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.
First, there are various names of bags—here are a few:
Then, there are different styles of bags—to name a few:
~ Doctor’s Bag
Hefty Hobo Bag
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
• Hardware (includes feet, D-rings, O-Rings, swivel clips, etc.—anything metal, although there are some plastic “hardware”)
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
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