For a while now I've been fascinated with Transition Towns and especially the concept of "reskilling"--and I've been hard at work to learn new things to make our family and community more independent of oil. I've also tried to be active in the environmentalist movement, greening my daily life as we work towards both small individual changes and larger political efforts which can respond to the climate crisis and to environmental degradation.
Of course, many of the things I've tried to learn in the last few years have to do with food and fiber. Everything from fermenting sauerkraut to spinning alpaca, from learning how to can to learning how to weave have been on my agenda.
Today's new skill: basic sewing, using a sewing machine.
While I was completely intimated for months by the machine sitting in a corner of our finished basement, when my 10yo son and I pulled it out and pored over the instructions, it suddenly seemed quite straightforward.
Following the diagrams in the manual, we threaded the bobbin and the top needle. And honestly, although it only took us seconds, THAT was the most complicated thing we did.
Last time we went to the local thrift store, everything was on sale for 50% off the usual thrift store prices. In addition to a queen-sized quilt for our bed, assorted dress-up goodies for Halloween costumes (including a pair of very cool women's boots for our son's musketeer get-up), and a metal file box perfect for storing seeds, we picked up a handful of tank tops in a variety of sizes.
When we picked up the shirts, we were thinking about the t-shirt bag my son made at the Green Festival in DC last year. It is just a gray t-shirt with the arms cut off by a 9yo, sewn together on the bottom by the adult coordinator. He then drew a picture of a cornucopia on the front to decorate it:
Every time we use the bag at our local co-op, the grocery store, or at the farmer's market, someone comments on how clever it is. Many people have told us over the year that we should sell them. (Well...that would require actually making them.)
Since last year when my son made the bag, I've seen the idea online everywhere from No Impact Man to Martha Stewart. But I kept staring at the sewing machine in fear. Could I do it by hand, I wondered? Would the seams be strong enough?
Finally, the pile of tank tops hanging on the chair in the dining room pushed me to haul out the machine, steel myself for the task, and finally try it out.
And you know what? It was FUN--and incredibly fast and easy, and totally addictive. Within the hour, my son and I had made a huge collection of bags.
All we did was turn the t-shirts inside out, then line up the side seams of the tank top. We were very casual and simply used the thread we had on hand rather than trying to match the shirts. We sewed once across the bottom of each tank top with a straight stitch and once across with a zigzag. (I'm sure that sewing twice across with straight stitch would work perfectly, but we wanted to play around with different stitches.) We sewed the lines immediately above the line where the shirt's hem ends. For brand new sewers, this works very well because the seam lump lines up with the side of the sewing foot to keep you going forward in a very straight line. Remember to start and end your lines by stitching backwards just a few stitches in order to anchor the ends. After the sewing is done, clip the end threads and turn the bags right side out.
We chose to use tank tops to avoid having to deal with the top at all--but if you have t-shirts in hand, simply trim the sleeves and scoop the neck enough that you have something to hold onto. No need to sew anything or hem anything. Check out the links of instructions above if you have any additional questions.
Some of the shirts we used were women's petites. Some were men's extra-larges.
Some of the shirt we sewed inside out to get a smooth bottom (like the pink bag), and a few we left right side out before sewing (like the blue one):
We also played around with a few fancier tops, just for fun.
One is a more delicate stretchy tank which I used to carry my knitting today:
I love the lacy camisole! I decided to hem it from the outside in order to let the lacy trim at the bottom remain a design element. (My naughty brain imagines filling it with two huge and juicy cantaloupes.)
Some of these bags will become "wrapping paper" (or rather, gift bags) for presents this holiday season. After they do their duty as present holder, recipients can use them again and again as they do their shopping.
These bags are a fabulous way to learn to sew--fast and laid-back enough that if you make a few mistakes, it really won't matter. And at the end of your sewing practice time, you're left with reusable bags great for shopping or gifting.