Sunday, August 17, 2014

Heirloom(ish) Sewing - Bins

What do you sew for an older daughter who has long since left the Pretty Dresses And Twirly Skirts Phase behind her?

And if you have these pillowcase hems inherited from her great-grandmother that you want to turn into something she can enjoy and treasure (but not necessarily wear on her body)?

You make book bins. 

Ours have zippered bases, inspired by a clever organizing receptacle I bought from IKEA years ago,

which unzip

to split the base and collapse the entire bin

into flat storage.


Here's our tutorial. I'm not supplying dimensions or templates - our bins were a particular size to fit the circumference of the pillowcase hems. 

Step 1: Make the double-layered zippered base.

  • Find a zipper that's much longer than the diagonal of the base. Ours was a square base, split into two equal triangles. And our zipper was vintage, meaning that it's older than my mother and came from her stash - check out the age stains. 
  • So lay the zipper RS up on the RS of the BOTTOM layer of the base. This is the layer that the bin will rest on, not the lining layer. Attach one side of the zipper tape as shown.

  • Next, lay a lining triangle (the lining will be the top fabric) on top of the zipper-and-bottom-fabric-triangle. Sew this lining triangle to that same edge of the zipper tape, so that you have the zipper sandwiched between two fabric layers.

  • Fold both fabric layers over to expose the other edge of the zipper tape, hiding all SA. 

  • Press this fold and topstitch.

  • Repeat the same process to attach the other pair of fabric triangles to the other edge of the zipper. Here is the lining side.

  • And here is the bottom side. Baste around all 4 edges, through both layers, to make a composite base. 

Step 2: Prepare the support.

This is going to be a very solid bin, so I used cardboard rather than interfacing. So there is zero interfacing. I'd have used corrugated plastic if I could find it, because it's water-resistant, but it's apparently a very "specialist" sort of material, and hard to buy in retail/non-bulk quantities. 
  • Determine the dimensions of the walls needed, and cut the corrugated plastic/cardboard with the flutes parallel to the ground. This orientation will allow the cardboard to resist crushing more effectively.

As a visual aid, here is how those cardboard walls will stand on the base.

We will next make the walls.

These are the two wall layers, each sewn along their short edges into a wide tube. Our outer layer has the embroidered pillowcase hem topstitched onto it. 

Step 3: Make the lining wall. 
  •  Fold the lining wall into four and mark the quarter distances (assuming your bin is also square). Lay the two pieces RS together, and match up the corners of the base to the quarter distance marks (red arrows), 

splitting the SA of the lower edge of the lining wall to allow the corners to lay flat as shown. Sew around the bottom edge of the lining wall to attach it to the base. 

Step 4: Make the strap panels.
  • Cut two equal rectangles for each strap panel. I used a much thinner fabric (regular cotton) for one of the rectangles - it acts as a lining of sorts and is easier to work with than if both rectangles were a heavy fabric. 
  • Sew the rectangles together, with their RS together, all around their perimeter, leaving a gap for turning out (see top rectangle in photo below). 
  • Turn the whole rectangle out through this gap, press the seams and topstitch all around the edge, closing the gap in the process (see bottom rectangle in the photo below). 

  • Lay the strap panel, lining side down, in position on the outer wall, making two channels to accommodate the straps, as shown. 

  • Stitch to attach the panel and define the channels. Repeat the process to make and attach a second strap panel to the opposite side of the outer wall.

Step 5: Attach the outer wall.
  • The process of attaching the outer wall is the same as that of attaching the lining wall (Step 3). Flip the base over so that its bottom side is facing up. Tuck the attached lining walls underneath and out of the way. Lay the outer wall on the base as shown, matching up its quarter distances with the corners of the base,

and splitting the SA in the corners as before. 
  • Sew to attach the outer wall to the base, using the same stitching line as (or a slightly deeper SA than) the one that attached the lining wall to the base.

This will produce sharp corners in both the outer layer

and lining.

Step 6: Join the wall layers.
  • Line up the quarter distances (which should correspond to the corner edges of the bin) of the lining and outer wall layers (red dashed line). Pin together, and stitch both layers together along these lines.

This will give four compartments between the walls to insert the cardboard pieces. Do this now. 

Step 7: Bind the opening of the bin. 
  • I used bias tape, sewn first to the lining side of the bin and folded over to the outer side and hand-stitched. This was the only sequence permitted by the rigidness of the cardboard. 

The finished bound opening.

Step 8: Insert straps.
  • Finally, insert the straps into the strap panel. I used a thick cord that I found in the hardware store, knotted the ends and sealed them with a candle flame.

These straps slide down and out of the way when not used for carrying.

Shot of the inside of the bin

and the outside.

I made a second bin, using a narrower cord, for Emily's same-age cousin,

because Emily thought she'd like it more than a sundress. Emily picked the pillowcase panels and fabric for both bins.

Here she is on our deck swing, enjoying her bin

filled with all the books she loves.


  1. Absolutely beautiful vintage embroidery! Long time reader/lover of your blog, first time commenter, yadda yadda. I wanted to offer a tip re: corrugated plastic -- political campaign signs. Contact some campaign offices (ideally well before elections) or your city/county roadwork department and you can usually get good info on how to intercept a few before they go to landfills, which is where a lot of them end up.

  2. They're awesome! Surely something to be treasured! I love them, and especially their foldability. Also love the pics of Emily... she's so cute!

  3. ikea has actually two versions of these bins, one like yours usually intended for lightweight storage like cloth organization and another version that has a sturdier bottom that folds up for heavier storage. you might want to make a fitting fabric covered rectangle/square to lay flat into the box to support the weight of the books and reduce the strain on the zippered fabric bottom.

  4. I was just looking at several Ikea bins (of various vintages) that I have with the zippered bottom and thinking "I could do that" but hadn't gotten to the figuring out how stage yet! Thank you for the tutorial.

  5. How lovely! We have a bunch of those zippered bottom IKEA bins!

  6. That is genius! Thanks for taking time to figure that one out and post it.

  7. Another source for corrugated plastic (know as Coroplast) is at Home Depot. Ask them where they keep the clear acrylic & plexiglass. It should be there, too. A 2x3' sheet is about $5.

  8. Waouh! Génial!... Merci pour le partage du tutoriel...
    Bonne journée

  9. Very pretty and so practical, thank you so much for your genius tutorial - can't wait to give them a go - thank you x

  10. Great tutorial! And another source for the plastic is Dick Blick art supplies. Thanks for taking the time to post this. Phyllis

  11. And yet another one of your genius posts to bookmark and keep for future reference. Great! A few thoughts though. One, this would be totally impractical for me, because it'd get dirty in a week and there is no way you can wash it except by unstitching the top and redoing the whole thing. Too much work. I'd compromise on the looks but instead of a piping on the top, I'd close the two walls of the panels with velcro.
    Two, instead of plastic panels, I'd use old plastic table mats. They keep getting worn out and/or dirty and are very useful for this sort of stuff. Thin, but for smaller baskets, especially not for books, they'll be nice.
    Three, I agree with lydia.purple above that a square plastic or cardboard (which may or may not be covered with fabric) will really help take the weight of the books better.

  12. This is so cool! Thanks for sharing your tutorial! :)

  13. I am so grateful to you for reading my mind. I wanted to use some vintage zippers in my stash and I wanted to know how to make ikea zipper bottom boxes. Genius. Now could you let me know what I'm making for dinner?

  14. these are very nice! I use fabric drawers for dd's clothing storage and they are looking the worse for wear... I might need to make some new ones...

  15. Thanks very much for sharing you've just solved some Christmas present dilemmas!


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