Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Zakka Style Zig Zag Tote Troubles

As fate would have it, (or the Editors decision) I think the first project in the Zakka Style book must be one of the most difficult in the whole book. Alas the Zakka Sew Along is following the book layout in terms of project chronology. So there was no warm up - just straight into the ring punches flying!

So I was fully intimidated by this tote. I had hoped that the host of the 'Zig Zig Tote' project would do a bit of a tutorial for this bag - or at least share some tips and photos of some of the main features and things to consider. Alas not. So I stalked the flickr group for other people's work and blog links hoping that someone else would. Alas not. Again.

So I had to plunge into the unknown and hope that I could pull it off. I did. Just. 

Fabric Choice - Stash Buster

Tote Body - I didn't use linen (order of Essex Linen still on it's way) but a linen look-a-like from the French General which I inherited from the 'Hope' quilt and also used in my dresser runner. It is not simple quilting cotton because it has a bit of stretch in it. I had tossed up using the black denim that I featured in Sunday Stash #8 after I saw a lovely upcycled denim made by Mary. (she also used vintage sheet fabric which looks so fab).

The rest of the fabrics are my favourites in my stash. I had made a lap quilt using these last year but ended up giving it the Quilting for Queensland group to donate to the flood victims. 

Grey/blue, the colour of approaching storm clouds, is my favourite colour - my eyes are this colour by coincidence. So the one with the coloured spots is my FAVOURITE fabric in my whole stash and I still have about 2m left. I tossed up whether using in for the lining but only ended up using it for the HSTs and one pocket.

The lining fabric is the natural with the pale blue leaves and just demanded to be used. And the other HSTs  and pocket fabric was from a flat fat I bought in 2010.

Tips and Troubles

Here are my helpful tips to help you avoid the pitfalls and some photos to help you along the way.

1. Read the Pattern. Not just a cursory glance. But read it all and then read agin and make notes. In my case I read only once and missed some important bits that later confused me. But on the positive side I did make notes - in my case drawings of the fabric cuts and sizes because I am a visual learner - and I assigned each cut a letter.
2. Cut ALL your fabric out first. It is time consuming and rather dull, but it saves time later. And even doing so I still missed 2 pieces - the lining strap pieces and strap interfacing.
3. Offset your Triangles - It's illustrated in the pattern but be deliberate in this. This is what confounded me with the 'diamond in a square' block and still does sometimes when I am piecing continuous binding. 
It means you will have nice 'points' 1/4" from the edge rather than losing them when you sew the strips together.
4. Don't lose your points! On my second run I realised why some of my points were disappearing into the next piece so I pinned the points with white pins exactly where the apex of the point met the next piece. 
I made sure that I kept to the right of this pin (or just on) as I ran the strips under the walking foot.
5. Quilting - I quilted as per the instructions for the front, however the back is open to your own style. I enjoyed this. 
 I went for simple straight lines in groups.
6. The Corners - Trouble #1 Part 5 of this section had me scratching my head. 
"Pinch the bottom corners together, lining up the side and bottom seams." I tried it first one way but was totally wrong. Then I looked at the tote bottom in the pictures and finally realised what parts to 'pinch' together.
Measure and sew a 3" line from the point and perpendicular to the seam allowance.

Trouble #2 - pressing open the seam with a hot iron meant that I melted the fusible fleece. I also ruined the iron!
But it came out ok on the side that counts.
So that's where I left the project after half a day.

Day 2

It's always good to start a new sewing day with a bit of Neil Oliver. The eloquent and passionate Scot makes the most wonderful programs for the BBC. My favourite at the moment is called 'Coast' - which was originally all about following the coastline of England - but has expanded to include all the islands plus Scotland, Ireland, Wales and even the Britanny coast of France. 
So I set up my laptop, behind my Janome, and watched this week's episode on SBS 'on demand'. 

5. Straps - Trouble #3 This is where I realised that I had forgotten to cut both the fusible interfacing and lining fabric straps.
6. Pockets
The pattern called for only one reinforced pocket but I added 2 others while I was at this step. One was split in two for my phone and card holder. Then I invented a fabric strap from scrap and a clip that I had. This is so that I can clip my keys onto it and then drop them into the little pocket pocket between the 2 seams. 
Trouble #4 In hindsight I should have attached these straps into the 1/2" seam allowance sandwiched between the body and the lining.
7. Magnetic bag clasp - Trouble #5 Absolutely clueless about these, I bought the wrong, non-pronged, type and could not find any instructions online or from the company website. Subsequently a fellow sewist pointed me to an online tutorial here but it was too late by then. 
My sewing friend Louise, from Loopy Lou Designs, rescued me with the pronged version. There was thankfully a tutorial by Craft Apple already written and accessible on these kind.
Problem #5 I had to break out my machine's manual  to relearn how to make a button hole. Which lead to Problem #6 of trying to make one SMALL enough for the prong marks on my interfacing. 
Only solved by taking out the button altogether and snapping the measure as close together as it would go.

8. Lining - Part 7 of making the lining says "...but leave an opening approx. 7" long in the centre of the bottom seam for turning." 
Problem #7 - I failed to realise the importance of this step and sewed it shut - figuring that the top part of the lining was so 'obviously' open. This meant that I had to unpick 7" when I got to Step 4 of 'Tote Assembly' which says "Pull the tote body out through the opening in the lining bottom.'
9. Tote Assembly
This is what Step 5 of 'Straps' says - "Pin the straps to the top edge of the tote body, aligning the raw edges and positioning the straps 31/2" from the sides."
And Step 1 of 'Tote Assembly' - "Pin the the tote body inside of the lining, right sides facing, with the straps sandwiched in between."
So I blissfully pinned in Step 2 and stitched the top edge in Step 3. And being overcautious, I even reinforced the sections where the straps were.
Then I did Step 4 and pulled the lining though the opening in the lining bottom and realised with horror that the straps were now hidden inside the lining and the body and I had these tiny little straps ends sticking out where the full straps should have been!
Problem #8 - OK, I grant that I am a quilter and not a bag maker. In fact, aside from some library bags, this is my first bag. And I admit that I am not very good at conceptualising things from a written pattern and into a 3-dimensional object. 

But Step 5 of Straps and Step 1 of Tote Assembly failed to tell me to pin the straps, sandwiched between the lining and body, UPSIDE-DOWN. I mean, I am I the only dummy here? 

So I took time out with the Expedit Rearranging Relief and then went to bed. 

Day 3

Unpicking reinforced straps was not going to be enjoyable so I settled down on the couch and watched an amazing program by James Cameron on the Titanic.
 This time I pinned the straps UPSIDE-DOWN!
 Sandwiching the straps the right way this time.
 Then I top-stitched around the tote and triple stitched the sections where the straps were inserted.
 Back view
 So project 1 is finally finished.
I still have to clean my iron though!

I am linking up with...

Zakka Style Sew Along

Amy's Creative Side

Sew Happy Geek


  1. Considering the problems that you had, I think your bag turned out beautifully, and was quite the learning experience! Great job!

  2. Poor thing! Your bag is lovely, though, and I really enjoyed reading your post!

    Here are a couple of things I've learned, if you don't mind... :}
    - If you iron a damp dryer sheet, that'll get melted plastic off your iron really easily.
    - I avoid pinning as much as possible, so if you're feeling lazy next time, you could sew the zig zag strip to the side panels with the zig zag side up -- that way you can see where your points are and sew just to the right of them.
    - When I box corners, I nest the seams (so for instance, the side seam points to the right and the bottom seam goes to the left), which makes it easy to line them up by feel and allows me to avoid a pressing step.
    - When installing magnetic snaps, you can just put a little fray check on the slits instead of sewing buttonholes around them (I already use my regular foot, 1/4" foot, and walking foot when making bags -- I don't want to get out the buttonhole one, too)
    - To make the hand-sewing part easier, you can sew your future turning hole closed with a basting stitch, press the seam open just in that hole part, and then unpick the stitches. Then when you have to close it up by hand, it's easy to line stuff up. :)

    I had trouble visualizing how to arrange the bag lining, exterior, and handles when I was first learning how to make bags, too -- it's not just you! :)

  3. I enjoyed your "true confessions" post very much. Your completed bag looks so sweetly innocent, as though you just snapped your fingers, and it appeared! It's absolutely gorgeous, as is the first photo of it on this post. I've made dozens of bags, but still had issues with my zigzag points, even though I tried so carefully to offset them correctly. Let's hope this was the hardest project!

  4. Oh my gosh. What a trial by fire you have gone through. Thank you for sharing your experience as a lesson for the rest of us.

  5. Looking at that gorgeous bag, you would never guess the troubles it's caused! What a learning curve. Oh and don't worry, I've done that same thing with the straps too!

  6. Amazing - I am glad I skipped the first project but happy to see your comment on my blog which lead me to your blog and this wonderful 'visual' representation of making the bag. I may try making it now!! Cheers :)

  7. Oh, it's lovely! And I don't recognize the fabric but I love it. What is it? I had a lot of the same problems, but I think you mastered them better than I did. I hope you're right and the rest of the book is easier!!

  8. Thank you for taking the time to walk through all of these tips for us! Your bag turned out wonderfully in spite of it all, you'd never know :)

  9. It is a hard project! Mine is still being finished because of my troubles. Thank you for sharing your process, it turned out beautifully! I do agree on reading the steps thoroughly. This was my first mistake too, I was in a rush to get started! I can promise the majority of the rest of the projects are truly much simpler sewing.

    I hope you'll hang in there with us!

  10. Great job on the bag and working through the rough parts. I learned a ton of new stuff on this bag construction. The rest of the projects will be a piece of cake right!

  11. Oh Fiona I am so sorry to hear you had troubles making the bag and thank you for sharing your steps and experience with us all. Your bag turned out so pretty though! I do love grey + blue combinations too!

  12. fiona, i finally finished the bag!! thanks so much again for your help. this whole thing was extremely helful, not just the gusset part. and your bag is adorable!! thanks again!

    1. Oh Ashley I am glad to hear that. It was such a tricky first project! Glad you persevered with it. I am off to find your picture on Flickr.

  13. Kristy QP directed me to your post, I am glad to see that I am not the only one who has had trouble with offsetting the triangles for the zig-zag, am about to start the front all over again because I lost my points! Hope the rest of the projects are less trouble. Thanks for sharing this.

  14. You step by step pictures would have been SO helpful to have seen before I attempted my tote. My book arrived in the mail after the SAL had already done this project so I did feel a bit on my own. Enjoy the fabulous results of all your efforts!


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