Fabric shopping bag

Unexpectedly, insanely amazing good luck happened to me, and at very short notice I’m finding myself in New York City!

I flew in from London yesterday, and will be here for ten glorious days, most of which I’ll spend in the Garment District, of course. I have never, ever been more excited! I’ve read every single blog post ever written about the area, and I’m planning to compile these in a post once I’m back home. But the Mother of all is of course Mimi’s Shop The Garment District, complete with a map – hallelujah!

When I was preparing for this trip, I thought about how I hate carrying shopping bags, I want my hands free. I also knew that I wasn’t going to hold back, and that I’d most likely will be buying tons of fabric. As googling “donkey-hire Manhattan” didn’t yield any suitable results, I looked around for suitable shopping bag options. No luck, I didn’t find any that even remotely would do what I wanted. So I decided to make one, of course. As I had very little time to make it, the bag’s finishes, the photos and this post are very slapdash, but I still wanted to put it out there (writing this in a jet-lag-wrestling moment). I’ve probably missed a few steps, but here’s a rough how-to-on-the-fly.

Finished rucksack looks smallish and normal, and matches my coat

Finished rucksack looks smallish and normal, and matches my coat

Objectives: I wanted the bag to be as small as possible so I could fold and fit it into my normal handbag. It needed to be a rucksack with tons of room, but no pockets or anything. It would be nice if it was smallish to start with, but expandable somehow. And I wanted the bag to blend in with my coat, making it as invisible as possible, as rucksacks are so dang ugly and touristy.

The bag is essentially a pretty basic tote or a square tube. The top part folds down when the bag is not full, and held down by duffel coat buttons on ribbons pushed through loops at the front.

When bag is getting super-full, but you still have more shopping to do, open three vertical zips at the front to expand the bag more. YEAH!

Width when empty: 38cm, Height: 63cm, Depth: 15cm (seam allowances not included here, these are the finished bag measurements). Seam allowance throughout is 1.5cm.

I had long zips in my stash (approx 47cm), which determined the height of the “front yoke”.

In the drawing, green is main fabric, blue is the inserts/panels hidden behind closed zips. The sides wrap round to the front, up to the first zip, then there are two main fabric panels beside the middle zip.

Here are the measurements of the fabric panels needed to make the front with zips (seam allowance included).

Main fabric: Top yoke Height: 16cm, Width: 56cm (seam allowance included).

Also main fabric: Four panels, two are wider, as they’re going round the corner also becoming the sides. So cut two 53x20cm, two 53×12.5cm.

Pleat fabric is the fabric that you’ll see when you open the zips – your chance to choose something eye-catching! : Cut three 53x11cm.

The back is also split in bottom piece and top yoke.Top yoke Height: 23cm, width 56cm.

Bottom piece: Height 46cm, width 56cm (see where I’m confused why the bottom piece ended up over 2cm too long? That happens when you think 43+1.5+1.5=48!)

Let’s look at the expandable zip bit. Invisible zip closed…:

…and zip opened, adding lots of room to the bag:

Insert the zip as you normally would onto the main fabric (you’ll repeat these steps for all zips) MAKING SURE THAT YOU HAVE THE ZIP PULL AT THE BOTTOM WHEN CLOSED, so opposite to what you’ll be used to. This way you can open the zips only a bit when the bag is not quite full, and expand bag only at the bottom:

Once both zip sides are attached, sew on your first panel square edge as seen here (sandwich order: main fabric, zip, pleat fabric), using your zipper foot, going along the zip coil, like you did before (you can sew this seam further to the fabric edge, actually):

Then sew the 2nd edge of the panel onto the zip, as before, looks like this:

Keep on truckin’ until you’ve inserted all three zips and pleats (one of zip insertions below is another method that didn’t look good, but no time to unpick…). Pay attention to the order of the panels, the wider main fabric panels go to the far left and far right, the thinner panels in the centre. Seams above and below zips are stitched closed.

On the inside (two of the three pleats). Press them down nicely, but don’t melt any plastic zips you might be using…

To make the bag a little neater and structured, I stitched a kind of faux piping corners. On all four main fabric pieces (front and back yokes, and front and back main pieces, fold and press the sides 9cm in. Edge-stitch this (using a blind-hem foot will keep it even). I moved the needle position to the left to make it easier.

I took ribbon, doubled them an stitched them together to make them stronger. Make these two ribbons 54cm long. I stitched them onto the front, (BEFORE attaching the top yoke), 6.5cm either side from the centre zip. I left gaps for the duffel buttons to be fastened through. For my buttons, 3cm gaps were fine. Don’t make them too wide, or the buttons pop open easily. In my case, my first loops were 11cm from the bottom edge, then every 6-7cm all the way to the top edge. Reinforce these seams as they’ll take some tugging and pulling.

Then I attached the “front yoke”. Again, I reinforced the seam with two lines of stitching, zigzag, then I top-stitched the seam allowance to the top yoke.

Close-up of how the straps and buttons work. Use higher loops as bag fills up:

The button fasteners is ribbon (80cm) folded in half, button threaded on, and then stitched up to about an inch from the button.

Take your back yoke piece, mark the centre top and bottom with a pin, then pin the button ribbons 6.5cm either side of the centre line. Stitch the ribbons down, from one edge to no more than 5cm from what will be the bag’s top edge (you’ll need space to insert top zip safely)

Now on to the straps. You need two fabric pieces Length 80cm, Width 11cm. Fold each piece length-wise and sew a long tube, seam allowance 1.5cm. Don’t close the end! Centre the seam to the middle of the tube and press open. I insert my long steel ruler to help centre the seam and pressing the seam! The ruler gets hot, so be careful when pulling out. Press again without ruler. Sew shut one end of the tube, grade the seam, then turn right side out (I use thicker knitting needle, head first).

I edge-stitch the straps’ both sides as before, and stitch straight down the middle to ensure they don’t twist and stretch.

Place pin in the centre (top and bottom) of the bottom piece. Attach straps in a slight angle 5.5cm each from top pin (try to ensure they have the same angle). Baste in place. Pin ends of straps to bottom edge, 9cm each from the centre pin. My straps are 73.5cm long measuring once they’re sewn on. Baste in place.

Sew back yoke and back bottom bit together. Make this weight-bearing seam strong by sewing it a few times, zigzag the seam allowance together, and top-stitch the seam allowance towards top.

Insert top zip (same technique as before) – only between the actual width of the bag as seen in photo. The zip needs to be approx 38-40cm. Centre the zip between the piping-type corners you stitched before.

Once the zip is attached on both sides, close the zip. Line up the sides and sew together (ONLY sides, not bottom). Reinforce the seams, zigzag all edges (sides and along the zip).

Fold down top edge, so the zip teeth just stand proud of the edge. Pin and stitch it down:

It gets fiddly and weird in the corner at the end of the zip (the end that doesn’t open). I hand-stitched the corner edge down.

This is how it looks now. You can fold the sides in neatly and zip it up. The button ribbons can be slung over the top edge.

I was running late and forgot to take photos of the last bit – attaching the bottom square. The bottom measures Width 41cm, height 18cm. It is a little fiddly in the corners, but if you make a snip in the bag’s fabric (keep within the seam allowance) it’s easier to make it come together. Enforce this seam lots – re-stitch the seam again, zig-zag edges twice, too.

And it’s done! Can’t wait for Monday morning! Here it is in faked action, with coat:

Finished bag – empty…

About three metres of jersey…

A LOT of jersey (8 metres, perhaps) a 3mx150cm heavy cotton, some shirts, 2.5m of polycotton…

Oops! Shop til you drop, Dollface!


Mad Men Challenge 2: Part 3: Working it

Well, hello.

A working girl’s day never seems to end, not for Megan, not for me.

Where did I put it? Oh here. No of COURSE I'm efficient, Sir.

My colleague and inspiration, Megan.

We work in the same office and wear the same uniform (several colour ranges to choose from, though – very liberal). Thing is, they deduct the cost from our salary, so I made my own instead. STICK IT TO THE MAN.

I covered the draping of this make here and the construction here as my tale is too long for one post – why not pop over?

This is me hard at work in the office (click first image for carousel and captions):


This is me hard at work sewing my uniform (again, click first image for carousel and captions):


Thank goodness I’m behind a desk, so the boss can’t see I haven’t finished the skirt (=started on it yet)! My plan is to sew a Hollyburn skirt (my red one here) in the same mustard fabric and wear as faux dress, or separately, as it might get a LITTLE too mustardy… especially as it doesn’t even come with a lovely hot dog.

Here’s a GREAT trick: I cut the sleeves on the bias for extra movement so I can reach lever arch files on the top shelf and just for general movement. Turned out SUPER! But dang – I forgot to remove some ease and lose some pouffy-ness. Next time.

After all that work AND I got also all the filing done, it’s drink o’clock, don’t you agree?

Wine while waiting for the cocktail getting mixed

Wine while waiting for the cocktail getting mixed

Mingling the night away

Mingling the night away

(OMG did I see Megan disappear somewhere with… DON?!)

Thank you SO SO much, Julia Bobbin, for hosting this cracking challenge. When Harry is old enough to go to school, why don’t you come and work with Megan and me?

Draping Desire Requires a Dress Form

It took my mum took 9 months to make me, and it took 3 years for me to make me.
Amazing. Mums are just so GOOD at things!

I absolutely hate how fitting commercial patterns kills my sanity and my love of sewing. To tinker with the fit every single time you open a new envelope, before you even get to the fun of creating a garment – no siree. I want to jump right to the construction variations and finishing techniques. The fitting issues were problems I wanted to solve only once. All tricks to get it right I find boring to follow. I KNEW a personalised dressform would cut to the fun and fancy bits straightaway (draping and simplifying pattern making).

I made a duct form (tape glue melted by central heating within weeks, became distorted and out of shape. It ended up in the dumpster. I presume someone saw it and called the police thinking they’d found a chopped up murder victim).

I tried a dials-galore dress form. No dials in the world, however, can reflect my crazy swayback, my not-so-pert bust with wonky-eyed bust points, my “protruding abdomen” – I’ll stop there. I also hated the plasticky flimsy-ness of it.

Finally I got a glorious display mannequin (£36 on ebay!!! Bargain! Different sizes, too!) with a polystyrene (PINNABLE!) body.

My mannequin base.(Click pic to see all my dressfom research Pinterest board and link to this seller)

My mannequin base.
(Click pic to see all my dressfom research Pinterest board and link to this seller)

I spent an obscene amount of time making a sloper with my exact shape. This is a long
story in itself. Just thinking about it, makes me breathe faster and shallower so let’s leave
the full story for now. But I ended up with a princess seam sloper in light lilac poly-cotton.
I didn’t treat the fabric with any starch or anything like that, and it has a centre front zip,
which made fitting, then stuffing, it as simple as it gets. I just pinned the bottom edge to the
polystyrene, so I didn’t even have to fiddle with a “lid”.

I put this sloper on the mannequin, padded out the difference, and all is forgiven. LET THE

Half decent!

Half decent!

I wanted to prettify it, and bought a off-white stretch mannequin cover (ebay again). This is
what is seen in this picture. I noticed that the stretch was so incredibly strong and
squeezed the padding too much, which meant the measurements shrank (if you click the image and zoom in, you can see wrinkles underneath the stretch cover). It became nearly one size too small, darnit! So off the cover came at once. Maybe one day I’ll make my own, gentle jersey cover. It’ll turn up in a lot of photos from now on, pretty or not, because it works! It’s an absolute representation of me.

For now it is wearing my Sewaholic Hollyburn skirt (blogged here).

My research:
My Pinterest board for all sorts of solutions. There are a few great tips on how to make a
sloper quicker than tinker with fit from existing pattern – for instance the Saran Wrap
method (I never tried this).
I found particulary Ikatbag’s tutorial incredibly useful and inspiring. You see her muslin in
crazy fabric? That’s the equivalent of my lilac one, essentially. And instead of her home-made “skeleton”, I used the polystyrene mannequin and save about one hundred hours,
and I reckon it wasn’t even that much more expensive.
Since I finished mine, I spotted La Sewista’s tutorial. This is the only time I’ve seen
someone else finishing with a zip. I think that’s so so obvious! Who can squeeze in all the
padding while slipstitching the last seam? Amazing.

I’ll answer any questions on this, as every sewist deserve one of these, but no sewist
deserves to spend three years making one.

Hollyburn skirt

I had been on the lookout for the perfect skirt to have as a wardrobe builder and base for some dress pattern drafting, and then it came: Sewaholic’s Hollyburn skirt.

Just after Tasia released the pattern, Rachel at My Messings hosted a sew-along, which I took part in. The pattern is for beginners, so I took the chance to work on some more advanced techniques.

My main fabric (wool/cotton blend from Goldhawk Road) was the perfect red, but had more drape than I wanted. It was also slightly sheer, so I underlined the skirt with light green silk organza. I used this ingenious, mind-blowing method, where you underline and finish the seams in one go, making it look like you’ve used a hong kong finish. This was quite difficult, as it required absolute precision. The seam allowances needed to be exactly 6mm, which was more difficult because the silk organza is so slinky dinky. Over 6mm, and the main fabric didn’t have enough space to lie flat once turned round to its right side, under 6mm and the finished binding was protruding the main fabric edge. If nervous (as I was!), go under 6mm, rather than over, because if your main fabric can’t lie flat after the underlining has been sewn on, you can go fishing instead. I did a test before which turned out perfect, but it was a lot harder with bigger pieces. I had eight seams to do, and I only felt in control the last bit of the last seam.

This will be an excellent method for skirts underlined with thinner cotton fabric, that won’t dance around as much as slinky fabric. The instructions do say that this can eliminate the need for lining! It must be one of THE best sewing techniques I’ve come across, as it save a lot of time and the result is better than a lot of harder techniques (once I’ve got more practice in!)

Faux hong kong side seam finish, and bound hem

Hemming the main skirt:

I made the hem allowance 5cm. I like to sew a seam one or two millimetres below the hem foldline, as it really helps when pressing the hem (it works a little like an understitch), especially because it holds the two layers of fabric together. Let’s call this hemline stitch.

I got help from Gertie’s perfect tutorial on how to hem a full skirt, and from this incredibly useful guide on all hemming.

Fold and press the hemline, making sure the hemline stitch is on the inside of the skirt. Just use the tip and only press right at the bottom of the hem.

Run gather stitch in sections along the edge. Place flat on ironing board. With a pin, pull up the stitches here and there to make the hem fabric excess lie flat.

Slide brown paper (with slightly curved edge) between front and hem. Steam excess as well as possible. I found that the silk organza stopped any shrinking, so I trimmed it below the hemline stitch, and it worked much better:

Trimming the silk organza to make steam shrinking the fullness of the hem possible

I pulled stitches to lay hem flat, inserted brown paper before steam shrinking

I pulled stitches to lay hem flat, inserted brown paper before steam shrinking

When I didn’t seem to be able to reduce the bulk any more, I hand-basted on the apple green seam binding, took it to the machine and sewed it on. I then hand-stitched it to the organza only (yes, the stitches that look like I roped in a five-year-old. Practice makes perfect).

I lined this skirt in red polyester satin. The pattern doesn’t include lining instructions, but Rachel covered it in her sew-along. Seams are finished with French seams (apart from the one where the zip will be inserted. I just zigzagged the seam allowances together – I SO regret this – I should have bound them with bias tape to match the french seams).

I inserted the zip according to the instructions/sew-along, but have to say I prefer my usual method sewing the whole seam, using basting stitch on the bit where the zip will go, press seam open, place the zip in centre, baste, the stitch in place, then remove the basting stitches. Even after I’ve finished this skirt, I can’t figure out if I need to do anything different because the skirt is lined. Time will tell.

Let's call them faux pockets

Let’s call them faux pockets

Here’s the lining – oh dear. I cut it with the pocket indents as per the pattern! I had to stitch the bits back on, as I didn’t have anymore fabric. It’s now a design feature.

How to enjoy my Hollyburn:


Ah, the old bold colur / graphic black and white combo

Sewaholic Hollyburn skirt

Layered for winter.