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Quick Belt

April 30th, 2010 No comments

When I made Vogue 1088 recently, I wasn’t very happy with the belt I used in the photos.  It was one I picked up for next to nothing because it was the easiest way to buy a buckle to play with.  It’s some kind of vinyl, with a pearly sheen.  (Maybe it’s supposed to look metallic?)  Here it is on the dress:

The metal buckle was all wrong (and so was the vinyl), but I kind of liked this style of belt with this dress, though, so I combined some faux linen and a rectangular plastic buckle I got at M&J, and came up with this:

(Whoops –normally that button would be, well, actually buttoned.  My bad.)

It couldn’t have been easier:  I cut the fabric to the length and width I wanted, angling one end (and adding a seam allowance, of course); chose a light interfacing with some body; stitched it all together, leaving one end open; edgestitched; closed the straight end, wrapped it around the buckle’s center bar; stitched the end down, and that was it.

I really like it on the dress, and I love the shape of this buckle, but I wish it were, say, enameled wood or even just a better quality plastic.  It’ll do for now, though, and the belt is just as comfortable to wear as the dress is.

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TSA-Friendly Belt

April 27th, 2010 2 comments

Ah, TSA.  How you’ve changed our lives.  How difficult you’ve made it to travel in normal, human, clothing.  For an upcoming trip, I am wearing a t-shirt tunic and leggings on the plane because that will get me through screening more expeditiously than anything else, and because, after surviving the horror that is the modern airport, I want to feel comfortable once I’m in that tin tube.

I’d rather be wearing pjs, but, hey, this is the closest I can get.  In a concession to not looking as if I’d just dressed for breakfast, I’ll be wearing a belt.  Not an interesting belt, and, heaven knows, not a belt with any metal — enemy of TSA — in it.  I’ll be wearing this belt:

It’s elastic, 1 1/2 inches wide, with what is called a “ladder buckle” connecting the ends.  Here are the components:

I sewed heavy-duty hook-and-loop tape, as wide as the elastic, to each end of the belt, making sure to leave a lot of room for adjustment.  Once actually on board I don’t want to end up bifurcated by a too-tight elastic band around my waist, so being able to readjust the size without depending on the elastic alone was a must.

It doesn’t bother me to wear the flat buckle in the back, so I can wear the belt as it is above on Miss Bedelia, or turned around so that it looks like a contrast waistband, or a plain elastic cincher.

You can buy ladder buckles at most (if not all) EMS stores (they’re behind the counter, ask to see the delrin or nylon buckles), at REI, and at  sporting goods/adventure stores that sell webbing.  They’re often on a rack by luggage or camping gear.

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Transferable Pockets for a Bag

January 12th, 2009 No comments

Five or six years ago, I made a strip of pockets and used it all the time in my work totes. The idea was to have all my stuff (phone, Palm Pilot, Moleskine, business cards, etc.) in one place for quick grabbing during the morning rush. After I stopped working at an office, I tended to use bags with internal tailored pockets, so this little gadget stayed in a drawer. I’ve resurrected it for a new project, though (more about that later), and decided to post a description here.

Planning was really important here. Before I cut, I laid out everything I thought I’d want to put in the pockets. I’m no longer using the same stuff, but here’s an idea of what I would put in mine now:

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In this picture there’s a comb, a Moleskine datebook, lip balm, a phone, a small flashlight, a pocket wallet, earbuds, and an MP3 player. I also planned a pocket for my camera (in use at the time this picture was taken!) and another small notebook.

My finished strip measures 25 inches by 5 1/2 inches, so I cut two pieces of nylon ripstop that size, plus a small seam allowance, for the main fabric and the lining. I also cut a light interfacing to give the pockets some structure. I wanted an identification holder, so I figured out where it should go on the outside of the pocket strip, and stitched a clear plastic window in place before sewing the pocket strip. Then I assembled the strips right side to right side, with the interfacing against the wrong side of the fabric pieces, and stitched around three sides, leaving an opening on one short side for turning.

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Then I turned it right side out, and, placing each item where I wanted it, defined the pockets with pins. Above the identification card I placed three narrow pockets: Lip balm goes in one and I carry a small dental brush in another (thanks to a horrible orthodontist whose talents still affect my teeth). I can’t remember what I kept in the third small slot years ago, but a digital camera battery would fit there nicely now. Here’s what the finished pockets look like, stuffed and folded up:

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I like using dark ripstop or a microfiber for sport linings because it’s very lightweight but strong, shows little wear or dirt, washes up nicely and dries quickly. Because it’s a little hard to see inside a purse or bag, though, I color-coded most of the pockets after I’d decided where each one would be.

After figuring out the pocket placement, I opened the strip back out and added bright grosgrain ribbon tabs to the tops of most of the pockets . Then all that was left to do was to sew the vertical lines, and close up the side opening.

You can see the finished tabs easily when the pockets are rolled up:

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I wasn’t the only one to have this neat idea. Not long after I made mine, a whole bunch of similar organizers turned up all over the place. Small wonder — they’re really useful, fun to make, and are a great gift, too! If you’re more creative than I am, yours could be really beautiful, too: Instead of ripstop, consider using silk, a set of retro prints, or maybe even chiffon and satin for evening.

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DIY Cash Envelope

June 16th, 2008 4 comments

You might think that a well-educated, theoretically sophisticated person like me (back off, folks, I said “theoretically”!) might feel a little silly carrying money around in an envelope. I don’t, though, because I learned to do this by following some basic, commonsense financial advice from a guy named Dave Ramsey. He advocates using envelopes with budgeted amounts as a way of keeping a eye on expenses.

I carry just one envelope (groceries/household/food funds), and formerly used Dave Ramsey’s own envelopes. Unlike the office supply variety, Ramsey’s are just the right size for currency, making them convenient to carry around. But they’re paper, and mine tended to get a little ragged, so I laminated them with contact paper. Then I duct-taped the edges, like this:

Ugly, no? When I couldn’t take it any more, I hauled out some iron-on interfacing, a thrilling tropical print, and set to work.

First, I opened out one of the original paper envelopes and traced it on the interfacing. Then I cut out a corresponding piece of fabric, adding an allowance for the side seams, around the fold-over flap, and along the top edge. Then I applied the interfacing to the fabric.

This was a quick and dirty project, so I just stitched up the side seams, turned it right side out, and then folded the fabric over the top flap and the top edge. I sewed those edges down with a decorative stitch. Then I added two sets of velcro to keep it closed.

The result, while perhaps way too flashy, is a lot of fun, and much more durable than the paper/laminate/duct tape version.

This envelope is so slim (that polyester crepe was positively filmy before I applied the interfacing) that it’s hardly noticeable in my purse — much sleeker than a fat wallet. (I use a small card case for ID and debit card.)

You, of course, don’t need an actual Dave Ramsey envelope to whip this up, but can whatever paper currency is in your wallet to gauge the size of your envelope correctly.

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Keen Bag Review and Mod

May 17th, 2008 No comments

On a trip to REI a couple of weeks ago, I found this Keen Rose City Shoulder Bag crumpled under a stack of stuff in the miscellaneous luggage department. Since it had been remaindered, I snapped it up: it’s the bag I copied and wrote about in this previous post. Here’s the fabric side of the bag, in a really nice, Ultrasuede-like lime (Keen calls the color “Sweet Pea”):

When I got it home, I discovered some interesting things. First, the reason one side of the Keen bag is so unforgiving is because it’s made of recycled rubber. Kudos to Keen for the environmental action, but this is a reversible bag, and, yuck, that’s really not nice next to the body! However, when I tried it on, I realized that there’s no reason it wouldn’t work fine as the lining. Here’s the rubber side, in deep purple:

The second thing I discovered is that Keen’s side pockets are really small. The interior pocket is teardrop-shaped — great for a hand, but maybe not so useful for stuff you might put into it. The pockets are hidden in the center seams, but there’s just one on each side. There’s also just one pocket along the neck strap. I like my version better, with two pockets on each side (one inside the bag, one outside), and two on the neck strap.

I didn’t buy the bag in the first place because of that stiff rubber, and because I really disliked the puffy look of the edges. See how the the different types of material fight with each other above? Well, now that I had one to play with, I decided to see what I could do about that. Here’s the result:

I edge-stitched all around the bag’s openings. That gave the bag a really sleek, tidy edge all around. Ideally, I’d have used a topstitching thread, but, not surprisingly, I couldn’t find one in the right shade of lime. Sometimes stitching a heavy synthetic non-woven can result in perforations that act as a tear-away line; using a heavy thread can prevent this. Since I had no choice about the thread, I used a longer stitch length to create more distance between the holes on the rubber side.

Here’s a detailed look at the edge of the shoulder strap. (The bag’s on my dummy’s shoulder, and the color you see probably isn’t anything like the really glorious Keen color.)

That’s probably too much detailing for a relatively inexpensive commercial bag, but it really makes a huge difference, not only in appearance, but also in the way it lies when worn. Which is exactly why we sew, isn’t it?

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DIY Reversible Copycat Bag

April 25th, 2008 17 comments

kbag1.jpgI loved the looks of this Keen Rose City shoulder bag when I first saw it (and every time after). The shoulder strap is very long, giving the bag a funky look, but also making wearing it pretty versatile — it drops from the shoulder, or can be worn across the body. It’s also got four very cool, hidden pockets.

What I don’t like, though, is the stiff, unforgiving, rubbery feeling of the Keen bag. It’s puffy around the edges, and probably wouldn’t feel very nice to wear — unless you’re really, really into industrial chic. I love my Keen shoes, but I think carrying this bag would be a little like wearing the shoes on my arm.

Fortunately I sew, and this basic design is simple (even, you might say, timeless, except for the lengthened straps). (I know, it’s all wrinkled in the picture. 100% cotton — go figure. Yes, the photographer was too lazy to re-iron it for the photo shoot.)

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I whipped up this muslin from memory, and was really happy with it. Well, except for the fabric, maybe. That lining is not weaving’s finest hour. (But now it is out of my stash!)

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This style was a natural for a reversible bag, and the full lining meant that I could have a total of six hidden pockets. There’s just one main pattern piece, which I drafted on freezer paper:

I cut two pieces of each fabric. I installed invisible zippers in the center seams of the main fabric and the lining, and added an extra layer of cloth between the main fabric and the lining in the body of the bag to divide the space into two separate pockets, accessed by the zippers on each side.

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I cut small pockets to insert into the widest part of the shoulder strap, and then put one more invisible zipper in each inner strap seam, making small hidden pockets in the strap.

I assembled the bag like a vest. The shoulder strap is quite wide; much to my surprise, when I saw the Keen bag after I’d made mine, I’d actually gauged its width within an eighth of an inch of the Keen’s. I’m not sure how the width works on the original bag, as the strap is fairly stiff. I fold mine in half to wear it, which is very comfortable.

The exaggerated length of the strap is a lot of fun, but not as practical as it could be (especially since I’m short). I’ll definitely make this bag again, but will probably shorten the strap a little. And I need to work on my invisible zipper technique; I had some trouble with the short zippers set into the curve.

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Handle Mod for a Straw Bag

April 17th, 2008 2 comments

My new fuschia dress called for a spiffy bag, but one that still managed to keep the retro theme (at least a bit). Black wicker seemed like the right answer. I didn’t like the handles on the bag I found at all, though:

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They just didn’t fit the mood. The original straps were sewn in place, so I removed them and bought webbing to make alternate straps — plus a little extra for a key chain. I wanted my new straps to be interchangeable, so I also bought a set of rectangular loop holders.

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I attached small pieces of black webbing to each of the rectangular loops (you can see one of them in the picture above, at the lower right), and sewed them in place along the top of the bag.

Then I sewed decorative buttons to one side of each strap, and a flat, plain black button to the other side. Final step for the straps? Buttonholes, so that I could loop the ends of the strap through the rectangular holders, and button the strap (on the wrong side) to the flat black buttons.

I love the way the rectangular loops give such a professional look to the bag. Sewn loops just wouldn’t have done the job. Here’s a close-up look a the finished straps, attached:

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I attached the key chain inside the bag, at the top, toward the front (as I’ll wear the bag). I tested several positions, and this one worked best for me. It’s placed so that the keys will rest on the bottom of the bag, so that any distortion of the rim of the bag will be minimized.

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Here’s the bag (with the fuschia straps) on my dummy:

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And with the black straps:

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My bag came with an inner pocket sewn into the lining; if it hadn’t, I’d have added one. I still may enclose the opening and add a zipper for access; the jury’s out on that. In general, I prefer closed bags. This one’s designed to hold right under my arm, though, so securing the contents in that way may not be necessary. We’ll see.

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Ghee’s 721 The Messenger Bag

April 6th, 2008 No comments

The best thing about having a dedicated sewing space is that I have immediate access to sewing therapy. Anytime I have a couple of spare hours, it’s no trick at all to zip in and whip up a simple project. This small bag was one of those “I just want to make something tonight” kind of projects.

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I picked up this Ghee’s pattern because I’d been toying with the idea of making a small, portable pocket-type bag. The photos on the front of the envelope (above) cinched the deal; the design looked simple and cute, and the strap-and-binding-in-one appealed to me.

The pattern is simplicity in itself — there is one large rectangular piece, and an optional pocket with piecing details. It’s a three-size pattern: small, medium and large. I made the medium which is about 8 1/2 by 9 inches. It has three pockets; two are zippered, and there’s a third one between the two zipper pockets. I added a magnetic catch, as suggested, to the open pocket. I didn’t make the optional outer pocket.

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The directions are beautifully presented, and there are several very helpful tips on the first page, along with directions to make a pieced front for the optional pocket. However, there was trouble right away, at Step 3.

The bag’s meant to be made of pre-quilted fabric. For the basic bag, you cut two rectangles, and then attach zippers across each end. Step 1 and Step 2 describe the placement of the first zipper. In Step 3, you edge-stitch the zipper tape across the front of the fabric. And then you’re left stranded. Step 4 says “repeat this process on the other end of the fabric”. However, there are three “other” ends of the fabric. You don’t want to attach the end of the first piece of fabric to that first zipper; you must attach the second piece to the second edge of the first zipper.

So there really should be a Step 3A: “Repeat Steps 2 and 3, this time attaching the second piece of fabric to the unused section of the zipper tape.”

And a re-written Step 4: “Repeat this process on one unsewn end of either fabric piece 1 or 2, using the second zipper. Then finish applying the zippers by attaching the final, unstitched fabric end to the last, unsewn, side of the second zipper. If you do this successfully, you’ll have connected the two pieces of your bag, end to end, forming a cylinder.”

Ghee’s directions don’t make it at all clear which piece of fabric you’re working with initially, or when you begin working with the second piece. That’s really unforgivable: after all, the only reason you buy a pattern this simple is so that you don’t have to draft the rectangles or work out the order of the construction steps. Fortunately, after this lapse, the directions are better, and the bag goes together quickly.

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I made mine from tapestry scraps left over after making my Siberian Parka, with a silky lining material as the wrong side. The heft of the two fabrics was about the same as a pre-quilted fabric. I did have some trouble with my webbing — since the only brown webbing I could find was cotton, and fairly stiff and thick, I didn’t fold it in half, as the instructions suggest. Instead, I bought twice as much, and sandwiched the bag between the layers.

That worked fine, but there was a little too much bulk at the bottom of the bag where I joined the ends of the strap. (If you look closely at my photo you’ll see that I couldn’t get the strap perfectly flush with the bottom of the bag.) Next time, I might try putting that join elsewhere — at the top of the strap, on the underside, maybe.

I was lucky to find coordinating zippers in an unusual color (“London Tan”) and a reddish brown webbing. Finding webbing that isn’t black is sometimes problematic’; Ghee’s offers a trim kit on their website in a variety of colors. The kit includes a sew-on magnetic catch; I’d prefer that to the one I used, which required punching holes in my fabric.

 

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DIY Cases for Small Electronics

April 3rd, 2008 No comments

Stores are full of fun, customized cases for small electronics like MP3 players, cameras and cell phones. But your small electronics suddenly seem a lot bulkier once tucked into these cases. I make thin, protective cases out of socks; this keeps my gadgets small and easy to carry.

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I use the top part of a crew sock for each case. The ribbing pulls the case in at the top, keeping the device in the pocket.

My MP3 player is sturdy, without a vulnerable screen, so its case is just fabric. It’s really small, so I had to cut the top ribbing to make it narrow enough to hold the player in the case. For larger items, the ribbing can be left in place.

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My digital camera, though, has a large LCD screen that needs a little more structure to protect it. I bought a microfiber cloth meant for cleaning such screens, and cut two pieces the size of my camera. I split the top of the sock up one side, and sewed three sides of the microfiber to the wrong side of the sock top, forming an inner pocket.

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Then I cut two thin plastic sheets from some packaging I had around, and slipped them into the inner pockets. Once the plastic was in place, I closed up the side and bottom seams on the sock case. Voila! I’ve got a hard-sided, but very thin and light case.

The brown case coordinates nicely with my newest digital camera, but I actually prefer to make these cases in loud colors; they’re a lot easier to find in pockets and bags when the colors are screaming for attention.

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