Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Bags - making, making do, mending

On Monday last week I gave up waiting for my sister to tell me what she wanted for her birthday, and set about making her a little shoulder bag to replace the worn-out one that she's been carrying around lately. I thought it would take me no time at all, and it turned out to take at least three times as long; do all crafters suffer from this mis-estimation problem? On Wednesday my sister unwrapped an unfinished bag and exclaimed with delight that she'd realised, a few days earlier, that she'd like a new handbag, but hadn't asked me to make one as she thought she'd left it too late -  so she didn't mind too much that I had to take her present back to finish the strap.
The fabrics are both organic cotton, handwoven in India and fairly traded, from the online Organic Cotton shop. The outer fabric's a heavy herringbone twill, this piece left over from a much bigger bag that I made for my sister's birthday last year; the strap and lining are a lovely dark blue/cream shot cotton. (In case you're wondering, the Soil Association website has good information about what organic farming is, how organic standards apply to textile production, and a list of the reasons why I choose to buy organic cotton fabrics rather than conventional cotton.)
I backed the herringbone with scrap fabric (a duvet cover in its previous life), attached with fusible web. This is an imperfect solution to my dislike of synthetic interfacing - I'm still using the glue, which I'm sure is pretty toxic (think of the smell when you iron it) and must cause all sorts of pollution in its manufacture, but I am at least avoiding the polyester fabric, and re-using something old instead. It gives the bag a slightly firmer structure, and counteracts this particular fabric's creasing tendency. I interfaced the strap, too, to make it stronger.
I learned to sew zips from Florence's instructions, and hers is the only method I've used so far, but this time I tried something slightly different. One end has a fabric cover, sewn as Anna of Noodlehead explains in her Gathered Clutch tutorial (and this diagram). The other side has the zip ends disappearing down between the outer fabric and the lining, which allows the bag to open up wide. I have a little purse where the zip's done like this, and I couldn't quite work out how to copy it until I read through Erin Erickson's Two Zip Hipster pattern. It wasn't coming out right at first; then I unpicked the ends of my topstitching so that the lining could fold right back from the outer fabric along the zip-insertion seam, while I sewed around the bag sides and base. That gave a good neat finish, and it was easy to re-do my topstitching afterwards because I was doing it by hand. Did that make any sense?
A much duller bit of sewing last week was fixing some re-usable shopping bags that have been hanging around looking sorry for themselves for a long time. These were stitched together so poorly that they obviously weren't really meant to last much longer than the disposal plastic carrier bags that they supposedly replaced. They're also made of a nasty non-woven synthetic stuff and were imported from China - how's that for eco-friendly? Their only appeal really is that they fold up neatly to keep in a handbag, but as we have them now I feel we ought to make them do for as long as possible before they become everlasting landfill. In reinforcing the seams and firmly re-attaching the handles I reckon I spent  longer working on them than the sweatshop folk who put them together in the first place did.
Last week was clearly Bag Week: I also mended a much nicer reversible tote bag that my mum made. Some rummaging of the urgent Oyster card variety combined with being made to hold a music stand proved too much for one of the strap seams on a bus a few months ago. That strap end is now thoroughly joined back on and I strengthened the others too, so that I may go forth and rummage frantically for my Oyster on all of London's fine buses with the de rigueur feeling of flustered embarrassment but without fear of my bag giving way.
With the machine out I also hemmed my jeans, which I've been wearing for the past several years in the style of a too-cool sixth-former circa 1998 (i.e. far too long and with huge scrappy chunks worn out by my heels), and now I'm concerned that I could be teetering precariously on the brink of semi-presentability. Am I getting old, or just doing my bit for the Olympics?

Have you repaired anything recently?

Thursday, 12 July 2012


I've shared a link to Chris Jordan's astonishing photographs from Midway Atoll before. Chris is a  photographer who's using his art to tell us something important: on the tiny, wild islands of Midway, in the middle of the North Pacific, our plastic garbage is killing sea birds. Now he and his team are working on a powerful film about the beautiful Midway albatrosses.

This isn't the kind of project that gets sponsorship from multinational corporations; the 'product placement' in this movie won't be the sort they want! So the team are using Kickstarter to raise the funds they need - which means that those of us who care about the tragedy on Midway can make sure the story gets told. Because of the way Kickstarter works, a project has to receive pledges for the full amount it needs in order to get any funding at all, so that nobody's money goes to waste. As I write, the Midway Film Project has been promised about two fifths of the money needed to finish the film and share it with a global audience, from over 1,200 individual donors. They need pledges for the remaining $20,000 before 18 July! You can offer them any amount from $1(US), and even that much would help. Your money won't be taken unless they make their target, and the payments are handled by Amazon (is there anyone on the internet who doesn't have an Amazon account?! If you don't, you can also donate via Paypal - scroll right down the Kickstarter page for a link). If you can't give any money, you can still spread the word and help the project find more donors.

As this video explains, there's no way we can ever clean up the mess we've already made - but we could stop making more.

MIDWAY - Plastic Beach from Midway on Vimeo.

Chris Jordan's film about the Midway albatrosses promises to be terribly sad, shocking, and very beautiful: a work of art and a call to action. As Chris asks in the trailer on the Kickstarter page (which is different to the one at the top of this post), "Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time? Allow ourselves to feel deeply enough that it transforms us, and our future?"

UPDATE 15 July: The project has reached its funding goal on Kickstarter! Hurray! You can still pledge to them if you want to, though.