Refashioning: Skirt to Courier Bag

2015-03-10 14.39.31 2015-03-10 14.40.20 I made this leather bag from a skirt I’d received from a colleague at my “exit” party from my previous place of employment. The colleague took me seriously when I invited people to give me any kind of fabric at all, even items from thrift stores that I could take apart. I envisioned plus-size dresses or long skirts, things that would have plenty of useable fabric. P. gave me a size 4 pencil skirt with top-stitched panels. Uh huh … leather underpants maybe? Or, I know, a clutch of leather thongs! I went round and round with tape measure and pencil to see if I could make a vest out of it. Finally I decided on the bag. Or purse, as some would call it. I’m not a purse person. For much of my life I got away with using my pockets for essentials. Eventually I needed a large bag for work to hold books and files, and that was okay. And in recent years I’d started carrying a backpack. For some reason I don’t always have pockets in my clothes anymore, and I seem to develop holes in the pockets of my coats. So this is a bag. Not a purse. Terminology is important! There were lots of firsts in the construction of this bag. It was my first time to make square corners, my first time to sew with leather, and my first time to try making a bag. There are lots of imperfections in the finished product, but I’m happy with it and I learned a lot. For example, I learned that the unfinished side of leather (the suede side) won’t cooperate with the sewing machine feed dogs. And that my sewing machine can handle three layers of leather, but four would be stretching it. And that a walking foot attachment is a miraculous thing! A few details about the process: since I was lining the bag, I got to start with that rather than tackling the leather first thing. For the lining I used another piece of fabric given to me by a colleague at that same “exit” party. I decided to make a zippered pouch on one side, and a double non-closing pouch on the other side. 2015-03-06 11.57.38 That’s the lining facing outward instead of inward, as it does once inserted into the leather shell. Cute fabric, eh? 🙂 Here’s a picture that shows that one side of the bag, the side with the flap, is made from the back of the skirt. 2015-03-06 11.59.54 2015-03-06 12.00.15 I didn’t like the fact that the back of the skirt bagged out, so I sewed a couple of decorative welts parallel to the zipper and that worked well. And of course, when I cut off the waistband of the skirt I took the chance that the zipper pull would slide right off, and inevitably it did, so I had to swap it out. I made a storage compartment behind the zipper too by sewing another piece of leather behind before adding the lining. One of the great things was seeing how wonderfully my almost brand-new walking foot functioned. I attached it when I needed to sew more than just two layers of leather together and wow did it ever do the job. I’m curious about how often other sewists use a walking foot — I’m not talking about quilters who, I think, buy sewing machines with permanent walking feet. I also bought sewing clips (which look exactly like large clips you use to bundle papers together) for this project because there were places I couldn’t use pins. I like the clips (mine are in five pastel shades, rather than standard black), and intend to see where I can use them in future projects to save the bother of pinning. I wonder if any sewists have moved completely to clips from pins? So that’s it. One smallish courier bag, big enough for wallet, phone, keys and a book or e-reader. What else does anyone need to put in a bag anyway?


lost months

I haven’t posted anything to this blog in a while because I was away, backpacking around France and Italy. No, I didn’t buy any fabric, but I did take some pix of clothes in a museum in Paris. Umm, I think it was Paris. Nope, it was a small fashion museum in Avignon. I’d love to make these items if I can.

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I also drew some sketches of things I saw in stores — well I didn’t think it would be all that polite to whip out my phone to take pix of items for sale, you know? Right off the bat there are a set of wrist cuffs and a leather bag that I’m going to try to make. And finally, in Rome, I bought some lovely merino wool and a pair of needles and started knitting a scarf.

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I had a lot of free time to kill in hotel rooms — nobody tells you about that when they talk about their awesome trips. So anyway, I started another blog. If anybody is interested in feminist literary criticism, check it out.

Disclaimer: I read any old book that I found lying in any gutter. Some were pretty terrible, rave reviews on the back covers notwithstanding. Others were great.

Now that I’m back home — how great it is to be back — I intend to keep on posting to both blogs. Stay tuned.

Tilton trousers redo

Okay, so I looked at the pix of my trousers (from my post on these trousers of last month), and no they don’t look alright even with the inseam adjustment I made. I tried the pants on again. Nope. I like loose pants and loved this pattern for its looseness, but these pants just look oversize and I knew I would only wear them out of a feeling of obligation — I made ’em, I gotta wear ’em.


So I took apart four more of the seams (there are 8), leaving only the side seams as is. This involved picking apart topstitching plus the actual seams! And I checked my notes about the size and adjustments I had started with. I had sewn the pants on the size 12 cutting line because all the measurements told me that’s what I should do even though, as the pants came together, my eye was telling me the pants were about double the size my pants normally look. When the numbers and the eye disagree, which do you go with??

I decided, pretty arbitrarily, to resew these four seams on the size 12 sewing line, which meant taking them in 5/8 inch for a total of 5 inches. And they fit! After shaving a whole 5 inches off!tilton pant redo1


The problem now is that the dye keeps running. I’ve washed the pants a few times and the colour has shifted from pinkish-peach to brownish-peach, with barely discernable streaks. Sigh. I wonder if this is why the large chunk of fabric was in the thrift store for such a low price. I’m going to think about dying these pants now. Or killing them!

Reversible web vest

webvest1I’m really excited about this project for two reasons. First, it’s the first item I’ve made from the fabric given to me at my recent fabric party. Yea! One down, 14 to go :p~~. And second, this vest is the product of a series of lucky? fated? unplanned for sure events. I would never have made this vest under normal circum-stances. I wouldn’t have bought this particular fabric, even though I like it. I wouldn’t have planned this combination of pattern and fabric. Believe me, my finger was barely touching the rudder of this boat.

So you’re wondering how it got made? I guess my primary contribution was to buy the pattern, which happened before I received the fabric. It’s actually a jacket pattern, another Marcy Tilton, which you will be happy to hear I didn’t pay full price for. It’s one of those ‘barely there’ patterns: three pieces, and only a couple of instructions. Basically, sew fronts to back, sew sleeves to body. That’s it. Who wants to pay for that? Oh yea, it includes instructions for felting some wool string onto the body if you want. I bought it because I liked the design and thought it would make great indoor sweater/jacket sort of things — loose and non-binding. None of the edges are finished, so it’s meant to be made up in fleece-like fabrics, or maybe a worsted woolen if you want to do the felting.

When I got this “web” kind of fabric — it really can’t make up its mind whether it’s stripes, diagonals, circles, squares or diamonds — I thought it would work because it’s double-sided; since the fronts of the jacket just flap open and don’t have facings, the inside of the fabric has to be of the same quality and appearance as the outside.


There wasn’t enough fabric to make sleeves, but I’m okay with vests. They’re great for layering in the chilly “wet-coast” rainforest and they don’t bind the arms and shoulders. So I started cutting it out, wondering at the back of my mind how I was going to finish the edges.

There are only four seams, and since either side of the fabric can be on the outside, I decided to make it reversible by folding under the selvage edges and topstitching them.

I’m a really slow sewist, so all this took about a week, during which time I kept the question about how to finish the raw edges simmering on some burner way at the back of my mind. (You can tell I’d never worked with seam binding, can’t you?) Normally I wouldn’t dream of starting a project until I had figured out all the techniques that would be required, so I was just floating (to maintain the imagery) on a boat of belief that the necessary knowledge would come when required.

Eventually and slowly the idea of making seam-binding sort of coalesced until I went digging through my stash of left-over bits of fabric looking for something I could use. I found two things — an old black and blue floral skirt and a length of shimmery beige fabric that I actually bought to make some ruffles. I couldn’t make up my mind, and then I knew (really!) that this fabric could be bound with two different kinds of bindings. The fabric really is a web of upright lines, diagonals, circles and squares. It’s so …busy that two kinds of binding doesn’t add any more busyness to it.

IMG_0898I merrily folded all the binding over the edges and pinned it before realizing that possibly sewing through the whole sandwich in one go wasn’t the way to do it. So then I researched, and found great articles on four or five different ways to attach seam-binding. Sewing it all in one go is called the “cheater method” and it worked for me 🙂

So here’s the final view: the reverse side and hanging loose. I think it’s a marriage of form and content that’s pretty cool. Couldn’t ‘a planned it better.IMG_0894

And by the way, calling it a “web” vest is only partly because of the fabric. I’m also honouring, in a tongue-in-cheek way, the man who gave me the fabric. Thanks doctor Webb 🙂 Do you like it?

Upcycling old silk

As an older babe, I have some history. I also have a bit of baggage, and amongst that baggage there are a few clothes that I’ve carted from place to place for over thirty years.

In 1979 I was a gauche, naive, even ignorant kid from southern Ontario, quite suddenly transported to the foreign enclaves of Beijing, where I was expected to be be matron of a home, representative of my country, frequenter of diplomatic and media dinners and fetes. I had a week in Hong Kong to find a dress. Unfortunately I had no experience at all with fancy dress, so when some other ex-pats suggested having one made, I walked into the nearest dress-makers, chose a lovely silk fabric and a pattern and walked out. I wore the resulting dress weekend after weekend for a year. When I left China, I put it in a trunk. Every few years I looked at it. I returned to the life of a student, which didn’t offer any opportunities at all for such formal wear. Eventually I ripped out the lining, which had become stained. Then I separated the gathered skirt from the bodice. But I still couldn’t think of anything to do with it that would allow me to wear the fabric.

Last week, I had an oddly delayed reaction to the knitting I took up last year. Knitters have been making “infinity” scarves lately. If you don’t know, they’re just a circular scarf, maybe with one twist.

So here’s what I did with the skirt. I simply hemmed the edge that had been gathered and joined to the bodice and threw it over my head.

skirt scarf

I love it. It transforms a simple tshirt into an outfit. I’m wondering how many thrift store skirts and dresses could be turned into infinity scarves. It could be done by people with almost no sewing skills. You really need to be better with a seam ripper than with a needle. That’s the kind of “upcycling” I like 🙂


Fabric party

Last week I hosted a special event, an “exit” party celebrating the end of my career as a college English teacher. I’m not a big partier and hadn’t hosted a party for a few years, so I was thinking a lot about how to make it fun for the ex-colleagues I was inviting. I was also thinking about how to avoid being presented with a variety of small gifts that I’d likely have no use for.  Then I had a sudden inspiration for how to achieve those two goals — I could ask people to show up with a metre of fabric. And I could tell them that in exchange I would blog about what I did with their fabric in my new sewing blog. I imposed a pretty low maximum dollar figure, told them the fabric could be new or used and waited for responses. I’m happy to say that the invitees thought it was a good idea and even the men took on the challenge with good humour.

party fees

Those are some of my colleagues, with some of the fabric offerings.

I have to say I didn’t expect that everyone would bring fabric that I liked, but I secretly knew that I could still use any that I didn’t like for trial-runs of new patterns. It was a no-lose situation 🙂

But I’m feeling kind of overwhelmed now. I like all the fabric, and I now have about 15 new projects that I’m “contracted” (in a manner of speaking) to sew and then to blog about. How about that, eh?

Has anyone else tried this sort of party? I’m wondering what other people’s experiences with this kind of event might have been?

Vogue meets unknown fibres

I don’t like to buy a new pattern for every project. I kinda think that’s for kids, you know? At a certain point, even an amateur ought to be able to start altering patterns to produce a handful of different pieces from one base pattern. But I browse pattern books looking for ideas. Which is how I came across Vogue’s Marci Tilton patterns. I’m in love! I haven’t yet seen one of her designs that I haven’t fallen hard for and what to do? Those Vogue patterns are expensive.

I popped for one of them, though. It’s V8499, loose trousers and a skirt. I thought I’d have to buy fabric, but I pulled out something I’d picked up a few months earlier from Value Village. It’s a fabric that’s hard to decipher. Pale peach — not really my best colour — but at nine yards for about $20 I thought I could make curtains with it if nothing else. I set fire to it, naturally, as soon as I got it home, to see what it might be made of. The little clipping flamed high and turned to ash in too short a time for me to catch a whiff to determine exactly what kind of natural fibre it was. I think it’s silk, or a silk blend. It’s heavily textured, which made it seem kind of stiff. Even after washing, it seemed pretty stiff until I draped it over my hand, at which point it showed a lovely flowing drapiness. It’s an odd fabric that appears heavy or light depending on whether it’s lying flat or hanging. Eventually I decided it would probably drape in the right way for loose pants.

unknown fabric

The pants are made of eight panels, four per leg, and they’re all topstiched. I decided I’d better get the size right since I wouldn’t want to have to alter the fit after the fact, not with eight top-stitched panels. So this project turned out to be a great exercise in care and meticulous preparation. I actually made a muslin (well, half of one, just one leg ). I spent a lot of time. Since Vogue apparently thinks women have hourglass figures, I had to redraw the curve from hip to waist to match my more boyish shape. Then I used the muslin leg to figure out which size I needed. I used my measuring tape! Repeatedly! I smoothed the muslin leg across my waist and hips, measured it and me, and was certain I had it right.

So I don’t quite know how I managed to fail. I didn’t really know how these baggy pants were supposed to fit. I knew they had to be able to fall over the widest part of my hips/thighs, but I didn’t really know just how much ease they needed, and the Vogue pictures are too dark and muddy to help enough. Halfway through the project I was getting concerned because the pants looked huge. But the measurements for the front were correct, and the back was going to get elastic in the waist, which meant I couldn’t try them on for an accurate read until they were done.

peachoutfit2   peachoutfit1

They’re too baggy.

I made a matching vest using a pattern I made by patching together a couple of shirt patterns and a funky long vest pattern. Then I researched online for how to line a vest.


I had a really nice stripped, stiff cotton fabric that I wanted to use. But I’m not terribly happy with the vest either. I think I should have interfaced it. And I’m not really sure it’s okay to have a lining fabric that’s stiffer than the outer fabric.

Since these pix were taken, I’ve somewhat altered the pants. I took in the inseam by about half an inch to reduce the width of the legs, and I took in the centre seam, particularly in the back. They’re perhaps still not perfect, but they’re a lot better. I can enjoy wearing them now. And I’ve got a darker fabric ready to make a second pair in a smaller size. Then we’ll see if Marcie Tilton loves me back.