Tag Archives: reconstruction


24 May

I know what you’re thinking: “Who TF alters a tote bag?” Honestly, a lot of people asked me this – my students, my coworkers, my friends, myself. But, dammit, sometimes I wanna do weird things just to see how it turns out. And in this case, it was making this LL Bean Nor’easter Tote Bag 1000x better than straight off the rack.

Here is a photo of the bag as grabbed from LL Bean’s website. It’s a fine bag, very well made. It works great as it is. But I wanted to make it better, so I did.

I bought my tote from the LL Bean Outlet Store in North Hampton, NH. Fun fact: It’s right down the street from Pintuck & Purl, and I make Maggie take me there every time I’m in town for a workshop LOL. This time, I was determined to get a tote bag! I have a vacation coming up in July and I wanted a big ol’ tote bag to strap to my carry-on suitcase. Another fun fact about the LL Bean Outlet – you can buy mis-embroidered tote bags for about 30% off the cost. Which is how I ended up with Essie Kate’s bag.

Thanks, Essie Kate! Love u!

Apparently it is very New England to leave the wrong name on your bag, which I briefly considered, but I just love seam ripping too much. Off it went!

I did also consider just leaving it as “i ate” but the spacing was just too weird. Bye Felicia! I mean, Essie!

Like I said, the bag is great as-is – it is very roomy, has a zipper across the top, and a nice hanging pocket bag that includes a zippered pocket and 2 gusseted pockets. I liked that it included a detachable crossbody strap, in addition to the handles. The fabric is sturdy and heavy, and waterproof (both on the base and the interior). It was pretty close to what I was looking for. But after carrying it through the airport for my trip home, I made note of a few updates that would make it even better:

  • An outside pocket on the front to stash my phone
  • An slip-through panel on the back so I could attach it to my suitcase
  • An interior pocket for my laptop so it doesn’t bounce around
  • Also, the entire bag was just a hair too big. It needed to be about 2″ shorter – the height was a bit cumbersome for using the shoulder strap, and honestly just looks disproportionally large next to me, in all my 5’2″ glory

And here it is post-alterations! Hooray!

Making these adjustments actually wasn’t very hard – other than trying to wrangle the bag under my sewing machine (I’m sure you can tell that it’s not my absolute neatest sewing ever – which I’m fine with!). It only took a couple of hours and I was able to use materials that I already had on hand, so my only investment was purchasing the bag itself.

The front pocket was made using waxed canvas – I had the tiniest piece, it was actually used to keep closed a roll of wax canvas that came in a Klumhouse Kit. I saved it because it was a nice color, and it looks so good with this bag! To attach the pocket, I just ripped off the straps and inserted the pocket edges, then sewed the straps back down. I debated whether to insert it in the bottom fabric seam as well, but there was so much finishing and topstitching that I decided to just topstitch it down right above that seam instead.

I’m actually pretty stinkin proud of that back slip-through panel – I added a zipper to the bottom (which was a neat idea I nabbed from one of my Briggs & Riley luggage pieces) so it can also function as a pocket when it’s not attached to my suitcase! The fabric is waxed canvas that I bought from the Crafty Gemini ages ago, and the zipper is from an old Niizo bag kit. The topstitching does look a bit sloppy at the bottom – again, I was sewing this on a fully formed (and quite rigid) bag, so I’m cutting myself some slack here. It’s fine.

Here is a poorly-lit photo of the interior laptop pocket (can you tell that I didn’t edit these photos at all?). I sized it to fit my laptop and used more of the navy waxed canvas. I did have to be mindful of when I was sewing on white vs navy, and change my bobbin thread accordingly. I originally did not add a closure, but I hate a floppy laptop pocket (you think you’re putting something in the bag and it goes in the pocket, UGH). I used leftover canvas from the bag’s outer, and folded it up to create a tab, which got sewn into the top binding. I added a snap – the tab was sturdy enough to accommodate the snap with no extra reinforcement, but my navy waxed canvas is pretty thin so I supported it with a leather washer (this also came from a Klumhouse kit, and is absolutely 100% where I got the idea from). I use an industrial snap setter so I had no problem getting a strong snap through those layers. I like this closure because it keeps the pocket closed when not in use, doesn’t show from the outside, and also doesn’t risk scratching my laptop.

This is unrelated to my project and not something I added to the bag – but I wanted to share the free hanging pocket, which is really nice! The zipper gusset folds over the open pockets when the bag is not zipped, so your stuff doesn’t fall out 🙂 I thought that was pretty cool! PS sorry about all those threads that I need to snip!

Ok, I don’t have any photos of shortening the bag because that was a pretty straight forward process. The top is finished with a canvas binding, so I pulled that off with my seam ripper, which also removed the zipper gusset and the free hanging pocket. I also had to open the side seams a bit so I could lower the crossbody strap D rings, because they are close to the top and would get cut off. I removed 1.75″ from the top, moved down the D rings, put the gusset and pocket back in, and re-attached the binding. Like I said, the only hard part was wrangling it under then machine (which honestly felt like a walk in the PARK after sewing those pockets in haha).

I used my Janome HD9 machine, which is not an industrial but it can sew a pretty powerful stitch. I don’t know if a standard sewing machine could handle this, the layers got super thick especially when attaching the binding. I equipped with a size 18 needle and 30wt Gutterman thread – except the white topstitching, I actually didn’t have the right weight thread in that color so I doubled up 2 spools of 100wt! (this is a fun little tailoring trick I pull out of my hat when I have a rush jeans hem and don’t have the right thread color – or time to order. NO ONE can tell. Sometimes I even make my own ~custom colors~ by using two different spool colors lmao).

Aaaaaand that’s it! That’s the story how I altered a tote bag. I’m super duper happy with the changes – it’s a better size for me, and the extra pockets are highly useful. We shall see how well it fares on my international trip but in the meantime I’ll be bringing it with me to upcoming classes!

Speaking of upcoming classes – I’ve got a few more dates for my Alterations class scattered throughout the year (including one in October at Pintuck & Purl – you could walk to the LL Bean Outlet and nab yourself a discounted tote to attack!). I say this often, but I can’t say it enough – alterations does not *have* to be pants hems and boring shit. Basically anything that has been sewn can be altered. A big part of the fun of this class is bopping around ideas and changing things up in the most glorious and unconventional ways (although if you want to learn pants hems and other standard alterations – I can teach you that, too!). Read more about my alterations class here in this post, and check my upcoming dates here!

Completed: Reworking A Vintage Blazer

7 Oct

Here’s a big ol’ project I worked on for a couple months this summer that I believe warrants a whole ass blog post!

Fair warning – there are a LOT of photos in this post. I tried to narrow them down and include some collages, but… don’t say I didn’t warn you!

This project started with me wanting to make a blazer – but after months of looking and just not feeling any of the fabrics I was seeing, I decided I would try altering one instead. I’ve altered plenty of blazers, jackets, and coats for lots of clients + photoshoots over the years, but I’ve yet to really tackle complicated alterations beyond sleeve shortening and taking in the body (since, understandably, most people don’t need those kind of crazy alterations!). Over the summer, I worked closely on a photoshoot set with a master tailor here in Nashville, Loretta, who was delighted to share a lot of her trips and tricks with me. I spent some time looking for the perfect blazer for this project, and eventually found this 70s gem at the Southern Thrift in West Nashville, for a grand $5.99-

The before – click to zoom a lil’

As you can see, the before wasn’t super terrible! Obviously the sleeves were a little long and the back a bit saggy (there was no size tag in this jacket but I suspect it was probably 1-2 sizes too big for me). I also felt like the shoulders were a touch wide, and the length a little too long. But I loved the fabric and knew I could work some magic to get this bad boy to fit the way I liked!

I started with pulling off the buttons, the back belt, the cheesy patch pockets (I’m sorry, but they are SO cheesy lol and were also poorly sewn on!). I removed the entire lining from the shell and set about my alterations first. Here is what I ended up doing:

  • Narrowed the shoulders by 1/2″
  • Added shoulder pads (the original ones had disintegrated into the jacket hem! I am STILL finding old shoulder pad dust in my studio, despite regular vacuuming!)
  • Took in back arm seams 3/8″
  • Took in side back seams 1/8″
  • Took in center back seam 1/2″
  • Shortened body length 2″
  • Shortened sleeve length 3/4″

This was accomplished by lots of pinning, basting, trying on, and taking photos (so I could see what the back looked like). Usually when I do these alterations, I work with a client who is already wearing the jacket – so it’s quick and easy to pin where needed. It’s a little harder when you are doing it yourself, but still totally doable!

Adding pockets and plackets!

After finishing the alterations, I could work on the fun stuff – adding design elements to the shell! I knew I wanted to change those patch pockets out for double welt pockets. I also wanted to include sleeve vents with functioning (!!!) button holes, a single welt breast pocket, and an interior “Barcelona” pocket.

Since I had removed the patch pockets and back belt from the original jacket, I was able to carefully disassemble them which gave me some fairly good-sized pieces of fabric to work with. Adding the double and single welt pockets was pretty straightforward and easy – it’s the exact same as sewing on a piece of fabric, you just have to contend with, well, an entire jacket getting in your way haha. I used the instructions + pattern pieces from the Closet Core Patterns Jasika Blazer for the two exterior pockets, and a beloved In-House Patterns tutorial for the inner pocket. Honestly, the hardest part about this endeavor was figuring out where exactly to put the pocket! For the outside pockets, I drew chalk lines directly on the blazer and checked the proportions in the mirror until I was happy. For the interior pocket, I went a little lower than my chest after looking at loads and loads and LOADS of blazers online with interior pockets – consensus seems to be that it starts right below the welt of the outer breast pocket. Which makes sense, as you don’t want whatever you put in that pocket to sit right on top of your breast. Well, I don’t want that anyway haha.

For the sleeve placket – well, that was a fun experience! The original jacket had no placket – just buttons sewn straight on a plain sleeve. Loretta had shown me how to shorten a jacket sleeve with a working button placket, which is the same process as adding a placket. You just sew fabric to the edge to create a placket extension; all the seams are hidden when it is finished. I had no idea shit would be that simple. I think the scraps I used came from the back belt. For a step by step, I followed these directions for sewing a back vent (a back vent and button placket on a jacket are essentially the same – except there is no exposed line of diagonal stitching) from Waffle Patterns. The hardest part of that was getting the corners to miter correctly haha. Wish I could give y’all some tips for that but TBH I just used a lot of trial and error and unpicking until it was right.

I also decided to change out the lining, after determining the original lining – while a really beautiful soft pinkish beige – was just too smelly and discolored. I took the lining apart and used the pieces to cut a new lining from a piece of silk charmeuse that I already had in my stash (here is a blog post I wrote a few years ago about replacing a lining in a coat, which is the same process I used!). I made sure to add my alteration adjustments and sleeve plackets to the pieces, then sewed the whole thing together and bagged it in. I did hand sew at the sleeve button plackets and near the front facing (you can sort of see the pins in the above photos), but the rest was done by machine.

After THAT was done (whew!), I added some fun finishing touches 🙂 I sewed buttons + button holes on the sleeve plackets (using the original buttons, cos, well, I like them!), added a leather hanging tab + label to the back facing – oh, and I made a sweet wool felt embroidered undercollar!

To make the undercollar piece, I cut some Swedish tracing paper and traced it around the undercollar, trimming and refining until it was the exact same size. Then I cut it from wool felt (which I ordered the The Felt Pod); my piece was wider than the felt so there is a seam in the center. Then I embroidered it by hand with a simple chain stitch, and attached it directly over the existing undercollar using embroidery floss + a blanket stitch. It’s not visible when the collar is down, but it is a fun surprise when flipped up!

I actually finished the whole thing about a month or so ago, but didn’t get around to taking photos until this last weekend. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – taking photos is the part I hate most! So, like, enjoy or something 😛 I’m pretty sure my neighbors did considering that came outside RIGHT WHILE I WAS SHOOTING THESE dear lord can you see the fear in my eyes?

And if you don’t want to look at my mug (it’s cool, I don’t want to look at it either), here are some dressform shots:

I think that’s about it for this project! I had a lot of fun digging into this one and feel extra confident in my alteration skills as a result. Funnily, the original jacket isn’t very fancy – it’s actually pretty cheaply made as far as jackets go. The wool is a blend, and there wasn’t much tailoring inside the shell apart from a bunch of interfacing. Spending so much time + effort (and silk lining lol) was basically the equivalent of polishing a turd – but, you know what? I love how it turned out, and I learned a lot during the process. I don’t know if such an involved reconstruction would be worth it if you were paying someone else to do it – but for me and my sewing practice? It was perfect. I was only out about $10 for this project (the jacket + wool felt, as I already had the lining in my stash) which we can all agree is WAY cheaper (and faster!) than making the dang thing from scratch!

I will always love making garments from their humble fabric beginnings, but truly, you can’t beat a solid reconstruction (or even just a couple simple alterations to an otherwise great + previously-loved garment!). This might be the most sustainable I get when it comes to sewing, ha! How about you? Does this inspire you to give it a try?