Making a Bag: How Hard Can It Be?

I invite you to join me on a bag making adventure 🙂 This is a self imposed challenge to learn new skills and maybe, maybe add bag making to my repotoire of workshops. I will endeavour to share with you what I learn as I follow the Pelican Tote pattern from Bagstock Designs. I’ve also be posting on Instagram @allisonreid.neweveverymorning using the hashtag #bagmaking🤔

In the past I have made lined tote bags and one or two zippered pouches but have always shied away from making a bag with zippered  pockets or structured interfacing. The Pelican Tote has both and is labelled a beginner level project. I’ll certainly be putting that to the test 😀

Without further ado, here is what I’ve been learning (skip to the end of the post to find links to online bag making tutorials and book recommendations):

Day 1: Cutting out the fabric pieces and applying fusible interfacing.

  • I followed the pattern requirements, purchasing woven iron-on interfacing, Pelon S-F 101. I fused the interfacing to the fabrics before cutting out the shapes using the templates. The woven interfacing gives quilting cottons a lovely feel and weight – they still move and drape like cotton but don’t crumple, they look smooth and feel soft. (Of course, woven interfacing is more expensive than standard interfacing!).
  • I’m amazed by how much fabric I used! Definitely a surprise. The bag pieces took just about all of the 1¼yds of fabric and all of the 2m of 20″ wide interfacing. Homemade bags, not cheap! Who’d have thought it?

Day 2: Making a zippered external pocket.

  • I followed the pattern instructions, applying some of the tips and techniques I remembered from my bag making research – see links at the end of this post.
  • I struggled to use the zipper foot correctly. I even switched to the standard foot a couple of times. My seam ripper came in handy as my top stitching failed to make the grade! In the end I decided to compromise so my topstitching is about 3/8ths from the seam edge rather than the 1/8th prescribed by the pattern but at least it’s reasonably straight.
I really struggled using a zipper foot on a straight stitch machine! I couldn’t figure out which side I should have the needle!
  • Longer stitch length is required for neat topstitching – how many times did I forget to adjust the stitch length on my machine? *sigh*
  • Matching up fabric prints above and below the zipper is tricky! More unpicking!
I got quite a sense of achievement when the external pocket was finally finished!

Day 3: Making an internal pocket and sewing in foam interfacing.

  • I watched a tutorial by Professor Pincushion to pick up a few extra tips about constructing the internal pocket; stitch across ends of zipper to keep it lying straight was one of the tips I applied. I also watched this quick tutorial by So Sew Easy – she used double-sided ‘wonder tape’ rather than pins to position the zip as does Lisa Lam in her Craftsy Class (see link below). I couldn’t get hold of the tape and someone said it can gum-up machine needles (have you experienced this?) so I fiddled about using my Sewline Glue Pen. The glue wasn’t really strong enough to hold the zipper in place but in the end I managed to stitch the zipper into the letter-box like gap.

  • After the zipper trials stitching the foam interlining to the front and back outer panels was an absolute breeze! I used a long basting stitch. Too late I picked up a tip to smooth out and pin the fabric to the interlining before basting to make sure the fabric didn’t shift or pucker. I didn’t have any real issues with this but I could create a slight bubble of fabric against the basting stitches by sweeping my hands across the fabric surface.

Day 4: Making handles, tabs for magnetic clasps and stitching the bag sides together.

  • I followed the pattern to make fabric shoulder straps. I’d run out of woven interlining so cut strips of Bamboo wadding to give the handles a little body.
  • The instructions for making the tabs were straightforward to follow. I used little pieces of the foam interlining as the ‘extra’ layer to add strength and protect the fabric from the metal clasp. 😀 The magnet in the clasp was really strong – I had real trouble separating the two parts before making the tabs!
Tab basted in place to the top edge of the bag lining.
  • I stitched darts in the bottom corners of the bag exterior and lining pieces as per the pattern before stitching them together. The foam interfacing is really easy to stitch through. I remembered to lengthen the machine stitch to about 3 to help keep the thick layers moving under the machine foot. What I forgot to do was widen the lining seam from ½” to 3/8ths so the lining sits a little bit baggy in the bag – if you know what I mean?

Day 5: Turning right-sides out and top-stitching.

  • I followed the pattern which gives instruction for turning the bag right sides out through the bottom of the internal pocket. Of course, despite all the reminders, I forgot to open the zipper before stitching the lining and exterior bag together – what am I like? 😀 So I had to unpick a few inches of stitching to reach inside and open the zipper! Never mind it was mistake that’s quick to correct! It was quite an effort to push all those layers through the gap in the bottom of the pocket but not impossible. (Birthing a bag is one of my favourite things! Many, many years ago I did seriously consider training to be a midwife!). I was pleased to see that all the squishing and tugging didn’t crease the foam interlining.

  • Final touches included hand sewing the open bottom seam in the internal pocket and machine stitching around the top edge of the bag. Julie the Juki stitches through the thick seams with barely a stutter but top stitching around the rim of the bag was a bit awkward as Julie doesn’t have a free arm option. I found turning the bag inside out was the most comfortable way to have the right side of the bag in view as I stitched.

Hurrah! The bag looks like a bag! It’s a finish!

I’m already sorting through my stash to make another. I’ve downloaded the instructions to add a recessed zip next time around – keep adding on the skills 😉

Here are some handy resources for novice bag makers like myself:

If you are mystified by the types of zippers and their uses then I recommend this link: Information about zippers

I watched this ‘Tips for Using Zippers’ tutorial by the Crafty Gemini before zipping (ha!ha!) through this tutorial by Sew Sweetness to find handy tips re. fitting and top stitching zippers.

For an alternative to using a zipper foot and some other tips take a look at Amista Baker’s short tutorial.

I watched a tutorial by Debbie Shore demonstrating how to create a zippered dividing pocket in a tote bag. I like her relaxed but professional style of presentation.

I’ve also been delving into some courses on Craftsy. I took advantage of the offer to take out a one year subscription for $3. This gives access to all the courses but only for the duration of the subscription. A bargain – as long as I remember to cancel the direct debit instruction prior to the $79.99 being removed from my bank account next year!

  • Joan Hawley ‘Zip It Up: Easy Techniques for Zippered Bags‘.
  • Sara Lawson ‘Building Better Bags: Interfacing & Structure‘. This provides a comprehensive look at the different types of interfacings and linings, their uses and how to apply them. Sara demonstrations methods of attaching zippers when interfacings and linings are being used and gives clear tips showing how to use interfacings to strengthen bag fastenings. There’s also a lesson on finishing bags with bias binding and how to add piping. The course notes include a table comparing interfacings by manufacturer which is a great help when trying to select the right product for a project.
  • Lisa Lam ‘20 Essential Techniques for Better Bags‘. I haven’t finished this course yet, learning lots as I watch. I have Lisa’s book, ‘The Bag Making Bible’ and have been dipping in and out of it throughout the process of making the Pelican Tote.

And a final ‘link’ to Samantha Hussey’s book ‘The Complete Bag Making Masterclass’ which has been another handy resource.

I hope this record of my foray into bag making has provided some useful information or provided you with an opportunity for a knowing smile or two as you recall your first bag-making projects.

Linking with Susan for Midweek Makers .

Allison

My first Dresden Plate and another new ruler

Whaoo! I woke in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep. I crept down to my sewing room and set about cutting out the shapes to make my first ever Dresden Plate. Crazy, I know but it was on my mind when I went to bed… I used the Darlenne Zimmerman Easy Dresden ruler that I bought two years ago and which, until last night, I’d never lifted from it’s packaging. (I should explain here that I do have a bit of a quilt ruler habit – my ruler collection continues to grow – read on to discover more!).

Dresden Plate Segments and Ruler by Allison Reid

Read more