Upcycling a Purse with Applique

Each month, I’ve taken up the #sbbsewfor15 challenge on Instagram from @southbaybella to try to improve my quilting and crafting skills. She’s pushed me to wade into very unfamiliar waters with curves, free motion quilting, and now applique! But go big or go home, right?

The August applique challenge got delayed and eventually happened to fall on Labor Day weekend. Normally I would have big family plans over Labor Day, but it also happened that I threw my back out and wasn’t up for any travel. In my discomfort, this hand sewing challenge was a godsend!

Ok so let’s get to the project. My 2 year old DEMANDS to carry my purse whenever we go anywhere. And she is too smart to be convinced to use a kiddy coin pouches or clutches I’ve offered her. She wants the REAL DEAL with handles she could wear on her shoulder like me.

But my purse holds important things and is just plain too heavy for a kid barely in the double digits for weight percentages. And I finally decided to give and get her a dang purse and then personalize it somehow to make it more kid friendly.

I found the perfect light pink and white leather $6.97 purse at Goodwill! And peaking at me from a nearby rack was a $4 flippy sequin shirt. Honestly could it have been more obvious what HAD to happen??

First, I decided to go with a rainbow 🌈 because she LOVES colors and I had these Blueberry Park strips I’ve been dying to use. I cut 1″ strips, sewed them together in ROYGBIV order, and then cut with a Dresden ruler to get an arch shape.

I put the sets together and got my rainbow! I cut out a piece of Heat N Bond about the same size as my rainbow and ironed it to the back.

Then the tricky and messy part… Cutting out the clouds from the sequin shirt. I cut down a seam to separate the sequin side from the shirt lining, then cut out a big piece of the sequin side. Yes I used fabric scissors (my cheap ones) and I already expect it dulled them significantly. The sequins are plastic and there’s no avoiding cutting through at least some of them. This also leaves a giant loose pile of half-cut sequins wherever you’re cutting. So consider yourself warned the flippy sequins are amazing, but deadly.

I attached a piece about 10″ x 14″ of Heat n Bond to the back of the sequin panel. It is a double sided iron on adhesive that would help stabilize the fabric and attach it to the purse for me to then sew more securely.

I cut out 2 free hand cloud shapes, lined them up around the rainbow until I was happy with the placement, and then ironed them down to the purse. I have a very useful Teflon pressing sheet that both helped protect against any adhesive getting on my iron and from any potentially melted sequins attaching to my iron. I didn’t have any problem with melting, but I tried to move frequently and avoid over heating them.

At this point, I’ll tell you what I SHOULD have done. I should have gently opened a seam in the lining fabric, taken the purse to my machine with invisible thread and machine sewed the puppy down. But, my back had already complained enough with the rainbow, and I was naively thinking it would be easier to keep the purse intact and just hand sew it down.

Here’s the problem: purse material is crazy thick! I used an upholstery repair needle to have enough umph to push through when my normally dependable sharps wouldn’t go. The eye of a repair needle is larger and therefore takes more work to get through at the end and leaves a larger hole behind so you have to be VERY sure of where you want to come through.

Here’s the other problem: I decided not to open any seams of the lining, just pull it out of the bag so it would be out of the way and I’d only stitch through the exterior fabric. I had no good place to HOLD the dang purse and get my support hand to guide the needle along its stitches. When I would normally reach to the back of a project, I would end up carrying the lining with me. I did eventually find a rhythm and only had to unpick a few stitches that caught the lining but it was a major pain in the patooty!

I did a running back stitch (ah it makes me nostalgic for my teenage cross stitch days) to outline the shapes. Basically you insert the needle from the front, run it underneath to double the distance of your desired stitch and come up. Then you insert from the front halfway back to your original stitch and repeat. It only shows half as many stitches on the surface but very effectively locks down the applique without the potential puckering of a forward running stitch.

I finished with hand quilting across the rainbow. I struggled to make the stitches even, especially because the Pearl cotton required a larger needle eye and made it almost impossible to push through. Enter stage right: the amazing Dritz thimble! Seriously this project would have been a complete flop without this little guy! EVERYONE needs one! Yes you! Well I guess everyone that wants to hand sew anything needs one 😘. I had a lot more leverage to push through the thick material and then more grip to bring it back out. Huge finger saver!

I also utilized a bit of mother nature to ease the thread through. I melted some beeswax into a silicon candy mold and then rubbed my thread across the mold to “condition” it. The beeswax protects the thread against fraying or breaking and helps it glide smoother through the fabric. There are a number of sellers for scented and shaped “thread gloss” or “thread conditioner” but honestly it’s so crazy easy to make your own! I got a brick of beeswax from the nearby AC Moore (any candle making supply section should have it) and just shaved off a bit to melt and pour into my mold. You do need to ensure it’s 100% beeswax because there are manufacturers that blend in parrafin wax or artificial fillers that can stain your project. If you think ahead and can order from Amazon, these pellets are great, too!

And there you have it. $15 for the purse, shirt, and supplies. Have you upcycled with Applique? I’d love to see it! Share your project below!!

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