November 1, 2019No Comments

PROCESS: Embroidered Balinese Barong Tote Bag

This is the first sewing and embroidery project I took on, with many more on the way. Here are the behind-the-scenes!

How it all began: Intentions

I had a vision. To be able to feel my illustrations. I’ve gotten to the point in my artistry where I’m getting tired of doing the same old thing, and I needed something new (or in my case, something from the past) to keep me inspired. Around the time I began feeling this feeling, I also revisited an old hobby of mine, embroidery. 

The really cool thing about creativity, is that it’ll manifest into anything you need it to be. Embroidery has become my new creative outlet, with fabric being my blank canvas, and thread being my paints. I feel rejuvenated, and I’m excited to share everything I learn through the process of stitching, on this site! To start off, I want to share what I’ve learned through the process of creating my very first sewing/embroidery project, the Embroidered Balinese Barong tote bag.

The absolute beginning, creating the dummy bag. This was necessary, because I've never used a sewing machine before!

The illustration 

The process of embroidering had to start with me redoing my initial Barong illustration. A year or two ago, I started an illustration of the Balinese Barong, after doing some reading about South East Asian mythology. At the time, I never finished finished the illustration (typical), so I thought this embroidery project would be a good time to give it a second chance. I took to taking the basic outline of a historical mask and then adjusting some of the details to fit the look I was going for, as well as choosing a fun and playful colour scheme. Traditionally, colours used for these kinds of mask are red, yellow, and black. Since I wanted to give it my own twist, I added in more colours.

Barong, March 2018
Barong, August 2019

Colour Matching 

Before I went off to stitching, I had to colour match the colours of my embroidery floss to the colours of my illustration. Since this was something I hadn’t done before, it took a few tries to get right. The way I found myself doing this was kind of humorous. As I was getting back into the flow of embroidery, I hopped onto Amazon and bought myself a pack of 500 cheap embroidery threads. I’ve never used them on a project I was serious about, but the great thing about this bulk pack is that the colours are meant to resemble DMC Embroidery Threads. They even use the same colour codes on the little tags that hold the floss together. So rather than visiting Michaels and sitting in front of the embroidery floss section with my iPad, trying to colour match on the spot, the cheap embroidery floss came in handy; I was able to colour match at home, bring the appropriate colour codes with me to Michaels, and purchase the colours I needed without really stopping to think. Crazy process, but it works!

The cheap Amazon thread is on the left, while the DMC Embroidery floss is on the right. Super accurate colours!

Getting the drawing onto fabric 

Solvy Water Soluble Stabilizer 

This was the magic that helped me get my illustration onto dark fabric. The way Solvy Water Soluble Stabilizer works, is by printing your pattern onto a sheet of Solvy, and sticking it onto your fabric. Super easy! Once you’ve embroidered your pattern onto your fabric and the stabilizer, you can get rid of the guide by gently hand tumbling your fabric in a bowl of warm water. The stabilizer simply dissolves away (feels gel-like), and what you’re left with is your embroidery. 

When working with Solvy, I recommend only doing outline stitches (backstitch, chain stitch, stem stitch, etc.). When you get into heavier, filling stitches, like satin stitch or long and short stitches, you’ll have to do a bit more work to get rid of the stabilizer underneath. So if you’re following the pattern for this illustration, stitch the outline first, dissolve the stabilizer when you’re done, THEN fill the pattern in with the various colours. If you're wondering, Solvy is available on Amazon:

Stitching the Mask 

After getting rid of the stabilizer, the next 60 or so hours consisted of me filling in the illustration. A disclaimer though, I’ve been out of practice with my handstitching for quite a while. Someone who’s been stitching for a while could easily complete this embroidery in a shorter amount of time. It’s all about practice! Here are some process photos from my instagram:

Sewing the bag together

I’ve followed PurlSoho’s Easy Totebag pattern to complete this project. This pattern was incredibly easy for a beginner like me to follow. Sewing the bag took me an hour or less (or from what I remember, a significantly less amount of time than the embroidery).

Despite the ease, the first thing I did with this project was stitch together a dummy bag, just to see if the size was what I wanted in the end. It's pretty interesting to see the two bags together, what a difference!

Fun Fact: The lining I used for this tote is a screenprinted fabric my mother bought sometime in the 90s for her own sewing projects.

Concluding Notes

It’s really satisfying to just be with yourself and listen to a thread being pulled through fabric with a needle. It’s very much like a moving meditation, I discovered a lot about myself through the process and in the end I got something tangible out of it! There’s also just something about being able to 'use' your work that makes me really happy. After 76 hours with this project, I'm already working on the next. Stay tuned for my journey with creating the Marupochi Crossbody Bag 🙂