she packed up a bunch of her supplies into her new bag and off they went.  She had said that she was going to take the bag with her, but I was pretty much floored when I started seeing posts on Instagram from her Schoolhouse event that had the bag in the shot.  There have been some amazing pictures in the last few months that show off the bag, so here are a few of my favorites that I've seen:

After being a hit at Quilt Market, Tula carried the bag to Camp Stitchalot, an awesome retreat hosted by Pink Castle Fabrics, where it caught the eye of another one of my favorite sew-lebrities, Katy Jones of I'm a Ginger Monkey.  I couldn't say no to her either because I am a big fan.  Anyway, she sent me some fabric from the Arizona collection by April Rhodes for Art Gallery fabrics, and off to work I went.  An agonizingly long wait for shipping between Seattle and England ended with another very happy lady.  I love the picture that she posted on Instagram of Katy with her bag, so here it is for your viewing pleasure:

So that's how I've spent a pretty good chunk of the last few months prior to my starting to work part time at my favorite local quilt shop a couple of weeks ago, but there will be more on that later as well as other things that are in the works over here in my little corner of the sewing world. More to come soon!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A long overdue update

Let's just sum up the time since I last updated my blog by saying that I have been busy.

Since my last update on July 4, 2013, I have completed 107 projects (a couple may have been started prior to that date but all have been finished on or after July 5).  No, that is not a joke or an exaggeration.  I track all of my current and past projects using a database app that syncs between my phone and computer.  A project could be as simple/small as the Valori Wells Little Wallet pattern that I adore, a shirt, or it could be a king size bed quilt.  I'm also sitting on a stack of 20 current projects that include 3 ongoing block of the month clubs, 4 quilts that are based and waiting for quilting, 3 quilts that are waiting to be basted, 3 quilts that are in-process (one of which is a 1,000+ piece hand quilting project), 3 pairs of PJ shorts, a pair of pillowcases, a cardigan, and a padded sleeve for holding my small acrylic table that I use when I attend classes.

I am planning to resume regular updates, but hey, I'm human.  The last year has provided me with some amazing opportunities, and I am looking forward revisiting some of my previous posts and writing about some new (more or less) and exciting (your mileage may vary with this one too) patterns, notions, and techniques on which I have been working in my 50 sq ft space of the sewing world.