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Dance Shoe Bag
Retro Shirt Collar




ManyTracks Sewing and Knitting 
Sue Robishaw



5 Needle
Multi Color



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Dance Shoe Bag

dance shoe bag


How-to  ~  Ideas  ~  Inspiration
 From more than forty years having a good time living a sustainable life
in the northwoods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula

We love to dance, especially to live music, and we participate in as many dances in the U.P. as we can. If there is one (or two!) things dancers are passionate about it is their feet and legs, and by default their shoes and the dance floor. Which means keeping the dance floor and the soles of dance shoes clean and dry by carrying your dance shoes in and changing before heading out onto the dance floor.   

Dance Shoe Bag - April 4, 2017

We have stacks of the reusable sturdy cotton “shopping” bags which have a variety of uses. One of those had been to carry our dance shoes into a dance. It’s a courtesy to change into clean soled shoes before going out onto the dance floor (keeps the grit off the floor which is good for the floor and the dancers).   But it is also important for dancing (for fun, ease, and the knees!) to have clean, dry soles. And if you have suede leather soles (as I do) they’re pretty much useless for dancing if they get wet. So even if they’re everyday shoes other times, for a dance they get brushed clean and carried inside.     
     There’s nothing wrong with a generic bag. It works and is what most people use in some form. But invariably it seemed my smaller, soft, light dance shoes would end up being squashed by Steve’s larger (understandably) sturdy leather soled “dress” shoes, especially as water bottles and other odds and ends got added to the pile. Even that wasn’t a real big problem, except that most of the dances we go to use “dance wax”, which is great stuff when the floor is at all sticky. It makes twirling and turning as one polkas and waltzes and two-steps around the floor possible. But it does get on your shoes, which, when tumbled into a bag at the end of the dance, ends up all over everything. It easily rubs off shoes, but a shirt or sweater doesn’t fare so well. And the jumble in the bag was just plain messy. What I wanted seemed always at the bottom. I envisioned something better.

dance shoe bag 4So for Christmas I decided to make Steve a Dance Shoe Bag. OK, it was for both of us, but our Christmas gifts are often like that. I thought about what I wanted--separate compartments for our shoes, small enough to keep them upright but large enough to easily slip the shoes in. A separate pocket for carrying a water bottle, upright. Another pocket for a shirt or tights or extra socks. Yet it needed to be of moderate size, easy to carry and stash in a corner at a dance, and the back of the car between times. I’d been designing it in my head for some time, now it was time to get down to work and make it.

I dug out some nice linen fabric left over from something, collected the shoes that had to go in, a few cotton bags for inspiration and sizing and test fitting ideas, pencil and paper for designing. Then waited dance shoe bag 2for Steve to be gone long enough to figure it all out. It took some time, I re-designed as I sewed. Iit was a bit of a challenge to decide what to sew first before sewing something else, so as to not “paint myself into a corner”. But it was a fun project. It would have been easier with one layer of sturdy cotton and a simpler design, and I’m sure that would have worked and been plenty strong enough. Or I could have simply retro’d an existing bag. But the fun was in the making. I used the two layers of linen because I liked the fabric and the colors, and I had it on hand. And I liked coming up with something that specifically fit our needs and desires.

Basically it is a cloth bag with handles, with an inner piece sewn in to create a pocket halfway along one side, then across to divide the bag in two, then along the other side to create another pocket. It could be made much simpler than I made mine. The two sections are sized to fit our shoes (Steve’s getting a larger space). The pockets are of a size to hold a water bottle. Sewing the bottoms of the panels to the bottom of the bag (which had an extra layer sewn on) was a challenge but it helped to make the bag sturdier and keeps things from migrating. It all worked out as I wanted, keeping things organized anddance shoe bag 2 easier to manage.

But there was one more thing needed to make this the top banana of shoe bags for me -- a small zippered pouch for the small stuff. I’d planned on this being inside, just below the top of the bag but there really wasn’t room So I sewed it to the outside and I likedance shoe bag 3 it there; it's easy to access.

So now our shoes have their own comfy mobile home, and get to travel to the dances in style. Humble though they may be, when you’re dancing for 3 or 4 hrs you come to really appreciate a good pair of dance shoes. And even more a good polka band!


Update: After a year of use there are a few tweaks I'd make but overall it's been a great carry-all. I particularly like the pockets for water bottles. The bag, and dance shoes, stay in the car so we never get to a dance without these essential items. The biggest change, if you can call it that, is I plan is to make a second bag so we each have our own. We can stuff everything into this one bag but really need more room. Steve's shoes barely fit and I often like to carry two different pair of dance shoes. A larger pocket for a removed undershirt or tights would be nice, well away from the shoes and their accumulated dance wax dust. And room for each of us to have two water bottles (or in Steve's case water and coffee). The small zippered add-on turned out to be a bit too small as well.

So a second bag is in the works (well, in my mind). I'll use just one layer of sturdy fabric, cotton duck or something. And extra-stitch the four corner side seams to give some sturdiness to the bag. The brown linen one is very nice and comfortable but sturdy would work better to help keep it upright. Maybe shorter handles. Mmm, I think I'll go look for some material...


SEWING - Bathing Suit / Skivvies - 2-14-2017

black/red skivviesWhat better time to think about summer swimming than the middle of winter! At least it’s a good time to sew for that coming season. I bought fabric last spring to make a new bathing suit but the warm months definitely aren’t the time for me for anything other than quick emergency sewing or mending projects. The plans (and piles) for winter sewing/mending/altering are larger than days available so I simply pick out what most interests me, or is highest in my focus at the time. And thinking of kayaking made me think of the bathing suit that I don’t yet have. Actually, I seldom go swimming but kayaking is high on our list of “do more of” this summer and it is most certainly a water sport, as in ‘wet’. Though I hope to get my paddling technique down this summer so less of the river water ends up in my lap, appropriate clothing makes kayaking more fun. That includes being ready to slip out into the water for a swim.

Bathing suit bottom or underwear -- there’s little difference and both are quite easy and fast to make (relatively speaking). I’ve been making my skivvies for some time, after realizing it would be faster to make them than alter factory made ones to fit and feel the way I like them. The most time consuming part is coming up with and fine-tuning the pattern. You can buy a pattern or find one online, then go from there to get your just-for-you fit. Or simply cut apart an old bathing suit bottom or underwear that already fits and trace out your pattern from that. That’s what I did. I like to use brown kraft paper for patterns. It’s sturdy and holds up well to repeated use, and adjusting.

Fabric is whatever suits you; but it’s easier to get a nice fit with stretchy fabric--cotton or cotton blend knits, or lycra or similar material of whatever weight you like. For a bathing suit you’ll likely go for a non-cotton lycra or blend, lined or not depending on the weight of the fabric. My favorite, and most often used, source for fabric is thrift stores. I’m of a size that I can easily get a skivvy for me out of a large sized knit shirt, and I end up with more variety of prints than I’d likely choose at a fabric store. It makes it more fun. And at a few dollars you can fill your drawer and make however many you need to while you are fine-tuning your pattern to get that perfect fit. It can get a bit addictive, however, it’s such anstriped skivvies easy and fun sewing project!

The popularity of sewing underwear can be attested to by a quick search online--no lack of encouragement there. And there as many ways to make them as people who do so, though they generally are rather similar. I came up with my own instructions by doing, and making notes and changes every time I make a pair. I’ll add my own instructions at a later time in case they might help someone. But for now I’d like to share a few tips that have helped.

Sizing for Fabric -- Cotton or cotton-blend knits fit differently than lycra, and there is quite a difference in stretchiness of different fabrics. After awhile you’ll get a feel for it simply by stretching the fabric and feeling how much elasticity there is. Make skivvies out of several different types of fabric then make notes. Mostly I add a half or full inch to the side seams for cotton/cotton blend knits (my main pattern cutout is for thin stretchy fabrics since it’s easy to add to the pattern when cutting the pieces if need be for heavier material). Or visa versa (subtract some at the side seams for thinner, stretchier fabrics if your pattern is geared toward heavier). If no stretch at all you might want to try adding to the center instead of just at the seams. Make your skivvy, wash it, wear it, adjust your pattern, find some more material, make another pair, wash it, wear it... There’s no end to this instruction! Do wash before making altering decisions as the fabric and elastic will relax back to shape in the washing and be more a more ‘accurate’ fit.

Elastic -- As with fabric so with elastic, as far as differences in stretch. I have a strong preference for comfort and found some soft-on-one-side elastic that I like. It was the uncomfortable skritchy seams and elastics that got me into making my own to begin with. Our local stores haven’t much of a selection so I bought a lot of different types from Sew Sassy Fabrics (www.sewsassy.com) online. Plenty of choices there, so it’s easy to experiment and find what you like best. But the last few pairs I made I tried out a wider, softer, elastic for the tops. While I do like the feel and fit of the elastic I neglected to take into account that it had less stretch than what I had been using. So back to the sewing room (actually, the kitchen table!) - cut out the side seams, piece in an extension. This works but it would have been much easier to simply add an inch to the elastic to begin with.

Side seams -- Oh, how irritating they can be, and uncomfortable. But they certainly don’t have to be! My easy solution is to overlap and top-stitch--sides, crotch (if there is a seam), lining. So much more comfortable. And the humble but so appreciated glue stick makes the easy even easier. It helps me do a better, cleaner job of sewing. I use a 1/2” overlap. Let the glue dry before sewing; a quick press with the iron helps. ZZ stitch down one side of the overlap, turn over and do the other side. For this and for attaching the elastic I use a length and width of 2, loosen needle tension one number, and loosen the pressure foot tension. A ballpoint/jersey needle for knits and a stretch needle for lycra makes it all go smoother.

So that takes care of the bathing suit bottom test piece (the first photo) and now I have to come up with the top. I still have that fabric I bought last spring and hopefully I’ll get to sewing up that final bathing suit before the snow goes. BTW, all of the above pertains to men’s knit undershorts (bathing suit/biking short/running shorts...), too. They are a bit more complicated to sew up but not overly so. So next time you’re in the local thrift store, check out the large sized knit shirts for your next sewing project, for him or her.


SEWING - Replacement Work Shirt Collar - 1-20-2017

photo shirt collarsWinter is the time I can catch up on mending and sewing projects which pile up during those months when my focus is outside. I find it satisfying to spend a little time to make a favorite clothing fit better or extend its life. Neither of us enjoy shopping for new clothes so altering/mending/sewing suits us. And since I do it when I feel like it that suits me, too!

One of those easy and satisfying projects is to re-collar a work shirt for Steve. He has his favorites and is reluctant to give those up just because they get a little (or lot) tattered. It seems the first part to wear through is the collar (unless the shirt goes down for some other more drastic, and usually obvious, reason). If the shirt is in otherwise reasonable condition I take the collar and collar band off and sew a new one on.

I keep some plain cotton fabric on hand for this, simple navy and brown. You can use the collar you take off as a pattern, or trace around another one onto some sturdy paper or cardstock. Or use a commercial pattern. I use the collar pattern from a shirt pattern I came up with awhile ago for making or altering shirts for Steve. A one-piece collar/band combination works (it is just a work shirt after all!) but I find a separate neck band and collar piece sewn together fits and looks better, so that is what I do. For these re-do’s I don’t bother with interfacing or top button as I would with a new shirt. You could just replace the collar with a neck-band; that works, too. But I do a 'regular' one (it works better for the fiddler!).

Whenever I make a pattern for something I make notes as I go along and type out instructions for next time. I list the steps in the order that worked for me, highlighting anything that might make the work go easier in the future. I tweak and make changes to the instructions every time I use the pattern. This helps down the road.

Here are my instructions for a replacement work shirt collar (with no interfacing):

= Cut two pieces - Neck Band and Collar

= Neck Band
– Place in order: Inner band right side up / Shirt yoke right side up / Outer band right side down.
– Stitch 1/2” seam, folding in ends to match.
– Press seams toward neck band.
– Top stitch along edge. Mark center back.

= Collar
– Sew 2 layers together, right sides facing, stopping 3/4” from neck band edge. Mark center.
– Clip corners. Turn right side out. Press flat.
– Sew Inner Collar to Band, Right Sides Facing (shirt back is facing up, inner collar down).
– Press seam toward band. Turn shirt over.
– Carefully smooth inner layers. Turn under raw edge and pin slightly below other seam. Overstitch along edge of collar.
– Trim as necessary at ends. Make sure both sides are even.
– Turn in and top stitch close to edge (on right side).
– Top stitch, top side, around collar.

And there you have it -- a renewed work shirt! Now, about those cuffs...

Copyright by Susan Robishaw

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Have you read  "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener"? A fun short read.

or "Homesteading Adventures"    Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.

and "Growing Berries for Food and Fun"   A journey you can use in your own garden.

updated 01/16/2017
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