Saturday, 14 December 2013

How did you MAKE that?

So many blogs I read are on arts and crafts and I enjoy looking at all the lovely things being made - so I thought it's probably time to show my work. It will have to be something a little bit novel as my crafting skills are just average. This latest project surprised me when it came out as well as it did.

I make laundry bags for Aussie Hero Quilts and Laundry Bags, to send to Aussie personnel deployed overseas.  I enjoy it because I know the bags will help people keep track of their laundry and that saves time often spent trying to find a clean uniform.  Also I can also be as creative as I like.  More information is available on the AHQ blog -

Laundry bags - cotton drill, and printed duck with kangaroos

Probably most of the AHQers make quilts - I've not done a large project like that for years, and quilts are mostly repetitive - that's not a put down, I love quilts, I love traditional patterns and modern styles. I love the fact that so much work goes into them. I especially love scrap quilts and crazy quilting, but - for me, once the design is decided the most interesting part is over.  Until it's completed, that is - holding up a quilt you have made yourself, or that has been made for you, is a very special feeling.
We had a dinner in Brisbane for the Qld AHQers and along with speeches, door prizes and a pretty good raffle, there was a laundry bag competition.  The theme was open, but the Aussie flavour seemed to be the most popular. I wanted to enter just to be in it and thought maybe I could have fun and be really creative.

I had a picture in my head of a photo bombing giraffe I'd seen on line and a painting by my little grandniece, Izzy. I thought of making a wall hanging or cushion from that image - but with an Aussie animal. Earlier in the year I'd used left over strips of fabric for the desert landscape above, with Ayres Rock and a kangaroo -  I could do that again.

Giraffe by Izzy
My plan was to draw onto calico with fabric pens, fuse that to the bag and see if I could draw more into it with the sewing machine - not embroidering, I'll leave that to the very clever ladies with wonderful computer embroidery machines -  just drawing with sewing thread using the common straight and zigzag stitches.

Now to the design.  Australia = big blue sky, bright sunshine, orange earth, lots of green, and blue ocean. Recently I'd made a block for a group quilt with these colours - it was included in the quilt they raffled at the dinner.

Aussie theme patchwork block
Choosing animals. I like kangaroos but they are not easy to draw - they can turn into huge mice or rabbits if you aren't careful. I wanted something orange to contrast with the blue I'd chosen as a background so I tried a kangaroo.

Years ago I made papier mache animals as stage props. They were the size of small children and were carried across the stage by the small children.  One was an emu. He'd be perfect.

Drawing animals is not easy for me and I always need to research. Once upon a time I'd be searching through books and magazines, then photocopying the pictures, but now we can google anything. I cfound animals in the positions I wanted, copied them. turned them black and white, erased the details and outlined the shape - just love PhotoShop.   I worked out the size I wanted then cut the pictures up in the program, as my printer only takes A4.  When printed I stuck the bits together, cut out the shape and used it as a guide to get the outline and proportions, drawing around it with a 3B pencil. The choice of picture is important because any foreshortening does not translate to a flat image.

Once the outline was on the fabric I filldc in the details with ink, looking back at the original photo on the computer screen. The pose or expression can be changed at this stage.  Colour and shading was done with fabric ink pens I bought on line.  When I felt it was ready I cut out the calico animal. The kangaroo looked uncomfortable - but they look that way in photos too. I had high hopes for the emu.

The background had to be sky blue but I didn't have the right colour. I like to use a medium weight cotton drill or printed duck for the laundry bags because it's sturdy and nice to sew and comes in lots of colours.  But my usual ebay sellers couldn't help me with sky blue drill or similar so I was forced to actually go to a shop. I'm not an expert on fabric but love to handle it and finally found some cotton chino in the right colour. I'd never seen Chino before.  It was a bit lighter in weight than the fabric I usually use, and felt a lot softer, but looked almost the same.... hmmm.

The blue alone lacked richness so adding a strip of bright yellow desert, in cotton drill, to the bottom made a big difference. Using a fabric fix I ironed/glued the animals to the chino.  Ugh. Chino is not the same as drill.  It stretched out of shape and twisted. Also it was very humid that day and the fixative came away from the backing and didn't iron on properly. That turned out to be a good thing as I was able to pull the calico off and stretch the chino in the other direction - almost flat.  But, it meant the glue didn't take hold at the edge ... so all the edges would have to be covered by stitching. These little accidents along the way have a part in defining the finished piece, and I love that. Art often wanders in a different direction to the pattern.

Heat fusing the sketches on calico to the backing and stitching on Kangaroo

Stitching, stitching, stitching. I changed top thread colours but kept a neutral in the bobbin. The back of the piece was almost as interesting as the front. Some areas were straight stitched first, outlining the eyes and some long feathers, but most were zig zagged in different widths, making sure feathers or fur stitches covered all the raw edges.  I worked on the stitching for 4 or 5 days - in spurts. I loved it.  Maybe it wasn't exactly like drawing with thread, a little more like painting at times, I was learning what my machine would do in the way of free stitching and it was exciting to see the animals develop under the sewing machine.  I love the eyes on both of them and Emu's little grin is his own. Kangaroo looked a bit nervous so I added a stalking emu and then Emu needed a kangaroo to chase him.

Ironing the back of the fabric to smooth out puckering  - stitching feathers onto Emu

There are no instructions to give because the stitching is like drawing, you go with what feels right at the time. I did spend time unpicking tiny stitches when the Chino stretched our of shape, several times. And no, I didn't win the competition - I didn't really expect to. I find the sort of things I make never get the popularity vote, I think my designs have to grow on people - and, the judges were male soldiers. They are not into fabric art, they want something to give them a laugh, to tell jokes about and that's what they chose.  Congratulations to the winners, who understood the nature of their recipients.

At this stage the bag was one flat piece. I decided on where to fold it, ironed, stitched the side seam (three rows of stitching), ironed, added the channel for a drawstring, lined the bag with flannel shirt type checks and ironed again. While sewing the bottom seam I realised the bottom of the Emu and Kangaroo would meet in an ugly, thick lump. All I could do was sew in another folded strip of fabric to at least make colour break. The final job was to thread the drawstring through. I use cotton sash cord because it feels so nice.

OOppppsssss I had cut out a yellow sun which was to be over-stitched in white, but I  forgot to attach it before sewing on the drawstring channel. By that time I'd done so much sewing and unpicking ... I just couldn't do anymore. The sun was left off.

One flat piece - side seam stitched and ooopps, the sun wasn't included - bottom seam done with inset strip
- Kangaroo on a full laundry bag.

I posted the bag away and found I missed Emu's face for days, almost like losing a pet. When I saw it in the display a week later he seemed to have settled down and was sitting fairly flat.  I wonder who will open a parcel one day, pleased to get a new laundry bag, and find my Emu looking back at them. I'd love to see that.

The finished bag - Kangaroo's side with the lining hanging out, Emu in all his glory
and demonstrating how he'll look on a full laundry bag. He might be a little bit scary.


  1. Dear Janine, Enjoyed your blog enormously - you really are a natural writer.......... Liz

    1. Thanks Liz, I'm glad you had time to read it.


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