I was delighted to meet Tannei Casey back in September when I was teaching at Knitter’s Day Out in Harrisburg, PA for the second year in a row (spoiler alert, I’ll be teaching there again next year!) and she was a vendor in the marketplace. I’m always on the lookout for an exceptional project bag and I came across her wonderful bags and was drawn to them immediately. After asking myself, “Do you really need another project bag?” (another spoiler alert, the answer was “yes”), I got to chatting with Tannei. After the weekend workshops were over, I began following her on Instagram and have become a huge fan of her bags, purchasing many for gifts and a few more for myself.
What makes her bags different? Using designer fabric and canvas or waxed canvas bottoms, her bags are super sturdy, very well made, come in lots of different sizes, are canvas lined with pockets for small notions or patterns, and the price point is ideal. She’s also a knitter and so many of us “cross craft.” Being a sewer myself, I really appreciate high-quality project bags. I am not always kind to mine - they get shoved in bags, thrown about in the car, tossed around by my kids - I need a bag that can keep up with my on-the-go-knitting. Tannei was kind enough to sit down recently and answer a few questions…
Tanis Gray (TG): When did you start sewing and what did you make for your first project?
Tannei Casey (TC): ? I learned how to sew from my Home Economics teacher when I was in 7th grade. She was very patient and methodical and I learned so much from her. She started by teaching the whole class how to make our own pin cushion. We had to draw out our own design on felt, hand embroidered it, hand sewn it together then stuff it. After that, we made an apron, night cap and night gown. I think she figured if our sewing wasn't great, we could still use those items inside the house! I was very impatient and wanted to make my own clothes. The first piece of clothing I made was a pair of gauchos in a navy cotton poplin...hey, it was the 70's!
TG: You’re a knitter so you know what kinds of project bags we love! What are your favorite things to knit?
TC: I knit a lot of sweaters and I have to admit, I am a selfish knitter and usually knit for myself. I do like to knit baby sweaters for friends and families though. I have made shawls, socks and scarves but they can't beat the satisfaction of a completed sweater.
TG: Do you have a favorite fabric company you like to use for your bags?
TC: My favorite is definitely the Rifle Paper Co. line from Cotton and Steel. I just love all their prints and can't wait for the next line to come out. Every fabric company is unique in their own way and it's hard to pick one. For me, it's usually a print that grabs my attention, then it's the weight of the fabric. I generally look for heavier fabrics like lightweight canvas, cotton/linen or twill for my bags because I think it's important to have a bag that is sturdy with a bit of heft to it. I also use a lot of waxed canvas, especially for the bottom of the bags. The fact that it's water repellent makes it practical and keeps the knits clean and dry.
TG: Is sewing your primary job or like many of us, do you have another job as well?
TC: Sewing is my primary job. It's funny because I've never referred to what I do as a job. I don't know if it's because I love what I do or because I am doing it at home and I am my own boss! I studied fashion design in college but did not pursue it as a career. I ended up working in retail and human resources for years. When we moved from Toronto to Philadelphia 11 years ago, I became a stay at home mom. The sewing machine kept calling to me though and as my son got older, I found I spent more and more time in the sewing room. I eventually set up an Etsy shop to sell my handmade bags and baby quilts.
TG: How do you decide your color palette?
TC: I really don't plan out a color palette. The prints that are used for my bags are really varied. I do tent to like the modern, simple prints but I do love a traditional paisley or floral too. Every once in a while I will see a fabric line where I could not resist getting most of the prints in the line - a couple of examples of that are Jen Hewitt's and Anna Graham's lines that came out a couple months ago. Cloud 9 Fabrics just released Eloise Renouf's lastest line this week and I HAD to order it all.
TG: Are bags your favorite thing to sew or do you tend to make a lot of garments also?
TC: I just like to make things with my hands so it depends what my mood is at the time. I like making bags to sell because I don't have to deal with sizing or fit. It is also easier on my hands because I can use a rotary cutter to cut all the straight seams. I do like making garments for myself every once in a while. I have a couple pairs of corduroy wide leg cropped pants cut out now just waiting to be sewn.
TG: Tell us why your bags are so amazing!
TC: I think it helps that I've been knitting for as long as I've been sewing. I understand what a knitter wants. Once I have an idea, I can make one and use it myself first to make adjustments if needed. As I said earlier, I prefer to use heavier fabrics; it makes for a more durable bag. The lining of all the bigger bags are a heavy cotton canvas. This is twofold - the light color canvas makes it easy to see what's inside the bag and the heavy fabric gives the bag so it will stand on its own. My industrial sewing machine also creates better stitch definition especially when sewing with the heavier fabrics. Through trial and error over the years, I've been able to source quality supplies and notions to create products that I am happy with at an affordable price to my customers.
TG: What’s coming up for you?
TC: I wanted to do something for the holiday season so I am working on a simple waxed canvas medium size drawstring bag in cedar green. It is the same bag I did for a fund raiser a few weeks back in a different color. I hope customers will like it! For 2019, I will be at the Allentown Fiber Festival in April and Knitter's Day Out in September. I will also be doing a pop-up shop with the Knitting Boutique at a couple of their retreats in March and September. Being a one person operation, and preferring to keep it that way, I prefer to do the smaller local shows. They are also more intimate and I get to spend time talking and interacting with customers and other makers and sellers.
TG: Where can people purchase your amazing bags?
TC: My bags can be found in my Etsy shop at tanneicasey.com . If you want to know what's new in the shop or what I am up to most days, check out my Instagram feed under ID tanneicasey.
TG: Thanks for the interview, Tannei! Your bags make great gifts and I can’t wait to see what pops up next in your shop!