Saturday, May 20, 2017

Sewing Machine Slings Tutorial

My neighbors' orchard.  Several weeks ago when I began writing this post!

Greetings from the North Carolina Piedmont where spring is in full bloom.  Achoo!

So here's the universal problem:  Vintage and antique sewing machines are made of cast iron and weigh somewhere between 30+ and 45+ pounds.  If they are in a lovely wooden case, this case is now 50 to 100 years old.  The wood has dried out.  The glue has dried out.  You absolutely CANNOT trust the wood, glue, latches, and handle to hold on while you sling that 40 pound puppy in and out of your house and car.

Money plant

I ALWAYS explain this to my customers.  You just ignore the handle and hold the case underneath the bottom.  One of my customers then passed this information along to her husband who was unloading the car.  He ignored her.  The handle broke away and the machine and case crashed to the driveway.  The machine survived, fortunately, but that case was totaled.  The customer was, shall we say, "displeased" with the husband.  She expressed her views to me quite freely.

At one of the NC TOGAs (vintage sewing machine summer camp) I took a log tote to carry the sewing machines in and out of the church.  It worked very well.  It was ugly, old, stained, had holes in it and some burns.  Ugly.  A sewing person can do better than this.  And I have been planning to do so ever since then.

Patch of money plant

I had SUCH a good time making my grocery totes and I wasn't ready for the fun to end.  Plus I had already dragged out all of the tote-making supplies and there they were lying around the studio just asking for another project.

And really, the totes and slings are first cousins, if not siblings.  As you will see as we go along.

So, because the title promises a tutorial, I am going to begin with the last sling I made, the easiest one of all.  Then we can add the bells and whistles and glam them up some more.

One caveat before we get started though.  THIS IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE.  The dimensions are just rough approximations, just ideas to get you started.

Sling Tutorial


Enough sturdy fabric to create a double-sided piece 24" x 36"  

A lighter weight fabric for the dowel tubes.  You will need two pieces each 3" x 25".

3 yards of webbing (straps), or a bit more than that if you place your straps spaced widely (discussed below).

Thread.  D'oh.

Trims of your choice, optional.

7/16" wooden dowel.  Get one 4 feet long and cut it in half.

A finished size of 24" x 36" or thereabouts works well.  It needs to be finished on both sides and all four edges.  It needs to be fairly sturdy (quilting cottons need not apply, although quilted fabrics are OK).  Denim, canvas, or upholstery fabrics are all good choices.  A double layer of same is even better.

The absolutely easiest way to do this is to check your linen closet (or the local thrift stores) for an unwanted but attractive king sized pillow sham.  I found a nice one at the thrift store for $2.  Double layers, check.  All four sides finished, check.  Attractive details (velvet and trim), check.

First:  Add dowel tubes to the top and bottom (shorter side) edges.
(The photos below are from a different tote)

Cut two strips of fabric 3"  25"  Fold over the short ends of the strip by 1/2" and stitch down.
First strip:  Fold in half long ways.  Line up the raw edge with the top of the sling.  Stitch a 1/4" seam.

Fold up (so that the tube covers the seam allowance) and press.  HOWEVER, some upholstery fabric melts if the iron is too hot, so start low and use a press cloth. Or just finger press really well. Naturally I found this out the hard way.

And this is the REAL value of this blog:  it is NOT that I am any kind of expert.  It is that I am FEARLESS and not afraid to ruin things during experimentation.  So my value often lies in showing or telling you what NOT to do.  Because I found out the hard way!

Above is a picture of what I am about to tell you, but it is hard to see.

Fold the tube in half and down so that it just covers the stitch line (the stitching that connected this tube to the edge of the sling).  Stitch again close to the edge.  This forms your dowel tube.  You will insert the dowel at the end of the project.

The webbing can be cotton or polypropylene.The beige you see in the photos is cotton.  The black in photos is poly.  The straps can either go on the inside or the outside of the sling, depending on whether you want them to be a design element on the outside or hidden on the inside.  Actually,  the slings could easily be reversible, but with each one of mine I had an opinion about which side was the outside.

With the pillow sham the outside was obviously going to be the top of the sham, with the pillow insertion opening on the inside.  I didn't sew the opening closed, but I did pin the layers so they would not shift while I sewed on the straps.

And yet another tote is in the following photos.

Figure out how far apart you want your straps to be.  I found 8" apart to work well, but on one of my slings a wider spacing worked out better with the design/pattern on the fabric I was using.  Again, NOT ROCKET SCIENCE.  This is a very forgiving project.

I'll explain the pocket later

Once I knew where I wanted the straps, I used long strips of painters tape to mark their position.

It's a good idea to use a few pins to hold the two layers of your sling together.  But DON'T waste your time trying to pin the straps on.  The fabric is thick, the straps are thicker, and pinning will NOT keep them in the correct position.  They need to move as you sew them together.  AMHIK.

Fold the sling in half just to figure out where the center bottom is.  You start applying the strap there.

This one ended up as a tote bag.  Yes, that's AUTHENTIC 1960s fabric there.

I buy webbing 50 or 100 yards at a time because I LOVE making bags. That's the roll of webbing shown in some of the photo.  But you don't have to buy that much.

Stitch down one edge until you get to the top (or bottom, they are the same) edge but do NOT sew though the dowel tubes.  Hard to get the dowels through the tubes if you do that!

You need to leave a long enough loop to make a comfortable handle.  When my straps were 8" apart, then a 15" handle worked well.  When I spaced my straps farther apart I needed to leave a longer loop.

Once you have your loop length figured out, start sewing your strap down on the other side.

Sew all the way down that side, then leave the same length loop. The photo shows how the strap covers the raw edge of a pocket (discussed in the embellishments section).

Then sew down the other side, which (because there are only two sides) is also the side you started on.  Overlap the strap 1" over the point where you began.  I sew a box over the join just to be on the safe side. (Box stitch shown on strap below)

If you are using polypropylene, you can use a lighter to flame and melt the end of the strap to prevent raveling.  With cotton I zigzag the raw edge.  Because I don't cut the webbing until I get to the end, this means that I have to stop before I get to that end, zz the edge, and then go back to sewing it on.

So by now you have sewn one edge of both sides of the continuous strap.
The fact that the strap is created as one continuous loop is what gives the sling its great strength.

Now go back and sew the other edge also.

If you are not adding trims to the top and bottom of the sling you should probably box the top and bottom edges of the straps too.  If you do add trim there will be extra stitches to secure the straps.

Last step is to slide the dowels into the dowel tubes.

I painted a couple of inches of each dowel to match the dowel tube.  Just a tiny detail but often it is the attention to tiny details that contribute to the overall FABULOSITY  of a project.  Yes, that really is a word.  Or should be.   Definitely applies to this project.

And hey presto, you have a sewing machine sling!

This is the one I made from a $2 thrift store pillow sham, 1/6 yard of quilting cotton and 3 yards of cotton webbing.

But I made more, lots more.

I love thrift stores and go all the time.  I hoard certain categories of things and then when they reach critical mass they explode in a giant cloud of creativity.  This is what happened when I made my Lush Life luggage, which used up a couple of decades of hoarded metallic trims.

In this case I made a small dent in my hoard of upholstery fabrics and a much larger dent in my trims.

Cut 24' x 36" pieces of fabric  and then put two of them together right sides out, pinned them to hold things in place.

Then I used bias tape to bind the edges.  One of my all time great thrift store finds was this giant roll of black bias tape, .  I imagine it will last me for decades.  It's a bit on the thin side but worked out just fine for the totes and slings.

Once you have the edges bound, follow the directions above to add the straps.


While you are attaching the straps:
You have the option of inserting trim along one or both sides of the strap.

This is also the time to add pockets as desired.  And there is always one step in a project (if not more) that I fail to take enough pictures of.  On this one its the pocket making procedure.

Figure out the size you want your pocket, wide enough so that the pockets sides will be covered by the straps.

Make a double sided piece, finished on ONE side only (the top of the pocket).  I love adding piping between the layers because it gives nice definition to that edge.

Or, as shown below, use the fringe-y selvedge for an attractive edge.

Figure out the placement of your pocket. Lay it on the sling where you want it.  Fold it down and then sew the bottom edge.  Then fold the pocket  up into its position. As you add the straps, this will anchor down the sides of the pocket,

You can also add a pocket to the non-strap side of the sling. Of course you have to finish the sides of the pocket on this side.   Just be careful to position it so that the strap stitching does not interfere with the pocket!

Another detail you can add is Velcro.  Nice to keep things in place as you sling the sling around!

I was using up a scrap of Velcro.  Normally I would have had the Velcro go all the way across.  But this is enough to keep things secured.

And again more pictures would help, but here goes.  In the photo above you see the INSIDE of the pocket in position to be sewed down.  Sew along the edge opposite the Velcro.

Not shown:  now fold the pocket up into place to determine where the other side of the Velcro goes.  I place a piece of painters tape along the top edge of the Velcro to mark that positon.

Sew the top piece of Velcro to the bag.  Fold the pocket up and press the Velcro in place to secure it.  Then add the straps.

Add bling to your heart's content.  Just sew the trims on to the top and bottom.

on the one below, the pretty fabric was not wide enough, so I pieced it and added trim to hide the seam.

on the one below I added trim to the entire length of the webbing strap.  Yes, this did take quite a while.  But I LIKE sewing, so that is never a problem.  I'm retired.  Time has no longer has any meaning.

So I made a bunch.  Just because it was so much fun.  I literally could not stop myself.  The best kind of project.

Five of them.  Yes, five.  And one other which was so different in "look" that I ended up turning it into a big tote bag instead.  The tapestry and fringe-y bling look goes better with my vintage and antique machines, IMHO.

What am I going to do with them, you ask?  Why would anybody need FIVE sewing machine slings, you ask?

Well, I am NOT going to sell them.  Each one took around 4 hours to complete.  At my old labor rate of $25/hour, that's $100 just for labor.  At my new labor rate of $40/hour that's $160.

And when I sell things I charge the REPLACEMENT cost for materials. Yes, I paid $2 for that giant roll of bias tape.  But when it is gone (in 2030?  2045?)  I won't be able to replace it for that.

Do I really get $25 or $40/hour for labor?  Yes, but admittedly very infrequently.  Whenever I quote my rates, I follow with the statement "But I really prefer to barter.  One hour of your time for one hour of mine."  There is a COMPLETELY different vibe with barter.

Here's my experience.  When people pay you (for sewing lessons for instance) they think they OWN you.  It's all subtext of course, and not overt, but that's how it is.  You are their servant.  When you barter, you are SHARING.

The reasonable rate serves other functions.  It is a statement of the value and worth of my services. You want to hire me to repair your grandmother's quilt?  I did one needing the same amount of work and it took me 100 hours.  Still interested?

It is a way to discourage silly requests.  No, I won't do your mending!

I either work for love or money.  Actually I WILL do mending (and for free!), but for 3 people only:  my two daughters and my late husband's BFF.  They each ask me about once every five years.  I can handle that.

And I don't charge my quilt guild sisters for sewing machine cleaning and maintenance.  But only if they let me teach them how to maintain their machine.  Because then we are sitting together and having fun.  And I have empowered them.

Becky's dog Jose approved of all the slings!

I never post as often as I mean to, then sometimes you get these epic sagas.  If you read this far (or even only looked at the pictures), then thanks!  If you use this to make your own sling, please let me know.  Better yet, send pictures!

So what AM I going to do with all of these slings?  Not selling them, and not particularly inspired to give them as gifts.  Thinking more along the lines of using them as props and teaching sling-making workshops.  Any interest for the 2018 NC TOGA?


  1. I love your trims. I have a collection of luggage straps, that I put around sewing machine cases. It reminds hubby to pick up the machines by the bottom. I get them cheap at thrift stores.

  2. What a great idea! It will make it so much easier to pick the machines up off the tables too.

  3. I also buy upholstery fabrics for handy things such as this. I will be making one soon. Thanks for the idea!

  4. Such a great idea, that poor hubby will not live that error of judgement down will he - bless him lol
    Love this sensible, relative and classy idea to create a VSM carpet bag of sorts, sensible thinking that!

  5. What a great idea! Thanks so much for sharing!

  6. I loved this post. Great project and I would love to make one. Glad to see that someone else also makes 5 or 6 of one thing.

  7. WHY did I get rid of the leather log carrier I had?? Ugh!


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