29 December, 2017

Simple Round Clothesline Bowl Tutorial aka Rope Bowls

 You will need some cotton clothesline. Some clothesline comes with a polyester core and some without. Your bowl will be sturdier with the poly core. There is also polyester cord aka paracord but it doesn't give the organic look regular old cotton clothesline does.
I used 3/8", 7/32" & 1/4" inch clothesline.

Your basic sewing machine with a zigzag stitch.

Size 14 sewing machine needle.

Neutral threads -whatever colors you want to use up.
This tutorial is just for a basic bowl. Any color comes from the thread.

2-5 bobbins filled with thread. This is actually a great time to use up those bobbins that are partially used up. Whenever your bobbin runs out, get up and stretch.

 I start coiling the rope on itself, utilizing four straight pins to hold my disc steady. The pins won't penetrate the poly core so just skim the pin thru on top.

I  clip a wee bit of the core out and smush the cotton fibers close. You can also utilize some glue/fraycheck to help.
 Wind until you get a 2 inch disc.

 To start a circular bowl, you'll need to wind your cord in a circle and stick some straight pins through from the side to secure. Then carefully start zigzagging so the stitch catches both coils.
At the beginning,  take two stitches, lift your presser foot, pivot, and sew another two stitches and repeat. At about 2 1/2" wide (see photo) you don't have to lift your presser foot so much and can start feeding it through on the curve.

I tried to sew over my pins at the beginning and ended up hitting one and breaking my needle. This is really the trickiest part of making the bowl. Keeping the bottom coils flat enough as you zig zag in stops and starts. Maybe pull your pin out enough as you pass and then stick it back in. The pins are only there for a few rounds.

My machine has a needle down button. The needle stays down while you pivot the disc.

My zigzag varies according to the diameter of the rope. You'll need a wider zig on wider cord. Mostly, I'm somewhere around 4.8 - 5.0 in width.
The zag is set around 4.0 - 5.0 length.

Some tutorials have you do a cross on the bottom disc with your zigzag stitches. They mostly don't show unless you are using up strong colors.

I tend to criss-cross the bottom with my zigzag until I feel it is secure. Moving pins in/out as they get in the way. Then as soon as I can see clearly, I start zigzagging around the circle joining two coils together with the zigzag stitch.

I also have my disc with the coil feeding off to the right towards me. If it goes to the left then you can stop and cut threads and flip it over to match the photos above.

Remove the pins at about 2.5". Or when you don't need them to help hold things steady.

The neutral threads don't show. If you can't sew a straight line, this simple project allows do-overs. Just sew again - right on top of your wayward stitches. They won't show, I promise.

When I first started making these bowls, I would occasionally wander in my stitching as I did the endless circles. Easy fix - just make sure thread in bobbin and spool is neutral colored like the clothesline. No one will notice.

For most bowls, I sew a flat disc until 6 inches. Then, I raise the whole bowl against the machine for several rotations. If you want steeper sides, smash that bowl against your machine. Easier sloping sides, use your left hand to gently lift as you sew.

 Sloping sides here. My hand is not lifting as I sew.

 Here is my hand gently lifting. straighter sides result. Straighter? Smush it against your sewing machine - up high.

 A close-up of my bottom - ha! not mine, the bowl's bottom. That first darker teal is where I broke the needle. The second is where I ran out of bobbin thread and started again. The thread tail got caught up in the stitching.

 Here's my wobbly stitching. Which no one has ever mentioned.
Run with it.

How to finish.

Well - you have to eventually. I liked a knot here so I sewed up to the knot as close as I could get and then back-stitched the end in place.

I've seen handles. Holes left purposely to make handles, etc.
You just sew to the place where you want a handle in place and run your zigzag so it doesn't catch the upper coil for 3 or 4 inches (5?). The handle will be a bit fuller than the previous coil so when you want to end the handle hole, you bring the outer coil down with enough give to create a visible hole. Move your zigzag stitch back so it catches both coils.  Continue sewing to the other side and repeat. It probably would be helpful to mark those places with a pin or wonder clip to keep handles at even intervals.

I have a pinterest board with several finishes I liked (K8hobbies under Rope Bowls). Some people hide the end join with a piece of leather riveted on. I tend to just make knots.

At times I hand-stitch my coils or knots down. Have fun and let your creativity loose.

The cotton clothesline does create some lint fluff. Clean out your bobbin case after you make a few.

Fabric-wrapped bowls. Pain in the patuttie. My tip? Skip the long strips. Go with 1.25" wide strips by 3 inches long. Easier to control until you've made at least one. Put a strip here and there. Use some scraps.

Notes on time and other questions:

My first bowl took a solid hour - maybe 1 1/4 hours to make the first one. The smaller one took 15 minutes.

 I had been thinking about it for months. I knew I did NOT want to try the fabric wrapped version. Other than securing the bottom and angling the bowl 'plate' UP at 6". it was very organic. Look again at my Pinterest board. I added some ideas. Odd # stripes is from landscaping and window dressing advice: group in 3's and/or 5's.

You can only sew until your bobbin runs out. I used five on the the large bowl, most of two on the small bowl.

The body hurt is all at the beginning where you are hunched over trying to get the zigzag to catch both coils. When you angle the bowl up and start the shaping, then you can consciously sit tall in your sewing chair, relax, and find your sewing rhythm. My clear foot has two red dots on it on either side of the center 'opening' (toes). I try to eyeball the dots to guide me. Staring at the neutral rope will hypnotize you.

Because of the bobbin changes, it's easy to take breaks. The designing is very organic.

Rope tips;

1. I liked the 7/32" wide cotton clothesline to begin with. The 3/8 (6/32) was a tad more fiddly. It was a different brand as well.

2. In my little town, I have four stores that sell cotton clothesline. Varying in price, thickness, and strength. Buying for me and a few 'skeins' for friend in Japan has emptied the town. Yes, I could buy online. For cheaper. But I feel clothesline is one of those staples that if we buy online, we help close another brick & mortar store. {opinionated}  I made four bowls out of what I bought. I'll wait until someone re-stocks to have another go at it.

3. A wide zigzag of 4.0 to 5.0 is good for catching both cords as you sew the bowl together. Again, the larger 7/32 cording was a great starter.

4. Your white or off-white thread disappears into the clothesline weave. If you wobble off your join line, go back and have another go at it.

5. I have a Pinterest board to help focus my 'organic' rope sewing.

6. While out researching my town, I was tempted by some turquoise para-cord but -- I don't like the feel of the polyester stuff and I can't imagine having a para-cord bowl sitting on my counter unless a grandchild made it and I had to. Neutral, organic, cotton clothesline gave me the feel I was after.

7. Have fun. Use up some thread spools.

For more inspirational photos, you can search my sidebar on the full sized web page for "Clothesline", "Rope" and "Bowls".
(Apparently I am not good at tagging projects consistently.)


  1. Thank you for the tutorial. I'm definitely going to give it a go. My attempts to date haven't been very successful!

  2. Thanks for the tips. I’m moving my sewing stuff at the moment but as soon as I get sorted I’ll have another go! Xx

  3. I enjoyed your tutorial even though not being a seamstress I will probably never sew one. I have made many baskets, however. I love baskets. Yours too. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

      *H*A*P*P*Y* *N*E*W* *Y*E*A*R*!*

  4. Happy New Year! Been following your adventures on instagram! Best wishes to you and your family this year!

  5. Great tutorial - I have all the supplies - I just need to sit down and try it out!

  6. Thank you so very much for these tips! I can't wait to have a go on making my own.

  7. One day I'm going to make a rope basket, and when I do, I'll be using this tutorial. Thanks for sharing, Kathy. Love you to add it to the TMW link parties. Pinning.

  8. Great tutorial, I'm here from Threading My Way, I will definitely try your method!

  9. I've eyed fabric bowls for years. I wonder if it's time to give it a shot!

  10. Any harm to your sewing machine? Im a quilter and don't want to cause problems with my machine

  11. September 2019 UPDATE: I've graduated to using a piece of cork or leather to hide the end. I also like to add a Monkey's Fist knot to dangle.

    I use whatever needle I have in the machine, which is typically a microtex needle.

    Do take time to clean out the lint post bowl-making and retire your needle.

    In this short time, I am down to one store in my town stocking clothesline. Sad. Please be thoughtful about buying everyday staples in your town. The idea of losing access to local stores fills me with dread. Probably not a problem if you live in a big city next to an airport and rail yards and freeways to truck in your packages. But for those of us who live in rural or semi-rural places, package transportation is difficult on the planet using alarming amounts of fossil fuels just so you don't need to leave your house. Okay - rant over.

    And I've never had a problem with my machine making these bowls. They are a quick and easy gift anyone can make. Give handmade. Besides, I love the creativity freedom.

  12. Love this. It wasn't hard to do for me at all. I was surprised. I was so thrilled how craft show good it turned out! My daughter loved the one I gave her. And she's never excited about my crafts I give her. Thank you! Also.. fabric bowls not that bad. Just wrap while watching tv. Mine turned out pretty good!

  13. I started my first fabric bowl and already I'm having problems. My machine is skipping zigzag stitches and many times won't pick up the bobbin thread so I just get a straight stitch. I'm using a 100/16 jeans needle and 40 wt poly thread. Any suggestions?

    1. I would ditch the fabric for your first bowl. Embrace natural clothesline. I use either a size 12/14 needle - whatever's in the machine. Usually a microtex needle. I'm not sure what weight thread - Guterman/Coats are typical of my domestic spools. Are you able to zigzag on flat fabric?

  14. I've made probably a hundred of these bowls in all different sizes, with fabric, but when you're getting skipped stitches, etc, it usually means your needle needs to be changed. I plan to make more bowls very soon (I still have lots of rope) as I like the organic look of just rope and thread - with maybe scraps of fabric sewn in here and there. The more bowls you make, the better you become at it. It's definitely learning a new technique ...
    I also discovered that very often the bowl turns out to be very different than what I had planned initially! But that's o.k. with me. The bowl becomes what it wants to be.

  15. Wonderful tutorial for beginners and also tips for those who have previously made the bowls! Thanks

  16. After watching SEVERAL tutorials, I have to say I absolutely LOVED yours!

    I loved your tone and your approach. Getting to hear your world view (about buying clothesline, locally, the impact on shipping, etc) intermingled made YOU a real person on the other side of the tutorial, which made it all the more enjoyable to read.

    Now I'm over to Pinterest to see what you've put up, there.

    Thank you, and Happy 2023!


  17. Thank you your tutorial. I love making these bowls. I’ve also made a purse and hot plates/trivets.


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