Remembering Travel

Now that we’re five months into staying at home because of COVID-19, any memory of travel is precious. We don’t want to get on a plane or walk through an airport or even travel by car longer than two hours (y’know, because of the need for bathroom stops). In mid-May, the travel trailer rental site RVshare had reported a 1,000% increase in travel trailer bookings since April, as cited by the Boston Globe.

Week 1 – the materials are gathered.

I have to admit that my idea of roughing it involves a Marriott hotel, any Marriott hotel. I’ve tented before. I’ve camped in a pop-up trailer before. I didn’t love those vacations. If I have to walk more than, say, fifteen feet in the middle of the night to get to a bathroom, I’m not going to be quick to sign on for that activity. But I know a great fabric print when I see it!

Besides, I’d rather stay home with my sewing machines.

Week 2 – pattern pieces cut out and interfacing fused.

My nextdoor neighbor is a textile designer for Richloom Fabrics, and works primarily with the RV and manufactured housing market. When she has extra samples of her textile designs, she graciously walks across the backyard and feeds my stash of bag-making fabrics.

I had seen this cool travel trailer print on fabric.com and fell in love with it the moment I saw it, having no idea that she had designed it. The next time she brought me a stack of samples, there were the travel trailers, right on top of the stack. I swooned. I couldn’t wait to find the perfect bag pattern and cut into it.

Week 3 – Pockets inserted and zipper panels sewn, ready for insertion.

My previous blog post documented the sewalong I participated in with fellow lovers of Sew Sweetness bag patterns. Once I signed up to participate, I knew this would be the perfect use for the travel trailer fabric.

The pictures accompanying this post were taken to coincide with the various stages of the sewalong. The first week, we gathered the pattern, fabrics, and notions (thread, zippers). The second week, we cut out the pattern pieces and fused the interfacing. If any quilting of fabrics was to be done, it would be done before cutting. The third week’s assignment was to make the interior zippered pockets and prepare the main closure zipper for insertion by sewing on the zipper panels. If we wanted any extra pockets on the bag, now was the time to plan and create those. During the fourth week, we sewed the sides and bottoms and then finished the bag.

(See the previous post for an example of quilted side panels.) (If you’re on Instagram, you can explore the tags #clydebanktote or #clydebanktotesewalong for more examples of this great tote pattern.)

The “good” pocket. 😊

The Clydebank Tote is a free pattern. It comes in two sizes—small – 9-1/2” long x 14” tall x 3” wide (24cm x 35.5cm x 7.6cm), and large – 13” long x 21-1/4” tall x 5” wide (33cm x 54cm x 12.7cm). I made the large for both my bags, and I could hardly fit it in my big photo cube to take the pictures. It has a million uses. You can even sew the handles front to back instead of side to side; it could be hooked over a wheelchair handle, or with added VELCRO® fasteners, hooked to a stroller or walker. Depending on your fabric choices, the large size could be a beach bag, an everything-you-need-for-a-road-trip bag, or could carry a lightweight sewing machine to a class, once those resume.

Week 4 – Bottoms and sides of the exterior and the lining constructed. Purse feet installed on the bottom.

What do I wish I had done differently in the construction of this bag? Well, those little zippered pockets. Rather than order another 14″ zipper for two interior zippered pockets the pattern specifies, I decided to use two of the shorter zippers I had purchased in Bali two years ago. What I ended up with was downsized pockets that are hard to get your fingers into. What can they be used for? I think a lipstick and a lip balm; your change, to keep it from getting lost in your wallet; your driver’s license and other ID and a credit card, and a few bills, for when you don’t want to take your entire wallet along; and so on. Honestly, when I realized how small those pockets turned out, I should have stopped right there, ordered another zipper, and done the pockets as suggested. Live and learn!

There are two important points about patterns designed by Sara Lawson: 1) She records instruction videos for all her patterns. If you are a visual learner, it’s absolutely worth any extra charge to have her video nearby while you’re sewing. 2) Sara knows how to write pattern instruction sheets. I had a long career as a technical writer; I know fine writing designed to help laypersons conquer a task. This is fine writing!

The fabrics and notions I used:

  • Richloom Fabrics upholstery fabric featuring travel trailers, from their RV and Manufactured Housing line;
  • Cork fabric for the exterior side panels, purchased from Sew Sweetness. I’ve purchased cork fabric from a number of different retailers, and the cork that Sara Lawson stocks on her Sew Sweetness site beats all the others, hands down. It’s like sewing butter, and does not crack (as many cork fabrics do). If you want cork, go to Sara’s site. (I believe this Coral is what I purchased, but it may have been the Candy Red or Brick. I just don’t remember.);
  • Lining: Moda Grunge Basics from their GrungeGray line, the color is Maple Sugar. Search Etsy; most stockists are sold out.
  • Foam interfacing is Soft & Stable from byAnnie. Sara also stocks it on Sew Sweetness.
  • YKK zippers. I like ZipIt on Etsy or Sew Sweetness or byAnnie.
  • Purse feet from JoAnn’s.

I have a little more of this great travel trailer print, and will be making some small zippered pouches as soon as I get some relief from mask making.

You can always check my Etsy site to see what’s the latest hot-off-my-sewing-machine item.

Thanks for reading.


Clydebank Tote Photo Gallery

An Hour Here, An Hour There

Those hours add up. Pretty soon you’re talking about a whole bag! (Photo: the front of the large Clydebank Tote from Sew Sweetness sewing patterns.) Link to Clydebank Tote pattern.

Large Clydebank back with slip pocket to hold my phone next to my body for safety. The bottom is folded here for a better photo.

I’m been making mask after mask. But before you envision thousands of masks flying out of my sewing room, let me admit that I make rather complicated masks, and each one takes a couple of hours to make, so I’m lucky to “crank out” three a day! And when people see my pictures of them, they ask me to make them one. Note to self: stop posting mask photos on FB and IG!

So what did I make when I took a break? If you follow my blog, you know I’m a big fan of the bag patterns designed by Sara Lawson under the name Sew Sweetness. Sara is a brilliant and incredibly generous designer. She makes wonderful bags that she sells, but she also makes available some very nice free bag patterns.

The top zipper panel. The zipper extends beyond the side of the bag, making it easy to access everything inside.

Sara hosted a book group a year ago, featuring novels about sewing. One of the books was set in the town of Clydebank in England, and Sara released the Clydebank Tote about the time that book was being reviewed. The bag did not appeal to me at that time. I saw everyone’s Clydebank Tote photos, but just felt I didn’t need to hop on that bandwagon.

Open bag, showing lining. Zippered pockets on the front and back of the lining.

Now we’re in a pandemic, and people who have never sewn before are hauling their grandma’s old machine out of the attic or going to JoAnn’s and buying a new machine to make masks for those in need. My friend, Donna, who kills all the dust bunnies in my house, decided she would learn to use her husband’s industrial sewing machine and make masks for all the employees at the Sparkle grocery store where a relative works.

During this pandemic time, the moderator of the Sew Sweetness Facebook group decided to start a sew-along for people to make the Clydebank Tote. She knew many people had lost jobs and income, and thought a free pattern would allow everyone who wanted to to participate without having to buy a pattern. We would work together virtually, helping each other out when we got stuck on the bag construction. At about this time, Donna told me she was enjoying sewing so much that she wanted to find something else to sew when she was done with masks. I immediately thought, “Clydebank sew-along!”

So, even though I hadn’t initially been attracted to this bag, I told Donna about it and we both signed up.

The pattern is designed for you to be able to use a different fabric on the side panels. Many people use the fabulous relatively new cork fabric that is imported from Portugal. Others use leather or vinyl. I had lots of this Bali batik, so decided to just quilt some of the batik to the foam that is used in the construction to make a sturdier tote. I love how that looks. My second bag uses cork for the side panels.

Fast-forward four weeks and I’ll confess that I L*O*V*E this bag. I made the large size – actually I’m making two of them. I’m using this bag to move some fabrics out of my stash. I don’t know if I’ll give it away, offer it in exchange for a donation to the local fod bank, or put it on Etsy to sell. But I certainly have enjoyed making the bag. More photos will follow as I finished the second bag.

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