Finishing Unfinished Projects (UFOs) Part 2: Patchwork Totes

I dedicated January of this year to working on my unfinished projects. If you’ve been following me for a while, you might recall that the majority of projects in my UFO pile were totes. Twenty three totes, to be precise (out of 58 UFOs). Three of those were patchwork totes, but each was different than the others.

First Patchwork Tote: An Experiment in Piecing Upholstery Fabrics 

A few years ago, early in my bag-sewing adventure, I started experimenting with piecing upholstery fabrics as if they were quilting cottons. As a part of that experiment I created two patchwork panels, which I intended to turn into messenger bag flaps. The experiment didn’t go very well. Home dĂ©cor textiles, it turned out, were nothing like quilting cottons, and piecing them was more difficult and time-consuming than I expected. My experiment started and ended with these two pieces.

Shortly afterwards, I stopped making messenger bags. The two pieced pieces went straight into my UFO pile, where they lay for years. A couple of years ago, a good friend visited me and braved the mess in my sewing room. She saw these pieces and suggested that I combine them into a tote instead. It took a while longer, but I finally did. 

Here it is. Tote number 1:

And from back:

I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. My friend was right 🙂

Second Patchwork Tote: From Busy Work to a Memory Piece

In January 2019 I visited my parents. I really enjoyed spending time with them, but I was used to working with my hands, and really needed some fabric to stitch and keep my hands busy. My dad had a pile of torn jeans he no longer wore, so he gave me one, along with some rags. I started stitching Sashiko-style patches, just for fun. When I returned home, I added a few pieces from my scrap piles, with the intention of eventually making a tote.
 
Two months later my father passed away unexpectedly. I couldn’t touch these patchwork panels after that, and into the UFO pile they went.
 
I’ve now finished that tote, which became so much more than just a way to keep my hands busy. I gave it to my daughter, as a memory piece for my dad. She’s already using it, carrying a bit of her grandfather with her every time she does.
 
Here it is from the front:
 
 
And the back:
 
 

Third Patchwork Tote: A Tribute to Japan

The third patchwork tote bag took a LONG time to make. It started way back in summer 2018, in a narrow alley in Nara, Japan. My daughters and I browsed interesting little shops and boutiques (in the good old days when this was still possible!), when we went into an artisan shop and saw these gorgeous, hand-carved wooden handles. Of course I had to buy them! Right there and then the image of a Japanese-inspired tote popped into my mind.
 
 
We kept walking and browsing, and came into a store selling antique Japanese fabrics. I bought a bundle of mostly indigos, but also some bright red. I knew exactly what i was going to make with them!
 
 
Back home, I used some of the vintage Japanese fabric to make a Boro-style patchwork panel (I later used the remaining fabric in my jacket). I also added some fabric from my stash. I spent days (weeks?) Sashiko stitching it all over. I finished the outer layer, and then got distracted. The stitched panel ended up–you guessed it!–with my other UFOs.
 
Well, I finally completed the tote. I even added a wooden hand-made button that I bought years ago (and haven’t found use for until now!).
 
It turned out just the way I imagined it, in that narrow alley in Nara. This is the front:
 
 
And this is the back:
 
 
I’ll be giving this tote as a gift to my sister, once I can finally see her again. Something to look forward to…

Finishing Unfinished Projects (UFOs) Part 1: Smaller Items

The Problem

Over the years, I have accumulated an ever-growing pile of UFOs (Unfinished Objects). This wasn’t intentional, it just kind of happened. Sometimes I was working on things right before vacations or trips, and never got to them once back. At other times I started something new before finishing an existing project, and then moved on. And right before my father passed away, I worked on a big batch of totes, and then couldn’t bare to touch them afterwards.

I kept my UFO pile on a glider chair that was a part of our guest room before I conquered it and turned it into a sewing room. It didn’t bother anyone, and was just sitting there, getting taller and taller each year, out of mind although in plain sight (I have to admit that sometimes I did feel a little guilty because of it…). Over the years, whenever I did a major tidying up of the sewing room, I reluctantly went over that pile, and sometimes took things out that I no longer liked. But major tidying up was rare, and for the most part I didn’t even remember what was in the pile. Until, in the fall, my kids decided they needed the glider chair, that is. They moved it into our family room, leaving my UFO pile homeless on the floor…

You need to understand that my sewing room is rather small, and that a queen-sized guest bed takes most of its floor space. That leaves very little space for me to work in. Having the UFO pile take some of that space was bothersome. And so, in December, I decided to go over it and take inventory.

My UFO Pile

During my excavations of the pile, I found 58 projects (!!) as follows:

1 troll art doll.
1 veggie bag.
1 moth soft sculpture.
1 boro spring jacket.
2 journal covers.
3 messenger bags.
5 small crossbody bags.
6 clutches.
7 zippered pouches of different kinds.
8 quilts/wall hangings varying from small to a twin-sized bed quilt.
And, last but not least, a staggering 23 totes!

The Resolution

I am usually not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but this was too much. Besides, I needed the floor space for my scrap boxes. AND I thought I should teach my kids by example, and I DO want them to finish things they start… So, I decided to dedicate January to finishing up as many of these projects as I could. I forbade myself from starting anything new for an entire month.

The Execution

I decided right away that I don’t have to finishing everything. Only the projects that I still liked, and only those that were in fairly advanced sewing stages. I decided to absorb the fabrics of early-stage projects back into my stash. That meant dismantling the veggie bag, moth, one journal cover, one crossbody bag, five clutches and a zippered pouch. All of these went back into my stash, as I barely started them.

I resolved to leaving the jacket for the spring, and work on the quilts later.

Of what was left, I decided to start with the smaller projects, the ones I could complete relatively quickly. I knew that seeing them finished will encourage me to keep going.

Pouches

I began by completing the zipper pouches. The first three I probably started in preparation for some craft fair or other, although I don’t remember exactly when. I worked on scrappy pouches (in the bottom pf the picture) in fall 2019, when I made them as gifts to family and friends. I didn’t have time to finished those three then. If you’d like to try making your own, you can find a tutorial here.

Once the pouches were all finished, I went on to complete the one remaining clutch. I started it in spring 2018, in preparation for a May craft fair. At the time, I made two clutches out of the same beautiful embroidered fabric. I never got to finish this one, so it ended up in my UFO pile. Its sibling, on the other hand, sold right away.
Like all my clutches, I lined this one with silk and decorated it with an enameled coconut-shell button.

Crossbody Bags

When I finished with the small items, I moved on to the mini crossbody bags. I don’t remember when I started those. More than a year had passed since I last sewed a bag, and when I resumed working on these I was surprised to realize just how much work they were. There are so many required steps, thread changes, ironing…

Back in December, when I decided to dedicate January to UFOs, I imagined myself sitting in my warm sewing room, hot beverage at hand, looking out at the rain. But January 2021 in California turned out to be one of the warmest I remember. It was dry, sunny and for one week–summer hot, with temperatures close to 80 degrees. Naturally, I couldn’t just sit and sew. I ended up spending a few days gardening, something I’ve never done in January before…

Messenger bag

There were three messenger bags in my pile. Two required just a few extra rivets. The third, in the below picture, waited almost-finished for a LONG time. It was one of the very first bags I ever designed. At the beginning, I experimented with shaping bag flaps to match the fabric designs. I probably made 3-4 bags in this way. For this one, I sewed the flap and lining years ago, but still needed to finish the outer layer. In recent years I’ve always been making the lining last, so it was surprising to realize that I made them first once. It might be five years later, but I finally finished it!

Blue messenger bag

Most of these finished items are now listed in my Etsy shop

Looking Back at 2018

I can’t believe I’m writing the last blog post for 2018! Where did the time go? It feels to me as if the year has just begun…

I guess summarizing my creative year at the end of a calendar year has become a tradition. So, here goes: what have I been up to in 2018?

The year started in Peru, a memorable trip which resulted in an art troll:

Sir Howard Fergus Ghingus Troll The Magnificent was my first-ever art doll, and I really enjoyed making him. Luckily, he found an appreciative, loving home the very first day I exposed him to the world 🙂

I had all the intentions of making more trolls, but the year was too short, somehow… I actually started working on Howard’s brother a few weeks ago, but he ended up in my UFO pile and is still there… Next year, hopefully.

Embedding World Textiles into My Work

The trip to Peru also resulted in five totes designed around beautiful pieces of naturally-dyed, hand-woven tapestries I purchased in a fabulous Christmas market in Cusco:

I am really happy with how these turned out. So much so that I decided to keep one for myself. Can you guess which one?

I got excited about the idea of collecting bits of textiles in places I visit and incorporating them into my work. It feels like a great way for me to combine my love for textiles with my passion for travelling. Last April, I purchased a few pieces of Druz weaving when I went to Israel, but haven’t used them yet. And over the summer I bought some vintage indigo fabrics in Japan, and am now working on a new Boro tote. To be completed in 2019:

Tote Bags Galore

I sewed quite a few cross body bags and slings this year, among other things. But tote bags somehow became my favorites. Maybe because they serve as the best canvas on which to show off really beautiful textiles. It warms my heart that many of these new totes already found loving homes. Here are some of the ones I liked best:

Other Products

After a couple of years of not sewing any, I dug deep into my UFO piles this year and finished out a few pillow covers, which I finally completed:

I’ve done more craft fairs in 2018 than I did in previous years. Some customers have been asking me for small, minimal purses. I made a new prototype, and am looking forward to playing with it more:

I also developed a little obsession with scrappy zippered pouches. It started when I was looking for ways to use up my small scraps. Once I started making them, however, I just couldn’t stop! They are candy to the eyes, and also feel really good when you hold them:

Months of the Year Mini-quilt Series

Finally, I didn’t have time to make big quilts, although my head has been bursting with ideas. But in October I did start working on a series of mini quilts. The idea is to make one for each month of the year. This project, too, will have to be completed in the coming year. So far I have “Fall” for October:

“Spices” for November:

And “Hope” for December:

I really did try to shrink my piles of unfinished project over the last few months, but somehow they kept growing. My scrap piles only expanded, too, despite my efforts to use them up. It looks like I have my work cut out for me for next year (or many!). No danger of ever getting bored 🙂

Happy New Year to you and yours! Here’s to a healthy, peaceful and creative new year!

Two Really Big, Giant, Oversized Totes

You might already know that I draw much of my inspiration from the textiles I find. When I choose fabrics, I only pick ones that appeal to me. Those include textiles with pleasing colors, interesting designs, and, just as importantly–nice textures. The way a piece of fabric FEELS really matters to me because some fabrics are just … not that nice to handle…

I have a room-full of beautiful textiles (as you probably know if you’ve been following my uphill battles to keep them tidy). I like them all (or most of them, anyway), but every now and then I find a piece that is really extra ordinary. Sometimes I know what to make out of it right away. Other times it sits there, waiting, for months or even years.

This is what happened with these two beautiful pieces I purchased from FabMo over a year ago:

They seemed to have come from the same design line, so I knew I’d have to use them in similar ways, but I just wasn’t quite sure what to use them FOR. They were rather large: 18″ x 18″, had a Persian-art feel, and told the story of a hunt. As a vegetarian, I’m not a supporter of hunts, but as a historian I am just a sucker for stories… And I could still appreciate the aesthetics of the fabric…

So there they sat, in one of my piles, waiting patiently. Until I re-tidied my fabric cabinet last week, and re-discovered them once more. This time I had just spent a week sewing totes.  When I saw them again I just knew that the only way to show their true beauty would be by making them, too, into totes.

I didn’t have the heart to cut them up, though, because that would have cut parts of the story off. So I set out to sew the biggest totes I have ever made.

I first found complimenting fabrics to frame them with:

Then made sure the back would compliment the front:

I found matching linings in solid colors that would not compete with the center-pieces, and made sure to put in many pockets, thinking that whoever needs such big bags could probably use the pockets to organize their things in.

People have been asking me to add zippers as tote closures, so I did that with the first tote:

But the zipper didn’t allow the tote to fully open. Also, I found it made the inside, already pretty deep, look rather dark:

And so, even though I already made a top zipper for the second tote, I decided to leave it off, for now:

The result are two beautiful totes (in my opinion, at least :-)), but they are really, truly GINORMOUS. 14″ wide x 21″ high x 6″ deep, to be exact.

They will be great for people who need oversized totes. Whether such people will come to my next craft show remains to be seen 🙂

My New Peruvian Tapestry Totes

As you might recall, at the beginning of the year I resolved to finish all the many half-started projects that clogged my sewing room. I decided not to allow myself to sew anything new before I reached that goal. At first, I stayed on course, and slowly tackled one pile after the other. But then my family guilted me into cleaning the room up. In the process of doing that, I found some treasures that turned out to be irresistible. Without really wanting to, I got sidetracked…

In one corner of my sewing room, you see, I found a little plastic bag containing five pieces of hand-woven tapestries I bought in Peru. On the other side I stumbled upon a pile of beautiful, vividly-colored velveteens I got at FabMo. The two piles just happened to match perfectly. How could I not do something about that?

When in Peru, I was blown away by the beautiful hand-woven and naturally-dyed tapestries I saw everywhere. I bought a table-runner or two, but was having a hard time finding tapestries to use in my own work. Most of the pieces I saw were quite big, and I wasn’t sure whether I could cut them without completely damaging them. They were also very pricey. Using such costly textiles would have required hiking the prices of my own bags to more than what most people can afford. So I didn’t buy anything to sew with.

Until, that is, I visited the most amazing Christmas market I’ve ever been to. The Christmas market in Cusco had a mind-boggling array of booths, with some incredible handicrafts. Several of these booths sold small tapestries in the size I was looking for. Unfortunately, most were made of commercially-dyed acrylics. Although some were pretty, I decided to pass them over. Then I stumbled upon a booth with some naturally-dyed woolen tapestries that stopped me in my tracks.

The seller showed me a handful of small tapestries, the likes of which I haven’t seen anywhere else (you can see them in the above picture, on the very left, right above the shoes). Of those, I chose five that I found the most appealing (yes, in hindsight I DO regret not buying them all!). I purchased them without knowing what to do with them. When I came home, I put them in my sewing room for future use.

I re-discovered them while tidying up.

When I saw them, I immediately thought of the bright-colored fabrics I got at FabMo, piled on the other side of the room. Together, they were just begging to be turned into totes! So I started playing around.

Since the tapestries were gorgeous works of art all on their own, I wanted them to be the focus of the work. Because they were very colorful, I decided to match them with solid-colored fabrics that would frame and highlight them.

I’ve never worked with wool before (since I’m actually allergic to it!), and have never sewn through tapestries. I wasn’t sure how this would work, or whether my sewing machine will like it. It turned out not to be a problem. The tapestries acted like some of the thickest fabrics I’ve worked with, but were unremarkable in any other way.

I made the five outer pieces, then selected matching solid colors for the lining. For those, I chose rough-ish textures to go with the feel of the outer layer.

After some deliberation, I decided to sew wide black straps. These I made from a fabric that felt like a cotton-raw-silk blend.

I worked on these totes on and off for about two weeks, and am quite happy with how they turned out!

Of course, once I gave myself permission to work on new things, the flood gates opened. Especially with new scraps lying on the floor, suggesting all sorts of new possibilities… My mind has been working overtime! I think going back to working on my UFOs might prove somewhat difficult…

Last Project of the Year: A Summer Tote

My husband finds it amusing that I count years by academic years. I’ve been a student most of my life, though, and got used to planning everything around the academic calendar. For the last decade I’ve also had school-aged children, and so my life continues to evolves around the cycle of the school year. I was able to start ANY Texture only after my baby went to first grade, and since then my work schedule, too, has been dependent on the flow of the school year. Counting time by academic years, therefore, seems normal to me. Calendar years are almost meaningless.

Well, the current year is ending today. Soon my kids will return home from their last day of school, toss their school bags into a corner, and with them shed the burden of homework, schedules, and early-morning wake-ups. With that, my current year of creativity will also come to an end.

With this inevitable deadline nearing, I spent the past week trying to finish one last project: a cheery summer tote. Last year my last piece was a summer messenger bag for my mother in law. In the end, I wasn’t able to complete it before school ended, and had to sneak some sewing-time into the first couple of weeks of summer. This time, I wanted to make sure I got my piece done on time. I am happy to report that I did!

This tote is unique in that I designed it from the lining out. Usually, I design the outer part of bags first, and then find lining to match it. But with this tote, I first happened to find a piece of linen fabric that I really liked. It was bright and cheery with beautiful big flowers. Sadly, it just wasn’t outside-tote material, so, for the first time ever, I decided to use it as lining and designed a tote around it!

First, I chose the main fabric for the sides of the outside layer. That was fairly simple:

Then, I looked for fabric for the bottom. I tried this:

But although I liked both colors, together they seemed a little dull. I looked through my fabric stash, and tried something I never thought I will:

Surprisingly, I really liked this combination! So I sewed the outer layer, and also added purple handles and a purple pocket:

This is what it looked like:

Then, I ironed the interfacing on, and sewed the outside layer:

Then the lining:

Finally, I attached both layers together:

The result: a bright, cheery spring/summer tote for farmers’ market shopping, picnics or summer trips!

With One Week to Go, Craft Show Preparations Continue in Earnest!

To all the friends and family members who have been wondering whether I disappeared from the face of the earth: I want to reassure you that I am still very much around, just buried, once again, under piles of fabric, thread and tools. Under the guise of craft-show preparations, I have actually been having a blast indulging my love for all things fabric!

I genuinely intended to dedicate this past week solely to the overhead preparations for the upcoming fair. And I did make a lot of progress on that front. I finished purchasing all the props (though some are yet to arrive). I made new, sturdy price signs. My family came up with an easy solution to my canopy-weight problem: we will fill the sacks that came with the canopy with sand. And my husband surprised me by painting my new shelves for me, thus saving me a day’s worth of work. If that’s not true love, what is?

The problem started when I got to finishing my shop banner. Due to various life happenings, I haven’t been able to touch my sewing machine ever since our Japanese exchange student arrived. For about five weeks I wasn’t able to sew at all. So maybe it was only normal that once I turned the machine back on to finish the banner, I simply couldn’t turn it off again…

All of a sudden I noticed all the spring-themed fabrics that lay around waiting. I couldn’t just leave them there, now, could I? What about that cute piece of doggy fabric I recently found? Someone will surly want a tote made out of that… And wait! Mother’s Day is just around the corner. Shouldn’t I have something for moms? Thus, so I sank, yet again, into a full-time sewing frenzy.

As usual when these things happen, our house is in disarray. The laundry is piling. The dishes are waiting. Our meals have been mediocre at best. We are ever running out of toilet paper and paper towels. And the worst part is that my son is asking whether it’s ANY Texture’s fault that I am not playing with him… Yet I, dear friends, am having a ball, and I have the perfect excuse so as not to feel guilty about it!

Year of the Weed: Spring in My Garden

I’m not sure how it got here so fast, but March is upon us already. Spring will officially start this weekend, with the move of the clock. It was a great relief, after four long years of drought, to finally have a rainy winter in California. Not just any rainy winter, mind you, but a record-breaking one at that! Our water reservoirs are now full and overflowing, and our snow-caps are at record deep. We sure needed the water, but many of us were no longer used to the long stretches of dreary, wet weather. Recently, however, the days of rain have started to be interrupted by longer and longer intervals of sunshine, and hints of spring are all about us.

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