When we were planning our summer camping trip with friends – a two-week road trip with two pretty-much-seven-year-olds – we got it in our heads that it would be fun to give the kids merit badges as they accomplish cool stuff over the course of the trip.
Which sparked the question of what the kids would do with their merit badges. Um, also I ordered a lot of them.
Their school backpacks have too many pockets and zippers to make them a good canvas for sewing badges onto, and anyway we suspect that once it’s time to go back to school they might not want their school bag to be covered in badges for things like playing frisbee golf or cooking with pie irons.
The obvious solution was to make them messenger bags for the trip. The flap would be the perfect canvas for sewing badges onto, and the bag would be great for beach-combing and finding all kinds of other treasures while we explore the world.
I’m not exactly an expert bag sewer, and my friend hadn’t sewn since she was in school, but we decided to go for it.
I picked up some olive-coloured cotton canvas fabric for the outside of the bag, and lightweight quilting cotton for the pockets and linings. My kid is bananas for baseball and my friend’s is similarly in love with soccer, so there you go.
We followed these instructions, with the following modifications:
- Downsized the bag to make it more appropriate for young kids:
- Finished size 9″w x 11″h x 3″d (it looks quite a bit narrower because the depth of the bag)
- Body and lining cut to 11″ x 23″ (sized for 1/2″ seam allowances instead of 1/4″)
- Flap and lining cut to 9″ x 12.5″
- No applique or other decoration on the flaps
- Slightly rounded flap corners for my kid’s bag (baseball); pointed corners for my friend’s kid’s (soccer)
- No inside pockets
- Outside pocket under the flap rather than on the back side of the bag that rests against your body when you wear it (this was as much due to not understanding from the instructions that the pocket wasn’t actually intended to go under the flap in the first place)
- Made an adjustable strap using these instructions instead of making the one-size strap in the bag instructions
This project took us way longer than we thought it would, but in the process she remembered how to use a sewing machine and I remembered why I don’t make more bags. In the end, though, we’re really happy with how they came out, and we hope the kids take to them, too.
This is the second project I made from this batch of handspun – the first handspun I’ve ever felt was ready to actually be made into something. (The other hat is the same, but smaller to fit my six-year-old.)
It’s a basic 80-stitch hat with a ribbed brim, and I used 4.5mm and 5.0mm needles to make it.
I’ll take it on our camping trip next month, so no need to wait till it gets cold this fall to wear it!
What’s your favourite thing to make with handspun yarn?
When my friend Lisa asked if I’d take a day-long bead-making workshop with her at the Terminal City Glass Co-op, I signed up without even reading the description of what we’d learn. I’ll sign up to try pretty much anything that requires protective gear, really.
I realized early on in the class that I’m going to have a complicated relationship with bead-making, because I’m not generally big on shiny things. Those beads in the photo above are samples our instructor had on hand. They’re amazing, hey?
Only thing is, I wouldn’t want them. You know? The complicated part, of course, is that making them is amazing. Which I discovered over the course of the day.
As anticipated, there was danger and intrigue, and protective eyewear.
(Yes, I was the one student in the class to burn herself. Go me!)
The setup was pretty awesome. Each student had a workstation around a huge metal table that sat under the biggest range hood I’ve ever seen.
Those colourful rods are glass. That’s what we melted to make beads. For real, it was incredible. And chemical!
Believe it or not, the burn did not happen while I was taking this photo with my left hand while I held glass to a blowtorch with my right.
That’s one of the first two beads I made. We all started working with black glass because, though you don’t see it here, it turns a very conspicuous red colour when it’s hot. Super easy to see what’s going on.
The metal rod that’s holding the bead is called a mandrel. Same idea as the thicker rods ring-makers use. The end is coated in dried clay slip, which, when washed away, leaves just enough wiggle room for the bead to come off the rod.
In addition to beads, we learned how to make thinner/finer rods of glass we can use to do detailed colourwork (like adding dots, etc.). We learned how to twist two colours together, too. I didn’t manage to do it right this time. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The beads needed to cure in a kiln for eight hours after the class ended, so I went back to the Co-op a couple of days later to pick up my beads.
First I had to soak the mandrels to loosen the slip enough that I could wash it away. Then I wiggled the beads loose, washed more slip away, and liberated those suckers from their metal prisons.
After that, I used a diamond-crusted tool to file more clay away from inside the bead holes.
Et voila! It’s almost impossible to think that this is the entirety of what I made during a seven-hour class. But I learned so much. Lisa and I will go back to the Co-op for sure (she already has, actually). This is not something I plan to ever do at home (OMG the safety precautions), and I’m so glad there’s a place where I can drop in on one of their two weekly Newbie Nights to see if I can’t make it to the point that I produce something even and lovely.
Have you ever made anything from glass? What do you do with what you make? Share links in the comments!
PS After the workshop, before I collapsed from exhaustion, I told the kid that I’d tried to make a heart-shaped bead, just for him, but that it came out looking more like a wonky apple. Still, when I showed him the beads, he claimed that one for himself. ❤️
Last weekend I had the house all to myself for two days, and I decided it was finally time to try sewing with knit fabric on my regular sewing machine. I’d read that it can be done. I’d bought some fabric on sale over months and months. I’d bookmarked a class on CreativeBug, and had even, ages ago, printed out the pattern for the Wanderlust Tee.
To be clear, I have only ever sewn two garments in my life: a robe for my son a few years ago, and a very wee pair of baby pants. I’m no garment-sewing expert is what I’m saying.
And though I’ve had fabric and a pattern for a simple shirt for years, I eventually realized that what I wear are t-shirts. Every day I wear one! Which is why I never got around to making clothes for myself out of woven fabrics. High time to just see if I could make a t-shirt, then.
Here, I’ll skip right to the end: I made myself three shirts over the weekend. And most of a fourth!
I was not speedy. At times, it was very slow-going and very tedious. But with each successive shirt, I worked a bit faster. With each successive shirt, I became more confident that I will make more (many, many more).
Now. Usually knit fabrics are sewn with a serger, which is a fancy kind of sewing machine that finishes and trims the edges of the fabric as you sew. (Don’t think I’m not thinking of stalking Craigslist for one now that I’ve broken the shirt-making seal.)
I’d heard rumours, though, that it’s doable to sew knits on a regular sewing machine. In fact, I read quite a lot about this as I nurtured my fantasy of making my own clothes while not actually making any clothes.
And I’ll tell ya, the rumours are true! Sure, using a serger would probably make the process faster and less tedious, but it’s not a required tool. And since even entry-level sergers can set you back more than a couple hundred bucks, I hereby encourage you to give it a shot using your regular machine.
Here’s the skinny of what I learned during my weekend knits-sewing intensive:
What I Learned Sewing Knits for the First Time Using My Regular Sewing Machine
- That cutting fabric around paper pattern pieces using a rotary cutter isn’t as terrifying as it looks when you’ve never done it before. Awkward? Certainly. But also efficient and satisfying. The very first shirt I made was the Wanderlust Tee by Fancy Tiger Crafts, and I followed their Creativebug class as I went. (The class gave me courage, but it wasn’t exactly filled with help. I still had to look up some things.)
- A walking foot is essential. I learned how to use a walking foot when I made a quilt a couple of years ago, and I’d read they’re very helpful when sewing with knits, because knits have a tendency to stretch and distort when moving through a standard sewing machine. A walking foot has feed dogs that walk on top of the fabric, coordinated with the feed dogs that walk below the fabric, so the fabric is fed through the machine evenly at top and bottom. It’s well worth the $30 or so for a walking foot – I had zero trouble with my fabric stretching while I sewed, because it was fed evenly through my machine. (These contraptions are a bit more complicated than other kinds of presser feet, so I recommend looking for a tutorial specific to your sewing machine to see how to install it. It’s not hard to do, but it’s not necessarily clear how to do it without instructions.)
- How to thread a twin needle (it’s not nearly as complicated as you might think!). A twin needle is exactly what it sounds like: two needles attached at a shaft so they fit into your machine just like a single needle does. And what they do is like magic! Each needle is threaded from its own spool, and when you sew, they create parallel lines of stitches on the right side, and a decorative configuration of stitches on the wrong side. If you position the needles on either side of the edge of a hem, they’ll tack down the edge on the wrong side. Even if you use a serger to sew knit pieces together, you’ll use a twin needle to finish the edges. The first few minutes of this YouTube video got me threading my twin needles lickety-split. (I still have no idea what she’s talking about re: putting one thread to the left of something-or-other and the other thread to the right. As far as I could tell, I can’t access whatever that thing is on my Elna machine, so I ignored that instruction. No big deal.)
- How to sew with a twin needle. It’s tricky, but totally doable. I mean, the sewing itself is not tricky; it’s exactly the same as sewing with a single needle. What’s tricky is sewing a hem down with the right side of the fabric facing. Since you can’t actually see the edge of the hem, because it’s folded to the wrong side, this is an exercise in sewing by feel and having faith you measured properly. I know I rarely measure properly, so I had to focus hard on feeling for the hem edge. I bought both a 2mm and 4mm twin needle when I was preparing to sew with knits, not having any idea what the measurement was of. Turns out, that’s the measurement of the distance between the needles – so go for the biggest number you can find! I found 4mm a challenge, for sure, but I managed it. I sewed slowly and used my index fingers to keep track of the edge of the hem by feel. I was about 95% accurate, and I fudged the 5% where I missed the edge.
- To use awesome fabric. This is a lesson I’ve learned over time with yarn – I used to be tempted to save my most gorgeous yarn for something special, and what ended up happening was that I’d never use it. How dumb! I always encourage beginner crocheters to choose yarn they love, even though what they’ll make with it will probably be a total disaster. Making total disasters is what beginners are supposed to do! Which makes those disasters absolutely perfect. And we should make them with materials we enjoy using. So for my shirts, I used fabric I’ve been hoarding for a while because I bought it on sale for someday-maybe. The first shirt I made this weekend (shown in the photo above) is far more cropped than anything I’d normally wear. But I only had one yard of that fabric, and I love that fabric, and it was exactly the right amount to make a cropped shirt. So I went for it. I knew I might mess it up and ruin the fabric I love so much, but I decided I would rather mess up with fabric I was excited about than end up with a perfect shirt I wouldn’t actually want to wear. So a cropped shirt I made. And I love it. My hems aren’t sewn straight (I never sew straight, so whatever), and the bottom is a little too wide, but I just love it. I wore it immediately, layered over a long tank top. Which is how I’ve become someone who wears a cropped shirt.
- I made one Wanderlust Tee and almost three One Hour Tops. Had I realized how much simpler the One Hour Top is than the Tee, I would have started with it! But I’m glad I had the experience of sewing set-in sleeves. I wasn’t sure I was doing it right, but I did do it right! Still, the One Hour Tee is more my style, and I’m determined to make enough of them that I become able to actually make one in only an hour.
- The neck band on the Wanderlust Tee utterly defeated me. I was completely unable to make it work. So I ditched it and just folded the neckline 1/2″ to the wrong side and finished it that way (same as the cuffs and hemline).
- Always use a zig-zag stitch for sewing knit fabrics – it’ll allow the seams to stretch along with the fabric (and a straight stitch won’t).
- Finishing the edges (sleeve cuffs, hemline, neckline) was the part I enjoyed least. Not because of the twin needle (which produces a stretchy stitch – don’t sew a zig-zag with a twin needle!). It was that pressing knits is a pain, especially with lighter-weight fabric. The crease you make isn’t nearly as distinct or persistent as it is when you use woven fabrics, and I found myself winging it more than I would have liked.
- But who cares. Wing it!
When I posted a photo of my first tee over on Instagram, I asked which t-shirt patterns people love. Here are the recommendations commenters made:
Note: Some links in this post are affiliate links.