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I’m writing at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools are closed through the end of the year, lots of people are rediscovering sewing because of a demand for masks, and those who aren’t sewing are making sourdough bread while confined to their houses.
Ok- not everybody- but a lot of bodies. King Arthur Flour says their servers have been overloaded by sourdough queries. I’m an enthusiastic and frequent baker. I make most of our bread and rolls in bulk (4 loaves at a time, or 96 rolls at a time). But sourdough has always frustrated me. However, I’ve gotten the hang of it, now! I won’t blog about my sourdough starter here- but I want to tell you how my sewing life and baking life collided during this strange time.
Bread Proofing Bowls | Brotform | Banneton
As I researched a recipe and instructions for sourdough, I came across a piece of equipment called a banneton or brotform. It’s a coiled cane basket that gives the bread shape. You coat it with flour, put dough in it to prove, then turn out your dough and bake it. This is what gives artisan bread that striated look. When I read about this, a BIG lightbulb turned on for me!
Do you remember clothesline bowls? Having worked at and managed a sewing machine dealership since I was 15, I’ve seen a lot of fun trends come and go. Clothesline bowls were one of them! They were a great way to use up scrap fabric (or for stores to sell a bunch of fabric) and create something sculptural on your machine. Books were written, classes were taught, bags, bowls, and urns appeared at show-and-tell in the store. These bowls are like coil pots. This trend made its debut as a colorful one. Most creations were wrapped in fabrics- batiks were especially popular- but I’ve seen a resurgence lately of “naked” rope bowls that fit nicely into the Millenial aesthetic.
Naked rope bowls skip the tedious fabric wrapping step, which saves A TON of time, and they’re pretty on their own. However, I’ve seen some cool dyed ones that I’d like to replicate.
During bowl-making-mania a customer and professional chef named Carlene Cullimore came in the store with a very plain bowl (way ahead of her time). I believe it was either a naked bowl or it the cord was wrapped in white cotton fabric, either way it was not the most colorful or intricate of the bowl parade. She told us it was her bread-proofing basket. I believe I was 22 or so at the time, and I was not into bread making yet- and I really didn’t get it. I mean, I knew what it meant to proof (prove?) bread, but I had always done it in a loaf pan. I thought it was neat that she’d sewn something for her kitchen.
Almost 10 years later, things finally clicked and I was inspired to make my own bread bowl! I even emailed Carlene, whom I haven’t seen for years, and it was nice to reconnect. She was surprised I remembered her bowl- I’m so glad I did!
The first set of instructions for sourdough that I used were extremely laborious and kind of annoying (but it makes awesome bread). It included directions to use a proofing basket, so I decided I’d just skip up to the sewing studio and whip up a basket. Well, basket-making-mania was a long time ago, and my first efforts were not successful. I did a live video about my frustrations in the Self Sewn Wardrobe Facebook Group.
I dusted myself off (literally) and tried again a couple of days later. As I was making my bowl, I realized that I could get an even more arresting effect if I incorporated a design on the interior- I can’t keep things simple.
So that’s what I did. I sewed up my bowl, but instead of stopping at a bowl, I added a decorative element to the inside. I couched another piece of cord to the inside in the hopes that it would create a gorgeous design whilst proofing.
Spoiler Alert: IT WORKED!
How to Make a Rope Bowl
Rope Bowls or clothesline bowls are made by aligning cord (in my case, clothesline) into a shape to create a base, then shaping a bowl by tilting the base, so that you get more vertical sides. This takes some time and a little practice, but you can do it!
Equipment and Materials
- Zig Zag Sewing Machine in good working order that can handle some bulk (the Baby Lock Verve or Brilliant are great options)
- Zig Zag presser foot (this could be your all-purpose foot)
- Large Double Cording Foot (optional, but useful for decorative elements)
- Strong Construction Thread (metrosene polyester is our fave)
- Cotton Clothesline (like this one)
- Size 90 Microtex or Denim Needle
Tips for Sewing Clothesline Bowls
- Keep your foot level as you sew. The way I have you start the bowl should ensure this. If either the back or front of your foot is unsupported, you may experience needle breakage…or worse.
- Make sure you’re creating the bowl so that it grows out to your left, not your right- this does matter!
- Use a larger needle, if you’re have trouble.
Video: How to Sew a Clothesline Bread Proofing Bowl
Here’s my video on how to create a clothesline bread proofing bowl. It’s an edited version of a 1 hour long live broadcast in the Self Sewn Wardrobe Facebook Group- so it’s a bit “raw”, but I think it’s helpful to see the process. I’ve also outlined the directions below. Enjoy!
Step 1: Create the Base of the Clothesline Bowl
- Set your machine to a Zig Zag Stitch at 5mm width and a 2mm length.
- Coil your clothesline into a spiral and secure your starting shape with some zig-zag stitches. I’m not really worried about how pretty this is, but you can make it look neat.
- Start to spiral the cord around itself, butting the cords closely together and zig-zagging so as to catch the new cord as it’s wrapped around. You can widen your zig-zag if you’re having trouble catching both.
- Go slowly. Most Zig Zag presser feet have a mark in the center, keep your eye on the mark and ensure that you align the cord so that the place where they come together side-by-side is aligning with that mark. Don’t watch your needle, just keep aligning the cords with that center mark, and you should be good.
- Create a base that is 3.5″-4″ in diameter.
Step 2: Start to Tilt to make the sides of the Clothesline Bowl
- Now that the base is established and large enough to tilt, begin to gently tilt the base, so that the upcoming line of cording is sewn at a bit of an angle, you’ll feel what I mean as you sew. Depending on your machine, you’ll be able to tilt the base of the bowl about 30-45 degrees.
- Keep the angle as you sew, and keep your eye on the center mark of your foot. When you get in a rhythm, you’ll be able to go faster.
- Note that the foot is always fully supported by the cording- so it’s level the whole time.
- I made my bowl about 7″ high. I compared it to another bowl that I’d used for proofing.
Step 3: Finish the Clothesline Bowl
- When your bowl is large enough, you can finish it by cutting the clothesline, leaving about 7″ of length, and tucking the raw edge into the space between your last two rows, then zig zagg densely over the loop. Now you have a little hanging loop.
Step 4: Decorative the Inside of Your Clothesline Bowl (optional)
- To decorate the bowl, draw a pattern or create marking on the inside of the bowl with a graphite pencil. I marked the points of the circular pattern I intended to make, and let myself create the curves as I went. I would get too intricate here.
- If you have a double-cording foot, here is where it comes in handy! You will be sewing over one cord- so your foot will not be as supported as when you constructed the basket. BE CAREFUL HERE- test and see if your machine can handle this!
- Place the double cording foot on your machine and move the needle to the left. Set your machine for a straight stitch at a 3-3.5mm length.
- Place the cording under your foot and begin to sew to trace your pattern. Go slow.
- If you don’t have a double cording foot, you can use your all purpose foot. Place the needle in the center, and try to make sure the foot is level as you sew!
Step 5: Make Bread with Your Clothesline Bowl
- When you get to the part of your sourdough recipe where you do the final proof, get out your bread bowl and put it on a plate.
- Flour the ever-loving-%&*$ out of your bowl and pour in your dough.
- Let rise.
- Follow your recipe instructions for turning out the dough (mine had you preheat a dutch oven and whatnot)
- If you turn out your dough and it sticks to the bread bowl a bit, don’t be alarmed. Just gently disengage it from the bowl using floured fingers. You can sort of turn the bowl inside-out to do this (neat)
- The loaf I photographed for this post stuck more than I would have liked, and I still got awesome design lines!
- Bake and enjoy!!!!
Step 6: How to Care for Your Clothesline Bowl
- After I turn out my dough, I put my clothesline bowl in the laundry hamper that holds my kitchen towels and napkins.
- Then I launder in my washing machine and put it in my dryer!
- I think I’m going to put a loop near the base on the outside, so I can hang it on the wall in my kitchen for display!
Show Me Your Bowls and Your Loaves!
If you’ve made a sourdough loaf, I wanna see it! Happy sewing and baking!