Do You Sew Gifts?

Or are you worried that after all your hard work, this is the reaction the recipient might have?

Ralphie's bunny suit

Ralphie’s not too keen on the bunny suit Aunt Clara made for him in 1983’s A Christmas Story

If you haven’t heard Episode 7 of the Clothes Making Mavens podcast yet, that’s the next topic Helena and I are asking you to weigh in on. Do you sew/knit/make gifts? And what reactions do you get? Ever slaved forever over a handmade gift only to have the giftee turn their nose up at it? Or spent $95 in materials and 60 hours of knitting only to have the new owner throw it into the dryer and shrink it beyond all recognition? Or maybe you’ve got a wonderful story about how a handmade item turned out to be one of the most touching and meaningful things you’ve ever given or received?

My husband is only slowly coming around from being horrified at the thought that I would make him something. (“What if I didn’t like it? I’d still feel obligated to wear it,” he sensibly reasons.) But I made him a pair of socks last Christmas which he admits he likes wearing. So this year I am of course making him a bunny suit.


Dave’s expression shows he’s a little uncomfortable about his first handmade gift from me. lol

What is your story about making or receiving handmade gifts? Leave a comment below, or better yet, call and leave a message at (1)-401-64-MAVEN so we can play your story back on our next podcast. You can also get in touch with me at frivolousatlast at gmail dot com if you’d like me to arrange a time to Skype with you so I can record your story.


I made these cute little cosmetic bags/pencil cases using Simplicity Crafts 9949 (out of print, but Simplicity 1153 is the exact same, updated pattern set). The purple fabric is linen-cotton canvas from Spoonflower. If you’re not familiar with Spoonflower, it’s a site where you can order custom-printed fabric, choosing from the thousands of designs on their site or even uploading your own design. I ordered the “fishbone repeat” design by Nalo Hopkinson to use on some throw pillows I sewed recently, and still have plenty of it leftover for smaller projects like this. However, I think the fish looked better on screen than they do on the fabric. Some of the detail of the fin bones seems to have gotten lost in the printing. (So word to the wise: be wary of highly detailed images for printing on fabric, particularly slightly ‘rougher’ fabrics like this canvas.)

The image from Spoonflower’s website


I added a couple of pull tabs at each end of the zipper which the pattern did not call for but which make pulling the zipper much easier. The pattern calls for an underlining but does not specify to use any interfacing, which is an absolute must if you are working with garment-weight scraps. I used heavyweight interfacing on the purple bag, and two layers of medium weight interfacing on the cotton sateen floral bag below (fabric leftover from this mod mini-dress), which was my ‘test bag’. I think heavyweight is the way to go for this structured design.


I think these will make cute gifts for some of my girlfriends. Handmade with love…but really only an hour or two of love, which is about all the love I can spare at the moment! lol

I am having fun finding brightly coloured zippers to add some pop to the bags. More to come!


Don’t forget — do tell me about your handmade gift-giving (and receiving) experiences! I’d love to share your stories on the podcast.

Thanks for stopping by!


With a Little Help From My Friends, Part 2: THANK YOU

Hey friends! Guess who won second place in the Pattern Review Handbag Contest??

Handbag Contest 2016

Thank you SO MUCH for helping me out with your votes. I am very grateful and very happy! And I’m loving my new bag.

Red Leather Bundle Bag

I’ve been busy lately, including work on the next episode of the Clothes Making Mavens podcast which will be released soon, so things have been a bit quiet here on the blog front. But I have a few projects to share with you just as soon as I get some focused time to sit down and write. Here’s a peek:

Colette Zinnia Skirt

The Zinnia Skirt by Colette

The Emmanuelle Sweater

The Emmanuelle Sweater

And as the weather gets cooler I’m doing more rugging up in front of the television (living vicariously through Luke Cage‘s bullet-proof, thug-thwarting swagger, and feeling inspired by The Get Down to make a gold lamé dress for disco dancing) and knitting away at this Velvet Morning Cardigan

Velvet Morning Cardigan in progress

Velvet Morning Cardigan in progress

…which obviously won’t go with the gold lamé dress or be suitable for nailing thugs in Harlem, but will be perfect for more rugging up in front of the TV. I’m on a slippery slope, here, friends, a very slippery slope. 🙂



Forget Hillary. Forget Asshat. Vote for This Instead.

Lemme just clear up that this post has absolutely nothing to do with the US election campaign. You can relax. 🙂


Asking directly for what you want is a good skill for women to have. I’ve read about studies that show women are less likely than men to be direct about what they need, whether it’s asking for a raise, asking for help, or even pointing out their own achievements. In fact, I read about this in the book Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, which I highly recommend. The authors pick apart the psychology of this problem and illustrate their points with studies and stats, and suggest strategies for change. (If you know a young woman who has just started her career or is about to, get her this book, stat! In fact, if you are a woman or know some women, make sure you all have a copy!) Not asking for what we want may be part of the reason — aside from living in an inherently sexist society that undervalues women and their contributions, of course — that women on average earn less than men in the same profession. And believe me, I understand that particular situation personally first hand.

So that’s a really loooong (and uncharacteristically serious!) way of saying I believe in trumpeting one’s own achievements and asking for what you want. So, I want you to marvel at this awesome leather handbag I made! And I want you to vote for me in the Pattern Review Handbag Contest! Can you help a girl out? 😀

Red Leather Bundle Bag

Whaddya think? I’m pretty chuffed about this bag, let me tell you! I think it’s rather professional looking with its blood-red leather, exterior pockets, drawstring closure, and gunmetal hardware.


But wait, check out the inside! Bag lining is the perfect place to get my silly-patterned-fabric ya-ya’s out. I used some leftover cotton from Cotton + Steel’s Tokyo Train Ride collection, which I originally used to make this high neck sleeveless top. There’s a zippered pocket as well as a cell-phone patch pocket in the interior.


I don’t mind telling you that this was a *bitch* to sew. Neither of my sewing machines (not even my trusty 1983 model Singer that I figured could sew through a two-by-four) liked the heavy-weight thread that was recommended for use with leather. I think the thread broke at least 22 times while I stitched the seams. In some spots where there were 6 layers of leather to sew through, I had to use the foot pedal *and* physically push the needle contraption down as hard as I could with my hands. I’m sure this is not good for a sewing machine. Where the handle meets the top of the bag, there were 8 layers to get through. The machine absolutely would not budge. I bent 4 hand sewing needles trying to finish those seams.


And do you know what? I can proudly say that in spite of the challenges, my alter-ego Sewzilla didn’t even show her face. She politely stayed away while I patiently replaced needles and rethreaded the machine countless times. You could say she was a No-Show Sew-Zo. Must be the unseasonably warm sunny weather we’re having here in Toronto lately keeping this house Sewzilla-free. Or maybe it was that I knew this bag would kick ass, so it was worth the effort. I do absolutely love it.


The No-Show Sew-Zo

[UPDATE: my husband and #UnsungSewingBlogHero proofread this post for me and kindly pointed out that Sewzilla did, in fact, show up during the making of this bag. So apparently Sewzilla now knows how to take over my brain and then erase my memory of it. Shit. Maybe I can bribe her to erase my husband’s memory of her visits, too. I mean, have a little MERCY, Sewzilla.]


I now have two versions of this bag. I made the first one, in black leather, at a workshop at a local sewing studio called Sew Be It, where we were guided through the process of making the bag with instructor Sherri Gallagher. Sherri is a professional leather worker who designed the bag and drafted the pattern, and gave the students in the workshop copies of the pattern pieces to keep and use again. Then along came the Pattern Review Handbag Contest and it was the perfect excuse to see if I could sew one on my own.

I bought the red leather hide for $60 at Leather & Sewing Supply Depot on Spadina Avenue in Toronto, as well as all the findings, thread, and double-sided tape to hold the seams together before stitching. There’s an old fellow who I think owns the shop who walked me around pointing out all the perfect things I would need for the bag. They have excellent customer service there. They will even install snaps, eyelets, rivets, etc. into your project while you wait, which is what I did. I spent about 30 mins with someone at the shop who helped me find the best rivets and put them in for me, for a measly 75 cents per rivet. That was the best sanity-saving $7.50 I ever spent.

the materials for making the leather bag

Pattern pieces, buckram interfacing, lining fabric, double sided tape, leather, and various findings

At first I thought I’d use that cute Nerdy Stag fabric above for the lining — see how his little glasses match the red leather? — but I didn’t have enough. It’s now destined to become a cosmetics bag.


The verdict? I LOVE THIS. The size and shape of the bag plus all those pockets make it a favourite for every day use. And it’s the kind of project that stuns people when I tell them I made it.

Hey everyone, I MADE THIS! (Trumpeting my achievement — check.) Will you vote for me in the Handbag Contest? (Asking for what I want — check.) Thanks, friends. We gotta look out for each other. 🙂


Thanks so much for stopping by!

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 Used with permission.

Cartoon by Drew Mokris of 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!

The Crooked Pocket Tote Bag Conundrum

I had some fun the last couple of days putting together a basic tote bag for my niece (by request from her). It came out pretty big; I’m hoping it’s not too big for her 11-year-old frame. Because to make it the right size would have required me to actually plan out its finished size and then, um, MEASURE the damn pieces, which always just seems so, well, measurey-measurey, and who needs that? (A-hem, I think maybe I do.)

Tote Bag

Anyway, I made it reversible, but at the last minute I couldn’t help but install a magnetic snap on the inside–they’re just such a nice touch on a bag and add a bit more professionalism. I suppose it could still be flipped inside out if my niece really wanted to and didn’t mind that the snaps would show on the outside.

Tote Bag lining

Speaking of professionalism (pfffft), I sewed the contrasting pocket on crooked! Here’s how pathological I am when I’m working on something and don’t want to be ‘slowed down’. I pinned that damn pocket without checking whether it was truly centred or straight. I just EYEBALLED it, fercrissake. And it didn’t even occur to me while doing so that maybe I should double check that it was in the right place. Pathological. Really, I’m thinking about renaming this blog Measure Once, Cut Twice.

Tote Bag with crooked pocket!

Tote Bag with crooked pocket!

So now I have this birthday present for my niece with a crooked pocket on the outside. What would you do? These are the options:

I’m heavily leaning towards — surprise! — the last option. Happy birthday, kid! Just don’t look too closely at your present!

Tote Bag

Tote Bag by Request

My 11-year-old niece, who lives in Beijing, came for a sleep-over visit yesterday. She and I are like two peas in a pod: both really into creative, crafty things. She dutifully said “that’s cool!” and “awesome!” to all the handmade stuff I showed her (knitting, jewelry, sewing), and we spent time making bracelets and necklaces together.

I suggested that we could sew a bag for her and she got really excited. We drew some ideas and decided it had to be big enough for her to carry her books and laptop (that kid’s got a MacBook Pro — sheesh), so a tote bag it is. At first she decided she wanted it made from the leftover green woodgrain fabric I used in my retro tank top, but when we brought it to the fabric store to find matching lining fabric, all bets were off. Like a good little mini-me she lost her marbles when we went into The Workroom and she saw all the cute cotton prints, and we spent quite a while choosing her favourites.

Let me introduce you to The Workroom’s resident dog. I’m assuming this must be either Gordon or Maisy, judging by the sign on the front door. S/he is sporting a lovely cotton apron.(!) Through the glass you can just make out the shelves of colour-coordinated fabric on the left wall.

The resident dog at The Workroom in Parkdale

The resident dog at The Workroom in Parkdale

And here’s the fabric my niece decided on for her bag. She’s got a good eye for colour, that one.

Blue & white cotton prints for the tote bag.

Blue & white cotton prints for the tote bag.

We bought the nylon strapping at Designer Fabrics just a few doors down. It’s navy blue, but it was the closest match we could find.

By the time we finished our fabric shopping it was time for my niece to go back to her family, so we decided I would sew the bag for her and give it to her for her birthday in July. I’m thinking I’ll go with a simple rectangle shape, fold a pleat at the corners to give it a few inches of width at the sides, and either make it reversible or perhaps make it one-sided and put a magnetic snap closure on the inside at the top. I’ve often used New Look 6467 (View A) to make tote bags, but I’m thinking I’ll just wing this one. What would you do with it? Do you have a favourite go-to bag pattern?

The New Look 6467 bag pattern that I've used a lot in the past.

The New Look 6467 bag pattern that I’ve used a lot in the past. View A is my fave.