Bag Making Made Easy – Tips and Tricks for the New Bag Maker

If you are just beginning your sewing craft, or have been sewing clothes, crafts and other projects but want to learn to sew bags, this article is for you. Bag making is different. Like quilting, it is in a category on its own. There is a different set of problems and issues; you need a few special notions and tools; lots of sewing machine needles; some basic hand stitching skills which can be perfected with practice; and a foundational knowledge of fusibles and stabilizers (we have a cheat sheet for that!). There are also lots and lots of websites and bag making sites with resources for just about anything related to bag making on earth.

On the pro side: it is fabulously rewarding, genuinely fun, a great tool for income potential (craft markets, direct sales, Instagram orders, etc.) and high end gift-giving. It is also a great way to improve your sewing skills from “meh” to “WOWSA!” There are so many ways to personalize bags that bag makers now use the term “pattern hack” to describe this personalization.

What is pattern hacking?

Using a pattern and turning it into something completely different to suit your personal style. Simply put, this means, taking a simple pattern and creating a bag that looks like you purchased it from a high end bag shop for $2,000. You really can learn to do this with the right techniques.

Bag making, my friends, is seriously fun sewing business.

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First, there are various names of bags—here are a few:
* Handbag
* Bag
* Purse
* Tote

Then, there are different styles of bags—to name a few:
~ Baguette
~ Tote
~ Evening
~ Crossbody
~ Weekender
~ Drawstring
~ Wallet
~ Hobo
~ Clutch
~ Satchel
~ Shoulder
~ Cosmetic
~ Backpack
~ Saddlebag
~ Doctor’s Bag

Hefty Hobo Bag

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Note: There can be many variations of a style of bag. For instance, a hobo bag can have many of the same “hobo” characteristics, but look completely different. A hobo bag generally is a classic styled bag with a slouchy, but shaped appearance, and tends to have depth room, or more room from top to bottom (as opposed to width room).
Now, let’s look at the anatomical structure, or parts, of a basic bag:
• Handles, straps
• Pockets
• Closure
• Bottom
• Lining
• Exterior
• Guts
• Hardware (includes feet, D-rings, O-Rings, swivel clips, etc.—anything metal, although there are some plastic “hardware”)
• Connectors
• Accessories

Handles/Straps

There are various types of handles and straps. The type of handles/straps you choose will depend upon what type of bag you will carry, the distance and type of use of the bag and the weight and contents of the bag. A lot of information, yes. But the following will simplify all of this.

Arm Strap—an arm strap is simply a short strap for a daily use handbag with normal handbag contents. The arm strap is usually 1 or 2 straps, and tend(s) to be shorter in length, and wider for a more comfortable carry.

Wrist strap—a wrist strap is typically used for wallets, wristlet bags, and other smaller bags.

Shoulder strap—the shoulder strap is typically one strap, but can be two. Longer in length than the arm strap, and used either for carrying on one shoulder, or a longer and wider version for carrying across the shoulder (shoulder to hip) for larger, heavier bags, or smaller “crossbody” styled bags.

Waist strap—generally used for holster-type bags (sometimes includes a combination of waist and thigh strap).

Note: A bag can have more than one style of strap. It is not uncommon for modern bags to have an armstrap, along with a detachable shoulder strap.

Pockets

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There are so many fun types of pockets in handbags. Pockets are just as much fun to sew as they are to use.

Zippered—the zippered pocket can be an embedded pocket (where the zipper is located either on the exterior or the interior of the bag), a hanging pocket (i.e. beach bag), a floating yet connected compartment (such as a laptop bag), or a small and attached “kangaroo pouch” (for easy access to cosmetics, keys, etc.) which is attached to the inside of a handbag or tote bag.

Pleated—pleated pockets, in a vast array of designs, are a great way to store bulky items (like large smart phones and other electronic devices; baby bottles in diaper bags, etc.) without consuming room inside the bag when the pockets are not in use. Pleated pockets are pretty and super useful. There are many types of pleats.

Open (slip)—a simple and classic form, used for pads of paper, pens, and other flat objects.

Hanging—a hanging pocket is one found mostly in unlined leather bags or beach bags, and can either be zippered or open. Hanging pockets are simple to sew and can be substituted for other types of bags for the beginner bag maker.

Closure(s)

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Bag closures are important. Or not. Basically, you can have a closure, or not have a closure (and chose an open tote or bag with no closure).

When we talk about “closure” in bag construction, we are usually referring to the main compartment of the bag. Some of the types of closures you will see are: zipper (nylon or metal); magnetic snap (attached to the bag lining or attached to a connector tab); tie (fabric or leather); twist lock or click/tongue lock; pin clasp; and toggle—to name a few. Closures are a fun way to add your own personality to your bag.

Bag Bottom

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Depending upon the way a bag is constructed, the bag bottom can either have a gusset, a panel, or can be part of the main compartment. When constructing the bag bottom, think about how and where you will be “parking” your bag…do you normally place your bag on a dirty floor at school? On a nice plush carpet at the office? On a concrete walkway at your child’s soccer practice three times a week? These considerations will determine whether you will want to add bag feet, use leather or vinyl in place of cotton fabrics (for better wear and the ability to wipe clean), etc. These choices will also determine the life of the bag. (When you invest time and resources into sewing a bag, you want it to last many years.)

Lining

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The lining of your bag is basically the fabric on the inside of your bag. Some bags are lined while others are not. Some leather bags are not lined because they can be sewn with an industrial leather sewing machine. Due to the thickness involved, this unlined quality provides a classic and unique beauty. An unlined bag can still have attached pockets! A bag’s seams can also be serged or finished with biased tape for a finished look. It is all about personal choice.

Exterior

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The exterior of the bag is the outside portion of the bag. The exterior can have all kinds of pockets, cute zipper pulls attached to zipper tabs, and tassels attached to bag hardware. The exterior of the bag should always be well sewn and be constructed to withstand its intended use. It is a good idea to Scotchguard your bag (if using cotton fabrics) or wax your bag (if using leather) to waterproof it. Remember that your bag has “guts”; if the “guts” get wet, it may take a long time to dry, and may ruin your bag.

Bags costs a lot of time and resources. Invest just a little more into your bag to get the longevity from the time and talent you have already invested.

Guts (Stabilizers)

Foam stabililizer

The guts of a bag is the foundation of its support system. A better explanation of this would be the “skeletal system” of the bag—or the bones. Without the proper kinds of stablizers, your bag would basically be a pile of fabric. Information sheets about stabilizers can be downloaded from the http://www.pellonprojects.com/ website where you can find lots of useful information about stabilizers. Always purchase the best stabilizer(s) you can afford so that you will have the best finished project. Oddly, the stabilizer is going to be your best ally for a professionally finished bag.

Different bag designers prefer different stablizers for different reasons. Always use the suggested stabilizers listed in the pattern instructions until you become familiar with bag making. Once you become moderately familiar with bag making, begin experimenting with various stabilizers using the Pellon charts to get the outcome that you desire. Also experiment with small projects and scraps of stabilizers.

There are two types of stablizers: fusible and sew in (non-fusible). Some fusibles are only fusible on one side. When using fusible stabilizers, make sure to press the glue side of the stabilizer to the WRONG side of your fabric, or you will get a sticky mess on your iron. (If this happens, use iron cleaner or a dryer sheet to remove the glue from your iron.)

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In conclusion, bag making is a practice art. Begin with free patterns and cheap fabric. Gain experience and confidence. Ask questions. Watch videos. Have fun.

Angie Hebert, Admin Team
Bag Maker and Life Long Sewing Student

Photos courtesy of Admin Team, Stacy @ stylinstacy.com

Jan-April 2017 – New Pattern Releases

Glenwillow Saddle Bag

by Hold It Right There Bags

A curvy structured bag with a flap closure and cross body strap, the Glenwillow Saddle Bag features a roomy interior with pockets, inside and out. The rounded flap closes with either a press lock or twist lock. Its classic silhouette and piping accent lends itself to many fabric options. The outside zipper on the back slip pocket keeps your phone and essentials in easy reach. Inside is a second zippered pocket and slip pocket. The 1” crossbody strap can be customized to your preferred length.

Glenwillow Dimensions:  8″ Height x 11 ½” Width x 3 ½” Depth

The Glenwillow can be purchased on Craftsy or Etsy.


Nia Baggy Pants

by Toto Studio

Nia baggy pants sewing pattern was inspired by a favorite pair of my daughter’s pants. I turned them into pattern and graded them up so I can make more as my daughter grows up. The pants feature two oversize pockets. The kids can store their favorite objects in them. They are designed to be capris but the pattern has a full-length option if Capri-length is not what you are looking for. They are super comfortable and fun to wear. They are great for beginners and up.
Nia Baggy Pants are available in sizes 2 to 6

Purchase Nia Baggy Pants on Etsy.


Ammu Handy Card Pouch

by Sumathi Gowthaman
The Ammu Handy Card Pouch is fast and easy to sew. You can make a bunch of these in very little time and that too with less money. Even a scrap fabric is sufficient to make this pouch. This is a perfect beginner tutorial as it is very easy to follow. The pattern includes comprehensive instructions with photos along the way. Follow the instructions carefully and you will get a great result.

Juju Card Holder

by Sumathi Gowthaman
The Juju Card Holder has two versions. Do you want to make a credit card case / business card holder/playing card pouch??? Well, now you can make it easily with this pattern which includes step by step photo instructions. This card holder is suitable for men, women and children. It will carry about 104 business cards/credit cards/playing cards. It has one slip pocket inside which can be used for saving the game points when use it as a playing card pouch and in other cases you can keep your phone in that pocket. You can even use scrap pieces of fabric to make this holder.

Pattu Carry Cool Bottle Holder

by Sumathi Gowthaman
The Pattu Carry Cool-Bottle Holder for the Tetra Pack is a cute cover and serves in style.  It can be stored in refrigerator.  Your little ones can help you to carry on picnic days.  Instructions are included for different size tetra packs.  This is an easy pattern with lots of photo instructions.  It can be used by anyone right from kids to elders.  It’s ideal for gifting purpose.
FINISHED MEASUREMENTS 7.5” tall, 3.5” wide at bottom

BOTM May 2017- Christine

Welcome to May and Bag Month!  Our blog of the month feature is a perfect fit for Bag Month because Christine is an avid bag maker!  Christine is an Arizonan & Oregonian. Cross stitcher, quilter, bag maker at Stitch ALL The Things.  Check out her website to see all of the lovely bags, quilts, and stitching projects she creates!

Hi! I’m Christine. I’m married to one amazing guy and I am a stay at home mom. My oldest daughter graduated high school in 2014, and I have a son and daughter currently in their Junior and Sophomore years of high school, respectively. I live in sunny Arizona for most of the year, but while the kids visit with their dad during the summer, my husband and I spend our summers in Oregon near his family. I’m blessed to be able to escape a bit of the summer heat. We tend to come back to Arizona at the hottest time of the year, as school starts in August. So we don’t escape the bake-you-where-you-stand heat completely.

 

I’ve been exposed to sewing my whole life. My mom was always sewing us clothes for school and church, so I was able to watch her create garments a lot of the time. I wasn’t really interested in sewing myself, other than getting a wild hair when my kids were very young and making a set of fully lined, Daisy Kingdom Christmas dresses, complete with sewn in tulle slips and bolero jackets with piping. I borrowed my mom’s sewing machine and serger, meticulously read the instructions, created the dresses and then blew my Mom away with the finished product. Admittedly, I was pretty blown away myself. I made myself a matching dress too (minus the tulle slip and bolero jacket), but can’t find a picture of that one. I was lucky to find a picture of the girls posing for a Christmas picture with their grandma while wearing their dresses

Making those dresses cured me of a desire to sew for quite a few years. It wasn’t until my oldest daughter was two years from graduating high school that I became interested once again. It started with an idea to make a quilt for her that had inspirational quotes embroidered on various blocks within the quilt. I knew I needed to make a test quilt first, and that was the beginning of my love affair with quilting. At the same time I embroidered some fabric to make a tote bag for my sister-in-law’s birthday. And that, my friends, was the beginning of my obsession with bag-making.

I was asked to be a pattern tester by Sara Lawson of Sew Sweetness for her Tudor Bag. That was my first foray into zippers, pockets, and working with vinyl. I used some Alexander Henry Skulls and Roses Tattoo fabric, and immediately fell head over heels for the finished bag. I made it in 2013, and it’s still my main purse to this day. The straps are getting a bit worn, so I know I’ll need to make a new handbag for myself soon.

Since then, I’ve made a few bags, but I tend to give them as gifts. One of my favorites was The Epiphany Bag by Chris W that I made for my mom’s 60th birthday. She is a violinist in the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra, so I chose a fabric with instruments on it. I also made a charm fob to hang from her bag. This was probably the most challenging bag pattern I have made so far. This pattern had so many great techniques, and one of them changed the way I made zippered pockets. I also use the interior pocket panel from this bag on every other bag I’ve made since then.

Another bag pattern that I love is the Hippo Hobo Bag from Emkie Designs. This was such a fun bag to make that I made two of these, one for my best friend and one for her mom. I will end up making myself one too.

My intentions with bag making were to open an Etsy shop and sell handbags from these patterns. I had several other patterns I wanted to make before deciding which ones to sell, but I became sidetracked. In January I gifted a bag to an online friend who was just diagnosed with cancer. It was a Patterns By Annie Project Bag I had made, using fabrics I knew she would like. She showed that bag on a YouTube video to her fellow cross stitchers. That one video led to many requests for more Project Bags. I then sought and received permission from the designer, Annie Unrein, to make and sell these bags. I have made at least 75 of them this year.

Making those bags led to making little accessory bags for them as well. That, in turn, led to an online cross stitching store commissioning the Project Bags, the accessory bags, and a larger version of the accessory bag to sell. My 2017 has been filled with making these simpler bags, and I have enjoyed the process. I still plan to make and sell handbags, as I miss the more complex work. I hope to start working on those later this year.