Finished! Quilting Retreat Tote

January 3, 2012 at 10:34 am Leave a comment

Christmas is exhausting!

Christmas is exhausting!

Here we are in 2012 already! How did that happen? Christmas was a delightful whirlwind:  we did a lot of shopping, baking, driving, and visiting. I got some quilting books as gifts, and have plans to spend some gift cards and money on some other quilting gadgetry, but otherwise I hadn’t really been engaged in any quilting pursuits since finishing Ronan’s quilt a few weeks ago. The lack of pressure to finish quilted gifts was nice (I didn’t make any!) but I found myself at a bit of a loss when I actually had some time in the studio on New Year’s Day. I didn’t want to pull out the gigantic Shop Hop Sampler quilt that I started quilting at the guild retreat, as I didn’t know how much time I’d have to devote to it; I knew I couldn’t let myself start anything new; but what small UFO did I have? Fortunately, I remembered my Retreat Tote.

Quilting Retreat Tote

Quilting Retreat Tote, 27" x 19"

During our annual GenCon trip in 2008, I had spotted a shop model at Back Door Quilts in Greenwood, IN for an attractive, functional, large tote designed for lugging rotary cutting mats and rulers to classes and retreats. And (as is so often the case) thank goodness for the shop model, because I never would have given the pattern a second glance. The pattern, “Rotary Cut Border Bag Quilter’s Tote” by The Kentucky Quilt Company, was published in 2003 and the cover shot depicts a bag made to very self-consciously mimic the French Provinicial and paisley Vera Bradley bags that were extremely popular at that time.

Pattern, Retreat ToteOnce I actually opened the pattern, though, I saw that the designers had done the work for me on a bag that I’d been designing in my own head for quite a while. One of my favorite things to do at a quilting retreat is to accomplish all the cutting for a project:  having a large, cat- and baby-free space makes the task far easier and far less fraught with worry, and having friends nearby to chat with makes a tedious job fly by. However, rotary cutting mats and large rulers are notoriously difficult to transport. I had thought about how best to make a custom tote to accommodate them, and had looked at (and rejected) a number of other designs, but this one seemed perfect. Inside, one side has a velcro pocket to hold a 17″ x 23″ rotary mat and/or a portable pressing surface:

Mat pocket, Retreat Tote

Mat pocket, Retreat Tote

while the other has zippered pockets to hold rotary cutter, pens, templates, and other smaller items as well as larger pockets for books, patterns, and fabrics.

Accessories pockets, Retreat Tote

Accessories pockets, Retreat Tote

On the outside is a long pocket with a velcro flap closure to hold a 6″ x 24″ rotary cutting ruler.

Front ruler pocket, Retreat Tote

Front ruler pocket, Retreat Tote

Of course, being me, I couldn’t leave well enough alone. The original design calls for a velcro flap closure at the top edge between the handles, and then long pieces of velcro inside to hold the sides closed. I decided I didn’t like the long pieces of velcro and wanted to use a zipper instead. I recognized that this would increase the difficulty of the overall project, but I underestimated by just how much… more on that later.

I started the tote at Kathy’s house the following spring, using fabric I’d bought at Seminole Sampler from Jason Yenter‘s Floragrafix I line. I used to do a lot of rubber stamping, and I loved how these fabrics reminded me of the edgier collage-style stamp art I’d seen. Plus, a color scheme of gray, aqua, red, black, and melon? Sign me up! As the pattern called for prequilted fabric yardage, I had to make my own prequilted fabric before cutting the pieces. I used Sandy Terry’s Hooked on Feathers design, as I had just used that to great effect when making a ridiculous number of Christmas table runners a few months before.

This was where I ran into trouble. I somehow managed to forget that quilting shrinks the fabric. Rather than making my quilt sandwich, quilting it, and then cutting out the pieces, I cut everything to size first and then quilted it, thinking I was using my fabric more efficiently. This resulted in my quilted pieces being slightly smaller than the pattern called for. That this was a problem was not immediately apparent:  I followed the construction steps carefully, and was pleased with the professional-looking, tailored appearance of the various flaps and pockets as I made them. The inside zipper pockets use an interesting technique of joining two 14″ zippers head to head to produce a 28″ zipper with two pulls drawing from the center to open and close all the pockets along the entire width of the bag. All this went very well, except for the fact that my bag was supposed to be 28 1/2″ wide and was now only 28″… which meant there was no seam allowance next to the ends of the zippers. I had chosen nice heavy “sport” zippers for durability, so their end stops were big chunky pieces of plastic. This left me with a beautifully constructed unfinished bag, with no way to attach binding or zippers to the sides. I pushed it into the bottom of the closet.

I definitely suffered quilt guilt over this one, because not only was I upset about my error and about not having finished yet another project, but I actually wanted to use the bag! But the only way I could see to correct the problem was to rip out that 28″ zipper and replace it, which I did not want to do. Fortunately, what this project needed was to be left in the closet for roughly three years to marinate. When I pulled it out and assessed it on New Year’s Day, I realized that the zipper problem was really only a problem for that 1/2″ on either side of the bag. I could attach binding to the rest of the perimeter, just skipping over the zipper stops, then go back and tack those spots down by hand. Once that was done, I reassessed the closing zipper idea. I still didn’t like the designer’s plan to use those long velcro pieces, and besides, the ship had sailed on placing a closing flap on the top. But I couldn’t use a single zipper to close the whole bag without running into those zipper stops for the inside pockets. Instead, my brainstorm was to use three separate zippers:  one separating zipper across the top edge, and one along either side, stopping just before the inside pocket zipper.

Corner zipper detail, Retreat Tote

Corner zipper detail, Retreat Tote

It’s not perfect; it’s certainly not elegant. But you know what it is? Functional and FINISHED! And once again, most definitely a learning experience.

For a happy dance, I will stay within the accessories category with the brilliant Liam Kyle Sullivan and his hilarious character Kelly in the original “Shoes” (NSFW language.)


Entry filed under: UFOs. Tags: , .

Finished! Ronan’s Quilt Meet Another UFO: Pink and Brown

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