Thursday, Feb 13, 2020
Yesterday I spent about 2 hours writing up some things I hoped could/would be edited down to a blog piece about the bag making. The bag making is upcycling disposable plastics. I make totes and wine bags using this waste. I’ve sold a few with the proceeds going to either Friends of the Library or BECA (a scholarship fund here in Baja). It’s not much, $10 here and $50 there that’s been donated to these causes, but every little bit helps.
Every little bit is not just in dollars or the good those dollars may do. It’s also in the disposable plastics NOT going into landfills. These days a huge percentage of what we buy for day to day use is packaged in eco-UNfriendly plastics, plastics that fail to give back to the earth in positive ways.
The idea is not my own. PBS television is the source. Two women sorting through plastic packaging, cutting tops and bottoms off various bags, slicing them open, wiping down what had been the interior sides–the residual shimmers of sugar, crusty remains from dried cherries, oily granules from dog kibble bags, barky remains of potting soil–then cutting them into strips for “log cabin” quilting. I’ve made many log cabin quilts; my interest in the program went up several notches.
Interest soared when I realized they would be “foundation” quilting the plastics. Foundation quilting is a process wherein a piece or strip of fabric is placed right side up on a much larger piece of fabric (size depends upon project at hand); then a second strip of fabric is placed over the first, right sides together, and stitched in place. The second strip is then opened out, pressed down, and a third strip is aligned over the last one, right sides facing, and stitched into place, pressed open, etc. and so on. (An internet search should include photos of this process.)
My foundation quilting experience is limited to the years when I made shabby chic lampshades. Circa 2002, I cruised thrift shops and garage sales, buying lamps in terrible shape with missing or stained and irreparably damaged shades; I bought a book on How To Make Lampshades; I cut a single piece of strong (usually Egyptian cotton) fabric as the “foundation” piece in the shape needed for the shade infrastructure and began sewing down each strip of old lace or vintage embroidery work to the foundation, pressing the additions’ seams each time.
The wondrous thing about the upcycling of plastics via foundation quilting is that no opening out and ironing is required! Each strip or rectangle of plastic is top-stitched down directly overlaying (by a quarter to half inch) the previous section. Watching the PBS program, I knew I had to try my hand at making a tote bag in the manner they demonstrated.
Two foundation pieces were cut from old cotton sheets, about 20″ x 24″ in size. An image was found amid the gathered plastics (flower, cat, dog, fish, something of interest and perhaps 2″ x 3-4″ large) and placed near the center of one foundation piece. Because they were building the log cabin pattern, a short strip of contrasting color was sewn down the right side of the center piece, trimmed to the same height as the center piece, upper and lower threads snipped, and the foundation 1/4 turned. Then the next strip was added along the bottom edge, covering the end of first added strip and the center piece. Threads were cut; the foundation turned; the third strip overlaid the bottom strip and the left side of the center piece. And the process continued, building out the “logs” of the cabin until all of the foundation had been patterned with plastics. (Again, YouTube and the internet will have tutorials on log cabin quilting should you want to give this a go.)
After both foundation pieces had been sewn over with plastics, they were squared up. Some squaring up is needed (I’ve found) because sewing the strips of plastic tends to shrink the foundation pieces in not always the same way. Once squared/evened up, the pieces are placed as a pattern over material to be cut for lining. Two pieces of lining are cut to size of foundation quilted pieces.
I can’t recall if the PBS seamstresses sewed pockets into their tote bags but I do. The time to add a pocket is before the lining pieces are sewn together. My first choice for pockets is the one cut from old jeans; other times I make one up from the lining fabric or contrasting fabric–all materials upcycled from where they once lived.
Three sides of the foundation quilted pieces are sewn together; then three sides of the lining are sewn together. Box pleats are sewn on the bottom corners of each unit; excesses trimmed to a half inch. The foundation unit is turned inside out; the lining unit is not. Instead, the lining unit is dropped inside the foundation-quilted unit; upper edges are brought agreement; binding is cut to length and width desired, attached to upper edges and one side is sewn in place. This process is like sewing on waistbands, one side at a time. The straps or handles are cut to whatever the desired length may be–over the shoulder length, or hand held–then sewn. These need to be of sturdy material. When I use lighter weight materials, I double or even quadruple the layers. Attach the straps. Again, double and triple stitch the straps in place. Maybe sew a decorative button or two near the strap ends; maybe throw some rustic embroidery cross stitches along the visible edge of the binding.
Today I’ve spent a thousand words describing bags made from trash. I haven’t done a very good job with my words. That’s a bummer. On the up side: my reading audience, while small, is treasured. No Harm No Foul. What I’ve managed to clumsily share may find someone out there who sews, has knowledge of box pleats, foundation and log cabin quilting, has a hate on (like I do) of disposable plastics and the damage done to the environment–such a person might upcycle some plastics. Right?
P.S. When I figure out how to include an image, I will.