A few weeks ago, A Beautiful Mess put up a simple tutorial for putting images onto a tote bag using iron-on transfer paper. Elsie used a pre-made bag and created a polka dot-style display of young Dolly Parton. The result is adorable a little kitschy in the best possible way.
The idea got me thinking, especially because my friend Lauren is a Dolly Parton lover and recently got a sewing machine that she's not quite sure how to use. What a perfect opportunity to get to know her machine while making something delightfully adorable.
Last weekend, Lauren and her machine joined me for a few hours of cutting and stitching and ironing and chatting. Because I wanted to help her with the sewing portion as well, we made simple tote bags first, using this tutorial from The Purl Bee. It's great for a beginner, and we made ours even easier by using very forgiving cotton canvas from a large drop cloth. Drop cloths from your local hardware store are an excellent way to get a huge bunch of fabric for cheap - this one cost me $17, and I could probably make 15 more tote bags out of it.
After the bags were finished, we printed out our images - hers, Dolly Parton, and mine, Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote (obviously). Once I found images I liked on Google Images, I converted them to black and white in photoshop and then adjusted the lighting (increasing the contrast and the brightness) to create a simpler look that dips just a bit into the pop art realm. We were going to do single large transfers rather than the polka dot style Elsie used, so I reversed the images (since an iron-on creates a mirror effect) and printed them onto iron-on transfer paper using my color printer.
Here's where we really got some good chatting in - it took forever! The instructions on the transfer paper said to press very firmly with the iron on a hard surface (not an ironing board) for 2 1/2 minutes, let the paper cool completely and then peel the backing off.
We each ironed for at least 15 minutes before we were able to peel off the backing. For a short while, I was concerned the whole thing was going to be a crafting disaster. The key seemed to be the really hard surface (we switched from a table to an ironing board to my kitchen counter) and a little extra time because we were using a bumpy canvas material that had more difficulty accepting the transfer.
Ultimately, we prevailed, and Jessica's thumbs up makes me irrationally happy every time I see it.