Lina and Vi: December 2014

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Recap

Lina and Vi - Sewing Notions -  burlap bags

As it turns out, this year was not anything that I had expected. Today I want to share with you a bit about how Lina and Vi has evolved this year and how it has become what it is today.

This time last year, I was preparing for a new year in a relatively new position at work and settling in to my new married life in a new home. That September, I had created the first burlap tote bag, one month prior to my wedding and one month after a life-altering diagnosis for my husband's mother and his family. I'm not sure what compelled me to start sewing in the midst of what felt like chaos in my personal life, but by the time the year ended, I had one sale (to one of my husband's work friends) and several other bags sitting in my home, without much of a plan.

In February, I decided to sign up for a local craft fair, which was a personal goal I had for many years. This was the chance to display the burlap bags and possibly sell a few. I prepped for several weeks during nights and weekends as my days were busy at work amid a product launch.  I spent an entire Saturday at the fair and loved being able to watch people look, touch, and comment on my bags, but left with no sales aside from my thoughtful girlfriends who stopped by to support me. It felt good to have completed this goal, but I knew that it didn't mean much in terms of progressing much further with Lina and Vi. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do next.

Several friends and family had encouraged me to start an Etsy shop around that time, and I was stubborn and decided that it wasn't the way I wanted to go. I wanted to focus on building Lina and Vi locally, and I didn't want to spend my free time on the computer, as I was doing most of the day at work already. I just wanted to sew. As you know now, I decided to give it a try on April 1st. I spent the first month and a half without a sale, gradually feeling that I-told-you-so attitude creep back in. I sat down one day and came up with an idea to create a look book to improve my Etsy photos. I grabbed a few rose bouquets on sale at the grocery store and started styling my bags with flowers and props. I had my first sale at the end of May on Etsy, and I was thrilled. Since then, I've had ups and downs as I learn about how Etsy works and become more successful in managing an online store.

In June, I was approached by a local boutique in Plymouth, Michigan called Birch Wood and asked if I'd be willing to display my bags in their store when I had stopped in one day to do some shopping. That same day, I went home, created an inventory worksheet and came back to the boutique a few hours later with a few select items, a stack of business cards, and the product detail worksheet. When I saw my bags on display at the boutique as part of the Art in the Park Plymouth craft fair in July, I felt so accomplished. I would never had thought that I'd do anything beyond checking off the box on a craft fair this year, and at this point, I had sales in an Etsy shop and a display at a local boutique, both of which are still happening today.

In September, I decided to leave my job for a much smaller company in a slightly different, but related, position. I came to realize that my 'dream job' wasn't what I had thought it would be after a tough year launching a product that I didn't fully believe in. At that same time, I lost my mother-in-law to pancreatic cancer after a year and one month since her initial diagnosis. There were a lot of changes at once during that month, and in some ways, I think that sewing for Lina and Vi help to keep a sense of normalcy and familiarity for me during that time.

If you know me personally, you likely know that I tend to be very goal oriented with a to-do list or plan written in a journal or notepad somewhere at all times to keep me on track. With the year ending, I'm starting to write down some new goals for Lina and Vi, but not without first reflecting the successes, disappointments, and lessons from this past year. I started the year with only one sale and am ending it with nearly fifty. It's incredible, and I'm so excited to plan for what's next in 2015.

I have a lot to learn, many improvements to make, and years to continue to grow. Thanks for being a part of this adventure with me.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Pattern, Stripes, and Prints: The Bean Burlap Tote Bag

Bean burlap tote bag - Lina and Vi Plymouth MI front view

It's been a busy Christmas week, but as we wind down and prepare for the New Year (and our own NYE party this week), I wanted to drop in to share a few new photos of a new bag design - the Bean tote bag.

This a medium-size bag, measuring 20" wide at it's largest point and 12" tall. It's extremely roomy inside and can easily fit a tablet, wallet, a few books, and a water bottle comfortably along with many small items like phones and keys in the three different interior pockets. The bag sits on a patterned-fabric bottom that is about 3" wide, sewn from a neutral woven heavy-weight upholstery fabric. I found this fabric during my last trip to JoAnn's, and it's amazing. Even the woman who cut this piece of fabric for me commented on the uniqueness of the design.

Bean burlap tote bag - Lina and Vi Plymouth MI bottom view

Bean burlap tote bag - Lina and Vi Plymouth MI zipper view

The real gem of this bag (and something I'm extremely proud of) are the straps. Rather than putting the standard cream woven belting straps, I chose to create the straps by hand from the leftover zigzag woven fabric. I knew I couldn't turn them once I sewed the strap pieces together lengthwise, so I opted for a beige single-fold bias tape trim to conceal the seams. They turned out beautifully, and they are clearly the focal point of this bag. 

With this detailed strap design, I opted to balance it with simple burlap printed fabric that has a centered black printed design on the front and no print on the back burlap fabric. Similarly, the inside fabric is a solid cream and the pockets are a solid white cotton. Clean and simple, so that the main body of the bag isn't trying to overpower the patterned straps.

Bean burlap tote bag - Lina and Vi Plymouth MI top view

Bean burlap tote bag - Lina and Vi Plymouth MI inside view

The Bean tote bag is one of my more cherished bags in the Grounds Collection. I stand proudly next to this design. If you're looking for a bag that is structured and neutral but offers a pop of unexpected personality, then I highly recommend this bag for you. It is now listed in our Etsy shop for purchase...but it may not be for long if I am successful in convincing myself to keep this one for my own closet this winter! 

Monday, December 22, 2014

New Panama Tote Bag

Panama tote bag front - Lina and Vi

As I sit here typing, I have to laugh as I read my last post as I think I have managed to not follow every tip in the Top 10 Tips for Working with Burlap this past week. I only have to look down at myself and see the clothing I wore to work today covered in burlap fuzzies. It's especially nice with a black sweater. Even I don't follow my own rules sometimes!

At any rate, it's Christmas week which means a short week at work and jam packed days of family parties and visiting. Since my in-laws live in Frankenmuth, I'll be traveling this week to spend some time there as well with my family in the Detroit area.

This past weekend I finished a brand new Grounds Collection tote bag, the Panama bag. This is a relatively small shoulder bag with one inner zipper pocket and one inner slide pocket. The bag measures approximately 12 inches by 11 inches, which is considerably small compared to the other bags in the collection. It's a perfect size if you are looking for something to carry the basics - phone, makeup, wallet, keys. There's probably room for a water bottle and a snack, two things I typically carry in my purse for days when I'm running around or stuck in traffic. It's not bulky, but it's sturdy. Plus, it's the first burlap design of it's kind that I've worked with so the only in the Grounds Collection to date. The front and back burlap design are cut from the same piece so the design continues from one side to the other. If you look closely, you will see the word "Panama" printed at the top opening of the bag.

Panama tote bag back - Lina and Vi

Panama tote bag inner - Lina and Vi

This Panama tote bag is available in our Etsy shop today. Visit it here to see more details.

Wishing you a great holiday week!

Monday, December 15, 2014

10 Tips for Working with Natural Burlap

Lina and Vi - 10 tips working with burlap

It has been another busy week filling custom orders of zipper pouches, state pillows, and wine totes!

If you've been following for a while, you'll know that the main fabric I use in creating our Grounds and Holiday collections is burlap. Now, I have never purchased burlap in a fabric store, in a nicely folded ream ready to be cut to size and sewn. (That sounds so calming to me!) I have only used what I will refer to as 'natural' burlap. I have no knowledge about whether the burlap you can find at retail fabric shops like Joann's is synthetic or natural, but I can assure you that there are a few differences as compared to the burlap coffee bags I purchased from the local coffee roaster.  I'm talking about burlap in the wild here!

Maybe you're interested in learning to sew with burlap or maybe you're just interested in getting a behind the scenes look at how we start the process of creating our items. Here are 10 tips for sewing and crafting with burlap from coffee bean sacks:

1. Keep a vacuum and lint roller nearby.

Burlap is messy. Wear clothing that you intend to change out of after working on your project as you may find that burlap sheds like crazy and will end up covering your pants, socks, shirts, and likely the entire area you are working. It still drive me nuts, but I have come to expect that it's a characteristic of working with this type of fabric.

2. Use a rotary cutter if you have one.

About six months ago, I purchased a Gingher rotary cutter, expecting to pay a bit more in order for it to last on the heavy wear and tear of cutting through thick burlap. It worked and still works. I highly recommend using a rotary cutter rather than cutting shears as burlap has a tendancy to move around on the cutting surface, and the less you have to adjust it to make room for the shears, the more accurate your cut will be. (Additionally, I use a yardstick with the rotary cutter to help guide me with straight lines.)

3. Follow the thread grain when you cut.

This is easier said than done, especially when working with a burlap bag that has wrinkles and flaws from being tossed into trucks, loaded to machinery, and sitting in warehouses. Try to line up your ruler with one thread and adjust the fabric so that you cut following that single thread. You'll end up with a more 'square' cut piece. I have learned this hard lesson when I cut what I thought was a straight rectangle and ended up with a loop-sided shape, breaking threads and unexpectedly causing the edges to fray.

4. Add an extra 1/4" inch to your seam allowance.

Again, this speaks from experience. Burlap frays, and depending on the quality and tightness of the weave, it can be better or worse for you. If it begins to fray, you'll end up trying to compensate by leaving a large seam allowance as there isn't much to sew with a frayed edge. That ends up making your final project smaller than originally designed, which isn't good. Save yourself a headache and cut and sew a larger seam allowance and then trim it down after the seam is secure to remove the bulkiness.

5. Use heavy-weight thread.

The thicker the thread, the easier it will be for your stitches to grab onto the burlap weave. The thread grains are really just twine, which  means it's not your average fabric thread. They are thick strands, so having a thicker thread helps to keep your seams in tact, especially if the burlap stretches a bit. As an added bonus, using thicker thread makes it easier for you to see your seam among the burlap fabric grains - a good idea for detailed top-stitching.

6. Line burlap with interfacing or a stabilizing fabric.

This tip is especially true for sewing burlap. Although burlap is a thick fabric, it needs structure. I typically use a fusible craft-weight interfacing to back all of the burlap used on the Grounds totes. It gives the bag structure and allows it to stand up against it's own weight in most cases. For home decor items like a pillow, I don't use fusible interfacing but rather a heavier fabric stitched on the back of the burlap to keep the fiber filling from peaking out through the burlap with a less stiff feel. Use something to keep it sturdy - doesn't need to be fusible or fancy, and you will appreciate how much easier it is sew with a stabilizer.

7.  Finish raw edges with a zig-zag stitch when sewing.

Those of you with a serger or overlocking machine may use a different stitch, but since I have a standard sewing machine, I choose to use a zig-zag stitch to secure raw edges of seams. It helps to prevent the fraying mentioned earlier, and also further secures your seam.

8. Use a sealant to prevent holes or tears from spreading.

I find that coffee burlap sacks have a lot of tears, stretched holes, or flaws from being handled. If I notice an area of the burlap that has the potential to tear open further, I will seal it with Fray Check to prevent it from spreading further. It allows me to use pieces of burlap that have character and speak of its history, without compromising my end product's quality. 

9. Iron on a high setting.

I start most of my projects with cutting open the burlap coffee sack and laying it over my ironing board to iron out the wrinkles. Burlap can be defiant, so I use the second highest setting. But even that sometimes doesn't work, so remember to have patience and keep pressing down on the area you need to flatten out. 

10. Clean the dust from under your needle plate on your sewing machine regularly.

This is a simple tip for sewers and takes only a few minutes. Use that little white brush that has a pick on the other end which came with your machine to brush out the fuzzy lint that collects under the needle plate. Start by removing your bobbin case and the bobbin and go from there. Your sewing machine will show it's appreciation when you are sweating trying to push a thick layer of burlap through it the next time your're sewing.

Remember to have patience. If you can work with burlap, you can work with anything. I hope you find these helpful when you embark on your next DIY project.

Happy Monday!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Behind the Scenes: Burlap State Pillow

It has been an incredible week for Lina and Vi. This is our first Christmas season selling handmade products as well as our first holiday season with an Etsy shop. I have been sewing non-stop for the past week, personalizing Christmas stockings and the burlap state pillows I introduced on the blog here last week.

Today I wanted to share a very quick tutorial for the burlap state pillow. Despite the fact that these are for sale in our Etsy shop, I want to walk through how they are made for those who purchased one and want to know how it was made and for anyone new to sewing that wants a beginner project to work on. If you have ever taken a sewing course, one of the first projects they will introduce to you will be how to sew a pillow. It's simple enough that even a beginner can learn to do it quickly, while learning some pretty basic sewing skills. The state pillow is unique in that it has the state silhouette created using a stencil and flexible fabric paint. If you're interested in learning about the stenciling technique, visit this post from September where I showcased the Plymouth pillow I created for my home.


- thread
- scissors
- sewing machine
- fabric of your choice cut 18 inches by 18 inches (2 pieces)
- fiber fill/stuffing
- pins


1. To begin, place your fabric pieces on top of each other with the right sides facing into each other. Pin all the way around three of the edges of the square pieces of fabric, leaving about 3/4 inches from the edge. On the fourth edge, place a pin about 3 inches in from each corner and leave the remaining area free of pins. You will need to turn the pillow inside out in the end, and this opening will allow you to do so.

2. Next, ensure your sewing machine is threaded with your thread of choice. Place the pinned pieces under the pressure foot of the sewing machine starting at the pin from the fourth edge that is closest to you. You will line your needle up there, remove the pin, and then begin to sew that small 3 inch section of the edges together, stop at the corner and leave your needle in the fabric, life the pressure foot and rotate the square fabric so that you can begin to sew the edge of a new side. Place the pressure foot back down and begin to sew the second edge. When you hit the corner, do the same as before by stopping the sewing machine with the needle in the fabric and rotating the square again to sew the third side. Finally you will rotate it one more time and sew the fourth side again, but only to the single pin remaining. Secure the end of the seam by adding a few back-stitches with your machine.

3. Then, trim the edge seams that were just sewn together down to about 1/2 inch using your scissors. This helps to reduce unnecessary bulk in the pillow when you turn it inside out.

4. Using the opening that is not yet sewn together on the fourth side, turn the pillow inside out. Your right sides will now be facing outside of the pillow and your seams will be turned inside of the pillow.

5. Using your hand to grab small bunches, fill the pillow with the stuffing to your desired fullness. Then, fold the seams of the pillow opening into the pillow so that the raw cut edges are on the inside, Pinch the two pieces of fabric together to seal the opening and pin them together along that edge to secure them.

6. Lastly, using your sewing machine, sew that fourth pinned seam together. You may need to sew slowly as the pillow will be full of stuffing at this point and you may need to help guide the edge under the pressure foot to prevent the pillow from slipping out from under the needle.

And that's it! This is a project for a beginner without a doubt. Once you have the basics down, you will see how easy it is to design accent pillows for your home using different fabrics and embellishments like piping, tassels, or lace. It's a fun way to learn to sew while making something that you could use in your home everyday.

I hope you're having a good start to your week. You can visit our Etsy State Pillow page here if you are interested in purchasing a custom state design by Lina and Vi.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Burlap State Pillows

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving weekend! We've been busy this week personalizing stockings and packing up new orders, some from our Holiday Collection and others from the Grounds collection.  In case you missed it, the second Lina and Vi collection was released last Monday in our Etsy shop. There are several gift ideas for others and maybe a few holiday decor items for yourself ;-).

If you follow us on Facebook, you may have noticed a new item, unrelated to the Holiday or Grounds collections that we posted last week. Say hello to our first burlap state print pillow! I made this pillow for a friend's housewarming party back in September, and ever since then, I've received requests to make more for family and friends. These pillows are approximately 17 inches tall and wide and great for use as an accent alone or among other pillows on a couch, chair, bench, or bed. Each pillow can be customized for any state using a dark gray flexible fabric paint, the same used in our burlap pillow DIY post a while back. The front is burlap and the back is a neutral colored fabric.

These are fun and quirky gifts for the person in your life that really, I mean really, loves their home state! They are only $25 and are made to order in 1 - 2  weeks. I just received an order for the entire shape of the U.S., so if you are interested in a specific country, we can do it! Just send us a message through Etsy and we will work with you for what you need. I might end up making a few for my own Christmas gift giving this year! Love them. Check them out on Etsy here.

I hope you're having a great start to your week! Thanks for stopping by.