Blog

A very beginning sewing lesson

On Sunday I taught a very beginning sewing lesson to three friends who all wanted to learn how to sew and have been begging me to teach them for months! I decided we would learn to use the machines and make a simple bag, and that would probably be more than enough for a first lesson. So I set up my little red machine, my everyday vintage machine, and made space for Veda to bring her new (purple!!) John Lewis mini machine up in the saloon…

The Sewing Machine Driver’s Test

After showing everyone the various parts of the machines, I put an old or blunt needle in each and I had them “sew” on the lines while the machine was unthreaded. The object is to get every single hole touching the line on the page, and when we did this in my home ec class in middle school, the teacher circled any errant holes (if we had more than three, we’d have to repeat that sheet). You start with straight lines, then corners, then a spiral, and finally wavy lines. My girls did great, but opted to redo the last two sheets to get some practice in!

Download my Sewing Machine Driver’s Test here! (Pdf, 200kb)

They all said that this really helped them to get comfortable with the machine and said the curves of the bag were way easier because of it!

The bag

Then we moved on to BurdaStyle’s (free!) Charlie bag pattern, and I showed them how to trim and tape the pattern pages together, then how to lay out the pieces and obey grainlines and learn how to find the selvedge.

I really didn’t like that BurdaStyle’s instructions have you trim off the seam allowances on the bag handles and then overlock them (wtf? What beginner sewer has access to an overlocker??) so I had my girls make a facing for the top of the bag. It got them to practice sewing curves, the importance of clipping the seam allowances, and flipping inside out! And I personally think it’s less fiddly than bias binding when you’re just learning.

Here’s the one I made earlier, to refresh your memory…

(Belated) Christmas gift – red leather handbag

We were supposed to meet up with my friend (and former bridesmaid!) Pip and her boyfriend back in mid-December to celebrate Christmas, but we had to reschedule due to my swine flu, so I’m only just now able to show you her present – a Nairobi bag made up in gorgeously soft red wine leather, bought in NYC from Global Leathers (I find it interesting that Americans would call this colour “burgundy”, whereas in the UK it’d be “claret”).

I sewed this up before Christmas (so you saw a sneak peek in my 2010 roundup), but she asked me to hold off posting about it until she received it. I actually made this same bag for her a few years ago in black corduroy, and she famously texted me later that night exclaiming “I can fit a whole bottle of vodka in here!”

When I made the Nairobi bag for myself, I usually leave out the strip that joins the two halves together as I find the bag is just too big for my liking with it in, but Pip asked me for the bigger size, and bigger she got!

Pre-Christmas prep

Are you ready for some random sewing goodness? Let the randomosity begin!

  • When I was at the bookstore on Brick Lane buying James’s birthday card, I couldn’t resist this reusable wrapping paper (okay, it’s just fabric to me and you!) with London streetsigns. I love that it’s a London fabric without being OMG UNION JACKS THE QUEEN TOWER BRIDGE! I figure I could use it as a lining like I did with that Japanese tea towel and my bolero jacket a few years back…

  • We were supposed to meet up with Pip and her boyfriend two weeks ago to celebrate Christmas, but we had to reschedule due to my swine flu, so I’m only just now able to sew up her present – a Nairobi bag made up in gorgeously soft red wine leather, bought in NYC from Global Leathers (I find it interesting that Americans would call this colour “burgundy”, whereas in the UK it’d be “claret”). I’m about halfway done and already I can tell she’s going to love it!

Free ruffled wristlet pattern!

This might possibly be my longest running project-to-post duration since I drafted and sewed up this cute wristlet last February using some scrap leather and some vintage lingerie fabric for a lining. I made it as a gift for a neighbour who wanted to remember a dear departed friend who left her a stash of vintage fabrics, and I loved the resulting wristlet purse so much that I felt compelled to share it with all of you! But I had problems digitising the pattern so it languished… but recently I was inspired to take another stab at it and I love the way it turned out!

The great thing is that because it’s a small purse, you can really make this out of leather scraps, or even an old leather skirt or jacket from a charity shop (thrift store or op-shop)! Or it doesn’t even have to be from leather at all, it’d work equally well in corduroy, denim, or even felt! And because it’s a wristlet, you can keep your hands free for drinks & canapes, or for beers & barbecues!

Download the free pattern by clicking the image below!

To anyone linking – please link to this page, not directly to the pdf file!

I hope you all enjoy this and please email me any photos if you make one for yourself! I’d rate this as an Advanced Beginner project just because of sewing the zipper, but it’d make a GREAT first leather project if you’ve never sewed with it before.

Illustrated instructions!

Text instructions are included in the downloadable file, but I wanted to provide photo instructions to make it easier for beginners to sew this, too. But when I put the photos in the file itself, it turned out way too big so I compromised and I’m offering them here instead!

Step 1


Using the exterior fabric, cut out two copies of the purse body, two copies of the flap, one of the ruffle, and one of the strap (or omit the strap for a ruffled clutch). The interior circle from the ruffle is unused and can be turned into a decorative flower by pinching the centre and securing with a few hand stitches.

Christmas Present – yellow leather & tweed handbag

While my mom was staying with us over the summer, she absolutely fell in love with my mustard yellow handbag and called dibs on something (anything!) made from the remaining leather. Since I didn’t have enough to make another Nairobi bag, I started looking through my stash and fashion mags to get some inspiration, and lo! from the Feb 09 Burda WOF “Australia The Movie” accessories feature (not on the website I’m afraid), there was the perfect handbag, already in yellow even!

There were only two pattern pieces to trace – the main bag body (I doubled the paper pattern so it was the full size rather cut than on the fold to make it easier to lay out on the leather) and the small flap. All the other pieces were rectangles of various dimensions that Burda list in the instructions – the only one I actually used was the piece for the side and bottom of the bag.

The Weekend bag

I think this bag might be my longest-running project, having cut out the bag pieces back in August, so it feels good to finally finish it, even if I’m not 100% sold on the end result. If you recall, it’s from the Aug 09 KnipMode:

Instead of tracing pattern pieces from the sheets as usual, this bag pattern was printed in the instruction section as a drawing on a grid, which you then replicated on your own paper, making every square something like 4cm each. It was a different experience, but not necessarily bad if you’re decent at freehanding curves. I think in the end it took me a bit longer to do it this way than to just trace it, as I had to first draw out the grid onto my paper since I don’t own any patternmaking dot & cross sheets.

The fabric is a black, white, and pale blue “Inger” heavyweight canvas from IKEA, bought for £3.51/m. The outside was then coated with the laminate plastic Lamifil to make it waterproof and (hopefully) more wear-resistent.

Weekend bag – waterproofing the fabric

Remember this Weekend bag from the August 09 KnipMode?

Well, I cut out all the pieces back in August, but I’m only just now getting around to making actual progress on it. Though as you can see from my sketch, I’m making some changes:

Mostly, I’m adding a thin magazine pocket to one large side, adding a waterbottle pocket to each end, creating a lining with some more pockets, and using storebought vinyl handles to make carrying the weight a bit more comfortable on the hands.

Mustard yellow leather bag

This bag was long overdue, so I finally managed to squeeze in another HotPatterns Nairobi bag this weekend, made for about the 6th time now(?) I think!

It was originally a download-only freebie pattern, but it’s been long discontinued until a few weeks ago, when they started selling it again in paper form for a limited time! I highly, highly recommend getting this pattern if you don’t have it already!

I find it’s really difficult to photograph bag linings once they’re done, so I’ve taken some photos of the lining before assembly so you can clearly see my pockets!

Red JL Mini sewing machine bag

I’m so enamoured with my new tiny red sewing machine that I decided to use my time at the moorings crafty night on Monday to sew up a travelling case for it so I didn’t have to lug the box and styrofoam everywhere. There’s something almost perverse in using a sewing machine to create its own case, though. It just feels a bit cannibalistic somehow…

Anyway, I drew up some plans based on its measurements, and did a few calculations:

And then when I got to my neighbour’s boat I plugged it in, chopped up some spare red corduroy, and had a nice carrying case for it by the end of the evening (in amongst the traditional crisp and cake eating, of course).