Category Archives: sew

fabric + machine = joy

Patchwork Game Bags

Patchwork Drawstring Game Bag

Patchwork Drawstring Game Bag

Patchwork Drawstring Game Bag

Patchwork Drawstring Game Bag

Last week I made five patchwork bags and listed one on Etsy. They are game/dice/toy/travel bags. The first patchwork bag I ever made was for Peanut back when he was one (the picture on the bottom). As we prepared for a trip, it became clear that he would absolutely need a special bag to carry his plastic nesting cups for vacation. Notice the trend? I might also have been looking for an excuse to do some patchwork sewing, because it fascinates me. That bag is still in use and still makes me smile. While working on this blog post, I realized depth of my affection for this particular style of bag and instead of holding back and being polite, I decided to let loose and tell you all the things I think are amazing about them!

A little bag for a small child is wonderful for its simplicity and endless possibilities. A bag that children can open and close themselves is a great object. These bags are great for travel. Their small size limits how much the kids can bring with them. If it doesn’t fit in the bag, then it doesn’t leave the house. Once out and about, toddlers love opening and closing the bags to take individual toys out. In the car or on a plane or in a restaurant, a little bag of special toys can provide endless entertainment. A bag can be a cave or a bed or a field, becoming part of play once it’s not holding toys. A bag full of peg people can become it’s own world.

Older children always seem to have a collection of little things to take along. Whether it’s acorns in the forest or the latest supermarket collectable toy, gathering seems to be a hallmark of 4-6 year-olds. A personal bag gives them a way to take their collection with them and imposes limits on how much they can take. It’s also a great way to take games on visits or trips. Games in boxes are bulky and the box itself isn’t always very sturdy. A card game or dice game in a bag is easy to carry and easy to identify.

The color and pattern combining that makes up patchwork allows for endless possibilities. There’s nothing more fascinating than to see how a piece of fabric can be transformed by its neighbors. Making patchwork pieces is an experience in endless variation. For this bag, I sat down one day while Pumpkin was coloring and started trying to figure out just how many combinations there would be for a nine patch piece. The answer is mathematical, of course, but working it out through coloring was fun. I imposed a couple rules because I was trying to figure out a good process for making multiple bags. The results were fascinating. Patchwork or quilt sewing is about the magic of the process as much as the beauty of the finished piece.

I’ve made a lot of drawstring bags over the years, always looking for a favorite method. I like a lined bag for anything the kids are going to use. Exposed seams on the inside are always a weak point and a lined bag has the added element of a surprise when you open it up. I’ve combined a couple different methods to come up with the one I used for these bags. Extra stitching around the string openings gives added strength there. Top stitching at the top of the bag keeps the lining in place and gives a pretty ruffled effect when the bag is closed. These bags can be opened and closed time and time again without wearing thin or wearing out!

So there’s my little drawstring bag obsession in a nutshell. With the Herfstmarkt at Peanut’s school coming up on 1 November, game bags in beautiful fall colors were just the thing to make. I’ll bring along my small collection of vintage games as well. A bag and a game would make a terrific Sinterklaas or Christmas gift. The bags are 9cm x 21cm (7.5in x 8.25in) and made of 100% cotton. There’s one listed on Etsy now, in case you can’t wait until the market or won’t be able to attend.

The Big Bag Reveal

Big Girl's Bag 1.0

Big Girl's Bag 2.0

Big Girl's Bag 2.0

Big Girl's Bag 2.0

Big Girl's Bag 2.0

Big Girl's Bag 2.0

Big Girl's Bag 2.0

For the past few weeks, I have been working on a new bag design. You might have seen some sneak peaks on my Facebook page. Well, here is the whole bag, inside, outside, and insides out! This is my “mama doesn’t have to carry the kitchen sink anymore” bag. That means I still have room for a little water bag or piece of fruit and any bit of paper that gets thrust in my general direction after school, but no longer have to tote a gigantic bag everywhere I go. The design and construction were inspired by interest in the Little Girl Bag for bigger girls. It has been made possible by skills I’ve learned over the past few months of bag making and projects like the Kokka Messenger Bag. In order to move another step closer to a finished design, I’m asking for your feedback, comments, and opinions.

The pictures above also show version one of this bag (no exterior closure, straps on the sides). The change from version one to version two were minimal, but I feel like they made a huge difference in how the bag’s personality. I’m much happier with version two and the final version won’t be too much different, I think.

I’m most excited because this project brings me one step closer to my goal of making and selling a bag of my own design. Of course, now that I’m nearly through the basic design, I’ve realized that there are fabrics to pick and colors to plan if I wan to sell these bags. That’s got me dreaming about making a series of bags in wildly varying fabrics. Bright canvases, modern prints, wool, wool + leather, linen, waxed cotton – they’re all on my list of possibilities. It will depend a lot on what I can source over the next few months, but I’m dying to see how this design will look in all kinds of different variations!

This is a cross-body bag that is slightly wider across the top and sized to fit an A5 page or piece of paper folded in half or a journal. It’s a slim bag, just 4cm wide at the bottom. It is small enough to be comfortable for solo trips on the town and big enough for your wallet, keys, phone, tissues, notebook, and pen. There’s an interior zipper pocket sized to fit paper money laying flat. The flap can be securely closed. The handles are attached at the back so the bag maintains its shape and lays flat against your body. It’s fully lined and interlined to give it body and shape. The exterior is firm to the touch and the interior is lightly padded.

I’m hoping to have this bag in production soon, certainly in time for the holidays. Will you help me? Please share your opinions, impressions, and advice in the comments. It would be a great help!

Friday Check-in

Pile of mending - done!

As I’ve gotten more serious about my writing and my work, I feel a need to be more accountable for maintaining balance in my life and for working on long-term projects. In order to do that, I’ve decided to transform my Friday Moment into a Friday Check-in. Here’s the plan. Every Friday, I’ll post a picture and answer five questions. They will be about my work, my home, myself, my project or goal, and the picture. I’ll try it for a season and see how things go!

The sun has been shining like crazy this week. Pumpkin and I had lunch outside on Wednesday. We go to the market on Wednesday mornings and are developing a serious and wonderful flat bread and olives lunch habit. Afterward lunch, I found myself doing some work in the garden. It’s been a while. Our damp, wet August didn’t motivate. But now we’ve got some volunteer nasturiums and winter lettuce on the front edge ready to take on the fall. Fingers crossed! Now, on to questions.


1. How are you moving forward at work?

It was hard to feel like I was making progress at work this week. A study day for Peanut on my dedicated sewing morning had me throwing up my hands in despair. Yeah, I over-react sometimes. But I also adjust. I went back over my blog schedule and made sure there are no more than three posts scheduled per week until the end of the year. Accomplish-able goals [link to planning] is where it’s at, I tell you. I also remembered that my production plan is a plan. When something gets in the way, the thing to do is ask myself the one question (thanks dad), “What’s really important?” Getting my bag design to version two took priority this week, so I did that instead. I did it gleefully with music and singing and dancing the my workroom. Felt like a good choice!


2. How did you improve your home?

Pumpkin and I spent a good sunny hour reorganizing the shed this week. It’s one of those things that needs to be done once in a while. Now the garden things are all together, the painting things are all together and guess what – we have an empty shelf! Hoorah. Space on the shelves equals space in my mind. Does it work like that for you, too?


3. How did you take care of yourself?

I’ve been allowing myself to be sucked into the internet in the evenings lately. This is not good for a person who’s just now emerging from half a decade of sleep-deprivation. I’m finally starting to understand and feel the link between sleep and my moods. Letting something as immaterial (literally) as the internet get in my way seems plain silly. My solution: an alarm on my iPod set for every weeknight. Around 10 pm, it crickets and gives me instructions, “Get off the internet. Do something useful or joyful instead.” So far, I’m being obedient.


4. How are things going with the daily writing project?

Daily writing is going better. This week, I tried doing just a wee bit of planning before I started to write. It helped. For example, for this post I had a couple notes from earlier in the week of things I wanted to include. It makes for more focused and enjoyable writing time. The one time I didn’t have a plan I mind-dumped into a file that is going to be frightening to read when I get back to it. There are now 30 dots plus one after I finish this. Holy cow – I made it to a month! Yippee!


5. Talk about the picture.

Last weekend I plowed through a pile of mending and unfinished projects. Some of these have been sitting around for more than a year, but mending piles are like that. There was an unexpected satisfaction in getting this work done. Part of that was related to crossing something off my list. But it was more than that. Mending requires a combination of skill and creativity. I’ve been working hard on both this past year and it was rewarding to use both better than I would have a year ago. Mending is also a realization of values I am trying to live, particularly trying to limit consumption and to value what we have. So there you have it. My celebratory messy pile of mending done!

Log Cabin Pillow and Template

Log Cabin Pillow

Log Cabin Pillow (back)

Log Cabin coloring

The design

Back in July, I wrote about a log cabin pillow case project. Today, I want to show you the finished project and share a coloring template so you and your littles can design your own. One question with the pillow project was whether or not involving Peanut in the design process would win him over for the finished product. It worked. He took his finished pillow camping this summer and it now lives in his bed. The extra bonus was the fact that working with him was so much fun.

I ran across his original sketches the other day and thought it would be interesting to share them. He started off with some fun and funky designs that were fun to look at but difficult to recreate. After I suggested he use one color per field, he worked towards his final design. I love his color selections and was so relieved and surprised that those colors were in my fabric stash.

The finished pillow more or less matched his vision. I made a couple adjustments to his pattern along the way (with much consultation) to compensate for fabric supply and measurement issues (ahem). After consulting with Peanut, I used the same colors as the front to piece the back and made some binding for the edges. The inside raw edges were also finished with bias tape. The quilt as you go method described by Suzuko Koseki in Patchwork Style worked out great. Next time, it would be interesting to try quilting it at the end next time to see how that works out.

When we were planning this pillow, I couldn’t find a log cabin pattern to color in. Instead, we used copies of a drawing I made up. This weekend, I tried my hand at making one on the computer for you to use. You can download click here to download the Log Cabin Coloring Template and try your own coloring or making project. Giving kids an opportunity to design their own quilted pillow is just fun. You could also put together a bunch of colored and cut out log cabin blocks to make a paper quilt or wall decoration.

Click here to see and download the Log Cabin Coloring Template

Beauty. Simplicity. Utility. Quality.

MacBook Air cover

MacBook Air cover

MacBook Air cover

iPhone 5 cover

iPhone 5 cover

One of the wonderful things about starting a making business is that people ask you to make things for them. Every time someone asks me to make something, especially folks who ask me to make something they’ve never seen or trust me to dream up a design, I’m honored, deeply flattered, and terrified they’re going to figure out that every once in a while, I have no idea what I’m doing. So far, things have worked out and the special orders are one of my favorite parts of this business.

In August, I made a special order iPhone cover , and a MacbookAir cover. As with all special orders, I took advantage of the project to think about whether I want to make more. They would be a logical extension to the Earth Apple Studio shop and are in demand, especially Apple coming out with a new iPhone every time I turn around.

Debating whether or not I want to make the covers got me thinking. A couple of timely posts also reminded me of the importance of not taking on too much, of pruning as Eve Fairbanks put it. It’s tempting to start making lots of different things just to see what takes off. It’s also important for me to remember that my goal is to design and make beautiful bags. Every product I decide to develop or make along the way takes time away from achieving the bag making goal and those decisions should be made carefully.

To help myself along, I came up with a couple questions to answer before I move forward with developing or making new products. In addition to some basic market research questions about what’s available, pricing, costs, and audience, I found myself returning to two key questions.

  • How will my product be an improvement on what’s already available?
  • How well will the product represent beauty, simplicity, utility, and quality?
  • I only want to make a product if it improves upon what’s already available. If I can’t do that, then it’s better to leave it to folks who are already making them and making them well. In the case of the Apple product sleeves, it came down to a material choice. In all the sleeves and covers I’ve seen, felt seems to be the best fabric for making durable and beautiful sleeves. Check out Westerman Bags if you’re not sure. She makes gorgeous Apple product sleeves right here in the Netherlands.

    The second questions keeps me working to meet my own standards. If I can’t make something that is extra beautiful, extra simple, extra useful, or extra quality, I don’t want to be making it. It’s as simple as that.

    So there you have it, some new things I made and how I decided to not make any more. How do you decide which projects you want to work on? Are there more questions I should be asking myself?

    Inspiration: Quilt Exhibition

    Maria Hofmans: Linnen-Goed
    Maria Hofmans: Linnen-Goed

    Maria Hofmans: Linnen-Goed

    Maria Hofmans: Linnen-Goed

    Gert van Raalten: Watashi no Nihon no Takarabako
    Gert van Raalten: Watashi no Nihon no Takarabako

    Almut Raaijmakers: Wie het oude niet eert!
    Almut Raaijmakers: Wie het oude niet eert!

    Almut Raaijmakers: Wie het oude niet eert!

    Earth Apple Bib

    Last Thursday, I went to the Dutch Quilt Guild’s annual exhibition in Arnhem. There were some really beautiful pieces to look at. When I look at a quilt, I think about the massive amount of time, work, and skill it takes to make one. The color, fabric, and pattern combinations are inspiring. In Arnhem, I saw traditional quilts and art quilts. Quilts made with new fabrics, Japanese fabrics, linen, and scraps. A few quilts particularly struck my fancy and I thought I’d share them here.

    Linnen-Goed by Maria Hofmans is a gorgeous quilt made of linen. I loved the details. Each scrap pieces was quilted on so that there was a pretty pattern on the back of the quilt, too. The actual quilting was done in a very loose style, which I love because it shows that it was made by hand. Being able to stitch perfectly is important, but letting go of that can often give a more expressive result. The linen squares all vary slightly in color and they’re beautiful neutrals that look lovely together. I love the style of this quilt and am sure this will inspire some of my work in the future!

    I also got a kick out of this piece, Watashi no Nihon no Takarabako by Gert van Raalten. The colors are fabulous in and entirely different way. I love the punctuating color in the field of brown. The colors get to pop against the monochromatic background. My favorite detail on this piece, though, is the fact that the pattern runs out in the corner. It is a fabulous surprise to look at the pattern, be drawn into looking at all the individual colors, and then, oops! I love it.

    A third piece that made a big impression me was Wie het oude niet eert! by Almut Raaijmakers. It has a few repetitions of the same image, each using a different technique and the same colors. There was some applique, french knots, chain stitching, and beads. Then I took a step back for a bigger picture and realized that all the small pieces were on a background that was the whole image again, but gray on gray. The quilt works as a wonderfully patient exploration of the impact of different techniques.

    My bibs and a lot of my work are inspired by the piecing that is the basis of quilt making. Put two fabrics together and way they contrast or compliment each other can be transformative. Last week I made a new series of bibs. I used a beautiful fabric from Amy Butler’s Mid-Century Modern series and paired it with a contrasting rusty red. It’s in my Etsy store now. After two weeks of bib making, I’m going to move on to card holder making this week. I’ve got some fabric choices in mind and can’t wait to see how they turn out.

    New Bibs New Plans

    Little Bird Bib

    Little Bird Bib

    Little Bird Bib

    Last week I took some time to put together a production schedule through the end of 2014. It’s organized by week and on basically has three categories; make, develop, and extra. Make is for the product I’m going to batch make, including fabric notes. Develop is for products I’m developing or improving. Extra is all the other stuff I need to do to keep my little shop running, packaging and banners for example. The idea of a production plan is ridiculously simple and basic, but this is the first time I’ve done it. I couldn’t be happier with the way it’s changed not only how I work, but how I feel about my work.

    For the past year, I’ve been making it up as I go. That meant making a lot of choices and usually making them based on intuition rather than information. Selecting fabric by intuition works. Making production decisions by intuition is not fun. The worst part of it was that it was impossible to know when I’d done enough. Every time I crossed one thing of the list, something else filled the spot almost immediately. My non-system left me feeling nervous and frustrated. A market date sent me into a making frenzy, but I also spent a good bit of my sewing time looking around my workroom wondering where to start.

    When it came to putting together my production plan, I set manageable goals. In my weekly schedule, there are only three to four hours of guaranteed daytime sewing time. The rest is full of kids, household, and the other shop work that needs to be done. I can sew in the evenings and on the weekends, but the first nine months of this endeavor taught me that working like that was bad for me, bad for my family, and not too much fun. I’m being realistic and with some luck, that will keep me happier and ultimately more productive.

    The unexpected magic came when I realized that a production plan was a great tool for organizing a lot of aspects of my business that I’ve been struggling with. Knowing what’s going to be new in my workroom and Etsy shop every week means it’s easier to plan blog and Facebook posts to support those additions. Make this week, blog about next week. Make now to prepare for the Lindenmarket on November 30. I also have some idea of how my inventory will build over the next few weeks, which means I also have a better idea of what supplies I need to have. Planning down to the fabrics I’ll use means fewer last minute panics about KAM snap colors (ahem). One week in, I’m pretty excited about how useful my production plan is going to be.

    All of this brings me to my latest batch of bibs! The fabric choice was inspired by friends who’ve just had a baby and gave him a lovely bird name. I got a bit emotional about it and decided to make a series of bibs in his honor. If you’re following me on Facebook, you know they are already in my shop here. They are a bright teal with dark purple birdies. Figuring out which fabric would best coordinate for the neutral was tough. Once I gave up on anything matchy-matchy, I found this lovely dark gray tan in my stash that lets those bright colors just pop! I’m very pleased with the results and hope you are, too!

    The Real Bag: Kokka Messenger Bag

    Kokka Messenger Bag

    Kokka Messenger Bag

    Kokka Messenger Bag

    Kokka Messenger Bag

    Kokka Messenger Bag

    Kokka Messenger Bag

    Just before summer vacation, I made The Organized Office Bag from the Bag Making Bible. It’s part of my little challenge. In the process, I was reminded of a fundamental lesson about my work. One must buy high quality fabrics to make a high quality bag. It’s tempting for me to buy affordable (cheap!) fabrics and notions. After all, part of the appeal of sewing is that if you make it yourself, you might invest the time but you won’t have to invest the money. The more I sew, the more I see that it’s just not worth it. Too many nicely made bags have turned out off because the fabric wasn’t right. Maybe it wasn’t the right weight or quality or color. Experience has shown, the wrong fabric can turn anything into a disaster.

    On the other hand, the right fabric can take a bag right into the stratosphere of bag-making satisfaction! And who wouldn’t love this gorgeous Kalima Echino decoro by Etsuko Furuya for Kokka? The colors! The birdies! The geometric patterns! It’s a cotton/linen canvas and utterly divine. I picked it up at the Stoffenkamer in Ghent during a family trip. My seriously supportive husband took the kids so I could go fabric shopping and congratulated me when I came home with a bag full of fabric gloriousness. What a guy, right?

    As cheesy as it sounds – and it sounds so, so cheesy – this bag was the end of a journey and feels like the beginning of the future. My obsession with messenger bag making goes all the way back to 2009. Seriously! This particular bag felt like a massive accomplishment, the cherry on the cake of my years of bag making attempts and education. It’s a Real Bag. We have upholstery weight or heavier fabrics for the exterior and interior. We have interlinings and interfacings to give the bag structure and body. It uses hardware. There are metal parts on this bag, clasps to close the flap, d-rings to fix the strap to the bag body, and a big shiney metal slider to make the strap adjustable. All that adds up to a Real Bag.

    This bag features a zip pocket, and elastic pocket, and a divided slip pocket on the inside. I skipped the optional laptop flap, adjusted the dividing lines on the slip pocket, and added a d-ring inserted into the side seam for my keys. I love the elastic pocket. It’s perfect for my water bottle and I use it all the time!

    Kokka Messenger Bag

    The biggest challenges when it came to sewing was getting the gussets nice and smooth and figuring out the adjustable strap. Two or three rounds on the gusset taught me the trick: align the sewing lines, not the edges of the fabric. In practice, that means the gusset piece is pulled tightly against the body piece. It looked like I had pulled it too tight, but it worked out just right with minimal puckering. Next time I will try drawing the seam line to help with pinning. My brain was terrified of the adjustable strap and convinced I’d manage some kind of ridiculous mistake. In the end it was easy, but I had the music off and practiced the slider placement at least three times before sewing anything down. Nothing like a little primal sewing disaster fear to make a girl work a bit carefully!

    So there you go, I feel like I’ve graduated into Real Bag Making now. The next challenge? Translating the lessons learned here into my own design. Hrm…..

    Inspiration: Patchwork Style and Peanut

    The design

    Adding a strip

    Getting ready to quilt

    There’s something very special about making a pillowcase designed by your 5-year-old son. He chose the log cabin style out of a few sketches and played with different color combinations until he found this one. Once he’d chosen his favorite, he took it into my work room and found fabrics in almost exactly the same colors that he used in the design. The look of total satisfaction and expectation on his face when he came back with his stack of solids was priceless. Now I just have to make it!

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    WIP Report

    Made myself a shirt!

    Little Yellow T-shirt

    I’ve been sewing like crazy, but not taking much time to record or photograph. It has to do with finding a balance between the sewing I do for myself and the sewing I do for work as well as trying to figure out what’s going to be a good balance here. The responsible part of me feels quite strongly that all the sewing I do should be “work” sewing. The other part has its own ideas and keeps tapping me on the shoulder. It speaks sweetly about my passion for sewing, my interests in learning to sew clothes, the joy I find in sewing for my family, the pleasure I get out of sewing things we can use every day. It’s an on-going task to find a balance, but I’m getting there! As for what I’ve been making, let me share!

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