Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cooper Backpack, from Colette Patterns: Finished!

Bella inspects my work, or does some birdwatching?
As you're reading this, you're going to find out some things about me you may or may not wish to know.  For example, I'm a birder.  And I can't make up my mind.  So there.  TMI?  Hopefully not.  Now way TMI about making this backpack/ messenger bag/pannier, from Colette Patterns, the Cooper, which is available in three styles.  I chose to make the backpack.  That was the easy choice.  

The more difficult choice was the fault of Birch Fabrics, which recently released a bunch of lovely Charley Harper fabrics in four types (flannel, canvas, stretch & quilting cotton).  The Roommate & I love modern art & birds, and Charley Harper is just the perfect meeting of those two concepts.  (I bought the fabric from Del Ray Fabrics, a local distributor.) So, knew I wanted canvas for the outside, and quilting fabric for the inside, but...what to choose?  And...won't it get dirty?!

As you'll see below I solved both those problems, one with prevarication, one with a lucky web search.  

First, I didn't decide on 2 fabrics, instead, I gave in and chose 4: 2 quilting cotton (for the lining) and 2 canvas prints (for the outside).  

But I quickly realized that all the white was going to get dirty quickly.  So what could I do to protect all that lovely white?  I did a quick search for iron-on vinyl, and discovered Heat 'n' Bond Vinyl!  And a nice tutorial about using the product, too.   

I ordered most of the fittings from www.HardwareElf.com, and got the cotton webbing from an Etsy shop, and then I dyed it to match.  Also, the bottom is not vinyl-ized, it's a double layer of heavy canvas, which I also dyed.  

I had fun adding some extras...like a key fob inside, a couple of extra pockets (one specifically to fit my phone, another for pens/pencils), and even a zipper pocket inside.  I love lots of pockets & cubbyholes!  

I finished the lining first, and wanted to tweet a photo of it...and Bella had to inspect that, too.  She certainly keeps me on my mettle.  

Here's a couple more of the inside so you get an idea...

Here's what the back looks like, with the flap open.  I'm quite pleased at how the straps came out.  

And the front, with the flap open, too, showing yet another little pocket.  I used magnetic snaps, but not the rivets I ordered.  The snaps were easy to put on--no big deal.  The rivets, though, would work better on thicker fabric. I did a test run on some scraps & realized that the rivets would have looked pretty bad, because even vinyl-ized, the fabric was quite thin. 

That is not to say that fabrics treated with Heat 'n' Bond are easy to use.  Read the above-mentioned tutorial carefully!  First, you can't really pin it, because the holes don't go away (not a big deal at the beginning, but towards then end when you're trying to hide your stitching for finishing, it's a problem).  Related to this is the fact that any mistakes you make will always be with you.  

And although the fabric doesn't end up as stiff as oilcloth, it is a hassle to work with because it fights back!  One of the last steps is to put the lining inside out to the outside, then sew around the top before tucking the lining back inside.  Well, at this point, I had lots of layers, the cotton webbing straps, plus the vinyl to deal with, and my regular old machine almost couldn't deal with it.  You'll probably notice there are no close-ups!  And I must admit, I have a bit more I need to top stitch, but was really quite tired of dealing with it all.  I went through many heavy duty needles on this project (5-6!).  I'm not sure I'd make another (even with heavy, non-vinyl-ized fabric) without having access to a heavy duty sewing machine.  

Mistakes really aren't easy to correct once you've vinyl-ized your fabric.  If you handle the fabric too much, the vinyl begins to peel away (be sure and don't leave any edges unsewn!) 

I wish I'd put a handle at the top, between the backpack straps; nice to have another way to carry it.  (I don't think it's called for in the pattern, but it would have been easy to add.)

This particular vinyl though (I chose matte) has a nice hand...not as plastic-feeling as oil cloth.  And it seems softer & I believe is supposed to not crack, which oilcloth does after too much folding.  

All in all, I'm looking forward to using it (I took it to run some quick errands today & it worked great).  I'll be curious to see how long it looks good...does the vinyl protect the fabric?  Does the vinyl keep the items inside dry in the DC spring rains?  

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What do YOU do with your old North Korea maps?!

I have mentioned before that we have plenty of old maps at my office. (Maps marked Soviet Union don't have a lot of credibility these days!)  The Roommate has taken many of them to school for his 8 year olds to color on, and we have lots more stored downstairs in our basement either for pattern making, gift-wrapping, storage-box decorating, or...my latest idea...pattern storage!  

Because I like to use vintage patterns, I find that some are extremely fragile.  So often before I even start cutting out, I just re-trace the whole thing onto better paper.  Not only does this keep them from tearing even more, it ensures I don't lose any of the original pieces, which unfortunately has happened. :-((

Life's eternal questions:  What to do with old North Korea maps?
Sometimes I use grid easel paper from Staples, and sometimes it's onto an old map (no particular reason for using one or the other).  But patterns, like maps, are a pain in the rear to re-fold, and if it's a vintage pattern, even the pattern packet can be quite fragile, too.  So it's frustrating to try to fit the fragile pattern into the fragile packet.  I've just given up!  Instead, I use and old map, fold it into an envelope, staple it in a few key locations & viola!  A big, sturdy place to put the newly copied pieces, the original pieces & the packet.  It doesn't completely cut down on folding, but it sure makes putting patterns away a lot less frustrating.  

A place to store them is another issue, since I haven't really standardized my new envelopes, but basically, I'm filing them all upright between some magazine storage cases.  Now that I have a place to store traced patterns, I think I'll eventually re-trace all my vintage patterns (as I use them).    

Any great ideas you've come up with to solve this folding/fragility issue?  Please post below!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

More Western (African) Shirts...for Friends + 2 Vintage Patterns Sewn!!

The Roommate's Western (African) shirts have been well-received all up & down the East Coast. We were having dinner w/ some good friends near Union Square & I got a request to make another western shirt.  

So, I came home & went thru the remnants of my fabric from West Africa, and found one piece that I thought would be good for the contrast.  The problem was finding main color to show off the wax print.  I didn't have any, or not nearly enough; my source for West African prints (G Street) didn't have any, so I broke down & bought some Marimekko (on sale at Crate & Barrel outlets) for my friend, and a very tiny print for his little boy.  (There was no way I could make dad a shirt without making a tiny one, too!)

Oh, and they are both from vintage patterns!  For you #vintagepledge sewists out there!  Simplicity 6693 is the men's pattern, and McCall's 7456 is the boy's pattern (I made version E).  
Above is the back of the little boy's shirt.  I was especially pleased how the diamond design worked (and look at how well the collar matches!).  This is some crazy fabric!  I was cutting  everything from the same piece, but there are so many different designs, I was able to get lots of different looks from it.  

And here is the dad's shirt.  The wax print looks amazing with the Marimekko, huh?!

Even the green placket is from the very edge of the fabric!  Though it sort of looks like chile peppers on it.  Or xmas-y.  But I couldn't resist using as much as possible of this amazing textile, in honor of the Africans who don't waste any of their fabric.  

Because this is the fabric that keeps on giving, I was able to find plenty of 'centerpieces' to use on the front & back yokes.  

One thing I really worried about was fitting.  Our friend is a much different shape than the Roommate (besides being 20 yrs younger!), so I knew that my current pattern wouldn't work.  So, said friend took off the shirt he was wearing, in the restaurant & gave it to me (he had a t-shirt on underneath)!  I did lots of measuring of that shirt then re-traced the whole pattern, incorporating those measurements, onto a different set of pieces.  (Next post will be about storing those pattern pieces.)  

A few more detail shots below.  

And, my friend, modeling his new shirt.  I was so pleased...I sent it to his office & he didn't wait 'til he got home to try it on, instead sending me a picture from work.  (I'm the same way, I still wear new shoes home from the store whenever possible!)  I'm thrilled!  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Quick Update! Stay Tuned for More Details on These Projects

First up, 2 western (African) shirts, made for a friend & his little boy.  Both are from vintage patterns, and the contrast fabric is from my stash from our trip to West Africa.  

And, this weekend I started on a Colette Patterns Cooper backpack, using canvas Charley Harper fabrics & Heat 'n' Bond iron-on vinyl!  This is going to be a cool backpack, but I'm seriously thinking I may need to make another smaller purse out of matching fabric, too. Maybe using the BB Bag pattern I already have...

I hope to get something written up this next weekend about these, and another item that is close to being finished.  More later...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

More Cushions for our Sun Room

If you've been paying attention, or even if you've tried not to, you know that last summer we finally got our sun room fixed up.  As we sit by our gas fireplace, looking out at another 8" of snow, we are feeling pretty pleased with ourselves!  Others are complaining about the late winter weather, but having a gas fireplace makes it all okay!  

I have really enjoyed making cushions to go with our new couch, and the chairs we've had for a while.  So here are some photos to show you what I've been doing...

This first is a smocked cushion, sitting on one of my wax-print quilts, which looks amazing on our leather "slipper" chair (from West Elm).  Smocked cushion detail below.  I got a scrap of fabric at my sewing studio, Bits of Thread, which was upholstery fabric. Stiff fabric really shows off the smocking...

The other cushion was also made from scraps, that I got from Freecycle.  I put a request out for cotton or quilting fabric, and got a huge bag of all sorts of fabrics, some scraps, some quite large pieces.  (I had good luck asking for old woolen sweaters & knitting accoutrement, too.) 

So here's the detail of the other cushion...I just sewed diagonally every inch, then slashed between that sewing, to show the fabric underneath.  

And here's the cushion, sitting on the other "slipper" chair.  I have made at least 5 other cushions, with a few more in the planning stages.  Cushion making is a lot of fun.  I can try out a new technique, use up some cool fabric that I don't have much of, or play with some color combinations.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Stuff I've Made: Quilts with West African Wax Prints

African Market quilt.
I was trying to show a colleague my West African wax print quilts that I made shortly after our trip to Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana & Cote d'Ivoire in 2006.  And realized that I have mentioned them but never put them up on this site.  The Roommate had 2 snow days last week (I had none!), so he took some photos for me. Thanks, Honey! 

So, we did our last big backpacking/overland trip for 5 weeks through West Africa.  Last because we're getting pretty old to be lugging backpacks around and sitting on buses for hours, staying in places with shared baths, etc.  We've done that all over the world, partly to stretch our travel & souvenir-buying $$, but also because riding buses (not renting a car & driver) and staying in hostels is a great way to see how the local people live. We don't cover as much ground and certainly travel inefficiently, but on the other hand it's a great way to find out what's happening, plus watch some wonderful Nigerian movies on the bus, and get off and do bird-watching every time the bus driver takes yet another unscheduled break. We are usually the only non-locals on the bus, always of great interest and high entertainment value, plus people are generally quite friendly and curious about who we are and what we are doing there.  
Reverse of African Fabric Shop.

We knew we wanted to buy as much kente, kuba, bogolon textiles, and wax print fabric as we could carry on the plane (about 40 lbs/each). So we took old clothes and shoes that we left behind, and just stuffed our backpacks! We used a scale in a little neighborhood market to check & were thrilled when we got to the airport & checked in with 79 lbs!  

Reverse of African Market quilt.
We've spent time in markets all over the world (we love them, in fact, and go out of our way to be in town on market day), but found them to be so crowded that you spent the whole time worrying about being pick-pocketed.  Also, they are HUGE, so it's really hard to find what you want; i.e., the textile stores!  When we finally found the fabric section in the Accra market, we discovered that the prices weren't that much better, and the selection wasn't any different in the less crowded, well-organized shops a little bit out from the city center.  

African Fabric Shop.
Speaking of fabric shops...they were wonderful. (A few photos here.) Clean, organized, & often with marked prices--a real luxury.  So the second quilt I made is called African Fabric Shop.  I used pieces of all 44 fabrics I bought, (as I did with the Market quilt), but tried to make them a bit more orderly.  Both of these quilts are smaller (3' x 4' or so), and we use them all the time in the sun room when we're reading or watching a movie.  Bella also loves them, which is really all we care about.

The last picture, below, is to show you the great machine-quilting my friend Mala Ramakrishnan, of Classic Quilts Dubai did.  Mala is an amazing quilter & a true artist, so I always felt safe giving her my quilts & saying, "Whatever you think will look best."  Both are quilted with the same pattern, to make them a matched set, along with the same fabric selections being used in both. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Hawai'ian Star Quilt - A Beginning

We're in the middle of another blizzard right now.  Really!  But I'm sewing in the sunshine as I spent much of today working on a quilt made of old Hawai'ian shirts.  

They were my father's.  Though they are fun shirts and the Roommate would wear them...however, he doesn't need them & I think it would be a fun way to remember Daddy, & make something my mom could use, too. Also, they are really pretty worn out & faded.  I have 4 of them, so am hoping to get at least a 4' x 6' quilt out of them.  

I bought a nice blue & white striped flannel for the backing.
I downloaded Fons & Porter's Love of Quilting: Seeing Stars e-book, and am using the Birthday Stars template.  

Right now this is a side project as I'm working on something for the #vintagepatternpledge instead...I'll keep you posted as this quilt comes together.