A very useful bag

Years ago, just after I started sewing in a big way, I bought a chunk of beautiful leather from The Fabric Store. It was blush pink, and embossed with an Art Nouveau style pattern, and I loved it immediately! It sat in my sewing room ever since, because I had no idea what to do with it and I was too scared to cut into it. It was too heavy for a garment, and there wasn’t enough of it anyway. I had a bag in mind from the beginning,  but I wasn’t sure what sort of bag, or how easy it would be to sew a complicated shape with my Bernina, so it just languished…until I saw pictures over on Instagram  of the Genoa Tote pattern that Blogless Anna was developing!


I’ve tried to make tote bags before, but I seem to find it really hard to get the proportions right, and I’m just too lazy (and time poor) to put too much effort into trying to get it right on my own. I really liked all the little details included in the Genoa Tote pattern, so I was pretty keen to get my hands on it! I did have to do a few things differently to compensate for the thickness of my leather (the pattern is designed for canvas or denim, but why make things easy?), which I’ll talk about later.


I made the medium sized bag, and I really like the size. It’s plenty big enough for me to lug around all of my rubbish! These pictures were taken last Saturday (the same day as my Heather dress pictures, obviously), and I had a pair of sensible shoes in there just in case there was another decent earthquake and I needed to move quickly or walk back home, as well as my cardigan and all of my other assorted crap.


The pocket is a good size as well (though my one is smaller than the pattern intends, as I bought a too-short zipper accidentally), big enough for the four or five lipsticks I seem to need to have with me at all times, as well as my train ticket and my headphones. I could get my phone in there as well, at a squeeze, but I tend to keep that in my pocket anyway!

The key clip is my favourite part, I can never ever find my keys in my bag. I would definitely be the girl in the horror film who makes it to her front door/car and then gets caught because her keys were hidden in a secret pocket in her bag that she had never seen before. Having them hanging there is brilliant, but they are a bit noisy bumping around up near the top. I suppose next time I could make the fabric loop longer so that the keys sit further down, but it’s really not a problem.

Isn’t that lining awesome? I bought it from the Fabric Warehouse sale shop earlier in the year, I couldn’t go past the pink and gold flamingos even though I had no idea what I’d do with quilting cotton! Bag lining is the obvious answer.


Sewing the leather was a bit tricky, as you would expect. I used a leather needle, and some thick upholstery thread in the bobbin as well as for my upper thread. For the most part, my vintage Bernina managed to sew the leather beautifully, though I did need to hand crank the needle through any patches that were thicker than two layers (and especially over the bits at the corners where there were four layers of leather because of the seam allowances…). I also found the seam allowances difficult to manage, I just couldn’t get them flat. I tried hammering them, I tried ironing them, I tried getting them a bit damp and squashing them flat with heavy things. Nothing worked as well as I wanted, and it just looked a bit sad with the seam allowances not flat! in the end, I used a contact adhesive to glue them all flat. this worked beautifully, but was so messy! I glued myself to nearly everything in my sewing room, and Zelda was way too interested in what was going on for her health and safely…

To compensate for the thickness of the leather I made one major change to the pattern, and merged the facing pattern piece with the top edge of the bag piece. I just didn’t want to deal with the thickness of that seam allowance along the top edge, and removing the seam all together was easy enough. I used more glue to keep the facing nice and flat against the inside of the bag. I also overlapped the facing and the lining pieces and sewed them together rather than sewing them right sides together, again just to combat bulk. The leather isn’t going to fray along the cut edge (obviously), so I’m quite happy with the raw edge being exposed.


I bought my vegetable tanned leather handles from Etsy, though I’ve since got some from Lapco in New Zealand. I didn’t put the leather patches behind the handles as instructed, as again I just didn’t need the extra thickness! These handles are the shorter, wider straps described in the pattern. I did have some lovely gold toned rivets that I wanted to use, to match the other gold hardware, but they were too short. I thought that having ‘antique brass’ toned ones was a better option than the handle falling off when I was out and about! I’ve definitely noticed changes to the colour of the handles since I’ve been using the bag, they’ve become darker and shinier and got quite marked in the rain, but I quite like how they’re ageing already. The best part is that I can always replace them if they get too worn out.


I love my new bag! I had it finished in time to take it over to Melbourne, and it was perfect for stashing shopping in, as well as the several layers I needed to have with me just in case of a random weather change…

Thanks for all your good wishes after my last post! We’re still getting woken up by some fairly wobbly aftershocks, and they’re starting to demolish the buildings in the Wellington CBD which have been red-stickered, but things are starting to get back to normal (here, anyway. It’ll be a long time before Kaikōura and parts of Northern Canterbury are back to normal, unfortunately).


A good week for secret pyjamas

Well, this has been a bit of a rubbish week. You’re probably mostly aware of what’s been going on in New Zealand, but if you aren’t, just after midnight last Sunday (literally 5 minutes after we got off our flight home from Melbourne!) a pretty massive earthquake hit the northern half of the South Island. It was a magnitude 7.8, which makes it the same size as the Napier earthquake in 1931, which killed hundreds of people and remains NZ’s worst natural disaster (in modern times, anyway). It seems to have nearly flattened the small town of Waiau which was closest to the epicentre of the quake, and has caused major damage to the surrounding area, including closing state highway 1 which is the main route down the country. It also rolled across Cook Strait and hit Wellington pretty hard, we’ve got lots of cordoned off and evacuated sections of town where engineers are trying to decide if damaged buildings are stable enough to survive if another serious shake happens, or if they need to be demolished. We’re still getting hundreds of aftershocks a day (there have been over 2000 since the initial quake), though thankfully they seem to be spreading out and becoming less strong as the week goes on.


A map of severe (red) and strong earthquakes in the North Canterbury and lower Wellington region recently. A Geonet forecast shows the chance of a large quake striking the region in the next 30 days has reduced. Image credit: GeoNet.org.nz

We also had a tsunami warning sometime after the initial quake, so everyone living in the tsunami zone in Wellington had to decamp to higher ground at 2am Monday! Thankfully we live up a mountain, so no way we were getting hit. Then, if all of that wasn’t bad enough, Wellington got hit by a pretty severe storm on Monday and Tuesday, which caused flooding and landslides (not helped by sections of hillside that had already been loosened by the shake), accompanied by gale force winds which blew broken glass and bits of broken masonry around the city, and which meant we got to play that traditional Wellington game of ‘earthquake or gust of wind?’ We were effectively cut off from the rest of the North Island on Tuesday, the two major routes out of Wellington were closed by flooding and landslides. It was an eventful, stressful few days, and there were some seriously fraying nerves around the city! There is a really good summary of the events of the last week here, if you’re interested in reading more.

Anyway, onto some sewing! I made this dress up the same weekend which I made my Helmi dress, and it’s proved to be a perfect thing to wear this last week when  I just wanted to be comfortable! It was one of the first things which went into my suitcase for Melbourne (more about that another time, but I had a good week away and had a lovely time meeting some of the Melbourne sewing crew, who took me out for dinner and cocktails. Thanks for a lovely evening Sarah, Helen, Jane and Libby!), and it served me well when I was walking all over Melbourne looking for a brewery which the boys wanted to visit, which turned out to be closed once we finally found it. Sigh!


This is the latest Sew Over It Pattern, the Heather Dress. I bought it as soon as I saw it pop up on Bloglovin, and I had it printed out and assembled before I realised that I had essentially the same pattern already in my library, the Muse Patterns Philippa. The princess seams end in a different place, and the Heather has sleeves, but other than that they’re very similar. I felt pretty stupid, I really need to start thinking more before I hit buy! I persevered with the Heather pattern as I had it printed out (I only printed out the Philippa skirt variation last time), and I am really happy with the final dress.


I used a dark green ponte from The Fabric Warehouse, which I really like. It’s lovely and soft, and I think is just the right weight for this type of dress. It isn’t clingy, and it holds the shape of the pockets without them collapsing. I’m particularly in love with this dark green colour at the moment too, even though it’s so hard to photograph! I feel like for ages I’ve been all about navy and mustard, but recently I’ve found myself being drawn to deep greens and blush pink colours, as evidenced by the awesome green Funki clogs which I bought in Melbourne. I’ve been looking for some clogs for ages, they just don’t seem to be in the shops in Wellington!


Next time I make this dress I’ll take in the princess seams at the back waist to combat that sway back wrinkling, and I’ll make it short sleeved. This version has the 3/4 length sleeves, though I had them rolled up yesterday when we were taking these photos and I forgot to get any with them uncuffed. I’ll also fiddle with the armhole/sleeve head slightly to see if I can get rid of that over-boob wrinkle…


Thanks to Kat for taking these photos! It was particularly bright and sunny yesterday, and she did an awesome job finding places for me to stand which didn’t get washed out in the glare.

I’m a little in denial that it’s almost the end of November, I’m going to need to hustle if I want to get all of the sewing I have planned done before Christmas! Hopefully the country settles down now and we can just have a smooth run for the rest of the year…

Another Shirtdress for Spring

I’ve had a bit of a sewing spree since the end of the University trimester, I’ve been enjoying spending my spare time in my sewing room (part of me is secretly glad that the weather has been pretty rubbish, because it means that I don’t need to feel bad about not fixing up our jungle of a garden). One thing that I really wanted to get done was a rayon dress made using the Helmi pattern from the latest Named collection. Helmi is a loose fitting dress with a curved hem and a concealed half button placket, and either a two piece collar or a simple band collar. The pattern also has a really interesting shirt variation, which is definitely on my radar now for Autumn/Winter!



It’s definitely a loose fitting silhouette, and I have to admit that I thought it was probably going to be an unflattering disaster as I was sewing it. I was very surprised and very happy about how much I liked it when I tried it on after getting the sleeves in! I think the very soft and supple rayon helps it to drape more flatteringly that it would if it was made in a fabric with a crisper hand. This fabric is the same as the stuff I used for my Ogden Cami, and it’s just as lovely. I have another length in a different pattern in my stash, and I might end up buying some more! It behaves so well, and drapes and presses so nicely, it’s so good to sew.


Like with all Named Patterns, there are some lovely details in this dress. I love the curved hem, it’s just short enough at the sides to stop it being heavy and frumpy, but not so short that I have to think about not flashing too much thigh as I move about! I also love the concealed button placket, it gives the front a lovely minimalist feel. The construction of it made me a bit confused when I was reading through the instructions, but once I had the piece in my hands it became clear. Typically, I think these hidden buttonholes may well be my best to date! I feel like I’m finally getting better at judging the right size of buttonhole to sew, and I’m getting much better at finishing them neatly too.


I used plain black buttons for the placket, and they blend into the fabric nicely when the first few are left unbuttoned. For the collar button I used one of the brass buttons I’ve been hoarding off a RTW cardigan, I love them but I’ve never managed to find any similar in craft shops! I don’t think I’ll ever wear this one buttoned all the way up to the neck, it’s a bit too much fabric with the longer sleeves and hem!


I felt like the sleeves looked a bit plain just hanging at elbow length, so I hitched them up slightly with a faux button loop. I just sewed a narrow rectangle of fabric and hand sewed it to the sleeve with another of the gold buttons, just high enough to catch the hem and add a bit of interest. It’ll be easy enough to remove them if I decide I want to do something else with them.


This was a pretty simple sew, aside from the slightly more difficult concealed placket. The instructions are slightly more minimal than some other indie patterns, but they’re well illustrated and easy to follow. The only change I made, aside from my minor addition to the sleeves, was to top-stitch the collar stand and to take 1.5 cm off the length of the bodice (as usual). I chose to top-stitch all the way around the collar stand as the rayon looked a bit bubbly and soft without it, it sits much better now with that little bit of extra reinforcement. I did take a bit of a risk by hemming the skirt pieces separately before sewing them together and to the bodice, but after the trouble I had hemming the curve of my Melilot shirt hem I decided to follow the instructions and just hope that it wouldn’t be too long. It is longer at the back than I expected, but I like it anyway! The hem definitely sits better on this than it does on the shirt (following the instructions can be beeficial, who would have thought?).


I like the way it looks with a belt as well, it makes it feel a bit more dressy. I think with a pair of heels I could get away with wearing this out for drinks or dinner, but with flats or even sneakers it would be fine for a casual day. I do love a dress which can do multiple shifts!