How to Make a Simple Shopping Bag

Grey striped ticking shopping bag
Sytlish Shopping Bag in Grey Striped Ticking

Whether you are just starting out and learning to sew or just love making things with fabric, making a simple bag is a fun way to spend a wet afternoon.

Unless your lifestyle is totally Zen you are bound to have something around the house that lends itself to recycling or more correctly, upcycling.  Tea towels for example are excellent, or old pillow cases, sheets or duvet covers, as long as the fabric is strong and still in good order.  Old cushion covers can also be good candidates.  We’ve used old jeans, too.

To make a tote bag 17″ deep x 15″ wide (43 x 38cm), you will need:

2 pieces of fabric 18″ x 16″ (46 x 40cm), this includes seam allowance

2 long strips of fabric for straps, 20″ (51cm) long x 3 1/2″ (9cm) wide

Sewing cotton

Grey Striped Ticking for Shopping Bag
Edge the Grey Striped Ticking pieces and pin together

Begin by edging the two pieces of fabric if it is likely to fray, either with a zigzag stitch or an overlock stitch if your machine has one.  Pin the two pieces right sides together.  Sew down the sides and across the bottom, leaving top edges open.

Side seams for Grey Striped Ticking Shopping Bag
Press seams open

Press seams open.  We’ve used Grey Striped Ticking for the front of the bag and a plain white canvas for the back.

Bottom corner edge for grey striped ticking shopping bag
Pin the seams together

In each of the corners match the side seam with the bottom seam creating a point.  Pin in place.

Stitch securely across the corner at right angles   Cut off excess fabric and seal edges.  This gives the bag a greater carrying capacity as it will accommodate larger items more easily

Top edge of grey striped ticking shopping bag
Fold in 1″, press and sew

At the top of the bag, turn 1″ to the inside, press and stitch into place, about 1/2″ from the edge

Making the straps for Grey Striped Ticking shopping bag
Fold in the rough edges and press, then fold together and pin, then sew in place

Make straps.  Fold in 1″ along the whole length of the long edge and press. Repeat this for the other side, leaving a small gap in the middle so there is no overlap when the two sides are folded together. Fold, press again, pin and sew in place.  Oversew ends or press under 1/2″ to get a clean edge.

Straps for grey striped ticking shopping bag
Adding the straps  to the Shopping Bag

Measure 4 1/2″ in from the side seam and mark either with a pin or chalk.  Place one end of the strap alongside the pin or chalk mark or as close to this measurement as possible matching stripes as shown, and pin.  Repeat for all four straps. Stitch straps to bag with either a box or multiple rows of stitching to make sure the straps are strongly secured.

Press bag to finish.

The possibilities are endless, just let your creativity flow.  Some suggestions:

  • Add you own designs to the front panel, eg embroidery, hand-painted designs, applique, patch pocket from an old pair of jeans, buttons, beads, iron on patches.  It’s easier to do this before making up the bag, so plan your design first if you can. Choose a modern stripe, or if you’re a fan of shabby chic or boho chic go for it.
  • Make the bag bigger or smaller.  You can make it long and narrow, or make the bottom corner sections bigger so the bag becomes wider.
  • The straps can be made narrower or wider, or you can use twisted cord, leather straps, or wooden hoops.
  • If you want to use up lots of small pieces of fabric you can create a patchwork panel in the desired size with a plain back, or use patchwork for both.  Straps can also be made of multiple pieces as long as they are securely stitched and not too bulky.
  • For thinner fabrics you might need to use either double thickness or stitch the lighter fabric to a lining fabric, or you could use iron on vilene to get a firmer result.

Crafting is fun, and carrying your own bag is so much nicer than carrying some brand name around on your arm.  Your bag will last much longer than a plastic bag and will be washable and eco-friendly, too.  Advertise your own creativity, you never know someone might ask you to make one for them, and they make great presents.

Boot fairs can be good places to find odd pieces of fabric or check if your local church or scout troup are planning a garage sale.  You can find patchwork packs in our eBay shop or go to www.designercushionsandthrows.co.uk where we will soon be selling organic linen, cotton and hemp if you want to become more green.

Send in your photos and we can vote for the most creative.

Transitioning to a sustainable, life-enhancing,ethical business

“We have a duty to leave the Earth in a better state than we found it.”

Today I pledge to be “part of the solution rather than part of the problem”

An opportunity to join a group being brought into being by Transition Marlborough, “Practical Permaculture for Transition”, has come along at precisely the right time.  The discovery a couple of years ago of just how much pollution on the planet is created by the textile industy left me reeling and for a considerable time questioning how a soft furnishing business could be justified.

Blue Green Organic Cushion with Tulip Flower Applique
Blue Green Organic Cushion with Tulip Flower Applique

At that time the alternatives were either almost non existant or barely viable for those on run of the mill incomes.  So in the spirit of ‘Kaizen’, we started small, with a couple of meters of organic hemp.

Cushion in Natural Hemp with Party Girl Applique
Cushion in Natural Unbleached Hemp with Party Girl Applique

Later we tried some natural unbleached hemp, and also some vintage wool.

Looking at issues around waste, all the out of date pattern books loomed into view, and patchwork was born.  It was exciting to discover that even heavy weight upholstery fabrics can be used creatively for projects like bags, rugs, footstools, chairs and more.  This stops the books from ending up in landfill and they offer a variety of patterns in complementary colours and textures.  It’s worth checking out local small soft furnishing businesses to find out if they have books or offcuts left over from design projects, they will probably be delighted for you to take them off their hands, or you may be able to make them an offer for a bulk purchase.

Vintage Black Patchwork Shabby Chic Footstool
Vintage Black Patchwork Shabby Chic Footstool

So, in the spirit of Permaculture, Designer Cushions and Throws will from now only only be buying or using fabric for our soft furnishing projects that meets certain criteria and is:

  • produced in ways that are organic
  • eco-friendly and sustainably grown, for example, fibres that are naturally more resilient and thrive with little or no pesticides, such as bamboo and linen
  • locally produced, such as wool and linen from the Cotswold Woollen Weavers
  • respectful of ethical principles, without harming land or the people who are involved in production or sales processes
  • recycled, mostly fabric that would otherwise end its lifecycle in landfill (like pattern books, offcuts left over from curtain projects)
  • vintage, predating chemical saturation and a naturally healthier option

If there are other business out there aspiring to the same principles we would love to hear from you, share ideas and work with you towards a wiser future.  Or if you just love fabric and have comments to contribute, please get in touch.

Make a Rag Rug

Rustich Shabby Chic Patchwork Wool Crewel Rug
Rustic Shabby Chic Patchwork Wool Crewel Rug

A while ago I came into possession  of an ex-display hanger of samples of wool crewel fabric in a range of 5 different colourways.  I considered upcycling one piece into a bag, but the heavyweight wool embroidery meant that the cloth was very bulky in places.  Then I remembered a piece of hessian that had been lying at the bottom of a basket for a while.  And an idea was born for a rug and an eco-friendly project.  Here’s how.

First of all make a template  5” x 5” and then cut the fabric up into squares. Alternatively, choose a size that will mean you can cut the maximum amount of squares out across the width of the cloth you have available.  If you have one, use an overlocker to stop the edges from fraying.  If you don’t have a machine, it is not too serious if the fabric you are going to use does not fray too badly as you will be sewing on a backing to give the rug more substance and durability.

Begin by arranging the squares in such a way that the colours and shapes are well distributed across the whole area of the rug giving it some form of cohesion.  When you are satisfied with the layout, begin sewing the squares together a row at a time.  Press all the seams open  in each row either as  you go or all together at the end.  Then begin joining the rows together, matching the seams carefully by placing pins at a vertical angle into the seams so that they stay well matched up and can’t slip or move while sewing together.

Adding a layer of batting
Candlewick bedspread as batting

Next some batting  –  I used part of an old candlewick bedspread.  You could use batting, or curtain interlining, or an old blanket.

Basting the patchwork and batting together
Basting the patchwork and batting together

Baste (or tack) the backing carefully to the patchwork taking care that all the seams remain open.

Stitching the hessian backing in place
Stitching the hessian backing in place

Pin a piece of hessian to the batting side of the work and then baste all three layers together.  Trim off any excess hessian at the edges.   Secure the hessian to the patchwork and batting by sewing through all layers in a large stitch.  You can either sew in straight lines top to bottom or left to right sewing between the joins (stitch in the ditch)  or you can zig zag across.  Ideally start from the centre and work out to the top and bottom  and sides always taking care that there are no folds and smoothing the base fabric (hessian) regularly as necessary.

Bind edges with heavy duty fabric tape or strips of fabric precut to fit, cutting pieces to fit two opposite sides first and once these are in place measuring across the whole width including the border to get the final length for the two remaining side, plus about 1” extra to turn under for a neat edge.

Binding the edges
Bindng the edges

Creating a patchwork is quite a fast way to make a rug and means there are no raw edges which works better for fabrics that fray easily, or that are very soft.  It also great if you’ve got natural fabrics and helps create a healthy home and contributes to low impact living.

Please do share any ideas you have or improvements to the technique above.  It would be lovely to start a discussion and sharing platform for creative ideas and projects.

To read about the Wonders of Wool go to www.designercushionsandthrows.co.uk/blog_page

How to use Throws creatively!

 

Luxury Purple Velvet Throw
Maroc Blackberry Purple Velvet Throw

On a dark, gloomy winter day what could be more of a pick me up than adding a splash of colour to a design scheme?  Strong colours such as purple, magenta and red give an instant lift to the senses, making a statement in a neutral space and can be introduced in an instant in the form of a throw.  These really useful home accessories are both practical and versatile.  With such a wide range of styles and colours available to buy, there is something for every taste and every pocket.

Throws in different colours and textures
Throws come in different styles, textures and colours. Something for everyone!

Luxurious velvets and wools are fabulous for the winter season.  Not only can these sensous textiles enhance a room visually, they also introduce a feeling of softness and intimacy, particularly in a bedroom.

Old Cane Chair Before
Old Cane Chair Before

Got a chair that is looking a little tired or which no longer matches your design scheme? Transform the look of a room in an instant.  For a fraction of the cost of a new chair a throw can create stunning and amazing feel good effects in seconds.

Magenta Chenille Throw over a Cane Chair
Transform with a Magenta Chenille Throw

Or maybe you prefer the Shabby Chic look?

Blue Shabby Chic Style Patchwork Throw over Cane Chair
Blue Shabby Chic Style Patchwork Throw over Cane Chair

And throws are so versatile.  In the warmer seasons of the year a heavy weight throw can be stored away and cooler shades can be given precedence once more, so your home environment adapts with the seasons.  In the Spring and Summer, choosing a throw in a lighter cooler texture such as cotton or linen and in pastel or natural tones brings a fresher feel to the room and reflects light adding to the cooling, envigorating sensation.

Pink Patchwork Throw on a Day Bed
Pink Patchwork Throw on a Day Bed

Not only can a throw create a decorative feature in a room, it can also be used in a practical way, such as on a bed in the winter as a topper, for extra warmth.  A throw on a sofa is also handy for snuggling under on cold winter evenings in front of the fire or on home movie nights.  Or enjoy the pleasure of a picnic in the garden, in style.  See more

Or to get the look on a budget, why not take a look in some charity shops and see if you can find some old curtains.  If the fabric is still in good condition and you can wash them you can edge one in a contrasting colour or sew two right sides together and then turn them out so you have a backed throw.  Or buy several pieces of fabric and make your own patchwork on a long winter’s evening?  Have fun!

Vintage Footstool goes Shabby Chic

As the seasons change we see our “stuff” literally in a different light.  But before we decide to part with something, it might be worth taking a moment before sending something to landfill to consider if it could be given a new lease of life.  Even if an item no longer has pride of place in our own home, it might still be of use or value to someone else, either as a gift, or possibly in exchange for an unused object or collectable in their bottom drawer, or even to sell on.  After years of “Highstreet-ality” and seeing the same old same old in every shop in every town, interest in the original and unusual is beginning to grow once more.  It’s so refreshing to be different!

Recycling is a concept we are all now very familiar with.  Giving something a makeover is not only recycling at its best it’s also satisfying.

Shabby Chic Footstool
Vintage Footstool goes Shabby Chic

We took one old vintage footstool that was in very tired shape and gave it the works.  The legs were shortened to give it a more modern feel and then the base and legs were given a coat of paint in a soft shabby chic grey.  French Grey is a very popular colour, but you can mix your own shade using a standard water based quick dry satin in white and adding a similar quality black in the amount of your choice to achieve the desired shade, which you might wish to vary according to the item you are painting.   This gives you a lot of paint shade choices at minimal cost.  Just be sure to mix enough to complete the project in hand as having to remix a new batch might result in colour variations.

The cover is made in a patchwork of a selection of florals, checks, stripes and plain in linen and cottons in complementary shades of Duck Egg Blue, Naturals and Offwhite by designer company ROMO.  These top quality furnishing fabrics will give lasting pleasure across many seasons, not just one.  As well as being perfect for putting up your feet after a long day, the footstool can also be used as a meditation stool, or as a small side table for a tray with your favourite cuppa and biscuits as you relax in front of the fire.

Shabby Chic Sidetable
Shabby Chic Sidetable

Got time and paint left over…….?

Recycling, upcycling, precycling?

Director's Chair with patchwork cover
Director's Chair revived with patchwork cover

This Director’s Chair was looking rather tired.  The fabric had faded in the sunlight but was otherwise in good condition, although the area where the screws hold the back panel in place had become stretched and weren’t holding the back section upright anymore.

I decided to give it a makeover and made patchwork from a variety of strong cotton fabrics in complementary greens and yellows in florals, checks and stripe patterns.  At the same time I reinforced the areas where the back bolts slot through into the frame to make sure they would hold securely.  The end result has not only given the chair a fresh feel but means that it will last a lot longer as stitching the patchwork on top of the original canvas has given it extra sturdiness.  I also gave the wood a coat of Danish oil as it was rough and dry and had been bleached by the sun and this will also help to protect it from the elements, although I probably won’t leave it outside in the rain as that would spoil the pretty patchwork over time.

Is this recycling or upcycling?  A bit of both maybe?  The fabrics used were recycled materials from pattern books, and the chair became enhanced and of value again as a result.  The chair itself is a good example of ‘precycling’.  This is when the materials used to make a product are chosen for their environmental footprint prior to production.  The wood from the frame could be repaired many times over and when it finally reaches the end of its life it can be used as firewood.  The oil used does not contain any chemicals that could be harmful.  The fabrics are a mix of cotton and linen and are biodegradable over time and will become compost.  The bolts could come in handy for repairing something else at a later date.

Have you got any projects you would like to tell the world about?

Patchwork detail

Patchwork detail