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Two years ago my son was diagnosed with a very rare form of childhood cancer called Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma. Less than 10 children a year in the UK are diagnosed with this form of cancer. It is an extremely agressive blood based cancer, there are no options for surgery or radiotherapy, the only form of treatment is extremely "hard-core" chemotherapy. By "hard-core" I mean that the chemo was very strong, and he didn't have just one type of chemotherapy - he had 6 different chemotherapy drugs simultaneously over many months.

Every cycle of chemotherapy resulted in a week long stay in hospital, hooked up to a drip for 24hrs a day, unable to leave the ward, unable to go to the bathroom by himself, unable to do anything by himself. He was just 9 yrs old - old enough want his independence, old enough to know that cancer is serious and often kills, young enough to be scared and to hate every medical proceedure, every doctor, every nurse, every needle - because they all hurt him.

To help him cope with all the horrible treatment and medical procedures that he had to endure, he was enrolled on a programme called "Beads of Courage". Little brightly coloured glass beads are given to the children during their treatment with each colour representing a specific element of treatment - an overnight hospital stay, a day of chemo, an MRI or CT scan, a blood transfusion etc.

Not only are they fun to collect, they build up a very visual representation of the children's treatment. Collecting the beads that my son had "earnt" during each hospital admission was a highlight of his stay. We have arranged my sons beads in chronological order and they enable him to tell his "story". They clearly show when he was in hospital receiving chemotherapy, and when he was at home with no immune system - when just the smallest bug could be life threatening and result in a hospital admission.

He fortunately reached remission and is starting secondary school in a few days - he has to give a presentation about "himself", and has chosen to talk about his battle with cancer because he can use his beads to illustrate that journey. Like my son, many children with cancer soon build up large collections of beads and they need somewhere to keep them safe - these little draw-string bags are for that purpose. My son is one of the lucky ones and he has made it to remission - he still collects the beads as he still has to go to hospital regularly for check-ups and to have scans to see whether the cancer has returned or not.

Because "Beads of Courage" helped my son come to terms with his treatment and because I enjoy sewing, in an effort to give something back to the charity who provide these beads, I have been making these sweet little bags and sending them both to the hospital which treated my son, and to the charity who co-ordinate the scheme in order for them to be sent to other hospitals around the UK. So far I have made just under 100 of these bags.

I thought I would write some instructions on how to make them as they are such sweet and useful little bags which can be used for a whole variety of different purposes. My daughter uses them to store all her bracelets and necklaces, they could be used as a washbag or a makeup bag, the list of uses is endless.

Step 1: You Will Need

So what do you need:-

  • A sewing machine
  • Some thread
  • Fabric for the outside of the bag
  • Fabric for the inside lining of the bag
  • Some ribbon or cord
  • Measuring tape
  • Pins
  • Access to an iron

Step 2: Preparatory Work

The hardest part of this project is choosing the fabric to use. Childhood cancer affects boys and girls of all ages - babies can be born with cancer, children can develop cancer from just a few months old, to late teens or even young adults in their very early twenties. I try and select fabrics to make a variety of little bags which will appeal to all kinds of children and young adults - regardless of their age or gender. I have used so many different fabrics over the last few months. I like to use a patterned outside fabric and a coordinating plain fabric for the lining, but you could use the same inside and out. A little gingham or spotty print would work well for the lining too.

So the first thing you need to do is to cut two pieces of the outside fabric - each 9" wide and 12" deep and then cut two pieces of the lining fabric also each 9" wide and 12" deep. You will also need two pieces of cord or ribbon, each 26" long.

Step 3: Adding a "Beads of Courage" Label

Because I make these bags for the "Beads of Courage" programme, they provide me with labels to sew it onto the corner of the outside fabric. If you wanted to add a name tag to the bag - now is the time to add it.

Step 4: The Outside of the Bag

Pin the outside fabric right sides together along both of the long sides. I find it easier to put the pins at right angles to the edge of the fabric, as it's easier to stitch over them.

The next stage is to sew a seam down each side, 1/2" away from the edge of the fabric to join the fabric together into a tube shape. However I have a confession, my cutting skills are poor, and because I make lots of these bags, I try to get as many bags as possible out of my fabric, and therefore I sometimes cut them a little smaller than I should. So my method is as follows - I want the distance between my two side seams to be exactly 8", so I use a ruler and draw a line down both sides of the fabric 8" apart which gives me the position of my seams. This means that they are sometimes smaller than 1/2" but this doesn't matter.

Step 5: Making the Inside Lining of the Bag

Do exactly the same with the lining fabric. It's really important to be accurate with the measuring and stitching - it needs to be identical to the outside fabric to ensure that the lining fits smoothly inside the bag.

Step 6: Putting the Lining Into the Bag

Take the two tubes of fabric and press all of the seams open with an iron.

Turn the lining right side out, and place inside the tube of outside fabric. At this point the right side of the lining will be against the right side of the outside fabric.

Position the fabric so that the seams of the lining fabric, line up exactly with the seams on the outside fabric.

Step 7: Join Lining to Outside Fabric

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Stitch around the top of the tube about 1/4" away from the top to join the lining fabric to the outside fabric. Pull the lining out of the tube and press the seam towards the lining.

Tuck the lining back inside, turn the tube right side out. Press the top seam nice and flat.

Step 8: Make Channel to Take the Draw-String

On the right side, sew around the top of the fabric about 2" from the top. As you go over the seams backtrack ( sew backwards about 1", and then forward again - to provide 3 lines of stitching over the seam ), this will be where the ribbon goes and therefore needs to be extra strong.

Do the same, this time 2 3/4" away from the top.

At the two side seams, where you have done the extra rows of stitches, use a stitch un-picker, or scissors with a sharp point, and snip through the side seam stitches between the two rows just sewn around the top of the tube. This will make two holes to enable the ribbon to be threaded through later.

Step 9: Sealing the Bottom of the Bag

Turn the fabric inside out and press the bottom nice and flat, especially over the two side seams. I was fortunate to inherit an overlocker machine and if you happen to have an overlocker machine, now is the time to get it out. Stitch across the bottom joining all the layers of fabric together. If you don't have an overlocker, just stitch across the bottom - but do ensure to seal the bottom edge somehow e.g. with a zig-zag stitch to stop the fabric fraying - this is the only exposed seam in the whole of the bag so treat it kindly!

Turn the fabric back right side out.

Step 10: Insert the Draw-String

Take one of the pieces of ribbon or cord, and pin a safety pin through the end. Poke the safety pin through one of the holes you made earlier, and gently thread it all the way round the bag in the channel you have made. When you get back to the start, remove the safety pin and tie the ends of the ribbon or cord together.

Take the second piece of ribbon or cord, and repeat, this time starting at the other side of the bag.

Step 11: Finished Bag!

You have now finished the bag!

The bag I have just made will be perfect to send to a child with cancer to store their "Beads Of Courage". This is what my son's beads currently look like.

Step 12: Variations!

It is really easier to scale up this bag. Cutting fabric 14" by 19" will make a bag the perfect size for a PE kit, or ballet clothes. When my children were younger I used to make them bags this size for their bedrooms. I would often use the same fabric as their curtains, and a make several of these bags. We then had a wooden peg-rail attached to their wall and would hang the bags from there. They were used for all sorts of purposes - storing dressing-up clothes, barbie dolls, lego, dolls clothes, toy cars - the list goes on! You could also store socks, scarves, gloves. Scale up again to 20" by 28" and you will be able to make a perfect laundry bag - the only adjustment I would make is to the position of the draw-string channel - shift it down by a couple of inches.

<p>In my family, instead of using gift wrap, we use (and re-use) brightly colored cloth bags. I made the first set years ago, but we need more now, and my originals have no draw-strings. These will be better.</p><p>Best wishes to your son!</p>
<p>Awesome Gift Bag! I am going to do it! Using my scraps and jeans material.</p>
<p>Improvement to bottom seam: With bag right side out, stitch very close to the edge across the bottom. Turn bag inside out and press flat. Stitch across, making sure you're keeping the cut edge (which you can't see now) between the edge of the bag and your new seam. Turn right side out and press. Your seam at the bottom of the bag is now no longer exposed!</p>
<p>These bags are lovely, and such a good idea for the beads. Thank you for sharing your story too.</p>

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