Friday, January 20, 2012

Part 1: Let's Design ~ Tote Bag Tutorial & Giveaway!

Read to the end to learn how to win a finished bag or kit!
Part 2 of the Tutorial posted on Mon. Jan. 23! 

The tote bag we're going to make is my "To Market, To Market" bag.  This is the first pattern I designed ~ about 8 years ago!  I've had plenty of time to think about different ways to use and improve this basic pattern, so we're going to take this little plain Jane and glam it up!  You have access to the original pattern in this post, and you're welcome to make as many of the bags as you want for yourself, for gifts or for craft sales or fund raisers.  I do appreciate receiving credit for the design. 

About Designing:  Ideas for designs can come from all sorts of places.  Personally, I think they're floating around invisibly in the air we breathe, and if we have a mind like a fresh damp sponge, some of them will get stuck in our brains.  Highly scientific, I know.  I keep a small spiral notebook in my handbag for ideas that come to mind when I'm out shopping or running errands ~ jotting down a thought or a very rough sketch will let me recall it later.  I have notebooks in most of the rooms in my house just because I need to record ideas promptly since it appears I now have the memory span of a fruit fly!  The notebooks all get returned to my studio, so I can always find them ~ eventually.  One of my designing friends makes sketches on receipts and stores them in a folder, which would spell catastrophe for me!  Your own method of capturing ideas will evolve, but do keep notes of some sort.  Even the most brilliant ideas ~ the ones that you know will completely transform western civilization ~ will go AWOL without documentation!  I've discovered Pinterest (a virtual bulletin board), and find it to be an invaluable aid for gathering design inspiration from the far reaches of the web.  Hop on over there if you haven't met yet.  You have to ask to be invited to join, but I think it only took a couple of days for me.

The Idea:  I was still teaching when I designed this bag, and I needed something that was sturdy and could be laundered (germ laden fifth graders, you know) for carrying items back and forth to school.  I also wanted a totebag I could use for grocery shopping which would hold a good number of items, but not so large that I wouldn't be able to lift or carry it.  It needed to be sturdy ~ no seams pulling apart or handles tearing the fabric.  The last thing you need is a loaded bag of whatever falling apart and scattering your eggs, books, tampons, etc all over the filthy wet sidewalk!  I hate lots of waste, so I spent quite a bit of time doodling a variety of lay-outs to use the fabric efficiently.  Now that fabric prices are higher, that's even a better reason!

Honestly, the design of my pattern cover leaves a lot, and I mean a lot, to be desired and I have no idea what I was thinking!  The pattern market is flooded with fantastically creative designers who hire fantastically creative graphic artists to design their fantastically creative pattern covers.  Designing an awesome pattern is just the beginning.  You've got to find a way to make your pattern cover stand out from the thousands of other patterns to get noticed.  Look at these covers.

You'll notice that even though the products range from traditional to mod, the pattern covers all are bright, clean looking and not cluttered.  The photos of the items are focused, detailed, and interesting.  Note that the products are all shot at an angle which is more eye catching than straight on. I love the Melly & Me photo of the dolphin at the beach!  I'd never attempt to market a pattern that was just black & white ~ again what was I thinking?  Some pattern designers (although I do love their designs!) try to stand out by making the physical size of the pattern larger or a different shape from the usual 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" fold of the majority of patterns.  As an ex-quilt shop owner, I've got to tell you, I hated, despised, loathed, the unusual sizes because they wasted my precious display space.  Like I said, I hate waste ~ well except that stuff in the fridge.

What Can We Do with This Pattern?:  I've had loads of feedback on this bag from customers who purchased a finished bag from me or bought the pattern and made bags - lots of bags.  After all the customer response and my own daily use of the bag, I know it's a really functional little work horse.  (I have all my patterns field tested prior to publication.  I ask for brutally honest feedback on clarity of instruction, graphics etc.  If something doesn't work I'd like to fix it prior to publication rather than have 100's or 1000's of nice ladies ripping their hair out and cursing me to kingdom come.  If you're interested in testing patterns for me, let me know.  I send everything you need, you get to keep the finished product.  All I want back is that brutally honest feedback.)  So how can we update this bag a bit?
  • Fuse batting to the lining to give the bag a bit more body.
  • Use two fabrics for the front and back exterior instead of one.
  • Move the pocket up and add a contrasting fabric trim and ribbon to the top.
  • Since there is a thicker body, end the handles under the pocket (you'd never be able to sew through all those layers if you attached the handles as per the pattern.
  • Add more trims!  Embellishment, embellishment, embellishment.  I love being a girl!
  • Ok, I've got some sort of font problem but I can't fix it so I'm going to ignore it.  You ignore it too, and we'll just get on with this!
 The Pattern:  You can print it off by right clicking on the pictures, "save as", name it & save it in a folder you can actually find again.  I know, I know, my photos aren't the best, but hey, it's free, right?  If you'd like a real paper pattern, send me $1.00 and a stamped ($.64), self-addressed 6 1/2" x 9 1/2" manilla envelope and I'll get it in the mail to you pronto! (Angela Blair, P.O. Box 168, New Albin, IA 52160
Page 1
Page 2
Don't panic - I'll scan the pattern asap so you'll be able to have a good copy!




Page 3

Pg 3 Detail

Pg 2 Detail

  • 1/2 yd fabric for lining
  • 2 fat quarters for exterior
  • 1 fat quarter for pocket
  • Fat eighth for pocket trim
  • 2 yds of 1" wide cotton belting (preshrink in HOT water)  Cheep Trims is a good resource for trims of all kind - good prices, decent quality, although all are sold on rolls.  Share with a friend!
  • 4 yds  Correction.. 2 yards of 1/4" to 5/8" wide ribbon (I used velvet) to trim the belting. 1 1/2yds  of 1 1/2" wide jacquard ribbon for top band trim and pocket, but this is your bag, so do what you like!
  • 1/2 yd fusible fleece.  I like HTC fusible fleece.  I find it less problematic than many fusibles although there may be some new product out there I don't know about that works better.  Fusible fleece and interfacing are used extensively in my handbag designs and I grew weary of standing for hours upon long boring hours fusing with an iron.  I now use a Simplicity Press for all my fusing and find it to be efficient, fast and I have much, much fewer issues with applying fusibles - no bubbling fabric!!  I'd begin a begging campaign now, if I were you ~ birthday, anniversary, Christmas (too far away, really), or just go buy one for yourself because if anyone ever deserved such a cool tool, you do!
  • YOU WILL GET REVISED DIRECTIONS FOR THE BAG ON MONDAY, SO DON'T CUT ANYTHING OUT, unless you're making the original bag and not the revised bag!

Simplicity Press
 Fabric Selection:  I always begin a project with a fabric I absolutely love.  I have sincerely attempted to use fabrics that don't sing to me, but there's always been a sad outcome.  If you're not in love, you're just not in love.  Some things we just don't mess with.
Round 1

Round 1.  The fabrics on the far left and far right are pieces I purchased from Contemporary Cloth and I've been waiting for something special to use them in.  I'm loving grey this year ~ well I was feeling very affectionate toward grey last year, but now it's love.  I pulled a variety of other fabrics I thought might work.  I generally don't stick to one particular collection of fabrics, although occasionally there's a collection that is just smashing and resistance is futile.  My personal opinion is that mixing patterns from different designers up creates a richer visual pallet.  Oh my, such art speak!
Round 2

Round 2.  I eliminated fabrics, but loved those balls on a string - they have a great vertical line sort of quality in contrast to the overall patterns of the other fabrics.  I wanted to pick up the blue in the center of the lotus flower, and found these three blue/green fabrics to play with!  I like all three, but that blue Lonni Rossi on the right has some metallic highlights that sure sparked things up a bit.  It is also a "calmer" pattern, and gives your eye a place to "rest".  Wouldn't Amelia Bedelia have fun with this?

The blue with the yellow scrolls in round 3 and the lime green with blue in round 4 seem to get lost.

Round 3
Round 4


Round 5
This is IT!  Notice how the blue metallic pattern brings out the blue in the Amy Butler lotus pattern.  I really like the intensity of the blue and the metallic lines.  Paying attention to the types of patterns is a huge "make it or break it" factor in putting together fabrics that "sing" (Ameila, where are you?) when combined.  From the top we have a very regular, evenly spaced repeat floral, then a monochromatic blue subtle geometric, random, bold line pattern, then a very large random floral, then an implied vertical line, geometric ball pattern.  Variety is an important concept in design, but tricky because you can't just throw a bunch of things together randomly and expect it to work.  You want variety, but you also need some repetition.  The repetition occurs with the blue in the lotus flowers playing with the blue geometric.  The color of the blue fabric is intense, but the pattern is subtle so it doesn't compete with the other 3 patterns.  The large floral below the blue has the blue and grey of the lotus pattern.  The bottom pattern contains the same grey that is in the large floral and the lotus blossom, and a similar gold that's in the lotus.  When I taught fabric selection at our quilt shop, students just "played" with selecting fabrics that worked together following these same concepts.  Once you grasp some of these basic design "rules" (flexible) you can start to apply them to your own work.  Give yourself time to just play with your fabrics and forget about making a finished product.  Pull a fabric you love, and then bring in 5 more fabrics that work with it, then 10 more, etc.  Invite a quilting friend or friends over and do this together - most importantly talk about what works, what doesn't work and why it works or not!  The more you experiment, the better you'll get at it.  I promise this will happen!  You can always e-mail me if you have questions.

Final Fabric Selections... (I think):
Doubt Creeps In ~ Vintage Buttons?

I think this may be it.....
If you're wondering where on earth that light grey on the left side of the bag came from, it screamed from my fabric stash to please be included!  Sometimes these things happen...

Should I use the blue on the top band too?  How about using the same fabric on the right side as the lining?

Add a Vintage Button?  Seems too plain without the ribbon on the pocket trim...
Well, this is the bottom line about designing - there's no absolute perfect answer.  You just pull it together as best you can ~ until you love it!  Well, it needs to be functional too!

Monday is Part 2 of This Tutorial!  You have the weekend to gather your fabrics together.  Don't cut yet - exact measurements will be given Monday - unless you want to make the original "to Market to Market" tote following the pattern directions exactly.  I'll walk you step by step through the construction of the bag on Monday!

Want to Win a Finished "to Market, to Market" Totebag or a Kit?
Being the generous and warm hearted woman I am (ask anyone...) I want to give one of you the totebag I make in the tutorial, and another lucky duck will get a kit featuring the exact same fabrics.  I'm so nice I'm even including the fusible fleece, trims, buttons, why the entire shebang.  How oh, how to win?
There is a catch!  You have to tell me (e-mail me, include it in your comment, send a telepathic message - nope that one doesn't work) how many of these things you are doing because you can have up THREE chances to win one of these awesome prizes!  Each thing you do earns you one chance in the drawing!  The big bonus is that they're super easy things to do!
  1. Leave me a comment on THIS post.  I'd really like to know what styles of fabric you purchase and like the best.
  2. Post about the giveaway on your Facebook page with a link back to Summer Kitchen Quilts.  If you don't Facebook, it's a great way to keep in touch with friend and family, or become completely obsessed by it (don't do that, ok?)
  3. If you have a blog, write a short blurb about this fabulous giveaway with a link back to, yes, this will probably be a huge surprise, Summer Kitchen Quilts. 
I love to share the blessings!  If you don't know about the Sue Spargo Pincushion and Needle Keep Giveaway, scroll down.  I'm giving away three kits.  You can still enter to win until midnight on Monday!



  1. I have a huge fondness for all fabrics, from "calicos," homespun, linen, even cotton velvet to poke-a-dots. I really like the fabrics Sue Spargo chooses--they make me smile! Love the fabrics you are choosing for the tote!(No Facebook yet, or Blog sad to say.) Thanks for the opportunity to win!

  2. Hi--I love all fabrics--I will make the bag out of a combination of Kaffe Fasset fabrics that I love...I do not blog or facebook yet....thanks for the great pattern...

  3. Holy Cannoli Moli! You are so talented! And to think I thought you were "just another quilter"....NOT! The talent on these blogs never ceases to amaze me! Thank you for the free pattern and it's always a pleasure to read your posts!

  4. I love french general fabrics at the moment...thanks for the tutorial...looks like a great tote!