Friday, April 11, 2014

This is Not a Duck

Ah, but it is duck cloth. Sorry, Magritte. And it's what my new snack bags will have as their lining. This is 100% organic undyed cotton duck cloth. The cotton was grown and woven into cloth in India. I bought it from a US company that sells only organic fabrics.

What is duck cloth, you ask? Cloth for ducks? Um, no. I did some research. Turns out "duck" cloth was originally a linen fabric called "doek" in Dutch, which refers to a heavyweight canvas once used as sailors' clothing. Those Dutch were always travelling the world by ship, conquering lands, and needing good outerwear, but that's another story. Duck cloth is strong stuff. It has a special weave and uses thick threads in the weaving process. The heavier weight varieties have been used in hammocks, sails, tents, and sand bags, while a lighter weight version, which is what I bought, is perfect for snack bags! Besides being tough and rip-resistant, it also (drumroll, please) resists water just a bit! In the photo below you can see some water droplets beading up on it. I took the photo myself after splattering the water, so it was several seconds between when I splattered the water and when I focused the camera and took the shot.

The combination of the strength of the fabric, the fact that it is organic, and this slight water resistance is what drove me to switch from using the uncoated nylon I had been using previously in the snack bags. I am very, very happy not to be working with the nylon anymore. It worked well enough in the bags, but over time was prone to ripping, and sewing with it is a big pain. It's slippery, you can't iron it properly because it will melt, can't put pins in it because nylon doesn't recover, blah blah blah. The fact that our food can now all be protected by organic material is also a huge plus. And the new bags feel soft but substantial.

Originally I planned to use only the serger to construct the bags rather than using that nice strip of white binding you're familiar with:

Old style bag with nylon inside and pretty white binding along edges.
I spent the better part of two whole work days refining the new snack bags on the serger, trying to master that lovely curve around the front of the envelope, getting the threads to be just the right length and width on both the front and back of the fabric, and experimenting with different snack bag shapes. I used more duck cloth and more beautiful mill fabric than I wanted in this effort. It was not fun and I nearly cried with frustration. The serger was not being nice to me. Or rather, my inexperience with it was showing. It kept getting tangled and needing rethreading, and it made some very unhappy noises. Once it broke a needle clean off in the middle. Good thing I was wearing my glasses!

Practicing curves on some random linen.
First attempts at bags with serged edges. nope, ugly!

Oh my gosh, no.

Finally I got the machine figured out and was able to sew some decent seams. I did come up with three different bags that I was mostly happy with but which did not excite me. They were serviceable and well made but I found I missed the very clean look of that white binding from the old style. So I went back to using the binding and sewing that on with the conventional sewing machine, which has always been difficult because of the thickness of the fabrics. Now the fabrics are even thicker and my machine is really showing its age, but I find that trim look just cannot be replicated with even the most perfect serger stitches. It does take longer to sew the binding on than to use the serger, but I find value in a functional object that is also beautiful and I hope you do too.

One serviceable bag. But see the little fabric bits poking out? I don't like 'em!!
So this is where we are: new snack bags with 100% organic cotton lining, bound securely with bias binding, with beautiful hand screened fabrics on the outside. I will make several sets before posting them all in  my Etsy shop. When I've got them ready for sale I will let you know and I will give you a pile of ideas of what to put in them. I know I am always looking for new things to send to school, and I don't know any parents who aren't.
Ahhhh, now this is more like it!!

Happy sailing!

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