Thursday, March 3, 2016

Clothesline bowls: Some thoughts

As you probably know, there are all sorts of tutorials and inspiration on the Internet concerning fabric bowls. My primary inspiration came from Flossie Teacakes,  a delightful blogger. 

For what it's worth, here are some things I have discovered that work best for me:
  1. Thread - 100% cotton. Polyester is stronger but you cannot (easily) change your mind. And it will not take dye. That might be a good thing. It's good to have full bobbins when you start but it is easy to stop and start. The thread does not end up showing much as long as it is pretty close to the color of the cording.
  2. Stitch length - 2.5 mm. Some suggest going with a very long stitch length. I found that the bowls were too wobbly with a longer stitch-length. I like for them to be soft but secure in their shape.
  3. Stitch width - The widest my machine will go is 5.1 mm and that is what I like. If you go narrower, you have to be more careful to catch both sides. This is not a big deal, as my machine foot has a little groove down the middle. I just keep an eye on that and make sure the shadow between the two cords is right on the groove. You know, zen sewing.
  4. Cording (clothesline) - I have been happy with Household Essentials from Amazon, but I have not tried any others. It is soft, inexpensive, and easy to sew. Just recently I found something even less expensive at my local grocery store, Kroger.
  5. Starting - for the first one, I hand-stitched a little bend in the end of the cording and cut off the tape at the end that keeps it from fraying. But after that, I found hand-stitching unnecessary. Instead, I cut off the tape at the end and fold the cord over about 1/2 inch. Then I position it under the needle and zig-zag in place. I let the stitches pile up a little just to secure it and then use the awl to give it a little nudge around the corner. I continue to use the awl until the disk is large enough to manage with my finger tips.
  6. Position of coil under machine - some recommend that the coil expand to your left so that the machine does not get in the way. I have found that I prefer to let it expand to my right while I'm making a flat bottom. It seems to stay flatter that way. After the bottom is completed, I remove it and re-position the disk so that it expands to the left.
  7. Gentle curves - the easiest way to shape the bowls. I use my left hand to gently bend the disk up alongside the sewing machine head and sew around and around. It naturally forms a lovely curve.

  8. Vertical sides - these require a good bit of tension on the clothesline as it attaches to the bowl. Once the more-or-less right angle is established, then you can relax again.  
  9. Curving inside - if I want more of an S curve, then I put much more tension on the cording as it flows under the foot. The difference between tip 8 and 9 is subtle but you'll feel it and see the result readily.
  10. Tying off - You can clip the end of the cording at an angle and work it back into the top row, but I much prefer the knotting options available if you play with the end of the cording a bit.
  11. Handles and other gaps in the bowls - To create handles in the bowl, I zig-zag backwards to secure the spot where the handle will begin. Then I pull the available cording away from the needle and zig-zag on the previous row for an inch or more until I reach the point where the handle should re-attach. Then I use the awl to push the available cording back under the needle, zig-zag backwards a few stitches and continue around the bow. As you stitch around again, you have the option of making the handles two, three or more rows deep.
  12. Knotted edge - I used the same technique as tip 11 but left regular gaps in the final row. I would count 8 stitches off the last row, and 10 stitches on the last row as I rounded the final time. Then I used the remaining cord to wind in and out knotting at each gap.

There are almost endless variations to consider but the simpler, the better for me. I may experiment with adding color and bits of fabric. For now, I am happy with the winter white produced with naked clothesline!


  1. Oh, thank you so much Martha for the extra pointers on your process! Your bowls are so gorgeous and I've really been enjoying your posts on this subject. So much so that I'm now toying with the idea of trying it out myself. Your tips, and the link to Flossie Teacakes, will be extremely helpful. If only I could create something even half as lovely as your bowls! You really have a lovely sense of flow and shape in creating these

  2. They are really beautiful! I've made some fabric bowls, and some of the shaping techniques are similar, but haven't tried this yet. I definitely will...

  3. I'll bet this tutorial gets thousands of saves and pins, Martha. So thorough and easy to follow! Great! Thank you.

  4. I've been watching from afar and just love all your bowls. I really need to try this. What a great gift idea too. Great tutorial too.