Tote Bag Beginning Sewing Project: Sew Everything Workshop

For my third major sewing project, I decided to sew another bag:  The Tote-ally Awesome Tote Bag from the Sew Everything Workshop. This tote bag sewing project looked simple and useful.

OK, to be honest I don’t think that tote bags are exactly my style, but this project seemed like another opportunity to work on my sewing skills.

Tote-ally Awesome Tote Bag from Sew Everything Workshop
Tote-ally Awesome Tote Bag from Sew Everything Workshop

In particular, I need to work on correct fabric alignment as well as precision in measuring.

Again, this project does not come with an included pattern. Since all the essential elements of the bag are rectangles, this works fine. Simply measure out the correct dimensions and you will be on your way. I added a large pocket inside.

One thing I did have a problem with was sewing an exact 90 degree angle using just a ruler. A quick visit to the garage for a right angle ruler fixed this problem. The ruler is pretty huge, so I will consider looking for a smaller one in the future.

The design offers three options. A hand tote, a shoulder tote,  and a long handled (cross body) tote.

Inside Pocket of the Tote-Ally Awewome Tote Bag: Shoulder Version
Inside Pocket of the Tote--Ally Awewome Tote Bag

Each bag has different dimensions for the corresponding bag size. I decided to make the shoulder tote since that is the most useful design for me. I selected fabric that would be easy to work with because it was random and abstract– nothing to line up here! I settled on a black with cream cotton print and a natural cream canvas for the lining.

Overall I think that this is a good project for a beginner. As with the Tokyo Tie Bag, I found the finished dimensions to be a little small. Even a beginner can make the bag bigger easily, so this is not really a problem. Again, I think that the author, Diana Rupp, kept the novice sewist’s best interests in mind because a smaller bag is more affordable (in the likely case of a fatal mistake) and a smaller amount of fabric is more manageable on the sewing machine for a beginner.

Pattern Weights for 50 Cents

So far, learning how to sew is full of little challenges. Even the simple things are hard. For example, the simple act of cutting fabric in a neat and clean line has been difficult. Although I try to cut exactly on the line, it seems like the fabric is always shifting and throwing my cuts a little bit off.

Pattern Weights filled with 50 cents worth of pennies
Make Your Own Pattern Weights for Practically Free
Or, if the pattern piece is pinned to the fabric, the alignment of the pattern and fabric gets distorted as the scissors move.

One tip I read is to make sure that you hold the fabric scissors perpendicular to the floor (as opposed to an angle to either side) as you cut.

However, not even this tip was working for me. I decided to buy a 45mm rotary cutter and a self-healing mat to cut on. To cut my fabric with these tools, I would also need pattern weights.

rotary cutter and self-healing mat
Gingher 45mm Rotary Cutter and Fiskers Self-Healing Mat

Pattern weights
are of course available to buy, but I figured that they would be a great learning project. And cheap to make! Pattern weights are simply small pouches of fabric filled with a heavy stuffing material.

Putting pattern weights on your fabric and pattern will hold the pattern and fabric in place so they don’t shift as you cut. Apparently, pattern weights are primarily for cutting with a rotary cutter, but I think that they will also be useful for cutting with scissors just to hold everything in place.

As a novice sewer, I needed instructions on how to make pattern weights on the cheap. I found this tutorial which served as my guide: 50 Cent Pattern Weight Tutorial.

Overall this was an easy project to make.
My weights came out a little sloppy because sewing the opening closed with so little fabric to space was kind of difficult. Still, for just a few pennies this is an excellent starter sewing project.

Sew Everything Workshop: Tokyo Tie Bag

Tokyo Tie Bag from Sew Everything Workshop
Tokyo Tie Bag from Sew Everything Workshop

My first project from Diana Rupp’s Sew Everything Workshop was the Tokyo Tie Bag.  The Tokyo Tie Bag is a simple but very cute pattern.  It had the added bonus of looking like it would be something that I could actually make.

And I was pleasantly surprised (OK, astounded) to find that I actually made the bag successfully!

The Tokyo Tie Bag does not have an included printed pattern in the Sew Everything Workshop.  The book says to cut out the pattern for the bag on blank pattern paper.  Unfortunately I could not find pattern paper, and my local fabric store, JoAnn, does not appear to have any employees so there was no one there for me to ask for help. (I made up a new slogan for them: JoAnn: A Horrible Place to Shop.)

I cut my pattern out of wrapping paper, which lent my project a festive air.  I read the instructions thoroughly, and was cautiously optimistic.   I was a little skeptical about the whole put-this fabric-piece-into-the-other-and-it-will-magically-turn-into-a-bag thing, but lo and behold it worked!

I did find that unfortunately, the bag is a little… petite.

Sorry, but I think that it is seriously too small for a woman to wear without looking ridiculous!  If you are  above the age of 6, this bag will be too tiny for you.  On the other hand if you have small kids who want to play dress up then this bag will work.

I can appreciate that the small size of the pattern lets the novice sewist avoid spending money on fabric for a project that can potentially be ruined due to naive mistakes. Also, the small amount of fabric is easier to work with on the sewing machine.

Tokyo Tie Bag Size Comparison
Tokyo Tie Bag Sizes: Tiny and Regular

I did like the pattern over all, so I decided to try again by making the pattern bigger.  I increased all the measurements by 50% or so.   I rounded down any weird numbers, since this pattern is simple and does not have any weird pieces that need to match up.  Then I drew this pattern on my new blank pattern fabric that I found at a different fabric store in the next town over.  This fabric store has employees!  I also found pattern tracing material at Nancy’s Notions.

Using this pattern helped me understand a French Seam. As the book notes, this seam seams strong, so I don’t feel like the bag is going to fall apart if I put something in it. I also found this explanation of seam finishes from Sew, Mama, Sew! helpful.

My second bag was a much more comfortable size, hanging easily off my shoulder and not making be feel like a giant. I added an inside pocket, but forgot to do the quarter turn of the inside fabric first, so the pocket is in the side of the bag instead of the front or back.  I don’t care, I deem it a success!

Tokyo Tie Bag Pockets and Lining
Tokyo Tie Bag Pockets and Lining
Tokyo Tie Bag Bigger Pattern
The Tokyo Tie Bag Pattern, Enlarged

Simplicty Sew Simple 1971 Reversible Apron… Success! (Eventually)

I am happy to report that my first experience with using a sewing pattern was… eventually… successful. I used Simplicty Sew Simple 1971 Misses Apron to make a straightforward, no-frills apron. And, I definitely learned some new skills along the way!

Simplicity 1971 Sewing Pattern
Simplicity 1971 Sewing Pattern

As I was determined to make the most of this pattern, I actually made three aprons, making adjustments along the way. The first apron was made to the specifications of the pattern. The second apron was adjusted a little for a better fit. The third apron was made using the better fit and also with nicer fabric. Thankfully the third apron looked much more presentable and was better constructed than my first! So here is some proof that I can make progress!

I have two main critiques of this pattern:

  1. The pattern instructions state to turn the apron right side out at the top of the apron, and to stitch the top closed. Of course for a novice sewer this will look horrible. I turned the apron right side out on the side, where the stitching is not too noticeable.
  2. Simplicity 1971 Sewing Pattern (Sew Simple)
    Adjusted Pattern for Simplicity 1971 (Sew Simple)

    The apron waist ties hang too low, unless you are seven feet tall. Add height to the apron wrap around area to bring the waist ties up around your waist. I am short, and this adjustment made the apron much more comfortable.

Working with this pattern 3 times also helped me understand some details on the pattern instructions which improved the construction of the apron. As a novice, I did not sew the neck strap correctly on my first try.

Apron Neck Strap First Try
First Try: Ugly Topstitching and Neck Strap

I put it on the outside rather than on the inside, leading to a pretty sloppy look.  Additionally, the pattern instructions said to turn the apron out at the top, which is not such a great idea when I can’t even sew a straight line. Invisible seams are definitely the way to go for now!

By my last try, I had improved a lot. I placed the neck straps close to the edge of the fabric to sew them on, so the ends would be entirely inside of the apron once it was turned right side out after the two sides of the reversible apron were sewn together. I think that and experience (and common sense, which I apparently lack) helped me understand this.

Simplicity 1971 Reversible Apron Neck Strap
Third Try: No Exposed edges and no visible stitching

Additionally, I turned the apron out on one of the sides. I don’t see why a beginning sewing project would purposefully have exposed stitching. They should know I suck at sewing and adjust the instructions accordingly. The adjustment made for a much better looking apron.

Maybe this whole sewing thing isn’t completely hopeless…

Grandma’s Sewing Box

A few days ago we were at our Grandparents’ house.  My grandparents were very neat and organized, so when a white vinyl storage box caught my eye, I suspected that it was likely to be something worth keeping.

I grabbed the sturdy box off the shelf, and looked inside. It was exactly what I was hoping! It was my grandmother’s sewing box, full of notions. I didn’t even know that she used to sew.

Vintage Sewing Box

The box was a nice surprise, because I have been thinking that I need to order a sewing box. My notions and supplies are either scattered around my dining room (and apparently look like delicious dog toys), or they are crammed in a storage box where they are at risk of being lost forever. I resisted buying a sewing box from my local Joann’s because they all look so flimsy. Who wants a fabric snap button closure? That’s just dumb and is going to break.

Now I have a sturdier box, plus a lifetime supply of hand sewing needles, some extra scissors, lots of old thread and pins, and a bunch of aged seam binding/hem tape (great for practicing with). My new sewing box needs a bit of repair work, but its a great way to remember my grandmother. Thanks, Grandma!

Vintage Sewing Notions
Sewing Notions