Little Viking Bags, finished 

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I used a lucet today to make three cords for these three Viking bags — appropriate for dice or for runes, or small stones. Lined but unpadded inside. One of the bags is spoken for, but the other two are up for grabs.

The Viking Bag is not a komebukuro.  This is a piece of fabric — the row of marching vikings, with the wave-band and the red and white stripes — sewn in a round around a base fabric, and then given a lining of brown cloth stitched with a drawstring tube.  The new cord, in a persimmon-dyed merino wool is pulled through the tube and finished with a wooden bead (or unfinished, in the other one).

One will go up for sale on my Etsy site next week. Probably the other one as well. Do I hear any bids?

Sewing: buttonholes

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Buttonholes. Does anything drive a tailor or seamstress (seamster?) as crazy as a buttonhole? Especially if you dont have the special foot attachement for your sewing machine? I don’t think so.

My first button ‘hole’…. HA!

Only a zipper comes close to the level of annoyance that a buttonhole possesses. A button hole is literally a hole in the fabric.  If a button hole hasn’t been made properly, the fabric will unravel and shred quite easily. Before long, the bag will come completely undone. Bye-bye bag.

And yet, the other challenge of button holes is that they are the last part of the project that must be done.  They’re the most challenging work, and the most visible, and the most susceptible to inaccuracy, and the most likely errors to be noticed, and the most likely errors to result in the critical failure of the whole finished object.

That is to say, adding a button hole to an amateur project is most likely to make the project either…

  •  A) amateur, or
  • B) ruined.

My fourth and fifth …

So of course it was time for me to tackle the challenge of a button hole. Fortunately, I had a ready-made project that needed button holes: the Komebukuro or Japanese rice bag made of eight squares of fabric.

A Komebukuro has eight button holes. Technically, they’re not button holes. There are two holes in each of the side walls of a Komebukuro, and a cord is woven in and out of them to pull the bag shut.  So, the beginner looks upon these eight holes as eight perfect opportunities to ruin the whole bag, and puts in an internal drawstring, instead.

Or… one can look at it as eight opportunities to master another aspect of one’s craft.

My seventh and eighth button holes

My first button hole was terrible. First of all it was not a frame of sewn edges.  It was a garbled mass of threads that didn’t look anything like a hole at all. The Ted and fourth (not pictured) were garbled and not really square or even obviously rectangular.   My fourth and fifth were heavy handed: a lot of thread and bunched fabric.  Not very pretty at all. But they were recognizably better.   The seventh was square.  By the eighth buttonhole, I was… still not a master. But the hole was recognizably a button hole.  Maybe a bit large, but still a buttonhole.

The finished Komebukuro is not as elegant as I’d like.  I think I should have used a cord, as is traditional, rather than a ribbon. And it’s a little small for a lunch box or lunch bag.  But expanding the size of the squares from 7″ to 10″ should take care of that problem.  Don’t you think?

In a program to teach sewing, the Komebukuro should occupy pride of place.  It teaches button-holes, straight sewing, pinning, measuring, measured cutting, the basics of the idea of quilting based in mathematics, and both straight stitches and top stitches.  With colored or patterned fabrics, it can also be used to teach pattern matching and right-sides-together protocols.  In other words, it’s a nice complement to some of the other beginner’s sewing projects I’ve proposed here.  But it’s also clearly the work of a master, as well.

Someone who’s mastered button holes, for example.  Which I promptly used to help make the Viking dice bags.

Komebukuro variant

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The Komebukuro form lends itself well to a lot of variation. The squares can be made into rectangles, as here, to create a longer or rather taller bag. As shown here, the Japanese rice bag is simply two sets of vie squares — a base and four sides. The bag sides are sewn to the base, four straight stitches. Then you sew the four sides to each other, one edge at a time. the result is sort of a box or five-sixths of a cube; you could add a zipper and a lid fairly easily to this design, really.

In the photographs here, I’ve shown as best I can what I’m talking about. The gray fabric in the middle is the BASE of the bag, while the floral print in gray are the sides of the bag. I’ve laid out the fabric of the liner in all floral print, while the outside of the bag has a single white panel where I can write my name, or the name of the person the bag is for.  Embroidery could be done here, for someone who was particularly ambitious.

Seven inches appears to be a good size for the Komebukuro. You can get a lot larger than that, of course.  You can also get a lot smaller, but there’s a point of diminishing returns under about five inches on a side for the squares that make up the base and sides of the bag.  I also don’t tank I’d want to go much larger than a foot on a side.  More than that would be unwieldy, and you’d be better off with two or more bags.

Back to construction…


Once the two boxes of the inner and outer bag are made, they are nested, and the top edges are folded down and in between the two bags. We then top-stitch the seam between them. As ive discussed elsewhere, the last step as the sewing of the eight buttonholes.

There’s a picture, here, of the outer shell of the bag already assembled, but still inside-out. This is to show inside-out construction. When building a bag, the fabrics are sewn right sides together. This puts the seam on what will eventually be the inside or in-between space of the bag, between the liner and the shell.

Then you sew in the button holes.  Each side of the bag is now two panels of fabric, the shell and the liner. Each of those panels takes two buttonholes, which are maybe 3/4″ down from the top edge of the bag, and evenly spaced on the bag’s walls, about a try of the way in from the corner.  The corners of the bag’s open top should be fairly visible.  Threading a cord or a ribbon through the buttonholes creates the closure mechanism, but also creates a carrying strap.

My sense of this is that it’s fairly easy to vary the size of the squares into rectangles. But the square that forms the bottom or base is fairly rigid. You can’t alter that from a square too much without unbalancing the bag as a whole, I think.

This would look stunning in indigo-dyed fabrics, or with Japanese embroidery patterns done on the outside of the bag (doing them on the liner would create all sorts of things for your keys or other objects inside to get hung up on; stick to the outside).  Many of those patterns are based in triangular geometry, so there is some real potential for elaborate, hands-on mathematics here.

My mother has made several of these bags, without the button holes or cording, to use as trash cans for her art studio. Paper and beads and parts that can be recycled go in one of the bags; while trash goes in another. They’re prettier than regular trash cans, and collapsible. She can fold them up and put them away when they’re not in use.

I may have to make some of my own for that.

All in all, I think I’m going to make a lot of these, both with with and without cording, in a number of sizes.  They’re a good size for kids’ lunch bags, for example, or for an art kit for the car, or for portable storage of related items while camping. I think I’m going to try making some in 10″ and maybe 14″ sizes, but I think that a shoulder bag or something like that will work better as another project for teaching sewing for school books.

 

Costume: Jedi, sorta

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I made two Jedi costumes before Christmas-time, as Christmas presents for my cousin’s kids.  I also made a couple of books of secrets that also serve as journals for the older children.  I thought it was a nice division, between silly costume stuff and serious secret stuff.  It should have been a nice division, right?

img_2763Turns out, one of the kids that got a book, wanted a Jedi knight costume too.

So, I spent today with my patterns out, and some white fabric, making another Jedi tunic in a size XXS, and working up another djellaba-style cloak to go with it, both out of fairly simple cotton fabric.  Easy.

The Jedi Tunic is part of the costume pattern set that comes with Simplicity 5840.  They don’t call it A Jedi tunic, but from the way that the characters stand, and the accessories (shoulder armor, cloaks), it’s kind of clear that they’re supposed to be Jedi without violating trademarks and copyrights.

This is not a particularly difficult pattern to make. The ‘front’ is two panels, the back is one panel, each sleeve is one piece.  And then there’s a band around the neck and front and back that is two slips of fabric sewn into one long strip, and then double-folded.  None of the sewing is anything more complicated than straight-seam sewing.  Even the hemming is not difficult with a sewing machine.

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The belt is five pieces, including a strip of interfacing.   I added some decorative stitching to the front panel of the belt.

The cloak pattern with Simplicity 5840 is fabric-heavy, though.  Takes seven to eight yards to assemble properly. That’s a lot of fabric to ask a kid to haul around for playtime.  And it winds up being expensive, too.  So I made some adjustments.

The first adjustment I made was to switch from a European cloak pattern to a more-Middle Eastern pattern which in some forms is called a djellaba.  My grandfather came back from a business trip to Saudi in the 1950s or early 1960s wearing a djellaba, which I now own — a bit of ancestor work every time I put it on.

The djellaba is either a very wide piece of fabric with both ends folded into the center, and sewn along one edge; or folding the fabric end to end, cutting a hole in the middle for the neck and head, slicing down the middle of one side to create the open front, and sewing the selvages shut except for wrist holes.  Which is what I did here — it uses less fabric, it’s less weighty and elaborate than a full-circle European cloak with sleeves, and it’s probably more useful for playtime for kids.

Graphic Design From Templates

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I’m in the process of designing a three-fold brochure: three columns on a page, back-to-back.  The easiest thing, of course, is to use an existing template: pre-chosen fonts, pre-chosen colors, pre-set areas of text, pre-selected spaces for images.  The choice then becomes simply a matter of creating text and choosing images.  Most of the difficult work — of choosing color, font, typographical unity, flourishes, and so on has already been done.  You write the text that fits your brochure (and you can’t write any more than fits in the template, so you know when you’re done).  You pick pictures or images or graphics that fill the pages appropriately, and work with the concepts that you’re trying to get across to your audience (and if there are spots for twelve pictures, you’re not going to be throwing in fourteen apostles and an extra Last Supper).  The template sets the boundaries, and no more shall come of this.

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But then what?

How do you introduce your own levels and layers of uniqueness? How do you make the brochure your own? Is it made your own, just because it has your pictures, your text in it? Do you have to tweak it further for it to be yours? Should you make adjustments to the font or color scheme?  Should you do as the web-publishing industry suggests, publish and revise (more likely, publish and forget?).

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-3-35-13-pmI don’t know that there are good answers to these questions, but I’m wrestling with them now. Mostly, this brochure is an existing template, unmodified by color or font or layout; it’s just my text and images plugged in where they appear to fit.

But it’s funny. I can see so many of my projects on display on these pages, all of which have taught me important skills, like how to build an Adirondack chair, or how to sew a little medieval-style belt pouch, or my work on the CNC milling machine, or the yarn-winder, or some of my bookbinding work.

Are you a reader of this blog?  A teacher? A librarian?  Interested in what I’m doing?  Willing to help me proofread, edit, and revise my new brochure?  Leave me a comment with your email address — I’ll send you a copy.  You can tell me what you think.

Baby Quilts

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This is the first time I’ve ever made quilts in sewing work (I try to avoid typing “sewer”, because you as the reader never know how to pronounce that, I’d I’d rather you thought of me as someone who sews rather than something that transports filth).

img_2312I’ve been making a pair of baby quilts for two friends of mine (technically two pairs of friends), who have recently had babies. The first blanket has already gone to the loving home of the happy but tired parents; the second will probably be delivered this weekend.  These quilts had their origins in two rolls of fabric squares that I bought at IKEA several years ago, and only found again while packing up my things to move.  These fabrics are normally used for quilts — bright colors, interesting patterns, natural materials… and already cut in squares.  Perfect!

Quilt assembly is not particularly complicated. Straight seams work, mostly — sew five or six squares together to form a column; sew five or six columns; sew the columns together in rows; press the seams flat regularly; trim/pink with shears periodically.

img_2316The quilt front is then paired with a parallel back panel, usually a single sheet of fabric. Between them is a panel of a material called ‘batting’ — a dense felt of natural cotton or wool intended to serve as a warming layer.

These three layers are then quilted together.  Quilting, technically, is the name given to the process of stitching these three layers of fabric together; the ornamental squares on the top, the batting i the middle, and the backing fabric on the bottom.  Some quilting patterns get very fancy; vines and leaves and roses and wings are not uncommon.  My quilting was simply big squares, following the rough outlines of the squares of the front side of the quilt.

img_2319I ran into my share of challenges. At one point, the timing of my sewing machine came undone. This is probably the most serious set of troubles a sewing machine can have. Fortunately, the YouTube provided me with a set of guidelines and how-to videos on how to fix the timing. Replacing the needle, as well, provided additional help. The two quilts challenged the limits of my thirty (maybe forty-)year old sewing machine, as the layers became thicker. I had a lot of occasions when I had to cut and rip stitches out, and replace them.

img_2320But…  Gradually, things did come together. First of all, someone introduced me to pre-made quilt binding. The edges of a quilt have to be ‘bound’ with a tape of some kind, usually fabric of a solid color that’s been fed through a bias-tape maker, a little device that nominally takes a narrow strip of fabric and folds it in on itself twice to make a sort of tube that clamps around the sides of the three layers of fabric that make up the main body of the quilt. The bias tape hides the interior guts of the quilt, and finishes the edges.

I had never wanted to make a quilt before, because the task of making the quilt binding for the edge seemed so daunting. But then someone told me that you can buy pre-made quilt binding. What a revelation! It made everything so much easier! Instead of fumbling with the stupid little doohickey, I could just spend my time pinning the bias tape (also called quilt binding), and sew!
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I finished the second quilt with this gray quilt binding that you see at the right.  And that quilt is now done — this funny, bright, crazy color of the front side, and this red vine pattern with gray binding on the edges to complete the quilt.

Done.  Two quilts, something like four or five days of partial effort.  A lot of straight seams, a lot of planning and thinking and a fair bit of seam-ripping and cursing.  Quilts, especially the first two, do not come easily.

img_2381But neither are they particularly hard, either. I mean, there’s one long (long) seam for the quilt binding/bias tape. There’s (in this second case) eleven straight seams from one side of the quilt to the other, six in one direction and five in the other. There’s a number of crazy seams in assembling the blocks of the front side of the quilt — but even there, the quilt is six squares by five squares: that means there are five seams in each row of six, and four in each column of five. Even allowing for some seam-ripping and errata, there’s something like thirty seams, all straight, in the front side of a baby quilt of simple squares.

And simply put, it’s magic. This will keep a baby warm through the winter, possibly for several years.  IT will pass into a family’s treasured heirlooms after a while; or maybe get passed on to another family, to keep another infant warm for thirty months; and then another.  It will cycle through the wash numerous times, becoming softer and more flexible and useful.  It will ever bear the marks of its hand-made-ness, an expression of practical love and care and concern.

And it is well within the capacities of the average Maker program to teach a group of students to churn out three or four quilts a year — and the students will learn to sew, besides keeping infants warm and parents less concerned.

Stole

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It’s been a sewing machine kind of day. I’m in the process of trying to use up a number of materials from my stash of fabric and trim, and this means completing a certain number of projects that I’ve had in the queue for a while.

priestly stole

 In this case, what’s on tap is a priest’s stole.  A priest’s stole is a ribbon of fabric draped around the neck. Sometimes it’s got decoration on it. sometimes it’s very plain. It has a color assigned or designated by the season of the year.  A friend of mine had wanted me to make her ordination stole, but the date was too soon and the calendar was too rough at he time. I couldn’t produce the stole in the a,punt of time that was provided.  

At least, that’s what I told myself.  In practice I could have done so.  This stole took me a couple of hours, and that was only because I read the directions obsessively. Next time it will take me an hour and a half.  Maybe less. 

Because a stole isn’t really a ribbon around the neck.  It’s really a bag.  It’s four pieces of fabric stitched together left side to  right side front and back, and then front side and back side stitched together.  The result is a long, skinny bag, or maybe a tube. As I said, not very complicated.  

And so my friend will have her stole.  Not on time for her ordination, perhaps.  But probably in time for All Souls Day.  And that will be lovely. 

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