Wednesday, 2 September 2015

A Tutorial: Sewing a Rope Bowl


Recently, all I could think about was making a rope bowl and, now that I have, I believe that there is nothing more therapeutic than sewing in circles for two hours. Rope bowls offer almost instant gratification with no pattern to cut out or fabrics to decide upon. They also feel more akin to making pottery than sewing and there's something about the mixture of each bowl being unique and unexpected in shape, combined with the order that comes from sewing in a very methodical and predictable way that really feels like a perfect union of order and unpredictability. It's free-spiritedness in a way that feels completely manageable for a control freak. [Although I have a fundamental problem with spirals - as opposed to one circle sitting on top of another - in that when you change thread colour it can never be at a logical point, such as a corner or at the end of a circle, but is always halfway through the ongoing coil, but I'm trying not to let that bother me as the joy of the bowl making is huge!] My head feels slightly like it has some freshly poured lemonade in it, such is the brain-fizzing at the possibilities for different bowls.

I've now sewn several of these bowls and they're so simple to make that I thought I might share a tutorial. But first, don't these pink peppercorns that my sister brought back from Spain look even more dreamy for being in a pink rope bowl?


The only supplies you'll need for this are some rope, some thread and a sturdy needle (90/12 or 100/14). Finding suitable rope is really the most challenging part of the whole thing.


For my yellow bowl, I used quite sturdy rope from John Lewis, where twenty metres of their own-brand clothes line (cotton outer with a polypropylene core) was more than enough. For my pink and black bowls I used a slightly narrower rope from B&Q (available in store). It's called 'cotton cord', branded as 'Eliza Tinsley' and comes in packets of 13.7metres, which is more than enough for a nice little bowl. If you don't have access to either of those sources, look for sash window cord, clothesline or cotton braided rope. Personally, I'd have a preference for a fairly white rope, so that any coloured thread you might like to use would have a better chance of showing up. Rope doesn't join easily or neatly, so it's also best to get a length that's going to be long enough to create the size of bowl you're after! Personally, I have a preference for the narrower 1/8" B&Q rope as I prefer the more delicate look of the finished bowls. The clothesline that I bought from John Lewis was wound up in a way that left kinks in it and additionally, it wasn't completely round, but had more of a rectangular shape to it - between this and the kinks, it just made it slightly harder work to sew with than the perfectly formed finer rope from B&Q. Both types of rope produce an incredibly sturdy bowl - these things feel incredible and like they could take quite a lot of weight and bashing about, should you wish to challenge your bowl in either of those ways!

Some tips before we begin: it's important that you wind a bobbin of thread for each of the different thread colours you're using on the bowl, as bobbin thread and spool thread will be equally visible. I like to change colours over the course of the bowl - my yellow bowl had cream, taupe and mustard threads, while my other bowls had pink, black and cream threads.

Finally, I'm unsure if this is a quirk of my machine, but when I first insert a new bobbin, the initial securing stitches will result in a little bit of a knot on the underside of my fabric while the bobbin beds into place - not normally a problem when the underside of your work won't be visible, however, on these bowls it WILL be very visible, so your securing stitches need to be perfect. If your machine does this too, keep a scrap close by and take your first stitches with a new bobbin in place on this, rather than on your rope, to avoid ending up with a knotty bowl that will distress your eyes every time you catch sight of it. Once my machine has got over this initial hurdle, it's fine doing perfectly neat beginning and end securing stitches every time.


Begin by cutting your rope so that it has a crisp end and then tightly coil it around a few turns, pinning it in place. My pins are so fine that I feel I'm able to run over them with my sewing machine without any danger of breaking a needle, however, you'll need to take care with whatever pins you choose to use and may prefer a light glue if that feels a safer option.


Set your machine to a zigzag stitch that will happily capture a nice amount of rope to either side of where they're butted up together. For a thicker rope, I used a stitch width of about 4 or 4.3, and for the narrower rope I used a stitch width of about 3.5. My stitch length for both ropes was set to about 2.5. 


The initial stitches really are the trickiest bit, so don't give up, as it all becomes much easier as your snail shell of rope becomes larger. It may all feel a bit foot up, foot down, foot up, foot down to start with. Setting your needle to 'needle down' if you have this feature on your machine will reduce some of the work. Starting in the centre of your coil make a few securing stitches. Keep the centre of your foot in line with the line where two edges of rope meet, and stitch around and around using a zigzag stitch that catches the rope to either side.


Whenever you want to change thread colour, be sure to change both the bobbin and the spool thread; make securing end and beginning stitches; and try and line up where you change thread colour, so that it falls roughly in a line on the finished bowl. This means that if the lack of visual continuity where thread colour changes on the bowl bothers you like it does me, then at least this slightly irksome feature is confined to one area of the bowl (that can be covered with pink peppercorns!), rather than all over it. You can see this demonstrated best on my pink and black bowl below - see the thread colour changes at about 4 o'clock? Maddeningly, but so much better to have it confined to 4 o'clock than at random times throughout the day!


For my large, wide-based yellow bowl, I made a flat disc measuring 6" before I began to shape the bowl. For my smaller pink bowls this was nearer 4.5".


When you think your base is about the right size, simply support the bowl against the head of the machine and continuing sewing as you have before, taking care to keep the coils of rope tightly butted up against one another while guiding the bowl with the other hand (that hand isn't shown here as I was holding the camera with it!)


I love this bit! It's so exciting - like magic! You are a sewing-potter! It's hard to believe that just holding the side of the bowl up could affect what's going on beneath the foot of the sewing machine so drastically, but it does!


Continue in this way. You'll notice that I have more hands in this photo as I'd finally thought to ask someone else to hold the camera for me! In reality, I favour having my guiding hand much closer to the sewing foot than you see in this photo, gently guiding the rope while it lightly passes beneath my fingers like a conveyor belt. I found that I could sew at quite a speed at this point. Keep your eye on the centre point where the two pieces of rope are butted up together and aim to keep the centre of the foot in line with this.


When you feel that you've got a nicely sized bowl, or that you've nearly reached the end of your rope (writing that phrase makes me think of being near the 'end of your tether' but it's quite different, because bowl making is a very happy thing), take a few securing stitches. Tie a knot in your rope an inch or two away from this end point.


Snip the tail off and then pull back the braiding to reveal any ugly core that the rope might have.


Cut this core off and then rearrange the loose strands to give a pleasing knot tail! You may feel a little like you're preparing a pony for a dressage event: enjoy it. 


At this point, you could admire your bowl or use it even. However, I suspect there won't be any laurel-resting, because these bowls are so addictive to make and you will almost certainly want to start on the next immediately. Buy your rope in industrial quantities, pencil out several hours for some therapeutic rope basket making and you could have a whole set of baskets or bowls by the end of the day. My son suggested nesting bowls, Russian-doll style! They would make fabulous gifts too. Let me know if you make a bowl - I'd love to see!



I'm really enjoying pink and black as a colour combination - my bowl was inspired by the basket in the background, which I bought at The Shop Next Door in Rye.


On my list of rope-related things I'd still like to try: dying the rope, dying the finished bowls, painting the rope, painting the finished bowls, creating bowls where the rope has been pre-wrapped with fabric, using varigated sewing thread, making baskets, making bags, making hanging plant holders, making bowls or baskets with handles...the list is endless.

Florence x

15 comments:

  1. I don't really need any rope bowls. But after seeing this I neeeeeed very many rope bowls.

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  2. These are amaaaazing! I have a friend who makes them but she covers her rope with fabric - but as I love rope and string in its natural state anyway I prefer yours. I am going to have to have a go now I've seen these! You're distracting me from making baby stuff for the expected grandchild.

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    1. Babies definitely need bowls though - think of all the toys and general baby paraphernalia that could be stored in them!

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  3. I love, love, love these. I've made placemats like this, with piping cording wrapped in bias tape--I wonder if a narrow piping cording would work for bowls, as well?? I want to make a zillion now and use them all over...

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    1. I don't know - I'd thought of that and wondered if it might be a bit floppy, but if you've already made coasters from piping cord then you may be a better judge :)

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  4. Have you been rootling round in my head?! I've been thinking of making some of these but didn't know where to look for rope (and didn't think of using piping cord) - I'd like to make some rectangular baskets, do you think it would be possible?

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    1. Yes, I have totally been rummaging in your head, Helen! And yes, rectangular baskets would definitely be possible - when you begin, just shape your coil into more of a rectangle shape and then go from there. I'd love to know how you get on. x

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  5. I made rope baskets before as well, but I never tried colored thread:) It looks amazing, especially the black and red one. Have a nice day, Sophia
    www.littlesewingmachine.blogspot.de

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  6. This is brilliant, I never thought of making something like this with a sewing machine.

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  7. Oh I think I'm just going to have to embrace the inevitable and lay in a supply of rope, it looks like so much fun and I'm really tempted to see how it looks with variegated quilting thread!

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  8. Lovely job on the tutorial. Beautiful photos. I bought rope ages ago to get on with this, and now you've inspired me to do so.

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  9. What a lovely idea! Yet another project for the list.

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  10. Doing my 1st one, but not a circle, more rectangularish & covering my rope is scrappy 1/2" strips, with whatever thread I pick up.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x

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