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Saturday, 21 October 2017

Defy "Death by Sitting" Update

My sit/stand desk...
This is an update to my post from October 2015. It's been over two years since I bought my Varidesk, and for the most part, I've been standing at my computer over that same period.

For much of the first half of this year, I had an increasingly bothersome lower back pain. In reality, it had been a nagging thing for well over a year, but I first chalked it up to getting older. Then I had a sneaking suspicion that my constant standing in front of the computer — probably 95% of the time — was likely contributing to the issue.

But was it the way that I was standing that was making it worse? (Was I standing "wrong"? Was I not evenly distributing my weight somehow? Who can stand strictly at attention all the time, right?) Online, I found some exercises that were recommended for lower back pain and even incorporated a routine into my interval training. But all in all, I wasn't getting the relief that I thought should happen.

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About a year and a half ago, I picked up this thing for $4.99.

Be Active Knee Brace
Be Active knee brace for lower back pain...

Acting on pressure points in the area of the knee to address lower back pain, it actually did work for me. Still, it was at the back of my mind that I shouldn't be having pain, period.

When it occasionally gets to the point where I am aware of the pain all day long — and this is rare — I use this.

Voltaren works too, but that's getting into a territory I don't particularly like...

By early August, I was convinced that the actual act of "standing" was the primary cause of my pain. I put my desk down and sat for an entire week. My back ended up feeling quite a bit better, but I wasn't particularly fond of the solution. As in, am I going to be forced to sit down again?

I checked out a book from the library called 8 Steps to a Pain-free Back, by Esther Gokhale. While her methods are proven and she has had all sorts of positive testimonials, it was difficult to know if I was following the written instructions correctly. The way the book is laid out with all sorts of surrounding "filler" was hugely annoying, so I never got beyond page 43. While I did gain some knowledge about how to stretch to decompress the spine, my thought was, there has to be another way.

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In the two years since I purchased my Varidesk, other companies have entered the "adjustable sit/stand desk" market. While the original model that I purchased still sells for a rather hefty $375 USD, you can get similar setups starting at about the $150 mark. In revisiting the market place to take a peek at these other alternatives, I noticed that all sorts of anti-fatigue mats popped up alongside. Some are even bundled as a combo.

And just as with the sit/stand desks, anti-fatigue mats come in various configurations and price points. They aren't just flat anymore; here is a "calculated terrain" version from Ergodriven (as low as $99 USD, as high as $205 CDN).

Topo by Ergodriven
Image courtesy of Amazon...

Now, anti-fatigue mats are not new; I've known about them since forever. The question is, why have I not tried them since forever??

The reason may well be that I've never read enough about them to understand that their benefit is not just a matter of having something cushier to stand on. That is, I've always just thought that well, of course you'd want to use a mat if you're standing on concrete all day. I work at home on carpeting, why do I need a mat?

In reality, carpeting — unless perhaps one has splurged on the best and thickest polyurethane under-padding ever made — is not at all equivalent to having an anti-fatigue mat. That it's taken me this many years to realize this is crazy.

Here's the short version of my story... I ordered a mat on Thursday and it was dropped off on my doorstep the following Tuesday. After using it for two days, I was jumping around in celebration over the fact that my back pain had disappeared. Not only that, soreness just above the balls of my feet — that I had been putting up with as a matter of course — had also subsided.

Truly, my entire house needs to be re-floored in this material!

ZBrands Anti-Fatigue Mat
This (the smaller one) is what I ultimately bought for $50... image courtesy of Amazon

The longer version of this story is that the support of an anti-fatigue mat minimizes spinal compression and improves circulation by encouraging subtle movements. (I'm not going to write a medical report here; you can search online for yourself if you need more info.) I can attest to the fact that I will never be parted from my mat as long as I have to stand at my computer.

I also read another article about this whole sitting/standing debate. Both can be bad and it is mostly due to the inactive part. So whether you get more active while standing by using a funky looking anti-fatigue mat or do your sitting on an exercise ball, the best solution is to move from one to the other on a regular basis.

In the short time that I've been using it — when I use it (i.e., when I'm at the computer) — my back does feel better. However, if I stand for extended periods elsewhere, I still have minor issues with the occasional twinge. It's not a consistent ache or pain, just something that's noticeably "there". (I know; I should move the mat.) To that end, I've taken to sitting at my computer on the weekends and have incorporated several more stretching exercises to my daily routine. My guess is that maintaining a certain amount of flexibility as one ages is a benefit in many ways.

All in all though, the mat has been a great help and my only regret is that I didn't buy it sooner.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Testing the Travel Toiletry Tote

Guy Laroche Toiletry Case
My 25+ year old toiletry case...
In January of 2015, I worked out a draft pattern for a roll up travel toiletry bag like the one you see pictured here.

This was shortly after I had purchased my supply of waxcloth; my original plan was to make this out of that material.

I'm not quite sure what exactly led to me shelve this project for over two and a half years. Perhaps at some point I realized that the waxcloth was not going to be sturdy enough to stand up to the punishment that an item like this would face.

But then, I only really found out about the durability issue last year, so that can't be the whole reason.

Travel Toiletry Tote by eSheep Designs
The end of my two and a half year long project!

When I dug it out of my small "projects in progress" box a few months ago, I realized that it was almost finished.

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Travel Toiletry Tote by eSheep Designs
The waxcloth version of my Travel Toiletry Tote was about 80% done...

You may be able to make out that the design is based on four triangular zippered compartments attached to a backing, that all rolls up into a big rectangular box. In this configuration, it was completely made out of vinyl and waxcloth (with four regular zippers).

Here is the bottom view of the "inspiration" organizer that I purchased back in the early 1990s.

Guy Laroche Toiletry Case
My toiletry bag is showing its age...

I paid $28, which wasn't an amount that I regularly spent on anything back then. But I convinced myself that it would serve me well for many years, which it has.

Guy Laroche Toiletry Case
The fabric has worn through on both ends of this case, exposing the white vinyl underneath...

While still functional, it's got visible rips and tears.

[By the way, you may remember seeing a similar case that I use to store and organize my bag making "hardware". It is, however, a much smaller version — purchased on eBay for about five bucks — that in no way, shape, or form could ever have replaced my original toiletry bag.]

Since I was now quite certain that I wasn't going to use waxcloth to make this, my first step was to take out the seam ripper and remove the binding around the outer edges (which would also remove the triangular side panels at the ends of the pockets).

What I was going to use, was a lightweight cotton twill version of one of my Canadiana designs similar to the chiffon that I used to make my mini infinity scarf. The cotton twill has a durable, sturdy feel to it and doesn't need any stabilizer.

Travel Toiletry Tote by eSheep Designs
End view of my Travel Toiletry Tote...

The original bag is made out of fabric on the outside, but lined with vinyl for some measure of waterproof-ness and easy cleanup in case of spills. (And I suppose this was the original motivation for me to make this out of waxcloth.) The pocket panels themselves are clear vinyl. It has a carrying handle and closes with hook and loop tape.

My prototype here is similarly constructed, with the exception that the pocket end pieces (i.e., the side panels) are just fabric.

Travel Toiletry Tote by eSheep Designs
Interior of my Travel Toiletry Tote...

I could easily have incorporated an interior layer of vinyl there, but truth be told, I cut four side panel pieces out of fabric before I remembered this. (What can I say, it was a project that spanned over two and a half years!)

That being said, there may also be a practical reason for not adding more vinyl to the mix: that whole side panel is an absolute B-I-T-C-H to sew. I knew this from January of 2015 when I stitched on the original ones made out of waxcloth.

So here I will offer a warning about this project. Although fairly easy to figure out and relatively fast to make (and doesn't require a lot of material), it features a step — that you have to do twice — that may drive you around the bend, cause you to punch out your sewing machine, or something much worse.

Travel Toiletry Tote by eSheep Designs
Wrapping the binding around the side panels isn't that hard... sewing it is!

I will say that my use of waxcloth on the zipper tabs probably didn't help my cause. They ended up being quite firm and trying to wrap binding around them as well around as the "wavy" side panels created a 3D sewing nightmare. Also, the bias binding that I used was extra wide, which wasn't ideal (but was what I had on hand).

All lessons learned, but — and this is a very important "but" — even if you do use optimal materials in terms of size and type, this will still be a step that you'll likely hate with a passion.

I would go so far as to say that even if you come up with a temporary way of securing all the layers first, it'll still be a bear to deal with. The only way that I can see it being easier is if you skip the clear vinyl — because you can then hand baste everything first — but not using vinyl would be a deal-breaker for me. (I'm used to being able to see what's inside each compartment; having to guess would drive me bananas!)

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If you want some proof of the difficulty, take a look at some of my stitching of the side panel binding here...

Travel Toiletry Tote by eSheep Designs
Not exactly my best work...!

What I told myself as I was sewing up the side panels was just keep on going. Y'see, I'm sewing through vinyl and if I were to stop and yank out the stitches every time something went wrong — and then start over again and again and again and again — I would eventually just perforate it. So, my solution was just to barrel along and finish, warts and all.

Speaking of perforating, take a look at this set of tracks that went awfully awry (this one I did have to stop and start again; I also decided to sew from the top instead of from underneath, which is not the normally recommended approach).

Travel Toiletry Tote by eSheep Designs
This is what happens when you can't see where you're sewing!

Upon reaching the end, I went back to the most egregious spots, pulled out the stitching and then just resewed in those spots. Certainly, it's not a technique I would normally employ, but for the sake of completing this and ensuring its ultimate usability, that was my best option. Even now, there are several small puckers that I'm not going to fix; it's not worth the suffering.

Travel Toiletry Tote by eSheep Designs
My "warts and all" finished bag is definitely functional and that's what matters...

What's more, that binding is not particularly visible when the bag is rolled up. The exterior polka dot binding (which is just ribbon) has no issues.

On the subject of issues, for some reason I did not trust my original cut piece of exterior waxcloth and reduced the length for the replacement fabric. The shorter length affected the placement of the velcro and eliminated some planned exterior binding. The good news is that I retained the original waxcloth and recorded the measurements for future reference.

Travel Toiletry Tote by eSheep Designs
If only I could move those pieces of Velcro up a bit...!

For now, the project is done — yippee! — and I'm fairly pleased with it. That said, I have no desire to do it again any time soon, which means that there are currently no plans for it to become a pattern for sale. I did take enough photos of the original process with the waxcloth (and there is a template for the side panels) to write up a tutorial. So if there is sufficient demand, I could be convinced to do that. (Or, if a few of you are gung ho enough about this that you might be interested in testing any future pattern, let me know that too.)

Travel Toiletry Tote by eSheep Designs
And if only the zippers were just an inch longer...!

Since writing up the main part of this post, I've now also taken this on vacation with me. It's passed the usability test. The most significant issue I had with it (apart from the placement of the velcro which I had already identified) were the zippers: they were a touch too short. I would definitely go with longer zippers next time.

Travel Toiletry Tote by eSheep Designs
Filled to the brim and functioning fine!

Have you done any sewing of bound fabric and vinyl around curves? Was it a pleasant experience??

Saturday, 7 October 2017

A Set of Fabric Envelopes

fabric envelopes crafted by eSheep Designs
Set of two fabric envelopes...
Back in August, I featured a project from Laura Coia's SewVeryEasy YouTube channel for making the very easiest drawstring bag ever.

Like I mentioned, I was first introduced to her while searching around YouTube for something or other when one of her videos was recommended for me. It was for making fabric envelopes, a project that I am featuring today (direct link to the video is at the end of this post).

As I watched her for the first time, I was entranced by Laura's friendly presence and smooth delivery. (Don't know about you, but even with so few videos watched, I've encountered YouTubers who appear uncomfortable in their own skin and talk as though they have a mouthful of marbles.) She's extremely easy to listen to and her instructions are clear. I like that the videos are generally short, yet I didn't feel as though I was missing anything.

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Anyway, several days later, I looked at the travel themed fabric that I had taken out to make my Zip-Around Yahtzee Wallet, and figured that it could be used for a matching set of fabric envelopes. (I had a use in mind. The smaller one is for keeping my receipts together when I travel. The larger one is meant to hold my bits and pieces of leftover interfacing.)

The envelopes seemed like an easy enough project to do in an afternoon... or so I thought.

I know; you're expecting me to say something contrary now, aren't you? (Like, it took me days to finish! LOL) Let's put it this way: things are almost never as simple as they appear to be.

Except maybe my lip balm carriers.

fabric envelope crafted by eSheep Designs
This is the original square version of the envelope...

To make this envelope, you have to track against an edge, but not sew on it. The edge is mostly straight, but in eight places, it curves inwards or outwards. And the smaller you make this thing, the more challenging this part will be. Take a look here at what I mean. The red line that I started to draw has to be followed all the way around, with the exception of a turning gap.

fabric envelope crafted by eSheep Designs
You see that red line? You have to sew alongside the interfacing all the way around...

Unlike some vloggers, Laura doesn't film herself actually sewing. (At least not in this video and not that I can recall in the others that I viewed.) In the interests of being efficient, I don't have a problem with that. All I'm saying is that because you don't see it being done, you may find some of the sewing tricky despite the relative simplicity of the project.

Actually, my biggest problem is that it takes me forever to cut anything. I think I had fiddled and fidgeted with my fabric for about an hour by the time I finished cutting the four required pieces (four fabric, two interfacing).

The fab part of this project is that you can start with any size square. Well, technically. Having made one starting with a 9.5" square, I can tell you that it's not advisable to go any smaller. Going bigger is no issue, but I had only a two inch space to turn my fabric when all was said and done with my smaller envelope.

Laura used a double-sided fusible interfacing in this project to get an ultra crisp, clean finish on both sides of the resulting envelope. I had no such interfacing and wasn't about to buy some, so I took a moment to consider my options.

I chose to use glue on one side.

fabric envelope crafted by eSheep Designs
I glued the interfacing onto one fabric...

I found the result perfectly acceptable. In the above picture, the interfacing has been glued onto what will be the outer fabric. I then sewed all the way around the interfacing per the instructions and notched the corners (see previous photo).

The next step was to fuse the seam allowance of the uppermost fabric to the interfacing. This will help create very clean and crisp edges when it's turned right side out.

fabric envelope crafted by eSheep Designs
Fuse the seam allowance to the interfacing...

Again, as a remark on the "simple" part, you really must take care here not to burn your fingers or overshoot the edge of the fabric with a hot steaming iron. (My Clover Hold It Precision Stiletto did the job for me; it was what I eventually purchased with the remainder of the Amazon gift card that I won last year.)

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The next step is to turn the thing right side out, poke out the corners and crevices, and fuse. As you can see here in this extreme closeup, the technique used here really does deliver excellent results.

fabric envelope crafted by eSheep Designs
Happiness is a clean corner!

After top-stitching, here it is, ready to be folded...

fabric envelope crafted by eSheep Designs
Glad I managed to turn this one right side out, since I only had about a 2" gap to reach into...

As usual, I can't make something and not make it my own somehow, so for the bigger envelope (started with 17" fabric and 16" interfacing), I decided to deviate from the square shaped result. In the above picture, you can see that the little inverted cuts into the fabric have been placed evenly on all four sides. When folded up, this will result in a square shape.

In my larger version shown below, you can see that those cuts have been placed slightly off centre.

fabric envelope crafted by eSheep Designs
This larger envelope folds up into a rectangular shape...

Mathematically speaking, since it still starts out as a square, there is only so much deviating that can be done to turn it into a usable rectangular shape. I went with a 45%/55% split, locating the cuts at 7.25" and 8.75" for my 16" square.

Just keep in mind that the folds are made on the diagonal. I'm not going to say anymore about it other than: work out the placement of your cuts on paper first. (I take no responsibility for any quirky results that you might get otherwise.)

The ribbon tie needs to be attached slightly differently when the result is not a square. This is how I did mine.

fabric envelope crafted by eSheep Designs
Attaching and threading the ribbon through a rectangular envelope...

The "ribbon" in this case was a very narrow bias tape that I found in Mom's old sewing kit. I stitched down the middle of it and then added black electrical tape to the ends. (I suppose this means that you can use a fashionable shoelace also!) Works like a charm. Here is the small envelope.

fabric envelope crafted by eSheep Designs
Threading the ribbon through a square envelope...

The ribbon is fed through the centre on all layers for the square shaped envelope. I found that I could thread both ends (rather than just one) through the final grommet on top and tie a bow to secure. The bow is too substantial to slip through the grommet.

Here it is stuffed with receipts from our recent Okanagan holiday.

fabric envelope crafted by eSheep Designs
My projects need to be used to be deemed successful!

And here is a series of photos to show how my odd pieces of leftover interfacing — which used to get crushed into a big plastic zip lock bag — now have a more appropriate home. Over time, all of the pieces inside have flattened out. I really don't know what I was thinking when I took to the practice of stuffing them inside a plastic bag... not like I can iron the creases out of a piece of fusible interfacing before using it!

fabric envelope crafted by eSheep Designs
A fancy new home for my interfacing remnants...

By the way, the finished size of my big envelope is 9.5" high x 11" wide. The small one is 4.75" square. And here is the link to the original video.

I encourage you to take a look through Laura's YouTube channel for other neat project ideas. She's also an accomplished quilter and you may notice a beautiful red and white quilt hanging behind her in some of her videos. The pattern is called Glorious and Free... guess what country she calls home??

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Marking a Special Five Year Anniversary

Ducks on Okanagan Lake
We're leaving if you have no food for us...
Recently took a (too) short jaunt to one of my favourite places: the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. The land of sunshine, vineyards, blue skies and blue water.

We really didn't know what to expect this year, since large swaths of BC were being scorched daily by raging forest fires all summer long. In Vernon, we heard that it hadn't rained in over ninety days, although it did manage to do so for almost the entire day that we were there.

Ultimately, we didn't mind too much since it did remove the problem with the horrendous smoke in the air that we had encountered from the beginning of our travels.

These regular excursions into the valley have been a long-standing tradition of ours, dating back over twenty years.

More recently, these trips have been a reminder of my current sewing hobby, that is now officially past the five year mark. Y'see, it was September of 2012 — while visiting friends who had moved into the Okanagan area the previous year — when I saw a beautiful handmade Professional Tote. Within days, I knew I had to take on the challenge and make one too... even though I hadn't sewn in almost three decades.

The rest of the story more or less culminates in the birth of this blog fourteen months later. Just one of those delightful, crazy turns in life that was totally unexpected.

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But as I sat on the beach with my other half (taking a break from a Yahtzee game), it was both amusing and amazing to contemplate how many things we had with us on this trip that were a direct result of that eye-opening day five years ago.

Yahtzee wallet crafted by eSheep Designs
My Yahtzee wallet gets its first use... hubby thought it was too small!

Most notably, there was this... my customized tote that has now been with me on three beach vacations. It has served its purpose well; I really like how versatile and usable it is (unlike — oddly enough — my Professional Totes, which now merely function as storage containers).

Customized Market Tote crafted by eSheep Designs
My customized beach tote based on a Sew4Home project...

As we wanted to listen to some music while on the beach, my hubby brought along his electronics, safely stowed away in his Gadget Grab 'n' Go. It's been well used, I must say. Speaking of well used, his original pair of kimono slippers gave up the ghost recently after having been on the job for ten weeks straight. Accompanying us on this trip were a brand new pair that I whipped up at the end of August. Speaking of footwear, it was also my first chance to use my new drawstring shoe bag.

While not exactly out on the beach with me, I also took along two new items that will be featured in upcoming posts: a new roll up toiletry case and a fabric envelope for carrying my vacation receipts that you'll probably see next week.

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Apart from enjoying the lakes and beaches, with my renewed interest in sewing, I've also used these trips to replenish some basic supplies at a bargain price. Take a look at what I scooped up this time.

Four zipper pulls, three zippers, some thread, a marking pencil, some fabric glue and some hemming tape...

The black separating zippers (60cm/24") were $1.29 each. Don't have plans for them at this point, but I couldn't pass on the deal.

Realized over the past year that I have significant amounts of darker fabric that I sometimes need to mark on, hence the white pencil. The Sew No More glue works well and replaces a tube from two years ago.

All of the above was under $14, taxes in. Everything except for the zipper pulls came from one of my favourite places to browse... a charming store called Scattered Goods in Vernon.

Scattered Goods, Vernon
Great discount store in Vernon, BC... (photo courtesy of Google Street View)

Isn't that a great name? (Sort of reminds me of Stephen King's Needful Things.) So much better than its former moniker of Welk Mart, don't you think?

Sewing anniversary or not, though, the area's charms are what keeps us coming back, year after year.

Skaha Beach
Skaha Beach...

Really, what's not to like about relaxing on this beach for several days? See how clear that sky is? Recall my mention of forest fires and smoke in the air? This (below) is what the sky looked like just beyond the Alberta/BC border when we started our travels.

Valemount Marina
A lighthouse to light the way through the smoke!

And it didn't just look the part; the air quality was toxic. That's why we didn't mind when the rain swooped in during one of those first days to clear it all out.

The rain enabled us to enjoy this sort of view for the rest of the trip. (Of course, if you stopped by last week, you saw what sort of weather madness we came home to for the last week of summer!)

Okanagan Lake
Okanagan Lake...

It's quite curious how one of my all-time favourite places ended up being where I would develop a renewed interest in sewing.

Do you have a favourite vacation spot that you return to on a regular basis?