Travel Bags – Sewing with Leather & Adding Zips

Earlier this month I headed off to New York for 8 eight days with my family. Our trip started on the Tuesday after the Easter weekend. This lovely long weekend before we headed off meant that once I had got my classes finished and the house and family prepared for the trip, I had a day to myself to dedicate to sewing a leather travel set.

To put this in context, I’d had the pattern for 3 months ahead of this time, the fabrics for 2 months before that, and a month ago I’d traced the pattern and decided on the hacks I was going to make to the design, ready for a day when I got time to sew for myself. So this was nothing like a spur of the moment thing! The pattern I’d chosen was the Portside Travel Set by Grainline Studios. I make a lot of their dressmaking patterns and was intrigued to have a go at this set.

The set comprises a large cabin bag/weekend bag, along with a zipped document holder and a structured zipped pouch which could be used for toiletries, but I found it super useful for the chargers, plugs and all that type of paraphernalia that a family on tour requires. I’ve recently been enjoying sewing with leather when making free machine embroidered gifts, where I’ve added leather panels to  ‘pimp up’ the pouch. For a similar reason, I had bought leather to make this bag just a little bit more special. Adding the extra zipped compartments and meshed pockets made the bag more functional – as key items could be held securely and found quickly when travelling. All the linings with this travel set are drop-in – which I opted to hand sew in place, so were easy to modify.

Whilst the pattern, like all Grainline patterns, was great, having some knowledge of bag making allowed me to swap out plain interfacing for more structured foam, and to add in meshed and pillar box zip pockets in the travel bag and the ‘toiletries’ bag.I also felt the travel bag needed a firm base, so I added a fabric covered stiff removable bag bottom, as well as adding bag feet.  These things are easy to add and you can customise this bag however you want to because the base pattern is so good.

This was not a hard make at all. With all bag making, there is a lot of time required to cut all the various pieces out in fabric, lining, leather, interfacing, foam etc., but when that is done, this is a really enjoyable make. At points I was sewing through 2 layers of leather along with foam, for this a size 90 leather needle, a longer stitch length and going slowly was required.

Having returned from New York, the bag was a roaring success with a couple of people asking where I had bought the set! The document holder is a great size and my charger bag was perfect for chargers and earphones which always end up rattling about at the bottom of a bag. The meshed pockets in the main travel bag worked well.

The Portside Travel Set Pattern retails for £14 for the ‘proper’ paper version or around £11 ($16) if the pdf is download from the Grainline website.

For details of the 3-evening classes to make this set visit GillyMac Designs website or click here.

Guest Blog : The Making of a Baby Quilt by Jessica

Over February half term I decided to make a baby quilt, well more like a throw. I made it as a gift to my form tutor, as his partner has just had a baby. He’s also been my form tutor for the last five years so it’s also as a thank you gift. I go to sewing classes with Gill Towell of Gillymac Designs where I have made three different and unique quilts. We have also entered two quilts as a group for the National Festival of Quilts. We came 2nd with one and got highly commended in the other.

I started by looking for fabric suitable for baby boys and found that there were lots. I then had to work out what size I needed and how many squares I needed. I bought a fat quarter bundle which came with 5 different materials. As I was short of a few squares, I bought another bundle which I thought has colours in it which would bring all the fabric together  – which indeed it did!

I started off by drawing out my pattern and seeing which patterns would work well together. I then assembled it by making blocks of 9, 3 across 3 down. I decided to have 6 squares going across by 9 squares down. Once I had made the patchwork top centre,  I added the borders which I decided to have white so that it would accentuate all of the colours in the main panel. After that, I glued it to the backing using temporary glue. I then quilted the whole thing using a walking foot creating a grid design. I finished the quilt by making my own binding and sewing it around the edge. This gave the quilt a nice finish and made the whole thing come together.

The most challenging bit was adding the binding and trying to make it look neat at the corners. I also found matching the fabrics and making it look nice was quite difficult and took a long time.

My favourite part of the quilt is how it all comes together and how the colours work well. I like how the binding finishes the edges and how it brings it all together. I would definitely make it again as I had so much fun making it. There is so much effort and concentration involved and I have learnt so much from doing it.

I would do it the same way because it’s a great design and I like the way in which it turned out.

I am giving it away sometime next week before my form tutor goes on paternity leave.

FreeSpirit & What This Means For Us

The announcement this week from Coats (owners of FreeSpirit Fabrics) was shocking in its swiftness, but the writing has been on the wall for some time, had we chosen to look at it. Coats business is dominated by its ‘Industrial’ business (around 70%) – which sells clothing footwear, threads and materials to industry. A much smaller part of the business is the Global ‘Crafts’ business – which makes and sells things to crafters, just like us.

Last Summer Coats closed it’s UK Coats Crafts business. This restructuring was an early indication that their business model was not working.  In July last year Coats posted its Half Year Results and these showed how the Craft business was performing.  It shows the Craft business was surviving on margins of ~3% in 2016 and ~6% in 2017, whereas the rest of the business was running on margins double and triple this. Then late last year, in November,  Coats posted a Trading Update which shows a decline in Coats Craft sales by 10% year on year. So in summary, Coasts had a small part of its business which was underperforming the dominant part and which was now in decline. In this light, shutting the business down maybe wasn’t such a hard decision to make.

In the trading results, there is mention of a large customer of Coats who has now started its own brand of wool and the effect that this has had on the Coats Craft business. There is also mention of the poorly performing US market. These seem a little unbelievable as the key reasons for the business failure. However, when a business fails, you will often find that the reason for the failure is something to do with the external market and never how it was it was set up, the contractual terms it had previously agreed or the way it was run.

I feel qualified to talk about business failure, having worked in telecoms for 20 years. There was a business for which the writing was on the wall, but when the wall fell on us all it was shocking and painful. With the Coats Craft business, we maybe won’t know for a while why the business really failed. The contracts with the designers would not have been inexpensive. I understand that almost all fabric is printed in South Korea so were the base products, colours and dyes really significantly different from other manufacturers? I can’t see that they were. Maybe the contractual commitments made to designers and manufacturers were so out of whack with the market that the only option was to shut down the business.

Like in telecoms, it is sad for the Coats Crafts employees, designers and the manufacturers affected, but I wonder if there will be knock-on problems for some fabric stores here in the UK.  These stores will have created there business plans for this year and next on the basis of a number of drops of new fabric collections from Coats that we would intern buy. This will not happen now, as even if the designers sign quickly for other companies, there will be a delay in production and supply of at least 6 months. So actually, our indignation at not being able to buy a fabric collection when it was planned should really be a concern for our local market, as the more fabric shops there are, the more competitive the prices will be and the more frequent and lucrative the deals will be. Now is the time to support our stores and not rely on our stash if we want our piece of the market to flourish.

 

Allow Yourself a Bad Idea…

Yesterday I had an extremely rare term time Saturday off from teaching my lovely teen classes and attended a lecture by Tula Pink, a young Amercian textile designer, who now lives just outside Kansas City.

If you don’t know Tula’s work then it is really worth having a look at her Collections.  They are beautiful,  often with the larger designs based on aminals buried within intricate curvy patterns with colour choices stand apart from other designers in the market.

Whilst listening to Tula describe her design process, she said something that really resonated with me – and I know it will resonate with many of my pupils. She said that she has learnt to no longer be afraid of a bad idea, in fact, she encourages a bad idea. When she gets a new journal for her designs, she scrawls over the first page, as now nothing in the book will be as bad as that first page. She explained that, for her, a bad idea is part of the process of having a good idea. She also said that a ‘block’ occurs when you dont give yourself the chance to have a bad idea. She believes her ratio is about 9-1 bad ideas to good ones.

Let us just think about this. So now, if I follow her suggestions,  tomorrow, instead of getting frustrated that I want to come up with an exciting idea for a quilt I need to make for an exhibition this year (and my current ideas are a bit rubbish)… now I can relax .. this is part of the process – a proper, successful professional designer says so. It takes the stress away … I feel better already and more excited about designing a quilt.

Why have I not thought of this before? In some ways I have.  I tell my pupils that I can solve their problems because I have made every single mistake they have made myself. I often make Katie laugh in the car home from school.  telling her about all the mistakes I have made that particular day, as she tells me about a tiny thing that has gone wrong for her… I think these things are similar. However, I see teen and adult pupils getting cross with themselves when they dont get’ that point’ perfect or the quilting design nailed on the first try. So now I will try and remind them (and me) of these words from Tula… Don’t be afraid of a bad idea – it is part of the process.

From Monday 5th Feb 2018 to Monday 12th Feb 2018, GillyMac Designs will be running an Instagram and Facebook competition to win a Tula Pink’s “All Star” Fabric Bundle – available here a whole 5 weeks prior to market launch.

Tula’s Next Range – ” All Stars”

 

STOP PRESS : New Year Delayed until 1st Feb

Twenty eighteen may be well underway, but,  even though the tree is down, the decorations are away and my tax is done (hurrah),  the start of my New Year is on hold until 1st February to allow me to complete more of my  ‘2017 Finishing Off List’.

There is something particularly satisfying about completing projects, and for me, there is a balance between having things on the go that I am enjoying making, which add variety to my week and which can showcase the business and then, on the other hand,  having way too much on my plate of which very little will ever get finished. Apart from in the Summer, when the push to get the girls’ projects finished for the Festival of Quilts consumed my every breath, I’ve not done too bad – thanks in the main to help along the way from Deborah and my lists to keep me focused.

I have just loaded the GillyMac gallery (see tab above) with the final images from 2017 with many of the gorgeous items made here this year. They are just a small sample of the creativity of the GillyMac Pupils.  I know that there is never a time when I will have everything completed and that thought can be overwhelming, but I started sewing to enjoy the journey, not just to complete the task… and when it all gets too much and Annie’s quilt is still not finished, or the PJs for the girls I wanted to make for Christmas are left unmade, or the quilting for the Linus project is not even started…… I need to remember to enjoy every moment of my creative time – as it is precious and important for being what it is… special time.

Defining Your Own Colour Story

It is very easy to buy a bundle of fabrics, all from the same range, because the colour combination (often called a colour story) will have been worked out for you. In the Tula Pink Tabby Road Collection, the ‘Strawberry Fields’ colourway has red grouped with pink, aqua, green and cream and it looks fantastic. I’m not sure, if faced with a blank page, I would have come up with this group, but actually, I should probably have more faith my understanding of colour,  because the basics aren’t so hard. First, you need some inspiration, like a fabric, or colour or pattern. Then you need to find fabrics and check the colour value or tone to get a good mix. So in three steps, you have it cracked? Yeah … well … maybe there is more to it …. but really, not a lot more. Let’s go through the steps.

Inspiration

You need a starting point. That is your inspiration… as I said, it could be anything as simple as a fabric you like, or a picture you want to create a quilt around, it could be the favourite colour of the person you are going to give the quilt to, it could be seasonal colours – it could be anything.

Colour Combination

Once you have a colour to start with, then you need to understand the colour wheel.

In the colour wheel above, the solid triangle is pointing to the Primary Colours of yellow, red and blue. Those are the colours which are used to create all the others on the wheel. The dashed triangle is pointing to the secondary colours. Those are the colours that are created by mixing the primary ones. For example, red and blue create purple and so on. The colours not touched by either triangle are the Tertiary Colours – these are created by mixing primary and secondary colours. There are many shades of tertiary colours. These colours around the wheel are often referred to hues of colour.

Next to learn is how to combine colours successfully.  Colours opposite each other on the colour wheel are complementary. So, referring to the colour wheel above, yellow’s complementary colours are plum, purple and violet, and red’s complementary colours are green, turquoise and lime. Colours that are close to each other on the colour wheel are referred to as analogous and can be clearly seen to co-ordinate. Finally, the colours from yellow, clockwise around the wheel, finishing with plum are known as ‘warm colours’ and those from purple around to lime are know as ‘cold colours’.

Tone and Value

The first step is all about understanding what colour tone (sometimes called value) actually is. It is not complicated to understand this, so let’s take an example. If we take green – any green – then there isn’t just one tone of the colour, there are many. Think about a paint colour card. In the diagram below various amounts of whites and blacks (shades of grey) are added to the green base colour to create this range of tones. Often you will see a colour wheel with the colours around the outside and the tones of those colours merging inwards toward the centre. So if you decided to use a green – first pick the right hue of green (for example a lime green or a moss green or an olive green etc)  and then pick the right tone for your project.  When people talk about colour value, this is all they mean. What we call ‘rich’ colours have a  deep tone (high value) and pastel colours have a low tone (light value).

If you want to check the relative value of a group of fabrics. Lay the fabrics out together and take a picture of them – then turn the picture to black and white. In this way, you can immediately see the values. Try and aim for a mix of values in the quilts you make.

In Summary

So that is it – now you are ready to create your own colour story using your inspiration for the starting point, the colour wheel to get the right base colours and then a good mix of tones/values to create interest in your piece.   Don’t forget to give your colour story a great name,  like “Strawberry Fields”, or “Marmalade” which Tula used in her Tabby Road Collection!

In saying this, the most important thing in picking the colours and fabrics for your quilts is that you like them – so treat all this as a guide and not a rule!

Should you want to go on and create your own colour wheel, then Tula Pink’s free pattern “Moxie” could easily be used to do so by replacing the recommended fabrics with solid colours in the right tones.

Good Luck and please feel free to share your work with me @gillymacdesigns on Instagram or GillyMac Designs on facebook.

Good textile-focused colour wheels can be purchased from Lady Sew and Sew and Plush Addict  I haven’t found a good one yet on Amazon!

 

 

Go On – Touch the Tension Dial!

When I was at school, for the short time I was allowed into the sewing machine room, the whole class was warned never (NEVER) to touch the tension dial. We were all terrified of that tension dial and what could possibly happen if we altered it.

Actually, when something is understood, it is easier to fix and tension isn’t hard to understand and doesn’t need to be a mystery or something to be concerned about. The best way I have found to explain tension is by thinking about a tug of war match. In a sewing machine, you have two teams – one on the top, the top team and one in the bobbin, the bobbin team.  Now think about those two teams taking up the tension on the rope, the flag in the middle of the rope sits perfectly on the line between the two teams.  How this translates to your sewing machine, is that the meeting of the two threads (from the top and from the bobbin) happens perfectly within the thickness of the material sewn – so the bobbin thread is only seen underneath your work and never on top and the top thread is only seen on the top of your work and not on the underside.

So, by understanding this, we can now look at what ‘bad tension’ refers to. It means that the two teams aren’t pulling with the same strength, they are not balanced. There are two outcomes from unbalanced pulling, or tension.

  • When the top team pull too hard, or the bobbin team slacken off, then the flag moves towards the top team. On our sewing machine, this means that the bobbin thread is seen on the top. So, if you see your bobbin thread on the top of your work, it is either because your top tension is too tight, or your bobbin tension is too loose.
  • When the top team slacken off, or the bobbin team pull too hard, then the flag moves towards the bobbin team. On our sewing machine, this means that the top thread is seen on the underside of the fabric. So if your top thread is visible on the underside of your work, it is either because your top thread is too loose, or your bobbin tension is too tight.

This concept is a really easy way to decide what is wrong with your sewing if tension is the issue. It will help you decide which changes to make to correct the balance of tension and get your sewing back to perfection. However, before you change any dials, always check these three things first

  1. Is the machine threaded correctly? In every case unthread your machine (completely) and rethread it.
  2. Have you got the same type and thickness of thread in the top and in the bobbin? They dont have to be the same colour, but they should be the same type. Some sewing machines are more forgiving of this than others.
  3. Is your stitch length appropriate for the thickness of the fabric bulk you are sewing – for example, two pieces of quilting cotton would normally have a stitch length of between 1.8-2.2, but sewing up curtain fabric will generally require a stitch length of around 2.8-3.2.

So now you are ready to conquer the world! Go forth – touching that dial should never worry you again!

Understanding Your Overlocker

With the Singer Overlockers on sale in Lidl this week and with the use of overlockers on the TV series, The Great British Sewing Bee, more and more of the sewing community has access to an overlocker.

Overlockers are sadly often misunderstood tools. They can do so much more than just sew stretch fabrics. Overlockers are designed for

  • encasing seams on all fabrics to neaten and prevent fraying
  • sewing seams without puckering, stretching or gathering on more troublesome fabrics such as knits (stretchy fabrics) and fine wovens (for example, voile)
  • creating specialist stitches such as flatlock seams, rolled hems and others
  • making decorative edges by using decorative threads in the machine loopers

Although I have had an overlocker for a couple of years, it is only in the past six months that I have used it regularly and it is a brilliant extension to my sewing machine work. It had been threaded and ready for use for some while and from time to time I did get it down to use, but with hindsight, it was a poor attempt to use it.

The machine is different from a sewing machine in a variety of ways. It has no bobbin but instead uses loopers to create stitches. It has the ability to cut fabric as it sews. Most newer overlockers have two feed-dog systems, one of which can be altered to move quicker or slower than the other, creating the differential feed which is so useful when dealing with difficult fabrics.  To add to this, each thread, and overlockers sew with two, three or four threads has it’s own tension settings. All this combines to make a machine with lots of variables, so it is important to find your basic stitch (I call this an anchor stitch) and see what happens when you vary one thing from this point.

The basic stitch or anchor point for each overlocker will need slightly different initial settings for each machine. For my own Juki overlocker, I get a great basic 4 thread overlock stitch on woven fabric, using a stitch length 2.5, no differential feed (set to N or 1), a cutting length of 2 and all thread tensions set 4. Once you have found your own basic stitch with woven fabrics, like me, you can create a book of stitches by first changing the length to 1 and checking the stitch, then to 2, then to 3 and so on up to the maximum setting. Then set the length back to 2.5 and varying the cutting length in the same way. Doing this, and recording your findings in a book of stitches, will be invaluable in understanding how your overlocker works and what it is capable of.

My next overlocker class with spaces available is over two nights on Mondays January 22nd and 29th. Email mail@gillmacdesigns.com for more details or to book a place.

 

Working from Base Camp

I am no stranger to working on my holidays. After years of corporate life, where everything was urgent, nothing could wait and my phone was constantly ringing (with bad news), not working would be shocking. However now working on this holiday, isn’t really work, it is building a small business, creating projects that I think people will enjoy, whilst using fabrics that I think will inspire. In the Lake District, I can do this whilst Katie and Brian fell walk – everyone is happy

We’ve been away for two weeks, staying on Ullswater. It is the only place in the UK, other than the Hebrides, that I’ve been where the daylight changes the colour of the surrounding landscape so dramatically, often hour by hour and certainly every evening. I love doing anything by this light because almost every time you look out the window the palette of colours has changed again.

We don’t particularly come here hoping to get good weather. Good weather is a bonus, but slowing down our pace of life and changing the way we operate for two weeks is all we truly need. My business allows me to be a ‘base camp’ for Katie and Brian who like to plan a walk, get dropped off in one location and get collected somewhere else. Katie is becoming quite an accomplished walker. She knows how to plan, what to take and how to both fuel and pace herself. I think this year is the first that she is setting the pace rather than Brian, but she sees it as a team game and that is all part of it.

This afternoon I have come down to Glenridding to plan my class schedule whilst they take out a rowing boat. It is cooler today, but they are still keen to get out on the water all the same. Later, I will be back at base camp, looking out over cattle and fields and further onto Ullswater.  I am able to sew with a magnificent view, preparing Winter class samples and writing spartan notes that will eventually become class methods. Perfect !

Gill’s new class list is now on the website and pictures of her sewing whilst away in Ullswater this year are on the website gallery.

GillyMac Dawn til Dusk Sewathon

If you didn’t already know (how could you not know !) , on 22nd September we held a Dawn til Dusk Sewathon in support of Macmillan Cancer Support. From 7am until 7pm there was a flow of adults and then after school children and teens arriving at the studio in Westfield Road. The participants enthusiastically sewed squares together all day, making 15 quilts over the 12 hours.
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Julia’s First Ever Patchwork

It was a great team and community effort. Pupils, past pupils, friends, and neighbours came together to sew and eat cake ! By sewing precut squares into blocks of three by three, Deborah Ransom and Jean Cozens co-ordinated the assembling of colourful quilts in cot size and bed size. The day flew because of the boundless energy and enthusiasm of the flow of people through the studio on the day. We even had some very young helpers !

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Allegra having a rest !

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Jordi enjoying the Tuffet !

For me, the day was a moment in time of the spirit of sewing within a community of volunteers. That spirit is continuing through a group of volunteers that are helping with all the quilting and binding need for each of the quilts.
All of the quilts made are being donated to Project Linus, a charity which provides handmade quilts to poorly children and child carers across the UK. The quilts made during the Sewathon will be distributed across Berkshire. The day also raised more than £650 for Macmillan Cancer Support which I have just dropped off at the bank.
This isn’t something we can repeat annually as it takes an awful lot of effort by all those involved, but I hope we can have another Dawn til Dusk event in 2018 and maybe even try and break our record of 15 quilts ! I’ll keep you updated with how the completion of the quilts go and the reception we get when they are handed over to Project Linus in November.
Thank you all very much for taking part – it was amazing !
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