Wednesday 2 September 2015

It's In The Bag!

Picture the scene…
I settled myself in my cinema seat, switched off my mobile phone and then zipped my bag right up into infinity. Yep, the handbag that had been hanging on for dear life for so long, had finally given up the ghost. 

Luckily for me I had bookmarked a tutorial for a duct tape bag. I had planned to make it ages ago, so the three rolls of tape were already waiting - all I had to now was get on with it. 

I deviated from the the tutorial a little as I wanted to use the removable strap from the the other handbag, and I also wanted to make sure it was stronger than something held together with average adhesive. So I cut a couple of two inch pieces from a rejected tape strip, created loops and sandwiched them between the layers of tape that formed the sides.  I only had one D ring left on the original bag, so I used  a keyring I had been given as a Xmas gift for the other ‘D ring’.  I then machine sewed them in place to increase the tensile strength. 

I also made sure that I machined sewed the side panels to the main body of the bag, after initially holding everything in place with tape: I treat my bags in a fairly rough manner, and had to ensure I was creating something that wasn't going to fall apart after a couple of uses. 

I'm not going to lie; preparing all of those duct tape strips was time consuming and the bag took me around 5 hours to complete, (and I had to hand crank the sewing machine A LOT to get the needle through the layers of glue!) but I was really pleased with the results.

Pictured: patience...
I added the pin badge (from one of my husband’s suits) to the flap, partly for decoration, and partly because I was having trouble distinguishing the front from the back - I thought I was being totally random with the white strips: turned out that they ended up creating a back and front symmetry…

Here's the link, again, if you want to try making your own:

By the way - the film I went to see was ‘Me, Earl, and The Dying Girl’, and I cannot recommend it highly enough! 

Monday 3 August 2015

Let's jam!

This my first, official, Roller Derby related tutorial, but it could, technically, be Project Skate part 2. You can see Part 1 here...

I’m currently going through a Fresh Meat training programme and I found, when we moved onto to impact based drills, that my heels were really slipping around in my skates.  I had heard people in the roller derby community talking about the benefits of Jam Straps (they pull your foot into the skate, essentially decreasing the weight), so I considered getting some.  However, while watching a review on Youtube, I realised that they are not all that difficult to make.  The deciding factor would be the cost: I would only make these if the cost was reasonably lower than buying them: the retail price is around £21.00, so I was aiming for a total cost of at least under £15.00.

I discovered that using some items that were already made, rather than, for example, buying strapping velcro by the metre, reduced the cost of raw materials substantially.  So I went ahead. If you want to follow me, here’s what you’ll need:

1 pair of nylon toe straps (you can get these from most places that sell cycling equipment)
2 velcro cinch straps (like the ones here)
4 D rings (make sure they are wide enough on the flat side to accommodate the velcro)
Strong adhesive (I used  Evostick impact) - this is optional, but I found it made the process easier.
Sewing machine, or really strong hand sewing needles
Matching or contrasting thread
A lighter or some matches (this really is essential)

This is actually a really fast project to put together…

I began by marking on my skates where I wanted the D rings to sit (remember, the velcro will determine the tension over the bridge of the foot, so there is no need to have the D rings sitting close to the laces) and then used some yarn to measure the distances under the arch and around the back of the heel.  

Placing the two pieces of yarn alongside the toe strap, I marked, with chalk, the point where I wanted to make the cut.  Once the cut was made, I used a lighter to singe the raw edges in order to prevent fraying (and this kind of nylon frays at lightning speed, which is why you really shouldn’t skip this step.) This was repeated with the second strap. 

The next step is something I used to make the sewing easier: if you have an industrial machine, or a single-width zipper foot, you may not need to do this.

Starting with the longer piece, I folded the nylon over the curved part of the D ring and used the crease as a guide for where I needed to add the impact glue.  I added a little bit of glue to each of the facing sides, making sure that they would meet when closed together, and allowed the glue to air dry (this really only takes a few minutes).

Once the glue was tacky to the touch, I wrapped the nylon back around the D ring and applied reasonable pressure with my fingers. I repeated this process for the other end of the strap. Nylon secured, it was time to add a few stitches.

I actually hand cranked the machine in order to have more control and ensure that I was sewing through all layers.

The entire process was repeated with the shorter strap, which meant that all that was left was the sizing of the velcro.

I hooked the nylon straps around the skate (the shorter strap under the plate, the longer one behind the heel) then took the velcro strap and attached it across the top of the skate.  Like the branded ‘jam strap’, I decided not to sew the velcro onto one end, in order to provide more flexibility in tightness options.

Once I decided I had enough of an overlap, I trimmed the excess velcro, and had my first working ‘jam strap’.  I removed the velcro completely and used it as a template for the second strap.

BAM! Homemade ‘Jam Straps’.

Adding a strip of hockey tape gives it a more polished look

If you’re wondering if this worked out as a cheaper alternative, here’s the breakdown of the costs:

Toe straps -     £5.99 (you can get these cheaper, but I chose to get them from Halfords for convenience)
Velcro straps - £3.82
D rings -          £1.29

Total -              £11.10
Saving -          £9.90

Not bad, eh?

So, how well do they work?  I’m still very much an amateur skater, and so far, I’ve only used them once, but even I could notice the difference.  Because I wasn’t dragging the extra weight that I was used to, even the smallest movements were giving me more speed than I could handle (eek!) BUT, I seemed to have much more stability with taking and giving hits, whereas, in the previous weeks I really had to grip with my toes to try and keep my feet stable.  So, I’m going to chalk this one up as a win ;-)

If you decide to make some yourself, please drop a line in the comments and let me know if and how they worked for you!

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Smells Like...

I realised that I needed a deodorant that did more than just sit on the skin, smelling of flowers, that I could use immediately after roller derby training. And, of course, I HAD to try to make it myself.  I may well concede defeat in the future, but for now, I’m going to road test  the hell out of this…

There are a lot of recipes online, and many of them seemed to use witch-hazel as the base, with essential oils added for antibacterial properties and fragrance.

I based my recipe on this tutorial but left out the Aloe Vera, because I’m one of those people who gets a mild allergic reaction from using the plant topically.

That's bicarbonate of soda on the spoon...

The bottle I planned to decant the deodorant in was quite small, so I halved the ingredients; I also messed around with the essential and fragrance oils until I felt as though I had the right combination of scents balanced with the right amount of bacteria fighting elements…

So, I used:

1/4 cup of Witch Hazel
1/8 Tsp Bicarbonate of Soda (a natural stench killer!)
5 Drops of Tea Tree essential oil
5 Drops of Clove essential oil
10 Drops of Cold Pressed Lemon essential oil
15 Drops of Musk fragrance oil

There is actually some Witch Hazel in the bottom of the beaker!

This mix creates a unisex (or even slightly masculine) scent, but definitely not a feminine one, which is fine by me - I sweat a hell of a lot during training, so I wanted something with a ‘robust’ fragrance.

However even though I halved the initial ingredients, I still ended up with LOADS of this; so I had to fill a few more bottles than expected.  I’ll keep the cutsie ones, and give the less girly looking bottles to Mr Ponchos…

You can find the girly bottles here

So far it has served me well during a workout - I hope it keeps doing its job after training 

Monday 18 May 2015

My Mate...

I haven’t written anything about food for a while (and when I do it’s usually cake), so I thought I’d write a short post about my houmous experiment.

I was basically looking for a way to use ‘store cupboard staples’ (canned chickpeas, fresh garlic etc) to avoid having to buy tahini for this one purpose.

The first time, I used chickpeas, a couple of cloves of garlic, a sprinkling of dried chilli peppers and a tablespoon of olive oil. All the ingredients were thrown into the Nutribullet and pulsed for about 20 seconds (using the Extractor blade in one of the small cups).

It was okay (very garlicky!) but it seemed to be missing a ‘middle note’ in the flavour.


For those of you who don’t know the product, Marmite is spreadable nutritional yeast, packed full of flavour and vitamin B12. As well as being a great spread for toast and sandwiches, it also makes an awesome substitute for stock cubes, when cooking.

I added a teaspoon of Marmite, mixed with a little bit of hot water to make it a bit more runny, to my basic recipe and, boy, did that work!

It’s homemade houmous all the way, now!

Wednesday 28 January 2015

The Pattern That Nearly Broke My Spirit...

Before I start, let me just say that I LOVE the way this project turned out - it looks exactly how I pictured it, and it’s super cosy.  But the road from A to B was plagued with one rather large obstacle: namely the commercial pattern. McCall's M6656. (Is it any wonder that it's now out of print...?)

It’s true that some of the blame does lie with me, as I don’t use store bought patterns very often, but I have found that almost anything labelled with the word ‘easy’ (or its many variants) is going to be the polar opposite in practice.

I’ve made, and attempted to make, a fair few pieces of outerwear over the past few years. Some were successful
Ikea made this possible
My sister, BTW


 - others less so.

What the hell was I thinking????

But the one that should have been the most difficult (the vogue overcoat I made for my husband, pictured above) went together surprisingly easily.  The longest parts of the process were the cutting out of the pattern itself and hand sewing in the lining.

In stark contrast, the ‘easy’ McCalls’ pattern seemed to be written in a language I was not privy to, and the illustrations only led to further befuddlement. Hint to publishers, if the language is unclear, a slightly ambiguous technical drawing is not going to help!  There was I thinking that adding welt pockets was going to cause me consternation - turns out, that was one of the easier aspects; probably because I knew what I was doing before I did it.

Not many tailoring techniques were called upon (no pad stitching, collar setting, or even shoulder pads) but this project STILL managed to take me about TWELVE DAYS to complete.  I suspect that a vast amount of that time was spent looking from the pattern to the project, in bewilderment, until I finally figured out what I was supposed to be doing.

Once I got the outer shell sorted (back, sides and front), it became very obvious that I couldn’t follow the instructions for finishing. Again, they just seemed vague and (to me anyway) didn’t fully address all the raw edges, or the fact that there was very little to hold the garment in position when worn.  I had always planned to make a lining, as I rarely leave jackets unlined, but, to me, this pattern made it obvious that a lining was going to be needed whether I planned to add one or not!.  That itself wasn’t much of a problem, as I had managed to figure out most of the instructions by then, but I am still confused at how to finish the project without adding a lining!

Anyway, rant over!  This is how I turned an old army blanket into a cute little jacket…

Against the ‘dry-clean only’ instructions, I machine dyed the blanket to give it a warmer colour.  I discovered, while the fabric was hanging out to dry, that putting it through the machine causes it to shed like ‘Billy-O’, so I wouldn’t recommend doing the same.  It’s definitely going to be dry-cleaning from here on in…

As I planned to wear this just as I would any other jacket, I knew I would need to add pockets.  Because I wasn’t entirely sure how long the finished item would be, I followed the interesting trend of placing the pockets quite high up.  This was to ensure that I wouldn’t be trying to hem through a welt at the final stages.  In addition, I do use heat packs (like the ones I made for the snood) when I’m watching Ice Hockey, so placing the pockets where I planned would keep the heat close to my core.

I added the marks to the pattern and used a different contrasting thread to create the tailor’s tacks.  I was fairly confident that the pocket bags wouldn’t show, but I wanted to use a fabric in a compatible colour, just in case.

The orange thread marks one end of the pocket

I trusted my instincts when it came to purchasing the faux fur trim, and took a punt on some long haired ‘camel frost’ from CRS Fur Fabrics.  I don’t think I could have asked for a better match for colour, or a better feel, for comfort.

I knew from the get-go that I would need to create a thick lining for the jacket, as I was planning to wear it in a refrigerated arena, so I didn’t interline the the back or side front pieces, as I would usually.  The sleeve pattern, however, creates a very slender fit, and I knew that I would not be able to add the fake sheepskin and still be able to get my arms in: so the sleeves were interlined, then lined with the same satin type fabric.

The sleeve cuff is simply supposed to be more of the main fabric, but I thought it would be interesting to add a trim.  My initial thought was to have the long pile fur trim on the outside of the cuff, but soon realised that doing so could lead to me looking like I was wearing Ugg boots on the bottom of my arms! So I turned the trim to the inside, so that there was still an obvious link to the collar and facing without going all ‘cave woman’…  The thick cuff, however, proved to be too much for both my sewing machine and my overlocker, so they had to be hand sewed closed, using ladder stitch.

I made a departure from my usual method when adding the lining, and actually machine sewed along the raw edge of the facing along the sides and back; hand sewing only the very bottom edge.  I hung the jacket on the body form before pinning the hem, so that I could be sure that I wasn’t causing the fabric to fall incorrectly.

A little bit more ladder stitching (and some decent pressing), a couple of buttons and the project was finally compete.

Even though the pattern gave me such a headache, I do think I would like to make another one: maybe in a Stuart Tartan. Once you know what you're doing, it's easy ;-)