An Experiment for Me

I saw a tote bag somewhere on the internet early last week. Over the past months, I’ve been trying to decide on the best crossbody bag pattern for the vintage fabric my cousin’s wife, Diane, sent me with her request for three bags—one each for herself and her two sisters. But there are two pieces of fabric, and wouldn’t it be nice if I could give each woman two bags. The “Tourist Tote Bag” from Sew Many Creations grabbed my eye and my imagination. All the reviews and accounts of this pattern say it’s easy and quick. Several members of the Sew Many Creations fan group on Facebook said they could make the bag from start to finish in about four hours. There is no hardware and there are no pockets. Of course, I couldn’t make one without pockets, and I spent some time figuring out what pocket patterns to use, so it took me a little longer than four hours. And I’m short on dedicated time right now, so I finished it in snatches of time over the course of a week.

I dug into my stash and came up with an option that I liked:

Nadelstern “Duets”

Tula Pink Linework

Alison Glass Endpaper

Tula Pink Mineral

The exterior is Paula Nadelstern’s Duets in color Gold/Multi. I wanted a print I could pair with one of the cork fabrics that has been hanging around my sewing room for over two years. The cork is a deep rose—I don’t remember where I got it. I like Sara Lawson’s corks at the SewSweetness website and SallieTomato’s corks on that website. There are a couple of other reputable fabric stores that have good cork. But all too often, store owners go for a cheaper cork product and it doesn’t sew as well. The Duets fabric had some hot pink in the print that I really liked with the cork. I dug deeper into my stash for a black that would make nice straps for this bag. I came up with Tula Pink’s Fairy Flakes print in her Linework collection. The color is called Ink—it’s black. I loved the subtle gray birds and hearts and stars in this print. To make a bag strap, you cut a long strip 4″ wide, then fold each side in on itself to get a 1″ wide strip. So I wouldn’t get a lot of print on the strap, just little bits of gray here and there. For the front inner pocket, I chose a hot pink mesh from ByAnnie and a coordinating YKK bag zipper. And for the back pocket, I found an amber-colored #3 (dress) zipper and chose Tula Pink’s Mineral in Amber. I really love how that zipper pocket turned out.

These are the fabrics Diane sent me. Given the width of the elephant fabric, which is what I want to use for these totes, the widest I can cut the body is 17″ inches. I dug into my stash to find something to use for a test bag with 17″ wide panels. I cut the bottom (cork) 1″ shorter in height than the pattern measurement, and cut the top fabric 17″ wide and the bottom cork 17″ wide. Once the exterior was finished, I cut the lining to match those completed panels. Once the bag was completed, the bottom was almost square. I may try one more test bag with the dimensions above, the changing the cut-out corners to 2.5″ or 2″ rather than 3.5″. I believe that would make the bottom less square. Another alternative would be to simply multiply all the dimensions (except strap) by .87. That would give me the 17″ width and decrease everything else accordingly.

I added a hanging zippered mesh pocket to the back and a zipper pocket to the front. I had made a key leash, but forgot to sew it in the lining side seam like I had planned to do. I realized I could just sew it to the free-hanging mesh pocket without taking any seams apart. 👍

For my own use, I planned to carry my big iPad Pro and cords in the bag, with my page-turn pedal in the mesh pocket. But the squareness of the bottom won’t accommodate the iPad horizontally, and if I put it in vertically, the bag wants to tip over. (Working musician here, with all my sheet music on the iPad.) Maybe the NEXT test bag will be mine.

P.S. On the first day of YSU’s Dana Vocal Performance Clinic today, I carried the new bag with both my iPad and my MacBook Air inside, along with my pedal, music glasses (midrange to read the iPad on the Steinway music stand), phone, charging cords for USB-C and Lightning, Apple Pencil, a couple of masks, and my keys hanging from the key leash. I really liked the bag when carrying it today, but think I’ll like it better when I modify the boxed corners to be shorter so the big devices—normally just my iPad—won’t be so unstable inside. I did test carrying my pedal in the mesh pocket, but it didn’t lie easily on the bottom of the pocket, thus encouraging the bag to tip over. So I’ll just carry it loose, next to the devices.

Oh, wait, I have a bag I made just for that pedal. (You’re not surprised, are you?!) I can just stash it in the padded bag and drop that loose in the tote bag. That way I can find it easily. 👍👍

One thing I will add to the bag next time is a small mesh pocket next to the location of the key leash. Everyone with a car newer than, oh, 2016, has a key fob attached to the keyring with all their customer loyalty swipe cards and their house key(s). I didn’t like having to pull the big bunch of keys up from where it was resting on the bottom of the bag. If I give it a little cage to rest in, like dog lovers do with their fur babies, then I won’t accidentally set off the car alarm or other such silliness.

Blazingstar Bag Sewalong

Just finished: A new pattern from Sara Lawson of Sew Sweetness Patterns. She sponsored a sewalong for this wonderful new crossbody bag. The event took place over four weeks. I was late starting as we were in Texas visiting my Amarillo son and daughter-in-law in their new-to-them home, and then in Lewisville (northwest suburb of Dallas) with my elder son. After we returned, I was able to push through and finish the bag a few days before the end of the sewalong.

I don’t believe I’ve mentioned here that my 20-year-old granddaughter is living with us now while she’s job hunting. Once she’s back on her feet, I imagine she’ll find an apartment. But I’m sure enjoying having her here now. She’s very artistic and it’s been fun collaborating on bag fabrics. She’s quick to say she doesn’t think a particular companion fabric enhances the overall bag. I love her participation.

So, what do people do in a sewalong? The moderator, who happens to be one of the admins on the FB fan group for Sew Sweetness, studies the pattern and breaks it into logical groupings of steps, which are each assigned a week for completion. That way people who are working full-time, or have babies, or have a short attention span can sew along with the rest of us. There’s always someone online when you are who can throw you a lifeline if you get stuck. There is also a video available for each bag Sara designs, so visual learners have help to supplement the [very well] written instructions. (Says the former technical writer and legal writer and editor.)

The first week is assigned to preparation: cut out your pattern pieces, fuse or baste the interfacing to the fabrics, make sure you’ve got all the hardware and supplies you need, and read the pattern through. Then make the two zipper pockets where the pocket itself is hanging behind whatever fabric the zipper is sewn into. Finally, post a photo of the work you’ve accomplished that week to the Sew Sweetness blog post with that week’s assignments. The second week was twelve steps, which allowed you to make the mesh zipper pocket and assemble the front pocket—that oval-top insert on the front of the bag.. The third week took us through assembling the exterior of the bag and assembling the lining, a total of seven steps. And in week four there were nine steps, attaching the lining to the exterior and making and attaching the adjustable strap. When a large task is divided into bite-sized piece, it’s really no big deal to complete. (I’m sure Confucious could have said it better.)

The fabric I used is from Windham Fabric. The designer is Melanie Testa, and the collection is called Meadowlark. I first saw it in a quilt magazine several years ago and thought it was beautiful, so did some searching and found it in an online fabric store. I bought half a yard of each of these six prints. The three I used were the upper right grid (on the front pocket, the side gusset, and the zipper panels); the sorta hand-dyed-looking solid in the top row, center; and the floral print on the bottom left. What I was originally going to use instead of the grid was the abstract dots on the bottom center. And now that it’s all done, I’m happy that I listened to the voice of the artist. 💜

Do I like this bag? Yes, I absolutely love this bag, and love how easy it was to make. I do believe I will be making more of the Blazingstar Bag.

Llamas and a Lazy Girl Bag

I am aware that comments are turned off for this post. I’ve googled; I’ve toggled things on and off; I can’t figure it out. I don’t have time right now to call GoDaddy and get their help—I have music to learn for a week of work ahead. You’ll just have to remember those thoughts for a few days. 😊

The next pattern I tried in my seemingly never-ending crossbody quest was the Lexi Carryall from Joan Hawley’s “Lazy Girl Designs.” I believe I finished the bag the weekend of May 7. It was such a busy time with the final week of classes, then exams/juries week. And while I was snatching time from my schedule to work on this bag, I read on Facebook that Joan Hawley had died, suddenly, on May 3 of a brain bleed. This was the first of her patterns I had worked on in five or more years, and it just felt eerie to learn of her passing while I was working on one of her patterns.

[ I want you to see the other two patterns of hers that I’ve made, back when my grandchildren were in elementary school and I made teacher gifts at Christmas and at the end of each year. These are sweet little bags. If you make the first one carefully, stretching your brain, the rest will come together easily. Here’s the link to the Lazy Girl Designs pattern catalog. (It’s not set up to link directly to each pattern.) The two I’ve made are Sweetpea Pods and the Bendy Bag. Both are cool little bags, quick sews, and great gifts for teachers or your gal pals. A few days ago, I noticed the Casey Quick Cases, which should solve my problem of all the tiny holes in the front of my t-shirts and (horrors!) sweaters from hanging my beloved sharp little trimmer scissors around my neck! Or I could just remember to put the case back on the scissors when I’m finished trimming some threads. 😳 ]

Back to the Lexi Carryall. I chose this bag because of all the pockets. The fabric I chose is from Richloom Fabrics, from the line that they make to sell to JoAnn’s and other fabric stores (per my next-door neighbor, who designs for Richloom’s mobile home and RV collection). I found it on fabric .com several years ago and loved the llamas and the various cacti (having lived in Tucson for eight years). The fabric is a canvas weight. When I laid it out to cut, I noticed some marks that wouldn’t wipe off, so I threw it in the washer and dryer. It came out of the dryer looking a little less black—as if some of the surface dyes had rubbed off in the process. It just looks a little antiqued to me. But that does nothing to diminish what a nice bag it is. If I were using this or a similar dark fabric for home dec, I would just spray it with a fabric protector, e.g. Scotchgard®, and wipe it clean with a damp cloth. I finish all my bags that way.

I followed the pattern very closely. This was not a difficult bag to make, and turned out nicely. It uses fusible fleece for the interfacing on some of the pieces. It feels a little bulky to me, even before I’ve loaded any belongings in it. But I guess that means it will protect your glasses and phone well. Here’s a picture showing a 16.9 oz. water bottle inside to demonstrate the size of the finished bag. The dimensions are 9″ x 9″ x 2½”. This bag has a true boxed bottom—nice! However, I don’t think I’d want it for a travel bag because of the weight. I tend to like smaller bags with just enough room for my small card/cash zippered pouch, my phone, and a lipstick and pack of tissues. (But I also carry a larger handbag, which I throw my tiny crossbody into, pulling the tiny bag out when I want to go to dinner and just need the bare necessities.)

Fabrics: Richloom cotton canvas. There is no more on fabric .com, but I found some on Etsy. Here’s that link. I didn’t even consider it Christmas fabric, as lots of places in Tucson keep lights strung around their saguaros year ’round. But then, I’ve been known to be less than observant of things around me. 😲 Go to any online fabric store and search on “llama” and you’ll see lots of cute fabrics. This bag has the following fabric requirements: ⅔ yard Feature fabric for Front Zip Pocket and Back Slip Pocket; ⅔ yard for Adjustable Strap and Inside Pockets; ½ yard for Back of Bag and Front ip Pocket Lining; and ½ yard for the bag lining.

The pattern does not specify a magnetic snap on the back slip pocket, but I always carry my crossbody bags with the slip pocket next to my body to safeguard my phone and whatever else I’ve tucked in there. Once the back slip pocket was finished, I realized I wanted a snap there and dug into my stash of closures to find a ¾” black sew-in snap. I was glad I added that modification.

I used a black splotchy sorta mock-hand-dyed fabric for the piece that’s called the “front top” and for the back and the inside of the back slip pocket. I used another mock-hand-dye in the spring green for the lining of the front zip pocket, for the lining, and for the interior pockets. (I like my pocket linings to be light colors so I can find things.) So I used a total of three fabrics, plus two black handbag zippers You can use a zipper by the yard, or a 30″ or longer double-pull handbag zipper. (These are both size #5 zippers.) My hardware (two rectangle rings, two swivel hooks, and a slide for the adjustable strap) was Gunmetal to go with all the black.

If this is a “thing” for you, Joan’s instructions detail how to alter the construction techniques if you always wear your crossbody bag on your left side or always on your right side. You would want your zipper to pull from one side or the other depending on how you wear it. I am inconsistent, just throwing the strap over my head and whatever arm is available!

I think that’s everything. I love the fabric and think it’s a very cute bag. But this Bag Lady thinks it’s rated “not for me.” I doubt I’ll make it again. But a lot of people would love it, I believe.

Jan of All Trades

Today’s Me-Made item is something you don’t see often. It’s a sound-dampening blanket for an upright piano. The first picture shows it in use in Youngstown State University’s black box theatre, the Spotlight Theatre.

Blanket Front

When one plays for musical theatre productions or performances of singers who deal primarily in musical theatre, there is rarely the issue of an imbalance of sound between the piano and the singer. The singers are almost always fitted with a microphone that broadcasts their music through the house sound system. But when playing for classical music singers, they are usually not mic’d. They are taught to rely on their ability to project their voices rather than use the microphone to do that.

Blanket Back

This past Tuesday evening, I accompanied Adam Dominick, a lovely young man whom I accompanied pre-pandemic. As we were getting ready to come back in person to school in August of 2021, he asked if I would accompany him for his senior year lessons and his Senior Showcase, the capstone project that musical theatre students plan and perform. His Showcase was to be performed in a small theatre, so there was no need for him to be mic’d. But there was a need for me not to overwhelm his sound with mine.

When I knew how soft I’d have to play one song, his professor/vocal coach and I remembered the blanket I had started making in the spring of 2020. I knew right where it was hiding in my sewing room, dragged it out, and finished it during my spare time in a couple of days. We used it for dress rehearsal on Monday afternoon, and then for the performance on Tuesday night. Perfect! It did exactly what I wanted it to do, and looked fine while doing it. 😜

The fabric is 100% cotton in a quilt backing weight—a lightweight fabric that is 108″ wide. I cut the fabric the size of the piano back. I made a “quilt sandwich” with two or three layers of 100% cotton quilt batting and the front and back of the quilt. I did horizontal and vertical quilting in about 3″ blocks, then bound it with ½” straight-cut (not bias) binding. There were a number of pieces of Velcro®, the hook side, adhered to the top of the back of the piano. Rather than measure where these Velcro holders were placed and how long they were, I just took several long strips of Velcro, the loop side, and sewed them to the top binding, about ¼” from the top edge of the quilt. I butted their raw edges so I had one continuous strip. The blanket grabs those Velcro strips perfectly.

The finished dimensions are ~69¾” wide and ~43″ high.

It fits the back of the Boston upright piano perfectly, and gave us the balance we wanted between piano and singer.

Jan for the win!! 😇

This May Be It!

I may have found The Pattern for the bags for my cousin.

I’ve admired Noodlehead bag patterns for years, but have never made one. As I was reaching the end of my test bags for Diane, the wife of my cousin, Ken (link to the blog posts about the test bags) and taking one last pass through all the patterns of the indie bag pattern designers whose work I admire, I came upon Noodlehead’s Hillside Tote from designer Anna Graham, and realized it was the perfect candidate. And now, with the bag finished and having eyed it repeatedly for several weeks, I absolutely love it.

Why do I love thee? Let me count …. Where each of the test bags I made, written up in the link above, had some idiosyncracy or lack of a significant feature, there’s nothing about this bag that I don’t like.

I have a limited quantity of the vintage fabric to use. The Hillside uses a base fabric, and then a feature fabric for the exterior pockets. It will use less of the vintage fabric, enabling me to make more bags for Diane and her sisters, or to return the extra to her when I’m done, for whatever else she’d like to do with the leftover fabric. I like the exterior pockets—I like the magnetic snap closure on the wide slip pocket. The other is a slip pocket with topstitching vertically down the center to form two smaller pockets. If I were going to change anything about these pockets, I would make the divided pocket be a full zippered pocket. I may try that on one bag and see what I think. One of the fabrics I’ve ordered for the base fabric is waterproof, which I think could be nice.

I inserted the main zipper in the normal way I do on my Sew Sweetness bags, with a small piece of fabric enclosing the raw zipper ends. I like how that has come together.

I like the internal pockets—a nice big zippered pocket (which is my addition to the pattern) and a divided slip pocket, to which I’ve added a secondary small slip pocket that measures about 5½” by 3¾” and holds my proof-of-vaccination card and my driver’s license.

I love the hardware I chose, a gunmetal shade that I love with these fabrics. That, of course, is not a facet of the pattern. It’s just what I liked and am so glad that I chose.

And I totally love the double-sided strap. This is the Sew Sweetness video that Sara Lawson created to demonstrate a double-sided strap. I don’t know how many videos Sara has made since starting to design bag patterns, but she is excellent at explaining what she’s doing and how her bags go together. She gives her followers the knowledge they need to produce professional-looking bags. The skills she teaches on her YouTube channel (125k followers) and in her Facebook group (68.6k members) have enabled me to take most any bag pattern and successfully complete the project. And I do know that I’m writing about another designer’s bag, but the video is everything. There were a couple of places I could have used a video about the Hillside construction.

And finally, I love the base of the bag. If you have read all my other posts about the bags I tested, you’ll know that having a cleanly sewn base that enabled room for a small water bottle or a big sunglasses case was important to my choice. This, I think, is just a lovely base. You can see in this picture how the outside pockets are topstitched to the bottom of the sides. It just feels nice and secure. I don’t believe this is a bag that would ever be returned to the maker for repairs.

So, if you’ll excuse me now, I’m going to go down and take my first cut into the vintage fabric. It’s time!!