Thirty Days of Making: Lunch Bag

I’m in Day 17 of a short series: Thirty Days of Making. Every day for the next thirty days, I intend to make something, anything, that is in some way connected to school. There won’t always be pictures, and I reserve the right to credit myself for things that I help my kids make. But I’ve decided that I need thirty days of maker success and maker failure under my belt to be a better designer.

I’ve decided that artwork counts, but not writing (unless it’s part of the art, like calligraphy). Digital work counts, but it has to be useful or publishable.

Some days there will be pictures, some days there won’t be. Each blog entry will contain a list of some of the materials and tools, a quick review of the success or failure of the Making, and a reflection on what I think I learned from the endeavor.  (My friend Alicia is beginning a new series along these lines, 12 weeks of the Artist’s Way — I wish her well in her process, go check her out!).

Reason for the Project:

My sewing class students are finally starting to be able to work on their own.  And as a result, on Tuesday, I was able to cut fabric for a project of my own.  I’d noticed that a lot of kids had difficulty bringing their lunches to school — plastic bags, cloth bags, impromptu lunch containers, plastic tupperware, traditional lunch boxes.  Me too.  I have an ad hoc system myself, usually of three plastic hard-sided containers, and a loose round object like an avocado or an apple. Sometimes I have a thermos of coffee, too.  Time to end this mess.  I made myself a bag for my lunch.

Process and Result:

This project has been made over several days, and finished this morning (I needed to put lunch in it, right??).  Tuesday, my sewing kids were sufficiently self-sufficient that I was able to cut fabric for my project.  It’s a nice blue paisley fabric in an upholstery weight, with some ribbing on the back to help hold it together.  Yesterday, I had a chance to sew some of it, and this morning, I strung a drawstring ribbon through the top of the bag.

Thirty days of making: knots
from bottom: square knot, double-coin knot (or garrick bend), upper right bowline, upper left figure-eight knot.

It turns out that I have the perfect tool for doing this part, the ribbon for the drawstring, in my sewing kit.  It’s a little pair of tweezers with a pair of grabby hands at the ends, and a ring around the body of the tweezers for holding the grabby bits closed.  But I needed a skill in knot-tying to come together, and as it so happens there was a moment of serendipity recently that brought these skills to my attention.

Last Sunday night, I had a dream.  In the dream, I was teaching a child to sail. Once we were on a safe course, I was teaching this child knots: the square knot, the bowline, the double-coin knot (also called a Garrick bend), a figure eight knot, a half-hitch, a lark’s head with a toggle, and so on.  The kid was interested and a quick study.  Only, I woke and I realized I didn’t know those knots.  So I’ve been teaching them to myself using a book and some various videos online.   To string this drawstring, I used a bowline knot on the end of these locking tweezers, and I strung the tweezers through the tube of the drawstring around the top of the bag.  Then, I attached the ribbon to the tweezers’ business end, and pulled the thread wit the bowline in it back through the tube. The tweezers traveled back through the tube, back to the other end of the drawstring opening; and the bag was strung.  So I happened to be practicing

Thirty days of making: lunch bag I was in a bit of a rush this morning, so I forgot to take any process photographs. But the lunch bag served me quite well today on the table in the faculty room, where, as you can see, I fed myself with two plastic containers of veggies, an apple, and an avocado. There may have been some smoked salmon in there, too.

Just off the photo, on the right, is a set of bamboo flatware for eating lunch, that I’ve put into the bag.  I didn’t make the bag they came in; I just happened to own it already, and it fit with the bag quite nicely.  Now everything is together in the right place.

Reflection on my Learning

I’ve made other bags in this thirty days of learning: one for a crystal ball, and a whole series of smaller and larger ones for various purposes.

This one, though the making of it was spread over several days, involved using the same tools as the other bags: fabric, iron, ironing board, fabric scissors, thread, sewing machine.  But it took ten minutes, instead of over an hour. When I look at the amount of time that I spent genuinely working on this project, that’s what I think it took.  The course of working through the challenges of my shirt, I think, gave me a skill-boost.  In D&D terms, I had to make about sixty skill-checks to make my shirt.  To make this bag took one.  I spent more time unjamming the sewing machine half-way through the making, than I did in making the bag.  I spent more time fussing with the bowline knot on the tweezers than in pulling the drawstring through.

I genuinely think I’m getting more confident at problem-solving through this thirty days of making project.  Because I’m working on a lot of different kinds of problems, and then returning to my earlier work, the earlier work becomes easier.

Reflection on General Learning

How do I harness the power of the Thirty Days of Making challenge for my students?  How do I get them to make something every day for thirty days? It’s interrupted my homework-grading schedule.  It’s disrupted my life in unexpected, if not exactly undesirable, ways.  I’ve given this stuff priority at odd times when I should have been paying attention to other things.  And yet my own design process makes considerably more sense to me after running through it as many times as I have.

You need to make a lot of stuff, and finish a lot of projects, before the mindset of being a designer becomes both obvious and internalized.


Three of five stars.  I’ve done this before.  I’ve done it enough that it’s become easy.  There’s a level of mastery here, and a degree of confidence, that exists once one has done this kind of work often enough.  Call it a hundred hours of work with a sewing machine and other sewing tools? Probably not that much.  Once I make a shirt or two more, and maybe a pair of pants, this will be even easier.  In the meantime, bags are now apparently easy as pie.  Even the drawstring is a cinch.

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