Everyday Tote with exterior zipper pocket hack

Spoonflower’s new Lightweight Cotton Twill is an absolute dream to work with.  The weight is the perfect go-to for a multitude of projects, especially totes!  The combination of this easy to work with material and its tough weave will ensure that you’ll end up with something that will not just look amazing, but wear well. In this tutorial, Gia from the blog Sew Gratitude will to take you through a simple “hack” using the Lightweight Cotton Twill and an Everyday Tote project from Sprout Patterns


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Another fun option for your Everyday Tote is to add an easily accessible outside zipper.  Today I’m going to walk you through creating an outside pocket with a contrast trim.  In this sweet boho mermaid fabric, (design by Nouveau Bohemian) the zipper will be perfectly complimented by a tasseled pull. This technique is a little more advanced, but worth tackling!  Just go slowly.

For this project, you’ll need the following additional items:
• one 10 inch coordinating zipper (or longer, you can easily shorten it)
• a disappearing marking pen (I am using a Frixon marker)
• an Exacto knife
• a glue stick
• a ruler
• a rotary cutter

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Go ahead and cut out your bag as usual, again being careful not to cut into your extra chunk.  When designing this bag, you’ll see that I have two separate coordinating panels left!  I’m going to be working with the print that’s the opposite of the outside of my bag. Interface your bag with the interfacing of your choice, I always use SF101.

From the extra chunk, cut:
1 –  one 10 inch by 14 inch rectangle

Interface your pocket however you want, you might want to only interface the top due to the thickness of the twill, but it’s totally up to you!

Working with the pocket, fold it in half long ways and find the center. ON THE WRONG SIDE- from the top measure down about 1.5 inches and draw a long horizontal line.  Measure down from your first line about 3/8 of an inch and draw a parallel line.  Now, create a box that’s about 8 inches long centered.

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Fold the front panel of your bag to mark the center.

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Place the pocket along the front of your bag with the top about an inch down, centered, right sides together.  The rectangle you drew should be facing out.  Make sure everything is even and flat and pin this into place, leaving room around that rectangle to sew.

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Now, sew this rectangle carefully.  I go very slow and shorten my stitches as I reach the corners.  Leave your needle down and turn the fabric to get a sharp corner.

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Once sewn, carefully mark your rectangle as shown, these will be your cutting lines.

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This is the tricky part, so be careful!  I use an Exacto knife and a cutting board to cut the corners, this makes sure that I can get as close as possible to the stitching so that when I flip all this around, the corners are sharp and exact.  Go slow and be as exact as you can.

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Once you have your lines cut, flip this panel through the rectangle you just cut.  It’ll take a little finessing, don’t force it.  It’s super easy to create the contrast!  Instead of flipping the panel and pulling it all flat, go ahead and wiggle it so that there is a sliver of fabric on the outsides just under the seams, finger pressing it along.  The top and the bottom will lay flat, but the short edges might pucker.  Don’t worry, this will all flatten out and won’t make a difference on the front!

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Iron this like crazy.  I place pins on the side to keep everything square.

Now we’ll add the zipper.  Your zipper should be longer than the rectangle on each side.

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Open your zipper up a little bit and then run the glue stick along the edge of the zipper and then place so that the opening is just flush with the left of the rectangle and centered into the rectangle.  You can fuss with this some before the glue dries, so don’t panic.  Once I have it where I want it, I hit it with the iron to set the glue tight.  I put a few pins along the ends to hold the zipper center as I sew.

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Now, carefully sew about 1/8 of an inch around the outside of the zippered rectangle on the front side, just outside the edge of the contrast.  This will sew your zipper into place.  For good measure, I always backtrack and sew over the short ends twice.  Flip it over and trim your zipper ends.

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Fold the bottom of the pocket up to match the top and sew the edges!

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Press everything very well! Finish up the bag following the directions supplied from Sprout!

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Go ahead and attach your zipper pull!  I made mine, but there are so many amazing artists out there on Etsy you can support as well.

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You could easily use the rest of the extra chunk to add an additional zippered pocket inside!


After over a decade working in an office, Gia was done with the commute.  She gave up a job in PR to work from home to take care of her family.  She became a certified and licensed aromatherapist and herbalist and launched her own organic skin care company.  After one too many unsuccessful searches for JUST the right Halloween costume for her now ten year old, she got out her aunt’s old Singer and taught herself to sew.  You can find her now in her villa in Italy amongst her cats and a growing hill of fabric, always ready for the next sewing challenge.  She blogs over at sewgratitude.com, when she remembers.

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Anna Dress Sprout Hack

Today’s guest blogger is Kelly, Director of Engineering over at Spoonflower. She also writes a blog where she focuses on sewing, weaving and reading. It’s called Dress Insouciantly – check it out!


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We’ve all had this moment before: It’s late at night and you got carried away working on a project when you realize you’re missing an essential element. But of course, the craft store is closed. Why oh why can’t craft stores be open at reasonable times? Say, 24-hours a day, 7-days a week? Sadly, I found myself in this position just last week.

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I’ve been eyeing By Hand London’s Anna dress ever since Sprout Patterns listed it. It looks elegant without being fussy, and can serve as both casual day dress or evening wear depending on what fabric you choose. With a birthday coming up, I decided now was the time, and designed the dress with a beautiful floral design called Winter Garden Antique from Ceciliamok. I chose the poly crepe de chine fabric because I love the light feeling it has and I really wanted that draped effect the slash-necked bodice has.

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As life so often goes, time caught up with me, and it was the night before my birthday party before I really got down to business and started sewing. I wasn’t worried though, this pattern is beautiful in its simplicity. The use of pleats in the bodice, instead of darts, makes it very easy to fit. And the long straight sides of the skirt are a breeze! And then, of course, I get to the very last step: the zipper. But wait, where is my zipper? I know I put it around here somewhere…

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Long story short, I had no 22inch zipper; what I did have was a 7-9 inch zipper. It was nearly midnight, there were no craft stores open anywhere. And yet, I was determined to wear this dress tomorrow, what could I do?

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Eventually, I realized that the zipper is really only needed for the narrowest part of the waist. Because the dress uses kimono sleeves instead of inset ones, and the bodice pleats encourage a relaxed fit and gathered look, the back of the dress isn’t actually supporting any structure. As long as the back of the neck is connected, the zipper really only needs to go as high as the bodice pleats. I decided that it would be completely possible to still finish the dress and create an open back feature.

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I set my 9inch zipper in the back seam so that the bottom of the zipper met the marks in the pattern and the top of it reached just past the bodice darts. Then I drew a gentle curve on the remaining section of each piece of the back bodice and cut away a little bit more than an inch of fabric. I hemmed these pieces with a double fold, making sure to catch the back facing in for a clean finish. I attached a button to the top of one back piece, and a loop of elastic thread to the other. Voila! I now have a key-hole back on my Anna dress!

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I am very pleased with how this dress turned out. I’m even happy I forgot to get a zipper of the right length; because of that mistake I ended up with a unique dress with an interesting feature. I feel like there are plenty of open back styles that would still work with the Anna dress pattern. You could add cross pieces, or cut the key-hole in a different shape, or don’t cut it out at all and let the pieces overlap each other for a more subtle look. With a little bit of extra scrap fabric you could create a draped cowl. Or you could add a large sculptural button for a statement piece… With so many ideas I’m going to have to save up to buy another Sprout dress again!

Altering The Alder, Part 2: Adding Sleeves

Our guest blogger today is Kelly Walsh, the Director of Engineering at Spoonflower and an avid seamstress who loves a good hack. In the second of two parts, she explains how to alter the very popular Alder Shirtdress from Grainline Studio to add sleeves. If you missed it, part 1 of this post is here.


I don’t know about you, but I’m a sleeves girl. Short, long, three-quarter, poofy, flowy, bell, cap—about the only sleeves I don’t go for are the old historic ‘leg of mutton’ sleeves, I can’t imagine many things less comfortable looking. Sleeves are an extra element to an outfit, they’re another place to add detail, structure, balance, or style. The shape of a sleeve can totally change a garment. When I was looking at the Alder dress after my first round of alterations, I just felt like it was crying out for sleeves!

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Good news! Drafting a simple short sleeve is actually a lot easier than you think it is. There’s a fair number of choices to make along the way, but there are some things you can do to make it easier. The Alder is actually great for this modification because the bodice structure is pretty normal, and the armscye (AKA the armhole) is quite standard. If there’s a blouse or dress you’ve made before that has a similar shape, and sleeves you like, there’s a really good chance you can just lift that pattern piece wholesale and sew it right into the Alder. I wouldn’t recommend trying that without testing it on some scrap fabric first, just in case. But I can tell you that it’s worked for me in the past! There are a whole lot of great tutorials on the internet that go into a lot of detail, but I’ll touch on some of the basics of a simple short sleeve, and then look at how you might modify it for different shapes.

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There’s several important aspects to a basic sleeve shape that I really look at. The circumference of the bicep of the sleeve, the circumference of the armsyce (aka the armhole) of the garment you’re fitting it in, the “height” of the cap, and the length of the sleeve. On my super high tech drawing below, the red line represents the bicep of the sleeve. The purple line is the length of the sleeve from your shoulder until the end.

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The green line is the circumference of the armscye. And the light blue line is the “cap height,” or if you think about it another way, the difference between the length of the sleeve at your inner arm (armpit) and the length of the sleeve from your shoulder. You can also get this measurement by looking at the pattern pieces for your bodice, and measuring in a straight line from the side seam top corner straight up to the outside corner of the shoulder seam.

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Now, one of the most subtlest things about sleeves is how you draw that curve along the armscye. It can absolutely make the difference between a poofy sleeve, and a sleek tight fitting sleeve, and it’s all in what effect you want. I didn’t really want a poof sleeve here, but I’m also too lazy to do some of the intense work that is required for getting a perfectly fitted inset sleeve. And that’s where “ease” comes into play. It’s the fudge factor, the simplifier. It means that, for all intents and purposes I kind of eye-ball it, test it out, and in the end just go with it. Ease is your friend. The curve I draw might not fit perfectly into my armscye, but with some basting stitches and a tiny bit of fidgeting, I make it work.

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After taking my measurements, thinking about how long I wanted my sleeves, and using some tricks I learned before, this is the sleeve shape I came up with. One of those tricks, by the way, is to use Spoonflower to print what is effectively graph paper fabric. It’s a 1-inch grid printed directly on their basic cotton fabric, and it is GREAT for pattern drafting. You could even get a roll of it on gift wrap and use that way!

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Above you see my sleeve shape, with the red line representing the sleeve length. It’s about 9” inches, which I know from past experience works for me, and is similar to most other sleeve shapes I’ve found.

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This green line is the bicep line. Now, if you want sleeves that really hug your arms, you’d make measurement similar to your own bicep circumference. I like a bit of moving room, so I usually just draw the cap lines nearly vertically down. You can also even expand them a touch further out if you want a more flared shape. As long as this measurement is more than your bicep, it’s more about what style you’re looking for.

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The sleeve cap curves I usually draw with my french curve ruler. Its useful that way. But finding that “inflection point” where the concave curve becomes a convex curve is pretty important. Its easiest to do it with your bodice pattern pieces in mind. Think of it as the same point where the curve changes in the shoulder of those pattern pieces. This is where the fabric is curving around your arm, and finally folds into your armpit.

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There’s a blog post by ikatbag that goes into a whole lot more detail in this area that I really like. Check out her cardboard box demonstration if you really want a good understanding of how this curve and the cap height of your sleeve can really change its shape. If you’re curious I definitely recommend if.

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If you just want some sleeves and you want them now, then forge on ahead, trust yourself, and trust pattern makers who have gone before you. And when you’re drafting it all up, don’t forget your seam allowance! Trust me. It’ll go downhill fast if you forget that. Not that I ever do that of course (yeah right!)  If you want a basic short sleeve, you’re done, it’s really that easy. But there’s also a lot of things you can do to get interesting sleeve shapes.

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If you like cap sleeves, it’s as simple as shortening the length so that your entire sleeve is basically the cap height, and if you want the edge higher, just give that line a curve upwards.  There are so many sleeve options, but one of my favorites are called “tulip sleeves” or “petal sleeves.” They’re really only one extra step beyond a basic sleeve shape, but they add such a lovely detail that it instantly becomes the start of any garment.

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Tulip sleeves are made by visually layering the fabric in the sleeve with a curved edge, so that it looks like two flower petals over top each other. Seamwork Magazine has done a great tutorial on transforming a simple inset sleeve into a tulip sleeve, and I definitely recommend reading it as well, you can find it here.

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First you take your basic sleeve shape, and draw a curved line from one of the shoulder notches to the opposite corner. Yep, here comes that handy french curve ruler again!

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Then you do the exact same thing going in the other direction. Your one sleeve piece has now become two separate pattern pieces. Your two sleeves will actually require four smaller pattern pieces  (or 8, if you choose to line them.) See how their shoulder points line up, and overlap in the middle, and the bottom edge creates a flower like shape?

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Actually, this is the other reason I chose tulip sleeves for this Sprout Patterns project. When you’re working with scrap material, it’s frequently easier to find lots of small pieces than a few large pieces. I found it easier to fit four of these smaller curved pieces within the margins of fabric. But, if I’d wanted more expansive sleeves, I could have just bought a fat quarter of the same design from Spoonflower and that would have been more than enough extra fabric. It’s part of what makes the whole Sprout Patterns concept amazing!

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In the end, my sleeves looked like this, and in my mind they are just right for this dress. I love the playful effect the tulip shape gives them, which I think matches the gathered skirt and adds an overall balance to the garment.

Don’t be afraid of drafting your own sleeves, and experimenting with other shapes. It’s part of why so many people enjoy sewing, because they get to have some creative expression with what they make, and what they wear! There are a lot of great resources out there if you’ve seen a sleeve you like but have no idea how you’d go about making it.

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And don’t think that just because the lines are printed on the fabric, you’re trapped into that shape. Sprout Patterns is about helping you express your creativity in sewing, and it’s about giving you a starting place. Add onto what you’re given and change it up. See how many different ways you can use the scrap fabric to add unique details. A pocket, or a ruffle, or some sleeves. It’s all in what you can imagine.


kellybiopic.jpgKelly Walsh attended the NC School of Science and Mathematics and graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in Philosophy. She spends most of her free time reading, sewing the most elaborate Halloween costumes she can envision (and the occasional everyday outfit), and learning to weave on her 1900s Leclerc floor loom. Her favorite Sprout Pattern of the moment is the Archer Button Up. She joined the Spoonflower team in 2011 as a printer operator, and is currently the Director of Site Engineering.

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