Wednesday 10 February 2021

Rainbow Raspberry Rucksack

I bought the Raspberry Rucksack pattern by Sarah Kirsten at the beginning of 2020. However, the rest of the year took all the unexpected turns that we know about now, and my sewing plans didn't follow the route that I thought they would! In fact, it took me so long to actually get round to making the pattern, that I ended up being one of those annoying people who had to contact the seller because they had lost the download link! 


I finally did get round to making the Raspberry rucksack after two years' worth of intense daily use of my Range backpack. It had got so tatty, faded and misshapen that I was getting pretty embarrassed to be seen with it! I don't embarrass easily when it comes to what I wear, so I knew it was definitely time to make a replacement. I fell in love with the Raspberry rucksack pattern the instant I saw it, and have loved every version I've seen on Instagram since. The pattern's similarity to the Kanken bags by Swedish company Fjallraven cannot be denied. I've admired those for many a year also, and the opportunity to make something similar for myself without having to work out how to do so on my own was an opportunity too good to pass up.

(image source: Sarah Kirsten)

The Raspberry rucksack pattern, like the Range backpack pattern and every other 'proper' bag pattern I've encountered, is really involved. There are a lot of pieces to cut out (from outer, lining and interfacing fabrics), extras like special hardware and zips to procure, and lots of construction steps to undertake. It's a meaty project, not a quick win. But if you're up for that and not in any particular rush to use your new bag, then it can be a really enjoyable challenge. 

The constructing the front 'pop' pocket (which is fully lined, FYI), and then stitching it to the front panel were possibly the trickiest steps. There are so many layers involved, and with a domestic machine, it was a struggle at times. And even after the pocket was attached, the pages of construction steps kept on coming and at many points it felt like the end would never be in sight!

What I did enjoy was learning some new tricks. The Sarah Kirsten blog includes a few very detailed posts which support the pattern, and I whole heartedly recommend reading them before you embark on the project. One of them taught me a lot about zips, including how to turn a regular, double-ended zip into a bag zip. In short, you cut off one end and remove one of the zip pulls, turn it up the other way and pull it back on. This felt very risky, especially considering I had had to wait a long time for my zips to arrive in the post, but it worked perfectly (after a couple of attempts) and it kind of blew me away! 

Another new-to-me element to this project was using webbing for the straps and handles. My previous 'real' bag projects involved straps that I'd sewn from fabric. I found working with the webbing really fun and I love the result. 

Fabric and haberdashery:

A complicated backpack isn't usually the first project that pops to mind as a fabric scrap-buster. However, I had the leftovers of the rust cotton twill that I used for my Thelma boiler suit ear-marked for a bag almost as soon as the cutting out of the boiler suit pieces was complete. The Raspberry rucksack pattern includes dimensions for two different sizes of bag. I wanted to make a larger one as it'd be more practical, but I was willing to size down if my fabric was of insufficient quantity. Thankfully, I had more than enough for the larger one, and in fact there is more twill left than I'm thinking I'll use for a sun hat for someone. 

The lining I used for the rucksack is making me very happy indeed. It was a length of quilting cotton that I bought from the Village Haberdashery on the last day that I taught there before giving birth to my little boy (so about 4.5 years ago). Initially, I had planned to make myself a blouse from it, but my tastes shifted before that could happen and it's languished, unused in my stash ever since. I still adore the print design and its colours, I just could no longer see myself wearing it as a garment. So it's great to be able to see and enjoy it regularly, every time I open my bag.

I'd like to be able to take credit for the inspired choice of rainbow webbing, but I cannot. I had been debating what colour webbing to choose that would work well with the rust, and I almost bought some teal cotton webbing on a trip to Brighton, but held back for some reason. A little later, I saw an online ad pop up for Fjallraven bags featuring an orange one with rainbow webbing and my heart skipped a beat. I sourced my rainbow webbing from Plush Addict, who stock a range of widths, and I LOVE how its turned out. I never would have thought that clear rainbow colours would work with a muted tone like rust, but I think it looks awesome. My only regret is that I couldn't source cotton rainbow webbing (this one is polypropylene), but at least this won't soak up the rain. 

My zips came from Zipper Station, who stock a broad range of lengths and styles, and have excellent customer service. The reason I had to wait a while for their arrival was because I ordered them on Christmas eve in a pandemic! Another order from them arrived only a day or two after I placed it. I planned to use my fave bag hardware purveyor, U-handbag, for my slider and rectangle ring, but they were out of stock of my first choice (silver coloured metal) for one of them. I ended up getting plastic versions from a seller on eBay, which worked out well as they make the bag lighter than the metal ones would have.   


Thankfully, after the marathon make, I'm really happy with the look of the finished bag. It feels a bit lighter and flimsier than I was expecting though, which I think is partly due to using webbing rather than fabric for the straps. Also, I guess that the twill fabric isn't as stiff as the fabric used for Fjallraven bags, although I really don't think my sewing machine could have handled anything more robust. As you can see from the photo of the bag on my dressform, it sags and doesn't hold its shape when not completely stuffed. The front handle also flips down. I considered making one of those little loops held together with press studs which keep handles together, but honestly I don't think I care that much. 

Another big takeaway: Scotch Guard spray is excellent! I found a can in the cupboard under the sink and used it on this bag the night before we took a trip out whilst it was snowing, and the bag remained completely dry. Why didn't I use this stuff before? All those school and nursery runs in the rain where my bag and its contents got completely soaked could have been avoided! 

Friday 5 February 2021

Free Pattern Friday: Washable Sanitary Pads

Welcome to my monthly 'Free Pattern Friday' feature, where I road test a free sewing pattern or tutorial: sometimes a children's one, sometimes an adult's one. I publish these posts every first Friday of the month, timed to provide inspiration for those who plan to get their sew on over the weekend. I firmly believe that, if you pick your projects carefully, sewing doesn't have to be a crazy-expensive way to clothe yourself and your family. Thanks to all the amazing pattern designers who have offered up their hard work for us to enjoy for free.

As I mentioned last month, I've decided to revisit some free patterns that have appeared on this blog in the past. The free cloth menstrual pad patterns and tutorial by Luna Wolf is, in my opinion, so good and so useful that it deserves to be highlighted again for anyone who missed it the first time (or needs reminding of it!). I published my initial post about the pattern/tutorial over two years ago, and features the pads that I've been using regularly ever since. I returned to the pattern recently to make a batch of pads for the Pachamama Project, a UK-based organisation that distribute reusable pads to refugees. The goal, as I understand it, is to help make the refugees' difficult lives a little bit easier, by easing the worry and problems caused by not having access to sanitary products each month.  The Pachamama project is super interesting and worthwhile, if you can help out by making a few pads, or donating some funds for operations, then please do. 

If you're interested in using this pattern/tutorial, then please check out my first post. This time my aim was to make 'proper' pads, rather than pantiliners, so I did things a little differently....


The Luna Wolf pattern is very helpful because it includes templates for pantiliners, 8.5" pads, 9" pads, 10.5" pads AND 11.75" pads. Each size pad also has its own corresponding core template. I chose the 8.5" size, as that most closely resembled the dimensions of disposable pads I've bought in the past. 

Fabric info:

The pads consist of three sections: the top layer, the core, and the bottom layer. A lot of info is included in the tutorial about what types of fabric are suitable for which section, depending on the absorbency level you're aiming for. It's a great guide, but I would argue that doing a bit of experimentation to find out what works best for you is the best plan. It's very likely that you'll be able to use some scraps or leftover fabric from previous sewing projects, so these can work out quite a cheap project. 

For the pads pictured here I used cotton jersey for the top layer (from personal experience I find this to be more absorbent than woven cotton fabrics like quilting cotton that is often used). The cores are made from scraps of cotton towelling left over from my dribble bib making days, plus three layers of cotton jersey harvested from old T-shirts. For my bottom layer, I used woven cotton (scraps of African wax fabric and gingham from my stash) for the layer that sits against your undies, and a layer of PUL on top of that. (PUL is a plastic coated fabric that creates a barrier to prevent leaks. It is often used in washable nappies, rainwear and has various medications applications. At the start of this project I bought some PUL from Plush Addict when I saw they had a discount. Shortly after placing my order, a lovely lady who lives locally offered me two bags of offcuts from the scrubs she has been making! I'm now swimming in PUL, so I plan to send some along with the pads so that Pachamama can distribute it out to others who are making pads for them.) So these pads are made from seven layers in total. 


I'd like to repeat my previous finding that two pairs of press studs are better than one, otherwise you may start to feel the corners of the tabs brush against your inner thigh. Some people have commented that they find reusable pads tend to shift around, but if you test the pads in the gusset of some undies when deciding where to position your press studs (or velcro, snaps, buttons or whatever), then you should be able to make the pads fit of the pads sufficiently secure. 

Thursday 4 February 2021

'Mend it, Wear it, Love it!' IS HERE!!!!


I am delighted to be able to say that the book I wrote, 'Mend it, Wear it, Love it!' gets published today!!!! I wrote about it previously when it became available for pre-order, but anyone wanting to buy it from today won't have to wait so long to get their hands on a copy. It's so exciting to think that it's now out there in the world, hopefully inspiring and guiding people to mend, alter and care for their clothes so that they last longer. 

The book is very beginner friendly and assumes no previous sewing experience, yet more experienced sewers/menders are also likely to take away some tips. All the how-to's can be completed by hand, with additional advice for tackling it with a sewing machine if you have access to one. Left-handed people are not overlooked, with suggestions for how best to approach each technique if the step-by-steps pictured feel uncomfortable. 

To help those starting at the very beginning of their mending journey, a helpful list is included of what equipment and haberdashery to acquire to complete all the repairs and alterations included in the book. My favourite parts of the book are the intros to each section. I tried to impart the importance of attempting to give your clothes a long and happy life, and to infuse the reader with positivity and confidence to just have a go. 

I learnt a lot in the process of writing this book, and my approaches to laundry and garment storage in particular are forever changed! 

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