Long Weeks of Maskmaking

We went into self-isolation on March 16. This time has meant three things to me: 1) Because of the lag time in transmitting sound over the internet when using Zoom or FaceTime or a similar app, I can no longer accompany my “musical theatre kids;” 2) I’m playing a lot of piano anyway, as I started recording a song each day and posting it on Facebook and Instagram; and 3) I’m making a whole lot of masks, because it needs to be done.

I have not yet gotten to donating masks to hospitals and other healthcare institutions, because friends keep asking me to make masks for them. I’ve read dozens of mask patterns, as I want to make the best and most protective masks possible, and each pattern is just a little different than the previous one.

My standard has become three layers of 100% cotton—high quality quilting cottons—plus one layer of non-woven interfacing that has filtering capabilities. I use ties rather than elastic, as I’m hearing from wearers that elastic hurts their ears with extended wearing. And I include a filter pocket, into which wearers can tuck a paper towel or a filter material or a thin (unscented) panty liner to provide more filtering.

One of the first masks I made. Simple. Easy to make.

The benefit for me is that I’m getting to decrease the size of my fabric stash. I’ve been inadvertently collecting fabric for twenty years. I never set out to be a fabric hoarder. It just kind of happens. I see a cute print or a pretty fabric and think, “Oh, I can you that in ….”

Another technique I’ve learned, as the next photo shows, is to use a different fabric for the back, preferably a lighter color fabric. This enables the wearer to know which side has been exposed to the public, if they’re going to take it off and then put it back on again before washing. Some patterns suggest using flannel for the inside, the side which will touch the face, because of its softness. But many wearers—especially health care providers who might wear the masks for hours at a time—comment that the flannel makes the mask hot with extended wear.

The back of the previous mask.

Another benefit? Several of the friends I’ve made masks for leave a bottle of Chardonnay waiting for me on the front porch when I drop off their masks. Nice exchange.

Sometimes I get tired of making masks. Every day, getting dressed and heading to the basement. I wish for the time to just make what I want to make, a garment or a bag. But then another person asks me if I can make them a mask, and I can’t say “no.” Many of the people who are asking are immunocompromised, and I feel it’s most important for them to have a mask, and to have it as soon as possible. So I keep sewing.

One lady, with whom I became friends when we sang together in the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, asked if I could make several masks for her husband, who is a physician. They have three small children at home and are so worried about his being able to stay safe during this terrible time. He went right to the top of my whiteboard list. Some people must get priority.

And so it continues. Stores are reopening. People are being encouraged to wear masks. A few states—not enough—are mandating mask-wearing. And I fear it will be months before a vaccine is developed. So I, along with all my thousands of brother and sister mask-makers, keep on keeping on.

Please wear a mask.
Please stay home as much as possible.
Please stay safe.


More Masks

Happy Birthday to Jill!

One of my closest friends during the second half of the eight years I lived in Tucson was a wonderful woman named Jill. We’ve kept in touch since I left, and occasionally she appears in my dreams and I wake thinking I need to go back for a visit.

Last week, in the midst of the COVID-19 self-isolation, I picked up a birthday card for her during a frantic grocery run. When I got home, I realized the envelope was not with the card. There was no way I was going back to the grocery store, into that anxiety-filled pandemonium. The solution was simple: I needed to make a little bag for her birthday.

But the bag needed to be made completely from my stash. My stash of fabric, hardware, thread, and zipper pull charms. Luckily, there’s no shortage of any of those items in my sewing space!

My friend, MaryLou, hand-dyes the fabric that she uses to make her stunning quilts. You’ve seen her work before in my posts, here and, recently, here. I have a large container filled with this shibori, all in gentle, lovely shades.

I have not made the Sew Sweetness Persimmon Dumpling Pouch before, but have had the pattern pieces cut out, ready for the fabric inspiration or occasion to spur me on to make it. This was the perfect occasion!

I cut out the strips for the piecing of the sides of the bag and laid them out on my cutting table before FaceTiming my sewing partner in Oregon. We moved strips around and discussed the pros and cons of various combinations. Once we decided on the best mixture of these lovely fabrics, I sewed the strips together and texted her the final result. Yummo! MaryLou does such beautiful shibori, and I totally loved these fabrics together.

Next, I needed to add a lower fabric to the front and back. I looked through my stash of cork fabric and chose one that was a deep blue with turquoise accents. I really like it, but cork fabrics are not all created equal. I’ve had problems with cork flaking after being folded and sewn, as with this bag. This particular cork looked like it might flake, so I took some blue and green fabric paint, mixed it together, and carefully brushed it onto the folded edge of the fabric. I let it sit overnight, and I stewed about it every time I woke overnight. When I woke in the morning, I knew the solution was to get rid of the cork and find some other fabric to substitute. I found a hand-dyed pink cotton, sort of bubble gum pink, that I thought went great with the pieced front, especially since the zipper I had chosen was a lovely deep pink. And when I finished sewing the panels on the front and back, I was very pleased. It was bright and happy, just like Jill. 😊

I hadn’t been sure what I wanted to use for the lining until I saw the finished front and back. I dipped back into MaryLou’s castoffs and found a bright pink/hyperpale pink piece large enough to cut the lining pieces, and before I knew it, the bag was finished. I grabbed the last of Emmaline’s “Handcrafted” zipper pull charms from my hardware stash, and it was picture time. And then time to sit and wait for the shipped package to arrive in Tucson.

And last night an email arrived telling me the bag was beautiful. I’m so glad she thinks so. All that effort could not have been expended on a nicer person. 💖


Pattern: Sew Sweetness Persimmon Dumpling Pouch
Fabrics: MaryLou Alexander, not available for purchase
Accent Fabric: Hand-dyed cotton from an unremembered vendor in Tucson, sitting in my stash for 18 years.
Zipper: Etsy Vendor, Zipit
Zipper pull: EmmalineBags.com

It’s All About the Fabric

I made a bag for my friend Ellen’s Whovian daughter, Esther, three-and-a-half (!!!) years ago. Ellen and I had lunch a couple of weeks ago and she told me Esther’s bag was worn out from being loved to death. She asked if I could make the same bag again for Esther. The fabric I used for the first bag was an “Exploding Tardis” print. I had just a little Tardis fabric left over from the previous make and wondered what bag pattern would work with that amount of fabric. I settled on the Greta Wristlet Clutch from Teresa Lucio Designs, available on Bluprint (formerly Craftsy).

But Ellen was specific in Esther’s loving the Ramona Mini Hipster bag—the size, the style—that I had made before. She also mentioned that Esther is also currently into Harry Potter Ravenclaw. So I searched for some Ravenclaw fabric, and when it arrived, started a Ramona.

My granddaughter, Celeste, was spending a few hours in the sewing room with me, and I used these bags to give her some bagmaking education. Then we went into COVID-19 self-isolation mode. (I’ve seen it referred to as isewlation.😊) I suddenly had lots of time on my hands and was able to finish both these bags quickly.

Esther will get two bags instead of one!

I don’t really have much to say in a review of either of these patterns. I basically followed the pattern as is, or made minor changes based on earlier versions. I have made the Greta before, but seem not to have blogged about it. As I recall, my sister adopted the earlier bag. Note the zipper pull charm in this photo. That “Handcrafted” charm comes from Emmaline Bags in Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada. She has “Handcrafted” and “Handmade” charms, along with the tiny clips if you make your own charms. She’s very easy to deal with—shipping only takes a couple of extra days to arrive.

I used fusible fleece on both these bags, as I know a phone will be carried inside and I wanted it to be protected if the bag was dropped. On the Greta, I did not use the large eyelet, choosing instead to attach a D-ring to the side of the bag where the zipper pull is when the bag is closed. In my mind, that would keep the contents away from the zipper opening and prevent their falling all over the floor when the bag was opened.

And that’s my sewing from week one. Stay sane. Stay healthy. Check my Facebook or Instagram feed, where I’m posting videos that will make you feel you’re in the Nordstrom stores of the 90s, when every store had a piano. Or like you’re in a piano bar. Enjoy!


Esther’s Bags Photo Gallery

A New Tote for a New Niece

When I found my half-sister, Debbie, back in March of 2016, when she was 80 and I was 65, I was welcomed with open arms by her entire extended family. I flew to northern Arizona six weeks later to meet Debbie face-to-face, and also got to meet both her daughters. Cindy, who is about seven years younger than I, lives with her mom. Cathy, about five years younger than Cindy, who lived in Orange County, CA, at that time, drove to Arizona that Saturday to spend Mother’s Day with her mom and sister. A year later, Cathy’s daughter and her husband moved to Medina, OH, for his work, and they graciously invited my partner and myself to join them for holiday gatherings. Another year later I met Cindy’s daughter, who had just returned from her missionary posting in Kosovo. Somewhere in there I was able to meet Debbie’s son, Bill, and his wife, who live near Plymouth, MA. But the rest of the family just became Facebook acquaintances because of the distance. One person with whom I have formed a close online friendship is Cindy’s daughter-in-law, Renée, who lives with her family outside of Waco, TX, on acreage where they garden and keep chickens and an enormous pig named Petunia. (Don’t you love.love.love that name?!!!!)

And so begins the story of the new tote for the new niece.

Renée’s “sad old bag”

In mid-January, Renée posted a sad picture on Facebook, saying “My lined canvas tote bag is nearly dead and I dread finding a new one I love nearly as much.” I responded that I know a bag maker. 😊 That response spurred a conversation about what she likes and needs in a bag. She nearly always wears black (who does that sound like?); she wants the bag to indicate her support of the LBGTQ community, so some rainbows would be nice; she needs a zippered pocket for prescription bottles; she likes to clip her keys into the bag so she can find them easily; and so on. We settled on an exterior zippered pocket, an interior zippered pocket, and a slip pocket (a small, flat, rectangular pocket into which one can slip cards or bills or other small items) and an approximate size. Renée and her four kids and her husband (my half-sister’s grandson) arrived in Ohio over the weekend and I drove the 75 minutes from Youngstown to Medina yesterday to deliver the bag. The exterior fabric is a sturdy black waxed cotton. The interior is “Rainbow Graffiti Stripe” from the Buzzin’ Around collection by Kim Schaefer for Andover Fabrics, treated with OdiCoat to make it waterproof. When the bag gets dirty, she only need wipe up spills and stains with a damp cloth. The hardware is all black. Zippers are rainbow stripe by-the-yard zippers. Pockets are all lined with something bright. 🥰 Don’t you love this bag?

<Techie discussion on>
The dimensions of Renée’s “sad old bag” were 16″ wide (left to right), 12″ tall (bottom to top), and 4″ deep (front to back). She wanted something a couple of inches larger in all dimensions. My objective was 18″ tall, 14″ wide, and 4″ deep. There are two ways to get depth in a bag. One is to have a front and back, and then sides and a bottom that match the depth measurement you want. Say I have a front that’s 10″ tall and 10″ wide and I want it to be 2″ deep. I would either make a bottom that’s 2″ wide and 10″ long. Then I would have two side panels that were 10″ tall and 2″ wide. The side panels would be sewn to the front and back panels along the 10″ side. The bottom panel would be sewn to the front and back on the 10″ sides and to the side panel along the 2″ sides. (Note: seam allowances would have to be added to all dimensions before cutting out the fabric. Another way to achieve the same result is to have two side/bottom panels that measure 15″ tall and 2″ wide. You would join those two panels along one 2″ seam allowance, give you a 2″ wide strip that’s 30″ long. You would then sew the strip to the left side, bottom side, and right side of the front and back panels. After all that sewing, you’ll have a “box” that’s 10″ tall and 10″ wide, with a depth of 2″.

The other way, which I prefer, but is harder to visualize, is “boxing” the bottom of the bag. This is accomplished most easily by cutting a square out of the two bottom corners of the flat front and back pieces. The sides and bottom are sewn, ignoring those cut-out squares. Then the corners are opened up, making the bottom seam and the side seam “kiss.” Sew diagonally across the bag, joining those two raw edges, which now form a straight line with the kissing seams in the center. When that is done and you turn the bag right-side out, you have a “box” similar to the results of the sewing in the previous paragraph. To me, it’s an easier method. When you sew the side panels to the front and bottom panels of the first method, you cannot sew all the way to the end of the seam. If you have a ½” seam allowance, you sew the ½” seam down to exactly half an inch from the end of the seam. Then you remove the bag from the sewing machine and refold your pieces, sewing the bottom from ½” in from one side to ½” in from the opposite side. And then repeat the refolding and sewing up the side from ½” in to the end of the seam at the top edge. It’s very tricky, where the boxing method just has you sew a diagonal seam across the bottom corners.
<Techie discussion off>

Anyway, I visualized the bag, I drew the amateurish illustration, and I cut the fabric. I inserted the exterior zippered pouch, using a zipper-by-the-yard for the first time. And when I clipped the sides and bottom together to see how it looked, I realized my math was faulty and it was nowhere near as tall as Renée wanted the finished bag to be. So I cut two strips of the rainbow fabric about 1½” wide and as long as the front and back pieces were wide. I cut two more strips of the waxed cotton several inches tall and the same width as the front and back pieces and sandwiched and seamed them together at the top raw edge, leaving a cool little strip of the rainbow stripe protruding from that joining seam. I love the look!

Now, about the interior. Another goal for this bag was that it be very sturdy and easy to clean. I treated this beautiful rainbow stripe fabric with Odicoat, which is a waterproofing solution. The instructions are to apply three coats (north/south; east/west; and diagonal) to the fabric, allowing at least an hour of drying time between each coat, then let it sit and cure for at least 24 hours before heat-setting with an iron, placing a non-stick pressing cloth on the fabric before ironing. (Here’s a video from Sara Lawson of Sew Sweetness on the use of Odicoat.) Odicoat gives the fabric a shiny, plastic-feeling finish, which is waterproof. It’s ideal for cosmetic cases, or for bags that need to be easy to clean because they’re going to get lots and lots of use.

I made each of the pockets out of bright scraps of fabric. One was a turquoise batik with lighter turquoise dots; another was a purple and violet dotted ombré, so that the back of the pocket is darker than the front of the pocket; and the slip pocket is lined with a bright lime solid. It’s like there’s a little secret surprise in each pocket.

The side of the interior had a D-ring protruding about midway down one seam. As do I, Renée has a swivel hook on her key ring. She can hook her keys to the inside of the bag when she gets out of the car, and be able to easily find them without digging when her shopping trip is finished.

The adjustable crossbody strap is about 54″ long and can be shortened to about 30″ if she just wants to sling it over her shoulder. It’s a nylon webbing rather than fabric, again aiming for longevity and strength.

So what were the final dimensions? When standing up on its flat bottom, it’s 15″ tall and 8″ wide at the bottom. The boxed corners are about 5&half”, making the bottom surface a 5&half” x 8″ rectangle. If you were to lay the empty bag down on its side on a flat surface and measure it, it would be almost 18″ tall. The important part is the volume—it can hold 660 in3 or about .38 ft3.

My greatest happiness about this bag is that I was able to gather up all I’ve learned about bagmaking over the past two+ years and put it all together in a bag that came out of my brain. To me, that’s something!

[Note: When I put the bag in my studio box to take photos, every spot of dust or thread on that waxed cotton shone! If you want to see what it looks like in normal light, notice the final photo above, that Jas took in our bedroom with the bag positioned near the north-facing window. Not as bad as the well-lighted photos!]

[Enquiring Minds Want to Know: I almost forgot to give you the details.
Exterior fabric: 9.4 oz Waxed Cotton in Black – link as of 3/9/2020
Lining fabric: Stripe Rainbow from the Buzzin Around collection by Kim Schaefer for Andover – link as of 3/9/20
Zipper Pull Charm: I love these “Handcrafted” charms from Emmaline Bags in British Columbia. Much of my hardware also comes from Emmaline.
Odicoat waterproofing: Available on Amazon.
Zippers-by-the-yard: Zippers in black with rainbow coil. Gunmetal rectangular drop pull.]

Handmade Fabric, Handmade Bag

The first person Jas introduced me to after we met was one of his closest friends, a woman who shibori-dyed fabrics and made beautiful contemporary art quilts from those fabrics. Her creations are pretty stunning, as you can see if you check out her portfolio.

She and her husband invited us to dinner at their beautiful home this past Saturday night. She graciously told us just to bring wine, as she knows that I do not pride myself in my cooking. So I knew I had to make something.

A number of years ago, when cleaning out her studio to move from one type of dyeing to another, and gave me several containers of her scraps. Oh My Gosh! These are exquisite fabrics. I dip into this precious stash whenever a group of our friends are getting together and I want to give them little bags. So that’s exactly what I did on Friday morning. I made the best kind of hostest gift—something I made from something you made.

I came across a new-to-me bag pattern on Instagram recently that I wanted to try. It’s Svetlana Sotak’s Sotak Handmade line and is called the Elliott Pouch. You can find this pattern, along with all her beautiful bag patterns here in her Etsy shop. See more Insta photos of Elliott Pouches that other sewists have made.

I finished the bag at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday. We were set to leave for their home at 6:15 that evening, and I had a ton of practicing to do throughout the day. So I wanted to quickly throw the pictures up on Instagram, but I didn’t want her to happen across the photo.

So I texted her to please not go on Instagram during the day, unless she wanted to spoil her surprise. She knows the calibre of sewing I do, and couldn’t wait to see the bag she knew she would be receiving. When we walked into her home that night, tissue-wrapped bag in my hand, she wrapped me in a hug and said, “Thank you. Thank you.” I knew what she had done, and it made me smile.

She loved the bag. And took it with her on Sunday to a meeting of an artists’ group she belongs to in Cleveland. She texted me that evening, “I took [my beautiful bag] to my group today and they absolutely drooled!”

Happy me!