Essential Tutorial: Tote Bag Straps

There are a few different ways to make straps but this is my favorite and it’s sturdy! You can use the same fabric as the tote but remember if you are making something out of less than sturdy fabric don’t expect it to last a really long time. This construction method is good for quilters cotton weight fabric through to a thin canvas. Heavier weight canvas might give your sewing machine a headache, it depends on the strength of your machine and if you have the guts. I admit, I go super slow on thick fabrics and sometimes wince when I think there is a chance the needle will break, it happens to the best of us!

To start, you need a straight edge on your fabric. No idea how to do that? See here for the how-to. When you have your fabric edge straightened, determine the length and width you want your strap. We need to cut a piece that is four times wider than the final width. The length is your final length needed plus your seam allowance time two plus a half  inch (this becomes a quarter inch to turn under to make the ends nice and neat). If you want the strap to be very secure, use a longer seam allowance so that you don’t sew too near the edge and have a strap that is literally hanging on by a thread. For example: a 1 inch wide strap x 42 inches long (with a 3/4 inch final seam allowance and extra 1/2 inch to turn under) would be cut 4 inches x 44 inches.

Keep an eye on your fabric design if you want a special part of the design repeat to show. In the following images I am using a fabric that has a larger design repeat than the width of the strap’s final width. So I cut it the best I could and when I added the strap to my bag I chose the side that looked better. You’ll see…

My fabric was a half yard so I needed to piece together the cut size. I am making a strap to convert a short single handled purse into a cross body. (Post coming soon)

I needed a one inch strap with a width that would go over my shoulder and then a few inches for some flexibility in final length. So I cut this: 4 inches x 46 inches. In reality the fabric was cut so that my final length was 4 inches x 46 inches.  I used two pieces that I matched up so that my strap would be the same the entire length and a 1/4 inch seam length to reduce bulk.

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See it? It’s a little blurry but it’s really there. 1/4 inch seam

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I like to use a thin fusible web (one side has heat activated adhesive) to create:

1) strength, especially because of my pieced together fabric
2) the feel of a more expensive bag, not flimsy
3) a crisp strap, not floppy
4) an easy to sew strap
Read instructions on the fusible well, you do not want to get the adhesive on your iron. It is no fun (I can attest to this). Plus make sure your fabric will withstand the heat required to adhere the fusible.

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After fusing the fusible, fold under 1/4 inch on both ends and press with the iron on the appropriate setting for your fabric. This creates a nice end which will come in handy for the end purpose of this strap.

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Now fold the strap in half length wise to find the center. Press with your iron along the entire length of the strap.

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Now open your strap so that it’s flat and fold each side down to meet at that newly pressed center line. When ironing, I like to bring the side edges of the 1/4 inch fold over down slightly. This is helpful when folding over so that the rough edges do not appear at the end of the strap.

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This is what it looks like when you don’t fold and press a little past 1/4 inch. Yuck.

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Ahhhhh….  Much better.

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Stitch all the way around the perimeter of the strap. I like to line mine up to the inside of my clear presser foot. It’s less than 1/4 inch, probably a decent 1/8 inch. Stay close to the edge but keep it even and make sure it is catching both halves of the strap.

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Finished product! Stay tuned for the final use for this particular strap.

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Keep sewing!

Essential Tutorial: Straighten Fabric Edge

This is an essential skill when making anything that requires straight edges like quilting, tote bag straps etc. I suggest investing in a good rotary cutter and a decent sized self-healing cutting mat. Bigger is better, I use a 18″ x 24″ mat because that is what I bought a long time ago, I would go bigger if ever I get the chance. Go slowly with a rotary cutter, you will be sorry if you don’t. Also, make sure you *STAY ON* the cutting mat with the cutter, I have accidentally cut through table cloths and even made a nice straight cut onto my antique table top (cringe). This was before having a table dedicated to crafting.

Caution* this is a very image dense post and there are lots of descriptive words ahead. I write for those who have never touched a rotary cutter and cutting mat in their lives. For those of you who have done this before, just follow along and try not to distract the rest of us 🙂 These are also written from the perspective of a righty. I’ve added directions to make it lefty friendly where necessary.

Step 1: Fabric Prep

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Fabric is usually does not come home from the store all straight and aligned. We need to do that ourselves if we want it to cut nice and straight. A little fabric knowledge to drop on you first so you can follow along: The straight sides of the fabric, adjacent to the store cut edge is called the selvedge. It is usually considered to be a straight edge (but not always! just look to see) and can have either little fuzzies, holes, a more tightly woven edge, printing to tell you the manufacturers/designers name or a combination. The selvedge is usually cut off before the project pieces are cut out but in some cases, if you need a half inch more fabric that will eventually go into a seam, it can be used in an emergency. Be cautious about selvedges that are a little more tightly woven, they are the ones that can cause trouble.

So, here is the procedure…
Fold fabric in half with selvedges on the same side.

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To get a straight edge from which the strap will be cut, fold the fabric again so that the two selvedge sides are lined up with the first fold.  Here is where experience comes into play. When lining up the selvedges and all these edges, the fabric might not want to lay flat. The goal here is to make the fabric smooth and comfortable, ignore the uneven cut from the store for now. If you line up the selvedge edges and the store cut end to try to make a 90 degree corner but the fabric doesn’t want to fold nicely down the middle you need to make an adjustment. Slowly move the store cut ends until the middle fold lays flat and there are no large wrinkles in the fabric and the selvedge edges are still lined up together. Now that you have the middle flat and happy, take the selvedge edges and fold them up to meet the middle fold. Which looks like this, below:

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We are going to use the straight edge of a long ruler to cut the uneven end off with a rotary cutter. If you have never used a rotary cutter, treat it with care, they are sharp! Using the clear ruler, line up the straight edge (as shown below) past the shortest spot on the store cut.

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Once you know where the straight edge needs to be, we need to make sure the straight edge is perpendicular to the bottom fold (the original ‘middle’ fold and selvedges edges are at the top). Fabric should be folded into fourths lengthwise and we are using the bottom folded edge to check that the ruler is forming a 90 degree angle with the straight edge you are going to use. Make sense?

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Use the rotary cutter to trim off the uneven ends.

Note to Lefties! The images show what righties need to do, if you are lefty do the same steps but before cutting, turn your cutting mat 180 degrees so that the uneven edges are to the left of the ruler. Make sure nothing slipped during the turn.

Hold the ruler with your non dominant hand with at least one finger or your elbow on the cutting mat so the ruler doesn’t shift at all. Taking the rotary cutter in your dominant hand, undo the blade cover and place the side of the cutter up against the side of the ruler. Then starting closer to your body and using a slow and steady motion, cut the fabric in one long stroke. Like cutting a pizza but do it in one motion and make sure you can feel the mat below you. A sharp cutter should be able to do this in one pass, if it doesn’t, replace the blade when you can.

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Unfold, smooth and lay out your fabric flat and look at the straight edge using the ruler and selvedge edges to check. They should be perpendicular. Look at the entire length, does it look straight to you? If not you can do the same process again, just don’t take off too much fabric when cutting, we want to save as much as possible. All done! Now you can move on with your project knowing you have a nice straight edge to start.

Questions? Comments?

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When working a pattern: Using Graph Paper

One of my favorite tools of the trade is good old graph paper. It is a simple way to keep track of where you are in your pattern. I have a very hard time keeping count and everyone in my house knows that when I am counting out loud they need to not distract me. Add that difficulty to counting rows, adding increases or doing decreases every few rows and it is imperative for me to employ some way to find my place when I pick up my knitting again. I also add other important information on the graph paper such as: name of the pattern, designer, date started, yarn used, needles sizes etc. All the information needed if you want to repeat the pattern later on.

Where the graph paper is the most useful is when you are given a set of directions that need to be repeated a specific number of times:

For example:
First Pattern Block
Row 1: K2, YO, P2, K to marker, M1R, SM, K3, SM, M1L, K until 4 sts remain, P2, YO, K2.
Row 2: K2, YO, K2, P until 4 sts remain – slipping markers, K2, YO, K2.

When the pattern says to repeat rows 1 & 2 a total of 5 times and then knit another row 1 again for a total of 11 rows, this is how I would keep track of these directions on my graph paper:

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By outlining the blocks that coordinate with the rows I need to repeat, I will not have the chance to do more than necessary.  I can also make note of my stitch count at the end of each row.  That definitely helps when the designer includes that information in the pattern. NOW… the most important part is to make notes and not forget about why you took the time to set up the graph paper in the first place. I like to make my check marks after completing a row, not when I start it. I have been consistent with my habits and like most things in knitting, (and life) being consistent really pays off.

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After finishing my project I like to save my graph paper along with the pattern for future use or reference when casting on a similar project. It has actually helped me many times, like when doing a special cast on and not remembering the best way to approach it if something didn’t work out properly the first time around I would have made note of it.

I hope you find that as helpful as I do!

Questions? Comments?

When Vera Bradley Straps Die (aka replacing straps on a good tote bag)

The straps on my favorite Vera Bradley pattern at the time were fraying and looking rather shabby. The photo below is my new favorite pattern (yes, I know it’s not a recent pattern, but I really try to make them last as long as humanly possible, they aren’t cheap!) and what the strap should look like on a tote bag. Now go down to the next photo, to see what I did to save my bag.

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What it should look like when new.

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What you can do to rescue your tote.

I bought four rings that coordinated with my bag. Then as luck would have it, I found an almost exact match for the bag fabric at the local big chain fabric store. I think it was supposed to be a look alike fabric (nice term for rip-off or copy cat) so the colors and design all matched pretty well. I was planning on getting a solid color to match but this was so much better. I did a little measuring to make sure I didn’t cut too low.  I wanted to have enough space to make a loop around one side of the ring and be able to get it onto my sewing machine. That probably means about 4 inches. Don’t quote me, I’m too lazy to get up and measure at the moment.

I recreated the same strap by using a little batting and the usual strap procedure (cut fabric 4 times final desired width and add 4″ to desired length, fold each side in to meet in middle then fold in half again matching folded sides together on one side, stitch lengthwise to secure and mimic the sewing lines on the original straps) to make it look as authentic as possible. Now sew each of the ends of the tote bag’s original straps to the rings and then attach the new straps. Make a lot of measurements as you go to either match the length if you liked how the bag hung on your shoulder or adjust accordingly. Don’t TWIST them in a funny way! You will be ripping out stitches!

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Before and After. Pretend they are the same pattern.

Great way to rescue favorite bags and keep them in use a little bit longer…

Want to see a more detailed video or tutorial? I’ll make one if enough of you are interested!

Thank you to Vera Bradley for making such beautiful bags!

When it is a Purl or a Pearl

I can’t say for sure why the word purl is spelled the way it is, I just know that it is the twin to the knit stitch. Sometimes I call it the ‘evil twin’ but only because it is a little more difficult to maneuver for beginners. Purl is shorter than evil twin, that is good when writing out patterns, less ink…

Many sites, including the Oxford Dictionary, say that it is from Middle 17th century of unknown origins and has two short definitions:

1) A knitting stitch made by putting the needle through the front of the stitch from right to left.

2) a cord of twisted gold or silver wire used for bordering or edging something.

Dictionary.com says that the word pearl is variant of obsoletepirl’ to twist (threads, etc.) into a cord. I feel like there is something connecting the two, don’t you? So much so that when teaching my students about the differences between the knit and purl stitches I use the idea of a pearl necklace to remember the direction the needle goes into the work. Plus, the purl stitch looks like bumps, just like running your finger over a strand of pearls. I call them bumps all the time.

So, if you forget which way to insert the needle for the knit or the purl stitch, think of it this way:

When you have your work facing you with the working yarn on the right, you need to enter the next loop to be worked and point towards yourself or towards your ‘pearls’ with the working needle (right hand).

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Vs the knit stitch:

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The knit stitch means you point away from your self.

Doesn’t everyone wear a strand of pearls when knitting?

When and where to buy yarn? A festival of course

I like to buy most of my yarn at festivals. Why? Because they are so much fun and the selection is so much bigger and better! I have a few favorites that I drag my family to every chance I get. If you see a wool and sheep festival advertised, don’t think that it’s just yarn! These are some of the things you will see: (not every festival has all of these items but a good selection of them)

  • yarn
  • more yarn
  • and even more yarn
  • livestock from which the yarn comes from (sheep, alpaca, goats, rabbits)
  • patterns for all types of fiber art projects
  • books on fiber arts
  • knitting supplies like knitting needles (vintage and new), stitch markers, yarn needles and anything else ever invented for knitters
  • spinning supplies like roving (wool that is ready to spin), fleece (animal fibers straight of the animal and not processed at all), combs and carding machines (to clean the animal fibers to get them ready to spin), spinning wheels (without the sharp spindle, so no worries about a spell making you sleep until your true love’s kiss), drop spindles (spinning by hand without a machine) etc.
  • weaving supplies like spooled yarn, looms, shuttles etc.
  • crochet supplies like hooks (not much else needed for crocheting…)
  • rug hooking supplies
  • felting supplies and felted animals
  • pre-made kits – typically includes pattern and yarn/materials needed
  • pre-made garments – sweaters, gloves, mittens, socks etc. from all over the world
  • beads to decorate your knits
  • handmade baskets
  • handmade soap
  • shawl pins
  • ceramics – especially yarn bowls, tea cups etc.
  • wood crafts – especially yarn bowls, cutting boards etc.
  • buttons – new and vintage
  • vintage crafting tools
  • AND ON AND ON

Not impressed?  How about these:

  • AWESOME food – lots of local food trucks and vendors, lots of variety and dessert options too (a lot of festivals have vendors that use lamb in their offerings to create a full circle experience)
  • gourmet food gifts – cheese, wine, chocolate, jerky, olive oils, coffee, teas, fudge, dips, anything made from apples (at the fall festivals)
  • cooking demos
  • herding dog demos
  • programs for kids
  • buy livestock
  • seeing everyone else walking around with their handmade garments
  • help from the vendors if you have a question about a pattern or yarn

And most importantly:

**INSPIRATION**

Like me, you might just be overwhelmed with all the colors and designs. Just breathe. Don’t forget a notebook to jot down the flood of creativity that comes with every festival.

Here are the festivals I have experienced and love:

MD – Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival – West Friendship, MD
Howard County Fairgrounds
May 6 – 7, 2017
http://sheepandwool.org
This is the biggest festival in the country. Plan for two days and bring lots of money! This festival is about 25 miles outside of downtown Balitmore, lots to do!

NJ – Garden State Sheep Breeders Festival – Lambertville, NJ
Hunterdon County Fairgrounds
September 9 – 10, 2017
http://njsheep.net/festival
This is a smallish festival but it has grown since the first time we went. It is my personal favorite because it is small and not overwhelming. Does not have all the amenities listed above but is a great place to start if you want to try out a festival for the fist time. A few minutes away in the little downtown portion of Lambertville are some great restaurants, antique shops and a view of the Delaware River. Across the bridge in Lambertville is New Hope, PA, a hip and artsy town that is famous for its cultural attractions. At the festival you are very close to where George Washington crossed the Delaware on December 25, 1776 and other historically important sites. Make a weekend trip out of it, lots of fun things to do.

NY – Sheep and Wool Festival – Rhinebeck, NY
Dutchess County Fairgrounds
October 21 – 22, 2017
http://sheepandwool.com
This is a huge festival, you will find everything listed above at this one. Great views of upstate NY when driving there, crisp fall air, excitement in every building and tent. Great destination for cultural activities, restaurants and some interesting historical sites nearby – Franklin D Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park for instance. Book your hotel a year in advance, this one is so big that all the nearby rooms are booked!

Planning a festival trip requires a little forethought, both for your comfort and for your wallet.

  • For comfort make sure you are dressed appropriately for the weather and drink plenty of water, you know the drill.
  • For your wallet make sure you have a plan for what you want to buy or else you will buy everything you touch might come home with more than you thought. If on a strict budget, do not even consider bringing a credit card. Most of the vendors are equipped for credit cards.

Of course remember you need to save some of your money for food, you can’t eat yarn.

When is it a Knit or a Purl?

Purl and knit stitches are practically twins. When first learning how to knit it can be very confusing to recognize the difference between a knit stitch and a purl stitch. To give a better visual aid, I like to think of the worked stitches as scarves (as in something that you wrap around your neck when cold and has two ends). Stick with me, might seem a little bonkers but it really helps. Meet my friend, Little Bear Pierre:

*Knit Stitch*

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Front of a knit stitch

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Back of a knit stitch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When looking at the right side of a knit stitch up super close while spreading the stitches wide, it generally looks like a ‘V’ shape as seen above on Pierre with his bright pink scarf. While the front looks like a ‘V’ when turned around, the back of the knit stitch looks like a ‘bump’. Remember that ‘bump’.

*Purl Stitch*

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Front side of purl stitch

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Back side of purl stitch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When looking at the front side of a purl stitch, it looks like a ‘bump’.  To relate it to the scarf again, this time put the scarf around your neck like a choker necklace but with the ends over your shoulders and down your back so that they meet behind you at your waist. The part of the scarf around the front of your neck looks like a ‘bump’.  And now the back looks like a ‘V’. This is one of the hardest concepts to a beginner knitter.  The fact that you do two different techniques to create essentially the same stitch is very confusing.

Knowing what each stitch looks like is crucial to knitting something as simple as stockinette fabric and forget about going upward and onward to cables and lace unless you master this skill. Now another time we will talk about how the purl stitch is the evil twin to knit.

If you would like to see the pattern for Little Bear Pierre, here is the link. He was designed by Rachel Borello Carroll.