Friday, May 22, 2015

Review: Super Tote by Anna Graham of Noodlehead

I admit to having more than my share of patterns in my stash that I haven't made before (this one was in my stash for a year). I buy some patterns for the sole purpose of seeing how the designer puts the bag/quilt/whatever together. I'll buy other patterns because I'm inspired by something on the cover. Then, there are patterns that I buy because I actually want to make the item. The Super Tote by Anna Graham of Noodlehead is all of these things.

I used Cotton+ Steel Tiger Stripes Canvas with
Robert Kaufman Essex Yarn Dyed Linen in Black for the exterior
I can't even count the number of times that I've seen a picture posted online of this bag and thought that I should make it.  I'm not sure what finally pushed me into starting the bag, but I'm glad I did. 

This bag has a lot of components to it, and this can give you ways to customize it to suit your needs (of course I had to change something), and I'll give you more information on my changes a little bit farther down in the post. 

I really like this bag, and I think it would be doable for for an advanced beginner to sew with the caveat that I highly recommend following Anna's well-written instructions. I can't stress the importance of following instructions when you are first starting to sew bags (and I do make the same recommendation for experienced sewists that have decided they want to make a bag). I know that I have said it before, and most patterns I see also remind you to read through all of the instructions before starting the project. Do it. Seriously.  This will allow you to see where you are headed before you get there.  The largest area of concern for me is with the final top stitching. It wasn't fun for all. Not even remotely, so please continue reading and I'll explain more later. 

One of the first decisions that you will make concerns interfacing. This is an essential part of the bag, and the look of your finished bag will vary significantly depending on the fabrics and interfacing you have chosen.  For this project, I was working with 2 different cotton/linen blends for the exterior, Tiger Stripes Canvas by Alexia Abegg for Cotton + Steel and Robert Kaufman's Essex Yarn Dyed Linen, and a quilting cotton for the lining. The canvas and linen fabrics are heavier than the quilting cotton, but they are still quite soft.  The pattern offers some recommendations on interfacing fabrics of varying weights.  

If you have ever read my blog before or seen my Instagram feed, you already know that I make a lot of different bags which made me familiar with how different interfacings behave, especially Pellon and Annie's Soft and Stable.  Even with the knowledge that I have gained, I still wanted to find out what other people were using. The recommended interfacing is Pellon SF-101 (ShapeFlex) with a layer of Pellon 808 (Craft Fuse).   I don't especially love 808 because it feels crunchy to me and holds more of a crease, so I wanted to try to find something else. To be honest, a lot of the interfacing in bags really comes down to a personal preference.  Do you prefer a bag that is able to stand on its own, or do you want a more slouchy bag?  Are you looking for a crisp finish or something that will move and flex more easily?

I wanted the bag to at least mostly stand on its own but not to look or feel stiff, and  I really didn't want it to look like a puddle of fabric when you put it down.  I hadn't had an up close look at a sample of the bag before I stated working on it, so I had opted to go with the SF101 and add a fusible fleece to the exterior pieces. 

After I cut the fleece and fused it to my completed exterior pieces, I Wonder Clipped it together with the gusset piece to see how it would behave, and I wasn't very happy with the results. It wasn't holding its shape at all.  To remedy that, I cut 2 pieces of Soft and Stable (foam interfacing) and basted them to the completed exteriors. Perfect!  So, interfacing recap - exterior has a layer of SF101, 987F (the fusible fleece), and Soft and Stable. The gusset piece only has the 2 layers of SF101, so the bag will stand on its own, but not using the foamy interfacing in the gusset allows the bag to remain super squishy and soft. 

Now I'm going to backtrack to an earlier step and share more information about my modifications. The first modification I made was with the straps. I cut, fused, and sewed the straps right sides together as the instructions are written, but I added a thin strip of fleece to the quilting cotton side that was cut and fused BETWEEN the stitching. Again, the fleece was fused after the strap pieces were sewn together. The fleece stays out of the seam allowance, and I get a little bit more padding on the shoulder because I know that I may cram a bunch of stuff into the bag on occasion.  After the fleece was fused, I turned the straps right sides out and top stitched as instructed. 

My second modification was to use a sew-in invisible snap for the exterior pocket instead of the optional regular magnetic snap. It was an easy change and really more of a minor adjustment than a modification, and I prefer the cleaner look. 

Modification number 3 was with the recessed zipper. I wanted mine a little bit longer to make absolutely sure that it would be long enough for the recessed area to lay flat against the bag when it was unzipped, so it's about an inch longer than the pattern suggests. 

Another modification to my bag was to take a suggestion a little bit farther. I felt like I wanted to make sure the pleated gussets didn't start to rip or come apart, so I decided to bar tack the base of the pleat. While this can be done by simply using a zig zag stitch with a stitch length of zero and/or dropping your machine's feed dogs, my sewing machine will do an automated bartack. I had never used the function, so I thought I'd test it. While I was preparing to select the stitch, I saw something that I thought was even better, a cross bartack!  I figured it would give me the desired benefit of the reinforcing the area plus it would look more interesting, and boy was I right. I love it. 

Aurifil color 4670 was a great color match for the Essex
The final modification was to simplify the interior. I am not a big fan of elasticized pockets in general, and with my frequent bag switching, most of my smaller regularly carried items are in pouches. I measured the height of the pattern piece for the interior pockets, marked a line at that height on the exterior pattern piece, and I folded down the top edger of the pattern piece at that line. From there, I cut 2 pieces (I prefer fully lined pockets), sewed them right sides together along the top edge, pressed and top stitched what would soon become my new slip in pocket.  To not have a big gaping pocket, I marked a vertical line through the pocket to divide it into two smaller pockets. I only wanted a pocket on one side, so that was basically it for the interior. It was time to move on and sew the gussets together with the sides. 

For the interior and underside of the straps, I picked Clippings from
Carrie Bloomston's Windham Fabrics line, Paint 

Ok, about that topstitching. With the combination of the linen plus a bunch of SF101 with pleats on the gussets and Soft and Stable on the main exterior pieces, I had a large difference in thickness as I topstitched. The problem wasn't with the seam between the gusset and the sides, it was with the gusset itself.  Sewing through the non-pleated part of the gusset is a piece of cake. It's just the gusset with its 2 layers of interfacing and the lining. The pleated part is 3 layers of exterior fabric, 6 layers of SF101, plus 3 layers of lining fabric. So, the jump between the thicknesses is tricky, and you may find you will have better results if you try different types of needles or different stitch lengths.  That was honestly, the one thing that made me want to tear my hair out, but I knew it was the end of the road. I just needed to make it all the way around the bag and I would be done. It's doable. Really. It may be frustrating, but it can be done. 

So, that's about it for my adventures with my Noodlehead Super Tote. I know that there will be another one in my future, and it will probably be before the fall when the a Pacific Northwest's famous rain starts up again so my linen can stay nice and dry at home.  

It really is an amazing bag, and I am enjoying carrying it. Much to my surprise, I've even carried it more than 1 day in a row. Wow. Maybe there is hope for me after all!

Until next time!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Gotta keep 'em separated (the 2 inch squares for my Anchors Aweigh quilt, that is)

decided that I wanted to make Tula Pink's free Anchors Aweigh quilt as a birthday gift for my sister-in-law, so I have been working to find the 11 fabrics that I needed (9 prints and 2 solids). With the help of an amazing fellow Tula devotee who was willing to part with a 1/3yd piece of the last print that I was missing, my search was complete. Yay for that and extra yay for her. 

The majority of the quilt is made from 2" squares, and the pattern provides specific locations for each fabric based on a letter assigned to each print fabric. To keep the squares sorted, I knew that I would need to keep the squares from mingling.  I thought about using zip top baggies, but they aren't very durable.  I used to work for the best storage and organization store, so I knew there had to be a better solution.

I started hunting for some sort of acrylic box with 9 compartments that were large enough to hold the 2" squares. The hunt for a box wasn't as quick as I had hoped it would be.  I spent a couple of hours across a week trying to find something that would be practical for this project and easily re-purposed in the future.  Around the time that I was getting quite frustrated yesterday, I glanced over to my kitchen counter and saw one of the 1 Hour Baskets that I made a few weeks ago (it was the Meat fabric basket if you are curious). 

 1 Hour Baskets
Top Row - Meat and Hot Sauce fabrics from Kiss the Cook by Dear Stella
Bottom Row (L) - Cassettes from Timeless Treasures and Stitch Square from Michael Miller
Bottom Row (R) - Alice from Kokka and Garden Pindot from Michael Miller (interior not visible)

In that moment something just clicked, and I knew how to solve the problem. I had an empty one of the thin, clear 4" x 6" boxes used to hold photographs, so I decided to test to see if it was a viable option. For each of the 9 print fabrics, I would use a single photo box (the print with the highest quantity of squares was 108). Each box could be labeled with the letter designated in the pattern and the name of the print (I wrote the name of the print just in case some fabrics got mixed in together), and the boxes could be stored together in a 1 Hour Basket. This was a great option for me because I had an excuse to make another fabric basket (WIN!), and it was the closest solution to what I had envisioned that was both time and budget friendly (having a box custom fabricated was not ideal for either of those things). 

My labeled ArtBin 4" x 6" photo boxes
Just to make sure that I couldn't forget what was in that basket, I selected the coral version of two of the prints that will appear in the quilt.  With my frequent organizational binges, I had some blank Avery stick on labels in my drawer that I could use to mark the boxes for the duration of the project.  So, I stopped at the craft store nearest to my home this morning to pick up the boxes.  Fast forward a few hours, and I had the squares cut for the quilt and they were neatly packed away in their labeled boxes and tucked into the fabric basket.  Success!

I used labels on the interior and exterior of the lid so they are visible when open or closed and on the sides so I could see which box was which while in the basket

Here are a couple more pictures of the basket by itself for your viewing pleasure.

Tula Pink's Tortoise Shell fabric in coral from her 2012 Salt Water collection
Tula Pink's Submarines & Seaweed fabric in coral from her 2012 Salt Water Collection

I just have a few quick things to wrap up before I actually start the quilt, but this whole project really makes me excited to start!

Friday, May 1, 2015

It was 3 years ago...

...on this day that I took the first of a 3 session Intro to Sewing class at a local sewing machine shop.

Can you believe it?  May 1, 2012. Wow. 

To commemorate the occasion, I thought I would share pictures of my first few projects (plus my first quilt)

Black canvas and quilting cotton for lining were provided
I made a simple lined tote bag in the first class. I even used rayon thread because nobody told me that I shouldn't!  The first session of the class had actually taken place a few days earlier, but the manager of the shop wasn't terribly busy that week, so she worked me into the schedule on an individual basis so that I would be caught up with the other 3 students.

Fabrics from Timeless Treasures (Chickens) and RK Kona Cotton

4 days after I did the catch up class for the tote bag, I made a lined zipped pouch. Hey, I even used decorative stitches (and more rayon thread)!  It was during that class that I learned that you could actually change the blade on my rotary cutter to work for a left handed person.  Yup, I cut my first 2 projects with a right handed rotary cutter.  While this might not be an issue for lefties that are fairly ambidextrous, I am not one of those people.  No, it isn't my terrible photo skills, both the top band and the decorative stitches are crooked.

Fabrics from Exclusively Quilters and RK Kona Cotton

2 weeks after the pouch, I made a quilted placemat in class with you guessed it, rayon thread.  This one still annoys me because the sample used for the class had non-directional fabric, and nobody seemed to know which way the placemat was supposed to be oriented. 

Fabric from Timeless Treasures

Three and a half weeks after session 1 of my class, I finished the Intro to Sewing series with a decorative pillow (complete with sewn on by machine buttons and buttonholes).  I had done some research on my own at this point in time, and prior to this class, I had done some research online and found out that rayon thread wasn't my best option for construction.  After learning that, I bought some Metrosene polyester thread and a Brother sewing machine.

Charm pack from Sunny Happy Skies for Riley Blake and
backing from Moda's Bella Solids

I started my first quilt 2 days before this class, but it wouldn't be finished until the day after the pillow.  It was a project that I decided to do on my own.  I bought a charm pack (which I actually washed), sorted them into rows, and sewed them together.  I had quickly learned about stitching in the ditch during the placemat class, so I just did that for quilting.  On the placemats, we did self binding by bringing the back to the front, so I did the same thing on the quilt.  I always intended the recipient of the quilt to be my little calico cat, but my other cat seems to use it more (mostly because he's three times the size of the little cat).

Looking back on the last few years, it seems more than a little surreal.  My world had just been rocked a few days earlier when my grandfather passed away.  I woke up one morning and decided that I wanted to learn how to sew.  Yes, really, that's how it happened.  Prior to signing up for the multi-session class, I had taken a Home Economics class in middle school.  One of our units was on sewing.  I don't know where or how it went so wrong, but our project, a simple pair of elastic waisted shorts, didn't fit.  One leg hole was fine, and the other was too small.  That experience was a little traumatic, and it would be 23 years before I would actually choose to sew something.

If Mrs. Webster could see me now, I bet she would be shocked.  She would be proud, I think, that I am spending today working on a project that will be headed off to spring Quilt Market (I can't show any pictures until the collection is announced), while wearing a shirt and pair of shorts that I made.  If I leave the house for anything else today, I'll surely carry a bag that I've made too.  Wow.

To be honest, I didn't think that sewing would be much more than a casual hobby. With over 300 projects finished, a whole lot of new friends gained and way more money spent on all of the machines, notions, fabric than I want to try to add up, I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to be part of this wonderful, crazy, and inspiring world of sewing.