31 March 2012

Make your own knitting bag: part II

Here's the promised part two on how to make your own knitting bag. I've never made a bag like this before so all my instructions are from what I worked out by looking at other bags. So you may have a different (and likely more logical and simple) way of doing things so ignore me on those bits. And do post your method - I'd love to hear!

First, make your bias binding for your piping. Skip this section if you know how to do this. I have a foolproof method for finding the bias using a simple piece of kit. Some people use bias binding makers; I have no idea how to use one of these. Instead, get hold of a set square or 45° (or even a protractor) triangle ruler. If you don't have one of these I'd recommend getting hold of one they're also useful for making 90° angles, so cutting straight across the weft threads, say if it was cut wonky off the bolt at the fabric shop. I bought a set with a large ruler, large 45° and 60° triangle rulers and a large protractor for under £5 and it was money well spent.)Simply line it up your triangle with the warp threads, you can use the selvedge if you like, and then rule along the diagonal edge. Then I use an ordinary 30cm ruler as it's about the right width for bias binding to make further lines--

Sew these strips together, pinning them at 90° angles--

Press the seams open. Lay your piping down the middle of the wrong side and pin the fabric together perpendicular to the cord. With a piping foot, sew close to your piping, but leaving a little breathing space - and don't sew into the piping! Here are the diagrams for reference again--

Cut medium to heavy weight interfacing (depending on the fabric you are using) for pieces except piece 5. Using a steam iron press onto wrong side of fabric.

Mark the centre point of the length and height of piece 1. Mark the centre point of the length of pieces 3 and 4.

Take two small square scraps of your fabric and press one edge for a quarter inch seam allowance. Pin the folded edge over the ends of your zip so that they will fall about 1cm within the finished length of your bag. (The photo is a close up after the next step but you get the idea.) So for my bag I had 38cm of exposed zip for a finished length of 40cm. Sew these onto the zip by sewing perpendicular and to the zip close to your folded edge. You may have to turn the wheel by hand as even with a long stitch length the needle can hit the teeth.

Centre zip onto piece 2b and pin. Sew using a zip foot; no need to get really close to the teeth. A little strip of exposed zip tape looks quite nice when you use the big chunky zips. Press flat, being careful not to put your iron over the teeth - they'll melt so watch out. Now line up the raw edges of piece 2a with 2b and pin onto zip and sew in the same way. Together this piece is now piece 2.

This is how things look so far--

Mark the centre points of the height and length of piece 2.

Now take your two 2b lining pieces. Turn the above to the wrong side. Pin one of the lining pieces to seam on what was piece 2. Now sew about 3mm outside of where you sewed the zip onto the outside pieces.

Now do the same but pin and sew the other pocket piece onto the other side of the zip. Press. Then using a 1cm seam allowance sew the two pocket pieces together, going up as far as you can toward the zip.

Now attach the piping to pieces 1 and two with your zip/ piping foot. Clip the piping at 1cm intervals round the corners just before you get to them. Leave about 2" - 3" unsewn at the bottom in the middle. Then cut your piping leaving a 1" overlap. Unpick the stitching on the piping about an inch on each end. Then pull out the exposed ends of your cord and trim a half inch of each so that they lay flat and do not overlap but touch each other. Then fold one exposed end of your piping fabric over and finger press. Lay the other side of your fabric with the raw edge inside this one. Push the cord into the channel and using your thumbnail nicely smooth it in so those open edges don't fan out. Pin perpendicular to the piping Now sew along to close up this final part of the piping.

Now sew the longer zip onto pieces 3 and press.

Attach piece 4 onto the open end side of the zippered pieces 3 (the one you see in the picture). Press seam towards piece 4. Topstitch. Lining up the centre of the long side of piece 1 and the centre point of zippered piece 3 just check that the seam is in line with your centre point and that the on your raw edges of the zippered and bottom piece extend 1.5cm respectively from the centre point of the height of your bag. If not work out how much you need to add or subtract from your seam allowance Repeat sewing and topstitching for the other side.

Starting at the centre point of the shorter side of piece 2, wrong sides together, start sewing one side of piece 3 on. You will be catching the pocket lining as well so make sure this stays flat and smooth. You need to decide which direction you want the zip to open in, i.e. left to right or right to left. Clip seam allowance of pieces 3 and 4 as you  get to the corners to make sewing easier. Also try to stay as close as possible to the piping without sewing through it. On the corners you will need to keep the needle down, lift the foot and rotate.

Then do the same for piece 1 and the other side of your zippered pieces 3 and piece 4. Trim down the seam allowances.

Now for the handles. With wrong sides together sew one piece of interfaced fabric and one piece of contrast fabric of pieces 6 together using a 1/4" seam allowance. Sew both long sides and one short side together. Clip corners diagonally and turn through. Press. Repeat. On the open ends fold the raw edges inside about 1/4".

Determine how far apart you want the handles to be. I made mine 11cm apart to the outside edges. Centre over your pieces 1 and 2 with the contrast side underneath. I doubled the ends over about 2cm for extra stability. Place the fold 2.5cm from the piping and push the seam allowances in the bag towards the zip. Sew a rectangle and cross through the diagonals being careful not to catch the piping.

Next time I'll finish by showing how to make the lining...

Alix xxx

25 March 2012

Make your own knitting bag

I’m always carrying my knitting to my boyfriend’s place in plastic bags (rocking the bag lady look) that inevitably get punctured on the journey. Once the bf stuck his hand in my bag and yelped after he accidentally palmed the sharp end of a knitting needle. It was time, I decided, to make a knitting bag.

And here it is--

The bag is 40 x 10 x 15 cm. It has contrast piping, a contrast inner wall and contrast backed handles. Only the contrast piping was planned; the other pieces were cut from the yellow fabric when the blue ran out. I hadn't bought any of the fabric with the bag in mind! There is an outer pocket, lined in another contrast fabric (also an improvisation when the blue fabric ran out), and two inner pouches which are slightly elasticated to hold bulkier items in place. In the final photo you can see the scarf I've been knitting recently!

I have not put measurements on the pattern in case you want to make your own. My needles are 35cm long so this was the rationale behind a length of 40cm. Also the wool I use comes in smaller balls and my projects are scarves, not jumpers, so my bag didn’t need to be too tall or deep. In case you want to make yours the same size, here are the dimensions, all in cm with 1.5cm seam allowance:

1.   FRONT                                  43 X 18
2a. BACK ABOVE POCKET          43 X 6
2b. BACK BELOW ZIPPER           43 X 15
3.   BOTTOM                               56.7 X 7.5
4.   TOP                                       56.7 X 13
5.   INNER POUCH                        47 X 14.5
6.   HANDLE                                 30 X 3.5 (0.5cm or 1/4" seam allowance)

**If you're making your bag to custom dimensions and don't want to do all the maths yourself, here's how to calculate the length of pieces 3 and 4.

Draw a small square in each corner of piece 1 and the top and bottom corners respectively of pieces 2a and 2b (mine were 3 X 3cm). Use this to draw a curve with a compass or eyeball it. We will use the rule circumference = 2πr in a sec. [If you don't have a scientific calculator, pi is 3.142.]

- Calculate the total perimeter including seam allowances of your bag front. I will use my bag as an example. eg. 122cm

- Subtract twice the perimeter of your corner square. eg. 3+3+3+3 = 12, 12 X 2 = 24 so 122-24 = 98

- Now drawing that square becomes relevant. To find the length of the curves at the four corners (four quarters of a circle!) multiply the length of one side of your little square by 6.284 (which is 2π), eg. 6.284 X 3 = 9.42. Add this onto your total perimeter minus corners eg. 98 + 9.42 = 107.42.

- Now divide this by two. eg. 107.42 / 2 = 53. 71 Add on seam allowances, eg. 56.71, and you're done!**

For the dimensions I have given you will need:
1/2m of heavy weight fabric such as canvas, twill, denim, oilcloth or any upholstery grade cotton. I used normal medium weight cotton and even with heavy interfacing it is quite flimsy.
0.4m medium weight fabric for lining (quilting cotton, poplin, lawn)
0.2m contrast medium-weight fabric (for the piping and inner contrast wall)
0.15m second contrast medium-weight fabric (for the outside pocket)
1/2 heavy iron-on interfacing
2.3m thick cording (nylon is preferable) 
45cm zip
60cm zip
40cm 3mm elastic
Polyester thread

Heavy weight fabrics machine needle (blue or size 90/14)
Zip and piping foot

Next post I'll tell you how to make the bag as this one is getting long...

Alix xxx

19 March 2012

Vivienne Westwood talks about global warming

Last Tuesday Dame Vivienne Westwood came to Cambridge University for a debate entitled 'The Role of the Art Lover in Addressing Current Issues,' an obtuse title for what was essentially a talk about global warming. I normally stay away from events that promise to beat me over the head with a giant eco-loving-come-apocalypse club, but because it was probably the only time that I will be able to sit within 100m of Vivienne Westwood, I swallowed my environmental guilt and went. There were two other speakers, one a sculptor and artist who had made a seriously whacky film about resonating ceramics, and also a curator from the V&A Museum who spoke about an interesting future exhibition about urban spaces and the environment. But I know what you really want to hear is about is Viv, so I won't say any further on those two.

First of all, I have massive respect for a 70 year old who can still stalk around in killer heels. And secondly, for the fact that my friends and I had trouble agreeing how old we thought she is. She dresses nothing like a 70 year old and proves that you are only as old as you feel and that clothes make a big difference to the one who wears them. I have trawled Google for you to find a picture of what she was wearing (no photos of the event were allowed)--

See what I mean about the shoes?! She was wearing the bandanna from her 2008 'Chaos Point' collection which set the tone for the rest of the evening...

Viv believes we are fast approaching ecological doom. By 2100, scientist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber has estimated that the global population will have shrunk to only 1 billion people (that means 6 billion will die over the next 100 years). If the temperature increases by 2°C from the base temperature in 1800, which it is predicted to do in the next 10 years, then this has a kind of multiplier effect which will lead to a 6°C rise in actuality. At this point, all the land below a latitudinal line drawn through Paris will become uninhabitable. Westwood does practice what she preaches: she helped set up the charity Cool Earth which aims to stop the bulldozing of the rainforest and has used her fashion label to raise money for the cause.

Vivienne Westwood has a certain unpolished charm. She spoke without notes, sometimes reproaching herself for forgetting her train of thought and putting her head in her hands. When it came to questions, she was dismissive of academic pretensions and people who were trying to show off (all too common in Cambridge). She is softly spoken with a gentle Northern accent and yet was imploring, emphatic and nigh on apocalyptic in tone. She is a striking mix of the homely and ordinary with the erudite and philosophical. Vivienne drew on Aristotle's axiom, "the acorn is happy to become an oak" as a way to explain that we must look to become who we are. She is obviously well read and her philosophy is a blend of some serious heavyweights such as Aristotle, Marx and Nietzsche. Westwood is an advocate of not following the crowd but thinking deeply about what we feel to be important and always trying to learn more about the world. She is, then, all about taking full responsibility for ourselves and not sitting passively in the background.

One person asked Westwood whether fashion and ecological activism were irreconcilable opposites. She was dismissive, although she claimed that fashion was something she got into by accident and that it has served her well as an international platform. Those seem like reasonable arguments, but she is so very famous now regardless of her clothing that I wonder why she cannot renounce fashion and become a fully fledged activist. It was also difficult for her to explain how learning about oneself and the world and the narrow window of 10 years before ecological catastrophe can sit together. Essentially, us young people have to act to save the world in a major way before we're 30 in order to make a difference. That sounds like a big ask to me. Most people in their mid-twenties are still trying to figure out what career they want and where the money is going to come from, let alone thinking about the future of the entire planet.

Vivienne Westwood is clearly passionate about preventing the devastation of global warming and educating young people about the imminent threat that industrialisation poses to the earth. At age 70, it is conceivable and maybe lucky that she will not live to see whether or not the world tips over into chaos in the next 10 years. I don't know about you, but I'm no eco-activist. However, I have thought of one easy place to start: buying organic cotton. The Organic Trade Association has some stats about the cotton industry that bring home just how aggressive the damage caused by cotton growing can be. What I'll add to Viv's advice is this: next time you make a quilt or a lovely summer dress, think twice about the cotton you buy. If enough people stop buying their fabric from retailers that are always trying to drive prices down over staying ethically sound, and seek out ethical cotton, organic cotton could become a mainstream product in our fabric shops.

Alix xxx

12 March 2012

Organic and fair trade sewing supplies

In July I'm going to stay with my boyfriend's godmother in France for a week. As a thank you gift, I thought I might make a French-inspired quilt for their home. This lady works in the fair trade industry, and as you can imagine, she is very into fair trade goods. According to my boyfriend, she is also into homemade crafts, so a quilt seems perfect.

However, the stumbling block of my project is trying to source fair trade materials. Hundreds of US websites show up on Google when you type in "fair trade sewing supplies", but not many UK ones. 

Here are two sites I have found  (the first is particularly well-stocked): Organic Cotton and Fairtrade Fabrics. At Organic Cotton you can buy an 8m roll of fair trade bamboo and cotton batting all for under £40--that's £5/ mtr. Sounds like a bargain to me! I plan on getting my batting and plain white cotton from these sites and then using these Moda charm squares to make a lattice quilt, like this. It'll have a plain white back and a thick white border on the front, shown off with a thin red strip between the end of the lattice work and the border. So the quilt won't be totally fair trade, but some of the evil of the cotton industry will be offset by the  other ethically sourced fabrics.

If you know of any other UK based suppliers of fair trade and organic cotton let me know. Especially if you find somewhere that does cool patterns (rather than the limited repertoire of stripes, spots and gingham). 

Alix xxx

11 March 2012

New Look 6049 Misses' Dresses

Last summer I found New Look pattern 6049. I consider a shift dress like this to be a wardrobe staple (obviously not in New Look's heinous black and white sequin fabric), so I bought it. I made it up in two versions, the first a plain white cotton one with a little cute flower trim, and the other in a black cotton, mock-linen look, with a pearl beaded trim. I drafted an extra few inches on the black dress so I could wear it to work. After I finished my one month at work, I took it up to the same length as the white one. I love both of these dresses. However, I had to do a little altering first time round, and the difference in fit shows when you compare the white to the black dress. 

I'm a size 10 on these patterns, but my waist is 26", not 25", so I added an extra 1/4" at the waist and blended the new line. My back-neck to waist measurement is also about 1/2" shorter, so I took this out at the lengthen/ shorten line.Then I made it up in the white cotton and found three problems. 

First of all, and this seems to happen so often with major pattern companies, which makes it doubly infuriating, there was way too much ease. I know I need to be able to move around in my clothes, but if a shift dress looks at all too big, it's not a shift: it's just an ill-fitting sack. I don't know what it is about these pattern companies, but I don't think they take into consideration that at the smaller end of their sizes, all that ease looks disproportionately tent-like. (Which when you think about it, for a Misses' line, which is going to go for the snugger fit is just forgetting to design for their target buyers.) Three or four inches too much ease is, after all, the difference between a size 10 and size 14. Maybe they assume we'll all be doing hurdles in these dresses, or maybe they just don't test them enough; I reckon it's the latter. So I took out a good inch from every side, tapering back up nicely to just above the bust dart (the bust fitted correctly). 

Second problem, a slightly gaping armhole that didn't quite lay flat on the armpit crease. Easy solution: I took 1/4" out from the shoulder on the armhole side and redrew the line to meet the neckline should point. Essentially I just made the shoulder more sloping. This seemed to work.

The third problem was that it wasn't fitted around the waist enough, especially at the back. So I deepened the darts on the back by about 3"16" and the front by 1/8" at the waist and tapered to each end. It's amazing how much difference an alteration like this can make.

Because these items are staples, and I intend to keep them for a long time, I didn't scrimp on quality. The white cotton I had already, purchased on Goldhawk Road for £8/ mtr. It looks exactly as a plain 100% cotton should look, not too smooth (like flimsy poly-cotton), but very even, and feels soft but sturdy. I love ironing this dress, as it comes up so crisp. The lining was a £6/ mtr, and claims to have good wicking properties, something I thought was essential for a dress to be worn on a hot summer's day. I have worn it when it was about 30°C and have to say, I didn't think the lining was particularly cool, probably because it is synthetic. The black cotton, from John Lewis for the other dress was about the same price as the white and the lining was a very delicate silk I had left over from a ball dress I made last year. The lining was only about £5/ mtr (which is a bargain for silk) from a local fabric shop, and it is wonderfully soft. It keeps me warm when it's cold and cool when it's hot, just as silk should. Both trims were from John Lewis. A cheap way to add a bit of detail!

The black one is currently in the wash (I really do wear them!), but here's the white one for you--

(The grey line is a shadow from the washing line).

I'll get some photos of me in both dresses soon!

Alix xxx

[Edit:] Here I am in the white dress--

9 March 2012

Duffle Rucksack - part 1

Last summer I went out to the States with my friend whose parents live in Mexico and who travel around the West Coast of America. One of the most exciting bits (minus going to a drive-in movie!) was using her mum's heavy duty sewing machine to make a leather satchel. Her mum used to make and sell one-off leather pieces and my friend still uses a black leather duffel bag her mum made during her punk days. I couldn't wait to pick her brains about working with leather and making bags, two things I had no idea about. After realising that making a bag is not as daunting as it seems (I could make a sewing gag here on seams, but I'll restrain myself - too late!) I'd been thinking about projects I could have a crack at and that my normal sewing machine can handle. Then I started noticing that duffle bags are all the rage... Check out Asos's 'Day of the Dead' style backpack, for example. By duffle bags, I mean the backpacks that open at the top, and that close by tightening a cord, covered by a simple flap. I mentioned this to the project sounding board (also known as my boyfriend) who was as enthusiastic as I was, if not more. Now the plan has extended to two duffle bags.

Every time I see a duffle bag I go and have a good nosey. A friend of mine has a nice canvas one and I have spent whole conversations with her without looking up, my eyes and hands fixed firmly on her bag, turning it upside down, inside out to have a look at how it's made. Feeling inspired, I went to the fabric shop and found that I could only get canvas in white. 'But I want you in pink and red,' I say imploringly to the canvas. So then I tried something else new: Dylon. The fabrics have come up in really nice colours, thankfully. All I need to do is finalise my designs, find the components and find some time to make them!

I was very distracted in the library the other day and sketched this--

Sorry about the faint black letters, I did the drawing on the back of a receipt! I want to do something more pizazz with the pockets, but can't decide what. Recently I picked up some free leather (offcuts from the local leather shop) and would like to incorporate it somewhere, as a contrast trim, on the straps and maybe to secure the tog. The mini version is something I want to make for my sisters if I have any leftover fabric.

Next time I'll get on to making them, rather than just lusting after duffley goodness.

Alix xxx

4 March 2012

Ginger bread house

I love Ikea; it's not so much the furniture itself but the price and its supreme utility. Even more than their cheap home-ware and fabric I love their food section for two reasons: the holey cheese they do, and their pepparkokar (ginger biscuits). I love the holey cheese because it reminds me of visits to my Danish family, in particular the cheese that my grandparents always put out on the breakfast table. And the pepparkokar are just really tasty.

Not long before Christmas, my housemate found a recipe for some traditional Danish Christmas treats in the newspaper whilst she was away and brought it back knowing I would be very pleased. I leafed through the pages with contained excitement when, Lo! Hark! For the Guardian came bearing gifts of pepparkokar!

My boyfriend is an even bigger fan than I am of pepparkokar: he's been known to plough through a whole box in under a week and if you've ever seen how big those boxes are, you'll see that this requires a concerted effort. Over Christmas he had a broken foot and was consequently housebound so we made some Christmassy ginger biscuits to pass the time. I doubled the batch so I could make a gingerbread house as well. Once made up, the ball of dough was about the size of a football. Half the quantity would have been adequate for a house and some biscuits, I just got a bit carried away.

Here is the finished house--

Apologies for the quality, it was taken on the bf's phone. As you can see, I used icing to make it look like a proper alpine hut. Putting it together was remarkably straightforward. I think slanting the side walls outwards slightly helped. I also textured the edges using an ordinary dinner knife, making little diagonal dents to help the icing stick. I used about half wholegrain flour so the dough was already a bit knobbly. The house is about 20cm x 20cm x 25cm. To cut out the windows I used a fizzy drinks cap and I just used a knife to extend the windows downwards into an arch and make them square at the bottom.

If I make another one next year I will go to town and cover it in sweets and those little silver balls. I would also like to try out the technique of putting a hard boiled sweet in each window and seeing if they will melt to make proper glass windows! The dough only needs about 10 minutes in the oven, and I'm not sure if this is long enough for the sweets to melt.

I will post a copy of the recipe and a paper template with assembly instructions (how very Ikea!) soon.

Alix xxx