Fika Tote Recap
The Fika Tote is done; I wanted to cut the grass in the backyard yesterday, but every time I put my socks and shoes on to go outside, it started raining. I finally gave up and sat outside on the porch and sewed down the binding. Now that the tote is done, I thought I would write up a recap of this project detailing the materials used and the pattern hacks I made.
Pattern: Fika Tote by Noodlehead
Exterior fabric: Robert Kaufman Essex Canvas in Black, 55% linen/45% cotton, 6.5 oz/sq yd, from stash
Accent fabric: Robert Kaufman Cotton Flax Prints, 80% cotton/20% flax, 6.5 oz/sq yd, purchased locally
Lining fabric: Overgrown from the Friedlander Collection by Carolyn Friedlander for Robert Kaufman, 100% cotton, purchased locally
Interfacing: Wovenfuse from Got Interfacing? in white and in black
Foam: Bosal In-R-Foam, purchased locally
Overview: The Fika Tote is a large tote bag with a recessed top zipper, back lapped zipper, two front pockets, and two padded interior pockets. At 17” tall, 15” wide, and 5” deep, it is plenty big enough for a notebook computer and papers, a knitting project, or even a change of clothes for an overnight trip.
I love the Noodlehead patterns for their clarity and logical, detailed instructions. This is probably the sixth or seventh Noodlehead pattern I’ve made and the one I had the most trouble with. I am not sure why that was, other than I don’t like working with foam and I had to hack the pattern in a couple of places, which I’ve never done with a Noodlehead pattern before. Your mileage may vary. This won’t stop me from buying and making everything Anna designs. It’s just a comment on this particular pattern.
The Essex Canvas and Cotton Flax were (mostly) lovely to work with. The red print is a grid-like pattern. Those are tricky only from the standpoint that if the pattern piece is cut even slightly off-grain—and believe me, I’ve seen that in even professionally-made quilts and bags because not everyone takes the time to square up their fabric—it will drive you nuts to the point that you will want to throw the whole project away. I try to avoid gridded designs, but I really liked that fabric so I dealt with it.
I wish I had put some black Wovenfuse interfacing on the backs of the black linen exterior pieces before fusing them to the In-R-Foam. The In-R-Foam is beige, and while it doesn’t readily show through the black linen, that’s a detail I should have thought of and added for completeness. It also would have eliminated some of that wrinkling you can see in the photo.
Finding a lining print to coordinate with the black and red was more difficult than I anticipated. I would have liked something besides black and white, but the best I could come up with was a mustard-yellow print and I couldn’t find enough of the one I liked. I also knew that I should stay away from directional prints. The Friedlander print is busy enough that direction didn’t matter. I am sure it is somewhat directional, but I dare you to find it. In retrospect, a solid Kona color would have been most suitable for the lining, if somewhat boring.
I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing the samples that Anna makes for her bag patterns. She is, by her own admission, a minimalist. Her bags tend to feature quiet, low-contrast combinations of prints. It’s a challenge sometimes for this sewist—who gravitates toward loud, retina-burning prints—to find fabrics that work with Anna’s designs. As an example, I had to cut the pocket linings for the front pockets out of black Kona. I did them originally in the lining print, as specified in the pattern, but the white showed around the edges of the pockets when they were sewed down and the contrast was unwelcome. I also chose to make the upper facing of the recessed zipper out of the black Essex rather than the lining print, as specified in the pattern, for the same reason.
This next issue is a tricky one and I am still trying to sort it out in my head. Many times when I am working through someone else’s pattern, I’ll ask myself, “How would I have written/presented these instructions if this were my design?” Sixteen years of teaching knitting classes and writing knitting patterns drove home the fact that everyone processes information differently. Presenting something the way that makes sense to me does not mean that it is going to make sense to someone else. In this pattern, I kept falling down in places where I had to visualize ahead of time how a specific piece would look when the bag was assembled. The front pocket linings and recessed zipper facing I mentioned above were two great examples. I think I would have liked more explanation (and photos) about where each piece fit into the design and possible pitfalls. I understand that it is impossible for a designer to anticipate every fabric choice a sewist is going to make, but knowing some of these issues ahead of time rather than blindly following the cut sheet would have been helpful. But I am still trying to figure out how I would have worked that into the pattern without a long explanation taking up two more pages.
I’ve already talked about the change I made to the handles, which was to make a tube of two layers, turn and press it, and insert the In-R-Foam 1-1/4” wide strip. I also left a longer section at each end without foam to make turning under and sewing the handle down easier.
The foam interfacing was a challenge. Of the three types I’ve used—In-R-Foam, Soft and Stable, and Pellon Flex Foam—I liked the In-R-Foam the best and the Flex Foam the least. The pattern specifies that either fusible fleece or foam may be used for the padding. However, there were no instructions on when or if the fleece/foam should be fused to any of the pieces, only that it should be basted in. Each interior pocket, for instance, is constructed with two pieces of lining fabric with a piece of fleece/foam inserted between the layers. There was no indication given in the pattern about whether or not to fuse the fleece/foam after inserting it. I went with my best guess and fused it where it was possible to do so. Also, Wovenfuse is far superior to the Pellon SF101, so if you haven’t tried it, I’d encourage you to do so. It’s 45” wide rather than the 20” wide SF101, which is a huge advantage when working with large pattern pieces.
And finally, I realized when I was all done that I made the same rookie zipper mistake that I made with the Professional Tote, which also has a recessed zipper. I am considering avoiding patterns with recessed zippers from now on. The pattern calls for an 18-20” zipper, closed end or separating. I went to my very large stash of zippers and found a black 20” purse zipper with a closed end. I did not realize that it was a double-headed zipper and BOTH ends were closed. Consequently, the recessed zipper facing does not open all the way, although it does open in both directions. I can still access the interior of the bag, but it doesn’t open as wide as it should. I can fix this—as I did with the zipper on the Professional Tote—by taking a pair of cutters and nipping off the stop at the top end, removing one of the sliders, and adding a stop on each side of the zipper. To be honest, though, that is pretty low on the priority list at the moment. I have grass waiting to be cut.
The tote is done. I am glad I stuck with it but I doubt I’ll make it again. I think I am going to stick to waxed canvas bags from now on.