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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The Joy of Shopping at Farmers’ Markets: Sewing Market Totes

You can get pretty much anything your heart desires in the area where I live. This is courtesy of big ships from China and planes carrying goods from all over the world. But the shopping itself is … well, something you usually want to just get done with as quickly as possible. Big chain stores are loaded with merchandise. The huge spaces, cold neon lights and linoleum/neutral-carpeted floors, however, make you want to grab your necessities and run out. Not to mention that horrid music… Even the upscale, beautiful stores are somewhat too clean, too arranged, too sterile. They make you feel like you’re in yet another pharmacy. The liveliness that is present in some shopping options in other parts of the world is simply not there.

The closest exception to this are the farmer’s’ markets that continuously  grow in popularity. I am lucky to live in a town that has a large, year-round farmers’ market. It operates one morning each weekend. Shopping there is not cheap by any means. With $12 bread loaves and pricey vegetables, it can probably out-price even Whole Foods. Yet, I try to go whenever I can. Every time I do I find the place crowded with people. In fact, the crowds are part of the attraction. I enjoy looking at the flow of people, and am happy whenever I bump into someone I know. This happens almost every time.

The outdoors shopping is a pleasant change, especially in spring and summer. I find that the natural light enhances the beauty of the fruit, vegetables and flowers. True, the pharmacy-like culture is evident here, too, with everything being a little too-neatly arranged and too-nicely piled. Yet, the overall experience is still enjoyable.

Colorful vegetables at the farmers' market

Most of all, I like buying farmers’-market heirloom tomatoes, sold every summer. I like their strange shapes and many imperfections, and especially enjoy their amazing flavors, somehow enhanced by the market experience:

Vegetables at the farmers' market

Despite relying on imported goods for nearly every other aspect of my life, I love the idea of buying my food locally. I delight in the many organic options, grown within a radius of 80 miles from where I live. And when berries are in season, I make sure to load on a week-long supply, which my kids devour eagerly:

Bright fruits at the farmers' market

A couple of weeks ago my farmers’ market visit yielded a bonus: it made me realize that I haven’t sewn any totes for a while. And so, as part of preparing for my next crafts fair, I spent the last couple of weeks sewing Market Totes, which I greatly enjoyed:

Fabric for new Market Totes

Working on my new Market Totes

Sewing new Market Totes

I hope these will make someone’s market shopping even more joyous!

ANY Texture: My Finished new Market Totes

More Totes! Or How Shopping Totes are Made

About three weeks ago, inspired by the success of my own tote pair (and the subsequent enthusiasm of family and friends), I started working on seven new extra-large shopping totes. I realized that it’ll be easier for me to work on several simultaneously rather than tackle them one by one. Not because it takes less time, but because it eliminates the need to constantly think of what to do next. In addition, working in batches allows me to do all of my cutting and ironing at the same time. This way, I don’t have to set everything up over and over again (well, I guess in that regard making a few at a time DOES save some time…).

I finished about half of them this morning:

Market totes

These totes were my main project for the last three weeks, although I did work on a few other things in bits and pieces in-between. It took three weeks because I normally have very limited time to sew.

What Does it Take to Make a Tote?

A tote starts with me choosing fabrics for the outer layer, both for the sides and bottom of the tote, as well as for the outside pockets. For totes, I prefer to use rather thick and sturdy fabrics, that will be strong and long-lasting. Once I decide on fabrics, I continue to choose straps in a matching color. For shopping totes I use straps made of webbing, that can carry up to 400 lb.

After I match the fabrics, I cut them all to size and sew them together. This is a picture of about half of my new totes after I finished sewing the outside pieces together and attached the handles.

Putting shopping totes together

Once that is done, I choose fabric for the lining.

Matching lining to market totes

I then cut the lining to size.

For my current totes it took a couple of hours to cut all the lining pieces. This was the case since these totes are slightly different in size, and therefore I had to measure each one to make sure I cut the lining accurately.

Cutting lining for market totes

Once the lining is cut, the ironing stage begins.

In this case I had a LOT of ironing. In fact, two or three entire work-days of it! It’s funny, because normally I hate ironing, and postpone it as much as possible. I’m ashamed to say that our Thanksgiving tablecloth is still waiting to be ironed (and it’s March already!!). But somehow when it comes to sewing projects, I don’t mind it as much…

Ironing market totes

For shopping totes, because they are really big, need to carry heavy weights, and should last a long time, I first iron heavy fusible interfacing onto the backside of the outside layer. I tried two different brands, but found that heavy fusible interfacing just doesn’t stick that well, regardless of the manufacturer. It takes twice as long as what the label recommends, but even then the interfacing often peels off after a while, requiring yet more ironing…

So over the last couple of weeks I spent many hours standing by my ironing board… stood Once I finished, I had to iron all the lining pieces again. That went much faster!

This is how the two layers looked once all the ironing was done:

lining and outer layer of market totes

After I press the lining, I choose a matching-colored zipper and sew it on. Here is an example:

Sewing the lining for market totes

I then sew the inner pocket, sew the lining then sew the outer layer. I turn the outer layer right-side out and place it inside the lining:

Putting the market totes together

Then I stitch the opening, turn the tote in and top-stitch the opening shut. And that is it!

It takes a long time to sew a tote. However, it feels really good once everything is finished.

These totes will be ready just in time for spring farmers’-market shopping season. I will love to see people using and enjoying them!

Hey, me, too! Sewing Market Totes for Myself

Over the last few months I sewed for family, friends and strangers. Recently I realized that I needed a few new bags, too! I was tired of the reusable shopping bags I had, which hardly ever lasted more than a few months. Therefore, I decided to make myself nice, large and sturdy Market Totes. This week I sewed a matching pair, with south-western patterns on the outside, lined with cotton with tiny flowers. Inside each of them I put a zipper pocket, to safely store my keys and phone when I go to the farmers’ market. They turned out great:

My new Market Totes

A few days ago I took them to Trader Joe’s. Amazingly, our family’s food for the entire week fit nicely into both!

My Narket Tote bags in action