I also found it really difficult to make a plan for this bag, because I had never made one before. For the previous challenges, I knew exactly what I wanted to change in the patterns (the hem of the Sutton Blouse, the neckline of the Marianne dress), and from there, it was easy to come up with ideas for how to really make the patterns my own (the lace trim, the reverse applique).
For this project, I didn't have a lot of ideas at first! I started sketching and brainstorming, and eventually decided that I would change up the contrast pocket, use piping, and add removable straps so that the bag could be worn as a backpack or with a shoulder strap.
To change the pocket a little, I rounded off the edges, and then split the pocket piece in two, added in a little wedge for an inverted box pleat to the lower piece, and added a seam allowance to both. I was originally planning to use (non-functional) covered buttons and magnetic snaps to close the pocket, but I'm glad I went with a snap in the end. With the new shape, it also seemed to make sense to just use one snap rather than two.
I was pretty confident at first that I'd have lots of fabric to choose from at the local quilting store, but my first trip there to look around was a little disappointing. They do have lots of selection, but of different kinds of quilting cottons than what I was expecting. I'm used to the modern designs by companies like Birch, and Cotton + Steel, whereas the fabric they have is definitely more traditional. There just wasn't anything that jumped out at me!
I wanted to steer clear of the novelty prints (for once) - I was after something modern and versatile. Since this was my first time making a bag, I wanted it to be something I would get a lot of use out of! I also didn't want it to scream "handmade" like it might have if I used a fun novelty print.
I also really wanted to use leather for the straps, but there was no chance of buying any locally!
When I returned the next day, I decided to have another look through their (very limited) garment fabrics, and I found some stripes that were exactly what I was after for the contrast! The fabric is a medium weight twill, and it was right next to some denim. I realized then that a dark denim would be perfect - neutral and versatile, but with more texture than a solid quilting cotton.
For piping, I picked a dark red cotton with some beige and dark green spots, which I thought would add a bit of colour, yet keep the bag versatile (dark red seems to go with everything!). I used the same fabric for lining, with a coordinating floral print for the inner pockets. I decided that three different prints were enough, even though I could have picked out more different prints for different pockets and lining pieces.
I was able to find most of the notions I needed, although not necessarily in the right sizes, so I had to make some adjustments. They only had three colours of metal zippers - white, light green, or brown - and the one that I thought would match best, the brown one, was 2" too short. I didn't want to use a plastic one, so instead I just made the tabs on either side of the zipper 1" longer.
Because the denim was quite a bit heavier than a quilting cotton, I skipped the light woven interfacing, and used only the heavier non-woven interfacing (the pattern recommends both). For the striped fabric, though, I used both, since it was a little lighter. Because I knew the seams would get bulky, I cut the non-woven interfacing so that it wouldn't be caught in the seam allowances. I also graded the seams a lot, although the pattern doesn't suggest this.
I got about as far as basting in the zipper when I realized that the piping wasn't going to work. It was far too bulky, and looked a little ridiculous! The cord that was recommended at the quilting store might work for piping on quilts, but for this bag, it was just too thick. I wanted it to be really narrow and subtle, so I unpicked everything I'd done so far, took out the cord, and used it like flat piping, so that it would extend around 1/8" from the seam (less around the zipper, a little more around the pocket and even more at the back seam). I love how this looks! It's super subtle but adds a little interest.
The next hitch came when I was sewing the front pocket flap. I was clipping the corners, and I cut right through my stitching and the piping by accident - whoops! That's the first time I've ever done that, and of course I couldn't fix it because I'd cut right through the piping. This was a lucky mistake, though, because when I re-cut the pieces, I changed the shape a little more, and I'm much happier with the second one! I also cut the underside from plain cream-coloured fabric, like I did for the pocket, so that the stripes wouldn't show through.
I originally planned to add a box pleat to the denim part of the back, but after cutting it out and interfacing it, I realized that it wouldn't be very comfortable as a backpack, so I cut another. The denim was quite wide, so I had plenty left over.
The removable straps weren't quite as easy an addition as I was hoping. I bought some D-rings and swivel rings with clips (which were the priciest part of the bag, at $5 apiece, and I needed 6 of them!).
For the backpack straps, I cut interfaced triangles, then sewed them together on the diagonal edge with some of the fabric I used for piping sandwiched in the seam, attaching the D-ring. I sandwiched this in the bottom of the side seam, and then when I sewed the corners, I caught the other raw edge in the bottom seam (hard to explain - I should have taken a picture!). That was probably the hardest part of the construction, because it was super awkward to deal with the mostly sewn, heavily interfaced bag at this point. I also couldn't get any pins through the multiple interfaced layers of denim! It took me lots of tries and unpicking to get it right, but I'm so happy with the result.
To attach the backpack straps at the top of the back, I simply added in some D-rings where the straps are attached, on the outside of the straps. It was tricky enough to sew through all the layers (4 layers of denim, 5 layers of quilting cotton, and interfaced twill!), so I was really glad I didn't use denim to attach the D-rings.
The shoulder strap was considerably easier. I just attached a D-ring on either side, centered over the side seam. Easy peasy!
To make the straps, I used the same strap piece that comes with the pattern, but made it longer for the shoulder strap, and shorter for the backpack straps. I had to taper the ends a little to fit the swivel rings, which were only 3/4". I turned under the raw edges and stitched them down, then looped them through the rings and stitched them down again. Denim maybe wasn't the best choice for this - I had to hammer the seams to flatten them, and my machine had a really difficult time getting through the 12 (!) layers of denim.
I hoped to make the straps adjustable, but I couldn't find the sliders (I think that's what they're called?) in the right size. At least, since they're removable, I can always make adjustable straps later with the leftover denim, once I find the right size.
Another little change that I had to make was to omit the grommets as yarn guides on the inner pocket, since I couldn't find any that were the right size. Instead, I made a little loop from the lining fabric and sewed it into the seam at the top of the pocket (you can see it if you look closely at the photo above, on the right of the pocket).
I also made the matching pouch, which I knew I would use because I have one that's similar, and it's super worn out. I use it in all my big bags to keep little things (lip balm, notes, pens, sunscreen) together. This one is a perfect replacement! I didn't have enough of the quilting cotton left for lining (I barely had enough to piece together some piping), so instead I used the striped fabric. For the zipper, I used a navy vintage one from my stash, since there was only one of the brown metal zippers at the quilt store. I also changed the shape of the pocket to match, although it was too small to ad a box pleat to.
I feel like I really surprised myself with this bag! I really couldn't visualize what it would look like when made up, but I'm so happy with the end result. I think it looks really professional! Every time I look at it, I can't quite believe that I made it myself.
(Also, did you notice my stripe matching? This was my second time ever matching a pattern, and first time matching stripes. I'm so pleased with it! Now I want to sew with ALL the stripes...)
I think this will become the bag that I take everywhere with me this summer. I love backpacks because your bag is out of the way, and they're far easier to wear when cycling than purses, but I don't like having to take them off every time you need something. This way, I can carry it like a tote bag when I need things from it, and if I want it out of the way, I can just clip on the backpack straps, tuck in the handles, and wear it that way as well!
I also love that it's designed for knitting, with knitting needle pockets and a yarn guide. I'll use it for much more than knitting, but it's nice to know I don't have to worry about losing my knitting needles!
All in all, I'm so incredibly happy with it. I've wanted to sew a bag for ages, so I'm really glad that this contest gave me that little push I needed to actually do it. I feel like this will be the first of many bags... now I have my eye on the Colette Cooper bag, or something a little smaller, for going out (the only time I don't want to carry a huge bag!).
To see everyone else's take on the pattern, head on over to Sew Mama Sew, where they'll showcase all the entries tomorrow!
In this post...
Bag: Me-made (Caravan Tote by Noodlehead)
Blouse: Me-made (Sewaholic Pendrell)
Jeans: RTW (Guess)
Shoes: Second-hand (Sperry)