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More adventures in sewing – upcycled laptop case

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About a year ago, I bought myself a MacBook Air. I take my little beauty with me to the cottage, to visit my mother, or any where there’s WiFi. I don’t have a sleeve or a bag for it, so I usually stuff it in a bag and carry it with me, sometimes wrapped in a t-shirt.

Not anymore. Fresh off my Staples dress success, I have been busy at my sewing machine and now have a funky zippered case that fits my laptop perfectly.

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Making a case for my laptop was one of my goals for 2014 (and the year’s barely half over). Plus, I added another skill to my sewing repertoire – putting in a zipper. Hitherto having previously avoided any pattern that involved any type of closing, I’m pretty chuffed that I managed to put in a zipper by myself (still a few kinks to work out – more on that later).

For the laptop case, I used a tutorial by Char from Crap I’ve Made that was featured on Skip to My Lou, as part of the 2010 Holiday Bake, Craft and Sew Along. I came across the tutorial on Top Dreamer – Easy DIY Laptop Case Projects. I liked it because the directions were relatively straight forward and the case itself is pretty simple. The outside fabric is an old pair of cords of my husband’s, while the lining is made from 2 fat quarters of Acacia Pixel Dot in Honey from Tula Pink. While I’m not a big fan of yellow, I love dots; plus the colours go really well with the grey/green colour of the corduroy.

My laptop measured 26-3/4 inches (long edge) by 19 inches (short edge). As the tutorial indicated, I divided these measurements in half and added 1.5 inches for seam allowance – 14-3/4 by 11 inches. I cut a section off each leg of the pants, somewhere below the knee, where the material was worn and shin and then cut open each piece along one leg seam and removed the side seam and the hem.

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This left me with two rectangles of fabric with a seam running from across the short side of each piece. I trimmed the rectangles so they were approximately the right measurements and the same size, making sure the seam was closer to the top of the fabric. One of the seams wasn’t lying very flat, so I decided to cover it with a 2 inch strip of the lining fabric, which I top stitched to the outside of the corduroy, right along the seam line, so it wouldn’t be lumpy (totally optional, but I haven’t totally given up my perfectionism). I rooted through my big jar of vintage buttons and found a gorgeous big green one that I sewed on the outside front.

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Up until this point, I had more or less been following the directions in the tutorial and had already attached the fusible fleece lining to the wrong side of the corduroy. I could have sewed the button on through the lining or after the bag was assembled but I wanted to avoid any lumpiness where the button was stitched on (that perfectionism thing again), I pulled up the fleece a little bit, just enough to I could get the needle and thread through comfortably – when I was finished, I re-ironed the fleece back onto the corduroy.

A word about fusible fleece lining: in anticipation of making a laptop case, I had already bought double-sided fusible fleece lining. It adhered very nicely to the cord fabric, but also to anything on the other side. Through trial and error, I discovered that covering the fleece lining with an old t-shirt and then ironing worked best. While the fleece will stick lightly to the t-shirt, it’s easy to pull off and will protect your iron from getting crap all over it. If you forget and put heat directly on the fleece, rub the sticky residue off your iron with the t-shirt while it’s still hot (in the interest of discovery, I tested the effectiveness of technique more than once). If you’re using single-sided fusible fleece, it’s probably a good idea to do a test swatch to make sure you know which side will stick.

I deviated from the tutorial by installing the zipper along the short, rather than long edge.Although the tutorial recommends using a zipper that is 4 inches longer than your laptop, I used a 16 inch zipper which gave me 5 inches extra, 2.5 on either side. On the advice of the lady at the big box fabric store, I used a heavy-duty zipper. I chose orange for the contrast with the exterior and lining fabric (I originally wanted a zipper in dark turquoise but it wasn’t available in the right length – the orange adds just the right amount of pop).

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Next time, I would use a regular zipper, as they aren’t as bulky and would be easier to sew down (plus they come in a wider range of colours).

The tutorial’s directions for inserting the zipper into the laptop case are probably fine for someone who’s actually done this before. Since I had no idea how to put in a zipper, I didn’t find the instructions or the pictures in the tutorial to be very helpful, except for the part about snipping the edges of the zipper so it will curve around on each side.

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I couldn’t find another tutorial that explained how to insert the zipper so it extends down each side of the bag for a couple of inches (the wider opening makes it easy to get the laptop in and out of the case). In the end, I followed the directions for using the zipper foot in my sewing machine manual and winged it. The first time I sewed the zipper in backwards. With a little help from my husband (I’m a bit spatially challenged), I figured out how to position the zipper so the raw edges were captured under the seam. I ended up sewing too close to the outside edge of the teeth on both sides, with the result that the lining fabric has a tendency to get caught when I zip and unzip the case.

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I could fix this by top sewing along the outside top edge of the case – I did a text and didn’t like the results (could change my mind if it starts driving me crazy).

I found it hard to sew down both ends of the zipper with the machine (the industrial strength zipper is very bulky). I fixed this issue by hand sewing the edges of the outside fabric together on both sides.

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While I measured it before I put it in, the zipper isn’t perfectly centred and extends a bit further down on one side. But it opens and shuts (with at little attention to make sure the lining doesn’t get caught). Not too shabby for my first ever zipper installation.

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I ran into a couple of challenges sewing the outside and the lining together. I discovered that I’d trimmed a bit too much fabric off the bottom of the front piece of the corduroy and I had to add a couple of inches to the bottom. I had to do the same to the lining, but it ended up being too long and I had to turn it inside out and trim and re-sew it several times so there wasn’t a lot of extra fabric wallowing around the bottom of the case.

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Sewing the fleece into the seams will make them thick and lumpy, but I found manouevering around it to sew to be a pain; next time, I would iron on the fleece lining after I had the zipper in and the sides sewn up. I’d moved the fleece on one side around so much that it was loosing its shape and stickiness, so I tore it out and ironed on a new piece – you can’t tell from the outside.

 

I also learned that sewing when I’m tired is totally not worth it. One night I had to rip out the same seams three times; it took me only a few minutes to sew it properly the next morning.  Now when I feel my energy flagging, I tell myself: WALK AWAY FROM THE MACHINE. Words to live by.

In addition to being thrifty, the old pair of corduroy pants was a good choice for the exterior fabric. Not only is it a sturdy material, it’s a neutral colour, which means it will never show the dirt. If I was to use corduroy again, I would add a seam allowance of 2 inches to take into account for the fact that corduroy frays like crazy (I kept a pair of scissors handy to trim off the loose threads) and it makes for a thicker seam when it’s turned. However, it’s easier to trim the edges after you’ve sewn it rather than having to sew a narrow side/bottom seam and run the risk that it will tear out (I minimized the likelihood of this happening by double stitching the side seams in the exterior fabric). Although the tutorial doesn’t mention it, cutting away the excess material on each corner as close to the stitched seam as possible will help minimize the thickness of the seam and ensure a smooth looking corner when you turn the case inside out (exterior fabric showing and the lining tucked inside.

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This is more important when you’re using a heavier fabric, like corduroy or canvas, as opposed to a quilting weight cotton. I used the end of my stitch ripper (a chop stick works too) to poke out the corners.

My laptop case is not perfect. Not only is the zipper not centred properly, it isn’t lying completely flat on one side.

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Thankfully, no one will ever be able to see my inside seams – even uglier than the pockets in my Staples dress.

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However, the case fulfills it’s intended purpose – to protect my laptop when I travel. It cost about $10 to make (zipper, lining material and the fusible interfacing). I haven’t seen a lot of cases for the MacBook Air and the ones I’ve found were ugly and/or  expensive (often both). Mine has just the right amount of functionality and detail, not to mention a pop of colour.

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It’s fun, but not too cute. Perfect for me.

Links for this post include: Think Pink Sundays at Flamingo Toes ; Monday Link Party at Craft-O-Maniac; Motivate Me Monday at Keeping It Simple; Making Monday Marvelous at C.R.A.F.T. ; Made by You Mondays at Skip to My Lou ; Market Yourself Monday at Sumo’s Sweet Stuff; Get Your Craft on Tuesday at Today’s Creative Blog; Tuesday To Do Part at The Blackberry Vine: Take-a-Look Tuesdays at Sugar Bee Crafts; Wednesday Wowzers at oopsy daisy; Flaunt It Fridays at Dotted Line Crafts; The Cure for the Common Monday at Lines Across My FaceSix Sisters Stuff – Strut Your Stuff Saturday

 

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Cheap tricks – fresh flowers (almost) every day

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I love fresh flowers. If I was independently wealthy, I would have a seasonal arrangement delivered to my house every week. Sadly, my bank account does not lend itself to such extravagance (at least not if my family and I want to eat regularly). However, as the winter of 2014 trudges on, with no end in sight – more snow in the forecast for later this week – fresh flowers are important, if not essential, to my sanity. Tulips are a particularly good antidote to the March doldrums as they’re bright and cheerful.

Narcissus and daffodils are also a good bet, as their bright yellow faces defy anyone to be in a bad mood.

Pots of daffs and tulips are generally available in the stores this time of year, at a fairly reasonable price – by picking the ones just on the verge of opening up, I’ll be able  to enjoy pretty blooms for almost 2 weeks.

Recently, however, I’ve discovered the half price bins in the floral section of my local grocery store. For a relatively modest cash outlay, I can have fresh flowers any time I want. And until the weather warms up and the snow piles in my backyard disappear, I want need a vase filled with flowers in my house, prominently displayed where I can see them.

 

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The selection of flowers in the half-price bins can be a bit hit and miss. At my local store, there’s lots on offer over the weekend, while during the week, the pickings can be a bit slim. Right after a long holiday weekend is often a good time, as many stores are closed on a Monday or a Friday, which means they have to rotate more of their stock than usual. In addition to figuring out the schedule in your store of choice, you also have to be prepared to spend a few minutes examining the goods. Sometimes, it’s easy to tell whether a bouquet is on its last legs or is a day or two past its prime – roses are particularly delicate and don’t tend to last very well. However, alstroemeria (resembles a miniature lily and comes in a variety of colours) and chrysanthemums (also available in a range of colours, shapes and sizes) are relatively hardy. Even though they’re fairly long-lasting, I tend to skip the carnations – they remind me of funerals and as flowers go, they aren’t very interesting.

The one disadvantage of buying from the half-price bin is that what you see is what you get. Depending on the day, the colour and/or flower choices may be somewhat limited. I consider this to be part of the challenge – it gives me a chance to try colour combinations I might not other wise consider, if I was paying full price. Sometimes, I mix and match several different inexpensive arrangements, just for fun.

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My floral arranging skills are pretty basic. Since I also like lots of colour, my arrangements would probably send Martha Stewart screaming in the hills. But who cares? The whole idea of having fresh flowers in the house is to bring everyone a bit of pleasure. I’m not sure M and his dad really pay much attention, but the flowers make me happy.

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Even if I get a bouquet home and I don’t love it or it doesn’t last very long, I don’t feel like it’s a waste of money. My recent arrangement cost me about $10.00 – less than buying a coffee at work every day. Money well spent, at least until I can get outside into my garden.

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