Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Make Your Own - A Dolly Sleeping Bag Tutorial

Several months ago, at the girls' request, I made a sleeping bag for their doll Peanut.  It was not fabulously sewn, was in clashing colours, and was made with supplies I had laying around the house (including a zip that was too short).

The girls have enjoyed it, and it's seen plenty of use.  About a week ago a reader asked me if I would post a tutorial on how to make this sleeping bag.  I figured it was a good opportunity to make it a bit better.


To make this sleeping bag you will need the following supplies:

  1. Bias Tape - I cut 1.5" strips, which gave me 0.75" wide tape.  You'll need enough tape to go around the whole sleeping bag.  This pictures shows 0.5" single fold bias tape, but I decided not to use it as it was too thin.
  2. Zip - minimum 12" zip.  I used  a regular dressmaking zip.
  3. Wadding/batting - two pieces cut to the following measurements 16.5"x11" and 12.5"x11".  I used a high loft batting to give the sleeping bag a nice, puffy look.
  4. Outer fabric - two pieces cut to the following measurements 16.5"x11" and 12.5"x11".  I used a cotton fabric.
  5. Lining fabric - two pieces cut to the following measurements 16.5"x11" and 12.5"x11".  Again, I used a cotton fabric.

The larger fabric and batting sections are the back of your sleeping bag, and the smaller fabric and batting sections are the front of the sleeping bag.


Start with the smaller pieces of outer fabric, lining fabric and batting.  Pin these pieces to your zip as shown above, with the RS (Right Sides) together.  The spotty fabric is the lining and the striped fabric is the outer fabric.  In the above picture the zip is placed wrong side up, and you are pinning to the right-hand side of the zip tape.  Ensure you align the top of the zip, with the top of the fabric.  Just let the excess zip hang out the bottom.

Sew along the length of the zip to secure the layers together.  Trim as much of the batting as you can from the seam allowance.  This will help give you a flat, even seam when you turn the fabrics out the right way.

Turn the fabrics out the right way, and baste very close to the edge all around the fabric.  If you prefer, you can top stitch the zip.  I just pressed it.  In the above picture the RS (Right Side) is the outer fabric, and the WS (Wrong Side) is the liner fabric.  At this point you should trim any messy bits of fabric and batting around the outside edge.

You will now sew the larger pieces of outer fabric, lining fabric and batting to the other side of the zip.  This time the zip is placed right side up, and the fabric is pinned to the right-hand side of the zip tape.  Your fabrics should be placed right sides together as shown in the picture above (outer fabric on top, lining fabric in the middle and batting at the bottom).  The zip sits between the outer fabric and the lining fabric.  

It is very important that you carefully line up the bottom edges of the fabric so the zip is in the same position on both the front and back of the sleeping bag.  Sew along the whole length of the pinned seam and trim the excess batting from the seam allowance.

Turn the fabrics out the right way, and baste very close to the edge all around the section.  Again, if you prefer, you can top stitch the zip.  I just pressed it.  You now have the main body of the sleeping bag attached to the zip.  The next step is to add the bias tape.

Sew bias tape along the top edge of the smaller section.  I carefully wrapped the end of the bias tape around centre edge (and zip), and sewed it very neatly.  My preferred method for attaching bias tape very neatly, is to machine sew the first edge, then turn the tape over and hand sew the back edge.  I can do bias tape on the machine, but I find I spend more time unpicking it and trying to correct messy sewing.  It's usually much faster if I just do the second seam by hand.

Hand sew a bar tack (or machine sew if you prefer) on the bottom of the zip, just a tiny bit above the bottom edge of the sleeping bag.  Cut off the zip in line with the bottom edge.  You can now fold your sleeping bag with the lining sides facing each other, and baste the two sections together (see picture above). 

Stop and give yourself a pat on the back - you almost have a finished sleeping bag.  I like to unzip and zip it up a few times, just to remind myself how clever I am!  To finish the sleeping bag, we just need to add the bias tape edge.

Start sewing your bias tape edge from the top of the zip on the back section.  Work your way around the sleeping bag using one continuous strip of bias tape.  To do this you will need to make mitred corners.  It's a tiny bit fiddly, but does give a very neat finish.  Again, I machine stitch the front edge, then I fold the tape over, and hand stitch the back edge.  I carefully wrap the bias tape around the zip on that bottom right corner, and sew it securely in place.

If you prefer, you can cut three rounded corners and sew your bias tape around a curved edge at each corner, rather than having those mitred corners shown above.  You'll still need a straight corner on the bottom of the zip.

You are now finished.  Unzip your sleeping bag, pop dolly inside and let her have a nap.

I hope these instructions are clear and useful.  I tried to make this tutorial look a bit more professional, and even went so far as to purchase some yellow card as a neat backdrop, although the picture were taken throughout the day, and the light kept changing and making the pictures look different.  Any feedback or comments are greatly appreciated.

If you have any questions about the method outlined, please let me know.  If anyone does make a dolly sleeping bag, please send me a link or photo.  I'd love to see your makes.
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Thursday, 19 June 2014

Mass Production Madness

We are getting closer to the end of the school year, and our move from London to Singapore, so we decided to have a farewell party for the girls and their friends.  I spotted this absolutely adorable tutorial on making a travelling pencil case on Ikatbag, and thought it would make a lovely party gift.

Image Source - Ikatbag ©

I liked the way the pencil case could be unzipped, folded down, and would then stand on a table with the pencils or markers ready to grab.  So much better than digging around in a standard pencil case, trying to find the right colour, or having them roll out of the case, and fall down the sides of car seats and aeroplane seats.

As always, LiEr has provided brilliant step-by-step instructions, with loads of photographs, and was kind enough to answer my questions so I could draft a template.  These are the measurements I used (my PowerPoint skills aren't fabulous, so you'll have to imagine a gentle curve on the top of the lining fabric and template plastic pieces).

These measurements include a 1.5cm (half-inch) seam allowance.  I dug through my supplies at home and found everything I needed to make a sample pouch.  I spent the better part of a day slowly making a case, using the instructions provided.  It was much harder than I expected, and sewing in the base panel was a complete cow.  I couldn't get the edge to align nicely along the sharply curved base, the fabric of the base panel that I had already sewed together kept pulling the base away from main section as I was trying to sew it, and I nearly broke my machine when it got thoroughly jammed.

After making the sample case, I decided it would be crazy to try and make a bulk batch.  Unfortunately the girls had other ideas, and begged me to have a go.  I relented, and started making a list of everything I needed.  I made a trip to Walthamstow on Monday to pick up supplies as cheaply as possible.  I found these items there:

  • 28 separating zips (slightly chunkier zips, that you'd use in a zippered sweatshirt)
  • 2m of batting/wadding
  • 2m of polycotton fabric
  • 1 roll of invisible thread
  • 15m of 1" grosgrain tape (I got black and purple, because they ran out of black)
  • 2m of 1" webbing
I also made a trip to Ikea and bought a couple of metres of Akerkulla fabric.  It's a medium weight furnishing fabric and is an ideal weight for pencil cases.  It also has the advantage that it can be coloured in with fabric pens if you want to brighten it up.

Image Source - Ikea ©

I also needed enough template plastic to create the stiff section in the bottom of the standing pencil case.  Unfortunately, template plastic sells for about £3.50 for two A4 sheets, which is only enough to cut four panels.  After a trip to my local craft store, I found some clear acetate sheets, at less than half the price. 

I had to make 28 pencil cases, and I had five days to get them done.  I sewed until midnight two nights, and through a large part of the days.  It was completely mad, and I was exhausted by the end.  I've included a couple of pictures of my work in progress.

I worked by cutting all my pieces out at once.  I even measured and cut my grosgrain tape and webbing pieces, and used a burning candle to melt/seal the cut ends.  I then sewed the same section on every piece, just like a production line.  These were the steps:

  1. Sew the main panel to the batting.
  2. Sew the small plastic pouch section on top.
  3. Sew the plastic inside the pouch.
  4. Baste the zip in place.
  5. Pin the zip ends.
  6. Sew the outside fabric on top.
  7. Trim the corners and turn inside out.
  8. Top stitch the outside.
  9. Cut the zip and add the webbing.  

It was a tiny bit fiddly as I had a rainbow of colours and had to keep changing thread.  Fortunately my new machine has one of those nifty needle threaders, that makes up for my terrible eyesight!

Along the way I figured out a few tricks to make the job easier.

Tip 1 - Sew an extra line of stitching just above the basting stitch on the bottom of the main panel.  This will stop the plastic, from sitting too close to the bottom seam, and making it really hard to turn the section inside out and top stitch it.  I've included a photo, which might make this a bit clearer.

Tip 2 - Once you have cut your excess zip off, pin the two sides of the zip underneath so that the section you have to sew inside the webbing is a bit smaller than 1" wide.  Again, I've included a photograph.

Tip 3 - Don't use a zipper foot for basting the zip, or for sewing the main fabric onto the liner fabric/batting/zip section.  You want that stitching to be far away from the zipper coil as possible, so you have lots of exposed tape on either side of the zip.  This will make it much easier to unzip the finished pencil case.  I just used my regular presser foot, and pushed it close to the zipper coils, and sewed around the zip for the  basting.  When I sewed the main fabric to the liner section, I just moved my needle slightly closer to the zipper coils, so that the final stitching line was inside the basting line.

Tip 4 - You can't iron acetate!  It just goes all bumpy and strange.  Don't even put an iron near it, or you'll ruin all your hard work.

Tip 5 - Use your edge stitching foot to do the top stitching.  I tried to go slowly and push my fabric up closer to the guide.  It resulted in much neater top stitching.

Tip 6 - When you are sewing in that base panel sew the base panel in along the bottom and left edge of the main panel, then go back and sew the right edge of the panel.  I've made a diagram that hopefully shows what I mean.  You align and sew edges A (red) together, then you align and sew edges B (blue) together.  By leaving that right edge when you sew in the base panel, you can manoeuvre the stiff plastic and fabric section through the machine nicely, without the base panel constantly pulling the two sections apart.  I also took LiEr's advice, and used invisible thread in the bobbin, so that the second stitching line was not as noticeable.  I also only used a pin to secure the start point of each stitching section, and carefully pulled the fabric into place as it rolled through the foot.

Tip 7 -  When you are aligning the grosgrain tape edge of that base panel with the main panel, hold the tape edge slightly inside the edge of the main panel.  This will ensure your stitching is very close to the edge of the grosgrain tape, which will help to keep it away from the zip.

I hope those tips are useful for anyone else making this pencil case - or some totally demented, mass produced number of them.

Here are a few pictures of the finished pencil cases in all their rainbow coloured glory.

We popped a thank you note, balloon and a couple of packets of sweets inside the pencil cases.  They were a huge hit with all our guests.  I believe almost everyone turned up at school on Monday with their brand new pencil cases.  I'm really glad I made them, even though it was jolly hard work to get them done in such a short space of time.  I've also got my technique worked out, and I think I could make one from beginning to end in a couple of hours.  

If you're thinking about having a go yourself, I would say go for it.  But make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get them done.  
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Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Junk Drawer Tidyup

Sometimes it's the small organising jobs that make a big difference at home.

Last week I was digging around in in my kitchen junk drawer trying to find something, when I decided that it had finally got too messy.  Every random bit of stationery, ear plugs, note pads, cheque books, etc had just been piled in there.  It was impossible to find anything.

I started by taking everything out of the drawer.  I then sorted it all into piles, threw out the junk, and took out all the things that shouldn't be in there.

I dug around in my tub of plastic containers and tidied a few of the bits into containers.

Last of all I put everything back into the drawer neatly.

Finally, here's a before and after shot.

I know it's just a small tidy up, but it's made a big difference.
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Sunday, 1 June 2014

Tidy Kitchen Shelf

A while ago I tidied up my kitchen bench, and removed lots of cookbooks and other mess that had accumulated.  I created my Recipe Box and I also created two clipboards with a weekly planner on one and a menu and shopping list on the other.  This system has been working well for me for the last six months or so.

Lately I have found I want to keep a few more things handy.  I've added a few folders which contain important paperwork for school, some notepads, our pocket money bank, behaviour charts and a jar of washi tape.  All this stuff gradually took over the bench and became really messy again.

This is normally where I'd put a "before" photo, but this project has taken me a couple of months to complete, and I managed to lose my before photo.  I'm really sad, because the difference in the before and after is amazing.  You'll just have to use your imagination.

The easiest solution to getting the mess off the bench, was to put up a shelf.  We used an Ekby J√§rpen shelf from Ikea, and cut it down slightly to fit in the space.  Once the shelf was installed I set about making everything pretty, colour coordinated and labelled.  I decided on a colour scheme of yellow, turquoise and grey.  There was lots of inspiration online.

I already had my Orla Kiely Recipe Box in yellow.  I gathered some notebooks in grey, black and turquoise.  I also used some washi tape on the spine of my KitchenAid user manual, to make it fit the colour scheme.

I created some patterned paper in PowerPoint in the colours I wanted, then I printed several sheets and stuck them together.  I glued the sheets to some A4 folders, and covered them in clear adhesive book covering film to make them durable.

I had a lockable money box for the pocket money bank.  It was in a bright blue colour and didn't really fit with the colour scheme.

I was willing to buy a new money tin, but couldn't find one in the right size and colour.  Instead I got some grey enamel spray paint and painted the money box.  I started by removing the handle and button lock (the key lock couldn't be removed), then I gave the tin a light sand, wiped it down and covered the key lock with tape.  I gave the box several light coats of spray paint all over and allowed it to dry thoroughly.  Finally I reattached the handle and button lock, added a label, and some adhesive book film to keep the label clean and neat.

Lastly, after searching for ages to find a cute turquoise jar, tin, pot or basket, I stumbled upon this really sweet turquoise and grey pot while I was at the supermarket.  It cost less than £2, and looks great.

Here is my finished kitchen corner, with everything looking pretty and organised.

I love the fact that I have reclaimed my bench space.  I also love that everything I need on a daily basis is close at hand.  I am especially excited that everything is colour coordinated, pretty and has great labels.  This has been a really great project, and has made a huge difference to the kitchen bench mess.
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