Monday, May 15, 2017

Collapsible Tote Update

The collapsible totes are sold. Thank you for buying them! And thank you to The Dreamer, the commenter who was kind enough to let me know I'd forgotten to actually link to my shop in that original post. Duh.  

Let me respond to the comments to my last post about the collapsible totes. People wanted to know all about the metal frame within the totes - what it looked like, where I got it, and so on. I am happy to share how I made my totes, of course. Unfortunately, I have nowhere to point you guys to as far as frame hardware goes. I essentially took apart a ready-made collapsible tote and used the frame. Not very exciting.

Apparently, these totes are everywhere, but I found mine in a local hardware store and took it home to use in the car. Then, because I didn't care for the boring-looking material it was made with, I thought I'd pretty it up with fabric on the outside. I hesitated initially because it was a LOT of work to unpick everything just to re-cover it, but it was the middle of winter and my house was a construction wreck and it wasn't as if there was a whole lot to do while waiting, so I figured . . . well.

Sorry I couldn't be of more help. Shoulda just mentioned all this in that original post but I didn't know if you guys might be as insane as I was to take apart a not-very-cheap store-bought tote just because you didn't like the fabric it was made of. But maybe we all are a little nuts, we DIY folks, huh? And clearly my own insanity knows no bounds because - looky - I made three of them. And not for the first time, too - some years back I did the same thing with the Reisenthel baskets with which I was so obsessed.

Anyway, here's one source I found online for you guys. And while searching online, I found evidence that they might have been available in stores like Costco and Sam's Club at some point (I haven't seen any there in the last 6 months). Also, it seems the totes come in multiple sizes, so check the dimensions to be sure you're getting the one you want. After that, it's just careful, careful seam-ripping to liberate the frame. While you're taking it apart, you'll probably be able to figure out the construction sequence, too. Good luck!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Collapsible Tote in Grey and White

It is sooooooo good to be making again!

Here is my latest project:

It is a tote.

For which I cut up my precious grey Orla Kiely stem fabric.

I've wanted to make this tote since I saw something similar in a hardware store earlier in the year. I sat on it, as I do with all my projects, and not only because the kitchen/house was a beast that had dominion over our lives till just recently. It was the fabric, see. It took some visualizing and strategic piecing, particularly with the large repeat print, and I wanted to put it off until I felt my brain could reliably handle the fabric layout with minimal wastage. You know how that is, right? Limited yardage, but the motif has to be dead-center and completely symmetrical and . . . well. Let's just say that you'd want all your wits about you when you tackle something like that.

Finished it at last, though. Very happy. Just in time for summer, too, when I can load it up with swimming things and head to the pool.

Let me walk you through it.

First, it's roomy. Like half-a-yard-long roomy. I put 8 bath towels in it without overflow.


The inside is ripstop nylon so that it's lightweight and wipe-clean.

And it has pockets. 

Here's one - a zippered pouch for keys and money and such.

The other pocket is divided,

for phones and tall sticky-out-things like pens and grocery pads.


And there is a wire frame in there, that locks in place to hold the bag standing up by itself,

and its mouth open so you can get stuff easily from inside.

But then the sides unlock and fold,

and the whole tote goes flat.

and is held in place with an elastic strap connected to the base.

Well of course I had to make more than one. 

All those totes, folded down to this:

Perfect for stowing in the trunk of the car, for when you make trips to farmer's markets and Costco.

Here's a shot of the base: blue ripstop nylon for a pop of color. The base has a rigid insert (some kind of particleboard) so it's really sturdy. And there are plastic feet to keep the ripstop nylon from contact with the ground. You can also see the elastic strap emerging from the short sides - when the tote is in use, the strap remains along the base, pulled taut between the plastic feet. When it's collapsed, that strap wraps around the top of the tote, as shown.

There's no particular reason for why I made these - sometimes it's just to see if I can make something (in this case, apparently, yes). I really only want to keep one tote, so I'm putting the remaining two in the shop for you to buy if you'd like to. The tote measures 19" x 12" x 13" (L X W X H) at the top, and you can find more detailed dimensions (base, pockets, etc.) in the item description in the listing.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Mystery Party Printables!

Do you remember this Mystery Party from three summers ago?

In which there were two teams of detectives, armed with these detection kits,

who solved coded messages and collected incriminating evidence against four suspects and then went on a hunt around the neighborhood to locate two missing vehicles?

It was three years ago when Jenna and I sat down to plan this party and adapt her incredible ideas for an afternoon of practical (and feasible!) mystery-solving with her friends. 

Since then, many people, including parents and teachers, have written to ask if I would share the various documents and materials from this party. I'd said no each time, and eventually even had to update those original party posts to explicitly say so. 

I explained: one - privacy reasons. All those fingerprints, toeprints, handwriting, shoe sizes, cars, neighborhood maps, photos of neighbors' houses that we used in our documents belonged to us or people we knew personally. 

Two - after observing how the party was received by real kids under a real time limit, I realized that the original material needed tweaking, if not to iron out the kinks and copyright issues, then at least to streamline the material. But we'd moved on from that party, and I didn't have the time to revisit and revise all those documents.

But people continued to ask. 

And in the wake of Emily's Harry Potter party, I thought, "Well, okay. Maybe it's possible. Maybe it won't take me five hundred years after all."

So after our Singapore trip, I unearthed all the old material, removed all the personal and legally-iffy stuff, tweaked the awkward bits, wrote a brand new Mystery Synopsis without loopholes (one hopes), and added instructions on how to use the materials.

I am happy to say that you can now purchase the materials from our Mystery Party as a pdf file! With the exception of our oversize posters, I tried to include as many things as I could from our 2014 party, like the artwork, dossiers, footprints, code book and even the sticker, label and invitation card art. In addition, there is new material (instructions! Synopsis! Solution!) to help you organize, prepare and carry out the activities in your particular settings. Here are the contents - there are 35 pages in total, and all but one is in black-and-white, so it's easy to print on home printers and inexpensive to make copies of at a copy shop:

Here is a page from the Instructions section detailing how this resource pack can and can't be used. Essentially, if you purchase a copy of this resource pack, you can make as many copies as are needed to run a party, or a classroom lesson (and repeat as necessary for future lessons with future classes). However, you may not share your copy; colleagues, parents, friends etc. who want to run the activities in their classrooms and parties will need to purchase their own copy for use in their respective settings.

Here's another page from the pack to show you how you might introduce this activity at your event. At our original home party, we verbally explained this scenario to our guests, but perhaps that a proper Mystery Scenario might help you present the aims and goals of the activity in a more systematic way.

The cost of the resource pack is $10 and you can go here to buy it. This is an instant pdf download, so be sure to save the file on a device from which you can access it later to print. If you have any questions, leave a comment or shoot me an email!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

When Garment People Make A Cushion

Hello, friends!
Boy, have I missed you guys.

I am happy to say that our house remodeling project is mostly done and we have a kitchen again! It is indeed, as everyone who's ever remodeled their home (or parts thereof) has said, "It's all worth it."

Yes, The After is always glorious. 

The During, however, was . . . shall we say, an adventure?

I've learned that remodeling, no matter how efficiently performed, and particularly when it involves the kitchen, is disruptive in ways one can never imagine beforehand. Not being able to cook, for instance, is only a tiny, superficial part of it. I felt more the loss of my creative space. Not the physical aspect of it, although my sewing room became the dining room for many strange but wonderful weeks together as a family in culinary limbo. I mean the abstract space - that open, undistracted, uncluttered, unpreoccupied state of mind in which to imagine, create, dream, and simply be excited about making something new.

I've missed that so much. Particularly because my home is, in a sense, my studio. And not just as a place to execute artistic work. Every room in it is a source of idea and inspiration because of the people who live in it and throw their clothes and toys around in it and cause it to malfunction in ways that beg fixing and improving and making over. In the old days, I'd walk around and pick up a bunny, or trip over a plastic cupcake, or shudder at a hideous unmatching accent pillow and some idea will knit itself together in my mind, and you guys might see the manifest outcome in a blog post not long after. Where do you get your ideas? I've often been asked. Short answer: The Everyplace - that literal common ground where life happens to real people. 

I've missed working, too. And blogging. And all the in-between tasks related to sewing and design and delivering it to the internet at large. I've even missed the mind-numbing administrative record keeping that comes with the job. 

Then I had to remind myself that, creatively bereft or not, being a Mom, and running the (weird and very alien) house was work, too, and important work at that, especially when everything else felt like entropy around us. Oh, the stories we'll tell of the memories we made of the weeks we spent living in untraditional rooms in the house that Jack  - I mean, the remodeling company - built. 

But it is done. And I am slowly coming back to life.

One of my rewards to myself for moving everything back into the new living spaces was sewing a cushion for our new bench. I was very excited. I made multiple trips to multiple fabric stores for fabric samples. I measured and re-measured and drafted my pattern and incorporated the compressive effect of high-density foam under a negative woven-fabric stretch factor, and felt oh-so-methodical and scientifically precise.

And then I looked at my first draft.

And wanted to cry.

Do you not see? Here, I will zoom in. I am not afraid to share uberfails,

nor dissect them in excruciating detail, so that we may all learn how not to fit a cushion.

Behold: the edge that juts out too far over the bench.

Here is the other corner, in case that first one didn't convince you. And behold also: the entire cushion was too long for the bench, in spite of being made to the exact interior measurement of that space. Do you see the wrinkles?   

Finally, behold the cushion profile as it fits (and here I am taking liberties with the semantics of that term as it clearly does not fit) into the space under the window frame. While the cushion is of uniform thickness throughout (because the foam is), the space into which it must fit isn't, and I never even thought to measure the sill-bench spacing under the window to verify that it was, indeed, constant (it wasn't). 

Let's backtrack a bit to Cushion-Making 101 so we remember how to make a cushion. 

First, the insert for a cushion such as this should be foam rather than, say, polyfill stuffing. And the foam should preferably be of the high-density kind so that when one lowers one's considerable bulk onto the cushion, one does not immediately and uncomfortably sink to the hard surface underneath.

Second, one must lay on at least the top surface of the foam, a layer of batting, so that the fabric has some padding to reduce the likelihood of The Sagging Cover effect. You are familiar with this phenomenon, yes? You make a cushion cover to the exact external dimensions of the foam insert, but when put over the foam, the cover has hollow corners and spacious seams and wrinkles all over, as if carelessly made too large. So then you unpick everything and take in the seams, and overcompensate so as to "stretch" the cover snugly over the foam, but then you find that the crisp edges and corners of the foam insert are now squished and the entire cushion, rather than the sleek rectangular prism it was meant to be, now looks like an indistinct blimp.

It's not you, you know. It's the foam-fabric interaction. It does not manifest with soft pillow forms, which are shapeshifters and can meld into corners with ease. It's when working with fixed-shape foam inserts that all hell breaks loose. 

Batting is the key. 

Now, some fabric comes already padded on the wrong side. Some upholstery fabric, for instance, is felt- or flannel-backed (and now we know why). But most fabric, even home-dec fabric, does not. And when working with quilting-cotton and other lighter-weight fabric, this effect is even more pronounced. So we line the WS of the fabric cover pieces with a layer of batting. Or glue the batting to the foam surfaces themselves, if you prefer (I personally do not prefer).

Third, one must take into account the added thickness of that batting and - if present - piping, and correspondingly reduce either the dimensions of the foam insert, or the fabric cover pieces, or both. I, in my reckless enthusiasm, did not.

Fourth, one must realize that foam is heinously sticky and that trying to insert it between layers of fabric will require acrobatics and vast amounts of patience. And if the foam will be inserted between layers of batting-lined fabric, it will feel like everything has been spitefully velcroed to everything else just to test the limits to that patience. Having a very generous zippered opening helps. I, sadly, had a marginal level of patience at best, and was not at all happy to extract the foam from Cushion Cover Version 1, and then wrestle it back again into Cushion Cover Version 2. I also did not have a generous zippered opening. I thought I could get by with a token zipper along the short middle section of the back edge. "How cunningly discreet!" was how I rationalized away all common sense. 

Oh, the things we learn in hindsight.

Let us skip over the copious seam-ripping and splicing-of-piping-and-gusset and acrobatics and behold Version 2.

Not perfect, but so much better. 

Its dimensions look like it was made by someone with actual number sense! See Before-After photos below.

                                     Before                                        After

Thought I'd share my upholstery misadventures today because they reminded me so much of how I draft and sew garments. Cushion Version 1 is like a person wearing a garment in the wrong size (or a poor draft thereof). We say, "Oh, nice dress," simply because the alternative is that person walking around starkers, but it's painfully clear that the garment does not fit. Those of us who don't imagine there could be a Version 2 will settle for Version 1 and will probably not be particularly dissatisfied. Until we see Version 2, which is then almost a relief to look at after having seen Version 1. 

So now I have a be-cushion-ed bay window bench. The kids like that they no longer have to snuggle on the hard wood while they read. Emily sits here and plays her ukulele sometimes while I'm preparing dinner. It's a good place to be.

This is not the final accent pillow, incidentally. This is only my placeholder ikat pillow so the kids have something to lean against while I decide on accent fabric for the real pillows. But that's another story!

Changing the subject altogether, here is a random photo: 

Sometime during the remodeling, we went to Singapore. I hope to share some photos of that at some point, when I feel like I've hit normal again. Here is one measly photo in the meantime: a stack of satin ribbons that the girls bought in Singapore for this year's kids' craft fair. After the success of last year's, they've decided they're going to do ribbon wands again, this time in more rainbow hues. Haberdashery is so much cheaper (and varied) in Singapore so they went shopping and snagged all these colors. I love that they're planning ahead for their summer projects!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Harry Potter Party: Printables

We hope you enjoyed following along with Emily's Harry Potter party posts! We're all done now, and all that remains is to explain the printables to which I alluded throughout the earlier posts.

If you remember, Emily began her research several months before the party, in the spring of last year and, throughout the summer, painstakingly conceptualized and hand-made all the various party elements, including the decorations and artwork. She intended to consolidate her work into a digital file that could be purchased by anyone who wanted to host a similar party and use her labels, posters and templates. However, there are licenses involved with all commercial entities, and we are unfortunately unable to distribute anything specific to the Harry Potter franchise. So no spell books, wand labels, Diagon Alley poster art, or anything identifiable as Harry Potter or belonging to the fantasy world created by JK Rowling.

We have, however, put together a 21-page e-file of what we are able to distribute.

Here is the cover page detailing what is in this pdf file, which of these come with instructions, and what format (photos, text, tutorial, etc.)

Please note that some of the projects come with full-size templates and some, because of size constraints, do not. Those must then be drafted yourself (with instructions included on how to do this). Here are some sample pages of the different projects - one with pictorial instructions, one with a full-size template and the other with written construction instructions.

We are making this file available for sale through my Patterns For Sale page (click on that link or look for it in the menu bar right underneath my blog banner) for $5. 

Alternatively, you can also click on this Add To Cart button below to buy the file. 

Add to Cart

Because this is Emily's party and she is responsible for the ideas and conceptualization of the resulting projects, all the proceeds from the sale of this e-file go to her. Thank you for supporting her work!