Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Make a Tote Bag Bottom with Plastic Canvas and Easy Sewing

Tote bag made of upholstery fabric with fall flowers
Tote Bag from Crafts Show

A well-made tote bag at a crafts show caught my eye and my purse strings, and I tried to use it the other day. It has no stiffening in the bottom, so I set about to fix that with plastic canvas. Rather than take the bag apart to place the plastic canvas between the lining and the inside of the bag, I just added the plastic canvas to the bottom of the lining by stitching the ends securely on the sewing machine. I’ve used plastic canvas before for sewing crafts, so I know it sews easily with regular thread and the straight-stitch presser foot.

burgundy lining fabric shows inside of tote bag
Turn Tote Bag Inside Out with Lining Free from Bag Fabric

Lining of Tote Bag with Sheet of Plastic Canvas
Use Any Color Plastic Canvas for Bottom

Turn the lining of the bag to the outside. Measure the length of the bottom side seams and the length of the bottom of the bag. You’ll have rectangular measurements to apply to the plastic canvas. If you have a tote bag with a round bottom, you’ll need special round plastic canvas for it. 

Cut the plastic canvas close to a solid row (so the prongs aren’t sticking out) in the approximate size of the bottom of the tote bag or purse. 

bottom of tote bag with plastic canvas in position to straight stitch side
Lay Plastic Canvas on Top of Bottom Edge of Lining to Stitch

Lay the plastic canvas on top of the lining of the tote at the side seam and place under the presser foot with the plastic canvas on top. Stitch down the side of the lining and on top of the plastic canvas to the end of the side seam. Pivot the fabric and plastic canvas and stitch through the same area again. Tack with a backstitch and cut the thread. 

Shows stitching down side of plastic canvas and bottom of bag
Pivot needle and stitch down the same side again to hold plastic

Check the size of the plastic canvas again. You don’t want it to buckle because it’s too long for the bottom of the bag. Trim a row or two off the plastic canvas end if necessary.

Stitch the other side the same way as the first, sewing down the edge of the canvas and lining seam, pivot and return to the place you started. Tack with a backstitch and cut the thread. Check your work by returning the lining back inside the bag. You don’t need to stitch the long sides because you’re just trying to keep the plastic canvas from sliding around or coming out when you dump the contents.

Plastic canvas isn't as heavy as I like for the bottom of a tote bag, but it works better than no stiffening at all. I like a piece of hard plastic or stiff cardboard, but both of those have drawbacks. The hard plastic breaks and the stiff cardboard can't get wet, so the plastic canvas is an alternative that allows the bag to sit with a little structure instead of taking the shape of the objects in the tote. It won't break and water won't damage it. The next time you need stiffening for a crafts project, consider plastic canvas. It's almost indestructible, easy to sew and comes in several different colors. It's available at your nearest hobby store.

See you next time!


Monday, July 14, 2014

Make a Mastectomy Bra from a Purchased Bra with Easy Sewing Instructions

Orange gerbera daisies with imperfect petals
Imperfections Can Be Beautiful

A mastectomy without reconstruction requires some clever underwear to look normal. Mastectomy bras are available for purchase at a high price, but they may not be the style you like. Many look Victorian and fit up around the neck, while others are itchy fabrics. Revising a purchased bra gives you a better selection and more choice of styles. You may also find the price worth the effort. The Fruit of the Loom bra shown here is about $8 in 2014, compared to $80 for a mastectomy bra.

You can choose a bra you like and turn it into a mastectomy bra in a few easy steps. You’ll need a straight-stitch sewing machine and ordinary sewing supplies, along with a purchased bra and a fabric square or squares the size of the bra cups. You’ll need two squares of fabric for a double mastectomy bra and just one for a single left or right side. A soft knit fabric seems to work best for the cup pocket that holds a prosthetic breast.

Wash the bra and the fabric you plan to use for the lining or pocket the way you normally launder bras, using the same water temperature and drying in the dryer, if you dry your bras. This allows the bra to shrink before you start sewing.

Wrong side of white bra and white single knit fabric
Wash and Dry Bra and Fabric for Inside Pocket

Lay the purchased bra on a flat surface with the inside facing you. Choose the side you need to revise and place the fabric square along the top edge of the band (bottom of the bra), with the edge of the square folded under about 5/8 inch. Make certain your fabric square will fit all areas of the cup. 

Determine where you want the opening pocket for the prosthesis to slide in place. Most purchased bras have the opening on the side near the arm, but opening at the top keeps the prosthetic in place and makes the underarm area of the bra smoother. If you choose the side for the opening, leave the side and part of the underarm seam open or your prosthesis might not fit.

Bra with fabric pinned at center and bottom edge
Pin the Fabric in Place Starting at Center of Bra
Trim the fabric square to fit about 5/8 inch outside the edge of the bra, starting at the center; fold the edge under about 5/8 inch and pin in place.  Work one edge at a time for best results.

Trim the bottom edge about 5/8 inch longer than the bra and fold the bottom edge under 5/8 inch and pin it in place above the elastic band.

Trim the arm side and the top edge of the fabric individually and pin the fabric piece in place all around the bra cup. You want it to be flat and smooth, not cupped like the front surface. (If you've had a double mastectomy, unpin and use the fabric to make a mirror image with another fabric square by placing right side to right side and cutting the shape. Pin the fabric back in place.)

White bra with fabric square edges folded under and pinned in place
Continue Pinning Clockwise Around the Cup Edge

Unpin the side you want to leave open for the pocket, but don’t unfold the edge. Stitch along the open edge with your sewing machine straight stitch with thread the same color as the bra. This gives the open edge a finished seam and some structure. Pin the edge back in place. 
Shows stitching in place and completed mastectomy bra revision
Stitch Around the Bra Leaving an Opening for the Prosthesis

Starting at the top center of the bra, sew with a straight stitch where you’ve pinned the fabric down to connect the lining fabric to the bra. Turn the garment and stitch around the bottom, making sure you're stitching above the elastic.Stitch three sides of the edge of the bra cup where you’ve pinned the fabric, leaving the opening at the location on the cup that you’ve chosen. 

Trim the threads and try the prosthesis into the opening. (Repeat the process for the other side if you have a double mastectomy.)

Front side of Fruit of the Loom bra with revisions
Stitching Shows A Little from Front

Save money and put your sewing skills to work with an easy revision to a purchased bra. Once you learn this technique, you'll be able to revise any ordinary bra to fit your new body shape.

See you next time!



Saturday, June 14, 2014

Strong Flat Seams Like Jeans Are Easy With Straight Stitch Sewing Machine

Make flat-felled seams for purses, totes and appliance covers with this easy straight stitch technique.
You see flat-felled seams every time you wear jeans, and you know there are no raw edges inside or outside, and they last forever because of the double-stitched technique. Flat felled seams are essential for strength and durability in some sewing, particularly crafts projects. If you want a seam to be smooth on both sides and not fray, a flat felled seam is the solution. The flat felled seam also adds strength to the area where the fabrics meet. Like jeans, you may wear out the fabric in the areas that get the roughest use, but the flat-felled seam still holds.
You can use the flat felled seam for any areas that require stitching two pieces of fabric together. If your pattern doesn't call for a flat felled seam, you can still use it with a 5/8 inch seam allowance, unless the fabric is a heavy corduroy or similar weight. In that case, you may need to add about 1/4 inch to the seam allowance so you'll have plenty of fabric to work with. For a 5/8 inch seam on the pattern, adding 1/4 inch would be a 7/8 inch seam allowance. With a heavy fabric, make a sample first as some fabrics are just too heavy to make a flat felled seam.
You can use your ordinary sewing machine and presser foot for a flat felled seam. You'll want to use a sewing machine needle for heavy fabric, as it sews through three layers of fabric for the flat felled seam. We use a seam gauge to measure the seam as we sew.
When you sew an ordinary seam, you stitch the WRONG side of the fabric, with RIGHT sides together. When stitching a flat-felled seam, place the WRONG sides of the fabric together and stitch on the RIGHT side. Stitch the 5/8 inch seam allowance on the right side with wrong sides together.

Starting the flat felled seam with straight stitch on fabric
Stitch on the RIGHT side of Fabric

Open fabric to one layer and press on the right side
Open Fabric to RIGHT Side and Press

Image shows one side of seam trimmed to 1/4 inch
Trim ONE Side of the Seam Allowance to 1/4 inch

Open the fabric at the seam edge so you can work with a single layer. Trim ONE side ONLY of the seam allowance to about 1/4 inch from the seam.
Fold the seam allowance from the wide side of the seam under the trimmed seam allowance. Press or pin if necessary. Fold the fabric back so the uncut seam allowance is on the bottom and the cut seam allowance is at the top. Press the long edge to meet the cut edge, pressing the entire length of the seam. Flip the edge of the seam allowance over so the open edge is on the underside and flat. Press if necessary.

Here's what your completed flat-felled seam looks like on the front or top side:Image shows completed flat-felled seam made with straight stitch machine
Stitch Close to the Edge of the Folded Side

Flat felled seam is smooth and durable on the wrong side also
Wrong Side of Fabric is Flat

The back of the seam is smooth. This seam works well for purses, totes and handbags as well as kitchen items like toaster covers to make a neat inside appearance.
Happy stitching! I've been working on a quilt top this week, but I stopped to make eight washcloths from a towel that was fraying on the sides. I used a double zigzag stitch around the edge and washed them to see if they frayed. They didn't, so they should hold up for a long time.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Sewing Dollhouse Accessories -- Mattress and Bedspread Easy Stitching

Blue painted doll house with removable roof
A Dollhouse Provides Hours of Fun for Small Children

We’re saps for the grandchildren, and Hubby recently built a dollhouse. I was to do the “decorating” with fabrics, but didn’t get it done before the grandkids came to visit. They liked the dollhouse, even without the fabric accessories, but the bed was a little uncomfortable since the action figures had to sleep on slats. I measured the bed before they left and promised that I’d make a mattress for it, and maybe a bedspread.

Bed with no mattress or bedspread in dollhouse bedroom
The Bed Needs a Mattress and Bedspread
If you want to accessorize your dollhouse, accessories are available at retail, but nothing is easier than making them, with some practical applications. Here’s how I made the mattress and pillows, all in one piece so they stay together and don’t get lost right away.
White cotton fabric cut to size for dollhouse mattress
Heavy Cotton Fabric Makes Mattress

The bed is about 3 1/2 inches by 5 1/2 inches on the flat part, so I cut a piece of fabric folded at the top. I used a rotary cutter, but scissors work fine. The measurements for the fabric are 4 1/2 inches wide and 7 1/2 inches long. Since it’s folded at the top, that makes a piece of fabric that is 4 1/2 inches wide and 15 inches long, but we’ll work with it folded.

 I also cut some cotton batting that’s about 4 1/2 by 7 1/4 so it will end at the bottom before the fabric ends.
White cotton batting and fabric stitched together
Stitch Sides of Mattress with Cotton Batting

Turn the fabric so the right sides are together and wrong sides are out. Lay the batting on the outer fabric. Stitch down each side at about 3/8 inch width. Turn the fabric to the right side and stitch about 1 1/4 inch down from the top across the width. This will make the “pillows” connected to the mattress so they won’t get lost. Fold at the new stitching line. Stitch down the center to divide the pillows. I didn’t stitch the pillow sides -- the action figures might want to cover their eyes.

Stitch the bottom closed. I used a straight stitch and went back over it with a zigzag stitch. Be sure you remove all pins.

Dollhouse mattress completed with cotton batting stitched inside
Completed Mattress with Connecting Pillows

Of course we needed a bedspread to go over the mattress. I chose a heavy fabric with a one-way design, and cut it so the swans on the pond would be the center. This is a fussy cut in quilting, where the center is a chosen shape or design. I added 4 inches to the size of the bed for the overhang. 

Dollhouse bedspread fabric with one-way design
Heavy Cotton Fabric Child's Print for Bedspread

Dollhouse Has Some Furniture but no Fabrics
Dollhouse bedspread fabric shows one-way design with swans
Fussy Cut Fabric for Dollhouse Bedspread
Completed dollhouse bedspread with bottom cutouts
Cut Squares on Bottom Sides for Poster Bed or Bottom Foot Board

Measure the height from mattress to floor, since some beds are high. My cut rectangle is 7 1/2 by 9 1/2 inches. Because the bed has a wooden footboard, I cut about 2 inch squares out of each bottom corner so the bedspread can be used with a four-poster and will hang correctly with a foot board. I cut a diagonal slash at the inside angle so the seam would lie flat. A few stitches all the way around and the bedspread is ready to tuck in at the bottom of the mattress and pull over the "pillows." See you soon with more needlework or stitching.