Sunday, September 10, 2017

Review: Boho Chic Embroidery

I have a habit that might be considered bad. I'll see someone doing something (usually on YouTube) and think "I want to learn to do that." That's not the bad part. What I do, before I even try the thing, is I go out and stock up on everything I could possibly need for whatever it is. Wanna learn to knit? Buy all the kinds of needles, right now (OK, that one worked out). Think you're going to learn how to paint even though you don't have the genetics for it? Buy every kind of paper, brush, and paint you can think of before you start. A few weeks ago, I decided I wanted to learn embroidery. I've done counted cross-stitch plenty of times, so what wouldn't I like about it? Well, old me would have bought every kind of floss and fabric and seventeen books on the matter. New me decided to sit on it a little bit (kind of like waiting twenty minutes for a craving to pass). Then I received an email asking if I'd be interested in reviewing 'one of the following kits,' and lo and behold, there was an embroidery kit. What a perfect chance to see if I'd like it.

The kit that I chose is called Boho Chic Embroidery. It has a bit of a folksy flair to it (and you guys know how much I love my folk art), so it was a very impatient wait for it to arrive.

Now, I do love me a neat and tidy kit. And this one included everything to enable you to stitch twelve different designs and two projects.

Out of the box you get ten different colors of embroidery floss, two different needles (embroidery and millinery), iron-on transfer sheets, a hoop, some fabric, and a book of stitches and projects, all nice and neat.

Having never embroidered before, I was only familiar with the backstitch and the French knot, so almost everything was brand new to me.

Each stitch was explained in text and in pictures, and I had no problems following any of them. Many is the time I have turned to Google to clear up confusion caused by poorly written instructions. Twelve of the (I'm assuming) most common stitches are clearly spelled out.

The instructions are clear (though I didn't have the most fun I've ever had flipping back and forth between the stitch directions and the project directions). I went for the project above, as it had a large variety of stitches I've never done, so I figured it was a good learning experience.

So my iron-transfer skills could use some work, but I have one of those Frixion pens that disappears with heat, so I drew in any details that didn't fully transfer over. And then I just dove right in.

So those are my chain stitches and some stem stitches. Not bad for a newbie. I found this highly addictive and just kept going and going and going, not realizing it was taking me much longer than I thought it would.

I told myself I was not allowed to take out any stitches unless they were severely bungled. Imperfect stitches had to stay. I did this for two reasons: one so that I could actually finish the project this century, and the second is that when it comes to pieces like this I do love seeing that a human hand was involved in the making. Oh, maybe a third reason--I think it's fun to have something to measure progress against. When I look at early knitting or sewing projects, I chuckle at newbie me, totally unaware of how practice makes not-quite-perfect-but-tons-better.

This design had so many repetitive elements I could gauge progress on this one piece alone. For example, those hearts--those to the left of the photo were the early efforts, and those to the right were later on; you can see the improvement just there. I'm going to ask you not to look at the big red flower or the orange ones--blanket stitch is on my must-practice list.

Another thing I do is that I jump right into something without an actual plan, so I had this really cute piece without an idea. I figured I'd frame it (and when A-train saw it and said "That's really nice! Are you going to make it into a picture?" I took that as confirmation that was what I indeed must do).

I think you can tell that I thought this is a great little starter kit. If you're not sure if embroidery is for you, but would like to find out, I think something like this would be a good place to begin. You get everything you need to get a good idea of if you'll have the patience for it, or even the physical ability to do it (it's not easy on the eyes, and hand stitching for a long time is not great for the hands or the back/neck--but I don't do things in moderation so if you're a normal person who understands the importance of breaks and stretching you'll be just fine). The instructions were clear, and the little book is pretty comprehensive.

As 'luck' would have it I have an old book of embroidery stitches upstairs. It belonged to my great aunt (I think--maybe one of her daughters) but found it's way to me. I've kept it for nostalgic purposes, but now I can't wait to look at it and see what else I can fashion from needle and floss.

I was not financially compensated for this post. I received the kit at no charge in exchange for an honest review. The opinions are completely my own based on my own experience. For my complete disclosure policy, click here.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Utotia in cork (and some advice if you want it...)

You folks know I've had an almost decade long love affair with u-handbag, right? It's where I've learned so many tips and tricks and has been a place for sourcing a lot of fun hardware and frames. Much to my immense chagrin, they are closing up shop at the end of October. I went on a bit of a pattern splurge when I heard the news (and possibly a bit of an all-the-other-things splurge, as well). One of the things I bought was an everything-but-the-fabric kit for their Utotia bag. (UPDATE: THEY HAVE JUST ANNOUNCED THEY ARE NOT CLOSING UP SHOP, BUT DUE TO CUSTOMER BEGGING WILL CONTINUE TO RUN AS NORMAL BUT UNDER A NEW MANAGER--YIPPEEEEEE!!!!!).

(Brief tangent): A while ago I made this wallet. My first idea was to make it out of that cork fabric you're seeing everywhere now, but had too difficult of a time matching up a binding and so on. So I held onto the cork fabric (with no idea what I was going to do with it as it wasn't very big of a cut). I bought the aforementioned kit (back to the main story now), but couldn't find fabric I loved. Then, in the shower (literally--does anyone else get great ideas in there?) I thought "Dummy! Use the cork for the tote!" Two problems solved at once. The cork was just a teeeeeeny bit too small for the pattern recommendations, but it's such a simple design I made the adjustments in my sleep.

This bag has a fair bit of things I've never used/done before, and you lucky folks get to read all about them (I can practically see you all chair dancing in excitement).

First off, my new bag (the smaller of the two sizes):

I wish you could feel the cork. It feels so supple and luxurious. I'm hoping I don't find out, but I'm pretty sure it could be wiped clean. A-train thought I drew those flowers on the fabric and was impressed (I came clean--I told him Aunt Leesh probably could, but not Aunt Bee).

The corners were pre-cut pleather pieces. I think I've sewn with pleather once, but never cork, so I had a touch of nervousness doing it. Though not inexpensive, it still is only fabric, so I just took my time and went for it.

There are only a few places (on the underside) where I hiccupped the stitching, but you can only see it if you turn the bag upside down (and who would do that, really?). Boxing the corners was not the most fun I've ever had, and it's not perfect in the alignment of things, but only my fellow members of Club OCD and I would notice anything amiss.

I am quite sold on the sheer fun of top-stitching on these kinds of fabrics though. Simple stitching surely stands out when using a thicker thread.

The lining. It's quite standard fare. I had started off with a different fabric entirely. My sister walked by a few times and looked at it. Then she came back and said "I'm sorry, is that what you're using? I don't think I can let you." I wasn't entirely certain myself, as it was looking quite different than when I had bought it, so I was glad for her input. I did have to trot back out to the fabric store, but I'm happier with the result (even if it's not ideal--whyyyyy do they never have the perfect fabric you've dreamed up in your head?). It was not easy finding a good match as the exterior is a bit muted, but I am of the firm belief that a pop of red never hurt anything, so I went with a solid.

Years ago I started putting elastic in the tops of the pockets for bags I made for friends, but never myself (I frequently sell myself short when I make things for me as 'I don't care'--I would like to state retroactively that I do care, as just that little bit of security at the top is so much nicer than plain fabric that tends to flop). The pattern called for a padded tablet pocket on the other side, but I went for a standard zip pocket instead.

The zipper is your basic suspension bridge installation.

I had bought some zippers from an etsy shop, and they included this pull with my purchase. It seemed to match the bag, so I popped it on (I usually use a piece of ribbon or sew a fabric loop). Instead of fabric tabs I used some fancy shiny hardware on the ends of the zippers. I haven't used the bag yet so I haven't road tested them to know if I like them or if they're secure enough, but I do like the way they look.


The straps are plain pleather affairs with matching webbing sewn to the wrong side. They are attached with something called Chicago screws--they serve the same function and have a similar look as rivets, but no hammering is required.

And there's a matched-up tab on the inside of the bag for extra strength--

This was the single most difficult part of the bag. It was easy enough to mark the spots and use an awl to create the holes. It was much more difficult, with all the interfacing and layers, to make that hole large enough for the screw to go through and secure the strap. The first one had me cursing and so tense my shoulders were up around my ears. By the time I got to the last one I had my method figured out and everything was much simpler. And let me tell you--when you feel the threaded end of the screw catch and things coming together, it is beyond satisfying.

I wanted the stitching to stand out so I used top-stitching thread (regular thread in the bobbin). I love it. I thought "Why haven't I done this before?" When I was cleaning up afterwards and tidying my mess of a thread bucket, I found several spools (unused) of top-stitch thread, so clearly I've had several intentions of using the stuff, but just haven't.

OK, if you're still here, here are the things I've never/rarely done and some (hopefully) helpful tips.

  • Cork fabric--this is a very thin layer of cork on a fabric backing. I added no interfacing to this. I used a Microtex 90/14 needle, and increased my stitch-length to 4.0 (my machine goes up to 5.0). I could probably have gone longer, but I would not go shorter. 
  • Pleather--I've used this once before (see here) and it was a fairly painless endeavor. As the pleather bits were a bit stiffer here, I used a top-stitching needle (with a long stitch length). I did not backstitch anywhere, but pulled the threads to the wrong side and triple-knotted them there for security.
  • Metal zipper ends--I've seen these and they certainly add some swag to your bag. The screws are very small, so if it's late at night and your hands are sore and you're all thumbs (like me) you might want to wait for daylight, or you'll be driven to lots of naughty words. Otherwise, they're very simple--just slip them onto the ends and screw them on tightly.
  • Chicago screws--as an alternative to rivets I love these (although sometimes hammer pounding is very satisfying). The problems I encountered here are the same I have with eyelets and grommets--your goal is to create a very small and precise hole without destroying your bag, or making the hole travel beyond the hardware. I used my seam ripper very carefully to get things started a wee bit, then switched to my sharp-tipped scissors. There was a lot of checking and resnipping, but eventually I prevailed. Maybe don't do these after a fresh manicure, though.
One final bit here--on interfacing. Interfacing is so insanely necessary for adding strength and structure to your bags. It gives them body and shape, and really helps them last so much longer than they would without it. I did not use interfacing on the cork, but I used woven fusible on the lining (if I was using regular fabric for the exterior I'd have used it there instead). I waffled on if I wanted to use the provided Flex-foam interfacing as the cork was quite stiff, but in the end decided to. I'm so glad I did--it's so lightweight but really gives this bag a scrumptious feel. It's not cheap, and it's off a narrow bolt, but for certain bags it really makes all the difference. Here's what it looks like--

It's a thin layer of airy foam sandwiched between two layers of thin fabric. It comes in sew-in, and one and two-sided fusible. I prefer the sew-in variety--I find I get some bubbling with the fusibles, and this stuff is very satisfying to cut so I don't mind trimming it from the seam allowances (very nerdy, I know). It gives a lot of body of structure to a bag, but also a nice level of squish. 

My other go-to is fusible fleece, which looks like this:

While thinner and more flexible, it's much denser and can be a little more bulky to sew through. While providing nice body and squish, it doesn't provide a ton of structure. So while these are my two favorite interfacings (three if you count the woven fusible), the choice really depends on the kind of bag you want--more or less structured, basically, as they both add body.

Modifications I might make: normally I'd like a bit of a longer strap, but I was limited as this is what came in the kit. I'd use purse feet on the bottom, which would work nicely with a rigid bag bottom. I'm not sure if the bottom will sag at all, so I might cover some plastic in the remaining lining fabric and stick it in the bottom of the bag for more support.

Whew. If you're still here, hopefully some of this was helpful to you. This was the last of the sewing projects I had lined up for myself, but then I got an order for five change purses. I've got everything cut and fused and ready to sew, so I might as well sew these while my nail polish is already destroyed (my nails never get out alive when it comes to frame purses). Look at me, sewing bags again, just like the good old days.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Rollie Pollie Organizer

My sewing hiatuses are more frequent and lengthy (except for some mending here and there). But sometimes I'm asked to make something on a deadline, and there's no sitting around with an "I'll get to it" attitude. And if it's a design I can really sink my teeth into, it reminds me all over again while I love taking needle to thread.

Every year around this time a friend of my sister runs a benefit in honor of her deceased mother (to see things I've made in previous years click here and here). Last weekend we went fabric shopping for anything I did not already have in my stash. I love going fabric shopping with my mom and sister as they both have a good eye for simple designs and colors, whereas I am much more obnoxious in my taste and that needs to be reined in at times. I love what Alicia came up with.

The design we settled  on is the fairly recently released Rollie Pollie Organizer by Sarah Gido at Cozy Nest Designs. There was a decent amount of cutting and fusing for this pattern (but if I had stopped and thought for two minutes read the directions fully I could have saved myself some time and work). So I did that the other night in the time between Jeopardy and Project Runway. Friday night and all day yesterday I worked on this pattern. It's not difficult, and is very well designed and the pattern very well written. But the first time you make something it generally takes longer. If/when I make this again I'll probably be able to do it in about half the time.

Ok, enough blather. Here's the finished organizer.

Isn't that fabric great? Another option was for a grommet hanger (instead of the d-ring) but I like the dangly aspect of the d-ring.

Looking at this side view, I'm realizing what a shoddy press job I did on those edges, so don't look too closely. I'll have to give it another go before my sister hands this over. But you get the general idea of what's supposed to be happening--

So what is this thing? Well, you give a tug to the hook-and-loop flap, and this opens up to a very nifty hanging organizer.

Due to my ridiculous tendency to hoard collect zippers I had several colors that worked well so that each pouch could be differentiated from the others. So this can hang up like this, with everything neatly contained, or you can remove the pouches through the magic of Velcro™.

I've pattern-tested for Sarah a few times, and her designs are well thought-out (and dang near ingenious), and the patterns clear and well-written. I used my seam ripper once during this whole project (and that was due to a seam not behaving and nothing to do with the pattern). That was kind of disappointing--I just replaced my seam ripper and I wanted to see if I could break my own record for dulling the blade.

I haven't gone fabric shopping in quite some time as I've destashed almost everything, and haven't had a project for which I'd need to buy fabric. Joann's has certainly stepped up their game a bit. It looks like they're actually paying attention to what the big designers are doing and what people are getting excited about and trying to follow suit (of course this means the prices have inched up as well). For the first time in a long time I left there thinking "Oh my goodness, I need to come up with projects to make--I saw so many cute things!" instead of feeling pretty much dead opposite.

Anyway, this organizer could be used for almost anything--travel items, craft supplies, knitting/crochet gadgets and tools, and so on. It looks nice and neat hanging up, but folds up nice as well, and is of a good boxy shape for packing (with a sturdy handle for carrying).

There is a lot of interfacing that goes into this to keep it sturdy and structured, and it uses more fabric than you'd think. But it also lends itself well to scrappy deliciousness. There are also three different sizes that can be made--I made the largest at about ten inches wide by about twenty-five inches tall when unfolded. I truly enjoyed making this project. Two things I would do different: I'd cut the binding strips a little thinner, and I'd play with Velcro™ placement a little bit so that it's more towards the edge of the flap instead of allowing it to stick out just a little bit (but that's just me being OCD about it, as this thing is wicked cute).

I've got a new bag for myself all set to be assembled--I'm only delaying this one as I haven't used most of the materials before and that makes me slightly nervous. I'm hoping it ends up looking as good as it does in my head.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review: Brush Pen Lettering

I have really nice handwriting. I'm not bragging; it's just a simple fact of life. Seriously, though--handwriting was one of my favorite periods in third grade. I loved painstakingly making my letters as neatly as I could until it became second nature. I couldn't wait to get a checkbook, because I loved watching my mom write checks when we were in a store (let's not touch on the fact of where I thought the money that backed the check came from). Now it's rare that I write a check and handwriting isn't even taught anymore. Boo on that.

This is why I leapt at the chance to review Brush Pen Lettering by Grace Song. I have several different types of brush pens, plenty of paper, and the aforementioned nice handwriting (which apparently isn't necessary, but I just thought I'd mention it again).

In book stores and craft stores I frequently peruse the books on lettering, but none of them seem to contain what I'm looking for. Even the few online classes I've tried don't really have that 'thing' that makes it click. This one, though? Very comprehensive, chock full of techniques, tips, and ideas, and varying methods so you can find what works for you.

There are lots of options in the 'supplies' section--different styles, brands, and prices, that are widely available so unless you live on some remote outlying island at the tip of the Arctic circle, you should be able to easily acquire some affordable tools to get started. What I really liked about this part was that while she tells you what she likes to use, she emphasizes that it's key to find what works for you and what is comfortable for you. I have two different brands of brush pens, and one works so much better for me, while the other is kind I thought I was doing something wrong but sometimes it really does come down to the tools you're using.

All of the different types of strokes are explained, with plenty of tips on what to do to create them properly. There are also pages upon pages of drills for the different stroke combinations that come about. (If you really want to challenge yourself, try putting a phrase into a translation tool and writing that phrase in different languages--due to the non-English letter combinations you have to go slower and think of what you're doing the entire time).

While there are no tear-out sections in the book to practice on, there are different sized guide sheets (depending on your pen tip size) that you can copy or place tracing paper over.

My favorite section of the book was about all of the fun things you can do once you get the lettering down. I guess this would be the 'embellishment' section if it was a sewing book.


There is a nice troubleshooting section, and even directions for how to make your letters look like calligraphy when a brush pen just won't do.

There was one phrase in this book that made it 'click' for me. Previously I had thought that "I have nice handwriting; if I just change the pressure with this cute pen I can do this kind of lettering." No, it doesn't work like that, and I wasn't getting why. But the magic phrase in this book was "hand lettering is the art of drawing letters." And just like that I thought "Hot damn, there's the ticket. It's not writing; it's drawing." Now, I am by no means an artist at all (my sister Alicia got everyone's share of the art gene), but I can doodle just fine (sometime I'll have to show you the envelopes I've decorated while waiting on hold). So by telling myself to draw the letters instead of writing them my practice sheets didn't look too shabby. This is not easy for me as it does not come naturally to me (the way various needles and lengths of string do), but this book definitely makes it feel like an achievable goal.

So if handlettering is something you'd like to try, this book should definitely be on your list. You can find it here on Amazon (I'm not an affiliate so that's just a regular old link).

I was not financially compensated for this post. I received the book at no charge in exchange for an honest review. The opinions are completely my own based on my own experience. For my complete disclosure policy, click here.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


When I'm having a rough time, it's essential that I keep busy. Whether that is shopping with no intention of buying, baking, or cleaning, it helps to keep my mind off of whatever that thing is. This weekend it was organizing. I'm pretty sure most of you have heard of Marie Kondo's book 'The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.' I received it for my birthday, and started reading it recently. While I'm not exactly following her method, just reading about cleaning and organizing has made me quite gung ho in that endeavor. I've gone through clothes, papers, and miscellaneous things. Books are up next.

Another thing I was doing was organizing photos on my computer, and silly me forgot to share with you one last set of photos from our beach vacation a few weeks ago. One evening, after dinner, while others who are more athletically inclined were doing athletic things, my sister Rachel, A-train and I started looking for seashells. There weren't many large ones to be had, but if you crouched down low there were quite a good number of tiny shells.

We collected until our hands were full and went back up to the house. The next morning, while everyone was at the beach, I took a few minutes to play and sort and snap some photos.

My criteria for selection was that they be spiraled.

Rachel liked those that were so very seashelly.

A-train went straight for the shards, feeling each one to see if it was smooth enough to add to the collection. His little voice rang out on the beach "Feel how smooth this one is!!!" A sub-category for him was interesting striations (a.k.a. "these cool lines").

There were also a lot that had little holes drilled into them. I am on the dark side of my thirties, and I just realized that those holes are where birds peck into them to suck out the insides (right? Is that right? I have no idea--it just hit me and it sounds good).

We even had to take these sharp little suckers, because someone liked the "weird shapes."

I thought some looked like ruffled potato chips.

And some were in the 'miscellaneous' category that just looked interesting. I'm don't know what that one on the lower right is. It might be a piece of petrified wood (or bird droppings, if you're one of my nephews).

Rachel took these home as she had plans to make something out of these to help A-train remember his vacation (as I think he had more fun than all of us).

With all of my recent clearing and sorting, I feel like all of my things have gone from this--

--to this.

Ok, kids. I have to go saddle up for trivia night. I'm hoping my brain is clear enough to make those facts fly to the front of my brain and out of the tip of my pen with alarming accuracy.


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