Tuesday, January 10, 2017

It's how I roll

So this is how I deal with grief and loss.

I spent much of the last two weeks hiding in my studio making totes to take to the grocery store.

Each car will now have two totes and a cooler bag.

It's not the first time in my life that I have turned to fabrics for solace.

There is a coop grocery store in my little town where the cool thing to do is to take your own grocery bags.  I wanted grocery totes that would stand up and stay open while loading in the goodies.  Not the floppy kind.  And I wanted pockets (shown here and there, inside and out).  And a ring to clip my bunch of keys to (sewed to a loop inside a pocket on most of the bags and not shown).

The secret ingredient is a giant roll of some kind of spun polyester that looks a lot like landscaping fabric but is heavier and more rigid.  I bought the roll for a few bucks from a local charity shop.  It made the ideal interfacing for this project.  Can't be ironed though.  AMHIK.

So all of this started with a simpler desire for some totes that worked the way I wanted.  Also in the mix was a longstanding yearning to do something interesting with the leftover
African fabrics from Andre's quilt.

I also freely mixed in other fabrics, African or otherwise.  The bag above has two African fabrics on the outside and an American Kwanzaa fabric on the inside.

The fabric above was from a floor length wrap skirt, hand painted in Bermuda, or so the label said.  It found me in the usual way, via a thrift shop.  It was fun planning the placement of the motifs on the tote.

The tallest bags in the back of the photos above and below are the cooler bags.  I didn't have any African fabric in pieces large enough for those.  But I had a splendid Kaafe large scale print (below) and a nice print that went with all the orange (above).

This is what makes it a cooler bag:  Outer fabric bonded to Insul Bright using Stitch Witchery (because I have a whole bolt of it from the thrift store).  Lining fabric bonded to another piece of Insul Bright.  No spun poly needed in order for it to stand up on its own.

This worked fairly well but bonding it did produce wrinkles.  Which brings us to one of the most important aspects of this project.  THEY ARE JUST GROCERY TOTES.  A few wrinkles, which I absolutely could NOT live with if this were a purse, just do not matter for a grocery tote.

This was absolutely the perfect project for a bad time.  Luscious fabrics.  Experimenting with new materials and techniques.  A serious lowering of standards from "the best I can do" to "anything goes."

Even though I lowered my standards I still finished the insides of the bags.  For some of them I treated outer, interfacing, and lining fabric as one.  In that case I used bias binding to cover the raw edges (above).

For a couple of the bags I made separate linings so that I could skip the seam-finishing thing.  A piece of cardboard in its own little pillowcase sits at the bottom of the bag and holds the lining in place (above).  Works fine, but I like the treat-all-the-layers-as-one results better.

The cooler bags close with velcro.  Inside each one will be another, metallic cooler bag (shown below).  These have a surface that can easily be wiped clean.  The metallic bags originally came with Hello Fresh boxes (a meal delivery service).

All of the bags have polypropylene webbing straps that go ALL the way under and back up again.  This is the secret for totes that will tote ANYTHING.   The 1" width is rated for 600 pounds.

Another great thing about this project was indulging my passion for fringe and rick rack.  Tassel fringe is the icing on the cake.  I find leftovers of great stuff like this at the thrift shops.  I find almost everything in the thrift shops, including giant rolls of polypropylene and cotton webbing. And black bias binding, enough for several lifetimes.  But I did have to buy a new roll of black webbing for this project.

Almost anything is improved by rick rack, and the bigger the better.  I had to switch to 1.5" webbing to accomodate this red rick rack.

If you look very closely at the red rick rack below, you will see that I made good use of the 9 mm wide zigzag on my new-to-me 22 year old Pfaff electronic wonder. I hate it when the edges of rick rack curl up.

Yes, this took forever.  There are 125" of rick rack sewn to 125" of webbing.  But I LIKE sewing and I enjoy the process.  Otherwise I wouldn't do it.  Doh.  This is a hobby, it is supposed to be fun.

And layering tiny black rick rack on top of the medium orange rick rack (shown below) took a while too but I like the way it goes with the design on this fabric.

The last three days of this project I was snow-bound and really threw myself into it.  By this time the blues were lifting and I was just enjoying it.  And Mother Nature provided the perfect backdrop for the photo shoot.

So, all that therapy, all that fun and at the end I have what is


the most fabulous collection of grocery totes imaginable.

So, not bad as a coping strategy, right?  How do YOU roll?


R.I.P.  Helen Frostick Warren, 09/06/1925 to 12/12/2016.  World's best mother-in-law.

On her 90th birthday she checked off "ride a motorcycle" from her bucket list.


  1. Your bags are gorgeous and fun rolled into one, plus they stand up. Your shopping day will attract many lookers!! Sewing/quilting are a wonderful theraputic way to deal with sorrow. Good for you to take this road. You have given me something to think about even though I decided a couple days ago my 301 machine that I have no case for was going to get me into making one. I take it to my yearly retreat and it deserves a "nice and attractive" one.

  2. I am so sorry for your loss! I love your bags, I need to make some bags, I get so tired of all the plastic bags I have to throw away. My problem is that I never remember to put them back in the car after I bring them in.

    1. Hang them on the front door knob after you unload groceries. That way they always make it back out to the car!

  3. These bags are marvelous. And since Helen was into cycles, I am sure she would have loved these. Hope she is having the ride of her life now.

  4. Great bags, but, I hope you don't put 600lbs in them;) Sorry for your loss. Always difficult.

  5. It would be almost impossible to be sad looking at the outcome.
    You may find plastic canvas a better substitute for the cardboard bottom; and I'm sure it makes an appearance at the Thrift Store.

  6. I'm new to all this but your bags look fantastic. You would be a successful bag manufacturer (except that doing so might take the fun out of it). You've inspired me to make some totes for groceries.

    I just lost my mom so I understand. I really miss her. I intend to grieve hard, then move on. Take care.

  7. My sincere condolences on the loss of your beloved mother in law. How fortunate we are to get family when we marry. I love it.
    Grief is hard and exhausting. I have always found that if I keep busy
    and focused on something beautiful, I can get through.
    I lost my mama last October. Still sad. She was 93 and I spent the last three years enjoying them together as I kidnapped them and brought them to me hahahaha. Now I am taking good care of my dad


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