Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Graduation Laundry Bag

When I graduated from high school in 1985 a lot of things were different. I had my own computer, but there was no internet. Instead of cell phones we had to remember phone numbers and dial them by hand on land line phones and pay long distance charges.

But one thing was the same. If you wanted clean clothes you had to wash, dry, and fold.

My Aunt Dorian gave me a big denim sack with my initials on it for my high school graduation. I took that sack to Georgia Tech. Once a week or so I would cram all my dirty clothes and sheets and towels in there and lug it across the street from old-timey Glenn dorm that didn't even have air conditioning to the new-fangled dorm that had coin operated laundry machines in the basement. It was a long skinny bag with a round bottom. My folded clothes would stay folded when I pushed them back into the bag when they were all clean. It was a very good graduation gift. I wish I hadn't spilled epoxy on it in the '90s. Anyway, that's why laundry bags are now my traditional graduation gift for nieces.

My niece Brenna just got done at Jupiter High School. Here is her report:
My graduation was yesterday morning. The senior graduating class was 777 students! I walked across the stage for less than 5 seconds of the 3 hour and 30 minute ceremony. 
I graduated with only 211 other people. So that's another thing that is different.

I have more nieces to go, so I thought I should document how I made this bag. If Brenna gives me notes on how it works I can make improvements in the next version. Let's start with finished photos:

Front View, un-cinched with a pillow inside
The basic structure is a box bottom sewn to a cylinder. The yellow bottom is made of 100% Nylon Cordura canvas. I bought a 1/2 yard of all the different colors of yellow they had at Seattle Fabric to see which one matched my board game. I used half of a sample for the bottom.

The patterned fabric is Waverly outdoor canvas, 100% polyester. I got a yard of this at Joann when it was 70% off just because it's pretty.

The lining is a royal blue 100% nylon taffeta. It's been in my stash about 16 years.

Side View, un-cinched
The strap is made from the 8" strip left when I cut the main fabric rectangle. It's backed with 3" orange grosgrain ribbon I had leftover from the FLORIDA sash for the Women's March.
Back view with strap

Box Bottom:

To start, look at your heavy fabric and decide how big to make the box bottom. I folded a t-shirt and measured it and decided to make a 14"x9" rectangle. I had enough width in my piece of fabric to add 4" to all sides. In hindsight this may have been too big for folded clothes. It is a great bag for carrying all your bedding in though.

I marked 4” squares in the corners on the wrong side and sewed them right sides together with heavy duty needle and thread. I left long tails and hand sewed the flaps folded toward the small ends. I cut the Cordura with scissors because it has a coating and doesn't unravel.

Cut Bottom Rectangle: 22" x 17"
Finished Size: 14" x 9" x 4"
Circumference: 46"

Bag Body:

Cut main canvas piece: 27” x 49”
Finished size: 27" tall open cylinder
Circumference: 46"

For the 100% polyester fabric I marked it with a white Scribe-All pencil and then cut it using a $3.99 Harbor Freight soldering iron and a pica pole. (A long metal ruler) Make a tall tube out of the pattern canvas. You need to leave an opening for a drawstring, so mark 2 3/4" from the top edge and skip 1/2". My fabric has a definite right side up, so be sure you get this correct.

Switch sewing machine to regular size needle and thread to match the other fabric. I used royal blue, the lining color. With right sides together sew quite a large seam to achieve 46” circumference. Mine was just shy of 1 1/2". You may want to sew around the opening like for a buttonhole but wait to do that until you're sure you don't have to adjust this seam to fit the bottom.

Join Bottom and Body:

Turn the bottom inside out and put 1/2” EZ-Steam II seam tape on the edge. I gave this a quick press over the backing paper with the iron on low setting. That helps it stay on one side when you reposition the layers. I put a label in at this stage, sticking it to the seam tape on the bottom so it would come out right no matter how many times I redid the next step.

Put the bottom inside the tube so right sides are together.  I used a ruler to get the seam 7" from a corner on one of the long sides. Secure bottom edge of bag fabric onto the box bottom with binder clips. Go around and be sure circumference is right. Remove cylinder and adjust the seam as needed.

Go back to the heavy duty needle and heavy outdoor thread. Sew cylinder to bottom with 1/2" seam allowance.

Fold patterned fabric up and top stitch through seam allowance with the heavy thread to make it neat. (This is the same outdoor thread I use for the lines on the star on the WatUR cases.)

Close-up showing the texture of the cordura compared to silkscreened canvas


Switch sewing machine to regular needle and thread for the lining.

Cut lining, 2 pieces: 25” x 38”
Finished size: 38" tall pillow case shape
Circumference at top edge: 46"

For the lining I'm going to make an ordinary box bottom bag with drawstrings on both sides. It's going to take more fabric. (I originally cut two 25” x 44” rectangles. These were 6” too long. I finished the whole lining and tested it in the bag and determined what it needed to be and I ripped the seams at the bottom and moved the box bottom up 6". This made the fabric at the bottom double thickness for the prototype bag. I figured it would help it be extra stiff? 25” x 38” would be better.)

I marked the rectangles with a white Scribe-All and cut the nylon taffeta lining with the soldering iron.

Mark openings in the seams 4” and 4 3/4” from the top. Don't sew between the lines. Make another pair of marks about 6" apart in the middle of one seam for turning. Measure 23" across the middle to determine your seam allowance. You need to be sure you're going to end up with the same circumference as your box bottom. Sew seams right sides together, and across the bottom leaving gaps for the drawstrings and for turning.

Turn the lining right side out and insert it in the main fabric and pin it around the top edge to be sure it is the same circumference. If not, adjust the side seams before going forward. Take the lining out of the bag again.

Box bottom in lining

I used a file folder cut with a square corner. (Cereal box is also good) I put a ruler across the corner to find a 9" hypotenuse, the length of the short sides of my box bottom. I made sure the two legs of the triangle were equal, drew a line, and cut out the triangle. Insert the cardboard triangle with the 90° point going into the corner seam of the lining. With the seams all open, fold the lining around the cardboard triangle so the seams line up down the middle of the triangle. Press with a cool iron. Draw the line on the fabric along the hypotenuse of the triangle and take out the cardboard. Sew the line. Then secure the flap up the side for stiffness. Repeat on the other side.

Make the Strap

I had an 8” strip leftover from cutting the main fabric so I just used that. Fold over the two sides to make a 3” wide strip. Sew grosgrain ribbon on top of the raw edges. It doesn't have to be this wide. I just had that 3" ribbon so I went for that width. I sewed the strap with orange top thread and a blue bobbin. You can kind of see blue dots on the ribbon side, but I like it better than a blue line.

Close-up of strap attachment.
I cut the ends with the soldering iron so they don’t unravel. I pinned the strap over the seam of the bag from the box bottom to 3" below the drawstring opening. Using orange thread to match the ribbon I sewed through the big seam allowance and the strap with several rows of stitches 1/2” apart. I left 1/2” loose at the bottom and stopped the top below where the lining will be sewn down. Then I tried on the bag to determine how long to make the strap. I cut off about 6” of it.

Final strap length: 44 1/2”
23 3/4” loose
19 3/4” sewed to the bag

I sewed the two pieces of strap together to get the finished end underneath. Then folded it at the bottom and secured it about an inch up the back going back and forth a few times. I switched back to the blue thread for this since it was showing on the patterned side. This hides all the hot cut ends inside. It's fairly stiff because there's 5 layers of canvas in there, plus the grosgrain ribbon. My 1951 Singer 301 sewed this like it was nothing. My Singer from the '90s that I only use to wind bobbins would break the needle trying to sew this much heavy fabric though. Be warned.

Sew In the Lining

Turn the lining right side out and turn the bag with the bottom inside out. Mark the halfway point from the center back seam to line up the side seams of the lining. (Half 14" + Half 9" = 11 1/2" from the center back seam) Put the lining into the inside-out bag. Be sure the box bottoms line up. The side seams should be on the mark. Work around, pinning the fabric together. If it doesn’t come out, adjust the side seams on the lining.

When it’s right unpin it and take it out and sew the seam allowances open on the lining. Do any finishing you want around the openings for the draw strings now too. Finish the ends of the threads to the wrong side and then pin the two parts together again.

Sew the lining to the outside with a 1/2” seam allowance.

Turn the whole thing right side out through the hole in the side seam of the lining.

Make Drawstring Channels

Now fold the outside fabric down so the opening for the drawstring is at the edge and the lining seam is about where the strap attaches. Pin this in place with a consistent edge. Sew right at the lining seam. Then sew a 1” channel for the drawstring.
Lining is sewn to the outer fabric but then that is folded down into the bag to make a second drawstring channel.

Next fold the nylon to line up the drawstring opening at the edge and sew that channel.

Cord lock secured to back of bag above strap


For finishing I cut a length of ribbon to attach a cord lock for a white cord in the outer fabric. I used blue satin cord in a double pull configuration for the lining. I heat sealed all the ends and threaded them through the channels with a yarn needle.

I sewed up the hole in the lining (from turning it right-side out) by hand.

I used some of the yellow thread to tack the corners of the lining to the bottom of the bag.

Finished size:
Base: 14” x 9”
27” from bottom to top of patterned section
Strap 23 3/4” loose, 19 3/4” sewn to bag

Folds to 8” x 11” x 2”
Weighs 1 pound

Here's the finished bag with the drawstrings pulled closed

Inner drawstring only. This one you just yank the two sides.

Second drawstring with cord lock at back of bag

Side view cinched shut

Front view cinched up. Drawstrings shown not tucked in.
You could tuck the drawstrings into the bag if you have to put it in the car or something.

Top can fold down when you're starting to fill it up with folded clothes
With the leftover fabric from the yard of Waverly outdoor stuff I made another little drawstring bag with blue lining. This fabric is a bit stiff for a really cute bag. I'm not sure what this is a good size for. It will fit a giant iPhone. Or about $40 in rolled quarters. I will send it to Brenna for whatever she might need to carry around. Pens and pencils, chapstick, medicine. To go in her backpack or whatever.

I also made a tiny pouch with the 6" I cut off the strap. This is possibly the easiest thing I ever made. I burned two holes in it with the soldering iron to put in the snap first. Then I snapped it closed, pinned the sides, opened it, sewed the side seams, and it was done. The raw heat sealed edge is unabashedly the edge of the item. It's got a bright orange lining though!

Fold It Up

One advantage this drawstring bag has over regular luggage is it folds up pretty neat. Here's how it goes.

Fold up the bottom to one side like a grocery sack

Fold the sides into the middle to make it in thirds

Fold the bottom up where it naturally wants to fold

Spin it around and open up the last bit to fold it around the stiff bottom part

Insert the yellow bottom part between the layers of the top

Final folded package is a tidy little bundle to put away until needed again

This folding feature is going to make it very easy for me to mail this to Brenna tomorrow. I save envelopes.

Only tangentially related to this, but I'm flabbergasted and have to put this here. I just looked up Glenn Dorm to see if it had one n or two and the Georgia Tech website lists how much it costs to live there now. It has gone up nearly an order of magnitude! 7.5 times the 1985 price to be more precise. I distinctly remember it was $305 per quarter because it was about $100 cheaper than my brother's dorm on West Campus that had air conditioning. Three quarters in a typical year, so my dad forked over $915 a year for me to live in Atlanta and go to school. Now school is just two semesters and it would cost $6850 to spend your freshman year in Glenn! Whole Lee Shit. That must have been some renovation they did in 2015. Oh look, on site laundry! I bet these machines are on the internet. I wonder if they have one laundry room that is strictly for unscented detergent and no dryer sheets? They should.
Laundry machines in my old dormitory. Weren't there in 1985.
This renovation gave them laundry rooms on every freaking floor of the dorm, plus elevators! You might as well have a wheels on your laundry bag. Oh well. Maybe Brenna will still have to deal with stairs and will be glad for her shoulder strap.

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