Laptop Bag: Making a Pocket

A couple months ago, while I was working on some other artwork, I took apart an old dress I’d picked up from FreeCycle eons ago and had been hoarding because I loved the pattern. I’ve decided I want to make a laptop bag with it. However, there are some modifications I had to make to the original Instructables pattern.

See, isn't that a gorgeous pattern?

See, isn’t that a gorgeous pattern?

First off, the material isn’t as heavy as that of a suit jacket. So, I needed to add some moderately thick interfacing to give it some extra stability. I only have 2 kinds of interfacing on hand – very thin fusible web and some generic sew-in interfacing that I picked up from somewhere ages ago (probably from my paternal grandmother) and I don’t even think the company that made it is around anymore. I don’t want to make a trip to the store, so I went with the 20+ year old sew-in stuff. It’s awesome how well this stuff kept. The point is, if your outer material is on the thin side, just about anything will do to stabilize it. If I didn’t have any interfacing, I could have used a layer of some slightly thicker fabric to add more durability.

The other thing I have to do is to create my own pockets. See, the beauty of using a suit jacket is that it already has pockets, so you don’t have to make them yourself. It’s a time saver, it really is. It can be a bit of a pain to draft and construct a pocket where none previously existed, but it can be done. Here’s how:

GE1) Measure out on the back where you need the hole for the pocket mouth to be. I do this my marking the center line. Then, you’ll want the mouth to be about 2.5 – 3 inches from the top. I decided I want my pocket to be about 5 inches wide, so, I made sure to put that 2.5 inch mark on that center line. You can use a rotory cutter or good scissors to carefully cut along that line.

Ignore the stitching along the sides. I had to play around with the pocket installation before I got it right. Also, you can tell the top bar hasn't been trimmed yet.

Ignore the stitching along the sides. I had to play around with the pocket installation before I got it right. Also, you can tell the top bar hasn’t been trimmed yet.

2) For each pocket I made, I cut out a rectangle of lining fabric about 5.5 -6 inches wide (wider than the mouth hole) by anywhere from 12-14 inches. It all depends on how deep you want your pocket. Say you want your pockets 6 inches deep. Since you’ll be folding the piece of lining in half, multiply the number of inches (in this case 6) by 2. Then, use some scrap piece of the outer material to line the top edge of each pocket piece. You will need this piece of outer material to blend in when pushing back the edges of the opening creates an open space. You’ll see what I mean later.

3) Starting with the bottom edge, face the right (face) side of the pocket to the right (face) side of the bag face, lining the edge of the pocket along the edge of the mouth hole. Pin into place and then sew. Go ahead and sew along the entire length of the pocket piece, even if it’s wider than the mouth hole. You can always use a seam ripper to pull out a stitch or two if you need to later.

GE4) Now you’re going to do the same thing with the top edge. Kind of loop the pocket lining over so that the edge of the right (face) side of the pocket runs along the top line of the mouth hole.¬† Sewing this one with a machine can be a little tricky, but it can be done.

GE5) Push the pocket into the mouth hole. Very carefully, work the edges of the mouth hole , pinching the edge from the pocket and the face, creating a smooth seam edge. Pin as you go. Pay particular attention to the two sides of the pocket slot. This is where you may need to take out a stitch or two – but just enough that you can push the pocket edges all the way in and create a smooth edge all the way around. Now, stitch around the pocket slot, making sure you don’t sew the pocket shut.

6) Sew the sides of the pocket shut.GE

Tada! You have created a pocket! I told you it was a pain in the ass, didn’t I? Now do you see why you needed that matching fabric at the top of the pocket piece?GE

Revisiting An Old Project: Laptop Bag

A couple years ago, my boyfriend emailed me a link he’d seen on making laptop bags out of men’s suit jackets (and strongly hinted that he wanted one). The pattern and instructions are over at Instructables. If you’re interested in making one, I suggest clicking that link, as I’m not going to be redundant here. ūüôā

One of the things I would recommend if you’re going to make one would be to use some upholstery grade thread and denim or leather needles, as you’ll eventually end up pushing very thick layers of material through your machine. My poor little machine was crying for mercy when I made one of these bags for Neil.

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Now that I’m gearing up for this weekend’s Race Street Bash, I’ve decided to create more of these laptop bags, using the original Instructables pattern as a basis from which I will variate. Come back tomorrow evening for the first of these variations!

What I Get For Thinking

From this point forward, no more promises… I promise.

So, I’m still not quite ready to show you all the completed jacket. After I finished installing the back panel and tacked on the new cuffs, I noticed something…

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… The outer edge of the cuffs, and on the wrist along the bottom of the cuff, are more spots that are fraying too badly for me to just ignore. The entire reason I am doing this creative upcycle is prolong the life of this jacket for my friend. If I don’t do anything with these worn spots, they will eventually get worse. Well, even without those spots, the jacket will still eventually wear down, but I’m aiming for later rather than sooner.

As a result of this problem, I’ve been experimenting with different ideas on how to reinforce these weak zones without just throwing more patches on them. So, I had one crazy idea that I spent way too much time on only to fizzle out on me. I thought that perhaps I could use a decoratively cut strip of contrasting denim to cover those areas – providing the needed reinforcement while at the same time looking interesting.

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If you notice, while the band fits well at the cuff, it’s too short on the other side as the arm of the jacket begins to expand out. If I secure this band onto the jacket, it will cause bulging and puckering. So, now I need to come up with another idea. In the meantime here are some photos of the jacket showing the completed back panel replacement.

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In other news, I have about a week before I am set to share a table with another friend, Julia, at C4A’s Race Street Bash in Urbana, Illinois. This means the jacket is going on the back burner while I finish making things for that event. Given that the temperature has been in the 80’s this past week, I don’t think Melissa will be needing her jacket back just yet. Besides, as I’ve been experimenting on it, I’ve decided there are a couple more things I want to do, for the sake of aesthetics. ūüôā

Fringe Distractions and The Wonder of Fusible Web

Was my last posting really 3 weeks ago? Where did the time go?? I suppose I can blame a recent obsession with Fringe for part of my distraction. I discovered it was on Netflix and have been systematically working my way through the series (I’m currently into the first 2 episodes of season 3 for anyone who cares). Though I did just spend a week out of town visiting family, so, that played a role too. (I managed to get my grandmother hooked and now Walter (played by John Noble) has become her heart throb. It’s too cute.) For anyone unfamiliar with the show, here is the promo for it:

Whatever the reasons for my absence, I hath returned! And I have updates on the progress of the jacket I started working on last time.  The very first thing I did was to take out that upper back panel and the two cuffs, as they suffered the most damage. I ironed them out and used them as patterns to create new pieces. Because the front sections of the vest were too small by themselves to cover the entire back panel, I needed to combine them to create a big enough piece. So, I played around with them a bit Рlaying them out in different ways, trying to imagine how cut out pieces would look, how I would need to arrange them to both utilize as much of the decorative material as I could while trying to maintain some kind of visually pleasing aesthetic once the sections were to be joined with the denim.

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Now, while I am entirely replacing the more damaged pieces, there are other areas of the jacket that are worn down as well. The folded edge of the collar has a lot of wear on it. However, as the collar sits directly above the back piece that’s already been replaced, I can’t very well replace the entire collar without compromising the visual harmony of the jacket. But I couldn’t very well leave it to wear down further, otherwise I would be doing all this repair work only to have my friend’s beloved jacket wear out again in a short time. So, as an answer to both of these problems. I patched them from the wrong side with the help of some fusible web.

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This is actually the same thing I did when I realized the buttonholes from the vest were part of the back piece I’d cut out and installed. As I was predominately concerned with layout and fabric conservation, I managed to overlook them! However, a few pieces of scrap and some fusible web and the buttonholes were no longer an issue.

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Next time, I will show you all the finished project!

Productive Procrastination

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It’s the middle of the afternoon on a beautiful Sunday. I have 2 loads of clean laundry that needs to be folded and put away, my kitchen is a mess from all of the dirty dishes that have not only filled the sink, but have also piled up on the counter and stove, and one of my couches is still covered in various balls of yarn, purses and other odds and ends. I *should* be taking the time to clean this place. And I will, eventually, sometime before I go to sleep tonight. But for right now I am putting it off.

There is a lot to be said for procrastination and it isn’t necessarily all bad. Sometimes, when we put off doing one thing, we’re still being productive, we’re just not doing what we feel we are *supposed* to be doing. Walter Chen wrote a fantastic post over at 99U on this very idea. You should read it. It’s marvelous. Basically, what it boils down to is that, when you feel the urge to procrastinate, do it – but do it in such a way that you are still accomplishing something. If you’re not keen on doing your homework right now, what else needs to be done? Do that. I did a hell of a lot of that in college. For quite awhile when I was in school, my apartment was actually clean almost all the time. Why? Because I would put off finishing a term paper in favor of doing the dishes. I made a pair of denim bell bottoms, entirely hand stitched, in a matter of 3 days (less than that if you subtract sleep, work and classes) because I was putting off something else.

Of course, you still need to eventually get around to doing whatever it is you need to do. My boyfriend, who always has 5 million tasks that he has to juggle, frequently uses something called pomodoro. Basically, you work for about 25 minutes, then you break for 5 minutes, work another 25, etc.. and every 4th break is a longer one, about 15-20 minutes. I think this is great if you can get it to work for you. It apparently works for him. I haven’t been able to get it to work for me. I just don’t work that way. I generally start off at something slow, but then I get into a zone and I’m entirely focused on nothing else but what I am doing. While I was in college, this was often how I did my papers. I would agonizingly struggle with an introduction, but after that, things would flow, and I’d crank out 4-8 pages in a single night, and not even realize it was 4 AM and I’d stayed awake all night. It’s how I still do some of my artwork (although now that I work full time at a physically demanding job, I have to force myself to get some sleep, or pull most of my all-nighters when I’m off the following day). I want to note here that getting into a zone does not necessarily mean the day before a deadline. That will get you into trouble.

So, what am I doing instead of washing dishes and folding laundry? Aside from writing this post, which is in itself productive, I have been watching episodes of Fringe on Netflix while taking my seam-ripper to a vest and a jacket a friend has asked me to repair for her. Take a look at this jacket:

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As you can see, this isn’t exactly a simple repair. The back of the neck is damaged badly enough, and so close to the seam, that it has to be replaced. The cuffs too are pretty bad off. If one were interested, the other edges could be made raw and the cuff could be left as they were, and just re-fashion it to be intentionally fringed. But, I’m not going to be doing that GEhere. Instead, I will be replacing those cuffs and that back panel with sections from this vest, which my friend also gave me to use. I really like the colors and patterns in this vest and I think, if I do it right, it can look quite nice with the well-worn jacket. Now. To fold that laundry…

 

The End of a Journey; Post Art Show Reflection

As quickly as the Boneyard Arts Festival came upon me, and I rushed to complete my artworks, it flew by even quicker. After a month of hard work and pushing myself, it is both soothing and weird to be able to just lay back and relax. My brain is still scouring for the next urgent “to-do” and it feels lost and somewhat panicky, as though I’ve forgotten something. This past week has been especially stressful, as I had to pull all-nighters to finish my work on time alongside dealing with some pressure from my day job. I actually went to work Wednesday on not more than 90 minutes of sleep. I did it, though. I pulled through and each piece was a success, as was my live demo. If you’d like to follow this particular journey from the beginning, see my earlier posts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Community Center for the Arts (C4A):

C4A is largely a space for music, but they are starting to become a space for visual art as well. They provide various music lessons for a variety of instruments and ages and many of their members are talented musicians on their own. I had 3 pieces on display here, and they will be on display through the rest of the week.

Acid Tears
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I originally created this piece for the Hatch show I participated in the early part of March, however it didn’t muster jury approval. Perhaps proof that the opinions of a jury aren’t the most important and that having a piece rejected isn’t the final word, this piece actually sold before it was hung for Boneyard, based on a photo that circulated. Even if it hadn’t, I would have still been very proud of it. I put many hours of blood, sweat, and tears into it. It is this piece in particular that deeply reflects my own struggles and how the echos of the past can color the present.

Silent Screams
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This was the piece I started with and it was the piece I finished with. This is the piece that I am perhaps most critical of, because I know that it does not match what I had in my mind. Despite all of the flaws that *I* see, the feedback I have had from others who have viewed my piece has been positive. We are always our own worst critics. We have to realize that what we give birth to as artists will not always mirror the image in our minds, and it may grow into it’s own. There is also no law that says any artwork cannot be improved upon just because it’s been shown.

The Cycle
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Perhaps the most powerful of these three works, at least for me, this one captured my attentions and my focus from the minute I began to work on it. As I mentioned to a friend on Facebook, this is my art-incarnate fetal self. It is my mother, my grandmother, it is the any-woman. A spiral that carries with it all the hopes and fears through time and generations, asking the ages old questions about fate and free will.

Of course, I was not the only artist to display here. These are my 2 favorite pieces.

From Carmen A. Egolf:

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From Sarah Keenan-Jones:

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Habitat for Humanity of Champaign:

This was especially fun for me. I was asked to do a live demo for 4 hours and, at first, I wasn’t sure what to expect. With limitless possibilities of activities to choose from, it was hard for me to narrow it down. Since I still had several balls of tshirt yarn left over from when I did that knitting workshop about a year and a half ago, I decided to do something with tshirt yarn. Wanting to be able to teach something new to passersby, I anticipated questions and brought enough supplies for others to join in if they wanted. For 4 hours I sat at the little table that the ReStore staff graciously let me pick out, with crochet hook in hand, and proceeded to craft a beautiful little flower as store patrons looked on and asked questions. Aside from my friend and fellow textile artist, Rachel Suntop, no one took up hook or needle alongside me, but I had a number of interested onlookers, including a little boy of perhaps 7 that exclaimed, “I want to learn how to do that when I grow up!”. You have no idea how much that really made my day. I hope I sparked an interest that sticks. It would be so nice if that little boy eventually grew into a man that could work wonders with hook and yarn!¬† I will likely never know, but it’s a happy daydream all the same.

Some photos of me working the demo, thanks to The News-Gazette and photographer, Heather Coit.

Photo by Heather Coit from The News-Gazette

Photo by Heather Coit from The News-Gazette

Crunch Time – The Stressful Step on the Journey from Concept to Art

So, the Boneyard Art Festival is now only a week out. Despite my best intentions and efforts, I am behind schedule. This, however, is normal. Over the course of the next day or two I will metamorphose into a crazed superwoman that somehow puts it all together,  just in the nick of time,  with a crazed expression and excessively large bags under her eyes from stress and lack of sleep.

Anyhow, this post is going to be short and sweet so I can get back to doing what I do. How about some pictures!

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Outlining the vocal apparatus.

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Trying to quilt as I go.

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Starting to think this would have been easier if I have worked from the edge and gone outward…

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…Because trying to *smoothly* connect all these haphazardly angled sections was a real pain!

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The bright pink basting stitches were an eyesore. Hand quilting the layers together. Have I mentioned this is the *background* for one of the pieces?

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Try to ignore the ugly pink basting stitches. See that swirl pattern? That is freehand quilting… by hand! I’m such a glutton for punishment…

This is why I need a studio! And, fyi, I do much of my work hunched over on the floor because I don't have a big table.

This is why I need a studio! And, fyi, I do much of my work hunched over on the floor because I don’t have a big table.

As a reminder, in case you haven’t read my previous posts, each year, 40 North – the arts council for Champaign county, orchestrates the Bonyard Arts Festival throughout Champaign-Urbana, IL and the rest of the county. I am registered with 2 different venues (more details at the bottom of this entry) and have set to work creating artwork for this festival. At C4A I am set to display artwork during April 12-13 and at Habitat for Humanity I am set to conduct a live demonstration on April 13, from 1-5pm, on artistic things that can be done with used clothing.

Red Bull Fueled Late Nights – On the Journey from Concept to Art

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A page from my art journal. What started with one idea bloomed into an entire theme.

Right now, it is around 2:45 in the morning as I start to write this. Since I don’t have to work tomorrow (er, today), and I am behind schedule from where I would like to be, I decided to pull a late night working on pieces for the Boneyard Art Fest.¬† What started out with one idea grew into multiple pieces with an overall theme. And I am paying for it now. Check here to see how it started.

I’ve been looking back into my past and my experiences with domestic violence and have built each piece as various portraits of a woman – a hybrid between myself and my mother, but also extended into portraits of those who’ve had to endure these experiences in general as many of the feelings and themes are, sadly, universal.

The screams and cries

You may have already read the entry on Seeing Sound, or if you haven’t GEyou can go back and check it out. I’ve since hashed out the image I will be embroidering onto that denim hem background. I found a good diagram of the larynx online, and GEwith the help of a nurse friend of mine, we enlarged it to more or less be life sized.¬†I then sketched out a rough (very rough) outline of what the embroidered image will look like. I still need to actually embroider it.

The Cycle of Violence

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Mother and Child planned layout

Violence begets violence. Children who grow up in an environment where there is domestic violence are more likely to learn and repeat those behaviors. This does not have to be fate, however. Cycles can be broken, but to do so takes effort. My mother made every effort she could to make sure the cycle would be broken with me, and I’d like to think that it has, but some days I’m not sure. It can be hard, when you’ve never seen an example of a healthy relationship, it can be hard to know what one is *supposed* to look like and it can be hard to tell if your reactions or feelings are normal and natural or conditioned.
I wanted to capture this generational cycle in another portrait. A portrait of the mother and child in utero. To plan the layout, I had a friend trace my outline onto poster board and I made the abdomen GEwider to incorporate a pregnant womb. It’s entirely possible that I’m not medically accurate as far as fetus size or belly size, but I made an honest attempt. I am currently in the process of creating the surprisingly complicated background for this piece and, once complete, intend to outline the body, womb and fetus with embroidered descriptor words and phrases (I may replace embroidery with a quicker method if I hit a serious time crunch).
For this background, I am using several different fabrics, all used clothing, in shades of black and blue (to symbolize bruising). This is what I was playing around with the other day. I am piecing these fabrics together crazy quilt style, to reflect the shattered lives, emotions and homes that must be stitched back together if we are to survive. And it goes deeper than that. I took a light blue fabric, the lining of an old prom dress, and wrote down the stories, the experiences, the feelings that have been handed down. Because I had to. Because in creating these works, I am digging deep into my own life and those stories needed to be GEthere. And I cut them into shards just like the other pieces and covered them with a layer of sheer fabric. I have done this for two reasons – 1) While these are my stories, they do not belong to me alone and I need to respect that. I’ve made it all but impossible to actually *read* them. 2) Like anything else, these histories are broken apart and distorted from time and perspectives. What I would have to say, what the other actors in these stories would have to say, are likely to be different parts of the same whole. And so, cutting them and obscuring them symbolizes that fact.

More to Come, Stay Tuned

I’ve more to say, but this is getting long and I need to get some amount of sleep. Check back Saturday, March 30th for more.

Presto Change-o! Pants become a Purse! Part 1

Some months back, a relative of mine gave me a bag of clothes she no longer wanted. I took most of what she gave me to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe second-hand store where I work during the day, but in this bundle of clothing were a cute pair of pants that I just couldn’t let go of. Sadly, they’re a junior’s size 5 and don’t come up over my grown woman hips.
So, I sat on them for awhile, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with them. Yesterday evening I finally decided to make a purse with them.

 Very Basic How-To

¬†The first and most basic step is to cut off the legs. You want to cut them off pretty much at the crotch. Observe the dotted “cut here” line I drew in.

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I’ve seen a lot of these purses made in such a way that after the legs are severed, the bottom edge of the now super-micro-mini-skirt is stitched together. This is fine, but it doesn’t allow for much actual storage space. So I made mine with a bottom plate. Simply cut out an extra rectangle of fabric and stitch it on the bottom edge of the skirt…¬†OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Of course, you may have to play with it a little get the proper sizing. Making the initial rectangle longer than it needs to be, like I did, is better than cutting out something too short. You could also just do the measuring and math, which is probably quicker, but I’m lazy.

So Far…

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Now I just need to add the straps and a lining and Presto! However, I think I want to get a little fancy and do some embroidery on it first..¬† Any ideas or suggestions? I’d like to here them! Seriously, give the comment box some love!

The Finished Purse Yields Paid Work!

It’s been roughly a month since my last posting. I have since finished the purse I was working on (see parts 1 and 2) and after I took it to work, one of my co-workers paid me to replace the zippers in one of her higher end purses (and I am happy to report that she was pleased with the results). Around the same time, I had responded to an ad on Craigslist looking for a seamstress to do some custom work, and that sucked up about a good two weeks between design, production and fine tuning, but was worth it.

Anyhow, here are the photos of my purse!

The inside of the finished purse, from the top opening. You can see both the inside pocket zipper and the back zipper. The pillowcase turned out to make quite a nice lining indeed.

The purse from the back opening.