Reverse-Appliqué Blooming Tote Bag

In addition to proving to us that everyone can paint a flower, in her recently-released book Painted Blossoms, Carrie Schmitt encourages us to experience the joy of collaboration. I had a longing to collaborate myself with a kindred spirit and asked Carrie if she’d be up for a project, but that it wouldn’t be about us both adding our own brushstrokes to one painting such as the gorgeous works she did with Megan Jefferson in her book. Being the playful sort she is, of course she said she was game! I told Carrie to send me a scrap of something she painted, but wasn’t attached to and that I planned to give it love and make it into something new. I didn’t tell her upfront what I had in mind (a reverse-applique tote bag) because I wanted it to be a surprise, but my plan was to create a tote bag and I’m here to share with you the process.

Reverse-Applique_01-04When I first pulled Carrie’s painting out of the mailing tube, I was immediately lit up by its happy colors and I wondered why she considered this a scrap or as anything that could be improved upon. This made me hesitant to proceed because as you can imagine, I wasn’t really sure I should cut it up! But I persevered with my plan. The first step was to create a stencil. I wanted to make a flower and the sunflower is a personal symbol that means a lot to me, so I created a sunflower on cardboard and cut out the pieces using a craft knife. I then tried the stencil out over various parts of the painting to see which section looked best popping through the petal portion of the stencil. (I planned to use a piece solid golden yellow fabric—a remnant from my wedding) for the flower’s center.) When I’d decided on the best piece of the painting to use, I cut it down to be just slightly larger than the stencil design.

Reverse-Applique_05-07I cut two pieces of dyed canvas for the bag’s exterior (11″ x 11-1/2″) and two same-size pieces of dyed eyelet cotton for the bag’s lining. Leaving 1-1/2″ on the bottom and sides of one exterior piece, I traced the pieces of the stencil onto it with pencil. I pinned the canvas to the back of the fabric, centering it under the stenciled design. Using two strands of variegated embroidery floss, I stitched the painting piece to the back of the canvas piece around all of the petal shapes. (I recommend Finger Gloves for all this stitching; thanks, Ricë!)

Reverse-Applique_08-11When the stitching was done (!) I turned the piece over and cut away the excess painting canvas. It’s OK to cut very close to your stitches, just be mindful. I then stitched on a piece of golden fabric in the same manner and trimmed the excess from it as well.

Reverse-Applique_12-13And now, my favorite part—the reveal! I use very sharp detail scissors and cut away each shape’s interior, leaving about 1/8″ of fabric before the stitching. It’s so much fun to see what peeks through each piece that is cut away.

Reverse-Applique_14-17Bag construction: To create straps for the bag, I cut two strips of fabric, each 2″ x 44″. Working down the length of each strip, I folded each edge to the center and pressed with an iron. I folded that in half and pressed with the iron again and then sewed down the open edge.

Reverse-Applique_18-21Time for bag construction! Because the lining fabric I was using was thin and I didn’t want the backside of the stitched canvas to show through it, I cut two pieces of low-loft batting to the size of the other pieces. With the two exterior pieces’ right sides together, and the batting layered on both sides, at the bottom, I cut 1-1/2″ squares out and then I sewed along the bottom and the two sides. I pinched the two corners together and sewed the cut-out portions shut. I repeated this process for the two lining pieces, noting the two bottom corners and sewing them right sides together. Next, I flipped the lining so the right sides were out and placed it into the exterior piece (which was still wrong side out) so exterior and lining right sides were together. I inserted the handle straps down into the bag between the two pieces and pinned them into place and then sewed along the top of the bag leaving about 5″ open to be able to turn everything right side out. After turning it right side out, I pushed the lining into the bag and used the iron to crease the top edge so I could top-stitch it with two rows of stitching. A final pressing and . . . done! (P.S. Sorry for the lack of construction pics for those last few steps. There’s an easy-to-follow tote how-to, here.)

Reverse-Applique-detailBecause Carrie had given me such a generous piece of painting, I had enough of it to easily make a second bag and immediately I thought of someone whom I know loves Carrie and her work (online editor extraordinaire Cherie Haas) and would probably appreciate a tote such as this. So, in addition to sending Carrie this finished bag, I went through the whole process again, this time flipping the stencil so that the two bags together would form somewhat of full flower (well, OK, in actuality a half-flower, but you get the gist) and thereby sacredly connecting them in my mind. This was such a fun project and one that I would love to do again. I hope this has inspired you to think outside of the box when it comes to collaboration!

Here’s a little video if you’d like to hear more about Carrie’s book:

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Painted Blossoms  W1205_160px_72dpi

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