The Third Time is the Charm

Ramona OutsideI haven’t made much time to sew lately. Eight hours each week is taken up by chauffeuring my elder grandchild to her high school, 35 miles away. Preparing for and recovering from a yard sale ate up a couple of weeks. Having my car stolen and replacing it took another week. And I got stuck on a bag I was making for my [new] great-niece (the 30-something granddaughter of my newly discovered half-sister).

This is the third week I’ve devoted two hours each Wednesday afternoon to my younger granddaughter, Ridley. I pick her up from school and take her to the Jewish Community Center for a hip-hop dance class. estherfabricEsther, the daughter of my friend Ellen, is also in the class. This means Ellen and I get to chat for an hour while the girls, who are also friends, dance together.

Ridley and Esther are both avid Doctor Who fans. Ridley carries everywhere with her the Doctor Who bag I made from the Swoon Ramona pattern. When Esther admired the bag the first time she saw it, I immediately opened my phone up to the eQuilter site and showed her all the Doctor Who fabrics in their catalog. She chose the Exploding Tardis print for the exterior and Calling the Doctor for the interior of the Ramona I promised to make for her.

So the topic of this sewing post is the Swoon Ramona bag. Note: This is a free pattern. If you’ve been intrigued by my posts about the Swoon bags I’ve made, here’s a great chance to try out one of these patterns at no cost.

Swoon RamonaThis is my third Ramona. I made the first for myself, out of a batik fabric I’ve been hoarding since 1997 or so. I made it while I was at Interlochen during the summer of 2015. Ridley's SwoonThe second was for Ridley, and she carries it everywhere and at all times. The fabrics I chose for her bag are from the same fabric line as the fabrics Esther chose—for Springs Creative, Villanous Characters for the exterior and Exterminate Daleks for the interior.

Both of those bags were pretty much exactly as specified in the pattern, with the exclusion of the diagonal stripes on the exterior. With this third bag I did a few hacks, and I love how it turned out.

The changes I made:

Ramona BaseFirst, in constructing the outer bag, I didn’t like how thin the bottom of the bag was. The pattern says to cut two of the Bottom Panel (the oval bottom of the bag) from the lining fabric and two from the SF101 interfacing. After I cut and fused these piece, I didn’t like the look of the lining fabric used as the exterior base. So I cut a second Bottom Panel piece from the exterior fabric and the SF101, fusing them together. Now I had two interfaced Bottom Panel pieces, one in the interior (lining) fabric and one in the exterior fabric. I layered them with the exterior on the right side and quilted them together with an elliptical stitch. (Click on any photo to enlarge it and see the detail more clearly.) I love the look and I love the more substantial feel of this quilted bottom panel. (Note: I didn’t layer the bottoms of the interior, only the exterior.)

Ramona pocket and zipper pullNext, I wanted a more substantial bag than the others, so I used fusible foam interfacing along with the Pellon SF101 on the interior. I also wanted a zippered pocket on the inside, so cut a third Lining Bottom panel, a couple of inches shorter than the Lining Bottom panel pattern piece. I folded the cut top edge over about ⅜” and then folded it over again. I topstitched this folded edge onto one side of a zipper. I cut a 1″ strip of the lining fabric the same width as the “pocket” panel, turned each long edge under about ⅜” and topstitched this to the other side of the zipper. I aligned the pocket panel on top of the Lining Bottom panel and basted the side and bottom edges about ⅛” from the cut edges. Then I topstitched the top folded edge of the pocket to the Bottom Lining panel underneath it. These two pieces were then treated as one in continuing to construct the bag lining. (Clarification: I fused the SF101 to the Lining Bottom panel piece before deciding to add the foam. I cut a pattern piece from the foam, then trimmed ½” off each edge. I fused that onto the interfaced Lining Bottom panel, then fused yet another SF101 piece onto the Lining Bottom panel. So from the bottom of the sandwich I had: SF101, foam, SF101, fabric.)

Ramona labelAnother little personal touch comes from the new labels I had printed. “Jananza” is the name I use on my bags—this is what my new six-year-old granddaughter calls me. The second line of the label says, “Hand-crafted in Youngstown, Ohio.” This label was centered on the interior pocket, about an inch below the zipper. Note: The labels were created by Etsy vendor Mountain Street Arts. They are the small flat labels, style A.

Exterior zipper and pullAnd the final touch was to wire-wrap two furnace glass beads on a long head pin and attach them to the two zipper pulls. Note: If you’re not familiar with furnace glass beads, here’s an eBay search to give you ideas.

One step I had never noticed in the previous two makes was to topstitch the zipper. How on earth have I read those pattern instructions as many times as I have and never see this step?!

Strap loop     “Press all pieces away from the zipper (each Lining Top will be wrong sides together with Lining Bottom) and top stitch about 1/8” away from the seam through the Lining Top and Lining Bottom on both sides of the zipper.”

Now that I’ve seen the finished back with this topstitching in place, I realize how much that step adds to the stability of the bag. I’ll never skip that step again!

And one final note: The handbag I carry on a regular basis was designed by [Youngstown native] Nanette Lepore. As I was carrying this large bag crossbody today while slogging through Sam’s Club, I noticed the adjustable strap had a “strap loop,” much like a belt loop. It makes the adjustable strap easier to carry, with less chance of getting it inadvertently hooked on something you pass. (The photo only shows the back side of the loop. The pic of the front was blurred, and I refused to go back downstairs and reshoot it! The seam is on the back. It’s a 1.5″ or 2″ strip formed into a circle and handsewn.) I will definitely be adding a strap loop to the next adjustable strap I make.

My New Favorite Spot

IMG_3456I used to say the library in our house was my favorite place. It had the fewest hand-me-downs of any room, and had original art pieces hanging on the wall. Colors were coordinated; the feel in the room was of peace. Then we got an elliptical machine, which our bodies needed. But the peace and calm of the library was replaced by activity and the noise of a television to keep exercisers motivated.

A couple of summers ago we bought two window air conditioners. One was for use in the upstairs bedroom that we use as our TV/family room, the other was for our bedroom. The problem was there is a 2nd floor hallway that connects the two rooms to the bathroom. The door to the room that had the a/c running had to be kept closed. And at night, if we were running the a/c in our bedroom, Angel would stand outside and “knock” on the door with his paw until I got up and let him in. And then got up again to let him back out. (I sleep closest to the door, so of course it’s my job. And I am the one who adopted him.)

imageOne day this summer when the temperature was hovering around 96°, I had a bright idea. A very bright idea. I asked Jas what would happen if we hung a curtain at the edge of the hallway, where the stairs go down to the landing and turn to go the rest of the way down to the 1st floor. I wondered aloud if it would be possible to trap the cool air on the 2nd floor and not keep the bedroom door closed all night.

(My motive wasn’t just to give Angel access at will. When I get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, it would be nice not to be shocked by the hot air in the hall.)

imageSo after batting ideas around for several weeks, I started shopping. I measured the space between the two parallel walls in the hallway and came up with 96″. I measured the floor to the ceiling and came up with [something]. Then I went to Lowe’s and found a 96″ closet rod. I couldn’t find a curtain or even two matching curtains that would span the dimensions we needed, so I went to JoAnn’s. I wanted a tightly woven fabric that would keep the cool air trapped. I looked for a curtain ring that clips onto the curtain panel, but could find nothing that would fit the 1.25″ diameter rod. I looked at grommets and, although I thought the plastic looked kinda cheesy, I didn’t think anyone would be standing 4″ from them, trying to determine if they were metal or plastic. The grommets came in two sizes and three finishes, and the 1.56″ was perfect. Then I found cotton duck in an ecru shade, spent a minute or two with my iPhone calculator, and bought the fabric.

imageLooking at the grommets, I was scared I was going to need heavy duty equipment to attach them to the fabric panels, but once I got the two panels constructed – cut the full width of the fabric, leaving the selvedge as is (4″ hems with ½” turned under; two panels to cover the entire span) – and started reading the grommet instructions, marking, cutting and clicking in place with the palm of my hand, I was doing a major Happy Dance! These grommets are easy, even when attaching them to two layers of thick fabric.

Then we were ready for the hanging.

We held the rod in place and realized the space was wider than I thought. My brilliant handyman cut a spacer to make the rod just the right length for the space. The length was a fraction too short, but we made sure the bottom of the drape touched the floor and any gap was at the top. Y’know the old thing about heat rising?

imageThen we pulled the drape across and turned on both air conditioning units. Yesssss! The scheme is brilliant.

imageI shuffled around a couple of quilts, and folded over the railing a quilt I made for my younger son during his junior year of college. Monochromatics always feel restful to me, and this quilt in creams, beiges and browns against the ecru drape just pleases me. Every time I’m climbing the stairs and I take the 90° turn to finish the climb, I look at that display and smile.

It’s my new happy place.

Just in case you’d like a better look at the quilt, here it is after ex-DIL had shoved it away in a plastic bin in the attic for years. This photo was taken 18 months ago – I found it after weeks of searching, washed it, and hung it out in the glorious spring weather. Oh, and the binding is white musical notes on a cream background. Love it. Jiggety jig.

A Second Bag to Meet My Needs

Alice2frontA year ago I had started a new job and was overwhelmed carrying my iPad plus binders of music back and forth from home to school. I made a Swoon Patterns “Alice” bag out of music-themed fabric to keep everything together and manageable.

Sidenote: As I was pulling the Swoon link for “Alice,” I noticed it was a free pattern. If you’re thinking a bag like this would be fun to make, here’s a great way to start Swooning. There’s a private Facebook group you’ll want to join, as Swooners are really nice people and sewists who like to share their knowledge and excitement. You’re welcome.

Alice2frontpocketWhen I made my first musical “Alice,” I was three months into playing from an iPad. I use the ForScore app and was finding it very easy to manage all the repertoire for several voice students, plus the Opera Workshop class I accompanied, plus the opera chorus and the Young Artists program of Opera Western Reserve. Alice seemed to be the perfect bag. (The other benefit of playing from an iPad and using the AirTurn pedal is I no longer need a pageturner. My left foot controls the page turns. Very cool!)

I followed the instructions closely and was pleased with the result. (Here’s my post for Musical Alice I.) However, once I loaded it with all my needs, the first problem was the stitches on the diagonal handles starting to pop. The second problem was that the increased seam allowances on the lining—to encourage the lining not to pop out—caused the top of the bag not to lie flat, but rather to pull severely to the inside. I knew if I ever made the bag again I would just use ½” seam allowances all around.

Two days before the end of the spring semester, I was walking to class with all my gear when the handle broke free from the side seam. At that instant, plans for a new bag began.

I had a Alice2Melangecool subtle musical/French fabric called Melange (Westminster Fabrics, Eclectic Elements, designed by Tim Holtz).

Alice2baseA road trip to Tandy Leather in Cleveland yielded some pieces of leather on sale. One of those, in a taupe-y shade, was perfect for the base and handles.

To supplement the Melange and leather, I dug into my stash of hand-dyed quilting cottons, which I’ve collected since around 2000. While living in Tucson, I bought gorgeous hand-dyes from Desert Dyeworks (who appears not to be making and selling them any more, but one can always hope …) and from Janet A. Smith, who had a website at textileart(dot)com. Alas, that site is now inactive, and I can’t find out anything about Janet A. Smith, as I’d love to own more of her beautiful work. But …, I did find a Janet Jo Smith, who is also a hand-dyer. Her work appears to be just as beautiful as Janet A.’s was. Check out DyeSmithy.

Alice2pocketlabelIn my TextileArt hand-dyes stash, I had a gradation of greens that went beautifully with the Melange. I used it for the outside pocket, the inside pocket, and the inside and base panels. I believe I used three different shades from the gradation. I love it.

Okay, my oopses, to give you a few giggles:
1) When inserting the exterior pocket, I was so concerned with making sure the size was going to fit between where I wanted the straps/handles, that I forgot to edge-stitch the bottom curve of the opening before finishing the pocket. I found a cherished piece of hand-dyed embroidery floss in a lush shade of copper and hand sewed the edge-stitching—¼” down from the finished edge of the opening, ¼” stitches with ¼” between the stitches. It was a happy fix for me. (Click on the second picture above where you see the straps and the pocket opening. That will enlarge the picture so you can see the hand edge-stitching.)

The Alice pattern illustration for finishing the exterior pocket clearly shows the top curves.

The Alice pattern illustration for finishing the exterior pocket clearly shows the top curves.

2) I wanted vertical straps supporting the handles to give more stability to my weighty contents. I positioned the straps in the center of the curve along the top edge of the bag. When the exterior bottom and side panels were attached to the front and back panels, the straps were caught in those seams.
3) When sewing the curves on the exterior bottom, I accidentally had part of the seam allowance of the leather base tuck under and I sewed through it. If you haven’t sewn on leather yet, let me warn you—those needle holes never close up. (Thank you, Photoshop, for letting me hide the holes on the photographs.

Only three oopses, and one “I’m thrilled out of my mind”:
Alice2stitchingA local quilt store (LQS) in Warren, OH, went out of business recently. As the owner was liquidating all the contents of the store, I picked up a new sewing machine. (That would be #4 in my inventory.) I told her I was having trouble getting my 20yo Bernina 1630 to do the edgestitching on bags, which requires even stitches through between four and eight layers of fabric. She said the Elna 720 eXcellence she was selling from her classroom was the perfect machine for my needs.

Alice2strapmusicThe closer I got to the last steps in finishing the bag, the more excited I was about trying the Elna on the top edge. Hoo boy!!!! Am I a happy sewist?! Yes!! That Elna ran the needle right through all those layers as if they were butter. Of all the bags I’ve made over the past ten years, this is the best finishing edgestitch I’ve ever gotten.

Alice2strapI’m over the moon!!

And as one more sidenote, machine #5 joined my little family yesterday. A local woman (who also happens to be a musician and who has a daughter pursuing a master’s degree in French horn at the university where I work) was downsizing and selling her grandmother’s Singer Model 201. Her mother had made all her own coats and dresses on this machine, which several websites tout as the workhorse of the Singer line. It dates from around 1950 (a good year), and is now visiting the sewing machine hospital in Warren to get a full check-up. What I hear from the Facebook group I’m in of Swoon Bag aficionados is that these old machines—long pre-dating all the computer stuff that’s in the new machines—are unflinching when it comes to top-stitching. Can’t wait to bring it home and try it out.

I’ve enjoyed these last few sews. Does summer really have to end and school begin again??

A Carry-On for Me

Carryon Bag CollageThis summer has been filled with carry-on trips. My mother’s memorial service near Asheville, NC, required a Saturday morning flight down and a Sunday afternoon flight back with a knit dress, a pair of heeled sandals, and my cosmetic bag tucked into a carry-on bag. The next weekend I flew to Dallas on Friday afternoon and returned Sunday morning—another carry-on trip with the same knit dress and sandals so I could play a half hour of old hymns for my girlfriend’s husband’s memorial service. And a fleece jacket and closed toe shoes so I could watch my firstborn son play hockey. This was a great treat for me, my first game since he took up the sport about four years ago. ashI also got to meet and be scratched and bitten by his three-month-old kitten, Ash, who’s got a lot of learning to do about bonding with grandma! The next weekend was another short trip, a drive up to Lake Erie to attend a friend’s son’s wedding. A carry-on and a garment bag sufficed for that trip.

I’ve been getting a lot of use out of my Cleveland Orchestra Chorus backpack during these trips, but it’s not chic. And the space inside isn’t great. I wanted a me-made bag that I could tailor to my own needs.

I had had a couple of yards of Cotton + Steel/Moonlit/Tangrams in Indigo hanging around for over a year. I got it in a kit from Craftsy, but decided I really didn’t want to make the dress from that kit. Sometimes the fabrics you get from Craftsy are discounted so deeply you just can’t resist “investing.” (My son always scoffs when I call it investing. He doesn’t realize how much money he’ll make on the sewing yard sale after I die.) I looked at the size of each bag on the Swoon Patterns site, and decided Vivian, in the traveler size, was just the bag for me. My objective was to make this bag without a trip to JoAnn’s for any extra supplies. Alas, I needed navy zippers, so grudgingly made the trip and also stocked up on interfacing. But that was going to be the only trip. (Oh, stop laughing.)

IMG_3011I put in the zippered pocket, and it was the finest zippered pocket I had ever inserted into any bag. Until I looked at the pattern again and realized it belonged on the inside of the bag, not the outside. If my knees weren’t so riddled with arthritis, I would have kicked myself! (Really—just look at that zipper. Look at the topstitching. Now it’s got to hide on the inside of the bag.)

So after posting and asking for advice on the Swoon Patterns Facebook group, I decided I would use a solid navy for the exterior fabric and choose a color from the tangrams for belting for the straps and handles. I was looking for canvas, but JoAnn’s didn’t have navy canvas and the nice sales associate directed me to the 100% cotton duck. Perfect! Looking at the belting choices, I selected hot pink.

A wise shopper would have checked her hardware supply before leaving home, but I was obviously not having a wise week. When I got back home, I discovered I didn’t have any rectangle rings. But I did have some nice D-rings and snap hooks. So I made the straps with D-rings and put the snap hooks on the handles. I thought about putting a long adjustable shoulder strap on, but refused to make any more trips to JoAnn’s!

IMG_3012One other addition to the interior was also a mistake. As I was assembling the bag, I found one more pocket piece, but could find no reference to it in the instructions. It’s fortunate that the bag designer, Alicia, prints the names of each pattern on each pattern piece. I’ve got a new music tote bag, Alice, cut out, and one of her pattern pieces got mixed up with my Vivian pieces. (Holy Mother of Lost Needles, if I don’t clean up and organize my sewing space soon, I’m going to have to impose some sort of penalty!) So I had a lovely little patch pocket ready to go on the inside of Vivian, and decided to use a little leftover belting to hang a keyhook from the bottom of the patch pocket. I’m great at losing keys, and this way I can hook them in as soon as I get on the airport shuttle after parking my car and retrieve them a couple days later on the way back to the car. Brilliant! (I left the photo clickable so you could see the patch pocket—I don’t know why it’s sideways. But you can see it clearly!)

What dummy bought the wrong kind of zipper?

What dummy bought the wrong kind of zipper?

One more giggle for you about this construction project. You know how on your suitcases you can zip from either end of the zipper and if your pulls are together, the zipper is closed?
But isn't that a great amount of space when fully opened?!

But isn’t that a great amount of space when fully opened?!

Then when you move one of the pulls, the zipper is open between the pulls. I thought that was the kind of zipper I got. Nope. I have no idea how this zipper is intended to be used (probably a jacket—duh on me!).

This was my first experience with Alicia’s “drop-in” lining, and I was very impressed with how easy it was to attach. If you haven’t used any Swoon patterns before, I highly recommend them for the clear instructions. Many of you know I had a long career as a technical writer and legal writer and editor. Alicia is an expert at turning sew-ese into clear, easy-to-follow instructions.

IMG_3022So that’s the story of the riddled with oopses bag. I wasn’t sure about the cording as I was inserting it, but once it was in, I loved it. I will probably make my own on the next bag, rather than using a purchased product, but I think this looks pretty fine.

And the finished bag. My new Vivian will be put into use in two weeks when we head to Detroit to catch a Louis CK performance and do some exploring for the weekend.
Finished bag

Blessed Sewing Time!

Vogue 6136Finally! I was able to sneak fifteen minutes here and a half hour there over the past week and get a tunic top made, clearing one piece of yardage out of my stash. I’ve rescheduled my life for the next school year, and will have three weeks in a row mostly to myself in late July/early August, along with a two-day workweek throughout the school year. My goal for the summer is to reorganize my sewing room with a major declutter. But this accomplishment—the new top which I finished today—just whetted my appetite. That was sorely needed!

6136The pattern is Butterick 6136, another drapey, flowy tunic from Katherine Tilton’s marvelous brain and imagination.

The fabric is a rare acquisition from JoAnn’s. (Rare means I rarely buy fabric there—it doesn’t live up to my quality standards.) I really can’t even remember why I bought it. I must have had some event or trip that I wanted a new top for, and then it didn’t happen in time. It’s a rayon/lycra blend with what is referred to as a “wet hand.” I don’t really know how to define that for you, except to say it kinda feels like it’s wet when you touch it. I imagine I’ll get some comments here to clarify that. I love the colors in this print—black, brown, rust, deep red, and a touch of olive green or teal tucked in here and there. rustThe photo from JoAnn’s website does not show the colors well.

What should I have done differently. Well, this fabric has a lot of stretch. The pattern envelope wants the sewist to choose a knit with just over 25% stretch. Grab ahold of the fabric with your thumb and forefinger, hands held 4″ apart. Stretch the fabric. It should stretch another 1¼”. This fabric easily stretches three more inches. Walking backwards through the cobwebs of my mind, I remember the Stretch & Sew classes I took when my boys were two and four years old and I made all their little tee shirts and pull-on shorts. If your fabric has more stretch than the pattern calls for, you want to go down a size or two—depending on the amount of extra stretch.

With this pattern and this fabric, I should have cut a 14 instead of a 16. Because I didn’t, the tunic hangs loosely on me. I think that will just make it cooler in the few really hot days we have every summer. At least that’s how I’m going to justify what I did.

I actually made a 3″ box pleat in the middle of the back, around the bra line. It shouldn’t really show, as drapey as this fabric is, and it should pull out some of the excess.

(After writing all this and after dressing for dinner, I ran downstairs and took another 2″ out of the left and right side seams at about the line of the bottom of my bra. Better. Not perfect. But not so tent-like.)

And next time I’ll cut a smaller size.

But now I have a new top to wear out to dinner with friends tonight. And that makes me happy.