Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Custom No Sew Fabric Drawer

Problem We recently reorganized our bedroom which made access to a little built in cabinet with fixed shelves easier. Before we had stored things that we rarely used in there (like extra blankets), but I decided it would be a good place to make David's dresser. This created a problem; how can I find a drawer that will fit on the built in shelves in our bedroom and hold David's things?

Requirements The drawers needed to fit the shelf and be able to slide in and out easily. They needed to be sturdy enough to stay together when filled with David's things and have handles for easy pulling out. I also wanted them to look at least semi-attractive. Finally, they could not cost very much.

Research, Alternatives, and the Best Solution David's clothes have been stored in cardboard boxes under his crib his entire life. Perhaps I could just get cardboard boxes to fit on the shelves. Unfortunately, boxes exactly that size are hard to come by, so I would just be looking for boxes smaller than that space, which would likely end up wasting space. Furthermore, cardboard is not terribly attractive.

Store bought containers are more attractive. I looked at a lot of store bought containers. They are often expensive, flimsy-looking, or both. The ones that looked acceptable were too big.

I thought that perhaps I could create a container that was exactly the size of the shelves and was sturdy. I thought it might be good to sew one with cardboard and fabric.  I found this tutorial, which is pretty much exactly what I was envisioning and it looked like it might work. Here is another that used plastic canvas instead of cardboard. I decided that I would probably not do exactly what I saw in these tutorials, but that something along these lines was probably the best solution to my problem.

Development of the Prototype In selecting the fabric, I went to my trusty storage bench and pulled out several options that might work. Patrick said that since this project was to hold David's clothes, I was not allowed to use flowered fabric, so I chose some off white fabric I got from a thrift store in a large bag of scraps for $4. It probably offended someone in a previous life because it was cut up into a bunch of uneven 4-sided polygons.  I also selected some blue fabric left over from the bridesmaid dresses for my wedding. The cardboard came from a large cardboard box we had lying around.

I measured the dimensions of my shelves. There are 4 shelves and each shelf is one inch taller than the shelf above it. Since there is a door on the shelves, I had to subtract the space the door blocked when open so the drawer could still slide in and out. I also made sure to record my measurements a little on the small side so the fit was not too tight. This would allow ease of movement.

At this point, my husband asked me if I was planning on sewing the drawers or using hot glue. Partially because hot glue sounded more fun that day and partially because of the random sizes of the off white fabric, I decided to develop a hot glue method. I have a high temperature gun because it creates a stronger bond. A lower temperature may not work as well.

I began by cutting out pieces of cardboard to fit my measurements for the four sides. I cut out a piece for the bottom as well. I ended up with the pieces to the right for one of my drawers.

I then used the off white fabric to cover one side of each side piece piece. I cut a piece of fabric that was about a half inch to an inch larger than the board on every side (enough that it wrapped around). I pulled the piece around the board and glued each side on the back.

To finish the corners, I put a dot of glue at the corner and pushed it up, clipping extra fabric if it seemed just too bulky. This step is dangerous if you are not careful. I put the glue closer to the corner and held it more at the top so the glue wouldn't stick to my finger.

After covering all the sides, I cut strips of blue fabric that were about 2-3 inches wide and just slightly longer than the sides were tall. I "hemmed" the tops by running a bead of glue along the top and folding it down, thus making the strips about exactly as tall as the sides. It is okay if they are a tiny bit shorter, but I didn't want them longer. I then laid two sides that were to be adjacent next to each other and glued the strip onto both to connect them.

I repeated the last step  until all for sides were connected and I had a box without sides. I then used the bottom piece to hold the four sides of the box in a rectangle while it sat on one side. The bottom of the box was perfect for this because it was the right size to force the box to be square.

Next, I glued on a piece of the blue fabric to cover the bottom so that the raw edges were inside the box. I fit the bottom cardboard down inside the box securely and covered that with another blue piece of fabric. I didn't worry about the raw fabric edges on the bottom because I was going to be covering them with the sides.

I cut out pieces of scratch computer paper to fit each of the side of the box. I had to do a bit of gluing of sheets for the longer sides. I covered each of these pieces of paper with the blue fabric, much like I had covered the cardboard with the white, and glued them on their respective sides.

Finally, I cut a strip of fabric that was probably about 3 times as wide as I wanted the handle and just a little bit longer than I wanted the handle. I folded it in thirds and glued it that way, running a bead of glue along where each fold would be before folding. I then folded in the ends and glued them to the box on the front panel. I thought it looked great.

Test and Redesign The drawer was fairly successful, but there were a few difficulties.

First, the off white fabric was a bit stretchy and had a very defined grain line. It was difficult to pull it evenly on all sides and the unevenness was very apparent. The blue fabric, which was a cotton broadcloth, worked much better. I would probably select only non-stretchy fabric in the future.

Though the scratch paper under the lining was successful, card stock would have been easier to apply.

My drawer does not fold. It was not something I considered necessary. However, if I wanted to make it fold, I could have made each side with two separate pieces (much like the fabric and cardboard basket I found in my research), and connected them together the same way I did the corners. I would then have to make the bottom a separate covered piece that could be removed.

By far the biggest flaw of my original design was the handle. Though the handle did not come off entirely when I pulled out the fully loaded drawer, it did un-stick from the cardboard so it was only attached to the fabric. This seemed un-ideal, particularly since the fabric stratched. I decided to reattach the handle with two metal brads on each side of the handle. Because the lining was already on, it had to be partially  removed or else the brad would end up sticking through the lining. To do this, I put a paper towel over the area I wanted unstuck and ironed it until the glue melted enough that I could pull the lining back. This was not very fun.

Because I knew the removal of the lining was not going to be enjoyable, I first tested my new handle on a completely new drawer (I had to make 4 of them after all). I attached the handle with the brands and though it seemed rather strong, I really hated the way it looked. Therefore, I came up with a method for concealing the brad. For something more decorative, I could have perhaps used decorative scrap-booking brads that come in a variety of colors and shapes, but I really liked the look of the handle without the brads at all.

For the revised handle, I started much the same way as the original handle except that I made the strip about half an inch longer than before. Before folding in the ends, I used a hammer, nail (actually it was a screw because I found that first) and a piece of wood to poke two holes  about a quarter inch from either end.

I inserted a brad into each hole from the back of the handle to the front. I then put glue over the tops of the brads and folded over the end so the poky end of the brad was pointing to the back and the top part was folded inside. The picture to the left is of what the handle looked like from the back.

Finally, I poked holes in the cardboard for each of the brads using the same hammer and nail method. I put the brads through and folded them back I secured them with a little bit of hot glue, but this was probably overkill. In any case, this handle was nice and secure. I wouldn't think it would pull a bowling ball around, but then I wouldn't carry a bowling ball in this box anyway.

I managed to pull the lining back on the other box enough to shove my hand in and put on a new handle. Thank heavens I have rather small hands. I didn't secure this handle with extra hot glue, but it hasn't come off yet.

One last thing I should have done differently but got lucky about: I should have checked the size of my cardboard pieces in relation the the shelves I wanted them to fit on (remembering that there would be a bit of bulk added from the corners), as well as the size of the box when I got the four sides together. With the first box I didn't check fit at all until I finished the box. The subsequent boxes got checked when I remembered to, which wasn't until about halfway through the lining process. I got lucky.

I would say that all in all, the project was a success. I wish the colors went better with the cabinet, but I like my box colors a lot better than the cabinet colors, and I can't change the cabinet. One day, I will live somewhere that I can change the wall colors any time I want. At the very least, this looks better than the duct tape on the bottom shelf in the cabinet.

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Thanks for the comment! If you wish to contact me directly, you can email me at bethslemonade@gmail.com.