A Tutorial: Sewing a Rope Bowl
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.
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!)
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.