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

Speedy Patchwork and a Pre-Wash Surprise!

Well! This was a bit of a surprise! To allow the fibres to shrink before cutting and piecing I pre-washed a piece of white cotton from IKEA I wasn’t expecting the colour to change! I mean it’s white, there’s no dye to bleed!

Left: Before washing and Right: After washing

My husband knows a thing or two about this and says its the OBA (Optical Brightening Agent) in the detergent and demonstrated it’s effect with a UV light 🙂

Left: Before washing and Right: After washing

I generally wash my quilting cottons before cutting and piecing. I know there are good arguments on both sides of the pre-wash vs. don’t wash debate. I just feel more comfortable knowing excess dye has been washed out of deep colours and the cotton fibres have shrunk before I start sewing. Of course there are exceptions to most rules and I’m willing to be pragmatic on this issue. Fabrics in packs of pre-cut strips and squares can’t be washed without fraying and becoming distorted. If I’m using pre-cut strips or squares I don’t wash the background fabrics I’ll be piecing with them – they can all shrink together when the finished quilt is washed.  And scrap quilts do end up being a mix of pre-washed fabrics and off-cuts from unwashed pre-cuts. So, in principle, I pre-wash but there are plenty of exceptions 😀

Back to sewing 🙂 I decided to take out the dark solid from the blocks I made over the weekend. I don’t think it was the dark colour value bothering me, it was much more that the chunk of solid colour in amongst the prints and lighter solids kept drawing my eye – becoming less a place to rest the eye and more of a distraction.

Looking at a B&W image of the completed quilt top I’m satisfied there is a fair range of value without the dark solid.

 

Having completed this quilt top my attention went straight back to the remaining fat quarters.

I decided on another simple block pattern and found a really helpful strip piecing technique for making the blocks in Allison Harris’ book, ‘Growing Up Modern’. It was easy to adapt her width-of-fabric instructions to my fat quarters and non-standard width IKEA cotton. I am enjoying giving my sewing machine a pedal-to-the-metal workout as we race through all the long seams together 🙂

Ready for some high-speed strip-piecing action!

I haven’t decided on a layout for this quilt but as there are only four prints I think it may be easier to keep them in an orderly fashion rather than try to make a ‘random’ distribution. Here are the blocks I’ve made so far:

Linking with Jennifer for Wednesday Wait Loss – a place to encourage one-another to keep going with our WIPs. Also linking with Susan for Midweek Makers – she’s found a lot of green quilts to get in the spirit of St Patrick’s Day. With all this speedy strip piecing it seems appropriate to link with Denise for Put your foot down Thursday 🙂

Lastly a heads up that this coming Saturday, 20th March, is International Quilting Day 🙂 Will you be doing anything special to mark the day?

Allison

Flitting From Project to Project Before Lock Down

Yep! Here in England we are just a few hours away from the second lock down of the year. This was announced on Sunday so there’s been a fair bit of last minute purchasing going on before all but essential shops close for four weeks. Of course, online shopping and click & collect services will continue so really there’s no need to rush around in a panic…

I’m trying to keep common sense thinking to the fore but often failing. I’m very grateful that this morning happened to be the fortnightly women’s Bible study held by our Church (on Zoom, of course). It’s good to have the grounding of Biblical truths to dwell on and learn from in these times when it’s too easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the moment forgetting this is all happening in just a tiny fragment of eternity.

I have to admit my thought processes have been particularly scatty over the past few days. I’ve not been able to settle to sewing, yet in the wee small hours last night I found myself planning another patchwork project! At least figuring quilt math in the dark and quiet got me back to sleep in double quick time! This morning I went into my sewing room all set to work on this new project (like I need another project!) but got distracted straight away by the piles of fabric scraps left on the cutting table…

Well! That got me back to sewing anyways.

Before the Zoom meeting I got those stray scraps stitched together and added them to the partially finished Scrap Vortex blocks. My cutting table now looks more orderly and my design wall more colourful. For this week that counts as a result!

The project I lay awake planning revolves around a pack of eight fat quarters I bought online in the last lock down. I had an idea for them then which is no longer floating my boat.

Melange ‘Misty Morning’ fat quarters on a grey background (I’ve tried to tone down the blue cast but the grey is still looking too blue/grey in this photo)

In fact I wonder why I so often fall for the temptation of pre-cut fabric packs? I always dither about how to use such packs to best effect, so they tend to stifle my creativity rather than inspire BUT a curated collection of fabrics always looks so attractive on a shelf 😀 Is it just me or do you notice in photos of other crafters sewing rooms stacks of beautifully arranged fabric bundles glowing brightly among perfectly colour-matched notions and curios? To quote Queen, ‘Is this real life? Or just a fantasy?’ 

Oh! My goodness! My thoughts are flying around like I’m experiencing a prolonged caffeine rush! I will bring this stream of consciousness nonsense to a close very soon I promise! I feel so sad for young people who have had to postpone wedding dates, cancel much needed holidays or are struggling to find employment. For me lock down doesn’t bring many disappointments: the main one is not being able to have direct contact with my parents and other family members (no indoor mixing of households permitted 🙁 ); the final class of the Beginners Course has had to be postponed, I feel for the students who are so close to completing their first quilts and will now have to wait; I was enjoying the social aspects and sense of purpose working a few hours each week in Purple Stitches provided, hopefully that will recommence in December or the New Year.

On a final thought-flit: I would love to be producing more patchwork patterns. I have almost as many pattern UFOs as quilt UFOs. To write patterns more efficiently (I could hardly be less efficient!) I really need to grapple with Adobe Illustrator rather than getting frustrated with the limitations of Microsoft Word. Hum! Maybe it will do my flutter-by mind good to apply it’s limited capabilities to learning new software? Or maybe I’ll just end up eating a lot of chocolate and throwing my laptop out of the window 😀

Anyone else going a bit loopy this week?

Linking with Susan for Midweek Makers.

Allison

Quilting Diamonds Across Dashing Stars

Me and Julie the Juki are busy stitching straight lines across the Dashing Stars quilt. I’ve used the walking foot guide bar to keep the quilting lines spaced 2½” apart. The piecing design is full of straight lines that emphasise a horizontal & vertical grid. I decided to mix it up a bit by introducing quilting lines at an angle of 60° to create a diamond grid.

The pink arrow is pointing to the 60 degree line on the ruler. The line is positioned over a horizontal seam. The Hera marker is next to the edge of the ruler which lies where the quilting stitches will run.

To ‘draw’ the initial 60° line I matched up the marking on a ruler with a horizontal seam on the patchwork. I used a Hera Marker along the edge of the ruler to create an impression on the fabric right across the quilt before laying down a strip of masking tape to use as my guide.

I stitched along the edge of the tape, removed it and then repeated the marking process with a line running all the way across the quilt in the opposite diagonal direction. I chose to mark these initial two lines to intersect at the very centre of the quilt top. Next I set up the walking foot guide with a 2½” gap between the guide and the machine needle.

Stitching with the guide bar is quick and has the advantage that no quilting lines need to be marked on the fabric. However, I have been checking every three or four rows of stitching to make sure my lines haven’t become bowed or moved away from the 60° angle. It’s simple enough to straighten things out by using the ruler, Hera Marker and masking tape to get the next line back on track.

I’m using 50wt Aurifil 2600 thread and have increased the machine stitch length to around 2.5 from the usual piecing length of about 1.8.

I hope you have an opportunity to be a Midweek Maker. Click over to Susan’s blog, Quilt Fabrication, to find out what she and other makers are up to this week.

Allison

PS. I think the comments box on this page may be broken – apologies if you have attempted to leave comments to previous posts and been unsuccessful or wondered why I haven’t replied. I will endeavour to get any problems fixed.