Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Bags - making, making do, mending

On Monday last week I gave up waiting for my sister to tell me what she wanted for her birthday, and set about making her a little shoulder bag to replace the worn-out one that she's been carrying around lately. I thought it would take me no time at all, and it turned out to take at least three times as long; do all crafters suffer from this mis-estimation problem? On Wednesday my sister unwrapped an unfinished bag and exclaimed with delight that she'd realised, a few days earlier, that she'd like a new handbag, but hadn't asked me to make one as she thought she'd left it too late -  so she didn't mind too much that I had to take her present back to finish the strap.
The fabrics are both organic cotton, handwoven in India and fairly traded, from the online Organic Cotton shop. The outer fabric's a heavy herringbone twill, this piece left over from a much bigger bag that I made for my sister's birthday last year; the strap and lining are a lovely dark blue/cream shot cotton. (In case you're wondering, the Soil Association website has good information about what organic farming is, how organic standards apply to textile production, and a list of the reasons why I choose to buy organic cotton fabrics rather than conventional cotton.)
I backed the herringbone with scrap fabric (a duvet cover in its previous life), attached with fusible web. This is an imperfect solution to my dislike of synthetic interfacing - I'm still using the glue, which I'm sure is pretty toxic (think of the smell when you iron it) and must cause all sorts of pollution in its manufacture, but I am at least avoiding the polyester fabric, and re-using something old instead. It gives the bag a slightly firmer structure, and counteracts this particular fabric's creasing tendency. I interfaced the strap, too, to make it stronger.
I learned to sew zips from Florence's instructions, and hers is the only method I've used so far, but this time I tried something slightly different. One end has a fabric cover, sewn as Anna of Noodlehead explains in her Gathered Clutch tutorial (and this diagram). The other side has the zip ends disappearing down between the outer fabric and the lining, which allows the bag to open up wide. I have a little purse where the zip's done like this, and I couldn't quite work out how to copy it until I read through Erin Erickson's Two Zip Hipster pattern. It wasn't coming out right at first; then I unpicked the ends of my topstitching so that the lining could fold right back from the outer fabric along the zip-insertion seam, while I sewed around the bag sides and base. That gave a good neat finish, and it was easy to re-do my topstitching afterwards because I was doing it by hand. Did that make any sense?
A much duller bit of sewing last week was fixing some re-usable shopping bags that have been hanging around looking sorry for themselves for a long time. These were stitched together so poorly that they obviously weren't really meant to last much longer than the disposal plastic carrier bags that they supposedly replaced. They're also made of a nasty non-woven synthetic stuff and were imported from China - how's that for eco-friendly? Their only appeal really is that they fold up neatly to keep in a handbag, but as we have them now I feel we ought to make them do for as long as possible before they become everlasting landfill. In reinforcing the seams and firmly re-attaching the handles I reckon I spent  longer working on them than the sweatshop folk who put them together in the first place did.
Last week was clearly Bag Week: I also mended a much nicer reversible tote bag that my mum made. Some rummaging of the urgent Oyster card variety combined with being made to hold a music stand proved too much for one of the strap seams on a bus a few months ago. That strap end is now thoroughly joined back on and I strengthened the others too, so that I may go forth and rummage frantically for my Oyster on all of London's fine buses with the de rigueur feeling of flustered embarrassment but without fear of my bag giving way.
With the machine out I also hemmed my jeans, which I've been wearing for the past several years in the style of a too-cool sixth-former circa 1998 (i.e. far too long and with huge scrappy chunks worn out by my heels), and now I'm concerned that I could be teetering precariously on the brink of semi-presentability. Am I getting old, or just doing my bit for the Olympics?

Have you repaired anything recently?