Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Triple Duty Tote

My husband and I are going on a company trip to Hawaii in a couple of weeks and I wanted a new tote to take on the trip. Something that would do as a carry-on, shopper, and beach bag. Needing a durable fabric that could handle sitting in sand, I headed to our nearby home dec fabric store. I looked for about an hour and finally decided on a cheery, whimsical floral print. The base was like poplin, so I knew it would hold up to the uses I intended. 

I cut out the bag that evening and was all set to start sewing it the next evening, when I realized what a blunder I had made. This print would be fine in Hawaii, but no way would it play well in the Boston or San Francisco airports. The perfect beach bag, yes. But not, ahem, a sophisticated urban tote.

Sooo, back to the home dec store I went, this time deciding on a quiet gray/taupe linen/rayon herringbone fabrication. I knew I wanted to paint it, and I wanted to make the handles from some dark purple faux suede from my collection. Purple would look great with this fabric, so I didn't think it would be a fail.

I chose the Eucalyptus stencil from Diane Ericson, and went to town painting both sides of the bag. I intended to add some dragonflies the next day. But when I walked into the studio to resume working on it, I saw I had made yet another error. This bag looked so drab, there'd be no way I'd carry it in Hawaii. Maybe in Boston in the winter, but definitely not in April.

Back to the proverbial drawing board. What did I really want? A fabric I could paint. A dark fabric that wouldn't show dirt. A sophisticated look with a touch of individuality. 

Feeling a bit like Goldilocks, off I went to JoAnn's, where I got a yard of black cotton duck at a 40% discount. I took it back to the studio and tried out two new silk screens I got last week from June Colburn. While I love the screens - Lotus Flower and Dragon - neither looked good. They were just not the right size for the large bag. In a last-ditch effort I pulled out my new Calla Lily stencil from Diane Ericson, printed a practice lily, and I knew I'd finally found the right combination.

 I love my new bag! It's colorful without being cutesy, it's just the right size, and it's appropriate for all of my travel needs.

The pattern is the L2 Bag from the Sewing Workshop. I loved making this bag! The pattern is well drafted and written, so it was easy to follow.

There were a couple of tough areas to sew, partly because my fabric was very stiff.

The first trouble I ran into was with the side gussets, which are sewn in after the main part of the bag is lined. That made for three layers of duck and three layers of silk dupionni to sew through. I had to do the best I could with pin basting, as there's no way I could have got a needle through the heavy fabric.

The second trouble spot was sewing the plastic needlepoint canvas into the bottom of the bag (used as a stiffener). It's done by stab-stitching through the center bottom seam, but you have to do it with one hand inside the bag, with no visibility of the plastic canvas. It took a lot of feeling what I was doing, rather than seeing it. Patience and focus paid off, and the task wasn't so bad after all.

I learned a new trick with this pattern: the side pleat on the outside of the bag. I won't try to describe how it's done, as pictures show it much better. But it was easy and I like the finished look.

Yes, I lined the bag with silk dupionni. Extravagant, I know. But I had it on hand, and the color matches the purple paint perfectly. I neglected to take photos before inserting the lining in the bag. Suffice it to say I put in a zippered pocket, and my usual double pleated pocket to hold my phone and glasses case. There was a flat double pocket in the pattern, but I didn't make it because I knew I wouldn't use it.

Lesson learned? Time away from a project can do a world of good. Excited with the idea of a new bag, I had stuck my head in the sand as I forged ahead on the first two bags, not really "seeing" what I was making. In each case, I put in hours of work, only to not like the look of it the next day. After I slowed down for the third one, everything fell into place.

Trial and error is most certainly the way the design process works. But learning to look and see along the way is crucial to being satisfied with the finished product. I'm not saying this bag is perfect or exactly as I would like, but it is good enough for my needs and I'll get a lot of use from it!


  1. Hi Dixie, nice to see you posting! You bag turned out so pretty. I do hope you complete the other bags, as they are nice as well. Have a fun trip!!

  2. Of course it needed your purple lilies to be just right. Have a great time in Hawaii!

  3. I love it, Dixie. It was fun to read about your process. A good reminder to trust the process to deliver something lovely. Your aesthetic is very classy, almost Asian.

  4. Hi Dixie! So great to see this tote and the gusset totally works on the outside. Have a wonderful trip to Hawaii!

  5. The stencil is just perfect! Enjoy your trip!!

  6. Really great stenciling, Dixie. Have a great time in Hawaii!

  7. Dixie,so good to see you on Monday. Hope your feel less jet lagged now. Next time we meet at SB, we (one or both) must put together a blog post on our meet-up, highlighting the SB space (and maybe your space?). Why do I always forget? I guess I'm just overwhelmed by the lovely fabric.