Embracing Failure: the Magic Carpet Bag’s Challenge to Think Creatively

I have been confronted by a problem that has stymied me and delayed the next installment in the Magic Carpet Bag tutorial as I have been trying to figure out what to do. I finished stabilizing the textile with the muslin interlining. Following that process I stitched buckram into the bag to give it body and stiffness.

cutting the buckram to size
Cutting the buckram to size for the bag body

When I first started, it looked like it would work brilliantly. I had pinned the buckram to the inside of the bag with safety pins, same as the muslin.

Image 2 - putting the bag over a box and pinning the buckram to the bag body
Placing the carpet bag body, inside out, on a box and then safety pinning the entire layer of buckram to the bag body (excepting the bag bottom).
image 3 - pinng
Pinning on the box ensured that I connected the buckram to the bag body with twisting or distortion.

The bag stood up on its own. Fabulous! This was the precise behavior I was going for. I then attached the buckram to the textile with long basting stitches so that the buckram and the textile would act as one piece of material in the same manner as the muslin.

image 4 - securing the edges at the side seam
Basting stitches at the side seam to secure the edge of the buckram.

 

image 6 - catching 1 weft thread on the outside so the basting stictches are invisible on the exterior
The basting stitches are long on the interior of the bag and catch only 1 weft thread on the front of the bag so they are invisible.
zig zag baste
Basting in a zig zag covers more ground with one row of stitches.

As I worked on the bag in this way I found that the buckram softened up and became more supple. When I finished, the bag no longer stood up on its own. It just slumped.

slump 1
The Magic Carpet Slump

I have been trying to figure out what to do about the bag’s slumping ever since inserting the buckram in order to write the next steps in the tutorial. Then a serendipitous conversation happened and a colleague to whom I was describing this dilemma asked – why not share the challenge you have encountered?

It had not occurred to me to narrate the problem. I am working through this tutorial on the hoof. You are getting my process almost in real time, and that process includes this disruption in my expectations for how the Carpet Bag would work. This disruption has raised a whole series of questions for me. My first response was to think about the bag’s behavior as my failure: my approach to stiffening didn’t work. I obviously used the wrong material. What do I do now? Because I didn’t have ready answers, the Carpet Bag has languished in a soft slump.

But I can tell myself a different story about the Carpet Bag and ask different questions. When the young people I work with in my studio encounter a new task demanding new skills, they have the tendency to say – “I’m no good at that. I always mess things up.” I have forbidden this script in my studio and substituted an alternative script. Instead of “I’m no good at that.” I have instructed them to say “Wow, that is a technique I have never done before. Instead of “I’m no good at that.” I have offered the alternative script “I’m looking forward to building that skill.” They won’t actually say it despite my coaxing. They’re too cool for that. But I have seen a change in attitude that I think indicates they have internalized the message that never having done something before does not constitute bad skill. It just indicates no skill yet. It indicates an exciting journey not yet begun.

I now realized that, in response to my Magic Carpet Bag’s very unmagical slumping, I have been guilty of the “I’m no good at that” mindset I have tried to exorcise from my young students’ thinking. Instead, I am now choosing to see the Carpet Bag’s slump as an opportunity to think more expansively about what I expect from this bag and to respond to its characteristics in creative ways. Rather than view the bag’s behavior as my failure, I can view the bag’s behavior as an invitation to find success in an unanticipated guise. What am I going to do now? This becomes not a defeating question but an exciting one. How do I approach this design opportunity? What are my options? Which of them will I pursue?

slump 3

As I have begun to change my thinking, I realize that the potential next steps I have rolled around in my mind as I have looked at the Magic Carpet Slump on a daily basis are all still assuming that I am grappling with the bag’s bad behavior which I have viewed as representing my failure. In this view, slumping is bad; I need to rectify the slump with a better stiffener approach – plastic mesh, another type of synthetic, non-woven stiffener, a stiff haircell leather lining, a stiff canvas lining, boning at the side seams, cardboard in the bag bottom, etc.

But what if I decide slumping is not bad? What if I decide that a soft bag is an excellent bag? What if I surrender to the characteristics of this particular textile, which is not stiff but rather heavy with beautiful drape. Upon reflection, I suspect stiffness in this bag would elude me without extreme interventions. It would get heavier and heavier as I added material to combat its resistance. It could easily become a Sisyphusean task that no one wants to live through by way of a tutorial, and I wouldn’t want to be the one to try to execute tasks the bag wouldn’t cooperate with. I don’t want to set myself up to give up. Our projects have to match us, our temperaments, our styles of learning and work.  A Sisyphusean Magic Slump does not match me.

slump 4
The buckram, which is visible inside the bag, has given it more body and strength, but no stiffness.

I began my Magic Carpet Bag project loving the social story of household use we can discern and imagine in the textile’s damage, celebrating its handmade-ness, preserving it. I carefully married the weaving to its interlining weft thread by weft thread. Adding the buckram gave it more body and strength, but not the stiffness I sought, and there my acceptance and excitement faltered.

If I choose to accept the Slump’s slump and to see its heavy drape, like it’s damage, as its beauty rather than its deficit, the next step in this tutorial is a combination of two things – discernment and order of operations. I’ll save order of operations for the next tutorial and just tackle discernment here. What I mean by discernment is charting the next steps in alignment with the project’s acknowledged characteristics. What does it want to be and do, and how do I work with that as I make the next series of necessary choices – lining material, closure type, handle treatment? Given what the bag wants to be and do, what is my range of options for making it mine?

Each of you, whether you are working with a handmade textile, a felted or fulled bag body, or some other found or handmade fabric out of which you have begun your Magic Carpet Bag, will need to recognize how your bag is behaving and figure out what materials and processes will work with that behavior. If you have a stiff fabric, you won’t necessarily need or want a stiff material for a lining but you may.  Figure it out using visualization – imagining the bag in use, on your body, in your space – and simulation – by pinning different lining fabrics into your bag body and observing how the materials behave together and whether that behavior supports your vision. If you have a soft fabric, a stiffer lining will give it a bit more body and strength while a soft lining will retain the sensuality and hand-feel of the bag body. If your material is heavy like mine, stiffening may prove more trouble than it’s worth. If your material has alot of drape, that you really love, then choose a lining with drape rather than body so the drape of the finished bag retains the characteristics you enjoy so much.

As for my Magic Carpet Bag, I’m going to take another stab at stiffener but reserve it for the bag bottom, the most vulnerable part of the textile. The buckram I put into the bag body I have not yet extended to the bag bottom.  I plan to try 2 or 3 layers.  I don’t expect this to give it stiffness, but rather a bit of shape and greater strength.  I have also decided to try out a lining of some tightly woven, thick, unbleached canvas I have in the studio. It’s not stiff but it’s also not soft. It’s somewhere in the middle. It will not make the bag stand up. The bag will still slump. But it will be strong enough to withstand puncture by pencils or knitting needles and will not herniate in the existing areas of damage when the bag is full.

buckram on the sides only
You can see that the buckram I put on the bag was only wide enough for the sides of the bag. The bag bottom still needs help.

What else do I already know? I will use a zipper as a closure and I plan on using two 16 inch Forager flat strap handles in the middle of the bag, one on each side of the bag opening.  And I will use a Sling flat strap handle with tabs at the two ends of the bag.

sling handle with tabs
Here is the Sling Handle with Tabs that I want to put on the two ends of the bag at the side seams.  Because the tabs straddle the side seam, I can achieve a centered handle.

In what order will I do these steps?

Next post – order of operations.

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Embracing Failure: The Magic Carpet Bag's Challenge to Think Creatively - hand sewing a bag inspired by a kilim rug on the JUL Designs blog

Making Your Magic Carpet Bag . . .

This is the first of several installments that take you through the steps of making a magic carpet bag out of an old textile.  The ingredients list below assumes you are using a textile but the same steps are applicable to a wide range of other fabrics and materials.  Your ingredients list will change with your chosen bag material.

Old textile

Muslin (for interlining)

Buckram (for reinforcement / structure)

Lining material

Thick sewing thread – buttonhole twist or quilting thread

Chenille Needle

Safety pins

Zipper with double sliders

JUL Forager 16 inch screw-in leather handles – 1 pair

JUL 36 inch sling handle with screw-in tabs – 1 handle

6-8 half round bag feet in nickel

Dimensions – Cutting the Material

The finished dimensions and cutting instructions offered here are for the pictured bag.  I started with the native width of the material as I don’t like to cut hand-woven fabrics any more than I have to.  The only cut I made was to establish the length of the material, which in turn determined the height of the bag and the depth of the bag bottom.

Carpet Bag fabric: 32 inches wide x 44 inches long.  Interlining fabric should be cut to the same dimensions as it will be sewn together with the bag body fabric.

 

Finished dimensions for my structured Magic Carpet bag will be approximately 29 inches wide at the bag opening, 18 inches high and 8 inches deep. Finished dimensions for an unstructured bag will be 29 inches wide at the bag opening, 22 inches high on each bag face and 18 inches high at the side seam with an 8-inch wide perpendicular bag bottom.

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Width of the bag measured at the bag opening after the bag has been sewn up
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Height of each bag face – 22 inches – measured from the bag opening to the widthwise fold. Depth of the bag – 8 inches – measured with a centering rule at the perpendicular seam.

Making the Bag Body

Please Note: If you are using an alternative material and want to machine-stitch an interlining fabric to your bag fabric, you will need to do that step prior to sewing up the bag.  If you are hand-stitching your interlining to an antique textile, you will want to sew up the bag first.

Fold the material in half widthwise together with your interlining fabric and put right sides together with the fold at the bottom (the interlining will be visible on the outside as you sew up the bag but will move to the inside of the bag when you turn the bag right side out). The textile edges parallel to the fold will be the bag opening and will not be sewn together.  The other textile edges, perpendicular to the fold on the right and left sides, will become the sides of the bag. Leave a generous seam allowance (1 – 1.5 inches) and sew up the two sides.

To create the bag bottom, after sewing up the sides (working on the wrong side), open the bag up, putting the side seam face up and centered. Create a triangular point at the tip of each side seam as in the photograph.  Find where the width of the ‘base’ of your triangle measures 8 inches (or another width if you are doing custom dimensions) and mark a line perpendicular to the side seam.  Sew at your mark.  If you are using an antique textile, I suggest you not cut the triangular excess off as you may wish to preserve the possibility of taking the bag apart at a later time. Makers using other materials will likely choose to cut off the triangle of excess.  Make sure to tack and finish your stitching lines so they remain stable.

Turn your bag body right side out.

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Interlining

The textile I am using is very heavy and floppy and has damaged areas.  Without reinforcement and strengthening, these areas of damage would continue to deteriorate. By wedding an interlining to my textile, I create a stable fabric as much of the stress of use will be on the interlining, not on the textile itself. You can see where I have hand-stitched along the textile’s woven patterns.  With each stitch I have wrapped my sewing thread around a single warp thread.  When my sewing thread is pulled snug, it disappears amidst the weft threads of the textile.

I wanted my stitches to be invisible, but if you are interested in creating a secondary pattern of stitching lines, you can do a running stitch on top of the textile either by hand or by machine like that used in quilting.  Please note: Machine stitching should be done prior to sewing up the bag body.

The relationship of outside and inside material changed when you created the bag body. That is, the inside material now has to be slightly smaller and curve to accommodate the shape of the textile that forms the exterior. The following technique persuades the two materials to behave as one as you are working to stitch them together. Working on the right side of the material (interlining on the inside) and starting from the center of the bag bottom, start to pin the textile and the interlining together using safety pins. Working up each side, place your safety pins equi-distant every 6-8 inches until you have pinned the entire bag body.

 

 

IMG_20170811_122819
Textile and interlining pinned together with safety pins.

You may develop a different technique for doing the stitching to connect the textile to the interlining.  This is how I do it.  With the bag right side out, I put my left hand inside the bag and work on top of the textile.  I pass my needle over a warp thread, down under the interlining material, back up on the other side of the warp thread, repeat. In sum, I catch the warp threads in between where the colors meet in the tapestry weaving process, which is similar to intarsia knitting.

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Hand-stitching used to marry the textile to the muslin interlining.

You can see this process in action in my Instagram post of August 8: @jul_designs. In the stitching on the interlining, therefore, you can see the shapes of the ornaments.  In the image below you can see that this results in a virtually invisible stabilization.

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Area of damage stabilized by invisible stitches connecting the textile to the stabilizing interlining.

Once the entire bag has been stabilized in this manner, the interlining fabric is tucked under the textile at the side seams and the edges of the textile are tacked down.

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Then the triangle of excess material at the base of the side seam on both sides is also tacked down neatly, creating a crisp shape at the sides of the bag bottom.

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At this point, your textile material has been fully integrated with your interlining and you are ready to move on to the next steps of structuring, adding closures or a zipper, lining and bagfeet, and adding handles, all of which I will address in the next several Magic Carpet posts.  In the meantime, if you are starting to work on your own Magic Carpet Bag, you will have time to get these steps completed before the next instructional post.

FOR FULLED AND FELTED BAGS:

The sewing instructions above offer some interesting creative possibilities for you to try new things with your fulled and felted pieces.  Stitching together your exterior fabric with an interlining becomes a way to add surface interest and texture, especially if you make your stitches visible and/or use them to create an intaglio or light-relief effect.

Just a few fulled bag patterns that represent fantastic canvases for the handle and finishing techniques we will be getting to in the coming posts are as follows:

Noni – Metropolitan Bag

Metro front picture
No matter what scale of bag you are interested in, the Metropolitan Bag pattern gives you options for beautiful foundational shapes that are perfect for experiments in ornamentation.

Noni – Harmony Bag

putting hair up
Noni Harmony Bag becomes a beautiful canvas for exciting finishing with easy-to-attach JUL Screw-in leather handles.

Noni – Adventure Bag

Noni – Bedouin Bag

Noni – A Week in Venice Satchel

Debbie Bliss – Felted Bag

Lucia Tedesco – Knitting Basket

Marilyn King – Fulled Afghan Carpet Bag

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MagicCarpetBagTutorial.jpg

Making a Magic Carpet (Bag)

I promised on my Instagram (@jul_designs) that I would begin a series of posts with video instructions on how to make a carpet bag. This post is a prelude, the back-story.

Though my example carpet bag will be sewn together, I will be providing resources for those of you who don’t sew and prefer to work in other media – knitted and fulled, felted, crocheted, quilted – who want the easy finishing and style of our JUL screw-in leather handles made right here in the USA in our Studio in Catonsville, Maryland.

In this first post, I want to tell you why my demonstration piece is a flat weave indigenous textile. I think it’s a story worth telling because it lets you know why it’s not a knitted/fulled bag – of which I have made many when I was working with my sister and knitwear designer Noni – and it lets you know why I chose this particular medium even though it entails some special challenges. Why I’m not knitting this bag is a very short story: I have arthritis and can no longer knit. Why I’m sewing the bag out of an antique textile is a longer story:

My most important and prized possession as a kid was a flat weave rug – a kilim. I don’t know where it was made – perhaps Turkey. Below is a picture of the rug in my home today. This is the story of how it came to be mine.

actual kilim

I must have been about 16. I was in the car with my mother and we saw a guy by the side of the road selling rugs. My mother had a kilim and several other oriental rugs that we both loved and so of course we stopped. I picked out the most vibrant and largest of the rugs and my mother bought it as a gift for me. It was only $150 because the guy who sold it to us was watching the rugs for a friend named Angel who hadn’t told him anything about how the rugs should be priced. We knew we were getting something wonderful for virtually nothing. My mother later said we should have bought them all.

Throughout middle school and high school I wanted to be an artist. I drew all the time. One of the things I drew was the rugs.  I drew them over and over.  Some of these drawings are lost. I have no idea what happened to them. But I still have a few, including two etchings I did. This etching is of the kilim rug my mother had (right) and a Swedish blanket (left) that I still have.

first kilim etching

I would pile up the wooden dining room chairs on top of my bed and arrange the rugs over them to get draped forms. The ways the patterns changed and swooped when draped fascinated me. The rugs felt alive, dynamic.

Below is my second rug etching, this one of my rug.  I turned the form upside down to create a disoriented feeling of suspension and called it “Dragons and Fire in my Carpet.” Can you see the modification I made to the pattern?

second kilim etching

This third image is a drawing, rather than an etching.  Here I have all of the textiles together: my mother’s (right), mine (center), and the Swedish blanket returns (left).kilim drawing

The next is in colored pencil and graphite and was near the end of the series. This drawing is twice as big as the others, as you can see from the fact that it’s on two pieces of paper.

I left parts of the pattern as line-drawing without shading/color. I was trying to push the sense of distortion that is already part of the design, the edges of the diamond motif woven so they appear to ripple even before they are draped over a pile of chairs. You will notice that same sneaky modification to the pattern in this one. I remember now that those modifications felt like a gesture toward self-portraiture. By the time I finished this series I felt like the rugs protected me and mine hung on my wall for years as I moved from place to place. Only recently has it gone on the floor, in part of the bedroom where it is rarely stepped on, and only in bare feet.

color kilim drawing

This final image is the rug from which I am making the carpet bag. By draping it over a ladder, I’m evoking the series of drawings I made in high school but also revealing to you the infrastructure that creates the draped form. I would be inclined to call this something like: Portrait of a Turkish Carpet with Madurese Door and Step Ladder.

rug over the ladder.jpg

All of the items in this image have a social life that preceded my encounters with them. The step ladder is old and I’m not sure where it came from, someone in the family, maybe grandparents. And the carved wooden door was part of a house in Madura, an island off the eastern coast of Java in Indonesia. The windows are at home but the door is too tall to live in my house so it has to live at the studio.

The rug had a history before it ever came to me, as evidenced by damage and wear in the fibers, fading in the color. This means that part of the task of making it into a bag is stabilizing it, repairing it in ways that don’t cover up the evidence of its past lives, but instead preserve the detail of the damage. To me, what emerges in the patterns of wear and weakness is beautiful, the vestiges of social life somewhere else – living in another time and space.