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Perfecting the Tote Bag–Part 2, the Sheep in Sweaters Tote

Wednesday, September 27th, 2023

So FINALLY we get to the Sheep in Sweaters Tote!  When I started the previous post, I discovered I’d never blogged about the turquoise tote, which is the forerunner and partner of this one!  I will say now that I have finished this post (Part 2), it is LONG–but I wanted to be sure you got ALL the good info. If you’re here for just the totebag part, skim the embroidery bits! Thanks for reading!

Those of you who get my newsletter (sign up in right sidebar on this blog or the bottom of all the other website pages–if you prefer enter 12345 as your zip code when it asks) or follow me on social media (@sarahannsmithq and @sarahannsmithartist on FB and @sarahannsmithdesigns on IG), may remember that in 2022, older son Joshua, daughter-in-love Ashley and I spent two weeks in Scotland.  While there Ashley spotted a hilarious totebag with this illustration.  It was a soft, squishy tote, but inexpensive so I bought it and vowed I would convert it into a bag I LOVE!

I forgot to take a photo before I picked out the side seams, but you can tell it is pretty supple.  Great for packing flat into a suitcase, but collapses and not so comfy when full.  In a minor miracle, it has only taken about a year to re-make it.  In the last post, I mentioned that I really like bags that stand up on their own, and that I wanted at least one pocket large enough to hold a knitting pattern in a page protector and/or an iPad.   FYI:  links to supplies / info on products is at the VERY end of this post.

The overall size of this tote was determined by the size of the image in the photo above and the width of the fabric I purchased to go with the colors of the illustration.  At Fiddlehead Artisan Supply (online shop, but if you EVER get anywhere near Belfast, Maine, you MUST go–quilting and garment fabric, books, art supplies galore, craft supplies…. LOVE), I found a Rifle Paper Company fabric with just the right colors.  Since it was about 43-44″ wide, that determined the circumference of the bag (didn’t want to buy a whole extra 27 inches to get just a short side panel!).  As with the turquoise onions tote, I quilted the fabric first, using cream thread and going around the motifs in the print.

I DO recommend clearing the area of stray stuff, like paper….that you really didn’t intend to quilt into the bag.  Ahem. Another truth-in-teaching moment……

At least you can see the lovely quilting pattern?

This year, as a Janome Artisan, I am one of the very few who was unbelievably fortunate to receive the new, top-of-the-line Janome sewing, quilting and embroidery machine, the M17 Continental.  I was determined to overcome my trepidation and learn machine embroidery.  OMG–yes I am affiliated but I’d say it anyway–the fact that I could get this outstanding a result on literally my first attempt says a lot of very good things about the machine and software as my skill level was way low (but I’m learning!).  I purchased an 18-color-change Tula Pink design from the Moon Glow collection at OESD.  I adjusted the colors very slightly (my blues are darker) due to the bazillion threads I already have and to better blend with the fabric colors.

The Janome software now works with both Apple and pc-based platforms.  You can use the Janome software to digitize your own designs and such on the computer, buy designs etc., then air-drop / send by wifi to your tablet AND to the SEWING MACHINE!  No thumb drives!  No compatibility hassles!  Just boom–you input your WiFi info into the sewing machine, and it talks to your iPad, which you can carry around the house with you as the design stitches!   There are also several free Janome apps for sketching, monitoring, accessing manuals and other helpful info.  Anyway…. here’s the screen

From top to bottom you can see

  • the recommended hoop size for the design
  • the proper embroidery foot
  • the dimensions of the design ( I think you can also change the settings so it displays in inches, not cm, but that may be a function of the design)
  • that tension is adjusted to manual
  • automatic cutting is on
  • speed of stitching is set to 600 stitches per minute (you get tension issues sometimes if you go too fast depending on the design)
  • minutes remaining until stitching is complete
  • Below the image, you see how many stitches have been sewn out of the total of 38,665 stitches.   The + and – sign are helpful–if the thread breaks or bobbin thread runs out, you can back up a few stitches so there aren’t any gaps in stitching!
  • To the right of that section, are the thread color (sequenced) and the thread color number if you are using a color supported in the software.  It is displaying the Janome thread colors but also supports major embroidery thread brands (but not alas the Superior Threads trilobal poly of which I have hundreds of colors, so I just winged it and chose colors, marking out which color corresponded)
  • A progress bar for stitching is below that.
  • In the very bottom you can see a square with arrows–that is to baste near the outside of the hoop to secure the stabilizer and fabric before stitching, and the brown box with a needle pointed at an X is to help you precisely position the design within the hoop.

Yes, as a total newbie to embroidery, I had to learn what all those things were, how to adjust this and that, but the fact that *I* could do it successfully on my first outing is a testament to good planning and design on Janome’s part.  Here are some photos from the embroidery process:

First, the design stitches a grid in a thread color to match the background fabric.  I am assuming this is to stabilize the fabric and prevent directional distortion from the way the stitches are programmed.   The first two layers were the dark gray, which is a pebble texture, then the darker blue in an extra long satin stitch that looks oh so lovely when all is done.

A lot of the stitching is now complete.  Having offset, duckbilled scissors (these were a gift from my dear friend Marie Z) helps a LOT when trimming threads close to the surface while still in the hoop).

The design is now completely stitched out and I am releasing the hoop from the carriage (on the left).

This is the back of the design… which frankly I think looks pretty good.  I used a soft shot-cotton plus one layer of sturdy stabilizer. I was a little concerned at some buckling despite hooping very snugly, but it pressed flat very nicely.  However, on a design as large as this one, about 4×5 inches, I might add a second layer of stabilizer next time.  I used the triple-stretch stitch to decorate the rest of the pocket background–this is a common utility stitch on many machines.

Next was assemble the parts.  In the photo above, you can see that I used a strip of print fabric cut 1″ wide, with edges folded to the center, to appliqué the Tula pocket (and also the front of the original totebag to the front of the bag).  The Tula Moon Garden Flower 3 (link at the end) embroidered pocket is on the side that faces my body…sized to hold my cell phone and safe from pickpockets by being on the inside.  I like the idea of a wipe-clean base for my bags–there is a lot of scuzzy, icky stuff out in the world.  AND by having something sturdy cover the bottom 1/2-1″ of the sides, it protects the corners from wearing out.  I used cork fabric from FabricFunhouse (a wholesaler, but they also sell retail–click on the link in the name).  The inside pockets were sewn on first (see photo below).  There is a single patch pocket behind the sheep-in-sweaters that is slightly narrower, so the stitching doesn’t show on the outside.  On the other part of the interior, I used leftover canvas from the original bag and the pretty selvage as a trim.  You can see my chalk-,asked guidelines.

It was on the printed pocket that I had my brainstorm!  I wanted the pocket to stand up and not flop, but if I had used the Soft And Stable all the way to the edges of the pocket it would have been way too thick and lumpy and hard to sew.  SO!  I cut the Soft and Stable about 2″ narrower than the full width of the pocket!  That meant I would have just the fabric on the edges, allowing me to sew the pocket in place, making a little pleat on either side.  Easier to sew and lets me slide my iPad inside without bulging. Mo’ bettah! (see second photo)

Here’s that side of the bag after it was completed:

Then I added the outside pockets.  The Tula flower pocket was sewn on so that the stitching created divisions in the interior pocket.  Here’s what it looked like when done.

Once the pockets were sewn it was time to add the cork on the outside/base and close up the bottom.

All these layers on the bottom made an extremely thick base, but a good sturdy machine like the HD9 from Janome (does only straight stitch, reasonably priced) or models like the 6600, M7 and so on, are all plenty strong enough.  See some caveats below though for safe sewing!

When sewing on cork, use a longer stitch. If you use a short stitch, it can perforate the fabric and it will tear like paper in a spiral notebook!  I think I used 3.5 length.  Notice that the right side of the Acufeed (Janome’s integrated dual-feed “walking” foot) is just OFF the cork.  I am using the inside edge of the foot and the precise positioning possible by moving the needle to one of the 19 positions to get perfect stitching alignment along the edge of the cork.

Once the cork is applied, I folded the bag so the vertical seam was in a corner. Boxing the corners is a bit of a heart-stopping effort for me.  I folded the corners to “box” it, making sure everything was squared up correctly.  That is a crazy thick amount of fabric on those corner triangles:   two of lining, two of the Soft and Stable, two of the linen-cotton light-canvas print, two of cork).

Here I am starting to sew from the outside edge to the center at the corner with the vertical seam (which extends to the center of the bottom of the bag).  I like to put something like a needle case or folded fabric about where my finger is pointing to get over the thick hump.  Clover Wonder Clips hold things way better than pins and don’t bend and distort.   I work from the outside to the center on each side of each triangle to avoid having to sew through the impossibly thick center seam.  Just sew up to the seam, HAND WALKING THE NEEDLE as you approach the center seam.  The machine is plenty strong enough to send the needle through, but needles are actually flexible and can BEND and “deflect” (get pushed sideways) just going through all those layers.  If that happens, then they hit the throat plate, break, yada yada–you don’t want that to happen!   So just hand walk those last stitches, then push reverse and hand walk going backwards.

PHEW… always exhale when this part is done.

A close up to show how snugly I have the foot up against the seam.  Gulp. Onward to finishing!

I trimmed away about 1/4″ of the carpet binding tape and put that raw edge next to the top of the bag on the inside and stitched it in place. I turned the tape to the outside and sewed it down using a cream colored thread which matched the zipper flaps.  But looked awful elsewhere.  Pitt Artist Pens (like Pigma but more colors–I get mine at Dick Blick online or at Fiddlehead) to the rescue!

Once again I used that carpet binding tape (think for rug hookers and such) as the straps.  I had the fun idea to use a strip of the print, just as I had used to appliqué the pockets in place, down the center of the handles, which otherwise were very brown and kinda overwhelmed the bag (no other color available at the time worked as well).  I LOVE the final look of them.  I stopped the strip up above the hardware to make it easier to sew.  In the photo above, I am using the other end of the handle to hold up the back of the presser foot and level it out, making it easier to sew to the very edges of the straps.  I used folded print fabric to make the tab that holds the hardware in place.  I could have sewn the straps directly to the bag, but if anything is going to wear out, it would be the handles.  This way I can replace the straps easily.  AND they hang down nice and flat by being attached with hardware instead of being sewn directly to the bag–that may not matter to you.  Do what works for you!

And Sorry this is SO LONG–want to get it all into ONE post.

You can see how I stitched the handle to the hardware, and the hardware to the cloth tab to the bag.  The cloth tab is partly hidden by the large outside pocket.  The top of the pocket gapped, so I used magnets again just at the center top of the bag.

For the closure I only had one yellow zipper and wanted to finish the bag in time for a trip, so instead of the double-zip I opted for this:

The ends, unlike the turquoise bag, are open.  I left the zipper tail LONG so that when full unzipped the flaps fold flat inside the bag and the tail hangs down out of the way (look at the pocket photos above).  I used a scrap of the cork to cover the end of the zipper.  Lesson:  it is good to have a stash of zippers on hand!  Time to order more from byAnnie— by the way Annie Unrein is one of my favorite people in the industry.  I love her patterns and the quality of the items she sells is top notch.

Final thoughts:  I still prefer the East-West orientation of the turquoise tote–the overall size and shape I like better.  But this tote size was dictated by the fabric and original tote, and it works also.  I LOVE the variation on the pockets on the sheep-in-sweaters totebag and will definitely use that un-padded edge trick again.  I prefer the two-zipper closing because …well… CATS chewing yarn is not fun.  Or healthy for them.  But for most folks the simple version I used on the sheep tote is just fine and dandy.

THANK YOU if you actually read all of this marathon of a post.  I hope you got some good ideas! If you design your own tote, do send me pictures!


I used the following supplies–note, you can find hotlinks to some of these products on Amazon by going here:

  • Fabric from Rifle Paper Company and purchased totebag
  • Cork fabric for the base from Funhouse Fabrics
  • byAnnie Soft and Stable for the “batting”–it is a foam with a peached (softly fuzzed) fabric that looks like nylon tricot but soft and grippy
  • Polyester and cotton threads
  • Carpet binding tape–I folded this in half, sewed at the edge and presto, nearly perfect handles that are soft, sturdy and comfortable.  Purchased at Fiddlehead Artisan Supply but not on their website alas.
  • Bag rings/rectangles–I bought mine from byAnnie but Sallie Tomato also has a good selection
  • Zippers from byAnnie –these zippers have wider tape and sturdy teeth that are perfect for bag-making
  • Magnets from byAnnie
  • OESD Tula Pink Moon Garden Flower 3
  • Corrugated plastic:  looks like cardboard but made of plastic, available at art and/or craft stores.  Cut to size to make a base for the bag.  Cover in a tube of fabric or leave as is.  Fabric is nicer, but… happens and sometimes that tube happens later!  Makes a fairly sturdy base, inexpensive, easily found.  You could also use cardboard or mat board, but they are more likely to bend eventually.

Miriam Coffey, Janome Educator, at the Janome Education Summit 2018 Post #5

Monday, July 9th, 2018

Several years back I had the great good fortune to have Miriam as the educator in one of the classes I taught in Houston.  It was fun to see her again at the Summit, and a jaw-dropping experience when we got to see some of the goodies she has made.  As she put it, she’s not a bows and teddy bears sort, but she DOES to machine embroidery on her Janome embroidery machine. I don’t do hearts and bows either, so I love how her entire approach–totally in keeping with her personality–is fresh and fun and inspiring.

Miriam brought show and tell, and it’s a miracle none of us tried to sneak home some of her goodies, except we wouldn’t do that to her! This sewing items case (could easily be an iPad cover etc), she used the embroidery module to create fabric, then cut the stitched fabric designs apart to use in patchwork. All those green bits were solid / plain fabric until she decorated them with embroidery.

Miriam must have been sitting under a vent because she was wrapped in this snuggle throw. It was made from flannel on one side, the Cuddle fleece (see earlier post) on the other, then free-motion quilted using fuzzy yarn and the couching foot. Let me just say I loved it so much I have already ordered fleece which is waiting for me in my workroom!

And another one of those throws. WANT!

Here’s a close up of a sample: Miriam hooped the fabric, embroidered it with a sashiko pattern (I think using a twin needle)

Lookit how modern the tumbling blocks pattern become hen using cloth that Miriam “made” by embroidering a simple solid.  With a little imagination, it would be possible to achieve some of this effect just using the decorative stitches on most machines.

A case Miriam made…same idea!

This is part of a wall hanging Miriam made using programmed designs. But I want to try to re-create that cross-cut of tree bark and tree rings just using the variable zigzag feature on my 9440 and free-motion stitching.

And a sample of a honeycomb programmed stitch (done on the embroidery module) on top of pieced squares.   It would be a fuss, but you could do this (probably not as perfectly!) using careful marking and a satin stitch, but obviously lots easier when it is a programmed design on the 15000 that you hoop and hit “start.”   It’s almost enough to convince me to try embroidery LOL!

Anyway, Miriam was so much fun to have in class…helpful, professional, capable, and obviously has a lot of creativity and skill to teach and share.  Thanks for schlepping ALL those things to share with us, Miriam!

Merry Mistletoe, a new free project

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Hi all!   At long last the new laptop has arrived, the nearly-deceased one is retired, and I’m scrambling to catch up.  So first things first!  Janome has published my freebie table runner pattern on their website and blog as part of the holiday celebrations. As always, thanks to Janome America for having me in their Artist and Teacher program for lo these many happy and productive years.

A table runner I made to feature the Janome 15000's beautiful embroidery

A table runner I made to feature the Janome 15000’s beautiful embroidery.  And no, my table is NEVER this tidy.  My laptop lives where the lower left corner is and there is always a pile of “to do” stuff!

I used a Lonni Rossi embroidery design built in on the Janome 15000 I am currently using.  I altered the colors of the built-in design to a wintry, holiday palette of red, green and golden tan.  Honestly, I never thought I’d like machine embroidery (the wanting to do my own thing stuff), but this design is so gorgeous and even *I*, a soul who doesn’t like uber-computerized machines, was able to stitch this out nearly perfectly the first try!

To see the project on the Janome site, go here and scroll down to December 14, 2015 or go here.   To download a PDF including full color photos with some neat tips for getting those skinny red strips to be perfect, go here.

The plain old vanilla photo of the table runner.

The plain old vanilla photo of the table runner.

Here’s what the project looks like in the original color selection on my 15000.  Quite a difference, eh?  And here is the boring, straight-on view of the table runner.

The Janome 15000 open to the Lonni Rossi block in the original colors.

The Janome 15000 open to the Lonni Rossi block in the original colors.

Close up of the original color way on the machine.

Close up of the original color way on the machine.

I’ve got one more version/colorway, but it is a gift (as yet unfinished) for Christmas, so I’ll just have to share it and add it in here later!

If you don’t have this machine, never fear–you can just insert your favorite embroidery or fabric instead of doing this beautiful design.



The Janome 15000 App by Jim and Diane Stutsman of Software Miracles

Saturday, October 24th, 2015

The phrases life-saver, worth it’s weight in gold, a value at twice the price are what first come to mind:   The Janome 15000 app is simply amazing.  I have delayed blogging and reviewing it because I wanted to view ALL the videos first.  I came to realize there is simply so much content packed into this App that it would take eons for me to go through all of the videos, and I should simply go ahead and say:  if you are lucky enough to have the Janome 15000, unless you are an expert like Jim and Diane Stutsman, BUY THIS App!!!!!



When you type Janome 15000 into the App Store search box, you’ll get this screen. You will see a “buy” and price. On mine, it has the Download box since I’ve already got it.

To buy it, you’ll want to use your iOS device (iPad usually but also works on iPhone, just smaller for seeing) to open the App store.  Type Janome 15000 into the search box to reach the App which sells for $59.95.  If you don’t have a Janome, you can still learn from Jim and Diane via the FootBook, their App (reviewed FootBook Review) about how to use Janome presser feet.  Don’t let that dissuade you:  this modestly priced ($6.99) app shows how to use various feet that are common to all machines.  Even though the foot name might be different from one brand to the next, how they work carries over.

When you go to the App store on your iOS device, put Software Miracles into the search box to bring up this screen.

When you go to the App store on your iOS device, put Software Miracles into the search box to bring up this screen.  The FootBook is pictured on the left.  The Janome 15000 pretty much covers all the territory on the FootBook, so you don’t need both.  However, since many of my readers aren’t lucky enough to have the 15000, I’m including this for their information.

The Janome 15000 App is a “manual” for the Janome 15000 with videos, photos, and incredible and extensive detail that covers

  • Home Screen Functions
  • Embroidery Functions
  • Home Screen Applications
  • Optional Feet
  • Quick Start Videos
  • Set Screen Functions (how to customize the machine)
  • HorizonLink Suite (an optional embroidery software from Janome)
  • iPad Apps (including the included with the 15000 Acu Monitor and AcuEdit)
  • Accessories (Using the optional Clothsetter)
  • Free Motion Quilting

Here’s what you see when you open the App:

When you open the Janome 15000 App, here's what you see...don't forget to scroll down, there is a LOT more!

When you open the Janome 15000 App, here’s what you see…don’t forget to scroll down, there is a LOT more!

There are multiple videos and tutorials for each of the above major sections.  As with their impressive FootBook App (which is about how to use Janome feet, but frankly works for most feet/brands, blogpost here), there is a ton of information   In the Home Screen Applications section alone there are tutorials on (photo just below).

  • Seaming
  • Overedge
  • Blind Hem and Shell Tuck
  • Rolled Hem
  • Zippers
  • Gathering
  • Bating
  • Button Sewing
  • Tacking
  • Applique
  • Patchwork
  • Quilting
Here's just part of what is on this information-packed app.

Here’s just part of what is on this information-packed app.

This app is essentially a whose SERIES of sewing lessons that are useful even if you aren’t on the 15000 (though they are geared to using the screens and pre-sets on this machine).   And, because it is an App, not a disc, Jim and Diane can update the software easily.  Once there is an update, you can download the update as part of  your original purchase price, which means you get the benefit of improvements down the line.

As I said when I reviewed the FootBook, I have been hand-sewing since I was about 7, and Mother let me start to machine sew when I was about 9.  I am pretty close to expert having made garments, worked for an interior designer making high-end home dec items, and been both a traditional and art quilter (published, exhibited, yada yada).  Well, I learned stuff from this App, which means that it is crazy comprehensive.

For me, with my experience, the embroidery instructions are the most useful, and I am so grateful to have these on my iPad so I can watch them while I am working at my machine.   I don’t have the Horizon Link Suite (because I’m not wild for embroidery), but I can tell you if I did I would use these videos as my step-by-step learning process.  Another thing that is amazing, Jim has a Yahoo group for owners of the Janome 12000 and 15000.  I joined before Janome lent me one just to start learning.  Jim’s help there has also been phenomenal.   If you are interested, you can go Janome 15000 yahoo group to ask to join the group.

The Stutsmans have a website,  Here’s a link to the page with info on the Janome 15000 app, and another link for the FootBook. There is helpful information on what you need in terms of tablets for viewing (with generation etc).

Bottom Line and Last Word:  If you have the Janome 15000, unless you are the most expert Janome 15000 person on the planet, you will learn something from this App and be able to use and learn from it.


Lonni Rossi Embroidery design!

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

So besides photography, what have I been up to these past six months and more?  Well, a lot of teaching, a lot of work, and not a lot of free time.  And oh yeah, being exhausted from the thyroid stuff (which is FINALLY improving…we may finally have the right RX…will see in a month).  So I have neglected the blog plain and simple.   I’ll try to fix that!  Today just a brief tease:

Lonnie Rossi embroidery design available from Janome, included on the Janome 15000.

Lonnie Rossi embroidery design available from Janome, included on the Janome 15000.  The red and green will be part of what I plan to do with this block.  Sorry the photo is a little blurry–I’ll fix that by the time I get the project done! 

Can you believe that I, the “never do anyone else’s designs” person and “embroidery really isn’t me”, have enjoyed learning about embroidery on the phenomenal Janome 15000 that I currently have on loan (thank you again Janome-America).  Most of the included designs are, well, why “embroidery is not me.”  But Lonni’s designs ROCK!   The one above was done in a totally different colorway–soft greens, some peach.   Well, not me.   Has opened up a world of possibilities, including perhaps some of MY designs finally getting refined and submitted for consideration by Janome!  [Taylor, I promise, I really have stuff for you! I just need to make it good enough to send in!]

As part of the Janome Artist-Teacher loan program, I make stuff that Janome can blog about or use in their booths to show what can be done with their machines.  I thought the flowers looked like poinsettia as well as chrysanthemums, so I changed up the thread colors to reds, green and gold (not metallic).

I am also not someone that loves fiddling with computerized stuff on a machine.  I have to say, this machine has made it SO EASY.   Another thing that has helped immensely if an App from Jim and Diane Stutsman, available for iOS devices (iPad and iPhone), that teaches you everything but everything about the 15000.  I’ll review that in my next post.  It costs only $59.95 US, and all I can say is that if you have this machine, you will NOT regret spending that $60.  Totally worth it.

Anyway, when the winter Janome project is made with this design, of course I’ll share here.  The pattern will be available for free (here or on Janome or both…I’ll let you know), along with exact thread colors, yardage, etc.   Stay tuned!

Gosh it feels good to be back in touch (and have a functioning brain and body…now, to do something about the pudge and lack of fitness….)!