Let the yarn do all the work

Last Friday I finished my mom’s shawlette or scarf or whatever the heck it should be called. It’s a Trillian by Martina Behm. As previously posted, I used Schoppel Laceball in the color way Rosa Träume. It was a very relaxing and mindless knit. In fact, I got a bit bored knitting it. Today I got a few nice photos of it outside despite the cloudy skies:

The striping effect is beautifully dramatic and I know my mom will love it. And now my Christmas knitting is complete! Tomorrow is December 1 so it’s time for me to get going on the Grinch-a-long.

Doing Thanksgiving outside the U.S.A.

It is the eve of Thanksgiving in the U.S. Well, for me it’s the evening. It is exactly 11:21 PM as I write this. I hope everyone from the U.S.A. has a wonderful and relaxing day. If some of you have to work, well, so do I! Nobody where I live celebrates it. Of course, I love eating Thanksgiving dinner. But I also insist on observing this holiday in my home because it truly motivates me to remember what I am grateful for.

Thanksgiving, it goes without saying, is my favorite holiday and during the four years I’ve been living in Spain I haven’t missed a single one. Of course, it’s quite the solitary affair. I make Thanksgiving dinner for two. Sometimes, it’s been a challenge to get it right but I have tricks up my sleeve.

This year as always I have to teach the regularly scheduled English classes. This most certainly does not mean that I have to wait until the weekend to do my Thanksgiving dinner. In Spain, especially in a small city like the one I live in, pretty much everything closes at 2 PM to reopen again at 5 PM. This means that nobody takes English classes between these hours, either, so I have time to get together with my partner at home and have a couple of hours of Thanksgiving time.

It’s all a matter of proper planning. Today, I made my stuffing and an apple pie in my spare time. I also got my cranberry sauce ready, which was also a challenge. You see, all the ingredients for an American Thanksgiving are actually foods available every day in Spain,  except fresh cranberries or a can of cranberry sauce. In past years I’ve been able to find craisins, which are dried cranberries that look like little red raisins. I have made cranberry sauce with these by boiling them in sugary water. This year I have not seen a single craisin available. So, I made cranberry sauce by dissolving gelatin in cranberry juice. I tried some and it tastes like the real thing so, success!

I will not be roasting a whole turkey. Instead, I’ll be roasting turkey tenderloins. Since I have to go back to work in the afternoon, I’m also not making any mashed potatoes or squash. Instead, I’m going to roast my potatoes and the squash with the turkey tenderloins. Thanksgiving dinner, after I manage to heat the stuffing in the microwave and make a gravy from chicken broth, will be ready in under 40 minutes.

I really can’t wait to eat tomorrow! The stuffing looks so delicious. I have resisted the temptation to dig into it so far. And, of course, I can even be thankful for celebrating this holiday far away from home because I don’t have to listen to my relatives shout at the T.V. during the football game. In fact, I shall spend the day completely removed from and oblivious of football. I’m sorry, football fans. It’s just not my thing. I’m a hockey kind of guy!

Basic black gloves

I finished a pair of gloves just in time for today’s cold and rainy weather. They aren’t for me, but I modeled one so you can see how they came out:

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I followed the basic glove pattern found in Ann Budd’s The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns. The yarn is Patons Wool DK, a very convenient superwash wool I had in my stash. And, just in case you suspect I didn’t make two, I took a rather gloomy indoor picture of the pair:

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Getting ready to Grinch

Today I have taught a lot of English classes but I have time and energy for a mid-week blog post. I don’t have any photos to share because although I’ve been knitting there isn’t a lot of good lighting to take halfway decent pictures. I’m almost done with my mom’s shawl I’m giving her for Christmas and I’m just finishing a pair of gloves for my partner (he needs a pair of gloves ASAP, it’s getting super cold here).

As many knitters know, The Knitmore Girls Podcast holds an annual “Grinch-a-long” with some very interesting rules. To participate, you can’t knit anything for Christmas this year and you have to spend the holiday season doing something that gives you joy beginning December 1. The concept is really cool. Many knitters this time of year are feverishly trying to get knitted gifts done before December 25. I abandoned this kind of activity about two years ago but last year I couldn’t qualify to participate in the Grinch-a-long because I worked on a Christmas gift in December. I absolutely was not swamped with self-imposed Christmas knitting last year it was just that I got very unenthusiastic about the project and put it in time out for too long in November. This year I am totally pumped! I haven’t committed myself to Christmas knitting on the scale that I have in the past and I managed to start the two Christmas gifts I will be giving people way ahead of time so I’ll be Grinching.

Technically, the Grinch-a-long is considered a contest but for me it’s been a goal to participate because in the past I have pretty much ruined the Christmas season for myself by forcing myself to knit gifts for too many people. The funny thing is that no one really minds if you don’t knit something for them unless you tell them ahead of time you’re going to knit something for them (that was never my case, even weirder). In fact, reflecting upon Christmases past I honestly cannot say why or how I got the idea stuck in my head that I had to knit for as many people as possible for Christmas. Anyway, I’m not going to get all competitive about it. I’m just going to enjoy the fact that I will be able to participate in the fun and commiserate with my fellow Grinches.

Another thing that is getting me excited for the Grinch-a-long is that I’ll be able to get Grinchy in the United States. I haven’t been home for Christmas to see my family in a very long time. There’s just something cool about participating in an event that originates in America and also being in the same country. I really can’t say why because people from all over the world listen to the Knitmores and participate in their events and contests. I suppose it could be related to the fact that I listen to podcasts to keep myself connected to my native language and culture while living in another.

Is anyone else going to participate in the Grinch-a-long this year?

Any pot pie you like

I have been knitting a lot. Unfortunately, I’ve been knitting the same old things: A shawl for Mom, a pair of socks, and a cabled sweater. I think it would be rather boring to show you pictures of my WIPs because I’ve already done that and all you’ll see are more of the same  that aren’t finished yet. This week I have also turned left over pot roast into beef pot pies. So, just in case I didn’t have much knitting to write about I took some photos and decided to write about making them. If you read on you will get: a pretty darn good all-purpose pie crust recipe, a way to make pot pies with any savory filling you like, and my own personal recipe for individual beef pot pies made with leftover pot roast. Also, remember: you can easily double or triple everything indicated below.

The Crust

We judge a good pie crust according to how it flakes. To make a really flaky, puffy pie crust, in my opinion, it is essential to use butter. Also, it’s important to make sure the pie is nice and cold when you put it in the hot oven. The pie crust will puff up and acquire that flaky and tender texture we all want. In my recipe I use lots of butter. This is not for dieters or people with diet restrictions. So, here it goes:

Recipe for all-purpose pie crust (for the top and bottom of a 9-inch pie):

Ingredients:

1 cup of butter (4 sticks), cold

2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1/4 cup or less of cold water

extra flour for dusting and rolling

(note: if this is for a dessert pie, also add 1/4 cup of white sugar)

Directions:

Cut the butter into little cubes. To a large mixing bowl (or large capacity food processor with chopping blade) add flour, salt, butter (and sugar if this is for dessert). Cut the butter into the flour or pulse a few times if using a food processor. When your mixture has a course texture and can form little pea-shaped balls you are done combining the flour with the butter.

Stir with a spoon (or run the food processor) while adding the cold water little by little. When the mixture forms a ball all on its own stop adding water and stop mixing. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it a little bit with floured hands on a floured surface. If the dough is really sticky or pasty you can add some more flour to it as you knead it to get the consistency you desire.

At this stage, you can wrap the large ball in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator or you can roll it out the way you want with a rolling pin and flour. When you’re handling the dough just make sure you keep your surface, hands, and rolling pin floured. If you keep it in the fridge for a long time (more than 30 minutes) you will need to leave the dough on the counter for a while to take the extreme chill off before working with it. An all-butter pie dough gets really stiff and impossible to work with when it’s really cold. I actually prefer to refrigerate the dough for 15 to 20 minutes after mixing it and before working with it.

Any pot pie you like

To make pot pie filling all you need to remember is the following: you typically need 1/3 cup flour, 1/3 cup of butter, and 2 1/2 cups of liquid (usually broth or stock). This will be enough to fill a 9-inch pie or 4 individual pot pies. If you need more filling, double or triple these proportions. I prefer to make individual pot pies, actually. They store nicely and you can bake them as you need them.

Phase 1: You start cooking your filling by melting the butter in the pan, adding minced or chopped onion to the hot fat and sautéing it until the onion gets translucent.

Phase 2: Add the flour and cook the flour for 1 to 2 minutes.

Phase 3: Gradually add your liquid as you stir or whisk the hot mixture. To do it right, add the liquid in very tiny amounts at the beginning and do not add more liquid until you see a smooth, congealed mixture in your pan. So the procedure is: add a tiny amount of liquid, stir aggressively until it all looks homogeneous and smooth, add a tiny amount of liquid, stir aggressively until it all looks homogeneous and smooth, etc. etc. Eventually, your mixture will be able to handle larger additions of liquid. Keep going until you’ve added all the liquid. Cook for five minutes more (make sure your mixture is bubbling) before moving on to Phase 4.

Phase 4: Add the rest of your ingredients and cook until the mixture has the consistency you’re looking for. If you’re using cooked chicken breast or another type of cooked meat that does not improve with extensive simmering, add it when you’ve finished cooking the other ingredients.

Phase 5: Allow the filling to cool completely. I like to cook my filling hours in advance of assembling my pot pies so it’s nice and cold.

Phase 6: Make your pie dough as indicated above. Roll out your pie dough as you like and start assembling the pie or pies. Line your containers with pie dough, add your filling, and top it off with the top of the crust. When they’re assembled, refrigerate them for at least an hour before baking them. You can also freeze them.

Phase 7: Brush the pot pies with whole milk or cream and poke a hole in their centers.

Phase 8: Bake the pot pies (individual 4-inch round or square pies) at 375 degrees F (190 C) for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Let them cool for ten minutes before serving them. If the pies are frozen, bake them for 60 to 70 minutes.

Leftover individual pot roast pot pies (serves 4)

Filling:

1/2 cup of onion, minced

1/2 cup of Cremini mushrooms, minced

1/3 cup of flour

1/3 cup of butter

2 1/2 cups of beef stock (it does not have to be homemade)

1/2 cup of sliced carrots (make sure you peel them!)

1/4 cup of frozen peas

1 teaspoon of dried thyme (or more if you like)

1 or 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce

1 cup (or some more!) of leftover pot roast, chopped into small pieces or shredded

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

In a large frying pan or medium-sized pot melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for one or two minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute. Add the mushrooms. Add the beef stock little by little and stirring, as described in “Any pot pie you like,” above. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer until the mixture has the desired consistency. Remove from heat. Cool, and then chill in the fridge until ready to assemble the pot pies.

Assembly:

After making the pie dough as instructed above, divide it into eight pieces. Four pieces should be of equal size but larger than the other four pieces. The slightly larger pieces are for the bottom of the individual pot pies and the slightly smaller ones are for the tops. Grease four 4-inch round or square baking dishes (you can get away with using 5-inch ones, too). Roll out each of the four larger pieces to fit the baking dishes. Line the dishes with the dough. Add the filling. Roll out the four smaller pieces and top the individual pot pies with them. Cut off the excess dough and press down on the edges to make sure the top edges and bottom edges are sealed. Refrigerate or freeze the pot pies until ready to bake them. Bake refrigerated pot pies in 375 F (190 C) oven 30-40 minutes or frozen pies in 375 F (190 C) oven for 60 minutes. Let the pies cool for 10 minutes and serve.

Enjoying pot pies

An individual, homemade pot pie is just something I love to eat. When you make them for dinner guests it’s also quite the delight for them. There’s just something cool about getting a little delicious savory pie just for you.

Sewing for yarn lovers: DIY round project bags

I’ve become quite proficient at using the sewing machine at this point. I started sewing about three years ago and I’ve gained enough confidence to start blogging some tutorials for anyone who also is interested in learning.

One of the main reasons why I wanted to learn to sew was because I wanted to make my own gear for knitting and crocheting. I often have three or four projects going at the same time so I started to feel the need for project bags. Having a bag for every project, though? That’s expensive! I was on a mission to sew my own. Of course, you can knit or crochet project bags, too, as you probably have already seen on my blog. Knitting and crocheting them and inserting a fabric lining, in fact, was where I began to learn how to sew project bags. You see, a fabric lining for a knitted or crocheted bag is actually a bag half-sewn.

To my fellow knitters and crocheters who very eagerly and publicly declare that they do not sew: I used to be like that. Somehow the chip in my brain changed. Now I find sewing just as much fun as knitting and crocheting, although I must admit that I try to do as little sewing as possible (or none at all) in my yarn projects. It’s quite the contradiction. I don’t mind.

So, do you want to learn how to sew a round project of the caliber that you can find on Etsy or elsewhere, sewn by hand, and expensive looking? Read on. Just remember that I don’t like pockets in my bags so, if you wish to have pockets for yours you’ll have to figure out how to add them yourself.

I have found that the most cost-effective and best results come from using canvas. It’s stiff, strong, and, when you use it as an exterior and a lining it will hold up so you can keep your working ball of yarn inside while you knit or crochet. You just fold the top of the bag down, retrieve your piece in progress leaving the yarn ball inside, and you’re good to go. Here’s a picture of what I mean and how it works:

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Digression: I despise pockets in my project bags because 1) things fall into them and then I wonder where they went 2) I can’t be bothered to store tools in the bags, I prefer a zipper pouch with all my tools, which I can transfer from one bag to another.

So, here we go with the tutorial. Bear with me and my photography, please. I took pictures with my iPhone as I sewed a bag to illustrate my instructions and some of them aren’t so nice (others are awesome!).

Materials:

  • Canvas, enough for a bag exterior, lining, shoulder strap, and loops for the drawstring
  • Cord, either store-bought or homemade (you could knit icord, braid a kumihimo cord, or crochet one!)
  • Scissors
  • Thread
  • Tailor’s chalk or fabric pencil
  • Sewing machine (unless you wish to sew it by hand)
  • Cardboard
  • Measuring tape
  • Straight edge ruler
  • Pins
  • Compass, for drawing circles

Dimensions: As big or small as you want

Procedure

This tutorial looks like it’s for a project that will take ages to complete. Actually, if you’re pretty good at sewing it shouldn’t take you longer than three or four hours from the first step to the final step. Once you’ve completed a bag successfully you will be able to make more of them in less time than that.

The procedure is straight-forward. Two separate cylinders, with circular bottoms, are sewn: the exterior and the lining. These two cylinders are then combined, leaving a 2″ hole around each side seam. The shoulder strap ends are then inserted into these holes to be sewn together, attaching the strap to the bag and closing up the holes.

The holes not only permit the shoulder strap to be attached to the bag. They also allow for sewing the lining to the inside of the bag with a neat and professional look.

Step 1: Think (with math) before brandishing sharp things

For this bag I’m using canvas fabrics that are the same print but with contrasting color schemes. You can find canvas fabrics that compliment each other or, if you wish to get even more advanced, you can patch together different pieces to create interesting, crazy designs.

I’ve discovered that measuring and cutting the fabric for a sewing project is actually the most difficult and crucial stage in the process. Mainly, this is because you can make a piece of fabric smaller but, once it’s cut, that’s it, it’s impossible to make it bigger.

Before cutting you need to decide how big you need your bag to be. It’s a cylindrical drawstring bag so it needs to be x” tall and x” around. To make your decision it might be helpful to make a circle with your measuring tape to see how big, say, 20″ of circumference is. Then, you need to remember that you will be sewing seams, which will take away from the circumference a bit. So, if you think you will need, for example, a bag with a 20″ circumference, add an inch to that number. Now, you have a theoretical circumference, a number that allows for seams and fraying. We will work with this number throughout the tutorial and not the actual dimensions of the finished project.

Also, to decide on your dimensions, the type of knitting or crochet project you want it to store is important. In this tutorial, I’m making a bag large enough to hold a sweater project (that means all the yarn and the work in progress). My bag, including seam allowances, has a theoretical circumference of about 31″ and a height of 22″. You will see in the pictures that this is a pretty big bag! If you just want something to tote around a sock or doily project, think smaller. My small project bags actually have the same circumference of 31″ but are shorter, about 11″ tall.

Once you’ve decided on your measurements it’s time to do some math so you get the bottom right. It needs to be a circle so it’s time to use Pi. In fact, I suggest you play with your calculator a bit and figure out what diameter and radius of a circle you need to fulfill your circumference requirements. It’s far easier to calculate than it is to measure after you’ve sewn the body of the bag. So, taking my example of a circumference of 31″, it turns out that the diameter of my circle will be 10″ because 2 * radius * 3.14 = circumference (you can round up and down). A circle’s radius is half its diameter, so 2 * 5 * 3.14 =31.4. I rounded down because my decimal was below five. If your decimal is five or above, round up. Now, if you wish to discover your circle’s diameter starting with your circumference you need the formula radius = circumference / 6.28. So, using my circumference’s example, 5 = 31.4 / 6.28. If you want to get really accurate with your calculations, take Pi out as many decimal places as you like. By the way: I got the number 6.28 by multiplying 2 times 3.14.

Step 2: Cut out the pieces

OK, now that the math is done, let’s measure, draw, and cut. Be warned and totally aware: You may be surprised, if you’ve never worked with canvas before, by the measurements of the fabric pieces. Also remember that this isn’t clothing so we’ve got a seam allowance of 1/2″. You will be cutting loose threads constantly when you’re sewing. I recommend checking every piece of fabric before sewing for nice results (otherwise, you’ll find loose threads sewn to the right side of your work, icky!)

You need to cut out the following pieces:

4 big rectangles (2 for the bag exterior and 2 for the lining, each having a width measuring half the theoretical circumference of the bag).

6 little rectangles (2 for the drawstring loops, 4 for the shoulder straps)

2 circles (1 for the bag bottom and 1 for the lining bottom)

A. Let’s start by cutting the bag exterior and lining pieces (4 rectangles organized into two pairs):

a) measure the height and width (in my case, 22″ tall and 16″ wide)

b) if you can’t cut a straight line, like I can’t, use a straight-edge ruler to draw lines on the wrong side of the fabric after taking measurements

B. Now, let’s cut out the two circles:

a) use a compass to draw a half circle on a piece of cardboard with the required diameter

b) cut out the cardboard so you have something like this:

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c) decide on the area of fabric where you’d like to cut and fold so that the right sides are facing each other; the crease should be nearest you, like this:

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d) line up the straight edge of your cardboard half circle with the crease, like this:

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e) with tailor’s chalk or fabric pencil, trace around the round edge of the half-circle, remove cardboard, cut, and you should have these results:

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f) unfold your half-circle and admire your fabric circle:

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g) repeat this procedure once more with the other fabric you chose (either for the lining or the bag exterior).

C. Cut out little rectangles for the drawstring loops and shoulder strap

Decide how long you want your shoulder strap and divide by four. That’s how long your rectangles will be for the shoulder strap. Decide how long you want your loops. I made mine pretty long so that the cord wouldn’t hang all over the place. Actually, I made all my little rectangles 10″ long. I suppose for a smaller circumference bag you might want your cord loops to be 5 or 6″.

The rectangles all need to be 4″ wide.

When you’re done cutting, you should have six rectangles (3 in each color):

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That’s it for cutting. Iron your pieces so they lie flat and cut off any loose, hanging threads (this is canvas, so be prepared to cut loose threads throughout your project). Now we have all the pieces of fabric required.

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Keep your iron hot because now we’re going to work on the loops for the drawstring.

Step 3: Iron and sew the creases on the cord loops

Canvas frays a lot, so it’s pretty unsightly to zig-zag sew visible edges. We want to hide the edges inside the drawstring loops. So, let’s crease the ends. To keep everything symmetrical on the finished project, iron the creases on both little rectangles at the same time. You should get these results:

Now you can turn your iron off and sew down the little flaps you made:

Now, fold them length-wise, with the right sides facing each other, and sew them together. Obviously, you don’t want to sew the ends shut. When they’re sewn together, turn them right-side out. Turning them right-side out requires some patience, but you’ll get the trick.

Step 4: Sew the loops onto the exterior pieces of the bag

Get your two large rectangles for your bag’s exterior and pin the loops onto them. Position them where you would like the cord for your drawstring to be. To keep everything symmetrical, do both pieces at once and pin them to your bag’s exterior. When you’re happy with how they’re pinned, sew them in place, one at a time:

Step 5: Sew the exterior pieces and the lining pieces, separately.

Now we’re going to pin and sew the large rectangles. You only want to sew the vertical edges together, not the bottoms or the tops. Also, right now we are not sewing the lining to the bag body. For now, the lining and the exterior are treated separately. So, pin the two large rectangles for your bag’s exterior together, with the right sides facing each other, and sew vertically on each edge. Do the same for the lining.

Step 6: Pin and sew the exterior bottom and lining bottom (do this twice, once for the exterior and once for the lining)

Pinning together a cylinder is very tricky. For this step, it helps to have a bunch of clean towels to stuff the cylinders with. This gives the piece the right form to accurately pin the circular bottoms to them. To stuff your bag exterior and your lining, hold the piece right-side up, insert the towels, pack them all the way down, and smoosh the working fabric down. Then, turn your bag or lining up-side down (making sure the towels don’t fall out). Here are some visuals to help you grasp what I’m talking about:

Now, pin a circle to the bottom. You should end up with this:

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Just remember that you pin the pieces so that the right sides face each other and you should only be able to see the wrong sides of everything.

Now, it’s time to remove the towels and sew the bottom to the body. Sewing in a circle can be tricky, especially with a sewing machine, because the machine only knows how to move things in a straight line. You have to guide the fabric carefully through the machine. A trick I’ve learned is to “aim for my finger.” I know, this seems stupid, since we always joke around about sewing our fingers to our fabric. Really, all you need to do is place your finger tip on a point your aiming for on the fabric (the next pin head is a good place to put your finger). Here’s what it looks like when you’re working:

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Don’t forget to remove a pin before sewing over it!

Step 7: Sew the lining into the bag exterior

This step can be a bit confusing, so read very carefully: turn the lining right-side out and only do this to the lining. Here’s what your pieces should look like (on the left of the picture you see the lining, to the right you see the bag exterior):

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Now, insert the lining into the bag exterior, just as you have your pieces as pictured above, with the lining right-side out and the exterior inside-out. Making sure the seams on each piece are lined up with each other, pin them together, keeping in mind that you’re going to sew along the top of the bag. Once you’ve got everything pinned in place, get out your tape measure and draw two lines, one at 0″ and another at 2″, like this:

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The lines are bars, marking off 2″ zones where you will not sew.Make sure you do this for both side seams.

Now, it’s time to sew along the top of the bag, leaving about 1/4 to 1/2 inch seam allowance at the top, unless your fabric frayed really horribly like mine did (check out the picture below). You will sew two lines, one along the “front” of the bag and one along the “back.” When you place the piece on the sewing machine, make sure you’re not sewing your bag shut. Also, remember those lines we drew along the side seams? Don’t sew inside the two-inch zones. They mark where you must STOP sewing and also where you must start sewing. Your needle should never cross these lines. It’s like the rules for riding a public bus! Therefore, you are leaving 2″ holes at the top of the bag and these holes are located at each side seam. Here’s what I mean, from the sewing machine’s perspective:

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STOP SEWING AT THE BLUE LINE

Step 8: Turn everything right-side out

Now it’s time for the magic. You are basically going to pull the entire bag (first the lining and then the exterior) through one of the 2″ holes you left at the top. Gently reach into the hole with your index finger and start pulling at the lining so the right side comes out of the hole. Once the entire lining is out, keep pulling so the exterior comes out. When you are finished, you will have a huge cylinder with lining and exterior right sides facing you. Tuck the lining back into the exterior and you will have a bag that looks very professional.

Step 9: Sew the shoulder strap

You have four small rectangles left. Sew them together, with right sides facing each other (and wrong sides facing outward), end-to-end.  Then, fold the whole piece together length-wise so that, again, the right sides face each other, and sew the length of the seam together. You’ll feel like your sewing machine is a hungry monster and you’re feeding it a long length of fabric:

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Turn this long tube right-side out. It takes time and patience, but it’s the same way you turned the drawstring loops right-side out, only a bit longer.

Now, tuck one end of your shoulder strap into one of the holes on your bag (the result of the no-sew zone when you sewed the liner and exterior together). Make sure the seam faces down, which means faces the bag opening. Pin the strap in place and very carefully sew the strap to the bag while at the same time sewing the hole shut. Repeat for the other end of the strap and the other hole on the bag. Make sure you don’t have any loose threads peaking out!

Now all you have to do is thread your cord through the drawstring loops and you’re done.

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