July 9, 2012

let's do lunch! (tips & tricks + a review of Wine & Dine)

My sweet baby boy took an exciting step last week when he started attending a new Montessori preschool. He's going five half-days a week now instead of just three, which is a big adjustment for both of us, to be sure. The biggest change for me though is that now he eats his lunch away from home. Away from me. Every day. I don't know why, but for some reason that simple fact makes me feel like he's growing up so fast! Lunch at school! With friends instead of mama! Eep. Mah baby!

But then I realized that he was going to need a box or bag for said lunch, and I'll admit that I got a little bit excited. I was totally the kid who loved shopping for school supplies every summer, but since Lincoln doesn't need a binder or fresh number two pencils (yet) I'll take my thrills where I can get 'em. I decided I would use this momentous occasion as a perfect excuse to try Wine and Dine, a very cute pattern from Atkinson Designs.


As you can probably glean from the photo above, Wine and Dine is a pattern for a bag. Two bags, actually- there's a wine-bottle sized one with a divider in the middle, so you can haul a red and a white along on your picnic (one for you and one for me, right?), and the shorter lunch-size bag. Both close with a zipper on top, and have clever pockets and extras built in. The wine bag has little side pockets for stashing a corkscrew, and the lunch bag has slots for silverware on one side and a drink-holder on the other. It's all very handy and well thought out.


The pattern recommends using laminated cotton or vinyl to make things easy to clean, which is a great idea, especially for a lunch bag. Although I chose to make Lincoln's bag with the laminate on the inside only, and put a cute cotton print on the outside. I also made one up with laminate on the inside and outside, just so I could see how it worked that way.


So anyway, I wanted Lincoln's bag to be cute and reflective of his age. He is still a preschooler, after all. There will be plenty of time boring navy when he's a sullen teenager. I'm embracing the jungle animals and bright colors while I can! I had a bit of this Alexander Henry Juicy Jungle print left over from something or another, and it matched up well with the colors in the Hop Dot laminated cotton that I have miles of and absolutely love.

The pattern recommends interfacing the fabric with a woven interfacing (like my fave: Pellon SF101) if you're not using a vinyl or laminate. I did that on the Juicy Jungle print, and it just gives a little extra structure to the bag without making it too stiff or hard to work with. It's important to note that it is recommended that you pre-wash SF101 to avoid shrinkage, as it is 100% cotton. I didn't do that because I'm lazy, but I also don't expect to be washing and drying this thing much. Hopefully a wipe-down will suffice, and if it gets super dirty I'll try to remember not to dry it. We'll see how that works out...

One thing that I wish I would have thought of while I was making it and not the very next morning (naturally), is that this lunch bag would be the perfect place to use a layer of Insul-Bright. It's not just for potholders and other places where heat needs to be redirected- it's also useful for keeping cold things cold. So duh. Next time I will try adding a layer of Insul-Bright (I would just cut it the same size as the lining pieces) and I'll report back if I have anything to add.

I really love patterns like this where everything goes together perfectly like a puzzle. This bag is perfectly drafted so that the pieces just fall into place and it comes together really smoothly and easily. I wasn't expecting the construction method either- it's smart and looks super professional, but it's also really easy to make.


The bag is a pretty good size- it's not so big that's it's silly for a preschooler to carry, and fits the Rubbermaid sandwich kit that I found pretty well. I'm tempted to adjust the sizing to make it fit the kit perfectly, but I'm a little bit neurotic like that. My one complaint is that I feel like maybe it should have more substance, although there's no real good reason for that. Adding the Insul-Bright or even a layer of fusible fleece would make the it feel more like a commercial lunch bag, but even without it, it's still stronger than a regular old brown paper bag and infinitely cuter.


Alright, so moving along- here are a few things that I learned and/or tried while sewing up these two bags, that I think might be helpful to someone setting out to make one.

I stitched up both bags using a Teflon foot, a topstitching needle, and a 2.5mm stitch length. The pattern suggests the foot and the stitch length, and I think that's good advice. I have a walking foot too, but with this pattern I think the Teflon foot is easier to maneuver. The pattern actually calls for a sharp (needle), but I'm out, so I improvised. A topstitching needle has a sharp point too (as opposed to the slightly blunted end on some needles- lest you think I'm losing my mind by suggesting that a sewing machine needle isn't, indeed, sharp) and I found that it worked great. I got nice even stitching lines and the needle handled the multiple layers of laminated cotton like a champ.

I was having some issues with shifting layers as I was completing the stay-stitching steps, but I remedied that right quick with a pass of my Sewline glue pen. I just traced a layer around the edge and stuck the pieces together, which is much better than trying to pin through laminated cotton. I've also had success in the past with a basting spray on laminated cotton (like 505), and I frequently use the old Wonder Tape as well. I'm totally over pinning it and hoping for the best, because whenever I stitch with laminated cotton the layers always seem to move through my machine at different rates, and it's not that the laminate doesn't stretch (which is what you might think- but it's more like regular cotton than oilcloth). It does, but you can't stretch and ease a seam without puckers like you might be able to with some other materials. Anyway- the point is that glue basting is your friend here. I used it in steps B and E.

On step P, at first I was a little confused as to which way to turn. You've just completed sewing the binding onto the bag front in step O, which is pictured below:


and then you turn the bag so that the bottom of the bag is facing up on your machine and stitch along the bottom edge. It will look like this:


Then turn it again, and stitch up the back. It totally made sense once I did it, but I'm spatially challenged and the directions just said "turn the bag" which for me wasn't quite enough the first time around.

I would also like to suggest stitching the bottom binding first in the second half of step P, and then stitching the sides. This gives you a nice symmetrical appearance, instead of one side with the fold on top and one side with the fold on the bottom. See here:


If you start at the top on one side, then stitch down, then over, then up, you're not going to end up with the finish you see above. But that's just a personal preference thing though, and either way would work.

So there you go- I think Wine and Dine is a win. I'm not sure that I would necessarily make the wine bag, except maybe for a cute gift presentation, but I predict that the lunch bag will be handy for school lunches for many years to come. And this construction method is adaptable to a bag of any size or shape, so I can see using the pattern as a jumping off point for cute little cosmetic bags or even for larger tote size bags.

Cute, eh? Would you like one of your very own? Well, watch this space for a giveaway very soon!