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Friday, September 11, 2020

Behind the Seams - Cork and Waxed Linen Range Backpack

 I have not posted lately, but if you follow me on Facebook you know that I have been busy sewing bags.  New patterns and materials keep me inspired.  Sometimes it is the pattern that inspires the materials, and sometimes the other way around.  It is the waxed linen that inspired my cork and waxed linen urban backpack.  This "behind the seams" look at making the Range Backpack by Noodlehead will show just a few design decisions that will make a one-of-a-kind bag using a purchased pattern.    

The Pattern

I have a very good domestic sewing machine.  It does a lot of things really well, but bulk is not one of them.  My first design decision is the pattern itself.  For instance, if the pattern is made for a leather bag, it probably is not something I can do.  Sometimes cork can be substituted for leather, but woven fabrics usually cannot.  Some bags are more easily sewn on a cylinder bed or walking foot machine.  Often, a pattern will say that it is suitable for a domestic machine.  If I am unsure, I will search the bag name to see if I can find photos of the bags other sewers have made.    


Even if your pattern is suitable for a domestic machine, heavy denim, canvas, and heavier decorator fabrics may cause trouble. For this bag, I used a pretty 7 oz. waxed linen, a lighter weight than most waxed canvas fabrics at 10-12 oz.  I like to use a 9 oz Cordura 500D for lining. It is durable, easy to clean and does not need to be interfaced to keep its shape. Cork fabrics are more commonly measured by thickness.  Most machines handle them well, but too many layers will take up valuable space under the presser foot.  

With a few minor changes to the pattern, I decided I could make these fabrics work together.

I unrolled the waxed linen in a well-lit area and spread a few cork fabrics around to see which ones work best. I usually have a plan in place when I purchase fabrics. However, I buy most of my fabrics online and I am sometimes surprised when they arrive.

Hardware, Zippers and Thread

Hardware and zipper selection is exciting, but can be frustrating as well. I hate finding everything I need in my stash except, perhaps, one small item like a zipper pull, a single swivel hook, or even rivets. That means I start over with my selections, or I order what I need and wait days for it to arrive.

Straps were also a consideration, cork or nylon polypropylene.  This pattern calls for 1-1/2" straps.  That's pretty wide and I was afraid cork straps would be too stiff and heavy, so I chose a nice lightweight polypropylene from Strapworks.

I chose a heavy duty polyester thread #69 T70.  It is not bonded, so ravels a bit, but with some patience and a little practice, it really looks nice.  I will sometimes use a bonded nylon #69 T70.  Unless I am sewing straps or an area where the bobbin thread will be visible, I use regular polyester thread in the bobbin.  Keep in mind, a larger needle is required with the heavier fabric and thread.  I use a jeans needle 110/18.

Choosing to top stitch with a heavy thread in a coordinating color is a design choice that takes a lot of commitment.  If the stitches are a feature, they need to be straight and even.  I think small wobbles are acceptable in handmade bags.  But, too many wobbles will have you pulling threads and trying to stitch again in the same holes that were created the first time you top stitched on your cork! 

This bag calls for two different hardware sizes, 1-1/2"  for straps and 1" for the strap closure.  I modified the closure by replacing the two 1" D-rings with a single 1" D-ring and a 1" swivel hook.  I added a 1/2" swivel hook for a key strap.  

No interfacing was required with my fabric choices.

Putting It Together

It takes a while to cut everything out.  Even without interfacing, this pattern has 21 exterior and interior pieces to cut. The pattern came with labels to help stay organized.

The pattern calls for a pleat in the front pocket.  I made the pleat on the cork and Pendleton wool bag, but it was problematic. The pleated pocket, pleated lining and zipper created 7 layers that my machine did not like.  I simply left the pleat out on this one.  

I used 6mm rapid rivets to secure the bottom closure.  I like to add a cork "washer" behind the rapid rivet to protect the fabric.  The Cordura and cork are very strong and tear resistant, but it's a bit of insurance against wear and tear.  Where both sides of the rivet are visible, I used 6mm double cap rivets.

The inside front of the bag is neat and tidy.  I used two rows of top stitch, so seams are flat and secure.  The side seams and boxed corners are not top stitched.  To ensure durability,  I sewed the first seam according to the pattern.  Then, I flipped the bag over and stitched again next to the first line of stitches, just inside the seam allowance.  Now I have two rows of stitching with heavy duty thread on both sides.  I also used a zig-zag stitch on the waxed linen seams to ensure no ravel.  Strong!  

This is the wrong side of the exterior back.  Straps are attached and finished with rivets.  The waxed canvas is really starting to build personality.  I like it more with every new wrinkle!  


The lining is great place to make it your own bag.  It's easy to add or change pockets to suit your preference.  These two smaller pockets and the key strap are not part of the pattern.  They are features that add a lot of convenience, especially to a tall, narrow bag where small items might get lost. 

 The pattern calls for a large slip pocket, but I like to use a zippered or welt pocket that hangs between the lining and the bag exterior.  It provides a nice place to turn the bag right side out rather than having an 8" seam at the bottom of the bag.  I actually did not need to turn this bag, I used a drop-in method, but this pocket is so easy and attractive, I used it anyway.  I use this same method for a zippered pocket but chose to make a welt pocket for convenience and easy access in this deep and narrow bag.

The side seams on the lining are top stitched.  This is a little hard to sewing in a tunnel.  But, it really helps the lining to hang better.  

Any top stitching that does not start/stop at a seamed edge gets special treatment.  This picture is not great, but it shows that I have left the thread tails long at the beginning and end of the top stitch.  I pull these threads to the back and hand knot them along with the bobbin threads.  I touch the knot with a bit of glue so they do not unravel.  This makes a clean top stitch with no obvious stop/start point.  It is time consuming, but makes a big difference in the finished look.    

It is always hard to accurately capture the interior.  Keeping the bag open while eliminating shadows is almost impossible.  In this picture, I am preparing to sew the lining into the exterior.  Because the top is fold-over rather than zippered, a drop-in lining works well.  I did it a little differently than the pattern for several reasons.  The main reason was to reduce the impact on the waxed canvas.  Turning the bag using the "birthing" method would add a lot of wrinkles to the waxed canvas.  I like the wrinkles, but I want them created naturally through use, and not necessarily being crunched up while passing the bag through an 8" opening in the pocket.  This method makes it a little harder to make a straight and tidy top, but it can be done with patience and care.  

That's it!  A behind the seams look at my Cork and Waxed Linen Fold-Over Range Backpack.  For more pictures and details, visit the listing in my Urban Stitcher Etsy Shop.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Mindfulness and Masks

As the world population battles COVID-19, my moods have swung from disbelief to sadness, then anger and fear.  I suspect the mood swings are not over, but for me, staying busy keeps the anxiety at bay.  

A Facebook group called Crafters Against COVID-19 *PDX* was created March 18.  By April 1st ,  over 8000 Portland area members had delivered 5427 homemade masks to Multnomah County Health Department.  The County is distributing them to care facilities and shelters.  

Sew Many Good Patterns!

I have made 200 masks using four different patterns. All were good patterns, but not all were suitable for production-like sewing.  A few days ago, I found another pattern that I will use going forward.  It goes together very quickly.  The finished product is attractive and easy to wear.  It hugs the face around the edges, while leaving a bit of breathing room at the nose and mouth.  

The pattern was created by Liz Schaffner, owner and creative genius (I kid you not) of Moments by Liz.  She has many great patterns with innovative sewing techniques.  I learn a lot from Liz and her talented group members.  Liz shared the free pattern with the members of her private Facebook group.      

I modified the pattern to comply with the Crafters group guidelines and to make it more suitable for production-like sewing.  After a few trial runs, I was able to make a mask in about one half the time it took to make any of the other masks.  And, the mask is so much easier to wear.  

I sent Liz a photo of my finished mask and she has generously allowed me to make the modified version public.  

Download free PDF version here. 


For each pattern, you need:
  • 8" x 10" 100% cotton outer fabric
  • 8" x 10" 100% cotton lining fabric
  • two 9" pieces of elastic  (updated December 6, 2020)  7" elastic was too short after several washings


Cutting and Turning

Place outer fabric and lining fabric right side together, edges aligned.  Measure and make a small mark 2” in from each corner on all sides.  Draw a diagonal line connecting the marks.  
I made a cardstock template to make this faster and more accurate. 

Don’t cut the corners yet.  This is my personal preference.  It is easier to maintain the shape as you sew the bias (diagonal) cuts of the fabric.   


Using 3/8" seam allowance, sew the lining and outer fabrics right side together leaving open about 3” to 4” on one long side for turning.  The diagonal lines are where you will cut.  Make sure you sew 3/8" inside that cut line.  When sewn, cut the corners off along the diagonal lines.

Turn right side out.  Press the mask making sure the seam allowance you left open is turned inside and pressed flat.  Roll the seams between your fingers to make sure they are fully extended and corners are sharp. I sometimes use the "non-hooked" end of a small crochet hook to gently push the corners out. Corners that are not fully extended will be troublesome when you make your folds.  

Folding the "Liz" Pleats

The pleats create the cup shape that make this mask so comfortable to wear.  This picture shows what we are trying to do.  Read on to see how to get there. 

Fold the bottom up on one side about 3/8” to 1/2” above the side corner.  

Hold the top of the fold in place and pull the lower corner to the right so the edge is parallel to the side of the mask, as pictured below.

Pin in place.

You will be sewing across the pleats top to bottom.  Pinned edges should be aligned to make a straight edge at an even distance from the side of the mask.  Try to make the two inner points meet in the center. I do not spend a lot of time trying to eliminate any gap between the points.  If there is a short gap between those points, it will not impact your finished mask.  As long as you can sew a straight line from top to bottom, it will work.  Be consistent on both sides.  

Top Stitch Finish

The top stitch will accomplish the last three steps: 
  • Sew the pleats in place
  • Secure the elastic
  • Close the opening used to turn right side out

You can do this in whatever manner you feel most comfortable.  I like to do the entire top stitch without breaking my thread. 

This picture of the inside of a finished mask may be enough to explain what I have done.  If not, you can read on for more pictures and detailed instructions.   

Starting at one corner, top stitch close to the edge across the long edge, down the side over the folds sewing the pleats in place.  When you have sewn across the first set of pleats, stop sewing with needle down and pivot.

Insert one end of a 7” piece of elastic into the pleat next to the fold and as far as it will go.  Top stitch to the side of the mask on top of the pleat catching the elastic inside.  Pivot.  

Sew up the side of the mask to about an inch from the second pleat.  Stop and insert the second side of that 9” piece of elastic.  Continue sewing to the fold.  Pivot and sew along the fold, catching the elastic as you sew.  

Stitch back and forth from top to bottom a few times catching the elastic at each end.  Continue sewing the remaining long edge to the other side.  Sew over the second set of pleats, stop and pivot.  Insert one end of the second piece of elastic and complete the top stitching as you did on the first side.  Continue sewing until you meet the top stitching where you started.

You are done!  So easy!  

Thank you Liz Schaffner, Moments by Liz, for the great pattern and for allowing me to share.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Paper and thread botanical greeting cards

The holidays are over and I am settling back into routine.  A new blog post is overdue so thought I would do a quick tutorial on how I made the botanical greeting cards recently posted in my Urban Stitcher® Etsy shop.  They are fun to make with endless possibilities.  I will mention the supplies I used, but honestly, there are no rules.  You probably already have everything you need to get started.  

I wanted a simple design to accommodate a variety of media, including free-motion sewing machine stitches.  

As with most all my projects, I started with a sketch pad.  

Now, switching to my 9"x12" watercolor pad, I cut one sheet in four 4-1/2" x 6" pieces.  My blank card stock is 4-5/8 x 6-1/4, so no waste!  I prepared the watercolor paper with a simple wash.  I will not dwell on how to do this.  I am not accomplished with watercolor, but there are great tutorials on YouTube that have helped me learn the little I know.  

I traced the outside line of the picture to a paper-backed adhesive.  I use Pellon's Wonder Under.  The paper will be peeled away, so pencil is fine to do the tracing.

After tracing, I loosely cut around the image.  More care will be taken in cutting out the image after adhering it to the decorative paper. 

After the basic shape was cut out, I used my steam iron on low heat/no steam to press the Wonder Under image to the back of decorative paper.  Any kind of paper or fabric can be used.  I used Thai Mulberry paper in several colors. 

Now it is time to carefully cut around the image. When the image is cut out, peel the Wonder Under paper backing away from the decorative paper, flip it over and use the iron again to press it to the prepared watercolor paper.  

I used a Frixion Clicker Erasable pen to draw the detail I want to stitch.  This is my favorite pen anytime I need to make a temporary mark on fabric or paper.  It disappears with a light press with an iron.   

I used a very dark green Sulky 40 wt rayon embroidery thread to stitch the detail in free-motion.  It is good to plan how you will stitch the lines.  The needle makes holes in the paper.  It's part of the charm unless you go over the same area too many times.    

Sometimes it is necessary to stop stitching in one area and move to another area.  In that case, I leave a long tail on my threads so I can come back later, pull them to the back side, and knot them on back.

In this picture, the flower is completed.  The watercolor paper has been trimmed to a size that will allow me to use a "mat" and still fit on the blank card stock.  I will use a needle to pull these threads to the back side and knot them.   

I use double backed tape to adhere the watercolor paper/mat onto the blank card stock.  I like the layered look, so my picture was trimmed to allow a bit of mat and the blank card to show below.  Again, just personal preference.

I used very little stitching on this card because the embedded mulberry leaves add so much character.

Some of these leaves were too small to detail with decorative paper, so I used a little watercolor to give them color.   

That's it!  Simple greeting cards made with love.  I hope you are inspired to try making some of your own!    

Thank you for visiting.  Between blog posts, please visit Urban Stitcher on Facebook and Etsy.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Sling Bag Pattern Creation

After making four sling bags using the Park Sling Backpack by Sew Sweetness, I was ready for a different bag.  I had size, shape and features in mind, but could not find a suitable pattern.  I have made many bags without a pattern using simple construction designs and techniques, but never feature-intensive bags, like backpacks.  Watching a couple of YouTube video tutorials gave me the confidence to try making a pattern I could use, and perhaps, re-use.    

Here is what I had in mind:
  • 8 inches wide by 12 inches tall, 3-inch gusset with a long zipper across the top for easy access to the inside
  • Sling bag style with a single strap extending from the top of the bag
  • D-rings on both lower corners so the strap could be used over either arm
  • Lining that fits snugly inside without drooping  
Most of these requirements are pretty straight forward.  Saggy lining is a sticking point for me, however.  I hate rummaging around in a bag that is full of lining.  I know there are many tips and tricks for managing lining.  I decided to try something a little different.... french seams.  

If you are interested in how I created a sling bag with french seams, read on.  If not, take a peek at the pictures and if you like the bag you see, visit my Urban Stitcher® Etsy shop to see the Cork Leaves Sling Bag.  It was made using the pattern created here.    

Let's Get Started!

Recognizing that the trial bag would most likely be unusable, I selected fabric odds and ends from my stash.  The hardware could be recovered.  The only real loss would be zipper yardage.  As expected, trial and error revealed several flaws in my logic.  In each case, I corrected my pattern instructions and forged ahead with the prototype. All the warts are visible in these pictures!

My notes and diagrams started on a piece of freezer paper.  After many corrections and updates, the notes were transferred to a notebook.

Paper bag recycled into pattern pieces.  
Note:  I used foam stabilizer for the front, back and side panels.  To eliminate bulk, I cut the stabilizer about 5/8" from all edges.

 To create the french seams, I first sewed the lining pieces to the main fabric pieces, right sides together, leaving a small opening to turn right side out. I used a 1/4" seam allowance.  
For the prototype, I cut the side panel section as one piece using the main fabric.  I sewed it into a tube and turned right side out.  I pressed the seam down the middle of the tube to eliminate bulk at the edges where the side panel would be sewn to the front and back pieces.  
I used the same method to create the zipper unit.  The zipper panels were stitched directly on top of the zipper tape.  It was very easy.  Note the second line of top stitching on each side of the zipper.  The reason will be shown later. 

Front, back and gusset ready for assembly.  Because there are no raw edge, unfinished strap ends and pocket edges cannot be buried.  The strap tabs were sewn to the outside far enough from the edge that they would not interfere with the french seam.  

Front panel clipped to back panel and ready for stitching.  Careful measuring and planning is necessary.  No snipping corners to ease the gusset!  

From the lining side you can see where I stitched the strap tabs in place.  This is an oops that had to be noted for future bags.  The straps need to be stitched to the exterior fabric before sewing it to the lining.  Seems obvious, right?

Tight and tidy lining with french seams!  No raw edges!  No bias binding!  The french seam is about 1/4".  It is not as wide as if I had encased the raw edges with bias binding.  I think it was easier than applying bias binding, and the seams may be sturdier.   

This closeup shows the back side of the zipper.  The extra line of stitches on the zipper secures the edge of the zipper to the panel giving it a finished look.  Easier than hand finishing the lining around the zipper and there is absolutely no baggy lining around the zipper!

 I used bias binding for the strap and strap pocket.  Because of the zipper, I think it lays flatter than sewing right sides together and turning.  Looking closely you can see another oops.....the grommet for earbud cable is installed backwards.  Oh well.  

Here is a picture of the Cork Leaves Sling Bag currently available in my Etsy shop.  It was helpful working through the first bag and having the pattern pieces.  I have to admit, however, that I made several other changes that necessitated a lot of fitting and basting.  I may make a couple more and hopefully have a solid pattern to show for it... just in time to be tired of this bag and ready to move on!  

Thank you for visiting!  I hope you will watch for my next post.  In the meantime, follow Urban Stitcher® on Facebook, Instagram, Etsy, and Twitter!