Tote Bags

 

Two new bags, with one I made a while back in the middle.

I feel like tote bags are becoming my signature item. A month or so ago I made four of them, and then two days ago I finished another two. I’d started those last two before Christmas, and then left them in Australia. Now I’ve left Korea and I’m back home, so I could finally get them finished.

I absolutely love these tote bags, they’re so practical and sturdy, and leave a lot of room to play with prints. They also make great gifts. Of the eight tote bags I’ve made in total, only two of them were for me.

I won’t say too much about the construction, because I’ve already blogged about the first two I made (the leafy ones), and they’re pretty much exactly the same, except that the denim and cactus ones have slightly different dimensions. For those, they’re an inch narrower, and the base is an inch (half an inch?) shorter. The straps are also an inch shorter, because I’m a bit short and they were coming too close to dragging on the ground. I did the corners 3″ in along the bottom seams.

the pieces laid out for construction

The two denim ones are for some male friends of mine. I used dark denim for the base and straps, and a lighter denim for the main body. Both bags have classic caramel-coloured top stitching. All the fabric for these is from Dongdaemun Market in Seoul.

a peak at the tropical lining

Friend A is a great artist, and I made his in exchange for a drawing. He picked out the fabrics, including the lining, which I really love. The panel piece had six squares of different tropical prints– leaves, flowers, pineapples, flamingoes. For the internal pocket, I used a yellow zipper. I usually do Xs on the straps at the top of the body, for extra strength, but on one of them I did an A for his name. A little personalized detail which makes me smile. The total effect is perfect– the bag is fairly simple and masculine on the outside, and fun and flamboyant on the inside. Just like my friend! He’s really happy with it, and takes it everywhere– huge success.

Friend B’s bag is a bit simpler, with plain unbleached canvas for the lining. It also has a yellow zipper for a little splash of color. There’s a seam down the centre of one of the main body pieces, because I didn’t have enough fabric to do it in one piece. I thought it added a bit of interest, and emphasized it with top stitching.

the bag for Friend B

When Friend A said he wanted denim on denim for his bag, it made me think of Friend B, who was infamous in uni for rocking the “Canadian Tuxedo” look. I like making these bags in pairs, so it was pretty perfect to just make another with the same main fabrics. He doesn’t know he’s getting it yet (the chances of him reading this blog are very, very low)– I hope he likes it!

The next two I made using black 9 oz. duck canvas from fabric.com for the straps and base, and cactus print canvas from Miss Matatabi (sold out) for the main body. I made one for a close Korean friend who was so helpful to   Me while I lived there, and one for myself. They’re identical except that mine has a join on the back piece of one of the straps, because I was low on fabric. It’s not noticeable at all because it’s on the part that’s stitched down along the body. Plain unbleached canvas for the lining, and black for the zippers. My friend seemed happy with hers, and I’m very happy with mine– before, I constantly used my leafy tote, but now this is my go-to bag. The leafy tote was designed for my parents (Dad has completely taken over their one and uses it a lot!), this one feels more “me”.

with my recently made Papercut Patterns Clover blouse

The last two totes used 7 oz. hunter green duck canvas from fabric.com for the base, 9 oz. brown duck canvas for the straps, and “Robobear” printed canvas from Miss Matatabi (sold out) for the main body. Miss Matatabi really is my favourite source for printed canvas. The lining is also unbleached canvas from the market in Seoul. These two are for my parents, to take to our family holiday house–named Bear Camp– in the California redwood forest. These were meant to be Christmas presents, but better late than never!

Our cat Bitey approves.

 

Denim Brumby

Megan Nielsen Patters Brumby Skirt

Didn’t notice that my top was twisted and showing a strap on my swimmers… oops!

I find it really hard to get excited about sewing basics. With my love of colorful prints, the idea of sewing a plain denim skirt feels excessively dull. However, my love of colorful prints is a bit problematic for my goal of an entirely me-made wardrobe…I’m definitely not cool enough to pull off the clashing prints look, so I need to occasionally suck it up and sew some basic, versatile separates. That’s exactly what I did here, and it wasn’t nearly as dull as I’d feared. Somehow this plain denim skirt turned out to be really satisfying!

It probably helps that the pattern itself isn’t all that plain. It’s version 1 of the Brumby Skirt by Megan Nielsen Patterns. It’s a gathered skirt with large curved hip pockets, a wide waistband, and top stitching. I particularly love the pockets. I think they make the skirt interesting despite the ultra-boring fabric, a mid-weight medium-colored mystery denim from Dongdaemun Market in Seoul. I can’t wait to make another Brumby, I’m thinking I’ll use a Liberty Lawn that I’ve been hoarding for a while.

denim Megan Nielsen Brumby Skirt

Top AND skirt are twisted… sigh. One day I’ll get this whole photo-taking thing right!

Size-wise, I had to make some adjustments… Which brings me to my only gripe about Megan Nielsen Patterns. My waist is currently about 35 inches. This puts me at the second biggest size for By Hand London and Grainline Studio, and between the third and second biggest (standard) sizes for Colette. For Sewaholic, I’m the biggest of their old sizes, but they’re releasing their new patterns with two sizes which are bigger than that. I am well aware that I am at the upper end of the size chart for most indie patterns… But For Megan Nielsen Patterns, I don’t even fit on the chart! Their biggest size, XL, is for a 34″ waist. I don’t know why their size range is more limited than some other major indie brands, but I think it’s a shame. These are beautifully designed, beautifully packaged, and great quality patterns. Given that so many sew-ers are on the plump side (dissatisfaction with RTW patterns is what drives a lot of us to sew in the first place!), I imagine there are a lot of ladies out there who would love to use these patterns, given the chance!

Denim Megan Nielsen Brumby Skirt

Feeling good about my new skirt, in my classroom at school. Forgive the rumpled hem, I’d been sitting on it all day!

Very fortunately for me, my waist is only a little bigger than the XL measurement, and my hips are actually a little smaller. This means that it was no problem getting the Brumby skirt to work for me. As it’s a gathered skirt, all I had to do was sew the waistband with a smaller side seam allowance. By using a 1/4 inch seam allowance here rather than 5/8, I got that extra inch I needed. I also sewed the skirt side seams with a 1/2 inch allowance, although that wasn’t really necessary. I own a copy of the Tania Culottes pattern, and I’m really looking forward to making them. I’m expecting that I’ll be able to get around the size issue in the same way.

Construction went smoothly, for the most part. I used the new Megan Nielsen Patterns App, and it was so handy! I don’t think I even looked at the printed instructions. As there are three different variations, the app made it super quick to locate the information I needed.

The only hitches came with the invisible zipper. On the app, for Step 6 for the zipper, it shows the wrong side of the fabric where it should show the right side– that messed with my head! I looked it up online and figured it out. I ended up top stitching the zipper down, rather than do it according to the instructions, because it was easier and faster.

The other problem with the zipper is that it ended up being way too low! I think I gathered too close to the seam, and so my measurements were off. But also, it says to mark out a 10″ box for the zipper… But with a 9″ zipper and a 5/8″ seam allowance on the waistband, doesn’t that leave it 3/8″ too short? It’s not a problem I’ve seen others mention, so I guess there must be something I’m not understanding, but I can’t figure it out.


So for whatever reasons, my zipper came up way too short. Because inserting it involved a cut, I couldn’t just rip it out and sew it higher. What to do? Well, I remembered seeing someone making a tab to cover this same problem. Unfortunately I can’t remember where I saw it, or whether it was also a Brumby skirt. It seemed like a good idea, so I did the same. It’s stitched down on one side of the zipper, and on the other it attaches with sew-in snaps. I’m just going to pretend it’s not there to cover a stuff up, and call it a design feature. Saved!

Improvised solution to my problematic zipper insertion

It was my first time doing contrast topstitching. I used a caramel colored topstitching thread, it’s like the classic denim topstitching color. I feel like it gives the skirt a really finished look… As long as you don’t look too closely at my wonky stitches! My seam ripper definitely got some action there.

For hemming, I turned it up 1.5″ instead of 2.5″, and this ended up being the perfect length for me. I’m only a bit under 5’3, so if you’re much taller, it might be a little short if you follow the directions (depending on your inclinations!). Personally, I’m certainly not one to avoid showing a bit of skin, but I wanted it to be something I’m comfortable wearing to work. I’m an elementary school ESL teacher, and I definitely don’t want to be giving the kiddies a flash of my undies whenever I bend over a desk!


I rather frantically finished this skirt just in time to take it on a trip. Literally completed 25 minutes before I had to run out the door, and I hadn’t packed yet. It was a scramble, but worth it. My friend and I went to a Korean island called Ulleungdo. It’s a pain to get to, but absolutely gorgeous, and we had a lovely time. I enjoyed wearing my new skirt there, It’s always nice having something new to wear on vacation!

Hiking on Ulleungdo , and island in the East Sea of South Korea

One of the ports on Ulleungdo. The main business here is squid, those are all squid boats. At night, you can see their lights out at sea.