Thursday, March 29, 2012

ukulele bag #1

This bag was just short of being a disaster, but I'm putting it here, anyway, in recognition of all these projects that are springboards to better ones. I did learn something from it, and with luck the next bag will incorporate that learning.  
I never used the old bag: in addition to not fitting the Gaspar pineapple well, the metal teeth of the zipper drag across the wood whenever the uke goes in or out of the opening. Who thought this would be a good idea? So the starting point for this bag was a long zipper with nylon teeth. I used this Make-A-Zipper roll (no affiliate connection), which I'd originally bought for the Weekender.

The Weekender had also given me some experience using heavy-duty stabilizer and sewing on cording, both of which I adapted to this bag. I didn't take any photos, but the sequence was more-or-less as follows:
  1. Traced around the ukulele on butcher paper to make a pattern. At this point, I had a choice of shaping the bag exactly like the pineapple uke or in a more oblong shape which would take out some of the curves. I chose the former—which may have been my first mistake, as it was much harder to sew.
  2. Used the pattern to cut pieces for the top and bottom: one each of outer fabric, heavy duty stabilizer (the same Peltex #70 used in the Weekender), iron-on interfacing to hold the Peltex to the fabric (ditto), 1/2" foam and lining fabric. Stabilizer and foam were cut to the exact size of the pattern. The other pieces were cut larger, for seam allowance and trimming.
  3. Added a zippered pocket to the top piece.
  4. Stitched layers of top and bottom pieces together. The foam was glued in place underneath the lining fabric using 3M Super 77 spray adhesive.
  5. Made and added cording around the edges of the ukulele outline.
  6. Cut a length of zipper, added 2 pulls facing each other, and stitched one side of this zipper around the top edge.
  7. Layered the perimeter piece as in Step 4, and added handle & rings for a shoulder strap.
  8. Sewed the other side of the zipper to this perimeter piece.
  9. Put flexible plastic in between layers of the perimeter and stitched it to the bottom.
  10. Covered all raw edges in bias tape.
It sounds so straightforward, doesn't it? But in fact, I'm sure I redid nearly all the seams at least once. I was figuring the construction out as I went, stitching and restitching, trying to anticipate what the next step might be. It was a haphazard, messy process.

Halfway through, I felt like the stabilizer wasn't working well with the narrow neck shape, so cut up a sheet of flexible plastic to insert into the top and perimeter pieces. 

Once I'd sewn the last seam and turned it right side out, I was dismayed to see how twisted the neck area looked. I ripped it out and restitched it several times before deciding that it was going to have to do. The neck is still twisted, sigh. I think it's probably due to my top and bottom pieces being entirely different shapes—and that is due to the fact that I didn't have a seam line at all, but was trying to sew to the shape of the stabilizer/foam outlines.
the awful twist
What would I do differently next time?

For starters, I would measure and mark much more than I did this one. I was afraid of miscalculating but in the end, probably erred worse in trying to sew by feel instead of having a precise line to follow. Each mismatched fit ended up compounding problems down the road.

And as mentioned in Step 1, a simplified shape would save a lot of headache.

The zippered pocket needs to be moved down several inches. It's really only useful for holding a set of spare strings, so a larger zipper opening would make it easier to slip them in or out.
Next time I'll buy cording instead of making it. I may skip the stabilizer/interfacing combination, too. In the end, it just seemed like a headache to have to sew around. I didn't find this to be so with the trapezoidal shape of Weekender, but it was a bear trying to follow these tighter curves. I'd rather just stitch around the cording and insert a piece of plastic, as I ended up doing with this one, anyway.

Finally, the next bag will be sewn on an old Singer. I used the Pfaff because it was already set up from another project, but I don't like its zipper foot as much. The Singer zipper foot can sew right up close, whereas the Pfaff's doesn't seem as well designed to me, with a wider distance from the needle to the edge of the foot.
Singer zipper foot
Pfaff zipper foot
So that's the first attempt at an ukulele bag. It's funky—that's the nicest way I can put it—but at least it cost me nearly nothing, as all the fabric and hardware was in my stash or recycled from other pieces. I think the foam, plastic and bias tape cost a total of about $5. And now I can take the Gaspar to the Reno Uke Fest.
Still...I hope the next ukulele bag turns out better than this one. If you've made one of your own and/or have ideas on how this one could be improved, I would really love to hear from you.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

riding segways

As the boys get older, we continue to look for ways to spend time together as a family. It's a continually changing gig, always dependent on their ages and interests; but day trips are usually a good bet. Seems everyone likes to go and see something new.

Last year I purchased what I thought would be a fun way to get us out of town: a Living Social deal for a Segway tour of San Francisco. Busy weekends and bad weather prevented us from booking it until last Friday, a day that was forecast first for rain, then for clouds—but which turned out to be as clear and lovely as any day in the city can be.

Learning to ride is surprisingly easy. It's the most intuitive machine I've ever been on. Lean forward, and you roll. Lean back, and you stop. Keep leaning back, and your machine goes backwards. The Segway almost feels like an extension of your body after awhile.

But let's face it: there's no way to ride these things and not look like a big dork, as the writers of Arrested Development well know.
Still, it was great fun. We rode around the north end of the city: Municipal Pier, Cow Hollow, the Marina District, the Palace of Fine Arts.
Near the St. Francis Yacht Club we had a beautiful, fogless view of the Golden Gate Bridge:
Along the way, as with any good tour, we saw and learned things that were new to all of us: The Heritage, a retirement home designed by Julia Morgan; the origin of the term "sugar daddy" in Alma Spreckels' pet name for her much older sugar heir husband; and many stories about the San Francisco World's Fair of 1915, for which much of the land in the Marina was reclaimed. (Side note: it was at the Hawaii Pavilion at this fair where the ukulele was introduced to Americans at large, setting off the first great ukulele craze.)

After the 3-hour tour (cue theme to Gilligan's Island), we turned around to get C to his band's gig that evening. But we all agreed that we would try to take another segway tour as soon as possible.

Do you have any favorite day trips?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

amy butler weekender, part 4

Evening Three. The good news is that you will essentially have done all the steps that are involved in making the lining. It uses the same pattern and procedure as the outer shell.

But you may want to add interior pockets to the main panels, so do that before sewing all the panels together. My laptop pocket was made like the main exterior pockets, but sized to the height of the laptop for additional security.
My zippered pocket, as mentioned in part 1, was made using this tutorial.
I slightly regret using a zipper I had on hand instead of buying one that matched
I had forgotten to pick up template plastic for the false bottom, so substituted a piece of lawn sign.
This worked so well that I am now always looking for discarded lawn signs as lightweight, water resistant reinforcement.

I really enjoyed making the Weekender. It was laid out so thoroughly that a novice seamstress could get through the directions, simply following it step-by-step.

My final notes:
  • plan your fabric. As mentioned in an earlier post, I had visions of doing my bag in a sunny, bright floral. Unfortunately, I didn't get to the fabric store until late fall, by which time florals were depleted. I ended up choosing paisley that day: black paisley for the outside and a pale green paisley for the lining. I even recovered the rocking chair in paisley. I'm not really sure how that happened.
  • on a similar note, the heavy decorator fabrics recommended for this project, while normally expensive, do go on sale from time to time. It was such a sale that prompted me to finally begin the bag.
  • consider your additions, particularly your interior pockets, and mark into your pattern where they will be done. This may save you a lot of headache later.
  • searching through blogs gave me a renewed appreciation for good blog organization. If you choose to write up your own experience with the Weekender (or with any other project, for that matter), please be sure to tag & label your posts, make sure your archives are visible, and consider adding a search function to your blog.
My own minor modifications have all been noted before, but here they are again:
  • lengthened the bag by 1"
  • made the straps in the main color
  • widened the straps by 1"
  • lengthened the straps by 4" (these two changes made it possible to sling the bag over one shoulder, which I really, really like)
  • added magnetic closures to the outer main pockets
  • changed the bottom exterior panel to pleather
  • added feet to the bottom exterior panel; added a laptop pocket to the interior lining
  • added a zippered pocket to the interior lining

Thursday, March 15, 2012

amy butler weekender, part 3

Evening Two:
  • attached zipper and end pockets to the top panel. I don't have photos of this, but I remember it was much easier than the previous evening. There are no extra layers or cording in the top panel, so it's just a matter of sewing a zipper between two pieces of fabric, and stitching the pockets on.
  • attached bottom panel to this top panel. I used a piece of vinyl pleather I had for the bottom. 
  • attached the top/bottom panel piece to the main panels. You do need a zipper foot, but I had one for my trusty old Singer 301 and it worked fine. There may be a few places where the cording doesn't get tucked in tight enough and need to be resewn. It would probably help if one pinned a little better than shown.
If you plan to add feet, do so now. The shell of the bag is now complete, and all that is left is sewing and attaching the lining.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

amy butler weekender, part 2

The Weekender Travel Bag pattern is detailed and very clear. I can't imagine you will go wrong if you are careful in following it. Myself, I just noticed a big black ribbon across the top with advice to " through all of the instructions before you get started on your project. Be sure to pre-wash and press all of your fabric..." Oops.

But pre-reading (in addition to pre-washing) is a good idea. In particular, reading through the pattern is helpful in gathering supplies. As others have noted, one only needs 4 pieces of cording, not 5 continuous yards. And as the cording along the pockets runs straight, it can be covered in fabric cut with the grain instead of on the bias. I did this and was able to stretch my fabric, as I did not have quite enough. You can see below how much I had to piece fabric to get a bias strip. The two straight pieces sit beneath the bias strip.
One reason I was tight on fabric is that I added an inch in length to the bag. I wanted to be able to slip my laptop inside, and the extra inch made that possible.

The other reason was a cutting mistake. Because of the way the pattern was folded to fit inside its cover, I inadvertently used it as the fold line even though the actual fold line is very clearly and heavily marked. So my advice, if you are careless like I am, is to tape the non-functional crease straight as I finally did, below.
Evening One went like this:
  • cut out all pieces, including Peltex and interfacing pieces. This is time-consuming, particularly when changing the dimensions, as I did. 1" needed to be added to all affected pieces, which is to say, to all pieces. I also added 1" and 4" to the width and length, respectively, of the carrying straps and associated Peltex pieces.
  • made cording. As noted, I had to stretch my fabric a bit due to my changes and hastiness. If you make the bag as written and are careful in following directions, making the cording is a simple procedure. You cut and sew together bias strips, then wrap the strips around your cotton cording, sealing with Stitch Witchery or something similar.
  • made the main pocket with cording
  • made the handles
  • attached the handles, main pocket and cording to the main panels. If adding any details to the main pocket (i.e., a snap closure or zipper), do so before stitching the pocket to the main panel.
This first evening ended with the two main panels complete.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

amy butler weekender, part 1

Last year when I was thinking of making a bag for short trips away, I started running into the name Amy Butler. Or more specifically, into the name Amy Butler as modifying the noun Weekender. Amy Butler, it seems, is a well-known designer and her Weekender Travel Bag is pretty much the pinnacle of amateur bag making—at least, as measured by sewing blogs.

I was at first turned off by complaints about the pattern, the difficulty and the sheer number of hours that making the Weekender required. But slowly I became intrigued by just how many people had taken the time to log their experiences making it. It amounted to a huge body of collective experience: what worked, what to avoid, tips and shortcuts and additions. How could I not use such a reference?

And once I did, how could I not add to it?

So here is Part 1 of my Amy Butler Weekender experience: namely, a summary of the best information I could find in reading through the blog posts.

  • There are old and new versions of the pattern. As far as I can tell, the new version uses peltex instead of timtex, which was harder to work with; and fusible instead of non-fusible interfacing. I made a point of searching for the new version, which looks like this:
  • It is expensive to make. Budget $60-80, even if you buy everything at discount.
  • Prepare for it to be somewhat time intensive. I made mine over 3 long evenings. 
  • You will have to handstitch and baste the layers. This is why most people considered the bag a headache or especially time-consuming. I happen to enjoy handsewing and used the time to listen to podcasts.
  • Nearly everyone added interior pockets as there are none in the pattern. I added a simple pocket to hold my laptop, and used this zippered pocket tutorial (I'm not sure how I found this tutorial, but it is linked to in nearly every post with a zippered pocket addition).
  • You can machine stitch the lining in. This wasn't important to me since the handstitching gave me more podcasts to listen to, but it's good to know if you just want the thing done.
  • Most people added an X-in-square pattern to reinforce the strap on the body. Some also lengthened and widened the straps for extra comfort and the option of carrying the bag over one's shoulder or added a removable shoulder strap.
Some of the blog posts I found helpful or inspiring in some way (in Fall 2011):

be sure to check out her series of blog posts, Days 1-5, in April 2008

this blog included the single most helpful tip I found, which was to make the cording with stitch witchery

two more additions which I used: magnetic clasps on the outer pockets, and feet on the bottom

additions include: a bias tape zipper pull, magnetic snaps & a detachable shoulder strap

the above blogger's first Weekender

more solid tips

these photos show why it's worth taking time to match the print on the outer pocket to the main panel

I used a flickr search to view different color and print choices. Conclusion: the bag looks great in almost any combination

includes a link to a tutorial for making a handle grip

I loved that she used her treadle machine to sew the heavy layers
she also mentions, as do others, that you need less cording than is called for

although I had every intention of choosing a large, colorful floral print for my bag, I ended up with the same colors as this woman's beautiful bag & can't help but wonder if I was influenced by her striking photos

I love that she documented how much she was able to fit into the finished bag—including her sewing machine!

used manufactured cording to save time, lengthened & widened the handles, & added a secret zippered pocket to outside pocket

Sunday, March 4, 2012


One of these days, I'll move from my ukulele kick to something else, but I love this video for the sheer joy it captures. I also love the way all those lampshades look onstage, and the fact that they managed to get a full opera house to do the wave.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

new ukulele group in our town

While shopping for C's ukulele, I spotted a notice in the music store about a new ukulele group starting up. Today 11 of us met for the first time. We were young and old, male and female, novices and longtime players. Should be fun.
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