Monday, 30 May 2011

Sewing: a gift

Here's a make-up bag I've made as a present for my grandmother.  The pattern is the Flossie Teacakes Slouchy Make-Up Bag which you can buy from Florence as a PDF.  With so many free patterns around these days, you might be reluctant to pay for one, but this one doesn't cost much and it's worth it.  You get very detailed instructions, step-by-step photos, and helpful tips that really are helpful.  It's probably not for complete beginners, but you certainly don't need to be an expert (I'm not).  I didn't take any work-in-progress pictures because if you want to know how it all goes together you should buy Florence's pattern.

The fabric, which has proved very difficult to photograph, is a family heirloom.  My grandmother gave it to me when I visited her a couple of years ago, but it had originally been bought by her mother.  Some of it was already half-made-up into little pillows, and my mum finished those and is using them in her new house.  I'm sure there's some sort of cosmic dimension to a long-unfinished project being completed at last - one more little thing ticked off the universal (as in universe-al) to-do list.

Anyway, this fabric is a stunning deep blue-green heavy silk jacquard (I think... or brocade?).  My boyfriend and I recently watched The Last Emperor and while I was sewing I was thinking that my fabric was like something from the movie.  Then I realised that, having been brought from China by my great-grandmother, it really is like something from the movie: it was probably bought around the time of the earlier parts of that story.
I really don't know where, or if, you could buy fabric of this quality now, or for what price.  And besides, I generally choose not to buy silk because most silk production involves boiling the silk worms alive in their cocoons.  So, having this fabric to work with is a real treat - one that my sewing skills and equipment are possibly not quite level to.  I now realise, for example, that you can buy special fine pins to avoid leaving snags all over your precious fabric...  I hesitated a little to cut into it, but it seemed so perfect to make a gift for my grandmother from her mother's fabric.  In the end I even cut a little wastefully, so as to center one main element of the woven pattern on each side of the bag.  (Fear not, every gorgeous shiny scrap will be saved and used.)

I made a few small changes to Florence's pattern.  First, I worked out a way to make the neat little zip-end covers with no stitches showing.  (I might share that when I have time to put a mini-tutorial together.)

I added a very simple patch pocket to the lining.  I hope I've remembered correctly that my grandmother's right-handed, because I've put the pocket so that it's facing you when you pull open the zip from left to right.  The lining fabric is a hand-woven shot cotton, organic and fairly traded.  My mum recently bought a couple of metres of it from Bishopston Trading and let me have some for my project because it was such a good match.

I also slip-stitched by hand the turning hole in the lining, rather than machining it, and made a different zip-pull.  I've run out of velvet ribbon and am trying to resist buying more because it's polyester which is basically plastic (you can get silk - but see above!).  So I used some Rowan organic cotton knitting yarn to make a very dense pom-pom to go on the zip.  It's a subtle pale pink shade which picks up the pink flowers on the fabric quite nicely.  My boyfriend says the pom-pom is over the top, but that's really the point.

I made the pom-pom the old-fashioned way, with two doughnuts of card from an old greetings card.  Those fancy pom-pom gadgets you can get now look tempting but again, I'm trying to resist unnecessary plastic.

Does anyone know of a good alternative to the synthetic interfacing that gives this make-up bag its shape and structure?  I bought one metre thinking that I'd be better able to think of eco-friendlier options if I knew what the plastic stuff was like, but it turns out it's not like anything natural that I can think of.  I need to find a solution before my metre runs out, because I don't want to buy any more - but I do want to keep sewing smart little purses...