Becoming a Bag Maker – Inside and Out

Bags. Say hello to my nemesis.

When I first resumed sewing after a very long (20 years plus) hiatus I thought I would start with bags.  They seemed so simple, much simpler than say a fitted blouse or a nice pair of pants.  And, oooooo, all those pretty bag patterns by so many pattern designers, many free and very accessible, and gobs and gobs of other pretty reasonable priced bag patterns seemed to make bags the perfect (re)starting place.

Well I was wrong.

Right off the bat I broke what I consider a cardinal rule in sewing, start small and easy and work your way up (although, in my defense, I had not yet learn that little gem of truth).  I went down to the local quilt shop where my neighbor worked and picked out a pretty Lazy Girl tote bag pattern. At the time we owned and showed horses and I had purchased some Robert Kaufman Eventing fabric, so armed with a tote bag pattern – check, expensive quilting cotton – check, enthusiasm – check, a hour or two – check, I was going to whip that puppy out in no time and end up with a glorious handmade tote that was so amazing, so outstanding, so gorgeous and so… insert your favorite adjective here,  complete strangers would be stopping me to comment.

I was sure I would get repeated requests to make them for others, I was sure someone would want to purchase my homemade tote right off my arm.

Well. No.

2 hours turned in to days and culminated with me gathering up all my supplies, my sewing machine and my partially completed tote and traipsing to my neighbor’s house so she could bail me out of my mess. Bags were hard. Totes were hard. Lazy Girl totes were hard. Fabric had direction, oops, I forgot that, what was this fusible fleece stuff and medium weight interfacing and did I mention I had not inserted a zipper in over 20 years! Really, I didn’t have a clue, not only about some sewing basics but about totes and bags for sure. My neighbor spent an entire day helping me finish the tote and it turned out okay for a while. Eventually, I had problems with my seams and the handles got all funky and that piece of cardboard I put in the bottom didn’t stay in the bottom and you get the idea.

In the ensuing years I tried a couple of bag patterns from various books including this one, Big City Bags.

I had quickly come to grips with where my bag sewing skills actually were, read that…beginner, and looked for the simplest patterns possible. My bags and totes still turned out like poop.  The linings were always saggy, my seams gave out, oh and topstitching…we aren’t even going to go there. Poop. I went back even further and found easy, easy, easy pouch patterns and make up bags and gradually I was able to sew something that was acceptable.  It has been slow going.

The weird thing to me is how can I be a reasonable seamstress but not be able to sew a simple bag? I don’t get it. Am I the only one?  I don’t know. I am a member of several groups on facebook, three that are devoted to bags only, and the ones that come across there are astonishing! Many of them look like perfection.  I mean their topstitching is straight! You could bounce a coin off some of their linings. They are the most beautiful color combinations and sewn with difficult fabrics such as vinyls and leathers. Seriously???

Time to up my game in the bag making department.  I mean, if one can sew clothing, they ought to be able to make a decent bag shouldn’t they? I had a shining moment late last spring when I made a backpack for my daughter to take on an extended summer trip. It took me over 25 hours to complete but it turned out pretty good and has held up okay. I am giving myself some slack on this one because she regularly puts over 15 pounds of books in the backpack. She actually broke a nylon loop on the top of the bag due to the heaviness. Broke nylon. That is not supposed to happen. But since the backpack I have attempted some other easier bags and guess what? Bad. That’s what. Just bad.

But I have refused to give up.

Since January of this year I have been messing around with some bag patterns (some kind of, sort of intermediate level) and progressing.  And, this past month I volunteered to test a couple of future releases. A cross body bag for So Sew Easy due out mid April
crossbody - Copy

and the Ansel Camera Bag for Sara Lawson due out the second week of May.

I took time to completely prepare myself for sewing them. I assembled all my carefully chosen fabrics, my interfacing, notions, bag hardware, and any supplies needed. I told myself over and over, DO NOT RUSH, it is okay if you only get one seam done as long as it is superb. It took me some time to get them done but they are probably the best bags I have ever made. Inside and out! See my purrrty insides.
crossbodyinside2 crossbodyinside


They aren’t saggy! My seams are tight. My topstitching pretty darn good. And my fabrics, they actually look good as bags. (This little fact is pretty huge for me as I have been terrible at picking out bag fabric.)

After this past month I think there may be hope for me as a bag maker! A few weeks ago I signed up to do a tote swap which I found pretty intimidating when thinking about my bags of the past. But armed with my recent successes and one Lazy Girl Designs tote pattern I think my swap partner will get a decent bag.

P.S. Would you like to join us at a new fb page? Sew-a-longs and Sewing Contest is a fun group of sewists who post about SAL’s, their progress or loosely come together to sew a similar item. In April, a few of us will be sewing wrap dresses.

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