First beginnings

Yesterday we visited a community centre, supported by UNHCR, for refugees in Kampala where refugees are taught many skills and have access to an internet cafe. There is a workshop set up to teach tailoring, so we thought this would be a good place to present the Cook-in bags and teach the tailors how to make them.


We met with a group of refugees, mostly women, but one man joined too, from DRC, Sudan and Somalia and a few Ugandans. With the help of the centre coordinator and an interpreter we were able to explain the principle of the bags and urged our audience to ask questions. Quite naturally, many were sceptical, but some were very keen to try the bags for themselves. We left two samples with them to try out and undertook to return next week to hear their feedback and, if they are suitably impressed, to teach them how to make the bags.


We also met with Sarah who is in charge of another project based on the site, making charcoal briquettes and fuel efficient stoves to burn them in. She was very impressed with the bag idea and was keen to partner with the tailors in the marketing of both products together as they both offer savings to the consumer and the environment.

Our trip to Mengo seems to have been a success, so I will report back next week on how the trails have gone and whether the tailors are keen to make a new product.


Cook-in bag: step by step instructions

You will need:


  1. cotton material/fabric
  2. cord
  3. spring loaded ‘stopper’
  4. 2″ sheet foam and foam chips



You will also need:

  1. sewing machine (or needle)
  2. sewing thread
  3. scissors
  4. pins
  5. a pen with a top or a safety pin

Method [dotted red lines on photos show sewing line]

  1. Cut pieces according to pattern – outer, lining and cushions.
  2. Make a pocket along top and bottom of outer for cord. Fold under 0.5cm then approximately 2.5 cms. Pin and sew along top of this as close as possible to fold.make pocket
  3. Lay outer, right side down on work surface. Fold in half lengthways and mark centre point on both ends with a pin or chalk. Open up again.P1000949
  4. Do same with lining, then lay both flat, with wrong side of lining to outer’s wrong side, matching centre points at both ends.
  5. Fold under a 1.5cm seam allowance along top edge of lining, then shift it down by 2cm before pinning in place at both ends. By shifting the top edge down towards the centre you are making room for the foam to sit between the lining and outer. place lining
  6. Now flip lining up and keeping place marked, pin the right side of lining to wrong side of outer at same place pinned, all along length. sewing lining and outer
  7. Sew the seam.
  8. Place foam strip against the seam you just sewed and fold lining down over it. Turn under a seam allowance and pin as close as you can to the foam. Sew on top of the two layers of lining through to outer. Foam is now enclosed in fabric.enclosing foam
  9. Turn outer so that the right sides of both edges meet. Pin together the four layers of material as close to the foam as you can, matching centres and working outwards. At top and bottom of lining, make a small indented fold and pin ( you will have about 12 layers of fabric including fold and seams and outer/lining). Starting and finishing at seam for top and bottom pockets, sew edges together – you might find it easier to use a zipper foot to get close to foam. You can double sew this seam for extra strength.joining edges
  10. Turn right side out and you should have the outer finished.
  11. Thread cord through top and bottom pockets. Easiest way is to trap cord in  a pen top and push this through the pocket. Otherwise hook a safety pin through cord then push along pocket. You can stop the cord fraying by holding it briefly in a flame. cord in pensafety pin for threading
  12. Now thread cord at top through ‘stopper’ and tie a knot in each end (to prevent it accidentally slipping back through stopper). At bottom of bag, tie knots in ends of cord then pull up and tie in place. [This end only needs to be opened in case of washing the bag]. A double stopper is much easier to thread!stopper threaded
  13. Make cushions: fold right sides together and starting halfway down the selvage side, sew round the three sides. Clip across the corners to ensure neat turning out. snip corner
  14. Turn cushion to right side (use closed scissors to push out corners) and stuff with foam chips (approx 180g for 13″ cushion and 220g for 17″ cushion).cushion
  15. Fold in remaining selvages to create flat seam and sew close to folds, continuing down length of cushion and around other two seamed sides for extra strength.close cushion
  16. Place smaller cushion in base of bag. Larger cushion tucks around top of pot placed in bag.



Swags of fun!

I recently taught myself to make swags. I couldn’t find any instructions on the internet to help, so I want to record what I did, before I forget and to share my method.

Here is the finished product.


You will need

Fabric – see measurements below



Tailor’s chalk



I began the project with 54″/ 140cm wide fabric. As I wanted red/white/blue, I had to cut the fabric lengthways into three and rejoin them with felled seams [instructions on YouTube here, but if you offset the edges, it avoids having to trim the seams].

Hem any raw edges.

Measuring up

  1. First measure the finished width of the swag. The one above was 3m/2m/3m = 8m.
  2. Add 40cm to the end of each section [which means 80cm between sections] so in this case I have 40+300+40+40+200+40+40+300+40 = 1040cm or 10.4m

I worked out the 40cm by trail and error, but it works for this width fabric; you may have to change this if using wider or narrower fabric.


Lay the fabric flat and mark (using tailor’s chalk) the top edge with the measurements worked out above. From the first 40cm mark, draw a diagonal line to the bottom corner of the fabric. Continue to mark from the top edge measurement to form triangles as shown below:

swag measurements

Thread a needle with double thread (plenty) and make long running stitches along each marked line; about 4cms long stitches with 0.5cms of material in between.


When you reach the other edge, gently pull the thread until the fabric is gathered. Pull until gathers are quite tight, then finish thread with double stitches and cut. For the middle triangles I used two separate threads – you can wait until you have run both threads before gathering if you wish. Providing you have marked the lines with chalk you should be able to manage to follow these even though the material is gathered nearby.


Tie a piece of string around the two gathered threads and pull tight. Tie off and use the ends to hang the swag.

Pull the surplus material into a round shape.

At the end you will have a triangular ‘tassle’.

You can make individual swags using same method – allowing 40cms each end and gathering up.

Making swags in this way means they can be reused easily – no additional pinning or gathering.

Have fun!