Friday, October 28, 2016

Spooky bags for trick-or-treaters

Halloween Trick-or-Treat pillowcase bag
A boo-tiful Halloween trick-or-treat bag.
It's the spookiest time of the year. And Halloween crafts are fun!

I've been making market bags, tote bags, purses and computer bags for a year now for St. Denis Sundries. Last Halloween I made a set of pillowcase bags for my niece and nephews to take trick-or-treating.

I’m working on a new set of Halloween bags for this year. Part of last year’s learning experience was finding out that burlap bags will wear through when small children drag them on the ground.

I like making pillowcase bags for Halloween, which are simpler than market or tote bags. Just like the name, they are measured and sewn like pillowcases, without a floor or flat bottom. These bags are handy and lightweight, perfect for little kids gathering up all the candy in the neighborhood. (Auntie calls dibs on the peanut butter and chocolate cups!) I’m making this year’s trick-or-treat bags out of burlap again, but I’m adding a section of denim to the bottom edge, along with making them a little bit shorter.  I’m hoping this will prevent holes if – okay, when – the bags are dragged over the gravel road.

Last year I found delightfully printed burlap with Halloween kitties, goblins and pumpkin faces. This year the bags are spooky black and I’ll use an adorable printed Halloween fabric for decoration. The handles are made out of burlap ribbon in matching black. For safety, I’ve added a strip of reflective ribbon so the bags and their trick-or-treaters can be seen by passersby.

Make your pillowcase Halloween trick-or-treat bags

  • Printed or solid color (I’m going with black) burlap – plan a half a yard for one bag
  • Colored denim or heavy canvas to match the burlap – plan one quarter yard for one bag
  • A quarter yard of fabric in a color matching the burlap – you’ll use this to make fabric tape for the raw edges of the burlap
  • Colorful and fun Halloween printed fabric – plan one quarter yard or one fat quarter


Sewing Tools:
  • Sewing machine
  • Denim needle for your sewing machine (optional)
  • 25 mm bias tape maker (This is the one I use: eKingstore Set of 4 Size Fabric Bias Tape Maker Tool)
  • Scissors for cutting burlap
  • Scissors for cutting fabric
  • Rotary cutting tool, ruler and mat
  • Paper grocery bag with a handle, pencil


1. Find out how tall your kiddo is and how far it is from the palm of her hand to the ground. Assume about 3 inches for the handle drop. Your paper bag is a helpful tool here: Have your kiddo stand with her arm at her sides, holding the bag. If the bag touches the ground, measure up from the floor, giving your kiddo’s bag at least 4-6 inches clearance from the ground. This will give you the bag’s length. For the width of you bag, divide the length of the bag by 4. Subtract your answer from the length. That amount is your width.

For example, a bag that is 16 inches in length:
16 ÷ 4 = 4
16 – 4 = 12

This bag will be 16 inches long by 12 inches wide. This is my taller niece’s bag. Her younger brothers’ bags will be:
12 ÷ 4 = 3
12 – 3 = 9

The nephews’ bags will be 12 inches long by 9 inches wide.

Cut your burlap to be 3 inches shorter than your intended finished length. This is your bag panel. Cut your denim or canvas to be 3.5 inches high and the same width as your burlap. This will become the bottom edge of the Halloween bag, sturdy enough to withstand the occasional drag across the ground.

If you don’t have your kiddo with you, a taller child would have a bag with two panels of burlap that are 12.5 inches long and 12.5 inches wide. Cut two strips of denim or canvas 3.5 inches wide and 12.5 inches long (or one piece at a double length of 25 inches) to go at the bottom of the bag.

Burlap and denim are sold on the bolt and are about 60 inches wide. I like to measure and cut my panels on the fold of the fabric, like a book. This is one less edge that needs to be sewed and similar to the construction of most pillowcases. If you do cut two separate panels and denim strips, sew one side first to make the larger pieces before continuing.

2. Make the fabric tape

The fabric tape binds the inside raw edges of the burlap and makes the seams sturdier. For this you will cut 2 inch wide strips of your matching fabric the length of the fabric piece. You can cut the fabric straight across or on the bias; I cut my straight across for bag making.

Feed the fabric through the bias tape maker, gently coaxing it out the tip. Using a large pin, tack the end of the fabric down to your ironing board and carefully pull the tape maker down the length of the fabric for a few inches. Iron the folded fabric as it emerges, pressing the edges of the fabric towards the middle. Here’s a tutorial on making bias tape [].

3. Make the edging and decorative panel

Making the top of your Halloween bag
Making the top edge.
For the top edging: Cut a strip of your Halloween fabric the same length as the unsewn bag is wide plus 1 additional inch (in my case, 33 inches long) and between 2-3 inches wide. The width depends on your pattern and your preference.

Iron the strip of fabric flat and then measure a half an inch deep, folding over the fabric and pinning it in place. Measure and pin all the way down the length of the fabric. Iron the folded edge, pulling out the pins as you go. Repeat the process on the other side so you have two folded edges.

Fold the fabric in half this time so the folded edges meet and you have a fabric tape. Iron flat.

For the decorative panel: Cut a strip of your Halloween fabric the same length as the open bag, plus 1 inch (again, for me that was 33 inches). I cut my panel to be 4 inches wide; you can vary the width based on how long your bag is, making sure to have at least 1 extra inch for the hem.

Just as you did with the edge, measure and iron a half an inch from the edge of the fabric on both sides. This creates your hem. Do not fold the fabric again, since we are not making tape.

4. Assemble your bag

Yay, sewing! It seems like so much of the sewing process of just pinning. Your first step is to lay the

burlap on your work surface, best side up, and line up your denim piece, wrong side up (so the right sides of the fabric are together), with the edge of the burlap. Use your matching fabric tape to fold over the edges of the burlap and denim and pin in place. Sew together.

Layout our your pieces for the proper placement
Layout your pieces and check placement.
Turn the bag over so you are now working on the right side of the fabric. Take your edging piece and fold it over the top of your bag, tucking the raw edge of the burlap to the fold inside. Pin in place. Using a matching thread, sew along the edge of the hem, so the stitches are next to the fold of the fabric. You should have about a half an inch of extra fabric sticking out from either side.

Lay your decorative panel, right side up, on the bag and judge where it looks best; that might be in the center of the bag or a little higher or lower to your liking. Pin the panel in place. Again, sew in matching thread at the edge of the hem. You should have a little bit of fabric running off the burlap on either side.

Lastly, take your reflective tape and lay it across the bottom of the bag, where the denim and burlap meet. I used the middle width piece, which is three-quarters of an inch. Measure the length to match the width of your bag, plus one-quarter to one-half of an inch extending past the side. In black thread, sew the reflective tape to the burlap on both sides in the black edging, not the reflective portion. (This is an iron-on reflective tape but I found sewing it down to be more effective at keeping it place than ironing.)

Once all the pieces are attached to the bag, fold it with the right sides inward and touching. Trim away the excess fabric and reflective tape. Using the matching fabric tape folded over the raw edges, pin and sew on the fabric tape to close the seam.

Turn the bag right-side-out. Looks great, doesn’t it?

5. Attach the handles

Cut two 13 inch lengths of the burlap ribbon. Don’t use your good scissors! Most burlap ribbon will have a thin metal wire running along the edges to give it shape. Find the center of your bag and then find the quarter measurement, between the center and the side of the bag. Line up the outside edge of the burlap ribbon with that point and place the bottom edge of the ribbon 2 inches down from the top edge of the bag opening. Use a pin to hold in place.

A niece with the finished trick-or-treat
bag. The reflective tape helped to make
 sure she and her friends were seen while
roaming the neighborhood this year.
I sew each end of the handles separately; however, you can pin them all in place before stitching. First sew down the part of the handle that rests of the black burlap with your black thread. Sew all four edges down, using a box with an ‘X’ pattern through the center. Then go back to your matching fabric thread and sew a seam across the top of the bag where the handle strap crosses the edging fabric to hold the handle in place.

There you have it: Your kiddo’s custom-made trick-or-treat bag!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Learning to knit cute things

I can't knit. I have tried knitting; I have even done knitting stitches with knitting needles. And yet everything I make comes out to be an ugly knitted thing. So what is a village homesteader to do when she can't knit?

And then I came across sock knitting on loom. It's kind of nifty. The loom is a frame lined with pins.
Knitting on a sock knitting loom.
The pins have grooves on one side and a rounded head. You loop the yard around the pins and use a knitting tool which it looks like a small hook to loop the yarn and create the knitting stitches – depending on the direction, you can create a knit, purl or flat stitch. You can use knitting looms to make socks and hats or use a larger version to make scarves or even blankets.

This seemed to be the knitting solution for me.

I've been using a sock loom now since early spring. I’m actually on my second loom, the first having contributed to my learning experience. I’ve managed to complete two socks, though I hesitate to call them a “pair of socks” even though I made them from matched yarn. One sock is decidedly bigger than the other. The other sock doesn't fit around my foot. For both socks, I have the wrong weighted yarn and the wrong number of pegs on the loom.

Did I mention that I still learning to knit with the loom?

There are a couple types of looms on the market. I am currently using the Authentic Knitting's 9"x3" Sock Loom Knitting Board, made from heavy wood and metal pins. I started using this one after finishing up the second sock – I broke a plastic pin on the first loom I purchased. The entire loom was made from plastic but I had thought the pins were metal. I was wrong. I attempted to glue the broken pin in place, which worked until I was knitting the sock’s toe. It snapped again and I ended up moving that stitch to a neighboring pin. With that experience, I strongly recommend getting a loom that has metal pins rather than plastic ones.

Another thing to keep in mind when using a sock loom make sure to use sock weight or fingerling yarn. This makes a big difference, as I learned in the first pair of mismatched socks. The yarn I used was too heavy and hard to work with, making the stitches too tight. Plus, it’s fun using the lightweight sock yarn. It has a nice feel and there are several different types, even including several cozy baby weight yarns. If you use variegated yarns, like I have, you end up with striped socks. It’s like an unfolding surprise to watch the stripes form as you knit.

The mismatched practice socks.
I am still at risk of making ugly knitted things. Of course, ugly knitted socks might be a fashion statement….  But the idea of making cute, soft and cozy socks to curl up in on a snowy day is definitely an attraction. If I get talented enough they might even find their way into Christmas baskets. Next year’s Christmas baskets, maybe.

I suggest anyone who is struggling to knit or to do other yarn arts, like crochet, have a try at a sock loom. It's not difficult, although you still have to count your stitches and how big a row is. There are several good sock loom knitting books available and I suggest checking them out. Your local library might have them and certainly your craft store and online.

So while I have a quilt top basted and ready for the hoop, you’ll find me in the late evening, curled up on the corner of the couch, actually knitting. And it might even turn out to be a cute knitted thing!