Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Pen wraps

My father always carries round two pens: I think one's a Parker Slimfold, the other a Frontier. They go in his jacket pocket. Harris Tweed and Slimfold - a marriage made in heaven.

But if you want to carry round five or six different pens - and a lot of people do - a better option is the pen wrap. I've made a few now using different materials.

Pen wrap in toile de jouy. French Watermans to go with it
It's pretty easy to make your own. (Though I must add that when I look at my first one, and at the last one I made, they have got better; the corners are less bumpy, the compartments are more even, and I've matched the fabrics better. Practice may not make perfect, but it does help.)

  • Sometimes you can get good oddments, left-overs from dressmaking or furnishing projects (sometimes, even better, fabric for projects that never got made!), at sales or in thrift shops. Many fabric shops have an oddments, samples, or clearance section for the last metre or two of fabric from a roll.
  • Old curtains sometimes make good pickings. Make sure they are in cotton.
  • Unsavable tweed jackets can make good outers. I quite often lurk around the bins at the end of car boot sales!
  • I have come across a lot of silk ties going for nearly nothing (dress down Fridays make ties unsaleable, I suppose!) - I might grab some next time and stitch them together to make a couple of wraps. It's a lot of work but could be fun. The same goes for silk scarves if you're lucky enough to pick one up, though the fabric is usually very thin and will need to be well quilted - and that's a whole new ball game.
Basic supplies for the job:
  • a sewing machine (though you can do it by hand, but good Lord, it's time-consuming),
  • an iron,
  • hand-sewing needle,
  • thread, preferably in a colour that won't show (though you could pick a contrast)
  • good scissors or a rotary cutter
  • ribbon or nice cord or leather thong for a tie.
First decide how many pens you want to have in a wrap. Five or six works nicely. Ten is a bit ambitious but works for slim pens like the Parker 45.

Lay your pens out. The big advantage of making your own wrap is you can decide the length of pen it will take (if, say, you're collecting Peter Pans and Eversharp Bantams, 10cm is more than ample, if you have a few of Fountainbel's Giraffe bulk fillers, you'll need  more than 20cm!) and the width of each compartment (Parker 45s don't need as much space as Edison Colliers, for instance). Work out the size you need and then draw your pattern, for (a) the main piece, which includes the length of the pens plus a flap that you can turn down to cover the tops of the pens and the clips, and which stops them falling out when the wrap is closed, and (b) the flap, which needs to come up the barrel of the pen as far as the beginning of the cap. Remember to leave some allowance for the seams at the top, bottom, and edges.

Note: make the compartments wider than the pens, as they will be flat, not rounded.

Now cut out:
  • two of the main piece,
  • two of the flap piece (one can be in a plain fabric if you want to economise on the pretty stuff)
  • if you're making this in thin fabric, a piece of lining fleece for the main piece of the wrap and possibly for the flap.
Thinking about fabrics: you might do this all in one fabric, as I've done here with some rather fetching French toile de jouy. It's a dainty, traditional French design, and I can't think of anything that would go with it except plain white. On the other hand, with a nice big blowsy floral pattern, I used a plain yellow interior (which was also useful because the main fabric was quite thick; doubling it up would have made it difficult to stitch).

You might use a heavy outer fabric like a tweed with a lighter interior fabric, and in that case you probably wouldn't need the lining (or interfacing), except perhaps on the flap.

If you use a fusible lining, iron it to one of the main pieces.

Put your main pieces together inside out (so the 'right sides' are touching). If you're using a lining that isn't fusible, it needs to go on top. Now stitch the pieces together, except for a 4-5cm gap on one side. If there's a lot of fabric at the corners, beyond the stitched line, you can snip it off, and cut a little nick into the corner, nearly up to the angle where the two lines of stitching meet. Turn the resulting bag inside-out through the gap, and hand-stitch the gap shut.

Do the same for the flap pieces - lay them out right sides facing, stitch together, and turn inside out.

Now come two really crucial bits. First of all, use a square rule or a pencil to push the corners out so that they are square, not rounded. Make sure all the seam is pushed right up.  Take your time over this as it's something that will make the wrap look better. (I still don't get it right all the time, so don't obsess, but just do the best you can.) Secondly, get an iron nice and hot and press the seams flat. You don't need to bother getting an ironing board out; I do it on two folded tea towels on my workbench top. Keep looking at the seams and check the seam is right in the middle, not one side or ther other of the fold.

Now lay the flap on top of the main piece. Stitch all the way round the main piece, about 4mm in from the edge (to avoid having to stitch through the seam which would mean you were stitching through eight thicknesses of fabric, instead of four). This should give it a nice crisp feeling and also attaches the clap to the main piece at the bottom and sides.

Now all you have to do is stitch the compartments into the flap. I start at the top, stitch down about 10mm, up again using the reverse on the sewing machine, then down again all the way to the bottom, where you again do a 10mm reverse stitch to make sure the stitching 'sticks'.

Finish off with a piece of cord which you can gently stitch to the outside, or a piece of ribbon, or leather thong, or webbing - whatever you choose. This is where it's really easy to add a touch of class by finding good accessories. I particularly like old horn duffel-coat toggles and old 'pearl' buttons.

Another way of making the wrap which I've also used makes the flap first, stitches it to the inside piece of the wrap, and makes the compartments then. Putting the whole wrap together is then the last stage. This has the advantage that the stitching for the compartments doesn't show through on the outside, but it's trickier to make unless you're used to putting fabric patterns together.

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