Whoops, I Made a Leather Tote Bag!

A few days ago I went to a nearby fabric store to buy a zipper for a skirt I’m working on, and accidentally wound up with a leather tote bag later that evening!

DIY leather tote bag

Which reminds me a bit of this comic by Drew Mokris:

Cartoon by Drew Mokris of lefthandedtoons.com. Used with permission.

Cartoon by Drew Mokris of lefthandedtoons.com. Used with permission.

Whoops, I made a leather bag! (But not with chopsticks.)

DIY leather tote bag

I am totally stoked about this bag for a bunch of reasons:

  • It was SO EASY to make. (I referred to various tutorials including these ones by Sew Be It and Sew Bon.) It took just a few hours including some hand-stitching to reinforce the seams.
  • I had been inexplicably using big, ugly, reusable grocery bags to schlep my shoes, lunch, etc. to and from work and this is the perfect, more upscale alternative.
  • It was CHEAP! Total cost for materials was $22 plus tax for a leather bag. I found a good-sized piece of dove-grey leather for $20 and two strips of teal blue leather for 50 cents each. Leather sewing needles cost $2. (All purchased at Designer Fabrics on Queen Street West in Toronto.)
  • I’m feeling excited to make more….I can experiment with colour blocking depending on the size and colour of leather pieces available, and I think this would make a great Christmas present for my girlfriends.

DIY leather tote bag

Here are some tips for sewing leather that I found helpful:

  • Use leather sewing machine needles
  • No need to back-stitch at the beginning or end of seams. Just leave long threads, use a hand-sewing needle to pull the threads through an existing stitch-hole to the inside of the bag, and tie the threads off. (I honestly don’t know why back-stitching is frowned upon; it’s just something I read in various blogs, none of which said why…so maybe I’m just perpetuating a myth here. If you’re in the know on these things, please advise!)
  • Don’t pin leather, as pins will leave permanent holes. Use paperclips or clothes pegs. Some folks recommend using double-sided tape but this sounds like a terrible idea — it’s already hard enough for the needle to get through the leather without adding a layer of stickiness to the mix.
  • Don’t iron the leather. To get your seams to lie flat, use a rubber mallet to hammer the seam flat. You can then use leather glue to stick down the seam allowances if you wish. (I didn’t bother sticking down my seam allowances, but I can see where this might bother some sewists.)
  • You may need to ease off the pressure of your presser foot if you find it is sticking to the leather. Some people recommend using a Teflon foot, or putting some Teflon plumbing tape on the bottom of the presser foot to allow it to glide more smoothly over the leather. I didn’t have any problems with the presser foot sticking, luckily.
  • Some sewing machines cannot handle sewing over thick layers of leather (the bottom side seams of a tote bag are particularly tricky where there are 4 layers to sew). My machine did it, but I turned the wheel by hand instead of using the foot pedal, went *very* slowly, and lifted the presser foot a bit as needed. I still had some skipped stitches, so I reinforced these seams by hand-sewing into the existing holes left by the sewing machine.

DIY leather tote bag

In the photo above you can see that the straps are single layer, which allows the wrong side of the leather to show. On some DIY tutorials I read, they recommended sewing 2 layers together to form the straps before attaching them to the bag. I didn’t do this because I was worried about piling up too many layers of leather, but in retrospect it probably wouldn’t have been a problem. However I really don’t mind the two-tone look of the straps and they seem quite sturdy.

DIY leather tote bag

And speaking of whoops I knitted a scarf, I’m wearing the Medusa Loop Scarf I knitted last year. It’s a huge loop with smaller loops branching off here and there. It’s a fun accessory and a quick knit. I’m afraid you can’t really see what it’s all about in this photo but you can check out the awesome photos and get the pattern on the Medusa Loop Scarf pattern page on Ravelry.

Medusa loop scarf

Thanks for stopping by!

You’re Kraken Me Up and Jamaican Me Crazy

Dear readers, I want you to understand the huge sacrifices I have made to bring you this blog post. I sewed this summer top in October. I couldn’t very well just take pictures of it while shivering outside in front of a flaming orange maple tree, now could I? My discerning readers deserve better than that! So after much deliberation, I made the tough decision to do a photo shoot on location in Jamaica. No expense was spared for your reading pleasure, dear reader! And I endured daily tropical rains and dozens of mosquito bites, not to mention the horrors of eating succulent jerk chicken and fried plantain along with soursop mousse for dessert! I know what you’re thinking…that I’m such a selfless person to go to such lengths for you. I know, it’s true.

Burda 7051 Tokyo Train Ride Octopus fabric

Ha! Of course it went nothing like that. The real story is that my brother moved to Jamaica over a year ago and it was high time for a family visit, which I managed to plan for the fall reading week. And I couldn’t help myself but to sew something new for the trip. (I did attempt to sew a bikini but only managed to finish the bottoms before the deadline. Luckily for me but sadly for my half-finished bikini, Jamaicans aren’t so big on going topless on the beach.)

I first spied this amazing octopus print fabric — Cotton and Steel’s “Tokyo Train Ride” — on Jolies Bobines. Then a few months later Annie from The Enantiomer Project posted the Scout Tee she’d made from a Craftsy kit featuring this fabric. I succumbed to temptation (and of course, to the sale Craftsy was having) and grabbed the kit. However, I didn’t find the Scout Tee design terribly inspiring, so I used the fabric to make Burda 7051 instead. The kit came with almost 2 yards of fabric, and I managed to eke this top out of half of that.

Burda 7051 octopus top

This is my second version of this pattern. I made one in summer of 2013 in green woodgrain fabric as one of my first projects after getting into sewing again after about an 11-year hiatus. While I think I mastered the fit on this one, I’m not in love with the shape of this top (somehow I feel a bit dumpy in it), and wearing it reminds me that non-stretch wovens don’t make terribly comfortable clothes. This isn’t UN-comfortable, but I find myself having to readjust it fairly constantly after raising my arms up or bending over or whatever. Maybe that’s actually a fit issue but all I know is that stretch knits don’t generally cause that problem for me.

Burda 7051 octopus top

Look! This empty snail shell I just found is going to become a piece of silver jewelry soon. Either that or it’s going to give me a bad case of schistosomiasis.

I picked up a selection of empty snail shells as well as some coral skeletons to use in a mold-making workshop I’m going to be taking soon. I’ve always wanted to craft a silver ring out of a snail shell (I was really inspired by this Shell Ring by Helena Perez Lafaurie) and these shells seem to be the perfect size for a statement ring. I can use the coral as a texture for silver metal clay.

Burda 7051 octopus top

I used navy blue bias binding on the armholes and neckline, accidentally creating a funnel neck — the collar stands up rather than lying flat — but I actually really like the way that looks. Well, either that or I am deluding myself in order to avoid having to rip out the neck and shoulder seams to resew it.

Burda 7051 octopus top

I know it’s practically expected on sewing blogs to apologize for the slightest of wrinkles showing in the pictures, but I have to say thatĀ  that drives me around the bend. Since a freshly pressed cotton woven shirt only stays crease-free for about 4 seconds into wearing it, this is exactly what this top will look like in real life every time it’s worn. Full of wrinkles. I’m thinking about trying to start a #StopApologizingOnYourBlogForWrinklesAnd PointingOutThatTopstitchingMistakeYouMadeOrThatYourHairLooksABitFunny OrThatThere’sCatHairOnYourShirt CuzNobodySeesItButYouAndThat’sRealLife movement. (Even tho’ I’m guilty of such transgressions, too.) Let’s shed the shackles of perfection! Who’s with me? I promise to try to come up with a shorter hashtag. šŸ˜‰

Anyway, it was a lovely few days in Jamaica. If it makes you feel any better (if you’re the envious type like me), it actually did rain every day we were there…but it was warm rain and didn’t stop us from enjoying ourselves, so please continue to be envious.

Here’s a little fellow that liked to hang around in the garden of the hotel we stayed at called Goblin Hill.

doctor bird

The Swallow-Tail Humming Bird (or “Doctor Bird”), the national bird of Jamaica. This fellow defended his territory around the feeder with surprising viciousness.

And the little fella below was clearly VERY happy to see me.

lizard1

And here’s me trying to impersonate an octopus, and failing miserably. #outtake

octopustop_octoimpression

Thanks for stopping by!

Guys, I *bled* for this one

Ok, who else has done this? I sewed through my finger for this shirt! And you might be just as surprised as I was to find out, given that this blog is generally littered with expletives, that I remained rather calm and collected when it happened. I sat quietly holding my finger thinking, “I’m only going to react if I just broke my twin needle, and if I did I’m gonna absolutely lose my shit.” The needle was miraculously intact; my finger not so much. Me? I remained miraculously calm. And didn’t get any blood on this white fabric. (Funny, my husband and #unsungsewingbloghero was inquiring about Sewzilla just today, expressing his relief that she hasn’t shown up around these parts for a pretty long while. Sewzilla was almost unleashed that day but for the intact twin needle. I’m sure she’ll visit again another day sometime soon.)

DonnaKaranTee1

I chalk the accident up to having recently purchased a new sewing machine, with which I’ve been having huge troubles in terms of sewing lightweight knit fabrics. So after pfaffing around* with the new machine to no avail, I switched back to my old machine, which has a bit more space around the needle mechanism. Seems my old-machine-muscle-memory didn’t kick in fast enough and I just got a little too damn CLOSE. I’m grateful it wasn’t a mishap with the serger, which could have been a whole lot worse. Once I accidentally neglected to remove a pin before it got to the serger knife and the pin broke in half and flew off into the air (and happily not into my eye).

Anyway, it wasn’t a bad injury — the needle went though the side of my fingertip creating a bit of a gash but it healed up fairly quickly.

How about you? Got any good sewing injury stories to swap? Or near misses? Such an extreme sport this is!

DonnaKaranTee2

Anyway, about this shirt. Nothing too exciting here, but I needed a basic long sleeved tee…because you can never have too many. (Or, on second thought, actually, maybe you can have too many.) In any case, I thought I’d try Vogue 1389, a Donna Karan pattern featuring a blazer, skirt, and fitted tee. The tee design has side seams that curve around to the back, which I think you can see in the pic above, and a wide neckband. I modified mine so it had full-length sleeves instead of 3/4 and I left off the cuff bands.

DonnaKaranTee3

I had a helluva time getting this collar to lie flat! Evidence: here’s the first hilariously lame-ass try at sewing it in…


After a few rippings-out and re-sewings, it’s still not quite perfect, but I can live with it. The necklineĀ rides up away from my shoulders while I’m wearing it. But if I were a gorgeous young model I’m sure it would sit perfectly and not dare budge like it does in the pattern photo below. (Did someone elongate the model’s neck in Photoshop? No one can possibly have a neck that long in real life, can they??)

Vogue 1389

Verdict: this top is a pretty quick sew (depending on whether your neckband sewing skills are better than mine, of course) and it’s a very good wardrobe basic. Be warned that it is designed with quite a lot of negative ease, so it’s very fitted, which for my comfort level makes it not so great for wearing on its own but very good for layering under other things in colder weather.

Thanks for stopping by for a look! And a very happy Thanksgiving weekend to Canadian readers! No doubt with the federal election coming up next week, there will be plenty of family fights around the table. Bring lots of wine!

*ohmygod it feels like I’ve been waiting my whole sewing blog life to use that pun! THAT FEELS SO GOOD! I’ll freely admit that neither of my sewing machines are Pfaffs but I just could not pass up an opportunity for a bad pun. Pfaffing around!!!! I slay myself. (At least I slay someone.) Here’s the definition of faff in case you have no idea wtf I’m talking about. Apparently it’s a British thing.

This is the best thing I’ve sewn for a while

Ain’t it always the way? You sew a simple thing using simple fabric and it turns out killer. Nevermind all those fabulous prints and edgy designs I’m always seduced by and never end up wearing. Imma wear the shit out of this top.

peplumtunic_fulllength1

This is Simplicity 1104, a Cynthia Rowley peplum tunic. (Even though I’ve sworn off buying Simplicity patterns online, I’m glad this one made it I made it into my stash before that.)

1104

Simplicity 1104 Cynthia Rowley tunic

I made it with Ponte knit. Can I just take a minute to say how much Ponte knit ROCKS THE UNIVERSE? It is the most easy and forgiving fabric to sew, and a very flattering fabric to wear. It’s the kind of staple that should be in every sewist’s fabric stash — ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice and sewn up fast into a satisfying piece of clothing. I mean, you don’t even have to pin this stuff together while you’re sewing. And it can be form fitting without revealing every last lump and bump underneath. PONTE KNIT FOR THE WIN!

peplumtunic_front2

The top features an invisible zipper in the back. For some reason I had it in my head that sewing invisible zippers was hard, but the directions in this pattern are detailed, and as long as you have an invisible zipper foot (you can buy plastic ones for a few dollars), it’s really not hard at all.

peplumtunic_back

I made a couple of minor modifications: the pattern calls for a lining, which I left out; instead I just folded in the neckline and armholes and stitched them in place. The pattern also calls for binding on the bottom edge. I bought a couple different binding options but in the end I just decided to leave the bottom edge raw. Another win for Ponte knit — no fraying or curling! I also didn’t cut the neckline as deeply as indicated in the pattern, and I lengthened the bottom edge by an inch or two.

peplumtunic_fulllength3

This is the perfect match for these pants I bought from Zara. I chose the pattern and the fabric specifically to go with the pants, and the outfit is definitely a winner.

peplumtunic_front3

Thanks for stopping by for a look!