Monday, July 27, 2009

A New Tote: Part 1

I had to throw away my favorite tote bag last week. It was over 10 years old, black, and I used it for everything in the last decade - a school bag, a briefcase/satchel for interviews, a teacher's bag, a camera bag, a purse, a knitting bag, an airplane carry-on bag, a snack bag for car travel and lastly a diaper bag. It was sturdy and roomy with a flat bottom, and had a zippered pocket so I could have a place for valuables if I didn't want to carry a separate bag. Finally the coating on the outside just disintegrated, and there was nothing that could be done except give it a final resting place.

I decided to use my new Echino bird on line fabric to make the Everything Tote from Heather Ross's Weekend Sewing. I had seen some cute Echino ones in the flickr group, and when I suddenly needed a new tote bag, this project jumped to the top of my sewing list. I wasn't sure I could every replace the beloved black tote bag, but I figured a cute Echino one would help.

I think most people know that there is a mistake in the materials list, and you need 1 yard of both an exterior and interior fabric. Since the Echino print is directional and I didn't want upside down birds, I had to cut out 2 individual pieces for the outside, adding 1/2 inch to the bottom of each for a seam allowance. Heather uses 3/8 inch seam allowances for the sides of the bag, but it made me feel better to have a slightly larger and hopefully stronger seam allowance for the bottom. If your print is not directional, you fold your fabric in half, and place the lower edge of the pattern piece on the fold which becomes the bottom of the bag. On Saturday, I went to the last day of my local fabric store's sale and came away with a gray and blue polka dot print from Denyse Schmidt's Country Fair line for my interior fabric. After 3 weeks of 50% off, the store was picked clean but I was happy with what I ended up with. Heather calls for a lightweight fabric for the lining, but I figured a decor weight fabric should work just well even though the bag would be slightly heavier and bulkier. I was also hoping the decor weight interior would allow me to cram more stuff into the bag.

Making the body of the tote bag was pretty straightforward. I saw another mistake in the instructions when they called for using a 3/8 inch edgestitch to attach the pocket to the lining. This didn't make any sense, as you've turned the edges of the fabric for the pocket over 1/4 inch to the wrong side and a line of stitching 3/8 inch would not catch the edge of the fabric and also usually when you make pockets, you sew right along the edge to attach them. I figured the measurement should be 1/8 inch and changed it on the instructions and drawing in the book with a sharpie. I knew my fat blackberry would never fit into the skinny side of the pocket you create by sewing a line straight down 1/3 of the way from the side, so I moved it over by a couple of inches. Close to bedtime, I started making the gathers between the points and found another mistake when I realized the distance from point to point was already 12 inches which is the measurement Heather says to arrive at once you create your gathers. I measured the pattern piece, and sure enough the distance from point to point was just slightly over 12 inches. I looked at a couple of photos of completed totes (again found in the flickr group) and saw that most bags had gathers, so I made mine until I thought it looked good and found the points were now 9.5 inches apart. I did the same on the other side. By this point it was bedtime, so the straps had to wait until morning.

Today, I woke up, fed the kids, got them playing with legos (please Agnes, don't swallow any!), and laid out my fabric to cut the straps. They are cut on the bias as the bag edges are curved which means you need more fabric than if the straps were cut on grain. The straps from the interior fabric worked out just fine as I had 1/2 yard remaining. Remember how I had to cut out 2 different pieces for the exterior? Well, I didn't have enough fabric remaining to cut out the straps on the bias. In retrospect, I should have laid out the pattern pieces for the exterior at opposite corners of my big piece of fabric, because I could have fit the straps diagonally between them. But, I didn't. From now on, I will always lay out all the pattern pieces at once in case I have to rearrange to get them to fit. I know the local fabric store has no more of this fabric left (I looked on Saturday), so now I have to order more from somewhere online to finish this bag.

Stay tuned.