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Metal-Some Stitching

Click here for larger image.
Click here for larger image.

By Lucy Gray

Safely sew metal on a sewing machine? Absolutely! Simple metal shapes cut from soft aluminum soft-drink cans add dramatic visual interest to this roomy ethnic-themed tote bag.

Finished Size

15 x 12 x 3 inches


Soda-can applique


  • 36-inch-wide wool felt:
  • 44/45-inch-wide fabric:
    • 1/3 yard colorful ethnic print
    • 1/3 yard check or plaid
    • 1/2 yard heavyweight lining, such as heavy linen or canvas
  • 1/2 yard heavyweight fusible interfacing
  • All-purpose thread to match fabrics
  • Pattern tracing cloth or paper
  • 1 yard fusible fleece
  • 9-inch square batting
  • 1 pair 5-inch-diameter bamboo handles
  • 1 extra-large button for flap front embellishment
  • 24 to 30 ostrich-egg beads, or other flat beads with large center holes
  • Assorted large bone, metal or wooden beads for handle embellishment
  • 2 (12-ounce) soft aluminum soft-drink cans
  • 2 each 3/8- and 3/4-inch-diameter buttons to coordinate with bag fabric
  • Protective gloves
  • 1 magnetic snap set
  • 4-inch square milk-jug plastic or plastic template material
  • 1 sheet plastic needlepoint canvas
  • Scrap yarn
  • Carpet and button thread to match outer fabrics
  • 1/2 yard hemp or other natural-fiber cord
  • Clear-drying, all-purpose craft glue
  • Liquid seam sealant
  • Air-soluble marking pen or chalk marker
  • #5 leather hand-sewing needle
  • Size 11 Universal or Sharp needle
  • Darning or open-toed presser foot
  • Heavy-duty craft scissors
  • Craft knife with #11 blade
  • Fabric glue
  • Kitchen scrubber and dish detergent
  • Barbecue tongs
  • Flame on fireplace, barbecue grill or propane torch
  • Iron, ironing board and press cloth
  • Basic sewing tools and equipment
  • Cutting Template


  • Enlarge the pattern pieces (Figure 1) on pattern tracing cloth or paper and cut out.
  • Click here for larger image.
  • Cut two 10 3/4 x 15 3/4-inch rectangles from the ethnic fabric and from the interfacing for the bag front and back.
  • Using the side-panel pattern piece, cut four side pieces on the bias (two right, two left) from both the plaid fabric and the interfacing.
  • From the check or plaid fabric, cut two flaps on the bias for the flap and flap facing. Cut two flaps from the fusible interfacing. Cut one flap from the fusible fleece. Cut two 6-inch squares for handle carriers from both the check or plaid fabric and the interfacing.
  • Use the lining pattern piece to cut two pieces from both the lining fabric and the fusible fleece.
  • Cut one 6 1/2 x 8 1/2-inch rectangle from a scrap of the check or plaid.
  • Use the craft knife to cut two 3 x 8-inch pieces of plastic canvas for the bottom support.
  • Before proceeding with the construction, fuse the interfacing pieces to their matching fabric pieces to stabilize the fabric and prevent stretching while you work with them.

Metal Appliques

  1. Wearing protective gloves, use heavy-duty craft scissors to cut free the flat side portion of each aluminum can. Be careful because the cut edges are very sharp. Using the barbecue tongs, hold the can pieces over an open flame and allow the flames to "lick" the inside curve of each piece, causing the aluminum to darken and discolor. Allow the pieces to cool; then wash them gently with a kitchen scrubber and detergent to remove the soot.
  2. Decide how you will embellish the ethnic fabric with metal appliques -- what shapes, sizes and how many. You can arrange them randomly over the entire surface or in lines or clusters as in the bag shown. Using the craft scissors, cut the desired shapes from the can pieces (Photo 1). Round any sharp edges to prevent unintentional gouges after they have been stitched to the bag sides.
  3. Click here for larger image.
    Photo 1

Bag Assembly

  1. Adjust your machine for free-motion embroidery, with a darning foot and dropped feed dogs. Use a size 11 Universal or Sharp needle so that the holes punched in the metal will be small. Wear disposable latex gloves when free-motion embroidering; they are flexible and provide full-hand traction when maneuvering the fabric under the needle. Slowly free-motion–stitch the metal shapes to the ethnic fabric pieces in the desired location on the bag rectangle, staying fairly close to the metal-shape edges (Photo 2). When finished, tie off the threads with square knots and trim the threads close. Dot each knot with seam sealant. (This extra little step goes a long way toward keeping the metal shapes from pulling loose later!)
  2. Click here for larger image.
    Photo 2
  3. Arrange the ostrich-egg beads on the ethnic fabric pieces for the tote (see tote photo for ideas). You might place them in rows or cluster them around a design feature in the fabric's pattern. Coat the wrong side of each bead with a little craft glue; allow several minutes for the glue to harden.
  4. Hand- or machine-stitch the beads in place. To machine-stitch the beads and enhance the hand-worked look of the bag:
    • a. Adjust the sewing machine for free-motion stitching (darning foot and feed dogs dropped).
    • b. Use your left hand to move the fabric and your right hand to advance the handwheel -- don't use your foot pedal. Insert the needle in the bead hole and then bring the needle up and slide the fabric just enough for the needle to clear the outer edge of the bead.
    • c. Make one stitch and bring the needle up. Slide the fabric back to allow the needle to make a stitch in the hole again. In this manner -- one stitch in the hole, one stitch at the bead's outer edge, back to the hole again -- stitch all around each bead (Photo 3).
    • Click here for larger image.
      Photo 3
    • d. Finish by making two consecutive stitches in the bead hole. Cut the threads 3 inches long, and tie off with a double-square knot on the underside of the fabric.
    • e. After stitching all the ostrich-egg beads to the fabric, coat each bead lightly with clear-drying craft glue. The glue will keep the thread from wearing through, and prevent your lovely beads from falling off!
  5. With right sides facing and using 3/8-inch-wide seam allowances, pin and sew a bias side panel to each long edge of the bag front. Repeat with the bag back. Press the seams toward the side panels temporarily (Figure 2 below).
  6. Click here for larger image.
  7. With right sides together, pin the bag front and back together along the bottom edges and stitch from seam line to seam line (Figure 3). Press the seam open.
  8. Click here for larger image.
  9. Permanently press the side/front seams toward the center of the tote front and back. Stitch the side seams as shown in Figure 4. Press the side seams open.
  10. Click here for larger image.
  11. To box the bag corners, align and pin the side seam to the bottom seam at one corner. Press flat with the side seam on top. Measure and draw a 3-inch line perpendicular to the side seam. Stitch on this line, backstitching at both ends. Trim off the point, leaving a 1/4-inch-wide seam allowance (Figure 5). Repeat at the other corner.
  12. Click here for larger image.
  13. Make a bottom support by lacing the two plastic canvas pieces together along the outer edges using scrap yarn. Next, wrap the piece in scrap batting and whipstitch the batting edges together. Place the support in the bottom of the bag and anchor to the side seam allowances with a few hand stitches.
  14. Serge or zigzag the outer edges of the lining pieces to stabilize them. Trim 3/8 inch from the outer edges of each piece of fusible fleece and apply to the wrong side of each lining piece following the manufacturer’s directions. If the fleece doesn’t adhere completely in spots, "tack" it down with small dots of fabric glue.
  15. Serge- or zigzag-finish the raw edges of the 6 1/2 x 8 1/2-inch plaid or check rectangle for the lining pocket. With right sides facing, turn under 1 inch at one short end of the pocket and stitch 3/8 inch from each side (Figure 6).
  16. Click here for larger image.
  17. Turn right side out and turn under and press 3/8 inch at the remaining three edges of the pocket (Figure 7). Center the pocket face up on the right side of one of the bag lining pieces with the upper edge 2 1/2 inches below the upper raw edge. Edgestitch close to all but the upper edge.
  18. Click here for larger image.

    Note: If you want to add your own designer label, stitch it to the hemmed edge of the pocket now, placing the upper edge of the label 1/2 inches below the pocket upper edge.

  19. Fold each 6-inch check or plaid square in half with right sides facing and stitch 3/8 inch from the long raw edges, creating a tube. Finger-press the seam open. Turn each tube right side out and press with the seam centered on the underside. Fold each carrier over a bamboo handle with the seam line inside and short ends even. Place a dot of fabric glue on the handles under the carriers, and pin the carriers together close to the handle so the handle cannot move freely (Figure 8). Set aside to dry.
  20. Click here for larger image.
  21. Trim 3/8 inch from the edges of the fusible fleece for the flap before fusing the fleece to the wrong side of one flap piece.
  22. Use the pattern for the snap reinforcement to cut a piece from clean milk-jug plastic. Use the perforated metal disk that comes with the magnetic snap set as a guide for marking and cutting the vertical slits in the plastic piece and the flap facing. Push the prongs of the male snap piece through the right side of the under flap, the perforated metal disk and the milk-jug plastic, in that order. Bend the prongs to the outside and flatten them.
  23. With right sides facing, pin the flap and flap facing together. Stitch alongside the cut edge of the fleece, leaving an opening for turning (Figure 9). Clip corners and points for smoother turning. Turn the flap right side out and press. Slipstitch the opening edges together. Glue a large, decorative button to the flap front.
  24. Click here for larger image.
  25. With right sides together and using a 1/2-inch-wide seam allowance, sew the lining pieces together at the side and bottom edges (Figure 10). Press the seams open but do not turn the lining right side out. Turn under and press 3/8 inch along the upper raw edge of the lining.
  26. Click here for larger image.
  27. Box the lower corners of the lining as you did for the tote bag, but stitch 2 1/2 inches from the point (not 3 inches as shown in Figure 5).
  28. Turn under and press 3/8 inch at the upper edge of the tote bag. Center the handle carriers on the bag front and back with the lower curve of the handles resting at the upper edge of the bag top; pin in place (Figure 11).
  29. Click here for larger image.
  30. Temporarily pin the flap back to the center back of the bag with the finished edge 1 1/2 inches from the upper edge (Figure 12).
  31. Click here for larger image.
  32. Bring the flap through both handles to the bag front and use an air-soluble marking pen to draw around the flap point to mark the position. Lift the flap slightly and mark the position of the snap on the bag front. Unpin the flap and set aside.
  33. Cut a 2-inch square of milk-jug plastic. Using the perforated disk for the remaining half of the snap, mark and make two slits in the plastic. Center the perforated disk on the snap positioning mark on the bag front and mark and make the two slits. Install the female snap part in the same way as the male part (Photo 4). Dab some craft glue on the snap prongs and pad them with a small square of scrap batting.
  34. Click here for larger image.
    Photo 4
  35. Slip the lining into the tote bag with seams and upper turned edges aligned. Thread a leather hand-sewing needle with 12 inches of carpet and button thread. Hand-stitch the lining and outer fabric together, 1/8 inch from the top edges (rethreading the needle as needed). Because the layers are thick and you are striving for a handworked look, sew with small stab stitches (where the needle pierces both layers in a single, perpendicular pass, back and forth, back and forth. You'll have several layers to pierce at the handle carriers, but the leather needle makes the stitching so much easier (Photo 5). Hide the thread knots between the two layers.
  36. Click here for larger image.
    Photo 5
  37. Attach the flap back with button sets as follows:
    • a. Join the male magnetic snap part to the female part on the bag front.
    • b. Thread the flap back through the handles and pin it to the bag back.
    • c. Position one 3/4-inch button in each lower flap corner and place a pin through one of the holes in each button. Carefully unfasten the magnetic snap.
    • d. Double-thread the leather hand-sewing needle with carpet and button thread. Stitch the buttons in place, catching a 3/8-inch button in place inside the bag with the stitches to reinforce the attachment (Photo 6). Tie the threads off on the lining side, and dot with seam sealant.
    Click here for larger image.
    Photo 6
  38. Complete the ethnic theme of your bag by tying a handle "charm" to one of the bamboo handles. You can find genuine African bone and metal beads at bead shops or in the chain craft stores. String several on lightweight cord and tie them above one of the joints in the bamboo handle (Photo 7).
  39. Click here for larger image.
    Photo 7

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