How to make a bag

Please read all the information under each heading before you start doing it, to make sure you’ve understood the entire step.

Cut out your pieces

Handles: cut 2 strips 9 cm x 60 cm

Bag: cut 2 rectangles 40 cm x 45 cm (you can make them by sewing smaller pieces together with neat, well finished seams if you like).

Prepare your patch

Adjust the heat of the iron to your fabric.  Cotton can take a high heat and your iron probably has a cotton setting.  Polyester needs a lower heat. Try “wool” or “polyester” or “delicates”, whatever your iron has marked on it.  If the iron is too cool (remember it takes time to warm up, like a jug coming to the boil), then you will not get a crisp fold that stays in position.  If it is too hot, you will find the polyester sticks to the iron.  This is the plastic of the fabric melting onto the iron, so stop right away and turn the heat down, giving it time to cool.

Fold all of the edges of your patch to the wrong side and iron these hems into a neat shape.  You can put a pencil line where you want to fold, and turn it under so it won’t show when you are finished. Line up the top edge of the lettering with the top and bottom folds.

Sew the patch to one side of the bag

Check the print on the bag to make sure it is the right side up, if it has a one way design!

Centre the patch on one side of the bag. It doesn’t have to be exact.

Pin the patch in place.

Match your thread to the patch.

Start in one corner of the patch, close to the edge of the patch.  Look for a marking on the foot (it might be the edge of the foot) that you can line up the edge of the patch with, as you sew.  This will help keep your stitching straight.

Sew forward a few stitches, then reverse and stitch back over those stitches, back to the corner.  Sew forward again to the next corner. Stop just before the edge.  Lower the needle into the fabric, all the way down.  Lift the foot, turn the fabric, put the foot down again ready to sew the next edge. Repeat on the next two sides, until you come back to the corner where you started.

Back stitch a few stitches to finish your seam.  Trim your threads neatly. You’re done!

Sew the bag together

Stack the sides of the bag on top of each other, with the right sides facing each other on the inside. Check both sides are right way up and the patch is right side up.

Match your thread to the bag.

Start at a top corner, with the needle 1 cm from the edge.  You might find there is a 1 cm line on the throat plate of your machine you can line up the edge of your fabric with. 

Remember to stitch back over your first few stitches, and to drop the needle when you are 1 cm from the next corner, lift the foot, turn the fabric, drop the foot and set off across the bottom of the bag.  Repeat at the next corner, Sew up the third side. Back stitch and trim your threads to finish.

Finish your seam

Choose zig zag stitch on your machine. 

Sewing outside the line of your seam, stitch along those same 3 sides.  This will prevent the woven raw edge from fraying, so your seam will stay intact after lots of washing and wear.

Turn the top edge of your bag

Draw a line 2 cm away from the top edge of your bag.  Turn the edge to the inside of the bag and iron along that line.  Now turn again at the raw edge, so the raw edge is completely hidden inside.  Iron. 

Sew down the turned edge all the way round.  Don’t forget your back stitches.

Make your handles

Fold each handle in half, long ways, with the wrong sides together.  Open it out again. 

Now fold each edge in to that centre crease and iron.

Fold along the centre crease again so all the raw edges are hidden inside.

Sew the edges of each handle together. Remember your back stitches and trim your threads off.

Fold the ends of each handle up by 2 cm and iron it flat.

Sew on your handles

Measure 10 cm from the edge of your bag, and pin your handle 2cm inside the bag, with the handle  just inside that 10 cm line. Make sure the folded edge of the handle is tucked in between the handle and the bag so it will be enclosed inside the seam when you sew the handle on.

Pin in place.

Sew a square around the part where the handle overlaps with the bag, to firmly attach your handle to your bag. You will be able to sew along your hem line as one side of the square. Remember to back stitch at the beginning and the end, and to pivot at each corner with the needle in the down position. 

Now sew two short lines to create a cross inside your square.  This is the part of the bag that will take most strain so we are reinforcing it.

Repeat for all 4 points where the handles attach to the bag.

If you start having trouble sewing at this step, it probably means that the foot of your machine is at too steep an angle to sew effectively, especially at the start of each square. Fold some scrap fabric (or paper or cardboard) to the same thickness as the part you are trying to sew (a “shim”).  Lower the needle into the part you need to sew, and then slide your folded fabric in behind the needle, under the foot.   The goal here is to level of the foot while you start stitching.  Once you start to sew the folded fabric will just fall away: but usually by then you have made a clean start and all is well.

Expansion pack: how to mitre the corners of your bag–TOTALLY OPTIONAL BUT FUN

Turn your bag inside out. Trace a 5cm square at each bottom corner. You can cut a 5 cm cardboard square and trace around it, if it is easier.

Now cut that square out. Open out the corner of the bag, and match up the seam along the base of the bag, and the seam up the side, so that they meet. Pin (or hold in place). Stitch that short seam. Finish the seam with zigzag stitch. Nifty, hey?


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Sedge planting

Sedge planting in the banks of the local creek continues!

A pleasing number of our previous plantings, which surely run into the hundreds by now, have made it through into the winter wet. Many have been battered a great deal, but they are still there and still alive and in time they will grow.

Here I am leaving, having litter picked the creekbed. Fittingly enough my watering can and that green plastic thing that held the baby sedges as they grew in their tube pots–are from hard rubbish too.

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Drawstring bags from precious fabrics

As I’ve been working over my stash of fabrics, little treasures come to the surface. This little drawstring bag is made from the remainder of a bag of small indigo dyed scraps a friend brought back from a trip to Japan some years ago.

I had a piece of fabric with a great mushroom print on it, that I could not resist some time last year. It called out to be made into a bag for a foraging friend. Uh, oh–it was the end of the bolt, so I bought some extra. In the end I made three bags and gave them to the forager, a friend who grows oyster mushrooms at home and someone I met by chance who forages for mushrooms and who is on my partner’s delivery run. We had a delightful conversation touching on their passion for foraging one day, and I decided it was time to make those bags! The last bit of the print because a smaller drawstring bag.

And, I found these rather glorious small pieces of silk velvet from Beautiful Silks, which I dyed with leaves some years ago. I had no idea what to do with them at the time and here we are!

It’s good to find a setting for such beautiful, special (and yet small) quantities of fabric.


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Reclaiming the spencers, part 2

In my earlier post, I talked about the holey spencers and how I decided on two strategies for retrieving them. Once I’d decided which were capable of being mended, I took my scissors to the rest, aiming to save as much fabric as I could and give the rest to the worms in the worm farm. They will deal with everything that is organic matter, and leave any petrochemical by products (like nylon thread) on the surface where I can retrieve it for landfill. It’s almost magical, how well worms can sort out the biodegradable from that which will not break down for many lifetimes (otherwise known as plastic).

Then I patchworked together the larger pieces until I was able to create two new underthings.

They are a bit haphazard, since as usual I dyed first and sewed later. But since they are underthings… no one will know unless you tell them!

They are like little woolly maps of the dye trees I especially enjoy in my neighbourhood. These days there are even leaves from our back yard in the mix.

And… I have the smaller pieces saved in a mothproof bag for later patching, which is sure to be needed.


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Retrieving the spencers, part 1

In the large quantity of threadbare fabric that came into the house from a friend’s family home in the last year, there were some once-fabulous woollen undergarments. All kinds, but with a generous amount of tops my mother would call “spencers”. Now I have written that down, as often happens I’m wondering why they are called spencers and if it is something to do with Marks and Spencer and… evidently it is not, or it’s just that my research is cursory. But evidently this is an expression for thermal underwear specific to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa–go figure.

The wooliness of these garments, many very much worn–some threadbare–all having been feasted upon by m*th larvae, had me thinking of leaf printing. Eventually they made it into bundles and came out much improved but still holey. In the end I decided on two paths of action. Two of the spencers had a fair amount of integrity, so I patched them generously and they have gone to warm the friend whose family they came from.

I do not know why I persist in dyeing first and sewing later, when it would be so much more sensible to take India Flint’s excellent counsel and sew first, then dye. I can’t figure out whether it is just a failure to plan ahead, or perhaps being a bit excitable… or sometimes just preferring to sew the dyed fabric. But I do it over and over!

Anyway–I like the outcome, and more importantly, so does the recipient. No one else needs to!

And here is the second spencer.

And from the back…


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Mending for the beloved

My sweetheart buys stretch jeans. She is her own person and makes her own choices, but let it be said that stretch jeans do not wear or mend as well as those that don’t stretch! This is a step by step though mending one pair.

And this is a close up of the finished item. I started the next mend the day she wore these to a job. This mend got so many comments that she thought she might review her request for less visible stitching on the next pair. It was too late! I mended the other pair with a visible patch but most of the stitching holding the bulk of the patch in place is on the inside, and the thread is a linen that blends with the denim so that the little stitches on the outside don;t really show at all. Only those trapping the turned under edge of the jeans around the part of the patch that shows.

These are the steps… and here is the inside!

And the finished mend.

Finally, my beloved’s favourite, lusciously soft cardigan.

This very much loved cardigan belonging to my beloved is made from a very fine wool/cashmere of some kind. And it has worn right through in a lot of places. This one, I’ve managed to take from unravelling–to holding together in a way that doesn’t shout out as much as the unravelling did. It’s not invisible though! I asked for a review today and she said the repair is “basically invisible”… and these photos are a lot closer up than any casual passerby will ever be.


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The first spoons!

That butter spreader making workshop I did with Sam from Folk of All Trades gave me the confidence to try turning the spoon blank that I bought when I invested in a couple of wood carving knives, into a spoon. I’m afraid I have to skip over the blank I brought home from the workshop because it all went very well until I snapped the bowl off the handle! This is the nature of being a beginner. But still disappointing.

Here I am having made my very first concave cuts! It was slow going but I kept reviewing my notes and reading my book on spoon carving… and I kept going.

And eventually I ended up with a spoon!

That was exciting but I had no more wood. Then I was walking from the railway station to my parents’ house and there were some gentlemen cutting a lot from a tree–so I asked if I could take a piece that was on the footpath. I thought I could at the very least practice using an axe with it. It was Ficus Benjamina (weeping fig). And it was lovely to work, so I tried another spoon.

And I ended up with another spoon! Learning new skills is so exciting.


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Guerilla planting: bladder saltbush edition

Some months back, friends and neighbours helped weed out and sheet mulch a part of the guerilla garden where veldt grass has been extending its hold. This effort was pretty successful, so this autumn I put in bladder saltbush to give some diversity to what is mostly ruby saltbush with some bluebush and a couple of bladder saltbush at this site.

This is my first guerilla gardening site and it looks so much better than it used to!

There are a couple of spots here, with some rhagodia as well as the ruby saltbush. And all of looking good and green. No more weed spraying and far fewer weeds. No more trampling the root zone of the E Scoparia!

I love that I can now propagate from the first bladder saltbush I ever grew, at this site–they create seeds and I keep planting them!

Someone had cut back the nearby melaleuca and left it on the ground so I added in some gentle mulch. And then, home again, with very little rubbish and just an out of date sign removed to add to my compost pile!


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I do seem to run to quite a bit of repetition… and so here are more needlebooks for more mending kits. It’s such a great use of lovely little scraps of dyed blanket.


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Fresh cochineal dyeing

Back over a month ago now, I went to a class to learn how to carve a butter spreader. This was a way to learn some green wood carving skills, so that I could learn to carve a spoon (in the following class). The class was taught by Sam from the lovely Folk of all Trades. I had a great time and came home feeling empowered to use my tools. So much so, I carved my first spoon before the spoon carving class, where I built my skills and confidence and realised I had some incorrect ideas I was able to sort out–super important in learning new skills! Here is my butter spreader nearing completion.

At this stage you may be wondering what this has to do with cochineal. We arrived early for the class and took a detour so we could have a short walk, and what should I see but prickly pear infested with cochineal (a type of scale insect). My beloved kindly agreed to go back after the class so we could harvest some.

Prickly pear is an invasive weed in Australia. But not until I researched cochineal in Australia did I realise I had altogether the wrong idea about it. I had thought prickly pear came first and cochineal was introduced to predate on it. But I was so wrong. Prickly pear was introduced to Australia with invasion in 1788, (from Brazil) and it was brought to Australia in 1788 in order to begin a cochineal industry here. Spain and Portugal had a worldwide monopoly on cochineal, and (for example–but a non-trivial example–) the British army wore red coats, making the cochineal trade of great interest to the British.

So actually, we have prickly pear because of cochineal, and not the other way around. We have them because of the dye industry and dye trade of the 1700s, and their close connections with imperialism and militarism. And from there, to us harvesting cochineal from an invasive plant in Australia in 2022 with two keep cups, a fork and a teaspoon. Sorry about the poor focus in that photo! But not as sorry as I am about the colonisation of this land and the long term harm it has wrought–of which this is just one small example.

I have become quite prepared to try natural dyes out with little prior knowledge of the process needed. So long as I know enough about the plant or insect to keep it safe from my potential overharvesting (where relevant) and to keep myself and others who may come into contact with it safe–I am prepared to trial and error my way through the process if necessary. For one thing–I have a lot of lawn mower sheep fleece. If I have dye fails I have wasted time and dyestuff but I can overdye or compost the fleece without a lot of regrets. Many of my dyes are weeds, windfalls or on their way to “green waste”. And I always learn something, so even the time is rarely wasted. In this case I knew I had at least one book with a “how to” section (it was focused on dried cochineal though). I also thought I remembered India Flint blogging about fresh cochineal, so I took that as a encouragement (I found her post–enjoy).

I scraped the cochineal into a small, double layered bag I’d made from cotton voile, with french seams. I made a few bags from a scrap a while back for some other dye job with a strong risk of little tiny bits escaping into fleece, never to be removed–it might have been dried cochineal! Having a pre made dye bag on hand was perfect. I dug into my book collection for guidance and decided to modify with acid, as our lime tree is in full fruit and some of the limes are not ideal for eating but much too good for wasting–and lime would be traditional in Mexico.

From there I guessed just about everything from information about dried cochineal. In general, when guessing, I put in a little mordanted wool (if mordant is required), heat for as long as suggested, and then add some more wool, and then some more wool if colour is still coming, and so on. Dried cochineal is incredible stuff that gives and gives and seems impossible to exhaust, though it gives paler and paler colours. The fresh cochineal behaved the same way.

The first round of fleece was almost tomato soup level red. I don’t know if the change to purpler colours might mean I should have added more lime juice– but from there it went to watermelon and then to coconut ice and fairy floss shades of pink. I did laugh out loud when I remembered that when I was making coconut ice with my mother as a child–we were colouring it with cochineal extract!

After a LOT of dyeing, this is all that remained of the dye. And here is the wool ready to spin!

Oh, and a spoon!!!


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