A Crafty Take on Our Beach Vacation

We’re back after a glorious week on the island of Grand Cayman. You can see a photo gallery of all the vacation highlights, including a trip to the beautiful Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park and a few iguana pictures, here. But on the blog, I wanted to share a craftier take on our trip.

First, above is the long-promised picture of me in the skirt and bag I made for the trip. The bag handles held up very well (you can read about the changes I made to the pattern to make them sturdier here), but the fabric-covered button broke in the first few days. The shank of the button fell off the button back. Luckily my husband and craft hero stepped in and improvised a fix with some picture hanging wire and a pair of pliers. He’s a good guy to have around.

For beach fun, I brought my coloring book and colored pencils, and it turns out the colored pencils I am using for coloring love the warmth of the Caribbean! The wax in the pencils must have melted just enough to give a lot of color with very little effort. So I can highly recommend coloring on the beach.

Crocheting was my other primary beach activity, and I finished several more granny squares. I decided to alternate the outside color on the squares, so that I can get a nice pattern once I put them all together. It turns out, though, that making granny squares on the plane doesn’t work as well as I’d hope because you really need scissors to cut off the yarn after each color change. But I’d packed scissors in my checked bag, so once I got to Grand Cayman,  I could really crank them out.

On the sewing end of things, my mother-in-law, Susan, was kind enough to help me track down a few sewing stores on the island. The two that we found were both geared to the local garment sewers, so there wasn’t much in the way of quilting cottons. But I did find some iron-on transfer embroidery patterns at one of the shops. I’m sure these are available in the U.S., too, but I picked up a few here as quirky reminders of our stay.

Finally, I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by the lack of craftiness amongst the people we interacted with the most. No one else was crafting on the beach or expressed any interest in handmade (except, of course, for my always supportive husband and mother-in-law). I’m guessing that it had a lot to do with our location (an attempt to find an apron in the condo complex was unsuccessful, too). But that just makes me all the more grateful for my crafty family, friends, co-workers and blog readers. Your support and encouragement mean more than you know. So let’s all keep supporting our crafty comrades—wherever we go!

Summer Purse, Part 2

As I mentioned in my last post, a summer bag was the third and final craft project I wanted to complete before our upcoming vacation. And here it is!

The bag pattern is from The Bag Making Bible by Lisa Lam. I chose The Reversible Bucket Tote and added some interior pockets using tutorials from the book.

The loop for the closure is cut on the bias and sewn on before I put the binding on the bag. The button is from a kit by Dritz that I covered with the red accent fabric (from Moda). These buttons couldn’t be easier to make. The pieces truly just pop together once you have your fabric in place.

After I completed the bag, I got to worrying about the handles. The bag body is really a fairly good size. And when I have a lot of room in a bag, I tend to fill it. Because the handles, as made following the pattern, are just bias binding, I feared they wouldn’t be up to the task. So I ended up unsewing the seam in both handles and inserting two pieces of 1-inch wide fusible interfacing into each.

I was trying to avoid unsewing the entire handle, so I shoved the interfacing as far as I could into the part of the strap that was sewn to the bag. If you’re thinking about making this bag, consider interfacing at least the handle parts of the two 34 x 4-inch strips. If you put the interfacing on the entire length of the strips, you’ll lose the bias stretch that allows the strips to hug nicely to the curve of the bag edge. Personally, if I were to make the bag again, I’d probably interface the full length of the handle strips, sacrificing the stretch for strength.

Finally, I am going to Scotchgard the exterior fabric with Fabric and Upholstery Protector, because it is so light in color. I haven’t used that product on any of my projects before. Fingers crossed. And I’ll let you know how the whole bag holds up next week!

In case you’re interested, the exterior fabric is a Heather Bailey for FreeSpirit; the red is Moda; the teal interior is Cosmo Cricket; the green has been lost to time (but let me know if you know).

Summer Purse, Part 1

I had three craft goals I wanted to accomplish before our vacation next week. 1. Sew a skirt: check. 2. Learn to crochet granny squares: check. 3. Sew a summer purse.

For the purse I chose a basic pattern from The Bag Making Bible by Lisa Lam. I’ve used this book before to make zippered pouches, and I like that while there are 8 bag patterns, there are also a ton of techniques for adding the elements that will make bags useful to you.

So, while the bag I selected (The Reversible Bucket Bag from Chapter 2) didn’t have any interior pockets (because it was meant to be reversible), I chose to add some based on instructions from elsewhere in the book.

The easiest pocket to add was the Lined Slip Pocket. It’s simply two pieces of fabric sewn right sides together, turned right sides out, and stitched onto the lining fabric of the purse.

I created an extra long pocket and divided it into sections for a pen, a phone and keys. (The time to add pockets is before the purse is assembled, so the pieces in these photos are just my lining pieces.)

The super exciting pocket to make was the Flush Zip Pocket. It’s a pocket, just like you see in store-bought bags, that securely holds smaller items in a pocket behind the bag lining.

This particular pocket was one that I saw Lisa demonstrate while we were filming her Bag Closure Techniques video, and I have to admit that seeing someone make this pocket helped immensely. The instruction in the book is thorough, but for a visual learner like me, seeing it helped the written instruction to click.

The trickiest part of making this pocket was holding the zipper in place to be sewn. The instructions call for double-sided basting tape, which I didn’t have. Pins completely distorted the zipper. So I used plain old Scotch tape to hold the very edges of the zipper in place. I was prepared to muck up my needle by sewing through the tape, but the tape was far enough out that I didn’t even hit it.

Next up: Sewing it all together. More next week!

Crocheting a Granny Square

Several years ago, when the publishing company I was working for started creating knit and crochet project books, I asked my mom to teach me to crochet. At the time we had several talented knitters on the team, but crochet skills were a bit lagging. So while I was home for vacation, she taught me three stitches: chain, single crochet and double crochet.

As those versed in the world of crochet know, those three stitches are just the tip of the iceberg. And yet, even without being able to read patterns, those three stitches got me pretty far.

Here’s a baby blanket I made for a little girl named Stella.

And here’s a purse I made in which the inside and the strap are lined with fabric.

But in preparation for this beach vacation, I wanted to up my crochet skills. I wanted to learn to make granny squares.

Why? First, I love having a crochet project when I’m traveling. It’s so easy to crochet in the airport, on the plane and even on the beach if you don’t mind a little sand in your bag. Too, I see so many great crochet patterns, and I simply don’t know how to work them. So I thought a granny square would be a great place to start reading patterns. Finally, granny squares are cool.

I went online for a tutorial, and after a couple of missteps, I came upon this granny square tutorial that clicked with me. It was written a few years ago for the Purl Bee blog, and the pictures and instruction just make sense (to me anyway).

But that doesn’t mean all went smoothly. For my first attempt, I thought I’d use just one color yarn for both of the first two rounds. Wouldn’t that be easier than trying to switch colors right in the middle of learning this new pattern?

No. No, I don’t think it was easier. In fact, it kind of made it harder to see what I was doing in the second round. So I switched to two colors.

OK. I was improving. This one at least had a granny square look to it. The stitches are a bit neater. But there’s something going on where I joined the two colors of yarn (on the left).

Attempt number three (at least of those that were worth keeping) shows my progression to a third round.

Alrighty. The transition from gray to green is still a bit wonky. But I completely tied off the green before starting the blue, so that transition is much smoother. Stitches are still OK. Only OK. But OK.

After taking a break over the weekend, I picked up my yarn and hook again on Monday, and plowed right through to the final round.

Transitions are pretty smooth. The stitches are not bad. The overall shape is really not perfectly square. But I think it’s a keeper! I’ll make a few more before the trip, just to stay in practice, and then I’ll figure out what to do with those I finish when I return. So more granny square goodness to come!

If you’re interested, for the granny square samples, I used Lion Brand Cotton Ease yarn and a Susan Bates bamboo handle crochet hook (size H).