Creating textile art with Katie Essam

I am so excited to share with you today an amazing day I had last Friday in the company of the very talented Katie Essam and my lovely friend Lucy Bishop (of Mrs Bishops Bakes and Banter blog).

As most of you are aware I love to learn and am always seeking ways to improve my craft skills, so when Lucy and I met the lovely textile artist Katie Essam, at the Handmade Fair last September, I was super excited to hear that she ran workshops and jumped at the chance to go on one.

Her work is amazing, combining a multitude of materials including paint, wool and paper as well as the more conventional fabric that is usually seen in free motion work. I just knew a workshop with Katie would be an wonderful experience and a great learning opportunity.

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An example of Katie’s wonderful work – a bespoke boot family (photo by Katie Essam)

Luckily for Lucy and I, Katie is based just up the road from us, in Watford, so on Friday morning we headed the short distance up the M1 excited for what lay ahead.  Upon arrival the super friendly Katie welcomed us into her lovely home and we quickly settled in her studio to practice some sketching with the machine.

The freedom that lowering the feed dogs and attaching an embroidery foot offers is so satisfying, it turns the needle into a drawing implement allowing a line to be drawn in whichever direction you fancy (a rather disconcerting experience at first but awesome once you get the hang of it).   Having done some free motion work previously I took this opportunity to practice creating a blackwork style picture , using an adult colouring card as inspiration for this.

 

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 A scribble, a doodle and an attempt at a fox – practise makes perfect

We soon moved onto making decisions about our final piece, which we would be working on for the rest of the day.  I  decided to focus on animals as my inspiration as I was keen to include some of the needle felting that I had seen in Katie’s work and she had recommended something furry if that was the case.   During the week I had spent a couple of evenings sketching British wildlife and on the day, with Katie’s expert opinion to help me, I settled on a pair of leaping hares as the focus for my final piece.

Now the fun really began as we were let in on the secrets behind Katie’s amazing work and encouraged to apply them to our own pieces.  What a great time both Lucy and I had playing with fabric and transforming our designs into wonderful pieces of art. Katie was such an amazing teacher, she had prepared examples of her techniques for us to refer to as well as a handout to take home (in both a written and visual format – thank goodness as I am such a visual learner with this sort of thing!).  She was also really patient and encouraging throughout the day as well as being a generally lovely person and a mean jacket potato chef (which we had for lunch to fuel our activities).

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My sketches,  inspired by the wildlife of Great Britain

 

I loved having the opportunity to learn from such a talented artist and although I had been on a free motion course previously I gained a host of new skills from Katie as well as being offered some handy tips to help me improve my overall sewing skills when creating pieces at home.   It was also lovely to see my super crafty friend Lucy learning a new skill whilst creating a beautiful and unsurprisingly biscuit/cake themed piece.

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Sneaky peaks of the process – from template to stitched pieces (back view) 

We both ended the day hand finishing our pieces in our own individual style, with my hares getting fluffy tummies, tails and hind quarters using some wool fibers and a few stitches as well as a touch of pink paint in their ears.  These final touches, accompanied by the techniques Katie had taught us, really brought the pieces to life and I know both Lucy and I were both super proud of our completed work and can’t thank Katie enough for sharing her knowledge and skills with us.

The amazing effect of paint and fibres to bring a piece to life (photos by Katie Essam) 

Close ups of my completed piece – love how much detail I was able to achieve

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So proud of my pair of leaping hares – can’t wait to frame them

(second image by Katie Essam)

I definitely urge anyone who wants to learn free motion embroidery to book onto a course with Katie (even if you are less local than we were – it’s worth travelling for). Her workshops are tailor-made to your level of skill and she is such a lovely person who throughout the day is on hand for help, encouragement and inspiration. If you want to know more visit her website here.

I can’t wait to start my next free motion piece at home, the day has taught me so much and is really going to have a massive impact on the quality of my work going forward. Keep your eyes peeled on my social media platforms over the next month or so as I will be sharing my progress as I create my first collection of pieces to sell – so exciting!!

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A button bonanza…

I’m not really the type of person to make new year resolutions as I think that anytime is a good time to make a change in your life for the better. However, I do view the new year as an exciting time of anticipation, wondering what the year ahead will hold and if my ongoing dreams and ambitions will be fulfilled.

This new year I am excited at the prospect of making my hobby into something more (and in turn hopefully fulfilling a long held ambition) as I look forward to creating some freehand machine embroidery pieces and offering a few for sale in a lovely local bookshop. I can’t wait to take this first step in creating a little business for myself and am so excited to be collaborating with another local businesswoman (can’t wait to tell you more in an upcoming post).

For me this new year is a perfect time for this journey to begin as in the few weeks prior to the Christmas festivities I was in a stitching frenzy, creating some super secret gifts for my family and friends. Sadly, due to the top secret nature of these items a blogging drought was imposed upon me and the only indication that I had not disappeared entirely was a few sneak peaks of some of the makes on Instagram.

The inspiration for all of my Christmas gift makes was a lovely collection of buttons that I picked up when I visited the Handmade Fair back in September.  Each of these was intended to represent an interest or hobby of the recipient or to reflect their style and home life.  They included a pair of miniature scissors for a fellow crafter friend, a collection of cat buttons for the feline fans in my life and a little hedgehog for my green-fingered father.

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I always find that my creative juices flow better when I have a great starting point and these buttons were a perfect example of this being the case with each one inspiring a collection of designs.  This paired with my wonderful fabric collection, which also happily grew in the run up to Christmas due to a very bountiful fabric swap, meant that I was super excited to start making the designs into a reality.

In a mad couple of weeks before Christmas every night and weekend was spent finalising designs, creating templates and choosing fabrics as well as the wonderful creation of the seven pieces destined for a place under my friends and families Christmas trees. I worked as usual to the wire (under pressure is always better isn’t it!?) finishing the final piece on the 23rd of December just before the madness of Christmas was due to begin.

As well as creating a collection of pieces for the most important people in my life this intense period of creativity, across a diverse range of designs, really helped to build my skills in freehand machine embroidery which I think will be super helpful going forward.  I feel like I am on a crafting journey every time I sit down to craft  and am so excited about what the next few months will bring and the things I will learn.

I’d like to finish with a picture of my sister receiving her gift, which was a representation of her adorable cats who my whole family have fallen in love with (including myself – Mrs Cat Allergy Central!). I think these pictures do not need any further explanation, they speak for themselves and are the reason I love making and creating.

#AutumnSurpriseProject – making a weekend more wonderful

November seems to have whizzed by this year and it is only now that I am finally getting round to putting pen to paper (or should that be fingers to keys) and reporting in with the general bloggersphere.

It has been a funny month, I have been struck down by lurgy for some of it and for the rest have been trying to catch up as well attempting to make a start to Christmas preparations.  I have felt like I have been chasing my tail for the most part and even as December draws ever nearer Novembers list is still way off being completed.

However, despite all this a bright beacon has shone in the form of the amazing #AutumnSurpriseProject.  This is a lovely initiative organized by Lucy Heath through her wonderful blog and Instagram profile @capturebylucy.

Autumnsurpriseproject titleAs soon as I heard about it I knew I had to take part as the idea of random acts of kindness is something which really appeals to me. I can think of nothing better than increasing the amount of happiness and positivity in the world.  The collective impact of this project, which has been repeated with the changing seasons, cannot be underestimated and Lucy should be very proud of what she has created.

I could not wait to get started planning my surprise gift package to send to my project partner, a lovely London based teacher whose Instagram profile revealed a keen sense of style and a love to travel.  In the fleeting spare moments I could grab this month I have thoroughly enjoyed selecting and creating items to send to my project partner which were in part inspired by her love of wildflowers, the colour grey and sausage dogs.

As you may expect I couldn’t resist adding a creative element to my package and used free motion embroidery to create a some wildflower inspired fabric covered buttons as well as a sausage dog themed mini-cushion. The buttons in particular were a challenge for me due to their miniature scale and the fact that I have never attempted flowers before. I’m quite chuffed with the result and especially enjoyed creating the personalized tags to present them on, giving me a chance to use my ‘sarah kate makes’ stamp bought for me by mum for my birthday in July.

IMG_20151116_221825For my non-handmade gifts I added a lovely fragrant candle (another of my project partners loves) and an amazing ‘moodle’ book which I loved so much I had to buy one for myself too.

The concept of a ‘moodle’ is a doodle with the power to change your mood and for me personally seems a much better option than the ever popular ‘colouring for mindfulness’ which unfortunately, due to my perfectionist tendencies, creates more frustration than calm. I, of course, chose the ‘happy’ themed ‘moodle’ book and can’t wait to fill it with positivity and hope my project partner enjoys  her moodling moments too.

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The date for the exchange of gifts to be sent by was last Sunday, the 22nd November and I could not wait to see what my package contained and to send my package to my lovely project partner.

Having picked up my package from the post office the day before it was with much anticipation and excitement that I opened the unassuming cardboard box to reveal a selection of beautifully wrapped gifts, each labelled with a Bali-themed tag, a holiday destination which was common to both me and my project partner.

I cannot believe how amazing the gifts I received were, such thought had been put into selecting them, it felt as if they had been bought by someone who had known me for years.   Each tag revealed the reason the gift had been included. The first was a handwritten recipe for a Balinese banana cake ‘because I love to bake’, next was some awesome fabric ‘because I like retro patterns’ and finally there were some cute ‘handmade with love’ buttons ‘because I like to make things for others’ as well as a gorgeous ribbon spindle ‘because sometimes things can look too pretty to use’ (a sentiment which I definitely agree with here).

Opening these wonderful gifts definitely added a huge dollop of delight to an otherwise quite dreary dull day and I can’t thank Lucy Heath and my project partner enough for their combined efforts in creating this happiness.  In a world where positivity and kindness to strangers can sometimes be hard to find, a simple act like this offers a glimmer of hope and as my project partner said when she received her package from me it can ‘restore our faith in human kindness’.

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Tales of a secret stitcher…

Things have been a little quiet on the blog front recently as I have been busy crafting away in secret making a special gift for my lovely husband to surprise him with on our anniversary this weekend.

As we were celebrating our second year of marriage I decided to put my stitching skills to good use and create some framed textile pieces, as the tradition for the second anniversary is to give cotton gifts. I have been mulling the designs over for these makes since I first learnt to use my sewing machine for freehand machine embroidery earlier in the year and decided I had to create something for this special occasion. I knew that I wanted them to represent special memories from our wedding day and honeymoon and spent a good while happily scanning through our wedding album and honeymoon pictures sketching a few ideas. I finally settled on three images as the basis for my makes – our wedding cake (which was actually made from cheese), an elephant (from our visit to a sanctuary whilst on our honeymoon) and finally a special place from our beautiful venue ‘The Barns Hotel’ in Bedford.

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Over the last couple of weeks I have beavered away creating these makes in secret whilst Mr B was at work, snatching a few hours here and there. Delving into my now bulging fabric stash, with its lovely variety of textures and colours, made me so happy. I was able to find the right selection of pieces to use which reflected the autumnal tones we had for our wedding theme as well as the tropical colours of Bali, our honeymoon destination. Selecting these took almost as much time as creating the final pieces themselves as I had a very clear idea of what I was looking for and wanted all three pieces to complement each other as well.

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wedding cake make

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I was really pleased with how all three pieces turned out but my favourite has to be the riverside gate. This is a special place from our wedding day as it brings back memories of the precious time after we got married when Mr B and I had a moment to ourselves and were able to enjoy each other’s company and take in the beauty of our location by river, it really was blissful.

Gate & photo

We celebrated our anniversary last Sunday and Mr B really loved his gifts, so much so that they were mounted on the wall almost as soon as they were out of the wrapping. They have found their home on the wall by our stairs which is perfect as we can enjoy them daily and it has certainly been putting a smile on my face to see them and remember the memories from these special moments in our life.

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It is probably not surprising that these are not my first wedding related makes, some of my first sewing machine projects were made in preparation for our special day. I created a set of superhero masks and capes for Mr B’s stag do  as well as making our wedding ring pillow which included using some of the beautiful lace from my wedding dress. I also decorated some pumps for our surprise lindy hop/charleston first dance and created a special knitted version of Mr B and I which I gave him on the morning of our wedding day. As with the anniversary makes, these all hold special memories and are now treasured keepsakes.

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Luckily, it’s not the end of my wedding related makes either, as my little sister is getting married next spring and I have already offered my stitching services to her. I also cannot wait to share with you our wedding scrapbook which me and my super talented artistic sister have been working on together over the last two years on the few days when we have both had days off  and neither of us has plans (much harder than you’d imagine!) but I’ll save all that for another time.

As you can probably tell talking about weddings is just about my favourite thing to do and I’d love to hear about any special wedding mementoes you have, especially if they were handmade by yourself or gifted to you by a crafty friend or relative.

London Calling…

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With the kids back at school and the end of the holidays seemingly a distant memory (even though it was only a few short days ago) this week has had a strange feeling about it. Social media has been full of smiley faces in new school uniforms and shiny shoes as opposed to the busyness of holiday time where the smiles reflect the adventures being had at home and away.

The nervousness of a new term is something I am fully aware of as a primary school teacher. At some level all involved are nervous; the teacher who worries about settling their little charges in and making them feel secure and happy so that the exciting learning journey can being with gusto; the children whose natural sponge capacity and inquisitive nature can disappear into the background a little while they get used to their new surroundings, new routines and the new expectations put on them as they grow older; and last but by no means least the parents, nervous as they let their little ones hands go and send them into school to be someone else’s daily companion.

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Smiles on the first day back from my gorgeous niece and nephew x

The end of the summer for my sister in law and her two little ones has brought more nervousness than usual with worries about the new term being overshadowed by the impending surgery their mummy is about to undergo the following week.   After suffering for all of her adult life with the debilitating disease endometriosis she has made the difficult decision to undergo surgery to remove her womb and enjoy a future where she can be happy and pain free everyday with her ‘miracle’ children, who she never expected to be able to have.

For my gorgeous niece and nephew who have had a wonderful holiday with their mummy this nervousness is no surprise. Parents like teachers are in their eyes invincible, people who don’t get ill or need looking after by others.  I can relate to this feeling, as a child I remember feeling scared and worried every time my Mum had a migraine and had to lie down in a dark room without any disturbances, until it passed.  It was with the knowledge that these feeling would arise that my sister in law approached me during the summer break and commissioned me to create a free motion textile piece for her to share with her little ones before she goes in for her surgery.

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Seven weeks of smiles and adventures…

The theme of this piece was to be London and reflect some of their favourite places to visit particularly along Embankment. After a few quick sketches, a basic design was decided upon with the key features being the iconic and familiar London landmarks of the Eye, the Gherkin and the Houses of Parliament.  I was excited to begin this project, not only because the reason for its commission has so much meaning but also because the subject also reflects a part of London that is close to my heart and always at the top of the list when we head into the big smoke.

The real work for this piece began with turning my scrappy little sketch into a more defined and detailed drawing. As with my seaside inspired pieces from earlier in the summer, the finished piece would be a cushion and so this determined the size it.   It is at this stage that I really got a feeling for the design as I created a to-scale image from which I then made templates for the final textile piece.

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From scrappy initial sketch to detailed design

My excitement grew as I surrounded myself with my many fat quarter bundles and ever growing collection of fabric scraps from various projects. I am very much of the mind set of waste not, want not, keeping almost every last piece of fabric however small with the determination that one day they will be needed for a project.   Whilst happily sitting in this sewing squalor (thank goodness Mr B was at work and didn’t witness the creative chaos) I set about choosing fabrics for the individual features of the design. I had been trusted with choosing this aspect of the design without any further consultation and I had decided upon a mainly funky modern feel for the iconic buildings with a more muted tones for the river itself.  After a thorough rummage through my fabric collection I had found a good selection of materials which fitted this bill and was ready to begin the best part.

Sitting at my sewing machine ready to begin is probably the post nerve wracking part of the whole process as it is the moment when you are committing to the design and your fabric choices and there is no turning back. For me, as well, with only a few projects under my belt and with my skills still developing, the nerves are ever present as I hope that it will turn out how my imagination intended it to. The process of free motion embroidery also means that unpicking any mistakes is costly and time consuming which it is best to avoid.

As the piece progressed it organically took its own path, even as a self-confessed perfectionist and planner, I enjoy the fact that sometimes ideas develop whilst working on a project and this was certainly the case with this one.  After completing the Eye and Gherkin I began work on the Houses of Parliament. Apart from the grey fabric, I had not decided anything else about this part, but once the other two landmarks had been completed finishing Big Ben and detailing the buildings with blue and pink thread and fabric seemed like the obvious and only choice.

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Finally it was time to complete the river aspect of the design and although to an idle passer-by these features are just incidental in comparison to the main attractions already completed, these are some of the parts I am the proudest of.  I wanted even these features to be recognisable and had studied images of the railings and walls along the river and tried to include these in my design.  I probably spent almost as long completing the railings at the bottom as I did on both the Gherkin and the Eye put together. Each railing was completed individually, cutting the thread after each one!! Whilst being consumed in this repetitive process my reel of thread ran empty, thankfully I had some to replace it (a small miracle as I do not have many thread colours at present!).  The lamps on either bank followed and last but by no means least it was time to create the stick people.  Although stick people are probably one of the easiest things to draw, using a sewing machine to draw one is not quite so easy so it was with trepidation that I approached this task.  I initially only intended to have a family group on the top pathway but after practising on some scrap material and to my surprise finding that I was able to reproduce my little people I decided to create a busy riverside scene more reminiscent of the real thing, with wooden benches, a bicyclist and a mother pushing a pram along the bottom pathway. To be honest this is probably the part I am most proud of as it really brought it to life and added that little something I didn’t know it needed until I reached the end.

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Probably my favourite part of the piece x

Having reached the end of the free motion embroidery work, creating the cushion cover itself happened in a flash and the piece was complete, with a complementary London themed fabric from My Fabric House used as the back cover, a lucky find which really finished it off nicely.  Completing this piece has probably been some of the most satisfying sewing I have done to date, I love the process of designing a one of a kind piece and am learning to allow a piece to grow as it is being created. I have to admit I am sad to see it go but am happy to think that its recipients will get as much joy from it being theirs as I have from creating it. The fact that it will help to ease a difficult time in their lives and be a lasting reminder of their one of their favourite places, I couldn’t be happier to send it to its forever home.

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Finished and ready for its forever home xx

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Sewing Machine Love…

My super duper sewing machine -Janome DKS100

I love my sewing machine, over the summer I have used it almost everyday and each time it has been a joy to use. After learning to sew last year my passion for this hobby has grown and after some careful research I decided to purchase my own machine in March this year (I had been using my Mum’s machine) and opted for the Janome DKS100, a computerised sewing machine as recommended by Tilly over at Tilly and the Buttons.    I cannot praise this machine enough, it has been perfect for me so far and today I wanted to share my love for my sewing machine with you.

Here are my top ten reasons for loving my sewing machine:

  1. It’s beautiful – this may seem like a strange thing to start with but I cannot say how satisfying it is to take the protective cover off and be greeted by its cheery bright blue keypad and sleek design – I love it.

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  1. It lets me be a sewer – this may seem like an obvious thing to say but the nifty time-saving gadgets on this machine let me start sewing in a fraction of the time I have experienced with other machines I’ve used. It has buttons for an automatic thread cutter, thread knotting and needle up/down position which not only make sewing easier they have also helped to make my finished pieces neater.
  1. It doesn’t need a foot pedal – this is a controversial point as some sewers find sewing without a pedal disconcerting however, I decided when I got my machine to exclusively use the start/stop button and speed slider rather than the foot pedal. I have found this has become second nature, the start/stop button is placed appropriately so it is easy to use and the speed slider means there are no sudden changes in speed unexpectedly.

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  1. It’s heavy – I could also see this as a disadvantage I suppose as it means I am unable to transport it very easily however, it’s weight means it is stable, particularly when sewing through multiple layers.
  1. It treats me like a numpty – by which I mean it prevents me from making unnecessary mistakes or put myself in unnecessary danger. For example, it recognises which foot is on the machine and if this is appropriate for the selected stitch chosen, if it’s not it won’t let me select the stitch unless I change the foot. It also has a handy ‘safe’ button which can be pressed to prevent machine from starting, even if the start/stop button is accidentally pressed. This is particularly handy when threading the needle.

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  1. It has some very cute stitches – the machine comes with the capability to use approximately 100 stitches (most of which I haven’t used yet), including basic stitches, simple embroidery, quilting, button holes and more. The best ones of all are the cute embroidery stitches which I can’t wait to use to finish a project or two.

Cute stitch selection

  1. It has a lovely best friend in the form of my super sewing box – the organisation of my sewing bits and bobs is awesome since I was bought this super sewing box by my husband for my last birthday, everything is in one place and it is handily placed right behind me when I am sewing for easy access.

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  1. I have made some lovely things on it – this machine has given me confidence and in turn this has helped turn me into a better sewer which has encouraged me to sew more. In the months since I have had it I have really enjoyed using it and it’s ease of use has allowed me to create some really nice makes.

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  1. It has turned me into a crazy fabric lady – despite lack of funds I have still managed to accumulate quite a fabric stash, mainly in the form of fat quarter bundles which handily fit with my favourite type of make – mini makes and accessories.

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  1. It will allow me to grow as a sewer – I purposely chose a machine that I could grow into, I am really looking forward to learning new techniques on this machine – I am yet to brave zips or button holes but they will be on the agenda soon or else everything will be poppered or Velcroed together for all eternity!

As you can see I really do love my sewing machine, it hasn’t at present given me anything to complain about and I can’t wait to become an experienced sewer using it.

What do you love about your sewing maching or do you have another crafting tool which you couldn’t live without, I look forward to hearing all about them xx

Disclaimer: the opinions in this review are my own, I was not asked to write this review by Janome and I purchased the Janome DKS100 myself.

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If at first you don’t succeed…

This week’s crafting has been mainly about taking note of the old adage described in the title of this post as I have been busy designing and making a range of mini-totes.

The story of these mini-totes starts with a slight obsession I have developed recently with fat quarter bundles. There is something so appealing about a set of complimentary fabrics bundled together ready to be made into whatever takes your fancy. These bundles can be bought quite cheaply from most places you’d normally get fabric and provide a perfect excuse for creating mini-makes (my favourite kind of make of all).

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A selection of my fat quarter bundles

Whilst perusing my selection of fat quarter bundles one evening I had the idea to make a mini-tote based on the one I originally made when I learnt to sew. Having never adapted a pattern before I decided to dive straight in and resize the measurements so that they would fit a fat quarter piece of fabric. This took a bit of jiggery-pokery with the calculations (not my strong point) but eventually I came up with some measurements which would create a pattern which was about two-thirds the size of the original.

Adapting pattern

The original tote and pattern – with my added scribbles!

Feeling chuffed with myself for my lucky maths, I set about making the prototype mini-tote from some cute cat print  and a contrasting green interior fabric. The thing I really like about this pattern is that it is has a wide base so that it can sit flat and not fall over when it has items inside and the fact that it is lined which gives it durability as well making it visually appealing with the contrasting interior.

Adapting the pattern, cutting and sewing the fabric took me well into the early hours, however, it was worth staying up late as the prototype turned out surprisingly well. The only change which I decided I would make for mini-tote number two would be to widen the straps so their proportions matched the original version better.

Prototype tote

The prototype mini-tote

A perfect tester for my prototype was found in the form of my four year old niece who over the weekend ran it through it’s paces by filling it with all manner of girly items and taking it out and about with her.

Whilst discussing this first make with my sister in law I decided that as well as widening the straps I would add an internal pocket to fit small items into. The original pattern for the larger tote included an external pocket, however, due to the restrictions of trying to fit the pattern onto a fat quarter sized piece of fabric this was not possible on the scaled down version so, for this reason as well, an internal pocket also seemed a good idea for the mini version.

Prototype bag

Plenty of room for lots of girly bits x

The next day’s sewing involved designing and creating an internal pocket and adding this to mini-tote bag number two. By a happy accident, I was also able to create a small purse from a wrongly sized first attempt at a pocket (I forgot to add a seam allowance). The purse is definitely a work in progress and may be the next project I work on.

Steps to success

Creating mini-tote number two

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Completed mini-tote two and its matching purse

I have since gone on to make two more mini-totes from the same fat quarter bundle (and intend to make one more this weekend) as well as another purse, plus a pink and black version using some fabric from another fat quarter bundle.

Purse 2

A more grown up version of the mini-tote and matching purse

Mini totes

Which is your favourite mini-tote? 

I have really enjoyed making these mini-totes and feel proud of myself for managing to overcome some difficulties I faced and for successfully adapting a pattern (thanks goes to Janet at KitchenTableSewing for the original). My mini-tester certainly enjoyed using the prototype and has since become the recipient of the new improved version with internal pocket and matching purse, much to her delight.